The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis:
Part 1.3

Fact and friction

Europol's business case for Mexico discusses the Mexican Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and the General Procurator of the Republic (PGR) and notes that "friction exists between the two organisations."

"The Mexican law enforcement landscape remains very fragmented and Mexican intentions have to be cautiously evaluated and assessed," says the agency.

However, the "friction" referred to by Europol is, according to Octavio Rodriguez's from the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, largely a thing of the past.

At the beginning of the administration of former president Felipe Calderón (of the National Action Party, PAN, and in office from 2006 to 2012) there was huge disagreement between the PGR and the SSP, which even involved the PGR launching an investigation into the SSP. Following what Rodriguez called "some political adjustments" which saw the head of the PGR shifted to Mexico's embassies in the UK and then the US, the differences between the agencies are apparently "largely solved".

Corruption, crime and violence

Meanwhile, it seems Europol will have to undertake further evaluation and assessment of the "Mexican law enforcement landscape" as last month, the SSP was disbanded by the President, Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). [9]

Octavio Rodriguez told Statewatch that while the SSP is now "formally dismantled", it has been reconstituted with "basically the same" functions in a new body, the National Commission of Security, which retains intelligence, crime prevention, rapid reaction and special forces functions.

The transfer of the SSP's functions is related to a bureaucratic streamlining of Mexico's security forces. "The thing here is that the president is intending to create a national gendarmerie," said Rodriguez, with the aim of ending the military's role in public security.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from November 2011 notes that "more than 50,000 soldiers are currently involved in large-scale counternarcotics operations across Mexico," and where they are deployed they "have taken on many of the responsibilities of both police and prosecutors - from patrolling neighbourhoods to responding to shootouts, from investigating individual crimes to gathering intelligence on criminal groups." [10]

Research by HRW found that Caldéron's policy of launching a "war" on Mexican organised crime groups, in which the military were the "centrepiece" of a strategy "almost entirely focused on confronting the cartels with force," led to "a significant increase in human rights violations."

This included security forces "systematically [using] torture to obtain forced confessions and information about criminal groups," as well as evidence pointing "to the involvement of soldiers and police in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances around the country."

Rodriguez said that alongside moves to end the military's role in public security, new emphasis has been placed on human rights standards, and "the president has said that the new forces… are going to put more emphasis on training police in human rights. They do want to train the forces - or at least that's the public discourse - and to make it more respectful of rights."

But while there are still massive profits to be made from the trade in drugs, this may prove difficult. While under Calderón 3,200 officers - nearly 10 per cent - from the federal police force were fired in attempts to rein in corruption, [11] suspicions remain that "the drug business is just too lucrative for some to pass up." [12] In the late 1990s, a former government drugs chief "was on the payroll" of a major cartel. [13]

Brazil's law enforcement authorities have a similarly dubious human rights record to those in Mexico. A Freedom House report notes that "corruption and violence remain entrenched problems in Brazil's police forces, where torture is used systemically to extract confessions and extrajudicial killings are portrayed as shootouts with dangerous criminals." [14]

A European Parliament report from 2011 noted that "Europol's cooperation with a number of third countries with poor human rights records under international law and the Council of Europe system, such as Russia, requires close monitoring." [15]

However, in terms of its legal obligations, the agency is only required to assess whether a third state with which it has an agreement applies "adequate" data protection standards; and whether data can be considered acceptable in line with Europol's "4x4" grading system, which assesses the quality of source against the quality of information. [16]

The European Parliament's analysis ended with an open question: "could Europol receive strategic information obtained under torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment (in breach of Article 4 of the Charter and Article 3 ECHR) or in turn facilitate law enforcement operations in third states which impact on fundamental rights?"

America's back yard

Europol's liaison bureau in Washington DC has had significant involvement in contacts between Europol and its two potential new partners. Brazil sought out bilateral contacts with the agency in June 2010 and they subsequently met in Washington.

The Washington bureau was also "tasked to identify areas for possible cooperation, in particular the possibility that Europol/LB [liaison bureau] Washington receive operational data from Mexico with focus on Mexican organised crime activities in and towards Europe."

Mexican representatives have travelled to Europol's headquarters in The Hague, and Europol Director Rob Wainwright met Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain in December 2011 at the Mexican embassy in Belgium. Unspecified "experts" from Europol's Operations Department have also travelled to Mexico City, where they met representatives of the SSP in May 2012.

"Strengthening of ties" with Mexico is "supported by a number of MS and partners, in particular the United States," say's Europol's business case for an agreement.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show that in December 2008, US officials felt that "discussions at the November 14 [US-EU] Troika meeting on Drug Issues confirmed US-EU convergence on most drug issues." There is "much more transatlantic agreement than disagreement on drug issues." Indeed, the only real sticking point appeared to be the EU's insistence on maintaining a slightly less punitive approach than the US by retaining the concept of "harm reduction" as part of its drugs policy. [17]

A new approach?

The increased interest of Europol in South American drug production and trafficking comes at the same time that many political leaders in Latin America are shifting their rhetoric and policies on drugs.

In January 2010, "many Latin American countries" began arguing that "the war on drugs has failed," and began to adopt "more permissive drug laws, including the decriminalisation of personal use." [18]

In early 2012, The Economist reported that then-president of Mexico Félipe Calderon "called for a 'national debate' about legalisation, though he then seemed to forget about it." Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian president, argued in November that "if [taking away traffickers' profits] means legalising, and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it." Guatemala's president has called for drug trafficking to be decriminalised, saying that "you would get rid of money-laundering, smuggling, arms-trafficking and corruption" - some of the very problems which Europol is hoping to try and address by expanding its reach. [19]

Next week: Statewatch News Online looks at Europol's proposed agreement with Georgia, where human rights activists remain critical of the new government's approach to data protection and covert surveillance by law enforcement authorities.

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[9] Peña Nieto announces initiative to dismantle SSP and SPF, Justice in Mexico Project, 16 November 2012
[10] Human Rights Watch, Neither Rights Nor Security: Killing, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico's "War on Drugs", November 2011
[11] Mexico fires thousands of police to combat corruption, Reuters, 30 August 2010
[12] Sarah Carlson, Mexico's Future Strategy Shrouded by Ongoing Drug War: Will Nieto's Strategy Prevail?, The International, 11 February 2013
[13] Ted Galen Carpenter, Is the Mexican Government Going Easy on the Sinaloa Drug Cartel?, CATO Institute, 10 February 2011
[14] Sarah Trister, Assessing the 2012 UN Human Rights Council Elections: One-Third of Candidates Unqualified for Membership, Freedom House
[15] Elspeth Guild, Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, Joanna Parkin, Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies: Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office, August 2011
[16] Europol: "4x4" intelligence handling codes includes "dodgy data", Statewatch News Online, January 2013
[17] USEU Brussels, Discussions at November 14 US-EU troika meeting on drug issues demonstrate overall transatlantic convergence on drug issues, Wikileaks, 12 December 2008
[18] FACTBOX - Drug policy reforms in Latin America, Reuters, 29 January 2010
[19] Burn-out and battle fatigue, The Economist, 17 March 2012
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