Mexican Cartels and Their Integration
into Mexican Socio-Political Culture
by Chris Eskridge
University of Nebraska
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Conference on Organized Crime: Myth, Power, Profit, October 1999, Lausanne, Switzerland. The author wishes to thank Brandon Paeper, Brittawni Olson, Ann Marie Lambert, Denise Olson and Pat O'Day for their help, assistance and insight.
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Drug Cartels and The Drug Wars
The Mexican Drug Cartels Today
The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels
The Mexican Political Scene: An Historical Perspective
The Mexican Political Scene: A Contemporary Perspective
Impact of the Drug Trade on the Mexican and American Economies
The New Markets
Conclusion: The Future
The Unanswered Questions
Mexican Cartels and Their Integration
into Mexican Socio-Political Culture
This paper examines the entities known generally as the Mexican drug cartels, explores the current state of political affairs in Mexico, and looks to the possible future activities of these organizations. Operating in a country with weak democratic traditions and a fragile economy that is highly dependent upon the drug trade and external funding, they pose a present and continuing threat, and will surely not disappear any time soon. Rather, they seem to be deeply imbedded in the current Mexican socio-political, economic scene. The Mexican cartels have emerged as formidable enemies and have the potential of seriously challenging the very sovereignty of the Mexican state. Their impact is felt in the United States as well, with many U.S. officials now calling them the premier challenge facing U.S. law enforcement in the 21st century. The American drug fighting certification program is examined, as are other ways of responding to the cartel threat. Unless substantive efforts are undertaken on both sides of the border, the Mexican cartels will continue to grow in strength and influence.
Mexican Cartels and Their Integration
into Mexican Socio-Political Culture
The United Mexican States (EUM) consists of 31 states and a federal district. The nation encompasses 756,000 square miles and has a population of nearly 100,000,000. The capital, Mexico City, lays claim to being the largest city in the world. Seventy percent of the citizenry live in urban areas. Though blessed with abundant natural resources, a bountiful agricultural production capability and more billionaires than any nation in the world outside the United States, nearly half of the citizens live in poverty, with fully one-fourth living in extreme poverty. Though strides have been made in the past decade, Mexican physical infrastructure and medical facilities can both still be classified as underdeveloped.
For the past 70 years, the country has been ruled by a quasi-elected President who serves one, six-year term, and a two house legislative body. The upper house, the Senate, consists of 64 individuals (2 from each state and the federal district) elected to one, six-year term. The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, consists of 500 individuals elected to one, three-year term. Though legally permitted to initiate revenue measures and pass the budget, the legislative body has generally not done so and has evolved to a point today where it is has relatively little political clout. The 31 states also have very little political power.
Though the Constitution of 1917 divided power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, in practice the country is perhaps more accurately classified as an autocratic party-state system. For the past 70 years, all major political officials have come from one political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI. Only in the past few years has the PRI experienced any challenge of consequence, most particularly being the 2000 Presidential victory of PRI-opposition leader Vicente Fox.(1) Despite several euphoric eulogies from the press subsequent to that election, the PRI is alive and well, and will most surely mount a comeback, as evidenced by its recent victory in the Tabasco gubernatorial elections (AFP, 10/18/00)
The key "player" in the de-facto Mexican political scene is the president. Mexican presidents have successfully strengthened their office over the course of the last 70 years and now enjoy tremendous power. There are few legitimate internal checks and balances to Mexican presidential power at present. Among other functions, they select their successors to the Office of President, approve legislative and state gubernatorial candidates (de-facto appointments), select the attorney general, select high-ranking military officials, select supreme court justices, select the head of the PRI Central Executive Committee (the de-facto ruling body of Mexico), and regularly by-pass the legislature and issue executive decrees or orders ("reglamentos") that have the effect of law.
As noted above, the Mexican political system has evolved into a benevolent autocratic model; interestingly a form of government that appeared, at least in 1887, to be rather attractive to future United States President Woodrow Wilson, as outlined in his famous essay, "The Study of Administration," (Wilson, 1887).
There is nothing particularly sacrosanct regarding representative, checks and balances democracy. Western civilization has moved in this direction, but the benevolent autocratic model may be the next phase in the evolution of political sovereignty. As Amin (1997) would argue, Mexico, as well as any other nation, should be allowed to "negotiate the terms of its interdependence" with the rest of the world. Echoing much the same sentiment, Samuelson (1999) has argued that we in America cannot "refashion the rest of the world in our image," and that it is the height of arrogance to suggest otherwise. By the same token, it must be noted that the nature of the autocratic party-state governmental arrangement in Mexico and the socio-economic culture in which it operates, taken in toto, lends itself to systematic corruption and infiltration by organized crime interests. It is this writer's perspective that the contemporary Mexican socio-economic political fabric suffers not just from an infiltration, but from a saturation of organized crime interests.
INTRODUCTION TO THE DRUG CARTELS AND THE DRUG WARS
Endless and eternal is their name. The drug wars in the Americas continue, with nothing even resembling a denouement on the horizon. After experiencing some success in its fight against the Medellin and Cali cartels of Colombia, American law enforcement and military officials began to focus their efforts on the Mexican drug cartels in the mid-1990s. The bells and whistles were brought out, Congressional Committees examined the issues, and numerous public relations statements were released by the Clinton Administration. Consider the following statement made in 1997 by Thomas Constantine, then Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):
"These sophisticated drug syndicate groups from Mexico have eclipsed organized crime groups from Colombia as the premier law enforcement threat
facing the United States." (Constantine, 1997)
The efforts proved to be far too little and too late. Despite American law
enforcement undertakings through the mid-1990s, the Mexican cartels managed to
consolidate their power bases, gained some control over the media, co-opted
government officials at every level on a wholesale basis, and even killed a
number of local and national government leaders.
Governments have notoriously short attention spans. Despite the in-roads made by the Mexican cartels and the 1997 decision by the Clinton Administration to focus on them, American law enforcement attention has now (late 2000) been diverted to Colombia and to what the Clinton Administration deems a more pressing problem. Two left-wing terrorist groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have picked up the drug trade gavel dropped by the Colombian cartels, and are now running the show. With perhaps as much as a $600 million a year income, these two narco-terrorist groups, some 20,000 strong, pose a legitimate external threat to the sovereignty of Colombia. These groups have accumulated more than $5.3 billion in the past eight years, primarily through the drug trade ($2.3 billion), but also via kidnaping ($1.8 billion) and extortion ($1.2 billion) (Criminal Organizations, May 1999). They are better armed than the Colombian military, and appear ready to take on the government in full-pitch battles (Hammer and Isikoff, 8/9/99). They may in fact be adhering to the tactical terrorist philosophies of Frantz Fanon (1982) and Carlos Marighella (1985), a philosophy that proved successful in the overthrow of Cuba some 40 years ago. In response, the Colombian government has launched "Plan Colombia," a $7.5 billion effort to take out the drug traffickers and restore order to this beleaguered nation. The matter has become more convoluted due to the recent emergence of a powerful right-wing entity, the Self-Defense Force. This group formed as a response to the Colombian government's inability to successfully deal with the left-wing entities. Run by Carlos Castano, this vigilante group has turned to taxing cocaine and heroin producers, shippers and distributors to generate the revenue necessary to finance its military operations. Some experts suggest the Self Defense Force now ironically generates more revenue from the drug business than does FARC and ELN combined (Frontline, 4/20/00). It will be most difficult to wean the Self Defense Force from this new-found wealth, and they paradoxically loom on the horizon as a threat to the sovereign government of Colombia from the political right.
American aid has poured into that beleaguered nation to the tune of $250 million this year, ranking it third behind Egypt and Israel. There are currently more than 200 U.S. military personnel and 100 federal law enforcement agents stationed in Colombia. The U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director Barry McCaffrey visited Colombia during the summer of 2000, and committed to additional $500 million per year aid package, bringing the total U.S. government support of "Plan Colombia" to $1.3 billion. The end result of this new drug war is that the Mexican drug problem has now been placed on the proverbial back burner. President Fox has continued to seek American cooperation/assistance in the drug wars, but sensing its lowered priority in the Ameican political agenda, he has turned his attention southward and called for a unified Latin American effort to deal with the trafficking. While currently little more than a call for action, he seems determined to cobble together some type of unified Meso-American anti-drug initiative. Interestingly, he seems to be working most closely with Colombian President Pastrana in developing a solid political base for the notion (Associated Press, 10/9/00).
THE MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS TODAY
While there is little hard data and many conflicting "authoritative" estimates, it appears that as much as 90 percent of the cocaine, 80 percent of the foreign-grown marijuana, 70 percent of the heroin, and 80 percent of the raw methamphetamine ingredients consumed in the United States enters by land from Mexico. For a period of time, the Colombians supplied the bulk of the drugs to the Mexicans, who then trans-shipped those products primarily into the United States. The Mexicans began by-passing the Colombians and going directly to Bolivian and Peruvian suppliers during the summer of 1997. Many have continued to move in that fashion, but the Colombians have now returned as the Mexican cartel's primary supplier of heroin and cocaine.
There are probably a dozen Mexican syndicates that are involved in the drug trade. The six primary Mexican syndicates with international capabilities currently operating are as follows(2):
1. The Gulf (or Matamoros) Cartel - This cartel was run by Juan Garcia-Abrego, but he was captured in January of 1996 and convicted in Texas in October of that year.(3) This was the strongest of the border-based cartels until his arrest. Oscar Malherve emerged as the next leader of this cartel, and due to his Juarez Cartel connections, seemed poised to move the Gulf Cartel back into a position of prominence, but he was arrested in 1997 and remains behind bars as of this writing. It is thought that the Gulf cartel is now run by Oziel Cardenas Guillen. The Gulf Cartel is based in south Texas (Brownsville and Laredo) and northeastern Mexico (Tamaulipas) and controls the gulf region, as its name implies. Abrego and company had been transshipping as much as 1/3 of all the cocaine used in the United States, but that number has dropped a bit of late. They have a brand name on their product - "Rolex," suggesting a high grade of cocaine. Money came in so fast and furious that the Gulf Cartel leadership literally did not know what to do with it. Foolishly, Abrego placed $1.3 billion into an American bank checking account, which only served to bring him to the immediate attention of American law enforcement officials.(4) He was allegedly worth around $15 billion at the time of his arrest. He owned hotels, real estate and an air taxi service in Texas, and even more extensive holdings in Mexico including newspapers, hotels, construction firms, lumber companies, moving businesses, ranches, real estate (Reuters, 9/29/96). He was tied to Raul Salinas, the brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas (president from 1988-1994) (Reuters, 1996). As of this writing, Cardenas is making significant strides in re-establishing this cartel as a major player once again.
2. The Juarez Cartel - This cartel was run by a former Mexican federal police commander, Rafael Aguilar, and Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Fuentes died in June of 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery. Leadership of this cartel is currently being contested, but Adado' brother Vicente seems now to have gained control. This syndicate has historically controlled the middle area of the Mexican/United States border. There were two factions to this group, but they came together under Fuentes, who by 1997 was grossing as much as $200 million a week. Under Fuentes, the Juarez Cartel rose to dominance in Mexico. They were smuggling four times as much cocaine as the other cartels combined (Larmer 3/10/97). When Fuentes passed away, the cartel probably had $25 billion in assets hidden away. Fuentes was also expanding into methamphetamines and money laundering ventures at the time of his death. The late September 1999 arrest by U.S. officials of 93 persons associated with this cartel, as well as the seizure of $25 million in cash and assets and the loss of 12.5 tons of cocaine and 2.1 tons of marijuana will surely set this cartel back.
3. The Tijuana Cartel - This cartel is run by the four Felix-Arellano brothers, wanted for the brutal 1993 murder of Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Ocampo (Reuters, 5/25/93). In early 1998, they combined forces with the strong central Mexican group, the Sonora Cartel run by the Caro Quintero family of Guadalajara, and formed a new organization they call, "The Federation" (AFP, 2/16/98). The Sonora Cartel was founded by Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who although imprisoned, appears to still be a major player in the new formed Federation, in part because he is the uncle of the Felix-Arellano brothers. Gallardo has long been known for advocating cooperation between the cartels. This group now has the potential to be the most powerful of the Mexican cartels.
4. The Herrera family - In some ways, this is not really a cartel per se, but an old time Mexican mafia family akin to the Camorra of Naples or the Black mobs of the eastern United States. They have many operations in Mexico itself. Herrera family representatives have also operated in New York, Boston, Louisville, Philadelphia, Dallas and Oklahoma City, with Chicago serving as their primary American hub. One estimate places over 1,000 Herrera family cocaine and heroin dealers in the United States (AFP, 12/6/97). This organization is based in the city of Durango in the state of Durango, and is really a confederation of roughly six families. They are enmeshed in the local socio-economic, political scene, and the family basically controls the state. As Abadinsky (2000:257) has pointed out, "the Herrera's did not buy off the power structure in Durango - they are the power structure." Members of this syndicate are generally all tied by blood and/or marriage, and as a result, the group has been almost impossible to infiltrate. The family head gives to the poor, plays the role of loving community godfather at many funerals and weddings, builds water and sewer systems, puts in street lights, builds hospitals. They supply America with so-called "Mexican mud" (brown heroin), and have done so since at least the mid-1940s. Opium is grown in the state of Durango, which explains to a large degree why they got into and stayed in that business. For a while, the Herrera's were running Colombian cocaine into the United States for the Medellin and then the Cali Cartels. They have now apparently opted out of the current cocaine battles and seem to want to just deal in their "Mexican mud" trade and be left alone. To a great degree, the "Mexican mud" market is a different market than the "China white" market. The other syndicates generally do not contend with the Herrera clan. The Herrera's are just too well enmeshed in Durango, the poppies are grown there, and the family is too well connected. The family has in essence established a vertical monopoly in the areas of production and distribution.
5. The Hank family - A second family syndicate, the Hank Family, has been emerging of late as a powerful player in the drug trade. A recent U.S. government report stated that the Hank family has been so closely linked to drug trafficking that they are now seen as a serious threat to the United States (AFP, 6/2/99). This group is headed by Carlos Hank Gonzalez who is best known for his expansive and profitable transportation, construction, and financial empires in Mexico. He has also been said to hold significant influential power within the PRI. Carlos Hank Gonzalez and his two eldest sons, Carlos Hank Rhon and Jorge Hank Rhon, have been the target of a American investigation since 1997. The Hank Corporation, known as "Guapo Hank", has purchased or maintained control over several American banks, investment firms, transportation companies and real estate properties, and is involved in the gambling industry. Hank Gonzalez is a former mayor of Mexico City and held two separate cabinet posts under former President Carlos Salinas. It is alleged that his eldest son, Carlos Hank Rhon, launders drug money and had been closely associated with Amado Carillo Fuentes - the late head of the Juarez Cartel (AFP, 6/2/99). Carlos Hank Rhon has also been associated with Raul Salinas, the former president's brother, who was himself linked to drug trafficking and was ultimately convicted of the murder of one of his brother's political rivals. Jorge Hank Rhon, the younger of the two sons, lives in the northern border town of Tijuana and is a close associate of the Felix-Arellano brothers, the leaders of The Federation. Jorge is less discrete in his criminality than either his older brother or his father and has earned the reputation of being "ruthless, dangerous, and prone to violence against his enemies" (AFP, 6/2/99). Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green has rejected the accusations laid against the Hank family and has called such allegations nothing more than pure defamation laid against Mexico's top officials and business men. A far more likely scenario is that the Hank family may well have aligned themselves with The Federation, bringing a significant amount of resources and connections to an already extremely powerful entity.
