DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
Thomas A. Constantine
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere House International Relations Commitee

Regarding:
Certification of Drug Producing & Transit Countries in Latin America

Location:
Rayburn House Office Building
Room 2172
Washington, D.C.

Date:
March 7, 1996

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: It is a pleasure to appear before the Subcommittee today to discuss the issue of drug control in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. In my appearance today, I will limit my remarks to matters which pertain directly to DEA, leaving any diplomatic issues to Ambassador Gelbard to discuss.

Although the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration as a law enforcement agency is primarily to identify the leading drug criminals, develop information to support criminal action and ultimately to bring them to justice, we recognize the need for programs that ensure compliance with international obligations. This is especially true in an era when organized crime syndicates, such as the world's sophisticated international drug trafficking organizations, do not respect borders or abide by international agreements.

At the outset, I would like to express DEA's full support for the President's certification decisions which were reached after careful deliberation, and which take many aspects of our bilateral narcotics control relationships-above and beyond law enforcement-with foreign governments into account. I think it is also important to say that despite the fact that the Government of Colombia was decertified, the United States Government, and particularly the Drug Enforcement Administration, recognize the enormity of the challenge faced by the Colombian National Police as they work hard to defeat the Cali mafia. I have expressed deep admiration to the head of the Colombian National Police, General Serrano, and have commended him and the chief prosecutor, Alfonso Valdievieso, for their exemplary commitment in the face of grave obstacles. Both are true heroes in the joint struggle in which we are engaged. We at DEA can think of no more daunting law enforcement challenge than what the CNP and the prosecutor's office have faced, and continue to face.

Before addressing specific country situations, I would like to give the Subcommittee my assessment of the seriousness of the international organized crime problem we are facing today, with particular emphasis on organizations operating from Colombia and Mexico. For the first time in our history, the crime problem in the United States is being controlled and orchestrated by well-financed and well-equipped organizations which conduct business from abroad. Never before have we faced an enemy so formidable and so well-entrenched. On many occasions I have said that the Cali mafia and the Mexican Federation make previous organized crime syndicates who operated in the United States look like schoolchildren by comparison.

It is no exaggeration to say that the leaders of these international drug organizations have built powerful financial, transportation, intelligence, and communications empires which rival those of many small governments. In truth, the major drug lords are the Chief Executive Officers of the world's cocaine, methamphetamine and increasingly, heroin industry. This industry employs cargo jets to transport both cocaine and money to and from Mexico, an army of workers to secure the chemicals needed to manufacture the drugs, and thousands of informants who can ensure that every passenger arriving in Cali, Colombia, is identified to the drug lords. Few, if any, global industries are as efficient as Narcotics Incorporated.

It is not just efficiency, however, that allows the drug syndicates in Colombia and Mexico to flourish. The U.S. experience with traditional organized crime taught us the hard lesson that where mafias exist, there win be corruption among law enforcement and other governmental institutions-whether by bribery or intimidation. Mafias cannot exist without a climate of tolerance for illegal activities, and all nations in this hemisphere, including the United States, must be vigilant in order to eliminate corruption which inevitably goes hand-in-hand with drug trafficking.

What we must recognize is that even if all of the leaders of the Cali mafia served hard life sentences and fully dismantled their empire, well-organized traffickers operating in Mexico, known as the Mexican Federation, are wen on their way to becoming the most significant narcotics law enforcement challenge we will face for the next decade. Having a long and time-tested history of poly-drug smuggling since the 1970s, traffickers from Mexico have more than superior ability to dominate the global narcotics trade.

Accomplishments in 1995

1995 was, in many ways, an historic year for narcotics law enforcement around the world. When we review some of the major events--the arrests of six of the seven top Cali mafia bosses, the arrest of Mexico's Juan Garcia-Abrego, the "retirement" of the world's most notorious heroin trafficker, Khun Sa, we cannot help but be impressed. The Colombian arrests are particularly noteworthy because these well-known criminals have controlled narcotics trafficking throughout the world for the past 10 to 15 years, and this is their first major arrest.

These drug syndicates have become so wealthy and so powerful over the years that they can rival the government for influence and control. What they cannot achieve by stealth and technology, they accomplish by the use of terror and corrupting government officials. In Colombia and Mexico, the traffickers have used their resources to build elaborate human and technical systems to defend their enterprises. In many ways, we are witnessing the operations of drug mafias with the business and technological skills of the 21st century arrayed against law enforcement institutions that are mired in corruption and lack the basic resources of a modem police agency.

The Gravity of the Colombian Situation

Challenged by the most well-organized and well-financed crime organization in history, the Government of Colombia has not been able to mobilize effectively the will necessary to take tough and effective action against the Cali mafia. The inadequate laws and policies of the Colombian Government, combined with widespread corruption provides an envelope of security the mafia needs to prosper.

The Cali mafia has not simply negatively influenced Colombia; this organization has directed much of the organized criminal activity in the United States for the past decade. Their annual profits are conservatively estimated at $8 billion, and the Cali mafia bosses control every aspect of the cocaine trade from their headquarters in Colombia. No other criminal organization in history has been able to operate internationally with such sophistication and ease, blatantly disregarding all international borders and conventions. From Cali, the mob leaders direct the business down to specifics--the markings on cocaine packages, the types and numbers of cell phones used for communications between the U.S. and Colombia, and a day-by-day accounting of inventory and profits. But perhaps the most chilling aspect of the Cali mafia's long reach is their ability to target individuals within the United States for contract murders. Because of the Cali mafia's ability to transcend international borders and conduct their business, a truly international response is needed to combat them.

The current narcotics situation in Colombia has never been so grave. Cocaine has tainted the Government in ways previously thought unimaginable. There is evidence that millions of dollars from the Cali mafia financed the campaign of President Ernesto Samper. His government is in crisis. Former Defense Minister Ferdinando Botero is currently in prison, and the Colombian Congress, many of whom are also tainted by drug money, is currently conducting an inquiry.

The DEA has been singled out by the Samper Administration in public statements and in actions designed to intimidate. Horacio Serpa, Minister of the Interior, publicly implied that the DEA was involved in the assassination attempt on Antonio Jose Cancino, President Samper's attorney. The DEA's phones in the U.S. Embassy were wiretapped and conversations between DEA employees were released by Congressman Lucio. Imagine a scenario in the United States where a Congressman stood up on the floor of the House of Representatives and publicly read transcripts of illegal wiretaps on the Colombian Embassy in Washington. We would never tolerate such a blatant attack on the sovereignty of another country.

The Samper Administration has done nothing to resist Congressional attempts to weaken and repeal existing laws which are the only legal means available to go after the drug traffickers.

The assisted escape of Jose Santacruz-Londono, the number three leader of the Cali mafia, from the maximum security prison, "La Picota," in Bogota, Colombia, was a blatant example of the Colombian Government’s protection of the Cali mafia.

As you know, we received word yesterday that the Colombian National Police located Santacruz-Londono, and during their attempt to arrest him, he and a bodyguard were killed in a shootout. I commend General Serrano and the Colombian National Police for their actions against the Cali mafia, and their unrelenting efforts to recapture Santacruz-Londono. However, I am still concerned there are not sufficient security measures in place to ensure the continued incarceration of the other Cali leaders who are still in prison. I am also concerned that no safeguards exist to ensure that the major traffickers currently held in Colombian prisons are unable to conduct their business from prison. History has unfortunately demonstrated that such activity is the rule, rather than the exception. And adding to the seriousness of the situation is the fact that the Cali bosses face only light sentences when-and if-they are convicted and they will continue to retain their vast ill-gotten wealth. One major Cali leader, Pacho Herrera, has still not been arrested.

Another troubling aspect of the Colombian drug trafficking situation is the emergence of Colombia as a significant source of heroin for the U.S. market. During 1995, DEA estimated that 34 percent of the heroin seized in the United States was of Colombian origin.

What Must be Done in Colombia

In order for the Colombian Government to meet its international obligations to control crime syndicates that are victimizing Americans and the citizens of many other countries, a number of important actions must be taken. We firmly believe that given the inadequacy of the Colombian judicial system, steps must be taken to re-institute extradition to the United States. It is well known that the only thing major Colombian drug traffickers ever feared was extradition to the United States. We believe that extradition will send the right message to the traffickers: if you engage in drug trafficking, you win be judged by the peers, families, friends and neighbors of the many American citizens who have been killed, injured or addicted as a result of your actions. If convicted, you will receive the same punishment that we provide American mafia leaders--life imprisonment without parole.

New legislation is needed to strengthen law enforcement and criminal endeavors, including tough new money laundering laws and effective asset forfeiture laws. And it is up to the Colombian Government to overhaul their outdated and ineffective legal and judicial systems in order to meet the challenges posed by drug traffickers whose methods are on the cutting edge of technology. We must continue to support and build law enforcement institutions in Colombia to ensure that they are able to meet these critical challenges.

The Mexican Federation: Past, Present and Future

The recent arrest of one of Mexico's top drug traffickers, Juan Garcia-Abrego, was a significant event and may signal the beginning of a new phase of narcotics cooperation between the Government of Mexico and the United States. Garcia-Abrego was on the FBI's top ten most wanted list, and he will soon face trial in Houston on a range of trafficking charges.

Both Mexican President Zedillo and Mexican Attorney General Lozano have stated that drug trafficking is a threat to Mexico's national security. Both have promised to aggressively pursue major traffickers and improve the Mexican Government’s law enforcement infrastructure to effectively address this threat.

Like their Colombian counterparts, the traffickers from Mexico for years have run a global narcotics trafficking syndicate from their home base. They have been able to establish strong trafficking networks which operate over the 2,000 mile long U.S.-Mexico border and within major U.S. cities. For years, traffickers from Mexico have been experts in obtaining and transporting drugs into the United States, and their vast experience in marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and now methamphetamine make them major players in the international drug trade.

In 1989, when the DEA made the largest cocaine seizure on record--over 21.5 metric tons in Sylmar, California--it became clear that they were becoming a major factor in the cocaine trade.

Receiving payment in both cash and cocaine, the trafficking organizations in Mexico began to establish their own cocaine distribution networks and territories, stretching from the Southwest border areas as far north as New York. By 1991, over half of the cocaine coming into the United States was smuggled over the Southwest Border through a well-established network of transporters from Mexico. 'They now control extensive narcotics distribution systems in the United States and their leaders make all the decisions-and profits--while living in and directing their business from Mexico. Like their Cali counterparts, these traffickers in Mexico believe they are operating with immunity and living in a sanctuary. While they haven't reached the level of sophistication to control entire cities and government institutions, these traffickers certainly have the potential to become every bit as powerful as their Cali mafia partners.

In fact, within the past few years, they have begun to follow the lead of the Cali mafia by expanding and diversifying their product line to include the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, as well as the smuggling of the precursor chemical necessary for its manufacture. In establishing themselves in the methamphetamine trade, they are no longer middlemen for the Cali mafia, but sophisticated traffickers, with international chemical and trafficking networks, poised to assume a truly dominate role in international drug trafficking.

Over the past three years, these major polydrug organizations from Mexico have replaced domestic outlaw motorcycle gangs as the dominant methamphetamine producers, traffickers and distributors in much of the United States. The shift to meth, or speed, as it is commonly known, was a brilliant business decision by these organizations. Unlike the cocaine business, where the traffickers from Mexico are just one link in the drug chain, methamphetamine is one drug they can control from beginning to end. More importantly, because they are in complete control, they can keep 100 percent of the profits. These traffickers make the drug in clandestine laboratories in both the United States and Mexico from ephedrine imported in large quantities into Mexico from both Europe and Asia.

Who are these traffickers? Some names are familiar from their long-time involvement in the drug trade over the years. We are focusing our efforts on the Tijuana cartel controlled by Benjamin and Francisco Arellano-Felix; the Juarez cartel controlled by Amado Carillo-Fuentes; the Miguel Caro-Quintero organization; and the Juan Garcia-Abrego organization, also known as the Gulf cartel.

