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The Dea, CIA, DoD, & Narcotrafficking
T he U.S. Military and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are at it again, this time in Guatemala. The State Department’s recently released 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report states that Guatemala has become “the preferred Central American staging point for cocaine shipments northwards to Mexico and the United States.” That Guatemala is a major transport route for illegal drugs is nothing new and neither is the DEA’s presence here. However, what is new and troubling is the U.S. government’s recent overtures of military aid towards Guatemala and the reimplementation of Plan Mayan Jaguar, a joint DEA-Department of Defens e project that sets no limit on the number of U.S. military and DEA personnel that could be deployed in Guatemala on joint anti-narcotrafficking operations. Add to this the familiar irony that many of the drug kingpins in the country benefited from previous trainings by either the DEA or the CIA and all the pieces are in place for more chaos and disaster in this latest chapter in the war on drugs.
Less than two years ago, Plan Mayan Jaguar was put on ice due to what the State Department termed “corruption in Guatemala’s special counternarcotics force, within the National Civil Police and…threats against human rights workers.” A month later, Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Latin American Affairs, further lambasted the government of Guatemala, pointedly stating, “Retired military officials, linked to violent organized crime, have significant influence within the armed forces, the police, the Executive powers, and the Judiciary.” These criticisms are all the more pointed, given that Otto Reich, who directed the State Departments Office for Public Diplomacy during the height of the Iran-contra scandal, is no liberal-leaning diplomat. Reich also cited a report by Minugua, the United Nations presence in Guatemala, that referred to “growing indications” of links between the police, the Public Ministry, military intelligence, and clandestine groups that “operate with impunity” in the country.
Guatemalan human rights organizations and international analysts believe that these clandestine groups work at the behest of a hidden power structure, made up of former military, business leaders, drug tycoons, and politicians. According to a report by the Washington Office on Latin Affairs, this power structure uses the appearance of democracy within Guatemala as a façade behind which to order the intimidation and occasional execution of journalists, activists, and other members of civil society. Amnesty International put it best when they referred to Guatemala as a Corporate Mafia State. Terrorizing activists and buying the judiciary accomplishes their goal of total impunity and allows this group of people to make a fortune while, according to the United Nations, over 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.
role does the DEA and the U.S. military have to play in this debacle?
During the 1980s, the U.S. military and the CIA played an active
support role in Guatemala’s transition from military to civilian
rule. This transition was orchestrated by the Guatemalan military
seeking to maintain power behind the scenes while creating a sense
of legitimacy for the Guatemalan government through the appearance
of democracy. The Guatemalan military was aided in this project
by U.S. agencies whose main objective was not to do anything about
the Guatemalan military’s continuing human rights abuses, but
rather to “professionalize” the force. This idea of creating
an efficient, though not necessarily just, military apparatus and
later police force, was taken up by the DEA in its attempts to control
the flow of drugs through the country. This desire for efficiency
led the DEA, the CIA, and the DoD to collaborate with the country’s
military intelligence, a move that proved to be the equivalent of
striking a deal with the devil. The criminal element in the country’s
military intelligence—a Guatemalan institution that has excelled
in the art of forced disappearance, torture, and assassination—used
the support of these U.S. agencies to their own benefit, becoming
heads of narcotrafficking cartels and key players in the hidden
network that is the real power in Guatemala.
This power dynamic had become so entrenched and the government’s relationship with narcotrafficking so obvious that at the beginning of 2003 the U.S. government decertified Guatemala as a country active in the fight against drug trafficking. Plan Mayan Jaguar appeared to be suspended indefinitely and even the continuation of a type of military aid known as Expanded IMET seemed to be in jeopardy. Guatemalan human rights activists cheered the move as a condemnation of the country’s rampant corruption and deteriorating human rights situation. But the decertification lasted less than a year. By September 2003, Plan Mayan Jaguar was back on track. By February 2004, the Guatemalan Congress broadened the mandate of Plan Mayan Jaguar to allow more U.S. troops in Guatemala to conduct joint counternarcotraffic patrols with Guatemalan officials, a move that was opposed by some Guatemalan politicians who see the plan as a threat to Guatemalan sovereignty.
