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December 27, 2005 - San Jose Mercury News (CA)

Cartel Wooing Mexico's Military

Analysts Finding Signs Of Corruption

By Alfredo Corchado, Dallas Morning News

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials and analysts say there are new signs that drug corruption is spreading within the Mexican military, an institution long regarded as more professional and less prone to criminality than the country's law enforcement agencies.

In interviews, four senior U.S. officials, a senior Mexican intelligence official and three independent analysts all expressed concern about the expanding role of the Mexican military in the drug war. Some pointed to low pay among the middle and lower ranks as making military personnel vulnerable to offers from cartel leaders who may double or triple their pay.

"Corruption is more serious in the Mexican military than just about any other Latin American military," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The reason is not that the Mexicans are any more venal; it's that we're talking about huge amounts of money . . . and that makes them more vulnerable."

Questions Deflected

Spokesmen for the Mexican Embassy in Washington and for Los Pinos, the presidential residence, declined to comment, referring questions to the military. Military officials requested questions in writing but said there would be no reply for now.

The concerns were underscored in a video sent to the Dallas Morning News in October and made public earlier this month. The video shows four men, bound and bloodied and prodded by an unseen interrogator, talking about their work for a drug cartel. Two of the four identified themselves as former military men and said that their job was to recruit for the cartel from Mexico's special forces.

The emergence of two new paramilitary groups, Los Negros and Los Numeros, which may seek to bolster their forces with military personnel and federal agents, has added to the concern, U.S. officials said. The groups are said to work for the Sinaloa cartel, purportedly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. They were recruited to battle the rival Gulf cartel and its enforcement arm, the Zetas, and to spread the Sinaloa cartel's dominance along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, the officials said.

Military's Key Role

The Mexican government's central role in fighting drug trafficking is a relatively recent development. In 1996, during the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, the U.S. government encouraged the Mexican government to give the military a central role in anti-narcotics efforts -- in part because the military was viewed as uncorrupted, analysts said.

"We're the ones who pushed the Mexican military into fighting narcotics," said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, head of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We've pushed them into narco corruption."

In the past five years, President Vicente Fox has dramatically increased the military's participation in anti-narcotics efforts by including military personnel on the attorney general's payroll.

Since 1996, the U.S. government has spent at least $225 million in training and other military assistance for anti-drug aid programs, according to a report by the Washington Office of Latin America, a non-governmental organization that monitors military cooperation between Mexico and the United States.

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