Thomas A. Constantine
Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Department of Justice
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Mexico and the Southwest Border Initiative
March 12, 1997
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
The Cali Group and Traffickers from Mexico
Major Traffickers from Mexico
The Arellano-Felix Brothers
Effect of Mexican Organized Crime on United States
U.S. Law Enforcement Strategy vs Organized Crime in Mexico
Corruption and Intimidation: Tools of the Trade
Cooperation with Mexico
Prospects for Progress
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee : I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today on the subject of Mexico, and the Southwest Border Initiative. My comments today will be limited to an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues involving organized crime and drug trafficking problems with specific attention on Mexico, their cooperation with U.S. law enforcement , and the Southwest border. This hearing is extremely timely, and during my testimony I will provide the subcommittee with a full picture of how organized crime groups from Mexico operate and affect so many aspects of life in America today. I am not exaggerating when I say that these sophisticated drug syndicate groups from Mexico have eclipsed organized crime groups from Colombia as the premier law enforcement threat facing the United States today.
Many phrases have been used to describe the complex and sophisticated international drug trafficking groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico, and frankly, the somewhat respectable titles of "cartel"or "federation" mask the true identity of these vicious, destructive entities. The Cali organization, and the four largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico --- operating out of Juarez, Tijuana, Sonora and the Gulf region --- are simply organized crime groups whose leaders are not in Brooklyn or Queens, but are safely ensconced on foreign soil. They are not legitimate businessmen as the word "cartel" implies, nor are they "federated" into a legitimate conglomerate. These syndicate leaders --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers in Colombia to Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, Juan Garcia -Abrego, Miguel Caro-Quintero, and the Arellano-Felix Brothers --- are simply the 1990's versions of the mob leaders U.S. law enforcement has fought since shortly after the turn of this century.
But these organized crime leaders are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a great deal more impact on our day to day lives than their domestic predecessors. While organized crime in the United States during the 1950's through the 1970's affected certain aspects of American life, their influence pales in comparison to the violence, corruption and power that today's drug syndicates wield. These individuals, from their headquarters locations, absolutely influence the choices that too many Americans make about where to live, when to venture out of their homes, or where they send their children to school. The drugs ---and the attendant violence which accompanies the drug trade ---have reached into every American community and have robbed many Americans of the dreams they once cherished.
Organized crime in the United States was addressed over time, but only after Americans recognized the dangers that organized crime posed to our way of life. But it did not happen overnight. American organized crime was exposed to the light of day systematically, stripping away the pretense that mob leaders were anonymous businessmen. The Appalachian raid of 1957 forced law enforcement to acknowledge that these organized syndicates did indeed exist, and strong measures were taken to go after the top leadership, a strategy used effectively throughout our national campaign against the mob. During the 1960's, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was unequivocal in his approach to ending the reign of organized crime in America, and consistent law enforcement policies were enacted which resulted in real gains. Today, traditional organized crime, as we knew it in the United States, has been eviscerated, a fragment of what it once was.
At the height of its power, organized crime in this nation was consolidated in the hands of few major families whose key players live in this nation, and were within reach of our criminal justice system. All decisions made by organized crime were made within the United States. Orders were carried out on U.S. soil. While it was not easy to build cases against the mob leaders, law enforcement knew that once a good case was made against a boss, he could be located within the U.S., arrested and sent to jail.
That is not the case with today's organized criminal groups. They are strong, sophisticated and destructive organizations operating on a global scale. Their decisions are made in sanctuaries in Cali, Colombia, and Guadalajara, Mexico, even day-to-day operational decisions such as where to ship cocaine, which cars their workers in the United States should rent, which apartments should be leased, which markings should be on each cocaine package, which contract murders should be ordered, which official should be bribed, and how much. They are shadowy figures whose armies of workers in Colombia, Mexico and the United States answer to them via daily faxes, cellular phone, or pagers. Their armies carry out killings within the United States---one day an outspoken journalist, one day a courier who had lost a load, the next, an innocent bystander caught in the line of fire---on orders of the top leadership. They operate from the safety of protected locations, and are free to come and go as they please within their home countries. These syndicate bosses have at their disposal airplanes, boats, vehicles, radar, communications equipment, and weapons in quantities which rival the capabilities of some legitimate governments. Whereas previous organized crime leaders were millionaires, the Cali drug traffickers and their counterparts from Mexico are billionaires.
