Mexican ‘Stew Maker’ dissolved 300 drug war victims in acid
Santiago Meza Lopez, aka the 'Stew Maker'
Santiago Meza López told police he had dissolved about 300 people in acid baths for his boss. He was paid $600 a week for the work
He was known as El Pozolero — The Stew Maker — but his ingredients were less than savoury.
The job of Santiago Meza López was to dispose of the enemies of a notorious drug baron by dissolving them in tubs of acid. Over several years he claims to have “disappeared” 300 enemies of Teodoro García Semental, a former henchman for one of the largest cartels in Mexico and now in a bloody struggle for supremacy over the trade.
Meza, 45, told police that, once their remains had been in the acid baths for 24 hours, he would bury them. In a twisted act of chivalry, he said he only dissolved men, refusing to make women vanish this way. He said that he was paid $600 (£440) a week by García.
His horrific career came to an end on Thursday when he was ambushed by elite Mexican troops, acting on a tip-off, who caught him and two other drugs henchmen as they headed to a party with a prostitute in Tijuana.
* Soldiers beheaded in Mexican drug wars
* Risking death crossing the Mexican border
Armed with a machinegun, three rifles and two hand grenades, plus body armour, Meza and the two others tried to flee but eventually gave themselves up without a fight.
The Mexican authorities paraded The Stew Maker in front of a nondescript shack where he admitted that he had disposed of the bodies over a period of ten years. Two grave-sized holes had been dug near the walls.
The nickname comes from pozole, a stew local to the Tijuana region where he worked. Its ingredients are normally corn, meat and chilli. Meza told police that his busiest time was in December 2007, when he claimed to have disposed of 32 bodies.
Relatives of 100 missing people came forward over the weekend saying that they wanted to show photos of their loved ones to Meza in the hope he could reveal their fate.
Cristina Palacios, president of Citizens United Against Impunity, which represents missing people in Tijuana, said: “We are here because this arrest gives us a ray of hope.”
Rommel Moreno, the state's Attorney-General, said that Meza would be shown the photos to see if he recognised any among his victims. He said that the authorities were considering allowing the victims' families to meet him. Meza apologised to all the relatives of his victims, authorities said.
Police were searching the shack for human remains and will ask US authorities for DNA-testing equipment.
Fernando Ocegueda, whose son disappeared in February 2007, said that eastern Tijuana was a stronghold of the drug lord García. The Mexican Government denies that parts of the country have become lawless, but Meza's arrest is a rare success story in the increasingly savage drugs war.
Since the start of this year 346 people have died or disappeared in drugs-related violence, and Tijuana is one of the worst-affected areas.
The latest revelations are a gruesome chapter in a battle that stands out for tales of torture, brutal killings and mutilated corpses. One cause of rising violence is a split between García and his former bosses, the Arellano Félix brothers, which ignited a war between two cartels to dominate the drugs trade. The two split in April, after a Tijuana shootout between their followers left at least 14 people dead, Mexican and US officials say.
The level of violence has heightened concerns in the Government about the damage it is doing to the country's image abroad. Patricia Espinosa, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, last week asked foreign correspondents not to file negative reports about Mexico.
Mrs Espinosa was not helped by events. Last Friday 22 people were murdered in Chihuahua province. Six others died elsewhere in the country in drug violence.
Trading in violence
5,400 Drug-related killings in Mexico last year, more than double the toll in 2007
3 main groups are fighting over the lucrative trade: the Tijuana cartel, led by the Arellano Félix family, the Gulf cartel, and the Sinaloa cartel
7 million cocaine users in North America
45% of the world cocaine trade goes to North America
2006 In December of that year President Calderón called in the army to tackle cartels, leading to a rise in violence
90% of all cocaine entering North America is brought through Mexico
Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, agencies