Drug Control: U.S.-Mexican Counternarcotics Efforts Face Difficult Challenges
(Letter Report, 06/30/98, GAO/NSIAD-98-154).
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided an update on the
status of counternarcotics activities in Mexico, focusing on: (1) the
nature of the drug threat from Mexico; (2) the progress that Mexico has
made in improving its counternarcotics efforts; (3) issues related to
the provision of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to the Mexican
military; and (4) the plans that the U.S. government has to assess the
effectiveness of U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics efforts.
GAO noted that: (1) Mexico continues to be the primary transit country
for cocaine entering the United States from South America, as well as a
major source country for heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines; (2)
according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, drug-trafficking
organizations are increasing their activities, posing a threat to
citizens in the United States and Mexico; (3) Mexico, with U.S.
assistance, has taken steps to improve its capacity to reduce the flow
of illegal drugs into the United States by: (a) increasing the
eradication of marijuana and opium poppy and seizing significant amounts
of cocaine; (b) enhancing its counternarcotics cooperation with the
United States; (c) initiating efforts to extradite Mexican criminals to
the United States; (d) passing new laws on organized crime, money
laundering, and chemical control; and (e) instituting reforms in law
enforcement agencies and expanding the role of the military in
counternarcotics activities to reduce corruption; (4) the results of
these actions have yet to be realized because many of them are in the
early stages of implementation and some are limited in scope; (5) also,
the Mexican government faces a shortage of trained personnel, a lack of
adequate funding to support operations, and extensive corruption; (6)
U.S. counternarcotics assistance has enhanced the ability of the Mexican
military to conduct counternarcotics missions by allowing it to perform
reconnaissance, increase eradication missions, and bolster the air
mobility of its ground troops; (7) however, key elements of the
Department of Defense's counternarcotics assistance were of limited
usefulness or could have been better planned and coordinated by U.S. and
Mexican military officials; (8) although the Mexican government has
agreed to a series of actions to enhance its counternarcotics capacity
and the United States has begun to provide a larger level of assistance,
no performance measures have been established to assess the
effectiveness of these efforts; and (9) the Office of National Drug
Control Policy has recognized the need to develop such measures and has
indicated that it plans to devise methods for evaluating U.S. and
Mexican counternarcotics performance by the end of 1998 as part of the
binational drug control strategy.
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
TITLE: Drug Control: U.S.-Mexican Counternarcotics Efforts Face
Federal aid to foreign countries
Foreign military sales
Foreign Military Sales Program
Dept. of State International Narcotics Control Strategy
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Report to Congressional Requesters
DRUG CONTROL - U.S.-MEXICAN
COUNTERNARCOTICS EFFORTS FACE
DEA - Drug Enforcement Administration
DOD - Department of Defense
ONDCP - Office of National Drug Control Policy
June 30, 1998
The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
Chairman, Caucus on International
United States Senate
The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security,
International Affairs, and Criminal Justice
Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
House of Representatives
In 1996, we reported that Mexican efforts to combat drug-trafficking
activities were limited by various legal and operational impediments
and extensive corruption. We also noted that the United States and
Mexico had taken a number of steps that could greatly affect future
drug control efforts. These included elevating the importance of
drug control issues at the U.S. embassy, developing a mutual
counternarcotics program, initiating law enforcement and money
laundering legislation, and creating a framework for increased
The United States is concerned that Mexico continues to be a major
transit point for illegal drugs entering the United States. Because
of this concern, the United States has provided the Mexican
government with counternarcotics assistance to support Mexico's
efforts to combat drug-trafficking activities. At your request, we
are providing an update on the status of counternarcotics activities
in Mexico. Specifically, we examined (1) the nature of the drug
threat from Mexico; (2) the progress that Mexico has made in
improving its counternarcotics efforts; (3) issues related to the
provision of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to the Mexican
military; and (4) the plans that the U.S. government has to assess
the effectiveness of U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics efforts. (A
list of related GAO products on drug control issues in Mexico is at
the end of this report.)
\1 Drug Control: Counternarcotics Efforts in Mexico
(GAO/NSIAD-96-163, June 12, 1996).
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1
According to the State Department, no country poses a more immediate
narcotics threat to the United States than Mexico. For over 20
years, the United States has supported the Mexican government in its
counternarcotics efforts and has provided assistance to develop and
strengthen the Mexican government in its law enforcement efforts to
stop the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States.\2
However, from 1993 to 1995, the government of Mexico decided to
combat drug-trafficking activities with reduced assistance from the
United States. This policy remained in effect until 1995 when the
Mexican government recognized the increased threat being posed by
drug traffickers and again agreed to accept U.S. counternarcotics
assistance for both law enforcement and military organizations
involved in counternarcotics activities.
In October 1995, the U.S. Secretary of Defense visited Mexico in an
effort to strengthen military-to-military relationships between the
two countries. As a result of this visit, the Mexican military
agreed to accept U.S. counternarcotics assistance as part of the
Mexican President's decision to expand the role of the military in
counternarcotics activities. During fiscal years 1996 and 1997, the
Department of Defense (DOD) provided the Mexican military with $76
million worth of equipment and training from its inventories. Table
1 summarizes the types of counternarcotics assistance provided to or
planned for delivery to the Mexican military for counternarcotics
purposes during fiscal years 1996 and 1997.
DOD Counternarcotics Assistance Provided
to or Planned for the Mexican Military,
Fiscal Years 1996-97
(Dollars in millions)
Source of assistance assistance Type of assistance
---------------------------- ---------- ----------------------------
Excess defense articles\a $ 5 20 UH-1H helicopters
Section 506(a)(2) drawdown\b 37 53 UH-1H helicopters, 4 C-
26 aircraft, 2-year UH-1H
spare parts package
Section 1004\c 26 About 70 percent is planned
to be used for training and
the remainder for the
purchase of equipment
Section 1031\d 8 UH-1H spare parts
\a Section 517 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22
U.S.C. 2321k), authorizes DOD to provide excess equipment to the
governments of major drug-producing countries.