It is difficult---sometimes nearly impossible---for U.S. law enforcement to locate and arrest these leaders without the assistance of law enforcement in other countries. Their communications are coded, they are protected by corrupt law enforcement officials, despite pledges from the Government of Mexico to apprehend the syndicate leaders, law enforcement authorities have been unable to locate them and even if they are located, the government is not obligated to extradite them to the U.S. to stand trial.
In Mexico, as is the case wherever organized crime flourishes, corruption and intimidation allow the leaders to maintain control. These sophisticated criminal groups cannot thrive unless law enforcement officials have been paid bribes, and witnesses fear for their lives. Later in my testimony I will discuss some of these problems in greater detail.
It is frustrating for all of us in law enforcement that the leaders of these criminal organizations, although well known and indicted repeatedly, have not been located, arrested or prosecuted.
The Cali Group and Traffickers from Mexico
We cannot discuss the situation in Mexico today without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia --- how they began, what their status is today, and how the groups from Mexico have learned important lessons from them, becoming major trafficking organizations in their own right.
During the late 1980's the Cali group assumed greater and greater power as their predecessors from the Medellin cartel self-destructed. Where the Medellin cartel was brash and publicly violent in their activities, the criminals, who ran their organization from Cali, labored behind the pretense of legitimacy, posing as businessmen, just carrying out their professional obligations. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Santa Cruz Londono, Pacho Herrera --- amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates composed what was until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history, employed 727 aircraft to ferry drugs to Mexico, from where they were smuggled into the United States, and then return to Colombia with the money from U.S. drug sales. Using landing areas in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement officials and make important alliances with transportation and distribution experts in Mexico.
With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership by brave men and women in the Colombian National Police during 1995 and 1996, all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate are either in jail, or dead. The fine work done by General Serrano, who appeared before your subcommittee only two weeks ago, and other CNP officers is a testament to the commitment and dedication of Colombia's law enforcement officials in the face of great personal danger, and a government whose leadership is riddled with drug corruption.
Since the Cali leaders' imprisonment, on sentences which were ridiculously short and inadequate, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. The alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico had benefits for both sides. Traditionally, the traffickers from Mexico have long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, cocaine into the United States, and had established solid distribution routes throughout the nation. Because the Cali syndicate was concerned about the security of their loads, they brokered a commercial deal with the traffickers from Mexico, which reduced their potential losses.
This agreement entailed the Colombians moving cocaine from the Andean region to the Mexican organizations, who then assumed the responsibility of delivering the cocaine into the United States. In 1989, U.S. law enforcement officials seized 21 metric tons of cocaine in Sylmar, California; this record seizure demonstrated the extent and magnitude of the Mexican groups' capabilities to transport Colombian-produced cocaine into the United States. This huge shipment was driven across the Mexican/U.S. border in small shipments and stored in the warehouse until all transportation fees had been paid by the Cali and Medellin cartels, to the transporters from Mexico. Now, trafficking groups from Mexico are routinely paid in multi-ton quantities of cocaine, making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
The majority of cocaine entering the United States continues to come from Colombia through Mexico and across U.S. border points of entry. Most of the cocaine enters the United States in privately owned vehicles and commercial trucks. There is new evidence that indicates traffickers in Mexico have gone directly to sources of cocaine in Bolivia and Peru in order to circumvent Colombian middlemen. In addition to the inexhaustible supply of cocaine entering the U.S., trafficking organizations from Mexico are responsible for producing and trafficking thousands of pounds of methamphetamine, and have been major distributors of heroin and marijuana in the U.S. since the 1970's.
Major Traffickers from Mexico
A number of major trafficking organizations represent the highest echelons of organized crime in Mexico. The leaders of these organizations are under indictment in the United States on numerous charges. The Department of Justice has submitted Provisional Warrants for many of their arrests to the Government of Mexico, and only one, Juan Garcia Abrego, because he was a U.S. citizen has been sent to the U.S. to face justice. The other leaders are living freely in Mexico, and have so far escaped apprehension by Mexican law enforcement, and have suffered little, if any inconvenience resulting from their notorious status. I believe that in order to fully expose these syndicate leaders, it is more beneficial to refer to them by their personal names than by the names of their organizations.
