Archive: The Double Role of Drug Trafficking in State Terrorism and Militarized Democracy

The Mexican army, that historically has maintained a stringent “nationalistic” stance towards the United States, now supports a form of militarization that, disguising itself as a “war on drugs”, imposes a “democracy of national security”


On May 19, members of the Mexican army’s special group Ledin combed the foothills between Tianal and Sikiculum, in Chiapas, Mexico, in search of drugs, according to the explanation given by the National Institute for Combatting Drugs. The army set up four camps around Aguascalientes II, to some extent confirming Zapatista allegations of an imminent military offensive that, throughout the negotiation process, acted as a counterpoint in the sporadic peace talks. General Castillo denied the allegations, attributing the deployment of troops to the suppression of a supposed “Southeastern cartel”, operating in the states of Chiapas, Campeche and Tabasco.

In mid-1996, the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center denounced the fact that northern Chiapas “was living in a state of latent civil war”, as a consequence of the actions of four paramilitary groups: “Los Chinchulines” operating in the municipality of Chilón; “Peace and Justice” in Sabanilla; the “Luis Donaldo Colosio Civic Front” and the “Independent Youth Organization”, laying waste to Tila and Salto de Agua.

Some 600 campesinos were killed or disappeared in the last three years at the hands of “guardias blancas” (White Guards) which human rights organizations claim are trained and supported by the state security apparatus.

Simultaneously, in June 1996, the US State Department announced the donation of US$5 million to supplement a training program for members of the Mexican military in the war against drugs; and in August, Senator Jesse Helms lifted his veto of General Geoffrey McCaffrey’s proposal to give 50 “used” Huey HU-1H helicopters to the Mexican army; in exchange, the Mexican government “accepted” that the helicopters would be subject to US “monitoring” of their use, and furthermore authorized US public security agencies, in particular the Customs Service, to fly over Mexican territory.

Beyond the issues directly related to the negotiation process in Chiapas, and the strategies of those involved, the episodes mentioned here reveal a pattern: the active, operative participation of the Mexican army in the fight against drug trafficking; the growing militarization of the State; Mexico’s military dependence on US security agencies; the implementation of a political-military counterinsurgency strategy; and the Pentagon’s commitment to selling the concept of “narco-terrorism” as a means of defining the “enemy” of the armed forces of Latin America, against which the doctrine of Continental Security will be unleashed.

The Mexican army, that historically has maintained a stringent “nationalistic” stance towards the United States, now supports a form of militarization that, disguising itself as a “war on drugs”, imposes a “democracy of national security”.

In the view of many social groups , politicians and Latin American military officials, out of all the possible options, “narcotrafficking” and its offspring, “narco-terrorism”, are considered extremely dubious tools for sustaining a strategy that extends US national security interests throughout the continent, working simultaneously in geographic, economic and military spheres.

In order to fill the post-cold war vacuum, drug-trafficking when viewed as a threat to the democratic processes on the grounds that it leads to political corruption and social disintegration, can replace the role that “communism” played during the 1960s and 1970s to justify a policy of military intervention and economic hegemony.

The establishment of a common enemy, transnational and dangerous, is vital for any strategy of hegemony. As with communism before it, drug trafficking defined as the principal enemy of the democratic process tends to cover up the primary cause of destabilization in Latin America: the profound social injustices and insupportable levels of marginalization and poverty caused by neoliberal economic recipes.

Just as “narco-terrorism” is a crude generalization to explain the social disruptions, rebellions, violence and uprisings, “narcotrafficking” provides an easy justification for the deployment of military strategies.

In all Latin America, and in a wide spectrum of society that includes progressive parties, churches and social organizations, the definition of drug-trafficking as the main threat to democratic processes raises suspicions, in art because of the numerous precedents that link drug deals with the financing of undercover operations promoted by the CIA and other US agencies carrying out national security policies.

In this sense, the scenario unfolding in Mexico has significant similarities with the recent history of Central America, where counterinsurgency strategies included the appearance of paramilitary groups, and the pursuit of political objectives

The reported presence of Argentine military advisors among the forces deployed in Chiapas, who earlier had served as advisors in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in the 1980s, suggests the survival of a secret and clandestine system of coordination of military intelligence, that threatens to maintain a “national security ethic”.

Although the institutional responsibility for State terrorism throughout Latin America has still not been officially recognized, journalists and human rights organizations have compiled a body of information that reveals the existence of a continentally coordinated plot in which the Argentine military has occupied a protagonistic role in key areas.

