To better understand the current militarization of Mexico – part of a broader militarization of the Drug War – it is helpful to place it within the historical context of U.S. intervention in Latin America. Three important characteristics of intervention must be viewed together to grasp a larger picture of the ways the United States intervenes in Latin America, and especially in Mexico. These include the economic bases, the ideological rationales, and the means of intervention. Whereas 150 years ago the predominant reasons for intervention in Latin America were expansionist and a century ago were economic, benefiting the interests of industrial robber barons and railroad tycoons, the ideological rationale was based on manifest destiny, the God-given rights proscribed by the Monroe Doctrine. The methods were often direct troop intervention. (La Feber 1993) Today economics still determines foreign policy, the ideological rationale has shifted to more insidious arguments about drugs and the methods have become more devious and hidden. But the basic model remains the same.
Historically, and in contemporary U.S. policy toward Latin America and Mexico, the underlying reasons for military and intelligence intervention are economic. (La Feber 1993) In the late 19th century the economic philosophy that guided U.S. foreign policy interests was classical “free market” liberalism. Today, in the late 20th century, a reconstituted version of this “free market” ideology known as neoliberalism holds sway in the global economy. (Agnew and Corbridge 1995) Neoliberal economics guides U.S. policy toward Mexico, as evidenced by NAFTA and by IMF and World Bank induced privatization and deregulation schemes. The bottom line is that Latin America remains a source for raw materials and cheap labor for North American capitalists. Maintaining economic control and domination over Latin America is at the core of all U.S. policy in the hemisphere, including its military policy and drug policy.
Over the course of this century, the methods for intervention have become less direct and more covert. At the beginning of the century the United States did not shy away from sending in the Marines to Latin American countries. (La Feber 1993) But due largely to domestic opposition to direct intervention of U.S. troops, a phenomena that the right-wing has labeled the “Vietnam syndrome,” the United States began to employ covert means. Counterinsurgency campaigns orchestrated by the CIA and aided by U.S. military advisors behind the scenes became the modus operandi of U.S. intervention in Latin America following World War II. (Blum 1995) The CIA assisted coup against Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 established a model that would be repeated again and again. Out of the policy and practice of covert counterinsurgency emerged the doctrine and strategy of Low Intensity Conflict (LIC). (Klare and Kornblum 1988) As mentioned in the latter part of the preceding chapter, Information Warfare as applied to U.S. intervention in the “third world” can be viewed as an enhancement of traditional LIC strategy, and part of the continuum from counter insurgency. One of the objectives in the movement away from overt direct intervention toward covert indirect intervention is the removal of the U.S. “warrior” from the field of battle. Sophisticated Information Warfare technologies help to achieve this objective by allowing for Low Intensity Conflict to be managed digitally from secure remote locations.
In this century the United States has not intervened in Mexico militarily except for on several occasions during the Mexican Revolution. (Knight 1989; Hart 1989) Mexico’s strong nationalism, translated as anti-Americanism, meant that overt U.S.-Mexico military and intelligence cooperation remained a low priority. After the onset of the Cold War, and with it the fear of communism spreading north, the United States used Mexico as a hub for intelligence gathering for all of Latin America. (Agee 1975; Ross 1995) The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City became a central node in a hemispheric intelligence system. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, and therefore the end of Cold War arguments about the spread of a red menace in the Americas, the U.S. security and intelligence role in Mexico and the rest of Latin America has not abated. According to then U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, James Jones, in a meeting with University of Texas at Austin students in the spring of 1996, the American Embassy in Mexico City now has the largest staff of any American embassy in the world. The importance of intelligence has not ended simply because the threat of communism has subsided. Many of the same intelligence systems put in place in the Cold War era are being used in the war on drugs, as John Ross, author of Rebellion from the Roots, related.
In addition to within the American Embassy in Mexico City, several important U.S. intelligence assets are headquartered in the United States, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. The Air Intelligence Agency and interestingly the Air Force Information Warfare Center are housed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force n.d.) The Army Intelligence Center is based at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. (Dunn 1996) The Drug Enforcement Administration’s intelligence center is based in El Paso, Texas. (Dunn 1996) The National Reconnaissance Office, the federal agency responsible for Cold War satellite espionage development, has an important facility, the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo California. A major Naval radar transmitter for Naval Space Command’s surveillance network is at Lake Kickapoo, Texas, southeast of Wichita Falls. (U.S. Space Command n.d.) Finally, while not near the border, NORAD, which is now significant to the war on drugs, is stationed under Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. The U.S.-Mexico border area has been undergoing heavy militarization since the 1980s, largely due to the Drug War and to the war against immigrants entering the United States from Mexico. The military technologies in place along the border are as sophisticated as many of those used in the Gulf War. (Dunn, 1996)
For most of this century since the Mexican Revolution, Mexico’s military has not been a significant force. (Camp 1992) Until the 1980s Mexico’s army played a role similar to that of national guard units in the United States, engaging in disaster relief or squelching domestic unrest. Contemporary Mexico has not had to worry about an external aggressor. Beginning in the early 1980s, concern over possible northern expansion of the conflicts in Central America and, in the late 1980s, classification of drugs as a national security threat gave cause for modernization efforts of the Mexican armed forces. The acquisition of F-5 fighter jets from the United States during the de la Madrid administration may be considered a turning point in the contemporary modernization period. (Dziedzic 1994)
Under the Salinas and now the Zedillo administrations
in the 1990s, Mexico began to seriously upgrade its army, navy, and air
forces. The Drug War and now new security threats posed first by guerrillas
like the Zapatistas, beginning January 1, 1994 and the EPR in Guerrero,
beginning June 28, 1996, have been the prime motivation for this modernization
effort. The progress of military modernization can be understood by looking
at the increased military spending, at the new military hardware, equipment
and training, especially the sophisticated communication technologies,
and at the greater cooperation between United States and Mexico, in terms
of the military and intelligence agencies, but also in terms of greater
police and other law enforcement cooperation. (Lumsdaine 1995)
In the latter part of the 19th century, after the United States effectively stole half of the Mexican territory in the 1846-1848 U.S.-Mexican War, U.S. soldiers engaged in minor border incursions across the Rio Grande to pursue thieves. In 1866, a General Sedgwick occupied Matamoras for three days, ostensibly to protect U.S. citizens. In 1913, “marines landed at Ciaris Estero to aid evacuating American citizens and others from the Yaqui valley.” (Blum 1995) During the Mexican Revolution there were three instances of direct U.S. troop involvement, as Knight explained in U.S.-Mexican Relations, 1910-1940.
In addition to being able to trace U.S. military involvement in Mexico back to the decade of the Mexican Revolution, the Drug War in Mexico is shown to be rooted in that period by Walker in Drug Control in the Americas.
As late as the mid 1920s, relations between Mexico and the United States had not cooled. In 1926, “possible war with Mexico became one of the hottest issues of the day” over disputes around oil and Nicaragua. (Knight 1987) It was during this time that Mexican officers began to train abroad, as Roderic Camp, one of the few American scholars on the Mexican military, noted in Generals in the Palacio. Ironically the United States would eventually be the “revolutionary” government’s biggest military supporter.
Scholars of Mexican national security point to World War II as an important moment in U.S.-Mexico military relations. One assertion is that this world war caused “a degree of diplomatic, military, and economic collaboration which would have been unthinkable a decade before.” (Knight 1987) Another view, in Civil-Military Relations in Mexico, (Zinser 1990) stressed the uniqueness of Mexico declaring war on the Axis powers and Mexico’s role in assisting the United States.
Costa Rica, mid 1950s
British Guyana, 1953-1964
Dominican Republic, 1960-1966
Cuba, 1959 to 1980s
Guatemala, 1962 to 1980s
Costa Rica, 1970-1971
El Salvador, 1980-1994
The militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, marked by an influx of sophisticated military hardware into the region, is largely a phenomena of the 1980s. But as early as the 1960s, the Pentagon was assisting the U.S. Border Patrol with laser equipment, as described in Drug Trafficking in the Americas.
Although Mexican efforts to eradicate drugs and eliminate drug trafficking – with and without U.S. support – can be traced to the 1920s, the current militarization of the Drug War has roots in the experiences of the past 30 years. To understand the contemporary history of the militarization of the Drug War in Mexico it is useful to examine four distinct periods. The first covered the time from 1968 to 1980, during which the Mexican military began to modernize, counterinsurgency campaigns against guerrilla movements were waged, and combating drug trafficking intensified. The second period encompassed most of the 1980s, under the Reagan administration in the United States and the de la Madrid sexenio in Mexico. Drugs were declared a threat to national security, further justifying a military role in drug interdiction. The third period involved the tail end of the 1980s through 1994, during the Bush and Salinas presidencies, when the Drug War experienced new vigor from both countries. Finally, the fourth period lasts from 1994 to the present, following the implementation of the NAFTA accord and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. In Mexico: A Country Guide, Barry offered a summation of the relationship between the Drug War and militarization over the course of the last 30 years.
