NAFTA: Open Door to Anarchy|
William Norman Grigg
The New American, October 27, 1997
In a September 16th address honoring the CIA's 50th anniversary, President Clinton boasted that "here in our own hemisphere, [the CIA's] work with law enforcement has helped us to capture every top drug lord of the Colombian Cali Cartel." In fact, the supposed triumph over the Colombian cocaine cartels was little more than an exercise in securing the proverbial barn door after the horse had fled. It is Mexico, not Colombia, which now plays host to the dominant narco-cartels. According to estimates from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Mexico takes in at least $7 billion a year in drug profits; estimates from the Treasury Department run as high as $30 billion a year.
The ascendancy of the Mexican drug mafia has been facilitated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has decimated interdiction efforts along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Furthermore, in order to assure approval of the NAFTA pact in 1993, the internationalist political elite in both Mexico and the U.S. eagerly suppressed untidy evidence of the depth and pervasiveness of drug-related corruption in the Mexican government.
Pipeline From the South
According to the State Department's March 1996 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, "no country in the world poses a more immediate narcotics threat to the United States than Mexico. It is the principal transit route for cocaine entering the U.S. as well as a major source country for heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana." Until recently, Mexican drug barons were merely junior partners to the Colombian cartels. However, notes the State Department report, "Mexican traffickers who previously assisted their Colombian counterparts to move cocaine shipments through Mexico (up to 70 percent of U.S.-bound loads) are now purchasing multi-ton quantities of cocaine directly from producers for distribution through their own expanding U.S. networks."
The embattled border town of Eagle Pass, Texas has the misfortune to be a link in a Mexico-based narco-network. In a dispatch from Eagle Pass, veteran correspondent Georgie Anne Geyer noted, "Before 1994, the drug cartels that have systematically poisoned the entire north of Mexico hardly touched the residents of Eagle Pass. Once a year, some cocaine would be seized, and in 1994 the Drug Enforcement Administration handled a relatively modest 8,000 pounds of marijuana. Then it struck. By 1995, the seizures were up to 21,000 pounds; by 1996, 49,000 pounds."
The dramatic increase in the volume of drug traffic was coupled with a corresponding increase in the impunity of the traffickers. Law enforcement officers in the Eagle Pass area began to find cell phones, night-vision gear, and walkie-talkies -- expensive hi-tech instruments used by the smugglers that had been discarded like empty beer cans.
Local ranchers discovered that their lands had suddenly become a drug thoroughfare. Fences were torn down and illegal aliens carrying huge loads of narcotics brazenly paraded across private lands in broad daylight, sometimes in the company of heavily armed drug gangs. Apparently for purposes of intimidation, shots were fired into a few local homes. Even more ominously, some ranchers owning border property were approached by individuals who described themselves as agents for parties who were interested in buying their land, but not in revealing their identity -- suggesting an effort by cartel leaders to establish a beachhead on the U.S. side of the border.
A drug enforcement specialist informed Geyer that Eagle Pass "has all the earmarks of Colombia eight to 10 years ago." The Clinton Administration's triumphal posturing over the supposed demise of the Cali and Medellin Cartels is at very best an exercise in misdirection: Thanks to the NAFTA-induced erosion of the U.S. border control system, the cartels are taking root along the border and perhaps even in the Southwestern United States.
According to former DEA agent Phil Jordan, the tidal wave of narcotics flooding the southwest border is an ineluctable product of the NAFTA agreement, which -- as the agency predicted in a 1993 intelligence report -- has proven to be "a deal made in narco heaven." The report, which had been completed before Congress voted on the agreement, described how Mexican-based narcotics cartels had bought up business fronts along the border to exploit the upsurge in uninspected cross-border commerce. In an interview on the May 5th edition of ABC's Nightline television program, Jordan said that the Clinton Administration told the DEA that the impact of NAFTA "was a subject we could not discuss" prior to the vote in Congress.
