24. Dark Alliance: Tuna Free Trade, and Cocaine

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Source: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL*, Date: Summer 1996, Title: “Tuna, Free Trade, and Cocaine,” Authors: Ken Silverstein and Alexander Cockburn (*Reprint from a longer version of the same article in CounterPunch).

SSU Censored Researchers: Diane Ferre, Doug Hecker, Kevin Stickler, Lisa Zwirner

If recent history is any guide at all, one can only conclude that President Clinton’s free trade policies have been immensely valuable to drug smuggling cartels based in Italy, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico. The ongoing dolphin-safe tuna debate sharply illustrates U.S. indifference to the problem of international drug trafficking. According to the Administration’s own Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), approximately 90 percent of the worldwide flow of cocaine and heroin is transported and maintained by fishing fleets—with Mexico as one of the most successful traffickers.

By the late 1980s, the Mexican fleet, with 70 big boats, dominated smuggling operations. The country’s boats and canneries were privatized—with tuna industry shares divided up between prominent Mexicans in the ruling PRI party.

In the early 1990s, legislation for dolphin-safe standards on tuna fishing closed the lucrative US and western European tuna markets to Mexican, Venezuelan, and Colombian fleets that continued to use the outlawed “purse-seine net” technique. As a result, the Mexican fleet began to shrink, thus limiting their overall smuggling capacity. In the fall of 1995, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo came to Washington for talks with President Clinton. During these talks, Zedillo raised the specter of a World Trade Organization complaint about the Mexican tuna ban. President Clinton assured him that US domestic legislation would solve the problem more prudently.

On May 8, 1996, the Clinton Administration’s legislative reversal of the ban cleared the House Resource Committee. With this passing, the Mexican tuna fleet, owned by narco-traffickers and high-ranking Mexican officials, is expected, once again, to expand.

As critics of the Clinton Administration’s policy have noted, Mexico has become so dependent on the hard currency it receives from drug trafficking that any significant crackdown on its narcotics cartels would jeopardize economic recovery, and further deterioration of Mexico’s economy would hurt NAFTA, destabilize Mexican politics, and increase immigration.

Today, with the help of NAFTA and tuna boat drug smuggling, Mexico has become one of the most important countries of legal trade and illegal drug trafficking-across the US border. And the free trade agreements will continue to be a boon for the world’s drug smuggling cartels because of the relaxed inspection of commercial cross-border traffic between Mexico and the US In addition, liberalized international banking rules have made it easier to launder billions in drug revenues.