6. The Mexican Military - While not recognized for many years in the academic community, the Mexican military has been heavily involved in the marijuana trade for decades. Recent works have begun to surface which speak to this issues (Morris, 1991; Nadelmann, 1993), though many are in Spanish. A recent article by O'Day (2000) is one of the first comprehensive pieces written in English that addresses this topic. As O'Day points out, the drug of choice of the Mexican military is now and has been for years, marijuana. Seeing an opportunity to carve out a literal monopoly, the Mexican military got into the marijuana transport business as the American demand for marijuana increased in the 1970s. Bulky and possessing a penetrating pungent odor that is virtually impossible to mask, the movement of marijuana presents very different transport dynamics than does either heroin or cocaine. The Mexican military, however, has the military force to move throughout the country with impunity thus rendering moot the need to mask the odor. It also has access to large vehicles that can easily move large quantities of the bulky weed. The military has used these unique abilities to their advantage, and have largely stayed out of the cocaine and heroin business, though they do provide security for clandestine airstrips operated by cocaine and heroin traffickers. Over the past 30 years, the Mexican military has emerged as a major cartel in its own right, and currently has a virtual monopoly in the marijuana transportation business. While there is little hard data, U.S. law enforcement officers stationed on the U.S.-Mexican border have long noted, "where the Mexican army goes, dope flows." Marijuana is grown year-round in Mexico and the army has literally tons of harvested marijuana at its disposal, and even oversees the production and crop security end of the process in some regions.
It appears that each Mexican military regiment operates somewhat independently and there is a de-centralized flavor to the operations, though high-ranking Mexican military generals are clearly involved (Dillon, 1998). This would suggest at least some semblance of an organizational hierarchy, where orders move down the chain of command, and money moves up. One of the results of Operation Casablanca, a U.S. government undercover operation undertaken in the late 1990s, was the acquisition of several tapes, one of which featured then Mexican Secretary of Defense Enrique Cervantes seeking ways to launder $150 billion. Many have suggested, on the basis of vast circumstantial evidence though there is still no hard evidence, that this flow of "cannabis cash" reaches up to the office of the Mexican president. What is clear is that the Mexican military are heavily involved in the transportation of marijuana and that they will use force to protect their business. In a chilling video, aired for the first time on American national television by PBS on October 10, 2000, a squad of elite Mexican national police officers who came upon a shipment of marijuana, are gunned down by a squad of Mexican army personnel. The video further revealed that the army regiment was deployed in a strategic military context to protect the clandestine airstrip (Frontline, 10/10/00).
In the past few years, the Mexican military has become more and more aggressive in the border regions, shaking down ethnic Mexicans with impunity, regardless of citizenship and regardless of which side of the border they were on. Numerous accounts are filtering in of camouflaged Mexican military units crossing the "Rio Grande" and carrying out their business on the American side of the border (see AFP, 11/03/00). In January of 2000 for example, there was a running fire fight near El Paso, Texas between several U.S. law enforcement officers and several Mexican military personnel who had driven across the border in broad daylight. Outgunned by the military personnel, the U.S. officers had to retreat. By the time they returned with more firepower, the Mexican military personnel had finished their business and driven back across the border.
O'Day (2000) provides numerous case studies of Mexican military operating north of the border. "What is surprising," he writes, "is the open and singularly aggressive demeanor of the Mexican soldiers [who are] on American soil." In conjunction with the American law enforcement community, they are turning both sides of the border region into a de-facto military zone, with all the accompanying infringements and abuses spawned by such a demarcation. Continued movement in this direction will threaten the very foundation of Mexican democracy.
THE RISE OF THE MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS
The Mexican cartels originated in response to a demand for smuggling both people and contraband into the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. The cartels began operating as middlemen smugglers for more powerful groups. With smuggling networks in place, the 1970s saw the cartels branch out on their own and begin to smuggle the high demand drug, marijuana, into the United States. In the 1980s the Colombian drug cartels rose to power, and they needed a way to bring cocaine into the American market. The Caribbean routes were used, but so were routes through Mexico. In the beginning, the Colombians would pay the Mexican groups as much as $1,000/kilo to smuggle cocaine into the United States. The Colombians would then pick up the drugs and resume distribution and sales efforts. This arrangement brought the Mexican cartels wealth, but little power or control of the drug trafficking market.
This arrangement did not last long, and a number of meetings were held between Mexican and Colombian cartel leaders in the early 1980s, shortly after the connection was made. These meetings were arranged by the Honduran drug trafficker, Matta Ballesteros. Ballesteros worked with both the Colombian Medellin Cartel and Mexican smugglers. Ballesteros (currently serving a life sentence in United States for drug trafficking), introduced a number of Mexican cartel leaders to one of the founders of the Medellin Cartel, Rodriguez Gacha (killed by police in 1989). Gacha, nicknamed "the Mexican," was very impressed with the efficient Mexican smuggling operations and felt comfortable doing business with them. His deal making shifted more and more of the cocaine trade routes from the Caribbean to Mexico.
In the early 1990s, United States anti-drug operations kicked in and began to focus on the Colombian-Caribbean drug smuggling connections. The Colombians were forced to smuggle increasing amounts of cocaine into the United States through Mexico. The pressure on the Colombian cartels was mounting. The Mexican and Colombian cartels began another series of meetings. At one such meeting, in January of 1992, Cali Cartel leaders Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejula decided that Juarez Cartel leader Carrillo Fuentes would arrange to fly planes loaded with cocaine directly from Colombia to Mexico. Carrillo Fuentes would eventually earn the nickname, "Lord of the Skies" for his diabolically brilliant ability to deliver literally tons of cocaine. Fuentes became a master at smuggling drugs not only with planes, but also with boats and trucks and people.
Smuggling through the Mexican cartels continued to grow throughout the early 1990s. Instead of merely dumping the cocaine in warehouses just across the border, the Mexican cartels became so powerful that they could guarantee delivery anywhere inside the United States. New deals were in the making between the Colombian and Mexican cartels.
In the early 1990s, the head of the Gulf Cartel (the most powerful Mexican cartel at the time) Garcia-Abrego, secured a major deal with the Colombian cartels that increased the Gulf Cartel's power even more. Instead of paying with cash, the Colombians would forfeit half of their cocaine shipments to Garcia-Abrego who then took the risk of selling, but also took the profits (Lupsha, 1995:90). By 1994 this became the standard business practice of all Mexican cartels (O'Brien and Greenburg, 1996; Wren, 1996). This deal was a major turning point in the fortunes of the Mexican cartels. With this new business arrangement, the power and wealth of the Mexican drug cartels exploded. The Mexican cartels set up their own cocaine distribution networks in cities such as Houston, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver. The Colombians agreed to all of this as long as Mexican cartels would leave the Colombian markets in Miami, and the bulk of the east coast to the Colombians.
In the summer of 1995, the Colombian cartels fell under a renewed attack and received even more pressure from the Colombian National Police, who were aided by the American CIA and DEA. The police tracked down and arrested seven Cali Cartel leaders, including the Rodriquez-Orejula brothers. They tried to run their organization from prison, but failed. William Rodriguez, son of Miguel, was chosen to run the Cartel. He was so offensive that those with whom he was making deals wanted to kill him. He was forced into hiding and the Cali Cartel split up into small, separate businesses. While the Colombian cartels were dividing, the Mexican cartels were consolidating.
The Juarez Cartel, run by the then extremely powerful Carrillo Fuentes, became even stronger after Gulf Cartel leader, Garcia-Abrego, was arrested in January of 1996. Garcia-Abrego's replacement, Oscar Malherve, allied himself with Fuentes, making Carrillo Fuentes Mexico's drug kingpin.
Carrillo Fuentes continued to work on gaining even more power. Most of the coca crop is grown in Peru and Bolivia and then taken to Colombia to be turned into the final product, cocaine. Fuentes arranged for eight multi-ton shipments to be flown from Bolivia straight to Mexico. Fuentes intended to cut Colombia completely out of the picture. The Cali Cartel, although down, still had an intelligence operation in tact. They quietly notified the Bolivian authorities of the shipments, leading to the seizure of 4.1 tons of cocaine by Bolivian authorities on September 26, 1995.
This blow could have brought the cartels into an all out war, and it would have, if not for the wisdom of Carrillo Fuentes. Fuentes realized that a war among the cartels would only hurt and weaken them. He also knew that a war would give the scattered remnants of the Cali empire something to rally around, which could possibly re-unite the Cali Cartel fragments and return the Colombians to the powerful drug trafficking dynasty they once were. Fuentes called for a series of new meetings in neutral sites. In these meetings, Fuentes (actually represented by Gulf Cartel leader Oscar Malherve) told the Colombians that he would continue to deal directly with Peru and Bolivia. He would bypass Colombia because of the unstructured and unstable cartels in Colombia at the time. He proposed a new plan for business with Colombia. The plan basically allowed the Colombians to take their cocaine as far as Mexico, where they would be paid in cash for it. This meant that the Mexican cartels now had almost complete control of the cocaine trade in the United States, the largest cocaine market in the world. The Colombian profits would take a dive, but they would be alleviated of some of the risks involved in the business.
By 1997, many new, small organizations were jumping into the cocaine market in Colombia. Instead of cooperating, they competed with each other which left the market and the power structure quite fragmented. The Mexican cartels took advantage of this arrangement and soon took control of the entire market. By 1997, it appeared that Colombia's drug cartels were going to die out. General Rosso Jose Serrano, director of the Colombian National Police, said in 1997, that Carrillo Fuentes's Mexican organization was overpowering the Colombian drug organizations. It was "... by far the strongest cocaine-trafficking group. He is the one who buys and distributes everything" (Farah and Moore, 1997).
Carrillo Fuentes was on top of the world. He had left the Colombians in the dust. He was making an estimated $200 million a week and was smuggling four times as much cocaine into the United States as all the other Mexican cartels combined. As would later be revealed, Carrillo Fuentes even had Mexico's law enforcement drug czar, Gutierrez Rebollo, in his pocket. He developed a grand master plan and began to put it into effect:
1. Cut Colombia out of the picture with respect to the cocaine trade by dealing directly with Peruvian and Bolivian suppliers.
2. Move into the methamphetamine market.
3. Move into the money laundering trade.(5)
4. Maintain tight contacts with Mexican government officials.(6)
The plan was never able to be fully realized, for on July 4, 1997, Carrillo Fuentes died while undergoing plastic surgery. He had undergone plastic surgery in the past, and was attempting to further alter his appearance to conceal his identity from American government authorities. There was some thought at the time that he may have been purposefully killed on the operating table, but it now appears that he simply died due to surgical complications. As a result of his death, the Juarez empire and its immense cocaine market was up for grabs, and a war broke out to seize control. Mexico experienced 40 to 50 gangland slayings in the following six months (Reuters, 2/13/98).
The small Colombian organizations used that time to re-assert themselves. A number of groups by-passed Mexico, and set up Puerto Rico as the transshipment site of choice. The Puerto Rican syndicates took only 25 to 40 percent of the cut, and packages sent to the United States from Puerto Rico (an American possession) were not inspected as closely as those coming in from other countries. Some success was achieved, but the Puerto Rican connection suffered a major blow however, in August of 1999 when 58 persons, including a number of American Airline personnel, local Puerto Rican law enforcement officials, a federal employee, and the son of Puerto Rico's chief law enforcement official were arrested on drug trafficking charges (AFP, 8/26/99).
At this writing, the Colombians have been unable to consolidate themselves, and the "cartels" are little more than small, drug-running gangs. There are thought to be about 300 such entities at present, and they really have no other option but to run their cocaine and heroin through Mexico. The fact that the American cocaine market is experiencing a sharp decline is certainly complicating matters.(7) A number of the Colombian drug gangs have now abandoned the American market, and have turned their attention to what is fast becoming a literal drug supermarket - Europe and Central Asia.
Meanwhile, the Mexican cartels, after a period of upheaval subsequent to Fuentes' death, seem to have stabilized. At present, it appears that the cocaine trade has dichotomized, with power being shared by Oscar Malherve and the Gulf Cartel in the east, and the Federation in the west. Again, the September 1999 arrests by U.S. officials of 93 Juarez cartel associates mentioned previously, along with the loss of drug supplies and millions in currency will surely serve to weaken the Juarez cartel and further strengthen the Gulf Cartel and The Federation.
The shrinking cocaine market in America has forced the cartels to aggressively (and successfully) exploit other underworld markets, as will be discussed. They have historically demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt, just as the American syndicates demonstrated in the post-Prohibition era, and unfortunately appear to have a bright future. Before examining those new markets, however, there is a need to review the current state of the Mexican political scene so as to better understand the context in which the Mexican drug cartels now find themselves.
THE MEXICAN POLITICAL SCENE: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
As has been noted, Mexico has been governed by one political party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or Institutional Revolutionary Party), for 70 years. The PRI was founded by former Mexican President Plutarco Calles in 1929 and further developed and strengthened by President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940). It was originally called the National Revolutionary Party and took its current name in 1946. The party was created in an attempt on the part of officials at that time to bring a sense of stability to a beleaguered nation, and to seek a more conservative socio-economic evolution (ie. slow the rate of change) in the post-Diaz era. The PRI was wildly successful and eventually blended in with the government, evolving into the present autocratic party-state system, which has brought Mexico a relative measure of domestic peace over the past 70 years (see generally, Meyer and Sherman, 1979).
To better understand why the contemporary Mexican political system functions as it does requires a more detailed historical discussion. Mexican politics was dominated for some 35 years by Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz who served as President from 1876 until 1911 (with a four year hiatus from 1880 to 1884). Adopting the role of benevolent autocrat, he saw Mexico through a period of general economic growth, peace, and prosperity. A series of circumstances, including a growing public demand for democracy, resulted in him being forcibly removed from office in May of 1911 by Francisco Madero. As Diaz was being escorted away from Mexico City into exile, he reportedly said, "Madero has unleashed a tiger. Now let's see if he can control it."
Diaz's observation proved to be tragically profound. Less than two years later, President Madero was removed from office and executed, and the nation plunged into a dark decade of violence. More than 1.5 million people were killed during the second decade of this century; approximately 12 percent of the Mexican population. Brutality and calloused disregard for life became the norm for rebel and soldier alike. Rebel leaders such as Emiliano Zapata and Poncho Villa captured the public's attention and generated a significant measure of popular support. In the 10 years subsequent to Madero's death, 11 different men served as president. A Constitution was ratified in 1917, giving more political power to the central government, largely in an attempt to quell the violence. In an historical context, that move is now generally viewed as having been successful. Open hostilities abated by 1920, but the new decade saw extreme political turmoil, intrigue, and occasional assassination. In 1929, the turning point in modern Mexican political history, President Plutarco Elias Calles organized the National Revolutionary Party (the precursor of the modern PRI), returned to the benevolent autocrat model that had been implemented so well for so long by Diaz, and smoothed the transition of power process by instituting a closed system of selecting political successors.
