CIA Drug Planes Caught in Mexican Stand-off

pleje1At least four men have already paid with their lives in Mexico during the ensuing confusion which followed the crash of the CIA-connected Gulfstream business jet which was carrying more than 4 tons of cocaine as well as an yet-unspecified amount of heroin,  in the jungle outside of Merida in Mexico's Yucatan on September 24th of this year.

Last week the Director of Civil Aviation in the Yucatan, Jose Luis Soladana Ortiz, was assassinated on his way to work.

CNHEJE3And three tortured bodies were discovered lying across a road near the Merida airport several weeks ago, according to reports in the Mexican press.

The murders and multi-ton drug busts are part of  a continuing "Mexican stand-off" between rival Mexican drug cartels allied with dueling factions contesting across Mexico's unsettled political landscape, a contest which has resulted in more than 1500 murders already this year.

Last month this massive upheaval resulted in the biggest drug seizure—not just in Mexican history—but in the history of the world.

An incredible 33 tons of cocaine were discovered in cargo containers offloaded from the cargo ship Esmeralda which sailed to Mexico’s Pacific Coast port of Manzanillo from Buenaventura in northwestern Colombia.

This came hard on the heels of headlines from Tampico in early October. "Mexican soldiers seize 10 tons of cocaine after shootout."

Altogether so far this year an unprecedented 48 tons of cocaine has now been seized by the Mexican government.

The two CIA-connected airplanes—the recent GulfstreamCocaine_Two-A business jet (N987SA) and a DC9 airliner (N900SA) eighteen months ago—which sallied forth from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport only to be busted in the Yucatan carrying multi-ton loads of cocaine, may owe their ignominious fates to being caught in the middle of this contest.

CIA drug planes & the narco-pederastas

succar21There is a wild card in the story of cartel wars and drug murders involving busted loads on American planes in the Yucatan…

Several figures in the story are implicated in another, and if possible even more serious Mexican scandal underway currently.

 Kamel Nacif and Jean Succor,  prominent Lebanese businessmen in Cancun, are widely reported to be major figures in the dominant drug cartel in the Yucatan whose cocaine was seized on the two American planes.

The two men are also at the heart of a scandal involving a huge child molestation ring which has been providing children as young as five to a clientele of wealthy Mexican and foreign businessmen.

naci2fThey have been dubbed Narco-Pederastas in Mexican press coverage of the scandal, which is growing so fast that it may become Mexico’s Watergate.

A lot of criminal activity is tolerated, or even officially promoted, in Mexico.  Buggering 5-year old girls and boys is not.

The scandal, which we will cover fully soon, has the potential to threaten the established order in Mexico.

Were it to become widely known that CIA-connected drug planes were flying multi-ton loads of cocaine for these men, it might shake the ground in the U.S. as well.

St-Petersburg Clearwater Int'l Airport: The New Mena?

i-275_nb_exit_030_02In April of last year 5.5 tons of cocaine were discovered on a DC9 (N900SA) flight which originated in St. Petersburg,  flew to Venezuela, to Colombia, and then on to Mexico, where it was busted by ordinary Mexican foot soldiers at a rural airport in Cuidad del Carmen on the Yucatan peninsula.

Then two months ago well over four tons of cocaine—some knowledgeable estimates went as high as six tons—were discovered on a Gulfstream business jet (N987SA) flight in Mexico.

This flight too originated at the St Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, flew to Colombia, and then on to Mexico, where it crash-landed in a field 45 kilometers outside of the Yucatan capital of Merida.

Having your city's airport host a major player in international drug trafficking would be big news in most cities. But seemingly sleepy St. Petersburg must have a lot more going on than normal burgs, because the news hasn't made it yet--even in the business section!--in the St. Petersburg Times, or been featured in the newsroom of the St. Pete-Clearwater Int'l Airport website.

Doing the Impossible: Making Asa Hutchinson look good

onebigwaveBoth the DC9 and the Gulfstream had already and on numerous occasions successfully  ferried multi-ton loads of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, according to sources, including published reports in the Mexican press.

Thus  it must have been been a surprise and an unpleasant shock to the plane's flight crews when they were waved off and turned away by control towers at airports in Cancun and Merida, each of which had long-standing arrangements to let the planes land.

Ten tons of somebody's cocaine is now off the street.  Someone must be smarting a little. And wondering, with results this dismal, what exactly the point is in using aircraft associated with the CIA.

Because both had flown successful and recent drug runs before their sudden reversals of fortune, the big unanswered question is: what happened?

TandyDEAWhatever happened, the head of the DEA doesn't know a thing about it. America’s DEA administrator Karen Tandy suggested before leaving office recently that the busts were the result of increasingly-vigilant Mexican government anti-drug trafficking operations.

