January/February - 1997
Vol# 13 - Issue# 1
Mexico Faces Corruption, Crime, Drug Trafficking and Political Intrigue
1996 proved to be a turbulent year for the government of Mexico. The economy remained stagnant, political violence soared and government officials have been embroiled in political disputes that have hurt the government's reputation internationally. These are all problems which have been building for some time. Some of the root causes of the trouble are rising crime rates, allegations of rampant corruption, drug trafficking, and the political intrigue that began with the assassination of presidential candidate Donaldo Colosio. All are problems in themselves, yet they are inexorably linked, overlapping and dependent on one another, with each feeding and growing off the others.
Crime and Corruption
Over 218,000 crimes were reported in Mexico City in 1995, including an average of 3.5 homicides and 10 sex crimes a day, numbers that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Robberies, kidnappings, car-jackings and other crimes rose by 35% in 1995 in Mexico City. While all the numbers are not in yet, it is apparent 1996 will be even worse.
Yet as disturbing as these numbers are, it is widely acknowledged that they are grossly understated. A very large percentage of crime goes unreported because many citizens fear police involvement more than they trust that justice will be done. And such concerns are not completely unwarranted. In 1995, Amnesty International reported over 40 cases of extra-judicial execution or arbitrary killing by security forces and 35 cases of torture.
Specific examples of police misconduct, and the government's attempts to fight it, are not hard to find. In one of the more publicized cases, 17 unarmed peasants en route to an anti-government rally in Atoyac de Alvarez were killed by state police at Aguas Blancas, Guerrero in June of 1995. Over 20 police officers and four high-ranking state officials were eventually arrested on homicide charges. The massacre was caught on videotape and replayed on national television, showing the peasants fleeing from the police ambush. The incident caused Guerrero Governor Figueroa, long linked to corruption and political violence, to resign.
In October of 1995, Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR) released results of probes into illicit police activities as part of an initiative to clean up and professionalize the public security institutions. The next month, in an unprecedented move, then-Attorney General Lozano ordered the firing of all 60 Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) in the state of Chihuahua and their replacement by a contingent of Mexican Army officers on detail to the PGR.
Earlier this year, in March, President Zedillo proposed reforms to fight rising crime, including lowering to 16 from 18 the age at which criminals can be sent to prison. While most of the measures were widely supported, proposals to allow an already feared and distrusted police to tap phones and conduct other electronic surveillance drew much controversy.
Then, in August, a Japanese business executive was kidnapped after attending a company baseball game in Tijuana. Two Mexican sisters kidnapped with him were released the following day, and the executive, president of the American Sanyo Video Component Corporation, was released a week and a half later, after a $2 million ransom was paid. A Federal Judicial Police officer is among the 10 suspects arrested for the crime, further damaging the police's image.
Later that same month, 737 agents, sub-commanders, commanders and delegates of the Federal Judicial Police suspected of corruption were fired in a attempt to restore public confidence. This action raised the number of members of the force fired for corruption since December of 1994, when Attorney General Lozano took office, to 1,250, constituting over 22% of the Federal Judicial Police force. Among those dismissed, one deputy commander was arrested after a cache of illegal weapons was found in his car trunk, a commander was arrested driving a stolen car while carrying the equivalent of US$15,000 in cash, and a Tijuana agent was arrested in possession of sophisticated telephone wiretap equipment and a sawed-off shotgun.
Just days after the dismissals, gunmen wearing Federal Judicial Police uniforms assaulted the home of Roberto Estudillo, of one of Tijuana's wealthiest families, injuring him and several servants, ransacking the premises, smashing furniture, and stealing watches and around $200 in cash. The attack was the third of its kind in Tijuana since the massive firings, fueling speculation by the media, the public, and even the government that disgruntled former police were behind the attacks.
Mexican authorities have been charged by human rights
Drug Trafficking's Influence on Corruption
In both Mexico and the United States, many seek the causes of the steep rise in crime and corruption. To be sure, some of this can be attributed to economic factors, such as Mexico's recent devaluation of the peso. In the worst economy in Mexico in recent memory, wages are low and unemployment is high.
However, one must also consider the power and growth of Mexico's drug industry. Mexico has become one of the most important money laundering centers in the Western Hemisphere. According to the U.S. State Department, it is also the most important transit point for bulk money shipments of U.S. drug proceeds of Mexican and other South American drug traffickers moving south.