\b Section 506(a)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as
amended (22 U.S.C. 2318(a)(2), authorizes the President to approve
the provision of U.S. military goods and services to a foreign
country for counternarcotics assistance when it is in the U.S.
\c Section 1004 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 1991, as amended
(P.L. 101-510), authorizes the Secretary of Defense to provide
counternarcotics training and other types of assistance to
\d Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
(P.L. 104-201) authorized the Secretary of Defense to provide an
additional $8 million in counternarcotics assistance to Mexico during
fiscal year 1997.
Sources: U.S. embassy in Mexico and Defense Security Assistance
All of the helicopters and the C-26 aircraft were delivered to the
Mexican military during 1996 and 1997. Mexico has also received some
logistics and training support; however, DOD officials were unable to
provide us with the exact level of support given because the data was
not readily available. In fiscal year 1998, DOD plans to provide
about $13 million worth of counternarcotics training assistance under
section 1004 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 1991, as amended, to Mexico's military.
In addition to the counternarcotics assistance provided by DOD, the
Mexican military used its own funds to purchase two Knox-class
frigates from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales
program.\3 These frigates were valued at about $7 million and were
delivered to Mexico in August 1997. According to U.S. embassy
officials, the Mexican Navy plans to use these frigates for
performing various missions, including counternarcotics activities.
Finally, during the same period, the State Department provided about
$11 million to support Mexican law enforcement efforts. It plans to
provide another $5 million in fiscal year 1998. The State
Department, through its Bureau of International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs, is responsible for formulating and implementing
the international narcotics control policy, as well as coordinating
the narcotics control assistance of all U.S. agencies overseas,
U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics objectives include (1) reducing
the flow of drugs into the United States, (2) disrupting and
dismantling narco-trafficking organizations, (3) bringing fugitives
to justice, (4) making progress in criminal justice and
anticorruption reform, (5) improving money-laundering and chemical
diversion control, and (6) increasing mutual cooperation between the
governments. In February 1998, the United States and Mexico issued a
joint U.S.-Mexican drug strategy that addressed these objectives. In
February 1998, the President certified that Mexico was fully
cooperating with the United States in its counternarcotics efforts.\4
\2 Since 1973, the United States has provided the Mexican government
with about $350 million worth of equipment and training to support
\3 The Arms Export Control Act of 1976, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2751 -
2796), authorizes DOD to sell U.S. defense articles and services to
eligible countries. The countries may procure items using their own
funds, U.S. grant funds, or U.S. loan funds.
\4 Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22
U.S.C. 2291j), requires the President to certify by March 1 of each
year which major drug-producing and transit countries cooperated
fully with the United States or took adequate steps on their own to
achieve full compliance during the previous year with the goals and
objectives established by the 1988 United Nations Convention Against
Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2
Mexico continues to be the primary transit country for cocaine
entering the United States from South America, as well as a major
source country for heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines.
Moreover, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),
drug-trafficking organizations are increasing their activities,
posing a threat to citizens in the United States and Mexico.
Mexico, with U.S. assistance, has taken steps to improve its
capacity to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United States
-- increasing the eradication of marijuana and opium poppy and
seizing significant amounts of cocaine;
-- enhancing its counternarcotics cooperation with the United
-- initiating efforts to extradite Mexican criminals to the United
-- passing new laws on organized crime, money laundering, and
chemical control; and
-- instituting reforms in law enforcement agencies and expanding
the role of the military in counternarcotics activities to
However, the results of these actions have yet to be realized because
many of them are in the early stages of implementation and some are
limited in scope. For example, no Mexican national has actually been
surrendered to the United States on drug charges, some new laws have
not been fully implemented, and developing competent law enforcement
and judicial institutions has continued to present challenges. Also,
the Mexican government faces a shortage of trained personnel, a lack
of adequate funding to support operations, and extensive corruption.
U.S. counternarcotics assistance has enhanced the ability of the
Mexican military to conduct counternarcotics missions by allowing it
to perform reconnaissance, increase eradication missions, and bolster
the air mobility of its ground troops. However, key elements of
DOD's counternarcotics assistance were of limited usefulness or could
have been better planned and coordinated by U.S. and Mexican
military officials. For example, the 73 U.S.-provided UH-1H
helicopters are of limited usefulness in meeting some
counternarcotics missions, and their operational capabilities have
been limited because of the lack of adequate spare parts. The four
C-26 aircraft were provided to the Mexican military even though there
is no clearly identified requirement for this type of aircraft.
According to U.S. embassy military officials, the Mexican military
is not using the C-26 aircraft. In addition, inadequate coordination
between the U.S. Navy and other DOD agencies resulted in the
transfer of two Knox-class frigates to the Mexican Navy that were not
properly outfitted and are currently inoperable, and in the training
of Mexican Navy personnel that may not be fully utilized until the
two frigates are activated.
Although the Mexican government has agreed to a series of actions to
enhance its counternarcotics capacity and the United States has begun
to provide a larger level of assistance, no performance measures have
been established to assess the effectiveness of these efforts. Even
though the United States and Mexico issued a binational drug control
strategy in February 1998, it does not include performance measures.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has recognized the
need to develop such measures and has indicated that it plans to
devise methods for evaluating U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics
performance by the end of 1998 as part of the binational drug control
NATURE OF THE DRUG-TRAFFICKING
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3
Mexico is the principal transit country for cocaine entering the
United States and, despite the Mexican government's attempts to
eradicate marijuana and opium poppy, Mexico remains a major source
country for marijuana and heroin used in the United States.
