Albion Monitor /News

U.S. "Drug War" Against Zapatistas

by Jeffrey St. Clair

U.S. sending millions in military support to Mexico
(IPS) -- Drug interdiction is the official reason for the transfer of millions of dollars' worth of weapons from the United States to Mexico, but evidence shows that the arms have had another purpose.

The first 20 of a planned transfer of 73 Huey helicopters to Mexico were shipped in cargo planes from Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas last November. The Hueys are part of a weapons and reconnaissance package worth $50 million -- military equipment sold or loaned or given by the Clinton administration to the Mexican armed forces.

Under the administration of former President George Bush, the United States shipped to Mexico $212 million worth of military supplies -- a figure likely to be more than eclipsed under President Bill Clinton.

The official pretext is that the arms are for use in the drug war. But the true purpose harks back to a famous recommendation first exposed in 1994, when Chase Bank circulated an advisory to its clients, saying that "the Zapatistas must be eliminated."

Mexico used U.S. arms meant for drug interdiction to suppress rebels
Though an embarrassed Chase Bank later disowned that sentiment, the Clinton administration has seen no need to back off the urgent imperative. Any threat to the ruling elites in Mexico is by extension a threat to U.S. interests. Insurgency in Mexico is of the most urgent concern.

Donald E. Schultz, professor of National Security at the U.S. Army's War College puts it this way: "A hostile government could put the U.S. investments (in Mexico) in danger, jeopardize access to oil, produce a flood of political refugees, and economic migrants to the north. And under such circumstances, the United States would feel obligated to militarize the southern border."

In fact, the southern U.S./Mexican border is in the process of being heavily militarized.

Since 1988, six years before the Zapatistas rose up out of the Lacondon forest in Chiapas on New Year's Day 1994, the Pentagon has been eager to dispatch arms and reconnaissance aircraft south of the border, using the same excuse of drug interdiction, a rationale accompanying similar shipments to the Colombian military.

In addition to the 73 Huey helicopters, the list of supplies to be transferred includes four C-26 reconnaissance planes, 500 bullet-proof armored personnel transporters, $10 million worth of night vision and C-3 equipment (command control and communications), global positioning satellite equipment, radar, spare parts for 33 helicopters given to Mexico over the past seven years, machine guns, semi-automatic rifles, grenades, ammunition, flame throwers, gas masks, night sticks, uniforms, and rations.

These arms have another purpose. A June 1996 report from the U.S. Congressional watchdog, the General Accounting Office (GAO), offers evidence that the Mexican government used U.S. arms meant for drug interdiction to suppress insurgencies.

"During the 1994 uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas," the report says, "several U.S.-provided helicopters we used to transport Mexican military personnel to the conflict, which was a violation of the transfer agreement." More than 150 indigenous peasants were killed in those operations.

In the report, entitled "Drug Control: Counter-narcotics Efforts in Mexico," the GAO places most of the blame for this on the U.S. government which, it suggests, connived in the misuse.

"The U.S. embassy (in Mexico City) relies heavily on bi-weekly reports submitted by the Mexican government that typically consist of a map of specific operational records -- U.S. personnel have little way of knowing if the helicopters are being properly used for counter-narcotics purposes or are being misused," says the GAO report. "Embassy officials told us that helicopter operational records have been requested and received on only one occasion in the past eight months -- i.e. from November 1995 to June 1996)."

According to a May 1996 story in the Mexico paper, La Jornada, the U.S. State Department assured the Ernesto Zedillo regime that the arms shipments did not have to be exclusively used in anti-drug operations. The State Department informed the Mexican government that its "aviation advisors" would only inspect the location and condition of the helicopters once a year and would always give prior notice of his trips.

Last summer, the uprising by the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) in Guerrero state prompted James Jones, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and formerly president of the New York Stock Exchange, to declare publicly at a Sept. 9 telecommunications conference in Cancun that the United States was willing to provide increased military aid, intelligence, and training to Mexico to the fight the rebels.

"Whatever they need," Jones said, "we will certainly support." Jones added a comparison: "The United States has much experience tracking rightwing militias, which could be of great use to Mexico. Like armed militias, (the ERP) has weapons and munitions capabilities. Terrorist groups operate much the same all over."

Evidence that the Pentagon anticipates having to intervene in Mexico sometime in the near feature
The war on drugs has become a high-profile military concern, as recent appointments on both sides of the border attest.

Gen. Barry McCaffery, formerly head of U.S. Southern Command, is now the White House's drug czar, and on Dec. 3, President Zedillo appointed Jose Gutierrez Rebollo, a member of the elite presidential guard, as McCaffery's opposite command.

Cross-border collusion extends, naturally enough, to intelligence services. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) maintains a huge border force and one of its largest foreign offices in Mexico City, where the agency actively trains Mexican police and intelligence forces.

The U.S. military has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past five years in increased surveillance and interdiction efforts in Mexico, with less than stellar results in terms of halting the flow of drugs, according to a recently released Inspector General's report written in 1994.

"Although the Pentagon has significantly expanded U.S. monitoring and detection of cocaine smugglers, this expanded capability has come with a hefty price tag and has yet to reduce the flow of cocaine onto American streets," the report concludes.

"The portion of the federal drug budget earmarked for military surveillance has quadrupled during the past five years, without measurable goals or results to show that the increases were warranted... The fact that cocaine remains affordable and readily available in the United States strongly suggests that surveillance is not producing results commensurate with its costs," according to the report.

But surely the U.S. military is putting the surveillance information to use. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the Pentagon anticipates having to intervene in Mexico sometime in the near feature. Its analysts have drafted worst-case scenarios.

In 1994, a year which ended with the collapse of the Mexican currency, a Pentagon briefing paper, declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, said it was "conceivable that a deployment of U.S. troops to Mexico would be received favorably if the Mexican government were to confront the threat of being overthrown as a result of widespread economic and social chaos.

In such a scenario, the intelligence and security services would probably cooperate with U.S. intelligence forces to identify threats to Mexico's internal stability."

As outgoing Defense Secretary William Perry put it in a speech in October 1995, "When it comes to stability and security our destinies are indissolubly linked."

Cecelia Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Zapatistas in the United States, sums it up aptly: "U.S.-provided helicopters have been used in the past by the Mexican military to attack unarmed populations. The Mexican armed forces have been accused by human rights monitors of murders, disappearances, kidnapping, and rape.

Nonetheless, she adds, "their requests for military equipment and expertise have been granted time and time again. Under the guise of fighting drug traffickers, the U.S. government has bolstered an anti-democratic and corrupt Mexican government with a laundry list of high-tech military equipment that has been used to violate the basic human right of the people of Mexico."

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Albion Monitor January 29, 1997 (

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