New law in Mexico that treats US agents like ‘spies’ could lead to ‘black operations’

  • A new law in Mexico adds restrictions to how foreign agents, like those of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, can operate while in Mexico.
  • The measure is an effort by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to asset control over law enforcement in Mexico, but critics, including former security officials, say it endangers both cooperation and lives.

MEXICO – Mexico’s government recently approved a new amendment to its National Security Law restricting “all foreign agent operations in Mexico” and removing their diplomatic immunity, potentially ending cooperation with the US.

The amendment requires all foreign agents on Mexican soil to share all information they gather with Mexican authorities and requires any Mexican public official to submit a written report of any phone call, text message, or other communications from a foreign agent.

The new bill promises to keep secret any information shared with Mexico, although it doesn’t offer any detail on how. It will also now allow agents to carry weapons in Mexico with a permit from the Ministry of Defense.

A high-level foreign intelligence official in Mexico, who asked his name not to be published, said this new law could end all cooperation with the US, leaving Mexico less equipped to go after drug traffickers.

“This would be like criminalizing US agents as spies in Mexico,” the official said, calling it “a simulation” that isn’t applicable under current law governing diplomatic relations.

“Mexico’s government cannot remove immunity to foreign agents under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” the official added.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador greets the Mexican delegation competing at the 2019 Pan American Games Lima, in Mexico City, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/File Photo
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City, July 15, 2019. Reuters

The bill is an unprecedented attempt by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to assert control over national security issues, and it has already raised alarm in the US.

“What this new law is doing is endangering all of the informants working in Mexico. You have to know that these informants are not only drug cartel people, but Mexican officials, diplomats, politicians … and with this law they will either keep in silence or get killed,” said former US Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor Hector Berrellez.

Berrellez, who led the investigation of the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, believes the recent measure will lead to “black operations.”

“I’m gonna tell you what’s gonna happen: US agents will start getting informants out of Mexico to spill the beans in the United States, where the Mexican government has no reach, and keep all the information for themselves,” he said.

Former special agent Gilbert Gonzalez, now director of the Texas Narcotics Officers Association, said the lives of agents currently working in Mexico are also at risk.

“With this new law all of the agents in Mexico are now vulnerable. If Mexican government strips diplomatic immunity from DEA agents, they [criminals] could kill an agent and it will be [like] killing any other person. It will remain unpunished,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who operated in Mexico for almost five years, said that as long as the Mexican government fails to end “its corruption problem,” there will be danger “for everyone in both countries.”

“When I was operating in Mexico, out of Guadalajara, we shared information with Mexican officials, but of course very carefully because we all know there is a lot of corruption and a single leak could lead to many deaths,” he said.

Marines pallbearer DEA Enrique Camarena casket
US Marine Corps pallbearers carry the casket of slain DEA agent Enrique Camarena after it arrived in San Diego, March 8, 1985. AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Since Camarena’s assassination, allegedly by notorious drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, the DEA has been more active in Mexico. The agency today has more than 50 active agents and a chief agent in charge in Mexico, with 10 offices in different cities.

With the future uncertain for the US-Mexico cooperation, the DEA is asking for three more agents to oversee operations in Mexico, as well as a King Air 350 aircraft, according to its budget request for 2021.

“In foreign environments, these aircraft are typically used for transporting cargo, DEA personnel and evidence, as well as for surveillance activities,” states the request, which was submitted to Congress.

The decision to amend the National Security Law comes after the controversial arrest and later release of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos.

Cienfuegos was arrested in October by the DEA while traveling in the US. He was accused of using his high-ranking position to provide protection to the violent H-2 drug cartel. Weeks later, after much pressure from the Mexican government, the US released Cienfuegos, sending him back to Mexico, where he was set free without facing charges.

Following the arrest, Obrador criticized the work of the DEA in Mexico and asked US authorities to share all information about alleged links between Cienfuegos and drug traffickers.

“Why is it that it’s just the people in Mexico who took part in these acts being accused or implicated, and [DEA] aren’t criticizing themselves, reflecting on the meddling by all these agencies in Mexico?” he said during a November press conference.

Mexico's Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos attends an event at a military zone in Mexico City, Mexico September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, then Mexico’s defense minister, at an event in Mexico City. Thomson Reuters

In an unusual public letter released days before his resignation, former US Attorney General William Barr said the new legislation will make “Mexico and the United States less safe.”

“The passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting,” Barr added.

Earl Anthony Wayne, US ambassador to Mexico during the Obama administration, said this will directly affect cooperation between both countries, but Mexico will pay the biggest toll.

“I think this will be only helping criminals in Mexico, since people will stop sharing information. Both countries need to find a way to work together against criminals, otherwise there is no way to win this one,” Wayne said.

Wayne admitted that during his time as ambassador he alerted both countries of officers, politicians, and military members working with drug cartels, including Cienfuegos.

“There were rumors of politicians being corrupted, of police being corrupted, of members of the armed services being corrupted. And when we heard those rumors, we of course would work with our trusted partners to try to see if there was any truth to them,” Wayne said in a recent interview.

“The two countries are very tied together. Criminals are sending drugs from Mexico into the US, while the US is sending money back to Mexico, so whatever a country decides to do in terms of cooperation, they both need to figure it out together,” Wayne said.

Source: Business Insider

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