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A”fast and furious” deterioration in U.S.-Mexican relations

11 March 2011

The “Fast and Furious” scandal (the U.S. “undercover” operation that was to track U.S. weapon smuggling in Mexico and backfired when the weapons were used against U.S. agents) SO FAR has not ignited the anti-gringoism it probably will, feeding as it does into the sense that the U.S. simply runs rough-shod over Mexican sensibilities and laws when it is so inclined, that it fosters violence in Mexico and that it tends to treat the country not as a neighbor, but as a dependent state.

Nacha Cattan, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, quotes Chamber of Deputies President Jorge Ramírez Marín as asking “What will happen if next time they’ll need to funnel in trained assassins, for example, or nuclear arms?”  Coupled with growing concerns over U.S. agents working in Mexico and the always present sense that the “war on organized crime” is less about “organized crime” than about propping up the Calderón Administration and U.S. industries (see the Mex Files over the last couple of years), While Ramírez’ statement was rather mild, compared to what is showing up in leftist, Bolivarian, and nationalist media, the establishment is weighing in, and none of what is being said seems to suggest any support for the United States— or the Calderón Administration — in all this.

Javier Oliva, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, wonders whether Mexico even knew about the operation. “The fact that the Mexican government is requesting information demonstrates that there isn’t much collaboration with the United States,” he says.

Human Rights Commissioner Raúl Plascencia wants an international investigation, questioning whether “Fast and Furious” was colabororation or interventionism “meant to destabilize the country”.

PAN Senator Gustavo González is not defending the Administration, demanding explanations from the National Security Cabinet, complaining “We do not know about North American operations, and need to coordinate activities on our most important border.”  Both the Chamber and the Senate are demanding answers from Cabinet secretaries ranging from Foreign Secretary Espinoza to the head of the tax division (SAT) of the Mexican Treasury .  Ominously, the Senate is suggesting (or rather demanding) an appearance by Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan, which amounts to the rather extreme (by diplomatic standards) of “recalling the Ambassador for consultation”.  And, of course, everyone is demanding an explanation from the United States government.

I would not be surprised to see the Carlos Pascual, already in disfavor with the Mexican administration, asked to leave. Asked, but it might be difficult.  The Obama Administration is refusing to recall the Ambassador.  The reasons, as Jorge Zepeda Patterson describes them , damage Felipe Calderón more than anyone else:

The Ambassador has more on the state of our security apparatus and on organized crime which has most Mexicans. And if you ask me, he has more information than that he shares with Genaro Garcia Luna and Felipe Calderón. It would be naive to believe that satellite intelligence and cybernetics that allow the detention of 400 drug dealers in the U.S. in a few hours and without bloodshed, is not being used in this country.  Pascual knows what he’s talking when he reports that the official portraits of the Mexican  Army are not to be trusted: based on the numerous occasions in which the DEA has provided information on drug lords who have simply escaped unmolested. Could this be another reason why the Navy has been operating inland, without notifying the Army?

Washington cannot fire Pascual not just because it would give credence to Calderón’s absurd comments, but for a deeper reason:  the U.S. bureaucracy fully shares the view conveyed by the ambassador. They cannot be put off by the truth in his reports.  So much so, that when the United States implemented “Fast and Furious”, 15 months ago to trace guns going to Mexican cartels, our authorities were not alerted, even though it allowed over 2,500 illegal firearms into our cournty.  That is real distrust.

Finally, Mrs. Pascual is the daughter of Francisco Rojas, the PRI coordinator in the Chamber of Deputies.  Calderón’s furious reaction against Pascual is a stage act.  On the one hand, the President is trying to come to the defense of the Army, trying to improve their reputation within the military establishment.. It is known they are annoyed and increasingly uncomfortable with the role they play in this “war” and the secondary role played by  annoyance of their growing uncomfortable with the role that they have to play in this “war” and the subordinate role they play under Secretary of Public Security, García Luna.

On the other hand, this is all stagecraft because, in my opinion, Calderón believe that his defensiveness and outrage at foreign criticism will benefit him politically and improve his public standing.  There is more than some political calculation in the feigned indignation, but making a public demand for the Ambassador’s goes against all the rules of statecraft, and — if it is done — it should be done in private.

And, while Zepeda may be right that Calderón’s rage is more against being made to look like a patsy than in being a patsy, within the Administration itself, there is genuine anger at the United States.  With Mexican federal officials denying any knowledge of the U.S. operation (Jornada quotes unnamed members of Mexico’s National Security Cabinet of complaining that the U.S. operation violates a 1995 agreement on cooperation in anti-smuggling — specifically arms smuggling.

All of which may be further complicated by claims by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Mexican officials knew of the operation, which the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (PGR) immediately denied.

But there are Mexican and U.S. beneficiaries in all this:

Even before the scandal broke, when the concern was over the death of a U.S. agent, and there was a proposal to allow U.S. agents to carry firearms within Mexico, Andres Manuel López Obrador was quoted in Regeneracíon as saying “‘We are neither a protectorate or a colony’ and there is no place for armed foreign agents in the country. ”  While AMLO is rather cautious in his words these days (he is headed to Washington soon, to convince Republicans that he isn’t a fire-breathng, baby-eating Commie) this may be another blow to the Calderón Administration, as the U.S. Republicans, always avid for a failure to blame on the Obama Administration, are likely to use the fall-out from “Fast and Furious”, coupled with nationalistic fervor whipped up by Agent Zapata’s death to take a back-handed shot at Obama, but attacking his luke-warm relationship with Calderón.

AMLO would like to lessen Mexican economic and social ties to the United States (something I think is actually a good idea) and the U.S. Republicans would dearly love to embroil the Obama Administration in a foreign policy scandal… especially one where it can paint him as “soft” on “terrorism”. AMLO, being the master of making common cause with incongruent allies (see George Grayson’s “Mexican Messiah” on this one),  could very well see an advantage in allowing the Republicans to get what they think they want while actually working to further his, and his party’s own interests, and improve the standing of the left ahead of the 2012 elections.

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