How Mexican Drug Barons Are Buying Off the Feds
As Mexico's drug wars heat up, powerful drug lords have doled out milions in bribes to infiltrate American customs officers and border police. Last year alone, 1,000 American agents were investigated on corruption charges. But many more are still operating undercover.
For decades, corruption and bribery have been daily facts of life in Mexico, greasing the gears of the country’s daily operations. The drug war has given free rein to this culture. Handsomely paid and protected by various cartels, crooked local cops often warn gangs of impending long years since a bloody drug war erupted in Mexico, spilling over the border into the United States and exposing citizens of both countries to unprecedented levels of violence and bloodshed. In the past four years at least 35,000 people and counting are estimated by Mexican officials to have been murdered in the narco wars. Their bodies, often mutilated and left lying on the street corners of border towns like Juarez, Tijuana, Ensenada and San Luis Nogales, are collected and disposed of by the authorities and life carries on. Thousands of tons of illicit drugs—with a value estimated by the U.S. government at between $18 and $39 billion a year—cross the border into the United States each year. Bribes and kickbacks on the Mexican side have long facilitated the flow. Rival cartels are constantly on the lookout for attacks from their rivals or the military. Mexican government officials are routinely bribed or threatened to keep them quiet. Uncooperative police chiefs, judges and politicians are hunted down and killed.
But what’s perhaps more surprising, and certainly less discussed, is how bribery and corruption have also afflicted even the highest levels of law enforcement on the American side of the border, infecting everyone from customs officials, to policemen and D.E.A. agents, to officers much higher up the food chain. According to witnesses testifying to a Senate homeland security subcommittee in 2010, Mexican drug lords have assembled mountains of cash specifically earmarked to bribe U.S. personnel. Part of the problem is that America sees itself as incorruptible and thus immune to enticements from the cartels, so internal investigations can be spotty. Mexicans take bribed cops, officials and politicians for granted, while Americans are more reluctant to ponder the possibility of corruption in their ranks.
Inside Mexico (according to Spanish news agency E.F.E.) the drug syndicates have access to a slush fund of around $100 million per month, which they dip into at will to bribe cops, federal agents, judges and other officials. The payouts allow the cartels to keep the authorities largely at bay, and yo operate with relative freedom. And while day-to-day corruption is certainly less prevalent in America than it is here, plenty of U.S. government employees have been convinced to take Mexican traffickers up on their lucrative offers.
In 2006, employees of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) were investigated in 245 separate suspected corruption cases, according to the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) employees were the subjects of 66 equivalent investigations. By the year ending October 2010, C.B.P.’s corruption cases had risen to more than 770 and I.C.E.´s to more than 220 (and most of this increase has come since 2008). That means around a thousand U.S. agents along the Mexican border were suspected by their own side of corruption last year—and that's not counting the many others who may have managed safely to evade scrutiny.
It’s not merely money that has led to this—American defensiveness has also played a role. 9/11 did more to encourage the Mexican drug war than most people realize. The world really changed after that tragic event; American paranoia about the outside world caused officials to seal up their borders as tightly as possible, making it more and more difficult for aliens to enter the U.S. illegally. Now there were towers, sensors, heat-sensitive night vision cameras, low-flying drones and many more border patrol trucks—cruising around with those welcoming Confederate flags rippling from their antennas.