The most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico at the current time is Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, who, as recently reported, allegedly has ties to the former Commissioner of the INCD, Gutierrez-Rebollo. His organized crime group, based in Juarez, is associated with the Rodriguez-Orejuela organization and the Ochoa brothers, from Medellin, as well. This organization, which is also involved in heroin and marijuana trafficking, handles large cocaine shipments from Colombia. Their regional bases in Guadalajara, Hermosillo and Torreon serve as storage locations where later, the drugs are moved closer to the border for eventual shipment into the United States.
The scope of the Carrillo-Fuentes'network is staggering; he reportedly forwards $20-30 million to Colombia for each major operation, and his illegal activities generate ten's of millions per week. He was a pioneer in the use of large aircraft to transport cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and became known as "Lord of the Skies." Carillo-Fuentes reportedly owns a fleet of aircraft and has major real estate holdings.
Like his Colombian counterparts, Carillo-Fuentes is sophisticated in the use of technology and counter surveillance methods. His network employs state of the art communications devices to conduct business. Presently, Carrillo-Fuentes is attempting to consolidate control over drug trafficking along the entire Mexican northern border, and he plans to continue to bribe border officials to ensure that his attempts are successful. We have recently documented attempts by Carrillo-Fuentes to expand his operations in to the lucrative east coast market, that has traditionally been dominated by traffickers from Colombia.
Carrillo-Fuentes, who is the subject of numerous separate U.S. law enforcement investigations has been indicted in Florida and Texas and remains a fugitive on heroin and cocaine charges. Oscar Malherbe, a key lieutenant for ACF, and responsible for air smuggling operations that brought 2000 kilograms of cocaine per week from Colombia to Mexico, was arrested in Mexico City on February 27, 1997 on drug trafficking and weapons charges. The Department of Justice has forwarded a provisional arrest warrant for Malherbe to the Government of Mexico. The provisional arrest warrant is based an indictment in Houston, Texas that charged Malherbe, once a trusted lieutenant and assassin for Juan Garcia Abrego, with cocaine trafficking.
Miguel Caro-Quintero's organization is based in Sonora, Mexico and focuses its attention on trafficking cocaine and marijuana. His brother, Rafael, is in prison in Mexico for his role in killing DEA Special Agent Kiki Camarena in 1985.
Miguel, along with two of his other brothers--Jorge and Genaro--run the organization. Miguel himself was arrested in 1992, and the USG and GOM cooperated in a bilateral prosecution. Unfortunately, that effort was thwarted when Miguel was able to use a combination of threats and bribes to have his charges dismissed by a federal judge in Hermosillo. He has operated freely since that time.
The Caro-Quintero organization specializes primarily in the cultivation, production and distribution of marijuana, a major cash-crop for drug groups from Mexico. The organization is believed to own many ranches in the northern border state of Sonora, where drugs are stored, and from which drug operations into the United States are staged. Despite its specialization in marijuana cultivation and distribution , like the other major drug organizations in Mexico, this group is polydrug in nature, also transporting and distributing cocaine and methamphetamine.
Miguel Caro-Quintero is the subject of several indictments in the United States and is currently the subject of provisional arrest warrants issued by the United States government, yet in an act of astonishing arrogance he called a radio station in Hermosillo, Mexico last May indicating that he was bothered by statements I had made that he was an innocent rancher and charges made against him by DEA were untrue. He then had the audacity to give his address and invite law enforcement officials from Mexico and the United States to visit him--yet he remains at large.
The Arellano-Felix Brothers
The Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), often referred to as the Tijuana Cartel, is one of the most powerful and aggressive drug trafficking organizations operating from Mexico; it is undeniably the most violent. More than any other major trafficking organization from Mexico, it extends its tentacles directly from high-echelon figures in the law enforcement and judicial systems in Mexico, to street-level individuals in the United States. The AFO is responsible for the transportation, importation and distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, marijuana, as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, into the United States from Mexico. The AFO operates primarily in the Mexican states of Sinaloa (their birth place), Jalisco, Michoacan, Chiapas, and Baja California South and North. From Baja, the drugs enter California, the primary point of embarkation into the United States distribution network.
