What the U.S. should (and should not) do
If America wants better relations with its southern neighbors, it can do many things including the upcoming visit of President Barack Obama to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. But, definitely, do not send weapons. In the process of carrying out this initiative, dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious’, U.S. federal officials allowed more than 1,700 illegal guns to be brought into Mexico from the United States without notifying the administration of President Felipe Calderón. That is not done between neighbors. According to the complaint of John Dodson, agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ATF is the acronym in English, the plan was to introduce the weapons into Mexico so U.S. agents could trace the movements of them, with hope that it would allow the authorities to locate criminal groups and drug traffickers. The problem, Dodson said, is that weapons had no special markings or hidden tracking chips, so it was almost impossible to follow his path.
These weapons, many of which were handguns and semiautomatic rifles with great destructive power, perhaps already have been used to kill innocent people in Mexico. It is impossible to know how many of them are being used to commit crimes. But there’s more. While ATF is now reviewing their strategies, the operation of “controlled delivery” of weapons in Mexico has not ceased. “None of these people have said that this activity will stop,” Dodson said in an interview from Phoenix. “Nobody has said that we have suspended this policy at any time during the investigations.” Dodson decided to reveal the Operation Fast and Furious after the murder in Arizona of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, on December 14, 2010. Several officials believe the gunmen in the Arizona desert had targeted a group of four men from the BorderPatrol. The team was trying to apprehend criminals involved in attacking undocumented immigrants that illegally enter the United States through the desert.
Two of the weapons that were allowed into Mexico as part of Operation Fast and Furious were found in the place where Terry died. Dodson said he felt some responsibility for the death of Terry and that he decided to speak out against the arms smuggling operation. That’s understandable. But what about the Mexicans who have probably lost their lives at the hands of armed criminals? Who will speak for them? Many people today are in danger because of this illegal U.S. activity, about which the Mexican government was apparently never informed. So now that President Obama prepares for his trip to Latin America, it is a good time for Americans to learn a valuable lesson: America must never carry out an operation like the Fast and Furious in foreign lands. Never. What America should do is use their influence to promote openness and cooperation with Latin America. It is quite clear that Afghanistan, Iraq and the recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are at the top of the agenda of the Obama administration. But still, I have been watching events that affect the countries Obama is to visit in Central and South America, and his visit can benefit everyone involved. In addition, Obama is quite popular in the region. His predecessor, George W. Bush, however, was not viewed with sympathy for their unjustified and unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Obama does not have to do much to do well in Latin America. But this trip is about emphasizing that these countries are all important U.S. partners.
Undoubtedly, Brazil is the economic engine of South America. Chile hopes to become the first developed country in Latin America. And El Salvador is showing the world that a leftist government can have a stable relationship with Washington. “Ideologies are not important,” said the president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes. “El Salvador can build, along with the United States, a development partnership.” At this point in the game America should know that U.S. alliances with Latin American work. The cooperation works, but not the imposition of their strategies on other nations. Information sharing is not working covert operations abroad. Dan Restrepo, national security adviser in the White House, told me recently: “America, under the leadership of President Obama, wants to work as partners, as equals,” with these nations. And that, a relationship between equals, is what he loves about Latin America. But it is not accomplished by sending arms to another country, without notice.
Monday, March 21, 2011
"A a relationship between equals . . . is not accomplished by sending arms to another country, without notice."
My thanks to the M3 Report of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FORMER BORDER PATROL OFFICERS for the translation of this opinion piece in the Colombian newspaper El Pais by Jorge Ramos: