Intelligence

98-161 F Mexico's Counter-Narcotics Efforts Under Zedillo CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE LIBRARY OF CONGRESSNUMBER: 98-161 FDATE: March 4, 1998TITLE: Mexico's Counter-Narcotics Efforts Under Zedillo AUTHOR: K. Larry StorrsDIVISION: Foreign Affairs and National Defense DivisionTEXT:Summary This report provides information on Mexico's counter-narcotics efforts under the presidency of Ernesto Zedillo(1994-2000) in the context of President Clinton's February26, 1998 certification that Mexico was fully cooperative indrug control efforts. The report focuses on (1) trends inMexico's share of illicit drug traffic to the UnitedStates, (2) measures of Mexico's efforts to control drugtrafficking, and (3) Mexico's cooperation with the UnitedStates in counter-narcotics efforts. Mexico has remainedthe major transit point for cocaine entering the UnitedStates from South America, and a major source country forheroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, although morecocaine may be transiting the Caribbean recently. Seizuresof cocaine, opium and marijuana increased in 1997, whileseizures of heroin, methamphetamine and ephedrine declinedsignificantly. Arrests declined in 1997, but Mexico hadsome limited success against major druglords. Eradication of opium remained nearly the same, whilemarijuana declined, although Mexico leads the world inthis area. U.S.-Mexico counter-narcotics cooperationreached unprecedented levels, with the full range of lawenforcement, military, border, and drug control agenciesbeing involved, although corruption remains a persistentproblem. Acting through cabinet-level and working groupsof the High Level Contact Group (HLCG) on NarcoticsControl, the countries announced completion of jointanti-drug strategy goals in February 1998.Recent Congressional Interest and Action Congress has had a longstanding interest in Mexico'scounter-narcotics efforts, particularly since the March 1985killing of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) SpecialAgent Enrique Camarena in Guadalajara, Mexico. Beginningwith legislation originally enacted in 1986, incorporatedas Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L.87-195), as amended, Congress required the President tocertify annually that drug-producing or drug transitcountries had cooperated fully with the United States indrug control efforts during the previous year to avoid aseries of aid and trade sanctions. (See Endnote 1.) Mexicohas been fully certified each year, but Congress has closelymonitored these certifications, and both houses passedresolutions in 1997 originally intended to disapprove thePresident's certification. (See Endnote 2.) PresidentClinton's February 26, 1998 certification of Mexico as fullycooperative in drug control efforts has been criticized, andResolutions of Disapproval (S.J.Res. 42 and S.J. Res. 43)have been introduced by Senators Coverdell, Feinstein, andHelms. Estimates of Mexico's Share of Drug Trafficking Activity According to estimates by the Department of State'sBureau for International Narcotics and Law EnforcementAffairs, Mexico is a major transit point for cocaineentering the United States from South America, and is amajor source country for heroin, marijuana, andmethamphetamine. (See Endnote 3.) Estimates of Mexico'sshare of this traffic have not changed significantly overthe years, although recent reports suggest that a largerportion of the cocaine may be coming through the Caribbeanrather than Mexico. The State Department's report for 1991 estimated thatMexico produced about 33% of the heroin and about 70% of theforeign-grown marijuana that entered the United States, andthat over half of the cocaine shipped to the United Statestransited Mexico. The State Department's reports covering 1995-1997 estimated that Mexico supplied 20-30% of the heroin, and upto 80% of the foreign-grown marijuana. They estimated thatMexico was the transshipment point for between 50-60% ofU.S.-bound cocaine shipments and up to 80% ofmethamphetamine precursor chemicals like ephedrine. Thereports stated that Mexican trafficking organizationsdominate the manufacture and distribution ofmethamphetamine, and that Mexico is an important source of'designer' drugs and illicit steroids. According to onerecent press account, U.S. law enforcement agencies estimatethat 70% of the cocaine smuggled into the United Statescomes through Mexican sea, land or air spaces. (See Endnote4.) Another account suggests, however, that stepped upU.S.-Mexican interdiction efforts and increasing demands byMexican traffickers have led the Colombian cartels to shiftback to the Caribbean, with about 40% of the cocaine passingthrough the Caribbean, with Puerto Rico as a major gateway.(See Endnote 5.) Mexico's Efforts to Control Illicit Drug Activities Table 1 shows the quantifiable estimates of Mexicanefforts to control drug trafficking in three areas from 1992to 1997, with totals for the last three years of theAdministration of Carlos Salinas (1992-1994), and the firstfull three years of the Administration of Ernesto Zedillo(1995-1997). Caution should be exercised in consideringthe data as an indication of Mexico's seriousness incontrolling drug trafficking. The trends may also reflectthe demand for the drugs, the amount of drugs produced oravailable, the sophistication of the drug traffickers, theintelligence and capabilities of Mexican counter-drugagencies, the effectiveness of reporting and monitoringmethods, and competition from alternative drug suppliers. With regard to seizures of drugs, the figuresdemonstrate significant increases in seizures of heroin,marijuana and illicit drug labs in the last three years, but1997 results are low on seizures of heroin and drug labs. The figures show increases in seizures of opium, with 1997results showing marked improvement. Seizures of cocaine in1995-1997 were less than the amount seized in the previousthree years, but 1997 results suggest recent improvement. Seizures of ephedrine increased significantly in 1996, butseizures of ephedrine and methamphetamine declineddramatically in 1997. With regard to arrests of drug traffickers, the numberof nationals arrested in 1995-1997 was considerably lessthan arrested in the 1992-1994 period, but the number offoreigners arrested increased slightly. The results for1997 suggest a decline after several years of increasingarrests. One possible result of enhanced law enforcementefforts was the death of major druglord Amado CarrilloFuentes in July 1997, following plastic surgery to disguisehimself, amid indications that he was planning to move hisoperation to Chile. Mexican spokesmen claim that the Gulfcartel has been basically dismantled following the January1996 arrest of its leader, Juan Garcia Abrego, and theFebruary 1997 arrest of a key lieutenant and hit man, OscarMalherbe, whose extradition to the United States is pending.(See Endnote 6.) Another success was the arrest of AdanAmezcua Contreras of the Amezcua methamphetamine-smugglingorganization in November 1997. On the other hand, somemajor traffickers were unexpectedly released from prison, orhad their sentences reduced. The Mexican government claimsthat it extradited 13 persons and deported 10 persons to theUnited States in 1997, and that an additional 15 personswill be extradited once appeals are exhausted. With regard to eradication of illicit crops, the resultssuggest some improvement in eradication of opium andmarijuana in recent years, but 1997 results show thateffective eradication of opium remained at the same level,while eradication of marijuana declined. In any case,Mexico is considered to have the highest eradication resultsin the world.Table 1. Mexican Counter-Drug Activities, 1992-1997 | TABLE OR GRAPHIC NOT SHOWN HERE; | | please order document | | for complete material. |Mexico's Counter-Narcotics Cooperation with the United States Mexican cooperation with the United States on counter-narcotics efforts was reduced toward the end of theadministration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari(1988-1994). Mexico charged that the United States hadencouraged the abduction of Mexican doctor HumbertoAlvarez Machain to face charges of involvement in theCamarena murder, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled thatsuch action did not violate the U.S.-Mexico extraditiontreaty. Mexico initially reacted by banning U.S. drugcontrol activities, and eventually decided, in 1992, thatit would no longer accept U.S. counter-narcoticsassistance, except for some minor technical assistance. This so-called 'Mexicanization policy' resulted inconsiderable reduction in counter-narcotics contactsbetween the United States and Mexico, although PresidentSalinas appointed a widely respected Attorney General whodismissed many corrupt officials, and he created an anti-drug institute to coordinate and invigorate Mexico'scounter-narcotics activities. U.S.-Mexico counter-narcotics cooperation has increasedsubstantially since the inauguration of President Zedilloin December 1994, with the full range of law enforcement,military, and border and drug control agencies beinginvolved. While the flow of drugs from Mexico remainshigh and incidences of corruption persist, the ClintonAdministration seems confident that President Zedillo iscommitted to rooting out corruption and establishing aclose working relationship with the United States in thisarea. At the highest diplomatic level, the High LevelContact Group (HLCG), established in 1996, provides forcabinet-level coordination twice a year. Subordinateworking groups on money laundering, chemical control,demand reduction, prisoner transfer, extradition, andmutual legal assistance meet four times per year tocoordinate policies. Acting through these groups, the twocountries agreed upon a joint threat assessment and anAnti-Drug Alliance when President Clinton visited Mexicoin May 1997, they developed a draft joint strategy whenPresident Zedillo visited Washington in mid-November 1997,and they issued the joint strategy in early February 1998which sets goals that must still be operationalized. Atthe November 1997 meeting, the two Presidents also signeda protocol to the bilateral extradition treaty that willpermit temporary extradition for trials of cross-bordercriminals, and a hemispheric convention against illegalfirearms trafficking. In the area of law enforcement cooperation andtraining, the United States has been involved in thetraining and screening of Mexicans involved in severalimportant new agencies. These are: the new Mexican anti-drug agency, called the Special Prosecutor for CrimesAgainst Health (FEADS), that replaced the discreditedNational Counter-Narcotics Institute (INCD); the OrganizedCrime Unit that implements the new Organized Crime Law;the anti-drug bilateral Border Task Forces (BTFs); and aFinancial Intelligence Unit that implements new anti-moneylaundering legislation. In military-to-militarycooperation, the United States has recently provided 73Huey helicopters and military training for Mexican anti-drug special forces (GAFE) units, and has provided twoKnox class frigates and training for maritime interdictionunits. (See Endnote 7.) Despite the Administration'saccounts of cooperation, Washington Post writers MollyMoore and John Ward Anderson reported in early November1997 that along the border 'there has never been moredistrust or less cooperation at the operational level.'(See Endnote 8.) Critics charge that the Mexican law enforcementestablishment is riddled with corruption. They argue thatinadequate efforts have been made to arrest and dismantlethe major drug cartels, to extradite Mexican citizens tothe United States on drug-related charges, and to permitDEA agents to carry firearms for their protection. Amongthe alleged cases of corruption is the incident inSeptember 1997, when 18 members of a U.S.-trained airborne anti-drug unit were arrested and charged withusing their planes to smuggle cocaine from the Guatemalanborder to Mexico City. (See Endnote 9.) In another case,in early February 1998, the Washington Times reported thata CIA report asserted that newly-appointed GovernmentMinister Francisco Labastida had tolerated drug dealersactivities since serving as Governor of Sinaloa from 1987to 1993, (See Endnote 10.) although the Mexicangovernment vigorously denied the allegations, andspokesmen for the United States subsequently expressedconfidence in him. ENDNOTES(1) For details on the certification process, see NarcoticsCertification and Mexico: Questions and Answers, CRS Report97-320 F, March 6, 1997, by Raphael F. Perl, JonathanSanford, and K. Larry Storrs. For more general informationon U.S.-Mexican relations, including legislation on trade,immigration, and drug trafficking issues, see Mexico-U.S.Relations: Issues for the 105th Congress, CRS Issue Brief97028, by K. Larry Storrs.(2) For details on U.S. congressional action, see MexicanDrug Certification Issues: U.S. Congressional Action Since1986, CRS Report 98-174 F, February 26, 1998, by K. LarryStorrs. For more detailed information on Mexican counter-narcotics efforts in the early period of Zedillo'spresidency, see Mexico's Counter-Narcotics Efforts UnderZedillo, December 1994 to March 1997, CRS Report 97-354 F,March 14, 1997, by K. Larry Storrs.(3) See U.S. Department of State Bureau for InternationalNarcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, InternationalNarcotics Control Strategy Reports, generally issued inMarch of each year with coverage of the previous year.(4) Molly Moore, U.S., Mexico Renew Old Pledges, Make NewOnes in Combined War on Drug Trade, Washington Post,February 7, 1998, p. A24.(5) Douglas Farah and Serge F. Kovaleski, Cartels MakePuerto Rico a Major Gateway to the U.S., Washington Post,February 16, 1998, p. A1.(6) James F. Smith, Mexico Highlights Its Anti-DrugSuccesses, Los Angeles Times [Washington edition], Feb. 19,1998, p. A2. (7) See Office of National Drug Control Policy, Report toCongress, Volume 1, Part 1, September 1997. (8) Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, U.S. Mexican DrugCollaboration Fails When Lives on the Line, Washington Post,November 5, 1997, p. A1.(9) See Molly Moore, Mexican Airborne Anti-Drug UnitArrested in New Cocaine Scandal, Washington Post, September12, 1997, p. A27.(10) Bill Gertz, CIA Links Mexico's Interior Minister to DrugLords, Washington Times, February 5, 1998, p. A1. END OF FILE