The AFO does not operate without the complicity of Mexican law enforcement officials and their subordinates. According to extradition documents submitted by the Government of Mexico in San Diego, California, key family members reportedly dispense an estimated one million dollars weekly in bribes to Mexican federal, state and local officials, who assure that the movement of drugs continues to flow unimpeded to the gateway cities along the southwestern border of the United States.
The Arellano family, composed of seven brothers and four sisters, inherited the organization from Miguel Angel Felix-Gallardo upon his incarceration in Mexico in 1989 for his complicity in the murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena. Alberto Benjamin Arellano-Felix assumed leadership of the family structured criminal enterprise and provides a businessman's approach to the management of drug trafficking operations.
Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix, considered the most violent brother, organizes and coordinates protection details over which he exerts absolute control. The AFO maintains well-armed and well-trained security forces, described by Mexican enforcement officials as paramilitary in nature, which include international mercenaries as advisors, trainers and members. Ramon Arellano's responsibilities consist of the planning of murders of rival drug leaders and those Mexican law enforcement officials not on their payroll. Also targeted for assassination are those AFO members who fall out of favor with the AFO leadership or simply are suspected of collaborating with law enforcement officials. Enforcers are often hired from violent street gangs in cities and towns in both Mexico and the United States in the belief that these gang members are expendable. They are dispatched to assassinate targeted individuals and to send a clear message to those who attempt to utilize the Mexicali/Tijuana corridor without paying the area transit tax demanded by the AFO trafficking domain.
The AFO also maintains complex communications centers in several major cities in Mexico to conduct electronic espionage and counter-surveillance measures against law enforcement entities. The organization employs radio scanners and equipment capable of intercepting both hard line and cellular phones to ensure the security of AFO operations. In addition to technical equipment, the AFO maintains caches of sophisticated automatic weaponry secured from a variety of international sources.
A Joint Task Force composed of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been established in San Diego, California, to target the AFO; the Task Force is investigating AFO operations in Southern California and related regional investigations which track drug transportation, distribution and money laundering activities of the AFO throughout the United States.
The Amezcua-Contreras brothers operating out of Guadalajara, Mexico head up a methamphetamine production and trafficking organization with global dimensions. Directed by Jesus Amezcua, and supported by his brothers, Adan and Luis, the Amezcua drug trafficking organization today is probably the world's largest smuggler of ephedrine and clandestine producer of methamphetamine. With a growing methamphetamine abuse problem in the United States, this organization's activities impact on a number of the major population centers in the U.S. The Amezcua organization obtains large quantities of the precursor ephedrine, utilizing contacts in Thailand and India, which they supply to methamphetamine labs in Mexico and the United States. This organization has placed trusted associates in the United States to move ephedrine to Mexican methamphetamine traffickers operating in the U.S. Jose Osorio-Cabrera, a fugitive from a Los Angeles investigation until his arrest in Bangkok, was a major ephedrine purchaser for the Amezcua organization.
Joaquin Guzman-Loera began to make a name for himself as a trafficker and air logistics expert for the powerful Miguel Felix-Gallardo organization. Guzman-Loera broke away from Felix-Gallardo and rose to patron level among the major Mexican trafficking organizations. Presently, he is incarcerated in Mexico; however, Mexican and United States authorities still consider him to be a major international drug trafficker. The organization has not been dismantled or seriously affected by Guzman-Loera's imprisonment because his brother, Arturo Guzman-Loera, has assumed the leadership role. The Guzman-Loera organization transports cocaine from Colombia through Mexico to the United States for the Medellin and Cali organizations and is also involved in the movement, storage, and distribution of marijuana, and Mexican and Southeast Asian heroin. This organization controlled the drug smuggling tunnel between Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona through which tons of cocaine were smuggled.
Guzman-Loera, who has been named in several U.S. indictments, was arrested on June 9, 1993 in Talisman, Mexico for narcotics, homicide, and cocaine trafficking and is presently incarcerated at the Almoloya de Juarez Maximum Security Prison in Toluca, Mexico.
