Earlier this month, the Mexican government arrested three high-ranking Army generals “including a former second in command at the Defense Ministry,” the New York Times reported.
According to multiple press reports, Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, who retired in 2008, was an under secretary at the Defense Ministry during the first two years of President Felipe Calderón’s “war” against some narcotrafficking cartels and had even been mentioned as a “possible choice for the top job.”
The Times disclosed that in the early 1990s Ángeles “served as the defense attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Washington,” a plum position with plenty of perks awarded to someone thought by his Pentagon brethren to have impeccable credentials; that is, if smoothing the way the for drugs to flow can be viewed as a bright spot on one’s résumé.
The other top military men detained in Mexico City were “Brig. Gen. Roberto Dawe González, assigned to a base in Colima State, and Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas, who is retired.”
Reuters reported that “Dawe headed an army division in the Pacific state of Colima, which lies on a key smuggling route for drugs heading to the United States, and had also served in the violent border state of Chihuahua.”
When queried at a May 18 press conference in Washington, “whether and to what extent” these officers participated in the $1.6 billion taxpayer-financed boondoggle known as the Mérida Initiative or had received American training, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Robert L. Ditchey II tersely told reporters, “We are not going to get into those specifics.”
Inquiring minds can’t help but wonder what does the Pentagon, or certain three-lettered secret state agencies, have to hide?
CIA-Pentagon Death Squads
Although little explored by corporate media, the CIA and Defense Department’s role in escalating violence across Mexico is part of a long-standing strategy by American policy planners to deploy what the late Col. L. Fletcher Prouty called The Secret Team, “skilled professionals under the direct control of someone higher up.” According to Prouty, “Team members are like lawyers and agents, they work for someone. They generally do not plan their work. They do what their client tells them to do.”
In the context of the misbegotten “War on Drugs,” that “client” is the U.S. government and the nexus of bent banks, crooked cops, shady airplane brokers, chemical manufacturers, and spooky defense and surveillance firms who all profit from the chaos they help sustain.
As Narco News disclosed last summer, “A small but growing proxy war is underway in Mexico pitting US-assisted assassin teams composed of elite Mexican special operations soldiers against the leadership of an emerging cadre of independent drug organizations that are far more ruthless than the old-guard Mexican ‘cartels’ that gave birth to them.”
“These Mexican assassin teams now in the field for at least half a year, sources tell Narco News, are supported by a sophisticated US intelligence network composed of CIA and civilian US military operatives as well as covert special-forces soldiers under Pentagon command–which are helping to identify targets for the Mexican hit teams.”
“So it should be no surprise,” Bill Conroy wrote, “that information is now surfacing from reliable sources indicating that the US government is once again employing a long-running counter-insurgency strategy that has been pulled off the shelf and deployed in conflicts dating back to Vietnam in the 1960s, in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and beyond, and in more recent conflicts, such as in Iraq.”
That strategy, as numerous journalists and researchers have reported, provides specialized training and heavy-weapons to neocolonial clients that the imperial Godfather believes will do their bidding. More often than not however, there are serious consequences for doing so.
As the Brownsville Herald revealed nearly a decade ago, the Zetas were the former enforcement arm of Juan García Ábrego’s Gulf Cartel; then Mexico’s richest and most powerful drug trafficking organization.
During the 1980s, the Gulf group negotiated an alliance with Colombia’s Cali Cartel, amongst the CIA’s staunchest drug-trafficking allies during the Iran-Contra period. By the 1990s, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office estimated that the organization handled as much as “one-third of all cocaine shipments” into the United States from their suppliers and were worth an estimated $10 billion.
But as the Herald disclosed, the Zetas, now considered by the U.S. government to be the “most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico” were “once part of an elite division of the Mexican Army, the Special Air Mobile Force Group. At least one-third of this battalion’s deserters was trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., according to documents from the Mexican secretary of defense.”
By 2010, the Zetas had broken with their former Gulf partners to become one of the most formidable, and brutal, DTOs in the area. According to published reports, the organization’s core operatives include corrupt former federal, state and local police officers, renegade soldiers and ex-Kabiles, the CIA and Pentagon-trained Special Forces of the Guatemalan military, responsible for horrendous atrocities during that country’s U.S.-sponsored “scorched earth” campaign against leftist guerrillas; a war which killed an estimated 250,000 people, largely at the hands of the military and right-wing death squads.
Perhaps this is one reason why the Pentagon “won’t get into” the “specifics” behind the generals’ recent arrests, nor will the Justice Department come clean about the “quid-pro-quo immunity deal with the US government in which they [the Sinaloa Cartel] were guaranteed protection from prosecution in exchange for providing US law enforcers and intelligence agencies with information that could be used to compromise rival Mexican cartels and their operations,” as Narco News reported.
While the implications of these policies may be scandalous to the average citizen, they’re part of a recurring pattern, one might even say a modus operandi reproduced ad nauseam.
More than three decades ago we learned from Danish journalist Henrik Krüger in The Great Heroin Coup, that the CIA was at the center of the “remarkable shift from Marseilles (Corsican) to Southeast Asian and Mexican (Mafia) heroin in the United States,” and that the legendary take-down of the “French Connection” actually represented “a deliberate move to reconstruct and redirect the heroin trade… not to eliminate it.” (emphasis added)
A similar process is underway in Mexico today as drug distribution networks battle it out for control over the multibillion dollar market flooding Europe and North America with processed cocaine from South America’s fabled Crystal Triangle. In fact, the illicit trade would be nigh impossible without official complicity and corruption, on both sides of the border, and at the highest levels of what sociologist C. Wright Mills called the Power Elite.
Without batting an eye however, the Times told us that the arrest of Mexico’s top “drug fighting” generals “is sure to rattle American law enforcement and military officers, who in the best of times often work warily with their Mexican counterparts, typically subjecting them to screening for any criminal ties.”
Not if a U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Field Manual (FM 3-05.130), titled Unconventional Warfare, serves as a guide for the Pentagon’s current strategic thinking on the conflict in Mexico. Published in 2008 by WikiLeaks, the anonymous authors informed us that:
Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political “undesirables.” (Unconventional Warfare, p. 1-3)
From this perspective such “irregular forces” sound suspiciously like today’s army of professional contract killers or sicarios, who act as mercenaries for the cartels and as political enforcers for local elites.
According to carefully-crafted media fairy tales, we’re to believe that unlike corrupt Federal and local police, the Army, which has deployed nearly 50,000 troops across Mexico are somehow magically immune to the global tide of corruption associated with an illicit trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
However, ubiquitous facts on the ground tell a different tale. Like their U.S. counterparts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Mexican Army stands accused of serious human rights violations. And, like marauding U.S. imperial invaders, Mexico’s Army regularly carry out illegal detentions, extortion, extrajudicial killings, torture along with the “disappearance” of indigenous and left-wing activists.
Indeed, like their American and NATO counterparts in Afghanistan today, some elements within the Mexican Army have forged highly-profitable alliances with drug traffickers, especially among organized crime groups afforded “cover” by the CIA. But unlike the global godfathers in Washington however, Mexican authorities have brought criminal charges against corrupt officials.
In the Times’ report we’re informed that “a retired general, Juan Manuel Barragán Espinosa, was detained in February, accused of having leaked information to a drug gang. Another general, Manuel Moreno Avina, and several soldiers he commanded are on charges of murder, torture and drug trafficking in a border town in northern Mexico.”
The Houston Chronicle disclosed that the “investigation of the generals reportedly was spurred by informants’ testimony linked to the August 2010 arrest of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, the Laredo native known as La Barbie who served as the Beltran Leyva’s top enforcer.”
According to the Chronicle, “accusations of political motivation–by the generals’ wives, lawyers and others–have been raised because of prosecutors’ nearly two-year delay in acting on the informant’s testimony and because the arrests come less than six weeks ahead of Mexico’s presidential elections.”
