HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug War Corruption Taints Mexico Military
Pubdate: Sat, 24 Dec 2005
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Alfredo Corchado, The Dallas Morning News
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


Long A Source Of Pride, Troops Are Led Astray By Low Wages, Officials Say

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials and analysts say there are new signs that drug 
corruption is spreading within the Mexican military, an institution long 
regarded as more professional and less prone to criminality than the 
country's law enforcement agencies.

In interviews, four senior U.S. officials, a senior Mexican intelligence 
official and three independent analysts all expressed concern about the 
expanding role of the Mexican military in the drug war. Some said low pay 
among the middle and lower ranks makes military personnel vulnerable to 
offers from cartel leaders who may double or triple their pay. "Corruption 
is more serious in the Mexican military than just about any other Latin 
American military," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. "The 
reason is not that the Mexicans are any more venal; it's that we're talking 
about huge amounts of money because drugs flow into Mexico and that makes 
them more vulnerable."

Spokesmen for the Mexican Embassy in Washington and for Los Pinos, the 
presidential residence, declined to comment, referring questions to the 
military. Military officials requested questions in writing but said there 
would be no reply for now.

The concerns were underscored in a video sent to The Dallas Morning News in 
October and described in a Dec. 1 article.

The video shows four men, bound and bloodied and prodded by an unseen 
interrogator, talking about their work for a drug cartel.

Two of the four identified themselves as former military men and said their 
job was to recruit for the cartel from Mexico's special forces. The 
emergence of two new paramilitary groups, Los Negros and Los Numeros, which 
may seek to bolster their forces with military personnel and federal 
agents, has added to the concern, U.S. officials said. The groups are said 
to work for the Sinaloa cartel, purportedly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" 
Guzman. They were recruited to battle the rival Gulf cartel and its 
enforcement arm, the Zetas, and to spread the Sinaloa cartel's dominance 
along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, the officials said. U.S. prodding The 
Mexican government's central role in fighting drug trafficking is a 
relatively recent development. In 1996, during the administration of 
President Ernesto Zedillo, the U.S. government encouraged the Mexican 
government to give the military a central role in anti-narcotics efforts - 
in part because the military was viewed as uncorrupted, analysts said. 
"We're the ones who pushed the Mexican military into fighting narcotics," 
said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, head of the Mexico Project at the Center for 
Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We've pushed them into 

The military - historically a rallying point of Mexican nationalism - was 
long viewed as relatively free of the kind of corruption that has engulfed 
the country and many of its institutions. For example, this month the 
Mexican attorney general's office said that 1,493 federal agents - about 
one of every five members of an elite force of 7,000 working for an agency 
modeled after the FBI - were under criminal investigation. In the past five 
years, President Vicente Fox has dramatically increased the military's 
participation in anti-drug efforts by including military personnel on the 
attorney general's payroll.

"I think it's very dangerous to move military officers into what should be 
civilian jobs," said another senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of 
anonymity. "It's very risky, not only to the mission they're supposed to 
perform, but to the institution from where they come." Since 1996, the U.S. 
government has spent at least $225 million on training and other military 
assistance for anti-drug aid programs, according to a report by the 
Washington Office of Latin America, or WOLA, a nongovernmental organization 
that monitors military cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. Giving the 
military a central role has "allowed drug traffickers to penetrate deep 
into the military structure," without markedly slowing the flow of drugs to 
the U.S., the report said.

"Transparency is essential to combating corruption, but the Mexican 
military has managed to avoid external oversight," said Joy Olson, 
executive director of WOLA. "It should come as no surprise that the 
military's secrecy is one factor that has made it more vulnerable to the 
corrupting influence of the drug trade."

Low wages U.S officials and analysts stressed that low pay among 
rank-and-file soldiers makes them especially vulnerable to drug 
traffickers. Soldiers make about $300 a month, compared with $5,000 for 
lieutenant colonels and about $28,000 for the defense secretary, according 
to a salary scale on the military's Web site.

Raul Benitez Manaut, a military expert at the National Autonomous 
University of Mexico, said that for the most part high-ranking military 
officials make enough money to resist the lure of working for criminal 
organizations. "The top brass has a lot to lose, although that doesn't mean 
that we haven't had a few cases of corruption," he said. "However, it's the 
midlevel and bottom ranks that have more to gain than to lose. Temptations 
there run deep." Mr. Benitez pointed to several prominent military members 
alleged to have provided protection to drug kingpins in exchange for money 
and other bribes. They include army Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, a career 
officer who was director of the National Institute to Combat Drugs when he 
was arrested in 1997 and jailed on charges of protecting members of the 
Juarez cartel. Another senior U.S. official, considered an expert on the 
Mexican military, said: "I don't think at high levels there is rampant 
corruption, but given how low the pay among the unit level and how pay is 
often late or delayed, frustration is clearly indicated by the high 
desertion rate. ... So there is certainly corruption that happens that 
can't be controlled by headquarters. I don't think headquarters condones 
it, but they certainly don't do enough to address it. Then again, I can't 
think of a realistic way they could." In 2001, Mexican newspapers received 
a letter, apparently from a deserter, saying: "I was loyal and risked my 
life an infinite number of times in situations that I now understand were 
not worth it. I later understood that you cannot live off of loyalty.

While our commanders eat steak, we, with the sweat on our foreheads, were 
only capable of eating beans." The letter was signed, "Zetas 10 2001," an 
apparent reference to the paramilitary group. Taped killing Fresh concerns 
about the military's role in the drug war surfaced this month with reports 
about the video showing the four bloodied men, who described carrying out 
abductions and killings for the Gulf cartel. In the video, two of the four 
men said that their job involved recruiting soldiers and members of the 
GAFES, Mexico's version of the Green Berets. Several members of the GAFES, 
some trained by U.S. military personnel at Fort Bragg, N.C., deserted and 
formed the Zetas, the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel, according to the 
attorney general's office. A U.S. law enforcement official and a senior 
Mexican intelligence official in Mexico City, speaking on condition of 
anonymity, have said that members of the Mexican military appeared to have 
played a role in the interrogation of the four men in the video - a 
conclusion based on the way the men were handcuffed.

Two of the four, who identified themselves as civilians, had their hands 
bound behind their backs.

Two who said they had been in the military had their hands bound in front 
of them, a standard courtesy that military officers would extend to fellow 
soldiers, the intelligence official said. In the video, the men are seated 
on the floor in front of black plastic garbage bags at an undisclosed location.

At the end of the video, one of the men who identified himself as having 
been in the military is shot in the head with a gun held by a person off 

Reports about the video, which received wide media coverage in Mexico, are 
reverberating within the military, Mr. Benitez said. "Many are asking 
questions, questioning their own colleagues, their commitment, and their 
overall mission of taking on drug traffickers." News assistant Irene 
Barcenas in Mexico City and staff writer Tim Connolly contributed to this 
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