A30: LA TIMES on Labastida's Narco State
Excelsior of Mexico City reprints
story while censoring all of its reports on Labastida's
of Excelsior's "image laundering" below with
a note on the English-language daily The News in Mexico)
LA TIMES article confirms
facts of April 18th Narco News story
Sheridan conducts 24 interviews on ruling party candidate
than heroic crusader" as Sinaloa governor
"There was a war
between bands of drug traffickers. The state government openly
combated one group"
Castañeda: "Society is not clamoring
for a war."
The Sunday Los Angeles
Times, on April 30th, reported on Mexican presidential candidate
Francisco Labastida (of the ruling PRI party) and his history
with drug traffickers in his home state of Sinaloa.
The story could reach
as far as the White House: Clinton campaign consultants Jim Carville
and pollster Stanley Greenberg are advising candidate Labastida
at a time when some US Senators have begun to complain of "narco-lobbyists"
The LA Times story speaks
well for itself. The entire text can be read at the web site
of the most-read newspaper in the United States; click here (copyright 2000 The Los Angeles
Here are a few choice
excerpts, with added analysis from The Narco News Bulletin:
"PRI Candidate's Drug
Stance Stirs Doubts"
"Mexico: Labastida denies
deals with traffickers. Some question ex-governor's vow for 'all-out'
war on narcotics"
By MARY BETH SHERIDAN, Times
around Labastida's anti-narcotics actions. Opposition politicians
have made drugs a major issue, accusing the candidate and his
long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party of having gone
easy on traffickers.
Labastida angrily denies
such accusations. And indeed, there appears to be no solid evidence
that he made deals with narcotics groups. Still, interviews with
nearly two dozen politicians, analysts and U.S. and Mexican officials,
along with a study of newspaper archives, suggest that Labastida
was less than the heroic crusader he has portrayed in his ads.
For American authorities,
who blame Mexican traffickers for 70% of the illegal drugs smuggled
into the United States, Labastida's experience is of keen interest.
Would it inspire him, if elected, to go after narcotics gangs?
The candidate says it would.
But others believe that Labastida's experience illustrates why
it has been so difficult for Mexican authorities to make progress
against drug cartels.
"I don't think any Mexican
president is crazy enough to declare an all-out war on drugs.
What are the costs? What are the benefits? Add all that up,"
said Jorge Castañeda, a political scientist who advises
one of Labastida's rivals. "Society is not clamoring for
The LA Times story is, to date, the most in-depth report
by a major US daily newspaper on the ruling party presidential
candidate in Mexico and his claims to be a solid drug warrior.
The paper's Mexico City bureau chief Sheridan deserves credit
for exploring Labastida's history as governor of Sinaloa (see
Inventor of the Modern Narco-State?, The Narco News Bulletin, April
The point by
Jorge Castañeda, that Mexican "society is not clamoring
for war" is a very important lens through which to view
Washington-fed illusions that winning the drug war is possible
(see the Narco News analysis of Mexico in our opening statement).
Just look at
what Labastida did when he felt truly threatened by the narco:
he ran away! So confirms the Los Angeles Times:
agencies had learned of a plot to kill Labastida, who had just
left office. And his wife, Maria Teresa Uriarte, was offering
a chilling hint of that threat: A mysterious man had snapped
pictures of her in an outdoor market and then fled.
For Labastida, it was the
last straw. "He said to me, 'I can live with a threat to
my life. I can't live with a threat to yours. We're leaving Mexico,'
" his wife says, recalling that moment in 1993. Labastida
took a job as ambassador to Portugal, his political career stalling.
Does this suggest that, if elected president of Mexico, Labastida
would, at the first real threat, flee abroad again?
First, a careful
analysis of the claims by Labastida of threats to his life reveals:
1. The source
that Labastida cites, then Attorney General of Mexico, Jorge
Carpizo, now a key Labastida campaign operative, has himself
been linked to narco-corruption.
and Carpizo, in the LA Times article, offer conflicting
stories on which cartel made the supposed threat.
