Mexico Disbands Special Unit That Worked With DEA
© AP Photo / Armando SolisA police officer stand near the area of a massive shootout in Parangaricutiro, Mexico,Thursday, March 10, 2022. Authorities in the avocado-growing zone of western Mexico said five suspected drug cartel gunmen have been killed in a massive firefight between gangs.
© AP Photo / Armando Solis
Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) operate in 15 countries, working directly with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and are considered critical to dismantling smuggling rings and organized crime across the globe.
Mexico quietly disbanded the elite special anti-narcotics unit that has worked with the DEA for the past 25 years, according to a report by Reuters.
The DEA was informed of the unit’s disbanding back in April 2021, but it was not announced publicly.
Reuters talked to an anonymous DEA agent with familiarity of the situation and confirmed it with a second source. The DEA and Mexico’s Public Security Ministry have not commented on the situation.
The now shuttered Mexican branch had over 50 officers and worked on some of the biggest cases in Mexico, including the arrest of Sinaloa Cartel boss Jaoquin “El Chapo” Guzman in 2016.
The DEA flies incoming SIU officers to its facility in Quantico, Virginia where they are trained before heading back to their home countries. They then operate under the control of their governments.
It is not clear why the SIU unit was shut down or why it was not publicly announced, but it is likely related to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s larger goal of reducing violence through addressing root causes like poverty rather than hunting drug lords.
A second SIU unit, independent from Lopez Obrador’s government and under the control of the Attorney General, remains in operation.
Lopez Obrador has taken some criticism, especially from the United States, for his so-called “hugs not guns” policies. Yet the President remains popular in Mexico with a 58% approval rating according to AS/COA.
The disbanded SIU unit also faced its own controversies. In 2017, its former chief Ivan Reyes Arzate, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court for taking bribes to leak information to cartels and gangs.
25 February, 20:54 GMT
Cooperation between Lopez Obrador and the DEA further deteriorated after US officials detained Mexico’s former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, accusing him of working with drug cartels. He was quickly released and Lopez Obrador accused the DEA of fabricating evidence. A few months later, Lopez Obrador stripped foreign agents of diplomatic immunity.
While homicides in Mexico remain extremely high compared to global averages, there are signs that Lopez Obrador’s tactics might be having an effect. After a spike in 2019, his first full year in office, murders in Mexico dropped in 2020 and 2021, going slightly below 2018 levels. It is unlikely that was due to the pandemic as homicides actually rose during the first few months of COVID-19 spreading in the country.