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Mexico’s War Against Drugs Is Proving To Be Very Difficult

April 29, 1995

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Persistent charges of high-level corruption combined with last year’s drop in cocaine seizures have many people wondering if Mexico can win its war against drugs.

Accusations by U.S. officials that Mexican police stole much of a drug shipment on a jet captured last year have added to fears that drug gangs, working with politicians and police, are becoming almost impossible to control.

Although the jet reportedly had smuggled 11 tons of cocaine from Colombia, Mexico police said they seized only 2.7 tons of the drug.

``We have always been aware _ and acknowledged _ that law enforcement coruption in Mexico is a deeply entrenched, serious obstacle to bilateral anti-narcotics cooperation,″ Robert Gelbard, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said in late March.

The plane incident shows President Ernesto Zedillo ``has a potentially bloody struggle on his hands″ in his pledged campaign against drug smuggling, Gelbard told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

Since taking office Dec. 1, Zedillo has repeatedly vowed to fight drug traffickers and related corruption, emphasizing that ``no one is above the law.″

Some wonder if the promises can be kept.

``When will we have the courage and political maturity to tell the Mexican people that we are living in a narcodemocracy?″ former Mexican drug agent Eduardo Valle asked when he quit his job last year and moved to the United States, saying he feared for his life.

Concern in the United States is such that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in March to require the Clinton administration to report on any knowledge of senior Mexican officials’ involvement in drug trafficking.

With its lightly guarded 2,000-mile border with the United States, corrupt police and isolated areas where planes can land with little risk, Mexico has long been a popular way station for U.S.-bound drugs. As much as 70 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States passes through Mexico.

But when U.S and Mexican drug agents began jointly attacking the traditional supply lines, drug barons last year began taking to the air in faster, bigger jets like Boeing 727s and French Caravelles.

The U.S. Embassy said in March that the use of jetliners in 1994 contributed to a more than 50 percent plunge in the amount of cocaine seized.

Last year’s was the lowest seizure of cocaine in the six-year presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, which ended in December: 24 tons of cocaine in 1994, down from 51 tons in 1993.

In the first four months of Zedillo’s term, only about 6 tons had been confiscated, the attorney general’s office says.

The jetliner ploy came to light last May, when an old Boeing 727 landed at a Taesa Airlines airfield in the central state of Jalisco. Newspaper reports said employees of that Mexican airline told police the smugglers ordered them to light the runway so the cargo could be unloaded.

Authorities seized their first jet in August on an old mining airstrip in the central state of Zacatecas.

Because reports from Colombia said the plane had left that country with as much as 11 tons of cocaine, U.S. and Mexican officials became skeptical when police later said only 2.7 tons was impounded.

Authorities in Zacatecas denied police stole any of the shipment.

And last week, federal police in Zacatecas denied additional charges that officers did not destroy the tons they claimed to have seized, instead burning mostly a combination of lime and salt.

``There were more than 2,000 packages,″ Guillermo Manzo Gonzalez, the region’s delegate to the attorney general’s office, said in an interview published Wednesday in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma. ``... we would not have been able to take all that out ... and replace it with lime and salt.″

Investigations into two high-profile murders are revealing just how far drug corruption has seeped into Mexico’s powerful circles.

Probes into the killing of a Roman Catholic prelate and the ruling party’s No. 2 man have turned up mysterious million-dollar bank accounts and questionable relationships between government officials and suspected drug cartel representatives.

In the May 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas, authorities initially said gunmen mistook him for the leader of a rival drug gang at the Guadalajara airport. The gunmen escaped when a Tijuana-bound jetliner delayed its flight so they could board.

Authorities are now investigating the possibility that the assassination was premeditated.

Officials also have cited a possible drug link in the murder last autumn of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, secretary-general of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The victim’s brother, Mario Ruiz Massieu, has been accused of covering up evidence in the murder while heading the investigation as a deputy attorney general. Both U.S. and Mexican officials have said they believe Mario Ruiz Massieu got bribes from a drug gang.

Although Mario Ruiz Massieu last year had a government salary equivalent to $70,000, investigators discovered he had as much as $24 million deposited in U.S. and Mexican banks.

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