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Monday, January 26, 2009

Man Helped Mexican Drug Lord Dissolve 300 Bodies in Acid

Relatives of missing want to show pictures to alleged drug operative

Image: Santiago Meza Lopez
Santiago Meza Lopez, 45, center, who allegedly worked for a drug kingpin from the Tijuana area, is escorted by Mexican soldiers and federal police agents in Tijuana, Mexico, on Friday.

TIJUANA, Mexico - Relatives of 100 missing people want to show photos of their loved ones to a man arrested in Tijuana for allegedly helping a druglord dispose of his slain enemies by dissolving their bodies in acid, a victims' group said Saturday.

Santiago Meza Lopez, known as the "Pozole Maker" after a local stew, is accused by Mexico's military of disposing of 300 bodies for Teodoro Garcia Simental, a suspected former lieutenant of the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix drug cartel.

The relatives have asked authorities for permission to meet face-to-face with the 45-year-old Meza, said Cristina Palacios, president of Citizens United Against Impunity, a group that represents families of missing people in Tijuana.

Meza was arrested Thursday and paraded by soldiers and federal police in front of reporters on Friday at a cement-block shack where he allegedly got rid of many of the bodies over several years.

The security officers had Meza tell reporters how he did it: first dumping the corpses in large plastic bins filled with acid, then burying any remains. Surrounded by soldiers, Meza told reporters he helped get rid of 300 bodies.

Meza has not been charged. Investigators have not identified any of Meza's alleged victims or provided evidence to back up the 300 victims claim.

"We are here because this arrest has given us a ray of hope," Palacios said after meeting with Baja California state authorities.

Most vanished in eastern Tijuana
State Attorney General Rommel Moreno said Meza would be shown the photos to see if he recognized any as among his victims, and authorities were considering allowing the relatives to meet with him.

The relatives did not say whether they believed their missing loved ones were involved in drug trafficking. But Fernando Ocegueda, whose son disappeared in February 2007, said most of the 100 people vanished in eastern Tijuana, which is believed to be Garcia's stronghold.

The group believes that Garcia "had a lot to do with the kidnapping of many of the people we are looking for," he said.

Moreno said investigators were searching the shack and two other locations for any possible remains. He said investigators would ask the New Mexican and California state governments for DNA-testing equipment.

Meza told police his busiest period was in December 2007 when he claims to have gotten rid of 32 bodies, Moreno said. The attorney general said there was also a spike in disappearances that month in Tijuana.

Surge of violence
Homicides and kidnappings have surged in Mexico recent years as cartels battle each other for territory and fight thousands of troops deployed to drug hotspots across the country.

Drug violence claimed more than 5,300 lives last year, double the number in 2007.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration identified Garcia as the chief rival of alleged Arellano Felix cartel leader Fernando Sanchez Arrellano.

Mexican officials have blamed the power struggle between the two men for a surge in violence in Tijuana.