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Mexico: One day troops have him in custody, the next he's dead

March 24, 2010 | 10:51 am

Marines arrest drug dealer

With a violent drug war raging daily across the country, we get a lot of blood, gore and lifeless faces in our morning newspapers in Mexico. But few have produced such a chill as that of the alleged drug dealer that appeared on the front pages this week.

Several papers carried side-by-side images of the alleged dealer, who was arrested on Sunday in a suburb of Monterrey after a shootout between police and narco hitmen. In one photo, the suspect is alive, being hauled from a truck to a helicopter by masked Mexican marines. In the other, a man with the same facial features and clothes is seen Monday -- dead, wrapped in a blanket and tossed by the side of a road.

What happened in between?

The Mexican navy distanced itself on Tuesday from the incident, saying its marines were only assisting the local authorities of the suburb of Santa Catarina during the operation in which the man was arrested. The Santa Catarina police say they never asked for the marines' assistance. No one is saying how the man -- identified as 26-year-old Jose Humberto Marquez Compean by his mother (subscription required) -- wound up dead.

"I don't know anything, I don't know anything, I don't know anything. That's my position," the Santa Catarina security chief, Raul Castillo, told the Associated Press.

The mystery has raised further concerns about the role of Mexican troops in the drug war.

Since President Felipe Calderon enlisted Mexico's military in the fight against the country's narco cartels, claims of human rights violations by the armed forces have skyrocketed. The watchdog group Human Rights Watch has paid special attention to the military in the antinarco campaign, saying in a 2009 report that the armed forces have been blamed for unpunished torture, killings and arbitrary detentions.

U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico on Tuesday to present a new approach in the drug war, emphasizing the need for better social and economic strategies in the fight against drug smugglers. The Times' Ken Ellingwood has this report on the doubts being raised about the role of Mexico's military in the campaign.

"There is a growing feeling that, despite the army's firepower and resources, it has been less than effective as a police force," Ellingwood writes.

Jose Marquez's young widow wants justice, the AP reports. But if Mexico's track record in solving drug-related fatalities provides any indication, she may find answers elusive. A second alleged drug dealer was arrested along with Marquez on Sunday. El Universal is now reporting that the second suspect detained in Santa Catarina is unaccounted for and missing.

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Jose Humberto Marquez Compean being arrested by Mexican marines. Credit: