US agents have been posted in recent weeks at a Mexican military base to carry out intelligence and planning work with Mexican officials against drug cartels, according to an Aug. 7 article by New York Times reporter Ginger Thompson. The team includes “fewer than two dozen” agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials and “retired military personnel members from the Pentagon’s Northern Command,” Thompson wrote. They are working at a “compound modeled after “fusion intelligence centers’ that the United States operates in Iraq and Afghanistan to monitor insurgent groups.” The US is also “considering plans to deploy private security contractors” in a counter-narcotics unit of the Mexican police, according to the article.
“[T]he new efforts have been devised to get around Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating on its soil,” Thompson noted. The posting of the US personnel at the military base follows three years of increased US assistance to Mexico’s fight against drug traffickers under the $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative. Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began militarizing the “drug war” soon after taking office in December 2006; since then more than 40,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence. (NYT, Aug. 7)
Various Mexican sources consulted by the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada confirmed much of the Times story. Federal legislators told the paper that the posting of the US agents was agreed to in a letter of understanding Calderón signed with US president Barack Obama in March 2010. Sources in the Senate said the Mexican agency in charge of the “fusion intelligence center” is the Center for Investigations and National Security (CISEN), Mexico’s main intelligence organization. Other sources indicated that even without the latest insertion of US agents, the US government already had a major presence in Mexico, with about 400 agents in the country and a “great number of informants and functionaries that they have also coopted in places like Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Culiacán and Mazatlán, Tijuana, Manzanillo and Monterrey.”
Resentment has been growing both about Calderón’s “war on drugs” and US involvement in it. So far this year there have been revelations that the US is flying drones over Mexican airspace for the surveillance of suspected drug traffickers; that a bungled US program called Operation Fast and Furious allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter Mexico illegally from the US; and that some of the heavy weapons used by the drug cartels were originally supplied by the US to rightwing Central American militaries in the 1980s and 1990s. Mexican senators said they planned to question Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano and Governance Secretary José Francisco Blake Mora about Calderón’s agreement with Obama during scheduled hearings the week of Aug. 15.
“It’s an agreement of subordination,” said Ricardo Monreal, a senator from Zacatecas state for the small leftist Workers Party (PT), “which tries to mock the Constitution by passing off as simple police agents these former US soldiers, who aren’t coming here to collaborate but to put themselves in charge of the war against narco-trafficking—given Calderón’s inability to stand up to organized crime.” (LJ, Aug. 11; LJ, Aug. 12)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 14.
See our last post on Mexico’s narco wars.