For more than a year the CIA has been trafficking 300 kilos of cocaine a month from Ecuador to Chile for export on to Europe, according to recent credible media reports from Santiago, the Chilean capital.
Proceeds from the 300 kilo-a-month business have been used to create a war-chest to finance a Cocaine Coup in Ecuador that was scheduled to be “green-lighted” after the expected win in the just-concluded U.S. Presidential election—expected, at least, by some Agency officials—of Mitt Romney.
It's a CIA “Ay, there’s the rub” moment.
He's a leftist. Isn't that enough?
The machinations were part of a plan to topple current Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who is unpopular in Washington.
An unexpected side effect of the revelation of the plan, which has received little publicity, has been to focus an observer's attention on what's going on in the drug trade in Ecuador lately. The country's history in the drug business, almost as rich as Switzerland's with banks, goes back a long way.
When it comes to efficiently moving drugs, this is far from Ecuador's first rodeo, and the drug network there is one of long-standing, (Wikileaks PDF).
So too is its relationship with both the the CIA and DEA.
For example, when famous CIA drug pilot Barry Seal was first caught smuggling cocaine way back in 1979, he picked up his huge load of cocaine—it was 45 kilos; those were more innocent times—in Guayaquil, one of Ecuador’s three major seaports.
The Americans recently convicted of laundering money for the Ecuador-based network are no parvenus, either. One is a prominent Louisiana attorney; the other an aviation broker in Oklahoma. And both took direction from a drug pilot with his own long pedigree in the drug trade.
Jorge Arévalo Kessler has been flying drugs out of Ecuador since 1989, he states in an affadavit at his trial. He is the nephew of a long-time Mexican Secretary of Defense, and was the personal pilot of disgraced former Mexican President Carlos Salinas.
His American connections are visible too. When finally arrested, Arévalo Kessler was flying a former U.S. military plane that was part of the 1990’s Forest Service scandal, involving planes intended for firefighting diverted into CIA covert drug running operations, the most spectacular result being the C-130 busted on a runway at Mexico City’s Intl Airport carrying cocaine worth $1 billion.
Or maybe the most spectacular result was this: 14 firefighters burned to death in an out-of-control forest fire in Colorado in August of 1994. No planes were available to help. They'd all been leased out on more lucrative assignments.
Why no "Drug Money Times?"
News in the drug trade is almost always surprising, and there's a good reason why: Imagine the world’s huge automobile industry without “Auto Week.”
Or the even more massive weapons business—the death trade—without “Jane’s Defense Weekly.”
Why drug traffickers don’t have a slick weekly magazine reporting on current events—whose head is still screwed on straight, whose not so much anymore—is a question better left unasked by those with no relish for being tagged “conspiracy theorists.”
Because there is no trade publication chronicling the drug business—by any measure one of the world's largest industry—current events come as a surprise.
Example: the current kerfuffle concerning Ecuador led to a belated discovery:
The same drug trafficking network active in Ecuador was also behind the doomed flights of two American planes from St. Petersburg Fl. seized in Mexico carrying almost 10 tons of cocaine. Evidence can be seen in Kessler's indictment, whose 'headliner' is Alejandro Flores-Cacho. Both men worked for Colombian Pedro Antonio Bermudez Suaza, "The Architect, now called the mastermind behind the St Petersburg flights by no less an authority than the DEA.
Bermudez Suaza is one of the world's richest and most sophisticated drug lords, worth perhaps a half-billion dollars. In law enforcement recordings he can be heard talking with the frantic pilot in the cockpit of the second of the two American planes busted in the Yucatan, a Gulfstream II (N987SA) which went down in the jungles of the Yucatan.
Tracing the provenance of the two planes led the Mexican Atty. General's office to where the money was being laundered; the startling discovery that $378 billion in drug money had been laundered through Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, NC…in just six years.
It was a “faux pas” from which Wachovia never recovered, and the cause of the bank’s demise in a forced sale to Wells Fargo.
Nepotism, bane of the drug trade
One of the Americans convicted of laundering money and buying planes for the Ecuadorian drug network is prominent Louisiana attorney Hugh Sibley. A glance through his court case shows his trial produced more questions than answers, and enough sealed documents to raise questions about the privatization of justice.
Apparently, rank has its privileges.
The other convicted American owned an aviation brokerage in Broken Arrow. Lee R Snider, (PDF) the son of a respected local football coach, admitted to laundering drug money and arranging the purchase of eight planes, including a 727, in court documents.