So what changed in Guatemala to drastically alter the U.S. government’s official stance? Not much. Sure, there was an election that replaced pro-military President Portillo with pro-business President Berger. But this change is in many ways cosmetic, as the behind-the-scenes power structure in Guatemala remains in place. Also, Guatemala’s re-certification and the re-implementation of Plan Mayan Jaguar happened before the Portillo regime left office. The explanation lies in Guatemala’s strategic position in the larger war on drugs.
Plan Mayan Jaguar fits in the strategy of Operation Central Skies. Coupled with Plan Colombia, a billion dollar program designed to stop drug production “at the source” (i.e., in the South American Andes region), Operation Central Skies, with a smaller, though still significant, operating budget, is an attempt to stop the inflow of these same South American drugs through Central America, Mexico, and on into the United States. Operation Central Skies, administered by the U.S. Department of Defense, began in 1998 as a means to provide military aid, primarily in the form of helicopters and personnel, to various Central American governments for use in anti-narcotrafficking operations. Guatemala has participated in Operation Central Skies “deployments,” as have security forces from Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Several officers have been trained under the auspices of Operation Central Skies, many in the School of the Americas.
Guatemalan security forces have been denied full admission to the School of the Americas due to their atrocious human rights records and indices of corruption. This is highly ironic, as, during the Cold War, administrators of the School of the Americas trained the Guatemalan military intelligence in the polarizing “us- against-them” mind-set that served as a justification for Guatemala’s notorious record of human rights abuse. However, Guatemalans can still attend partial U.S. military training through a program called Expanded International Military Education and Training program (E-IMET). Officials at the U.S. Department of Defense justifiy their actions by saying that these training courses will create a more professional military, thus strengthening Guatemala’s democracy. This claim is doubtful.
The CIA was involved in attempts in the late 1980s and early 1990s to “professionalize” the military intelligence apparatus, which is believed to be responsible for the majority of human rights abuses throughout the civil war and up to the present day. CIA support enabled Guatemala to construct a new military intelligence academy in the capital and provide intelligence gathering technology to intelligence services. The goal of these attempts at professionalization was not to confront the atrocious human rights abuses and criminal mentality possessed by the military intelligence services, but to increase their efficiency. This was a dangerous policy, as, even at that time, Guatemalan Minister of Defense Gramajo acknowledged that the intelligence services were “out of control,” operating with their own mandate often against the wishes of the military hierarchy or the civilian government.
Since that time, the situation has only grown worse, as key players in the intelligence services have allegedly become the heads of organized crime. One example is retired General Luis Francisco Ortega Menaldo, who has been described as “the most powerful man in Guatemala.” Ortega Menaldo had an illustrious history in military intelligence during the Lucas regime in Guatemala (1978-1982). Working in a military intelligence office within the Ministry of Public Finance, Ortega Menaldo was responsible for detecting suspicious shipments likely meant for the left-wing guerrillas. In this capacity he allegedly held shipment containers hostage at the borders, forcing the owners to pay an informal “tax” to release their goods. By the time he was appointed as head of the elite military intelligence unit in the country, the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP) in 1991, he was already involved in narcotics trafficking and was in the center of a highly evolved criminal network. At this point in his career, he came into contact with the DEA, which was working closely with military intelligence officials to coordinate anti-narcotrafficking operations. According to Jose Reubén Zamora, a Guatemalan journalist, Ortega Menaldo and his associates were able to use this contact to their own benefit, expanding their criminal network with impunity.
