The investigation and recent arrest of four prominent Generals in the Mexican Army on charges of protecting cocaine flights for Mexican drug cartels began with a series of seismic shifts in the drug trade that were set in motion more than five years ago by two American-registered planes from St Petersburg Florida —a DC9 airliner (N900SA) and a Gulfstream business jet(N987SA)—caught carrying almost 10 tens of cocaine on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
The four Generals, one of whom held the second highest position in the Defense Ministry, were caught up in an investigation which began after two drug traffickers agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Both admitted participating in the November 2007 murder of the Director of Civil Aviation in the Yucatan, Jose Luis Soladana Ortiz, gunned down for reneging on an agreement to allow drug flights from South America—like the Gulfstream business jet from St. Petersburg— to land at the international airport in the resort city of Cancun.
But the results were only too visible: the disappearance or murder of airport personnel, including three tortured bodies dumped alongside a road on the same day Soladana Ortiz was shot seven times at point blank range.
An American war, Mexican blood
The tangled story of the two busted American planes which would eventually lead to the indictment of the Mexican Generals is riddled with complicity at the highest levels of the governing elites in both Mexico and the U.S.
So far, however, only Mexicans have been charged with any crimes in the two massive drug moves.Also, so far, only Mexicans have been dying because of it.
The Mexican war on drugs, launched in 2006, has since left over 50,000 people dead. The army has gained sweeping new powers.
In Mexico the newly-indicted Generals are widely thought to be just the tip of an enormous iceberg of official complicity on the local, state, and federal level. General Angeles, the last to be detained, was a close aide to Guillermo Galvan, the current secretary of national defense.
Generals today…..Bankers tomorrow?
Moreover the drug trafficking conspiracy for which the Generals were indicted was aided by cronies of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, whose currency exchange, Casa de Cambio Puebla, laundered the drug money through American banks that was used to purchase both the Gulfstream, and the DC9 caught eighteen months earlier, carrying an astonishing 5.6 tons of cocaine.
Four years before the Gulfstream went down, a Sept 13 2003 Miami Herald story on the 2003 World Trade Organization meeting taking place in Cancun contained a telling detail about the elite connections of Casa de Cambio Puebla.
"Flanked by the azure Caribbean and a crocodile-infested lagoon, the Mexican resort selected for the latest world trade summit at first appears less isolated than the meeting two years ago in Doha, Qatar," the paper reported.
Rental-car agencies had rented hundreds of vehicles, hundreds of international cell phones had been leased at $100 per day, and the official currency exchange house at the WTO conference, Casa de Cambio Puebla, was changing tens of thousands of dollars every day..
"Get the cocaine off the plane; THEN call the DEA."
It also flew missions in South America for the Agency for almost a decade. For at least part of that time it was owned by Stephen Adams, a man who made a million dollar contribution to the 2000 Presidential campaign of candidate George W. Bush.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two American pilots known to have been flying the Gulfstream when it took off from St Petersburg have apparently escaped official scrutiny in the case.
After being refused permission to land in Cancun, the Gulfstream jet, flying in from Colombia loaded with almost 4 tons of cocaine. ran out of fuel on its way to a secondary airport, and was forced to crash-land in the jungle near the tiny town of Tixkobob, outside the capital, Merida, in the heart of the Yucatan, its fuselage was torn wide open.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they began arresting everyone in the vicinity before unloading the cocaine from the wreckage. Two days later, when six DEA agents flew down from Mexico City, Mexican soldiers turned them away from the site.
"Champagne wishes, caviar dreams"
The indictment of the four Generals— Tomas Dauahare Angeles, Ricardo Vargas Escorcia, Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, and Ruben Perez Ramirez—comes amid an apparently heated dispute over who will take over leadership of the Mexican Army under the new regime of the PRI-backed winner of the recent election, President Enrique Pena Nieto, who takes office in December..
If nothing else, the story of the Generals and the drug trade gives the lie to the notion that Mexican drug lords are people holed-up in the mountains with AK-47’s in hand and bandoliers across their chest.
In late March 2007 representatives of the Beltran Leyva Cartel dined with General Roberto Dawe at the elegant restaurant El Lago overlooking a picturesque lake in Chapultepec Park.
In fact, the state-level negotiation that eventually led to the General’s indictment could not have occurred in more genteel circumstances.
(“Let's start by saying that this is a place where you should eat at least once in your life!” gushes TripAdvisor.com’s review of the restaurant. “El Lago is one of the most luxurious restaurants in Mexico City.”)
While dining on specialties that include lobster tacos with molcajete sauce, and beef tenderloin with foie gras and wild mushrooms, the cartel reps pitched the General to provide “full access” to the Cancun airport by putting high-ranking military officers on the cartel payroll. Dawe promised to recommend the scheme to the commander of the garrison there, General Ruben Ramirez Perez.
Drinks all around: We broke up an already "extinct" cartel!
This is according to the statement of one of the key cooperating witness, a Beltran Leyva Cartel lawyer, who turned on his bosses after his brother was murdered on orders of Texas-born cartel kingpin Eduardo Valdez Villarreal, known as “Barbie” in Mexico for his blond hair and blue eyes, called “one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in Mexico” where he was the top hitman for the cartel, has also been indicted in the case.
Since his brother’s murder, the lawyer, code-named “Jennifer” in his statement, has lived in the U.S. while collaborating with the DEA, a fact which may turn out to be a key fact in the tale.
All of the accused allegedly provided protection to the Beltran-Leyva drug cartel.
Once one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, the Beltran-Leyva organization had effectively infiltrated the ranks of Mexican government agencies, and even Mexico's Interpol. Run by three brothers, the cartel began to break up with the death of leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in a 2009 shootout with Mexican marines in Cuernavaca.
According to a leaked U.S. Embassy diplomatic cable (thank you Wikileaks!) the marines were called in to look for the capo after the army appeared to be slow to act on U.S. intelligence indicating the drug lord’s location.
His brother Carlos Beltrán Leyva was captured later that year, leaving only Hector at large. The capture last year of one of the cartel's former top lieutenants—called "the last Beltran-Leyva link of any importance" prompted Mexican authorities to declare the cartel extinct.
A marked man
Denying the Gulfstream permission to land had put Airport Manager Jose Luis Soladana between a rock and a hard place. Federal authorities suspected him of involvement with the drug traffickers, and were preparing to take him into custody.
At the same time he had been receiving death threats, presumably from the spurned drug traffickers whose cocaine had spilled out all over the ground when the Gulfstream crash-landed.
Jose Luis Soladana Ortiz had just returned from a conference of the Latin American Air Transport Association (ALTA). While attending a soccer game he received a phone call from "Jennifer," who was shopping at a nearby COSTCO.
News report of his death were terse.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MX .- The commander of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to Cancun International Airport, Jose Luis Ortiz Soladana, a 46-year-old native of Mexico City, was kidnapped on Saturday night in Cancun
His body, savagely tortured before being executed by five bullets from a 9 mm gun, was found alongside a federal highway early Sunday morning. He was lying face down, wearing blue jeans and a bermuda shirt with brown shoes and white socks, holding his cell phone with both hands on his chest.
As authorities approached his body, the phone began ringing repeatedly. His killers, still nearby, were mocking investigators.
After Soladana's murder, said one of the cooperating witnesses against the Generals in a statement, the other cooperating witness, the one the authorties called “Jennifer," had scribbled a note and left it pinned to the body.
It read, simply, "Failure to pay."
The decription might also apply to the role of the United States in the current carnage in Mexico.