In 1968 people all over the world were revolting. Rage spilled out into the streets and Mexico City was no exception. But student uprisings in Mexico in the summer of 1968 ended in violent clashes with army by fall. These events are said to represent a turning point in the process of modernizing Mexico’s armed forces
Camp (1992) pointed out that of the U.S. Drug War funds and equipment that began to flow into Mexico in the mid-1970s, probably some of that aid went to the armed forces.
While in the 1970s guerrillas and drugs gave the military its raison d’etre, the discovery of oil in the early to mid 1970s and the oil boom that followed from 1978 to 1982, enabled Mexico’s economy to grow at a high rate of 8 percent which gave the military the necessary funds to expand and modernize. (Camin and Meyer 1993, 209) Barry (1992) stated: “With the injection of oil monies into the economy in the 1970s, the military saw the opportunity to become more high-tech.”
In 1981, the U.S. Congress amended the Posse Comitatus Act “in order to enable the military to assist law enforcement agencies, so long as such assistance would not harm military readiness.” (Mabry 1988) The amended Posse Comitatus Act “permitted the Pentagon to provide information, equipment, facilities, training, and advisory services to domestic law enforcement agencies.” (Isenberg 1992) As an early example of “actual Pentagon assistance in antidrug efforts in the Southwest during the period 1981-1985, . . . the Army conducted surveillance operations in Texas using OV-1 Mohawk aircraft equipped with infrared radar.” (Dunn 1996, 110) A year after the amended Posse Comitatus Act, in 1982, in Operation BAT in the Bahamas, “the U.S. military first started aiding the suppression of drug activities in the Caribbean and Latin America by loaning equipment and coordinating some of its activities with those of law enforcement officials.” (Mabry 1996)
The establishment, in 1982, of the South Florida Task Force on Organized Crime, a group headed by then Vice President Bush, was the “first instance of major military involvement in drug interdiction efforts,” wrote Dunn (1996) in The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, who also stated that the “task force was to serve as a model for future antidrug efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border (and elsewhere) that would involve a wide variety of forces.” By “elsewhere” it is assumed Dunn meant this task force also was a model for the interior of Mexico and other Latin American countries.
At the same time the United States under the Reagan administration was setting in place the legal framework and precedent for using the military in its domestic and foreign anti-drug endeavors, Mexico at the end of the Lopéz Portillo (1976 - 1982) and the beginning of the De la Madrid (1982 - 1988) administrations was entering a new phase in the modernization of its armed forces, marked by the acquisition of sophisticated fighter jets, the initiation of a higher level of military education for its officer corps, and the expansion of military presence along its southern border.
In 1981, Mexico purchased a dozen Northrop manufactured F-5 Tiger II jets from the United States for the Mexican Air Force. “These aircraft. . . are capable of performing both interceptor and close air support roles. For a functioning air defense capability, however, the country also required an air defense radar system.” (Dziedzic 1994) In 1982, Mexico graduated the first class from its new National Defense College, “the capstone of the Mexican military’s education system” that “provides studies on national and international security matters, military strategy, and resource management.” (Cuningham, 1984, 171) And in 1983, Mexico created another military zone in Chiapas based in Tapachula, “clear evidence of the concern that Mexican federal authorities have for what is going on in Central America and its spillover potential.” (Cuningham, 1984, 176)
As noted already, Dunn suggested that the South Florida Task Force was a model for later anti-drug efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of which was the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System (NNBIS), created in 1983 by Reagan and headed by Bush. “Its mission was to act as an ‘interface’ between the Department of Defense and the civilian law enforcement community in order to coordinate resources for drug-interdiction efforts.” (Dunn 1996, 109)
While the U.S. Army Intelligence School was monitoring the Mexican border region, the Central Intelligence Agency began increased monitoring and surveillance of the Mexican interior. In the mid 1980s, the CIA was worried that Mexico, like its southern neighbors in Central America, could explode. In 1984, CIA Director William Casey “ordered stepped-up intelligence-gathering on Mexico and De la Madrid that produced a flood of data.” (Woodward 1987)
In 1985, Enrique Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, was tortured and murdered by drug traffickers in Guadalajara. Evident complicity of local and federal police in Mexico “set into motion an intense international campaign of discredit of the Mexican police apparatus, in particular, and of the Mexican political system, in general.” (Camin and Meyer. 1993, 235) After the assassination of Camarena, in 1985 and through 1986, “the bashing of Mexico became the rule.” (Aguayo 1988, 160) Even though Mexican security forces had been involved in the murder of agent Camarena, “United States activities in Mexico intensified as supply-side control strategies took hold in Washington.” This included “the establishment of an information center at the United States embassy in Mexico City and the purchase of a computer system for it.” (Doyle 1993)
The murder of Camarena also “was a specific spur” to 1986 legislation aimed at Mexico. (Treverton 1988)
On April 8, 1986, President Reagan, in National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 221, declared drug trafficking to be a threat to national security, thereby opening the door for the militarization of the war on drugs and an intensified application of sophisticated military technology. (Bagley 1991; Doyle 1993)
Operation Blast Furnace conducted in Bolivia in 1986 “was our government’s first attempt at curtailing drug processing and export from a foreign country. US Southern Command was tasked by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct and plan this operation.” (Hertling 1990) In this operation “the US Army used six Black Hawk helicopters and 160 soldiers to help Bolivian narcotics police destroy cocaine laboratories.” (Mabry 1988)
Operation Alliance was created in August 1986 by then Vice President Bush and former Attorney General Meese. As “an ongoing effort to interdict drugs along the border, based on the coordination of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, with the military playing a support role,” Operation Alliance was the “most fully developed joint venture between the military and civilian law enforcement agencies in border drug enforcement during this period.” Department of Defense support for Operation Alliance included “the provision of aerial surveillance and extensive loans of such resources as night-vision equipment and portable ground radar.” (Dunn 1996, 113) Dunn’s research uncovered an extensive list of military hardware provided by the Pentagon to Operation Alliance.
In May 1988, before a Congressional hearing on “The Role of the Military in Drug Interdiction,” the U.S. Border Patrol called for more sensors along the U.S.-Mexico border and for the establishment of an interagency surveillance network.
The three “statutory missions” this Act assigned to the Pentagon were “to serve as the single lead federal agency for detecting and monitoring aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States; to integrate U.S. command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3) systems dedicated to the interdiction of illegal drugs into an effective network; and to provide an improved interdiction and enforcement role for the National Guard.” (Isenberg 1992)
In Drug Trafficking in the Americas, Mabry explained that an advantage to making the Pentagon the lead agency in the Drug War was its technological assets developed in the Cold War, the same that made the Gulf War possible, and the same that are attributed as basic tools for waging cyberwar or Information War.
In an article in Covert Action Quarterly, Isenberg described some of NORAD’s capabilities that were available to drug interdiction efforts.
Around the same time, the Mexican military announced it
had obtained a $40 million mobile radar system, purchased from the American
firm Westinghouse and funded in part by a loan from the Export-Import Bank.
The radar was to be installed near the Guatemalan border for use in the
interdiction of planes carrying drugs from Colombia. (Reuter and Ronfeldt
1992; Doyle 1993)
The new presidencies of George Bush in the United States and Carlos Salinas de Gortari in Mexico, in 1989, “brought about a significant shift” in the discourse and ideology of the Drug War. Once again the assertion that drugs were a threat to national security emanated from both Washington, DC, and Mexico City. (Doyle 1993) The era of these presidencies was also characterized by an emphasis on developing economic alliances between Mexico and the United States. Mexico entered a phase of heightened application of neoliberal economic policies. Within 5 years NAFTA was proposed, debated, and became a reality. The privatization of Mexico’s nationally owned companies, and hence the opening up of Mexico’s economic assets to greater foreign ownership and control, on the one hand, and increased militarization of Mexico due to an even greater perceived national security threat of drugs, were the results of this Bush-Salinas era.
Keep in mind, as noted earlier in this chapter, that vice president Bush served as the head of the South Florida Task Force, starting in 1982, and the head of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, beginning in 1983. By the time Bush became president he had at least 7 years experience as an anti-drug warrior. Drug War Politics showed that when Bush finally attained the office of the presidency he instituted even more aggressive drug policies.
