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2nd Mexican General Faces Drug Charges

March 18, 1997|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — For the second time in a month, federal authorities here Monday announced the arrest of an army general on drug charges. The senior officer was accused of offering $1 million a month to Mexico's top counter-narcotics official in Tijuana to protect one of the country's largest drug cartels--and of threatening to kill him and his family if he refused.

The attorney general's office announced late Monday that Brig. Gen. Alfredo Navarro Lara had been charged with drug corruption, bribery and criminal association and jailed earlier in the day outside Mexico City in the Almoloya de Juarez high-security federal prison.

On Feb. 18, Gen. Jose de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then Mexico's anti-drug czar, was sent to Almoloya after he was charged with taking bribes to protect the nation's most powerful drug-trafficking cartel, allegedly headed by Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

Gutierrez's arrest last month stunned a nation unaccustomed to drug corruption within its army and sent shock waves as far as Washington just two weeks before the Clinton administration recertified Mexico as a U.S. ally in the drug war. President Clinton cited the arrest as evidence that Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo is committed to rooting out drug corruption--even in the nation's powerful army.

But U.S. congressional concerns that widespread official drug corruption here had compromised U.S. intelligence and drug enforcement efforts helped drive the House to pass a resolution decertifying Mexico last week.

As the Senate begins debate this week on that decertification resolution--which Clinton has vowed to veto--Navarro's arrest Monday further demonstrated both the depth of drug corruption in Mexico and Zedillo's resolve to punish it.

The attorney general's office in Mexico City said the general is accused of criminal links to a major Mexican drug mafia based in Tijuana--this one allegedly headed by the Arellano Felix brothers. But the official account of the investigation that led to Navarro's arrest also appeared to link his capture directly to Zedillo's increasing use of the Mexican military to combat a drug trade that U.S. officials say transships up to 75% of the cocaine sold in the United States.

In an effort earlier this year to crack down on the Tijuana drug trade and its ties to corrupt law enforcement officers, Zedillo appointed another army general, Brig. Gen. Jose Luis Chavez Garcia, to take over civilian drug enforcement along California's southern border.

Chavez Garcia replaced all civilian federal police there with military officers.

Early this month, Navarro called Chavez Garcia, "telling him he had very important and confidential information to give him," according to Monday's official statement. The two reportedly made an appointment to meet in a luxury suite at a hotel near the attorney general's office in Tijuana.

When the generals met, the statement continued, Navarro "made the offer of $1 million monthly for allowing illicit activities related to narcotics trafficking on the part of this criminal group."

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"In the message, Navarro Lara indicated that if he did not accept the offer, he [Chavez Garcia] and his family would be executed, just like what happened to commander Ernesto Ibarra Santes"--a reference to the federal police commander in Baja California who was assassinated in Mexico City in September, weeks after launching a campaign against the Arellano Felix brothers.

Navarro, the statement added, "also mentioned that the Arellano Felix brothers are perfectly structured and organized and that they cannot be detained, because they have support in both the United States and Mexico."

Chavez Garcia, who was congratulated in the statement for his "bravery and honesty," rejected the offer and launched the investigation that led to Navarro's arrest.

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