The Mexican financial system remains highly vulnerable to drug-related financial transactions. Foreign and domestic currency movements are unmonitored. Any amount of deposited currency can be transferred by wire between domestic banks or between foreign and domestic institutions. There are no mandatory reporting requirements relating to cash deposited in banks or wire transfers. In 1994, the Mexican government imposed a requirement that individuals entering the country declare currency or financial instruments worth $10,000 dollars or more, but this does not apply to those leaving the country and, according to U.S. officials, the regulation is not enforced.
The flow of cocaine through Mexico has continued to grow over the last few years, as well as traffickers' power over Mexican law enforcement agencies. The partnership between drug traffickers and police is so open that it could not exist without the knowledge of senior officials. Estimates of the amount of drug money flowing into Mexico vary considerably, but $30 billion a year is most often cited. Authorities believe that at least ten percent of that is earmarked for police and politician payoffs. With that amount of money available to public officials, coupled with the current economic crisis, it becomes easy to see why corruption has embedded itself in Mexico's law enforcement agencies.
Former police officers, often working with the protection of current authorities, are suspected of running some of Mexico's largest and most violent criminal rings, involved in everything from auto theft, extortion and kidnapping to drug trafficking. President Zedillo has publicly conceded to "severe, historical" problems of corruption in the Attorney General's office, and has stated that he considers drug trafficking to be Mexico's number one security problem. Former Mexican Attorney General Lozano agreed, and publicly estimated in mid-1996 that it could take up to 15 years to clean up his office and the Mexican police force. The U.S. General Accounting Office recently published a report claiming Mexico's greatest problem in the fight against drugs is "widespread, endemic corruption" throughout its law enforcement agencies.
The Mexican criminal justice system is rife with examples of the effects of drug money on public servants. In fact, as far back as November of 1991, U.S. officials got a first hand look at one of these examples when Mexican army soldiers refueling a drug transport plan at a remote airstrip in Veracruz killed seven Mexican police officers who landed at the airstrip in hot pursuit of the cargo. A U.S. Customs Service plane trailing the police made a long-range infrared video of the incident.
In March of 1994, local policemen intervened in a shoot-out in Tijuana between a leading cocaine trafficker, Ismael Higuera, federal agents, and the state police. Five people, including the head of a federal police special forces unit and a federal police agent were killed in the attack. Further investigation revealed that the shooting resulted from rivalries within the two police agencies over who ran Higuera's protection racket.
Marijuana Seisures in Mexico!
A similar scene played out recently in Juárez, in March of 1996, when carloads of federal police surrounded city police headquarters there. In the ensuing shoot-out, one federal officer was killed and several city officers wounded. Media quoted various unnamed government officials as claiming the confrontation was the result of rival drug protection rackets.
One of the biggest cases, in terms of the amount of drugs in question and the controversy created, occurred in August of 1994, when the federal drug intelligence center reported that a jet, believed to be carrying 10 tons of cocaine, landed on an airstrip at the town of Sombrerete, Zacatecas. Soon after, three trucks filled with cocaine were caught by highway patrolmen, accounting for 2.5 tons. Further investigation revealed the involvement of Federal Judicial Police agents in spiriting the cocaine from the airstrip. Despite considerable evidence of wrongdoing, appeals for action from some Mexican officials and pressure from the United States, a federal police investigation turned up no illegal or unethical activity, and the case was closed in April of 1995.
The closing of the case caused a considerable uproar in the Mexican press, especially since just one month prior 16 officers of the National Institute for Combating Drugs (Mexican equivalent to the DEA) were arrested for accepting cocaine and cash in exchange for overlooking a 1.2 ton shipment of cocaine.
Public discontent continued to grow in June of that year, when the co-leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Hector Luis Palma Salazar, was arrested in Guadalajara and more than 34 police officers were also detained by the army on suspicion of protecting him. Then, in November, a Mexican government review revealed that Mexican Federal Judicial police personnel in Baja California were involved in a multi-ton cocaine shipment aboard a cargo jet.
