This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Spies, sovereignty, and drug trafficking

Media coverage of the Merida Initiative (Plan Mexico) continues as strong as ever. The IHT completed an interesting piece on the money laundering component, suggesting that Mexican organized crime launders up to USD 10 billion in US banks every year. The Washington Post did a piece on gun smuggling, which was not well received in some circles. I also did a piece on the same topic, here.

Most cannot deny that as many as 2,000 guns were smuggled from the US to Mexico a day during the six-year administration of former Mexican president Vicente Fox, but many will disagree over how the US plays a role in this very important aspect of the US-Mexico drug trade. Adam Isacson has completed an interesting comparison of the proposed Mexico aid package with Plan Colombia. The Mexican package, by many accounts, is a great start but could use more money and less focus on the military solution.

One thing is for sure. The front-line of what Washington calls the “War on Drugs” has moved from Colombia to the US-Mexico border. The enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas, paid a man in Laredo, Texas some USD 15,000 to kill an American citizen in 2006, for example. Members of Los Zetas are rumored to have taken control of the I-35 interstate corridor, maintaining a presence of many three-man cells that carry out orders from car theft to distribution and, at times, assassination.

Their presence in Texas and other US states was, in part, what prompted the Bush administration to meet with Mexican president Felipe Calderon in Merida, Mexico last year to discuss a bilateral policy to combat drug trafficking – hence the “Merida Initiative”.

Meanwhile, both the United States and Colombia have for some time now operated spies on Mexican soil both with and without the permission of the Mexican Justice department.

One FBI agent, Samuel Martinez, managed to infiltrate Mexican organized criminal rings and remain there for years. He worked this beat for 26 years in total. The DEA has also placed undercover agents, and as one anonymous DEA official told a Mexican daily, sometimes they can’t tell the Mexican government everything because the agent must react to the situation at hand, which sometimes means entering Mexico unannounced. His priority is to maintain his cover, not respect Mexican sovereignty – an understandable position I think.

When Colombian Attorney General, Marioo Iguarán, told CNN en Español that Colombian spies have entered Mexico as undercover agents without alerting Mexican officials, it prompted a strong denial from the Mexican Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs. To be clear, in most cases, Mexican officials are alerted. But sometimes they cannot be.

Iguaran pointed out a very relevant fact: drug trafficking organizations are now more international than ever. Years ago, there were clear lines between the Colombians, Mexicans, and those in between in the Caribbean or Central America. But as the drug trade has been democratized to a level where many smaller organizations work with a number of specialists from smugglers and money launderers to distributors, producers and chemical importers, the international nature of the drug trade has placed a very real strain on sovereignty. Moving forward with any transnational plan to combat drug trafficking organizations must take into account that at times sovereignty must be ignored, otherwise the traffickers have already won.

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