From Bad To Worse

From Bad To Worse
Posted by FoM on December 06, 1999 at 07:03:07 PT
By Linda Robinson & Chitra Ragavan 
Source: US News Online
On the hot desert flanks of Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, each grim new find confirmed the worst fears of those who lived nearby. They had long feared that enemies and associates of the vicious Juárez drug cartel had been buried in the parchment-dry ranchland. 
As agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mexican police began pulling remains from the earth, the question became not why but how many? At week's end, six bodies were recovered. Law-enforcement sources say they expect the tally to rise to 50 or more, but no one's really sure. "There are bodies all over the place here," says taxi driver Gerardo Avila as he watched the police dig.U.S. officials tried to put the best face on things, saying that the collaborative investigation shows a new level of cooperation between the two countries, whose relations have often been strained by charges of corruption. But U.S. law enforcement officials say Mexican drug gangs are still operating with impunity along the border.None more so than the Juárez cartel. It rose to prominence in the mid-1990s when its chieftain, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, pioneered the use of jumbo jets to ferry multiton shipments of drugs to the border, earning the nickname "Lord of the Skies." His reign lasted until 1997, when he died after undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance. After Carrillo's death, a bloody war for control of the cartel broke out. His brother Vicente assumed control and moved to crush all challengers. The graves may include some of their bodies, as well as those of members of the Juárez traffickers' main rival, the Tijuana-based cartel, which has tried to fill the vacuum left by Carrillo's death. Investigators also expect to find the bodies of informants, who aided antidrug agents, in the four suspected mass graves here. The grave sites were discovered after a Mexican policeman walked into the FBI's El Paso office and, fearing for his life and wanting to clear his conscience, told agents about them.Distinguishing the white hats from the black hats in Mexico's drug wars isn't easy. Police on both sides of the border have been hired by the cartels as enforcers or to protect drug shipments. Primary route. Corruption of law enforcement personnel is a major obstacle to fighting the flow of drugs through Mexico, which the Drug Enforcement Administration says has ballooned recently. The DEA, using seizure data to estimate drug flow, reports that seizures of marijuana have jumped by 33 percent since last year, and by 700 percent since 1991. Cocaine seizures increased from 102 metric tons in 1997 to 117 metric tons in 1998. Mexico is the primary corridor for all drugs entering the United States, accounting for an estimated 70 percent of the flow. But not all U.S. officials agree that the statistics are bad news. Bob Weiner, spokesman for the White House drug policy office, says increased seizures reflect Mexico's willingness to cooperate with U.S. antinarcotics efforts. He points to joint patrols by the Coast Guard and Mexican Navy that have seized large cocaine shipments, including a record 8.6 tons stashed aboard a Mexican fishing boat.The debate over the success of drug-fighting measures is heating up. On March 1, the Clinton administration is required to tell Congress which countries are lending full cooperation in the drug war. Despite Mexico's new initiative last spring, a key plank of the strategy has yet to be fully implemented. Four joint border task forces were set up three years ago in the cities where traffickers are strongest, but the Mexican government has still not supplied them with adequate funding. After five years at the helm of the Drug Enforcement Administration until his retirement in July, Thomas Constantine is skeptical of claims that Mexico is making major progress in fighting its drug cartels. They "represent the No. 1 danger to U.S. citizens from organized crime," he told U.S. News. "We knew who they were, investigated them in great depth.... We supplied all of their names to the institutions and officials in Mexico and despite that, they were never arrested, never brought to justice."Constantine and other officials on the drug war's front lines have long expressed frustration at the corruption of Mexican law-enforcement agencies by the cartels, so he is not surprised by allegations that many of the Juárez victims disappeared at the hands of corrupt officials in the pay of traffickers. "What was virtually predictable," the former DEA chief concluded, "was that police officers acting in concert with Mafia leaders would be involved in kidnapping and killing people." With Andrea Mandel-Campbell in Ciudad Juárez U.S. News 12/13/99Related Articles:Don't Give Up On The Drug War - 12/05/99 Massacres Reflect Failure of US War On Drugs-12/03/99 Is No Barrier On Rio Grande - 12/03/99 Strategy is Needed To Fight Drug War - 12/03/99 
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