Even some of the most high-profile crusaders against the drug trade and corruption in Mexico have been caught with hands in the till. Lieutenant-Colonel Francisco Bejos Camacho was the former head of the Federal Judicial Police in Jalisco. In May of 1993 he received national attention when he was wounded in a shoot-out between police and suspected drug traffickers in Guadalajara. Yet just a month later he was arrested and charged with corruption on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Horacio Brunt, a former commander in the Federal Judicial Police, was in charge of the January 1996 capture of Juan Garcia Abrego, the founder of the Gulf Cartel and, at the time of his arrest, considered the most powerful Mexican drug lord. After the arrest, Brunt was featured in several local and international media sources, such as The Wall Street Journal, which referred to him as "a model for Mexico's police as they try to become more professional and crack down on rampant corruption." However, Brunt was ousted in last August's purge of corrupt officers.
Finally, Javier Coello Trejo was a former deputy attorney general in charge of many of the government's investigations into drug trafficking during the administration of former President Carlos Salinas. In the recent trial of Garcia Abrego in Texas, Coello was accused by a former policeman of accepting $1.5 million a month from the Gulf cartel during his time in office.
Some American law enforcement officials may think that this is a Mexican problem with no effect on them. However, Mexican drug barons' wealth and power are great enough to extend beyond the border. With the amount of money available, Mexican law enforcement personnel are not the only ones susceptible to corruption. Drug barons have a history of co-opting the help of U.S. officials on the border as well. In 1992, an Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector at the San Ysidro port of entry admitted to charges of corruption connected to five tons of cocaine and unspecified amounts of marijuana smuggled through the port.
In 1994, sheriffs of two Texas border counties, a county clerk and a county jud
Trends in Drug Trafficking
Unfortunately, it appears Mexico and the United States will have to battle the drug problem for some time. Mexico has become the main conduit for Colombian cocaine bound for the United States, with an estimated 70% of the more than 200-400 tons of cocaine consumed in the U.S. each year shipped through Mexico. Almost one-fourth of all heroin (either homegrown black-tar or Colombian/Asian white) in the U.S. enters through Mexico, as does around 80% of marijuana. More recently, drug officials in the U.S. have estimated that approximately 80% of methamphetamine (speed) in the U.S. was produced by Mexican narcotics manufacturers working on both sides of the border. They have managed to replace U.S. motorcycle gangs as its leading manufacturer.
Many blame the North American Free Trade Agreement (dubbed the "North American Drug Trade Agreement") for adding to Mexican and American drug woes. Before NAFTA, in 1993, 1.9 million trucks crossed into the U.S. from Mexico. In 1994, post-NAFTA, that number rose to 2.8 million, and projections are for that number to rise to eight million within the next decade.
Legal exports from Mexico to the United States doubled between 1986 and 1993. Cartels are investing in Mexican trucking firms, warehouses, and manufacturing companies to serve as fronts for smuggling operations. Also, cartels are known to have hired consultants to advise them as to what type of freight is least likely to receive a full inspection.
In March of 1996, U.S. DEA Chief Thomas Constantine testified before Congress that Mexican drug cartels were so wealthy and powerful that they rival legitimate governments for influence and control. The cartels are run by five senior and powerful patrones who run the Mexican drug trafficking federation. Below them are 10 "division heads," and around 20 major "gatekeepers," who organize the daily drug running activities.
Drug violence is occurring with alarming regularity. Between July 1988 and April 1994, over 170 people were killed in inter-cartel drug wars in Mexico, and over 800 were kidnapped. In 1994, Mexican police seized 16,000 pistols and 6,000 shotguns, most from drug gangs. And since then, the problem has reached such proportions that this past October, Mexican authorities asked the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms to assist them in tracing the origins of nearly 4,300 firearms confiscated from drug-related crime scenes. Mexican officials suspect that most of the guns used in these crimes are smuggled from the U.S., and the request is seen by many as a pressure tactic aimed at getting the U.S. government to acknowledge and react to the problem.
That Mexico has seen a major influx of illegal weapons over the last ten years is without question. If the government is right and most are entering across the U.S. border, then it is no wonder that the area is becoming a battleground between U.S. authorities and drug traffickers. The Border Patrol reported 24 armed encounters and assaults on its agents in its Del Rio sector during the first eight months of 1996, including a January shoot-out with a Mexican drug trafficker near Eagle's Pass, Texas in which a Border Patrol Agent was killed, compared with eight in the same time period in 1995.
The problem is even worse in Mexico, where it seems that any law enforcement official who can't be corrupted is killed. This past February, the former operations chief of the Federal Judicial Police was killed in Mexico City, an apparent target of drug traffickers. Five days later his girlfriend was killed in Tijuana.