The current Mexican model of federal executive leadership is the outgrowth of policies put in place by President Calles in response to two decades of extreme unrest. Its basic tenents have remained unchanged for 70 years, and have become more deeply entrenched in the Mexican political culture. Only now, at the close of the 20th century, with memories of the decade of violence confined to the history books, have democratic interests begun to again stir in the Mexican populous. Given the disastrous results of their previous flirtations with its principles, Mexico's reluctance to move toward a legitimate model of democracy is somewhat understandable.
It must be re-emphasized that the current model of Mexican governance is the result of nearly 120 years of socio-political evolution; the model is deeply imbedded in the Mexican political psychic and the general political landscape. There will certainly not be any abrupt divorce decree nor a sudden wholesale embrace of grassroots democracy. The cultural traditions and political infrastructure are simply not in place.
Today, the PRI Central Executive Committee still controls the party and the state. The Chair of the Central Executive Committee is appointed by the President of Mexico. The primary function of the Central Committee is to prepare nominations for all important "elected" government positions. Once nominated in this party-state system, the PRI candidate is all but elected. There is a public election, but it is little more than a public relations exercise designed primarily to placate the international community. Even if the citizenry were to vote an opposition party member into office, the Senate, with the Constitutional power to ratify elections, has been known to place the "appropriate" PRI candidates in office, regardless of the actual vote.
This arrangement clearly institutionalizes fraud and corruption, and it has been a part of the Mexican political environment for nearly four generations. With only one party to please, and without opposition party whistle-blowers to contend with, the drug cartels have been able to quietly pay-off government officials at all levels with little fear of public reprisal. Favoritism, corruption, and bossism are simply an institutionalized aspect of Mexican politics. A political party with no opposition is accountable to no one. The PRI, and thus the government, has simply been corrupted, and there is little interest or incentive within the PRI to come clean. Any attempt on the part of political officials to do so would likely draw the wrath of fellow PRI members who are still on the take. Not only would their political careers be ruined, but they would likely face life threatening opposition from both the cartels and the government. Recent court testimony has revealed how torture, kidnapping, and murder has been used regularly by the PRI to maintain control and generally crush dissident voices; a model similar to that used by Joseph Stalin decades ago (AFP, 9/3/99).
Nowhere was corruption been more blatant than in the administration of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, generally recognized as Mexico's favorite person to deride (AFP, 6/14/99). The former president and his brother, Raul Salinas, fled Mexico in 1996, at the end of Carlos' term in office. Raul has since been apprehended and is currently serving a 27 1/2 year prison sentence for the murder of a political rival (he is currently in a medium security prison outside Mexico City). The sentence was slashed from 50 to 27 1/2 years by Judge Hernandez in July of 1999 due to mitigating circumstances. Raul has spoken to investigators and have led them to over $300 million in various European bank accounts, at least $120 million of which has been traced to the Gulf Cartel (AFP, 12/11/97; Reuters, 3/13/98); Wall Street Journal, 3/13/98). In addition to the murder charge, Raul Salinas is strongly suspected of being involved in various drug activities and masterminding several other political killings. Carlos, however, remains in a self-imposed exile in Cuba (he initially took up residence in Ireland but has since moved to Cuba), allegedly supported by at least $600 million stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. In May 1999, he did venture a brief 3-day return visit to Mexico for the first time since fleeing the country. Carlos's reception was not one of a revered former president but rather gave new fuel to old fires of anger, hate, and mistrust. He has returned several occasions since, including a visit in October of 2000 (AFP, 10/3/00). It is suspected that he may have been using whatever political clout he had left to influence then President-elect Fox's cabinet appointments, though Fox seems to be making very independent and creative choices in that area (Associated Press, 11/24/00). Publicly, the purpose of the visit was to discuss the creation of a Truth Commission that would begin to examine many of the atrocities that have occurred in Mexico over the past several decades (AP, 10/3/00).
In the past five years there have been five very public murders in which the organized crime interests have most certainly played a role, and they are of particular note. In September of 2000, deputy commerce secretary Raul Ramos was found dead in a rural area outside Mexico City. Ramos, an active PRI player, was commonly acknowledged to have been involved for many years in a multi-national auto-theft ring with underworld figures from Argentina and Colombia. He was likely killed to prevent his testimony from coming forward, with both organized crime figures and PRI officials signing off on the "hit" (AFP, 9/9/00). In March of 1994, the leading presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated in Tijuana. This murder greatly unsettled the Mexican people. The disruptive impact of his death is still evident today and investigations are unlikely to ever fully reveal the entire scope of the assassination plot. Different accounts have Raul Salinas, the Gulf Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, and various members of the PRI party behind the murder.
One month after this assassination, the very progressive and reform oriented Chief of Police of Tijuana, Jose Fredrico Benitez, was murdered. It has recently been revealed that Mexican federal police officers working for the Tijuana Cartel carried out this murder.
In September of 1994, PRI heir-apparent Jose Francisco Massieu was assassinated. A strong case has been made by a number of commentators that he was prepared to begin a clean-up in the PRI, and that his death was consequently arranged via an agreement between the cartels and the PRI. In a damning suicide note left by his side in September of 1999, Jose's brother, Mario Massieu, implicated President Zedillo in Jose's murder, a matter that will surely disrupt an already uneasy political situation in Mexico (AFP, 9/17/99).
In June of 1999, the very popular television personality Francisco "Paco" Stanley was killed, allegedly on orders of drug lord Luis Amezcua in connection with drug debts (AFP, 8/27/99). More careful investigations have revealed that Stanley maintained long, on-going relationships with known drug dealers, including the infamous Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the notorious "Lord of the Skies."
As long as the party-state arrangement continues, there will be little hope of any serious law enforcement attention given to the cartels; token efforts to please American certification requirements, yes, but no serious efforts of consequence, and public murders of this nature as well as other inappropriate behaviors, will continue to occur.
Consider this parallel example from another Meso-American nation. Clearly one of the reasons that the Colombian cartels lost power in the early and mid-1990s was because the multi-party political system in Colombia began to assert itself. More particularly, one party began to publicly accuse the other of being corrupt. Out of a newfound need to maintain political credibility and obtain political capital and public confidence, significant law enforcement efforts were undertaken by the seated Colombian government to respond to the cartels. This was done by the government not so much out of a moral imperative to rid the country of drug dealers, but as the means of preserving its own power, which in a truly democratic state means keeping the citizenry happy and convinced of proper performance.(8) Because Mexico has historically lacked a viable multi-party system and the checks and balances that such a system brings, no such public crack-down has occurred, nor could we realistically expect it to occur given this backdrop. But this political backdrop is perhaps about to change.
THE MEXICAN POLITICAL SCENE: A CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE
Steps have been taken to move the Mexican political system toward legitimate multi-party status. In the past few years, major inroads by opposition parties led to the presidential victory of opposition party leader Vicente Fox, ending a 71 year political monopoly of the PRI. In the past, the infamous "dedazo" or Mexican finger, was the method used by the PRI party to select its presidential candidates. Dedazo, Spanish for "big finger," refers to the closed, secretive method used by seated Mexican presidents to unilaterally designate their own successors (AFP, 2/27/99). Though denied by several former Presidents, Jose Lopez Portillo, who served as president from 1976-1982, has publicly conceded the existence of such a practice, further noting it would vanish "only when a president renounces it" (AFP, 2/27/99).
That time arrived in they year 2000 when then president Ernesto Zedillo stated that he would not participate in the process of designating his own successor; effectively amputating the finger (AFP, 2/27/99). Many wonder, however, whether the process of dedazo truly ended. Of the six major politicians who initially indicated their intention to run for the office in 2000, the former Interior Secretary Francisco Labastida was widely seen as President Zedillo's favorite. Furthermore, immediately following Labastida's resignation as Interior Secretary (which enabled him to run in the PRI's November 1999 primary election), several trade unions and other groups linked to the PRI party publicly declared their support for him. Additionally, two other candidate hopefuls pulled out of the preliminaries as soon as Labastida announced his candidacy. As expected, Labastida easily won the PRI primary, which suggests that the rumors of the death of dedazo were perhaps somewhat exaggerated, at least as far as internal PRI-politics is concerned.
On August 3, 1999, after months of discussion, Mexico's two main opposition parties [the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)], announced an agreement to form a grand coalition and to present a united front for the presidential elections in July of 2000 (AFP, 8/4/99). With significant effort, the coalition hammered out a seven-point political platform, though many of those points have remained vaguely defined.(9) The next exercise was to select a single presidential nominee. This proved to be somewhat of a difficult task, for both the PAN candidate (Guanajarto Governor and former Coca-Cola executive Vincent Fox) and the PRD candidate (Mexico City Mayor, Cuautehmoc Cardenas) were strong contenders. In the end, the opposition settled on Vicente Fox, and with the support of the coalition, he defeated the PRI candidate Labastida in the July 2000 elections and took office December 1, 2000.
The selection and backing of a single candidate was a crucial decision for the coalition. The polls clearly indicated that in the absence of a united front from the opposition, the PRI party would not have been removed from power, even with the public revelations of gross PRI misconduct (money laundering and bank bailout scam; kidnapping and torture activities; assassination of Massieu and Colosio)(AFP, 8/30/99; 9/1/99).
This grand alliance was the first of its kind in the history of modern Mexico, and it toppled a long-reigning government. Representatives of the coalition continue to emphasize that their goal in forming the united front was not only the defeat of the PRI party, but also "...to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy, (and) to achieve the just political system that the majority of the citizens want," (AFP, 8/4/99). Time, of course, will tell whether or not such aspirations are achieved or relegated to the garbage dump of political rhetoric. The Mexican people, as well as the Mexican government, corporate and civic institutions all operate with a deeply imbedded paternalistic-aristocratic political culture that pre-dates the Spanish. Some very legitimate queries can be aired as to whether they really have the tools necessary to embrace modern democracy.
To date however, some very public and seemingly legitimate efforts are being undertaken by President Fox in an attempt to steer his nation down this new path, and he has taken a very aggressive public position on a number of fronts since his election. Among other initiatives, he has called for the creation of a Mexican Truth Commission to examine past atrocities and bring those responsible to justice. President Fox is aggressively pushing the U.S. to end its drug certification program, publicly stressing that the drug problem will not be resolved until America addresses its own corruption problem; "as long as the United States does not end corruption, efforts to curb the illegal drug trade will not be successful"(AFP, 8/19/00). In response to the issue of American corruption, he recently responded, "I ask myself how tons and tons of drugs enter the United States without anyone noticing and how consumption grows without anybody stopping it." (AFP, 8/19/00). In his most vocal speech to date, on the even of his inauguration he specifically called on the United States to accept more of the blame for the drug problems (Associated Press, 11/27/00).
He has openly challenging the policies of the International Monetary Fund (no doubt due to the fact that Mexico, with its August 2000 payment of $3 billion, currently has no outstanding financial obligations to the IMF), and is championing the development of a Latin American union built along the same model as the European Union. Tied in to this is his call for increased privatization of state-owned industries, and a desire to join Mercusor, the Argentine and Brazilian dominated free-trade bloc. President Fox has also called for the European Union to develop closer ties with Mercusor (Associated Press, 10/2/00). More substantively, he signed a free-trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association that will go into effect in July of 2001 . In addition, in July of 2000, President Fox negotiated an agreement with the European Union to in essence tear down all trade barriers between these two trading partners by the year 2010 (Associated Press, 11/06/00). This pact with the European Union will have monumental and far-reaching implications, effecting literally every aspect of the Mexican social, economic and political communities, potentially even surpassing the impact of NAFTA.
During personal visits with President Clinton, Al Gore and George W. Bush in August of 2000, he argued for the complete opening of the U.S./Mexican border within the next 10 to 30 years, and proposed an amendment to NAFTA which would allow for a free labor flow between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. He has continued to push this "NAFTA-plus" notion and the need to create a North American common market, and gives every indication that he intends to continue pursing this goal (Associated Press, 11/27/00). He has also openly challenged the United States and Canada to spend up to $30 billion annually to close the "development gap" with Mexico so as to realize an economic convergence between the three nations. While many of his proposals have fallen on deaf American ears, his stated human rights agenda in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas and the creation of the Truth Commission is clearly in line with American political philosophy. His willingness to pump additional oil to ease the winter 2000-2001 energy crisis, and his public support for a reduction and long-term stabilization of oil prices is even more central to American interests. Taken together, these (and other pro-American positions such as the increased privatization of state-owned industry) will continue to increase his political capital in America, and will certainly result in a number of his initiatives obtaining increased American support (see AFP, 8/19/00; AFP, 9/22/00; AFP, 9/25/00; Cox, 2000; Smith, 2000).
In sum, Fox has embarked upon, at least in word, an aggressive anti-corruption, pro-human rights, pro-global business position. To be successful, he will need to take control of the economy away from the traditional Mexican power brokers, and that will not be easy. If victorious in this effort, he will surely root out a significant measure of the institutional corruption that has both hampered Mexico's socio-economic development and collaterally permitted its' organized crime syndicates to prosper for half a century.
The role of the printed press in contemporary Mexico is also undergoing a significant shift. Perhaps the best known Mexican newspaper, Excelsior, long sold itself to the government in exchange for price supports, massive tax breaks, and outright payments from governments leaders. The paper had what amounted to a government protected monopoly. Excelsior editors sold themselves and their newspaper to the PRI in the late 1920s, and as a result, Excelsior emerged in the 1930s as Mexico's national paper. Excelsior became one of the primary tools used by PRI officials over the years to maintain their power. Headlines were articulated by government leaders, and "news" stories towed the party line. Atrocities went un-reported, as did unfavorable economic news. Socio-economic issues of the day were ignored. There has no been no independent Mexican press of any stature for at least 70 years. An independent press serves as a legitimate check on the government, informs the populous, and is crucial in the development and maintenance of a viable democracy. With the changing political winds, Excelsior is now paying the price for its years of prostituted reporting. Circulation and sales have plummeted. Its credibility all but destroyed. Now more than $70 million in debt, it may not survive. Other papers have "hit the streets," but what remains to be seen is if a truly independent press can emerge from the ashes of a general community mistrust of the press and help move Mexico toward a more responsible form of democracy. Prominent Mexican news mogul Armando Sepulveda, has said that the media now enjoys "freedom of expression, but the press still does not know how to use it"(Associated Press, 10/31/00). It will be some years before his "freedom of expression" assertion can be validated, and it will be longer still to see if the Mexican mass media successfully conquerors tradition and emerges with a new face with an independent and powerful democratic countenance.
Mexico also has another political institution in place that has historically protected PRI leadership and concomitantly provided a healthy climate for syndicates to grow and flourish. A decades old unwritten rule in Mexico prohibits the indictments of present and former Presidents and cabinet members. Originally designed to prevent wars and unsavory politics between rivals, the rule has outlasted its usefulness and has now become a major obstacle to effective drug enforcement efforts. It completely insulates high-level government officials from liability for their actions.
