Mexicans raise questions over CIA role in drug war

Source: AFP

Mexican politicians demanded answers from their government on Wednesday after reports that two Americans wounded when federal police opened fire on a US embassy car were working for the CIA.

The US and Mexican governments have said little about the victims’ work since last week’s shooting, a silence that has put a spotlight on the growing but often secretive US role in Mexico’s brutal drug war.

The left-wing opposition Democratic Revolution Party said it would summon government officials to a Senate hearing in order to clarify the murky role of the US Central Intelligence Agency in Mexico.

“We will ask for a hearing with the public security minister, the foreign minister and the navy to find out what CIA agents are doing in Mexico and why they are fighting each other,” Senator Mario Delgo told MVS radio.

Washington works closely with President Felipe Calderon’s government against drug smuggling under the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, providing training for law enforcement officials and equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters.

After days of feverish speculation here about who the wounded Americans were working for, the New York Times reported Wednesday that the pair were employed by the CIA as part of an anti-drug task force.

But Mexican daily El Universal, citing a confidential official report, said they were CIA agents who supervise instructors at a navy shooting range.

The CIA and Mexican foreign ministry declined to comment. Calderon voiced regret over the incident on Tuesday and pledged an exhaustive investigation.

A US State Department spokesman would only say on Tuesday that the two were US government employees working on “law enforcement cooperation.” The pair were repatriated to the United States over the weekend.

According to official accounts, the two were driving with a Mexican navy captain to a military training facility south of Mexico City on Friday when federal police shot at their armored US embassy car.

Authorities are holding 12 police officers over the shooting as prosecutors mull charges against them.

Unnamed US officials told the Times that there was no evidence so far that the unidentified Americans were targeted because of their affiliation.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, had already raised questions about the CIA’s presence on Tuesday.

“The Mexican government must give a complete report on what the CIA is doing here, with whom it is working and what is the extent of its work,” Ebrard said. “Everything is in the dark.”

Calderon’s government has been forced in the past to defend the presence of US agents or the use of US drones over Mexican territory in the fight against drug cartels.

Analysts say the number of US security officials in Mexico has soared since Calderon launched an anti-drug offensive in 2006. More than 50,000 people have died since Mexican troops were deployed against the cartels.

But Calderon has refused to disclose the number of US law enforcement agents in Mexico. Under Mexican law, foreign agents or soldiers are forbidden from taking part in operations or carrying weapons in the country.

“Of course many of these operations are taking place, and of course they are bypassing the legal framework in doing so,” Edgardo Buscaglia, a security expert and senior research scholar at New York’s Columbia University, told AFP.

Americans have shed blood before in Mexico’s drug war. A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was killed and another wounded last year when Zetas cartel gunmen shot their car between Mexico City and Monterrey.

“The expansion of the US presence within Mexican soil is unprecedented,” Buscaglia said. “We are reaching levels — not in terms of soldiers but in terms of American intelligence — that are close to Afghanistan.”

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