In the Drug War, where producing confusion is as important as churning out ‘product,’ there are more versions of the truth than in the Japanese film classic Rashomon.
Even so, the shocking new scandal breaking in Nicaragua makes it clear that the most accurate way to describe Mexico’s new President-elect is as “Senor Narco-Presidente.”
A rough start before he's even begun
The PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s new President, doesn't’t take office for another three months. But he has already been embroiled in two major drug trafficking scandals—just since they stopped counting the votes.
First came the arrest in Spain in August of Rafael Celaya, a lieutenant for the Sinaloa Cartel, who was charged with importing 337 kilos of cocaine to Spain while setting up a new European beachhead for Drug Lord Chapo Guzman.
Then, when pictures of Celaya and the newly-elected President looking like Best Friends Forever turned up on Facebook, it turned into a political hot potato.
But the war of words that ensued pales in comparison to what the new scandal suggests about the very legitimacy of the election about to catapult Pena Nieto into office.
An incident at the border
It began at a typical border crossing on the Pan American Highway in Central America. Near the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, a two-lane road climbs through forests of skinny pine and over the mountains, passing fincas and winding through small cattle ranches.
In stark contrast to the soothing scenery, the border post at Las Manos, Nicaragua is a chaotic mélange of long haul trucks choking the air with exhaust while idling in the heat, rickety short haulers carrying grain, beans, andcooking oil, and rural campesinos hitching a ride.
Into this scene on Monday August 20th drove a rolling caravan of six satellite television vehicles loaded with high definition video cameras, microphones and a satellite dish, all emblazoned with the white, yellow and blue logo of Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish language television network.
Nicaraguan border officials were waiting for them.
The day before, they had received a tip that the TV trucks weren't shooting travelogues or nature documentaries, said Commissioner Glenda Zavala. They were headed to Costa Rica to pick up a load of drugs, before returning to Mexico.
After a search found $9.2 million in hidden compartments, the entire group of 18 Mexicans traveling in the caravan was detained: 17 men, and a lone woman, attractive 30-year old Raquel Correa Alatorre, who authorities said was running the show.
And that’s when things began to get squirrely.
The definition of 'squirrely'
Television network Televisa quickly released a statement declaiming any responsibility, saying the suspects arrested in Nicaragua were not their employees, and that the TV satellite vehicles didn’t belong to them, either.
“None of those arrested has worked at GRUPO Televisa,” the press release said.
The company insisted that the detainees were not working for the firm, the vans were never part of its fleet, and they had cooperated with authorities from the moment the allegations were raised.
A Televisa spokesman even warned those who had been detained—amusingly enough, since they had bigger concerns at the moment—that the company was preparing to sue them for for pretending to be its reporters and besmirching the network’s good name.
Televisa is no stranger to controversy. The network recently came under severe criticism for its lopsided pro-Pena Nieto election coverage, which had managed to ignore such campaign ‘incidentals’ as a mass rally for the opposing leftist candidate, said his supporters, numbering somewhere between 300,000 and one million people.
Still, as Latin America’s largest TV network (owned by Mexico’s second richest billionaire Emilio Azcarraga) Televisa carries plenty of clout. And, of course, in the Drug War producing confusion is standard operating procedure. So it came as little surprise when news reports in the world’s press immediately adopted Televisa’s line.
An onslaught of disinformation
They were called "fake journalists" in the Washington Post.
FOX NEWS called them a “phony news crew.”
Reuters reported that the 18 Mexicans detained had been “posing as journalists.”
The Associated Press, from which almost all mainstream media accounts emanate these days, used the incident to cast a gimlet eye on the post-Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
“Big cash seizure puts light on Nicaragua drug role” read a typical headline of their account of the incident.
The seizure had “pulled back the curtain on Nicaragua’s role as a (drug) conduit” asserted London's Telegraph newspaper, which should have known better.
It “reflected the importance attached to Nicaragua” by Mexican cartels in drug operations between South America and the United States.
Implying that the Drug War was putting pressure on profits—although nothing could be further from the truth—the story said “drug gangs are resorting to ever-more inventive ways to move their profits.”
There was only one problem with the scenario. It was wrong. And not just wrong. As it turned out, it was very very wrong.
When billionaires lie, the mainstream media listens
The first to question what had quickly become the official story—that the busted Mexicans had merely been posing as journalists—was a local publication called The Digital Reporter.
While offering no proof, the Digital Reporter insisted that the crew in custody—charged with money laundering and organized crime—were under the direction of Televisa, and that the convoy of vehicles belonged to Televisa as well. Ringleader Raquel Correa Alatorre, as well as three or four other detainees, were working for the Mexican television giant, the publication asserted.
The publication, it was later learned, was getting leaks from Nicaraguan military sources, who indicated that there was a senior executive at Televisa—a corporate vice president—also involved in the case.
One of the group, Julio Cesar Alvarado Salas, 43, was positively identified as a cameraman for Televisa, they reported. Another, Cecilio Lopez Gutierrez, was a municipal police officer in the Mexican city of Durango.
Her reason, she said, was she didn't want to get in trouble "with her family."
News reports stated her family included one of Mexico’s biggest news anchors, Javier Alatorre.
The facts slowly start to dribble out
While awaiting additional charges to be filed, the nervous crew were cooling their heels at a Holiday Inn in Managua. While everyone waited, facts about the case began to dribble out from various sources.
The $9.2 million in drug money found hidden in the TV vans was to have paid for a shipment of drugs in Costa Rica.
Reports circulated indicating that five officers at the Nicaraguan border crossing were being held for taking bribes to allow the journalist caravan to repeatedly cross the border.
The "anonymous informant" who came forward to rat out the group was partially identified. He met them while he was a fellow hotel guest at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where the group spent four days lounging around the pool. There he heard one of them boast that they were traveling to Nicaragua seeking information that would be used to discredit the government of Daniel Ortega.
The big news was that this was not this group’s first drug smuggling rodeo. Ringleader Raquel Alatorre crossed the border into or out of Nicaragua 34 times.
The group made regular trips carrying drugs from Costa Rica to Mexico, then returned south carrying money to pay for the shipment. The convoy had crossed the border en masse into Costa Rica at least 13 times in the past two years.
What explained the ease with which they had been traveling throughout Central America undetected for the last several years, the Digital Reporter said, was the authenticity of the vehicles.
When they lie, it's always for a reason
Televisa did own at least one of the six satellite trucks busted by Nicaragua's National Police, the magazine reported.
According to Motor Vehicle Registrations in Mexico City, a truck bearing the same license plates and serial number as one of the impounded vehicles was registered in the name of Televisa, SA.
The implications were staggering. Imagine a convoy of a half-dozen of Rupert Murdock's FoxNews satellite TV vans being pulled over on Interstate 35 outside Houston carrying millions of dollars of drug money to Laredo.
Tomorrow we'll explain why nobody wants to talk about this shocking revelation; and the many reasons why the mainstream media should have been wary of Televisa's claims.
And what all this lying can tell us about the real reason for the DEA's phony War on Drugs.