Also unremarked upon was the mounting criticism that success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.
Meanwhile, the drug flow into the United States continued unabated. Mexico remains the U.S. market’s largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and the transshipment point for 95 percent of its cocaine.
No one had come up with a quick, realistic alternative to Calderon’s novel use of the Mexican military with U.S. support. But stopping the cartel violence had become Peña Nieto’s top priority during the campaign. The U.S. administration didn’t know what that meant. Some feared a scaling back of the bilateral efforts and a willingness to trade the relentless drive against cartel leaders for calmer streets.
When the Dec. 15 meeting concluded, Mexico’s new security officials remained poker-faced, “They said they were very appreciative to have received so much information,” said one U.S. official familiar with the meeting. We will be in touch, they added, and left.
The roots of cooperation
U.S. involvement in Mexico’s deteriorating internal security first peaked in the mid-1980s when the cocaine epidemic in the United States turned the southern neighbor into a prosperous distribution route north. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed a National Security Decision Directive instructing U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help defeat the growing narco-trafficking menace worldwide.
Beginning in the late 1980s, a massive U.S. air, sea and land effort was shutting down many Caribbean drug routes. The traffickers were increasingly forced to move their product through the only territory left unhindered: Mexico.
Mexico’s secret security ties with the United States date at least to the Cold War, when Mexico City was a hub of intrigue, the “Beirut of the Western Hemisphere,” according to intelligence history scholar Sergio Aguayo. To keep an eye on the United States, the Soviet Union and China had their largest embassies here, necessitating a large CIA presence.
Back then, the Mexican intelligence service, CISEN, “was basically run by the CIA,” according to one former CISEN official. Although that has changed with time, the unusually close relationship between Mexican presidents and CIA chiefs has not. Then-CIA director David H. Petraeus attended a party at the Mexican Embassy in Washington in 2011 and visited Calderon in Mexico last year. As many of his predecessors had done, Calderon usually met with the CIA director when he came to Washington.