U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Display in Guzman Arrest.
Only last week, the Washington Post was reporting on an apparent pause in the relationship. After Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was elected, Joshua Partlow wrote, “diplomats lost access to Mexican ministries, working groups stopped meeting and U.S.-funded training programs were put on hold.”
But behind the scenes wheels were moving, with American agencies working closely with Mexican counterparts in pursuit of Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa cartel. It was the Americans who pushed for the operation that led to Guzman’s arrest: The New York Times’ Damien Cave reported that the Drug Enforcement Agency “presented a body of intelligence information to Mexican navy officials, including calls and contacts from cellphones used over the last few months.”
U.S. ties with the Mexican navy have been building for some time. In an article for WPR last year, George Grayson explained that the army, tapped by former President Felipe Calderon to address drug violence, resisted cooperation with the U.S. “The more nationalistic army chiefs look askance at the large number of American security personnel who interacted with Mexican counterparts under Calderon,” he wrote. “In contrast, the navy, which has a better intelligence operation, has worked closely with U.S. security agencies.”
Intelligence cooperation has been a particularly delicate aspect of the relationship under Pena Nieto, whose administration ejected U.S. agents from a CIA-run intelligence fusion center in Monterrey. But it was classically American-style intelligence-gathering that led to Guzman’s arrest: U.S. agents deployed a surveillance drone and tracked his phone.
That a fugitive of Guzman’s stature felt safe carrying a phone is remarkable, given how widely the idea that U.S. agents track phones has pervaded popular culture. In fact, as the L.A. Times noted, the same triangulation method was used to finally locate Pablo Escobar more than two decades ago.
Regardless, the relationship will now move forward without a high-profile personality to target. There are many reasons to worry about what comes next. Decapitating organizations like the Sinaloa cartel has been shown not to decrease violence in the long run, and important domestic security reforms appear to be stumbling—the creation of a gendarmerie is behind schedule despite its planned force already having been slashed. Assuming the U.S. can avoid a diplomatic incident over its expected extradition request for Guzman, there is clearly much more work to be done to support both side’s interests.