Rio Doce. Borderland Beatby Judith Ortiz
Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat
So long as the United States consumes drugs, there will be people who take it to them, says Miguel Felix Gallardo from the Altiplano prison. Also, he states that wars are won by those who use weapons better.
8-13-2012. From the grey walled fortress of the Almoloya prison, 12 miles from Toluca, Mexico State, Miguel Felix Gallardo, the "Padrino", (the "Godfather"), talks with Riodoce. He declares that the current war against drug trafficking that is being fought all over the country "cannot be won," first, because the sale of drugs and weapons is a multimillion dollar business for the United States, and, second, because of the corruption and impunity that exists in Mexico.
"While there are consumers, there will be people who sell drugs," points out Felix Gallardo, considered by Mexican authorities the greatest drug trafficker of the 1980's (a charge of which he was acquitted after a long judicial process), who is serving a 40-year prison sentence, of which he has served 23 in the maximum security Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez. The man once known as "Jefe de Jefes" ("Boss of Bosses") says that "Mexico has never stopped being a drug corridor for the United States and Canada (drug) consumer market. And, for the most part, dangerous drugs such as crystal and crack "are produced in countries with first world technology and out of substances created in research laboratories."
Regarding the situation in Sinaloa, where people living in mountain areas have been displaced by violence among rival (drug) cartels and by violence between cartels and security forces, he explains that people in the highlands have been for many years victims of anti-drug policies. Since the 1960's, he says, federal police and soldiers who were going there to fight drugs would come to the mountain communities and strip people of everything, even their farm animals; today, they are joined by armed groups who are still doing the same thing.
--It's said that in the 1970's, a cartel federation led by people from Sinaloa was formed, by which territories were assigned and business was apparently conducted peacefully. Today, the groups have branched out, resulting in violent confrontations. To what do you attribute this split among cartels?
--After I was arrested on April 8, 1989, by the mid 1990's the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) (Mexican Office of Attorney General) had begun to use the term "cartels"; there are some disorganized groups, each group works on its own, they've never been united.
--When did Mexico stop being a drug corridor and drug producing country to the United States to become a consumer (of drugs)? Why did this situation arise?
--Mexico is not a drug producer, it only (produces) peyote and marijuana, and the violence is the result of unemployment, a lack of job creation, of dropping out of schools, of corruption. Mexico is a corridor country for the United States and Canada consumer markets. The Chinese brought opium, or amapola, they had a culture of smoking opium, there was an opium war with China that England won, and also Hong Kong. With the arrival of great numbers of Chinese to the northern part of Mexico and southern part of the United States to work as laborers or peons in the construction of the railroads, as miners, restaurant owners, businessmen or shop keepers...the United States asked Mexico to allow the cultivation of amapola (opium poppy) for its soldiers (during World War II), and also marijuana. No soldier goes to war without narcotics, and Mexico planted them. Mexico cannot stop being a corridor for the United States. Narcotics are produced by countries with first world technology and substances created in research laboratories. We don't have that technology and those laboratories in Mexico. Consumption of any drug is the responsibility of the person who uses it. I've never heard of anybody being forced to take drugs. If drug consumption in Mexico has increased, you could say that the population has also increased.
--Are there differences in the ways in which the PRI and the PAN governments have fought drug trafficking?
--There's a difference. The difference is that today the Mexican government receives more dollars to fight drug trafficking, it also gets weapons, aircraft, helicopters and DEA agents.
--What role has the United States government played in the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico? What do you think about the fact that that country is the biggest supplier of weapons for the cartels so they can fight each other and (fight) police and military forces? Do you believe their apparent support is a pretext to intervene in the politics of our country?
--The interest of the United States government is that its citizens will not lack drugs and that the sale of weapons will not stop. The United States has intervened in everything in Mexico since the time of Benito Juarez: politics, the economy, through commerce, industry, agriculture...they (the government) have allowed them to intervene in everything.
--While in the United States there are businesses that sell marijuana "for medical purposes" (a California university teaches cultivation, harvest and preparation, as well as administering (marijuana) to others), in Mexico 60,000 people have died for this same reason, since President Calderon began his war against drug trafficking in 2006. Do you think it's fair that, in this war, Mexico is the one that supplies the bodies?
--The (Mexican) government has made it so the war against drug trafficking cannot be won, because the United States has an interest in selling drugs, its a multimillion dollar business every year, and not all the dead are drug traffickers, most are innocent victims.
--Do you think it's a lost war to which the government arrived too late, as Ismael "Mayo" Zambada said in an interview with Proceso?
--So long as there are consumers there will be those who sell them drugs. I don't know what Mr. Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada said, I don't know him, I've been in jail more than 20 years. Wars are won and lost, the one who uses his bullets better wins, but you defeat delinquency (crime) with work, with education, with sports, with agricultural development, industry and commerce.
--Do you agree with the current policies in the war against drug trafficking in Mexico? Who do the (policies) benefit and who do they harm?
--The policy that the government should use is to fight corruption among its employees and fight impunity, apply the law evenhandedly. Five or ten thousand police officers are inadequate to do this work well.
--Are you in favor of legalizing some types of drugs like marijuana in Mexico? Do you think legalization will decrease the violence we're witnessing?
--I don't know whether it would help to legalize some drugs. I will tell you that Holland legalized drugs and violence decreased. Some intellectuals, among them Gabriel Garcia Marquez, have come out in favor of (legalization). My opinion is not worth much on that issue. I will only say that the dangerous drugs (synthetic drugs) like crystal and crack are produced in industrialized countries and they are more harmful than natural drugs.
--In the mountain municipalities of Sinaloa, Badiraguato, Choix, San Ignacio, Cosala, Concordia, Rosario and Elota, armed groups have sown violence and expelled hundreds of families from their communities. What's your opinion about what's happening?
--In the 60's and 70's, federal police and soldiers who went there to fight drugs would arrive at the mountain communities and take food and farm animals from the people, and they (the residents) would have to go to the cities to find food. These days, those armed groups you mention have joined them (soldiers and police).
--From the start, drug trafficking has relied on official complicity and protection, by civil as well as military authorities. Do you think that the current war against drug trafficking by President Felipe Calderon is really intended to attack corruption among these officers?
--I don't know what President Felipe Calderon's intentions are in combating drug trafficking. There's always been talk about complicity and protection by civil and military authorities, but is has seldom been proven, many were accused as "scapegoats" without proof they did anything.
--A week ago, high ranking military commanders were arrested (on charges) they provided protection to drug trafficking cartels. Is the military as corruptible as federal or state police agencies?
--Here (in the Altiplano prison) there are and have been division, brigade and brigadier generals, colonels, lieutenants, majors, and down from there; federal, state, and municipal police commanders and officers, same as governors, mayors, secretaries of state and other government officials, (convicted) of all sorts of crime, not just because some drug trafficking cartel corrupted them; whoever wants to be corrupt will be corrupted.
Once ordered (into prison), it does no good to defend myselfAccording to Froylan Enciso, author of the chapter on drug trafficking A Contemporary history of Mexico (Oceano, 2009), "at the end of the 1980s, Carlos Salinas de Gortari knew that the shadow of electoral fraud would force him to earn the legitimacy he needed to govern. During the first years of his administration, he struck some spectacular blows against union leaders and corrupt policemen, as well as against the biggest drug trafficker from the De la Madrid era, the one who controlled the flow of cocaine, who had earned the respect of his colleagues, who even officers of the DEA called "elegant": Miguel Felix Gallardo."
A little over three years ago, in a letter delivered to the newspaper La Jornada, Felix Gallardo accused Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni (the commander of the extinct Federal Judicial Police, the one who gave him up) and his immediate superiors of assigning plazas (cities) to the narcos towards the end of the 1980's decade. Felix Gallardo himself writes in his letters from prison that in 1987, "while living in Guadalajara, I was looking for a way to introduce myself to the authorities, (and) a lawyer Licenciado Fernando Martinez Inclan, was advising me. He would tell me, 'Wait a little longer until the government changes, we will introduce you (already protected by) with an amparo (protective order), your case is one of political pressure, wait.'"
But (Felix Gallardo) was arrested before that time came. "If you had called me, I would have shown up," he told them. In his statement at the public ministry, Felix Gallardo asserts that he was the victim of torture and threats made against him, the same for the people who incriminated him. "I was taken to the high security module and placed in a cell in the Southern Prison (Reclusorio Sur), and I was not allowed to leave that cell for three months, only to (go to) the courtroom and to sick bay; they let me see my family for an hour after that time, only my lawyer visited me."
