Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mexico Still in the Dark About 'Fast and Furious'

Months after the controversial “Operation Fast and Furious” was brought to a halt, the fallout from the operation continues to represent a hurdle in Mexico-U.S. relations. On September 12, President Obama repeated himself yet again on the subject, assuring a group of Spanish-speaking journalists at the White House that he had no prior knowledge of the program, which allowed thousands of guns to “walk” illegally across the border.

What’s more, Mexican officials are still searching for information about the operation from their U.S. counterparts, but are finding few answers. As Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales told the L.A. Times, U.S. officials have not provided her office with a comprehensive report on “Fast and Furious”, and have yet to apologize. Like many Mexicans, Morales first heard of the failed operation through news accounts.  "At no time did we know or were we made aware that there might have been arms trafficking permitted," Morales said in a recent interview with the paper. "In no way would we have allowed it, because it is an attack on the safety of Mexicans."

In fact, evidence suggests that the U.S. Department of Justice actively worked to hide details of the program from Mexican officials. In March 2010, after several guns in the program had already been lost, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) held an "emergency briefing" to weigh whether or not to close the program. Instead, they opted to continue it, keeping the Mexican government uninformed.

While the ATF is currently facing a congressional investigation that has expanded to include White House staffers, the actual effect of the failed operation is relatively unknown. In the Times article, congressman Humberto Benitez Trevino cited “Mexican security authorities” as saying that the number of Mexicans killed by “Fast and Furious” guns was at around 150, but this has not been confirmed.

News Briefs

  • The AP reports on the death of Mexican Congressman Moises Villanueva, whose body was discovered in a river in the town of Huamuxtitlan on Saturday. Members of Villanueva’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are calling on the government to investigate Socorro Sofio Ramirez Hernandez, rural development secretary for Guerrero state, in the murder. According to El Universal, the federal Attorney General’s office has committed itself to investigating the murder, but there is no word on whether Ramirez will be a suspect in the case.
  • At a dinner held in his honor by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Mexican President used one of the most colorful metaphors yet to describe the drug trade’s impact on bilateral relations with the U.S: “We are next to the largest illegal drug market in the world...We are living in the same building, and our neighbor is the largest consumer of drugs in the world and everyone wants to sell him drugs through our door and our window.”
  • The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute Elections Guide has highlighted last week’s major 2012 election developments, including that embers of the National Action Party (PAN) have agreed to a debate in the near future.
  • A Guatemalan judge is currently weighing whether to try retired Gen. Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes for genocide, in connection with several of the massacres of the country’s 36-year civil war. Lopez was arrested in June on charges that he planned and ordered about 300 massacres when he served as chief of staff of the Guatemalan military between 1982 and 1983. The AP says the judge is expected to issue a decision tomorrow on whether the case will proceed to trial.
  • Last Friday a Honduran military and police patrol was ambushed in the Bajo Aguan region, sparking rumors of a nascent insurgency in the country. On Saturday the head of the country’s armed forces, General René Osorio, officially attributed the attack to guerrillas. As Honduras Culture and Politics point out however, the region is known as a hotspot for paramilitary activity, making it difficult to say with certainty that “guerrillas” were behind the incident.
  • The Miami Herald has published an uncharacteristically positive portrayal of a Venezuelan social program: Chavez’s “one laptop per child” program. Since the program began in 2009, more than 750,000 children have received basic laptops, known as Canaimas. By 2012 the country hopes to issue and plans to issue 3 million of the computers, which would put the country at the forefront of the international movement for computer literacy.
  • Speaking from the University of Havana, Cuba, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to “decertify” the United States’ counternarcotics efforts. While the move would be entirely symbolic, it is a clear jab at the U.S.’s 2008 decision to list Bolivia as a country that had “failed demonstrably” at reducing illicit coca supply.
  • An oddly public spat is brewing in the administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. After Vice President Angelino Garzon openly criticized a proposed shift in the way the country defines poverty -- which would place the poverty line at 190,000 Colombian pesos ($103) per month -- Santos publicly warned him not to criticize the government. El Espectador reports that Garzon struck back at the president yesterday, saying that he would continue to speak his mind as a way of exercising a basic human right.
  • Caracol Radio reports that former Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus has been cleared by the National Electoral Council (CNE) to run for mayor of Bogota, despite attempts by critics to paint him as having dual political affiliation. Mockus left the country’s Green Party earlier this summer after the party’s candidate in the Bogota race, Enrique Peñalosa, accepted an endorsement from ex-president Alvaro Uribe. Mockus is now running as a member of the Alianza Social Independiente.
  • The New York Times profiles the tremendous growth in oil production in the Americas in recent years, which has turned the Western Hemisphere into the “emerging prize of global energy.”