Many Mexican and US talking heads have criticized AMLO for not stopping the violence that drives the drug trade in México. The journalist Kurt Hackbarth gave the back story to these charges earlier this spring in his perceptive monthly Jacobin magazine column. We excerpted from that column in our own June 7, 2023 “Reflection” column.
In 2024 the drug cartels continue to be a significant and misreported issue in the US press. The violence of the drug trade is often used as an excuse to attack AMLO’s popular and progressive presidency, even to the extent of threatening military intervention. We think, in the face of the coming elections in both countries, it’s timely to rerun this this background on the relationship of the US and former Mexican governments to the cartels.
On February 21, 2023 a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York found Mexico’s former secretary of public security, Genaro García Luna, guilty of conspiring with the Sinaloa Cartel.
Known as the “supercop,” because he wielded outsize power during the administration of conservative president Felipe Calderón, García Luna was convicted on all counts: conspiracy to distribute cocaine internationally, conspiracy to distribute and possess cocaine, and conspiracy to import cocaine, together with participating in a continuing criminal enterprise and making false statements on his application to become a naturalized US citizen.
The verdict represents a brutal humiliation for two former presidents: Vicente Fox (2000–2006), who appointed García Luna director of the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI), and Felipe Calderón (2006–2012), who elevated him to cabinet status as secretary for public security, investing him with plenipotentiary powers over the nation’s policing.
In stark contrast to the former presidents’ attempts to depict their time in office as heroic crusades against organized crime, witness accounts painted a portrait of a security apparatus in lockstep with it. According to Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, brother of the Sinaloa Cartel’s former leader Ismael, members of the Sinaloa Cartel would wear AFI uniforms “to make arrests and engage in fighting” while García Luna, as the agency head, was on the take for $1.5 million a month.
Both in the formulation of charges and the evidence presented, the prosecution case led by US attorney Breon Peace appeared perfectly calibrated to achieve a conviction while divulging the least possible information to the public.
When the defense asked about García Luna’s meetings with top-level officials in Washington, the prosecution moved to head them off. But one matter did slip out — the testimony of US Drug Enforcement Agency agent Miguel Madrigal who stated that the agency had been informed about García Luna’s connections with the Sinaloa Cartel back in 2010.
The fact that the US intelligence community had a pretty good idea of who García Luna was did not stop its rank and file from “working with him” or even, as it turned out, going into business with him.