From the New York Times
MEXICO CITY - Many of the mug shots of drug traffickers that appear in the Mexican press show surly looking roughnecks glaring menacingly at the camera. An anticorruption investigation unveiled last week in the Mexican capital, however, made it clear that not everybody enmeshed in the narcotics trade looks the part.
Above, Miguel Colorado González, formerly of the attorney general’s organized crime unit.
There was a gray-haired, grandfatherly type who was pushing 70, as well as an avuncular figure with a neatly coiffed goatee and wire-rimmed spectacles perched upon his nose. Some of the five men who found themselves on the front pages of newspapers on their way to jail, wore suits, which made them look more like bureaucrats than bad guys.
Among the greatest challenges in Mexico’s drug war is the fact that the traffickers fit no type. Their ranks include men and women, the young and the old. And they can work anywhere: in remote drug labs, as part of roving assassination squads, even within the upper reaches of the government.
It has long been known that drug gangs have infiltrated local police forces. Now it is becoming ever more clear that the problem does not stop there. The alarming reality is that many public servants in Mexico are serving both the taxpayers and the traffickers.
The men in suits, it turns out, were both bureaucrats and bad guys, officials say, corrupt employees high up in an elite unit of the federal attorney general’s office who were feeding secret information to the feared Beltrán Leyva cartel in exchange for suitcases full of cash.
Their arrest, and the firing of 35 other suspect law enforcement officials, represents the most extensive corruption case that this country, which knows corruption all too well, has ever seen. And it raises a question that is on the lips of many Mexicans: how does one know who is dirty and who is clean?
“I’m convinced that to stop the crime, we first have to get it out of our own house,” President Felipe Calderón, who has made fighting trafficking a crucial part of his presidency, said in a speech on Tuesday, after the arrests were announced.
That house is clearly dirty. There is ample evidence that Mexicans of all walks of life are willing to join the drug gangs in exchange for cash, including farmers who abandon traditional crops and turn to growing marijuana and accountants who hide the narco-traffickers’ profits.
There was sporadic evidence in the past that such corruption extended into high-level government offices. An army general who commanded Mexico’s anti-drug unit was arrested and convicted in 1997 after the discovery that he was working for a drug lord on the side. In 2005, a spy working for a drug cartel was discovered working in the president’s office and accused of feeding traffickers information on the movements of Vicente Fox, then the president.
But the abundance of law enforcement officials now believed to be on the take has made Mr. Calderón’s drug war all the more difficult to execute. Traffickers often know beforehand when raids are going to occur. Sometimes dealers plant their people on the teams that carry out the raids to act as saboteurs.
The traffickers’ networks are not foolproof. Mr. Calderón’s government did manage to capture Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, a cartel leader, in January even though the group was receiving inside information. What appears to have happened, officials say, is that the army carried out the raid without involving the attorney general’s office, inadvertently keeping the corrupt officials out of the loop.
The cartel’s leaders, who operate out of Sinaloa State and have been implicated in the killing of a top police commander in Mexico City, were described in local press accounts as being furious that their government moles had not informed them of the raid.
Still, the reach of the drug networks is so extensive that even winning a court conviction against a kingpin is not always enough to claim victory.
Many prison wardens and guards have shown themselves to be corrupt, allowing prominent detainees not only to operate their crime networks from their cells, but also to use their illicit drug proceeds to be as comfortable as possible behind bars, paying for everything from pizza to prostitutes. The cartel leaders sometimes even use their money to escape. The most notorious case was in 2001, when Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the country’s most wanted drug lord, managed to slip out of a maximum security prison in a laundry cart.
The porous nature of Mexican penitentiaries has prompted Mr. Calderón to increase the number of transfers of drug lords to the United States prison system. The United States has already filed the paperwork to extradite one of the officials accused last week of corruption. The official, Miguel Colorado González, 68, was a top manager in the government organized-crime office known by the Spanish acronym Siedo.
Mr. Calderón is not the first president to try to root out corruption. President Ernesto Zedillo reorganized the nation’s federal police at least twice; each time traffickers quickly infiltrated the force and bought off leading officials. His successor, Mr. Fox, tried and failed to clean up law enforcement as well.
Mr. Calderón’s efforts have been sustained enough that the traffickers have begun a vicious counterattack; so far this year, about 4,000 people — including police officers, soldiers, criminals and civilians — have been killed in an extraordinary wave of violence linked to organized crime.
The latest corruption scandal has prompted President Calderón’s attorney general to order a restructuring and purging of his office, and specifically of Siedo, which was formed from another agency that was shut down after being infiltrated by drug spies.
The government has ordered more lie detector tests for officials in delicate posts, beefed-up background checks and better salaries for underpaid police officers. But the amount of cash that the traffickers throw around — which Jorge Chabat, a security analyst, calls “enough money to buy part of the state” — makes government salaries seem laughable. Clearly, the government cannot compete peso for peso.
In some cases, finding out who has strayed from the straight and narrow should be a simple matter of following the money. Mr. Colorado González is reported to have bought four luxury vehicles in one year. Expensive jewelry was found in his home. His bank account was bulging.
In Tuesday’s speech, a clearly frustrated Mr. Calderón said that the fight to clean up Mexico depended on citizens putting their country first and respecting the law above all else. He suggested that the small bribes so often demanded by the officer on the beat, and accepted by the public as normal, for infractions real and imagined, were not disconnected from the government official receiving millions of dollars in drug profits.
“We need a stronger society, a society that lives the principle of legality with conviction, that encourages, promotes, spreads and educates its children with values,” Mr. Calderón said. In other words, there has to be a line people will not cross, even for a suitcase full of cash.