In May, drug cartels were blamed in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a former Baja federal prosecutor and his son in Michoacan. A former Baja California Federal Judicial Police commander who had been reassigned to counter-narcotics investigations in Mexico City was killed in July, apparently by a drug cartel, in Mexico City. Finally, in September, the commander of the Federal Judicial Police's national anti-drug unit in Tijuana was killed with three others in Mexico City, the seventh senior police official from northern Mexico to be killed in 1996.
Mexican drug cartels, especially the Tijuana Cartel, are now using street gang members (some black, but mostly Salvadoran) from San Diego, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities to run drugs, serve as bodyguards, and form assassination teams. Because of the volume of business, cartels today also are relying on many "subcontractors," local smuggling families or street gangs, to do much of the internal distribution and cross-border transportation. Such gangs are thought to have almost quadrupled over the last five years.
The Mexican cartels also are said to be expanding contacts with the Italian and Sicilian Mafia and Asian and European trafficking organizations and are known to have contact now with outlaw biker groups and street gangs such as the Bloods and Crips in the United States. The cartels are known to have considerable cooperation with the various Colombian drug cartels, especially the Cali Cartel. However, it would seem their recent success has let them reduce these ties of late. According to narcotics officials, there are indications that Mexican cartels are bypassing the Colombians, going straight to Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine suppliers.
Some of the major cartels in Mexico include:
The Gulf Cartel, also known as the Garcia Abrego Cartel, at one time transported up to a third of the cocaine used in the United States. Formed in the mid-1980's, the Gulf Cartel is known to operate in Matamoros, Tamaulipas & Monterrey and to control drug ports along the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Matamoros-Brownsville border corridor.
The Gulf Cartel has a long history of violence, most notably the September 1994 assassination of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, former leader of Mexico's governing party. In another recent court case, it was disclosed that Armando Barrera, a former gunman for the cartel, sought asylum in Brownsville, Texas in 1991. In a sworn deposition he accused Garcia Abrego of ordering the murder of his brother and 35 others. Just months after making his deposition, Barrera was shot and killed in Brownsville by suspected Gulf gunmen.
However, the group has been considerably weakened by law enforcement counter-narcotics efforts. Between 1989 and 1993, authorities seized $53 million in Gulf Cartel profits. In one raid alone, in October of 1989, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Texas police raiding a house outside Harlingen, Texas seized more than nine tons of cocaine belonging to the Gulf Cartel. Perhaps even more damaging are the convictions of over 70 cartel members obtained by U.S. authorities in Florida, New York and Texas.
The most damaging of these was certainly the arrest of Garcia Abrego, who was one of the five patrones before his capture. At the time of his arrest, Garcia Abrego was the target of a $2 million bounty for his capture by the United States under an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Texas in September of 1993. Because of this, and perhaps due to the level of corruption in the Mexican criminal justice system, he was immediately extradited to the United States for trial on 22 counts of cocaine trafficking, bribery, and money laundering charges. This was considered a major victory for both the Mexican and American authorities, as Garcia Abrego was the first-ever international drug trafficker to make the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted list.
When he was apprehended, Garcia Abrego was thought to be worth about $15 billion; this was, apparently, unable to help him in court, as he was found guilty on all 22 counts of drug smuggling and money laundering this past October.
The Gulf Cartel has been in many ways a family business. Garcia Abrego learned the business from his uncle, Juan N. Guerra, a long-time organized crime figure in Matamoros. He in turn taught it to his brother, Humberto Garcia Abrego, considered to be the brains of the Gulf Cartel until his five-year prison sentence for money laundering in 1995.
Other high-profile arrests that have hurt the Gulf Cartel include the June 1994 arrest of Raul Valladares Del Angel, a top lieutenant to Garcia Abrego, who was wanted in the United States on drugs and weapons charges; the 1995 arrest of Jose Adolfo de la Garza-Robles, aka "El Borrado," believed by U.S. officials to be the principal contact between the Gulf Cartel and Colombian narco-traffickers; and that of Jose Luis Sosa Mayorga, aka "El Cabezon," high-ranking Gulf Cartel member suspected of being the principal coordinator for narcotics flights coming into Mexico from Colombia and Guatemala, also arrested in 1995.
