Monday, March 28, 2011

Guardian: "How the US let Calderón save face." Removal of US ambassador done as a "temporary distraction" from Mexican anger at Gunwalker.

WikiLeaks was a handy excuse, but the US sacrificed its envoy to rescue Mexico's president – a vital ally in the 'war on drugs'

As both Mexican and American analysts have pointed out, Calderón's claims of US intervention by the embassy cables hold little merit. But the WikiLeaks releases have been valuable in allowing Calderón to galvanise Mexican anger toward the US (a common practice in Latin American politics) and temporarily distract the Mexican public from the mounting criticism of his government brought on by the US gun-trafficking and drone scandals.

Two weeks before Pascual's resignation, Mexican lawmakers had intensified demands to question senior Calderón officials about their knowledge of and role in the ATF's gun-tracking tactics. Mexico's congress was irate after it was revealed (by a US Embassy press release, no less) that Mexican authorities had been briefed on the ATF's gunrunning operations in the US – operations that ultimately led to thousands of weapons being allowed to "walk" into Mexico. Threats from Mexico's congress became still more menacing last week when congressional leaders from all the main parties considered challenging the constitutionality of the Calderón-sanctioned covert flights over Mexico by unmanned US drones – seen by legal experts as a direct violation of Mexico's constitution. And it was only last Thursday that Mexico's foreign secretary, Patricia Espinoza, was grilled by congress on the scandals for over four hours and accused of allowing the US to infringe Mexico's sovereignty.

Since Pascual's resignation, the Calderón cabinet has been able to defer and deflect the swelling congressional pressure provoked by the recent scandals. The US embassy in Mexico has already announced expected delays in the investigation of the ATF's work in Mexico (due to the change in ambassadors). Meanwhile, Mexico's congressional leaders have used Pascual's departure as an occasion to pat themselves on the back and table talk of launching an inquiry into the illegality of the US drone flights permitted by the Calderón government – an uncomfortable and costly political move for all involved.

The Calderón administration's strengthened position and increased confidence since Pascual resigned has already begun to show. Speaking to a visiting US congressional committee this Wednesday, Calderón called for increased US efforts to stop the flow of weapons into Mexico – his first direct comment on gun-trafficking since the ATF affair exploded in early March. The head of Mexico's national security council, Alejandro Poiré, has also gone on the offensive by denouncing in the media the US's security efforts and finally appearing before Mexico's lawmakers to answer questions on his knowledge of the ATF's arms-trafficking operations – as requested by congress over a week ago.

By appearing to cave in to Calderón over the WikiLeaks revelations, the US has rescued an important ally at a time of great political weakness, while managing to save face. As previous cables have shown, the US has grown increasingly worried about the constitutionality of Calderón's military campaign (describing its legal grounding as a "watered-down state of exception") and his unwillingness to invest in the modernisation of Mexico's judicial, military and federal institutions. But the US government has made a non-refundable investment in Mexico's battle with organised crime and cannot afford to allow Calderón – and thus US foreign policy in Mexico – to fail.

Pascual was, therefore, the victim not of discord over the WikiLeaks embassy cables, but of Calderón's mounting domestic problems. His has been the first head to fall in a series of scandals that have hit both countries' efforts to stem cartel-related violence and tackle Mexico's drug-trafficking organisations. With Pascual's resignation, the US state department has allowed Mexico's federal government to push the blame for both countries' controversial security policies onto the US. As further details on the Mexico-US security operations emerge, we can expect further anti-American rhetoric from the Calderón administration.

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