The trafficking organizations from Mexico are not only adaptable and proficient, but also violent. Feuding between Tijuana cartel members and rival drug factions, including the Juaquin Guzman-Loera organization and the Hector Luis Palma-Salazar organization, led to the 1993 killing of the Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport. These organizations have thousands of operatives who engage in narcotics trafficking and violence in cities such as San Diego, Phoenix, and Houston.

The DEA recently hosted a conference of state and local law enforcement officials from around the country who told us what we suspected: methamphetamine is their number one emerging enforcement concern, the major cause of violence in many communities and a difficult law enforcement and environmental challenge which is draining much of their resources. A vast majority of these law enforcement officials told us that groups from Mexico are the source of their meth problem, particularly in communities along the Southwest Border, and in the Southeast.

Adding methamphetamine to the list of drugs produced and trafficked by organizations in Mexico and recognizing that Mexico continues to be a major source of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, it is critical for us to work diligently with the Mexican Government to target, arrest and jail the leaders of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

What Mexico Must Do

Like Colombia, the Government of Mexico is fighting twenty-first century criminals with nineteenth century tools, which are woefully inadequate against such a threat.

As the wealth and sophistication of these organizations continue to grow, they threaten to overwhelm the capabilities of any law enforcement system. The law enforcement institutions in Mexico do not presently have a solid infrastructure that can withstand the tremendous pressures and threats placed on them by these sophisticated traffickers. To establish such an infrastructure and level of professionalism will take a substantial commitment of time and resources. If this is not done, however, the law enforcement system may be overwhelmed by the wealth and corruptive influence of the drug organizations.

Mexico must:

- develop inherently honest investigative teams who can develop the skills necessary to interact with international law enforcement agencies and attack organizations run by major drug traffickers, such as the Arellano-Felix brothers and Amado Carillo-Fuentes;

- introduce and pass a comprehensive Organized Crime Bill;

- fully support binational border task forces;

- develop more prosecutions of Mexican nationals who commit drug crimes; and

- increase support for chemical control and money laundering units within law enforcement organizations.

Another step that must be taken is for the Mexican Government to respond adequately to U.S. extradition requests and develop effective mechanisms to receive U.S. Government law enforcement assistance.

Bolivia and Peru

The United States must also turn its attention to Bolivia and Peru as important players in the drug trafficking equation. Bolivia now ranks as the world's third largest producer of coca and cocaine and is the site of a number of entrenched organizations aligned with the Cali drug mafia. Peru is the source of two-thirds of the world's coca supply, a major production center for cocaine, and a producer of large quantities of the world's cocaine base.

Bolivia

Over the past year, Bolivia has also made substantial progress in several areas of its counternarcotics performance. One of its most significant steps is the negotiation and signing of a new bilateral extradition treaty with the United States, which now must be ratified by both countries. In addition, a seized asset decree was enacted in December, and although Bolivia has not yet criminalized money laundering, it has pledged to take action in this area.

With support from the DEA, DOD, and other agencies, specialized units in the Bolivian police have successfully mounted complex investigations into both Colombian-directed and indigenous Bolivian trafficking organizations. Bolivian law enforcement has dismantled five major drug and chemical trafficking organizations, which involved the arrests of key traffickers, the seizure of over 8 metric tons of cocaine base and HCI, and the destruction of over 2,000 processing sites and laboratories. In Santa Cruz alone, DEA-Bolivian narcotics operations accounted for almost one quarter of all DEA-assisted arrests made overseas.

In January 1995, Bolivian law enforcement forces arrested Colombian trafficker Pedro Ramirez Dario and seven members of his organization in Santa Cruz. They also dismantled an Israeli trafficking organization tied to the Cali cartel and arrested its leader, Avner Menashe. In addition, Bolivian authorities dismantled two important cocaine and chemical supply organizations in December, and arrested 44 individuals, including major traffickers Jose Cristobal Delgadillo Valencia (AKA Jesus Cristo) and Jose Sanchez Erquicio (AKA Tarabuco).

