Monday, October 8, 2012

Peña Nieto's Colombian drug war consultant is a U.S. informant, Mexican journal claims, with clear marching orders from new prez: cut a deal with the cartel bosses

A general with many masters - but whose orders will he follow?, queries Indigo

Guadalajara -
Six days after Enrique Peña Nieto won Mexico's 2012 presidential contest, the man who soon will be named his drug war czar convened a heavily attended press conference.

Former Colombian National Police chief Óscar Naranjo outlined his recommendations for Mexico's "new" drug strategy, suggesting that Mr. Peña Nieto would begin to implement them within days after taking office on Dec. 1 (Security consultant elaborates on new Mexican drug war strategy - but is it?).

Not everybody was impressed. Naranjo's curious comment, "luchar contra el narcotráfico en México tiene que significar disminuir los niveles de violencia - the fight against Mexican drug trafficking has to imply the reduction of violence" - seemed little more than a commentary on the patently obvious. MGRR noted, "restating the equation does not assist in determining the unknown values of X or Y."

Now a Sept. 21 article by the Mexican journal Indigo, entitled A las órdenes... ¿de quién? ("In the service of whom?"), suggests that Enrique Peña Nieto is bringing Naranjo on board solely to act as a liaison, a negotiator of sorts, to cut a peace deal with the drug cartel bosses who have wreaked such enormous havoc in Mexico in recent years - but not to fight them. At the same time Naranjo will serve as the eyes and ears of the U.S., the publication claims - out of self-preservation, not loyalty. Naranjo is as intimately familiar with drug dealing as he is with drug interdiction, implies Indigo, having worked for years with Colombian cartels. General Naranjo is presented as a veritable triple agent with motives of his own.

But is it all true?

Indigo's sole source for the tabloid allegations is a man with a colorful background, who recently told the publication in a telephone interview,

"Naranjo is going to Mexico so that there will be continuity in negotiations between traffickers and the government, not (an end to them). He won't be on the side of the United States, but on the side of the drug dealers. Make no mistake: The post of adviser to Enrique Peña Nieto will be more of a post held by the Sinaloa Cartel (of El Chapo Guzmán) than a government cabinet post."

Who is Baruch Vega?
Indigo ran the story two weeks ago, wagering everything on the credibility of a curious character named Baruch Jairo Vega, a U.S. citizen who lives in Miami. It's hard to find out much about Vega. Indigo identified him as an ex-DEA, CIA and FBI agent, but that claim is questionable. An internet search yields little, although a 12 year old Miami Herald article (May 21, 2000) describes him as a confidential informant for one or more of those agencies. A 2007 blog piece by The Narcosphere calls Vega a "mystery man," but acknowledges that he "has worked as an asset for the FBI, DEA and CIA in Colombia and elsewhere over the years." In the lingo of such law enforcement bodies, the term "asset" generally implies a well-placed insider who is relaying back sensitive information of perceived strategic value. In return, the "asset" collects a monthly paycheck.

The opening paragraphs of the Herald article offer some intriguing background on Baruch Vega, and although the story is quite dated, readers may find it helpful in evaluating the credibiliity of Indigo's recent story. This clip is from a website ( which reproduced the story in full:

"No one disputes that Baruch Jairo Vega possesses the nerves of steel and savvy manner required of anyone who does business with international drug traffickers.

"The question is whether Vega was audacious enough, or crazy enough, to snooker some of Colombia's biggest drug dealers out of millions of dollars and pocket the money. Or - his version - whether he instead performed extraordinary work as a confidential informant for the DEA and the FBI, and maybe the CIA, bringing the U.S. government both sought-after drug lords and cash.

"Among those with the biggest stake in the answers are two Drug Enforcement Administration agents who oversaw Vega as he zigzagged between Miami and Panama in recent months to haggle with top Colombian drug dealers. Both agents are suspended with pay and under investigation.

