Report Uncovers DEA Involvement in Mexico Massacre

By Victoria Kim 06/30/17

Investigations detail how the DEA and ATF bungled operations, leading to deadly attacks and attempts at cover-ups.

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A DEA agents and a police special agent working abroad.
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The US Drug Enforcement Administration has offices in 69 countries, on every continent. 

Given the anti-drug agency’s far-reaching presence around the world, we don’t often hear much about its successes nor its disastrous blunders in “fighting” drugs outside of the US.

Last month, The Guardian reported the shocking findings of an investigation into one of the agency’s bungled operations in Honduras. According to investigators, the US DEA lied about its role in a 2012 mission where Honduran officers working under the DEA shot at a taxi boat, killing four innocent villagers, including two pregnant women and a young boy.

A year earlier, the DEA reportedly played a major role in a deadly assault by one of the most violent cartels in the history of the trade. In 2011, members of the Zetas cartel in Mexico descended on the area surrounding the town of Allende in northern Mexico, about 40 minutes from the US border, and brutally murdered and kidnapped “dozens, possibly hundreds” of men, women and children.

Ginger Thompson of ProPublica traces the roots of that massacre, which one witness described as a “war zone.” The DEA had obtained the cellphone identification numbers of brothers Miguel and Omar Treviño, two of the Zetas’ most wanted and violent members. 

But against the wishes of lead agents on the case, and despite being warned of the potential for bloodshed, Thompson notes, DEA officials decided to share the information with a Mexican federal police unit. The Treviños learned “almost immediately” that they’d been outed, and exacted revenge on Allende and its surrounding towns, killing anyone they believed to be linked to the snitches. 

“The DEA lit the fuse that triggered the slaughter, then stood mutely by—as if it had played no role,” Thompson writes in her report.

In the aftermath of the attack, neither the DEA nor Mexican authorities did anything to take responsibility for the situation. Instead, DEA spokesperson Russ Baer shifted the focus from the DEA’s involvement in the situation. “They (the Treviño brothers) were killing people before that happened, and they killed people after the numbers were passed…This is not a story where the DEA has blood on its hands.”

Sergio Aguayo, a prominent Mexican human rights investigator at Colegio de Mexico, sums up the arrangement between the DEA and Mexico: “The United States and its role remains an enigma. But the one thing that seems clear is that the government has its policies against organized crime, and pursues them without taking into account the impacts on Mexican society.”

Thompson points out the DEA’s questionable foreign anti-drug missions, at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars in American taxpayers’ money.

But it’s not just the DEA who bungles drug enforcement efforts abroad. Between 2009-2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed illegal gun sales to flow between the US and Mexico, in an effort to track gun buyers to Mexican drug cartels. Instead, “Operation Fast and Furious” lost track of 1,400 weapons in Mexico, and was later brought to light and criticized for allowing guns to fall into the hands of known criminals.  

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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