Frederick J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images
A senior DEA official told NPR that efforts to target drug cartels operating inside Mexico had collapsed due to a breakdown in cooperation between law enforcement agencies and militaries in the two countries.
“We are ready to participate [intelligence] “With our counterparts in Mexico, they are themselves too afraid to even communicate with us due to repercussions from their government if they are caught working with the DEA,” said Matthew Donahue, Vice President of Operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The collapse of joint drug prevention efforts occurred at a time when cartels were manufacturing massive quantities of fentanyl and methamphetamine in illegal laboratories in Mexico.
US officials say this illegal drug is being smuggled into communities across the United States, leading to an explosion of overdose deaths that killed more than 90,000 Americans last year.
In an exclusive interview with NPR, Donahue described the situation as a national security crisis.
“It is a national threat to health, it is a threat to national safety,” he said, adding that drug cartels and criminal organizations now operate inside Mexico with impunity. “They are not afraid of any kind of law enforcement … or the military inside Mexico at the moment.”
The crisis began last October when US agents in California have done something unprecedented: Arrest of retired general and former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda.
The The United States accused Cienfuegos From working for one of the most dangerous cartels in Mexico, H2, which is part of the human trafficking organization Beltran Leva. Under pressure from Mexico, Then-attorney general William Barr backed down, dropped all charges and released CienfuegosBut experts say the diplomatic damage is done.
“Operations are essentially largely paralyzed,” said Ernest Falco, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, based in Mexico City. “So what the United States built in terms of good relations with parts of the Mexican state is largely gone.”
There was already a high level of suspicion between the two countries before Cienfuegos was arrested. But the United States was able to target drug cartels inside Mexico with the help of a few agencies within the Mexican military and police.
“They have arrested many, many heads of drug smuggling operations and middle-level men, who cooperate with special units in the police, special units in the Marine Corps and parts of [Mexican] Stephen Dudley, a drug control expert at a research center called InSight Crime, said the Attorney General’s Office.
Now according to experts in the United States, these fragile links have been severed.
In response to the arrest of Cienfuegos, Mexican lawmakers approved a measure severely restricting US drug operations inside Mexico.
The law also required Mexican officials to begin sharing any intelligence the United States provides about cartels with other agencies, including agencies the United States does not trust. As a result, the joint investigations stalled.
The Mexican government has refused NPR’s requests for interviews for this story, and has not responded to questions submitted to multiple agencies within the Mexican government.
The diplomatic row comes at a time when the Biden administration is also dealing with an escalation in the number of immigrants at the US-Mexico border.
During a conference call with reporters last month, Regina LaBelle, Acting Head of the White House Office of National Drug Policy, told NPR that Drug prevention efforts will soon be on the agenda for talks with Mexico.
“I can say now that there is collaboration going on [between the two countries] But this will definitely be the subject of ongoing negotiations in the near future. “
But Cecilia Varvan Mendes is an expert in organized crime and US-Mexico security cooperation at the University of California, CaliforniaAnd the San Diego told NPR that restoring trust and cooperation will not be easy. She noted that Mexican officials are focusing on domestic politics with the approaching midterm elections next month.
“I expect that there will not be much interest in what the United States is willing to do and how to strengthen this cooperation,” she told NPR.
Meanwhile, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has expressed doubts about the old drug war paradigm targeting cartel leaders.
While this strategy has resulted in the arrest of high-profile smugglers and made headlines, critics in the United States and Mexico say it has not significantly slowed the flow of drugs into the United States.