"In the end, a federal judge hearing the case against Vega, who faces money laundering charges, will have to sort out the truth. But much of the improbable saga of the Miami Beach resident and his connections to the drug trade is already being told in court documents and attorneys' statements. It is the story of huge piles of money and possible secret deals between the U.S. Justice Department and Colombian drug traffickers. Some Colombian officials say the deals lured drug lords to get out of the narcotics business, pay huge fines, and rat on colleagues in exchange for lenient U.S. treatment. In Colombia, there is even a nickname for the group of drug barons allegedly involved with Vega - the Cartel de Los Sapos, or 'Cartel of the Snitches.' "

A Colombian general, with many uniforms
Back to Baruch Vega's allegations about Colombian General Naranjo, Enrique Peña Nieto's drug war consultant. Both will get their new desks and chairs in December, when the first PRI administration in 12 years is sworn into office. Vega claims that Naranjo was hired only to "negotiate" with the narcos, so Peña Nieto can fulfill his campaign promise of reducing drug war violence as quickly as possible. At the same time Naranjo will pass along intelligence to American authorities, according to Vega, to feather his own nest and protect himself from what otherwise would be almost certain indictments in U.S. courts, where a parade of drug defendants and witnesses have accused him of collusion.

Vega told Indigo that although Naranjo has long worked with Latin drug cartels, he's experienced at playing both sides of the fence. To deflect incriminating evidence which DEA and others in U.S. law enforcement began piecing together against him many years ago, largely based upon the testimony of alleged accomplices, Naranjo forged key alliances with American officials. From Indigo's report:

"Vega insists that Naranjo has cooperated with the DEA since the 1990s, and has been of great help to them. He has both great friends and bitter enemies in the U.S. agency. Vega believes Naranjo will be an effective adviser to Peña Nieto, because he understands just how the North Americans operate, how the police operate and how drug traffickers operate."

According to Indigo (quoting Vega), "Naranjo knows a lot about drug trafficking, because he worked with one of the largest cartels in the history of the Colombian narcotics trade (Cártel del Norte del Valle, also known as "Cartel of the Devil"). I know it and the whole world knows it. Besides that, he belonged to another group which supposedly worked against them, under the protection of the United States government."

Vega predicts that while Naranjo and the incoming government of Enrique Peña Nieto will pass along strategic information to the U.S. on drug routes, cartel hierarchies and money laundering operations, to keep a powerful and indulgent ally happy, Mexico will have no real interest in prosecuting the drug war or sticking with Calderón 's strategyy against organized crime, which the new PRI administration apparently views as unwinnable - or simply too costly, too unpopular, and too inconvenient to pursue.

In the face of what Baruch Vega contends are sharply divided loyalties of Colombian General Naranjo, who in less than 60 days will assume responsibility as the domestic security adviser to Mexico's new president, what does all this portend for the nation's struggle with international drug cartels?

Vega to Indigo: "I don't believe that Naranjo would be the best person to help. He would be the best person to help to cover up the war, just the way they did in Colombia. They never openly waged war against narcotics trafficking there; they covered up a supposed war, for personal gain. I'd say that his presence (on the Peña Nieto team) could do a lot of harm to Mexico."

Oct. 30 - A new book on Óscar Naranjo says that during his years of service in Colombia, the general learned the two keys to tracking down and capturing drug lords: "follow their accountants and follow their women." Narco bosses are in the company of both on a daily basis, and most likely to be off-guard (and unguarded) during late night encounters. According to the author, Naranjo discovered that the best time to make an arrest was at 4:30 a.m., when the boss was "drunk, naked and in bed with a woman." Whether that strategy will work in Mexico remains to be seen, he acknowledges.

"Don't throw us back," Calderón urges Peña Nieto, while hinting that U.S. may have to legalize drugs
Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican army will remain on the streets
Mexican voters got suckered on drug war
Peña Nieto's Manifesto makes New York Times

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