The latest setback to US anti-drug efforts in Mexico came earlier this month when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was forced to remove its flagship plane from the country for the first time in about 30 years.
Mexican officials revoked the plane’s placement in a hangar at Toluca Airport, about 25 miles outside of Mexico City, according to a Reuters report. The aircraft, a Beechcraft twin-turboprop King Air, can carry about ten passengers and has often been used for elite operations in Mexico and Central America.
Before being booted off Mexican soil and relocated to Texas, the King Air “had played a key role in capturing some of the world’s most powerful drug lords and was used in raids on former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman,” according to Reuters wrote.
Mike Vigil, the former chief of the DEA’s international bureau, told The Daily Beast that the plane is an important tool for “operations that require rapid movement of personnel and equipment. It also allowed agents to avoid driving through cartel conflict zones [and] supported all DEA offices throughout Mexico.”
Vigil added that the loss of the plane “will hamper initiatives and put agents at unnecessary risk,” describing an incident during his tenure in Mexico in which the plane was used to escort DEA agents to raid methamphetamine labs in Mexico bringing the state of Colima affiliation with the Colima cartel. “The plane was used to crash into secret El Chapo laboratories and hideouts. It was essential for successful tactical operations,” he said.
The move comes at a time of increasingly strained relations between the DEA and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, often known by the nickname AMLO. In a May 12 speech, the day after it was announced that the plane had been yanked out of the country, AMLO explained that his government “cares” for cartel members just as much as it does for National Armed Forces soldiers because the criminals “are people too.” .”
The DEA vigil also noted that populist President AMLO has a track record of obstructing US law enforcement programs in Mexico as part of his “Abrazos no Balazos.” [“Hugs not Bullets”] Campaign aimed at tackling organized crime more gently than its predecessors.
“The first three years of President Lopez Obrador’s administration were disastrous for the DEA. He restricted agency activities, eliminated the Sensitive Investigative Unit, dismantled Plan Merida and now delivered the latest strike with the DEA plane,” said Vigil, adding that AMLO has also lifted diplomatic immunity for US agents.
A federal law enforcement official in Mexico, who agreed to speak to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity, said that prior to AMLO, “it was very different because there were a lot of interactions between the US and Mexico. There has been great collaboration in the anti-narcotics effort.”
But that has changed under AMLO, the official said. “There was a rupture because the US no longer has confidence in Mexico. We no longer have a functioning government in Mexico… The current government operates with enormous ego.”
Bilateral security cooperation deteriorated further after former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested in Los Angeles in October 2020 on charges of conspiring with the H-2 cartel. At the time, Mexico threatened to expel DEA agents from the country, which eventually led to Cienfuegos’ release and the charges against him being dropped. But the damage was done, and AMLO then pushed through a series of reforms that curtailed the DEA’s freedoms, including a law that forced them to share any information with Mexican law enforcement.
The AMLO administration had also restricted the plane’s use by the Toluca DEA even before its parking lot was voided, and had begun mandating written requests two weeks before each flight.
“These limitations had already made it impossible to perform missions that required speed and flexibility,” Vigil said. “You can’t know weeks in advance when you need to provide immediate tactical support.”
Vigil also said that the restrictions on Mexico’s airspace, combined with the additional flight distance from Texas, resulted in DEA operations essentially ceasing as parts of Mexico remain inaccessible by road.
“The warring cartels operating in many Mexican states are setting up roadblocks on major highways, making road travel impossible. Mexican security forces are not providing protection to the agents, making the situation worse,” he said.
dr Robert J. Bunker, the director of research at C/O Futures LLC, a US-based security consulting firm, said in an email that the DEA’s Toluca-based plane was “a political symbol of Mexico-US cooperation on security.” drug fight”. and cited the revocation of the plane’s hangar privileges as a sign that the DEA’s role in Mexico was being “gradually reduced.”
“I expect we will see more moves like this during the rest of the AMLOs [term] while continuing with his populist policies,” he said. AMLO’s anti-DEA strategy includes “an attempt to promote the narrative of Mexico’s dignity – DEA activities constitute an encroachment on state sovereignty and as a result, Mexico has been drawn into the drug war [former president Felipe] Calderón under US pressure.”
Such rhetoric must be a delight to high-level traffickers, who are likely “thrilled because it has enabled them to become more powerful and expand their operations into virtually every state in Mexico.” [AMLO’s position] is one of the reasons why the US is being inundated with deadly drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Vigil.
Bunker agreed, saying the “hug” rhetoric is much better [capos] as arrest teams or kill teams sent after them, so they must be increasingly loving AMLO at this point.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-the-deas-private-beechcraft-king-air-plane-was-forced-out-of-mexico?source=articles&via=rss Why the DEA’s Beechcraft King Air private plane was evicted from Mexico