MEXICO CITY — As snapshots of Mexico's drug war, the U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks over the past few days offer surprising, and sometimes grim, images:
_ Mexico's "risk-averse" army turns a blind eye to U.S. intelligence tips on how to take down drug lords, preferring to do nothing rather than make errors.
_ A senior Mexican official frets about "losing" territory to drug cartels.
_ Drug syndicates are gunning for the contacts and sources of U.S. counter-drug and FBI agents, killing 61 of them in a little over two years.
While only a handful of the estimated 2,600 or so U.S. diplomatic cables dealing with Mexico have been made public, already a bleak rendering is emerging of U.S. views on efforts to combat major drug cartels wracking Mexico, particularly along the U.S. border.
The language of the cables is often bureaucratic yet laden with the emotion of U.S. diplomats eager to help Mexican counterparts make headway in the drug war.
Some of the bluntest language came in a cable from U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual, who wrote to the State Department on Nov. 9, 2009, "Mexico's use of strategic and tactical intelligence is often fractured, ad hoc, and heavily reliant on the United States for leads and operations."
Pascual, a Cuban-American, bemoaned that turf wars and "entrenched mistrust" hampered cooperation between Mexico's numerous security agencies.
The rival agencies, he wrote, "would rather hoard intelligence than allow a rival agency to succeed."
Such criticism sparked an outcry in Mexico, and on Friday Pascual issued a statement that said in part: "Cable reports do not represent U.S. policy. They are often impressionistic snapshots of a moment in time. But like some snapshots, they can be out of focus or unflattering."
Mexico's national security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, also convoked the media to decry the leaked cables as presenting "a biased, inexact and out-of-context view." He singled out one leaked cable, dating from Oct. 5, 2009, which reported to Washington on a dinner that Mexican security and judicial officials offered for a visiting U.S. Justice Department dignitary.
At the dinner, the cable said, Mexico's then-under secretary for governance, Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, remarked on the urgency that was felt to achieve results before the end of the Calderon administration in 2012.
"We have 18 months," the cable quoted Gutierrez as saying, "and if we do not produce a tangible success that is recognizable to the Mexican people, it will be difficult to sustain the confrontation into the next administration."
Gutierrez went to lament the "pervasive, debilitating fear" across Mexico because of the drug war, even in areas of the Yucatan Peninsula largely unaffected by violence. The cable added: "He expressed a real concern with 'losing' certain regions."
Piqued by that image, Poire declared Friday that the government "is plainly effective and in control of the territory."
The frustration that U.S. diplomats appear to feel about Mexico's army, which is widely deployed in the drug war, is matched by the praise they offer to the navy, which is under separate command. One cable, written after the slaying of a drug kingpin in late 2009, wrapped up both sentiments.
"Mexican Navy forces acting on U.S. information," it began, "killed Arturo Beltran Leyva in an operation on Dec. 16, the highest-level takedown of a cartel figure under the Calderon administration."
The cable, marked "secret" and signed by Ambassador Pascual, said the naval unit that killed Beltran Leyva after following him for a week had "received extensive U.S. training." The U.S. Northern Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs, it said, offered the training.
The Mexican navy "has shown itself capable of responding quickly to actionable intelligence. Its success puts the army ... in the difficult position of explaining why it has been reluctant to act on good intelligence and conduct operations against high-level targets," the cable said.
It added that the intelligence lead was first passed to the Mexican army, "whose refusal to move quickly reflected a risk aversion that cost the institution a major counternarcotics victory."
Another cable, dating from early 2009, well before cartel gunmen began targeting U.S. government employees, analyzed how long U.S. officials would remain safe, noting that gunmen "have shown little reticence about going after some of our most reliable partners in Mexican law enforcement agencies."
"Ten close DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) law enforcement liaison officers have been killed since 2007, seven of whom were members of Special Vetted Units. Similarly, within the past two years 51 close FBI contacts have been murdered," the cable said.
A little more than a year later, on March 13, gunmen in Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, Texas, executed an American who worked at the U.S. consulate and her American husband, as well as a Mexican employee of the consulate, as they left a children's party in separate vehicles. Whether the victims were targeted as U.S. diplomats remains unclear.
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