By Nick Corbishley – Feb 2, 2024
“There was no evidence for what they were trying to say,” said former DEA agent Mike Vigil. “I did not see any evidence that López Obrador was involved, had knowledge or intention of receiving ‘hot money’ from drug traffickers.”
At more or less exactly the same time on Tuesday afternoon (Mexican time), three articles were published by three news outlets — two USian, one German — alleging that Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador’s electoral campaign in 2006 had been part-financed by the Sinaloa drug cartel. The first article, published by German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, was written by the Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández. The second, by Steven Dudley, appeared on the InSight Crime portal. The last one was written by US Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Golden for the independent news agency, ProPublica.
All three articles, written by respected journalists, make the same unifying claim (albeit with diverging levels of confidence): López Obrador’s campaign in 2006 received illegal financing in return for a pledge that, as Golden puts it, “a López Obrador administration would facilitate the traffickers’ criminal operations.” The $2 million dollars was allegedly given to Nicolás Mollinedo, a long-time aide and personal driver of AMLO’s. All three articles cite as evidence “a dozen interviews,” with DEA agents and US diplomats, all of whom would like to remain anonymous, as well as official documents relating to a DEA investigation launched in 2010 into AMLO’s campaign funding.
That investigation ended up going nowhere and the prosecutors of the Southern District Court of New York decided to close the case in 2011, as Golden himself documents:
[S]ome officials felt the evidence was not strong enough to justify the risks of an extensive undercover operation inside Mexico. In late 2011, DEA agents proposed a sting in which they would offer $5 million in supposed drug money to operatives working on López Obrador’s second presidential campaign. Instead, Justice Department officials closed the investigation, in part over concerns that even a successful prosecution would be viewed by Mexicans as egregious American meddling in their politics.
“Nobody was trying to influence the election,” one official familiar with the investigation said. “But there was always a fear that López Obrador might back away on the drug fight — that if this guy becomes president, he could shut us down.”
So, while Mexico was locked in the fifth year of a spiralling drug war, during which time the then-public-security secretary, Genaro García Luna, was essentially running a drug trafficking operation in league with the Sinoloa cartel, the DEA was planning a sting operation to snare López Obrador, whom it feared might “back away on the drug fight,” or even “shut down” the DEA’s operations in Mexico. As the Mexico-based pro-AMLO journalist Kurt Hackbarth notes, “the DEA was trying to set up and effectively blackmail AMLO’s 2012 presidential campaign for fear that he would ‘shut down’ their operations in Mexico.”
Now, 14 years later, the agents involved in that case have decided to spill the beans to three news agencies. But by this point the DEA has lost all credibility and is clearly not a disinterested party. That is not to say that AMLO himself or his government do not have links with one or more of Mexico’s drug cartels. However, these articles do not present conclusive proof showing that; instead, what they appear to prove is that the DEA, which is locked in a power struggle with Mexico’s AMLO government (more on that later), is willing to use US and German media outlets to pursue its own interests.
“DEA agents are trying to accomplish in one news cycle what they could not prove before a prosecutor or their superiors,” writes Carlos A. Pérez Ricart, a professor at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) and author of the book, Cien Años de Espias y Drogas: La Historia de los Agentes Anti-Narcóticos de los Estados Unidos en Mexico (100 Years of Spies and Drugs: The History of US Anti-Narcotic Agents in Mexico).
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) himself denied the allegations, declaring in his morning press conference that there is no evidence against him:
“It is completely false, it is slander. They are certainly very upset and unfortunately the press, as we have seen not only in Mexico, is very subordinate to power.”
A dodgy source
Other glaring issues with these allegations include the fact that their main source is Roberto López Nájera, a former lawyer for the Beltrán Leyva family and long-time informant with both Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office and the DEA. Code-named Jennifer, López Nájera began working with the DEA in 2010 in exchange for protection and a monthly payment. Since then, he has earned a reputation for fabricating testimonies. In 2013, an article in El País described him as “capable of grabbing a loose thread of information and converting it on the fly into another twig for his nest of fallacy.”
As Pérez Ricart notes, basing a story on López Nájera testimony is “taking a leap into the void.”
