Friday, July 19, 2013

Skilled drug traffickers move the product with the help of innocent travelers

Anybody and everybody is at risk - but in this case, a happy outcome occasioned many tears

Guadalajara -
Ángel de Maria Soto Zarate, 23, is a soft spoken elementary school teacher from the state of Veracruz on Mexico's Gulf coast. A devout Catholic, on July 11 she set off for Brazil, where she planned to spend a few days at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, which opens next week.

Ángel had hoped to see her beloved Pope up close - a dream she has held since she was a child, she told hundreds in a shaking voice at a very public celebration of gratitude today.

But drug traffickers had other plans for her - or at least for her luggage. So Ángel is back home in Veracruz, not in Brazil. Still, she and her supporters are giving thanks, because at least she's free, and with those who love her.

Ángel's journey began with a domestic flight to Mexico City, where she had a layover of several hours and her luggage was checked for the international leg of the trip. Then it was on to Lima, Peru for another brief stop, before the final connecting link to Rio.

When Ángel prepared to board the Rio-bound flight, she couldn't find her passport. The airline on which she had arrived in Lima tried to help her, and they scoured the jet on which she had traveled. No luck. The passport had done a disappearing act. So Peruvian immigration officials had no choice. They put her on a return flight back to Mexico City.

In the baggage area of the Lima terminal, just before her departure, Ángel was unexpectedly given a new tag for her checked suitcase, which was about to be returned to Mexico with her. Whether this was an innocent act on the part of airline employees, or part of a larger conspiracy, is unclear. Ángel did not actually see her bag in Lima; she was simply given a new claim check.

On arrival in Mexico City Ángel could not locate her own luggage, but she did find the bag matching the claim check issued to her in Lima. While trying to straighten out the mess, the Mexican Aduana (customs) opened the suitcase for a routine inspection and found several packages of cocaine. Ángel was arrested, and federal prosecutors initiated a case against her for narcotics trafficking.

Ángel might still be in jail today, but fortunately a security camera tape in the Mexico City airport showed her walking happily along, no doubt all thoughts focused on Rio, her real luggage in hand. Earlier this week Mexican attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam announced that the charges were being withdrawn. Ángel's family and friends, who had never doubted her complete innocence, shed tears of joy when they received the news.

Ángel's case should come as little surprise. Just over a year ago, two Mexico City Federal Police officers assigned to airport duty shot and killed three companions in a packed terminal on a Monday morning. The victims, members of an undercover unit, were about to arrest the officers as part of an investigation of drug trafficking through the airport. Authorities said at the time that corrupt federal law enforcement agents were part of an elaborate drug smuggling network which imported large quantities of narcotics from Colombia, Peru and Guatemala. "Narco Feds" operating out of AICM sent huge amount of drugs to U.S., Europe. The killer agents may have worked with corrupt Aduana officials.

Then in May there was the case of the "Mormon mom," Yanira Maldonado, of Goodyear, Arizona. She and her husband traveled to Mexico by bus to attend her aunt's funeral. On the return trip, the vehicle was pulled over for a routine inspection at a military "check point Charlie" - a common event in the drug war. Marijuana was allegedly found under Yanira's seat, and she spent two frightening weeks in custody. Case of "Mormon mule" Yanira Maldonado is Mexico's latest embarrassment. A security video of her boarding the bus with only hand items provided legal salvation in that case as well, and the charges were eventually dropped. A freed Yanira Maldonado not bitter over Mexican drug arrest.

Although Yanira's case did not involve luggage, it was one more demonstration that unwitting travelers can sometimes become pawns in the hands of determined international drug traffickers - and those in uniform who not infrequently work with them.

At a noon hour press conference in Veracruz today, Ángel de Maria ("the angel of Mary") Soto Zarate, her soft but courageous voice breaking, said "I trusted in God, and he did not let me down."

Nov. 6 - LAN Airlines: The carrier of choice for drug smugglers?

Ángel's devoted supporters waited for her in the rain

Dec. 26, 2012 - Cancún Int'l. Airport a "lawless gateway" for drug exports
Sept. 27, 2012 - Cancún airport was key narcotics distribution hub for Beltrán Leyva cartel
July 15, 2012 - Mexican federal cop killer arrested
June 28, 2012 - Mexico offers $5 million pesos for "traitor agents" in slaying of three fellow officers
June 27 - Narco Feds operating out of Mexico City airport sent huge amount of drugs to U.S., Europe
June 25, 2012 - Three dead in Mexico City International Airport shooting

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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