Drug Controversy Is Again Top Issue in U.S.-Mexico Summit

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, June 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Drug Controversy Is Again Top Issue in U.S.-Mexico Summit


Drug trafficking became a major focus at the annual summit of US and Mexico Cabinet ministers after two newspapers published reports linking a Mexican official and a prominent business family to drug cartels.

This is the second consecutive year that a drug-related dispute has played a prominent role in the annual summit. In 1998, Mexican officials used the summit to express their concerns about the Casablanca sting operation, which the US government used to arrest mid-level managers at Mexican banks for participating in money-laundering activities (see SourceMex, 1998-05-27 and 1998-06-17).

The newspaper reports, based on information obtained from US drug agencies, forced the drug issue to the top of the agenda again this year. The only drug-related item scheduled for discussion at the summit, held June 4 in Mexico City, had been a proposal to expand anti-drug cooperation among law- enforcement agencies along the US-Mexico border.

Report ties key presidential aide to drug traffickers One report, which appeared in The New York Times June 2, said President Ernesto Zedillo's personal secretary Jose Liebano Saenz Ortiz has been under investigation by the Mexican government for nearly a year for using his position to help drug traffickers.

Separately, The Washington Post cited a report compiled by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) that linked Carlos Hank Gonzalez and his sons, Carlos Hank Rhon and Jorge Hank Rhon, to major Mexican drug organizations. The center, which coordinates investigations by different US government agencies, said Hank and his two sons "pose a significant criminal threat to the United States."

The report on Saenz Ortiz drew particular attention because of his close working relationship with Zedillo. As personal secretary, Saenz Ortiz has duties similar to a chief of staff. The article said Saenz Ortiz had requested the investigation into his rumored connections with drug traffickers to clear his name. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, with Mexican prosecutors attributing the allegations to "second-hand" sources, including several drug traffickers.

But US government sources said the investigation failed to convince senior officials in the administration of US President Bill Clinton, particularly Attorney General Janet Reno. In a press conference, deputy attorney general Eric Holder confirmed that the Clinton administration has expanded its own investigation into Saenz's activities, but would prefer that the Mexican government take a closer look at the case. "Obviously, these are very serious charges, which we hope the Mexican government will investigate more thoroughly," said Holder.

Saenz is also under suspicion by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has put him on a list of foreign-government officials who merit special monitoring because of credible allegations of wrongdoing. The CIA said there is some evidence that Saenz has demanded huge bribes from drug cartels in exchange for government protection.

Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar defended the government's investigation of Saenz, but said Mexican authorities would consider any new evidence presented by the US. "I understand there is an issue of trust here," Madrazo told The New York Times. "But I don't understand how they can trust us on some issues and not on others. When we have the evidence, we act."

Separate report links powerful Hank family to drug trade The report about the Hank family's involvement in drug trafficking caused as much commotion as the Saenz case. Carlos Hank Gonzalez, an influential member of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) who served as Mexico City mayor and agriculture secretary, was one of the chief beneficiaries of the privatization program initiated under former President Miguel de la Madrid and carried on by his successor Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

The properties Hank obtained during the privatization include Mexico's huge ocean-shipping company Transportes Maritimos Mexicanos (TMM). …

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