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Suspected Mexican drug lords reveal their secrets on camera

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
  • Mexican authorities have begun releasing interrogation videos
  • Most of the subjects are suspected drug lords awaiting trial
  • Government has been under pressure to show results of drug offensive

(CNN) -- One smiles for the camera, another appears defiant, while a third looks serene. They all look straight into the camera. Their confessions are blunt and candid -- it's a relatively new strategy used by Mexican authorities.

Under pressure to show results from a nationwide offensive against organized crime, the Mexican government has been releasing videos of high-profile interrogations. Most of the subjects are suspected drug lords who have been recently captured and are in jail awaiting trial.

The new approach comes nearly five years into President Felipe Calderon's term. By some estimates, more than 40,000 people have died since he took office in December 2006 and launched the drug offensive. As his strategy has become unpopular with many in Mexico, his administration has been pressured to respond to the criticism and show the results of his efforts: more than 20 of the country's 37 most-wanted criminals killed or captured since March 2009.

Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, also known as "The Monkey," is a reputed co-founder and co-leader of the Mexican drug cartel known as "La Familia." In his video interrogation, he explains what kind of men his cartel recruited as operatives.

"(We would choose) young men who didn't do drugs, who had a good profile, and who were good to the full extent of the word, that did things right, and who didn't kidnap people," Mendez says.

La Familia announced its creation in 2006 in the Mexican state of Michoacan by tossing five severed human heads onto a dance floor.

Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, also known as "El Diego," was the reputed leader of "La Linea," a gang of enforcers for the Juarez Cartel in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. In his video interrogation, he admits that he was the mastermind of an attack against federal police officers using a car bomb.

"We kidnapped an individual who belonged to the Sinaloa Cartel; we killed him, and dressed him with a local police uniform. He was thrown at an intersection right next to a vehicle with explosives and somebody activated the explosives remotely with a cell phone," Acosta said.

He also says he gave the order to kill U.S. consular employee Leslie Enriquez and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, as well as 15 young people at a house party in Mexico's murder capital, Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

"Since they were all minors, there was a lot of commotion, and, yes, honestly, some of them were innocent," Acosta says.

Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, aka "El Mamito," was a former Special Forces officer who allegedly deserted to join the cartel known as "Los Zetas." He admits he owned as many as five so-called "narco tanks" or "monsters," custom-made armored trucks with swiveling turrets and reinforced steel battering rams.

In a revealing moment, he tells his interrogator the thing that he regrets the most.

"Is there anybody you would want to ask for forgiveness? I mean, for your actions, for what you did, if you failed somebody, your children, your family?" his interrogator asks.

Rejon responds: "Oh, my mother. Because of this I haven't seen her in about 17 years. ... It's hard... it's cruel, but that's the way it is."

Despite the offensive, however, violence has continued unabated as the remaining drug cartel leaders fight turf and succession wars, especially in such border states as Chihuahua and Tamaulipas that have traditionally been transit points for drug shipments headed for the United States.