The Argentinean military leadership, with a reputation following successful and effective experiences in the dirty war against “subversion” after the coup d’etat in March 1976, sent out advisors to Central American armies and extreme right organizations. The commander at the time of the First Army Corps, General Guillermo Suárez Masón, promoted the creation of the Foreign Task Force (GTE) of Batallion 601, a military intelligence apparatus linked to the SIDE (Secretary of State Information). The military detachments and Argentine agents were to have two simultaneous missions: to assist their Central American allies and to persecute Argentine exiles, especially montonero groups.

According to some reports, the Argentine military intelligence apparatus and extreme-right Central American groups share contacts initiated by the Italian neofascist organization Avanguardia Nazionale. The link dates back as far as 1973, when the Italian terrorist Stephano Delle Chiaie began operating in Argentina, with ties to the Chilean DINA, the political police under Augusto Pinochet’s regime, directed by the then Colonel Manuel Contreras (later promoted to general). Delle Chaie, who coordinated his activities with the Chilean agent (and presumed CIA agent) Michael Townley (convicted in the US of assassinating Chile’s ex-Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier) served also as a go-between with Salvadoran army officer Roberto D’Aubisson during the first advisory missions.

Until 1980, the Argentine advisors deployed in El Salvador and Guatemala instructed paramilitary groups in the use of torture as a means of extortion, and as a source of funding for clandestine operations. The organization of the June 1980 coup d’etat that brought General Luis García Meza to power in Bolivia instigated a qualitative change in the financial sources of Central American paramilitary groups.

Several researchers of the genesis of the Bolivian “narco-dictatorship” argue that the Argentine assistance, in arms and military personnel – 400 advisors – was the product of a pact allowing the drug cartels to finance the coup. The Bolivian drug-traffickers’ decision to back the military and to guarantee the expansionof their business from a position of power was detected by the DEA station in Buenos Aires in March 1980, according to the revelations of former agent Michael Levine. The CIA and the DEA, however, have buried the evidence, in order not to unermine the process.

The contact with the Argentine military was Colonel Luis Arce Gómez, later Minister of Interior under the dictatorship (now imprisoned in the US on drug charges). Arce intervened in favor of his cousin, the drug baron Roberto Suárez, to establish a mechanism for drug trafficking and money-laundering that would rely on the cover of the Argentine advisors in Central America; in exchange, the Bolivian drug traffickers would finance the region’s paramilitary groups. The pact was made in Bolivia between Arce, Suárez, Stephano Della Chaie and LieutenantColonel Hugo Miori Pereyra, member of the Argentine contingent in Bolivia and delegate of General Suárez Masón. Miori assisted Della Chaie to mount a terrorist squadron in Bolivia, known as the “Novios de la Muerte” (Bridegrooms of Death). This squadron, linked to the nazi criminal Klaus Barbie, coordinated the Special Security Service and instructed Bolivian soldiers in the techniques of prisoner torture while at the same time providing protection to the cocaine business. (The link between the Argentine advisors and this death squad offers a
parallel trail to its relation with drug-trafficking: the testimony given by the Bolivian drug-trafficker Sonia Altala before a US jury confirms that the “Bridgerooms of Death” were maintained by the trafficking organization that depended on Minister Arce Gómez).

The relation between drug traffickers and paramilitary groups took on a new dimension soon after García Meza’s coup, after the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the Latin American Anti-Communist League, affiliated to the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), that took place in Buenos Aires. Presided over by Suárez Masón, the WACL president attended, as did Woo Jae Sung, an important figure in the Moon Sect, representatives of the Italian masonic lodge Propaganda Due, delegates of the former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza and the anti-Castro terrorist organization Alpha 66, the Salvadoran Roberto D’Aubisson, the Guatemalan neo-fascist Mario Sandoval Alarcón, and the Italian terrorist Stephano Della Chaie, among others; John Carbaugh, assistant to Senator Jesse Helms, and Margo Carlisle, assistant to Senator James McClure, participated as observers. Suárez Masón argued the need to develop the anti-communist struggle in Central America, to counteract the triumph of Sandinismo. The WACL provided US$8 million for the initial cost of a detachment of Argentine advisors sent to Central America. According to some sources, the money came from secret funds managed by the CIA.

The Argentine colonel Josué Osvaldo Ribeiro, alias “Balita”, held overall responsibility for the detachment in Central America. Lieutenant Colonel Miori served as “messenger”. He is attributed with a fundamental role in the coordination of drug trafficking through El Salvador. The cocaine was transferred in the Salvadoran Air Force bases and then sent on to the United States. Part of the drugs financed the death squads set up by mayor D’Aubisson.

