The Narco News Bulletin
January 23, 2018 | Issue #45
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
Eight years ago, an "anti-drug" summit was held between US President Bill Clinton and his Mexican counterpart Ernesto Zedillo on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The February 1999 meeting took place at a hacienda in the town of Temozón Sur, near kilometer 148 of the Mérida-Campeche highway, a posh estate owned by Roberto Hernández Ramírez, then owner of Banamex, the National Bank of Mexico.
Hernández had been accused - publicly and via a criminal complaint - by the daily newspaper Por Esto! of trafficking tons of Colombian cocaine through his Caribbean coasta properties on that peninsula since 1997. The newspaper published photos of the drug, the smuggling boats, the Colombian garbage strewn upon the shores, the airfield and small airplanes that, witnesses testified, brought the cocaine north to the United States, with confirmation from sources as diverse as local fishermen and high officials of the Mexican Armed Forces.
I covered that presidential summit eight years ago, investigated the charges for three months, and published the first of many reports that May (see "Clinton and His Mexican Narco-Pals," Boston Phoenix, May 17, 1999). Follow-up reports and translations of Por Esto!'s investigations appeared on Narco News after we began publishing in April 2000. By July of that year, Narco News, the Por Esto! publisher Mario Menéndez Rodríguez and I found ourselves as defendants in the New York Supreme Court from a lawsuit filed by Banamex. The bank had hired the mega-lobbying and law firm Akin Gump, of Washington DC, to harass us with that nuisance suit. More than a year of our lives was dominated by the painstaking presentation of all the evidence to the Court. In December 2001, the New York Supreme Court delivered a thunderous blow to Banamex (by then part of Citigroup, the world's wealthiest financial institution): it dismissed Banamex's case, and established, for the first time, First Amendment protections for Internet journalists in the United States. The vindicated Narco News and Por Esto! reports, the legal motions and affidavits, and the considerable international press coverage of the case are now assembled in one archive, available online and free-of-charge here.
The Court ruled:
"Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist... Furthermore, the nature of the articles printed on the website and Mr. Giordano's statements at Columbia University constitute matters of public concern because the information disseminated relates to the drug trade and its affect on people living in this hemisphere..."
Humiliated by the facts and the landmark court order, Banamex's hotshot corporate lawyers crawled back under their rocks and refused comment to the press, as did Hernández and the bank officals. Por Esto! continued reporting the story of the cocaine trafficking operation that has never been prosecuted, and continues to fend off persecution by the very same Mexican State that protects white collar criminals to traffic in cocaine while it makes a grand media show over prosecuting lower level smugglers which the obedient press corps errantly labels as "cartels." Narco News - in part thanks to the global attention generated by Banamex's lawsuit - grew from the tiny website of one journalist to a still-growing project of hundreds, with millions of readers across the continents in, now, seven languages. Roberto Hernández now sits on the board of Citigroup, travels freely to and from its corporate headquarters in New York. But many millions more people are informed and now understand: the drug war is a farce conducted by governments that serve the top-level narco-traffickers while arresting and imprisoning millions of smalltime users and dealers.
Eight years later, both countries have new presidents, and both rose to those posts via brazen acts of electoral fraud. Today, Air Force One will deliver George W. Bush to the Yucatán capital of Mérida, where he will hold two days of meetings with his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderón. Part of those meetings will be held at the same Temozon Sur Hacienda of Roberto Hernández where Clinton and Zedillo met in 1999. The hotel zone of Mérida and the town of Temozon Sur are today "under siege" by more than 3,000 US and Mexican soldiers and police officers; 900 of whom are camped out in tents behind the Hyatt Regency and the Fiesta Americana. Residents of these places are blocked from walking in their own neighborhoods. Demonstrators are kept walled out miles away. The corporate media will - if past is prologue - withhold the uncomfortable facts from the public about the narco hacienda where the presidents will meet but it will, no doubt, quote the presidents as they praise each other's heroism in the so-called fight against drug trafficking.
Bush is a Republican. Clinton is a Democrat. Calderón is with Mexico's National Action Party (PAN). Zedillo is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The parties and logos change but the story remains the same. Citigroup Director and Executive Committee Chairman Robert E. Rubin, who as Clinton's treasury secretary charged Banamex with drug money laundering, engineered Citigroup's purchase of the Mexican bank in 2001. Hernández received $14 billion dollars for it but did not pay a peso in taxes for the sale to the Mexican government. The prison cells of both countries are filled with people that were just pawns in their game, while white-collar criminals and corrupt politicians continue to enrich themselves through a phony "war on drugs."
In a hacienda in the Mexican Southeast, its déjà vu all over again. But the latest effort in "image laundering" by the white collar criminals and their corporate media lackeys betrays their unease and desperation. After all, if the 1999 summit at Temozon Sur had succeeded in washing the stain off the banks and the two governments, they wouldn't need to do this again. The public in both nations has grown to understand, now as never before, that something terribly wrong is going on up above. That is especially true of Mexico, but the slumbering population of the United States is not resting as easily as before. Despite the smiles, photo ops, and firm handshakes displayed for the obedient press corps, the mood at Temozon Sur this week will not, unlike eight years ago, be one of triumph.