From the article at Inter Press Service
By Emilio Godoy and Kanya D’Almeida
Late last week, the son of a top dog in Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drug cartel filed pleadings in a Chicago federal court accusing the U.S. government and its agencies of giving the cartel “carte blanche to continue to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the United States”.
The charges, though virtually ignored by the U.S. media, have opened a window on U.S. drug policy south of its border, which many analysts have decried as corrupt and ineffective for years.
In his two-page court pleading, Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla – the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, an alleged leader of the Mexico- based Sinaloa drug- and weapons-trafficking organisation – described a collaborative relationship between the cartel and the U.S. Department of Justice and its many arms, including agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In late 2009, Zambada-Niebla was arrested in Mexico City and extradited to the U.S. to stand trial on charges of being the “logistical coordinator” for the cartel, specifically for overseeing an operation that shipped “multi-ton quantities of cocaine” into the U.S. using various transport methods from Boeing 747 cargo aircraft to tractor-trailers.
According to Bill Conroy, a journalist who broke this story and several others for Narco News a full week ahead of other media outlets, Zambada-Niebla also claims to have been an asset for the U.S. government, including being a party to deals struck between DEA agents and hard-hitters of the Sinaloa organisation. These allegedly included promises of protection by the DEA in exchange for information about rival cartels.
Intelligence Operations Gone Wrong
Zambada-Niebla’s trial drives home the reality of intelligence operations by referencing the controversial U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) weapons-trafficking operation known as “Fast and Furious”.
Currently the subject of congressional hearings, the operation was an attempt to track gun sales in the U.S. to cartels inside Mexico. Under the programme, run out of the ATF headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, close to 2,500 firearms – including hundreds of AK-47s and Barrett .50 caliber rifles – were sold to “straw” buyers who handed them off to gunrunners in plain sight of the ATF.
Since the operation commenced in 2008, thousands of guns have disappeared across the border. The absence of a keen mechanism to track the weapons back to cartel leaders means that they are now safely in the hands of some of Mexico’s most relentless criminals.
Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Programme of the Center for International Policy, reported that in late 2010, some of these “walked guns” were traced to the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Furthermore, Zambada- Niebla’s pleadings assert that, as a result of the botched operation, roughly “three thousand people” in Mexico were killed “including law enforcement officers in the sate of Sinaloa, Mexico, headquarters of the Sinaloa Cartel”.
Zambada-Niebla’s pleadings claim that protection included promises to the cartel leadership to be kept apprised of U.S. and Mexican government investigations occurring close to the “home territories of [Sinaloa’s leaders] so that [they] could take appropriate actions to evade investigators,” even though the U.S. government had indictments, extradition requests, and rewards for the apprehension of certain members of Sinaloa’s leadership.
The pleadings indicate that U.S. officials acted on the assumption that keeping Mexican authorities in the dark about backroom security deals with one of the most powerful cartels in the country was a worthy exchange for information extracted from informants like Zambada Niebla.
Meanwhile, some 40,000 Mexican civilians have perished in the U.S.- sponsored crackdown on the drug trade.
In early May, Conroy crunched the numbers from the U.S. State Department’s most recent data on military spending for Fiscal Years 2008-2009 and found that, in addition to 177 million dollars worth of defence hardware funneled to companies in Mexico via private corporations in the U.S., 204 million dollars in arms were also sent across the border.