In 1995, in Lima, authorities seized a Bolivian transport plane carrying over 4 metric tons of cocaine HCI, destined for the United States via Mexico. As a result of the follow-up investigation, over 50 suspects were arrested in Bolivia, including the head of the organization, Luis Amado Pacheco Abraham.

In the area of eradication, the Government of Bolivia resumed its coca eradication program and launched an aggressive campaign to destroy newly planted coca and seedbeds. In addition, Bolivia continues to make progress in alternative development activities, which have almost doubled licit cultivation in the Chapare since 1986. Licit crops now account for twice as much hectarage in the Chapare as coca.

The government has made a concerted effort to educate the public about direct link between coca and cocaine, which has Increased support for anti-drug efforts among both policy makers and the public.

Bolivia must improve its control over chemical imports, and since the department charged with this responsibility has been plagued by corruption, it must strengthen that institution.

Peru

As the world's largest producer of coca, Peru is key to an effective counternarcotics effort in the source countries.

The DEA is encouraged that the Government of Peru has begun to respond more vigorously to drug trafficking activities. During 1995, Peru seized 22 metric tons of drugs, including 15 metric tons of cocaine base and for the first time, almost 8 tons of cocaine hydrochloride. The most significant actions involved two large seizures. Peruvian authorities seized 3.3 metric tons of cocaine hydrochloride during the arrests of members of the Lopez Paredes trafficking organization, a trafficking group that was shipping multi-ton quantities of hydrochloride by sea to Mexico. The second seizure occurred this past September, at the Lima airport, when 4.1 metric tons of cocaine hydrochloride was seized from a Bolivian DC-6 bound for Mexico that had stopped to refuel.

Peru is also making a substantial effort to attack the Colombian-Peru "airbridge," which illegally uses Peruvian territory to smuggle cocaine out of Peru and back to Colombia. The Peruvian Air Force has intercepted over 23 planes aircraft operating between the two countries. As a result, narcotics-related flights dropped by almost 50 percent compared to those a year ago.

These interdiction efforts have played a significant role in lowering prices that traffickers are willing to pay for cocaine base. This drastic price reduction has caused many coca farmers to forego harvesting the second half of the year, which in turn, reduced the amount of coca leaf that was actually being processed into cocaine base.

The Government of Peru has indicted and arrested major traffickers, including a Colombian wanted in the United States who is currently awaiting extradition. Peru has also extradited fugitives to Italy and Switzerland, and has cooperated with Colombian authorities and several European countries in drug trafficking investigations. Last June, at Peru's request, the Colombian National Police arrested Abelardo Cachique-Rivera, a major trafficker in Cali and expelled him to Peru, where he is serving a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking and terrorism.

In April, the Government of Peru approved a U.S.-funded program for alternative development to reduce coca cultivation, however, it has not implemented a mature coca eradication policy.

Most chemicals essential to cocaine base processing are produced in Peru, and DEA believes the Peruvian chemical regulatory system to be one of the most advanced in South America.

Conclusion

DEA is optimistic that the President's certification decisions can lead to even greater law enforcement cooperation in the coming year. The certification process can be a powerful impetus for countries to undertake the necessary counternarcotics efforts and to cooperate in those efforts with the United States.

In the coming year. it will be essential for the Drug Enforcement Administration to again have the budgetary support which Congress has provided over the years. The President's budget, which will be delivered to Congress in two weeks, gives the DEA many of the important tools we need to continue targeting major drug traffickers along the Southwest Border, and overseas. It also provides us with resources to address the methamphetamine situation, eliminate violent drug traffickers from our communities, and keep a well-trained work force.

I respectfully ask Congress to assist us in another area: full funding for the implementation of the digital telephony bill which passed Congress last year. FBI Director Louis Freeh has spoken to many of you about the importance of funding to allow U.S. law enforcement agencies to keep up with the technological advances routinely used by drug traffickers to thwart law enforcement efforts against them. It is not an exaggeration to say that without implementation of the digital telephony program, within a few years, we may not be able to conduct wiretaps against drug traffickers, terrorists and other sophisticated criminal groups.

I will be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these important matters with you today.

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