Although Mexico-bashing has been a favorite sport of the right for years, this terrible conversion of Mexico, from an ally to a "failed state" and narco-haven in the media and policy circles, began in earnest under the Bush administration and has only intensified since then. The Merida Initiative and the militarization of Mexico are the direct outgrowth of the national security framework imposed on bilateral relations.
There is a misconception that the Merida Initiative, named after a meeting between Presidents Calderon and Bush in the city of Merida, originated when Calderon requested assistance in the drug war from the U.S. government. The U.S. government, this story goes, agreed to comply. When the U.S. government cited its share of responsibility in the transnational drug trade as the world's largest market, pundits heralded the admission as unprecedented and a new step in binational cooperation.
This is largely myth. In fact, Plan Mexico—as it was first called—has its roots in the Security and Prosperity Partnership that grew out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the regional trade agreement was expanded into a security agreement, the Bush administration sought a means to extend its national security doctrine to its regional trade partners. This meant that both Canada and Mexico were to assume counter-terrorism activities (despite the absence of international terrorism threats in those nations), border security (in Mexico's case, to control Central American migrants), and protection of strategic resources and investments. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon called it "arming NAFTA."
The Bush announcement of the three-year Merida Initiative in October of 2007 extended U.S. military intervention in Mexico from this base. The plan is dubbed a "counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and border security initiative" although it's the war on drugs that has received the most attention. Although U.S. troops cannot operate by law in Mexican territory, the plan significantly increases the presence of U.S. agents and intelligence services, now estimated at 1,400, and of U.S. private security companies throughout Mexico.
UPDATE 11:25 p.m. 2/15/11
New information has just come in concerning the background and alleged mission of the two ICE agents who were shot in Mexico earlier today.
Additional law enforcement sources have weighed in on the story and contend that the two ICE agents were on what one described as an under-the-radar mission that involved transporting a box containing an unknown payload, though it is suspected that the box contained weapons. The two agents were expecting to meet up with another group of agents to exchange the box, the law enforcers contend.
“So they were either tailed or there’s a mole somewhere who tipped them [the Zetas] off to the operation,” a law enforcement source told Narco News.
That same source described the box transfer operation as being very unusual and possibly part of some kind of “black op” — meaning it might have dovetailed with an intelligence operation.
The new information also contradicts the original information reported by Narco News in some areas. The law enforcement sources contend that is because a cover story had to be created and it is now starting to intersect with the real story.
For example, the information now coming in, which is from several law enforcement sources, indicates the agents were not involved in any type of training operations, but rather that was a cover for their trip. In addition, in the latest version of events, the agents who were shot were driving north from Mexico City heading toward Monterrey when they were ambushed by the Zetas. (A law enforcement source told Narco News originally that the two agents were heading south from Monterrey toward Mexico City.)
Also, both agents were, in fact, permanently assigned to the ICE attaché office in Mexico City and not on temporary assignment, as originally reported.
One of the agents did work in El Paso for a time in the mid-2000s, but the other agent grew up in Brownsville and launched his ICE career in Laredo, the sources contend. Neither of the agents was from San Antonio, as originally reported, according to the new information coming into Narco News.
The driver of the SUV, the sources add, survived the attack and was initially medevaced to a hospital in Mexico City but has since been transferred to an unknown hospital in the Houston area, the sources say. The passenger, however, died of gunshot wounds to the chest “and other unknown areas,” the law enforcement sources say.
“The two [agents] were going to Monterrey from Mexico City to transfer a box to agents in Monterrey [who were to meet them halfway on the trip]. It is unknown what was in that box, but it’s possible it was guns,” a law enforcement source says.
The details of the ambush are essentially the same as originally reported. However, the new information coming into Narco News includes a few more details, such as the fact that the windows on the SUV were bullet proof.
“When the agent on the passenger side rolled down his window, the unknown male [the alleged Zeta] pulled a gun and started firing through the crack in the window, hitting the passenger in the chest, and other areas, while the driver was hit in the arm and leg,” a law enforcement source says. “The driver took off immediately [somehow getting around the roadblock]. It’s really a miracle they weren’t chased down and killed then and there.”
As further updates come in, the story will be advanced, and corrected where necessary. Bear with the twists and turns in the story, kind readers. You are getting a street-level view of the scene, which is always a bit foggy as agents on the ground continue to investigate the crime, working through the conflicting information to get at the truth.