Mexico: Clowns deny cartel hit

THE assassination of a drug trafficker by a gunman disguised as a clown has prompted ­Mexico’s official clown association to issue a statement denying that any of its members were to blame.

Clowns of all ages gathered to condemn violence and say real clowns are easily identified by costume. Picture: AP

Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix was gunned down during a family party at the Baja beach resort of Los Cabos. His killer was wearing a clown costume, including a wig and rubber nose. The dead man was the eldest brother of Mexico’s once-feared Arellano Felix clan.

Arellano Felix and his brothers controlled the drug trade on Mexico’s border with the United States in the 1990s. Their Tijuana cartel was ruthless and transported large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and heroin into the US.

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But the cartel was gradually weakened by the capture or killing of other leading members.

Clown leader Tomas Morales, a 21-year veteran of the trade who goes by the stage name “Payaso Llantom,” said he was certain the killer was not a professional clown. He said clowns in Mexico, especially in more remote states, know each other and their costumes and makeup are individual and easily recognisable.

“The people who do that, they’re not clowns. I can swear on my mother’s grave it wasn’t a clown,” said Mr Morales, whose costume includes frizzy blue hair and a tiny top hat. “We are not like that. We’re non-violent.”

“Bufon Marley,” the stage name of 49-year-old Alberto Villanueva, who dresses a bit like a jester, said of the killer, “It’s sad that it has fallen to that level.”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with us; we do the complete opposite,” Mr Villanueva said. “I don’t think it will hurt our profession, because in our communities, people know us.”

Mr Morales said there have been past cases of thieves stealing clown costumes to commit crimes.

“We clowns suffer robberies,” Mr Morales said. “The criminals have stolen our vehicles, our costumes, our sound equipment, our makeup, and with these same tools we use to work, they use them to commit robberies.”

An estimated 500 clowns from around Mexico and the rest of Latin America gathered on Wednesday at the International Clown Meeting and held a 15-minute laugh-a-thon “to demonstrate their opposition to the violence that prevails in our country.”

As hard as it might sound to be a clown in a country so riven by crime and violence, the laughing came naturally, Mr Villanueva said. “We laugh at the very things that hurt us,” he said. “It is a very special, very Mexican humour.”

One of the Felix brothers, Ramon, was killed in a police shootout in 2002. Three other brothers are in US prisons, including Eduardo, who was jailed for 15 years by a California court in August for money laundering.

Rivals, especially Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Federation which also began around 1990, have since eclipsed the Tijuana group and taken over most of its territory.

The Sinaloa group, based in the western state of that name, is Mexico’s most powerful drug cartel, rivalled only by the paramilitary Zetas, who are most active in the north-east.

Security experts however believe the remnants of the cartel survive in the key border city of Tijuana.