In an interview (in Spanish) with the largely anti-AMLO Mexican broadcaster MVS, Mike Vigil, a former head of International Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) whom the news presenter Luis Cardenas described as an authority on the subject in his preamble to the interview, dismissed the allegations against AMLO as wholly lacking in evidence:
The narcos have always given money to political campaigns. It happens everywhere and I have seen this in Colombia and many other countries, because what the narcos want is to have influence. They seek to buy protection and obtain political favours that benefit them.
But when I read the article by Tim Golden, there was no evidence for what they were trying to say. I did not see any evidence that López Obrador was involved, had knowledge or intention of receiving ‘hot money’ from drug traffickers, in this case from the Beltrán Leyva, of the Sinaloa Cartel… It all culminated in a meeting in Nueva Vallarta where… members of AMLO’s political campaign were supposedly given $2 million. But … there is no evidence that López Obrador was aware of it.
The other thing that strikes me as curious is that in the trial of Chapo Guzman where many members of the Sinaloa cartel made statements about all the people (who were on the take) but they never mentioned AMLO. And again in the trial of Genaro García Luna (the security minister of former President Felipe Calderon who was recently convicted by a US jury of drug trafficking), many members of the Sinaloa cartel gave evidence but never mentioned López Obrador. They mentioned Peña Nieto who allegedly received $200 million. For me that it is absurd.
Later in the interview, Vigil says:
“I do not agree with López Obrador’s policy of ‘hugs, not bullets’ , because it has failed, but that does not mean that he is taking money from the mafia. You have to be very careful with making accusations like that.”
As Golden himself admits, there is no solid proof. Asked why he framed the title of his article as a question rather than a statement (“Did Drug Traffickers Funnel Millions of Dollars to Mexican President López Obrador’s First Campaign?”), he responded:
“ We are not saying that there is undeniable, conclusive evidence that these donations were made. I believe that people should draw their own conclusions, we are not saying what happened or did not happen, because it seems to us that the information is not conclusive, there was no judicial process that definitively validated that information.”
Anabel Hernández was much more assertive in her reporting for Deutsche Welle, opting for a clearer cut title (“The Sinaloa Cartel Financed AMLO’s 2006 Campaign”). She also claims in the first paragraph of her article that the investigation by the US’s Office of the Southern District of New York and the DEA had “obtained solid evidence that the Sinaloa Cartel contributed between 2 and 4 million dollars to Andrés Manuel ‘s campaign. Which begs two questions: first, why the glaring discrepancy in confidence regarding the investigation’s evidence between the two reports? And second, if the evidence was as “solid” as Hernández claims, why did the prosecutors decide to close the case?
The timing of the allegations is also curious, coming just months before an election in which the chosen nominee for AMLO’s MORENA party, Claudia Scheinbaum, is hotly tipped to succeed AMLO as president. AMLO himself cannot run for reelection since Mexico’s constitutions hold that presidents can only serve one six-year term.
The allegations also come eight months after the Mexican government locked horns with the DEA over revelations that the agency had run a covert, 18-month incursion into Mexican territory, in direct contravention of Mexico’s 2020 National Security Law, which substantially limits the actions of foreign intelligence agencies on Mexican soil. As Kurt Hackbarth reported in his May 2023 article for Jacobin, “In Mexico, AMLO Is Shining a Light on the DEA’s Hypocrisy in the War on Drugs,” AMLO ripped into the operation, calling it “abusive, arrogant meddling that must not be accepted in any way.” Here’s more:
How are we supposed to blindly trust DEA agents when it’s proven that many of them . . . maintain or maintained links with organized crime? Like what happened with the former head of the DEA in Mexico [Nicholas Palmieri], who it was discovered had relationships with representatives of the drug cartels and suddenly they removed him and no one knew any more about it. Or the case of García Luna, where they only defined a limited sphere [of action] . . . as if he didn’t have any ties to international agencies, to the government of the United States and the government of Mexico. . . . Enough with the simulations.
Hackbarth proceeds to list in detail a roster of recent scandals involving DEA agents:
Mexico chief Nicholas Palmieri [was] transferred and then allowed to resign for his chummy social relationship with Miami lawyer David Macey, who has represented prominent defendants in the drug world such as the Colombian Diego Marín. Although Palmieri left the agency in 2022, the hush-hush affair was only pried out by the AP in January of this year.
