EspañolIn 1996, investigative reporter Gary Webb shocked readers of the San Jose Mercury News with a series of articles he titled, “Dark Alliance.” In it, he chronicled the relationship between the CIA, Nicaraguan Contras, and crack cocaine dealers in Los Angeles during the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s.
As would be expected with a story of this magnitude, the Dark Alliance series was received with a great deal of skepticism and resentment, as corporate media staples like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post swooped in to abscond the CIA’s sins.
With the passage of time, however, Webb’s claims — based on documented evidence and testimony from credible sources — have stood up to scrutiny. In many ways his courageous reporting and reputation as a journalist have been posthumously vindicated.
Still, almost 20 years after the series was published, the drug war rages on. Further, new evidence continues to surface, affirming an ongoing role for sections of the US government in the management of the drug trade through covert action.
Even the title of this column may not be entirely accurate in a technical sense. This alliance between narcotrafficking cartels and agencies like the CIA or DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) may not have been “reborn” so much as it has matured, or evolved.
The latest revelations in this enduring saga originate from statements given to the US District Court in Chicago relating to the case of Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla, son of Sinaloa Cartel capo “El Mayo.” Documents obtained by Mexican news outlet El Universal prove a reciprocal relationship between the DEA and the Sinaloa Cartel, further strengthening claims made by Zambada, and others, of an explicit agreement in place to consolidate the drug trade in Mexico in the hands of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS).
Skeptics have been quick to point out that while the statements provided by DEA agent Manuel Castañon and former Department of Justice prosecutor Patrick Hearn do establish Zambaba-Niebla’s role as a cooperative “informant,” they do not prove the broader conspiratorial designs of CDS as a government-sponsored cartel.
While accurate, it cannot be denied that the statements entered into the public record by the DEA in this case not only corroborate Zambada-Niebla’s “I am protected by the US government” defense, they add credence to a long-standing understanding of drug war reality in Mexico, and do absolutely nothing to weaken it.
As noted previously, world renowned Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández recently spent five years investigating the narcotics trade in Mexico, only to conclude that the collusion between the cartels and her government went all the way to the top. With regard to CDS and El Chapo Guzman specifically, Hernández contends they would be nothing if not for the concerted efforts of Mexico’s federal government and large business interests.
Those who caution against the “alarmism” raised by this DEA-Sinaloa alliance argue that these quid pro quo agreements between the two parties indicate nothing more than standard operating procedure and run-of-the-mill police work. After all, the use of confidential informants is a tactic that is routinely used; police cut deals with the bad guys all the time to target the “bigger and badder.” As Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime writes, if the “US operational focus has at times favored one cartel over another, it can quickly shift, making former collaborators the new priority.”
Indeed, within the black world of the narcotics trade, alliances can shift with the wind, and there may in fact not be anything at all inherently “special” about the current bond between the DEA and the Sinaloa cartel. Even the timing of the agreement, from 2000 to 2012 — correlating precisely to the government assisted prison escape of El Chapo and the growth in size and strength of his operation, may be entirely coincidental. To say that the “Sinaloa Cartel is aided and funded by the US government” is admittedly problematic on its face, as the mess created by the “war on drugs” pits the DEA and CIA almost perpetually at odds with each other.
Yet despite all the smoke and mirrors, shifting alliances, and questionable motives, the involvement of the US government in the drug trade through its many competing agencies assures a few constants: a destabilized, weakened, and dependent Latin America; increases in drug warrior budgets; and the sustained health of a nearly US$400 billion industry, without which banking systems and economies would falter severely. It is by exploring and understanding these relationships that the true dark alliance is revealed.