Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

US Investigations Into Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff With Mexico

"Parro" for Borderland Beat

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos takes the oath before Judge Carol Bagley Amon during a hearing to consider a U.S. government request to drop drug charges, in a courtroom sketch in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S. November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. efforts to battle powerful drug cartels from inside Mexico have ground to a halt since January as strained relations between the two countries have frozen attempts to corral drug kingpins, according to current and former senior officials in both nations.

Until recently, U.S. and Mexican authorities routinely, if cautiously, shared intelligence on major cases. But in December, Mexico enacted a law requiring U.S. authorities to report their law-enforcement contacts in the country to the Mexican government, which American investigators widely view as corrupt.

The new policy has led investigators on both sides of the border to pause their cooperation, fearful that the new disclosure rules could compromise cases - or worse, get informants or Mexican officials helping the Americans killed.

On-the-ground operations, including raids on Mexican drug labs, have largely ceased and U.S. authorities are now struggling to track movements of U.S.-bound cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia through Central America and into Mexico, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Some U.S. drug agents working in Mexico reported that they had been tailed by local police, raising alarms about their safety. And dozens of U.S. law enforcement agents can’t get visas to work in Mexico.

“Most of our most important cases are at a standstill,” a senior U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters. “If we have to report our sources to their foreign ministry, it jeopardizes our sources and methods. The system is set up intentionally now so that Mexican law enforcement can’t help us.”

A senior Mexican military official said his country has engaged in virtually no anti-drug efforts with the United States since the new law was passed.

“Without U.S. support - in technology and intelligence - it will be more difficult to contain crime,” the official said.

Spokespersons from Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security, the foreign ministry and the Mexican Navy, which play leading roles in the county’s international drug interdiction efforts, did not respond to queries for this article. But a Mexican official familiar with the matter described the rift as more administrative and temporary than substantive.

“It’s not that cooperation is now paralyzed,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official predicted that things will return to normal when it becomes clear which Mexican officials will have access to sensitive information.

Mexico adopted the new law shortly after the United States arrested former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos on charges that he helped the cartels smuggle thousands of kilos of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

The arrest was part of what some U.S. officials described as a new willingness by American investigators to target ties between drug cartels and top echelons of Mexico’s government. But in Mexico, it triggered an unexpected backlash.

U.S. officials have long viewed their partnership with Mexican authorities as an essential, albeit strained, part of their effort to target cartels that export illegal drugs to the United States. In turn, Mexican authorities relied on the United States to help stem the estimated 200,000 guns annually smuggled south.

Now, as President Joe Biden’s administration grapples with a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and as monthly U.S. drug overdose deaths have reached an all-time high, cooperation has stalled, officials said. For example, U.S. officials said, Mexico no longer provides Mexican military units to conduct raids when U.S. agents identify cartel labs.

“The big winners are the cartels,” said Timothy Shea, who stepped down in January as the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s just what the cartels wanted so they can expand their reach and smuggle more deadly drugs into the United States.”

He said “human intelligence is drying up,” making it harder to intercept drug shipments.

Ricardo Marquez, a senior national security official in Mexico under the previous government, said the new rules significantly restrict intelligence sharing because they leave sources vulnerable to potentially damaging leaks that could alert high-priority criminals about raids in advance.

“You don’t know who you can trust,” said Mark Morgan, who led U.S. Customs and Border Protection until January. “You don’t know who’s corrupt. And that’s a challenge.”

If U.S. investigators are forced to reveal sources to the Mexican government, he said, “there’s a strong likelihood that those sources will wind up dead.”

Two current senior U.S. officials said the DEA is not the only agency affected, nor is the problem limited to drug cases. They said Mexico’s new law has disrupted transnational cases handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Officials at those agencies declined to answer questions about the situation.

In a statement, U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said that “active and effective law enforcement cooperation continues between the United States and Mexico. We achieve success when we work together and respect our nations’ sovereignty and institutions.”

A Homeland Security Investigations official said that while cooperation with Mexican federal agents on drugs, arms smuggling and human trafficking “remains robust,” state and local officials in Mexico are hesitant to resume working with U.S. agents, citing uncertainty about the new law.

Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico has publicly dialed back the importance of security cooperation with Washington as it tries to de-escalate years of gang-fueled violence by avoiding direct confrontation with cartels. A leftist who makes constant references to history, Lopez Obrador seeks to preserve Mexican sovereignty from external interference, and has pressed Washington to provide economic support rather than security assistance.

