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March 27, 2023

The Americas Forum and GAI Host Discussion on Mexico’s War on Drugs

On March 27, the Americas Forum at Georgetown University hosted Peniley Ramírez, journalist and executive producer at Futuro Media, for a discussion of the case of former Mexican official Genaro García Luna and Mexico’s war on drugs. The conversation was moderated by John Tutino, director of the Americas Forum, and supported by the Georgetown Americas Institute.

Peniley Ramirez discusses the Garcia Luna case.
Peniley Ramirez discusses the Garcia Luna case.

The Rise of García Luna

Ramírez set the context for the discussion by describing how former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna was able to simultaneously work with both the Mexican drug cartels and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He began his government career as a low-ranking official in the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI), which was established by the Mexican government in 2009 after the Federal Directorate of Security was dissolved as an effort to eradicate corruption. Eventually, García Luna became director of the AFI and ultimately head of the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection.

The War on Drugs and the Fall of García Luna

His security role made him an important figure in U.S-Mexico relations, and Ramírez detailed García Luna’s close connections with high-ranking U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. García Luna was also working undercover for the CIA. Ramírez underscored that at the time rumors of García Luna working for Mexican cartels were widely known both within the Mexican government and in Washington, DC.

García Luna was first publicly accused of ties to the Mexican drug cartels during the trial of Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. During this trial, another cartel member known as “El Rey” testified that they were able to run cartel operations from Mexico City’s airport with help from federal police. Ramírez explained that the cartels were bribing García Luna to let them operate from the airport.

“To better explain the complexity of the cartel we need to understand it as a global enterprise, beyond the black and white narratives of cops versus cartels.” - Peniley Ramírez

The United States and Mexico tried to prevent the drug trafficking and security crisis from getting worse, and in 2008 they launched the $3.3 billion Merida Initiative. The United States committed to addressing the demand on their own side of the border, whereas Mexico committed to addressing corruption. Neither of these commitments were fulfilled, as Ramírez explained; the head of the most important Mexican security organization had been under El Chapo’s payroll for years. After President Felipe Calderon’s term ended, García Luna moved to Miami, where he continued to work for the Mexican cartel. In 2019, he moved to Texas and was finally arrested.

Peniley Ramirez speaks to participants at Americas Forum and GAI event.
Peniley Ramirez speaks to participants at Americas Forum and GAI event.

The Future of Drug and Security Policy

Ramírez pointed out that President Joe Biden recently visited Mexico to talk about the Bicentennial Framework, intended to replace the Merida Initiative. The framework’s policy goals include targeting demand in the United States, reducing arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico, addressing impunity in Mexico, and intercepting illegal financial flows. While laudable targets, Ramírez believes that to prevent more cases like García Luna’s, better systems are still needed to effectively vet people in power.

She concluded the conversation by emphasizing that understanding the drug problem as complex and global is key to addressing the situation and cautioned against perspectives that simplify the drug problem to police versus drug traffickers.

A full recording of the event is available on the GAI YouTube channel.