The July 30, 1995 New York Times declared that "Mexican traffickers seem to have embraced a vision of North American integration not unlike that with which NAFTA ... was sold to skeptics in Washington." A former U.S. official explained to the Times that "once Bush and Salinas decided to go with NAFTA as the No. 1 goal, then everything else had to be manageable." John P. Walters, who inherited the post of "Drug Czar" from William Bennett, made the point even more clearly in a subsequent interview with the Times. "People desperately wanted drugs not to become a complicating factor for NAFTA," explained Walters. "There was a degree of illicit activity that was just accepted." This trade-off has not met with the approval of U.S. law enforcement personnel. Writing in the July/August 1996 issue of Freedom Review, Douglas Payne observed that "U.S. Customs and DEA personnel now openly refer to NAFTA as the 'North American Drug Trade Agreement,' while Texas law enforcement officials prefer, 'North American Free Trafficking Agreement.'"
The traumatization of Eagle Pass typifies what might be called the "narco-harmonization" of the southwest border. Harmonization, simply put, is the process through which the institutions, laws, and living standards of the NAFTA nations are being brought into sync. For the U.S., this means that our regulatory standards will be redefined, through "upward harmonization," with those of socialist Canada, while our living standards will be dragged down toward those of Third World Mexico through the process of "downward harmonization." But it also means that our political elite and law enforcement agencies will be wedded with their Mexican counterparts, which are incurably riddled with drug-abetted corruption.
In February 1995, the Clinton Administration and the government of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo inaugurated a series of binational "law enforcement plenaries" in order to coordinate joint ventures in counter-narcotics enforcement. In October of the same year, then-Secretary of Defense William Perry proposed the creation of a Bilateral Working Group to "determine areas for increased cooperation" between the U.S. Department of Defense and Mexican military "in areas of mutual interest, such as counter narcotics." Numerous similar efforts are coordinated through the standing Mexico-U.S. Binational Commission, which is essentially a cabinet-level liaison between the U.S. and Mexican governments.
The crown jewel of counter-narcotics cooperation was unveiled on May 6th of this year, when President Clinton and President Zedillo signed the Declaration of the Mexican-U.S. Alliance Against Drugs. According to Mr. Clinton, the Declaration "takes our already unprecedented cooperation to a new level" -- ominous news indeed, given the nature of Mexico's "cooperation" in anti-drug efforts.
Corruption at the Top
Just a few days before the Declaration was signed in Mexico City, Mexican officials in the state of Tamaulipas intercepted a propane tanker that was ferrying nearly ten tons of Colombian cocaine. Why wasn't this dramatic bust hailed to the skies during Mr. Clinton's Mexico City visit? The June 2nd issue of Insight magazine provided a fascinating answer: The bust also netted Comandante Eliazar Hernandez, a high-ranking official of Mexico's Federal Judicial Police (FJP), and implicated Mexico's ambassador to France, Jorge Carpizo MacGregor. Before assuming the post in Paris, Carpizo had been Mexico's Interior Minister -- that is, the head of the national police force -- and a renowned enemy of corruption. Yet a highly classified U.S. Customs Service report leaked to Insight implicated Carpizo as a middleman between Mexican drug kingpin Amado Carillo Fuentes and his sources in South America.
Fuentes, known as the "Lord of Heaven" for his sophisticated network of drug-ferrying aircraft (which employs everything from light planes to 727s), was -- until his apparent death in July -- head of the Juarez drug cartel, which pumps at least 100 tons of cocaine a year into the American drug economy and takes in an estimated $200 million a week. Insight describes Fuentes' narco-empire as "a Byzantine network of hundreds of real and sham companies stretching from Mexico City and Guadalajara to New York and the Bahamas." But until earlier this year Fuentes' most important asset was Jesus Guiterrez Rebollo, the commissioner of Mexico's National Institute to Combat Drugs -- who was on Fuentes' payroll.