He recalls that when his prosecution started, "federal agents kidnapped and murdered my lawyers, my brothers, my nephews,even the house caretaker." When his family was on the verge of filing a complaint against the arresting officers, "they were threatened and they moved me from the Southern prison to Almoloya, and a person from the Public Ministry came and hinted that I should shut up or my sons would be in danger."
The finances of the Jefe de Jefes suffered. "All my properties were kept by the people put in place by Javier Coello Trejo (then deputy prosecutor in the PGR); they took ranches, homes, vehicles, cars, jewelry, and money in bank accounts from my wife, my mother, my brothers, nephews and friends; Coello distributed everything and gave it to people he trusted.
"After my imprisonment, Coello and his gang manipulated the public's and even the President's opinion, saying terrible things against me, mainly that I had a fortune worth billions of dollars, although he never proved I had any money, because I wasn't even able to hire good lawyers. He took everything from me; I had to rent a house south of the city for my family, and he was always bothering them and everybody who got close to me."
Known as the "Iron Prosecutor," Javier Coello Trejo, who led the fight against drug trafficking in the first phase of Carlos Salinas de Gortari's administration, faced accusations and the arrest of his bodyguards, who were accused of a series of rapes of women in the southern part of the Distrito Federal (D.F.), in addition to the murder of Sinaloa social activist, Norma Corona Sapien, plus a series of abuses and human rights violations committed by police personnel under his command.
Over the years, Felix Gallardo prevailed conclusively in a lawsuit against the PGR, which allowed him to recover several properties and a building with at least 40 apartments in a Culiacan housing development. A unitary tribunal in the Federal District (D.F.) ruled to compel the Specialized Unit for the Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO: Subprocuraduria de Investigacion Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada) to return assets seized years ago. According to criminal file number 124/2007, Felix Gallardo, his wife and three of his sons were able to prove they were the rightful owners of the properties and the building.
At 66 years of age, the person formerly considered the "capo de capos" talks about his trial: "To bring me to Almoloya (now Altiplano), (the government) violated a protective order I obtained to prevent them from transferring me from the Southern Prison to any other place. All proceedings were now held far from (where I was), and I would be notified of everything by court orders; I didn't have a lawyer for some years, my finances were not good, I could not defend myself and the proceedings were exhausted when I still had evidence to develop. The person who was the prosecutor in my case became a judge and gave me the maximum sentence, he did not provide me with a hearing in person and confiscated everything. Now at Almoloya, it is all court orders, all my proceedings are by court orders (motions), it doesn't do any good to defend myself."
Dispersion after the fall.Miguel Felix Gallardo was born on January 8, 1946, in Bellavista, Culiacan municipality, a small town now a suburb of the capital of Sinaloa. At 18 years old, he was already an officer in the Federal Judicial Police, now extinct, assigned as a bodyguard for then-governor Leopoldo Sanchez Celis, who was best man at his wedding and was his political protector.
His rise and fall coincide with one of the most complex periods in the history of drug trafficking: the start of the U.S. war against drugs and the consolidation of Mexico as a drug corridor for cocaine (smuggling). At age 30, in the midst of an intense social life, the man from Sinaloa known as the Godfather was a successful businessman. He was a shareholder and distinguished client of Banca Somex, where the general manager was noted PRI politician Mario Ramon Beteta.
In the 1970's decade and for most of the 80s, he became the cocaine czar in Mexico. After Operation Condor, he founded the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, from which he was able to control all the illegal drug transport to the United States in partnership with Pablo Escobar Gaviria, the biggest drug trafficker for the Medellin, Colombia, cartel.
On April 8, 1989, Felix Gallardo was betrayed and arrested in Guadalajara by Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, a commander with the Federal Judicial Police with whom he had had dealings. He was accused of drug trafficking and of the kidnapping and murders of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar and captain Alfredo Zavala, a pilot with the Secretariat of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources, in 1985.
The man also known as the Jefe de Jefes was sentenced to 40 years in prison, of which he has served 23 in the maximum security Altiplano prison, located in Almoloya de Juarez.