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Trial of 2 Generals Strenghtens Army's Reputation, Says Mexico's Defense Minister - 2002-10-30


Mexico's defense minister says the trial of two generals accused of drug trafficking strengthens, rather than damages the army's reputation. The trial has captivated the public because it offers a rare glimpse into the closed world of high-ranking military officers.

The Mexican military is not known for its openness and has, in the past, been accused of covering up internal problems. But the court martial of Generals Arturo Acosta and Francisco Quiros has been open to the public. Local television news programs are even using video clips from the proceedings.

The two men are accused of helping infamous drug lord Amado Carillo Fuentes to smuggle cocaine from South America to the United States during the 1990s. In a separate charge, they are accused of murdering 143 leftist activists and insurgents during the so-called "dirty war" of the 1970s.

Military prosecutors have presented testimony from a dozen witnesses linking the two generals to drug trafficking, but lawyers for the accused say the witnesses are criminals who cannot be trusted. The two generals have denied knowing Carillo Fuentes, who died after botched plastic surgery in 1997. They say they may have met him without knowing who he was, but they deny having known him personally and having received money and expensive gifts from him.

In an appearance before a Mexican congressional committee Wednesday, Defense Minister and Army General Gerardo Clemente Vega Garcia rejected the notion that the court martial has to do with an internal struggle in the military.

He said there is no fight between the old guard and a new guard. He said there are no guards, there is one army that demands justice of all, including the top commander. He said if he were charged with a crime, he would have to respond to the charge.

General Vega said the current trial sets an example for many who might be tempted to fall into corruption and guarantees the strength of the army as an institution.

General Vega said the army will continue its role in the fight against drug trafficking in cooperation with federal authorities.

Generals Acosta and Quiros face up to 40 years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to conclude this week.

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