How Wikileaks Revealed Mexico–US Drug-War Dynamic

By May Wilkerson 07/26/12

Thousands of revealed US-Mexico cables have led many to criticize Calderón's stance and the two governments' relationship.

Was Calderón just a pawn? Photo via

Mexican President Felipe Calderón will end his term this December, leaving a largely unsavory legacy. Much of the public is critical of his role in a devastating drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since he took office in 2006. Local media struggle to cover the violence—often under threat of violence—and are often denied access to privileged information about decisions and incidents that take place "behind the scenes." Wikileaks has changed this—allowing the public more insight into national drug war strategies. In recent years, Wikileaks has made thousands of State Department cables—"secret" communications between the US Embassy and Washington—accessible to the public. These records have been picked up by Mexican news sources, shedding light on aspects of the political relationship between Mexico and the US that officials would otherwise have kept hidden. One prominent Mexican journalist, Blanche Petrich Moreno, says the records "revealed the astonishing degree to which the United States exercised its power and influence at the highest levels of the mexican government." This isn't a new development, he claims, but the records confirm what was already widely believed: that many decisions about how to handle the drug war were made not by Mexico—but by the US.

Moreno writes for the popular newspaper La Jornada, which began picking up the cables and publishing them in February 2011. Most of the revealed communications took place between 2008 and 2010 and "opened a private window onto the private diplomatic relationship between President Calderón and President Obama," says Moreno. Mexico's collaboration with the US is controversial, and in certain incidents came at a high cost: between 2007 and 2009, for example, at least 120 Mexicans working undercover for the DEA were killed. Moreno claims that the public knowledge of Calderón and Obama's relationship has "haunted" both leaders, and "poisoned the well" of Mexican-US relations—ultimately causing a loss of faith in Calderón's ability to handle drug war strategy.

Mexico's current president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, has vowed to take a completely different approach to the drug war. He has suggested that Mexico should continue working with the US to fight organized crime, but should also focus on what is best for Mexico, rather than what other governments want.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.