Shortly before he was detained by Mexican authorities on February 6th, Guiterrez was lauded by General Barry McCaffrey, the U.S. "Drug Czar," as an incorruptible man of conscience and an ally in the war against drugs. More importantly, as the February 20th New York Times reported, Guiterrez headed a sealed-off agency that "had access to the most confidential intelligence Mexico has gathered about its cartels" -- including "detailed briefings on what the United States knows about Mexico's cocaine cartels...." Those briefings continued until just days before Guiterrez was arrested. Guiterrez had been appointed Mexico's "Drug Czar" on December 9th, 1996 on the strength of his reputation for "tough measures against some of the major drug dealers in the central Mexican region where he served as commander for seven years." However, within a few weeks of Guiterrez's appointment, Fuentes had provided his supposed arch-enemy with an apartment and a car, and Mexico's "Drug Czar" was happily pocketing regular payoffs from the country's largest drug lord. Just weeks after Guiterrez's arrest, Mr. Clinton eagerly certified Mexico as a "partner" in counter-narcotics efforts.
Mexico's quasi-socialist economy has been a tremendous boon to the drug cartels. Raul Salinas de Gortari, the brother of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, is under investigation by the Justice Department for his alleged role in using Conasupo, a state-run food conglomerate, to launder millions of dollars in drug proceeds. Another example: The tanker truck intercepted on April 22nd was owned by a subsidiary of Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state-run petroleum concern. However, drug barons profited as well from the "privatization" efforts undertaken by President Salinas, in which nearly 800 state-run enterprises were deeded over to private concerns. In 1994, senior FBI official James Moody disclosed that "many of these firms are being purchased by Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations."
Moody also pointed out that "money laundering operations [in Mexico] often involve influential Mexican financiers" -- a point that strikes at the heart of the peculiar immunity to criticism enjoyed by Mexico's corrupt political elite. The Raul Salinas scandal illustrates the extent to which drug-related corruption in Mexico has permeated the U.S. financial system. Notes Douglas Payne, "Raul Salinas, who never earned more than $190,000 a year as a government bureaucrat and had no record as a businessman, siphoned more than $100 million, and possibly three times that, out of Mexico. Most of it was funneled through his private banker at Citibank in New York, Amy Elliott, who continued to manage his account even after he was jailed in Mexico in February 1995." * Raul Salinas' reputation for graft (he was known as "Mr. Ten Percent," a sobriquet listing the percentage he collected on business deals arranged with his brother's government) and connections to Juan Garcia Abrego, the jailed head of Mexico's so-called Gulf cartel, were a matter of public knowledge. Furthermore, the FBI reportedly obtained notes from a 1993 meeting of the Gulf cartel indicating that Raul was channeling drug profits through his Citibank accounts.
And what of Carlos Salinas, the indispensable co-architect of NAFTA? Former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh told the Mexican periodical El Financiero that despite Washington's knowledge that high-ranking members of Salinas' government were collaborating with drug traffickers, "President Bush and Salinas had a very close relationship; they wanted to build strong ties." Other former Bush Administration officials disclosed to the Mexican journal that in the interest of pursuing the NAFTA agreement, the White House essentially ordered a "narco-amnesty" for Salinas.
Since leaving office, Salinas has continued to enjoy his peculiar immunity. According to a December 13, 1995 report in the Associated Press, the Customs Service attaché in Mexico City issued a cabled "border alert" for Salinas, which would require that the Service be notified immediately if Salinas attempted to enter the United States. This extraordinary directive was prompted by evidence collected by Customs and the DEA connecting Salinas to an estimated half billion dollars in suspected drug money secreted in 60 bank accounts in various countries. Salinas has since retreated into a comfortable exile in Ireland, slipping into the U.S. occasionally to attend meetings of the board of directors of the Dow Jones Company in New York City.
Former DEA agent Michael Levine is well-acquainted with Salinas' role in transforming Mexico into a "narco-state." His best-selling exposé Deep Cover describes a 1987 DEA initiative spearheaded by Levine called "Operation Trifecta," which collected evidence implicating political officials in three Latin American nations in the international drug trade. Even more significantly, Levine reports, the operation "resulted in evidence that revealed massive government corruption in Mexico including video- and audio-taped evidence that indicated that once Carlos Salinas de Gortari was elected President of Mexico ... his intention was to open his country up for drug traffickers. Evidence that was destroyed and covered up by high ranking U.S. government officials, including CIA."