In November, the Pentagon created an anti-drug military intelligence center with personnel specifically aimed at undertaking “limited incursions into Mexican territory” under the Mexican government’s authorization. (Cabildo 1990) Forces Command established the Joint Task Force 6 (JTF-6) at Fort Bliss army base in El Paso, Texas. “JTF-6 marked the formal establishment of ongoing participation by active-duty U.S. military forces in antidrug efforts on the U.S.-Mexico border. As such, it was the most prominent indication that the military had put aside many of its previous qualms about such active involvement in drug enforcement matters within the United States. . . .” (Dunn 1996, 133) Isenberg elaborated on JTF-6’s mission in Covert Action Quarterly.
At the end of December, the United States, in Operation Just Cause under the direction of Bush, invaded Panama to pursue and capture General Manuel Noriega.
One indication of how the United State’s surveillance assets were to be used in the Drug War was that “by early 1990, U.S. spy planes were flying missions near Colombia tracking beeper signals from agents on the ground in an attempt to assist in the manhunt of Pablo Escobar.” (Johns 1992) Another indication became public knowledge in March, 1990, when it was revealed that an American satellite had been making estimations of Mexico’s marijuana production. The satellite derived estimates, incidentally, were reportedly 10 times higher than Mexican counts. (Chabat 1995a) If remote sensing imagery from American satellites can be used to observe marijuana production, it can also be used to observe people, like the Zapatistas in Chiapas.
By 1990, due to reported increases in the amount of cocaine entering the United States via Mexico, the use of “aerostat radar units were to gain prominence in the drug war.” Mexico began to “upgrade their radar systems.” (Lemus 1995, 429)
Several years later Newsweek reported that similar tactical analysis teams had been deployed to “10 Central and South American countries, working with the DEA and CIA to assemble intelligence dossiers on trafficking organizations.” (Lane 1992)
In June, 1990, Proceso reported that then U.S. Ambassador Negroponte had confirmed the existence of the U.S. military’s tactical analysis team in the American Embassy, and that it was dedicated to decoding signals transmitted by U.S. satellite from North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) near Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to being in permanent communication with the Mexican Attorney General’s office and a base in Monterrey, this team was also in communication with a radar installation in the Istmo de Tehuantepec and with American P-3 radar planes charged with detecting aircraft coming from Colombia. (Cabildo 1990)
Reuter and Ronfeldt, in an article in the Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, described some of the “furor” generated by public knowledge of the tactical analysis team in Mexico.
In October, 1990, a new U.S.-Mexican counternarcotics agreement was announced that “specified conditions under which P-3 aircraft may overfly Mexico” and provide information to the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office also announced that it “would acquire two Cessna Citation fixed-wing aircraft with advanced down-looking radar; these aircraft would be operated exclusively by Mexican crews. Moreover, the United States planned to loan to Mexico approximately 20 Bell UH-1H (Huey) helicopters. The program also included training for PJF officers.” (Reuter and Ronfeldt 1992)
In November, 1990, the Defense Intelligence Agency stated in a memorandum, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archives, that “the Mexican Army has expressed great satisfaction with intelligence information that the United States provides, and the relations between Mexican and United States military personal has improved considerably.” (del Rio 1994)
At the end of 1990, a ground radar system became operable
at Santa Eulalia, Chihuahua. Through a communication channel via the Morelos
1 satellite the ground radar station could be accessed by the Monterrey
center for SENEAM,
Servicios a la Navegación en el Espacio Aéreo Mexicano (Services of Navigation in Mexican Air Space). The Mexican military and the Attorney General’s Office had installed three-dimensional radar and had begun training their personnel at civilian air control towers with the goal of detecting aircraft carrying drugs. (Gutiérrez 1993)
U.S. funding for Mexican counternarcotics efforts increased. In 1991, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics Matters (INM) supported Mexico with $20 million to control drugs. Between 1978 and 1990, the INM contributed $150.3 millions, an average of $12.5 million per year. (Castañeda 1993) INM budget submissions included requests for aerial surveillance and computer operators.
The deployment of U.S. military assets to the Persian Gulf region, prior to, during, and after the aerial bombardment of Iraq, was a drain on military resources in the Western hemisphere used to fight the Drug War. For Mabry, this exposed a flaw in the strategy of a military solution to drugs.
In September, 1991, the Mexican Air Force received from the United States the first two of more Black Hawk UH-60L helicopters that it would acquire. (del Rio 1994) Black Hawks are equipped with global positioning equipment that allow pilots to zero-in on targets if the latitude, longitude, and altitude are known. (Lumsdaine 1995) These coordinates can be obtained from aerial surveillance by satellites or reconnaissance planes. Black Hawks were used in Operation Blast Furnace in Bolivia in 1986.
In November, the Los Angeles Times reported that an “18-month-old partnership between Washington and Mexico City over the use of U.S. Customs planes to help Mexican officials interdict drug shipments” was in trouble because of a November 7 incident in which Mexican military forces shot and killed seven federal drug agents on an airstrip near Veracruz. The Los Angeles Times stated that: “In Washington, U.S. officials said the Mexican drug agents killed during the raid had been working closely with the DEA for months as part of the new response team, which relied heavily on the radar intelligence gathered by military and U.S. Customs radar planes operating off the Mexican coast.” (Miller and Jehl 1991)
In December, the radar system in southern Mexico along the Guatemala border, purchased from Westinghouse with a $40 million loan from the US Export-Import Bank, became operational under the command of the Mexican air force. (Doyle 1993)
But also in December, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report that cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Department of Defense’s high-tech drug interdiction systems. And, “because the interdiction has not stopped the flow of cocaine into the United States, the Inter-American Commission on Drug Policy recommended reducing funding for interdiction.” (Mabry 1996, 45)
By 1992, halfway through the Salinas presidency, it was clear that the Drug War was responsible for major military expansion in Mexico. In the fiscal years 1990, 1991, and 1992, the Mexican army purchased more that $400 million worth of military arms and equipment from the United States. According to Proceso this amount is 25% of all the military expenditures during the decade of the 1980s. In addition, during these three years, the number of Mexicans who participated in the United States’ IMET (International Military Education Training) program increased markedly. Proceso reported that between 1950 and 1979, 1,022 Mexicans participated – an average of 35 per year. Between 1982 and 1988, under de la Madrid, 388 Mexicans received IMET training – an average of 65 per year. While during the first half of the Salinas administration the figure had risen to 392 – an average of 131 per year. The IMET program, according to Proceso, includes training in anti-drug operations, counterintelligence, and the use of advanced equipment. Prior to 1990, Mexico did not participate in the United States’ Military Assistance Program (MAP), a program for the sale of equipment and defense services. But in 1990, Mexico received $876,000 under MAP. (Puig 1991)
Commercial exports of defense articles, services, and technical data are licensed by the Office of Defense Trade Controls in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs of the Department of State. Between 1950 and 1979, Mexico purchased $11,241,000 worth of military equipment and articles – an average of almost $0.4 million per year. Between 1980 and 1989, Mexico spent $377,000,000 – an average of about $63 million per year. But in 1990, 1991, and 1992, Mexico bought $395 million in defense equipment – an average of $131 million per year.
