The Narco-State of Chiapas Part IV in a series

The Narco News Bulletin

Why Some Drugs Are Seized

Part IV

click to read Part I, Part II, Part III

TAPACHULA, CHIAPAS: "Sometimes they fly the cocaine into the airport of Tapachula where it is guarded in large trucks by the police," continues former drug trafficker Jorge. "But there's a story that makes clear the importance of paying every single one of the police agencies."

"There was a man with a large resume, including, fantastically, as a commandante of the highway police. He paid the police agencies $80,000 dollars to be allowed to land an airplane at seven o'clock at night. And could they turn on the lights?"

"They said yes. This was the old airport of Tapachula that is normally turned off and not working. He came and they turned on the lights while the municipal police kept watch. Then, the federal highway police said to the commander of the anti-narcotics judicial police that for a piece of the profit, yes, they, too, will protect the place. The federal police came to protect the airport, the highway police were inside, all to allow this plane to pass through at seven at night. The plane landed and the state police, who hadn't been included in the plans, suddenly arrived with a lot of police, 200 or 300 of them. And they made an operation to arrest the federal police, the highway police, the local police, all of them were detained. The chief of the highway police was arrested and the drugs were decommissioned."

In Jorge's view, the record volume of drugs seized by Mexican authorities is no more than a public relations maneuver to obscure the widespread corruption.

"The police have to make public arrests," he says, "to show that they are working. It always happens to the independents, not to the big cartels. Sometimes the cartel will give someone up intentionally because the person is getting too big or because he ripped them off. The cartel knows that the police need to show they are working. Or sometimes the police or military go after each other -- and the traffickers -- because one or the other hasn't been included in the payments."

Asked whether these activities occur with the knowledge of all the police, Jorge scoffs: "Everybody knows! Maybe some of the municipal police don't know. But whatever federal judicial police there are, they all know about this."

Jorge says that the Mexican army -- equally corrupt -- is nonetheless more difficult for the trafficker to navigate because the drug-smuggler needs contacts among the brass: "No one can negotiate easily with them," he explains. "For one soldier, it's very difficult to receive money without giving account to your superiors. It's very dangerous for him to receive any money without advising his superior. The judicial police are individuals. They don't have to tell their bosses everything. But if the Conecte wants to get a shipment past the Army, he has to pay a superior officer to let it pass."

Tapachula's importance to the cocaine-smuggling industry has grown exponentially in recent years explains the former cartel operative. "Before 1994, all of Chiapas was totally free to drug trafficking. It mainly came through the jungle, not through the coast. Tenosique (a rural outpost in the State of Tabasco, straddling the borders of Guatemala and Chiapas) was the entry point for the jungle."

"All the big landowners, the ranchers, are in with the narco-traffickers. The large land areas were used to land airplanes in the jungle, and they would put the cocaine in the trunks of hardwood trees, where it would go to Tijuana. They'd pay a driver 10,000 pesos to take the trailer from Palenque to Tijuana. It was very easy."

"Now it's not so easy," explains Jorge, the former trafficker. "Because the army is already there. It's just easier now to pass it through Tapachula. The jungle is a conflict zone. You can't pass the drugs through the insurgents, the Zapatistas. They're Indians. They don't do business with drug traffickers. They don't know the business. So they're against you and the jungle is now filled with military soldiers and paramilitary groups who want to paid a lot of money to let you pass. Or they simply confiscate your merchandise to sell it -- or use it -- themselves."

Map of Chiapas municipalities: Green-colored towns have military bases

Tapachula (as seen on prior maps) is near the southernmost point of the map

Jorge, the former trafficker, is asked how much of the total value of the cocaine that is smuggled through Tapachula goes to police, Army or other officials.

"The officials receive about 30 percent," he answers. "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."


To Be Published Tomorrow:

Part V

The Rebels, not the Government, Slowed the Drug Trade

and the government, not the cartels, then re-established it

Preview from Part V:

"The antithesis of the "narco-guerrilla" movements in other parts of the world, the Zapatistas have explicit revolutionary laws against drug use or trafficking. They have, in fact, driven the drug cartels off their jungle and mountain lands -- where governments had previously failed to do so. Alcohol, too, is banned in their villages.

"Any government serious about fighting drugs would study the success of the Zapatista drug policies -- instead of persecuting their indigenous supporters -- in the hope of learning to achieve the same sober results."

The Fourth Estate vs. The Narco State

Read "The Great Chopper Robbery" about another fracased attempt to blame the Zapatistas for the work of narcos