According to the State Department's March 1998 International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report, about 650 metric tons of cocaine
were produced in South America in 1997. Of this amount, Mexico
serves as the transshipment point for between
50 and 60 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine. Furthermore, DEA estimates
that the majority of the methamphetamine available in the United
States is either produced in Mexico and transported to the United
States or manufactured in the United States by Mexican drug
In recent years, drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico have
expanded their cocaine and methamphetamine operations. According to
DEA, Mexican trafficking groups were once solely transporters for
Colombian groups. However, in the early 1990s, major Mexican groups
began receiving payment in product for their services. Thus, major
Mexican organizations emerged as wholesale distributors of cocaine
within the United States, significantly increasing their profit
According to DEA, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are becoming
stronger. DEA reports indicate that Mexican organizations have
billions of dollars in assets and have at their disposal airplanes,
boats, vehicles, radar, communications equipment, and weapons that
rival the capabilities of some legitimate governments. One such
Mexican organization generates tens of millions of dollars in profits
per week. Profits of such magnitude enable the drug traffickers to
pay enormous bribes--estimated for one organization to be as much as
$1 million per week--to Mexican law enforcement officials at the
federal, state, and local levels. DEA has reported that, because of
the traffickers' willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses and
public officials, they are a growing threat to citizens within the
United States and Mexico. According to the Justice Department, there
has also been an increase in the number of threats to U.S. law
enforcement officials in Mexico.
PROGRESS OF MEXICO'S
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4
Since our 1996 report, Mexico has undertaken actions intended to
enhance its counternarcotics efforts and improve law enforcement and
other capabilities. Some of the actions include (1) eradicating and
seizing illegal drugs; (2) increasing counternarcotics cooperation
with the United States; (3) initiating efforts to extradite Mexican
criminals to the United States; (4) passing an organized crime law,
as well as other legislation to enhance Mexico's authority to prevent
money laundering and the illegal use and diversion of precursor and
essential chemicals; and (5) implementing measures aimed at reducing
corruption within law enforcement organizations and increasing the
role of Mexico's military forces in law enforcement activities.
Although these are positive efforts, the results of these actions are
yet to be realized because (1) many of them have just been put in
place and (2) some have not been broadly applied. The government of
Mexico faces continuing challenges in trying to implement these
efforts. These challenges include dealing with the lack of
adequately trained and trustworthy law enforcement and judicial
personnel, overcoming the lack of support for operations, coping with
the inability of U.S. agents stationed in the United States to cross
the border with firearms, and combating extensive corruption.
MEXICAN EFFORTS TO ERADICATE
AND SEIZE ILLEGAL DRUGS
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.1
During this decade, Mexico has eradicated large amounts of marijuana
and opium poppy and has seized significant amounts of cocaine. Since
1990, Mexico has eradicated about 82,600 hectares (one hectare equals
2.47 acres) of marijuana. As figure 1 shows, there has also been a
substantial decline in the amount of marijuana under
cultivation--from a high of 41,800 hectares in 1990 to a low of
15,300 hectares in 1997.
Figure 1: Mexican Marijuana
Eradicated and Available for
(See figure in printed
Source: State Department.
Despite Mexico's success at reducing the amount of marijuana under
cultivation, Mexico has not been as successful in reducing the amount
of opium poppy cultivation. During 1990 through 1997, Mexico
eradicated about 56,800 hectares of opium poppy. However, as figure
2 shows, the amount of opium poppy under cultivation in 1997 was
almost 2,000 hectares greater than in the early 1990s.
Figure 2: Mexican Opium Poppy
Eradicated and Available for
(See figure in printed
Source: State Department.
Mexico has also increased the amount of cocaine seized from 1994 to
1997--from 22.1 metric tons to 34.9 metric tons. However, as figure
3 shows, despite this increase, cocaine seizures are still
substantially below the levels of 1990-93.
Figure 3: Mexican Cocaine
(See figure in printed
Source: State Department.
Despite these eradication and seizure efforts, U.S. embassy
documents indicate and U.S. law enforcement and U.S. embassy
officials in Mexico stated that the amount of drugs flowing into the
United States from Mexico remains essentially unchanged, and no major
drug-trafficking organization has been dismantled. U.S. embassy
officials estimated that Mexican cocaine seizures represent less than
10 percent of the total amount of cocaine flowing through Mexico.
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.2
In 1996, we reported that cooperation between the United States and
Mexico on counternarcotics activities was beginning to occur.
Cooperation was taking place through actions such as the
establishment of a high-level contact group to review drug control
policies, enhance cooperation, develop new strategies, and devise a
new action plan. Since then, a number of activities have been
underway. For example, the high-level contact group on drug control,
comprised of senior officials from both governments responsible for
drug control, has met five times. Results of these meetings include
-- A U.S.-Mexico Binational Drug Threat Assessment was issued in
May 1997 that addressed illegal drug demand and production, drug
trafficking, money laundering, and other drug-related issues.
-- A joint U.S.-Mexico Declaration of the Alliance Against Drugs
was issued in May 1997 that included pledges from both
governments to work toward reducing demand, production, and
distribution; improving interdiction capacity; and controlling
essential and precursor chemicals, among other issues.
-- A joint U.S.-Mexican binational drug strategy was issued in
February 1998 that identified 16 objectives that both countries
seek to achieve in their efforts to reduce illegal
In September 1997, ONDCP reported that the progress made by the
high-level contact group is largely attributable to cooperative
efforts that frequently occur within lower-level working groups. One
such effort is the senior law-enforcement plenary group that meets
about three times annually and is composed of senior law enforcement
personnel from each country. These groups have addressed a variety
of issues. For example, senior-level U.S. law enforcement agency
officials worked closely with Mexican officials in providing
technical assistance during the drafting of Mexico's
anti-money-laundering and chemical control laws.
EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3
The Mexican government has taken a number of legislative and
executive actions to strengthen Mexican counternarcotics activities.
These involve starting extradition initiatives, passing various laws
designed to strengthen Mexico's ability to reduce various illegal
drug-related activities, and instituting several anticorruption
activities such as reorganizing law enforcement agencies and
instituting a screening process for law enforcement personnel.
However, the government of Mexico faces numerous challenges in
implementing these actions.
