Jon E. Dougherty, NewsMax, May 26
Julia Preston and Samual Dillon, Pulitzer-prize winning reporters for The New York Times, describe Mexico as having been transformed in the 21st century into “a lively democracy,” following more than 70 years of “harsh and kleptocratic one-party rule.”
In their book, “Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy” the two characterize the United States’ southern neighbor as an “imperfect democracy” that is struggling to make great strides after the defeat in the 1990s of the once all-powerful PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party.
While it is true that the Mexican people have thrown off the yoke of the PRI’s “perfect dictatorship,” the country is still light years away from dealing with its next-worse problem: The corruption wrought by the narcotics trade.
Today, most of the marijuana and heroin sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico. That happens because the culture of drug-related corruption is so pervasive south of the border.
Perhaps the incident which most highlighted the deep level of penetration drug lords in Mexico had achieved was the arrest, in 1996, of Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, the nation’s drug czar — only nine weeks after he had been appointed to that position by President Ernesto Zedillo.
So corrupt was Rebollo, his involvement and alliance with Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a billionaire drug trafficker, put Mexico’s national security in jeopardy.
Rebollo would put soldiers and weaponry, military bases and airfields at the drug cartel’s disposal. He would send troops in black uniforms and head masks to abduct and kill rival drug operatives. And he had members of other drug gangs detained and tortured on military bases.
The corruption did not start — or end — with Rebollo. In the years during the PRI’s rule, power and wealth meant much more to ordinary people than laws. Following Mexico’s independence in the early 20th century, the courts and police were primitive and not able to maintain any semblance of order.
In exchange for loyalty to the president, constabularies and rural law enforcement officials often were given wide latitude to engage in criminal activities to enrich themselves. In this vein — and in this power vacuum — the drug lords came to gain influence.
Cycle of Corruption
By the mid-1980s, many of the larger drug lords had become so brash, few feared retaliation from any authorities — local, state or federal. For example, one particularly brash young trafficker in Guadalajara, named Rafael Caro Quintero, finally committed an excess that brought trafficking into public.
He arranged for the kidnap, torture and execution of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Enrique Camarena. He even made sure his henchmen were protected by badge-carrying agents of the country’s Federal Security Directorate, or DFS.
The resulting scandal forced Government Secretary Manuel Bartlett to disband the DFS in the summer and fall of 1985, but many of the 1,500 agents and commanders — themselves corrupted by drug money — either took posts as state or federal police officers or became traffickers themselves, using their previous connections.
Other agencies were also corroded by drug money. That included Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Judicial Police (similar to the American FBI), and the Defense Secretariat.
The army, meanwhile, was the most professional and best-trained of Mexico’s security apparatus — much more so than the slipshod agencies and federal department officers. So initially, it was much harder for drug lords to penetrate.
Yet in time, it was achieved.
Preston and Dillon write:
“. . . Evidence suggests that during the [Miguel] de la Madrid administration [1982-1988], the traffickers proved spectacularly successful. The Defense Secretary himself, General Juan Arévalo Gardoqui, took a hand in providing them with army protection. In tow separate trial in U.S. federal courts, witnesses and prosecution affidavits prepared by the U.S. Justice Department accused Arévalo of accepting huge bribes from traffickers.”
Mexican officials protested the accusations loudly for impugning Arévalo, and the de la Madrid administration never did publicly investigate the veracity of the American charges. Later, when Carlos Salinas took office in 1988, Arévalo was allowed to retire quietly.
As the drug lords and cartels grew in both size and distribution, they also grew in wealth. The vast riches enabled the cartels to not only buy influence but also to improve their distribution networks as well as purchase some of the most sophisticated technology to aid in operations and avoid detection.
For example one drug lord, Carrillo Fuentes, who took over the Juarez cartel:
Organized his support structure as compartmental units — unloaders, warehousers, smugglers — so that if anyone was arrested, the others would remain free;
Purchased sophisticated computer scanners so they could pirate cell phone frequencies and remain anonymous by avoiding surveillance;
Bought old Boeing 727 airliners and other passenger jets, then stripped out the seats to make room for six tons or more of cocaine (a single flight could carry about $100 million worth of the drug)
By 1994, U.S. drug enforcement authorities named Fuentes, essentially, lord of the drug lords.
At one time, Mexican drug traffickers were known merely as “mules” for Colombian drug lords, writes Steve Macko, a crime analyst for the Emergence Response and Research Institute, a Chicago-based think tank.
