Inside the Mexican Cartels

An excerpt from Anabel Hernández, Narcoland (Verso, September 2013). The following is the Epilogue: “La Barbie Strikes Back.”

 

Four days before the end of President Felipe Calderón’s presidency, drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias La Barbie, decided to break his silence. The thirty-six-year-old US citizen is accused in Mexico of being part of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, and of managing groups of professional killers like Los Números and Los Maras. He faces three indictments in the United States, filed in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia.

Narcoland (Verso, September 2013). Reprint by permission of Verso.

From the Altiplano maximum-security prison in the State of Mexico, where he was being held, he dropped a real bombshell for the Calderón government. Mexico’s violent drug barons have embraced the new fashion for car bombs. La Barbie preferred something more subtle: a letter.

Never before in the history of Mexico had a drug trafficker publicly broken the pact of complicity. With the end of Calderón’s deadly administration just days away, and his own extradition to the US also imminent, the time was right for La Barbie’s unexpected confession.

On November 26, I received an unusual call from his lawyer, Eréndira Joselyn Guerra. She wanted to see me regarding a matter of public interest which her client had instructed her to raise with me. It was the first time I had spoken to her, and, for obvious journalistic reasons, I accepted.

As the time of our meeting approached, my heart was racing. I had waited seven years for this moment. In the course of my research I had spoken to many people inside and outside of the law, but never had a drug baron or one of their employees wanted to make a direct, public confession—apart from those who had made statements to public prosecutors which were then kept secret, to avoid implicating public figures and businessmen.

The reason the lawyer, Guerra, wanted to see me was to hand over a letter that her client had dictated to her in prison. They had worked on the text together for several weeks before settling on the final document, just one page long, that he signed and wanted me to publish. The letter was handed to me on November 27, 2012.

Mexican soldiers detain cartel suspects in Michoacán. Photo by Diego Fernández, La Jornada México.

In it he accused Felipe Calderón of personally presiding over several meetings with criminal groups to reach a deal with them. He said he had been singled out for persecution because he had refused to make a pact with the other organizations. And he stated that the US government was informed of these events.

“Subsequently there were various meetings with General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro who had orders from the president and Juan Camilo Mouriño to meet with two of the leaders of the Michoacán Family. After that the general met with Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel ángel Treviño, Z40, in Matamoros. And later Acosta Chaparro and Mouriño spoke to Arturo Beltrán Leyva, El Barbas, and the general also spoke to El Chapo Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Calderón wanted an agreement with all the cartels: the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, myself, the Juárez Cartel with Vicente, as well as Mayo and Chapo,” Valdez writes.

“Because I didn’t respond to this and didn’t want to have links with any of the criminal organizations, an intense persecution began against me, to the point where several of my homes were raided without a warrant, from which they stole money, valuables, cars, and other belongings,” the letter continues.

The drug baron revealed the bribes he said Calderón’s secretary of public security, Genaro García Luna, had received from the drug cartels and from himself since 2002, when García Luna was director of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI) during the Fox administration. The payments the traffickers made to the policemen also bought access to DEA information.

“Genaro García Luna, the head of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), has since 2002, first in the AFI and later in the PFP, I know received money from me, from drug trafficking, and from organized crime, along with a select group of corrupt policemen that includes Armando Espinosa de Benito who worked for the DEA and passed information on to me.

“Among other things they were given the task of  ‘arresting me in some operation,’ although in fact they had orders to kill me, so that when I was arrested in the house that was mentioned in the media, where I was alone, they say that no shots were reported, but in fact there was shooting. A federal police officer who brought me to the place where I am now, tried to get me to run away so he could shoot me. Then they could say I had been killed resisting arrest,” La Barbie wrote in his letter.

He went on to denounce the impunity of García Luna:

“It is worth mentioning that in spite of Genaro García Luna’s record, which is contained in various case files, of which the American government is well aware, and which even came up in the Merida Initiative, and which I have had access to, most recently in the testimony of the witness known as Mateo (Sergio Villarreal), still President Felipe Calderón keeps him in his post and no legal action is taken against him.

Hundreds of Mexican journalists silently marched in downtown Mexico City in protest of the kidnappings, murder and violence against their peers throughout the country. Photo by the Knight Foundation, flickr.com.

“Another fact worth noting is that however many arrests the Federal Police make, they do not confiscate anything, everything gets lost (money, watches, vehicles, drugs, etc.). On the other hand it should be pointed out that both the Mexican Army and the Navy are more honest, they arrest people and hand them over with all their possessions,” alleges Valdez in the letter his lawyer handed to me.

The last lines of the letter demolish anything still standing: “I may have done whatever I have done, but the public servants I mention, they too are part of the criminal structure in this country.”

