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Mexico General Denies Links to U.S. Drug Trafficking

January 20, 1988|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — A high-ranking Mexican army officer has denied U.S. charges linking him with drug trafficking, Mexico City newspapers said Tuesday.

The newspapers quoted the officer, Gen. Juan Poblano Silva, as saying that the charges are based on rumors spread by drug smugglers to take "vengeance" on him for his anti-narcotics activities.

Last week in San Diego, a federal grand jury indictment accused six Mexicans and six Bolivians of plotting to smuggle as much as 86 tons of Bolivian cocaine per year into the United States. Along with Poblano Silva, two other Mexicans with links to the military were named in the indictment: Jorge Carranza, who Mexican officials say was discharged from the army 18 years ago, and Lt. Col. Salvador de la Vega, whose military status and whereabouts could not be determined Tuesday.

Poblano Silva commands the 25th Military Zone, headquartered in Puebla, capital of the state of Puebla, about 90 miles southeast of Mexico City. The U.S. indictment, based on information from U.S. Customs officials and officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, accused him of soliciting $1 million in bribes in return for permitting cocaine smugglers to land and refuel airplanes on highways in the state of Puebla.

Cocaine is not produced in Mexico, but many Mexican airstrips and ports serve as transshipment points for cocaine en route to the United States from South American countries.

The San Diego accusations were the latest in a series leveled by U.S. officials that link members of the Mexican government to the drug trade. They suggest that all three of Mexico's main anti-drug agencies--the police, the justice system and the military--are involved in high-level corruption.

In early January, indictments returned by a Los Angeles grand jury tied three members of Mexico's federal police force to the 1984 torture-slayings of Enrique S. Camarena, a DEA agent, and Alfredo Zavala, a Mexican pilot and DEA informant.

Judge Was Accused

Last summer the DEA, in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, accused a justice of the Mexican Supreme Court of taking money from a lawyer representing Rafael Caro Quintero, the principal suspect in the Camarena-Zavala killings. Caro Quintero is in a Mexico City jail awaiting trial on charges of murder and drug trafficking.

The Mexican military is considered to be the last line of defense against drug trafficking in several regions of Mexico where smugglers have reportedly corrupted local and federal police officials. In the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, for example, the army has taken the lead in attempts to eradicate crops of marijuana and the opium poppy, the source of heroin, as well as to pursue the leaders of narcotics gangs.

Poblano Silva was quoted in the press here Tuesday as saying that he recently ordered the destruction of 15 poppy patches and 300 acres of marijuana planted in Puebla.

The truth of such statements has long been questioned by U.S. authorities. Mutual suspicion has led to wrangling between officials of the U.S. and Mexican governments over who is to blame for increased drug smuggling in Mexico.

A congressional report issued recently in Washington challenged a Mexican statement that about 25,000 soldiers employed in 1986 to destroy drug crops had wiped out more than 14,000 acres of opium poppies and 8,439 tons of marijuana. Such figures amounted to more narcotics crops than were planted during the entire year, the report said.

In 1986, the last year for which full data is available, about 3,000 tons--37% of all the marijuana available in the United States--came from Mexico, the report said. And it said the percentage of U.S. heroin originating in Mexico is increasing.

U.S. officials have estimated that Mexican heroin makes up about 40% of the U.S. supply, more than double the amount of five years ago.

"Mexico is a major source of the heroin and marijuana which enters the United States, and the flow is increasing despite years of opium poppy and marijuana crop eradication efforts," the report said.

It concluded that a five-year spraying operation undertaken jointly by U.S. and Mexican authorities, at a cost of $118 million, has failed to keep up with the cultivation of drug crops by Mexican farmers.

Mexican officials insist that they are doing their best to halt the cultivation of and trafficking in drugs. But they complain that the United States has done little or nothing to stem the demand for drugs in the United States. The Mexican attorney general's office has complained that Mexican requests for information about charges of corruption go unanswered by U.S. authorities.

"The only information we get is from newspaper reports," said Felipe Flores, a spokesman for the attorney general.

Official response in Mexico to last week's indictments in San Diego has been relatively muted. Last summer, when the Mexican Supreme Court justice was implicated in a bribery plot, President Miguel de la Madrid spoke out bitterly, saying that persistent U.S. attention to alleged Mexican corruption was "like the pot calling the kettle black."

De la Madrid is currently in Sweden. He is scheduled to meet with President Reagan in mid-February at the Mexican Pacific coast resort of Mazatlan. Mazatlan is in Sinaloa, the home state of Caro Quintero and one of the main centers of the marijuana, heroin and cocaine traffic in Mexico.

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