There’s been an interesting development in the actions Mexico has undertaken to control its very lucrative illicit drug industry. The Mexican authorities have announced they will compensate informants to the level of 25% of funds or property value that are confiscated with their aid in uncovering money-laundering schemes.
It is possible that Mexican officialdom has not seen the large number of crime films that so expertly detail the rewards that drug cartels mete out to “whistle blowers” or “snitches,” depending for what side one is rooting. Exactly how the Mexican government intends to protect these newly enriched informants is a mystery. But most everything about the Mexican government’s relationship with the drug cartels is a mystery.
The latest figures released by official sources calculate that about $10 billion of illicit drug traffic net income is “laundered” annually by the cartels. Various measures have been introduced to restrict “suspicious transactions” (the official designation). The problem is that the regular business community — banking, real estate, construction, transportation, etc. — all benefit one way or another from this flow of finance. The construction of luxury beach-front condominiums has grown exponentially in the past several years in spite of an otherwise international recession. Unfortunately for the very silent financial partners, the well-publicized drug violence has depressed the numbers of eager American and Canadian buyers.
It has become clear that the Sinaloa cartel has grown to control the entire region of northwestern Mexico from the California/Arizona border down to just west of Mexico City at Michoacan, the home state of the cartel La Familia Michoacana. Los Zetas, the cartel built by former members of Mexican army special forces, has rebounded from its contests with the Gulf cartel and is now well in control of the Mexican border area northwest of Ciudad Akuña/Del Rio on the Texas border all the way to Matamoros/Brownsville on the Gulf. The Zeta territory now extends inland from the Gulf coast all the way down to Vera Cruz and beyond. The importance of this massive division of drug-trafficking turf is the potential to actually reduce the level of violence — a fact of which the Calderon government in Mexico City has taken note.
There have been more than a few reports that the central government has initiated contact through intermediaries with both the Sinaloa and Zetas to work out a “peace agreement” that effectively will reduce violence in the northern states by sharing civil security with the drug cartels themselves. As soon as the possibility of such discussions surfaced, they disappeared from press comment. This meant that the original reports were either totally false or — they were completely true. In either case it was a matter no longer appropriate for public discussion.
American authorities have indicated off the record that they are doubtful that such an entente cordiale would be successfully worked out. Similar deals on a smaller scale have been tried before and they either never got off the ground or lasted only briefly. The principal impediment to such an arrangement is the corruption within the Federal and State government law enforcement structure itself.
The cartels — now with the dominance of the Sinaloa and Los Zetas — have their hands well placed on the “hearts and souls” of key government figures on all levels. With the exception of the Navy and its marines, the Mexican military is reportedly shot through with drug corruption. Some army units have been said to provide drug traffic protection — to say nothing of trafficking in drugs themselves.
The past, however, is never far behind the present in northern Mexico. In the end of April this year the bodies of 128 people were uncovered in mass graves near the Texas border. Apparently these were victims of springtime raids by Los Zetas on buses in the San Fernando region. The authorities were able to squeeze the fact that this was a Zeta operation from one of their suspects, but no one could ever tell the police why the massacre had been perpetrated.
As the drug wars in Mexico took their toll, there has been an increased emigration of their operations into Central America as a transfer station. Guatemala had been a focal point as a new trafficking hub until very successful combined Guatemalan/U.S. teams trapped Juan Ortiz Lopez (aka Chamale) in his home. Lopez had felt quite secure as the “big fish” (as the Interior Minister called him) in Guatemala.
This high tech helicopter raid was an example of what can be done when there is real cooperation between U.S. and Latin American anti-drug agencies. The question is whether Mexico will put aside its official pride and stop blaming the gringos for its own inadequacies and get its house in order. The chances of that occurring do not look good. The Mexican government and its politicians would rather just run hard in place giving the appearance they are trying to get somewhere. Meanwhile the ordinary Mexicans pay the price.