This letter was published in Reforma, Mexico’s most prestigious newspaper, on November 28, 2012, two days before Felipe Calderón left office.

Throughout Calderón’s sexennial, the main cases against drug traffickers and public officials who protected groups other than El Chapo’s were based on the testimony of other criminals. Such testimony was treated as entirely credible, as long as it served the right political interests. Now that the accusations of a drug trafficker are directed at the president himself and his police chief, this approach has blown up in their faces. García Luna immediately responded that the accusations were false, and that a judge should rule on their admissibility. The president’s office maintained a deafening silence.

They did not deny what La Barbie said.

The drug baron’s lawyer says that when her client is extradited to the United States, he will testify further, and provide proof of the accusations made in his letter.

FULL TEXT OF LETTER:

I wish to state firstly that I have not joined any protected witness program, and I categorically deny the account given by those who apprehended me of how my arrest happened. The truth of the matter is as follows:

My arrest was the result of political persecution by C. Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who began to harass me because the undersigned refused to be party to an agreement that Calderón Hinojosa wanted to make with all the organized crime groups, for the purpose of which he personally convened various meetings in order to hold talks with the criminal organizations.

Subsequently there were various meetings with General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro who had orders from the president and Juan Camilo Mouriño to meet with two of the leaders of the Michoacán Family. After that the general met Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Ángel Treviño, Z40, in Matamoros. And later Acosta Chaparro and Mouriño spoke to Arturo Beltrán Leyva, El Barbas, and the general also spoke to El Chapo Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

Calderón wanted an agreement with all the cartels: the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, myself, the Juárez Cartel with Vicente, as well as Mayo and Chapo (Sinaloa Cartel). Because I didn’t respond to this and didn’t want to have links with any of the criminal organizations, an intense persecution began against me, to the point where several of my homes were raided without any warrant, from which they stole money, valuables, cars, and other belongings.

Genaro García Luna, the head of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), has since 2002, first in the AFI and later in the PFP, I know received money from me, from drug trafficking and from organized crime, along with a select group of corrupt policemen that includes Armando Espinosa de Benito who worked for the DEA and passed information on to me, Luis Cárdenas Palomino, Edgar Eusebio Millán, Francisco Garza Palacios (Colombian Federal Police), Igor Labastida Calderón, Facundo Rosas Rosas, Ramón Eduardo Pequeño García and Gerardo Garay Cadena, who were also part of this and received money from organized crime and from me.

Among other things they were given the task of “arresting me in some operation,” although in fact they had orders to kill me, so that when I was arrested in the house that was mentioned in the media, where I was alone, they say that no shots were reported, but in fact there was shooting. A federal police officer who brought me to the place where I am now, tried to get me to run away so he could shoot me. Then they could say I had been killed resisting arrest, as they did with Arón Gines Becerril who they killed near the Perisur shopping mall. He was shot in the back on the same day I was arrested. But it was all covered up by the PF.

It is worth mentioning that in spite of Genaro García’s record, which is contained in various case files, of which the American government is well aware, and which even came up in the Merida Initiative, and which I have had access to, most recently in the testimony of the witness known as Mateo (Sergio Villarreal), still President Felipe Calderón keeps him in his post and no legal action is taken against him.

Another fact worth noting is that however many arrests the Federal Police make, they do not confiscate anything, everything gets lost (money, watches, vehicles, drugs, etc.). On the other hand it should be pointed out that both the Mexican Army and the Navy are more honest, they arrest people and hand them over with all their posssessions.

I may have done whatever I have done, but the public servants I mention, they too are part of the criminal structure in this country.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal

The truth will out, as they say, even if via an unexpected path. The drug trafficker’s account is the same as the one I heard directly from General X, in 2010. And it so happens that General X, whose identity I carefully concealed for two years, is none other than Mario Arturo Acosta, named by La Barbie in his letter.

The general was silenced by a lone gunman in Mexico City, in April 2012, months before Calderón’s government came to an end. He would have been one of the chief witnesses to the now ex-president’s shameful agreements, were Calderón ever to be brought to trial, in Mexico or abroad. But his testimony died with him.



NOTES:

1. La Familia Michoacana was a quasi-religious, extremely savage group in Michoacán state that developed from vigilantism to working with the Zetas for the Gulf cartel during the 1990s. They formed their own group in 2006, but have now disbanded; an off shoot is Los Caballeros Templarios, the Knights Templar. [Trans. note]

2. A controversial security cooperation agreement between the US and Mexican governments, 2008.

Contributor

Anabel Hernández

Anabel Hernandez is one of Mexico's leading investigative journalists. Her work has appeared in Reforma, Milenio, El Universal and its investigative supplement La Revista. She will be on a panel with Jeremy Scahill (Dirty Wars) at the Brooklyn Book Festival (Sunday, 9/22) on Dangerous Reporting.

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