Dozens of shiny black limousines trailed the hearse of drug kingpin Rafael Aguilar Guajardo after he was gunned down by rivals.Locals say the lavish funeral fit the style of the flashy former federal police commander who rose to head the powerful Juarez drug cartel.

But agents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border say a new style of Mexican drug lord is replacing the stereotypical swaggering smuggler. He is cool and professional.

Mexican smugglers are no longer mere drug mules of the Colombian cocaine traffickers - paid to get the cocaine through Mexico to U.S. markets. They are quickly becoming equal partners.

And learning fast.

"These guys were once just street punks, car thieves, pistoleros," said Phil Jordan, special agent in charge of the El Paso Intelligence Center, a border listening post run by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies. "Now there is a new breed of Mexican mafia leader."

The new style means more drugs enter the United States through Mexico.

"Ten years ago, we measured drug seizures in grams and pounds," DEA head Director Thomas A. Constantine told a Washington hearing in August. "Today, we routinely measure seizures in tons."

Drug use has never been considered a widespread problem in Mexico, where alcohol abuse remains the major concern.

The main fear now is about the corrupting influence that drug money could have on the government and police forces.

The Mexican Attorney General's Office recently estimated the Mexican traffickers gross $30 billion a year.

With such huge profits at stake, the gangs are working together.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes typifies the new breed, intelligence analysts said. Carrillo assumed leadership of the powerful Juarez cartel after Aguilar's April 1993 assassination.

The youngest of the kingpins at age 39, Carrillo is said to quietly run a multimillion-dollar operation from a heavily guarded ranch outside Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

With the help of Colombian advisers, sophisticated communications equipment and a fleet of Boeing 727s, the man dubbed "The Lord of the Skies" has in two years emerged as Mexico's No. 1 cocaine trafficker, U.S. officials said.

Carrillo has been indicted for drug-related crimes in the United States. But U.S. authorities said he operates freely in his homeland, where the only charge against him is a minor weapons violation - not even enough to hold him if he walked into a police station.

According to U.S. intelligence experts, another member of the new breed is Juan Garcia Abrego, Carrillo's top competitor.

The first international drug trafficker to be listed on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted" list, Garcia is the target of an intensive manhunt on both sides of the border.

Neither Carrillo nor Garcia has publicly commented on the allegations.

Much of the Mexicans' growing success comes from their ability to use huge amounts of cash to bribe officials to allow drugs to pass through Mexico. Experts estimate the gangs spend at least 10 percent of their dollar earnings for official protection.

The trend alarms U.S. and Mexican law enforcers, who worry that the rising power of the Mexican smugglers will further compromise already corrupt political and judicial systems.

"As these organizations grow in wealth and sophistication, they threaten to overwhelm the capabilities of any law enforcement system," Constantine said.

President Ernesto Zedillo acknowledged the seriousness of the problem in his first annual address to the nation on Sept. 1.

"Drug trafficking has become the most serious threat to national security, our society's health and civic peace," Zedillo said.

He announced plans for an organized crime law, vowing to step up the fight against a drug trade that "damages the integrity and credibility of institutions and spreads corruption."