The Narco-State of Chiapas Part III in a series
The Narco News Bulletin
Drugs: The Official
Passport to the North
By Al Giordano
TAPACHULA, CHIAPAS: "The police all know how it works," says
Jorge, the former Conecte for the Juárez Cartel. "Everyone
knows everything. The federal anti-narcotics police can't enter
La Colonia Obrera -- 'The Bronx" -- because they fear they
won't leave alive. Police cars have been burned in this neighborhood.
When an operation comes in it brings twenty police cars and they
can't do anything because everybody hides. The dealers use radio
inside their houses to keep contact with members of the municipal
police. The police can enter as a result of a negotiation, but
they need permission from the dealers to enter and make an operation.
You see, the majority of the police in Tapachula are also consumers
of cocaine, and many sell some on the side to boost their income."
Jorge's fantastic description of the widespread,
almost total, corruption among Mexican police and military agencies
is supported by members of the same criminal justice system.
A 295-page report on the topic was released in April 1998 in
book form as Everything You Should Know About Organized Crime
in Mexico (1998, Oceano). The book was authored by the Mexican
Institute for Organized Crime Studies, or IMECO in its Spanish
IMECO is a group of 20 current and former
law-enforcement officials dedicated to document the corruption
in the Mexican justice system. Some were members of the disbanded
Federal Security Agency, including its former director. Half
continue to work in the government's domestic espionage agency,
the CISEN, or Center of Investigation and National Security.
The members who are still inside the system participate in IMECO's
work anonymously and undercover: they include members of the
anti-drug FEADS agency and the federal and state prosecutors
offices. The former director of the CISEN and of the Federal
Security Agency, Lucio Mendoza Ríos, with 25 years of
professional crime-fighting under his belt, is the public spokesman
for the group.
"The experience of organized crime
in Mexico is singular enough: it is articulated and protected
by the State," according to the IMECO report. "In the
heart of government exist the most powerful and extensive mafias,
to the point where the majority of police corps have been transformed
into criminal organizations... including the employees and directors
of the nation's prisons, members of the armed forces, federal
legislators, municipal presidents and members of the judicial
"The innocent victims of crime (assaulted,
kidnapped, extorted, defrauded), or the voluntary victims, such
as drug addicts, deliver their money to the delinquents without
badges," notes the IMECO report: "These, in turn, deliver
their protection quotas to police agents and chiefs; the chiefs
deliver part to the high officials of public security; the authorities
deliver a fraction of the profits to the political bosses; and
from there they reach the highest levels of government."
The skeptical view toward the judicial
system that is held by the police professionals of IMECO and
by Jorge, the former trafficker, is also widely shared among
members of the Mexican public.
North Americans, who are so badly informed
about the drug war by US media, still believe that their own
law enforcement institutions are waging a sincere war on drugs.
The Mexican public, on the other hand, has no such illusions:
they are just too close, by nature of geography, to the transport
routes. They see every day what the mass media obscures from
public view in the US: that the US-imposed prohibition on drugs
creates such a massive pool of "dirty money" to be
made by police and politicians in exchange for protecting drug
traffickers, that the very US policy that purports to combat
drugs has, in fact, stimulated their sale and consequent abuse
by driving the profits so high.
Thus, when looking at the border issues
between Mexico and Guatemala, there are echoes of the same problems
along the 3,000 mile US-Mexico frontier. One cannot talk about
Mexico without also looking at the same effects of the drug war
in the United States: corruption of officials is rampant there
A case in point can be found in US Federal
court, where US Customs agents are charged with accepting bribes
to allow trailers of cocaine to enter the country. The facts
are clear: Every tractor-trailer filled with cocaine that enters
the US pays a bribe of $50,000 to US Customs officials. The three
customs agents who are present to allow the truck to enter receive,
between them, $10,000 dollars, or about $3,333 per agent, per
truck. Where does the other $40,000 in bribes for each truck
go? It goes up the ladder, to the regional customs chiefs, and
from there to the highest levels of US government, to Washington
In recent months there have been repeated
scandals along the US-Mexican border involving Border Patrol
Agents: shooting at Mexican immigrants, crossing into Mexican
territory illegally to pursue immigrants, and other harmful activities.
Thus, we look at the Mexico-Guatemala
border as simply a more transparent version of what happens at
the US-Mexico border, indeed, at all national borders along the
Jorge offers a trafficker's-eye view of
the nature of the problem. Thus, the former Conecte was
asked to comment on a scene witnessed by this reporter:
On a November night in 1997, during a
22-hour bus ride from Chiapas to Mexico City, a half-dozen young
Guatemalan men boarded the bus. The trip was interrupted at many
stops, with searches, at military and police checkpoints, including
three roadblocks set up by the immigration authorities, the
At the military and police roadblocks,
the Guatemalan men were left alone while other passengers were
At each of the Migra checkpoints,
the agents ordered the Guatemalans to grab their bags from the
overhead rack and get off the bus. Minutes later, the Guatemalans
would get back on the bus, return their bags to the overhead
compartment, and bus continued onward. One of the Guatemalans
told the reporter that he and his friends had pay the Migra
officials 100 pesos -- at the time about $12 US dollars -- as
bribes at each stop to be allowed to continue.
The reporter, unconvinced, asked Jorge
to explain why, to pay a simple bribe, the Guatemalans would
be ordered to bring their bags with them each time they got off
"The Guatemalan immigrants are called
pollos -- 'chickens' -- and they want to get to the United
States," answered Jorge. "They have a Pollero
who is equal to a Conecte in the drug trade, but he deals
mainly in men. He has to govern an area and he has to live in
Tapachula. He charges $500 US dollars for each Central American
who wants to pass. He gets them as far as the city of Puebla,
south of Mexico City. If he has connections with the narco-traffickers,
he can make a deal to ship drugs in the same bus as he's shipping
the immigrants. When they can do this there is no risk. He delivers
all the money to the police agencies: the Migra, the judicial
police, the customs service, the federal highway police... all
of them have to do business with each of these agencies. It's
a lot. Also the federal prosecutor's agents must be paid."
"It's very well organized,"
says Jorge. "The Pollero or Conecte manages
the shipment with radios. They advise the police checkpoint in
advance to say that the bus or truck is coming through, how many
people are on the bus, whether the payment's already been made,
and the Pollero goes ahead of the bus with a lot of money
to pay all the police agencies along the way, including the Army,
which sometimes has its own checkpoints."
"The Migra official knows
exactly how many illegal pollos are passing each day.
He collects for each one. If they carry merchandise, he has to
know, because he can collect more per person. Remember that the
pollo has to pay $500 dollars to make it to Puebla. Many have
to ship cocaine in order to afford it. The majority don't but
there are many who do. Those who do carry merchandise go all
the way to the US border, not just to Puebla. Most of them go
to Matamoros and then into Texas."
"There's a similar system for bringing
trucks of cocaine to the north," explains Jorge. "There
are a lot of roadblocks and checkpoints: the army, the Migra,
the judicial police, so many of them. The narco-traffickers make
it their business to pay all the police. They carry dollars to
pay at the checkpoints. They advise the chiefs of police in advance
to let the shipment pass. The trucks typically carry one or two
tons of cocaine apiece."
Some Drugs are Seized
from Part IV:
officials receive about 30 percent. There are a lot of police
agencies you have to deal with. And this is for, really, just
one night: the product stays only one night in Tapachula before
it heads North."
that cannot be stopped by border patrols