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3.1
The United States and Mexico have had a mutual extradition treaty
since 1980. Although no Mexican national has ever been surrendered
to the United States on drug-related charges, since 1996 Mexico has
approved the extradition of 4 of 27 Mexican nationals charged with
drug-related offenses to the United States. Two of these are
currently serving criminal sentences in Mexico, and the other two are
appealing their convictions in Mexico. The remaining drug-related
extradition requests include 5 persons currently under prosecution in
Mexico, 14 persons still at large, and
4 others.\5 According to U.S. embassy officials, it is not clear
whether any Mexican national will be surrendered on such charges
before the end of 1998 because of Mexico's lengthy legal processes.
Another example of bilateral extradition efforts is the November 1997
signing of a U.S.-Mexico "temporary extradition protocol." This
protocol will allow suspected criminals who are charged in both
countries to be temporarily surrendered for trial in either country
while evidence is current and witnesses are available. The protocol
is not yet in effect because it requires legislative approval in both
the United States and Mexico. U.S. officials from the Departments
of State and Justice stated that they do not know when this protocol
will be sent to the countries' Congresses for ratification.
\5 Of the four, one request was denied, two are pending, and one was
ORGANIZED CRIME LAW
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3.2
In November 1996, Mexico passed an organized crime law that
represents a major step in Mexico's law enforcement capabilities by
providing legal authority for Mexican law enforcement organizations
to employ modern techniques to combat crime. These include
provisions to use sentencing concessions that equate to plea
bargaining to obtain information on other suspects, provide rewards
and protection to persons who give information to law enforcement
officials, establish witness secrecy and protection, allow undercover
operations, and permit court-authorized wiretaps. The law also has
some provisions for asset seizures and forfeitures.
Although the law provides the law enforcement community with the
tools necessary to fight organized crime, including drug trafficking,
it has no provisions allowing the seizure of assets of a suspected
criminal who has either died or fled Mexico. Thus, in some
instances, Mexican law enforcement agencies are limited in their
ability to fully pursue suspected drug traffickers.
Furthermore, according to U.S. and Mexican officials, Mexico needs
to develop a cadre of competent and trustworthy judges and
prosecutors that law enforcement organizations can rely on to
effectively carry out the provisions of the organized crime law. For
example, DEA reported that the lack of judicial support has
frustrated implementation of the wire-tapping aspect of the law.
The impact of the organized crime law is not likely to be fully
evident for some time. Mexican and U.S. officials told us that the
process of conducting investigations is inherently lengthy and that
the capabilities of many Mexican personnel who are implementing and
enforcing the law are currently inadequate. At present, agencies
within the Mexican government are in the early stages of carrying out
and enforcing the law. Mexican agencies have initiated some cases
and are currently conducting a number of investigations under the new
law. In addition, the Department of Justice reported that, by using
Mexico's organized crime law in conjunction with the U.S.-Mexico
Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, cooperating witnesses have been
transferred from prisons in Mexico to the United States to testify in
U.S. criminal proceedings. Although some guidelines and policies
have been established, additional ones still need to be developed.
For example, some units of the Mexican Attorney General's Office are
unable to use important investigative tools such as plea bargaining
and court-authorized wiretaps because guidelines and policies have
not yet been established.
Several U.S. agencies are assisting Mexico with training and
technical assistance to implement the law and improve institutional
capabilities. For example, the Justice Department is providing
assistance designed to strengthen the investigative capabilities of
Mexican police and prosecutors. In addition, the U.S. Agency for
International Development has judicial exchange programs and conducts
seminars and training courses for Mexican federal and state judges.
Also, the State Department plans to spend a total of about $3 million
during fiscal years 1997 and 1998 to train judges and other law
enforcement personnel and to procure computers and other equipment
for law enforcement and judicial institutions.
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3.3
According to the State Department, Mexico has become a major
money-laundering center. Drug cartels launder the proceeds of crime
in legitimate businesses in both the United States and Mexico,
favoring transportation and other industries that can be used to
facilitate drug, cash, and arms smuggling and other illegal
Mexico has taken actions to enhance its capacity to combat money
laundering. In May 1996, money laundering was made a criminal
offense that provides penalties of up to 22 years in prison. Prior
to May 1996, money laundering was a tax offense--a civil
violation--punishable by only a fine. In March 1997, Mexico issued
regulations requiring reporting of transactions over $10,000 U.S.
dollars and of suspicious voluntary transactions, and obtaining and
retaining information about customers' financial institution
However, U.S. and Mexican officials are concerned that the law lacks
some important provisions. For example, financial institutions are
not required to obtain and retain account holders' information for
transactions below the $10,000 level, thus providing no protection
against "structuring."\6 In addition, there is no requirement for
reporting outbound currency leaving the country.
As of December 1997, the Mexican government had initiated
27 money-laundering cases since the new requirements went into
effect. One of these cases was prosecuted under the organized crime
law, and the remaining 26 cases are still under investigation. In
the one case that was prosecuted, the charges were dismissed because
a federal judge ruled that there was inadequate evidence of a link
between an illegal activity and how the money was obtained. The
Mexican government has appealed the judge's decision.
The United States is assisting Mexico's money-laundering control
efforts. For example, the State Department will spend a total of
about $500,000 during fiscal years 1997 and 1998 to provide computer
systems and training for personnel responsible for enforcing the
money-laundering control requirements.
\6 Structuring is intentionally making transactions just below the
$10,000 reporting threshold.
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3.4
Mexico established trafficking in precursor and essential chemicals
as a criminal offense in May 1996. These chemicals can be used in
the production of heroin, cocaine, or synthetic drugs of abuse.
Although some chemicals that the United Nations recommends be
controlled were not included in the May 1996 law, Mexico passed
additional legislation in December 1997 to cover them. The new
legislation brought Mexico into compliance with the 1988 United
Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances. (See app. I for a list of these
chemicals.) In addition, Mexico has taken further action to control
chemicals by limiting their legal importation into eight ports of
entry and by imposing regulatory controls over the machinery used to
manufacture tablets or capsules.