Effect of Mexican Organized Crime on United States
Unfortunately, the violence that is attendant to the drug trade in Mexico is spilling over the border into U.S. towns, like San Diego, California and Eagle Pass, Texas. Last summer, ranchers along the Texas/Mexico Border reported they were besieged by drug organizations smuggling cocaine and marijuana across their property--fences were torn down, livestock butchered and shots were fired at the ranchers' homes at night. Ranchers reported seeing armed patrols in Mexico with night vision equipment, hand-held radios and assault rifles that protected a steady stream of smugglers back packing marijuana and cocaine into the United States. The problem became so acute that the State of Texas and the Federal government sent support in the form of additional U.S. Border Patrol Agents, DEA Special Agents, Officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard. Life has returned somewhat to normal in that area, as the drug gangs reacted to law enforcement pressure and have moved their operations elsewhere.
DEA information supports widely reported press accounts that the Arellano-Felix organization relies on a San Diego, California gang known as "Logan Heights Calle 30" to carry out executions and conduct security for their distribution operations. Six members of "Calle 30" were arrested by DEA's violent crime task force and the San Diego Police Department for the murder of a man and his son in San Diego. Since that time 49 members of "Calle 30" have been arrested by the Narcotics Task Force in San Diego on a variety of charges from trafficking to violent crimes.
On December 11, 1996, Fernando Jesus-Gutierrez was shot five times in the face during rush hour in the then exclusive neighborhood, the Silver Strand, in Coronado, California, after his death was ordered by the Arellano-Felix organization. In 1993, a turf battle over the methamphetamine market between rival drug gangs from Mexico resulted in 26 individuals being murdered in one summer in the San Diego area.
U.S. Law Enforcement Strategy vs Organized Crime in Mexico
The Southwest Border Initiative (SWBI) is Federal law enforcement's joint response to the substantial threat posed by Mexican groups operating along the Southwest Border. The SWBI, now in its third year of operation, is an integrated, coordinated strategy that focuses the resources of DEA, FBI, the United States Attorney's Office, the Criminal Division, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U. S. Customs Service and state and local authorities on the sophisticated Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border.
Through this initiative we have identified the sophisticated Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating along the entire U.S. border. These groups are transporting multi-ton shipments of cocaine for the Colombian groups, as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. Imitating the Colombian groups, the Mexican organizations are highly compartmentalized, using numerous workers to accomplish very specific tasks, such as driving load cars, renting houses for storage sites, distributing cocaine, and collecting profits. Through the compartmentalization process each worker performs a distinct task and has no knowledge of the other members of the organization.
We are attacking the organizations by targeting the communication systems of their command and control centers. Working in concert, DEA, FBI, U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Attorneys offices around the country conduct wiretaps that ultimately identify their U.S. based organization from top to bottom. This strategy allows us to track the seamless continuum of cocaine traffic as it flows from Colombia through Mexico, to its eventual street distribution in the United States. However, even though this strategy is extremely effective in dismantling the U.S. based portions of the organizations, we are frustrated by not being able to use this same information to reach the organization's bosses in Mexico and their current counterparts in Colombia. Criminals, such as Carillo-Fuentes and Arellano-Felix, personally direct their organizations from safe havens in Mexico and until we garner the complete cooperation of law enforcement officials in Mexico, we will never be truly effective in stopping the flow of drugs from their country.
The Southwest Border Strategy is anchored in our belief that the only way of successfully attacking any organized crime syndicate is to build strong cases on the leadership and their command and control functions. The long-term incarceration of key members of these organization's command and control will cause a steady degradation of their ability conduct business in the United States and with the assistance of foreign governments, the long-term incarceration of the leadership will leave the entire organizations in disarray. The Cali syndicate once controlled cocaine traffic in the world from a highly organized corporate structure, with the incarceration of the Cali leaders we see the cocaine trade in Colombia has become far less monolithic and several independent unrelated organizations are controlling the exportation of cocaine to the U.S. and Mexico. This change is a direct result of the incarceration of the Cali leaders and their inability to fully control their organizations from prison.
Last year Operation Zorro II, was conducted under the auspices of the SWBI, during which both a Colombian distribution organization and a Mexican smuggling organization were dismantled and the infrastructure of both organizations were destroyed. Ninety court authorized wire taps resulted in the arrest of l56 people and the seizure of $17 million dollars and 5,600 kilograms of cocaine. Most importantly, neither the Colombian or Mexican organizations have been able to reconstitute these distribution organizations. Zorro II confirmed our belief that cocaine distribution in the United States is controlled by the foreign syndicates located in Colombia and Mexico.
