Sep 2, 2011

Paramilitaries in Mexico fight drug cartels

Copyright(C)2011 by WLM
Reprinted with permission by Milan Magazine (Italia)

Interview with Diana Washington Valdez, journalist, author and political science teacher.

Milan: Can you tell us about the reports that the CIA or U.S. military are involved in the drug cartel wars in Mexico? What role does either of them play?
Washington Valdez: The U.S. military lends a support role with the permission of the Mexican government. The Merida Initiative provides training and equipment for personnel in Mexico, and our military, directly or through advisors, assists the Mexican forces in developing strategies for use against the drug cartels. The CIA has had a presence in Mexico for decades, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. What changes from time to time is its mission there. The CIA has extensive experience in all kinds of warfare and psychological operations, and its mission in Afghanistan is a prime example of how small specialized units led by CIA can execute effective missions.
Milan: You pointed out that in your 2005 book on the Juarez women's femicides "Cosecha de Mujeres" (The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women; 2006), you wrote that Mexican special forces soldiers were deployed to infiltrate and battle the drug cartels. You also noted that a special team led by former U.S. Special Forces was involved in paramilitary operations against the Arellano Felix (Tijuana) drug cartel, and that in fact that this team was responsible for dismantling the Tijuana cartel.
Washington Valdez: The team leader "Terry Sheron" led "Operation Kickback" in paramilitary fashion. The team collected enormous data about the Tijuana cartel operations and its operatives, and provided the intelligence to U.S. and Mexican authorities. The team lost several men, and the cartel leaders were aware of this operation and tried to exterminate the team. Sheron would not say who hired the team, but back then Sheron was also aware of the corruption linked to the Juarez drug cartel. This was before the current drug cartel wars. He and others knew that the corruption reached the highest levels of the Mexican government. His team's work is proof that a small, specialized team that is incorruptible can accomplish more than a large contingent of soldiers without critical information and the proper technology and leadership. Some day the full story of this team will come out so that the team can receive proper credit. I asked Sheron if he was interested in working to bring down the Juarez cartel. He said then that it was not up to him.
Milan: What about the U.S. military's role now?
Washington Valdez: I don't have a lot of details except what sources along the U.S.-Mexico border have said. One of them, Robert Plumlee, a documented former CIA operative, has accompanied U.S. soldiers along the border at New Mexico-Mexico that worked with Mexican soldiers, providing intelligence on cartel activities, to information about arms-smuggling. Others have reported that U.S. helicopters (painted over) fly out of facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas, and into Mexico, probably carrying equipment and advisors.
Milan: What about the politics?
Washington Valdez: There are political sensitivies involved, but the U.S. community seems to have no problem with military units operating in Afghanistan, and there would probably be more support in Mexico for this kind of collaboration if the Mexican and U.S. governments were more open about it. The Mexican army does not have real-world experience in combat, even for its own national defense. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox turned down a request from former U.S. President George W. Bush to participate in the war in Iraq, which would have provided some Mexican army officers and NCO's valuable experience that they in turn could be using now to battle the cartels. El Salvador sent some of its soldiers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is apart from the politics of whether the U.S. government should have entered that war at all. From a practical standpoint, it is in the interest of the U.S. government, probably under the auspices of the U.S. Northern Command, for the Mexican army to have such experience and to be properly equipped, and to be ready at all times for any contingency involving its homeland security and the security of the North American continent. The U.S. government needs that kind of partner in Canada and Mexico. What you have now is at least one drug cartel that is highly militarized and seems to have no trouble obtaining weapons and that is spreading its influence and brutal violence throughtout Mexico. It has operatives in the United States and a presence in other countries. What remains a mystery, at least to some of us, is who or what is behind this cartel. Is it a glorified gang or is it someone's private army? Are corrupt government officials behind it? Another country? The CIA probably knows or should know.
Milan: Do you agree with these tactics or strategies against the drug cartels?
Washington Valdez: I cannot venture an opinion on how Mexico and the U.S. government should approach the problem. What I can say is that both had allowed the issue to grow to such an extent that it is not easy now to end it or bring it down to a manageable level without inflicting pain on the Mexican society. In a sense, it's too late to turn back.
Milan: Is it true that you were in the U.S. military?
Washington Valdez: Yes, I served my country honorably in the Army and National Guard for 21 years.
Milan: This has been an eye-opening interview. I hope we can stay in touch whenever new developments occur. Good luck on your next book.
Washington Valdez: Thank you.
(Copyright (C) 2011 by WLM)