Jan 27, 1996

Our phony drug war | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Globe, January 27, 1996


 US aid to Mexico has been used more to suppress grass-roots movements than to uproot drug networks and their allies. 


Cooperation between the United States and Mexico is again being applauded following the Jan. 14 capture of drug lord and FBI most wanted, Juan Garcia Abrego. But don’t expect the northbound drug avalanche to slow down.

            The bottom line is that US drug users generate a multibillion-dollar bounty. So when one capo goes, 10 others shoot it out. The same gold mine has thoroughly corrupted Mexican authorities, including the army. This produces scenes that make Fellini films seem bland:

·         In 1989, drug capo Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo is arrested. During the next three years, his operation expands as Felix Gallardo occupies an office equipped with cellular telephones and a fax machine, and his bodyguards perform clerical work.

·         In 1991, US Customs agents look on helplessly as Mexican soldiers shoot and kill seven drug agents waiting to ambush the crew of a cocaine-laden plane.

·         In April 1994, Tijuana police chief Jose Frederico Benitez Lopez is shot to death. Benitez had criticized federal investigation of the assassination early that year of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Many observers attributed the assassination to drug traffickers and their friends in high places.

·         In May 1994, federal authorities arrest state prosecutor Sergio Ortiz Lara on charges of protecting cocaine traffickers accused of the 1993 killing of a Roman Catholic cardinal in Guadalajara. Ortiz is later released.

·         In May 1995, the former attorney general for the state of Jalisco, who had investigated the cardinal’s murder, is gunned down in the same city.


It’s easy to blame Mexicans for succumbing to the narcodolar flood. But to do so ignores the broader context of US Mexican relations that exacerbates the problem.

For the past two decades, aid from Washington – under both Democratic and Republican administrations – has been used more to suppress grassroots movements, which threaten US investments and the availability of cheap labor, than to uproot drug networks and their political allies.

In the 1970s, the State Department’s international narcotics control program delivered more than $95 million worth of helicopters, airplanes, tear-gas projectiles and other arms and assistance into the hands of Mexican authorities.

In the Guerrero province, according to the 1991 book “Drug Wars” by journalist Jonathan Marshall, the army suppressed a local guerrilla movement, while the state judicial police chief for northern Guerrero, a reputed heroin dealer, was left untouched.

In 1978, Peter Bourne, director of the Carter White House’s Office of Drug Abuse Policy, told a Senate subcommittee that the ongoing drug control activities of the Mexican and American governments “rank among the most exemplary forms of international cooperation in the world today.” The reality was quite different.

That year, 7,000 Mexican soldiers, supported by advisers from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, waged a “special war” against marijuana growers. The US Catholic Conference reported that the real targets were Indian peasants. Aerial herbicide sprays poisoned their food crops and starved the Indians out.

The 1980s were no different, according to Marshall. The drug war remained “a convenient weapon against suspected subversives, human rights activists, journalists, opposition political leaders and entire communities of Indians.”

When DEA Agent Enrique Camarena was murdered in Guadalajara in 1985 – by Mexican drug traffickers, police and politicians – DEA Administrator Francis Mullen charged that “Mexico hasn’t arrested a major drug trafficker in eight years.” Drug lord Felix Gallardo – wanted in the Camarena case – reportedly bragged he had purchased a get-out-of-jail-free card with donations to the Reagan administration’s counter-revolutionary army, the Nicaraguan contras.

With the North American Free Trade Agreement tightening US-Mexican financial linkages in recent years, the narcotics skeleton has been shoved further into the closet.

According to a former Bush drug policy official quoted last summer by Tim Golden of The New York Times, “People desperately wanted drugs not to become a complicating factor for NAFTA. There was a degree of illicit activities that was just accepted.”

Likewise, the Clinton administration has soft-pedaled drugs and corruption to avoid further destabilizing Mexico, especially after it arranged a $40 billion bailout of the free-falling peso.

But if so-called “stability” remains Washington’s top priority, the drug war will remain hype. And it will be easy to understand why, in the words of Mexican novelist Paco Ignacio Talbo, “the worse guys are beating the bad guys.”



Jan 26, 1996

Playing with fire in southern Africa | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Sunday Globe, January 26, 1996


In its decade of sovereignty, Angola has threatened the security of neither the United States nor its US corporate partners. Yet America is the only member of the United Nations that does not recognize its government. Now President Ronald Reagan and the Cold Warriors of the Right want the CIA to aid Angolan rebels.

