Fwd: Mexico - U.S. high-level security talks (Oct. 7, 2021)

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Molly Molloy

Oct 7, 2021, 1:20:13 PMOct 7
From the Latin America Daily Briefing: http://latinamericadailybriefing.blogspot.com


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Subject: Mexico - U.S. high-level security talks (Oct. 7, 2021)
To: hemisphericdailybriefings - Jordana Timerman (hemisphericd...@googlegroups.com) <hemisphericd...@googlegroups.com>

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is leading a delegation to Mexico for high-level security talks between the countries, tomorrow. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland will also attend the meetings, billed as the first US-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue, and an indication of the priority the U.S. Biden administration is placing on restoring security cooperation, reports CNN.

The talks come a year after the U.S. arrested a former Mexican defense minister, a move that angered Mexico's government, which received no warning, and exposed simmering resentment at U.S. management of the relationship between the countries. Mexico retaliated by largely suspending DEA operations in the country; U.S. officials say extraditions of cartel suspects have stopped, and Mexico has not approved any visas for DEA agents this year.

"The 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," Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. told CNN.

The Mexican government will focus on measures to reduce arms trafficking, with the explicit goal of reducing violence, reports El País. Mexico's governmetn said it will propose scrapping the Merida Initiative (known as Plan Mexico) in the talks with Blinken. The Merida Initiative is a security cooperation agreement among the United States, the government of Mexico, and the countries of Central America, which is based on using the military to fight drug trafficking, reports EFE.

Mexico doesn't want handouts of military or police equipment, but rather a more equal relationship. “It's about mutual respect. If you don't respect me, I don't respect you. If we do not respect each other, it is going to be very difficult to get something done,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told the Associated Press. (See Ebrard's July interview with the Washington Post, in which he detailed the plans failures to stem violence.)

Ebrard said he wants to see faster extraditions of suspects from the United States and fewer guns coming across the border. The López Obrador administration also wants more of the illicit money tracked and seized in the United States from Mexican suspects to be returned to Mexico, reports the Associated Press. U.S. officials, on the other hand, are expected to focus on issues like the increasing trafficking of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.


Peru cabinet reshuffle

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo named Mirtha Vásquez prime minister yesterday evening, a bid at political stability after ousting her controversial predecessor Guido Bellido in the afternoon. Vásquez, the new prime minister, served as head of Congress between 2020 and 2021. She will head a cabinet that remains leftist, but seems more moderate than that of Castillo's first months of government. (Reuters, Al Jazeera)

Under Peruvian law, the prime minister’s resignation automatically triggers that of the entire cabinet, and Castillo made six other changes yesterday, reducing the influence of the Peru Libre party he and Bellido belong to. He appointed businessman Eduardo González  to the mining ministry, and maintained Economy Minister Pedro Francke.

Vásquez's parliamentary experience will likely help the executive build a better relationship with Congress, reports La República.

"The new stage of the people's government seeks to foster dialogue, governability and team work," he said yesterday. "The balance of powers is the bridge between the rule of law and democracy, therefore the question of trust, interpellation, and censorship should not be used to create political instability," he said. (La República)

This week Bellido had suggested the government should be prepared to shut down congress if it tried to impeach the president or censure government ministers. Last month he told the foreign owners of the largest natural gas project in the country that they should hand over more of their profits to the state or else face nationalisation. (Financial Times)

The move was rejected by Perú Libre hardliners, including party founder Vladimir Cerrón, but welcomed by others, demonstrating a potential schism within the party, reports La República. (See this June Americas Quarterly profile of Cerrón.) 

Peruvians and foreigners alike have been watching to see who holds the power in government — Castillo or his ideological backers, according to the Financial Times. The pushback from hardliners is a welcome sign of Castillo's more moderate stance and control over government, according to La República's editorial this morning.

Vásquez's appointment is being seen as a concession to the moderate wing of the informal leftist coalition backing the administration, reports Deutsche Welle.

News Briefs

  • Haiti's political crisis -- which is fuelling part of the migration surge impacting the U.S. government -- is in large part due to international interference. Gangs currently control more than half of the territory of Haiti, according to Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH). If the U.S. and other countries cut off the ruling party, the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, or PHTK, the gangs would lose considerable power, writes organization director Pierre Espérance in Newsweek.

  • Historically "Haiti was not a source of refugees but a haven for them — and in particular for Black people fleeing oppression in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. This emancipatory history helps explain why Haiti is so demonized in the United States," writes Jesús Ruiz in the Washington Post.