The United States has repeatedly called for Mexico to end the traditional impunity for high level officials. Journalist John Anderson states,
"No law, no special task forces, no number of helicopters and chase planes can compare to the impact that one strategic indictment would have, as every cabinet
member, general, and police commander would suddenly be made to understand that impunity will no longer be tolerated" (Reding, 1995).
The problem of course, is that this would be counter to the vested personal interests of the Mexican government officials who would be asked to implement this policy change. President Fox, however, has publicly stated that if evidence of criminal wrongdoing undertaken by his predecessor came to light, he would do what he could to institute legal proceedings against him (Weymouth, 2000, p. 35). What remains to be seen is if Fox is full of typical political rhetoric or atypical substance. While there are growing opposition voices calling for the removal of this traditional executive privilege and for the development of a legitimate multi-party system, at this writing Mexico can still be classified as a de-facto one-party system; a party-state system, with its accompanying twin - institutionalized corruption (Paternostro, 1995; UPI, 1/30/98).
Current events clearly suggest that Mexico appears to be ripe for change. The world community is certainly supportive. President Fox had his staff must now put their plans into actual practice. They must particularly resist the powerful and deeply entrenched forces within the Mexican culture that will attempt to deflect this electoral revolution into a "business as usual" reality and the continuance of the well-established governmental connections with the region's drug cartels.
A report published by the United States General Accounting Office stated that one of the major problems in the drug wars is the endemic, institutionalized corruption within the Mexican law enforcement and military community (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1996). In its 1998 annual report to Congress on human rights, the White House noted that "corruption is rife within the ranks of Mexico's police and members of the security forces..." (UPI, 1/30/98). In a recent piece of investigative reporting, the New York Times broke a story that a number of Mexican generals met with cartel leaders on at least two occasions in 1996 and 1997. The evidence seems to indicate that bribes were offered in exchange for the military leaders turning a blind eye to the drug operations (UPI, 3/26/98).
Mexican police are prone to corruption for many reasons. Mexico is a major money-laundering location because of its lack of significant regulations on banking transactions. Due to a disastrous string of bank failures, Mexico is now beginning to modernize its banking laws and grant its regulatory agencies concrete enforcement powers (AFP, 9/21/99). Off the books cash flows very freely. As much as $30 billion a year is now being laundered in Mexico (Reuters, 2/16/98). Perhaps an equal amount of money is brought into the country from the drug trade. It is estimated that ten percent of that wealth is used specifically for law enforcement, military and political pay-offs. Police and military officials are paid an extraordinarily low wage roughly 3,000 pesos ($300) a month (AFP, 8/4/99). When they are offered an entire years' wages to turn a blind eye, or take a shot of "lead in the head," the money is taken very readily and gladly. Bulita (1997) states, "the partnership between drug traffickers and police is so open that it could not exist without the knowledge of senior officials." The Felix-Arellano brothers of the Tijuana cartel, for example, openly employ off duty (and perhaps a few on-duty) state police as their body guards. The shear amount of money involved makes it possible to undermine virtually all law enforcement efforts in such a poor country.
Adding to the problem of rank-and-file officer corruption is an internalized and institutionalized mode of corruption within the police ranks. Mexican police commanders routinely demand incoming officers to sign over a large percentage of their already low salaries, or risk receiving poor assignments and/or poor equipment. In August of 1999, 26 police commanders were charged with forcing new officers to forfeit 35 percent of their salaries back to their commander (AFP, 8/4/99). It is estimated that collectively, commanding officers in the Mexican law enforcement community may have taken in up to $315 million pesos ($31.5 million) over the past several years (AFP, 8/4/99). While this type of corruption is not directly tied to the drug trade per se, it establishes a pattern and practice of corruption within the ranks that is easily mined by drug cartel personnel, who have vast amounts of bribery funds at their disposal.
While Mexico's economic growth for 1998 was greater than expected with a gross domestic produce (GDP) up about 4.8 percent, 45 percent of the population still live in poverty, with more than one-fourth of the population living in extreme poverty (AFP, 2/17/99). Additionally, the unemployment projections indicate record levels due to the regional economic recession - an estimated 9.5 percent unemployment rate is anticipated for 1999 (AFP, 2/28/99). Economic need also serves as a powerful factor in explaining institutionalized corruption.
The Mexican drug cartels have accumulated such wealth and power that they have been able to corrupt public officials all the way to the top - the country's top drug prosecutor (Associated Press, 8/27/99), the former Mexican drug czar (AFP, 3/3/98), the former head of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (AFP, 3/28/98), the former director of the Mexican federal highway police (AFP, (9/26/00), the Chief of Police in Mexico City (Reuters, 12/11/97), Mexican state governors (Moore, 4/8/99), numerous military generals (AFP, 1/23/98; 3/3/98; UPI, 1/30/98), and even members of the Mexican foreign ministry (AFP, 2/6/98). As a result, the Mexican people have little trust in their law enforcement and military personnel (Associated Press, 9/17/96)/(10).
Numerous case studies provide support for this mistrust. In November of 1991, for example, a United States Customs Service plane trailing a Mexican police plane in pursuit of a plane transporting drugs recorded an extraordinary scene using long range infrared video equipment. The Mexican police airplane followed the drug transport plane to an airstrip where it stopped to re-fuel. The plane was being serviced and fueled by Mexican military personnel. As United States Customs officials watched, Mexican army personnel proceeded to kill all seven Mexican police officers as they attempt to seize the drugs.
Another similar incident occurred in August of 1994, when a jet believed by intelligence to be carrying 10 tons of cocaine landed at Sombrerete, Zacatecas. Three trucks speeding from the airstrip were caught, accounting for 2.5 tons of cocaine. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that Federal Judicial Police were responsible for transporting the rest of the shipment from the airstrip to the drug distribution centers. Despite an abundance of evidence, no illegal or unethical activity was found to be present by an investigative panel of Mexican authorities.
In September of 1994, 16 officers of the National Institute for Combating Drugs were arrested for accepting bribes for overlooking cocaine shipments. In December of 1994, newly appointed federal police chief Juan Pablo de Tavia was poisoned in his sleep. This occurred only hours before Tavia was to propose a plan to the Attorney General to purge the regional police of corrupt officers. Tavia was rushed to the hospital but remained disabled for over a year after the incident. He claimed he was certain the culprit was his chief bodyguard, who was arrested but later had the charges dismissed. Tavia's purge of the police force never took place (Reding, 1995). In November of 1995, Attorney General Lozano ordered the firing of all 60 Federal Judicial Police in the State of Chihuahua after a probe into illegal police activities by the Mexican Attorney General's Office revealed that they were involved in the drug trade.
In August of 1996, the President of American Sanyo Video Corporation was kidnapped and released after a $2 million ransom was paid. A Federal Judicial Police officer was among the suspects arrested for the crime (Bulita, 1997). Later in August of 1996, 737 members of the Federal Judicial Police force from all levels were fired on suspicion of corruption (Reuters, 8/16/96). This purge brought the total number of officers dismissed from the Federal Judicial Police force between December of 1994 (when Lozano took office) and August of 1996 to 1,250, constituting 22 percent of the force.
In June of 1995, co-leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Hector Luis Palma Salazar, was arrested by the Mexican army in Guadalajara (Bulita, 1997). The army detained 34 police officers along with him on suspicion of protecting him. It seemed he had turned the local police into his own private army.
High level officers are just as vulnerable to the corruption it seems. A former head of the Federal Judicial Police force in Jalisco was arrested in June of 1993 on charges of corruption. He was working for the Sinaloa Cartel. Horacio Brunt, the man credited with the capture of Garcia-Abrego in January of 1996, was dismissed from his position in the August 1996 purge of corrupt Federal officers. Former Deputy Attorney General Javier Coello Trejo was accused of accepting $1.5 million per month by a policeman who testified during the trial of Garcia-Abrego in Houston. Trejo was in charge of many drug trafficking investigations under the Salinas administration.
The Mexican Attorney General's office announced the arrests of seven members of the Juarez Cartel in May of 1997. Of the seven, all were former Mexican law enforcement agents. Four were former police officers and the other three had been in the Mexican military. This highlights the ability of these powerful cartels to recruit whoever they want. They are increasingly recruiting police and military personnel for their expertise and intelligence (UPI, 5/13/97).
One of the most embarrassing illustrations of institutional corruption in Mexico was the recent arrest and conviction of the Mexican Drug Czar himself, General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo (Brant, 1997). Gutierrez Rebollo was the head of the Mexican equivalent to the American Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency, known as the Institute for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking, was dissolved after Gutierrez's arrest. He was convicted of accepting bribes from Mexican Drug Kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes and is now serving a 13 year plus prison sentence (Reuters, 3/3/97). Francisco Molina Ruiz, who served as the director of the Institute for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking just prior to Gutierrez, claims that Gutierrez had access to every bit of information and intelligence regarding the anti-drug efforts. This information included the identities of undercover agents and every bit of information about the United States-Mexican intelligence unit used to track major cartel persons. He knew the identity and even selected Mexican policemen who were to be trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for special Mexican anti-drug forces. All this information may have been passed on to the cartels. "'Gutierrez may have done more severe damage to the war against the Mexican drug cartels than Aldrich Ames did to the CIA's espionage operations' said DEA official, Thomas Constantine" (Brant, 1997:36)
In January of 1998, a retired Mexican general was arrested and charged with actually helping the drug cartels with a number of their organizational problems. General Jorge Mariano Maldonado's arrest was the fifth arrest of a general in Mexico since the arrest of Gutierrez Rebollo in February of 1997 (AFP, 1/23/98). In March of 1998, 68 police and military officials were arrested due to their drug connections (AFP, 3/6/98).
The murder of the Federal Judicial Police commander in charge of narcotics investigations in Mexico City in July of 1996 was followed by the murder of the Federal Judicial Police commander in charge of narcotics investigations in Tijuana in September of 1996. These murders brought the total number of senior police officials executed in Northern Mexico in 1996 to seven. "It seems every law enforcement agent who can't be corrupted is killed" (Bulita, 1997). In March of 1998, Adrian Carrera, the former head of the Federal Judicial Police, was arrested when it was revealed that he had ties with several of the Mexican drug lords. It appears as if he may have been tied with Raul Salinas and Ruiz Massieu (former Deputy Attorney General) in facilitating the flow of drugs and cash into and out of the country (AFP, 3/28/98).
In August of 1999, Mario Ruiz Massieu, former Deputy Attorney General and Mexico's top drug prosecutor was charged with laundering nearly $10 million drug-related dollars - he was indicated on a total of 25 counts. He had been under house arrest in New Jersey for nearly four years, detained in 1995 as he was attempting to flee to Spain. He was also accused of obstructing efforts on the part of Mexican police to investigate the 1994 assassination of his brother, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Jose Massieu was the leading PRI candidate in the 1994 presidential election before being gunned down in September of 1994 on orders of Raul Salinas (as previously noted, Raul Salinas is currently serving a 27 1/2 year prison sentence for the killing). Mario Massieu was accused of attempting to protect Raul Salinas. Days before the trial was to begin in Houston, Mario Massieu committed suicide (AFP, 9/15/99).
A similar, though less publicly discussed account is given of the previously mentioned March 1994 assassination of Luis Donald Colosio. Assured of winning the election after being "fingered" by then President Carlos Salinas, Colosio made the error of espousing the need to move toward democracy and suggesting a need to help the poor. Colosio clearly represented a threat to the both the PRI elite and their companions, the drug cartels, who likely ordered his killing. In his suicide note of September 1999, former Deputy Attorney General Mario Massieu indicated that President Zedillo was involved in the killing (AFP, 9/17/99). Interestingly, as 1994 dawned, two men stood in the way of Ernesto Zedillo attaining to the presidency - Luis Donald Colosio and Jose Francisco Massieu. Both were "conveniently" assassinated; one in March and the other in September, and Zedillo was subsequently "elected" President.
Other high ranking government officials have also succumbed to the ready money offered by those with ties to the drug trade. Mario Villanueva, a prominent member of the PRI and the former governor of the state of Quintana Roo, is wanted on drug trafficking charges and on charges of accepting a share of $300 million embezzled by the fugitive Mexican banker, Carlos Cabal Peniche. Some of that embezzled money was also distributed as campaign contributions to several other PRI members, namely Renato Bega from Sinaloa, Eduardo Robledo from Chiapas, and more recent reports suggest that President Zedillo also accepted illegal contributions from Peniche. President Zedillo himself has even admitted taking money from Peniche, but the details are not clear (AFP, 5/30/99).
In response to this admission, Mexican opposition parties have demanded that President Zedillo be subpoenaed in connection to potential illegal contributions received from Carlos Peniche (AFP, 6/1/99). Peniche himself has admitted to contributing $25 million to the PRI party, with $5 million specifically going specifically to Zedillo's campaign. Peniche was quoted as saying, "Donations of this kind were normal in Mexico...It was part of the system between businessman and politicians. Everyone had to do it..." (AFP, 5/30/99). This matter is of grave concern to the PRI at present. In the midst of a heated campaign for the first time in its 70 year history as has been discussed, the matter has spun out of control. In September of 1999, the Mexican Congress asked the Mexican Supreme Court to intervene and force Zedillo to reveal the exact nature of his relationship with Carlos Peniche. It is widely believed that Peniche's bank, Banco Union, assisted in laundering the donations, and then wrote them off as bad debts through the deposit insurance fund (FOBAPROA), which in essence allowed Peniche's bank to re-coup those funds by drawing upon tax dollars. Carlos Peniche is currently being held in Australia and awaiting extradition to Mexico, where he will face charges of fraud. He is accused of embezzling in excess of $700 million (AFP, 9/9/99).
Another recent high profile case of note involves former AeroMexico official Gerardo de Prevoisin. Extradited from Switzerland to Mexico in late September of 1999, he faces a series of fraud charges. Interestingly, Prevoisin readily admits to having withdrawn millions of dollars from AeroMexico accounts, but claims he did so as ordered by then President Carols Salinas, who instructed Prevoisin to "donate" the funds to the PRI party's 1994 election campaign (AFP, 9/24/99).
It should be emphasized that United States officials are certainly not immune, and have also been corrupted in numerous instances as well. In 1994 sheriffs of two border counties were jailed along with a county clerk and a county judge. They face federal corruption charges for allowing drugs to cross the border. In May of 1996, two United States Customs agents were charged with conspiracy for their roles in a plan to bring 1.2 tons of cocaine into the United States. At least seven United States Customs agents, including a former district director and a supervisor found themselves under investigation as a result of a February 1996 probe. Three American Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) inspectors in the San Diego area have been convicted or brought to trial on charges of conspiracy and taking bribes. In a recent highly publicized case, the wife of U.S. Army Colonel James Hiett has been charged with smuggling cocaine out of Colombia into the United States (Watson, 1999).