The paramilitary groups were assisted by Lieutenant colonel Santiago Hoya, alias “Santiago Villegas”. Hoya and Colonel Ribeiro had a decisive role in the origins of what was later known as the IranContra scandal. Ribeiro, who is attributed with a protagonistic role in the disappearance of exiles in thecontext of “Operation Condor” as well as the modernization of the Paraguayan intelligence services, passed on his coordination experiences learned in Argentina to military officers from Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay. From his room in the Honduras Maya Hotel in Tegucigalpa, Ribeiro begancoordinating with the members of the Somocista National Guard abroad, while Hoya, as “chief ofoperations”, directed the construction of the training camp known as Sagittarius, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, and the clandestine concentration camp known as “La Quinta”.

Hoya and Ribeiro widened contacts with General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, head of the Honduran army’s G-2; former Somocista National Guard captain Emilio Echaverry; and with the “contra” leders Arístides Sánchez, Enrique Bermúdez and Frank Arana. US congressional testimonies reveal that the CIA had delegated the responsibility for organizing the Nicaraguan “contras” to the Argentine advisors before the National Security Council implemented President Ronald Reagan’s secret order to bypass the obstacle of prohibitions imposed by Congress. Ribeiro and Hoya were protagonists in
the negotiations that culminated in the creation of the second collective “contra” leadership after the formation of the 15th of September Legion, made up of ex-Somocista guards in the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN).

Details of the Argentine activities in Central America, their coordinating role and the form in which they were combining the interests of the Argentine and Bolivian dictatorships with the National Security Council’s interests, was recently brought together by the San José Mercury News’ investigations into the CIA’s participation in introducing drugs into the United States in order to finance clandestine arms provisions to the contras. According to this investigation, one of the Argentine advisors’ favorites, Somocista Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, made a major leap forward in this illicit form of financing the war, when he authorize two fellow Nicaraguans, Danilo Blandón and Jose Norwin Meneses, to mount a drug trafficking scheme using the incipient structure of the FDN in Los Angeles.

The investigation revealed that the drugs distributed in Los Angeles (to which the San José Mercury News attributed the crack boom among the black population) was deposited in Salvadoran air bases and transferred by plane from there to airports in Texas, under CIA protection. Towards the end of 1981, the smuggling system had managed to ship a ton of drugs. Blandón, who currently receives a salary from the US government as a DEA special agent, admitted that between 1981 and 1988 cocaine introduction reached up to 100 kilos a week. The coincidence of dates, actors and geographic locations permits the suggestion that part of the drugs handled by Blandón with CIA authorization was supplied by Bolivian narco-traffickers, even after the removal of García Meza in Bolivia, and the restoration of democracy in Argentina in 1983. The Argentines were also the architects of the system that later used the Reagan government to channel undercover assistanceto the contras. The Batallion 601 agents Raul Guglielminetti alias “Mayor Guastavino”, Leandor Sanchez Reisse, alias “Lenny” and Jorge Franco, alias “Fiorito” specialized in laundering the funds from drug trafficking. Franco travelled to Central America on two opportunities, one of them using his real identity. Franco, at the time, was listed as”disappeared” in the Army Institute of Social Works, but it is suspected that he was in Central America until at least 1987.

Leandro Sánchez Reisse is the only member of the External Task Force of Batallion 601 who has confessed the link between the Argentine advisors and drug trafficking to finance undercover operations. Sánchez Reisse, an accountant by profession, was caught in Geneva, Switzerland, when he was tring to deposit the ransom money of Uruguayan banker Carlos Koldobsky, kidnapped in Buenos Aires. In 1985 he managed to escape from the Champ Dollon prison. He took refuge in the United States, under CIA protection. In order to avoid the extradition demanded by Raúl Alfonsín’s government, Sánchez Reisse offered to testify before the Terrorism, Narcotraffic and International Operations subcommission of the US Senate Exterior Relations Committee.

Sánchez Reisse revealed that General Suárez Masón and the section of the army under his command received drug money as early as 1987 to fund counterinsurgency efforts in Central America. He explained that two businesses in Miami, one called Argenshow, dedicated to contracting singers for Latin American tours, and another called Silver Dollar, in reality a pawn shop, managed by Raúl Guglielminetti, were the two locations for transferring money. He admitted that Silver Dollar and Argenshow had channelled US$30mn in drug money sent via Panama to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. The money, he said, ended up in the hands of the Nicaraguan contras. He also revealed that since the mid-80s the CIA was fully informed of the two Florida businesses and that it gave its approval to the money laundering operations. The Batallion 601 accountant revealed to the Senate subcommittee the Argentine participation in the Irangate scandal. He confessed that an Argentine implicated in the 1977 kidnapping of Luchino Revelli Beaumont,of New York, to contract fifty Argentine mercenaries to infiltrate Iran and attempt to rescue the 52 US hostages under Khomeini’s power. The plan failed to take shape because of Argentine demands to take into account the safety of lives, according to Sánchez Reisse.

