BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
A former chief DEA agent at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina has
created a stir in
that country -- and in U.S. law enforcement circles -- by stating that senior
officials of former President Carlos S. Menem's government were ``deeply
involved'' in drug trafficking.
Abel Reynoso, 46, who resigned from the DEA on March 1, was quoted
by the Argentine news weekly Noticias as saying that Menem government
officials ``were not really interested'' in fighting drug trafficking. He also said that
some of them were ``in the business'' of protecting drug traffickers.
Terry Parham, a spokesman for the DEA in Washington, said Reynoso's
comments ``are strictly his personal opinion, and do not reflect the views of the
DEA.'' A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires said Reynoso is a
private citizen, and his views ``don't reflect any arm of the U.S. government.''
Reynoso told The Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday that
he will provide in a
forthcoming book names of Argentine officials who were ``negligent'' or ``behaved
strangely'' in the fight against drug traffickers. He has not identified any officials
suspected of drug ties, and said Tuesday that he has no evidence that Menem
himself knew or participated in drug-related crimes.
But Reynoso's statements are in sharp contrast with the Clinton
assessment of anti-drug efforts by the the Menem government, a close U.S. ally
until Menem stepped down in December.
The U.S. State Department's 2000 country-by-country narcotics
covers Menem's last year in office, listed Argentina as a nation that ``is not a
major drug producing or major drug transit country,'' and stated that the country's
government ``actively opposes'' drug trafficking.
``Argentina is a country where drug money launderers are welcome,''
Reynoso, who was born and raised in Argentina and served for 15 years with the
DEA, including a 1997-1999 stint as the DEA's attache at the Buenos Aires
The country is becoming a major producer of chemical precursors
production, a growing drug money laundering haven and a significant drug transit
country, he said.
``There are some people in high places who are untouchable,''
he told The Herald.
``They get in and out of government . . . and often hold important jobs, even
Cabinet jobs, which they pay to obtain.''
He said he remained skeptical of Argentina's anti-drug policies, even after the new
government of President Fernando de la Rua took office, because Argentine law
does not allow law enforcement agencies to accept information from outside
informants, or to offer reduced sentences to drug traffickers who turn government
informants. ``Until that law is changed, you won't be able to conduct real
investigations there,'' he said.
U.S. officials in Washington said Reynoso's appointment in Argentina
originally resisted by the Menem government, because the U.S. agent was a dual
U.S.-Argentine citizen and the Argentine government felt it would be awkward to
have one of its citizens representing a foreign country.
Argentina has never ranked high on the U.S. list of drug producing
countries. But a U.S. Customs Service investigation raised eyebrows this year
when it revealed that Mexico's Juarez Cartel had funneled more than $25 million
to Argentina in the late '90s.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald