Congressman Won’t Rule Out Drone Strikes in Mexico

U.S. Congressman Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from El Paso, said he wouldn’t rule out drone strikes on drug cartel capos in Mexico. Reyes shared his views during an interview this week with El Paso Inc.

“We have to do what we’ve done essentially in Pakistan, and that is start taking out the heads of the cartels,” Reyes told the magazine. The congressman ended his four-year tenure as chairman of the Permanent House Select Intelligence Committee last year. Reyes has served in Congress since 1997 and plans to run for another term in the next election. He is also a former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.

It was only a matter of time before the subject of drone strikes in Mexico came up. Just last week Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin, introduced a bill that would label drug cartel members as terrorists and thus ratchet up the criminal penalties. (Does that make all U.S. drug users supporters of terrorist organizations?) Since Mexico’s drug war started in 2006, the military in both Mexico and the United States have increased drone patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border and spent millions on buying new drones. Not long ago, a small Mexican surveillance drone crashed in El Paso.

Last month, the New York Times revealed that the United States had
been flying surveillance drones in Mexico for some months. The Mexican
government had kept it quiet fearing a backlash from Mexicans who
would be against any intrusion by the U.S. military. And rightly so,
based on the long contentious military history between Mexico and the United States.

In the Q&A with El Paso Inc. Reyes backs into the idea of drone strikes then backpedals when he’s asked by the magazine to elaborate on it further. Finally, he says he wouldn’t rule it out. Here are his exact words below from the magazine interview:

Q: But some think that is better than what we have now, which is the
decimation of Juárez and a great deal of instability, unless somebody
brings an end to this somehow. What would it take to end it?

A: We have to do what we’ve done essentially in Pakistan, and that is
start taking out the heads of the cartels. As people move up, we want
to make sure that position is the most tenuous of any in the
organization.

Q: Calderón invited U.S. participation and assistance in an unusual
statement recently with surveillance drones. Do you anticipate seeing,
as you’re talking about us doing in Pakistan, the use of any type of
U.S. technology to help with that?

A: I wouldn’t rule it out.

Q: We’re obviously talking about aerial strikes, much as it is going
on in Pakistan.

A: Well, that’s not what I said. You said that.

Q: Would you rule that out?

A:  Probably not.

Allow me my black helicopter moment. It doesn’t take too much imagination to think that somewhere among Mexican and U.S. military officials there hasn’t been a discussion already about targeted drone strikes on cartel leaders. The idea of U.S. military operating such strikes would be so repugnant to most Mexicans that I don’t think President Calderon would ever go for it. For one thing, the 2012 Mexican presidential election is just around the corner. Calderon’s party the PAN is already in disrepair and would most certainly lose any election if Calderon allowed the strikes to happen. It’s also just a terrible and reckless idea.

The drug cartel violence in Mexico is unprecedented but turning the
Drug War into a “War on Terror” would be a grave mistake. Investing in eradicating
poverty, impunity and corruption in Mexico would go much further than any drone
strike ever would. And it would kill a lot less innocent people. Just look at the carnage in Pakistan — it’s not like we’ve wrought any great victories there from the aerial bombardments.

It seemed important to comment on Reyes’ remark because even the suggestion of drone strikes will be extremely controversial both in the United States and in Mexico. And Reyes, as the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has no doubt been party to many classified security meetings dealing with the violence in Mexico, which means his remarks carry some weight. I called Reyes’ office to see whether he would elaborate further on his comments, but I was told he was in a meeting. I’ll just have to keep trying.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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