MEXICO: News of another U.S. gun-tracking program stirs criticism
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexican politicians and pundits reacted with anger to revelations this week that U.S. agents allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico under a secret weapons-tracking program that preceded the current focus of controversy, called Operation Fast and Furious.
Commentators from across the political spectrum expressed criticism after The Times revealed this week that a Fast and Furious-style gun program under President George W. Bush allowed guns to "walk" across the border into Mexico during 2006 and 2007.
Both undercover programs were intended to track guns bought in the United States until they reached top cartel suspects, but instead many weapons were lost.
The leading left-leaning newspaper La Jornada went so far as to ask in an editorial Wednesday whether the U.S. is an "ally or enemy," and a columnist in a right-leaning paper accused the Americans of violating Mexico's sovereignty (link in Spanish).
The Times reported from Washington on Monday that the Bush administration managed a program similar to Fast and Furious in 2006-07. Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.
In that program, dubbed Wide Receiver, weapons were allowed into Mexico, just as later occurred in Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 and 2010, The Times reported. About 2,000 weapons were "walked" in Mexico and later showed up at scores of crime scenes, Mexican officials have said.
The controversy surrounding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has largely turned into a political struggle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, but in Mexico it has played out amid declarations that U.S. policies and drug consumption are worsening the country's bloody drug war.
"In sum, the gringo government has been sending weapons to Mexico in a premeditated and systematic manner, knowing that their destinations were Mexican criminal organizations," wrote columnist Manuel J. Jauregui in the daily Reforma newspaper.
La Jornada's editorial page argued with exasperation that news of the earlier operation was cause enough to call for the immediate suspension of the so-called Merida Initiative, the U.S. aid package that provides $1.4 billion to help Mexico counter drug cartels.
The Wide Receiver operation is also spurring reaction in Mexico's Congress. In a meeting of the Senate's public safety committee, where the topic of a response arose this week, one senator said (link in Spanish): "We can no longer tolerate what is occurring. There must be condemnation from the state."
Drug-related violence began to take off in 2007 after the launch of Calderon's military-led campaign against drug cartels.
Since then, at least 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war, and thousands more have disappeared.
In an interview with Times correspondents, Mexican Atty. Gen. Marisela Morales has previously said that her office was kept in the dark about Fast and Furious and that allowing weapons into Mexico would constitute "an attack on the safety of Mexicans."
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Weapons recovered from suspects accused of trafficking illegal firearms to Mexican drug cartels, Sept. 28, 2011. Credit: Joshua Lott / Reuters