Ortega Menaldo retired in 1996, when a close colleague of his, Alfredo Moreno Molina, long suspected of being involved in drug trafficking, was arrested for tax fraud, falsification of documents, and illicit enrichment. Ortega Menaldo was himself investigated for possible links to organized crime two weeks after the United States government suspended his visa in 2002 on the grounds of his suspected links to narcotics trafficking. Also under investigation for involvement in narcotics trafficking was retired Colonel Jacobo Esdras Salán Sanchez, another member of Guatemala’s military intelligence and a graduate of the School of the Americas. Salán Sanchez also worked closely with the DEA, a relationship that ended badly when the DEA accused him of stealing confiscated drugs. Despite their now rocky relationship with the U.S. government, Ortega Menaldo and Salán Sanchez apparently continue to profit from their one-time patrons, the CIA and DEA. Guatemalan media reports speculate that much of the fancy gadgetry the CIA provided the Guatemalan military intelligence in the early 1990s has been used by Ortega Menaldo and his colleagues to spy on rival cartels and intimidate the judges and prosecutors who were charged with bringing them to justice.
Given the corrupt nature of the Guatemalan judiciary system, Moreno Molino, Salán Sanchez, and Ortega Menaldo have been cleared of any wrong doing. Moreno Molino was absolved by Judge Ruiz Wong of the Tenth Court of Appeals, who had himself been implicated in Moreno Molino’s criminal network. The investigation of Ortega Menaldo was called a “clown show” by Iduvina Hernandez of the Guatemalan NGO SEDEM. She stated, “This trial seems like a show that will only put at risk whatever judge seeks to follow through on the case.” After a year of haphazard investigation, during which the chief prosecutor was shot at by unknown assailants, Ortega Menaldo was also cleared of any links to organized crime. By the mid-1990s, the DEA must have realized that using Guatemala’s military intelligence services to uphold the law was impossible. The DEA shifted its focus to developing an anti-narcotics squad within the National Civil Police. In a fact sheet prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, the DEA is said to be training and financing Guatemala’s anti-narcotics programs. The DEA “provided the impetus for the establishment of the elite counternarcotics force, the Department of Antinarcotics Operations (DOAN). Today (1996), the DOAN has various specialized counter- narcotics units that are equipped and trained” by the DEA. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the DOAN had to be completely disbanded in 2002 due to rampant corruption and cooperation with the drug cartels they were supposed to be investigating.
Part of the blame for the continued miscalculation of the DEA, in concert with the DoD and the CIA, is a flawed oversight system and the overt optimistic, often misleading reports that these organizations make to themselves. In the 1999 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the State Department commends the government of Guatemala for “working, with USG (United States Government) assistance to develop effective integrated law enforcement and counternarcotics training programs to improve the quality of this small elite force (the DOAN).” The 2003 report skips over the complete failure of the DOAN and credits the formation of the Antinarcotics Information and Analysis Service (SAIS) as one of the greatest advances in the Guatemalan war on drugs. The report overlooks the fact that the SAIS is beset by the exact same corruption and abuse of authority problems as its predecessor. One of Guatemala’s national newspapers, Prensa Libre , reports that in its one year of existence, the SAIA has been accused of torture, illegal detentions, robbery of drugs, and assassination.
The State Department isn’t the only federal department analyzing Central America through rose-tinted glasses. In his 2000 testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, James Bodner, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, makes the extraordinary claim that full IMET funding should be extended to Guatemala because of the “Guatemalan military’s vigorous efforts to comply with the Peace Accords” and the “strong support” President Portillo had demonstrated for “respecting human rights.” There aren’t enough words in the English language to convey the utter falseness of these two claims. The Peace Accords were signed in 1996 between representatives of the Guatemalan government and leftist guerrilla groups. They were a comprehensive agreement outlining plans for everything from civilian control of the military to land reform to indigenous language rights. The Peace Accords remain unimplemented and human rights activists, international observers, and even representatives of the State Department lay the blame with certain members of the Guatemalan military. As for Bodner’s analysis of the Portillo regime, perhaps he can be forgiven, since at the time of his testimony Portillo’s government had not yet proven itself to be the most corrupt in the modern history of Guatemala, sponsoring a wave of political violence that would rip through the country in 2002 and 2003.