3. More often
than not, the drug cartels threaten or kill public officials
who take sides in disputes between rival gangs.
In the LA Times report even Labastida and his then-top prosecutor
acknowledge this phenomenon in speaking of corrupt police officials.
From the LA
"On April 9, 1989, as
Labastida was away on a scuba-diving holiday, the army swept
into the state capital, Culiacan. The soldiers detained the entire
municipal police force for questioning and arrested local and
state police chiefs appointed by Labastida. The charge: protecting
Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, at the time Mexico's top drug lord,
who had just been captured in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco
A chagrined Labastida began
another purge of the state police. However, the case took an
unexpected turn when a federal court freed his police commanders
for lack of evidence, say former state officials.
Labastida came to suspect
that his chiefs had been set up. "It was to distract attention"
from other officials who had been protecting Felix Gallardo,
he said in the interview.
That was the first of a series
of clashes with federal authorities. Labastida ultimately came
to believe that he was not only confronting traffickers but also
their protectors in the federal government.
"In reality, the federal
police commanders at the time were protecting a strong group
of narcos, led by [Hector Luis] 'El Guero' Palma," said
Manuel Lazcano Ochoa, Labastida's first prosecutor. "They
were bothered by anything the state government did that could
expose this situation."
Narco News Commentary:
The underlining dynamic to the saga of Sinaloa drug trafficking
during Labastida's term (indeed all drug trafficking everywhere)
was that state and federal governmental agencies were choosing
sides between trafficking gangs -- this, and not impartial law
enforcement, is what leads to so much prohibition-related violence.
A critic of
Labastida's model narco-state is quoted in the LA Times:
traffickers have more power than any governor here," said
Gregorio Urias, the former head of the left-wing Democratic Revolution
Party, or PRD, in Sinaloa.
that Labastida's state police fought Palma, but he alleged that
it was not out of duty. Rather, he charged, they were allied
with a rival trafficking group loyal to Felix Gallardo.
"There was a war between bands of drug traffickers. The
state government openly combated one group," said Urias,
who works in the campaign of one of Labastida's rivals, PRD candidate
expert notes, for the LA Times, that Labastida likely
had behind-the-scenes contact with drug traffickers:
"You can't imagine the
governor of a big drug-producing or trafficking state who doesn't
have mediators" to deal with them, said Luis Astorga, a
sociologist and Sinaloa native who studies drug trafficking.
the story inexorably to Washington's bizarre position on Labastida,
one of the two Mexican presidential candidates, along with Vicente
Fox, who are acceptable to Washington because they tow the line
on US economic policy. The LA Times reports:
"In interviews, half
a dozen current and former U.S. officials agreed that the American
government has no conclusive evidence linking Labastida to drug
traffickers. But the officials' responses about the candidate's
record ranged from complimentary to wary.
U.S. anti-drug czar Gen.
Barry R. McCaffrey, the only one to speak on the record, said
officials had begun to focus on Labastida when the candidate
oversaw domestic security as interior minister in 1998 and '99.
"He came up [to Washington];
we had to agonize over what we thought about him. We concluded
he was working to keep drugs out of Mexico," McCaffrey told
foreign correspondents in Mexico earlier this year.
Another U.S. official with
access to intelligence information was less sanguine. "We
don't have strong stuff on him. It could go either way. You can't
form a definite opinion," said the official, who requested
Labastida's anti-drug record
has been a source of controversy before. In 1998, the Washington
Times quoted a secret CIA document as saying that Labastida had
"long-standing ties" to drug dealers, dating to his
The document reportedly added:
"Labastida has denied receiving payoffs but has acknowledged
privately that he had to reach unspecified agreements with traffickers
and turn a blind eye to some of their activities."
Mexico furiously demanded
a response from U.S. authorities, who did not comment directly
on their intelligence information. But the State Department said
in a private diplomatic note that it had "no reason to modify"
its cooperation with Labastida, according to Mexico's Foreign
Narco News found only two errant
facts to correct in Sheridan's story.
