The DEA and the Sinaloa Cartel

by NICK ALEXANDROV

El Universal, the Mexican newspaper, reported on January 6 that Washington and the Sinaloa Cartel have cooperated for years. Sinaloa lawyer Humberto “Loya-Castro stated that [DEA] agents told him that, in exchange for information about rival drug trafficking organizations, the United States government agreed…not to interfere with his drug trafficking activities and those of the Sinaloa Cartel,” published court documents reveal.

These disclosures should be considered together with those the intrepid journalist Anabel Hernández published in Los Señores del Narco, translated as Narcoland for last fall’s English-language release. Her main argument, as she explained on Democracy Now! last September, is that in Mexico there isn’t “really a war against the drug cartels. What exists in the government of Felipe Calderón was a war between the cartels, and the government took a side of that war, protecting the Sinaloa Cartel.”

President Calderón, during his six-year term ending in 2012, presided over an unprecedented slaughter—perhaps 120,000 Mexicans were murdered while he held office, Le Monde estimated—and the distribution of unprecedented U.S. funding—well over $1 billion by April 2013—“to the Mexican military, police, and judicial systems for training and equipment,” the Center for International Policy’s Laura Carlsen summarized. When his term ended, he fled to an institution certain to ignore the blood on his hands—namely Harvard, where he was a Mason Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government.

Past recipients of this honor include Héctor Gramajo Morales, an architect of the genocidal rampage that ripped through Guatemala’s countryside in the 1980s, and a guest speaker at the School of the Americas in December 1991, during its commencement exercises. One wonders whether, to mark the occasion, he imparted his political philosophy: “You needn’t kill everyone to complete the job.” Massacring 30% of the public was more reasonable, he stressed.

In her review of Washington’s Mexican policy, Carlsen noted that Thomas Shannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, remarked in April 2007 that U.S. assistance for Mexican security forces was a means of “armoring NAFTA,” the so-called “free trade agreement” that turned 20 years old as this month began. The arrangement, DEA official Phil Jordan explained, was a “deal made in narco heaven.”

“For Mexican drug cartels,” U.S. Army War College professor Paul Rexton Kan writes, “the provisions of NAFTA came at an opportune time, when U.S. interdiction of Colombian cocaine in the Caribbean was increasingly taxing Colombian groups while the demand for methamphetamines in the United States skyrocketed,” indicated in “the number of meth-related emergency room visits in the United States,” which “doubled between 1991 and 1994.” The result was that “Mexican cartels were able to capitalize on newly available overland routes to bring cocaine and meth to the U.S. market,” and commercial-vehicle smuggling shot up 25% in NAFTA’s first year—“the biggest jump on record,” Kan concludes.

The connections between NAFTA, drug smuggling, and the ruin “free trade”—slang for the U.S. dumping of government-subsidized corn into Mexico—brought to the Mexican countryside are rarely examined. Dale Wiehoff, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, is one of the few writers reflecting upon these interwoven developments, and argued last summer that the exploding numbers of “unemployed and displaced young Mexicans were vulnerable to the drug cartels[.]” Displacement is fueled by the conversion of subsistence lands to potential profit sources, with poor farming communities shattered in the process. In the state of Sinaloa, where the cartel originated, NAFTA spurred these processes of territorial transfer, as agribusinesses amassed plots that had once been worked collectively.

Tracy Wilkinson reviewed current conditions there in the Los Angeles Times last autumn. On the enormous farms, “the planting, weeding, pruning, and picking of the vegetables fall to armies of workers from Mexico’s poorest states,” like Oaxaca, Chiapas, and others NAFTA devastated. Carmen Hernandez Ramos “is 52 and looks 80,” and is just one of the many laborers there who “feel trapped,” Wilkinson explained, and are “housed in fenced compounds” in desolate regions.

But not everyone suffers. The Guardian reported in July 2012 that HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, had “laundered billions of dollars for drug cartels,” its subsidiaries permitting “Mexican drug lords to buy planes with money laundered through Cayman Islands accounts.” Leopoldo Barroso, a former bank official, voiced worries regarding “allegations of 60% to 70% of laundered proceeds in Mexico” moving through HSBC, supposedly tainted by these revelations, as if its money would have been clean otherwise. But the differences between legitimate and illegitimate business activity are vague, if even meaningful, as Roberto Saviano observes in his foreword to Hernández’s Narcoland: the book demonstrates that “it is not the mafia that has transformed itself into a modern capitalist enterprise,” but instead “capitalism that has transformed itself into a mafia.”

Others would say this assessment doesn’t go far enough—that organized crime is intrinsic to capitalism, a “phenomenon that complemented rather than conflicted with” the maturation of U.S. “economic and political power structures,” British historian Michael Woodiwiss argues, pointing out that “the United States can claim no legitimacy” in its alleged anti-crime initiatives. Pick any episode in the country’s history, whether “the frequently criminal exploitation of African American and other working peoples, the enactment of prohibition laws that fostered corruption and criminal enterprise,” or “the involvement of intelligence agencies in drug trafficking operations,” and this fundamental point is made. The recent DEA-Sinaloa revelations only drive it home.

Nick Alexandrov reports on the deteriorating political climate in Honduras in the December issue of CounterPunch magazine. He lives in Washington, DC. 

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.  He can be reached at: nicholas.alexandrov@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece
Jeffrey R. Wilson
“It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: the Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics