TIJUANA – The confession of “el pozolero” reveals chilling details not known before about the more than one hundred murders that horrified Mexico from 2008 to 2010.
His words offer a gruesome glimpse of the reality of the war waged by drug traffickers in the border region. And they raise the specter of young apprentices learning from the master’s sinister craft.
Santiago Meza became darkly known as “el pozolero,” or the “stew maker,” after he confessed to disposing of some 300 bodies by dissolving them in acid on orders from a criminal cell that served the Arellano Félix cartel, then later from one that worked for the Sinaloa one.
He described his crimes in detail to investigators from the organized crime unit of the federal Attorney General’s Office, known as Siedo. That declaration, however, was kept confidential.
In September, a copy of it was anonymously leaked to Fernando Ocegueda in hopes that it would shed light on the fate of his son and others who disappeared during the peak of the drug violence. He has been a tireless advocate for families whose loved ones are missing, pressing for the cases to be solved.
On a recent day, Ocegueda shared it with SanDiegoRed.com. It is unknown if Meza was truthful. Siedo does not comment on its investigations. If his account proves to be accurate, however, it explains perhaps the darkest chapter of drug violence, how one man literally made as many as 300 murder victims disappear.
In his matter-of-fact declaration, Meza said he worked at five sites in the greater Tijuana region, several of them in semi-rural, isolated locations. Siedo investigators have explored four of them. At two they found bone fragments, teeth and organic tissue as well as personal effects, such as rings.
On Monday, the Mexico City-based Siedo investigators were back in the city, digging at a hillside in the city’s east side, Valle Redondo, near one of Meza’s workshops. Ocegueda said they planned to be there until Thursday.
Meza, 45, was arrested in Jan. 23, 2009 in a raid on a safe house near Ensenada. According to his confession two days later, Meza said he dissolved dozens of bodies in lye at the five sites. He said he also dumped human remains in streams and drains in Tijuana between 1996 and 2009, a fact not previously known.
Meza maintained that he never knew the identities of those brought to him.
“Every time that we worked with human bodies we did not see their faces; all of them had a mask of gray adhesive tape and when we put them in the pot or the drums with lye and water, we would only cut off the tape in the back of the head, never totally taking it off,” Meza said in his confession.
“I don’t know who they were or what they did,” he said near the end of his confession. “I remember that of all the bodies that I got to ‘pozolear,’ there were only three women. And I never got anyone in uniform.”
When Meza was arrested in January 2009 the violence in Tijuana streets was reaching unprecedented levels.
State authorities logged a total of 1,507 murders and more than 100 kidnappings in Tijuana in 2008 and 2009.
Criminal groups were fighting among themselves for control of the transportation routes to the United States and sale of drugs. And they, in turn, were being confronted by military and police forces.
Since then, the high-profile violence has decreased sharply in the city after criminal leaders were arrested, hundreds of corrupt cops fired and multiple raids by the Mexican military yielded record seizures of drugs and weapons.
Violent deaths continue, however. There were 820 murders in Tijuana last year, and this year, through the end of November, 448 killings.
Two associations of family members have a record of 488 people who disappeared in Baja California.
Less than one-fourth of them were reported to authorities, however, either because the families did not trust them or because they felt threatened, according leaders of both organizations.
Officially, Baja California has 96 cases of people “lost or absent,” 70 of them in Tijuana and 26 in Mexicali, said Baja California’s special prosecutor for missing people in the state Attorney General’s Office, Miguel Ángel Guerrero,
He said that nearly all are linked to organized crime and that at least 15 cases are directly related to “el pozolero.”
Santiago Meza is at a federal prison in the state of Nayarit, accused of organized crime, covering up crime and illegal possession of firearms. He is awaiting sentencing.
When he was arrested he told authorities he had dissolved 300 bodies in lye. His declaration to Siedo, however, describes his handling of at least 151 bodies from 1996 to 2009 in Tijuana alone.