Mexico News- Mar.30
Posted by the Generals on March 31, 2011, 5:31 pm
Subject: Mexico News STRATEGIC March 30, 2011 |
Security & Strategic Review March 2011 (ISSN 1741-4202)
MEXICO-US: Embarrassments mar bilateral relations
President Felipe Calderón made no secret of the fact that his scheduled meeting with US President Barack Obama on 3 March would be dominated by his displeasure with the US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, and by what his government perceived as a less than earnest effort by Washington to fulfil its promises regarding assistance on the drug-war front. He had to wait until well after the meeting for the removal of the ambassador and in the interlude relations between the two countries were hardly improved by new embarrassing episodes.
The problem with ambassador Pascual dated back to the December publication by Wikileaks of US diplomatic cables, some of them labelled ‘secret’, in which the diplomat conveyed an unflattering view of at least some Mexican officials and institutions. On 22 February, as the encounter with Obama was being prepared, in an interview published by El Universal, Calderón inveighed against ‘the ambassadors or whoever generated those cables’ for having indulged in exaggeration. ‘They always tried to raise their own agendas before their bosses,’ he said, ‘and have caused much damage with the stories they tell and which, in truth, they distort.’
Even more pointed was the 1 March press briefing by Julián Ventura, the undersecretary for North America at Mexico’s foreign ministry, who highlighted ‘limitations’ and ‘insufficiencies’ in US-Mexican cooperation. The three-year Merida Initiative agreed by presidents Calderón and George W. Bush (2001-2009) provided for US$1.5bn in equipment and training for 2008-2010 but to date, said Ventura, ‘only a little under US$400m has been fully allocated’. If it is kept in mind that pre-Merida aid was running at US$40-50m a year, he said, we have ‘a shortfall of nearly US$1.5bn’. Ventura also complained about the ‘lack of coordination’ between US government agencies and said that improving bilateral coordination depended on ‘building mutual confidence’. As he was speaking, a development was looming that would not contribute to that.
On 23 February a CBS News journalist, Sharyl Attkisson, had revealed that the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had been conducting Operation ‘Fast & Furious’, as an offshoot of its Project Gunrunner, which involved allowing illegal sales of firearms to suspected agents of Mexican drug cartels, with the purpose of monitoring the appearance of the weapons in criminal acts across the border — ostensibly to track down the principals involved in the flow of weapons and collect evidence that could support their prosecution.
On 3 March, the day President Felipe Calderón was meeting his US peer, Barack Obama, in Washington, one of Attkisson’s sources, ATF agent John Dodson, frustrated at the lack of response to his internal ‘whistleblower’ complaints, decided to go public. The airing of his account by CBS News elicited an equivocal attempt by ATF acting director Kenneth Melson to suggest that, if any such thing had happened, it was a case of ‘strategies employed by field division managers and special agents’. The Department of Justice said that its acting inspector-general had been ‘asked [...] to evaluate the concerns about ATF’s investigative tactics’.
An extensive report published the same day by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), which cited documentary evidence collected by the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate, revealed that the ATF’s assistant director in charge of field operations, Mark Chait, had said that he had initiated the scheme in September 2010. The CPI report says that the operation had already begun 11 months earlier, that it had been approved by ATF headquarters and supervised by the US attorney’s office in Phoenix. Dodson’s ‘whistleblower’ complaint and the exchange of memos showed that the Department of Justice was quite aware of what was happening — indeed, that it could have prompted the launch of ‘Fast & Furious’ with a critical review of the poor results of Project Gunrunner.
It is worth noting that in a television interview on 23 March, President Obama said, ‘I did not authorise it. Eric Holder, the Attorney General, did not authorise it. He’s been very clear that our policy is to catch gun runners and put ’em into jail.’ He added that he had ‘absolutely not’ been informed about it.
Under ‘Fast & Furious’, 1,765 firearms purchases were allowed to go ahead, and the ATF had records of 233 more that had taken place before the operation began, taking the total involved to 1,998. Of these, 797 turned up in criminal acts; 602 in the US, 195 in Mexico — leaving 1,201 unaccounted for. Most shocking from the US point of view was that two of the firearms were seized in December 2010 at the scene where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent Brian Terry was murdered. In January 2011 one of the buyers of the monitored weapons, Jaime Avila, was arrested in Arizona together with 19 suspected associates.
