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Special Report: Guns used in Mexico for lawyer’s murder traced to ATF operation

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By Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times
Posted:   05/01/2012 12:00:00 AM MDT

Firearms connected to Operation Fast and Furious were used in the 2010 slaying of the brother of the former Chihuahua state attorney general, according to a U.S. congressional report.

The report said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced two of the weapons suspected in the murder of lawyer Mario González Rodríguez, but did not report this fact to the Mexican government until eight months after the tracing.

The joint congressional staff report “The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence” was prepared for U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., two lawmakers who are spearheading an ongoing investigation into the ATF’s controversial operation.

“On October 21, 2010, drug cartel members kidnapped Mario González Rodríguez from his office,” according to the 2011 congressional report. “At the time of the kidnapping, his sister Patricia González Rodríguez was the attorney general of the state of Chihuahua.”

Mexican officials said Patricia González Rodríguez was already on her way out because the new governor had been installed and a new state prosecutor was going to be appointed.

“A few days after the kidnapping,” the congressional report said, “a video surfaced on the Internet in which Mario González Rodríguez sat

handcuffed, surrounded by five heavily armed men wearing masks, dressed in camouflage and bullet-proof vest.”

“Apparently, under duress,” the report said, “(González Rodríguez) alleged that his sister had ordered killings at the behest of the Juárez cartel … the video quickly went viral.”

Chihuahua state Attorney General Patricia González Rodríguez denied the allegations of drug corruption and traveled to Mexico City to seek the federal government’s help in investigating her brother’s murder. She is no longer in Chihuahua, and reportedly left Mexico for safety reasons.

A video of Mario González Rodríguez’s “interrogation” by armed men was carried on YouTube. The body of the well-known Chihuahua City lawyer was found Nov. 5, 2010, in a shallow grave.

Then, Mexican federal authorities, following a shootout with drug cartel suspects, seized 16 weapons and arrested eight men in connection with Mario González Rodríguez’s murder.

Mexican officials submitted information about the weapons to the ATF’s e-trace system, and the ATF traced two AK-47s to Operation Fast and Furious.

The congressional report said that an ATF email indicated that ATF officials in Phoenix who knew the two assault rifles came from the controversial operation withheld the information from Mexican officials until June 2011.

In congressional testimony, Carlos Canino, the ATF’s acting U.S. attaché in Mexico, said he’s the one who finally notified Mexican federal Attorney General Marisela Morales about the weapons-tracing and their link to the death of Mario González Rodríguez.

The report said Morales was shocked and remarked, “Hijole!,” which the report said translates into “Oh, my.”

Canino feared an international incident might break out with Mexico if the information leaked out to the news media instead of being sent through government channels. He told U.S. lawmakers that he did not want to undermine the trust that U.S. law enforcement had developed with their Mexican counterparts in the war against the drug cartels.

Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Saturday in response to the U.S. congressional report’s findings that “the government of Mexico has not granted, nor will grant, under any circumstance, tacit or explicit authorization for the deliberate walking of arms into Mexico.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on ongoing investigations, and therefore will await the outcome of both the U.S. and Mexican investigations, and then react accordingly.”

Last week, the ATF released a report that said 68,000 weapons recovered in Mexico between 2007 and 2011 were traced back to U.S. sources. That report does not mention which of the weapons were part of the undercover Operation Fast and Furious.

Weapons traced back to the operation have been recovered in eight Mexican states and in Mexico City, and most of them were destined for the Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the congressional report said.

And, at least eight Fast and Furious-connected weapons were recovered at crime scenes in Juárez and four in Chihuahua City between 2010 and 2011.

The Sinaloa cartel has been waging a bloody battle against the Carrillo Fuentes organization that’s killed nearly 9,500 people in Juárez alone since 2008.

On Jan. 13, 2010, the El Paso Police Department seized 40 rifles on the East Side that the congressional report said were connected to Fast and Furious. Weapons connected to the operation also were recovered in Columbus, N.M.

The number of Fast and Furious weapons found at Mexican crime scenes could be higher because the information provided to congressional investigators remains incomplete, the report said.

Last November, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it was among local law enforcement agencies asked to assist with Operation Fast and Furious.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said then that his department helped a Drug Enforcement Administration regional task force with surveillance but that he was not told it was for Fast and Furious.