In fact, just days before being taken into custody, Ángeles “participated in a national security conference organized by supporters of presidential front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.”
But Ángeles’ inconvenient arrest just weeks before contentious national elections isn’t the only problem that PRI front-runner Peña Nieto has to worry about.
The Associated Press reported that Peña Nieto’s one-time ally, the former governor of the violence-plagued state of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba, has been accused in a civil action filed by federal prosecutors in Texas that he “‘acquired millions of dollars in payments’ while in public office from drug cartels ‘and from various extortion or bribery schemes’.”
“Yarrington,” AP disclosed, “then used various front men and businesses ‘to become a major real estate investor through various money laundering mechanisms,’ according to documents filed in Corpus Christi.”
The former governor “was also named earlier this year in the federal indictment of Antonio Peña Arguelles, who was also charged with money laundering in San Antonio. That indictment alleged that leaders of the Gulf and Zetas cartels paid millions to Institutional Revolutionary Party members, including Yarrington,” AP reported.
Curiously enough however, that AP report failed to mention Yarrington’s close political ties to politicians on this side of the border. Indeed, according to Digital Journal writer Lynn Herrmann, “Yarrington was at Texas Governor Rick Perry’s swearing into office for his first full term in 2003. Prior to that, the Tamaulipas governor was a recipient of a Texas Senate resolution honoring him.”
“Even closer was the relationship between Yarrington and President George W. Bush,” Herrmann wrote, “a relationship apparently developed when junior was governor of Texas. In 2000, the Los Angeles Times quoted Bush as saying, ‘Tomás is terrific, worked with him a lot’.”
Now why wouldn’t the AP report that?!
While one cannot dismiss that political motivations may lie behind the arrests, salient facts coloring these latest examples of drug war shenanigans again betray that this phony war is being waged not to stamp-out the grim trade but over who controls it.
Another Day, Another Bent General
The arrests were hardly precedent setting if truth be told. Indeed, the best known case of collaboration between the Army and the Cartels was that of Gen. José de Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo.
After having risen in the ranks to become a Three-Star Divisional Commander in the 1990s, Gutiérrez was appointed by the Attorney General of Mexico during the reign of President Ernesto Zedillo, currently a director of the drug-tainted financial black hole Citigroup, accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug money for Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the brother of Carlos Salinas, the former president of Mexico. With powerful connections, the general became that country’s top-ranking drug interdiction officer as head of the Instituto Nacional para el Combate a las Drogas (INCD).
From his perch, Gutiérrez had access to intelligence provided to the government by Mexican and U.S. secret state agencies. The treasure trove of data available to the general and his patrons included files on antidrug investigations, wiretaps on cartel leaders and informant identities.
There was just one small problem.
After receiving a tip that Gutiérrez had moved into an upscale Mexico City neighborhood in an apartment “whose rent could not be paid for with the wage received by a public servant,” the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation.
It turned out that Gutiérrez had moved into palatial digs owned by a confederate of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the legendary head of the Juárez Cartel and “Lord of the Heavens.” The drug lord earned that moniker because he moved vast quantities of cocaine into the U.S. aboard a fleet of airplanes purchased from bent brokers on the American side of the border. This too is a recurring pattern, as Daniel Hopsicker revealed during his investigation into the secret history of a fleet of fifty drug planes bought with hot money laundered through U.S. banks.
During the course of their investigation, Mexican authorities obtained a recording of Gutiérrez and Carrillo Fuentes which discussed payments to the General; remuneration for his role in leaving the Juárez Cartel alone, then Mexico’s largest drug corporation.
In a 1997 interview with The Boston Globe, Francisco Molina, the former head of the anti-narcotics unit, said that during the change of command, “he personally handed over to Gutiérrez all of Mexico’s ‘most delicate’ drug-fighting information.”
“The files included thousands of documents on open investigations,” the Globe reported, “pending operations, wire taps and voluminous material on Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the trafficker to whom Gutiérrez was linked.”
