The governments of Mexico and the United States have put aside their differences to cooperate on a new, broad-reaching maritime operation to combat the drug trade.
United States Coast Guard officials told the news agency Associated Press that the two countries, along with Colombia, are scheduled to start a mission Saturday that will target drug smugglers off South America’s Pacific coast.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Paul F. Zukunft had earlier raised the possibility of a coordinated effort at a recent defense conference in San Diego, stating that the U.S. “can’t do it alone.”
“It’s no secret we are besieged with the flow of drugs from Latin America to the United States,” he said.
Mexico and the U.S. often work together at sea but, according to the Coast Guard, the new effort will significantly increase the levels of “information sharing, collaboration and cooperation between the United States, Mexico and other partner nations.”
Coast Guard spokeswoman Alana Miller said operational personnel from Mexico and the United States will board the other country’s vessels to gain expertise and witness operations first-hand as well as share information about smuggling routes.
Fishboats, skiffs, commercial cargo ships and even homemade submarines are used to move cocaine from countries such as Colombia to Central America and Mexico, AP said.
Miller added that there was no set conclusion date for the joint efforts, saying it will continue “for the foreseeable future as long as it’s working for everyone.”
In the past five years, the U.S. Coast Guard has made record drug seizures but officials say that due to limited resources, the smallest branch of the United States military only catches about 25% of drug shipments in the Pacific.
Still, cocaine secured annually at sea accounts for three times the amount seized at the Mexico-U.S. border.
But United States politicians have focused more on ways to combat drugs flowing over the border rather than tacking the problem closer to its source. President Donald Trump’s border wall proposal is a prime example.
But the aim of the new operation is to stop boats and seize drugs before they reach Mexico and are loaded onto trucks to make the journey to the country’s northern border and then onward to the lucrative U.S. market.
An associate professor at the University of San Diego told AP that the joint operation fits with Trump’s vow to pursue “bad hombres” while President Enrique Peña Nieto has recognized that Mexico needs help to combat the high levels of violent criminal activity.
“With more walled-off sections of the border, we’ve seen drug trafficking organizations literally go underground or offshore,” David Shirk said.
The academic also warned that the military cooperation could lead to “serious violations of suspects’ rights at sea and possible human rights violations in the process.”
However, Coast Guard officials say that they respect suspects’ rights.
Despite strained relations between Mexico and the United States and their respective presidents, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City doesn’t believe that the joint operation with the U.S. will get much negative reaction from Mexicans who are tired of drug violence.
“The more insecurity we have, the less nationalism we have in Mexico,” Jorge Chabat said.
However, he is skeptical that the operation will do much to curb the quantity of drugs reaching the U.S.
“This is something they have to do to maintain drug trafficking at the same level, and not allow it to grow,” Chabat said.