Prosecutors charged 27 state, federal and local police in Cancun (search) with running a drug ring or aiding in the murder of their fellow officers, busting one of Mexico's largest police-protection rackets and solving the mystery behind the killing of three federal agents in November.
The charges announced Monday illustrate how traffickers continued to infiltrate the area around the Caribbean (search) resort, despite a crackdown following the 2001 arrest of the state's former governor on drug charges.
Most of those charged "took advantage of their position as public servants to form a criminal organization whose main function was to tolerate and allow third parties to continue drug trafficking activities," the Attorney General's Office said in a press statement.
Of the 27 suspects, eight were charged with homicide or being accessories to homicide for apparently identifying and giving drug gunmen information about the three federal agents whose bullet-ridden bodies, along with two civilians believed to be informants, were found on the outskirts of Cancun on Nov. 25.
A total of 25 suspects — including some of those charged with homicide — were facing organized crime and drug trafficking charges.
They included federal police agents assigned to the Cancun area; state police officials assigned in the same area, and municipal police employed directly by the Cancun city government.
The charges went to the top of the local police structure.
Among those facing drug charges was Miguel Angel Hernandez, who head the federal attorney general's headquarters in Cancun; Armando Villalobos, who once headed the elite Federal Agency of Investigation (search) units in Quintana Roo and the neighboring states; and Felipe de Jesus Arguelles, who oversaw Cancun's police, traffic and emergency departments.
All those charged Monday had previously been held under house arrest.
The arrest relate to Nov. 25, when the five bullet-ridden bodies were found near Cancun, and another four charred bodies were found hours later in the trunk of a burned-out car near the Cancun airport. On Nov. 26, two members of the Federal Agency of Investigation were found wounded but alive outside this beach resort.
The dead agents, who were members of the elite Federal Agency of Investigation, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, did not appear to have been working with drug gangs; they may have been honest cops targeted by their corrupt colleagues, who tipped off drug hit men as to their whereabouts.
The charges suggest that Cancun continues to be a popular shipment point for Colombian cocaine, just as it was in the 1990s, when former governor Mario Villanueva allegedly helped traffickers from the statehouse.
The drugs appear destined for the United States, not the millions of Americans who visit Cancun annually. U.S. officials say there have been no reports so far of U.S. tourists caught up in the violence.
The Cancun area is attractive to traffickers because it's easy for them to work and live there. It's a transportation hub, with many opportunities to move drugs and money, as well as lots of businesses to launder that money.
Villanueva was captured in 2001 and is on trial on drug charges, but official corruption apparently once again allowed the drug trade to flourish.
"Remember that the coasts of Quintana Roo were for many years an ideal shipping point for drug shipments," Mexico's top drug and organized crime prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said in December. "We can't allow that to happen again."