Pubdate: Sun,  7 May 2000
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2000 Reuters Limited.


BUENOS AIRES, May 6 (Reuters) - The government of former Argentine
President Carlos Menem was reluctant to fight drug trafficking, and
some of its members were involved in the illegal trade, an ex-official
of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration told an Argentine magazine.

``The government was not interested in fighting seriously against
drugs,'' Abel Reynoso, head of the DEA's Argentine office until
mid-1999 near the end of Menem's term in office, told Saturday's
Noticias magazine.

Asked why, he replied, ``Because they were in the business, really
deep. I don't want to say that they were all in the business, but most
of them knew who was involved in drug trafficking.''

Spokesmen for Menem and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires could not be
immediately be reached for comment.

The Argentine-born Reynoso resigned his post and now lives in the
United States but is no longer a DEA employee.

Menem, of the Peronist Party, ruled Argentina from 1989 to 1999. He
was ineligible to run in last October's presidential election and his
party's candidate was defeated by Fernando de la Rua of the
centre-left Alliance.

The Menem administration overhauled Argentina's once moribund economy
but its reputation was tarnished by corruption scandals. Several
former senior officials are under criminal investigation but Menem
himself was never implicated.

Menem also reversed a long anti-American tradition by making Argentina
the most loyal U.S. ally in South America.

Menem got into trouble at the end of his term when he reportedly said
he that knew the widow of notorious Colombian cocaine trafficker Pablo
Escobar was living in Argentina under a false identity to avoid the
danger of kidnap or murder. He later denied saying that.

Reynoso said he was forced to resign because senior Argentine
officials feared him and that he had once rejected a bribe attempt.
``I earned a few powerful enemies. Some of them were angry with me,
others were scared of me. Sooner or later I had to go,'' he said.

``At a meeting with high-level people, where there were even
government officials present, someone said to me, 'Reynoso, everyone
in the world has his price. You must have yours too.' I replied that
human beings had a price, but the problem with me is that they
couldn't buy my badge.''

Argentine officials acknowledge that their country is a transit point
for cocaine produced in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia on its way to the
lucrative markets of the Western world. But Reynoso said that the
Menem government did little to prevent that, adding, ``There is no
transit without corruption.''

``In the south of South America, Argentina is as important a
money-laundering centre as Panama. Launderers are welcome,'' he said,
adding that powerful drug traffickers secured political protection.

He said it was too early to judge the will to fight trafficking of the
new De la Rua government, which wants to bring the armed forces into
the anti-drug fight.
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