… [T]he case of agent John Costanzo, Jr, accused of providing sensitive information to intermediary and former agent Manny Recio, who in turn was in the employ of — yes — Miami defense lawyers. Or the case of agent Chad Scott, the “white devil” sentenced to thirteen years for “stealing money from suspects, falsifying government records and committing perjury during a federal trial.” Or the case of agent Nathan Koen, sentenced to eleven years for thousands of dollars in bribes from California drug trafficker Francisco González Benítez. Or the case of agent Fernando Gómez, sentenced to four years for helping a drug-trafficking ring avoid detection from law enforcement.
Or the standout case of agent José Irizarry, sentenced to twelve years for running an extensive money-laundering operation that included, he contends, federal agents, prosecutors, informants, and cartel smugglers, all of them part of a three-continent joyride known as ‘Team America’ that chose cities for money laundering pick-ups mostly for party purposes or to coincide with Real Madrid soccer or Rafael Nadal tennis matches. That included stops along the way in VIP rooms of Caribbean strip joints, Amsterdam’s red-light district and aboard a Colombian yacht that launched with plenty of booze and more than a dozen prostitutes.
And who, according to Irizarry, taught him the tools of the trade? The Contraband King himself, Diego Marín, defended by Nicholas Palmieri’s Miami friend David Macey. Thus does the circle close.
This latest example of US election interference in Mexico is part of a broader trend. As we have reported for a number of months now, the US military and other government agencies are trying to leverage the War on Drugs to reassert its strategic and military dominance over the American continent. This it is doing one country at a time, with the apparent ultimate endgame being direct, overt military intervention against Mexico’s drug cartels — on Mexican soil.
At least that is what many Republican lawmakers, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, are calling for, with the ostensible goal of stemming the flow of fentanyl — despite the fact that most of the fentanyl entering the US is smuggled by US citizens, according to a recent study by the Cato Institute.
In September, Dina Boluarte’s blood-stained government in Peru signed an agreement with US Homeland Security Investigations to collaborate in transnational criminal investigations through the establishment of a Transnational Criminal Investigation Unit (TCIU). Shortly after, the government of Ecuador signed an agreement with Washington to allow the deployment of US forces along its coastline as well as on its soil. Both governments have asked Washington to draw up anti-drug initiatives modelled on the disastrous Plan Colombia. Argentina’s Milei government has also proposed a new reform that would allow Argentina’s executive branch to open the doors to foreign troops without needing the approval of Congress.
Now, the focus is back on Mexico. Over the coming weeks and months, US interference in Mexico’s elections is likely to increase and as we have seen here, the media is likely to play a leading role. Most of Mexico’s corporate press will happily lap up and amplify any allegations against AMLO or Sheinbaum, whether demonstrably true or false.
That said, it is unlikely that these allegations will have any material impact on Mexico’s elections. My guess is that those who already despise AMLO will despise him a little more while those who support him will continue to do so. In other words, it will help to fuel political polarisation in the country while increasing distrust of the DEA among AMLO supporters, who continue to represent over 60% of voters.
In fact, AMLO, now in his last year in office, is the second most popular national leader in the world after India’s Prime Minister Narendi Modi. I would argue that the main reason for this is that Mexico’s economy has fared far better than AMLO’s doomsaying detractors have consistently predicted over the past five years. In the IMF’s latest nominal GDP forecasts, in December 2023, Mexico placed 12th in the ranking of the world’s largest economies, having overtaken Spain, Australia and South Korea in the past two years (the reasons for this will be the subject of a later article).
Lastly, one way AMLO himself responded to the DEA’s allegations was to hold a two-and-a-half hour meeting with the Ambassador of China, the US’s arch-strategic rival, with whom AMLO’s government has had a patchy relationship. In that meeting, the Mexican president expressed his gratitude to Beijing for its support during difficult times for the country, such as the category 5 hurricane that devastated Acapulco in late October as well as all the material aid Beijing sent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.
- Orinoco Tribune 2https://orinocotribune.com/author/yullma/February 29, 2024
- Orinoco Tribune 2https://orinocotribune.com/author/yullma/
- Orinoco Tribune 2https://orinocotribune.com/author/yullma/
- Orinoco Tribune 2https://orinocotribune.com/author/yullma/February 27, 2024