129. Telegram From the Embassy in Mexico to the Department of State and the Mission in Geneva1

1581. Dept pass all CCINC agencies. Geneva for Mathea Falco.2 Subject: Narcotics Control in Lopez Portillo Administration.

1. Summary: After seventy days of the new administration, my staff and I have the distinct impression that narcotics control programs are off to a better start than even the most optimistic dared to predict. If this spirit prevails, we should witness cooperation far exceeding that of the previous administration. End summary.

2. Last fall, Washington agencies expressed great concern about how the new Lopez-Portillo administration would handle narcotics [Page 275] control.3 Messages received here expressed the prevailing fear that the new administration would be less dedicated and less vigorous, and that the hard-won commitments of Echeverria and his Attorney General, Ojeda-Paullada, would evaporate.

3. The new Attorney General, Oscar Flores-Sanchez, himself called the first meeting on narcotics control after only seven days in office. He had already discussed cooperative programming with his old friend and new Secretary of Defense, Lieutenant General Felix Galvan-Lopez. By the time Sheldon Vance (S/NM) and Peter Besinger (DEA) visited Mexico City in mid-December, Flores had appointed his second deputy, Samuel Alba-Leyva, as overall Narcotics Coordinator for his Ministry. Embassy officers have seen Alba and/or his key staff members almost daily since that time, and both Flores and Alba have made several trips to field locations to get the program moving.

4. Flores has made good on his statement that he would get the military involved. Task Force “Condor I” is already operating in Sinaloa Province, with its headquarters at San Jose del Llano. According to a letter from Galvan to Flores (seen by an Embassy officer), Condor I now has 1,200 men in the field with an additional 1,900 men spread through six other military commands for narcotics eradication and interdiction activities. The latter are pursuing what to the army is a continuing and permanent task. We have also seen a Presidential directive to the Treasury ordering immediate disbursement to Defense of over dols 550,000 to support these military in the field, primarily intended for Condor I.

5. In what can only be considered in recent years, the Mexican Air Force (MAF) has permitted our aviation technicians to inspect air force helicopters to determine how best to get them airborne for this campaign. (This, of course, is not without benefit to the MAF.) The air force has also seconded ten of its own helicopter pilots to the Attorney General’s office and, again setting precedent, has permitted our instructors to give tests to determine their proficiency. To appreciate the significance of these steps, one must recall that the previous administration insisted on doing as much as possible without involving the military.

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6. On the enforcement side, Flores and his staff have been exceedingly open with DEA representatives here. Carrying of weapons was orally approved, an intelligence unit has been established for which we are providing on-the-job training, and plans for joint prosecution and the return of fugitives were finalized with only minimum discussion. The addition of twenty-six TDY personnel from DEA to observe and monitor the eradication campaign was received with gratitude and, I am told, TDY personnel and their counterparts are working successfully in the field.

7. The assistance program is on a more professional level than ever before. After some initial false starts, the Attorney General now talks not of equipment needs but of missions to be performed, and his staff now looks for alternative approaches to resolve problems. The recently identified need for troop lift capability is an excellent example. When we noted problems with providing medium-lift helicopters such as Chinooks, the Attorney General’s staff itself came up with the suggestion to divert five Bell 212s already in inventory to this purpose, asking if we could replace them with the equivalent spray capacity in smaller Bell 206s. This suggestion makes better sense both for the Mexicans (increased flexibility) and for us (a saving of about dols three million). More far-reaching is the Attorney General’s invitation to Embassy officers to participate in internal meetings on personnel and budgeting for his Ministry to discuss levels of staffing, position descriptions and budget requirements for future fiscal years.

8. Problems do, of course, remain. The relationship between the Attorney General’s office and the Ministry of Defense is murky. When Condor I personnel began to arrive in the field, there was evidence that the military attempted to take over both the eradication and interdiction effort. This generated working-level friction which has not entirely disappeared. (We do know, however, that when we called this situation to the Attorney General’s attention, he immediately spoke to the Secretary of Defense, who called his commander in the field. This alleviated the problem, at least temporarily.)

9. Nor have we yet seen solid evidence that Mexico will be as vigorous in arresting and prosecuting traffickers as it is in the more impersonal eradication of illicit crops. Both corruption and personal relationships will have to be overcome if there is to be a truly effective law enforcement effort, and it is too early to tell if the new administration will effectively address these problems.

10. The bottom line after seventy days speaks for itself. According to figures given to me Friday by the Attorney General, between December one and February three, Mexico destroyed 9684 poppy fields (4,653 acres); destroyed 3,657 marijuana fields (1,823 acres); seized 96 cars and three aircraft; arrested 605 Mexicans and 34 foreigners on narcotics [Page 277] charges; and had 376 people working in the field, not counting those contributed by the military. If the Lopez-Portillo administration can maintain this momentum, establish effective Defense-Attorney General coordination, and continue its open discussions with the Embassy, we can reasonably expect narcotics control cooperation exceeding that of the previous administration.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770047–0025. Confidential. Repeated for information to all the Consulates in Mexico.
  2. Falco was in Geneva for the UN Conference on Narcotic Drugs.
  3. The Department of State and the Embassy in Mexico City expressed concern about the Lopez Portillo administration’s commitment to narcotics control due to suspicions that one of Lopez Portillo’s allies, Federal Judicial Police Commander Arturo Durazo Moreno, was involved with drug trafficking. Durazo expressed interest in becoming Chief of Customs when Lopez Portillo took office, but was instead appointed as Chief of the Directorate of Control of Medicines, Food, and Beverages. (Telegram 12279 from Mexico City, September 24, 1976; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760361–1079)