Mario Menéndez vs. the Drug War

He’s the Voice of the Mexican People

"You rarely encounter an allegation about someone's involvement in the drug trade in Mexico that doesn't have some political vendetta behind it," Dillon continues. And indeed, everyone seems to agree that Hernández and Villanueva had some kind of . . . business dispute. Aside from the sources, the Hernández allegations sound eerily similar to the Villanueva allegations reported in an A-1 Times story by Dillon and Tim Golden on November 26, 1998.

One of the Times's sources was a senior Mexican official, who declared the odds better than even that Villanueva would be indicted after his term ended in April 1999, under the suspicion that his state police were involved in the drug trade. Sure enough, on March 28, Villanueva went on the lam, shortly before a warrant was issued for his arrest. He called the charges politically motivated, telling the Mexican magazine Proceso, "Behind this smear campaign . . . I see the hand of Roberto Hernández."

One big difference between the Hernández and Villanueva accusations is that the latter were backed up by authorities. As Dillon points out, "One of the problems in covering the drug trade . . . is that the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Mexican governments have a near monopoly on reliable information." He calls Por Esto!'s allegations "so silly that no one's ever paid any attention to them." Indeed, Dillon found it unremarkable that when President Clinton met his Mexican counterpart last year, the setting was Mérida's Hacienda Temozon, a fancy hotel owned by Hernández.

And yet, the Hernández controversy burns on. Al Giordano reported on it in the Phoenix last May, and in September 1999, the Associated Press's Mark Stevenson published his investigation, calling the drug charges inconclusive but finding convincing evidence that Hernández was a land grabber. Two days later, on September 6, a Mexican judge threw out Hernández's libel suit because, according to the judge's order, "all the accusations formed by [Menéndez] were based on facts." Hernández did not return calls for comment.

"Every newspaper kept silent about the October 1968 massacre," says Menéndez. "That doesn't mean it didn't happen." The publisher's trip to the U.S. coincides with Congress's annual March debate over Mexico's progress in the drug war, and drug czar Barry McCaffrey's visit to Mexico earlier this month. The drug czar also has corruption on his mind, according to a news brief filed by Dillon on February 11. Noting that Mexican officials had "documented a $60 million bribe from the drug lords," McCaffrey said, "That's getting close to my price."

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