The fall of Mexico's Drug Czar is but the
latest development in the wholesale
takeover of the Mexican state by the drug
cartels. The selfimplosion of the Mexican
elite in a string of bloody
narcovendettas reaches the highest levels
of power. Yet Washington keeps pouring
your taxdollars into the regimeto fight
drug traffickers! ...Or to prop up NAFTA
and suppress revolutionaries?
On February 18, the Mexican Defense Ministry announced that Brig. Gen. Jesus Gutiérrez Rebollo, Mexico's top military Drug War pointman, had been arrested on charges of receiving payoffs from Juarez Cartel kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes (aka the "Lord of the Skies"). US Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey had weeks earlier called Gen. Gutierrez "a guy of absolute unquestioned integrity." The Clinton Administration admitted that Gen. Gutierrez, as head of the National Institute to Combat Drugs, had received highlevel intelligence briefings in the US.
"EVERYBODY COULD BE BRIBED"
On January 13, a month earlier, the
daily La Reforma reported that four
volumes of evidence against the Gulf
Cartel had mysteriously disappeared from
the offices of Gutierrez' National
Institute to Combat Drugs.
The previous August, Gutierrez's own predecessor, Ricardo Cordero Ontiveroswho had stepped down in November 1995, citing frustration with entrenched official corruptionwas himself arrested by federal police on charges of accepting bribes from Tijuana traffickers.
"Everybody could be bribed," said Juan Antonio Ortiz, a Gulf Cartel jefe who cut his prison time down from 20 to six years by cooperating with US authorities. "From what I know, everybody was being paid all the way to the top."
Ortiz was testifying in a civil case against Mario Ruiz Massieu, the former Mexican deputy attorney general, in which the US sought to confiscate more than $9 million in alleged Gulf Cartel protection money. Mario had reportedly funnelled the bread out of Mexico City in suitcases to deposit in Texas banks. One witness, the bodyguard of a federal police commander, testified he had delivered suitcases of cash into the trunk of Mario's car.
Mario Ruiz Massieu was the federal investigator into the slaying of his own brother, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, secretarytreasurer of the longruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), gunned down in Mexico City in 1994. Mario fled Mexico when a federal investigation was launched into possible coverup in his own investigation of his brother's death. He was arrested by US authorities at Newark airport on March 3, 1995, en route to Europe. Now the US and Mexico are fighting over the hapless Mario: as he sat under house arrest in New Jersey, being periodically flown down to Houston to testify in his money laundering case, Mexican federal authorities attempted to extradite him back home.
On March 16, a Houston federal jury ruled that $7.9 million of Mario's $9 million in the city's banks was cartel grease and could be confiscated by Uncle Sam. Washington, which has refused Mexico's extradition attempts, is said to be trying to have Mario deported to a third country.
The case of Ruiz Massieu brothers illustrates how the Mexican state has become little more than a cash machine for
corrupt bureaucrats. By the time of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu's death, he had amassed more than $20 million, beginning with his 1987 election as governor of Guerrero state. Now, the scandals surrounding his death reveal a PRI regime riven with narcovendettas.
Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu had been
married to Adriana Salinas, sister of the
infamous Salinas brothers: exiled
ex-President Carlos Salinas and imprisoned
political boss Raul Salinas. With Mexican
investigators scouring Switzerland, Panama
and the Caymans for the bank accounts
where they sequestered their illicit
millions, both Salinas brothers are
implicated in the string of high-level
assassinations which has decimated the
Mexican elite since 1993.
Raul is charged with the slaying of disappeared Tamaulipas federal congressman Manuel MuĖoz Rocha—who he had allegedly paid to murder Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, then decided that dead men tell no tales. The accused gunman arrested by federal authorities "confessed" that he had been hired by MuĖoz for the hit. By then, MuĖoz had conveniently disappeared. On Halloween 1996, federal police unearthed a cadaver at Raul's private ranch, El Encanto. Investigators immediately announced that the body was that of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.
Mario Ruiz Massieu now faces federal charges in Mexico
of altering documents to
divert evidence away from Raul Salinas in
the death of his brother. Mario, in turn,
continues to insist that the PRI machine
was obstructing his investigation (and
that the suitcases of cash he shipped to
Houston were all clean money).
On February 1, 1997, Francisca Zetina Chavez (aka "La Paca"), the psychic and confidante of the Mexican elite who led federal investigators to Raul Salinas' ranch in search of the Munoz' body, admitted that the body they found there was really that of her own son-in-law's father which she had exhumed and planted on the ranch to frame Salinas. Forensic tests confirmed that it was not Munoz's body.
Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, the special investigator for the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) on the case, who hired La Paca and asserted the body was that of Munoz, is now the target of a nationwide manhunt. La Paca, Mexico's bruja-to-the-stars who counts John F. Kennedy and the Egyptian Pharoah Tutankamon among her "spiritual protectors," was paid half a million dollars by Chapa's investigation. She is now in prison. The PGR claims to have a video of La Paca and Chapa meeting at her home in December 1995, plotting to frame Raul Salinas.
"WAR ON DRUGS"
The PGR, the top anti-drug police force, is admittedly corruption-ridden. 700 agents were fired in 1996 in an attempted clean-up. In March 1996, McCaffrey called then-Mexican Attorney General Antonio Lozano Gracia "a man of tremendous courage and integrity." In December, Lozano was ousted for incompetence and blowing the Salinas investigation.
Lozano had been the Mexican cabinet's token representative from the rightist opposition party PAN. This tentative power-sharing agreement was dropped with the Salinas scandal, and PRI hegemony has been restored to the cabinet. New Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, former federal human rights commissioner, symbolically initiated his term by becoming the first Mexican Attorney General to submit to a drug test—and instate a policy of testing all PGR personnel.
Madrazo immediately accelerated the transfer of military officers to anti-drug posts previously held by civilians, the militarization
of the Drug War, calling
the policy a matter of "national
McCaffrey lost no time in heaping praise upon the new boss: "I applaud the current leadership; Mexico's new attorney general, the president, the secretary of defense...all of those who are involved in this. That includes all the brave soldiers in the Mexican armed forces who have destroyed more illegal drugs this year than any other force in Mexico. We are proud of what they have done."
Carlos Salinas remains in self-imposed exile, under investigation by Mexican federal police for complicity in the Ruiz Massieu case as well as money-laundering. He is said to have pumped the federal coffers full of laundered narco-dollars to keep the peso artificially inflated long enough to get NAFTA passed in US Congress, leaving his successor President Ernesto Zedillo to pick up the pieces when the peso crashed in December 1994, just after Salinas left office. Salinas, the Mexican architect of NAFTA and a onetime hopeful to head the new World Trade Organization, now globetrots to Havana and Toronto from his new base in Dublin, occasionally coming to New York for Dow Jones board meetings. Each time, Dow Jones' futuristic downtown Manhattan headquarters is staked out by Mexican journalists hoping to get a shot of the elusive Salinas, the first Mexican ex-President to be publicly vilified since Porfirio Diaz. He is said to be considering stepping down from the Dow Jones board. The left opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) wants him charged with treason.
Mexican investigators, meanwhile, have
traced Raul's money-laundering network
from Citibank's Mexico City branch to
accounts at its New York headquarters in
the name of Salinas-owned dummy companies
in the Cayman Islands--and from there to
secret Swiss accounts. Over $200 million
is said to have followed this route, but
Raul denies that the money was from
illegal activities and Citibank denies
knowing that the money came from the
Mexican president's brother. The US and
Switzerland have opened inquiries into the
The Mexican cartels' war for control of the cocaine traffic is resulting in a wave of killings (often accompanied by grisly tortures) of police and narcotrafficantes alike (with the line between them increasingly blurred) in Tijuana and other border towns as well as Guadalajara, Mexico's second city. The Tijuana Cartel—led by the Arellano Felix brothers—battles for hegemony with its junior rival, the Juarez Cartel of Amado Carrillo.
Juan Garcia Abrego of Matamoros' Gulf Cartel—which had bribed US Customs and National Guard to move truckloads of coke into Texas is now in US prison, and his
organization in decline. However, his
brother, Humberto Garcia Abrego, managed
to "slip away" from the cops assigned to
guard him during questioning at government
offices in downtown Mexico City in
March—just days after President Bill
Clinton's controversial "certification" of
Mexico as a reliable Drug War ally to
receive US aid. Facing extradition to the
US, brother Humberto remains at large.
PLOT THICKENS IN COLOSIO CASE
In January, a Tijuana prosecutor, Hodin Gutierrez, was gunned down in a hail of bullets by unknown assailants. The eighth Tijuana prosecutor murdered in the past year, Gutierrez had been investigating the murder of former Tijuana police chief Federico Benitez who, in turn, was investigating the most colossal murder case in Mexico, the slaying of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio at a Tijuana campaign stop in 1994.
Colosio was gunned down on March 23 1994. On March 3, not three weeks earlier, Baja California State Judicial Police protecting bigshot Tijuana narcotrafficante Ismael Higuera Guerrero got into a gun battle with Federal
Judicial Police attempting to arrest him,
leaving five officers dead. Grupo Tucan,
the security firm hired by local PRIistas
to police the fatal Colosio campaign stop,
is made up almost entirely of ex-State
Judicial Police agents.
On April 28, 1994, Police Chief Federico Benitez, who headed his own investigation of the assassination, was shot dead while responding to a bomb hoax at the city's airport.
Mario Aburto, alleged gunman in the Colosio case, is now serving a 45-year sentence. The government has dropped investigations into accomplices and closed ranks around the lone assassin theory—despite an initial broader probe sparked by a video of the killing which appears to show Grupo Tucan men clearing a path for the gunman. Earlier arrests in the case—including of top Tijuana PRIistas such as Jose Rodolfo Rivapalacio, an ex-State Judicial Police investigator with a reputation for torture—were released one by one.
Eduardo Valle (aka "El Bujo," the owl), a PGR investigator working on the drug cartels, fled to the United States after the Colosio killing and started claiming that drug lords and PRI officials
were behind the hit. Valle claimed Colosio
had earned the wrath of both the cartels
and Carlos Salinas (who had, in PRI
tradition, personally selected Colosio as
his successor) by acting too
independently—even having the Garcia
Abrego brothers ejected by security men
from a Monterrey fundraiser. Following the
Ruiz Massieu murder, El Bujo detailed how
cartel pay-offs were passed up the ladder
from police and border officials to Ruiz
The Federal Judicial Police (PJF) on the Tijuana Cartel's turf are equally co-opted. In November 1995, the entire force in the state of Baja California Sur was rotated out after witnesses reported seeing a detachment of uniformed PJF agents unloading tons of cocaine from a disabled jet in the desert—and then using bulldozers to dismantle and bury the jet.
PLOT THICKENS IN POSADAS CASE
In May 1996, an arrest was finally made in the May 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, the Archbishop of Guadalajara who was gunned down in his car at the city's airport. He had previously been Bishop of Tijuana, and was an outspoken foe of the Cartel. One Alvaro Osorio Osuna ("El Nahual", the evil spirit),
an alleged Cartel agent, is the
accused assassin. But that same month, new
Guadalajara Archbishop Juan Sandoval
IĖiguez went on national TV to demand that
Carlos Salinas be investigated in the
killing of his predecessor. He claimed
that baggage handlers and other airport
witnesses had been threatened by police to
keep quiet about what they saw.
Cardinal Posadas' personal assistant Felisa Sanchez now accuses Carlos Salinas of ordering the murder because the Archbishop knew to much about the Tijuana Cartel's involvement at the top levels of power.
Frequent high-level meetings between Gen. McCaffrey and top Mexican officials continue to coordinate Drug War strategy. McCaffrey, a top Pentagon strategist of "narco-terrorism" as the new post-Communist threat in Latin America, has been guiding Mexico's Drug War militarization.
In 1997, the US will grant Mexico up to $37 million in
helicopters and surveillance aircraft,
and an additional $10 million for
Increasingly, this equipment
is going to the federal army, rather than
the police. Last October, US Defense
Secretary William Perry met with his
Mexican counterpart, Gen. Enrique
Cervantes Aguirre, to discuss a $70
million loan to beef up Mexico's radar
system, and a doubling of the Pentagon's
$500,000 budget for training Mexican
officers at US military schools, including
the notorious School of the Americas at
Ft. Benning, GA (imprisoned Panamanian
narco-dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega's alma
The pro-militarization argument is that the army is less corrupt than the police. Conveniently forgotten are such incidents as that on the Veracruz coast in November 1991, when an aircraft tracked by US surveillance was intercepted upon landing by alerted PJF agents—only to find that the remote airstrip was being guarded by over 100 army troops. In the ensuing three-hour shootout, seven PJF officers were killed and the smugglers escaped.
Mexico's new revolutionary movements are feeling the military pressure more than the ultra-rich cartel jefes. In Chiapas, the federal army's anti-drug Rainbow Taskforce is infiltrating territory controlled by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).
In a January 24 EZLN communique,
Subcomandante Marcos warned: "The
pre-military campaign of the government
has begun. The Mexican federal army is
saturating its barracks with troops and
armaments; the military patrols have
doubled in size; planes and helicopters
are practicing time and again for the
surgical attack; the public ministers are
preparing to count the captured and dead.
The division leaders of the Rainbow
Taskforce have their orders sitting on
In Guerrero and Oaxaca, now hotbeds of support for the new Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) rebels, the army is also phasing out police to fight narco-gangs and guerillas in the mountains.
Airport and border security is also coming under army control following increasingly blatant Cartel use of airlines to ferry their product. In January 1995, a coke-laden 727 touched down at a Jalisco airport operated by Taesa, the elite Mexican airline favored by millionaires and bigshot politicians. Taesa personnel told police that gunmen forced them to light the airstrip for the jet, then released them after the cargo was unloaded.
Taesa was founded in 1988 by
Carlos Hank Jr., the son and business
manager of Mexican billionaire Carlos Hank
Sr. who was Agriculture Secretary in the
the Salinas administration.
In another embarrassment, less than a month after the arrest of Gen. Gutierrez, chief of an army anti-narco intelligence unit in Guadalajara, Brig. Gen. Alfredo Navarro Lara, was arraested on charges of offering a $1 million-a-month bribe to another brigadier general in Baja California on behalf of the Tijuana Cartel—and threatening to have his family killed if he refused.
In March, the Clinton Administration came under harsh criticism for "certifying" Mexico to receive US aid as a cooperative Drug War ally, while Colombia was "decertified" for a second year in a row. But the political reality is that Colombia was decertified because the action has really moved to Mexico.
Colombian President Ernesto Samper has outlived his usefulness to the CIA/DEA/Pentagon, just like the far greater political criminal Noriega before him.
In the '80s, the CIA worked
hand-in-glove with Noriega and
Colombia's Medellin Cartel to
overthrow the Sandinistas in
Nicaragua, with Central America as
the main transshipment route
for coke going north and guns
After the Contragate scandal broke,
Noriega became more useful as a scapegoat
than a client, Panama was invaded and the
puppet regime of Guillermo Endara
installed. Endara immediately jumped in
bed with the rival Cali Cartel, moving
more coke and dirty money through Panama
than Noriega ever did. Simultaneously, the
CIA, DEA and Colombian government were
working hand-in-glove with the Cali Cartel
front group People Persecuted by Pablo
Escobar (PEPE) to hunt down and kill the
Medellin Cartel kingpins. The Medellin
Cartel collapsed, the Cali Cartel became
the new top dog and, with the compliant
cash-starved outlaw regime of Raul Cedras
in power in Haiti, the Caribbean became
the new top transshipment route.
Colombia's new President Samper was cut
loose by Washington, and to get back in
Uncle Sam's good graces launched a
far-reaching crackdown on the Cali bosses.
But by then NAFTA was in effect, and the collapse of the Cali Cartel combined with the loosening of trade restrictions along the US-Mexican border led to the rise of Mexico as the new top transshipment route—and the rise of the Mexican mafia as the new boss of the hemispheric coke trade. Now, for the first time,
the top hemispheric cartel is not in
the producer country of Colombia at all,
but in the transshipment country of
Mexico—in fact, in Tijuana, just a few
miles south of San Diego!
"The Mexicans are now the single most powerful trafficking groups," DEA chief Thomas Constantine recently admitted to US News & World Report.
This reality—combined with the rise of revolutionary movements like the Zapatistas—meant that, empty threats and bluster-for-public-consumption aside, there was no way in hell Clinton was going to decertify Mexico.
Washington can afford to allow chaos to spread in Colombia (where the US-mandated spraying has resulted in rural uprisings by coca-producing campesinos and growing support for guerillas) until the quasi-populist Samper is ousted. The Mexican regime, meanwhile, is completely compliant with US mandates and far more strategic to US interests. Maintaining
"stability" in Mexico through escalating
“anti-drug” militarization is a necessity,
despite the obvious reality that the
Mexican regime is, if anything, even more
ensconced in the coke trade than the
Samper engaged in his own little charade with a display of defiance to Uncle Sam by announcing that he would suspend coca-eradication aerial spraying just after the 1997 “decertification” decision—followed one day later by abject capitulation, agreeing to resume the spraying.
Republican US Congressmen, especially from border states, made a charade of standing up to Clinton by threatening to override the Mexico certification—then similarly backed down by settling for a non-binding vote.
Mariano Herran Salvatti, a local
prosecutor and comparative lightweight
appointed to fill the shoes of the
arrested Gen. Gutierrez as Mexican Drug
Czar, announced his own charade: a new
program of toxological, psychological and
polygraph tests designed to prove agents'
honesty and loyalty.
Clinton and McCaffrey completed the charade by making much of his appointment as evidence that Mexico has entered a new era of fighting corruption. As human rights violations escalate, more US money and weapons flow into the coffers of the Mexican state.
All this just goes to demonstrate that the Drug War has replaced the Cold War as the new propaganda cover for maintaining Yankee power over Latin America (just as the Cold War replaced Manifest Destiny). As Barry McCaffrey told US News & World Report in reference to the Mexico Drug War: "We're talking about a decade-long effort."
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