The New York Times front page story by Ginger Thompson reports on the saga of Luis Octavio López Vega. For years, Lopez has been living underground in the U.S. He is former chief of police of Zapopan, a city of more than 1,000,000 near Guadalajara, and top aide to former Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebolllo (praised by ONDCP Director Barry McCaffrey for his bullet-proof integrity before he was arrested for his ties to a cartel). Lopez was a key DEA informant. As the investigation of Gutierrez commenced, Lopez realized that he was a target for execution and went underground. The U.S. helped his family escape to the U.S.
For a dozen years, top Mexican officials have been trying to get the U.S. to arrest Lopez to turn him over to them, where it is likely, the Times suggests, that he will be tortured and killed. Yet the U.S. Marshals Service raided him -- but he spotted the surveillance and fled. He has been hiding out ever since.
This extensive report confirms our worst suspicions that considerations of justice are abandoned when powerful politicians and powerful criminals feel threatened, and when the trade and political interests of the U.S. may be affected. In this account, the decisions of the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of State about protecting a man who was offered protection by the U.S. for his life-endangering cooperation are swayed by political considerations. When does a government betray someone it has offered to protect?
Drug enforcement is such a peculiar species of law enforcement. No matter how zealously anti-drug agents, prosecutors or officials might be, they all recognize at some level, because the drug trade is so large and perpetual, that any individual load of drugs or any individual defendant is ultimately insignificant. Considerations of national security, national economics, and national politics -- if pressing -- will always trump any investigation.
Is this a form of corruption? Or is it a necessary exercise of discretion? Is letting a cartel leader go for reasons of state legally or morally different than letting a juvenile street dealer go for reasons of compassion and retaining the human capital of a community?