One of the external political problems facing the Mexican government is that the United States conducts an annual evaluation of some 30 of its trading partners' drug fighting efforts.(11) This annual certification carries the specter of rather significant economic sanctions befalling those who fail to pass. Specifically, if a country does not receive certification, the United States government threatens to re-examine its overall trading relationship with the de-certified nation, the de-certified country is barred from receiving American financial aid, and the United States will vote against that country receiving loans from the six international multilateral development banks. Additionally, the United States will reject financial support from the Export-Import bank for American firms seeking to set up businesses in the de-certified country (see generally, Jones, 1999).
This unilateral certification process is the quintessential example of condescending arrogance, smacks of blatant imperialism and is clearly based solely on American self-interests. At least with respect to Mexico, it is little more than a lever to force American political, socio-economic policy onto its less powerful North American neighbor. The matter has greatly irritated many Third World nations upon which the United States government continues to pass unilateral judgement. The hypocrisy of the United States, the worlds' largest consumer of illicit drugs, passing judgement and issuing sanctions if other nations refuse to fight the drug war in ways the United States itself refuses to do, is not lost on leaders both north and south of the border (AFP, 2/27/98; McMahon, 1996; Moore and Anderson, 1996). Many American officials and political observers recognize that there are no objective certification standards, that the process is extremely arbitrary, and has more to do with political winds than substantive effort and progress (AFP, 2/27/98).
There are those, however, who defend the process, believe that it should be maintained, and feel specifically that since Mexico is not doing enough in its war on drugs, that they should be de-certified. Among other voices, United States Senators Paul Coverdell and Dianne Feinstein want to see Mexico more aggressively cracking down on drug barons and assisting in extraditing them to America. They, among many others, would also like to see DEA agents be allowed to carry weapons into Mexico while on assignment (Reuters, 10/22/97). Congressmen John Mica from Florida recently stated, "I will work to de-certify Mexico this year because the corruption is endemic from the lowest levels to the highest levels in that country and they still fail to cooperate to the degree I believe is necessary" (Reuters, 2/6/98).
During the 1999 certification process, however, neither Mica nor Feinstein challenged President Clinton regarding the re-certification of Mexico, although both publicly indicated that they still had serious reservations about the decision. The most vocal critic during the 1999 re-certification process came from House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt who was quoted as saying, "Mexico has not done enough to meet the requirements of our law" (PST, 3/1/99). Also voicing strong opinions against re-certification of Mexico was the Chair of the House of International Relations Committee, Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman. The 2000 certification also had its foes on Capital Hill. To some extent, the matter was lost to the press and public during the American presidential campaign. It was not lost to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, however, who called for a moratorium on the certification process to give time for the newly elected presidents of both countries to consider new proposals (AFP, 9/22/00).
Similar to the model established in previous years, at the proverbial 11th hour before the 1999 certification decisions were to be revealed by President Clinton, then Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Labastida, announced a $500 million anti-drug strategy that would be implemented over the next three years (AFP, 2/4/99). The strategy involves the cooperation of 13 departments which will use electronic sensor technology designed to detect fields of narcotic plants, to find narcotic shipments and to track suspicious airplanes and vessels. In addition, the strategy will utilize satellite photography and specialized computer systems in order to coordinate land and sea tracking efforts. While the timing of such announcements is certainly suspect, the Mexican government's efforts have seen some results of late. In August of 1999, for example, Mexican authorities seized an 8.6 ton shipment of cocaine off their west coast (AFP, 8/18/99). In the first eight months of 1999, Mexican authorities had seized 850 tons of marijuana, 25 tons of cocaine and 1,500 pounds of opium base.
While the internal debates continue in this country as to the appropriateness of the certification process, the United States continues to hold this stick of economic sanctions over the collective heads of its trading partners. Mexico has long resisted this certification process, calling it nothing but a public relations scam (Reuters, 2/4/98). Mexican officials, in reaction to Clinton's threat of de-certification in 1997, lashed back, accusing the world's biggest drug consumer of hypocrisy. At the 11th hour however, Mexico capitulated. Less than 36 hours before the deadline, Mexican officials miraculously captured the head of the Gulf Cartel, Oscar Malherve, and publicly burned a ton of equally as miraculously recently captured cocaine.
It should be pointed out that there is more to this game than may meet the eye. Mexican officials certainly engage in the selective targeting activity out of necessity - to offer up an occasional sacrificial lamb to please the American certification gods. But Mexican leadership also benefit from this charade, for they use it as a smoke screen to help the cartels with which they have become aligned. The Mexican leadership will, rather hypocritically, use the national stage and national resources to dismantle a cartel, always a cartel that is a rival to is cartel partner. By removing their partner cartels' competition in this almost amusingly self-righteous show of public and military force, greater profits will be realized by their partner cartels. Eventually a percentage of those funds will be floated back to the political leadership. The certification process has allowed the PRI leadership to play one cartel against another and enrich itself. And over the years, the PRI has been a most fickle friend. It has a history of turning on former cartel partners as quickly as the wind might change direction. Former Gulf Cartel king-pin Garcia-Abrego, for example, even publically noted the audacity of the Salinas administration coming after him after he arranged with Raul Salinas to have two anti-Salinas candidates killed. Rather than playing such games and suggesting that the winds of change may have truly reached Mexico's shore, President Fox (the first non-PRI president in 70 years) has forcefully and unilaterally called upon the United States to totally abandon the drug certification program, noting that it serves no useful purpose (AFP, 9/22/00; Weymouth, 2000, p. 37). In its place, he proposes the development of a multilateral evaluation system. Time will proverbially tell if this proposal is seriously considered by the American leadership. At present, it does not seem to be playing well in the Washington, D.C. political marketplace.
All of the Mexican cartels do need to cooperate to some degree in the annual certification process, even those that the government turns on, if they want to survive in the long run. From the long-term perspective, the Cartels can certainly take the hit of a leader or two going to prison, and they can easily absorb the loss of a portion of its stockpile; even a 50 percent commodity loss in the cocaine trade will yield a profit. The Mexican economy needs American aid and business dollars more than it needs cartel money, though having both would be the best of both worlds. At this point the Mexican leadership is successfully achieving that end. American aid continues to flow into the government coffers, external investment is up, and the drug revenues are as high as ever. It appears as if the cartel leaders, even those who are not in partnership with the Mexican leadership, are willing to play along with the certification game, to give themselves up from time to time for a token arrest, and to let a small cache of their drugs be publicly "captured" and burned to achieve a positive public relations effect. This allows the Mexican government to continue to play the plausible deniability game, and to placate the United States political leadership for a season.(13)
Recent events have shaken the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico however. While the 1998 case against the Amezcua brothers (the current methamphetamine "kings") was trumpeted as evidence of improved cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico in the binational anti-drug battle, current problems in the case and with other similarly "botched" cases are upsetting the already tense relationship between the two countries (Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/99). Amezcua Contreras was released from a Guadalajara Prison on May 19, 1999 after a judge ruled that the state was trying him under a new drug-laundering law that did not exist at the time of Contreras' alleged offense. In a similar case in May of 1999, a Mexico City judge stayed the extradition order for Jose de Jess Amezcua who is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. A third Amezcua brother, Luis, still faces drug-trafficking charges in the U.S. On May 21, 1999 the extradition of Oscar Malherve to the U.S. was also denied. He was arrested in 1997 while driving with $2 million in cash in his car. Malherve is considered by the U.S. DEA to be the second most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico. He operated the Gulf Cartel after the arrest of Garcia-Abrego in 1996, but its leadership is now in the hands of Oziel Cardenas Guillen as noted previously. The commutative handling of such cases has raised questions about the legitimacy Mexican attorney general's work and about the operation and efficiency of the Mexican judicial system in general (Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/99). It is of interest to note that all of the decisions rendered in all of these cases were made after certification decisions for the year were already in place.
The l999 certification was approved in a far less visible fashion than in either 1998 or 1997 (the Senate vote in 1998 was close, however - 54 to 45, UPI, 3/26/98; see also Reuters, 2/26/98), though the matter did draw the ire of political leaders on both sides of the Rio Grande (AFP, 2/26/98; Reuters, 2/4/98). The flow of drugs has hardly diminished in recent months, yet the United States has seemed to almost wink at the matter. Many have suggested that the certification of Mexico and other Meso-American countries in 1999 was simply done to protect U.S. business interests in those areas from likely public and private retaliation. It may also be related to the reality that drugs are part of the economic structure of our neighbor to the south, part of the recreational and economic structures of the United States, and if significant efforts were made to stem the tide, serious economic repercussion could result, for both economies.
IMPACT OF THE DRUG TRADE ON THE MEXICAN AND AMERICAN ECONOMIES
The drug trade and the narco-dollars it generates is an integral aspect of virtually aspect of the Mexican economy, from the boardrooms and halls of government to the common farmers and slum dwelling "mules." While there is no hard data, the generally accepted figure is that Mexico sees $40 billion a year from the drug trade (though it does not all come from the United States). Consider the recent economic history of Mexico as an illustration of just how much the drug trade is enmeshed in the economies of these two nations. Mexico was experiencing somewhat of an economic boom in the early and mid-1990s. The economy was growing. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was showing some dividends. Mexico appeared to be poised to make a long-term run at improving their economy. Then, literally out of the blue, in late 1994 and early 1995, the Mexican peso was devaluated and Mexico faced a huge international financial crisis. The collapse happened almost overnight. As events unfolded, it turns out that the financial crisis had its roots in the drug trade.
As has been previously noted, Mexican Presidents serve for one, six year term. The Mexican President from 1988 to 1994 was Carlos Salinas. He and his family had drug syndicate connections, as noted above, and allowed drug money to flow into the country relatively openly. With access to these vast sums of money, the Mexican government had no problem in meeting its international financial obligations. The next President of Mexico was to be Ernesto Zedillo. He was very much a crusader and a reformer, and during his campaign indicated an intention to rattle the status quo. As he was readying to enter office, the drug kingpins became legitimately worried that things would not be business as usual, and pulled their money out of the Mexican economy. As a result, the entire Mexican economic structure became de-stabilized.
The United States, in an attempt, among other things, to salvage NAFTA, had to put together a $20 billion loan package and stabilize the Mexican economy in February of 1995, an economy that was dependant on the "coca-buck." In addition to the macro-economic implications, there were numerous political killings, and street crimes skyrocketed during the "coca-buck" pullout period. With the peso devaluation came inflation, which destroyed the dreams of what was becoming a relatively large and stable Mexican middle class. Drug money was, and still is, literally ingrained in the socio-economic structure of Mexico, as it is in so many other countries in this world.
The result of this episode was a total re-assessment in Washington D.C. The United States and then President Zedillo both backed off from their hard-line approach out of a fear that such a policy would continue to disrupt the social-economic fabric of Mexicans daily life, have an adverse effect on Mexico's international fiscal position, and most notably, have an adverse effect on Mexico's ability to pay its foreign debt, including the $20 billion owed to the United States (Reuters, 5/7/97). With the kindlier and gentler attitude in place, the drug lords began to return their "coca-bucks" to the Mexican economy.
Miraculously, in January of 1997, 3 years early, Mexico paid off the last of the $20 billion it borrowed to stabilize its economic free-fall (Blustein, 1997; Wall Street Journal, 3/16/97; see also Shaffer, 1996).
A new economic crisis lies in Mexico's very immediate future, however. On the one hand, a number of economic indicators are solid. The peso is stronger than it has been in more than a year (currently trading at roughly 1:9.3 in terms of American dollars), the Mexican stock market index (the Bolsa index) is up, currently around 5,650 - up from the 4,750 mark just a year ago but down from its high mark a few months ago of 8,400, direct foreign investment will reach $20 billion during the year 2000 (AFP, 10/2/00), and the federal budget contains a surplus in excess of $900 million (boosted of late due to increasing world oil prices). The major economic problem is a bank bailout issue, the scope of which dwarfs the country's financial capabilities.
Mexico's banks have historically been basically un-monitored and very poorly regulated. When the value of the peso dropped in 1994-1995, interest rates rose and billions of dollars in bank loans went unpaid. To avoid a complete economic meltdown, the Mexican government was forced to bailout the failed banks. As mentioned previously, in a positive context, the Mexican banking regulatory agencies have since been reorganized and other banking industry rules have been instituted in hopes of avoiding such a crisis in the future (AFP, 9/21/99). These new laws reorganization efforts have come much too late to avert the present crisis however. Vicente Corta, the Executive Secretary of IPAB (the newly created equivalent of the American FDIC), now estimates that the bailout will cost the Mexican government $93.4 billion - nearly 20 percent of the nations' annual gross domestic product.
Interestingly, from the very beginning, Standard and Poor's estimated the bailout to be closer to $106 billion (see generally, Associated Press, 9/3/99). When the crisis was initially made public, the government and the PRI stuck to a $59 billion figure, even in the face of Standard and Poor's estimate. They stayed with the lower figure in light of stiff complaints from the increasingly visible political opposition that the bailout was an attempt on the part of the government to protect rich bankers at the expense of Mexico's primarily poor taxpayers. The matter became all the more politically charged when it was revealed several months ago that a significant portion of the delinquent loans that will now be paid off with tax dollars were campaign donations to the PRI (Associated Press, 9/1/99). Standard and Poor's very public higher estimate and the presence of an opposition political party capable of effectively communicating those higher (and certainly more accurate) figures to the body politic simply forced the Mexican government to revise its figures.
In the face of this pending crisis, Mexico will soon receive a $23.7 billion financial aid package from the IMF, the World Bank, the U.S. Eximbank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Canada. This will help the government to confront the challenges linked to the bank bailout, and to intervene and stabilize markets in case of a currency crisis (AFP, 6/15/99). In addition, given that financial turmoil has often accompanied changes in the presidency (most recently the above noted Salinas to Zedillo transition), these funds will be able to ease any economic disruptions that may arise during the next transition.
But the fact remains that the Mexican economy needs the estimated $40 billion plus that flows into the country from the drug trade. Those dollars are integral to the current Mexican economy, and because of that, an anti-drug cartel position carries no political capital in Mexico at present. There will be no public interest in ridding Mexico of the cartels, at least until a replacement for the lost $40 billion can be found. Any serious effort to root out the cartels likely needs to await the emergence of a greatly improved Mexican economy; they are just too deeply entrenched within the fabric of the Mexican socio-economic culture.
THE NEW MARKETS
The Mexican drug cartels gained their power by monopolizing the lucrative cocaine trade, but cocaine use in the United States has began to slide in the late 1990s, from 6 million users in the mid-1990s to an estimated 1.7 million in 1998 (Reuters, 3/19/98). As a response to this changing market, the cartels will need to both diversify, and get involved in other markets. At this point, they seem to be adjusting. For the first time, they are bringing large quantities of cocaine into the Mexican market. According to recent estimates, 4 percent of the citizens of Mexico City now use cocaine, up from an estimated 1.6 percent just four years ago (Reuters, 3/19/98). Drug use in Mexico has risen from an estimated 1.5 million users in 1988 to 2.5 million users in 1998, with the largest increase occurring among children (AFP, 7/4/99).
