Buck-Passing Stalls DEA Case in Mexico

Times Staff Writer

After more than a month of charges and countercharges that have aggravated Mexico's relations with the United States, the case against Mexican policemen alleged to have beaten a U.S. narcotics agent is stalled in a maze of bureaucratic buck-passing.

The federal attorney general's office in Mexico City has accused 11 policemen in Guadalajara of causing "bodily injury" to Victor Cortez Jr., an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. But the police officers have yet to be arrested, despite an announcement last month by spokesmen in the attorney general's office that they had been taken into custody.

Last week, Oscar Vasquez Marin, the judge in Guadalajara who is dealing with the case, told The Times he cannot order the officers' arrest until the federal attorney general supplies him with testimony from Cortez.

But Felipe Flores, a spokesman for the attorney general in Mexico City, said the federal authorities are waiting for the judge to request such testimony.

Needs an Address

Vasquez Marin, advised of this, countered that he needs an address for Cortez in order to summon him for testimony or ask for a written deposition. The attorney general's office is expected to supply the address, Vasquez Marin said.

Flores said Monday that officials are looking into Cortez's whereabouts "through diplomatic channels."

No one has asked the U.S. Embassy here to locate Cortez, who is presently in the United States. "If they want his address, they just have to call us," a U.S. official said.

In Washington, a spokesman for the DEA said that no request has been received for testimony from Cortez. "We're willing and ready to cooperate," the spokesman, Lawrence Gallina, said. "Maybe we'll get a request today, maybe never."

The delay raises the possibility that Cortez's alleged tormentors may never be brought to trial.

According to DEA officials, state policemen in Guadalajara beat and tortured Cortez, who worked in Guadalajara investigating narcotics traffic. He was released only after U.S. officials inquired into his whereabouts with authorities in Mexico City.

U.S. officials liken the case to the 1985 torture-murder of agent Enrique S. Camarena. Like Camarena, the agency charged, Cortez was interrogated in an effort to force him to divulge information about U.S. drug investigations in Mexico. Although several arrests were made in the Camarena case, no one has been brought to trial.

Mexican officials deny that the Guadalajara police tortured Cortez. They say the 11 policemen identified with the case have been charged with "abuse," not with torturing him.

Further, Mexican officials insist that Cortez, when arrested on Aug. 13, was illegally armed and in the company of a known criminal. The discovery of arms contributed to a debate over the role of the DEA in Mexico, including whether agents are permitted to carry weapons.

Friction, Mixed Signals

The controversy highlights the friction and mixed signals that have surfaced in almost every aspect of the Cortez case. Mexican officials and U.S. Embassy representatives alike said that DEA agents working in Mexico are not armed. But agency spokesman Gallina, in Washington, said the agents are authorized to carry weapons under agreement with the Mexican government.

Gallina said he had heard nothing from the Mexican government to change the agency's operating methods.

About 30 DEA agents are stationed in Mexico under various agreements with the Mexican government. The agents gather information on drug traffic and smugglers and pass it on to Mexican authorities for action.

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