The Silver Dollar enterprise served as a cover for the first arms supplies to the contras. The initial transactions were made through the intermediation of Norman Faber, an associate of then-director of the CIA, William Casey, in another phantom company that served to divert money to the contras.

It is presumed that from as early as 1982, George Morales, a Colombian drug trafficker with US nationality, operated with the Argentine advisors in arms trafficking to the contras through El Salvador, using planes from his Miami-based air-taxi service Aviation Activities Corporation. The airplanes were authorized by the CIA to return with cocaine shipments, as long as they donated a percentage to the contras. Morales told the lawyer Jack Blum, Subcommittee advisor, that they obtained some US$4 million.

Another SIDE agent operated in Central America along with Sánchez Reisse and Raul Guglielminetti. Juan Martin Ciga Correa, alias “Major Santamaria”, with vast links to the ultra-right, specialized in financial affairs. The Argentine authorities have a warrant out for the arrest of Ciga Correa for the 1974 assassination of CarlosPrats Gonzalez, former commander of the Chilean army. Ciga Correa acted as the link between the Chilean DINA agents Michael Townley and Enrique Arancibia Clavel and the ultra-right organization Triple A, in the organization and execution of the assassination of Prats and his wife. Ciga was furthermore involved with Guglielminetti in the business of arms trafficking and extorsive kidnappings carried out in Costa Rica. He has been identified as one of the current advisors to the paramilitary groups that operate in Chiapas, Mexico.

If, as the “Argentine connection” suggests, the vast drug trafficking network has served to finance undercover operations and is intimately linked to military intelligence agencies, the current proposals to militarize the war on drugs are seriously flawed because of the links and commitments between drug traffickers, intelligence agencies and paramilitary groups over the years.

Drug trafficking, along with other “common” criminal activities, was born out of politics and ideology, and developed in a framework of impunity that military dictatorships granted as part of a policy of state terrorism. There are no reasons to believe that a radical and effective change has taken place regarding this policy. The insistence with which the concept of “narco-terrorism” is pushed forward to justify astrategy of counterinsurgency and militarization in Latin America, accompanied by the growth of paramilitary groups, appears to guarantee the survival of those ideological andpolitical mechanisms. All the more so, when the recently emerging democracies prove incapable of purging the military and police of members involved in human rights violations, drug trafficking, kidnappings and other “common” crimes.


Carlos Juvenal: “Buenos Muchachos. La industria del secuestro in Argentina”.
Elisabeth Reimann: “Confesiones de un contra”.
Martin Andersen: “Dossier Secreto. El mito de la guerra sucia.”
Michael Levine: “La guerra falsa.”
Jeffrey Robinson: “The Laundrymen.”
CONADEP: “Nunca más.”
Claudio Díaz & Antonio Zucco: “La ultraderecha argentina.”
Juan Gasparini: “La pista sucia.”
Horacio Vebitky: “La posguerra sucia.”
Enrique Yeves: “La contra, una guerra sucia.”
Gabriel Pasquino & Eduardo de Miguel: “Blanca y radiante.”
Frederic Laurent: “L’orchestre noir.”
Gustavo Sánchez Salazar: “Barbie, criminal hasta el fin.”
Juan José Salinas: “Los mercenarios. Contras y carapintadas”, in the magazine, El Porteño, No. 79.
Semanario Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Nos. 65-98.
San José Mercury News: “Crack plague’s roots are in Nicaraguan war”, editions August 18, 19 & 20, 1996.
Carlos Fazio: “El tercer vínculo”, editorial Joaquín Mortiz, Mexico, 1996.

Samuel Blixen is an Uruguayan journalist who writes for Brecha Magazine (Uruguay). He is a correspondent for Noticias Aliadas (Peru) and National Radio (Sweden). He has worked with the Geopolitical Drug Observatory (OGD) in France. He wrote several books: “El Enjuague Uruguayo. Secreto bancario y tráfico de drogas”, “Bancotráfico. Diez años de política bancaria en democracia” and “El Vientre del Cóndor. Del archivo del terror al caso Berríos

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