De la Isla: Fallout from the Fast and Furious debacle - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

De la Isla: Fallout from the Fast and Furious debacle

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Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at

Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 4:57 pm | Updated: 12:46 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

MEXICO CITY - Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told CNN on Sept. 28, that the U.S.-armed Mexican drug cartels were responsible for 200 deaths.

Babeu said Operation "Fast and Furious," mainly staged from Phoenix, let weapons "walk" from gun dealers into the hands of intermediaries, and were destined for drug cartels. High-level Mexican authorities have disavowed knowledge about the operation, as has the chief of operations in Mexico for ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), the U.S. agency presumed to be responsible for the operation.

Babeu's county borders Mexico. He said the entire caper is "one step from (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder," and that it has broken "countless" treaties with Mexico. "Mexico is our partner. It is not our enemy," he added.

Like a police operation following a "spider web" network, Fast and Furious put weapons in criminals' hands, which made it "pure insanity," said Babeu, claiming there was no mechanism in place to track the weapons.

"For years this will haunt the conscience of America," he said, because individuals, agencies and maybe even policy have been accessories to crimes, violence and deaths.

The day following the CNN interview with Babeu, the Los Angeles Times reported that in January 2010, during the early stages of Fast and Furious, 40 firearms with ammunition magazines and ballistic vests were discovered in El Paso, Texas. The firearms and equipment vanished after the operation began.

The El Paso case and the three weapons connected to the ambush killing of a Border Patrol agent are the first examples in the United States of Fast and Furious weapons turning up in the wrong hands.

The most obvious questions are: who and why? Mostly Republican congressmen have neurotically fixed on Holder and by extension on President Barack Obama or his aides as the responsible parties.

But there is something upside down about this, especially when many other agencies are possibly complicit. In a July 5 letter to Holder, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform indicated that "ATF was kept in the dark about certain activities of other agencies, including DEA and FBI."

Unfortunately, unchecked hysterics can shape public opinion, such as when Texas Gov. Rick Perry's election bravado and his sound machine crank up for an election countdown. Perry's recent gambit was in Manchester, N.H.

"It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off of our borders," he said, according to the Associated Press.

This is proof that the growing political ozone hole is growing, when what is called for is controlled emotion and intelligence.

Wasn't Fast and Furious about "working with" Mexico in the first place?" However, U.S. authorities just didn't tell Mexican officials about the most serious operation undertaken by the U.S.?

And by "drug cartels," one must assume Perry knows who they are. Are they the recent paramilitary group, called the "Mata Zetas," that took responsibility for killing 35 Zetas, originally a U.S.-trained group that became allied with a drug cartel and then became a drug cartel itself? Is that what "working with them" means?

Who does Perry support among the presumed 167 paramilitary groups? They are employed by cartels, state governments, and companies, claims Edgardo Buscaglia, U.N. adviser, lecturer at the University of Virginia and visiting professor at the Autonomous Technological University of Mexico.

Is it too soon to ask whether U.S. policymakers and others know what they are talking about? Or whether investigators know what questions to ask -- questions such as -- were U.S. authorities pretending to trace illicit weapons going to Mexico? Looking to identify cartels? And/or, as Perry implies, arming mercenaries who work like paramilitaries?

If it were not so tragic, with 200 deaths from the failed U.S. Fast And Furious operation, it would look like the Three Stooges going to war.

It also begins to sound suspiciously like our strategists are thinking about Iraq, not Mexico.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at

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