That information, Molina said, “places many people at risk, and it throws into the garbage the huge amount of resources, money, and time that were spent” on operations. “It’s like letting the enemy in to dig around in the files.”
And with the U.S. State Department poised to expand the Mexican secret state’s access to the latest in communications’ intercept technologies as Antifascist Calling recently reported, the Cartels may soon have even more information at their disposal and the wherewithal to strike their adversaries with ruthless efficiency.
‘Dirty Warrior’ and ‘Lord of the Heavens’ United in the Great Beyond
It remains to be seen whether the accused military men will suffer the fate of another narco-linked Army commander, retired Gen. Mario Acosta Chaparro.
The Latin American Herald Tribune reported last month that Acosta, “who was convicted of drug-gang ties a decade ago but subsequently exonerated, has died of wounds suffered in a gunshot attack, sources with the capital’s district attorney’s office said.”
According to McClatchy’s “Mexico Unmasked” blog, the general was killed “as he descended from his chauffeured vehicle to pick up his Mercedes Benz (how many generals can afford to buy MBs?) in a suburban area of Mexico City. A guy in a motorcycle fired 3 rounds from a 9mm handgun into Acosta’s head.”
As Antifascist Calling reported in 2010, this was the same general who was shot and wounded in Mexico City during an alleged “robbery attempt.” At the time, El Universal reported that police claimed a thief wanted to “steal the general’s watch” and shot him several times in the abdomen when he resisted.
It must have been a nice watch.
But with last month’s murder it appears that Acosta’s past caught up with him. “In 2007,” Antifascist Calling reported, “after a six-year imprisonment on charges of providing protection to late drug trafficking kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes … Acosta Chaparro was released from custody after his conviction was overturned on appeal.”
Freed on technicalities despite testimony by witnesses under the protection of the Mexican government, documents published by WikiLeaks revealed that the Swiss Bank Julius Baer’s Cayman Islands unit hid “several million dollars” of funds controlled by Acosta and his wife, Silvia, through a firm known as Symac Investments.
WikiLeaks wondered whether Mexican authorities would “want to know whether the several millions of USD had anything to do with the allegations that Mr Chaparro, a former police chief from the Mexican state of Guerrero, stopped chasing his local drug dealers and joined them in business.”
The secret-spilling web site averred: “With the assistance of Julius Baer, Mr Chaparro was able to invest several millions of USD in Symac with all the secrecy which the Caymans allowed and to draw out some $12,000 a month until he suddenly stopped it in July 1998. The following year, a particularly notorious colleague from the Mexican police became an FBI informer and offered new evidence against him.”
During his 2002 trial on drug trafficking and corruption charges one of the witnesses, Gustavo Tarín Chávez testified that Acosta answered a phone call and a voice on the other end of the line said: “Son! How are you? Son!” Tarín Chávez told the court that the only person who called the general “son” was none other then Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
During that call, the late drug lord told Acosta that he had spoken with Rubén Figueroa Alcocer, the former governor of Guerrero, and that “everything was settled.”
Multiple reports in the Mexican press subsequently revealed that the general had been given orders to pick up fifty AK-47 assault rifles, thirty semiautomatic pistols, twenty two-way radios and a SUV from Carrillo Fuentes and deliver them to the governor.
Talk about a high-priced errand boy!
Tarín Chávez also testified that Acosta did all the technical planning for the Juárez group and made arrangements for the arrival of Colombian aircraft loaded with cocaine and that this logistics work involved the delivery of vehicles, cash and communications’ equipment to other military officers who worked for the drug lord.
Though his case was tossed out by the Mexican Supreme Court due to a “lack of evidence” (perhaps one or all of those witnesses lost their “protection” and “vanished,” into an unmarked grave perhaps?), like other close U.S. allies in the “War on Drugs,” Acosta had been linked to Mexico’s “dirty war” against the left during the 1970s under the administration of President Luis Echeverría.
