The Untouchables

Mexico’s Drug War Goes Down in Flames

By John Ross

Mexico City.

The fiery November 4 crash of a private Lear jet here not a mile from Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, that killed President Felipe’s closest collaborator Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino was largely buried by the U.S. press, coming as it did on Election Day USA.

As Interior Secretary responsible for internal security, Mourino who had just met with outgoing U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to map out bi-lateral drug war strategies, was the second most powerful official in Mexico.

Also killed in the crash that took a total of 19 lives was Last spring Vasconcellos was replaced as top dog at the SIEDO (“Sub-prosecutor for Special Investigations into Organized Crime”) which he had directed for eight years and appointed special drug war advisor to Calderon.Despite public incredulity the Calderon administration has fought hard to spin the plane crash as an accident, pinning the mishap on the inexperience of the pilot and co-pilot of the privately owned Lear Jet, both of whom were killed on impact.  Transportation Secretary Luis Tello has held serial press conferences presenting the black box retrieved from the crash and flogging expert testimony from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Aeronautics Administration. The bamboozlement campaign has been accompanied by a burst of government-bought print ads and electronic spots that are designed to boost the president’s credibility as the second anniversary of his chaotic swearing in approaches.

Nonetheless, the public remains archly skeptical. In a country where the government and the media relentlessly fudge and lie about everything from unemployment numbers and the depth of the recession to its questionable successes in the drug war, no one quite believes the plane crash was an accident.  Indeed, ever since writer Sara Sefchovich whose new hot title is “A Country of Lies”, launched an Internet page inviting readers to list Calderon’s biggest lies, the “accident” has been at the top of the list.

The  plane crash in which Mourino and Vasconcellos were killed is an apt metaphor for the current state of Calderon’s drug war, which, after an embarrassing round of high level arrests of anti-drug officials, appears to be similarly going down in flames.

Felipe Calderon first declared his anti-drug crusade just days after being sworn in as Mexico’s president two years ago this December 1st, a job he was awarded in a July 1996 election that half of all Mexicans thought he won by fraud.  In a move to bolster his pretensions of authority, the new president sent 30,000 troops into the field to confront the drug cartels – that number has since increased to 45,000, a third of the Mexican Army.

Since December 2006, 6000 Mexicans have been slain in drug war combat, 4000 alone this year, with no notable reduction in the drug flow north to the U.S.  Hundreds of troops and police officials have perished in the past 23 months in addition to dozens of innocent civilians gunned down by soldiers at highway checkpoints and other collateral damage and over a thousand complaints against the drug war troops have been registered with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH.)  Between 20 and 30 corpses, many without heads, are clocked in every 24 hours in battleground states like Chihuahua and Sinaloa, with no end in sight.

Rattled by persistent scandal, Mexico’s lead anti-drug agencies are in turmoil and the detention of dozens of top officials in recent months, including the nation’s liaisons to the United Nations Drug Agency, Interpol, and even the U.S. Embassy here, has shaken Washington.

Among those in custody is Santiago Vasconcellos’s replacement at the SIEDO, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who is reportedly being held on a 40 day investigation warrant at the agency’s heavily fortified headquarters in the Ixtapalapa delegation (borough) of the capital, charged with accepting $450,000 USD monthly payments from a branch of the Sinaloa Cartel under the thumb of the Beltran Leyva brothers. The Beltran Leyvas are presently embroiled in a bloody turf war with their former boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman, the dean of Mexican drug lords.

At the time of his detention, Noe Ramirez served as Mexico’s representative before the United Nations Drug Agency in Vienna.