The Mexican Air Force, reported Proceso, benefited the most from this increase in military expenditures since the early 1980s, with the establishment of a squadron of F-5E fighter jets, Bell 212 helicopters, and C-130 transport planes. (Puig 1991)
In 1992, the U.S. Department of State believed the “most important” indicator of Mexico’s commitment to the Drug War was the “Salinas administration's decision to make the drug issue a national security priority.” (U.S. Department of State 1993)
The Department of State reported that in 1992, “the United States and Mexico maintained close, effective counternarcotics cooperation,” that U.S.-Mexican law enforcement cooperation included “sharing intelligence on the activities of narcotics trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the U.S.,” that part of U.S. policy was to assist Mexico in building “an effective and efficient field support infrastructure to support crop control and enforcement activities,” and that together the United States and Mexico were “working to build a coordinated hemispheric response to the drug threat.” (U.S. Department of State 1993)
This cooperation included the participation of 20 personnel from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office in “aviation maintenance training courses” in the United States, training programs “focused on air, land, and sea interdiction,” and joint anti-drug operations in international waters between the Mexican Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy. The United States also supported the Attorney General’s Office’s counternarcotics efforts with “information management.” (U.S. Department of State 1993)
According to the Department of State, “under the Salinas administration, the military has expanded its eradication efforts and has initiated an aerial survey program.” The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (1993) stated:
In January 1992 President Bush authorized for Mexico more helicopter repair, equipment support and technical assistance valued at $26 million. (Castañeda 1993) And in January, Newsweek reported that, “A network of 18 ground-based radars in South and Central America and the Caribbean, supposed to be completed in 1992, is a year behind schedule.” (Lane 1992)
In February, according to the Department of State, President Salinas participated in the San Antonio Summit, “joining the work begun by the Andean nations and the U.S. at Cartagena in 1990.” Also in February, Mexico leased 12 UH-1H transport helicopters from the United States “to support the mobile basing concept and increase safety and flexibility,” bringing the Northern Border Response Forces’ UH-1H fleet to 21. Through mobile forward bases, Mexico “hopes to respond more quickly against suspect flights.” “DEA and NAS advisers in Mexico worked closely with the PGR to enhance NBRF operations and the U.S. Customs Service provided advanced training to the pilots of the PGR's Citation II tracker aircraft.” (U.S. Department of State 1993)
In July, 1992, Mexico announced that under a concept of “Mexicanization” it “would assume the remaining costs of counternarcotics programs previously supported by U.S. narcotics control funds.” Rather than provide funds, the United States support role began to “concentrate on specialized training and technical assistance.” In August, Mexico “confirmed its decision to assume financial support in 1993 for programs which previously received” Bureau of International Narcotics Matters’ funding. In September, Mexico hosted the UN Heads of National Law Enforcement Agencies conference. In October, CENDRO's 24-hour operations center opened. In early December, a U.S. “interagency team visited Mexico to discuss ways to enhance information exchanges between CENDRO” and similar U.S. agencies. (U.S. Department of State 1993)
By the end of 1992, Bush’s presidency was about to come to a close and William Clinton was set to be the next president of the United States. The U.S. militarization of the Drug War had been underway for over 10 years. Reagan’s declaration that drugs were a national security threat was over 6 years old. It had been 3 years since former Secretary of Defense Cheney’s assertion that combating drugs was a national security mission of great priority. The experience of Panama and Iraq was informing the U.S. military establishment with new insights about conducting war. And the revolution in military affairs brought on by the so-called information and communication revolution was in the incipient stages of what would be soon called Information Warfare. The Fall 1992 issue of Covert Action Quarterly underscored the communication and information technology assets available to the Pentagon that were being utilized in its antidrug efforts. Undoubtedly, these assets were being made available to Mexico.
On January 1, 1993, in accordance with a 1992 policy decision to "Mexicanize" its Drug War, Mexico “assumed full responsibility for funding key programs such as maintenance of the air fleet of the Attorney General's Office, which is critical to both cocaine interdiction and eradication of marijuana and opium poppy.” According to the State Department, “Mexicanization of the GOM's counternarcotics efforts has helped to move the relationship beyond that of donor-recipient to one of active collaboration between partners. This effort is reflected in increased information sharing, operational coordination and international collaboration.” (U.S. Department of State 1994)
U.S.-Mexico anti-drug cooperation has not been without problems. In February, 1993, reported Proceso, the American Embassy in Mexico revealed that not all the high frequency radio bases and mobile radio units provided by the U.S. Department of State to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office for the purpose of counternarcotics work by that agency’s Rapid Force team were being utilized. In addition a “Master Plan of Communications” supposed to be complete by then was still in development. The impetus for such a plan came with the recognition as early as July 1990 that poor equipment hindered communication between the P-3 radar planes in the air, Mexico’s Rapid Force team on the ground, and the control center housed in the American Embassy in Mexico City. The Department of Defense recommended a communications plan be developed for the whole country. (Puig 1993)
On March 20, two Mexican military officers were killed in Chiapas, outside San Cristobal de las Casas, very close to the powerful radar station on Cerro del Extranjero (Alien Hill). (Guzmán and Vera 1993) This was believed to be the Zapatistas “first run-in with the military. . .” (Ross 1995, 86) “The Mexican military’s response to the killings was swift and brutal. 400 troops from the 24th Motorized cavalry, stationed in Comitán, sealed off the village and swept through the 40-family settlement.” (Ross 1995, 24)
As of April 1993, Mexico had 7 long distance radar installations each with a coverage of 200 nautical miles. Mexican air space was divided into four control centers of aerial traffic. El Centro Mérida covered the states of Yucatan, Chiapas, and Campeche. El Centro México covered central Mexico. El Centro Mazatlán covered Guadalajara, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California Sur, and parts of Baja California. El Centro Monterrey covered Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Coahuila y Chihuahua. (Gutiérrez 1993)
The assassination of Cardinal Posadas on May 24, 1993, in Guadalajara, was “one decisive event in the radicalization of the drug wars,” according to one Mexican drug policy analyst. “It is difficult to know if this crime was a product of a more confrontational policy toward drug trafficking or the detonator of it. The fact is that President Salinas declared total war to drug trafficking four days after the Cardinal’s death.” (Chabat 1995b)
On June 17, Mexico established the National Institute to Combat Drugs. The INCD became responsible for “planning, executing, supervising, and evaluating all counternarcotics activities in Mexico.” Mexico requested and funded U.S. technical advice and training for INCD personnel. (U.S. Department of State 1994) In August, the “first class of narcotics investigative police cadets” graduated from the newly created National Institute to Combat Drugs. (U.S. Department of State 1994)
In November, Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 14, also known as the U.S. Policy on International Counternarcotics in the Western Hemisphere, “which changed the focus of the U.S. international drug control strategy from interdicting cocaine as it moved through the transit zone of the Caribbean and Mexico to stopping cocaine in the source countries of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.” This change in strategy “reduced the detection and monitoring assets in the transit zone.” (GAO 1996a)
As 1993 drew to a close, interest was peaked by the impending implementation of NAFTA, set to go into force on January 1, 1994. A November article in Proceso discussed areas of U.S.-Mexico mutual concern and focused on the Drug War as the vehicle for increased military cooperation, concluding that indeed Mexico’s move toward greater military involvement in combating drugs was increasing reliance on the United States for military assistance.
Shortly after the New Year, early in the morning, with a combined force of between 1,200 and 1,500, 400 Zapatistas began to take over San Cristobal, 300 began to take over Ocosingo, and the remainder took over Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Oxchuc, and Huixtán. Due to resistance from police and state security forces Ocosingo was not under Zapatista control until that afternoon. 14,000 Mexican troops were summoned from around the country and airlifted to Tuxla, the capitol of Chiapas. Paratroopers secured three large dams.
• January 2, 1994, Sunday
In the morning, 500 Zapatistas marched 12 kilometers from San Cristobal to assault a Mexican military base at Rancho Nuevo. Helicopter gunships were sent from Tuxla to respond. But by night, the EZLN forces captured 180 automatic weapons and grenades from the undefended armory. Nearby, in Los Altos, the first aerial assault of the war by a HUEY gunship on a commandeered minibus left 14 dead. In Ocosingo 14 Mexican Air Force planes dropped paratroopers. The fighting in the Ocosingo market place was the heaviest of the war. HUEY gunships and Swiss P-7 Pilatus fighters strafed the town
• January 3, 1994, Monday
In the morning, Subcomandante Marcos and troops withdrew to the southeast. 5,000 Mexican military troops followed. EZLN combatants were ordered to withdraw from Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Ocosingo, Oxchuc, and Huixtán by Monday afternoon. Despite the tactical retreat, the military base at Rancho Nuevo was under fire for the next 10 days. The battle of Ocosingo continued. HUEYs and P-7s continued to the air war.
• January 4, 1994, Tuesday
The remaining Zapatistas in Ocosingo were able to flee, but not without both EZLN and civilian casualties. Possibly as many 150 dead in all. P-7 Pilatus fighters strafed hillsides surrounding the Rancho Nuevo base deliberately targeting civilian communities.
• January 5, 1994, Wednesday
Journalists entering the war zone in civilian communities around Rancho Nuevo came under fire. A television news crew from Univision was hit while interviewing civilians. Mexican troops occupied the main plaza of San Cristobal.
• January 6, 1994, Thursday
The air war spread to the east. Helicopter gunships and P-7s hit hillsides surrounding Tenejapa. Aerial bombardment killed civilians near Altamirano. The Salinas administration offered a cease-fire if the EZLN turned in their weapons, took off their masks, released prisoners, and identified their leaders.
• January 7, 1994, Friday
Mexican military suffered their biggest loss with the death of 30 army soldiers near the radar facility at Cerro del Extranjero. The cause of the soldiers’ death is unconfirmed. Hypotheses suggest the assault was a Zapatista ambush or the result of friendly fire. Hundreds of Zapatistas had been trying to take the radar installation. But the surrounding area was under heavy aerial assault. In Mexico City, the Undersecretary of the Interior presented a 28 page report that confirmed that the Zapatistas had been monitored since 1990.
• January 8, 1994, Saturday
Human rights activists and others marched, in defiance of the military, from San Cristobal to witness surrounding communities that had been hit by aerial bombardment.
• January 9, 1994, Sunday
The European Parliament called for an end to the Mexican military onslaught.