Since Zorro II, we have continued to focus on the command and control function of other transportation and distribution cells operating along the Southwest Border and throughout the U.S. These investigations are time and resource intensive, but yield significant results. Additional investigations, of similar significance and importance as Zorro II, have been developed since that time, however due to the sensitive nature of the investigations, I am precluded from discussing them at this time.
Corruption and Intimidation: Tools of the Trade
Traditionally, organized crime has depended on the corruption of officials, and the intimidation of potential or actual witnesses, as well as violence against anyone who stands in the way of business. The Medellin and Cali traffickers were masters of corruption, intimidation and violence, and used these tools effectively to silence and coerce.
Organized crime figures in Mexico routinely use these tools as well. The recent arrest of the Commissioner of the INCD in Mexico is the latest illustration of how deeply rooted corruption is in Mexican anti-narcotics organizations. A good illustration of the extent of corruption in Mexico was revealed when officials, seeking the extradition of two of Arellano-Felix's contract killers, who are currently incarcerated in the United States, submitted papers indicating that the State Attorney General and almost 90% of the law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges in Tijuana and the State of Baja California have been compromised and are on the payroll of the Arellano-Felix brothers. In addition, several high ranking police officers regularly provide the names of witnesses who give statements against the Arellano-Felixes and have even provided information that assisted in locating targets for assassination. Just recently, the Federal Police in Baja California Norte were replaced with military troops, a tacit admission of the level of corruption in that area. Yet, as we observed with the arrest of Gutierrez-Rebollo, the military is not immune from corruption either.
Historically, corruption has been a central problem in DEA's relationship with Mexican counterparts. In short, there is not one single law enforcement institution in Mexico with whom DEA has an entirely trusting relationship. Such a relationship is absolutely essential to the conduct of business in that, or any other nation where organized crime syndicates traffic in narcotics.
In the brief time we have allotted to us today, I would like to provide you with some recent examples of the corruption which we encounter all too frequently in Mexico:
- This January, the Mexican Army raided the wedding party of Amado Carillo-Fuentes' sister. When they arrived at the scene, Mexican Federal Judicial Police were guarding the party. The MFJP had alerted Carillo-Fuentes about the planned raid, and he was able to escape.
- The Arellano-Felix organization routinely bribes government officials to obtain information from prosecutors' offices including information on potential witnesses.
- Despite the firing of over 1200 government officials for corruption charges by President Zedillo, no successful prosecutions of these individuals has taken place.
- In March, 1996, DEA Task Force Agents arrested two individuals who identified themselves as police officers from Sonora, Mexico. Eleven hundred pounds of marijuana were found on the scene, and the police admitted they worked at the stash house.
- In July a Mexican Army Division arrested nine Mexican Federal Judicial Police Officers and seized 50 kilograms of cocaine and $578,000 in U.S. currency. The defendants were acting under the direction of the Commandante for Culiacan, Sinaloa at the time.
While a great deal of the corruption plagues the law enforcement agencies in Mexico, the Mexican military and other institutions are also vulnerable to the corrupting influences of the narcotics trade. The Mexican Government has replaced police with military officials, who are not fully trained in all of the aspects of narcotics investigations. This situation is far from ideal. Political officials are also not immune to narcotics corruption; DEA has documented instances where public officials have allowed drug traffickers to freely operate in areas under their control. Corruption is the most serious, most pervasive obstacle to progress in addressing the drug trade in Mexico.
In addition to the serious corruption problems plaguing anti-narcotics enforcement efforts in Mexico, murders and violence are commonplace methods of silencing witnesses or rivals. Since 1993, twenty-three major drug-related assassinations have taken place in Mexico. Virtually all of these murders remain unsolved. Many of them have occurred in Tijuana or have involved victims from Tijuana. In the last year, 12 law enforcement officials or former officials have been gunned down in Tijuana and the vast majority of the 200 murders in that city are believed to have been drug-related.
A number of these incidents involving law enforcement officials are a serious indication of the depth and breadth of the power of the traffickers in Mexico:
- The Arellano-Felix organization was responsible for setting off a bomb at the Camino Real Hotel in Guadalajara, where they intended to kill a rival trafficker, hosting a party for his daughter. Two men were killed and fifteen people wounded.
