Yes, you read that right. For over a decade, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintained a deal with the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico that allowed the cartel to smuggle billions of dollars in cocaine and heroin across the U.S. border. In exchange, the cartel leaked information on their rivals to the DEA.
The information was uncovered during an exhaustive report by a local paper, El Universal, in which they conducted interviews with over "100 active and retired police officers, in addition to prisoners and experts". According to the paper, agents representing the DEA met secretly with cartel officials over 50 times between 2000 and 2012, while the Sinaloa cartel was consolidating its power, eliminating rivals, and basically becoming the most feared criminal organization in the world.
In fact, in 2010, the U.S. Intelligence community all seemed to come to the consensus that the Sinaloa cartel was the world's largest. In fact, the organization's head, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was included in Forbes' annual list of the world's most influential billionaires from 2009 to 2012. It helps to have friends in high places, I guess.
While we're on the subject, you remember the whole stink a few months back about Operation Fast and Furious? The ATF wanted to connect gun purchases to high ranking cartel members in an effort to bring them to justice. So, they authorized a whole bunch of gun sellers to sell firearms to known gun smugglers. Unfortunately, someone must have labelled something incorrectly or rebooted a computer at the wrong time, because more than 1,400 of the weapons released by the ATF went missing. Which means that the United States government essentially went out of its way to arm known drug traffickers.
Obviously, that was big deal in the U.S. (and in Mexico). Lots of people got fired behind it. Well, now, certain cartel members are claiming that the ATF and the DEA intended to lose the guns in order to arm cartel members and coerce them to give up info on their rivals. Admittedly, that's not confirmed (and the only people who are claiming it's true are known criminals), but you can bet it'll be a big topic of discussion in lots of windowless rooms this week.
At this moment, however, the deal between the Sinaloa cartel and the DEA appears to be off the table. The DEA's press site is filled with reports and releases that indicate a renewed hunt for members of Sinaloa cartel. In fact, just last April the Administration brought RICO charges against the Sinaloa cartel's highest ranking members, including "El Chapo" himself.
Unfortunately, though, the damage may already be done. Working with the cartel under any circumstances may have permanently strained an already fragile alliance between U.S. Drug Enforcement agents and Mexican authorities. Edgardo Buscaglia, the Senior Research Scholar in Law & Economics at Columbia Law School, told El Universal, "This way of operating involves a violation of public international law, adding more fuel to the fire of violence and civil rights violations."
The news couldn't possibly come at a worse time for Mexico. Civil violence in the country has reached an all time high as the government wages war with the cartels. In the last seven years, more than 90,000 people have been killed as a result of the conflict. The homicide rate in the country has tripled since 2007. Things have gotten so bad that - throughout Mexico - virtual armies of concerned citizens are taking up arms in an effort to combat the presence of the cartel.
These so-called "self-defense forces" - who may or may not be backed by a rival cartel - are fighting a two front war. These vigilantes, who claim to be taking their communities back from drug cartels, are also fending off attacks from Mexican authorities who want them to abandon their cause.
Earlier today, it was reported that 12 people have lost their lives to fighting between the government and self-defense groups. A mere 24 hours earlier, fighting erupted in the small town of Nueva Italia in the state Michoacan between a self-defense group and forces from the Knights Templar cartel.
Calling the situation in Mexico "dire" would probably be a big-time understatement. Looking at a country as divided as Mexico seems to be, one could almost see the perspective of a Drug Enforcement agent. After all, it's a pretty smart plan. Using one cartel to take down all the others would allow you invaluable intel while simultaneously allowing you to gather information on the people who are helping you out. Then, once all the competition is gone, you can move against the informants, effectively removing the threat of illegal drugs coming across the border (at least for a little while).
Of course, that would have been a great plan if we lived in a perfect world. Unfortunately, we live in this world, and the actions taken by the DEA may have ultimately led to a bust, but not before members of the Sinaloa cartel were able to move massive amounts of drugs, cash and weapons into America, perpetuating untold amounts of crime and self-abuse. Add to that the increased instability in Mexico and what will certainly be long term setbacks in the relationship between the United States and Mexican officials and it would appear as though there is no easy end in sight for the conflict.