• January 10, 1994, Monday
An EZLN communiqué, written by the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee, signed by Subcomandante Marcos, dated January 6, was published in El Tiempo. The communiqué promised respect for a cease-fire if the EZLN was recognized as a “belligerent force” as proscribed under the Geneva Convention.
• January 11, 1994, Tuesday
15,000 Mexican troops, with armored vehicles and 18 tanks, advanced toward Tepeyac, east of San Cristobal.
• January 12, 1994, Wednesday
Human rights investigators and reporters observed, at
Rancho Nuevo, helicopters from the Attorney General’s Office supposed to
be used exclusively in the Drug War. President Salinas declared a unilateral
But La Jornada later reported that Jane Therry of the
U.S. House Subcommittee of Western Hemispheric Affairs stated “during the
rebellion of Chiapas, in January,
Mexico attacked the civilian population with helicopters the United States sold to it to combat narcotrafficking.” (Hernández 1994)
Perhaps in an attempt to downplay the U.S. military role in Mexico, in February, 1994, it was reported that the U.S. supply of arms and military equipment to Mexico had tapered off. These figures may have reflected the process of “Mexicanization” of the Drug War initiated under Salinas. The Austin American-Statesman reported that “in fiscal year 1992. . . the United States delivered arms and other military equipment to Mexico valued at $19.1 million. This compares with deliveries of $72.8 million on 1982 and $60 million in 1990.” (Kay 1994)
Nevertheless, figures for 1994 show an increase that exceeds spending levels in 1982, 1990, and 1992. The 1995 Human Rights Watch World Report stated that:
In the International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Saxe-Fernandez, an economics professor at the Autonomous University in Mexico City and close observer of U.S. economic interests in Mexico, suggested that following the Zapatista uprising the U.S. Department of Defense has encouraged the Mexican military to focus more on counterinsurgency rather than on its traditional roles.
A drug policy analyst at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas believed there was a logical correlation between the Zapatista uprising and governmental calls for increased attention to drug trafficking. Through the Drug War, it was easier to justify increased militarization.
In 1994, “close law enforcement cooperation between the Mexico and the United States continued,” reported the State Department. “The United States continued to provide technical advice and training” for personnel of the Mexican National Institute to Combat Drugs (INCD) and “the interdiction of cocaine shipments by the Northern Border Response Force (NBRF) remained the focus of bilateral interdiction efforts.” Two joint operations between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy were conducted and were “successful regarding information sharing, professional exchanges, shipriders, and direct communications.” (U.S. Department of State 1995)
Another government agency reported problems with U.S.-Mexico anti-drug cooperation. A General Accounting Office report stated that:
Even given the General Accounting Office’s reported problems with the Northern Border Response Force, the Department of State remained positive, stating Mexico:
In February, 1995, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement and
diplomatic officials “began an unprecedented series of law enforcement
plenaries.” Six meetings were held through the year. Counternarcotics cooperation
was among the topics regularly discussed. (U.S. Department of State 1996)
Also in February, the Pentagon released its annual report to the President and Congress. The report contained information about the Department of Defense’s Special Operation Forces as they are used in counternarcotics operations.
During the 1995 February offensive against Zapatista strongholds in Chiapas, which began on February 10, “the Mexican army used Black Hawk helicopters and parachuting units to take over formerly held Zapatista towns such as Guadalupe, Tepeyac, Ibarra, and San Quintin.” (Lazaroff 1995) As noted earlier, Black Hawk helicopters come equipped with Global Positioning System equipment that when used in conjunction with signals from aerial reconnaissance planes or satellites can pin-point targets on the ground. (Lumsdaine 1995) On February 11, reported La Jornada, “two military attaches from the United States today tried to enter the conflict zone in the state of Chiapas, in which the Mexican Army is developing an offensive against the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), but they were stopped at a military checkpoint.” La Jornada also reported, “the officials denied that the United States was loaning assistance to combat the Zapatista guerrillas, and rejected also the idea that with this military operation, which is being developed with great secrecy, is violating human rights.” (La Jornada 1995)
According to an April issue of Latin America Weekly Report, in reference to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the Mexican military “claim that, thanks to the use of satellite reconnaissance and of helicopters equipped with heat-seeking devices, they have been able to pinpoint every movement of the rebels.” (Latin America Weekly Report 1995) On May 23, the Clinton administration announced that Mexico was negotiating to acquire more U.S. military helicopters to be used in the fight against the narcotrafficking. (Cason and Brooks 1995b)
During the summer of 1995, “President Zedillo formally raised the profile of the Mexican military in counternarcotics activities” and “enhanced the military's involvement in interdiction.” In June, Mexico, with Guatemala and Belize, in “Operation Triangle,” conducted “two international counternarcotics surge operations.” This “tri-border effort” was a precursor to Operation "Unidos" that happened later in the year. In August, “one of the most important drug seizures by the Mexican Navy took place” when “1,125 kg of cocaine was confiscated as a result of a firefight with narcotraffickers trying to cross the Usumacinta river from Guatemala into Mexico.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
On July 25, U.S. government sources informed La Jornada that the Mexican government was looking to quadruple the number of U.S. helicopters it had deployed in the war against narcotrafficking. At that time, the Mexican Attorney General’s office was renting 18 UH-1H Huey helicopters, but wanted to increase that amount to 90. La Jornada also reported that the Attorney General’s office was interested in purchasing an unspecified number of Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopters, but that there was some opposition to this among U.S. officials who thought maintenance and operation costs would be too high. (Cason and Brooks 1995c)
The August issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review included a long list of recent Mexican military acquisitions. The publication stated that in 1995 Mexico had obtained “608 laser designators and 208 night-vision devices.” JIR predicted:
In August, La Jornada reported that “the Mexican Army had substantially increased the purchase of arms” in 1993 and 1994. The report stated “sophisticated equipment, ” including “telescopic night-vision gun sights” and “white laser designators,” had been “fundamentally destined to special units and to the Military Police” and that “during the last three years it registered an important increase in the potential of the Mexican Air Force through the purchase of helicopters and planes destined principally to the struggle against narcotrafficking.” In 1994 alone, the Mexican Air Force acquired 6 Sikorsky helicopters, 20 Bell helicopters, 22 McDonnell Douglas helicopters, 17 Pilatus PC-7 planes, 16 Maule planes, 4 Arvana planes, 1 Hercules C-130 troop transport plane, and 2 Schweizer planes. (Aranda 1995)
On August 29, 1995, it was reported that “Mexico ordered $270 million worth of airplanes, helicopters, rifles, night-vision goggles, as well as radar, surveillance, computer and communication equipment from the United States.” Also included in the order were flight simulators and data encryption equipment, ostensibly to be used in the war against drugs and against police corruption. (Periscope Daily Defense News Capsules 1995)
On September 1, President Zedillo's State of the Nation
address “stressed the rule of law, fighting narcotrafficking, and legislative
initiatives.” The next month,
in October, Zedillo and President Clinton met in Washington where “cooperation in combating international drug trafficking was one of the principal issues discussed.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
On October 10, the Voice of America reported that the United States had reached an agreement with Mexico in which it would lease an additional 12 US Army helicopters to Mexico’s Attorney General’s office. (Gollust 1995)
The Department of State stated that “to further strengthen its interdiction and eradication programs,” the United States leased to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office 12 UH-1H helicopters and extended the lease of 18 others. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office “sent 29 of its pilots to the U.S. for advanced night-flight training at Ft. Rucker, Alabama to enhance the NBRF's ability to respond to nighttime trafficking” and Mexican UH-1H helicopter mechanics “received training at the Interamerican Air Forces Academy, Lackland AFB, Texas.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
On October 23, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry met with the head of the Mexican military, General Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, in Mexico City to discuss increased cooperation between the armed forces of both nations. Perry announced a plan to “double the Pentagon’s $500,000 budget for training 55 Mexican military officers at American military schools” and a “$70 million loan to help the Mexicans buy badly needed radar equipment for use in detecting planes bringing cocaine from Colombia and other countries.” (DePalma 1995) La Jornada reported that during his visit to Mexico “Perry maintained that his country will collaborate in the improvement of our defense capacity in air and maritime space in the modernization of military hardware.” (Aranda and Aponte 1995) According to the Department of State, Perry proposed, and the Mexican Government agreed to, the establishment of a Bilateral Working Group, “to determine areas for increased cooperation in areas of mutual interest, such as counternarcotics.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
Also in October, Mexico issued the "National Program for Drug Control 1995-2000." Part of the strategy in this plan seeked to improve the Mexican government’s ability to “improve aerial surveillance, professionalize and modernize law enforcement, enhance intelligence capabilities.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
In November the Mexican Attorney General’s Office accepted a U.S. “aviation training proposal for 1996 that will help prepare additional air crews and mechanics needed to operate and maintain the 12 UH-1H helicopters leased” to the Mexico in 1995. (U.S. Department of State 1996)
Also in November, the director of the DEA, Thomas Constantine, argued that the United States ought to grant financial support to Mexico so it can acquire new systems of radar and to increase those that already exist in Chiapas and Oaxaca. The United States began contemplating granting funds through the Export-Import Bank, of up to $72 million, to purchase additional TPS-70 and TPS-63 radar systems. A TPS-70 radar system is situated in Chiapas and a TPS-63 radar system is situated in Oaxaca. (Cason Brooks 1995a)