Despite these destructively optimistic reviews of the political reality in Guatemala, the United States does possess the correct intelligence on the area. In an interview with the Guatemalan press in 2002, Stephen MacFarland, business attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, stated, “We (the United States) are preoccupied by the existence of parallel powers in this country and their links with narcotrafficking…we are preoccupied by the influence they can have in this country, especially over certain aspects of the armed forces.” But it looks like the State Department analysis has once again fallen on deaf ears, as the Guatemalan government now courts the Bush Jr. administration for an end to the 1977 congressional embargo against military aid. The DEA, CIA, and DoD have been able to side step this prohibition through an accounting loophole, however, the Bush Jr. administration is contemplating renewing official military aid in June of this year. “During his visit to Washington, George W. Bush offered Guatemalan President Óscar Berger helicopters, planes, and communication equipment to modernize Guatemala’s army,” stated Prensa Libre . Berger told the press that “a team of experts will be coming here (at the end of May) to analyze what help the United States can give to modernize the Army.”
Presumably, the current administration hopes that this latest round of “modernization” of arguably the most corrupt and brutal armed forces in Latin America will lead to a victory in the Central American front of the “war on drugs.” Likely the team of experts they are sending to Guatemala will gloss over the dense politics of this Central American country, equating a “professional” army with one that follows the rule of law and has an understanding of human rights. This is a dangerous assumption, given that past and continuing actions of the CIA, DEA, and DoD have only succeeded in the creation of an efficient criminal apparatus that masquerades as the forces of law and order. So it looks like we’re in for another round of lunacy in the war on drugs. Operation Mayan Jaguar will be in effect for at least the next two years—during which time the DEA can expect to play a part in strengthening the drug network in Guatemala. Seminars on professionalism and a couple of CH-47 Chinook helicopters won’t be able to change the economic and political realities that give rise to rampant corruption in Guatemala. Initiatives by U.S. agencies won’t be able to tackle the legions of corrupt and underpaid police officers, the manipulative intelligence service that honed its criminal capacities with equipment and training by the CIA or the 80 percent of the population that lives in poverty and could use a few extra dollars by transporting drugs from one end of their country to the other. Even if Operation Central Skies does somehow manage to limit the flow of drugs through Central America, the victory would be questionable. The drugs aren’t going to stay in South America. Another “preferred staging point” will be found, possibly a return to transporting cocaine through the Caribbean, as was the case in the 1980s.
Trying to decipher the purposes of all these code named anti-narcotrafficking joint operations has become impossible, especially from the perspective of the host country. But there is something telling about the attitudes of the DoD and the DEA blithely writing their optimistic annual country reports, asking for more money.
The war on drugs is not about drugs, but about self-justification. The more corrupt the security forces are in Guatemala, the more apparent the need to have some U.S. personnel down there, keeping an eye on things. The continuing failures to get the Guatemalan police to stop stealing cocaine from drug busts works fine for the DEA, as long as they get more funding to professionalize the force. Meanwhile, the U.S. military can maintain a presence, protecting any U.S. interests that need protecting. Daniel Lazare’s analysis in the NACLA Report on the Americas is astute: “The goal (of the drug war) has not been to stamp out drugs per se, but to create a war-time atmosphere of hysteria in which the government would feel justified in using extraordinary measures to counter an extraordinary threat. Rather than eradication, the purpose of the drug war is…war itself.” Using this analysis, Operation Central Skies makes perfect sense and the people in the DEA and the DoD are doing a fine job.
Cathy Inouye lives in Guatemala City and volunteers for the human rights NGO SEDEM (Seguridad en Democracia). SEDEM monitors the continuing role of the military, police, and intelligence forces in Guatemala.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.