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Mexico left in the dark on Fast and Furious, ambassador says

Arturo Sarukhan says the ATF's operation hurt both nations' efforts to combat gun trafficking, and reveals that Mexico is conducting its own investigation.

June 01, 2012|By Jamie Goldberg, Washington Bureau
  • Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., criticized Fast and Furious at a forum in Washington.
Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., criticized Fast… (Gary Fabiano, Pool Photo/Getty…)

WASHINGTON — The failed federal gun-tracking operation called Fast and Furious showed an "outstanding lack of understanding of how criminal organizations are operating on both sides of our common borders," the Mexican ambassador to the United States said.

In a forum Thursday on Capitol Hill, Arturo Sarukhan complained that his government had been left in the dark about operations to stop gun smuggling at the border. He also revealed that his government was conducting its own official investigation into how some 2,000 U.S.-purchased firearms made it across the border and into the hands of drug cartels amid the escalating violence in Mexico.

"Mexico was never apprised how the operation would be designed and implemented," Sarukhan told officials at a forum hosted by the New Democrat Network, or NDN, a center-left think tank and advocacy organization, and the New Policy Institute, one of its sister organizations.

"Regardless of whether this was or was not the intent or the design of Fast and Furious," Sarukhan said, "the thinking that you can let guns walk across the border and maintain operational control of those weapons is really an outstanding lack of understanding of how these criminal organizations are operating on both sides of our common borders."

He added that the ill-conceived operation had "poisoned the wellsprings" of public opinion in Mexico, putting strains on the strides that had been achieved between the United States and Mexico in combating illegal gun trafficking.

The Fast and Furious operation — run by the Phoenix office of theBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives— allowed illegal gun purchases in Arizona in hopes of tracking the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders. However, roughly 1,700 guns vanished, many turning up later at crime scenes in Mexico.

An ATF study found that 68,000 of 99,000 guns recovered by law enforcement agencies in Mexico could be traced to the United States.

While condemning the ATF's gun-walking debacle, Sarukhan also tried to turn the focus to how the United States and Mexico could work together to prevent transnational gun trafficking. For Mexico, that would mean adding manpower and resources into its customs inspections and facilities at the border, he said.

"This has to be a dual process," Sarukhan said. "We won't achieve too much if the only ones inspecting or looking for guns are Mexican customs."

In March, Rep.Adam B. Schiff(D-Burbank) introduced legislation that would create two-year prison sentences for "straw purchasers," who acquire weapons to sell to Mexican gun smugglers. Currently, straw purchasers face probation or minimal jail time.

Yet he worries that Republicans may oppose the legislation in order to keep the focus on the Fast and Furious debacle.

"The Justice Department's inspector general is doing an investigation, and members on both sides of the aisle agree that we need to get the facts," Schiff said. "What I don't want is the continual use of this investigation for political purposes that distract us from the need to curb the problem at hand and focus on solutions."

jamie.goldberg@latimes.com

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