Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jan 2003
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A14
Copyright: 2003 The Washington Post Company
Author: Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post Foreign Service


Military Raids Offices in 11 States; 200 Employees Being Questioned

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 20 -- For the second time in six years, the Mexican 
government has dismantled an elite federal anti-drug unit after discovering 
evidence that it had been corrupted by drug traffickers.

Closure of the Federal Special Prosecutor's Office for Drug Crimes followed 
simultaneous military raids last week on the agency's offices in 11 states. 
The raids began in Tijuana, where seven agents are accused of offering to 
return nearly five tons of seized marijuana, and two captured drug dealers, 
to drug lords in exchange for $2 million.

Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, whose office oversees the 
agency, said over the weekend that all 200 of the agency's employees are 
being questioned. He said the agency would be closed permanently and its 
functions transferred to an office charged with combating organized crime.

Macedo said the move was part of a restructuring to make the attorney 
general's office "a healthy institution." Since he took over in December 
2000, more than 800 employees, many of them federal police officers, have 
been suspended, fired or charged with crimes. Another 1,300 are under 
investigation for corruption, he said.

The closed agency, roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration, was created in 1997. It replaced a similar agency that was 
dismantled after its director, Army Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was 
discovered to be on the payroll of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, one of Mexico's 
most notorious drug lords. He was convicted and is serving a 71-year prison 

"We are not going to rest until these federal agencies have been totally 
cleaned up," said President Vicente Fox, who has promised a "war without 
mercy" on organized crime.

U.S. officials welcomed the agency's closure and said it was further 
evidence that Fox was serious about attacking Mexico's drug cartels. Fox 
has won high marks from many law enforcement officials for key blows 
against drug lords, including last year's arrest of Benjamin Arellano 
Felix, the reputed head of the ultra-violent Tijuana cartel bearing his 
family name.

"I like what I see," said Donald J. Thornhill Jr., a spokesman for the DEA 
in San Diego who has worked with Mexican officials for many years. "I think 
the Fox administration is sincere about addressing systemic corruption."

Despite praise for the swift dismantling of the agency, its demise was 
another sobering reminder that virtually no Mexican anti-drug agency has 
remained free of infiltration by powerful drug gangs.

The closure of the anti-drug agency is further evidence of the expanding 
role of the Mexican military in counter-drug efforts, which has provoked 
mixed reactions.

Macedo de la Concha is a former army general and has surrounded himself 
with key advisers from the military, to which he maintains close ties. 
Since he took over two years ago, the attorney general's office has 
coordinated activities closely with the military. Arellano Felix, for 
example, was arrested by elite military commandos, then turned over to 
Macedo's investigators for questioning.

While many praise the military's anti-drug efforts, others worry that too 
much responsibility is being given to an institution with scant public 
oversight. By tradition, the Mexican military operates largely 
autonomously. While Fox is commander in chief, many of the military's basic 
functions, including its budgets and military justice, remain beyond 
civilian or public scrutiny.

"Because it's such a hermetically sealed institution and seems to be 
unwilling to open up to public scrutiny, we think it's risky to give it 
more control and authority over the anti-drug efforts," said Eric Olson, a 
Mexico specialist at Amnesty International in Washington.

Olson noted that the military has had its share of drug-related corruption, 
including the arrest of Gutierrez Rebollo. Two other generals, Mario Arturo 
Acosta Chaparro and Francisco Quiroz Hermosillo, are currently imprisoned 
on drug charges.
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