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March 1997, Volume 4, Number 3

Mexico: Drugs, Grupo Beta and Trade

Drugs. The arrest of the Mexican general who led Mexico's National Institute to Combat Drugs after only two months in office, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, prompted a rash of stories about drug smuggling just before the deadline when the President must certify which nations are cooperating with the US to reduce drug production and drug smuggling. The Mexican government accused Gutierrez of protecting cocaine shipments for drug baron Amado Carrillo Fuentes over the past seven years.

The Mexican drug trade--moving drugs from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia--to the US-- is estimated to be a $10 billion per year business. The average bribe in Mexico is $1,000 per kilo of cocaine smuggled, according to one estimate, suggesting that $500 million per year is spent bribing Mexican officials.

According to US court documents, the Arellano Felix brothers Tijuana-based drug cartel pays off pay off hundreds of Mexican federal and state law enforcement officials for protection in Mexico and travel into the United States almost at will.

Mexico's government news service Notimex reported that 33 US customs and INS agents have been charged with aiding drug smugglers over the past two years.

Grupo Beta. Grupo Beta, the Mexican police unit that began operations in Tijuana in 1990 to protect northbound migrants from criminals, has developed a reputation for honesty and efficiency. Grupo Beta is an agency of the immigration service, which is part of the Interior Ministry.

The Tijuana unit is composed of 45 men and women carefully selected from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and then given psychological testing and extensive training. After being sworn in, Grupo Beta members are given a substantial salary increase and a life insurance policy, as well as 15 days off each six months.

Some say that one key to the success of Grupo Beta is its zero tolerance for breaches of discipline.

Trade. According to the World Bank, NAFTA gives Mexico the opportunity of capturing from the Caribbean countries as much as a third of their exports to the US, which at present amounts to $12.5 billion a year.

Half of all US apparel is imported. The share of Mexican and Caribbean apparel in US imports increased from nine percent to 43 percent from 1980 to 1996. Mexico was the number one source of imported apparel in 1996, exporting $3.3 billion worth. The Asian share fell from 83 percent in 1980 to 41 percent in 1996.

Mexican workers in the social security system, IMSS, are required to contribute five percent of their wages to Mexico's housing agency, Infoavit, which makes subsidized mortgage loans to qualified buyers that often amount to 25 percent of the buyer's wages for 20 years. A worker earning $240 per month could put down $1,400 and then pay $60 per month. The Mexican government collects taxes each year equivalent to about 10 percent of GDP.

Mexico's Health Secretary in February said that Mexican immigrants are catching AIDS in the United States and spreading the disease in their rural home towns when they return to visit. He mentioned specifically Zacatecas, Baja California and parts of Jalisco.

California's State Library in February produced a report, "The Many Faces of Mexico," that was seen by many as lending support to Governor Wilson's request for $3.2 billion in reimbursement from the US government to cover the cost of educating 400,000 illegal alien children and 320,000 unauthorized alien recipients of health and welfare services.

In Tijuana, 1,300 squatter families are refusing to move to make room for an expansion of a Hyundai truck parts factory. The squatters argue that under Mexican law they own the 433 acres because they will have occupied it for more than 10 years by the summer 1997. Many of the squatters work at nearby maquiladoras, including Hyundai.

House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt toured Tijuana in February, and announced that "'I'm not convinced NAFTA is working." Maquiladora wages were reported in February 1997 to be about 45 pesos or $5.40 for a 6 am-2 pm work day.

The Mexican Congress in December 1996 approved a constitutional change to make Mexican nationality by birth permanent and "non-renounceable;" Mexicans, however, can still renounce their Mexican citizenship. In the Mexican constitution, nationality and citizenship are distinct.

Pierre Thomas, "U.S.-Mexico Trade May Outweigh Anti-Drug Concerns," Washington Post, February 23, 1997. Arthur Golden, "Grupo Beta seen as law enforcement's shining light," San Diego Union Tribune, February 10, 1997. Molly Moore, "Drug Gang's Long Arm Grips Mexico," Washington Post, February 9 1997. Peter Passell, "Economic Analysis: Doubts Grow About Regional Trade Pacts," New York Times, February 4, 1997.