Outsourcing Drug War Disappearances to Mexico

The other day I asked whether the US was complicit in any of the hundreds of official disappearances and tens of thousands of other disappearances propagated in Mexico’s drug war.

Friday, Spiegel published an interesting profile of a former DEA officer, Salvador Martinez, who ended up going to prison for trying to have his cousin’s killer murdered.

And sure enough, he describes allowing this kind of violence — even encouraging it — to happen. He describes leaving his counterparts in Ciudad Juárez to conduct torture.

In one of his first assignments, which he carried out together with the Mexican police, he was there when a commandant arrested a dealer. The police led the prisoner to a house on the edge of town. The officer hauled the prisoner to the bathroom, put his head in the toilet and flushed three times, says Martinez. The prisoner remained silent. The officer put a plastic bag over the prisoner’s head. “Who paid you? Who paid you, cabrón?” he demanded. Then, to Martinez, he said: “Have you seen enough?”

When he got into his car to leave, Martinez watched in the rearview mirror as a Mexican police officer took a small rod out of his car trunk. Martinez had seen a rod like that before; it was an electric cattle prod.

And he describes identifying suspects for Mexican cops to disappear.

He arrested a Mexican that he knew was working in the middle management of a cartel. He had no proof; he just knew it. After three weeks on trial, the court had to let the manager go free. So Martinez told the Mexican commandant what that man looked like and when he would be freed. After he crossed the border, a black minibus on the Mexican side stopped beside him and took him away.

“Alright,” says Martinez, taking a deep breath. So far he has laughed a lot on his journey through the memories. But he tells the next chapter without looking up, describing operations that weren’t recorded in any files.

“A lot of people disappear in Mexico,” he says. “They are buried where no one will find them. Some are eaten by tigers and some by sharks. There are also big tanks with acid in them.” He pauses for a long time between the sentences.

“We didn’t manage to catch all the bad guys. In those cases, we gave the Mexicans their names and said, ‘Do what you need to do.’ The Mexicans made those people disappear.”

Now, this guy appears to have been arrested in 1999. That is, this violence precedes the more recent disappearances Human Rights Watch and others have been documenting (and Juárez, at least, seems to be turning around finally).

But none of this is surprising.

As more and more people talk about the disappearances happening in Mexico, in a war that exists largely because American consumers create the demand that drives the violence, we should be careful not to blame it all on the Mexicans. Because we’re not just letting it happen, we’re asking for it to happen in some cases.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. x174 says:

    don’t forget the Bush administration’s inauguration of Plan Mexico which vastly increased the number of people killed–to the tune of 70,000 since Plan Mexico (or the Merida Initiative) took effect in 2007.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It’s not just American consumers who promote this states of affairs. As you know, the corruption generated by the drug lords has, in part, the American government to thank. It spends billions exporting money, weapons and “interrogation” techniques south of the border. American arms companies don’t fare too badly. Nor do American banks, which vie with their City counterparts in laundering as many billions of drug money as drug lords can bring them.

    Rounding off that trio is the protection governments offer the players, whether explicitly or via the game of musical chairs involving not prosecuting player A in hopes of getting to player B, then player C, ad nauseum. It’s a game that ends in not prosecuting anyone but the lowliest and least protected. By the time the biggest players are compromised by legally admissible evidence, too many governmental and private corporate players are implicated, too.

    What goes around in the endless game of prosecuting the little people and lower level players never comes around for the big guys. It’s as if they were too big to fail.

  3. shekissesfrogs says:

    Kill lists aren’t the fault of the american consumer, any more than an abused wife is responsible for her black eyes, even if he already told her twice. Mexicans aren’t to blame that their government, or the US is waging an undeclared war on citizens in both countries.

    The drug war is an extension of the cold war. American Intelligence agencies have handed out kill lists targeting Leftists and Labor Unions to an untold number military golpista “governments,” if they didn’t compose and train the counter-guerrilla death squads themselves. http://www.serendipity.li/cia/death_squads1.htm

    This is what they do.

    From plan Phoenix, Gehlen groups or stay behind armies, to the FBI targeting civil rights groups, blacks and the left mirroring “that whole bay of pigs thing.”
    We can’t forget that CIA created the market for crack cocaine by introducing it into the LA ghettos, but white neighborhoods were off limits.

    Looking over the reoccurring pattern that has developed over the last 50 years, it seems to me they are operating under some kind of underworld commerce clause.
    They pick the winners all the way up and down the supply/justice chain in a perverted neoliberal thug state controlled black-market economy.
    It’s a racket. No one asks for it or deserves it.

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