Mexico: are officials “kept the dark” about US drug operations?

On Oct. 26 Mexican officials emphatically denied that US agencies were violating Mexican sovereignty by carrying out undercover operations aimed at Mexican drug cartels. The presence of agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Mexico “isn’t something new, it’s been happening since a long time ago,” Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano said at a press conference in Mexico City that was meant to be about Mexico’s participation in a Group of 20 meeting in Cannes, France, and in the Iberian-American Summit in Asunci贸n, Paraguay. Espinosa Cantellano said she couldn’t reveal the number and location of the agents for security reasons, “but of course the government knows about this presence and we are very strict in watching out that the legal framework is applied.”

President Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa’s spokesperson, Alejandra Sota Mirafuentes, insisted at the press conference that cooperation and exchange of information between the two governments “is and has been fully respectful of the Mexican legal framework, including the so-called ’92 rules, the bilateral agreements currently in effect.” (La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 27)

The official denials came in response to an Oct. 25 article in the New York Times about US infiltration of Mexican criminal organizations. According to reporter Ginger Thompson, “Mexico is kept in the dark about the United States’ contacts with its most secret informants鈥攊ncluding Mexican law enforcement officers, elected officials and cartel operatives.” This is “partly because of laws prohibiting American security forces from operating on Mexican soil,” Thompson wrote. “The Mexicans sort of roll their eyes and say we know it’s happening,” Woodrow Wilson Center security expert Eric Olson told the Times, “even though it’s not supposed to be happening.” Thompson also noted that “complicated ethical issues tend to arise” when the US government uses informants who work in criminal enterprises. (NYT, Oct. 25)

The revelations come as many Mexicans are growing more disillusioned with President Calder贸n’s US-backed “war on drugs,” in which 40,000 Mexicans have died since the beginning of 2007; Mexicans are also angry about the US government’s bungled Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed some 2,000 weapons to go illegally from the US to Mexico. Adding to the tensions, on Oct. 28 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) told an interviewer on the CNN cable news network that 200 Mexicans had been killed by weapons that entered Mexico as a result of the program. (Notimex, Oct. 29, via LJ)

These developments are likely to hurt Calder贸n’s center-right National Action Party (PAN) in the 2012 presidential election. The centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is clearly hoping to benefit in its efforts to regain the presidency, which the party held from the 1930s until the PRI’s Francisco Labastida Ochoa lost to PAN candidate Vicente Fox Quesada in 2000. Labastida himself, now a senator from the northern state of Sinaloa, was quick to condemn Calder贸n for the reported death toll from Fast and Furious. It is “shameful,” he said in an interview, that Calder贸n hasn’t taken concrete legal actions against the US government. Calder贸n’s administration has a “sellout” attitude, an “absolutely servile” attitude, according to Labastidia, who said he had “thought carefully” about which adjectives to use. (LJ, Oct. 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 30.

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco wars.