A recently published Mexican government report found that Mexicans are taking more drugs at younger ages and are beginning to favor low-grade cocaine over marijuana. The report indicated that the average age of those who have consumed some type of stimulant at least once is between 10 and 12 years old. While marijuana is still the most popular drug in Mexico, cocaine is no longer far behind, and is now reaching new populations, such as the children and the poor. According to the same government report, there are now approximately 20,000 drug dealers in Mexico who sell their products in more than 8,000 schools just in Mexico City alone. It is suggested that the dramatic drug use increase is due in part to the same factors long identified in the United States - increases in immigration, the increase in the unemployment rate, low wages, a rise in the number of teenage parents, lack of education, and breakdown of the home (AFP, 7/4/99). There is a decided downside to this trend. By moving into the drug trade in their own country, the cartels will run the risk of turning their own people against them. At present, there is no anti-cartel sentiment among the Mexican populous, and that fact has a great deal to do with the longevity and vibrancy of these organized crime entities. The need to maintain that passive populous sentiment will, in the author's opinion, likely keep the major cartels out of the domestic drug consumption business. They may in fact, muscle in on small entities who try and develop a domestic drug consumption market and shut them down so as to protect/maintain the passive public sentiment.
The Mexican cartels have also been extremely successful in exploiting the new American methamphetamine market, and have emerged as the dominant force in this area, as noted by then DEA Director Thomas Constantine - "The major Mexican trafficking groups control and coordinate all aspects of the methamphetamine business" (Constantine, 2/27/97). Commenting on the move to the meth market, Constantine indicated:
"The shift...was a brilliant business decision by these organizations. Unlike the cocaine business, where traffickers from Mexico are just one link in a chain,
meth is one rung they can control from beginning to end. And because they are in complete control, they can keep 100 percent of the profits."
The Mexican drug cartels have become the dominant force in the United States methamphetamine trafficking. Meth production does have its problems(12), however, but with the proper equipment it is relatively easy to make, has a significant profit margin (as much as 1:10; see Arax and Gorman, 1995), and is going through a huge surge in popularity in the United States. In just over four years the meth business has been transformed from a series of small operations run by motorcycle gangs to a gigantic international market. The market was wrested away from the biker gangs in a somewhat bloody, but brief war. Mexico is now the major producer, though it is thought that the Mexican cartels still use the American motorcycle gangs to transship the basic ingredients into the United States, where labs convert those ingredients into meth. The Mexican cartels control perhaps 80 percent of the American meth trade, and appear to now be expanding operations into Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
The majority of the Mexican meth trade has been controlled by a Guadalajara-based organization run by the Amezcua brothers; Jesus and Luis. This group may have joined forces with the Federation to expand networks and marketing capabilities. This group is Mexico's largest importer of ephedrine and supplies the other cartels with the finished product, methamphetamine. The Amezcua brothers have been buying ephedrine in every major producing country in the world including China, India, Germany and the Czech Republic. The raw materials are smuggled into the United States, where meth labs, typically made up of both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants, produce the finished product. The workers typically refuse to cooperate with American law enforcement authorities when captured, knowing that the Cartel leaders will harm their family members who are still south of the border.
Some meth labs are capable of producing $2 million worth of meth per week. Usually meth by-products are dumped near the facility. It costs an average of $25,000 to clean up a meth production lab site. United States officials uncovered the magnitude of the meth trade in 1994 simply by chance. Customs officials at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport found 3.5 tons of ephedrine on a plane from Switzerland bound for Mexico. The plane had been re-directed to Dallas because of bad weather. This discovery led to an investigation which determined that between June 1993 and December 1994 some 170 tons of ephedrine had been shipped to Mexico. That amount could yield 136 tons of meth, and would be enough to supply 12.4 million users with three, 10 milligram doses a day for a year. American government seizures of meth have been increasing dramatically in the West and Midwest regions in the past year.
There is another interesting market seeing tremendous growth along the Mexican-American border - people smuggling. This is not a new market of course, but the scope of this industry is expanding of late, and has the potential to even surpass the drug trade in time. On April 1, 1997, a new and much tougher immigration law went into effect - that date has been called "Black Tuesday" in Mexico (Reuters, 4/17/97), and it has had long repercussions for many, many Mexican families. Consider the following account:
"For many Mexicans, migrating north in search of work is not a criminal act but an annual rite born of economic necessity. Any United States attempt to protect
its borders, or any mistreatment of Mexican immigrants, raises howls of protest. Zacatecas state is a leading source of migrants to the United States with seven
percent of its 1.3 million people north of the border at any one time and $240 million a year in remittances coming home. Migratory traditions here run deep,
started primarily by tumbling silver prices at the turn of the century.... Current migration patterns began during the world wars, when there were labor shortages
in the United States. From Jerez, most immigrants gravitate toward Los Angeles, Chicago and San Antonio.... 'You can't knock on a door in this city (Jerez)
without finding one of us who has a cousin, an uncle, a friend, a brother ... we all have someone there. It has been an important factor in our economy,
unquestionably.'" (Reuters, 4/17/97)
The result of the new immigration law has been a marked increase in the people smuggling trade. With more than $6 billion a year of much needed U.S. currency pouring into the Mexican economy from legals and illegals working north of the border, half of which likely comes from illegals (the so-called 'wet-back dollars'), American law enforcement can expect little serious help from the Mexican government in this arena (AFP, 10/30/00). This point warrants reiteration. Dollars sent home by Mexican workers located in America have become a crucial and integral component of the Mexican economy, surpassing American investment in Mexico by nearly one billion dollars per year (AFP, 10/30,00). While a charade may be undertaken to placate the Americans, there is no rational reason for the Mexican government to mount any kind of substantive effort that would inhibit the flow of these much needed dollars.
"Coyotes," generally operating with a small independent organization, have historically had a monopoly on people trafficking.(14) Seeing a huge profit margin as a result of the new immigration law, Mexican syndicates have been moving into the people smuggling trade in a more systematic and organized fashion, either taking over "coyote" operations or forcing them into a business arrangement. There is new evidence that the Mexican cartels are also beginning to do business with the Chinese Triads and are now smuggling illegal Chinese immigrants into the western hemisphere (AFP, 2/27/98; AFP, 8/31/99)/(15). A recent episode involving two low-ranking American military personnel attempting to smuggle a group of Mexicans across the border near Tijuana may only be considered a singular episode (AFP, 10/13/00), but people smuggling has the potential to overtake the drug trade in terms of gross revenue and profitability in the 21st century. This will especially be the case if the gap between the developed nations and under-developed nations continues to expand.
It has been estimated that nearly 1.4 million illegal immigrants cross the border from Mexico into the United States each year. Nearly 600,000 are caught and deported annually (AFP, 9/9/99). The overall estimate of the total illegal immigrant population in the U.S. ranges from 5 to 6 million, and is growing. People smuggling is now a $900 million a year enterprise - interestingly almost twice the budget of the U.S. Border Patrol. A ride across the border that cost an illegal $200 a few years ago now runs anywhere from $800 to $1,200 (see generally, Zarembo, 1999). In May of 1999 Mexican authorities dismantled a human-smuggling ring operating out of Ciudad Juarez which ended in the arrest of 27 people who specialized in the transportation of would-be illegal immigrants into the U.S. (AFP, 5/19/99). It is estimated that 5,000 people per month enter the United States illegally just from Ciudad Juarez alone (AFP, 5/19/99). In September and October of 2000, U.S. immigration officials, in cooperation with officials from at least five other countries, arrested 38 alleged smugglers and more than 3,500 illegal immigrants in Operation Forerunner. Nearly all of the arrests took place on foreign soil in an attempt to counter the long legal battles that take place when illegals are arrested having once arrived in the United States (Benjamin, 2000).
The face of the typical immigrant has been changing over the last few years. Migrant workers were at one time predominantly male; this is no longer the case. A "femininization" of the migration trend has been taking place (Christian Science Monitor, 4/22/99). The Immigration and Naturalization Service, which began tracking illegal immigrants' gender in 1992, has reported that the number of females apprehended on the Southwest border has increased every year since 1994 to a high of 173,870 for the 1998 fiscal reporting year (Christian Science Monitor, 4/22/99).
The human trafficking business is becoming increasingly dangerous and violent, particularly along the southern California border near San Diego. In 1993, prior to the implementation of the more aggressive border patrol efforts, 23 migrants died attempting to enter the United States. Some died due to more natural cases (drowning, dehydration, cold weather), but others died due to violence. In 1998 this number skyrocketed to 145, and to 325 in 1999. The figures will surpass 400 for the year 2000 (AFP, 9/27/00). U.S. estimates are that some 1,300 Mexican illegals have died in their attempts to cross the border since 1994.
Criticism and finger-pointing has become commonplace on both sides of the Rio Grande. A number of human rights groups have become involved, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently issued a report that was critical of both governments. The Mexican government has undertaken some efforts to address this issue. Some ten years ago, a special Mexican border police force, Grupo Beta, was created. Initially stationed in Tijuana, officers are now spread across the entire border region. Its charge is not so much to stop the illegal immigrants, but to protect them and inform them of the dangers. Grupo Beta has come under intense criticism of late, however, particularly in July of 2000 when three Beta officers who did not know how to swim were forced to simply watch as two illegals drown in the Rio Grande. This event was filmed by a television camera crew and elicited a significant outcry from the Mexican community (LaFranchi, 2000). In the first four months of the year 2000, the Beta officers reported that they assisted more than 12,000 illegals who found themselves in life-threatening situations. These numbers would suggest that the flow is far beyond what the Beta Group can handle. "All we can do is act as a voice of conscience to encourage these people to avoid danger, but the deaths will continue because people are desperate," says Grupo Beta coordinator Agua Preita (LaFranchi, 2000, p. 2).
The United States attempted to legislate itself out of the problem a decade ago. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allowed for nearly 4 million illegals (the plurality of whom were from Mexico) to permanently stay in the U.S., apply for citizenship and ultimately bring in close relatives. It was thought that this would stem the flow of illegal migrants, but that has not been the case, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the American desire for cheap food. While hard data is impossible to obtain, it is generally accepted that up to 80 percent of the farm workers who pick the 200 different crops grown in America (worth $15.1 billion) are undocumented workers; in raw figures it may be as many as 800,000 individuals (Ritter, 1999). Overall, Mexican officials estimate that there are 3 million undocumented Mexicans in America at present (AFP, 9/27/00). Growers, of course, readily hire illegals, noting the need to use cheap labor to compete in the marketplace. The booming American economy has also spawned tens of thousands of low-paying service jobs that are readily and happily filled by migrants, anxious to seek a better life and/or to support struggling families back home. As the phenomenal economic run in America continues(and there appears no end in sight), the economic migration from south to north will likewise continue.
Authorities have attributed the increase in violence not simply to the increased numbers, but in large part to the drug and immigrant smugglers who are frustrated by the crackdown that has occurred along the border over the past five years. "These are just isolated cases of smugglers reacting to increased patrols," said Carlos Luna Herrera, regional coordinator of Grupo Beta (AP, 7/28/99). The Calexico area was once a relatively easy target for smugglers with only 81 agents assigned to patrol the area in 1996, and only a small handful of those 81 agents worked any given night shift. Today, 194 agents are assigned to this area with a night patrol force of 40 (compared to the previous 7 or 8) who are aided by motion detectors and night vision scopes (Associated Press, 7/28/99). In June of 1999, 9,908 migrants were arrested, more than twice the number of arrests made in June of 1996. The all time high, however, occurred in March of this year with the arrest of 19,908 migrants.
Another market of interest to the cartels involves stolen vehicles. Not part of the traditional cartel litany of activities (Resendiz, 1998), officials have recently found ties between gangs of car thieves in El Paso, Texas and the Juarez Cartel. The Juarez Cartel is now paying El Paso gangs in drugs and weapons for stolen vehicles. Al Lowe, head of the El Paso County Auto Theft Task Force has indicated, "One of the biggest problems in this region is the proliferation of these auto theft rings associated with narco-traffickers" (Reuters, 1/6/98). In 1997, some 3,500 vehicles were stolen in El Paso and smuggled into Mexico, many ending up in the hands of corporate executives and government officials.
All told, it is now estimated that there are more than 5 million illegal vehicles in Mexico, the bulk of which were stolen in the United States. These stolen vehicles, generally referred to as "hot chocolate," are usually marketed to relatively low-income households and are sold for between $500 (for an older car) to $2,000 (for a much sought after mini-van)(AFP, 10/22/00). "These (auto-theft) bands operate on both sides of the border without problem," noted Phil Jordon, former DEA official and former head of the El Paso Intelligence Center (Reuters, 1/6/98). At present, Mexican residents in the border zone are legally permitted to own American manufactured vehicles that are no less than five years old. Over the course of the next nine years, the NAFTA free trade agreement gradually amends those laws, and in 2009 completely opens the border to American made vehicles. While auto theft will surely continue to be a problem thereafter, the pressure to steal will likely be somewhat diminished. But until 2009, the stolen car market will remain a very lucrative venue for the cartels.
Though hardly a new market per se, money laundering continues to grow as a major activity of the cartels and their conspirators. In May of 1998, numerous Mexican bankers were arrested by U.S. officials during Operation Casablanca, a law enforcement effort involving over 200 undercover U.S. Customs agents (Farah, 1998). The "new" dimension to the money laundering trade will be the enhanced capabilities afforded the cartels due to their increased access to the internet, more powerful computers, and more complicated software.
The Clinton administration formally classified the Mexican cartels as a major target for federal law enforcement, (even though they have diverted resources to Colombia of late), and focused significant efforts on "stopping them." Stopping them, however, has proved to be an extremely difficult task. At best, we are fighting a holding action. If the eradication of the cartels is the goal, our interdiction efforts can be classified as an utter failure. Though not politically popular, the data clearly indicates that law enforcement/military interdiction alone cannot solve this problem. As of this writing, the cartels are moving with great success, perhaps too much success, for the street level law enforcement community reports that drug supplies are up, purity is up, and prices are down. All told, the drug trade remains a mega-billion dollar industry; $400 billion a year worldwide, with perhaps as much as $40 billion of that finding its way to Mexico each year, as has been noted above.
Presidents Clinton and Fox, as well as former president Zedillo have at least publicly proclaimed their mutual support and cooperation in the cartel wars, noting the pressing need for cooperative law enforcement ventures on both sides of the border (Reuters, 5/7/97). President Fox has of late pressed matters in the press, openly calling on the United States to take on a greater responsibility for the drug problems (Associated Press, 11/27/00). But he has not limited his focus to the northern border alone. President Fox has expanded his vision, calling for a coordinated Latin American war against drugs trafficking (Associated Press, 10/9/00). There is some precedent for this - the European community, for example, has seen some success in its multi-national cooperative law enforcement efforts as they have taken on the Italian mafia(Edelbacher, 1998). While there would be many obstacles, there is no compelling reason a similar spirit of cooperation could not be developed in time between agents and agencies throughout the Americas. As previously noted, however, one of the major tools currently used in the drug war, the certification process, seems only to aggravate the rift between the two countries. The Mexican government continues to claim that certification is a unilateral and unfairly judgmental process of evaluation, and President Fox has called for its end. He is particularly critical of the United States for harshly evaluating other nations for drug trafficking, when it is the United States who consumes so much of the drugs, and finances these powerful drug-trafficking organizations. America does in fact support roughly a $50 billion a year drug market (Larmer, 1998). President Clinton acknowledged this fact recently, stating, "Let's be frank here ... we have five percent of the world's population, and we consume about half the drugs" (Reuters, 1997)/(16).