The impact of the December 1997 chemical control law is not yet
evident because of its recent passage. Currently, the implementation
of the law, the drafting of implementing regulations, and the
development of an administrative infrastructure for enforcing it are
under way. The United States has provided technical assistance and
training to Mexico for establishing and carrying out the law. In
addition, the State Department plans to spend about $400,000 during
fiscal years 1997 and 1998 to train government personnel in the safe
handling and disposal of seized chemicals.
ACTIONS TAKEN TO REDUCE
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.4
In September 1996, the President of Mexico publicly acknowledged that
corruption is deeply rooted in Mexican institutions and in the
general social conduct of the nation. He added that the creation of
a new culture of respect for law must start with public officials.
Then he affirmed his administration's intent to gradually eliminate
official corruption by temporarily increasing the role of the
military in civilian law enforcement matters and by implementing
anticorruption reforms in law enforcement. Mexico has initiated
several actions intended to reduce corruption and reform civilian law
In 1996, Mexico's Office of the Attorney General began a
reorganization to reduce corruption in Mexican law enforcement
agencies. As part of this action, the State Department reported that
over 1,250 officials had been dismissed for incompetence and/or
In February 1997, the Mexican general who headed the National
Institute for Combat Against Drugs, the Mexican equivalent of DEA,
was arrested for corruption. Subsequently, in April 1997, Mexico's
Attorney General dissolved the National Institute for Combat Against
Drugs, dismissed a number of its employees, and established a new
organization known as the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against
Health to replace the Institute. Within the Special Prosecutor's
Office, there are two special units: the Organized Crime Unit and
the Bilateral Task Forces.\7
-- The Organized Crime Unit, with an authorized strength of 300,
was established under the organized crime law to conduct
investigations and prosecutions aimed at criminal organizations,
including drug-trafficking activities.
-- The Bilateral Task Forces, with an authorized strength of 70,
are responsible for investigating and dismantling the most
significant drug-trafficking organizations along the
U.S.-Mexican border. The Bilateral Task Forces have offices in
Tijuana, Cuidad Juarez, and Monterrey, with suboffices in
several other locations within Mexico.
Also beginning in 1997, Mexico's Attorney General instituted a
screening process that is supposed to cover all Attorney General
personnel, including those who work for the Special Prosecutor, the
Organized Crime Unit, and the Bilateral Task Forces. This process
consists of conducting personal background and financial checks,
performing medical and psychological screening, requiring urinalysis,
and conducting regular polygraph testing. U.S. agencies are
supporting this initiative by providing equipment, training, and
technical assistance. However, U.S. embassy officials stated that
the screening requirements do not apply to judges, most units of the
military, and other key law enforcement organizations in
Finally, the Mexican President expanded the role of the Mexican
military in undertaking some counternarcotics activities. The
Mexican military, in addition to eradicating marijuana and opium
poppy, has also taken over some law enforcement functions. For
example, in 1997, airmobile special forces units became operational
to assist and enhance the Mexican government's counternarcotics
capabilities. These units have been used to patrol streets in
certain Mexican cities and search for drug kingpins.
\7 These units were carried over from the Institute upon its
OPERATIONAL AND RESOURCE
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.5
Although officials from the Departments of State and Justice and the
U.S. embassy believe these actions show Mexico's commitment to
disrupting and dismantling drug-related activities in Mexico, there
remain unresolved operational and resource issues that hamper
counternarcotics efforts. These include the following:
-- U.S. embassy and Mexican officials stated that the Special
Prosecutor's Office and the special units suffer from a shortage
of trained and appropriately screened personnel. In December
1997, DEA reported that 796, or 27 percent of the Special
Prosecutor's Office's authorized strength of 3,000, had passed
the screening process and 84, or 23 percent, of the special
units' authorized strength of 370 personnel had passed this
process. Mexican officials stated that some personnel who
failed the screening process are still working in the Special
Prosecutor's Office but have been placed in nonsensitive
positions. U.S. embassy officials expressed concern about
having such personnel in the office. In addition, according to
the State Department, personnel who have passed the screening
process often lack law enforcement experience.
-- Special units face operational and support problems. These
problems include inadequate Mexican government funding for
equipment, fuel, and salary supplements for personnel assigned
to the special units and a lack of standard operating
-- The Bilateral Task Forces have yet to complete any successful
investigation of a major trafficking group. DEA has reported
that the operations of the Bilateral Task Forces have been
hampered because U.S.-based law enforcement agents assigned to
the Task Forces cannot carry firearms into Mexico. According to
the Justice Department, this exposes DEA agents to a higher
level of danger because of the significant threat by Mexican
drug trafficking organizations.
-- Attracting and retaining competent and trustworthy law
enforcement personnel is difficult. Low salaries of law
enforcement officers increase their susceptibility to
-- Many Mexican law enforcement officers have little job security.
According to U.S. embassy officials, most officers are
essentially political appointees who are replaced after each
election because Mexico has no career "civil service" within law
-- Mexico lacks a cadre of judges and prosecutors that law
enforcement organizations can rely on to effectively carry out
the provisions of the organized crime law.
The establishment of screening procedures or the involvement of the
military cannot ensure that corruption will not continue to be a
significant impediment to U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics efforts.
For example, in February 1998, the U.S. embassy reported that three
officials who had passed the screening process had been arrested for
illegal drug-related activities. This report also noted that five
Mexican generals have been arrested during the past year on illegal
drug-related activities. One of these generals was arrested for
offering another general about $1.5 million per month on behalf of a
major drug-trafficking organization, according to DEA.
ISSUES CONCERNING THE PROVISION
OF COUNTERNARCOTICS ASSISTANCE
TO THE MEXICAN MILITARY
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5
Between 1996 and 1997, the United States provided the Mexican
military with $76 million worth of assistance, including 73 UH-1H
helicopters, spare parts, 4 C-26 aircraft, and Navy training, to
enhance the counternarcotics capabilities of Mexico's military. In
addition, the Mexican Navy purchased two Knox-class frigates under
the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. The usefulness of the 73
UH-1H helicopters is limited because they cannot perform some
counternarcotics missions and lack adequate logistical support.
Available evidence also suggests that there was inadequate planning
and coordination associated with the C-26 aircraft and Knox-class
frigates. Neither the aircraft nor the frigates are currently being
\8 Our reviews of U.S. international narcotics efforts over the
years have noted the issue of poor planning and coordination, the
most recent being our review of U.S. counternarcotics efforts in
Colombia: Drug Control: U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia
Face Continuing Challenges (GAO/NSIAD-98-60, Feb. 12, 1998).
HELICOPTERS ARE OF LIMITED
USEFULNESS FOR SOME MISSIONS
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.1
In September 1996, the President approved the transfer of 73 UH-1H
helicopters and 2 years' worth of spare parts under the
section 506(a)(2) drawdown to enhance the mobility of 12 special
Mexican Army units involved in interdicting drug-trafficking
activities. However, the extent to which the helicopters can assist
the Mexican government in their counternarcotics efforts is not
clear. No information was available on the extent to which the
helicopters were being used to support the special Army units.
We also found that the UH-1Hs have limited capability to conduct
certain types of operations. The U.S. embassy reported in August
1997 that the UH-1Hs are of limited utility because the helicopters'
operational capability is significantly reduced at altitudes above
5,000 feet. Except for the coastal areas of Mexico, almost all of
the Mexican land area and altitudes at which most drug-trafficking
activities take place, including the cultivation of most opium poppy,
are above this level. Available information indicates that the
Mexican military has used the helicopters primarily for other
counternarcotics missions such as troop transport for interdiction
and manual eradication forces, logistics support, and aerial
LOGISTICS SUPPORT ISSUES
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.2
DOD included supplies valued at $12 million under the 506(a)(2)
drawdown authority to provide logistical support for the helicopters.
This package was based on a U.S. Army assumption that the Mexican
military would follow the U.S. Army flight standard of 14.5 hours
per month. DOD and U.S. embassy officials stated that their goal is
to achieve an operational rate for the 73 helicopters of 70 percent.
Since being delivered to Mexico, the operational rates for the 73
helicopters has been low due to overuse of those available and
maintenance problems. According to U.S. embassy reports, the
Mexican military's operational rates for the UH-1H helicopters have
varied between 35 percent and 58 percent from February 1997 through
Key elements of the logistical support package were not provided on a
timely basis. According to the U.S. embassy, the U.S. Army
delivered six aviation tool kits in January 1997.\9 However, in April
1997, the U.S. embassy reported that the kits and their contents
were incomplete and useless. In December 1997, we visited the
Mexican air base where the kits are located and found that they still
lacked a number of the tools needed to make them useful to
maintaining the UH-1H helicopters. According to U.S. embassy
military officials, many of the spare parts contained in the support
packages are now being delivered.
Moreover, end-use monitoring reports from the U.S. embassy and
information supplied by the Defense Security Assistance Agency showed
that, of the helicopters which were operational, the Mexican military
was flying them at an average of 50 hours per month. This resulted
in the Mexican military using up the spare parts that have been
provided more rapidly than intended. In 1997, the Mexican military
requested, and DOD subsequently approved, $8 million in additional
counternarcotics assistance authorized under section 1031 of the
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 for
additional spare parts because of the UH-1Hs' heavy use. Even with
this additional support, U.S. embassy officials stated that the
amount of spare parts is not adequate to maintain the fleet of
helicopters for any significant length of time.
DOD and U.S. embassy officials are concerned that once U.S.
logistical assistance is used, the Mexican military will be unable to
provide any additional support because of budgetary constraints. A
Mexican Air Force official also stated that the Mexican military does
not have any plans to provide large sums of funding needed to support
the helicopters and is counting on the United States to do so. The
U.S. embassy has estimated that it will take about $25 million
annually to support the UH-1H fleet and that the Mexican military has
no plans to provide this level of support. In June 1998, U.S.
embassy military officials told us that, due to the costly
operational expenses and Mexican funding constraints, the UH-1H
program has a high potential for complete mission failure.
\9 Each tool kit consists of a shelter and contents, including a
variety of special tools, needed to perform maintenance for the
PLANNING AND COORDINATION
PROBLEMS WITH THE PROVISION
OF C-26 AIRCRAFT AND
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.3
DOD policy is to ensure that countries receiving assistance are made
aware of and given the opportunity to plan for and obtain all support
items, services, and training needed to operate, maintain, and
sustain any equipment. This approach is aimed at ensuring that all
material, training, and services offered to a recipient country are
scheduled and delivered in a logical sequence.
We found that DOD's policy was not followed in providing the C-26
aircraft. Moreover, DOD fell short in planning and coordinating the
delivery and training support for two Knox-class frigates with the
U.S. embassy and the Mexican Navy.
C-26 AIRCRAFT ARE NOT
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.3.1
The four C-26 aircraft were originally included as part of the
September 1996 506(a)(2) drawdown package to enhance Mexico's
surveillance capabilities. The C-26 aircraft were added to the
package for Mexico by the National Security Council only 3 days
before this package was provided to the U.S. President for his
approval. The aircraft were delivered to Mexico in September and
As a result of this short time frame, DOD and the U.S. embassy did
not have adequate time to plan and coordinate for the provision of
the C-26 aircraft. DOD officials stated that they had no input into
the decision to provide these aircraft prior to their inclusion by
the National Security Council. They indicated that, at the time, the
Mexican military had not identified a need for the C-26 aircraft.
These officials also stated that they did not identify the level of
operation and support needed to use the aircraft.
