MEXICO CITY — New mandatory drug tests for Mexico's federal law enforcement agencies turned up 424 police, prosecutors and administrative personnel who tested positive--nearly half of them for cocaine use--during the past six weeks, the attorney general's office disclosed here Tuesday.
Announcing the results of tests that are among the latest efforts by President Ernesto Zedillo's government to purge corruption and drug abuse from the federal agencies charged with combating Mexico's multibillion-dollar drug trade, prosecutors said disciplinary action has been taken against all the public servants who tested positive. A spokeswoman said those actions ranged from reprimands to dismissals.
According to the results, 204 people tested positive for using cocaine and the rest showed signs of using amphetamines, marijuana or other drugs.
An attorney general's office spokeswoman said 15,000 personnel had been tested nationwide. But in a nation where illegal drug consumption is remarkably low--especially compared with consumption in the U.S.--even a 3% positive drug-test rate among Mexico's federal law enforcement agencies was considered shocking.
Calling the findings "surprising," Teresa Jardi, a former federal prosecutor, said the federal police force "is rotten from floor to ceiling."
Specifically targeted this month has been the National Institute to Combat Drugs, Mexico's equivalent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Gen. Jose de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, who was the institute's commissioner, was arrested on drug corruption charges Feb. 18, and his replacement was forced to undergo a battery of tests--including a drug test--before his appointment was announced last week.
The drug tests are part of a struggle by Mexican Atty. Gen. Jorge Madrazo Cuellar to reshape a federal law enforcement institution in crisis. And the tests, whose results can be used at dismissal hearings, appear to be a recognition by authorities that past attempts to purge its ranks of corruption have failed.
Last summer, for example, then-Atty. Gen. Antonio Lozano Gracia made international headlines when he fired more than 800 federal police suspected of corruption from the 4,400-member force. Due to a lack of evidence, though, Lozano eventually backtracked quietly, rehiring about 150 of those officers, according to Eduardo Ibarrola, deputy prosecutor in charge of judicial affairs.
Hundreds more of those officers appealed their firings. Of the 10 cases heard so far, the government has lost every one, Ibarrola said.
The positive drug-test disclosures came a day after the attorney general's office announced the arrest of the second Mexican army general in a month on drug charges.
Brig. Gen. Alfredo Navarro Lara, who was jailed Monday after allegedly trying to bribe the new top law enforcement official in Tijuana and threatening his family, had ties to Javier Arellano Felix, one of the brothers who reportedly control the Tijuana drug cartel, the announcement said.
In his own court declaration, published here Tuesday, Navarro reportedly confessed, saying that he had to offer the bribe or his own wife and daughter would have been killed by the cartel.
Meanwhile, an army colonel and a former police commander were formally charged Tuesday with allowing Humberto Garcia Abrego, the brother of convicted drug lord Juan Garcia Abrego, to walk out of Mexico's anti-narcotics agency Feb. 25. At the time, he was wanted for questioning about suspected money laundering.
A judge ordered the two officials held while the case against them continues, Associated Press reported.