One of the goals of La Cuadra is to bring our readers some geopolitical perspective on events in Latin America and beyond. Truth be told, there are not a lot of accessible reports on regional events that are worth reading in any language, and certainly not in English. Though we have some very good friends who do excellent work for some of the papers of record up North, the editorial process often guts the most sensitive stories of their natural power. With that in mind, we have begun to cultivate relationships with some real, elemental journalists – the kind that don’t have to play nice with powerful and connected editorial boards up North. Recently we have turned to some friends at www.narconews.com, and contacted other journalists who publish in Counterpunch, in Z Magazine and with other progressive sources. And they are down to lend a hand.
This issue we’re proud to feature a recent story by John Ross, a legend of radical journalism. John’s been writing about Mexico and Latin America for over 50 years. Here he takes a look at the madness known as “The War on Drugs.”
Look forward to more of his insights and observations, and the insights and observations of his colleagues, in coming issues.
The fiery November 4 crash of a private Lear jet not a mile from Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, that killed President Felipe Calderon’s closest collaborator, Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino, was largely buried by the U.S. press, coming as it did on Election Day in the USA.
As Interior Secretary responsible for internal security, Mr. Mourino, who had just met with outgoing U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to map out bi-lateral drug war strategies, was the second most powerful official in Mexico.
Also killed in the crash that took a total of 19 lives was Mexico’s former drug czar, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcellos, himself a frequent assassination target for Mexican drug gangs. Last spring Vasconcellos was replaced as top dog at the SIEDO (“Sub-prosecutor for Special Investigations into Organized Crime”) which he had directed for eight years, and appointed special drug war advisor to Calderon.
Despite public incredulity, the Calderon administration has fought hard to spin the plane crash as an accident, pinning the mishap on the inexperience of the pilot and co-pilot of the privately owned Lear jet, both of whom were killed on impact. Transportation Secretary Luis Tello has held serial press conferences presenting the black box retrieved from the crash and flogging expert testimony from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aeronautics Administration. The bamboozlement campaign has been accompanied by a burst of government-bought print ads and electronic spots that are designed to boost the president’s credibility as the second anniversary of his chaotic swearing-in approaches.
Nonetheless, the public remains archly skeptical. In a country where the government and the media relentlessly fudge and lie about everything from unemployment numbers and the depth of the recession to its questionable successes in the drug war, no one quite believes the plane crash was an accident. Indeed, ever since writer Sara Sefchovich, whose hot new book is titled “A Country of Lies,” launched an Internet page inviting readers to list Calderon’s biggest whoppers, the “accident” has been at the top of the list.
The plane crash in which Mourino and Vasconcellos were killed is an apt metaphor for the current state of Calderon’s drug war, which, after an embarrassing round of high level arrests of anti-drug officials, appears to be similarly going down in flames.
Presidente Felipe Calderon first declared his anti-drug crusade just days after being sworn in as Mexico’s president two years ago on December 1st, a job he was awarded in a July 2006 election that half of all Mexicans thought he won by fraud. In a move to bolster his pretensions of authority, the new president sent 30,000 troops into the field to confront the drug cartels – that number has since increased to 45,000, a third of the Mexican Army.
Since December 2006, 6000 Mexicans have been slain in drug war combat, 4000 alone this year, with no notable reduction in the drug flow north to the United States. Hundreds of troops and police officials have perished in the past 23 months, in addition to dozens of innocent civilians gunned down by soldiers at highway checkpoints and other collateral damage. Over a thousand complaints against the drug war troops have been registered with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH.) Between 20 and 30 corpses, many without heads, are found every 24 hours in battleground states like Chihuahua and Sinaloa, with no end in sight.
Furthermore, rattled by persistent scandal, Mexico’s lead anti-drug agencies are in turmoil. The detention of dozens of top officials in recent months, including the nation’s liaisons to the United Nations Drug Agency, Interpol, and even the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, has shaken Washington.
Among those in custody is Santiago Vasconcellos’ replacement at the SIEDO, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who is reportedly being held on a 40 day investigation warrant at the agency’s heavily fortified headquarters in the Ixtapalapa delegation (borough) of the capital. Ramirez, who at the time of his detention served as Mexico’s representative to the United Nations’ Drug Agency in Vienna, is charged with accepting monthly payments of $450,000 US from a branch of the Sinaloa Cartel under the thumb of the Beltran Leyva brothers. The Beltran Leyvas are presently embroiled in a bloody turf war with their former boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman, the dean of Mexican drug lords.
According to the released testimony of ex-SIEDO intelligence officer, Fernando Rivera, who is currently in a U.S.-run witness protection program, agency officials have been servicing the Sinaloa Cartel since 2004. In addition to Ramirez and Rivera, four military officers have been arrested for feeding drug war intelligence to the Sinaloa boys.
Another drug warrior currently under arraignment is Ricardo Gutierrez who headed up the Mexican office of Interpol and sat on the agency’s international commission. According to the Interpol Internet page, such commissions “share crucial information about crimes and criminal activity with other police agencies.” This job description must send shivers down the spine of U.S. drug fighters who worked with Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s successor at Interpol, Rodolfo de la Guardia, is also in custody.