But now, “Mexican gangs run their own distribution networks in the United States, and they produce most of the methamphetamine used north of the border. They have even bypassed the Colombians several times to buy cocaine directly from producers in Bolivia and Peru,” Macko wrote in the ERRI Intelligence Report Dec. 4, 1997.
So much have the Mexico-based gangs grown, noted Thomas Constantine, then-director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in testimony to Congress in 1997, “These sophisticated drug syndicate groups from Mexico have eclipsed organized crime groups from Colombia as the premier law enforcement threat facing the United States today.”
NAFTA Helped Smugglers
When Congress in1994 passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, an agreement which established unfettered trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, drug smuggling into the U.S. increased exponentially.
Many of Mexico’s traffickers take “advantage of the porous 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border and increased commercial traffic under . . . NAFTA to ship hundreds of tons [of narcotics] into the United States every year,” he wrote.
“Each day tens of thousands of trucks now pass into the U.S. from Mexico,” says a report in the Christian Science Monitor. “The traffic, which has increased exponentially since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has given smugglers a virtually unlimited number of ways to spirit narcotics into the U.S.”
When NAFTA passed, critics predicted drug smuggling would increase and, by any reasonable measure, it has. Though the U.S. spends billions a year trying to secure its border and fight the war on drugs, the Mexican government is outspent in its efforts to fight trafficking by the traffickers, who buy off officials to get their shipments out of the country.
Growing Market Share
By the late 1990s and into the 21st century, Mexican cartels were supplying most of the heroin and marijuana smuggled into the U.S.
And, according to the Washington Post, the quality of the drugs had improved dramatically over the years as well.
“Mexican drug cartels, long regarded as peddlers of cheap, low-grade heroin that accounted for only a tiny portion of the U.S. market, are now producing some of the world’s most potent heroin and are seizing control of a rapidly growing share of the U.S. heroin business,” the paper reported June 2, 1998.
“Columbian and U.S. officials said the changes are tied to an emerging alliance between a Colombian heroin trafficking organization led by Ivan Urdinola and Mexican drug smuggling groups that are learning how to produce more potent heroin,” said the Post.
“In a dramatic shift in global heroin trafficking patterns, Colombian and Mexican drug cartels largely have taken over distribution in the United States from Asian organizations, whose share of the American market — based on seizures by law enforcement authorities — has plunged from 90 percent to 28 percent since 1992.”
Drug smuggling is worth billions of dollars a year worldwide, so it is only natural traffickers, cartels and drug gangs will fight to keep their “business” afloat.
Narcotics traffickers have often resorted to terrorism as a means to protect their trade, and it has taken a real toll on the select public officials in Mexico who genuinely try to fight back.
Former DEA Administrator Asa Hutchison, in a speech to the Institute for International Studies in Washington, D.C. April 2, 2002, gave this example:
“When I went to Mexico City in February, I had a meeting with the attorney general, Macedo de la Concha, and in that meeting, I shook hands with the prosecutors that were on the back row as I was leaving. One of the prosecutors, Mario Roldan Quirino, was handling a case that we were involved in that was a multi-ton seizure of cocaine off of a fishing vessel. I shook hands with that prosecutor. Within one hour after I left Mexico City, Mario Roldon was shot 28 times outside of Mexico City and assassinated.”
Hutchison explained that some people may not consider the assassination of a prosecutor as terrorism. But, he explained, “When you’re going after government officials, judicial officials, to impact the stability of a government, in my judgment, it is terrorism.”
He’s not alone. In March 2003, Gen. James Hill, commander of the U.S. Southern Command [SOUTHCOM], said sales of drugs and money laundering were being used to fund genuine terrorist organizations. “That is fact, not speculation,” Hill said.
Hutchison went on to note that “drug production in Mexico, in Colombia, in Thailand, and in Afghanistan produces the supply of drugs that devastates our families and our communities.”
“The same illegal drug production funds that attack civilized society also destabilize democracies across the globe. Illegal drug production undermines America’s culture; it funds terror; and it erodes democracy. And they all represent a clear and present danger to our national security,” he said.
Hill said today’s real enemy does not come from the military of a neighbor or an invading power. Rather, “today’s foe is the terrorist, the narco-trafficker, the arms trafficker, the document forger, the international crime boss, and the money launderer,” he said.
All can be found south of America’s border.