Like the demise of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel fifteen years ago, the record cocaine seizures in Mexico recently had outgoing DEA director Karen Tandy all-but-crowing “Mission Accomplished.”

“We have created a perfect storm,” Tandy gushed.

But a drop in a very expensive bucket

2509ja01Hardly. Evidence suggests that the real reason can be found in the fact that the two seizures both occurred on a trafficking route associated with supporters of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, and before Fox, the PRI.

What's going on owes far more to a power struggle for control of choice drug routes into the U.S. than it does to increased Mexican vigilance.

An officially 'protected' drug cartel associated with now-former Mexican President Vicente Fox is no longer being protected. Apparently,  the message has been a little slow to sink in.

Replacing it on the route is it's main competition, apparently favored with Fox’s successor, current Jefe-in-Chief Felipe Calderon.

The story of the combined ten tons bust on  CIA-connected planes flying out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is just a drop in the bucket comparatively.

But it's a very expensive bucket.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss

manzanillo_1107Last month this massive upheaval resulted in the biggest drug seizure—not just in Mexican history—but in the history of the world.

An incredible 33 tons of cocaine were discovered in cargo containers offloaded from the cargo ship Esmeralda which sailed to Mexico’s Pacific Coast port of Manzanillo from Buenaventura in northwestern Colombia.

But in the voluminous press coverage of the bust in Mexico we were struck by the fact that we could find no picture of the ship itself. Just already-offloaded containers, presumably filled with cocaine, stacked on the dock, watched over by the watchful eyes and automatic weapons of soldiers from the Mexican military.

110607_lat_6a_drogaBut no pictures of the Esmeralda.

Maybe its a ghost ship. A Philadelphia Experiment carrying cocaine in and out of the ether.  Better than submarine, even.

Apparently Mexican authorities, before alerting the media, allowed the ship, after unloading,  to proceed on its merry way.

Consider: if the government of Mexico found 23 tons of cocaine in the trunk of your car on your way back from a margarita-soaked weekend in Tijuana, would they hand back the keys after grabbing the dope?

Does 23 tons of cocaine get loaded onto a cargo ship while the Captain is out to lunch?  If not, then the really important question becomes:

Who owned the ship?   

Okay. Pencils down. Anyone want to guess the answer?

Ownership of big ticket items still causing uncertainty

10-4-06_CHI_SCMPIf you said, “Nobody’s knows for sure,” buy yourself a drink on us…

Because the ownership of the cargo ship Esmeralda is apparently as closely guarded a secret as the ownership of Cocaine One and Cocaine Two, the two American drug-running airplanes,

One thing press reports agreed on about the Esmeralda was that it was sailing under Hong Kong's flag.

“The navy said that so far its officials have found 23 tons of cocaine on the Esmeralda,” reported the wire service Latin news round-up, “a Hong Kong-registered ship which sailed from Buenaventura to Manzanillo in the Pacific coast state of Colima.

“Big cocaine haul on ship flying HK flag” read the headline from the South China Morning Post.

003“A Hong Kong-flagged ship was found carrying at least 11 tons of cocaine by the Mexican authorities in what is believed to be one of the nation's biggest drug busts,” reported the paper.

“The cocaine was hidden behind bars of soap. Sniffer dogs found the drugs. Initial press coverage indicated that the Esmeralda was registered in Hong Kong.”

All we need do to learn the true owner of the Esmeralda, and the 23 tons of coke, we figured smugly, would be to call the Hong Kong maritime authority.

But wait, what’s this? Someone beat us to it?

“The identity of the ship, which departed from Buenaventura, Colombia, remains a mystery as the Hong Kong Marine Department said, ‘it did not find its registration.’”

“All Hong Kong ships must register with us. Maybe it was flying the flag to conceal its real identity,” a department spokesman said.’

We were incensed. This was not cricket! (Do they still play cricket in Hong Kong?)

071101_decomiso_cocaina_3We wrote an email to the two reporters, Lina Lin and Martin Wong.

“On Nov. 2 Martin wrote, “The identity of the ship, which departed from Buenaventura, Colombia, remains a mystery as the Hong Kong Marine Department said "it did not find its registration."

Then on Nov 6 Lina called it the "Hong Kong-flagged vessel Esmeralda."

“Has the HK Marine Dept. found the Esmeralda's registration?” we asked plaintively. “Had it gone missing? Can you tell me who owns the ship?”

(If and when we hear anything, we'll let you know.  But, if experience is any guide, we advice you to not hold your breath.)

Stay tuned.  

Thursday: Top Mexican Government investigation exposes massive corruption.  (Thank God we don’t have problems like that here.)re-retract

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.