Mexico responds to reports of ATF policy encouraging gun smuggling
Last week, The American Independent reported on a policy within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) “Project Gunrunner” program to let guns “walk”: that is, to encourage firearm sales to known gunrunners in the interest of following the guns back to the cartels that ordered their purchase. In practice, the vast majority of the hundreds of guns smuggled under the eye of the ATF proved impossible to track, and some have since been involved in the murders of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ATF agents. Mexico has now responded to media reports on the policy with a statement issued by the country’s Foreign Ministry.
The statement, translated from Spanish, reads:
In connection with information reported by numerous American and Mexican media outlets on an operation called “Fast and Furious,” conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of the U.S. Justice Department, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs states the following:
- Detailed information on this matter has been requested from American authorities.
- The Mexican Government will follow with special interest the investigations announced by both ATF and the Department of Justice.
- The aim of the governments of Mexico and the U.S. is to stop the trafficking of firearms on a basis of shared responsibility and to both work to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the field. The Presidents of Mexico and the United States endorsed this priority on March 3rd in Washington, D.C.
The reference to “Fast and Furious” reflects a CBS News report from last week confirming that the project was not just informal policy within the ATF, but that it was fully authorized by the Department of Justice and even given an official name: “Fast and Furious.”
The statement comes at a time when relations between the U.S. and Mexico have ostensibly become slightly less strained after a ratcheting up of tension in recent years over skyrocketing drug cartel-related violence near the border. According to Mexican officials, around 35,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related violence since December 2006, and while the U.S. is hardly the only source of illegal guns in the country, Mexican officials cannot be happy with a program that saw a U.S. government agency encourage the flow of guns into Mexico. Presidents Obama and Calderón held a joint press event last week in Washington at which they vowed to redouble efforts to mitigate violence in the border region and to end a years-long impasse over cross-border trucking that resulted in retaliatory food tariffs from Mexico, the U.S.’s second largest import market.
Though the Foreign Ministry’s statement alludes to this cooling off, it remains to be seen whether Mexico will be satisfied with the American government’s level of cooperation or the comprehensiveness of the ATF and DOJ internal investigations. Attorney General Eric Holder authorized a preliminary investigation of the practice last week.