Despite the public proclamations of mutual support and cooperation, the United States seems generally prepared to continue its model of unilateral interdiction. During the next five years, there are plans to fence the entire 2,000 Mexican/American border. Less than 200 miles are currently fenced, and that fencing is literally full of holes. The Drug Enforcement Administration has hired 1,500 more persons to guard the border, and a number of large X-ray machines that can examine entire trucks will soon be installed (Larmer, 1997). The Immigration and Naturalization Service recently announced the hiring of an additional 1,000 agents who will be assigned to patrol the border, primarily in Texas. This will bring the number of INS agents along the Mexican border up to 7,000, up from 3,500 in 1993 (Wright, 3/10/98).
There is, however, some concrete evidence of growing cooperative efforts between local law enforcement entities on both sides of the border. For example, cooperative ventures are now underway between the Juarez Police Department and the El Paso Police Department to respond to the stolen vehicle trade between these two cities. "When I came here, I realized the key to success in this job would be working with Juarez," said El Paso Police Chief Leach (Larmer, 1997). Auto theft fell about 20 percent in 1997 due to these efforts. As El Paso border liaison police officer Jesus Torrones indicated, "the criminals have always relied on the border to stop us, but that's not the case anymore" (Christian Science Monitor, 2/3/98). This example of international law enforcement cooperation sets a standard that should be adopted across the entire southwestern border. As implied, such mutual support and collaboration is the exception and not the norm at present.
The lack of cooperative efforts between the American and Mexican law enforcement communities has long been exploited by the syndicates, and not just to run stolen cars, but to run drugs, people, arms and money (Moore and Anderson, 9/8/96). Finally, in early 1998, Mexican and American officials began working out the first ever bi-national drug control strategy (Reuters, 2/6/98). It will surely be an organic document, subject to change and amendment over time.
The initial Alliance Against Drugs strategy outlined 16 goals, one of which is the establishment of three cooperative Border Task Forces in unspecified locations. Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, Barry McCaffrey has indicated that "both sides are going to use off-set locations. We do not want criminal organizations to understand precisely how we are organizing or what our manpower will be." Under this agreement, the United States government is also sharing sensitive intelligence with Mexico. This alliance, coupled with new constitutional reforms and legislative actions pushed through the Mexican senate by former President Zedillo, will put at least some heat on the Mexican cartels (AFP, 12/4/97)/(17).
The formation of a common counter-drug strategy between Mexico and the United States was a necessary and long awaited event. Unfortunately, there are still a number of details that remain to be worked out; what will American agents be allowed to do when in Mexico; how will extradition matters be handled; will American agents be permitted to carry their U.S.-issued firearms when on duty in Mexico? The firearm issue has been of particular concern. American law enforcement agents have been strictly forbidden from carrying/using firearms in Mexico. This matter is being re-assessed in light of adamant demands on the part of American agents to be able carry their weapons into Mexico (Reuters, 10/22/97).
The United States has also steadily increased its interdiction efforts, particularly in the area of personnel deployment. Since 1990, the United States has increased the number of DEA agents on the border by 37 percent. Since 1990, the number of United States attorneys in the region has gone up 80 percent; the budget for the United States Customs Service has increased by 72 percent since 1993 (McCaffrey, 1997). In the last year of his presidency, Clinton requested an additional $500 million for drug interdiction efforts, including the funding of 1,000 additional DEA agents to specifically be placed along the Mexican border (UPI, 2/6/98). While such interdiction expenditures will surely continue into the future, the Cartels have proven to remarkably adaptive and creative; the latest innovation being the use of children as young as nine year old to smuggle drugs past the unsuspecting American agents (Schrader, 2000).
Money laundering investigative efforts will also continue, especially in light of the highly successful late 1990s effort, Operation Casablanca. Setting up an undercover laundering operation in Los Angeles in 1995, U.S. agents handled more than $100 million and arrested 168 people, including representatives from three Mexican banks. There was a downside to the effort however. At least two American agents, while assigned to Operation Casablanca, undertook investigative actions while on Mexican soil without the Mexican government's approval. This outraged the Mexican leadership and resulted in a 1998 agreement that limits the ability of U.S. agents to work in Mexico. Specifically, no undercover operations or intelligence gathering activities can be engaged in by American officials on Mexican soil unless they are first cleared by the Mexican government. Given the level of corruption within the Mexican leadership and the certain leaks that would be forthcoming, this agreement effectively closed down any such undercover/intelligence operations by American officials for the time being. While covert operations most certainly continue, the U.S. does run the risk of international embarrassment when and if they become publically uncovered.
In July of 1999, the U.S. Senate quietly passed a bill that will require the government to publish a list of major international drug traffickers as well as their front companies and business associates each year. Those entities identified would be prohibited from doing business in the United States. Yet to pass the House, this bill is clearly modeled after the drug certification law (Chapter 8 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961), and is designed to take on companies that launder money for organized crime interests. The Clinton Administration was initially in opposition to the bill, but now seem to be working with Congressional leaders in an attempt to pass some type of anti-money laundering measure of this nature (AFP, 9/27/99).
On the negative side of the anti-drug law enforcement efforts, the transfer of ownership of the Panama Canal emerges as a practical obstacle to American drug interdiction activities. American policy makers have used airborne surveillance as a primary component in its drug war efforts. As the Panama Canal changes ownership in the coming months, American military presence and the accompanying airborne surveillance efforts in Central America will become diminished. With the recent closing of Howard Air Force Base, for example, the U.S. lost 15,000 military flights a year, many of which were drug interdiction missions (Associated Press, 7/30/99). It is unclear at this point how the military will deal with this new challenge.
Perhaps the most interesting recent development in the drug wars is that for the first time, officials on both sides of the border have recognized in an official ground-breaking agreement that the drug matter will be "best tackled not just by arresting top traffickers but also by cutting demand" (Reuters, 3/26/98). The United States had never formally accepted the fact that American consumption of drugs was the main problem until March of 1998. In what may become a decided shift in public policy efforts, Barry McCaffrey noted, "you cannot arrest yourself out of a drug problem." He further indicated that prevention will become America's number one priority and that expenditures on prevention programs would increase by 21 percent in l999 (Reuters, 3/19/98). This came as a welcome breath of fresh air to the Mexican government. Only time will tell if this is indeed a shift in American public policy, and perhaps more importantly, if this shift has the desired impact upon the drug trade in particular and the cartels in general.
CONCLUSIONS: THE FUTURE
The Mexican cartels have historically been very adaptable, professional and efficient operations. They have survived changing markets and fluctuating political climates. They have benefitted from relatively solid internal leadership, an ability to cooperate, a socio-economic political environment that needs cartel money, endemic poverty among the populous, institutionalized corruption among government, military, and police officials at virtually every level, a single party political system, a differentiation in economies that drives hundreds of thousands of its citizens to illegally cross the border of its northern neighbor, and a huge demand for drugs from that same wildly wealthy northern neighbor. It would be remarkable if organized crime were NOT a dominant feature in such a socio-politico-economic landscape. Indeed, the cartels and the money they generate are enmeshed within the very fabric of life in Mexico fabric.
The matter is further aggravated due to the fact that the cartels will likely receive only token law enforcement attention from any seated Mexican government in the foreseeable future. Unlike our battle with the Colombian cartels earlier this decade, we can expect little real help from the Mexican government, where corruption is so institutionalized, where distrust is so pervasive, and where the economy is so dependent upon drug profits (equivalent to Mexican oil revenues) and "wet-back" dollars.
The continued involvement of the Mexican military in the drug trade is particularly troublesome. Given the obvious stature of the military within the political culture of Mexico (or of any nation for that matter) and the deeply entrenched/tap root nature of its involvement in the drug trade, one could easily argue that they are perhaps the most dangerous, the most insipidus, and surely destined to be the most enduring of all the Mexican drug cartels. Cleansing the military of its drug trafficking culture will surely be a profoundly difficult undertaking. Too much money is being made by too many very powerful people who have access to very powerful weapons and men who will use them on command. Even if legitimate efforts were to begin, it would take generations to completely eradicate Mexican military involvement in the drug trade.
The Mexican cartels pose a present and continuing threat to American interests, but not to Mexican interests in a general sense (with perhaps the exception of the Mexican military's very aggressive border region shake-down activities). There is very little grass-roots opposition to the cartels among the Mexican people. The cartels bring billions of American dollars into Mexico. Those dollars are integral to the Mexican economy - clinics are built, teachers are hired, roads are constructed, churches are erected. There is no clamor in Mexico to stop the cartels. They only kill each other and an occasional "deserving/corrupt" politician. Drug enforcement is not a central concern of the Mexican people, and as long as the cartels resist the temptation to market drugs to their own people, there will be no populous movement to rid the country of the cartels due to the simple fact that they are such a valuable economic asset to the nation.
In contrast, there are a significant number of investigative newspaper reporters in Mexico who seem willing to take on the cartels. Many have paid with their lives, however. One of the more notable being Yolanda Figueroa who wrote a book on the Gulf Cartel. She and her family were killed in 1996, and the publisher has left the books in the warehouse.
Though tantalizing and the topic of much discussion, the body politic remains relatively unmoved by these pieces of investigative reporting and view the cartel benefits worth the costs. What the Mexican people do not like and are becoming increasingly intolerant to is the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border. In addition to the aggressive culture it brings to the region and the accompanying oppression of the Mexican people who are de-facto powerless in Mexican legal culture, the militarization slows the flow of legal and illegal commodities across the border. The Mexican business community, utilizing the NAFTA agreement, is seeking to level the playing field with its American colleagues. The prospect of regular border delays present significant problems, and thus has significant political implications. From the standpoint of the business community, the need to move commodities in an expedient fashion is paramount, especially perishable goods which make up a significant portion of the Mexican-American trade. With the prospect of delay, an elaborate system of bribery will be developed to facilitate the movement of legal commodities over the border swiftly, and this cost will increase the cost of doing business in America. Obviously piggybacking off of a newly developed border bribery system, the cartels will be able to sidestep the border interdiction points and move their commodities more readily into the U.S. markets. The whole notion makes little sense to the Mexican people who currently place this issue in the center of their political radar. Feeding off of this virtual uproar emanating from the Mexican populous, President Fox has issued several calls for the opening of the border, though to date the notion has not played well in the U.S., even among his American political allies.
Cooperative law enforcement efforts surface as another option to consider. Five years ago, at a United Nations conference in Naples, participants were warned that if coordinated law enforcement actions were not swiftly undertaken at the international level, the world community would become a slave to organized crime, for the syndicates would be able to control economic conditions worldwide (United Nations, 1995). In response, Mexico as well as representatives from 26 other North and South American countries signed the Manaus Declaration in October of 2000, pledging their mutual cooperation in an attempt to more effectively combat "drug trafficking and transnational criminal activities" (AFP, 10/19/00). Only time will tell if this was mere political posturing or an agreement of real substance.
There is no denying the need for such multi-national cooperative law enforcement efforts, but such undertakings alone will not be effective. External attempts to control the cartels will be ineffective unless they are supported by the populous, the body politic. The primary component needed to take on the cartels is the collective political will of the people, and no law enforcement effort will be of much lasting value until a pro-active public sentiment is in place.
Institutions of public order are not effective unless they reinforce the dominant social view; they are viable only if they function as a supplement to social and cultural forces moving in the same direction. The cartels flourish in Mexico surely in part because the American people purchase the products provided, and because of the vast economic differences between these two neighbors. But the cartels also flourish in Mexico because the Mexican people lack the collective moral will to challenge their power. Unless law enforcement efforts are supported by the moral and ethical conscience of the citizenry, such efforts will be ineffective in producing the desired results. The key component in any battle against organized crime is the collective political will of the people. That must be in place first and foremost, before any interdiction efforts can begin to have a significant long-term impact.
There is a third component that also must be in place. In an address that, granted, on the one hand could be seen as nothing more than political rhetoric designed to attract the nation's Hispanic vote, but on the other hand is a refreshing voice in crime control dominated America, Texas Governor George W. Bush called upon officials on both sides of the border to build "monuments of faith." That particular day, he and then Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo dedicated a bridge between Mexico and American, the 25th bridge that spans the border between these two countries. "We need bridges," Bush said, "not walls" (AFP, 9/3/99).
This gentler approach suggests the need to reduce the emphasis on profits, to retreat from the market culture ideology, to redistribute income, to provide more economic opportunities for the poor, and to adjust macro social values, ie. cut demand for illegal goods and services. That statement also smacks of rhetoric, of the liberal tradition. The proposed goals are certainly laudable, and if achieved, would clearly have a dampening impact on the proliferation of transnational organized crime activities in this world, but are perhaps little more than the ravings of utopian visionaries.
In the short run, the harsh reality is that transnational organized crime in general and the Mexican cartels in particular, are here to stay, and there is likely little that can be done to counter their collective impact for now. As Alexander and Caiden (1985) have pointed out, long term responses are needed for the organized crime problem. Consider the following strategies:
1. Political corruption must be eliminated. Without political corruption, organized crime loses its protection.
2. Develop a multi-party political system in countries that lack such an arrangement. A political party with no opposition is accountable to no one.
3. A heightened sense of professionalism must be developed in the law enforcement community in the international community.
4. There is a need for law enforcement coordination and cooperation throughout the international community.
5. Centralized law enforcement data banks need to be developed and maintained on an international level.
6. International extradition treaties need to be developed among countries that lack such agreements.
7. Existing international extradition treaties need to be re-written to reflect the dynamics of the contemporary political realities.
8. The World Court needs to enhance its political capital, substance, and strength.
9. Illegal markets need to be made unprofitable, principally on the demand side, and particularly in the United States.
10. The public needs to be educated as to the true nature and impact of organized crime operations, and mobilized to action.
11. More research needs to be undertaken into the structures, techniques, and
impacts of organized crime on society. To be victorious, we need to learn all we
about the enemy.
THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Many questions remain unanswered regarding the future of the Mexican cartels, and their role in the Meso-American organized crime scene. What part will the Mexican cartels play in the new Fox government? At this point, it is somewhat unclear. They seem to be almost lying low. No claims of illegal contributions made during the 2000 presidential campaign have been forthcoming as of yet. Is that due to the fact that all of the candidates were on the take or was this a relatively clean election? Have the cartels become more subtle and astute in their campaign fund laundering procedures? How will the cartels respond to the two party/multiple party system, if indeed this arrangement continues to establish itself on the Mexican political terrain. Are the Mexican people, with a paternalistic-aristocratic political tradition that pre-dates the Spanish, truly ready to handle the increased responsibility of a viable two party/multi-party political system? Are Mexican political, corporate and civic institutions ready for the dynamics that such a move brings? Will the Mexican mass media in particular be able to make the transition from governmental mouthpiece to viable independence?
Will President Fox be successful in his call for the development of a coordinated regional/multinational war-effort against drug trafficking? Will such an effort be politically popular in Latin America? Will this multinational initiative emerge as a truly effective and viable entity? How will the cartels in Mexico and the rest of Latin American respond to this initiative? How will the cartels respond to what appears to be a continuing decline in cocaine use in America? Will they turn more attention to the meth markets? Will they turn more attention to local drug sales and begin to tap into its own people, at the risk of attracting the ire of the local populous for the first time and ultimately the Mexican government itself? It is one thing to sell to the Yankees and extract their dollars, but it is another thing entirely to tap into your own people.
How will the cartels respond to the extremely aggressive Chinese Triad drug marketing strategies? Will the Mexican cartels try their hand in the burgeoning European economies or limit their focus to the western hemisphere? Will Puerto Rican cartels, enriched with the hundreds of millions they have accumulated from their mid-1990s trans-shipment operations, rise up and challenge Mexico for the control of the American markets? Will the Colombian narco-terrorist groups realize success in their current struggles against the seated government? If so, will they settle for a share of the drug trade or will they attempt to develop a monopoly in the North and South American drug trafficking markets? Recent reports out of Colombia suggest a plan to re-establish control of the supply lines and to subsequently divide the supply of drugs between Mexico and Puerto Rico, thus forcing the Puerto Rican and Mexican cartels to compete with each other in a classic divide and conquer scheme, leaving the Colombians in a position of dominance. How will the Mexican cartels respond to such a scheme? Will the Mexican cartels be able to bring the vitality and adaptive capabilities into the 21st century that have allowed them to be so successful in the 20th?
The answers to these and other questions that will yet emerge in our ever changing environment must await the passage of time and in the end will perhaps be answered accurately only in historical retrospect.
There has been, I would argue, five stages of sovereignty in the western world over the past millennium. The church was the near omnipotent sovereign at the dawn of the present millennium, and ruled and reigned with virtually unchallenged power for several hundred years. The kings, armed with their self-ascribed divine right, functioned as the sovereign in the next evolutionary period. In turn, parliaments, then the people, and today, I would suggest, multi-national corporations have taken their turn as the sovereigns of primary power. The next phase will see transnational organized crime entities emerge as the de-facto sovereign of significance in the world. Organized transnational crime possess a political as well as a socio-economic threat to Mexico, and to the entire world. It is in the process of integrating itself into the socio-economic political fabric of both developing and developed nations, is becoming a major force in international finance, and is destined to dominate until the collective political will of "we, the people" is galvanized in opposition.
1. In 1963, the much loved Mexican President Lopez Mateos instituted measures
that permitted new voices to enter the Chamber of Deputies. In 1964 PAN received
20 congressional seats and the Partido Popular Socialista picked up 10 seats. It
could be argued however, that these were basically token seats, for the PRI
maintained its iron hold on the nation's political scene. Only recently has
there been even a crack in PRI dominance. The current mayor of Mexico City, for
example, is from an opposition party. Several (4) Senate seats were lost in
1988, and a state gubernatorial race was lost for the first time in 1989. Minor
changes in substance, but major in that they were the first real chip in the PRI
shield and its party-state model.
2. Some would classify the Sinaloa Cartel as a major player, but its current power seems to be greatly diminished. This group was/is a spin-off organization of the larger Sonora Cartel. The Sinaloa Cartel broke off and began cooperating with the Cali cartel to transship huge quantities of cocaine during the 1980s and early 1990s. They were responsible for constructing the long tunnel under the Mexican/American border that was used for its then extensive drug trade. That operation was shut down in May of 1993 however. In July of 1993, nearly 6 tons of Cali/Sinaloa cocaine was seized in El Salvador (Reuters, 6/12/93), and Sinaloa co-leader "El Guero" (Hector Luis Palma Salazar) was eventually arrested. The other leader of this cartel, "El Chapo" (Joaquin Guzman Lora) was arrested and in 1993 was given a 15 year prison sentence. Remnants of this group are still functioning, but it is not anywhere near as powerful today as it was seven years ago.
3. In retrospect, Abrego was probably the victim of his own success. He became very visible, and because of that, the Cali cartel suppliers began to be somewhat reluctant to do business with him. His relatively visible private army became somewhat of an embarrassment to the Mexican government. In the end, his government friends who were on the payroll eventually left office and he did not court others quickly enough. This, combined with the fact that Mexico was under intense pressure to show progress in its war on drug efforts lest it be de-certified, sealed Abrego's fate (see generally Sam Dillon, "Bribes and publicity mark fall of Mexican drug lord," New York Times, 5/12/96, pp. 1, 6).
4. $1.3 billion in $20 bills weights roughly 14,300 pounds; obviously a massive logistics efforts would be required to count, store, move and eventually deposit this amount of money.
5. As of 2/98, an estimated $30 billion a year was being laundered in Mexico (Reuters, 2/16/98).
6. Fuentes was very tight with Jorge Hank, Jr. Jorge Hank, Sr. is one of the most powerful men in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the Mexican national party. He also had Gutierrez Rebollo, the Mexican Drug Czar, on his payroll. In a minor blow to Fuentes in the spring of 1997, this relationship was uncovered, and Rebollo was forced to resign (Brant, 1997), and was eventually sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison (Reuters, 3/3/97). A March 1997 New York Times article detailed the Fuentes connection with governors of at least two Mexican states - Morelos and Sonora (Reuters, 2/16/97).
7. The matter is even more complicated due to the fact that green American dollars are no longer considered negotiable currency in Colombia. Their very possession in any significant amount now brings law enforcement attention. Possession of American currency has national security implications in Colombia - if you have lots of American cash it is surely drug money, and you may be working with our enemies - FARC and/or the ELN. As a result, a relatively brisk trade in narco-dollars has arisen in the U.S. Large amounts of cash are given to American brokers who smurf the money into various American bank accounts. Subsequently postal money orders and cashiers checks are written on those accounts and mailed to the Colombians, who then may use these financial instruments to purchase commodities in Colombia. The U.S. estimates that roughly $5 billion a year is being "mailed" to Colombia. Numerous multi-national firms are being accused of willful blindness in accepting these forms of payments. People will literally go into a Bogota car dealership, for example, with a stack of 500 money orders, all made out in American dollars and drawing on an American bank. Anxious to make the sale and knowing that the money orders are legitimate (ie., the dealership will get its money), the financial paper is accepted and the car is sold. By accepting those money orders as payment, the car dealership becomes involved in the drug money laundering process. The U.S. Attorney General has formally meet with the leadership of many Fortune 500 companies (Kodak, Hewlitt Packard, Sony, Ford, Philip Morris to name a few) in an attempt to put an end to the practice of willful blindness, in Colombia and elsewhere
8. As would be expected, Colombia's political scene is quite different from that of Mexico. Mexico has a strong drug cartel presence and a relatively weak terrorist presence. The Zapatista's (or EZLN - Zapatista National Liberation Army), based in the southern state of Chiapas, are the only terrorist group of consequence at present. They are a left wing organization that seeks more rights for Mexico's 10 million Indian population. Emerging on the scene in early 1994, some 150 people were killed in confrontations between the EZLN and government troops. Things have been relatively quiet since the fall of 1996, though there is still a fair amount of tension and animosity in the area (AFP, 9/14/99). Colombia on the other hand, currently has a relatively weak cartel presence, but an overwhelmingly powerful terrorist presence. As noted in the body of this paper, the most dominant terrorist groups seem to be the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) who have a combined force of some 20,000 members. Very quietly from the American public's perspective, these narco-terrorists have amassed a massive military arsenal, more extensive than the Colombian army. They currently represent a legitimate threat to the sovereignty of the Colombian government. In the summer of 1999, a U.S. spy plane crashed in Colombia, bringing some measure of publicity to this unfolding drama (see generally, Hammer and Isikoff, 1999). The recent emergence of several right wing vigilante organizations, upset with the government's inability to maintain order, has made the situation more difficult, especially in light of the fact that these right wing entities have moved into the drug trade to finance their operations and ironically seem to be profiting more from the drug trade than the left-wing groups. The right wing vigilante groups have the potential to be an even greater risk to the sovereign government of Colombia than do the left-wing organizations.
9. As University of Guanajuato political scientist Luis Miguel Rionda noted, "The only thing (Fox) promised is change. We don't have a clear idea of what that means." (Zarembo, 2000, p. 36).
10. The article continued that the Mexican cartels have bought out the government, the police and the military. The article had an interesting interview with an average Mexican who said as follows: "We don't have any faith in the government's ability to fight drug trafficking, but that doesn't mean we like the United State's coming in and dictating. You are the ones who consume all the drugs!"
11. Chapter 8 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, with its many amendments, requires the President to annually inform Congress as to whether or not major drug producing and drug transit countries are cooperating with the United States in the drug war, or have taken adequate steps on their own to meet the goals of the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. President Reagan undertook the first Certification efforts in 1986. In l999, 23 countries were certified (Aruba, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand, Venezuela, and Vietnam), two were granted national interest waivers (Belize and Pakistan), and five were not certified (Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, Iran and Nigeria). In 2000, the activities of 32 countries will be examined.
The process involves several steps, as follows:
A. In the fall of each year, the State Department provides the President with
a brief synopsis of drug producing and transit countries' drug fighting efforts.
B. The President makes a preliminary certification decision and forwards this
decision on to the Chairs of the House International Relations Committee, the
Foreign Relations Committee and several Congressional appropriation
subcommittees. This is generally done before November 1.
C. The State Department continues to obtain information and submits a more
complete report to the President, generally by sometime in February. The
makes a final decision and passes the matter on to Congress before March 1.
The President may recommend:
a. full certification
b. deny certification
c. grant a vital national interest certification
D. The President's decision stands, unless Congress overrides that decision within 30 days. Congress has yet to override any Presidential certification decision.
For more information on the drug certification process, see http://www.state/gov/www/global/narcotics_law/certify.html
12. An additional example of the game that is played - a few hours after the United States announced that Mexico had been re-certified in 1997, Mexico announced that Humberto Abrego, a major player in the Gulf Cartel who was in custody in Mexico, walked out of the police headquarters and escaped somehow. His "escape" had actually taken place the day before, but was not announced until several hours after re-certification was confirmed. Malherve was released from jail on a technicality a few weeks after the United States certification was finalized (Brant, 1997).
13. There is a threat of explosion, the chemicals are quite corrosive by nature, improper exposure could prove fatal, and there is a distinctive tell-tale odor that could be detected by legal authorities.
14. The "coyote" is generally the head of the operation. They will hire a "chicken seller" (vendepollo) who will work the streets in search of customers, a "fence jumper" (brincador) who guides the illegals across the border, and a driver in the United States who will take them to a safe house where they wait until the final payment is made. Coyote's generally hire fence jumpers who are under the age of 18, and thus free from prosecution under federal people-smuggling law.
15. Mexican officials recently arrested 51 undocumented Chinese who were hidden in secret compartments of trucks headed for the United States (AFP, 2/27/98).
16. Interestingly, it is estimated that some 90 percent of the weapons toted by cartel members come from the United States. When asked by Mexican officials to put a stop to this illegal arms trade, American officials have indicated that the demand for the weapons is on the Mexican end, so they, the Mexicans, should stop it - an interesting bit of international diplomatic hypocrisy that the United States can engage in, because at present it has the biggest stick.
17. The United States and Mexico have entered into a number of so-called side agreements with respect to NAFTA. A NAFTA side agreement relative to criminal justice matters has not been developed, and clearly needs to hammered out in the near future.
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AFP, "Mexico stops 130 illegal Chinese immigrants heading for US," 8/31/99, internet.
AFP, "Mexicans want next president to come from the opposition: survey," 9/1/99, internet.
AFP, "President Zedillo and Governor Bush open an international bridge," 9/3/99, internet.
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AFP, "Zedillo implicated in suicide note," 9/17/99, internet.
AFP, "Mexico City's mayor to resign, concentrate on presidential bid," 9/17/99, internet.
AFP, "Mexico banks get strict regulations," 9/21/99, internet.
AFP, "Mexican drug ring bust yields 93 arrests," 9/22/99, internet.
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AFP, "Mexico's ruling party defeats opposition alliance in state elections," 9/27/99, internet.
AFP, "Mexico's Fox calls for US-Canadian fund to close 'development gap'," 8/19/00, internet.
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AFP, "Mexican president-elect forecasts direct investment to hit 20 billion dollars," 10/2/00, internet.
AFP, "Mexico's reviled ex-president Salinas back from exile," 10/3/00, internet.
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Alliance Against Drugs
American Financial Aid
American Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
Autocratic Party-State System
Bank Bailout Scam
Banking Regulatory Agencies
Benitez, Jose Fredrico
Bi-national Anti-Drug Battle
Border Task Forces
Bush, George W.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Central Bank of Canada
Central Executive Committee
Chamber of Deputies
Columbian Narco-Terrorist Groups
Colombian National Police
Colosio, Luis Donaldo
Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport
Decade of Violence
Deposit Insurance Fund
Diaz, Jose de la Cruz Porfirio
Drug Certification Program
Drug Syndicate Connections
Elected Government Positions
Electronic Sensor Technology
El Paso County Auto Theft Task Force
El Paso Intelligence Center
El Paso Police Department
European Bank Accounts
Fuentes, Amado Carrillo
Functions of President
Gallardo, Miguel Angel Felix
Gonzalez, Carlos Hank
Grand Master Plan
Gross Domestic Product
Guillen, Oziel Cardenas
Gulf Cartel King-pin
Herrera, Carlos Luna
House of International Relations Committee
Howard Air Force Base
Human Rights Groups
Hutchinson, Kay Bailey
Illegal Immigrant Population
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
Institute for Fight Against Drug Trafficking
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
Inter-American Development Bank
International Monetary Fund
International Multilateral Development Banks
Juarez Police Department
Latin American Union
"Lord of the Skies"
Maldonado, Jorge Mariano
Massieu, Jose Francisco Ruiz
Mexican Drug Czar
Mexican Federal Police
Mexican Foreign Ministry
Mexican Judicial System
Mexican Mafia Family
Mexican Secretary of Defense
Mexican Stock Market
Mexican Supreme Court
Mexican Truth Commission
Monuments of Faith
Multilateral Evaluation System
Multi-party Political System
National Action Party (PAN)
National Institute for Combating Drugs
National Liberation Army (ELN)
National Revolutionary Party
Night Patrol Force
Night Vision Scopes
Ocampo, Juan Jesus
Opposition Party Member
Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)
Peniche, Carlos Cabal
Portillo, Jose Lopez
Prevoisin, Gerardo de
PRI Central Executive Committee
Puerto Rican Cartels
Rebollo, Jesus Gutierrez
Rhon, Carlos Hank
Rhon, Jorge Hank
Ruiz, Francisco Molina
Salazar, Hecto Luis Pulma
Seven-Point Political Platform
Stanley, Francisco "Paco"
Swiss Bank Accounts
Tavia, Juan Pablo de
Trejo, Javiev Coello
U.S. Border Patrol
U.S. Custom Agents
U.S. Federal Reserve
U.S. General Accounting Office
U.S. Mexican Border