Mexico: Government involvement in drug trafficking and anti-drug trafficking activities (1998 to present)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 April 1999|
|Citation / Document Symbol||MEX31641.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Mexico: Government involvement in drug trafficking and anti-drug trafficking activities (1998 to present), 1 April 1999, MEX31641.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aab258.html [accessed 13 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
According to the U.S. government's certification document, the number of drug traffickers arrested and the quantity of drugs seized by the Mexican authorities dropped in 1998 compared to 1997 (Latin American Regional Reports: Mexico & NAFTA Report 23 Mar. 1999, 1).
Some initiatives to curb anti-trafficking activities in Mexico included a program that had carried out background checks and drug tests of over 900 members of the anti-drug police force (Los Angeles Times 26 Mar. 1998). The same program also facilitated the firing of 1,000 officers suspected of corruption (ibid.).
To meet the increased sophistication of drug smuggling tactics in Mexico, authorities there were preparing to allocate additional resources in technology, including x-ray machines, satellites and modern aircraft, as well as increasing personnel for all the country's borders to fight drug trafficking (IPS 27 Oct. 1998). However, according to Mayte Cardenas of the Center of Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE), "drug cartels continually come up with new ways to outwit official strategies, while swelling the bribes shelled out and using high technology themselves" (ibid.).
In December 1998, Mexico and Colombia signed an agreement binding both countries to share with each other any information about drug trafficking activities in their respective countries (IPS 9 Dec. 1998). This agreement is the most recent anti-drug strategy signed by both countries, who have signed several of them in the past few years (ibid.). According to the report, Colombia's drug cartels have tight links to those in Mexico.
The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times reported in February 1999 that the Mexican government would spend up to $500 million over a three-year period for the purchasing of this new technology and other law enforcement equipment (27 Feb. 1999; 5 Feb. 1999). The Chicago Tribune report adds that this funding announcement was made just 10 days before President Clinton was to visit Mexico. Furthermore, according to the South Bend Tribune, this funding package, which the U.S. drug agencies coin the "February Surprise" was designed to give the U.S. president "a bit of cover" as the 1 March certification deadline approaches (21 Feb. 1999). The report adds that the $500 million package was announced by Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Labastida "whom the CIA said in a confidential 1998 report has long-standing ties to narcotics traffickers."
Several sources report the involvement of government officials in drug trafficking activities in Mexico. According to the St. Petersburg Times, "corruption from drug traffickers has infected every level of government, from the cop on the street to the local prosecutor to former President Carlos Salinas, whose elder brother Raul has been accused of making a fortune from drug cartel payoffs" (18 Feb. 1999).
The Washington Post reported in March 1998 that five Mexican officials of the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Border Task Forces were arrested on "suspicion of taking money from drug traffickers, kidnapping key witnesses or stealing confiscated cocaine" (9 Mar. 1998). According to the report, the Bilateral Border Task Forces were established in Tijuana and Ciuadad Juarez, cities where drug organizations are the largest. However, the task forces were dismantled following the arrest of General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, the head of the Mexican anti-drug agency, in February 1997, for his alleged connections to a powerful drug cartel (ibid.). The Washington Post article contains additional information on other government officials of the task forces who were involved in drug trafficking activities.
The arrest of Fernando Gastelum, a top security official in the State of Baja California Sur, was reported in a 26 March 1998 Los Angeles Times article. The Mexican Attorney General's office arrested Gastelum on allegations that he had been involved in a 10 ton-cocaine shipment (ibid.). Gastelum, however, had denied the charges (ibid.).
Adrian Carrera, the former head of the country's Federal Judicial Police, was placed under house arrest during an investigation into allegations that he had links to drug traffickers (AFP 28 Mar. 1998). According to the Mexican daily cited in the AFP report, Excélsior, Carrera had allegedly been an intermediary between druglords and Raul Salinas, the brother of former Mexican president, Carlos Salinas, and Mario Ruiz Massieu, a former deputy attorney general. In September 1998, The Houston Chronicle reported that Carrera had been sentenced to six years imprisonment on charges of money laundering for powerful drug traffickers (1 Sept. 1998).
At Mexico City's airport, a group of elite soldiers, customs agents and other airport staff were in on a scheme that allowed the soldiers to receive weekly shipments of cocaine from Colombia, and to smuggle illegal immigrants into Mexico (AFP 14 Aug. 1998; also see The Washington Post 1 Oct. 1998). The report states that at least nine soldiers were jailed and were facing corruption charges. The 1 October 1998 Washington Post article states that the army's anti-drug unit at Mexico's international airport was trained by U.S. Special Forces and the CIA and that "other U.S.-trained Mexican law enforcement officers have been charged with using a government plane to ferry cocaine shipments and complicity in the theft of a half-ton of seized cocaine from the federal attorney general's office." In documents confiscated in June during a drug raid in Cancún, the names of 15 Mexican federal law enforcement officers, including some from the Organized Crime Unit of the Attorney General's office, were listed (ibid.). Five of the 15 individuals listed in the document, including the second in command of the unit, had subsequently failed a polygraph test administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) (ibid.). All five officials were removed from their posts and reassigned to other duties until the end of the investigation (ibid.). The New York Times, however, reported in February 1999 that only three officials of the unit failed the polygraph test during questioning on their links to drug traffickers (14 Feb. 1999). The report added that the officials were removed from their posts, but remained in the federal police.
In March 1999, AP, citing information from an earlier New York Times report, stated that a former Customs official's investigation was halted once it had identified Mexico Defence Minister, General Enrique Cervantes, as a participant in drug money laundering (17 Mar. 1999). The Mexican authorities denounced the allegations and accused The New York Times of giving "prominence to misleading, biased and slanderous information against Mexican officials" (ibid.). However, The New York Times maintained, according to the underground probe by Customs agents, that Cervantes was the "most important" client among several others who "wanted to launder $1.15 billion in illegal funds" (ibid.).
According to The Houston Chronicle article, both the former commander and subcommander of the federal police in Cancún were captured in 1998 for allegedly protecting drug trafficking activity (1 Sept. 1998).
For additional information on government initiatives against drug trafficking, including legislative proposals submitted to the Mexican Congress in 1997 and 1998, key convictions and sentences for drug-related crime and U.S.-Mexico cooperation efforts against drug smuggling, please consult the U.S. Department of State Website for the 1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on Mexico at
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.
Agence France Presse (AFP). 14 August 1998. "Mexican Soldiers Imported Drugs, Illegal Aliens, Contraband: Reports." (NEXIS)
_____. 28 March 1998. "Mexico Arrests Former Top Cop." (NEXIS)
The Associated Press (AP). 17 March 1999. "Mexico Seeks US Response to Probe." (NEXIS)
Chicago Tribune. 27 February 1999. "Mexico's Faltering War on Drugs." (NEXIS)
The Houston Chronicle. 1 September 1998. Andrew Downie. "Former Mexican Official Gets 6 Years in Drug Case." Mexico NewsPak [Austin]. 24 Aug.-6 Sept. 1998, Vol. 6, No. 15, 3.
InterPress Service (IPS). 9 December 1998. Diego Cevallos. "Colombia-Mexico: Joining Hands Against Pressure from Washington." (NEXIS)
_____. 27 October 1998. Diego Cevallos. "Drugs-Mexico: Police and Drug Cartels Go High-Tech." (NEXIS)
Latin American Regional Reports: Mexico & NAFTA Report [London]. 23 March 1999. "Congress Likely to Grant Certification."
Los Angeles Times. 26 March 1998. Mary Beth Sheridan. "Mexico Fights Drug War on its own Terms." Mexico NewsPak [Austin]. 6 Apr.-19 Apr. 1998, Vol. 6, No. 5, 11.
The New York Times. 14 February 1999. Tim Golden and Christopher S. Wren. "U.S. Ignores Mexico's Anti-Drug Failures." Mexico NewsPak [Austin]. 8 Feb.-21 Feb. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 26, 6.
_____. 5 February 1999. Sam Dillon. "Mexico Announces 'Total War' on Narcotics." Mexico NewsPak [Austin]. 25 Jan.-7 Feb. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 25, 4.
South Bend Tribune. 21 February 1999. Michael Kelly. "Fully Cooperating: Mexico: Annual February Farce." (NEXIS)
St. Petersburg Times. 18 February 1999. "Mexico Is Doing Little to Help the United States Combat Drugs." (NEXIS)
The Washington Post. 1 October 1998. Douglas Farah. "U.S. Mexico Clash Over Drug Agents; American 'Double Standard' Alleged in Corruption Probe." (NEXIS)
______. 9 March 1998. Douglas Farah and Molly Moore. "2,000 Miles of Disarray in Drug War; U.S.-Mexico Border Effort 'a Shambles'." (NEXIS)