of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
and Attorney General Merrick Garland will visit Mexico later this week
for what the White House bills as the first US-Mexico High-Level
Security Dialogue, an indication of the priority the Biden
administration is placing on restoring security cooperation, after
months of behind-the-scenes wrangling.
Over the summer Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico
and said she strongly believes the US and Mexico are "embarking on a
new era," which makes clear the interdependence and interconnectedness
between the countries. The vice president's visit didn't produce the
anticipated thaw in relations.
tensions at least partially are blamed on a years-long DEA operation
that led to the arrest last October of Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda,
Mexico's secretary of national defense from 2012 to 2018, while he was
on vacation with his family in Los Angeles.
Mexican government's anger at how the arrest was handled, with no
notice to Mexican authorities, exposed a long undercurrent of resentment
over how the US approached the relationship. In Mexico, there's
widespread irritation that the US largely focuses the security
collaboration on migration and drugs going north and not on the endemic
violence Mexican citizens suffer because of the flow of illegal guns
from the US.
retaliated by largely suspending DEA operations in the country and US
officials say Mexican authorities threatened to pull back from migration
agreements that the Trump administration viewed as key to stemming
General William Barr quickly called Mexican authorities to say that he
himself was surprised at the Cienfuegos arrest and promised to return
the general to Mexico, according to people briefed on the discussions. A
month later, the Justice Department dropped charges against Cienfuegos
and sent him home. Some Trump administration officials worried that
Mexican authorities would allow a flood of migrants amid the US
presidential election campaign. Inside the Justice Department, top
officials viewed the Cienfuegos case as not worth the disruption to ties
with Mexico. Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard later said he
spoke to Barr following Cienfuegos' arrest and expressed Mexico's
have an alliance against organized crime and it was not, for us, the
government of Mexico, understandable that being allies we would not be
notified," Erbard told reporters.
But despite the return of Cienfuegos, there was no return to normal.
change of administrations in the US added new complications: With
Donald Trump gone, so were threats that the former President had
regularly made to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist
organizations. Those threats, which the Mexican government feared would
lead to upheaval between the two countries, had prompted Mexico to
extradite dozens of cartel suspects wanted on charges by the US Justice
Department, former and current US officials say. While the designation
threat was never treated seriously by US government officials, the
threats worked and Barr was able to secure Mexican help against cartel
Biden administration officials took office to find no such leverage with Mexico.
have stopped, US officials say. And Mexico has not approved any visas
for DEA agents this year, officials added. Normally the process to
obtain visas takes about a month, but many of these DEA agents have been
waiting for upward of six months, the sources said.
security and law enforcement collaboration has been scaled back to
levels that we hadn't seen since probably the first half of the first
decade of the century," Sarukhan said. "If the security relationship
continues creating noise and friction points, it could wreak havoc and
contaminate the bilateral relationship as a whole."
State Department spokesperson said, "Mexico remains a critical US
security partner and we are committed to working with the Lopez Obrador
administration to advance shared priorities, strengthen Mexico's ability
to fight corruption and impunity, and implement more effective
strategies to dismantle transnational organized crime, including through
operational law enforcement cooperation in Mexico."
Hindering DEA operations
DEA is still unable to conduct most operations in Mexico, and the issue
has been discussed in talks between senior officials of the two
countries in recent months, US officials said.
though the DEA has extended the stays of some agents who were already
in the country, the visa issue is affecting almost two dozen agents, US
officials said, and is hampering the work with informants, according to
two sources familiar with the situation.
'Is there a contradiction?': Acosta presses DHS secretary about policy 01:26
the wake of the Cienfuegos operation, Mexican authorities acknowledged
they had long wanted to revisit the broad discretion they had allowed
the DEA for operations in their country. Because of US concerns about
widespread corruption problems in Mexico, the DEA works with specially
vetted Mexican security and law enforcement units, which limits the
Mexican government's visibility on sensitive intelligence and operations
the US agency is seeking to carry out.
The challenges and distrust in the arrangement were made clear in 2014, when Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Sinaloa cartel leader
and one of the US's most-wanted drug traffickers, was arrested by
Mexican authorities with the help of the DEA, only to escape a year
later from Mexico's high security prison. In 2016, the US provided
intelligence and other help to a specially vetted force of Mexican
marines to re-arrest Guzman. This time, he was extradited to the US,
where he was convicted
and is now serving a life sentence.
Mexico's refusal to grant visas for the DEA agents is one of the small
but significant irritants to the relationship right now, which is
contributing to a decay in the security relationship between the
Biden administration has struggled to contain new crises for which
Mexican help is crucial: a spiraling migrant crisis on the southern
border and a burgeoning trade by Mexican cartels flooding the US with
fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl, which US authorities say is
fueling overdose deaths.
Biden administration, like those before it, is in part relying on
Mexico to tackle the flow of migrants to the US border and officials are
expected to discuss Mexico's immigration enforcement during this week's
visit, according to an administration official.
pace at which migrants, primarily Haitians, arrived at the US southern
border last month caught the Biden administration by surprise. The
migrants primarily moved by bus, cutting down travel time, and appeared
to easily move through Mexico, according to a Customs and Border
later stepped up enforcement on migrants journeying through the
country, stopping dozens of buses of Haitians moving toward the US
border after thousands massed under the Del Rio International Bridge
A Department of Homeland Security official told reporters the US is
"working closely" with the government of Mexico to try to enhance
visibility into organized movements of migrants.
Administrator Samantha Power met with Mexico Ambassador Esteban
Moctezuma Barragán to discuss linked priorities, including migration.
"Lack of economic opportunity is a root cause of irregular migration;
(USAID) is proud to partner with the Mexican people to achieve
sustainable, long-term development goals," Power said in a tweet.