US–Mexico Drug War Relations Remain Tense

By McCarton Ackerman 02/05/13

US intervention over a Mexican general's promotion highlights mutual distrust.

General Ocho (far left) was thwarted from
rising to defense minister of Mexico.

Although the US has pledged to work together with Mexico towards a solution to the country's ongoing drug war, relations between the countries remain strained, the New York Times reports. Recently, the US stepped in to intervene over the possible promotion of Gen. Moisés García Ocho, who was poised last fall become Mexico's next minister of defense. The Obama administration was concerned over unconfirmed suspicions from the DEA and the Pentagon that the general was tied to drug traffickers, and that he had misused military supplies and skimmed money from multimillion-dollar defense contracts. So in the lead-up to Mexico's Presidential inauguration on Dec. 1, the US ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, met with senior aides to new President Enrique Peña Nieto and expressed concerns over Ocho's rise to power. The general ultimately was not promoted, but the intervention highlights a lingering mistrust between the two countries, even as they proclaim their partnership. “When it comes to Mexico, you have to accept that you’re going to dance with the devil,” says an anonymous former senior DEA official. “You can’t just fold your cards and go home because you can’t find people you completely trust. You play with the cards you’re dealt.”

There is mistrust on the other side of the border as well. “The running complaint on the Mexican side is that the relationship with the United States is unequal and unbalanced,” says an anonymous former senior Mexican intelligence official. “Mexico is open with its secrets. The United States is not. So there’s a lot of resentment. And there’s always an incentive to try to stick it to the Americans.” During former President Felipe Calderón's run as President, the US and Mexico collaborated on military operations that resulted in the arrest or killing of several dozen major cartel leaders. However, the aggressive tactics contributed to a surge of violence left 63,000 dead. Nieto has declared he will focus more on reducing violence and less on capturing cartel kingpins. But many US officials remain unconvinced.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.