Although the C-26 aircraft were originally intended to provide Mexico
with a surveillance-capable aircraft, no C-26 aircraft with this
capability were available under the drawdown. DOD noted that the
Mexican military was aware that they would receive the C-26 aircraft
without the sophisticated surveillance equipment. DOD and the State
Department estimate that it will cost the Mexican military about $3
million to reconfigure each aircraft and as much as $2 million
annually to operate and maintain the aircraft.
According to DOD, the Mexican military has indicated that it has no
plans to invest in U.S. surveillance equipment. Further, U.S.
embassy military officials stated that, as of June 1998, the Mexican
Air Force has not used these aircraft for any purposes, including
counternarcotics, because the Mexican military has not obtained
contractor support needed to maintain the aircraft.
INOPERABLE SHIPS WERE
PROVIDED TO MEXICAN NAVY
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.4
The United States provided the Mexican Navy with two Knox-class
frigates that arrived in Mexico in August 1997. The Mexican Navy
procured these ships, using its own funds, through the Foreign
Military Sales program. The value of these ships was about $7
million. According to U.S. embassy officials, the Mexican Navy
plans to use these ships to perform a variety of missions, including
We found that there was limited understanding between the U.S. Navy,
DOD, the U.S. embassy, and the Mexican Navy regarding the condition
that the two frigates would be in when they were delivered. U.S.
Navy policy states that ships are to be transferred to foreign
countries through the Foreign Military Sales program in "as-is,
where-is" condition. U.S. Navy officials said that the two ships
purchased by the Mexican Navy had been deactivated and were in dry
dock for 6 years before the Mexican Navy inspected the ships and
sought their subsequent transfer. DOD said that the Mexican Navy was
aware that certain equipment would not be provided and that they
would not be operational when delivered. However, our review of U.S.
embassy reports and discussions with U.S. embassy military officials
indicate that the Mexican Navy believed that certain types of
equipment would be provided when the ships were delivered. These
reports indicate that the frigates could not be activated when they
were delivered because they lacked the test kits needed to ensure
safe operations of the propulsion systems.
U.S. Navy officials estimate that the Mexican Navy will have to pay
about $400,000 to procure these kits and that it will take the
Mexican Navy about 2 years to obtain the kits once a procurement
action is initiated. These officials also stated that other parts of
the ships will have to be refurbished before the ships can be
According to DOD, on April 6, 1998, DOD was informed by the Mexican
Navy that it plans to reactivate the two ships during the summer of
1998. Part of the Mexican plan includes the purchase of a third
Knox-class frigate, which the Mexican Navy intends to use as a source
of parts and spares for the first two ships. On June 3, 1998, a U.S.
embassy military official told us that the reactivation date for the
two Knox-class frigates has slipped until at least the fall of 1998.
VALUE OF FRIGATE-RELATED
TRAINING MAY BE LIMITED
-------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.4.1
We also found that the training was not well coordinated between the
U.S. Navy and DOD. In 1997, DOD provided the Mexican Navy with
about $1.3 million worth of training to about 110 Mexican Navy
personnel on how to operate and maintain the Knox-class frigates.
These personnel will be used to train additional Mexican Navy
personnel who will be assigned to the vessels. According to U.S.
embassy military and DOD officials, the training occurred between
February 1997 and March 1998.
In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD acknowledged that the
training was scheduled even though there was no clear commitment on
the part of the Mexican Navy as to when the ships would be activated.
Furthermore, DOD officials told us that they agreed to provide the
training without knowing that the U.S. Navy had delivered ships that
were not operational. U.S. embassy military officials stated that
the Mexican Navy will reassign these personnel, thus making them
potentially unavailable if and when the ships finally are activated.
DOD noted that, in their view, the training was not a wasted effort
because it provided the Mexican Navy with a cadre of trained naval
personnel and expanded the cooperation with their U.S. counterparts.
PERFORMANCE MEASURES FOR U.S.
AND MEXICAN DRUG CONTROL
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6
Without performance measures of effectiveness, it is difficult for
decisionmakers to evaluate the progress that the United States and
Mexico are making to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United
States. We have previously noted the need for ONDCP to develop drug
control plans that include measures to allow it to assess the
effectiveness of antidrug programs.\10
While the United States and Mexico issued a joint antidrug strategy
in February 1998, it does not contain performance measures. It does
16 general objectives, such as reducing the production and
distribution of illegal drugs in both countries and focusing law
enforcement efforts against criminal organizations. However,
although this strategy is indicative of increased U.S.-Mexican
cooperation, it lacks specific, quantifiable performance measures and
milestones for assessing progress toward achieving these objectives.
State Department officials said that the bilateral process of
establishing performance measures and milestones is incremental and
will be addressed during 1998. ONDCP officials said that they plan
to issue specific performance measures and milestones for the
binational strategy by the end of this year.
\10 Drug Control: Long-Standing Problems Hinder U.S. International
Efforts (GAO/NSIAD-97-75, Feb. 27, 1997).
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7
The effectiveness of some U.S. counternarcotics assistance to the
Mexican military was limited because of inadequate planning and
coordination, an issue that we have reported on in the past. We
continue to believe that counternarcotics assistance, particularly
that provided under 506(a)(2) should be better planned and
coordinated. Thus, we recommend that the Secretary of State, in
close coordination with the Secretary of Defense and the National
Security Council, take steps to ensure that future counternarcotics
assistance provided to Mexico, to the maximum extent possible, meets
the needs of the Mexican military and that adequate support resources
are available to maximize the benefits of the assistance.
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8
In written comments on a draft of this report (see app. II), DOD
generally concurred with the report and our recommendation. However,
DOD stated that the report's representation of DOD's counternarcotics
assistance provided to the Mexican military required clarification.
Where appropriate, we have added information on DOD roles and the
circumstances surrounding the provision of the helicopters, aircraft,
DOD noted that these initiatives and all other DOD-provided
counterdrug activities are the result of careful planning and
coordination between DOD, its federal counterparts, the U.S. embassy
in Mexico, and Mexican government and military officials. It further
stated that while each case has some aspects that could have been
better coordinated, the overall results of the transactions and the
broader U.S.-Mexican military-to-military coordination are very
beneficial to building trust and confidence between two countries
engaged in the fight against drugs.