And in November, “60 Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) in Chihuahua were replaced by a contingent of Mexican Army officers working for the Attorney General’s Office as part of a new effort to clean up corruption.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
Finally, in November, Mexico participated in "Unidos," a ten-day anti-drug operation involving police and military forces “brought the entire Mexico/Central American region together.” The Department of State stated, “these types of regional operations are unprecedented in Mexico's counterdrug efforts, especially in terms of the massive logistics and international cooperation required to implement them.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
In December, the Mexican Congress “approved a Public Security law which provides for coordination of the national system of public security and professionalization of varied police entities.” In late 1995, the Attorney General’s Office, as part of several legislative reforms aimed at combating narcotrafficking, submitted a “controversial” organized crime bill to the Mexican Congress that included “provisions for use of modern investigative techniques such as electronic surveillance.” (U.S. Department of State 1996)
The Department of State reported that in 1996 President Zedillo “substantially increased the role of the Mexican military in interdiction and combating drug trafficking organizations.” Active duty and former military personnel became heads of the INCD, CENDRO, the Federal Judicial Police, the Federal Customs Service, and the police force in Mexico City, including the positions of Chief of Police and heads of 18 district police stations. However, an “experiment” that replaced 60 Federal Judicial Police in Chihuahua in November, 1995, with a contingent of Mexican Army officers was “abandoned as unsuccessful.” Greater involvement in counternarcotics operations along the northern border resulted in “several unauthorized entries of armed Mexican patrols into US territory.” The Mexican military was responsible for 75 percent of the nation’s drug eradication efforts, with the Attorney General’s Office accounting for the remaining 25 percent. (U.S. Department of State 1997)
The Department of State also reported, in 1996 “military-to-military cooperation” between the United States and Mexico “expanded significantly,” with counternarcotics “as a principal area of mutual interest and resulting program activity.” Continued abandonment of Mexico’s policy of “Mexicanization” of the Drug War opened up more political space for the Pentagon to pursue “training, technical and material assistance to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense” which included an “initiative to develop special anti-drug response forces to support police interdiction efforts.” A High-Level Contact Group between the United States and Mexico was established to develop strategy on “strengthening institutional capacities of law enforcement agencies, maritime and air interdiction, control of illicit drug cultivation and production, training and equipment, combating criminal organizations, and reducing demand for illicit drugs.” In 1996, the U.S. government extended a lease of 12 helicopters to the Attorney General’s Office’s interdiction fleet. The Pentagon trained Attorney General’s Office “pilot instructors and other key support personnel.” The number of Mexicans, from both the Attorney General’s Office and the military, trained at U.S. facilities rose to nearly two hundred. (U.S. Department of State 1997)
In one of the earliest indications that the Mexican military was incorporating Information Warfare doctrine and strategy with its military policy, the Secretariat of Defense (SEDENA), in January, sponsored a seminar called “VHF Communications and the Electronic War”, with the assistance of a firm called Rodhe & Shuarz. In writing about this seminar in relation to an article on Mexico’s modernization of communications that appeared in Revista de Transmisiones in February, Proceso reported that “the Mexican Army has entered the so-called ‘electronic war’” and that in doing so now had the capacity to “intercept and block telecommunications” and “to obtain information about hostile neighbors or potential enemies.” (Ambriz 1996)
According to Proceso, in January and February, 1996, SEDENA’s General Transmissions Directorate “developed a system to supervise” the “44 transmission units” distributed throughout Mexico, of which 4 are in Chiapas.
In March, U.S. and Mexican government officials involved in the Drug War, including Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Barry McCaffrey, met in Mexico City to created a High-Level Contact Group, with the purpose of establishing “a senior bilateral coordination mechanism to oversee and advance bilateral counter-drug cooperation.” HLCG working groups “met throughout the year to advance cooperation, legal development, training, and information exchange.” Also in March, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office “conducted an 11-state surge operation focused on interdicting drugs and precursor chemicals.” (U.S. Department of State 1997)
In mid March U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry stated
that the United States and Mexico would realize joint maneuvers within
12 months. But this statement was quickly “contextualized” by the Pentagon.
What was meant by Perry’s remarks, the Pentagon said, was that there were
no plans for joint maneuvers, but that the theme was being discussed. (Cason
and Brooks 1996c; Cason and Brooks 1996e)
Also in mid March, La Jornada reported that the Mexican Army will “execute a project of installing ‘ultramodern’ radar originating from the United States.” (Aranda 1996b)
The Department of Defense announced at the end of March, that as part of its efforts to assist Mexico in the war on drugs, Mexican military officers would receive 12 weeks of training in the United States at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The program would “concentrate on the use of modern technology in the war against drugs.” (Jordan 1996)
In April, the Clinton administration, represented by new drug policy director Barry McCaffrey, announced that it would increase assistance to Mexico’s anti-drug efforts by beginning to share “selected intelligence” with Mexico. Hearst News Service reported that McCaffrey said, “We’re going to give Mexican authorities. . .the information they need to form an even better defense of their own sovereign air space and sea frontier,” which will mean more technical assistance such as radar. (Hearst News Service 1996) As part Clinton’s joint anti-drug strategy with Mexico a 12 point plan was developed. The last point: “utilization of high technology to control narcotrafficking.” (La Jornada 1996)
In April, the United States and Mexico “signed an agreement that will facilitate the transfer of military equipment and, shortly thereafter, the United States announced its intention to transfer a number of helicopters and spare parts to the Mexican government.” (GAO 1996a)
According to La Jornada, “an announcement about an accord in principle to increase military cooperation between Mexico and the United States. . . was possible, because to Washington it represented “putting a foot in the door” for much greater cooperation, and to Mexico it permitted access to more military equipment.” Part of the agreement was that future military equipment going to Mexico, like Huey helicopters, would not be restricted purely for use in battling drug trafficking. Equipment would be “primarily” for the war on drugs, but not “exclusively.” In addition to the possibility of new helicopters, during the bilateral discussions, possible improvement of Mexico’s fleet of F-5 fighter jets, night vision equipment, and other materials were on the table. (Cason and Brooks 1996d)
In April, responding to criticism that the U.S. military had overstepped its bounds in its involvement with anti-drug activities along the U.S.-Mexico border, INS officials reaffirmed that the military’s function, as part of the Joint Task Force 6, was to provide support and, reported the Boston Globe, “the military’s primary role is to operate sophisticated equipment such as infrared night vision scopes to keep smugglers off guard.” (Fainaru 1996)
The Washington Office on Latin America reported that in April the Mexican army conducted an anti-drug operation in Oventic, Chiapas. This community is one of the Zapatista’s Centers of Resistance, and the site of several international meetings.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher led a delegation to Mexico City for the eighth meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, “which included a working group on Legal Affairs and Anti-Narcotics Cooperation co-chaired by Attorneys General Reno and Lozano.” Also in May in Mexico City, Mexican and U.S. congresspersons met for the annual session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where the agenda included “ways to improve bilateral counternarcotics cooperation.” And in May, DEA, FBI and the US Customs Service signed an agreement with the Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office “on cooperation with, and support for, counter-drug task forces located in northern Mexico. These units are complemented by similar interagency task forces on the US side of the border set up under the US Department of Justice's Southwest Border Initiative.” Finally, in May, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office and military forces “conducted a five-state surge operation against air, land and maritime targets in southern Mexico.” (U.S. Department of State 1997)
In May, the State Department announced it was proposing to assist Mexico’s counternarcotic efforts in fiscal year 1997 with $5 million, in part, for maintenance of helicopters used by Mexico’s Office of Attorney General. This marked a departure from the “Mexicanization” of the war on drugs that began in 1993. (Cason Brooks 1996f)
In June, the Pentagon asked Congress to approve almost $10 million in military assistance to Mexico in 1997 – to assist Mexico in its counternarcotics efforts – that would include funds for “non lethal” night vision equipment, instruments for global positioning, radios, equipment for command, communication and intelligence, and for detection and monitoring. (Cason 1996)
In June, a response to U.S. Senator Jesse Helms from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher regarding concerns over end-use monitoring of military equipment transferred to Mexico, revealed particular information about helicopters. The first 20 UH-1H Huey helicopters out of a total package of 73, scheduled for arrival in 1996, would go to the Mexican air force for a new “rapid response team” used in counternarcotics missions. Between 1989 and 1994 the Mexican air force acquired 48 helicopters: 18 Bell 212 and 2 Bell 206L3; 6 UH-60 Black Hawk, manufactured by Sikorsky; 22 MD-530 Defender, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas. Since 1989, Mexico’s Office of Attorney General has leased 33 UH-1H Hueys, 21 in 1989 and 1992, and 12 more in 1995. The response from Christopher also indicated that Mexico for the first time permitted U.S. “public security agents” to fly over Mexican territory. (Cason and Brooks 1996a)
In June, the General Accounting Office issued a report which in part discussed the diminished capability of the Department of State to monitor the end use of helicopters received by Mexico for its counternarcotics efforts.
The Guardian Weekly reported:
A week after the EPR appeared in Guerrero, President Zedillo took a hard line against them and vowed to apply the full-weight of the law, a contrast to the more accommodating toned used with the Zapatistas. (Penhaul 1996d) By then, 8,000 soldiers had poured in to Guerrero after the EPR’s appearance. (Penhaul 1996b)
A PRD party member from Guerrero told the Mexico City News: “The climate of violence being generated by the militarization of Guerrero reflects a policy of counter insurgency – a new dirty war against dissident social organizations.” (Penhaul 1996b)
Juan Fernando Reyes, a Mexican researcher on armed movements, told the Mexico City News: “A specter is sweeping through Mexico. The state is looking for armed groups everywhere in order to justify the militarization. We’re entering a phase when it’s no longer a low intensity dirty war but it’s becoming a real war. The army is surrounding communities and then going in to frighten them on suspicion of acting as a support base for the guerrilla.” (Penhaul 1996a)
By July 12 the army was also sending troops to Hidalgo and Veracruz, under the pretext of several weapons caches discovered earlier in that month. Army checkpoints were set up in Hidalgo-Veracruz border region. With troops on the ground and helicopters and jet fighters in the air, combined Mexican military forces “combed mountain farms and villages in the border region. . .” (Tricks 1996)
Back on the diplomatic front, in July, the U.S. and Mexican High-Level Contact Group met in Washington to “review strategy and progress on joint programs.” (U.S. Department of State 1997) Also in July, La Jornada reported Mexico and the United States negotiated new rules that would permit U.S. military aircraft engaged in combating narcotrafficking to land in Mexico to refuel. (Aponte and Espinosa 1996)
The Periscope Daily Defense News Capsule reported in August, 1996, that “the Mexican Army since 1994 has increasingly been acquiring sophisticated equipment.”
On August 5, UPI reported that the head of the U.S. Southern Command, General Wesley Clark, had announced that he is “considering an increase in the number of troops stationed at the U.S. base in Palmerola, Honduras.” This base was “a center for U.S. activities in Central America in the 1980s.” As of August there were 499 U.S. troops at the base. (UPI 1996b)
On August 28, just 4 days before President Zedillo’s State of the Union address, the EPR launched simultaneous assaults against police stations and military posts in Mexico, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, leaving 13 dead. (Dillon 1996)
The Austin American-Statesman reported:
Two days later, on August 30, the New York Times reported the Mexican government had “condemned the rebels as terrorists and stepped up the hunt for them today in seven states”: Mexico, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, Puebla, Hidalgo, and Veracruz. The Times stated the EPR “appears to present a much more formidable security challenge to the Government than the Zapatistas did when they briefly occupied a city in Chiapas in January 1994 and made their plea for relief from the abuses suffered by Indian peoples,” adding that the EPR “demonstrated their ability to move surreptitiously throughout much of southern Mexico in both cities and mountains, to pop up, strike and vanish.” (Preston 1996)
Security forces, including the Mexican army, navy, and federal and state police, set up roadblocks and reinforced security at “strategic points across the country.” The U.S. Department of Defense reportedly said that the “attacks didn’t seem to jeopardize Mexico’ stability. . .” (Nusser 1996a)
In September, the Associated Press reported, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico James Jones said the United States was willing “to provide intelligence and training to assist Mexico in its fight” against the EPR, a new guerrilla force that appeared in Guerrero at the end of June. (AP 1996a)
Also in September, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of Treasury and Public Credit “signed letters of agreement allowing the US Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section to provide direct support for law enforcement and eradication operations and money laundering investigations, respectively.” (U.S. Department of State 1997)
La Jornada reported in September that the United States intended to donate to Mexico in 1997, close to $37 million worth of helicopters and reconnaissance planes – 53 UH-1H Huey helicopters and 4 reconnaissance-transport C-26 planes. This $37 million figure was reported to be in addition to $10 million that the Pentagon requested for “equipment for night vision and command and control” in 1997. La Jornada noted that:
And, La Jornada reported Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional data showing that Mexico’s armed forces had increased by 34.9 percent between 1986 and 1996, from 169,746 to 229,152 by June 30, 1996. (Aranda 1996a)
In September, Rear Admiral Norman Saunders of the U.S. Coast Guard testified before Congress that the Coast Guard needed improvements in technology if it was to be effective in the war on drugs.
In November, the Mexican government passed the Organized Crime Bill, which authorizes “a whole new arsenal of investigative and prosecutorial tools, including electronic surveillance, witness protection, undercover operations, plea bargaining, and prosecution for criminal association.” Also in November, “the US Department of Defense delivered 20 helicopters to the Mexican Army for its use in counter-drug operations; 53 more are to be provided in 1997.” And in November, Mexico, seven Central American and three Andean nations “conducted a ten-day region-wide operation” against drugs called "Unidos II." Presumably, this is a continuation of a similar operation conducted in November, 1995 simply called “Unidos.” (U.S. Department of State 1997)
In December, the U.S. and Mexican High-Level Contact Group met in Mexico City and “approved a binational threat assessment and reviewed progress on specific action plans and goals for 1997 which will be used as the basis for a joint counternarcotics strategy.” (U.S. Department of State 1997)
In February, 1997, the Clinton administration presented Congress with its proposed budget for 1998. La Jornada reported that the proposal slated over $21 million for the Pentagon and the State Department for continued anti-drug efforts. Of that total figure, over $12 million was proposed for further training of Mexican military officers at U.S. bases and $8 million was proposed for the International Bureau of Narcotics, in the State Department, for training and support within programs administered by Mexico’s Attorney General. Part of those funds would go programs “charged with investigating crimes, as well as how to study methods of intervening in communications,” La Jornada reported. The International Military Education and Training program (IMET) would receive $1 million under the proposal. (Cason and Brooks 1997)
In February, John Ross, author of Rebellion from the Roots, commented in his biweekly report, Mexico Barbaro, on the increased militarization of Mexico:
On February 18, a Mexican army general, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, head of the National Institute to Combat Drugs, was arrested and dismissed from the armed forces “on charges of cocaine trafficking and violating Mexico’s national security.” Rebollo was appointed by President Zedillo to head the National Institute to Combat Drugs in December, 1996. (Preston 1997a)
The New York Times, on February 25, reported that U.S. officials said “Mexico could for the first time lose its status as country that fully cooperates in the war against drugs.” By March 1, as required annually, Clinton was to certify or deny that Mexico was cooperating. (Dillon 1997d) House minority leader, Rep. Richard Gephardt, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, the New York Times stated, “wrote separate letters saying that Mexico deserved to be decertified, but with penalties waived in the vital national interest. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Thomas A. Constantine, said of Mexico, before the House Subcommittee on National Affairs and Criminal Justice, ‘There is not one single law enforcement institution with whom the D.E.A. has a really trusting relationship.’” (Wren 1997a) Mexico responded quickly stating that decertification would “jeopardize cooperation in the drug war.” (Preston 1997d)
On February 28, President Clinton, despite concerns expressed by Congressional leaders and the head of the DEA, certified that Mexico is fully cooperating in the war on drugs, but according to the New York Times, “only after the Mexican Government made several commitments sought by American law enforcement agencies. Among those commitments was a promise ‘to act on a longstanding American request to build radar stations in southern Mexico to track suspected drug flights, . . .’ and to allow the U.S. administration to have voice “in the selection of Mexican agents for sensitive joint intelligence operations and on a maritime agreement that would let the United States Navy and Coast Guard work with the Mexican Navy to stop and search vessels suspected of carrying drugs in Mexican waters.” The announcement of Mexico’s certification “drew fire” from Congress. (Wren 1997c)
The day after Clinton certified Mexico, the New York Times reported, Mexican officials announced that someone in police custody at the National Institute for Combating Drugs and “accused of being a money launderer for one of Mexico’s major drug trafficking cartels escaped ‘inexplicably’.” (Dillon 1997b)
Also on March 1, Clinton said he wanted to give Mexico “the means to succeed” in the war on drug trafficking and called for continued “tough action.” House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “We ought to finish the fence between Mexico and the United States this summer.” (AP 1997)
Within days of certification it was acknowledged that the agreements between Mexico and the United States around certification were ambiguous and not written down. One point of contention was a U.S. proposal to formally permit DEA agents operating in Mexico to carry firearms. (Wren 1997b) The New York Times reported from Mexico City that “American drug agents here to [sic] carry firearms for self-protection. Mexicans view the request as an attempt to turn the agents, whose role here is limited to information gathering, into an elite foreign police force.” (Dillon 1997a)
On March 6, a House committee voted to override Clinton’s certification. (Dillon 1997a) On March 10, Clinton met with 9 Senators to urge them to support his decision to certify Mexico. (Stout 1997) On March 12, Clinton warned that he would veto Congressional attempts at challenging certification. The New York Times reported a warning from Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin that revoking decertification could have adverse economic effects comparable to the peso devaluation at the end of 1994. The Times reiterated that part of the Clinton administration’s decision to certify was based on commitments from Mexico, like the continued development of “radar net to track drug transport planes.” National Drug Control Policy director Barry McCaffrey called the discourse around certification “extremely explosive.” (Clymer 1997)
Despite administration warnings, on March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives had approved a bill – 251 to 175 – that would impose sanctions on Mexico in 90 days if it did not show significant improvement it its efforts to stem the flow of drugs in to the United States. In related news, the New York Times reported that the DEA had “asked Mexico to permit 12 more agents to be assigned to the American Embassy, six from the F.B.I. and 6 from the agency” and for “23 more agents to be permitted to work in the twin border cities of Tijuana-San Diego, Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, and Matamoros-Brownsville.” Mexican officials continued to deny authorization for U.S. agents to carry firearms in Mexico – even though many do anyway. A Mexican Foreign Ministry official called the firearm proposal “ridiculous,” and said, “We’re not going to allow a bunch of Rambos to overrun our country.” (Dillon 1997c)
On March 17, another army general, Brigadier General Alfredo Navarro Lara, was arrested and jailed on drug trafficking and racketeering charges. The New York Times stated, “His arrest is new proof that traffickers have succeeded in corrupting the highest levels of the Mexican armed forces.” (Preston 1997d)
On March 18, the Clinton administration and a group of Senators failed to reach an agreement around certification. The White House wanted broad “less stringent” language and the Senators wanted concrete specific promises from Mexico. (Gray 1997b) On March 20, the New York Times stated that, “The United States has sharply criticized Mexico for failing to seize more than $160 million that American officials say they believe was deposited in Mexican banks by a drug trafficking suspect.” This was called the “latest in a series of disputes between the United States and Mexico over drug issues” that “illustrates the mounting difficulties the Government face in conducting joint law enforcement operations.” (Dillon and Pyes 1997) But on March 20, in a 94 to 5 vote the Senate approved a compromise bill around the issue of certification that the New York Time’s reported as containing “some of the most forceful language yet against Mexico over drug trafficking, calling Mexico a major source of heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana and cocaine and citing ‘evidence of significant corruption’ in Mexican government.” The Senate resolution requires Clinton to submit a report on Mexico’s progress by September 1, 1997. (Gray 1997a)
To its credit, the New York Times, on March 24, reported allegations and instances of corruption, such as acceptance of bribes, among U.S. Customs agents at several locations along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Johnston and Verhovek 1997)
At the beginning of May, 1997, President Clinton visited Mexico for several days as part of a brief Latin American tour. Drug trafficking was on his agenda with Mexican President Zedillo. The visit was primarily for image making and no new substantial ideas emerged regarding U.S.-Mexico drug policy.
In the 1980s, the view that drugs and drug trafficking were threats to national security was decreed by U.S. presidents Reagan and Bush, by Mexican presidents De la Madrid and Salinas, and by members of the U.S. military establishment, such as former Secretary of Defense Cheney. This conception of drugs as a national security threat is fundamental to the militarization of the Drug War, both within and outside of the United States. The classification of drugs as a threat to national security meant that the involvement of the U.S. Department of Defense in the interdiction of drug trafficking was justifiable and legal, from the perspective of the federal government.
The first instances of Pentagon involvement in the Drug War took place in the early 1980s in the Caribbean basin and along the U.S.-Mexico border. The South Florida Task Force on Organized Crime established in 1982 and headed by then vice president Bush set the model for future militarization of the Drug War along the U.S.-Mexico border, in South America, and eventually within the interior of Mexico. The South Florida model incorporated the most sophisticated military technology then available to the Defense Department – aerial and ground radar, and surveillance aircraft. This high-tech model was soon applied to the U.S.-Mexico border, in 1983, with the creation of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System. By the end of the 1980s, U.S. military assets were being called upon to create a system of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3I) for the Drug War throughout the entire western hemisphere. Cold War military technology and know-how that had been developed to respond to the threat of incoming Soviet missiles, such as assets available to NORAD, began to be used in the hemispheric Drug War.
Against this backdrop, the Salinas administration, with assistance from the United States, accelerated the process of militarizing Mexico’s front in the Drug War. Mexico adopted a high-tech interdiction and surveillance model similar to ones that had been applied earlier in the Caribbean, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in South America. Since the late 1980s, but more so in the 1990s, through a combination of purchases, loans, and donations, coming mostly from the United States, Mexico started to amass its own arsenal of radar, aerial surveillance aircraft, communications equipment, and other sophisticated military technology. At the same time, Mexico allowed the United States more access to operate within its airspace and on the ground. In addition the American Embassy in Mexico City strengthened its position as a central information collection and dissemination point with the introduction “tactical analysis teams” and more computer and communications equipment.
While the Drug War was one clear motivation for expanding Mexican armed forces’ technological military capability in the early 1990s, with the public actions of armed groups it became true that the Drug War was not the only cause. Since the Chiapas EZLN uprising in 1994, and again with the Guerrero EPR assaults in 1996, the process of militarization has intensified even more. And again, a major portion of new equipment and training has come from the United States and is in the form of sophisticated weaponry like telescopic night-vision gun scopes or airplane positioning systems, as well as in the form of communications and computer technology, like email, data base, data encryption software and training. Although it is argued that these military technologies are needed to fight the Drug War, most of these technologies can also be easily applied to counterinsurgency efforts against armed or even unarmed groups, as did happen in 1994 when with U.S. helicopters designated for counternarcotics were used in the 12-day war against the Zapatistas.
Tables 7, 8, 9, and 10 summarize some of the surveillance technology, aircraft, communication and information technology, and training available to Mexico as a consequence of the Drug War. These tables also make some comparisons to similar efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border and in other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. Tables 7 and 8 show partial lists of surveillance technology and aircraft used in all three regions. Table 9 shows communication and information technology used only in the U.S.-Mexico border region and in Mexico. Finally, Table 10 shows a partial list of U.S. training for just Mexican armed forces and law enforcement .
|Caribbean and Latin America||Border||Mexico|
|Portable Ground Radar||
|Mobile Ground Radar Station||
|Three Dimensional Radar||
|Long Distance Ground Radar||
|Aerostat Radar Balloons||
|Forward Looking Infrared Radar||
|Side Looking Infrared Radar||
|Advanced Down Looking Radar||
|Night Vision Devices||
|Infrared Night Vision Scopes||
|Night Vision Goggles||
|Telescopic Night Vision Scopes||
|White Laser Designators||
|U.S. Satellite Imagery||
|Links to NORAD||
|Caribbean and Latin America||U.S.-Mexico Border||Mexico|
|AWACS (Radar Planes)||
|C-12 Radar Aircraft||
|E-2B Radar, Surveillance Aircraft||
|E-2C Radar, Surveillance Aircraft||
|P-3 Radar Planes||
|OV-1 Mohawk Aircraft (infrared)||
|Black Hawk Helicopters||
|Night Flying Equipment||
|Remote Piloted Aircraft||
|Aerial Survey Imagery Equip.||
|GPS Positioning Equipment||
|High Frequency Radio||
|Mobile Radio Units||
|Sophisticated Radio Equipment||
|Data Encryption Equipment||
|Communications Interception & Blocking||
|Electronic Surveillance Capability||
|Command and Control Equipment||
|Secure Voice Radio Communication||
|Drug Control Information System||
Computer and computer software operation
Night flight training