Echeverría was Interior Minister during President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s corrupt, repressive regime. Díaz, with much encouragement from the Pentagon, State Department and the CIA, ordered the murders of hundreds of student protesters in the now-infamous Tlatelolco Plaza massacre a few days before the start of the 1968 Summer Olympics.
In 2006, investigative journalist Jefferson Morley and The National Security Archive obtained previously classified documents which revealed “CIA recruitment of agents within the upper echelons of the Mexican government between 1956 and 1969. The informants used in this secret program included President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and future President Luis Echeverría.”
Those documents detailed “the relationships cultivated between senior CIA officers, such as chief of station Winston Scott, and Mexican government officials through a secret spy network code-named ‘LITEMPO.’ Operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Scott used the LITEMPO project to provide ‘an unofficial channel for the exchange of selected sensitive political information which each government wanted the other to receive but not through public protocol exchanges’.”
Scott, a strident anticommunist who saw Moscow’s “hidden hand” everywhere, suspected that student protests were “a communist controlled rebellion,” and argued that the movement represented “a classic example of the Communists’ ability to divert a peaceful demonstration into a major riot.” Never mind that radical students despised the Stalinist Communist Party of Mexico and viewed them as conservative sell-outs; for Scott and his CIA masters, the fable of an International Communist Conspiracy directed by the Kremlin had to be maintained at all costs.
“As the student protests grew larger,” Morley wrote, “Scott’s information from the LITEMPO agents informed Ambassador Freeman’s increasingly dire cables to Washington, which noted that Díaz Ordaz and the people around him were talking tougher. The government ‘implicitly accepts consequence that this will produce casualties,’ the ambassador wrote. ‘Leaders of student agitation have been and are being taken into custody….In other words, the [government] offensive against student disorder has opened on physical and psychological fronts’.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Army units stationed around the perimeter of Tlatelolco Plaza and in the windows of adjoining buildings began to open fire on the protesters; hundreds were killed and more than fifteen hundred people were arrested, many of whom were subsequently tortured and then “disappeared.”
Heroin Coups and Iran-Contra Connections
Díaz and Echeverría did more than just ignore crimes perpetrated by the drug and CIA-linked intelligence agency, the Direcciòn Federal de Seguridad, or DFS; in the wake of the massacre, they handed DFS and the Army a blank check to carry out an anti-leftist purge which claimed thousands of lives.
Analyzing the CIA’s role in global drug trafficking networks, researcher Peter Dale Scott wrote: “One of the most crime-ridden CIA assets we know of is the Mexican DFS, which the US helped to create. From its foundation in the 1940s, the DFS, like other similar kryptocracies in Latin America, was deeply involved with international drug-traffickers. By the 1980s possession of a DFS card was recognized by DEA agents as a ‘license to traffic’.”
According to Scott, “DFS agents rode security for drug truck convoys, and used their police radios to check of signs of American police surveillance. Eventually the DFS became so identified with the criminal drug-trafficking organizations it managed and protected, that in the 1980s the DFS was (at least officially) closed down.”
Though 90 at the time of this writing, Echeverría, until recently, was considered the éminence grise of Mexican politics. He continued to wield considerable power long after his presidential term ended, mostly through his influence over the “old guard” of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, the special police and army forces stood up under his watch, along with his alleged ties to the drug cartels.
As Scott and Jonathan Marshall disclosed in Cocaine Politics, the “failure” of various anti-trafficking programs such as Operation Condor “were inevitable given the records of the two Mexican presidents” who oversaw the operation.
“Luis Echeverría, under whom the program began,” Scott and Marshall wrote, “appears to have been linked to [drug trafficker and CIA asset Alberto] Sicilia Falcón through his wife, whose family members had suspected ties to the European heroin trade.” And when José López Portillo “took charge in 1976,” Scott and Marshall averred, he “reportedly amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal profits and bought large estates in Spain with the proceeds.”