Both Sibley and Snider worked under the direction of a 43-year-old drug pilot, Gustavo Jorge Arévalo Kessler(PDF), who testified he had been smuggling drugs through Ecuador since 1979.
As already reported, Kessler is the nephew of a long-time Mexican Secretary of Defense, who served under Miguel de Madrid, President of Mexico between 1982 and 1988.
After that he became the personal pilot of disgraced former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, now living in exile in Ireland.
Kessler, busted in Mexico several years ago, was flying a Gulfstream II (former registration N914MH) that was one of the "mis-placed" airplanes in the US Forest Service scandal during the 1990′s. Briefly, that scandal involved U.S. government airplanes intended for firefighting that were diverted into CIA covert drug running operations; the most spectacular of which was, as stated, the C-130 busted on a runway at Mexico City’s Intl Airport carrying $1 billion dollars worth of cocaine.
Kessler's "ride" had been "exported" to become a drug plane by an Arizona company called INTERNATIONAL AIR RESPONSE INC said to be deeply–deeply!–involved in the CIA operation.
The jig was finally up after 14 firefighters burned to death in an out of control forest fire in Colorado in August 1994. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently cited the Forest Service for "inadequate use of aviation resources." Where were all the planes?
Out of the country, many of them, doing anything but fighting fires.
A personal note: I knew the courageous man who broke that scandal. Gary Eitel was a former military pilot in Vietnam, who went on the become a CIA pilot and then later a lawyer for the Agency. Now deceased, Eitel was fearless in pursuit of the truth.
“Prepping” for the next Iran Contra Scandal
The story of the CIA-DEA's earmarked 300 kilos a month in support of an alleged CIA cocaine coup begins with Fernando Ulloa. Ulloa was an Inspector in the Chilean Federal Police (Policia de Investigaciones, or PDI). Over a year ago, he uncovered a drug ring operating out of the local CIA and DEA stations; with assistance and support from Chilean political authorities and the Chilean Army, the ring trafficks 300 kilos of cocaine a month.
Most cops see the world in black and white. So Ulloa immediately took his evidence to the Chilean Minister of the Interior in Santiago’s La Moneda Palace, mostly remembered for having been destroyed by the Chilean Air Force in the coup which took Socialist President Salvador Allende’s life in 1973.
No investigation was launched, however, and no action was taken.
When 10 Chilean police officials were recently charged with assisting a much smaller drug smuggling ring, the resulting public scandal gave Ulloa the opening (and the media coverage) to publicly accuse the Interior Minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, of covering up the much larger—and still active—CIA cocaine trafficking.
"He must be a leftist, too. Put him on the list"
Chilean intelligence sources confirmed Ulloa’s allegation to Chilean reporter Patricio Mery Bell of Panorama News in Santiago: the CIA is using proceeds from the monthly sale of 300 kilos of cocaine to fund opposition to Rafael Correa in next year’s Ecuadorian election.
“An anonymous source from the Agencia Nacional de Inteligencia (ANI) told Panoramas News that the smuggling of 300 kilos of cocaine was in fact a highly sensitive CIA/DEA operation to raise money to topple the government of Ecuador,” reported Mery.
“The operation is similar to the one carried out by the Agency in Central America during the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980’s, the source said.”
Also offering corroboration for the charge (but not proof) was the controversial former British diplomat Craig Murray, who alleged the CIA has invested $87 million for a campaign to bribe and blackmail media and government officials to prevent Correa’s reelection.
Location, location, and…logistics
The answer to what makes Ecuador important enough to merit its own CIA cocaine coup emphasizes the point made by UPS commercials: Logistics.
Ecuador, strategically situated between the two major drug producing nations of Colombia and Peru, has long been an important transshipment point for cocaine, a fact not lost on previous generations of drug traffickers.
States a U.S. Congressional Research Service report, “The country’s lengthy maritime and land borders have long provided an attractive and relatively unregulated environment for drug trafficking.”
That means—translating the reports Congressional-ese—fewer people to pay off.
According to numerous reports Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s President, stirred the ire of the U.S. when he ordered the eviction of the U.S. military and CIA-DEA presence at a large military base in Manta, one of Ecuador’s three main ports.
So what was at Manta that made it so valuable? On Wednesday, we'll tell you.
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