The U.S. government has blacklisted more Mexican individuals and companies this year than any other single country or group — and that includes North Korea, Iran, Syria and Al Qaeda.
Three hundred Mexicans and 180 Mexican companies are on the so-called kingpin designation list, the Treasury Department’s roster of people and entities suspected of laundering money for drug traffickers or working for them in other capacities. U.S. banks, companies and people are barred from doing business with them.
Among those recently listed is the La Numero Uno cantina in Mexico City, a bar-restaurant with stained-glass touches that lend it the look of a church.
A hand-lettered sign posted at the entrance warns patrons that it doesn’t take American Express. It doesn’t mention why: The establishment is suspected of helping launder money for a criminal network affiliated with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s most-wanted drug capo, and legally off-limits to American Express and other U.S. companies.
More suspects from Mexico were listed in the first seven months of fiscal year 2011 than the two previous fiscal years combined, U.S. officials say.
The Obama administration hopes these sanctions will prove a deterrent to money launderers and others who serve traffickers, and thus cut into the cartels’ staggering profits. But there is ample evidence that the sanctions have little impact.
The effort is modeled after what U.S. officials saw as the successful campaign against cartels in Colombia in the 1990s. Blacklisting Colombian entities eventually strangled traffickers’ ability to invest in major businesses and use the national banking system. Being named on the U.S. Treasury blacklist came to be known as muerte civil, or civil death.
In Mexico, there is an essential difference. The sanctions list is not at all binding inside Mexico. Unlike Colombia, Mexico does not have laws that allow authorities to freeze assets of a person or company, or otherwise punish them, just because they appear on a U.S. blacklist.
“In Colombia it worked really well. We are not there yet in Mexico,” said a senior U.S. Treasury official. “We put out the guidelines, we recommend they [the banks and authorities] consult the lists.… What we want is them to close the accounts. We know they are not doing that.”
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