Latin America

“Fast and Furious”: a failed operation

Relations between Mexico and the USA remain tense. The cause: the revelation of an undercover firearms traffic operation that ran out of control, which went by the evocative title of the film by the same name.

Nubia Piqueras Grosso

In the 2001 film, a mysterious gang of criminals makes a living by stealing vehicles, including sports cars, at full speed, and the police decide to plant a mole into the world of illegal racing in order to uncover potential suspects. Letting themselves be carried away by the plotline of the cinematographic fiction, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed the provision of arms to Mexican drug traffickers with the aim of tracing the gangsters, but they lost track of at least two thousand of the weapons. The operation, carried out between 2009 and 2010, facilitated the legal purchase and illegal shipping to Mexico of AK-47 assault rifles (the lethal “goat’s horn”), Barrett 50 calibre and a weapon known as the “police-killer”.

The real plot-line came to a climax when, paradoxically, the American government discovered and reported that the weapon used in San Luis Potosí to assassinate their Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata was one that they had brought into the country and failed to trace.

Days later, guilt forced an ATF agent, John Dodson, to admit in front of cameras that his institution had received orders not to hinder the passage of contraband weapons over the border, and confirmed that every subsequent operation coincided with violence on Mexican territory. This undercover job was carried out behind the back of the Mexican Federal Government, declared their Attorney General (PGR), who recently denied knowledge of the actions and confirmed that they would have never authorised this type of plan.

“Fast, Furious and Secret”, satirised the Milenio newspaper, referring to the violation of national sovereignty which led politicians of every ideological position to condemn the neighbouring nation’s interference, which must be explained by their authorities. Meanwhile, politicians demand more action from the Federal Government in speeches and challenges. These demands range from calls for respect for sovereignty to accusations of “appeasement”, all with a common factor: to offer explanations on the subject.

Politicians, analysts and press commentators agree that the problematic situation will affect diplomatic relations between the two countries, despite the negative publicity for the authorities implicated in the scandal, since the unease is expressed through accusations and denials on both sides regarding awareness of the operation.

This is added to by the comments of President Felipe Calderón to the Washington Post concerning the damage caused by the US ambassador Carlos Pascual with his questioning of institutions such as the army, according to secret cables revealed by Wikileaks. Some media in Mexico suggested that “revenge” was dealt when the embassy announced that Mexico was indeed aware of the “Fast and Furious” operation, thus supporting the statements of the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, to his country’s Senate.

This generated a public denial from the PGR which forced Serrano to change his tone and, in an attempt at conciliation, clarified that “there is no contradiction between the statement of the Mexican government and the information provided by the United States concerning the Fast and Furious operation”.

The mission report stressed that thanks to the operation, a major band of twenty arms traffickers in the US was dismantled, and added that the “alleged transfer of arms to Mexican territory at this point is exactly that — an allegation, which is being investigated”. However, a new CBS report indicates that these tactics have been used by the ATF on more than one occasion, evidenced by at least one other case in Tucson in 2008 which is known as “Wide Receiver”.

(Translated by Sophie Roper)

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