US officials were secretly critical of the militarized anti-narcotic policies of former Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012) at the same time that the US government was funding and publicly backing them, according to declassified documents that the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive posted on its website on Nov. 6. The documents are among 30 official reports and diplomatic cables, with dates from Aug. 25, 2007 to May 22, 2012, that the US government released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the National Security Archive and other organizations in Mexico and the US.
Drug trafficking groups “have operated fairly openly and with freedom of movement and operations” in northeastern Mexico, the US embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section reported in a “sensitive” but unclassified April 16, 2010 cable. “In many cases they operated with near total impunity in the face of compromised local security forces.” For example, Mexican authorities arrested 16 members of the police force in Matamoros, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, in connection with the notorious August 2010 massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants by the Los Zetas gang in San Fernando municipality. According to an April 15, 2011 unclassified cable from the US consulate in Matamoros, the police agents were accused of “protecting the Los Zetas TCO [transnational criminal organization] members responsible for the kidnapping and murder of bus passengers in the San Fernando area.” The Mexican authorities responded to the massive violence against migrants by trying to downplay it. The same cable reported that after an April 2011 military operation uncovered 36 mass graves with a total of 145 bodies around San Fernando, Mexican officials told consular staff off the record that “the bodies are being split up to make the total number less obvious and thus less alarming.”
President Calderón’s use of the military in the fight against trafficking was supposed to compensate for the local authorities’ failure to fight the cartels. But US officials concluded—as did many Mexicans—that the policy had backfired. Calderón’s “crackdown…resulted in some unintended consequences,” the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research wrote in a secret Aug. 3, 2010 memo. “For example, the removal of DTO [drug trafficking organization] leadership has allowed less experienced and undisciplined personnel to fill the leadership vacuum, contributing to the spike of drug-related murders.” Some 50,000 to 60,000 Mexicans died in drug-related violence under the Calderón administration.
The documents also discuss the relationship between Los Zetas and the Kaibiles, a Guatemalan special operations force accused of committing massacres during the country’s US-backed 1960-1996 counterinsurgency against leftist rebels. A heavily redacted “sensitive” US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cable from July 2009 noted that in 2005 an arrested Zeta member said his organization had recruited “former Guatemalan Kaibiles to work with the Zetas, and that the Kaibiles were procuring firearms and grenades from Guatemala on behalf of the Gulf Cartel.” The connection with the Kaibiles seems to have continued. Another heavily redacted DEA cable, from May 28, 2010, reports on a shootout between security forces and Los Zetas members on May 19. Several people were arrested. “[I]t was determined that some of them were members of the Zetas and the subjects from Guatemala were members of the Fuerzas Especiales de Guatemala (Kaibiles),” the report says. The next two sentences are redacted. (National Security Archive, Nov. 6; Proceso, Mexico, Nov. 6; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 8)
In related news, on Nov. 5 the US State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the founders of the Guadalajara drug cartel. A Mexican court convicted Caro Quintero in the 1985 torture murder of US DEA agent Enrique (“Kiki”) Camarena and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. He was released on a technicality in August of this year, after serving 28 years of the sentence, and quickly disappeared. The US federal government has charged Caro Quintero separately with a number of felonies and considers him a fugitive from justice. On Nov. 6, the day after the US announced the reward, a panel of Mexico’s Supreme Court voted 4-1 to overturn the decision releasing Caro Quintero and to return the case to an appeals court. (NBC News, Nov. 6, some from AP; Fox News Latino, Nov. 6)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 10.