  • The U.S. increased deportations to Haiti last month, and the Biden Administration promised to support the migrants upon their return to a country many had left more than a decade ago. But more than a week after mass deportations began, U.S. assistance has yet to arrive, NGOs in Haiti say. (Time)

  • Mexico sent another planeload of Haitian migrants back to their homeland yesterday on a flight carrying 129 people to Port au Prince. Unlike the first repatriation flight in late September, Mexico did not specify that all those aboard the flight were returning voluntarily, and some appear to have been escorted up the steps to the plane by immigration agents, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.N.-backed Covid-19 vaccine program, Covax, can't meet its target for delivering doses to Latin America and the Caribbean this year, in part because wealthy countries have bought up most of the supply, reports the New York Times. Producers aren't prioritizing delivery to Covax because countries with bilateral deals are paying more per shot, said Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO assistant director. Covax aimed to provide enough doses this year for Latin American and Caribbean countries to inoculate 20 percent of their people. But most countries have only received around 30 percent of the supply they contracted through Covax.
  • Two Brazilian right-wing political parties -- the Democratas (DEM) and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) -- decided to join forces to become the country's largest political party: União Brasil. They plan to challenge President Jair Bolsonaro (formerly of the PSL) in next year's elections, reports Reuters.
Regional Relations
  • Colombia deployed a new unit of 14,000 military personnel to increase government control of a conflict hotspot near the Venezuelan border, where multiple armed groups compete for control of cocaine production, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said the IMF has not yet delivered funds under a program to help countries battle the COVID-19 pandemic, amid a dispute over the government's legitimacy, reports Reuters.
Puerto Rico
  • Power outages across Puerto Rico have surged in recent weeks, with some lasting several days, leaving residents feeling as if they are, once again, living in the aftermath of a major storm. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans gathered outside the governor's mansion in San Juan last week, angered by outages. But the issue is long-term and authorities are missing a chance to rebuild with renewable, resilient power sources, say experts -- see this week's Just Caribbean Updates.
  • "Afro-Cuban rhythms have mingled with African American ones going all the way back to late-19th-century New Orleans — distant siblings that intersected at key moments," but Cuban vocalist and composer Cimafunk's new album unites the two tendencies in a new way, according to the New York Times.
  • Over 100 prominent figures in Latin America urged The New York Times' publisher to maintain its Spanish-language opinion journalism section, in response to rumors that it has been shut down. The letter points to a surge of Latin American leaders with authoritarian tendencies, growing attacks against freedom of the press and journalists in the region, and greater social unrest than at any other time in recent memory, as reasons the Spanish-language opinion section is of critical importance. (Axios)

  • "The Op-Ed section in Spanish has brought the best academics, scholars, and experts together with the greatest journalists and thinkers in the region. Their published essays are widely read and commented on by other media, governments and policymakers, and sometimes even read aloud in street demonstrations, as happened in Peru late last year," reads the letter.

  • New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson was one of the main authors of the letter, whose signatories included Juan Manuel Santos, José Mujica, three other former Latin American presidents, Benicio Del Toro and Isabel Allende. 

  • On a personal level, it has been an honor to write essays for the section. As editor of the Latin America Daily Briefing, documenting the daily news arcs of the region, I have found the New York Times Español op-eds to be a source of illuminating and necessary analysis. The section is a unique space, and the perspectives authors bring us are tough, fresh, and constructive. Latinamericanists will, no doubt, miss its contributions to the region's most critical debates.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

Biden looks to repair the frayed US relationship with Mexico

By Evan Perez, Kylie Atwood and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

Updated 1528 GMT (2328 HKT) October 6, 2021

(CNN)Nearly a year after the US Drug Enforcement Administration arrested a Mexican former defense minister and charged him with being a drug cartel boss, the Biden administration is deploying three Cabinet members and White House officials to Mexico to mend ties that are crucial for grappling with cross-border flows of migrants and drug and gun trafficking.

Secretary 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.
President Joe Biden, who took office promising allies that "America is back" after four years of tensions with the previous administration, has faced headwinds with some of the US's closest friends amid a series of crises. These include the clumsy coordination with allies on the Afghanistan troop withdrawal and the recent US deal with Britain to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, which prompted protests by France.
With the Mexico relationship, the Biden administration is eager for help to resolve crises that are closely tied to US domestic politics: the surge of tens of thousands of migrants at the US southern border, and the Mexican drug cartels' move to flood the US with fake prescription medications laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is fueling a historic number of drug overdoses on American streets.
"A concern I have is that with everything that's going on Afghanistan, now this diplomatic snafu -- if we can call it that -- with the French, and an administration that clearly is recalibrating policy towards China, is that the danger, the pervasive danger of Mexico being taken for granted," said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the US. "And of not enough strategic bandwidth dedicated to one relationship, which plays a critically important role for the well-being and security of the United States, which is the relationship with Mexico."
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Mexico 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 border crossings.
Then-Attorney 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 "discontent."
"We 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.
The 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 operatives.
Biden administration officials took office to find no such leverage with Mexico.
Extraditions 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.
"The 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."
A 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

The 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.
Even 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
In 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.
But 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 bordering countries.

Migrant crisis

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.
The 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.
The 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 Protection official.
Mexico 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.
USAID 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.
Also looming over US-Mexico discussions is a lower court ruling ordering the Biden administration to revive a Trump-era border policy that for
ces migrants to stay in Mexico until their US immigration court date -- and as a result requires some buy-in from Mexico. During the Trump years, that policy resulted in thousands of people setting up camp along Mexico's northern border, often waiting in squalid conditions.
Within the administration, there's been a heightened sense of urgency about the so-called "remain in Mexico" policy amid ongoing litigation over a public health authority allowing the expulsion of migrants, according to a source familiar with discussions. Last week, DHS said it's engaged in "high-level diplomatic discussions" with Mexico about restarting the policy, while saying it planned to reissue a memo terminating the program.
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