Monday, August 13, 2007
Can US-Mexico Drug War Partnerships
By Barnard R. Thompson
Three drug and security related news stories
made headlines last week in the United States and Mexico. The Washington Post
front-page read “U.S. Anti-Drug Aid Would Target Mexican Cartels,” whereas the title on a piece in the Washington
Times stated “Terrorists teaming with drug cartels.”
And in decrying the state of Mexico’s
lead but currently maladaptive intelligence agency, the National
Security and Investigation Center (Cisen), the Mexico City daily La Crónica de Hoy (August 6) headline said, “Legislators
propose modernizing Cisen.”
The Washington Times (August 8)
article, by Sara Carter, begins: “Islamic extremists embedded in the United States — posing as Hispanic nationals
[sic] — are partnering with violent Mexican drug gangs to finance terror networks in the Middle East, according to a
Drug Enforcement Administration report.” Quoting the 2005 DEA report, the
piece adds, “‘Since drug traffickers and terrorists operate in a clandestine environment, both groups utilize
similar methodologies to function ... all lend themselves to facilitation and are among the essential elements that may contribute
to the successful conclusion of a catastrophic event by terrorists,’ said the confidential report, a copy of which was
obtained by The Washington Times.”
“The 2005 report outlines an ongoing
scheme in which multiple Middle Eastern drug-trafficking and terrorist cells operating in the U.S. fund terror networks overseas,
aided by established Mexican cartels with highly sophisticated trafficking routes,” Ms. Carter wrote.
The wider circulated news story in the
Washington Post (August 8) brought about quick reactions in Mexico. This
article quoted U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), and it describes discreet U.S.-Mexico negotiations for a pending
counter drug aid package that will be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cuellar anticipates.
“The Bush administration is close
to sealing a major, multiyear aid deal to combat drug cartels in Mexico that would be the biggest U.S. anti-narcotics effort
abroad since a seven-year, $5 billion program in Colombia, according to U.S. lawmakers, congressional aides and Mexican authorities,”
the Washington Post said.
Care is being taken not to dub this new
anti-drug program as a “Plan Mexico,” even though it resembles “Plan Colombia,” largely due to Mexican
sensitivities. Plan Colombia is the U.S. counternarcotics program for Colombia
that has cost more than US$5 billion since 2000.
The U.S.-Mexico partnership will include
training and technological support. And while details are still sketchy, news
reports are that the equipment will include radar and other surveillance equipment; communications tapping paraphernalia;
and aircraft to transport Mexican anti-drug forces.
Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, Mexico’s
Attorney General, confirmed on August 9 that negotiations are taking place for the anti-drug trafficking equipment and training
agreement. Medina said, during a radio interview, that the negotiations are being
led by Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Relations, and he suggested that an accord could be announced on August 20 or
21 when Presidents Felipe Calderón and George W. Bush meet in Canada with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Medina also said that the program will
ultimately be “more important than Plan Colombia — but from the perspective it is something that is going to occur
in our country.” He further emphasized that the expected pact is not really
comparable to the U.S.-Colombia accord, since “under no circumstance will [there be] outside meddling in responsibilities
that the Mexican state cannot delegate [to non-Mexicans].”
In other words, in Mexico it will be Mexicans
who run the show and perform the non-teaching tasks.
But to work this will require reliable
intelligence gathering, counterintelligence and analyses, and many question if the present-day Cisen, Mexico’s intelligence and security agency, is up to the mark?
They point to examples like the March 2007 seizure of
US$207 million in supposed illegal drug money at the Mexico City mansion of Chinese-born Zhenli Ye Gon. The cash was seized when a warrant — obtained by Mexican officials with intelligence gathering assistance
from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (apparently unbeknownst to Cisen) — was served in connection with the making
and trafficking of illegal methamphetamines.
Zhenli, who is being held in the United States on related
charges, denies any wrongdoing and some question the validity of the evidence against him.
Zhenli also claims that Mexican officials, members of the National Action Party, coerced him into hiding the money
that was from the 2006 PAN presidential campaign war chest.
More recently there were the July bomb attacks by insurgents
on pipelines in central Mexico, which not only caused physical and economic damages but too they harmed the image of Mexico
nationally and abroad. Attacks that apparently caught the Cisen off guard and
by complete surprise.
Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent nearly 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence;
country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.