Under the new law, Mexican law enforcement agents fear retaliation from both their politically appointed supervisors and the cartels, said Brookings Institution senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown.

“Even people that have been trusted and vetted and are committed and motivated don’t feel that they can really engage with U.S. officials in any meaningful way right now,” she said. “Too dangerous.”


The slowdown began last year after U.S. agents arrested Cienfuegos, Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, on drug charges. U.S. officials weighed the risks of a diplomatic blowup before a grand jury indicted him in 2019 and decided to go ahead. They kept the charges secret until October 2020, when Cienfuegos was arrested after flying to Los Angeles for vacation.

In court filings, U.S. prosecutors said Cienfeugos used his official position to aid the H-2 cartel, known for its “countless acts of horrific violence, including torture and murder.”

U.S. officials cited intercepted Blackberry messages and said Cienfuegos took bribes from the H-2 cartel in return for protection and for encouraging raids against rival cartels. U.S. drug agents say the cartel referred to Cienfuegos as “El Padrino,” or The Godfather.

Cienfuegos denied the charges, and his high-profile arrest triggered a diplomatic row. Within a month, American authorities agreed to drop the case for “foreign policy reasons,” prosecutors said in a court filing, and to return Cienfuegos for investigation in his native country.

Mexican anger over the case initially stemmed from what authorities felt was a breach of trust by law enforcement partners, for investigating Cienfuegos for years without informing anybody in Mexico. Mexico’s foreign minister and president only found out about the case after his arrest.

Mexican authorities quickly cleared the retired general, and then made public evidence against him provided in confidence by U.S. investigators, further eroding trust between the two sides. Mexican authorities said they released the evidence to show a suspicious public the flimsiness of evidence, based on intercepted communications Mexican investigators said never convincingly identified Cienfuegos.

Mexico’s reaction to the DEA’s handling of the case also reflects long-simmering discomfort with what some politicians paint as U.S. law enforcement excesses that violate the country’s sovereignty without tangible results in stemming violence or the flow of drugs, guns and money between the two countries. Cienfuegos’ lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

His release was a tacit acknowledgment by Washington that the U.S. relationship with Mexico was more important than Cienfuego was, and a bet that returning him to Mexico would end the diplomatic breach. It was not enough.

Source: Reuters


  1. Believe it or not
    The US government does not want our neighbors to the south to prosper.
    Destabilizing, has always been the plan since the beginning of the Mexico and USA treaty…

    1. Beautifully said

    2. The US government doesn’t want ANYBODY to prosper nothing new

    3. Then why does the USA give Mexico millions each year?

    4. US complicity and compliance in releasing Cienpedos when the US government was about to change hands STINKS TO HIGH HEAVENS.
      Mike Vigil said they had all the proof in the world to nail Cienpedos' ass, but then the US refused to deliver proof of his crimes to the mexikins that "had to rilis his ass, pedos and all"
      This bullshit coming from the strong side of the equation, thr trompos, the bill barr, and all the letter soups means impunity and immunity comes straight from the top of US government that benefits from all the criminality in the world, AND THEIR MASTERS.
      I am sure we will see clear when US investigators discover the names and roles played by US high and mighty who also covered iran/contra drug trafficking deals, the murder of Kiki Camarena, the crimes of henry kissinger and Operation Condor, the involvent of Madame Chennault in the election of Richard Nixon and that Watergate was the lesser evil revenge of Lyndon B Johnson against former HUAC prosecutor Tricky Dickie Nixxon that posed all his life as an anti-russian/commie/pinko hater...
      I mean 50 year classified info, reserved for majestic billion dollar insider eyes like The
      Crookings Institution

    5. I think it benefits China more than both US and Mexico. China supplies Mexico DTO's with fent and precursor chemicals, they also provide money lanudering services. Mexico stays inundated in corruption and crime, USA is flooded with drugs and drug addicts. What is the disadvantage for China??

  2. Who you think now the most powerful crime group in USA?

    1. The Mexican government of course!

    2. The Mexicans obviously it’s their land of course!

    3. 1:42 asked "Who IN the USA"?
      --Smart ass ignoramuses answering: "mexico" like little pissed panty school girls deserve no freedom nor liberty

  3. Thank you Parro,
    possibly the most important post we have up with the most obvious consequences.

  4. Honestly the Mexican government can not be trusted, with them playing hard ball we should quit sending aid and cut the American faucet completely off. The Mexican government lost complete respect as a nation on the infamous Culicanaso day.. It is a very disheartening scene to watch Mexicali PD scouting routes for the smugglers. On the bright side the man responsible for coordinating and overall being the head honcho for the horrifying traffic collusion in Holtville has be arrested crossing into Calexico.

