Mexican politicians, analysts and the general public are irate after learning this week that Operation Fast and Furious, the US federal program that allowed more than 2,000 military-style weapons to flow illegally into Mexico between 2009 and 2010, happens to be copycat of a previous undercover and similarly illicit sting called Wide Receiver, an operation ran between 2006 and 2007.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels on December 2006, same year of the launching of Operation Wide Receiver, which officially -and conservatively speaking- allowed some 500 fire-arms to "walk" across the border and get to the hands of organized crime.
The Mexican Senate demanded President Felipe Calderon to protest before the United States government and complained about both the Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver operations, Thursday. The president of the Senate's public safety committee, Felipe Gonzalez, said that he will protest against US federal agents running secret operations in Mexican soil.
An editorial in the daily "La Jornada" regarding the two gunrunning programs, questioned whether the US is an "ally or enemy" of Mexico (link in Spanish).
"While the Bush administration negotiated and signed the Merida Initiative -agreement of bilateral assistance through which Washington made a commitment to guide, counsel and equip Mexican authorities- the artillery's capabilities of delinquent organizations south of the Rio Bravo were being fed from an office in Washington," wrote the left-leaning newspaper.
The Calderon administration has firmly protested against the cited stings and has consistently affirmed that 80 percent of the weapons seized to Mexican criminal groups have been traced back to the US. Furthermore, Mexico's attorney general Marisela Morales called Operation Fast and Furious "an attack on Mexicans' security."
Morales told the Mexican press over a week ago -at that time, unaware of the additional US gunrunning probe- she had demanded a full explanation from the United States government, and also confirmed that at least 200 murders have occurred in Mexico as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.
Back in the US, while House Republicans are calling for a special counsel to find out if Attorney General Eric Holder perjured himself during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on the controversial program, President Barack Obama voiced "complete confidence" in him.
"He [Holder] has been very aggressive in going after gunrunning and cash transactions that have been going to these transnational drug cartels," Obama said during a White House press conference, Thursday.
Still, the House legislators insist in finding out what Holder knew and when he learned about it. In the month of May, Holder testified under oath: "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."
Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, called on Holder to resign after "Fast and Furious" documents were released showing he had been timely informed, through at least five memos beginning July 2010.
"I was careful to not jump to any conclusions about the extent of Mr. Holder's involvement. However, the recently published documents that directly link Mr. Holder to Fast and Furious have convinced me that he is either lying or grossly incompetent," Labrador said in a release.
Fast and Furious, run by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF,) between 2009 and 2010, allowed the illegal purchase of more than 2,000 weapons -including .50-caliber sniper rifles- many of which were smuggled to Mexico with the alleged intention to track them down and locate Mexican drug lords. The intended strategy on tracing the devices was never executed. Some later were traced to murders of police and civilians in Mexico and in the US, in two separate crime scenes in March, and December 2010. In this last incident, two Operation Fast and Furious weapons were found at the site where US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed, south of Tucson. No more details about Wide Receiver -also ran by ATF- have been released as yet.
Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry, currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a town hall in New Hampshire that he would consider deploying American troops to Mexico to help fight the cartels. "It is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing," he explained.
Perry's suggestion came under fire immediately. "US boots on the ground in Mexico is not in the books," said Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States.
Generally speaking, the Mexican population perceives the US high demand for illicit drugs, and the illegal traffic of weapons, as the main reasons for the bloodshed and increasing brutality south of the border.
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