MEXICO'S 'BROKEN ARROW'
MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- When Mexican Army security is breached by the enemy, the incident is coded as a "Broken Arrow," which signals that the commander in chief could at any moment fall into enemy hands. To the head of the presidential staff, Gen. Jose Armando Tamayo, the order immediately sprang to mind when high intelligence officials from the Attorney General's office notified him that the director of the Office of Coordination of Presidential Tours, Nahum Acosta Lugo, was under suspicion of passing presidential travel information to drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva. The incident compromised the security perimeter of President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Mexico Vicente Fox. For the first time in Mexican history, the seemingly alien problem of drug trafficking allegedly tried to establish a bridgehead within the presidential administration with assistance at the highest levels.
In Mexico, drug trafficking has insinuated itself into every aspect of Mexican society, beginning in the mid-1980s, when the Mexican government financed many of its activities with income generated by drug trafficking. The situation resulted from national bankruptcy brought about by bad projections of profits from the oil boom of the late 1970s as well as the aftermath of a destructive September 1985 earthquake that for years paralyzed and hobbled a substantial portion of the country's economic activity.
With the connivance of the authorities, drug production embarrassed Mexico's international image when incidents such as the 1983 "Rancho El Bufalo" case in the border state of Chihuahua, where it was discovered in the middle of the desert that marijuana was being cultivated on federal land. Although the land was federal property, a number of public and private entrepreneurs had established a massive enterprise of drug cultivation and processing. At the time the authorities moved against the production, nearly 2.5 tons of marijuana was discovered in the fields.
The fields were nurtured with a high-tech irrigation system comprising a series of small dams and wells. There was a system of automatic pumps and a network of distribution. The cultivators introduced sophisticated agricultural machinery to the site and supervised their planted areas with helicopters. After inspecting the facilities, agronomist Roberto Quiroga stated that the ranch's production used "the most advanced high technology for intensive agriculture." The federal action against the prosperous ranch was due mainly to international pressures, especially from the Unite States' Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA.
Revenge for the raid did not take long. Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent in Mexico, was brutally tortured and killed by drug lord Jose Caro Quintero's assassins. Following very strong U.S. pressure, Quintero was arrested and is currently serving sentence in La Palma federal high security prison.
It has been commented upon that until recently, drug traffickers in Mexico have not had the opportunity to develop influence within the political sphere. Their activities have been limited to operational activities rather than within high politics. However, past and recent events along with the traffickers' growing economic power lead to the inescapable conclusion that their influence on national politics is in fact growing.
According to studies by Boston's Abt Associates consulting company, whose studies are used by the White House and the DEA, current U.S.
consumption of cocaine is now estimated at $30 billion annually. These figures are estimates, not concrete data. Other data estimates that annual cocaine consumption could be worth as much as $70 billion dollars a year, a figure that takes no account of the traffic in marijuana.
These are figures nearly equal to the total of Mexico's foreign debt, which is about $100 billion, with the difference that this is a debt which has been accumulated over a period of 100 years.
Fox's government has maintained a constant fight against drug trafficking unlike any previous Mexican president. The drug lords, however, are sending very clear messages even as they try to enlist high-ranking political authorities to their side of the war.
Previously in Mexico, drug trafficking vendettas against authorities were usually low profile. Police operatives are intensifying their security operations around high-ranking political figures in their race against terror. For the time being and the foreseeable future, "Broken Arrow" has been declared.
Carlos Alberto Becerril is a writer with Tiempos del Mundo