ATF officials launched Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 in Phoenix in an attempt to identify high-level arms traffickers who were supplying the Mexican drug cartels with weapons. The operation allowed weapons purchased in the United States to cross the border into Mexico.

ATF shut down the operation about a month after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was found murdered in the Arizona desert in December 2010. Two AK-47s, originally purchased as semiautomatics and connected to Fast and Furious, were found near Terry’s body.

The latest ATF report does not break down the 68,000 weapons traced to U.S. sources by states.

ATF spokesman Tom Crowley said the agency previously reported that most of the guns recovered in Mexico came from Texas, the border state that has the most gun stores.

Statistics in the recent ATF report mirror the trends in Mexico’s drug cartel violence.

For example, in 2008 Mexican officials submitted 31,111 serial numbers to the ATF for tracing, the same year that the Mexican cartels intensified their battles in Mexico.

The number of weapons submitted for e-trace was 17,352 in 2007; 21,555 in 2009; 8,338 in 2010; and 20,335 in 2011.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6140.

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Interactive map of the drug war in Mexico

Posted by Diego Valle-Jones on Jan 25, 2012

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Click on the image to visit the interactive drug war map. Or try the Spanish version

If you’re interested at all in what’s happening in Mexico you can’t miss the interactive map of the drug war I just made. You can link directly to cities or whole regions within Mexico and post them to Twitter and Facebook by clicking on the “Share This Map” link at the bottom of the box. You can even compare 2007 México with 2010 México and switch between drug war-related homicides and total homicides (the ones from the INEGI). If you hover over the chart you’ll get the monthly values and information on important events. To top it off you can export the monthly data to csv. You’ll need a latest generation browser to use it.

To unclutter the map and following the lead of the paper Trafficking Networks and the Mexican Drug War by Melissa Dell, I decided to only show the optimal highways (according to my own data and Google Directions) to reach the US border ports from the municipalities with the highest drug plant eradication between 1994 and 2003 and the highest 2d density estimate of drug labs based on newspaper reports of seizures. The map is a work in progress and is still missing the cocaine routes, but hopefully I’ll be able to add them shortly.
My assumptions in making the map:

  1. Homicides that were registered with no date of occurrence were assumed to have occurred on the month they were registered.
  2. The total homicide database has a cutoff date of the last day of the year for recording deaths, so for example, in 2009 there occurred 671 homicides that weren’t registered until 2010 (most occurred in December). I adjusted the 2010 database assuming the homicides were under counted by the same percentage as they were in 2009. So instead of the 25,005  homicides in the database I’m showing the adjusted number of 25,679. I used a similar adjustement at the municipality level.
  3. Even though the municipalities of Culiacán and Navolato are not officially a metro area I considered them one since they are only half and hour from each other and together have a million inhabitants.

The really cool thing about the map is that it makes it very easy to select regions of Mexico and link directly to them, which makes refuting mistaken claims by government officials, like the one Poiré made last year, a cinch.

In Jalisco, Colima, and Nayarit, violence was increasing systematically previous to the killing of Nacho Coronel at a rate of more than 1 death per week, or 6 extra deaths every five weeks. After his death violence remained at a high level, but it increased at a much slower rate, barely 1 death every five weeks.
[...]
Replicating the analysis with data from the state of Jalisco, the region where Nacho Coronel was killed, and even with data from Zapopan, we obtain the same results–Alejandro Poiré, Nexos

But did violence really stop increasing near Guadalajara? This should serve as a warning not to extrapolate based on a few months of observations and underlines the importance of making the data available to researchers on a prompt basis to avoid embarrassing mistakes.
There are about a million things you can analyze with the maps:

  • The weird falls in homicides in Chiapas around the end 2007 and 2009.
  • Why did Sinaloa end up with more drug war-related homicides than total homicides from mid 2007 until the end of 2008? (the answer will be my next post)
  • The sudden increase in homicides in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas around the end of February when the Zetas and CDG (Gulf Cartel) went to war with each other.
  • Perhaps you heard that México is much safer than a certain other much smaller country or sub-country region and wish to only compare certain parts of México with a similar population/shape to the much smaller country/sub-country region.
  • The super secret link to the 2011 drug war-related homicides. (The size of the circles and the color scale used to fill them was annualized so it’s on the same scale as the years for which full data is available, but the numbers shown on the map correspond to the Jan-Sep data).
  • Are the Zetas really the most brutal cartel as the Mexican Government and Stratfor assert? You can compare northeastern Mexico to Chihuahua and find out just how mistaken they are, both in terms of rates and total homicides.
  • How the Tubutama massacre is registered as having occurred in Tubutuma according to the homicide database, but in Saric according the drug war-related homicide database