- In September, 1996, Jorge Garcia-Vargas, Sub-Director of the Tijuana office of the Institute for the Combat of Drugs (INCD) and former Commandante Miguel Angel Silva-Caballero were found shot to death in their car in Mexico City. The bodies showed signs of torture, similar to those on the bodies of Hector Gonzalez-Baecenas, Garcia-Vargas' assistant in Tijuana, and three body guards who were tortured and killed five days earlier in Mexico City. Garcia-Vargas' death came only one year after he took the job in Tijuana.
- Ernest Ibarra-Santes, the Director of Federal Police Force in Tijuana, and two police officers were executed by machine-gun fire as they drove along a main street in Mexico City. Ibarra-Santes was executed just 29 days after he became Director and two days after he reprimanded his own force stating "The Police had become so corrupt they weren't just friends with the traffickers, they were their servants". A Mexican Army officer has been implicated in this murder.
- Baja State Prosecutor Godin Gutierrez-Rico was assassinated in front of his residence in Tijuana on January 3, 1997, Guiterrez, a supervisory state attorney and former head of a special enforcement unit that investigated high profile homicides in Tijuana, had assisted DEA in identifying several assassins for the Arellano-Felix organization. Information strongly links the Arellano-Felix's to this murder which was particularly vicious; Guiterrez-Rico was shot over 100 times, after which his body was repeatedly run over by an automobile.
It is hard to imagine that in our own nation, we would stand for such killings and for government inaction in solving the murders. The assassinations in Mexico are akin to three Assistant United States Attorneys, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA office in San Diego, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI office in Houston and the Chief of Police in San Diego being murdered callously by drug dealers. Americans would not accept these murders going unsolved, and no arrests being made. For any country's law enforcement agencies to be viable partners in the international law enforcement arena, they must apprehend and incarcerate those criminals who murder with such impunity.
Cooperation with Mexico
The primary program for cooperative law enforcement efforts with the Government of Mexico is a proposed series of Bilateral Task Forces (BTF's). The U.S. and Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding in 1996, outlining the framework for the United States Government and the government of Mexico to conduct joint investigations against targeted drug organizations. These Bilateral Task Forces (BTF's) were established in Juarez, Tijuana and Monterrey. The task forces in Tijuana and Juarez have been limited in their ability to collect intelligence and seize drugs and they have not met their most important objectives of arresting the leaders of the major syndicates and dismantling their organizations.
During bilateral plenary meetings, Mexican officials promised they would allocate $2.4 million from seized assets the U.S. had shared with Mexico towards the financing of the BTF's; however, Francisco Molina Ruiz, the former head of the INCD, advised DEA that he had been unable to obtain the financial support necessary to make these Task Forces operational. The BTF's for the most part are staffed with enthusiastic young officers, however, they have neither received the training nor the equipment necessary to build cases on and arrest these sophisticated and wealthy drug traffickers.
The most significant shortcoming of the B.T.F.'s, however, lies in its leadership. On at least two occasions, after having been advised of pending enforcement actions by their subordinates, corrupt command officers in Mexico City compromised the investigations. One involved the attempted seizure of sixteen tons of cocaine belonging to the Arellano-Felix family. To be successful in Mexico, we must be able to share intelligence with the B.T.F.'s with the confidence that it will be promptly acted on and not be compromised by corrupt officials that is not the condition that we are currently faced with in our relationship with the bi-lateral groups .
Unfortunately, I was recently forced to limit DEA participation in these B.T.F.'s, because of a decision by the Government of Mexico that would no longer allow us to guarantee the safety of our Special Agents while they were working in Mexico. The atmosphere in Mexico is volatile and threats against DEA Special Agents, along the border, have increased substantially; therefore I have rescinded travel authority for all DEA Special Agents to Mexico, to participate in counter-drug investigations, until they are provided appropriate protection, that is commensurate with the risks inherent in these dangerous assignments.
Prospects for Progress
Since coming to office, President Zedillo has promised that he would take action against organized criminal groups in Mexico. Yesterday, it was announced that that President Zedillo had named Mariano Herran Salvatti to replace General Guiterrez-Rebollo as Director of the INCD. Mr. Salvatti, a long time lawyer and magistrate, reportedly passed a background investigation and a polygraph prior to being named to the post. This is the first step utilized by most law enforcement agencies to professionalize their ranks and if sustained over a long period could be the beginning of the creation of a credible agency.