The LA Times
was especially chaotic as Labastida prepared to take over as
governor in 1987. Gun-toting goons roamed the streets, contributing
to a homicide rate of nearly five deaths per day. U.S. officials
accused his predecessor, Antonio Toledo Corro, of entertaining
drug lords at a ranch, a charge the ex-governor denied.
The fact is
that Labastida was imposed as governor by an electoral fraud
engineered precisely by his predecessor Toledo Corro (the opposition
candidate, Manuel Clouthier, lost his life, under Labastida's
watch, in a suspicious car accident in Sinaloa).
The LA Times
of killings had declined 50% from the previous administration,
but it remained among the highest in Mexico.
This is in error:
In both Labastida's term and that of his predecessor, slightly
over 3,000 drug prohibition-related homicides occured in the
state of Sinaloa (source: Proceso magazine).
Mary Beth Sheridan's article ought to be a lesson to other Mexico
bureau chiefs for US newspapers. Indeed, last week Labastida
met with them as a group. Sheridan was the only reporter among
them to investigate the stories behind the hype, and the picture
of what she calls Labastida's "narco-nightmare" is
not pretty. But it is more true than what other US dailies have
The saga of
Labastida as governor of Sinaloa -- the place and time (1986-1992)
precisely when Sinaloa natives Amado Carrillo ("The Lord
of the Skies"), the Arrellano-Félix brothers, and
other top cartel bosses surged to power -- tells as much about
United States policy as it does about Mexico's. All is revealed
in the history of this Pacific Ocean state. The US government
is not serious in combatting drugs. For this, the US drug
czar embraces Labastida, as he has other narco-politicians.
Excelsior Tampers with LA Times
How did the
Labastida campaign deal with this story? The pro-PRI daily in
Mexico City, Excelsior, also on April 30th,
"reprinted" the LA Times story in Spanish --
while removing a dozen key paragraphs from the story, including
many of the above excerpts -- and retitled it "Labastida
Confronts the Ire and Threats of Narco-Traffickers". ¡Que Morro!
They turned a good investigative story that exposed blemishes
in Labastida's propaganda into... a campaign ad for Labastida!
This Just In:
"The News" Also Distorts the Story
Not to be outdone
in cynical simulation, The News, that English-language
daily for tourists in Mexico, also ran a butchered version of
the LA Times story, and promoted it on page one under the headline
Risked His Life In Taking on Drug Cartels." (That part of the story,
repeating claims that Labastida has voiced throughout the campaign,
used three sources; Labastida, his wife and the above mentioned
Jorge Carpizo; it's been published many times. But the other
more meaty paragraphs, above, represent the new ground broken
by the LA Times story.)
The News of Mexico City wrote
in its page one promo of their censored version of the LA
party presidential candidate Francisco Labastida did not set
out to fight drugs. But when he ran for governor of Sinaloa in
1986 pledging law-and-order, he took on the cartels. His efforts
at one time imperiled his life, a fact that would tend to rebut
those who say he could have done more."
The story inside
the English-language News -- a paper that, for its one-sided
coverage of the powerful, is considered by many of the 350,000
gringos living in Mexico as the best motivation to learn Spanish
-- was only slightly less distorted than Excelsior's cut-and-paste
job; both dishonored the letter and spirit of the LA Times
story. They used a good story that raised questions about Labastida
and the narco to imply, unfairly, opposite conclusions. The
News, needless to say, did not post their version on the
internet, where English-language readers would then be able to
compare it to the original. (More on The News in a future
edition of The Narco News Bulletin.)
This is typical
of what the media in both countries do with press reports from
the other. No wonder the public is so badly informed.
This is exactly
why The Narco News Bulletin was born: to defeat the information
blockade on both sides of the border.
We encourage you to read the
full LA Times story (copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times):
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