A new report says Mexico’s recently appointed supervisor of the country’s airports and ports is suspected of facilitating drug trafficking through a number of the country’s main airports, underscoring how corruption and lax oversight allow such stations to become drug trafficking hubs.
Deputy Director of Airports Supervision Juan Manuel Hernández Palafox has been linked to organized crime groups and facilitating the passage of drug shipments through Mexico City’s International Airport, as well as airports in Cancún, Guadalajara and Tijuana, Proceso reported.
The new documents allege that criminal organizations from Colombia, Peru and Venezuela send cocaine and heroin shipments to the designated Mexican airports. These shipments are subsequently received and moved down the trafficking chain by Hernández Palafox and his subordinates, who exercise control over the airports’ customs agents, canines, baggage handlers and security personnel, according to Proceso.
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In 2009, Hernández Palafox, then commander of Mexico’s federal police, was prosecuted on organized crime charges, after a video emerged exposing alleged relationships between himself and various other public officials and the Gulf Cartel. He was officially exonerated in 2010. However, that same year, the Attorney General’s Office investigated Hernández Palafox for having possible links to the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO). No charges related to this were ever filed.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador handpicked Hernández Palafox for his latest role, in which he has been operating under “absolute protection” from his immediate boss, Ángel González Ramírez, the head of the regional security division of Mexico’s federal police.
Authorities didn't appear to have any interest in investigating allegations against Hernández Palafox, which they were reportedly aware of, until details of the leaked documents were made public. Hernández Palafox has now been removed from his position and Mexico’s Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection confirmed an investigation into his activities is underway.
InSight Crime Analysis
Pervasive corruption and lax oversight are not problems exclusive to Mexico’s airports. Organized crime groups continue to exploit these security flaws in airports all across the region to further their illicit activities.
However, what makes this particularly severe in Mexico’s case is that the nation is a portal to the US drug market, making it a point of convergence for illicit shipments. Mexico’s head of customs, for example, once described all airports in the country as sewers with drugs, arms and illicit cash constantly moving through them.
In just the first three months of 2019, an estimated two tons of cocaine and several kilograms of heroin have passed though Mexico City’s international airport alone, according to Proceso.
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The network that Hernández Palafox is allegedly a member of seems to be quite expansive, as it is linked to international crime groups in Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. What’s more, its activities stretch across a number of major airports in Mexico, and officials at the highest levels of government appear to be providing protection to those involved.
Earlier this March, President López Obrador announced a plan to clean up corruption at the country’s airports. However, this approach is focused on eliminating extortion, and neither acknowledges the extent of the corruption engulfing Mexico’s terminals that facilitate such drug trafficking activities, nor suggests viable solutions to tackle it.