President Zedillo has also moved to make significant changes to the law enforcement process by sponsoring the Organized Crime Bill to provide the tools needed to successfully attack the criminal syndicates and formed the Organized Crime Task Force and the Bilateral Task Forces. However, even with the improved process, the infrastructure of the mechanism, itself, is so decimated by corruption that short term results are very doubtful.
The real test is in the mid- and long-term . Unless some meaningful reforms are made in the law enforcement systems--and Mr. Herran Salvatti's appointment may well be the step-- such as targeting and apprehending major organized crime figures in Mexico, that nation, and unfortunately our own, will continue to fight an uphill battle as drugs will continue to flow into cities and towns across the United States. To date, our inability to successfully attack the major organized crime groups in Mexico, as we have in the United States and Colombia, is a direct result of our inability to arrest the leadership of these groups.
President Zedillo has acted against corrupt officials, and has stated that he is committed to professionalizing Mexican law enforcement. Yet the bottom line remains: until the major organized crime figures operating in Mexico are aggressively targeted, investigated, arrested, sentenced appropriately and jailed, both Mexico and the United States are in grave danger.
What law enforcement steps are necessary for long-lasting progress against organized crime leaders in Mexico? We faced the same questions in our mutual struggle against the Colombian organized criminal groups during the past decade. What it took was an all-out effort by the Colombian National Police to target and incarcerate the top leaders in Cali . Until the Government of Colombia was put on notice that their lack of commitment to this goal was unacceptable, the CNP did not have the moral backing it needed to move out aggressively. In Mexico's case, it appears that the political will to rid the country of the its narco-trafficking reputation is there; however, what is lacking are clean, committed law enforcement agencies willing to take on the most powerful and influential organized crime figures operating on a global scale.
We hope that efforts towards this end will bear fruit. In November, 1996, the Government of Mexico passed an Organized Crime Law which provides Law Enforcement officials with many of the tools needed to successfully attack the sophisticated drug syndicates in their country. Included as part of the Law were:
authorization to conduct electronic surveillance; a witness protection program; plea bargaining; conspiracy laws; undercover operations; the use of informants by police.
For these new law enforcement tools to be utilized effectively, the new law mandated the Government of Mexico to form Organized Crime Units to conduct the investigations and further stipulated that the laws could not be enforced until the unit was formed and properly trained. The Organized Crime Units are now in place and consist of 60 officers to investigate crimes specified under the law. The Government of Mexico has agreed to insure the integrity of the Organized Crime Unit through the use of polygraphs and regular background investigations. However, like the Bilateral Task Forces, these units will not be successful and DEA might not be able to share sensitive information with them as long as their supervisors or managers are corrupt.
It is important to remember that law enforcement in the United States did not have wiretap authority and wide ranging organized crime laws such as RICO and Continuing Criminal Enterprise until the late 1960's. The Government of Mexico is effectively 35 years behind us in establishing laws that were critical in our successful dismantling of organized criminal syndicates. If they work properly, the Bilateral task forces and our Southwest Border Initiative can be favorably compared to the Strike Forces established by Bobby Kennedy in the 1960's. This 1990's version of the Strike Force is international in scope and pools the resources, expertise and laws of several federal and state institutions in the United States with those in Mexico.
It is absolutely essential that the Organized Crime Units and the Bilateral Task Forces have integrity insurance programs as part of their charter. Unless these units are trustworthy, informants who cooperate will not be safe, undercover investigations will be compromised and the intelligence sharing process will not function at all. As we have seen recently, both the military and law enforcement have been grievously compromised by these criminal groups and this brings into question the ability of any program in Mexico to remain corruption free. However, last week we saw in the arrest of General Gutierrez-Rebollo, that some trustworthy units do exist and can work without compromise.
The problems of establishing a corruption-free law enforcement infrastructure are not insurmountable. However, to become credible in the law enforcement arena the Government of Mexico must ensure the integrity of the units that have the responsibility of tracking down and arresting the syndicate leaders, insuring these individuals are either prosecuted in Mexico and receive meaningful sentence commensurate with their crimes or agree to extradite them to the United States where they will receive punishment similar to that of Juan Garcia-Abrego.