A note about drug war-related homicides

I’d be very surprised if the Mexican government had the capacity to correctly count the drug war homicides. There were big differences between the homicide databases starting in 2009 in Tijuana and in 2010 in Juárez. I tend to think of the drug war-related homicides as an independent count of a subset of firearm/extremely violent homicides based on police records rather than death certificates (independent of whether organized crime was involved or not). Looking at the whole country there has been a steady increase in the difference between INEGI homicides and the drug-war related ones.

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This is not to say that the data for INEGI is without errors, besides not having registered the mass grave in Taxco and the immigrant massacre in San Fernando, there has been a steady increase in deaths of unknown intent by external injury caused by firearm. In Mexico most accidents are by transportation, most suicides by suffocation and most homicides by firearm, so a quick and dirty way to see if a more in-depth analysis is needed is to look at firearm deaths:

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This is not to say all the deaths were homicides, since it would be perfectly reasonable to expect that as the availability of firearms increases, the number of accidents involving firearms increases, but the evidence does suggest that there has been an important under counting of homicides and even more so of drug war-related homicides.
Deaths of unknown injury intent in all of Mexico that were by firearm:

More – Source

P.S. You can download the source at GitHub

Mexico Turns Up the Heat on Drug Lord Guzman

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s ruling conservative party had been in power just 50 days when drug lord Joaquin Guzman slipped out of a dark prison and into Mexican folklore.

Eleven years later, President Felipe Calderon‘s government is furiously trying to flush out the man nicknamed El Chapo – “Shorty” – to rescue its bloody war on drug cartels.

Guzman’s flight from a maximum security prison in a laundry cart on January 19, 2001, was a major embarrassment to Calderon’s predecessor Vicente Fox, who had just begun a new era as the first National Action Party (PAN) official to lead Mexico.

Now, Guzman is the greatest symbol of the cartels’ defiance of Calderon, whose war unleashed a wave of gang violence that is eroding support for the PAN ahead of presidential elections on July 1. Calderon is barred by law from seeking a second term.

In the last few months, authorities have arrested dozens of Guzman’s henchmen, seized tons of his contraband and razed the biggest single marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, subsequently chalked up as another setback for El Chapo.

Over Christmas, three senior Guzman associates fell into Mexico’s hands, including one named as his chief of operations in Durango, a state where he has been rumored to hide out.

“He’s certainly aware people very close to him have been captured over the past two weeks, so he must be seriously concerned,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution expert on the drug trade. “The noose seems to be tightening.”

Since his nighttime escape, Guzman’s legend has grown daily, as the wily capo evaded capture, eliminated rivals and sold billions of dollars worth of drugs across the border.

Meanwhile, the PAN, who won office under Fox pledging to restore law and order in a country tired of the corruption that marred the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has become more and more bogged down in the drug war.

Calderon staked his reputation on rooting out the cartels, but the army-led struggle has cost over 46,000 lives in five years, spooking tourists and investors alike.

As Calderon fought to contain the violence, he had to watch Guzman feted for success when the kingpin placed 41st in a Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people in 2009.

Immortalized in song both in Spanish and English, Guzman seemed so untouchable that rumors began spreading the Mexican government had made a deal with him to keep the peace.

That talk has now faded, and Attorney General Marisela Morales said in October Guzman would be captured “very soon.”

North of the border, things have also turned sour for the fugitive trafficker, who made headlines as the world’s most wanted man after the death of Osama bin Laden.

In last few weeks, U.S. authorities in Arizona announced details of raids in which they arrested over 200 people linked to the Sinaloa cartel, named for the northwestern Pacific state where Guzman was born, probably in 1957.

DRUG LORD PROTECTOR

Surveys show the public backs the crackdown on the cartels. But it also believes Calderon is losing the drug war.

Alberto Vera, director of research at pollster Parametria, said only something of the magnitude of Guzman’s capture would persuade voters Calderon was winning. That could boost support for his party by two or three points if it happened not long before the election, he added.

“Catching him would do Calderon credit,” said Luis Pavan, 40, a Mexico City insurance agent. “Fighting the gangs is one of the few good things the government has done.”

Weakened by the mounting death toll, Calderon’s PAN lags the opposition PRI by about 20 points, recent polls show.

Capturing Guzman could also benefit U.S. President Barack Obama, who faces a tough re-election battle against Republicans that accuse him of being weak on border security.

Arturo R. Garino, mayor of Nogales – an Arizona border city lying right on Guzman’s main smuggling routes – said the kingpin’s arrest would be a boost to both governments. “Cutting the head off the snake would help our economy too,” he said.

Intelligence officials declined to say if efforts to catch Guzman had increased, but his biographer Malcolm Beith said there was little doubt they had, as recent operations on El Chapo’s turf were being conducted by crack military units. “It’s been special forces and marines to the best of my knowledge. These guys are called in for special raids because they’re less likely to have been infiltrated,” he said.

Officials who have tracked Guzman say it is one thing to locate him and quite another to capture him.

Like late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Guzman has a reputation as a protector of his heartland in Sinaloa, a rugged region that the state still struggles to penetrate, where news of approaching of strangers quickly reaches him and his followers.

“Chapo has allegedly paid for schools, hospitals, and other public projects,” said Beith. “Second, he’s just about the only source of employment in parts of Sinaloa. And he has provided security of a sort. He’s been known to apprehend small-time crooks or thugs when they got out of hand. Lastly, the name Chapo pretty much puts the fear of God into people.”

With locals watching his back, Guzman has always had just enough warning to get away at the last minute. The exception was when soldiers captured him in Guatemala in June 1993.

New surveillance technology has raised the stakes though.

Mexico has admitted allowing U.S. spy planes to track the cartels, reviving memories of the chase for Escobar, who was gunned down on a Medellin rooftop in December 1993.

The U.S. Army’s spy unit Centra Spike played a crucial part in that takedown – using planes to triangulate Escobar’s phone calls – and U.S. surveillance drones stationed just across the Arizona border are likely being used to help catch Guzman.

Adding to his problems are attacks from the rival Zetas gang, which has engaged in a spate of tit-for-tat killings with the Sinaloa cartel that have spread onto his territory.

If Guzman is caught, it could unleash a bloody scramble for power before the election, said Jose Luis Pineyro, a security expert at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University.

“He is said to have influence in five continents,” he said. “It would have repercussions outside Mexico and America.”

Reuters

More US drones patrolling above border with Mexico

Congress pins hopes of securing US border on unmanned drones

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The MQ-9 Predator B, an unmanned surveillance aircraft system, is unveiled by US Customs and Border Protection at Libby Army Airfield on Oct. 30, 2006 in Sierra Vista, Ariz. (Gary Williams/AFP/Getty Images)

Teri SchultzDecember 6, 2011 06:21

LUNA COUNTY, New Mexico — Raymond Cobos, the sheriff in these parts, said the horrors of Mexico’s drug war aren’t limited to the big cities of Juarez or Tijuana, and are creeping closer and closer to the United States everyday.

Just across the border sits Puerto Palomas, a Mexican town where Americans used to go — in relative safety — to shop, eat out and seek low-cost medical procedures.

But last years things began to change. And then, Cobos said, shocking events began happening on his doorstep.

“We saw the violence first-hand: the bodies, the tortures, the decapitations. People going to church found three heads displayed there in the plaza,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any single town anywhere of any prominence in Mexico that hasn’t had at one time a series of horrible criminal events in which people have been murdered, tortured, mutilated.”

Now fear is growing that such violence will spill over onto American soil and some officials are hoping that an increased reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will help stem the tide.

More from GlobalPost: Complete coverage of the Drone Wars

Although the number of Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States is declining, the potential for drug-related violence — especially as an ongoing war among Mexican drug cartels continues to spiral — has reestablished border security as a hot-button issue, and made the use of drones along the border ever more popular.

The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, commonly known as the Drone Caucus, is a congressional group that works to promote the use of drones both domestically and abroad. It has doubled its membership since January while the number of drones used on the border to track illegal immigrants and drug activity has also steadily increased.

A bipartisan group formed in 2009, the Drone Caucus argues that UAVs are a peerless asset whose use should be amplified not only in weaponized strikes against extremists abroad, but also for the surveillance and tracking of those trying to breach US borders.

Drones now troll the southern border from California to Louisiana, and the northern border from Washington to Minnesota. With a potential flight time of more than 20 hours, the drones make it feasible to cover vast expanses of difficult terrain, while “pilots” split the shifts on the ground.

The first Predator drone was assigned to the southwest border in 2005. Four more soon followed, with the fifth delivered in October to the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, in the district of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is a co-chair of the Drone Caucus. A sixth will soon arrive in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and two more monitor the northern border out of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base.

More from GlobalPost: Are the drone wars legal?

Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force pilot who has been working with unmanned technology since the 1990s, said that in his current post as assistant commissioner for the US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine, the drones could prove an invaluable tool.

“If you look at how important the UAVs have been in defense missions overseas,” Kostelnik said from Washington, DC, “it’s not really rocket science to make adjustments for how important those things could be in the homeland for precisely the same reasons.”

Other than the fact that border patrol aircraft do not carry weapons — and despite the presidential campaign rhetoric, Kostelnik said they don’t intend to weaponize them — the units are identical to those used in Pakistan and elsewhere in terms of intelligence collection and real-time interdiction support for agents on the ground.

Tucson Border Patrol Division Chief John Fitzpatrick said it was difficult to put into numbers just how valuable the drones could be for border security.

“Whenever the aircraft shows up, the agents on the ground are more successful and more efficient in what they do,” he said. “It gives us a lot of capabilities we didn’t have before.”

He acknowledged that there was some discomfort with the technology from people living in the area, who worried that the government would be looking into their backyards.

More from GlobalPost: The rationale behind the Drone Wars

“We reassure them there’s accountability in everything we do,” Fitzpatrick said.

For now, supply appears to be outweighing the need and on Capitol Hill, the Drone Caucus appears to be in overdrive. The last three UAVs purchased for border patrol — at a price tag of $32 million from the 2010 budget — were not even requested by Customs and Border Protection, according to an official from the Department of Homeland Security who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Congress sent no extra money for missions or maintenance, despite reports that planes already in service remain grounded at times due to a shortage of pilots, spare parts and other logistical restraints.

Customs and Border Protection reported that drones have been responsible for the apprehension of 7,500 illegal immigrants since they began operating six years ago — a tiny fraction of the total number of arrests that have been made over the same period. Using other means, in six years, the agency has apprehended almost 5 million people.

T.J. Bonner, head of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing border patrol agents, said the low numbers prove that money is better spent on manned aircraft and boots on the ground.

More from GlobalPost: The people behind the drones

“People play with the facts around this stuff,” Kostelnik said with frustration, acknowledging that high-profile, targeted killings overseas have politicized even unweaponized missions.

When asked what help he needed most back in Luna County, Sheriff Cobos said he would prioritize “boots on the ground,” but wouldn’t object to a little unmanned help.

Unlike Texas and Arizona, New Mexico doesn’t have a facility to receive data from drones, so it has had to rely primarily on a low-tech approach — manually tracking known routes with a night-vision scope, searching abandoned houses and sidling along the border, watching for Mexicans climbing and jumping off the 12-foot high border fence.

The other states are “banging their drums while we’re using a popsicle stick,” Cobos said about New Mexico.

“Sooner or later the cartels are going to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t we utilizing this space? Why are we trying to shove it through Arizona and Texas?’” he said. “The possibility [there’s] going to be a catastrophic civil war in Mexico is pretty high, and I have to face the probability that at some point I have to deal with it.”

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Is the United States a Narco ‘Safe Haven’ for Mexican Drug Lords?

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By: Sylvia Longmire

For years, if not decades, Mexican drug lords and various upper-level members of Mexico’s transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) have resided in the United States. But because the savage drug war in Mexico has become so dangerous for them, they now prefer to spend more and more time at their “vacation” homes in the relative safety of US cities and communities.

Knowing that violent TCO members are living among us is disturbing on many levels, and has begged the question of whether the United States can be equated to Pakistan as a country that allows itself to be a “safe haven” for violent criminals and narco-terrorists?

In April 2006, the Department of State defined terrorist safe havens as follows:

A terrorist safe haven is an area of relative security exploited by terrorists to indoctrinate, recruit, coalesce, train, and regroup, as well as prepare and support their operations… Physical safe havens provide security for many senior terrorist leaders, allowing them to plan and to inspire acts of terrorism around the world. The presence of terrorist safe havens in a nation or region is not necessarily related to state sponsorship of terrorism. In most instances cited in this chapter, areas or communities serve as terrorist safe havens despite the government’s best efforts to prevent this.”

