Partners in Crime: The U.S. Secret State and Mexico’s “War on Drugs”


Tom Burghardt
Antifascist Calling
September 20, 2010

For decades, investigative journalists, researchers and analysts have noted the symbiotic relationships forged amongst international drug syndicates, neofascists and U.S. intelligence agencies, documenting the long and bloody history of U.S. complicity in the global drugs trade.

While the United States has pumped billions of dollars into failed drug eradication schemes in target countries through ill-conceived programs such as Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, in the bizarro world of the “War on Drugs,” corporate interests and geopolitics always trump law enforcement efforts to fight organized crime, particularly when the criminals are partners in crimes perpetrated by the secret state.

Since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderón turned the Army loose, allegedly to “dismantle” the drug cartels slowly transforming Mexico into a killing field some 28,000 people, primarily along Mexico’s northern border with the U.S., have lost their lives. Countless others have been wounded, forced to flee or simply “disappeared.”

Writing in The Guardian, journalist Simon Jenkins tells us that “cocaine supplies routed through Mexico have made that country the drugs equivalent of a Gulf oil state.”

“Rather than try to stem its own voracious appetite for drugs,” Jenkins writes, “rich America shifts guilt on to poor supplier countries. Never was the law of economics–demand always evokes supply–so traduced as in Washington’s drugs policy. America spends $40bn a year on narcotics policy, imprisoning a staggering 1.5m of its citizens under it.”

Judging the results, one might even think the drug war solely exists as the principle means through which wealthy elites organize crime.

Scenes from the Atrocity Exhibition

• December 13, 2009: The Observer reported that “drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis.” Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he saw evidence that “the proceeds of organised crime were ‘the only liquid investment capital’ available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.” The Observer informed us that this “will raise questions about crime’s influence on the economic system at times of crisis.” Costa told the British newspaper that “in many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.” Although the UN’s drug czar declined to identify the countries or banks that benefited from narcotics investments, he said that “inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities… There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

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• February 26, 2010: Responding to charges by left-wing critics and academics, Mexican president Felipe Calderón was forced to counter evidence that his government’s “offensive” against narcotraffickers has left the “largest and most powerful of the cartels relatively unscathed,” the Los Angeles Times disclosed. Critics accused the government of favoritism towards the Sinaloa cartel, claiming it “has been allowed to escape most of the government’s firepower and carry on with its illegal business as usual.” During a news conference, Calderón said such charges were “absolutely false.” The president said the suggestion was “painful,” and went on to say: “I can assure you that this government has attacked without discrimination all criminal groups in Mexico … without taking into consideration whether it’s the cartel of so-and-so or what’s-his-name. We’ve fought them all.” Edgardo Buscaglia, an academic expert on organized crime challenged the president and said that arrest figures “skew heavily” toward the other cartels. “By his calculation,” the Times reported, “of more than 53,000 people arrested in drug-trafficking cases in the three years since Calderón took office, fewer than 1,000 worked for the Sinaloa organization.” Commanded by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Sinaloa cartel crime boss placed 937 on Forbes 2010 survey of the world’s billionaires with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. A similar modus operandi is standard practice where foreign policy and corporate concerns of America’s wealthiest clients overseas override efforts by law enforcement to choke-off the flow of narcotics. In Colombia, secret state agencies such as the CIA have long-favored drug organizations that have served as intelligence assets or death squads. Examples abound. Consider the “untouchable” status enjoyed by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers’ Cali cartel. During the 1980s, at the height of America’s Central American interventions, cocaine shipped into the United States as part of the U.S. government’s “guns-for-drugs” arrangement with Nicaraguan Contra rebels, was principally supplied by Cali traffickers. When Medellín drug lord Pablo Escobar’s group was brought down, the CIA, DEA and the Pentagon’s Delta Force relied on operatives funded by the rival Cali faction and Los Pepes, a vigilante group founded by drug lord Carlos Castaño and his brothers Fidel and Vicente. Los Pepes had operational links to the Colombian National Police, especially the Search Bloc (Bloque de Búsqueda) hunting Escobar, and acted on intelligence provided by the CIA/DEA/Delta Force to execute their missions. After Escobar’s death, the Castaño brothers launched the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a notorious right-wing death squad. The AUC in coordination with the Colombian Army, carried out multiple attacks and massacred thousands of leftists, trade union organizers and peasant activists. In 2001 under pressure from human rights groups, the U.S. State Department designated the AUC a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” This didn’t however, prevent U.S. corporations such as Chiquita Brands International, Occidental Petroleum, Coca-Cola or the Drummond Company from allegedly hiring out AUC paramilitaries to murder trade union and peasant activists. In 2007, Chiquita pled guilty in federal district court and paid a $25 million fine under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991 for funding the AUC. Dole Food Company now faces similar charges. In 2002, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment against Carlos Castaño and accused him of trafficking some 17 tons of cocaine into the United States.