While the Gulf Cartel's capabilities have most certainly been weakened through these arrests, they are known to remain operational. The organization is now run by Oscar Malherve, one of Garcia Abrego's top lieutenants and money-launderers.
The Juárez Cartel is currently considered the most powerful of the Mexican drug cartels. Its founder, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, was assassinated on a beach in Cancun in 1993. It is currently led by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, one of the five patrones. Known as the "Lord of the Heavens" for pioneering of the use of Boeing 727s for bulk shipments of up to 15 tons of cocaine at a time, he shuns the flamboyant lifestyle of many of his competitors. Thought to represent the new, more professional, breed of drug lord in Mexico, Carrillo Fuentes is wanted in the U.S. on indictments in Dallas and Miami.
Carrillo Fuentes has patterned his organization on the Colombian model, mimicking both command structure, the use of secured communications and pirated cellular phone numbers, and the use of violence. Thought to deal in every possible drug and also known to traffic in weapons, the cartel grosses an estimated $200 million a week. Headquartered in Ciudad Juárez, the Juárez Cartel controls smuggling through west Texas and New Mexico and also operates at all other border points and Mexican ports.
The Sinaloa Cartel was founded by Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as "El Chapo." Guzman Loera learned the business working for Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, a leader and founder of the Sonora Cartel, before setting up the Sinaloa Cartel. However, like most of the leadership in the Sinaloa Cartel, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1993 on charges of drug-trafficking, weapons violations and murder.
In September of 1992, nine relatives of Gallardo were kidnapped from their homes in Mexico City and Guadalajara and killed by members of the Sinaloa Cartel disguised as Federal Judicial Police. A few months later, in May 1993, investigators uncovered a long, well-constructed tunnel under the U.S./Mexican border that was used by the Sinaloa Cartel to smuggle drugs. Two months later, police in El Salvador seized 5.9 tons of cocaine, arresting a Colombian from the Cali Cartel and three members of the Sinaloa Cartel who were preparing the drugs for shipment to Mexico. At the time of the seizure, this represented the largest cocaine shipment ever seized in Central America. One of those arrested in the subsequent investigation was Hector Luis Palma Salazar, aka "El Guero," a co-leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, arrested in Guadalajara in June 1995.
The Sonora Cartel, also known as the Caro Quintero Cartel, is made up of remnants of the old Guadalajara (or Pacific) Cartel. This is the group responsible the 1985 torture-murder in Guadalajara of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena.
The group is thought to mostly move marijuana through Arizona, but has a growing involvement in the cocaine and methamphetamine business. In addition to operating over the Arizona border, they also coordinate with the Juárez cartel to operate through some of their territory. In November of 1984, Mexican police seized over $1 billion worth of marijuana from one of their plantations in Chihuahua.
The Sonora Cartel is a very good example of the networking and fluidity of the Mexican cartels and their leadership cadres. Gallardo, known for keeping the peace among the various Mexican cartels, is the uncle of the Arellano Felix brothers, the leaders of the Tijuana Cartel. While he currently is in prison in connection with the Camarena murder, he is thought to remain a major player from prison. Rafael Caro Quintero, head of the Sonora Cartel until his April 1985 arrest in connection with the Camarena murder, is known to be very close to Garcia Abrego. Rafael's brother, Miguel Caro Quintero, is the current head of the Sonora Cartel, and is wanted under indictment in Denver and Tucson.
The Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Cartel or the Baja Cartel, is considered the most violent and the second most powerful of the Mexican drug cartels. Headquartered in Tijuana, the group is thought to be main suppliers behind the recent surge of methamphetamine smuggling discussed earlier. They control most drug smuggling on Mexico's west coast and across the California border, and are known to carry out turf wars in San Diego.
The cartel is responsible for the botched May 1993 assassination attempt on Guzman Loera at the Guadalajara airport. The assassins, in a case of mistaken identity, killed Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, and six others were also killed in the attack. This touched off a massive investigation into drug cartels and their connections with law enforcement, resulting in over 25 arrests and the seizure of hundreds of automatic weapons, pistols, hand grenades and grenade launchers, thousands of bullets, more than 82 houses, warehouses, ranches, farms, stores, and two private zoos. The next month, four members of the Federal Judicial Police and three local police, including one commander, were arrested on charges of corruption for involvement in the Posadas slaying. That event defined the brutality of the Tijuana Cartel, and while they remain a powerful force in the world of drug trafficking, many experts believe they have lost influence since being linked to the murder.