    1. Hear Hear sounds like the truth above
      I agree with you


    2. Hear Hear sounds like the truth above
      I agree with you


    3. 2:49 lookihere embesil, the so called "Aid to México" consists of second hand weapons and other war material and contracts to private bounty hunters that do not get to many mexican pockets, but US hands get into too many mexican pockets exploiting cheañ labor and drug trafficking mules, proof of that is that all the money gets to US and other world banksters, that is the bottom line...
      --Don't be a culito de bulldog, perro!!! Go to school.

    4. @9:50 first and foremost aid comes in many, many forms from military hardware to infrastructure,and cash. Second bounty hunters do not operate in Mexico quit your Netflix and Hulu soap opera intel to yourself. Don't believe me,Dog the bounty hunter almost got stuck in Mexico for trying to snatch a fuitive. Third money is laundered on both sides of the border via corrupt government officials on BOTH sides. Mexico is a Narco diplomacy because the people allow it. Come to my border and see for yourself, the Mexican government plays a softball approach and pretends that nothing happens. In the US we talk about gun violence which does occur but in Mexico it has become normality. Quit acting like there is no such problem and instead be part of the solution. I'm not going to lie we have done so much damage in Latin America but hey some of us do care and actually try to make a difference. Check out Vice News they where in Mexicali and the police chief tried to pretend like it was a peaceful quiet city when the reality is much grim.

  5. U can't trust those gringos !!! They're too greedy

  6. Mexican government is really showing its true colors of being, the most curupt in the world. Obrador continue to lie, and say all is fine, no homicides. The defense Minister was caught with criminal evidence, yet Mexico laughed it out, they made thier own case, which was over in two weeks, and to make a mockery of USA, they said no evidence, Look like the Mexican military is more powerful that Obrador, as Obrador had to be the puppet and please the Mexican military.
    To fight the waron drugs USA has and as we speak still send aid in the millions$$$ yearly. Mexico vwants to play hard.....cut the aid.

    Luna Apagtha

  7. CUT THE AID!!! 100%

    1. U r right, but won't happen

    2. Amlo government is in the drug business, can u blame him, $$$$ good.

    3. They’ll just turn to the ccp for aid

  8. Biden should just cut off all help to Mexico and close border! AMLO be begging Biden to help again.

  9. So the mexicans got their panties in a twist because they could not protect a corrupt minister. The fact is that they are all crooked and they behave like children caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Bunch of babies...that is how Trump handled them. Biden has zero cojones so it will get worse...for the US...thousands of uneducated illegals...wonderful.

    1. 6:47 Biden barely became president, you expect miracles overnight. Obradors government is exposing how curupt they are to the world, trust me on this one USA will act accordingly to was is being said and done.

  10. Excellent 👍 article gets to the root point of the hell in Mexico.
    I remember the Mexican Navy was more trusted to the USA, as aid money would be pumped to them too, and would satisfy US yearly on a quota of 5 to 6 drug busts at labs, what stood out, no one would be arrested. What's funny now and last year is that no quota of 5 or 6 was reached, yet USA sent millions in aid.

  11. one way or another Either with Drugs if not drugs its Aid if not aid its all the Mexican bussinesz
    both sides proper
    We get Avacodos rotton or unripe mangos
    Guess its never gonna end
    lot of Mexican/ Americans in our Giv.offices and Greedy bussiness man / womans

  12. Obradors government is so curupt that, they will pay the price if they continue behaving badly with USA.
    When Trump threatened Mexico the 2nd time, of not doing nothing to stop the flow of imagrants at the Mexico Guatemala border, that Trump will do high tariffs on the NAFTA agreement sure enough obrador acted fast and had the national guard posted there.

  13. We achieve success when we work together and respect our nations’ sovereignty and institutions....

    Translation - follow the money and lockup the bad guys, but only up to a certain point.

    Who else was thinking Cien would flip on EPN, and possibly land a Mexican President in a US Jail cell. Now that would be something.

    What kind of reaction did US law enforcement expect with that possibility on the table? It was just boneheaded to think that would play out, and embarrassing for both sides of the border.


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