A HELPFUL ALLY?
September 3, 1997
General Barry McCaffrey, the drug policy head for the federal government, has just returned from touring the U.S./Mexico border. He discusses the efforts of the American and Mexican governments to combat drug production and delivery with Eduardo Ibarolla, Mexico's deputy attorney general, and Charles Krause.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The U.S.-Mexico border stretches for 2,000 miles from Texas to California, providing an entry point for an estimated 50 to 70 percent of all the illegal drugs imported into the United States. It's an enormous business worth $25 to $35 billion a year, about twice as much as the U.S. and Mexican governments together spend on trying to stop it.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
August 13, 1997:
The recent controversy over regular military units that patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
July 15, 1997:
Charles Krause interviews Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the Mayor-Elect of Mexico City.
July 15, 1997:
Four experts analyze the recent election defeat of Mexico's ruling party.
July 7, 1997:
The PRI, the ruling party in Mexico for the past 70 years loses its majority in Mexico's lower house.
May 8, 1997:
A discussion of the Summit of the Americas and the history of U.S.-Central American relations.
May 5, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with President Ernesto Zedillo on changes in Mexico's government.
May 2, 1997:
A Newsmaker interview with Mack McLarty, America's special envoy to the Americas.
April 29, 1997:
An Online NewsHour Forum with a journalist in Mexico City.
February 27, 1997:
Charles Krause interviews Sen. Diane Feinstein about her opposition to re-certifying Mexico.
The complete NewsHour coverage of Latin America.
The Mexican Government
Tijuana, on the California border, and Juarez, across from El Paso, are Mexico's two principal drug trafficking centers--poor and teeming cities where drug money and drug-related violence have largely undermined law enforcement efforts aimed at curbing the drug dealers. Twelve Mexican police or drug enforcement officials were gunned down last year in Tijuana alone, and most of the city's more than 200 other murders were also believed to have been drug related.
This year, the violence has spread to Juarez, where a series of execution-style murders has shaken a city that's no stranger to drug-related violence. The latest casualties appear to be victims of a power struggle to replace Amado Carrillo Feuntes, one of Mexico's richest and most powerful drug traffickers, who died last July, after plastic surgeons spent over eight hours in Mexico City trying to change his appearance.
A crisis in confidence.
The United States has long demanded that Mexico do more to stop the drug trade and drug traffickers, providing millions of dollars' worth of training and equipment, along with rosy assessments that the situation was improving. But last February, Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was arrested on unprecedented charges of taking money from drug traffickers. That news was then followed by reports that other high level government officials, including the brother of Mexico's former president, Carlos Salinas, were also involved in drug trafficking and corruption.
The revelations nearly forced President Clinton to decertify Mexico in this year's report to Congress on international drug cooperation. The President resisted but the damage to Mexico's image had been done, forcing the Mexican government to publicly acknowledge for the first time that drug money had corrupted much of the country's drug enforcement apparatus and many judges and politicians as well. In an interview with the NewsHour last May, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said his decision to create a completely new federal police force to combat drugs was evidence of his determination to fight Mexico's drug problem.
PRESIDENT ERNESTO ZEDILLO, Mexico: (May 5) I believe--and I want to be very clear about it--that wherever you have drug trafficking, there is corruption. There is perhaps one difference: We are fully recognizing that, and we are facing that challenge.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's drug czar, got a firsthand look at that challenge last week as he toured the U.S.-Mexico border. Security was especially tight after the FBI received what it called a credible threat that McCaffrey would be assassinated by a missile during his trip from El Paso and Juarez to San Diego and Tijuana. He was accompanied by high level Mexican government officials, including Mexico's attorney general.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now to report on his trip and the state of U.S.-Mexico drug cooperation is Gen. Barry McCaffrey, whose formal title is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Eduardo Ibarolla, Mexico's deputy attorney general, who also took part in last week's trip along the border. Mr. Ibarolla joins us from Mexico City. Gentlemen, welcome.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.), Director, National Drug Control Policy: It's good to be here.
"Enormous amounts of violence and corruption on both sides of the border..."
CHARLES KRAUSE: General, tell me what did you find down there? Is the situation as difficult as it looks?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, I think it's generated enormous amounts of violence and corruption on both sides of the border, more than 200 Mexican police officers murdered, more than 400 violent incidents against our own law enforcement authorities. So we've got an opportunity here. The Gulf Cartel and the ACF gang have both been disrupted by her intensive intervention. We're going to have pile on and confront this issue in the weeks to come.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, I understand you're planning to recommend some changes, both in terms of force structures and more equipment down there. Tell me, what do you have in mind?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, I think the attorney general, Janet Reno, and Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin really had the primary responsibility, but it's clear to most of us that at these 38 ports of entry we got 82 million cars, 3 ½ million trucks pouring back and forth across the most open border on the face of the earth. We've got to have technology to deter drug smuggling. And I think the second thing that is obvious to most of us is--
CHARLES KRAUSE: What kind of technology?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, this last year's budget, bipartisan support of the Congress, put eight giant X-ray machines that were designed for Soviet ICBM's on to the border, so that in the coming year you're going to see these movable assets and the custom service, Sam Banks and Bob Rubin, our Secretary of the Treasury, are going to finally have a handle on some of this smuggling problem.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But we'll still need the Mexicans to cooperate.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Sure. You can't do this unless both sides of the border, unless Mexican law enforcement and judicial authorities and intelligence systems meshed with ours. And that's our challenge, how to build a partnership in the years to come.