We agree that U.S.-Mexico cooperation and U.S. counterdrug
assistance have been beneficial as the two countries strive to combat
drug-trafficking activities. However, our analysis shows that
weaknesses in planning and coordination adversely affected the
usefulness of certain key items of the specific assistance
transactions we examined. The equipment provided did not meet a
specific counternarcotics need, could not perform required missions,
were inoperable, or lacked adequate logistical support. Moreover,
DOD's position is not supported by events surrounding the provision
of training to the Mexican Navy. While this training may be valuable
in improving the military-to-military relationships between the
United States and Mexico, the value to improving the counternarcotics
capabilities of the Mexican Navy is clearly limited. We continue to
believe that improvements in planning and coordination are necessary
to ensure the Mexican military realizes the full benefits of this
The Departments of Justice and State provided oral comments to
clarify information contained in the report. We have incorporated
these as appropriate.
SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9
To examine the nature of Mexico's drug threat, we received briefings
from U.S. law enforcement, intelligence, and military officials, and
reviewed and analyzed documentation in Washington, D.C., and at the
U.S. embassy in Mexico.
To address Mexico's progress in improving its counternarcotics
efforts, we met with officials from U.S. agencies in Washington,
D.C., and at the U.S. embassy in Mexico. Specifically in
Washington, D.C., we reviewed and analyzed strategic and operational
planning documents, cables, and correspondence at the Departments of
State, the Treasury, and Justice; the U.S. Customs Service; DEA; the
Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Coast Guard; and ONDCP.
In addition, at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, we interviewed U.S.
embassy officials, including the Charg, d'Affaires, and personnel
from the Narcotics Affairs Section, DEA, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of the
Treasury. We reviewed and analyzed planning documents, cables, and
correspondence regarding the progress that Mexico was making in
improving its counternarcotics efforts.
To assess the issues related to the provision of U.S.
counternarcotics assistance to the Mexican military, we met with DOD
officials from the Office of the Coordinator for Drug Enforcement
Policy and Support; the Defense Security Assistance Agency; and the
Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. At the U.S. embassy
in Mexico City, we interviewed U.S. military personnel from the
Military Liaison Office and the Office of the Defense Attach,. We
reviewed and analyzed all reports, cables, and correspondence
provided by the U.S. embassy and DOD regarding how U.S.-provided
counternarcotics assistance was being used and problems associated
with maintaining this assistance.
To determine how the U.S. government plans to assess the
effectiveness of U.S. and Mexican counternarcotics efforts, we
interviewed officials from ONDCP and the Department of State. We
reviewed and analyzed documents and correspondence related to the
status of developing performance measures for evaluating the
effectiveness of counternarcotics efforts with Mexico.
While in Mexico, we also interviewed Mexican officials from the
Ministries of Treasury, Foreign Affairs, and the Office of the
Attorney General to obtain their views on the issues discussed in
this report. We also visited with Mexican police officials at their
maintenance facility in Mexico City and with Mexican Air Force
personnel at their maintenance facility in Culiacan, Mexico to
determine how the police and Air Force were maintaining UH-1H
helicopters. Finally, we analyzed Mexican reports and other
documents relating to the progress that Mexico was making to reduce
the flow of drugs into the United States and Mexican military reports
addressing operational readiness and issues relating to the delivery
of U.S.-provided assistance.
We conducted our review between September 1997 and April 1998 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :9.1
We are sending copies of this report to other congressional
committees; the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury; the U.S.
Attorney General; the Administrator, DEA; and the Directors of ONDCP
and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Copies will also be made
available to other interested parties upon request.
If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report,
please call me at (202) 512-4128. This report was done under the
direction of Jess Ford. The major contributors to this report were
Ronald Kushner, Allen Fleener, Ronald Hughes, Jos, Pe¤a, and George
Benjamin F. Nelson, Director
International Relations and Trade Issues
PRECURSOR AND ESSENTIAL CHEMICALS
CONTROLLED IN MEXICO
=========================================================== Appendix I
Numerous precursor and essential chemicals are used in the illicit
production of illegal drugs. Under the chemical control legislation
enacted in December 1997, Mexico controls the following precursor and
------------------------------------------------------- Appendix I:0.1
------------------------------------------------------- Appendix I:0.2
Methyl ethyl ketone
(See figure in printed edition.)Appendix II
COMMENTS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF
=========================================================== Appendix I
(See figure in printed edition.)
(See figure in printed edition.)
(See figure in printed edition.)
RELATED GAO PRODUCTS
Drug Control: Status of Counternarcotics Efforts in Mexico
(GAO/T-NSIAD-98-129, Mar. 18, 1998).
Drug Control: Observations on Counternarcotics Activities in Mexico
(GAO/T-NSIAD-96-239, Sept. 12, 1996).
Drug Control: Counternarcotics Efforts in Mexico (GAO/NSIAD-96-163,
June 12, 1996).
Drug Control: Observations on Counternarcotics Efforts in Mexico
(GAO/T-NSIAD-96-182, June 12, 1996).
Drug War: Observations on U.S. International Drug Control Efforts
(GAO/T-NSIAD-95-194, Aug. 1, 1995).
Drug War: Observations on the U.S. International Drug Control
Strategy (GAO/T-NSIAD-95-182, June 27, 1995).
Drug Control: Revised Drug Interdiction Approach Is Needed in Mexico
(GAO/NSIAD-93-152, May 10, 1993).
Drug Control: U.S.-Mexican Opium Poppy and Marijuana Aerial
Eradication Program (GAO/NSIAD-88-73, Jan. 11, 1988).
Gains Made in Controlling Illegal Drugs, Yet the Drug Trade
Flourished (GAO/GGD-80-8, Oct. 25, 1979).
Opium Eradication Efforts in Mexico (GAO/GGD-77-6, Feb. 18, 1977).
*** End of document. ***
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