As Henrik Krüger related in The Great Heroin Coup, when he was arrested in 1975, Sicilia Falcón “claimed to be an agent of the CIA, and that his drug ring had been set up on orders and with the support of the agency.”
“Part of his profits,” Krüger wrote, “were to go towards the purchase of weapons and ammunition for distribution throughout Central America for the destabilization of ‘undesirable’ governments. If true, U.S. heroin addicts were again footing the bill for clandestine paramilitary operations and anti-Communist terror campaigns.”
But the former president’s shady connections didn’t stop there. Indeed, Echeverría’s brother-in-law, Rubén Zuno Arce, was convicted in U.S. Federal District Court in California in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for his role as a top-tier leader of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo’s Guadalajara drug cartel and for the torture-murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.
Camarena had amassed evidence that the CIA and U.S. State Department considered Gallardo “untouchable” because of the “special relationship” forged by the Agency amongst drug traffickers and the Nicaraguan Contras. Scott and Marshall disclosed that “Mexico’s biggest smuggler, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, responsible for moving four tons of cocaine a month into the United States, was also ‘a big supporter’ of the Contras, according to his pilot Werner Lotz. Lotz told the DEA that his boss advanced him more than $150,000 to pass on to the Contras.”
In an 1996 PBS interview with former DEA deep-cover specialist turned whistleblower, Michael Levine, the co-host of The Expert Witness Radio Show, Levine related that “Camarena was a DEA agent working on high level drug investigations. He was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and his investigations were taking him right into the Contra resupply lines, that is, the Contras trafficking in drugs with the support of the Hondurans, the Mexicans, and everybody else and Enrique was down there working this case with an informer and suddenly he’s arrested in broad daylight by Mexican police. He’s taken to a ranch of a top Mexican criminal and slowly tortured to death over a 24 hour period.”
“And later what is… what’s found is Enrique was investigating [Honduran drug lord Juan Ramón] Matta-Ballesteros and Matta-Ballesteros’ partner Gallardo and Matta-Ballesteros, by the way, was on the State Department payroll… in spite of being a documented heavy drug trafficker. His airline that we knew was used to traffic drugs, was used on the US government payroll to fly these Contra resupply mission. So here’s this murderer who was later convicted of murdering… or conspiring to murder Kiki Camarena and he was on the US government payroll in spite of the fact that the DEA called him a drug trafficker, in spite of the fact that Kiki Camarena was investigating him. Now here’s Kiki Camarena investigating the Oliver North supply line and he’s tortured to death.”
As investigative journalist Robert Parry revealed two years later on the Consortium News web site, Matta-Ballesteros’ airline, SETCO, “emerged as the principal company for ferrying supplies to the contras in Honduras.”
“During congressional Iran-contra hearings, FDN political leader Adolfo Calero testified that SETCO was paid from bank accounts controlled by Oliver North. SETCO also received $185,924 from the State Department for ferrying supplies to the contras in 1986.”
Let’s get this straight: Ollie North, a convicted felon who turned a blind eye to drug trafficking Contra networks he helped stand up runs for the U.S. Senate, hosts a “national defense” program on Fox News and earns millions of dollars. “Kiki” Camarena, who’s investigating North’s criminal assets is brutally murdered by those same “resistance” fighters.
Curiously enough, when Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped in 2001 from a maximum-security prison during the “reform” administration of Vicente Fox, then the leader of the neoliberal Partido Acción Nacional, or PAN, and whose Federal Police chief was recommended by Luis Echeverría, it emerged that Guzmán once worked for Matta-Ballesteros, Gallardo and Zuno Acre’s Guadalajara Cartel.
But then again, with the CIA suppressing evidence that they negotiated a quid-pro-quo with the Sinaloa Cartel and can’t talk about it because of “national security,” or that an FBI drug-trafficking informant was at the center of the Justice Department’s gun-walking “Fast and Furious” fiasco and can’t be prosecuted, perhaps controlled chaos is just what the Global Godfather wants.
A bent general or two is the least of our problems.