The View from Mexico.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ibarolla, in Mexico City, tell me, from your side of the border, how does this situation look? Is it better or worse?
EDUARDO IBAROLLA, Deputy Attorney General, Mexico: Well, as Gen. McCaffrey just stated before, for Mexico to fight on drugs is a priority. President Zedillo in his last State of the Nation a few days ago clearly said that this is a priority for Mexico, we are working very hard on that, and we, of course, have a very good program of cooperation not only with the United States but also with other nations of the world, and mainly with the Latin American countries.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is there anything you can point to, though, specifically that demonstrates that there's been some real progress; that the flow of drugs from your country is being--
EDUARDO IBAROLLA: Well, certainly, this year is going to be a record year in cocaine seized and also in marijuana. We have seized until now a little more than 30 tons of cocaine that were captured in Mexican territory, and also the attorney general is--Mr. Madraso--is changing the whole institution that was devoted to fight drug traffickers. The new prosecutor's office has been changed from everything. We have new personnel. We have people that have been--that have passed several examinations, among others a polygraph, and we are trying to hire better people, honest people that are really devoted to this fight.
CHARLES KRAUSE: General, what's your assessment of how the Mexicans are doing?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, tremendous effort. The U.S. Department of Defense and Mexican armed forces are cooperating. We're trying to give them 73 helicopters to increase their mobility so that the army and the police, who have destroyed more drugs than any other nation on the face of the earth can continue the effort. I think we're also seeing unprecedented cooperation between the two attorney generals, Madraso and Janet Reno. Extradition so that criminals can't flee justice in each country is part of our developing partnership.
CHARLES KRAUSE: On the other hand, you were personally embarrassed when Gen. Gutierrez was arrested earlier this year. What is the level of corruption like? Is it any better than it was?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, clearly, this was a tremendous blow to the Mexican government, all those who believe that partnership is part of our effort. And Gutierrez Rebollo, of course, was arrested by Mexican authorities 62 days after he was put in office. They were unaware. He was a mole for one drug gang, operating against other drug gangs. I think we're going to see more cases of corruption on both sides of the border. Now, we've had some 600 cases of official corruption related to drugs in our country, and we've prosecuted mayors and sheriffs and police chiefs. The question isn't whether corruption exists but what are we going to do about it, and I think both sides are determined to try and root this out.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But if you don't mind, my question was: What are they doing about it? Because you've got to report back to Congress, and what are you going to tell them?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, we're going to send a report over there another 10 days. I'm going to make sure you've got a copy of it right after we give it to Senators Coverdell and Feinstein. But essentially what we're going to do is try and catalogue specifically ten areas of Mexican-U.S. cooperation--talk about numbers, talk about what they're really doing. One area will be, obviously, intelligence sharing, evidence sharing, extradition, Mexican attempts to rebuild their law enforcement institutions, military to military cooperation, across the board, what are they actually doing?
How pervasive is corruption?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Corruption?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, in corruption, of course, they've got Gutierrez Rebollo on trial now, both military trial and civil trial, they tried to wrap up some 30 people they think were involved in his gang, and then the Mexican law enforcement authorities, thank God, did put tremendous pressure on Amado Carrillo Feuntes. He tried to flee the country and now is dead, fortunately. His gang is now murdering one another and Mexican law enforcement authorities, and unfortunately, innocent people also.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ibarolla.
EDUARDO IBAROLLA: Yes?
CHARLES KRAUSE: In terms of corruption, do you think that the arrest of Gen. Gutierrez has served as a warning to other officials in the government and the police that maybe corruption is a bit more dangerous than it used to be?
EDUARDO IBAROLLA: Well, as Gen. McCaffrey said before, corruption is an--that exists not only in Mexico and the United States but everywhere in the world. But the most important thing is that we have a system that prosecute corruption cases and that we are putting in jail those that have been problems of corruption. That's the most important aspect of this problem. We are working on that. We have not only Gen. Rebollo in jail but other officials that unfortunately have the failing in this terrible mess of corruption--and also officials of the government, and even some of the judicial system. So we are working on that. There is no impunity in Mexico, and that's the important thing.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What about the general's point about the violence, the drug war between different drug dealers? What's your sense of that? Is that impeding the flow of drugs into the United States, for example?
EDUARDO IBAROLLA: Well, we are working on that. We are doing efforts, you know--the most--we have to keep in mind that the attraction of drugs is the demand of drugs. So we have to work also in demand reduction. Fortunately, we have in the bilateral agenda, in the high level contact group for drug control, one of the main topics of the agenda is precisely the main reduction. If we don't--if we don't work in the main reduction--if we are not successful in the main reduction, there is going to be enormous difficulties to fight drug traffickers.
CHARLES KRAUSE: General, this report that you mentioned earlier, essentially what Congress wants to know is whether or not Mexico is doing a better job, whether some of the problems that existed, came to light earlier this year, have been resolved. What are you going to be able to tell them? Are things any better than they were?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, our own view is there's enormous commitment on the senior leadership. Both President Zedillo, as Attorney General Madraso, the foreign minister, Guria, their minister of defense, Cervante, so we think they're determined to address a fundamental threat to Mexico's democracy. And, in our view, you know, here our second biggest economic trading partner in the world--230 million people cross that border every year--what option do we have but to cooperate with these--with another democracy?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Good evening. We're going to have to leave it there for now. Thank you, General, and thank you, Mr. Ibarolla, in Mexico City.