Why the President wants to subvert a legitimate, not unfriendly, government is no mystery: Angola is ruled by Marxists, and there are thousands of Cuban troops there. However, as Reagan well knows, the Angolans have good reason for wanting them around. They have been regularly invaded by South Africa, at times to attack Angolan installations, at times in pursuit of guerrillas fighting for the independence of Namibia, the adjoining territory South Africa continues to control in defiance of UN mandate.

The US State Department has attempted to arrange a Cuban withdrawal from Angola in return for South Africa’s departure from Namibia. The Angolans, even the South Africans at times, have joined the negotiations. President Reagan would have the CIA undermine them.

To Cold Warriors like the president, the options in southern Africa reduce to confronting or appeasing communism. US Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.) believes “all of Africa is at stake. It’s an opportunity to not just constrain, but to roll back communism.”

“The real issue,” Conservative Caucus chairman Howard Phillips told The New York Times, “is whether we will permit the Soviet Union to replace South Africa as the dominant power in the region … Do we want the Soviets to control the route around the Cape? Do we want them to control southern African minerals?”

The answer, they say, is to bankroll the leader of the Angolan insurgents, Jonas Savimbi, who is due in Washington this week to get the red carpet treatment from the Reagan administration and the Right.

Savimbi, the charismatic bush-fighter, joined the Angolan liberation movement in the early 1960s and formed his own splinter group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in 1966. When Portugal awarded Angola its independence in 1975, UNITA fought it out with two other guerrilla factions, with the great powers choosing sides.

As described in “In Search of Enemies,” by CIA Angola task force chief John Stockwell, Savimbi was first supplied by China. By the civil war’s end, he was on the payroll of the CIA, while the Soviets backed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). (When Congress discovered it had been kept in the dark by the CIA, it banned further US involvement.) However, Savimbi’s major ally became and remains South Africa, which invaded the southern half of Angola.

The South Africans eventually backed off, rather than confront Cuban troops rushed in to aid the MPLA. Savimbi retreated south. Since 1976, the MPLA has been in power, chronically fending off UNITA and South Africa.

The MPLA has religiously guarded the refineries that are Angola’s lifeblood. US oil companies, which retain a 49 percent interest in the refineries, have found the MPLA a reliable business partner. The Angolans have made it clear that politics will not interfere with the marketplace.

As a Citgo official told The Wall Street Journal recently, the Angolans “aren’t interested in politicizing Central Africa on behalf of Cuba or the Soviet Union.” Richard Moose, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, testified before Congress that the United States could not have hoped for a government more cooperative on regional affairs.

However, affirmations of Angolan good will carry little weight with politicos who relate to Cuban troops as Ahab did to the whale. Frustrated by Congress’ reluctance to underwrite the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government, still seething 10 years after the MPLA’s Castro-aided triumph, the Cold Warriors are now turning to Jonas Savimbi for vindication.

Although the New Right has long eyed Angola, renewed support for Savimbi first gained credibility as part of the foreign policy agenda issued by the influential Heritage Foundation just after Reagan’s reelection. Its recommendations included the use of paramilitary forces to subvert the governments of Angola and eight other countries that “threaten United States interests.”

According to a recent New York Times survey, the New Right now regards aid to Angolan rebels as its No. 1 foreign policy objective. In their current media blitz aimed at achieving that goal, conservative writers find themselves forced to defuse the growing antipathy to apartheid.

Jack Kemp, the Republican congressman from New York and New Right presidential favorite heading toward 1988, even appears to have become an exponent of Black Power. In a New York Times commentary last month, he categorized Angola as “an outpost of white, Soviet-style colonialism on the African continent.” Regarding Savimbi’s coziness with the government of South Africa, Kemp had this to say: “Our obligation to help people fighting for freedom does not disappear merely because a government we don’t like is on the same side.”

New York Times columnist William Safire recently contemplated the consequences of an end to white rule in South Africa: “A fine judicial system may be overthrown; reverse apartheid may come into being … How do we help South Africans avoid that? Aside from helping Jonas Savimbi achieve majority rule in neighboring Angola, what can we do to prevent the spread of communism in the darkening continent?” (Find black moderates quickly, he replies.)

Their vision blocked by Cold War blinders, neither Kemp nor Safire nor Reagan register Angola’s expressed desire to be our friend and to send the Soviets and Cubans home when assured of security from South Africa. It is time the president faced facts. He may otherwise be shocked when an Angolan/American refinery, defended by Cubans, is finally sabotaged by terrorists on the US payroll, led by Jonas Savimbi.