The office of Mexico’s chief federal prosecutor (PGR) announced on 10 March that the government ‘has not had any knowledge of the existence of an operation including the transfer or controlled traffic of weapons into Mexican territory.’ Darren Gil, ATF attaché in Mexico City, had learnt of the operation and tried to stop it, warning that it would not go down well with the Mexican government if it found out.
On 16 March it was the Mexican government’s turn to be embarrassed. The New York Times reported that since February, US drones were conducting surveillance flights over Mexican territory, and that the Mexican government had kept this secret because of possible political fallout regarding sovereignty issues. Alejandro Poiré, head of the national security council’s technical secretariat, promptly acknowledged that Mexico had ‘requested on specific occasions [...] the support of unmanned aircraft to obtain specific elements on information, particularly in the border area.’ He said these operations ‘are always carried out with the authorisation, vigilance and oversight of national agencies, including the Mexican air force.’ The US State Department also confirmed that the drone flights had been taking place under a bilateral agreement.
Last December the Mexican federal police had suffered an upset with a US-provided drone it had been using for surveillance over Ciudad Juárez. Due to a malfunction the unmanned aircraft had flown over the US border and crashed behind a house in El Paso.
On 17 March, Poiré sought to return to the issue of the illegal arms flow from the US. In an interview broadcast by the MVS network, he said the US should do ‘much more’ to curb this traffic. He noted that over the last four years Mexican authorities had seized 100,000 weapons from criminal groups, whereas the latest data from Homeland Security put seizures by the US below 10,000.
One day later, Congressman Michael McCaul (R, TX), chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, investigations & management, announced a hearing to consider what he described as the ‘failed’ Fast & Furious operation. A day after that, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced ‘with great regret’ the acceptance of ambassador Pascual’s resignation.
Security & Strategic Review March 2011 (ISSN 1741-4202)
MEXICO-US | Alternative to Merida Initiative. In response to the Obama administration’s announcement of plans to extend indefinitely the Merida Initiative and its request for an additional US$282m for the 2012 budget, Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy (CIP), has come up with an alternative to current US anti-drugs policy.
She says, ‘The problem is, the drug war is not underfunded; it’s unwinnable. As long as a lucrative market exists, the cartels will find a way to serve it. Eliminating operatives, even high-level leaders, merely diversifies and redistributes the business. Cartels have years of experience building flexible structures, with new leaders or rival gangs replacing displaced or weakened ones.’
She takes issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of Plan Colombia as a model for Mexico, saying that the drug war didn’t work there either: ‘A full decade and US$7bn after Plan Colombia began, regional drug production remains stable and smaller paramilitary groups have replaced the large cartels as traffickers. Some violent crimes, such as kidnappings, have gone down but corruption has deepened with scores of Congressional representatives under investigation, prosecution or sentencing for ties to paramilitaries.’ Carlsen outlines ‘a few key elements of an alternative strategy’:
‘-Follow the money: Instead of shoot-outs in the streets, far more could be done in both countries to attack the financial structures of criminal organisations [...] It’s time to be serious about cracking down on illicit financial flows—even when it affects powerful interests.’
‘-Increase funding for drug abuse prevention and treatment. Approaching illegal drug use as a health issue is a win-win strategy. Education teaches young people the costs of addiction and abuse, and treatment and harm reduction programs can improve lives and reduce costs to society, as well as cutting demand for illicit substances.’
‘-End prohibition, beginning with marijuana. Without the billions of dollars in revenue that pot provides, drug cartels have fewer resources to recruit youth, buy arms and corrupt politicians.’
‘-Give communities a role besides “victim”. Social programmes in Mexico have been severely cut back [...] Strong communities — ones with jobs, ample educational opportunities and coverage of basic needs and services — are better able to resist the infiltration of organised crime.’
US | More Hispanics than expected. The number of Hispanics counted in the 2010 US Census has been larger than expected in most states for which the Census Bureau has released detailed population totals, according to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The Census Bureau has released 2010 Census counts of Hispanics in 33 states; they accounted for the majority (58%) of population growth over the decade in those states. Those states’ combined Census 2010 total of 38.7m Hispanics was higher by 590,000 people (or 1.5%) than the bureau’s own estimates for the same states. Census counts for Hispanics in the remaining states will be released by the end of March.
In 23 of the 33 states, census counts were higher than the latest census estimates of Hispanics by at least 2%. In three states, the count was at least 2% lower than the census estimate. In the remaining seven states, the difference was less than 2% in either direction. By comparison, the difference between census estimates and the 2010 Census count for the total population in these 33 states was well under 1% (0.2%).
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