The organization is led by the Arellano Felix brothers: Benjamin, Francisco, Javier, and Ramon. All are considered patrones, and the only one in custody is Francisco, who was arrested in December of 1993 in Tijuana with six of his bodyguards and charged with several counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession, and murder, including the Posadas slaying. At least six others linked to the Tijuana Cartel have been arrested for the Posadas murder, including Ramon Torres Mendez and Juan Enrique Vascones Hernandez, who were found dead in their shared cell four months after their arrest.
Another of those arrested in the case was Jesus Zamora Salas, who is linked to the cartel through his membership in the San Diego-based Calle Treinta street gang. Calle Treinta, or 30th Street, comes from San Diego's Logan Heights barrio, and the gang has long been suspected of acting as bodyguards and hit-men for the Tijuana Cartel. As well as the Posadas murder, the gang is also thought to have carried out a April 1993 machine-gun drug hit in Cancun in which a tourist from Colorado was among those killed.
This past September, Federal Judicial Police in Tijuana seized four houses and 170 pounds of cocaine belonging to the Tijuana Cartel. Later in the month, the new Federal Judicial Police commander in Tijuana and three agents were assassinated in Mexico City. International and local media sources speculate that he was killed either by Tijuana Cartel members (due to his anti-narcotics efforts) or by renegade or recently fired police (due to his vehement anti-corruption crusade).
Seizures and Success
On the positive side, U.S. officials believe that President Zedillo is sincere in his anti-drug campaign, and cooperation between Mexican and American officials is at unprecedented levels. Successes have included the IRS seizure of over $850,000 from a U.S. bank account belonging to the Tijuana Cartel, and the American Express or Choza-Rica case that involved the prosecution of eight Gulf Cartel members, convictions of two American Express Bank International Executives, and the seizure of over $30 million in Gulf Cartel moneys by the U.S. government.
Mexican and American police learned long ago that when they can trust one another, good things happen. A case in point is the 1989 seizure of 21 tons of cocaine from Mexico, valued at $6.5 billion, from a Sylmar, California warehouse. This remains the largest-ever cocaine seizure in the United States. Another record was set in October 1990, when a U.S. Customs search of a Mexican propane truck entering the U.S. at the Otay Mesa border port led to the seizure of 8,705 pounds of cocaine, the largest ever accomplished at a land port of entry.
Other highlights of enforcement efforts against the drug trade in Mexico include:
- June 1993 seizure of 888 kg (1,953 pounds) of marijuana and 10 kg (22 pounds) of pure cocaine bound for the United States resulting from recent operations in five Mexican states
- Mexican government eradicating 29,000 acres of marijuana and 21,000 acres of opium poppy in 1995
- May 1995 arrest of three members of the Cali Cartel at the Mexico City airport carrying $1.529 million, resulting from a six-month PGR investigation into money laundering activities
- June 1995 seizures of over 1.5 metric tons of cocaine resulting from an international counter-narcotics operation code-named Operation "Triangle" that was initiated and coordinated by the Mexican government and brought Mexico, Guatemala and Belize together in a tri-border effort
- August 1995 confiscation of 1,125 kg of cocaine by the Mexican Navy as a result of a fire-fight with narco-traffickers trying to cross the Usumacinta river from Guatemala into Mexico
- November 1995 Operation "Unidos," a follow-up to "Triangle," brought the entire Mexico/Central American region together, including police and military forces, for a ten-day operation which resulted in the seizure of almost 5 metric tons of cocaine.
- July1996 discovery and seizure by Mexican Customs officials of a shipment of more than three tons of ephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamines, worth around $10 million on the black market
Another factor which has contributed to Mexico's difficulties is the political intrigue which has weakened the government's ability to respond and its legitimacy abroad. Many of these problems can be traced back to the March 1994 assassination of the governing party's presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, in Tijuana. Since the killing, conspiracy theories have been pervasive, and the media and the public have drawn numerous comparisons to the killing of President John F. Kennedy in the United States. Speculations have both the Tijuana Cartel and the Gulf Cartel as participants in the attack, as well as opponents in the candidate's own party, and members of rival opposition parties.
A factory worker was arrested at the scene of the crime and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a 45-year sentence. However, a federal appeals judge this past November upheld the acquittal of a man prosecutors had named as the second gunman in the case. The ruling dealt a blow to prosecutors trying to prove a conspiracy in the slaying. Former Attorney General Lozano denounced the ruling, saying that despite the best efforts of unnamed parties, "the truth will not be swept under the rug."
In the media, drug violence and conspiracy-related violence sometimes battle for attention. In April 1994, a reform-minded police chief in Tijuana, José Fredrico Benítez, was killed in Tijuana. Over a year later, Baja California state officials and federal officials in Mexico City announced that the investigation into the killing revealed that federal police agents working for drug traffickers carried out the killing because Benítez had antagonized powerful cocaine traffickers operating out of Tijuana. The officials stated that Benítez refused bribes form the traffickers and ordered police operations against local drug sellers, including the March 1994 operation against Higuera. However, there is wide speculation in the media that the killing may have been due to Bénítez' public questioning of a federal inquiry into the assassination of Colosio.
A year after the Benítez assassination, an arrest warrant in the case was issued for Marco Antonio Rodolfo García Gaxiola, a former federal police commander in Tijuana during the initial investigation into Colosio's assassination. Another warrant was issued for Jácome Saldaña, a former federal agent in Tijuana who - for reasons that have never become entirely clear - produced a videotape of the rally in Tijuana in which Colosio was assassinated.
In April 1996, the head of the Tijuana federal prosecutor's office during the first few weeks of the Colosio investigation was shot and killed at a Tijuana sports complex. Media speculated that drug cartels involved in the assassination were responsible for the killing, in order to cover up knowledge of the assassination, which the victim was getting ready to make public.
In August of 1996, a day after the mass firings of Federal Judicial Police were announced, a federal prosecutor in Tijuana was gunned down. The government suggests that it was the work of a disgruntled former policeman who believed the prosecutor was responsible for his dismissal. Others theorize that his killing had to do with the fact that he was the first federal prosecutor to interrogate key suspects in the Colosio assassination.
On another front, current government inquiries into the activities of the previous administration of President Salinas have also led to revelations of corruption and political conspiracies. Much of this controversy centers around Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the former President's brother and a senior official in his administration. Salinas de Gortari was arrested and jailed in February 1995 on charges of graft and of masterminding the September 1994 assassination of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, a former leader of Salinas' own governing party.
Raúl Salinas had long been connected in the media with Garcia Abrego and other leaders in the Gulf Cartel, as well as their main supplier, the Cali Cart
It is clear that all three of the factors mentioned above are having an effect on the current hardships being experienced by the Mexican government. Many would argue that drug trafficking is the most important of these variables, and that if it were eliminated, the others also would disappear. Others may counter that an economic and political environment so susceptible to corruption is a much more serious problem.
There is considerable overlap among the factors affecting each variable. In some respects, we are making distinctions that do not necessarily exist when we discuss the problems related to drug trafficking as separate from those associated with corruption in politics or political in-fighting. In many cases, they are one and the same. But what we should keep in mind is that participants in drug trafficking and political corruption share many of the same goals, such as individual enrichment through the exploitation of the general public. They also practice many of the same tactics to achieve these goals, with violence being first and foremost among them.
Recent emphasis that the Mexican government has placed on the problems of drugs and corruption is certainly a step in the right direction. Increasing cooperation and trust between the U.S. and Mexican intelligence and law enforcement communities also is expected to produce some positive results. But corruption has become so embedded in the Mexican system that it is foolhardy to think that it can be eliminated or even significantly reduced. The best that can be hoped for is that a dent can be made in these problems.
Corruption has existed in Mexico, in one form or another, for decades. However, drug profits have enhanced the benefits of corruption to such an extent that those in charge become extremely wealthy, not by actually doing anything, but simply for not acting, or overlooking criminal activity. Many of those on the lower levels of authority, all the way down to the "cop on the beat," have come to depend on their corruption stipend to make ends meet, as salaries for public servants have not even come close to keeping pace with inflation.
Finally, when the current political intrigue is laid on top of everything else, it is easy to see a country in turmoil. Even with a stable political situation, attacking crime, drug trafficking, and corruption would be a monumental task. But with so much behind-the-scenes maneuvering, political in-fighting, and unresolved conspiracy theories, addressing such systematic problems is seen by many as futile.