Using the State Department’s own definition, one only has to replace the term “terrorist” with the term “TCO,” and a strong argument can be made that the United States fits technically can be construed to be a narco-terrorist safe haven.

Even Mexican President Felipe Calderón believes the US is a safe haven for leaders of cartels based in his country. In October 2011 he told The New York Times Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera – the capo of the Sinaloa Federation and arguably the most wanted man in the Western Hemisphere – was holed up somewhere north of the border.

“The surprising thing here is that he or his wife are so comfortable in the United States” that it “leads me to ask … how many families or how many Mexican drug lords could be living more calmly on the north side of the border than on the south side?” Calderón asked.

“What leads Chapo Guzmán to keep his family in the United States?” Calderón mussed.

Calderón broached the subject of Guzmán’s wife because in August 2011 Emma Coronel gave birth to twin girls in a Los Angeles hospital. Calderón said reporters ought to be asking why she was never detained.

There are no charges pending against Coronel; therefore, US law enforcement agents have no grounds to detain her. And, unfortunately, the same is true of many other members of Mexico’s TCOs who are residing in the United States.

The fact is many TCO members and individuals working for them have dual citizenship or are legal permanent residents of America. While they may have extensive criminal records in Mexico, as long as they haven’t committed a crime in the United States and Mexico hasn’t sought their extradition, they can lead relatively normal lives north of the border without law enforcement interference. This isn’t to say US law enforcement agencies aren’t aware of their presence or activities; it’s just that there’s not much they can do unless these TCO members commit a crime here.

It’s this situation that ultimately separates the United States from places like Pakistan when it comes to the “safe haven” definition. In April 2009, the State Department wisely updated their definition to read:

Terrorist safe havens are defined in this report as ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed areas of a country and non-physical areas where terrorists that constitute a threat to U.S. national security interests are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.”

There are no areas in the US southwest that can be defined as “ungoverned, under-governed or ill-governed.” The US government is also not actively assisting TCO members living in the country or purposely ignoring their presence. In fact, US southern border region law enforcement agencies are more alert than ever to the potential threats posed by TCO members living in their jurisdictions. But that doesn’t mean the Mexican government will see it that way.

President Calderón has pointed his finger at the United States and blamed the federal government for the violence in his country. He says the drug war is a direct result of Americans’ demand for illegal drugs and US guns laws that allow tens of thousands of firearms to be smuggled across the border every year. Based on his casual statements about “El Chapo” Guzmán possibly living in the US, his next salvo may be to declare the United States a “narco safe haven” and to attempt some sort of legislative (and ultimately symbolic) action to this end.

Hopefully, this isn’t where Calderón is headed. He knows the US government is trying to fight this war as a partner with Mexico, despite its various policy shortcomings. President Obama also knows Calderón’s approval rating has been slipping and that his political party isn’t faring well in the run-up to Mexico’s July 2012 presidential election. It’s possible Calderón may still try to play the “narco safe haven” card, but if he does, it undoubtedly will be rebuffed by Obama.

In the meantime, US agencies can work harder to make America a much more difficult operating environment for TCO members by more aggressively scrutinizing suspicious financial transactions and expanding human intelligence networks to identify future drug smuggling activity.

Mexico’s “narcos” don’t operate in a vacuum on either side of the border. And while their networks are extremely difficult to penetrate, it’s not impossible. US law enforcement agents just need the proper tools and support to ensure that TCO members’ lives here are made as difficult as possible – that they’re made to understand their presence north of the border isn’t welcome.

A retired Air Force captain and former Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Homeland Security Today correspondent Sylvia Longmire worked as the Latin America desk officer analyzing issues in the US Southern Command area of responsibilty that might affect the security of deployed Air Force personnel. From Dec. 2005 through July 2009, she worked as an intelligence analyst for the California state fusion center and the California Emergency Management Agency‘s situational awareness Unit, where she focused almost exclusively on Mexican drug trafficking organizations and southwest border violence issues. Her book, “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars,” was published in Sept. To contact Sylvia, email her at: sylvia(at)longmireconsulting.com.

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