MEXICO CITY -- In a fresh blow to the prestige of the Mexican military amid a bloody drug war, three current or retired generals have been detained in Mexico as part of a government investigation of possible ties between ranking officers and organized crime.
The army announced late Thursday that it had detained retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas as part of a probe that earlier led to the arrests of two other generals suspected of possible ties to the Beltran Leyva drug-trafficking group in a case dating to 2009.
The army’s statement said Escorcia Vargas was being held to get him to testify, but it did not say whether he faced the same accusations as the two other men in custody, retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare and Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez. Both were detained Tuesday and are being held by the federal attorney general. The statement noted that the three arrest orders were issued at the same time.
The army has faced growing criticism as tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed across the country to crack down on heavily armed drug cartels. The deployment has prompted numerous charges of rights abuses -- unlawful detentions, torture and even extrajudicial killings -- by soldiers, and concern is spreading about the integrity and image of the military, long one of the nation’s most respected institutions.
Drug violence, largely between rival traffickers, has killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderon mobilized the military in late 2006 as part of a crackdown on cartels.
The arrests may stoke political controversy. One of the detained generals, Angeles Dauahare, appeared recently at a security forum sponsored by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for decades and hopes to regain power by defeating Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s party in July elections. Angeles Dauahare has been mentioned by pundits as a possible future public-safety secretary if the PRI wins. Its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, holds a big lead in polls.
Angeles Dauahare served as assistant defense secretary in the Calderon government from 2006 until his retirement in 2008.
Last month, retired Gen. Mario Acosta Chaparro, once accused but exonerated of drug links to a cartel based in Ciudad Juarez, was shot and killed in Mexico City.
The most well-known modern case of ties between a general and drug traffickers was that of Mexico’s drug czar, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, charged in 1997 with providing protection for Juarez-based drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as “Lord of the Skies” for his group’s use of aircraft to move drug shipments.
-- Ken Ellingwood