By José Luis Sierra
New America Media
They command an army of thousands: men, women, even children north and south of the US-Mexico border. They build tunnels, and dispatch submarines and customized armored vehicles. They load planes, trucks, and railroad containers with drugs and other illicit cargo. In bulk, they buy arms and political influence across the continent. They are feared and revered at the same time; loathed and obeyed by those paid to follow their orders.
They are the Drug Lords of Mexico and, according to journalist Anabel Hernandez, they have succeeded at infiltrating the highest circles of financial and political power in the countries where they now operate and even might have a say in deciding who the next President of Mexico might be.
But who are they exactly?
“Most people in Mexico and in this country believe that the Drug Lords is a men’s club being lead by “El Chapo” Guzman, “El Mayo” Zambada –leaders of the well known Cartel de Sinaloa— as well as the handful of replacements who have taken the place of those who used to control Los Zetas in the Gulf [of Mexico], and Los Templarios that now have taken over the cartel of La Familia in Michoacán and El Cartel de Tijuana. But in fact, these renowned gangsters are figure heads, eventually fall guys,’’ says Hernandez, during her second trip to Los Angeles promoting her book The Drug Lords —the result of a five-year investigation into the Mexican drug cartels, their close ties to Mexican officialdom, and the expansion of their influence in Central and South America.
“How else can you explain how individuals running the cartels with almost no education can outpace the US and Mexican intelligence agencies, the Mexican Army and Mexican law enforcement at all levels? There is only one explanation,” says Hernandez with a dramatic pause— “corruption.”
From Top to BottomFor the 39-year-old Hernandez—now working on a follow-up book focused on US policies toward Latin America in its war on drugs — corruption in Mexico is so pervasive that it jumped the US border many decades ago, back in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, when senior officials facilitated the sale of arms to Iran and through back-door funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, thereby bypassing the oversight of Congress.
Much of the funding for the Contras, according to Hernandez, came from illegal trafficking of cocaine through Central America en route to the United States, with full knowledge of top CIA officials. Most of these events were well documented by several congressional commissions, as well as independent reports. Yet, only a handful of the US government officials involved got prosecuted. They ended up being pardoned or with commuted sentences.
At that time, Mexico’s ruling party, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) had total control of the political power in Mexico and the drug cartels were left to mind their own business with no interference, as long as they paid a cut of their profits to key government officials, who in turn would spread some of that money around to make sure the drug operations would run smoothly.
Things began to get shaky in 1985, with the execution of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who had investigated a 1,000-hectare marijuana plantation in the state of Chihuahua. The killing of Camarena unleashed outrage from the US government and pressured Mexican officials to punish those responsible for the murder. Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero —at that time two very well know drug lords— were apprehended and are still in prison. Four others, including a relative of former Mexican President Luis Echevarria, were also found guilty in a federal court in Los Angeles.
“The official records are there,” declares Hernandez in an interview with New America Media. “Then and now, US and Mexican officials had been involved in deals with the drug lords and they are playing a double moral standard in this so called “war’’ against drug trafficking that already cost Mexico more than 40 thousand victims.’’
She cites a more recent case when the son of “El Mayo Zambada,’’ Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla (aka “Mayito”) claimed immunity from prosecution early last week in a federal court in Chicago, alleging that in 1998 he had an agreement with top DEA and US officials, in exchange for his services as an informant on the activities of the Sinaloa cartel, led by his father and Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman.
According to reports from Reuters, US government officials in Mexico declined to comment on Zambada’s allegations, and US prosecutors have denied that Zambada had been granted immunity. They have until September 9 to file a response with the court. But if Zambada-Niebla’s claim is upheld, it can potentially turn into another embarrassment for the US government, on a par with the scandalous Operation “Fast and Furious,’’ in which U.S. officials deliberately allowed the export of high-power firearms into Mexico, then lost track of the arms.
“The only winner in this drug war is the Sinaloa Cartel and they can thank [Mexican] President Felipe Calderon for that,’’ says Hernandez.