The “Fast and Furious” – The covert operation to arm Mexican drug cartels


Many Weapons

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) permitted hundreds of guns to be sold to suspected gun smugglers in a bid to track down senior members of Mexican criminal cartels.

The Center for Public Integrity has reported that the ATF allowed around 1,765 firearms over the course of 15 months to be sold to buyers suspected of being involved in gun smuggling.

Dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious”, the covert programme aimed to trace arms sold in the US to “straw buyers” – people who buy arms on behalf of others. The ATF operation let gun shops sell weapons in bulk to suspected “straw buyers”, aiming to track the guns as they made their way into Mexico. The ‘low-level criminals’ would, it was hoped, lead the ATF to more senior members of the criminal gangs.

Instead, out of the 1,765 that were knowingly sold (plus around 300 weapons sold before the operation began), fewer than 800 have been recovered. Two of these guns recovered were found near the border of Nogales, Mexico and Tucson, Arizona in December. The weapons found were AK-47s, recovered near the body of Brian Terry, a US Customs and Border Patrol Agent who was killed during a firefight.

The ATF told the Washington Post that its agents had taken every possible precaution to ensure that guns were recovered before they crossed into Mexico. If that truly is the case, then clearly this Operation was out of their control.

Senator Chuck Grassley, a senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned whether the weapons sold to suspected “straw purchasers” were then tracked adequately by the ATF.  He has set up an inquiry to determine with the weapons used in Operation Fast and Furious crossed the border inadvertently, or were deliberately spread to areas of Mexico by US law enforcement.

Many ATF field agents harboured concerns over the covert operation, including Special Agent John Dodson who advised superiors that the operation was unwise. Ignoring their concerns, the ATF continued the contentious operation.

The violence in Mexico has claimed over 35,000 victims since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón began his crackdown on the drug cartels. Juan Francisco Sicilia and six other young men were amongst the victims of the widespread violence. They were murdered last March, their bodies bearing signs of torture.

Sicilia’s father, Javier Sicilia, is a renowned poet and intellectual in Mexico. He is committed to the nonviolent struggle against the violence and led a protest march in May where over 200,000 people rallied to support the cause. He is, naturally, against the cartels but he also holds the Mexican president and the US culpable also. He is calling for the legalisation of drugs, and is joined by conservative former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and increasingly by Calderón himself.

Calderón is traveling in the US this week and is denouncing the US arms industry that is profiting from the sales of weapons which are ending up in Mexico, fuelling the violence. A report released by three Democratic US senators finds that around 70% of guns seized in Mexico from 2009-2010 originated from the US; around 20,000 weapons seized during that period came from the US .

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