• March 9, 2010: The National Security Archive published a series of documents linking the U.S. secret state to Mexico’s dirty warriors and drug cartel operatives under official protection by a CIA-allied intelligence agency. Following reporting by Peter Dale Scott that “both the FBI and CIA intervened in 1981 to block the indictment (on stolen car charges) of the drug-trafficking Mexican intelligence czar Miguel Nazar Haro, claiming that Nazar was ‘an essential repeat essential contact for CIA station in Mexico City,’ on matters of ‘terrorism, intelligence, and counterintelligence’,” the National Security Archive disclosed that Nazar Haro’s corrupt Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) was responsible for the disappearance, torture and murder of left-wing activists during the 1970s and ’80s. The Archive revealed that “there is a deep connection between the former Mexican intelligence service and the country’s drug mafias. As DFS agents took command of counterinsurgency raids in the 1970s, they often stumbled upon narcotics safe houses and quickly took on the job of protecting Mexico’s drug cartels.” Researchers Kate Doyle and Jesse Franzblau told us although “the DFS was disbanded in 1985 following revelations that it was behind the murder of DEA agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena, and Mexican journalist Manuel Buendia,” of the 1,500 agents who suddenly found themselves unemployed, many “found their training in covert activities and brutal counterinsurgency operations easily adaptable to the needs of the criminal underworld.” In 2006, the National Security Archive and investigative journalist Jefferson Morley disclosed that declassified U.S. documents “reveal CIA recruitment of agents within the upper echelons of the Mexican government between 1956 and 1969. The informants used in this secret program included President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and future President Luis Echeverría.” As we now know, when he served as Interior Secretary in the Díaz government, Echeverría oversaw the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of student activists just days before the Summer Olympics were staged in Mexico City. “The documents,” Morley wrote, “detail the relationships cultivated between senior CIA officers, such as chief of station Winston Scott, and Mexican government officials through a secret spy network code-named ‘LITEMPO.’ Operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Scott used the LITEMPO project to provide ‘an unofficial channel for the exchange of selected sensitive political information which each government wanted the other to receive but not through public protocol exchanges’.” These, and other disclosures reveal that “one of the most crime-ridden CIA assets we know of is the Mexican DFS, which the US helped to create,” Peter Dale Scott wrote back in 2000. “From its foundation in the 1940s, the DFS, like other similar kryptocracies in Latin America, was deeply involved with international drug-traffickers. By the 1980s possession of a DFS card was recognized by DEA agents as a ‘license to traffic;’ DFS agents rode security for drug truck convoys, and used their police radios to check of signs of American police surveillance.” Evidence suggests that similar protection and management of the global drug trade persists today.

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• March 16, 2010: Wachovia Bank, a subsidiary of banking giant Wells Fargo & Co., signed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the federal government. Wells admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report some $378.4 billion in suspected money laundering transactions by narcotics traffickers between 2004-2008, “a sum equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product,” Bloomberg Markets magazine revealed. Cash laundered by drug mafias were used to purchase a fleet of planes that subsequently shipped some 22 tons of cocaine into the United States. Wells paid the government $160 million to resolve the case. American Express Bank and Western Union also agreed recently to huge settlements with the government for similar offenses.

• May 19, 2010: Retired Mexican Army General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro was shot and wounded in Mexico City during an alleged robbery attempt. El Universal reports that police claimed that a thief wanted to “steal the general’s watch” and shot him several times in the chest. In 2007, after a six-year imprisonment on charges of providing protection to late drug trafficking kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes, chief of the Juárez cartel and self-described “Lord of the Heavens,” Acosta Chaparro was released from custody after his conviction was overturned on appeal. According to documents published by global whistleblowers WikiLeaks in 2009, the Swiss Bank Julius Baer’s Cayman Islands unit, allegedly hid “several million dollars” of funds controlled by Acosta Chaparro and his wife, Silvia through a firm known as Symac Investments. WikiLeaks wondered whether Mexican authorities would “want to know whether the several millions of USD had anything to do with the allegations that Mr Chaparro, a former police chief from the Mexican state of Guerrero, stopped chasing his local drug dealers and joined them in business.” According to reports cited by WikiLeaks, Acosta Chaparro was “already the subject of multiple allegations not only that he was a narcotrafficker but also that he had played a leading role in the dirty war of police and army against rural guerillas on his patch between 1975 and 1981. He was accused of organising the seizure, torture and murder of peasants who were suspected of helping the rebels and, with particular persistence of overseeing ‘flights of death’ in which well-tortured detainees were taken up in helicopters and pushed out over the ocean while still alive.” Despite these serious charges, WikiLeaks informs us that “no action was taken at all [and] Chaparro’s funds might still be managed by the former representative of Julius Baer, Mexico Curtis Lowell Jun in Zurich.”

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