MEXICO CITY — This country's new drug czar, Jorge Carrillo Olea, has met repeatedly with U.S. officials to reassure them that his appointment does not signal a shift in the country's aggressive anti-narcotics program and coordination with the United States.
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari named Carrillo Olea to the top drug post Oct. 15 to replace Javier Coello Trejo, under whose leadership the Federal Judicial Police had captured record quantities of cocaine but reportedly committed widespread human rights abuses.
"There is great uncertainty in the United States about what Carrillo's attitude will be regarding (bilateral) coordination," said a source in the Mexican attorney general's office. "There will be more coordination. He's interested in a more fluid exchange of information."
The bespectacled Carrillo told reporters at a press conference after his appointment that "international cooperation is key to combatting this social phenomenon--drug trafficking."
Before taking the drug post, Carrillo Olea was director general of national security, a job that included analyzing the flows of South American narcotics through Mexico. Salinas named him to the new post with the title of general coordinator of investigations and the fight against drug trafficking; because he is not a lawyer, he could not legally be appointed to the post of deputy attorney general that Coello held.
At 53, Carrillo, a retired army general, has a background in army intelligence rather than police work; he is far more polished and political than was his gruff and burly predecessor.
"He is someone with a military training who is hard and intransigent but intelligent and political," said the source in the attorney general's office who declined to be identified. "Coello didn't have the political sensibilities that he has."
A U.S. source comparing the two said, "He (Carrillo) is a sharp instrument instead of a blunt instrument."
Coello, who held the job of deputy attorney general for two years, first ran into trouble with the Mexican press and people when he publicly defended his bodyguards against charges that several of them gang-raped more than a dozen women in Mexico City early this year.
National and international human rights groups also held him responsible for the torture, extortion, kidnaping and murder allegedly committed by the Federal Judicial Police under his authority. Government officials conceded that Salinas brought in Carrillo to clean up the department's actions and image.
At the same time, Salinas proposed new laws aimed at curbing police torture. Under the laws that must be approved by the National Congress, interrogations would be carried out by lawyers from the attorney general's office rather than by federal police, and they would be conducted in the presence of a defense attorney. Confessions no longer would be sufficient evidence on which to convict a suspected criminal; suspects illegally detained would have to be released.
Some U.S. drug officials feared that the changes might mean the Salinas administration was pulling back on its anti-drug efforts. Salinas has served two years of his six-year term, and past administrations have tended to let down their guard on the drug front after two years, falling into a pattern of police corruption by the final two years.
Since his appointment, Carrillo has met with U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte as well as with top Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Mexico. He has told them that police will vigorously pursue drug traffickers while observing human rights and that the government will continue to develop its Northern Border Task Force, a program to intercept cocaine-laden aircraft headed for the United States from South America.
"He said his appointment should not be interpreted as a change in policy," said one U.S. official.
"I think the human rights policy is going to diminish their (Mexican police) effectiveness at the street level, but not at the program level," the American official added. "You have to treat (suspects) like you do in the United States now, which means they have all the leeway in the world to say nothing. Investigations will go more slowly."
Coca, the plant from which cocaine is produced, is not grown in Mexico, but Mexico is a major route for getting the drugs into the United States. U.S. officials estimate that 300 to 350 metric tons of South American cocaine passes through Mexico into the United States each year.
U.S. and Mexican government cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking has grown immensely under Salinas. The U.S. government is to deliver nine armed Huey UH-1H helicopters to Mexico beginning this month for the Northern Border Task Force to use in bringing down the drug planes. Eleven Mexicans currently are in training to fly the helicopters at Ft. Rucker, Ala. The helicopters will be on loan.