The controversial presence of the DEA in Latin America

San José. The three capital letters in white or yellow on a black or blue background stand out for officers on the back of bulletproof vests or jackets and on the front of caps: give.

Pistol ready, in armored vans and with communication equipment, officers from United States Drug Control Administration (DEA) are sometimes discreet in ordering and coordinating raids against drug trafficking… Outside the US and in defiance of the sovereignty of Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Once the missions are completed, they seem to retreat to leave the scene at the disposal of the national authorities, but the presence of American troops or citizens recruited by the DEA, with command and domination, sometimes bothers and disturbs. police forces and the judicial systems of the countries.

Arrested in the United States on October 15, a former Mexican Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, Due to allegations of drug trafficking, it caused great inconvenience in Mexico, as it was not informed that there was a DEA investigation against the general.

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Although Cienfuegos was returned to Mexico on November 18, the Mexican government’s response came in the form of a reform to Security law In order to restrict the operations of DEA agents in the country, to deprive them of their immunity and force them to share with the government of this nation the information they collect in the exercise of their functions in Mexico, they are prohibited from making arrests, are required to carry weapons and may be expelled if they break the law and alert them that they lack immunity.

The DEA has a history of controversy in Latin America.

On July 21, 2009, the Guatemalan media published on the front pages: “The great DEA operation fails in Gualemala.” Dozens of heavily armed DEA agents commanded that day police forces, Guatemalan military and judicial officers, launched a hunt for air and ground people in La Reforma, a village in eastern Guatemala, to capture and extradite six US leaders The Lorenzana cartel, one of the strongest in the area and allied with Mexican cartels as well of Sinaloa. The operation failed due to a leak and the hood block escaped (it was closed a few years later), while a wave of criticism was launched for violating sovereignty.

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“Sovereignty in Guatemala is just a pretext,” the Guatemalan said Iduvina Hernandez, executive director at [no estatal] The Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, of that country, explaining that it is a factor that, depending on the convenience of the moment, the authorities use or eliminate.

The presence of armed foreign agents must be authorized by the Guatemalan Congress, because otherwise “sovereignty is violated,” Hernández told EL UNIVERSAL, after warning: “The DEA would hardly operate in Guatemala without a signed paper.” by both governments, although never subject to the legislative process.


Heir to the Office of Narcotic Drugs and Dangerous Drugs – Office of Narcotic Drugs and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), DEA was born on July 1, 1973 to strengthen the war on drugs that the then American president, Richard Nixon, released in the early 1970s.

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The market at that time was based on marijuana, produced in most of the area, and cocaine, whose production was concentrated in Colombia and Peru with raw materials from both countries and Bolivia. He also fought against heroin and its production networks in Mexico and Colombia or with the supply of raw materials in Guatemala.

The business changed after 47 years. The crisis spread sharply in the 21st century until synthetic drugs with suppliers from Latin America and the Caribbean, China and Europe and with the USA as the main market. Honduras and Guatemala now produce cocaine.

In almost half a century, the DEA has been marked by extreme cases: it has received a free permit or a green light in Guatemala. On the other hand, in Venezuela the then president Hugo Chavez He ordered his expulsion in 2005, claiming that the agents supported the drug traffickers, instead of fighting them, and carried out “intelligence work against the government”. The DEA accused Chávez of not wanting to cooperate in the framework fight narco. Three years later, Bolivia would follow in the footsteps of Venezuela. Under the argument that they were conspiring against his government, the then president Evo Morales He gave DEA agents three months to leave Bolivian soil. Its operation was never allowed in Cuba.

Haiti is an exceptional case in terms of drug smuggling. With a strategic position in the Caribbean Sea, the island has become an operational place to deceive that country Latin American drug traffickers and Caribbean people who, after being caught by the DEA and without lengthy extradition proceedings, travel to a federal court in Florida or New York in less than 24 hours.

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In Colombia, the role of the DEA has been instrumental in the fight against CARTELS from Medellin A of annealBut then came the costly, controversial Columbia Plan, to which experts attribute the displacement of thousands and very few results. “Despite the stated objectives, the DEA has not achieved any in the most global sense,” he said at the time. Bruce Bagley, Director and Professor of International Studies at the University of Miami.

Speaking to the BBC, Adam Isacson, a regional security analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America Affairs (WOLA), said the anti-narcotics agency had failed to tick off the drug trade and both experts and NGOs. they talked about a “failure” in the fight against drug trafficking.

DEA has four areas in America – North and Central America, the Andean Cone, Caribbean and South – with 40 offices, four of which have regional command: Mexico City, which includes Central America; San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the Caribbean, Bogotá for Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela; and Lima for Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The agency has 15 offices in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and the Bahamas and 21 “country offices”: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago and Curaçao.

Read also: Unacceptable, attacking or undermining the DEA in Mexico: Ted Cruz; Cienfuegos has not been tried, he adds.

Without getting an answer, EL UNIVERSAL asked the DEA headquarters in Washington about the legal limitations faced by its activity in Latin America and the Caribbean due to the rules on arms transport. prohibition of arrest and immunity. In its mission statement, the agency explained that it is cooperating with foreign governments to reduce availability illegal drugs on the US market and using powerless methods to eradicate and replace illegal crops. But security law reform in Mexico is just the latest example of a change of approach that is being called for in the fight against drugs from various countries and institutions.