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News Article

López Obrador Provokes Withdrawal of a DEA Plane From Mexico

By Paloma Duran | Tue, 05/17/2022 - 12:02

President López Obrador removed the parking space of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) air plane that had been operating in Mexico for decades. Experts said the withdrawal represents a setback for the US-Mexico relationship, which has already been tense lately. Leaders of the Mexican opposition criticized López Obrador’s actions and accused him of deprioritizing the war on organized crime.

López Obrador’s government removed the parking lot of a DEA plane at the Toluca International Airport, where a Beechcraft King Air had started its operations since the early 1990s. The aircraft was primarily used for anti-cartel missions as well as transporting US and Mexican agents to oversee key raids across the country. According to Reuters, the DEA has already moved the plane to Texas.The DEA and Mexican authorities bothdeclined to comment. However, experts argue that it will severely disrupt operations since Mexico does not have this type of aircraft. "It is going to stop operations. We cannot drive through some parts of Mexico because it is too dangerous," said a anonymous source from the DEA. In addition, experts say the plane's removal will undermine the US’ battle against organized crime by delaying the capture and extradition of high-ranking cartel members.

In addition, the experts argue that López Obrador's decision will fracture the relationship between the DEA and the Mexican government, which is already strained due to López Obrador’s decision to adopt a less hostile approach against organized crime, which the president himself calls “hugs not bullets.” This is not the first time that López Obrador has withdrawn an agreement with the DEA. In April 2021, the president disbanded a counternarcotics unit that had been fighting organized crime alongside the DEA for 25 years.

On several occasions, DEA officials decried that under the current government, the Mexican Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) has been given more control, which has made it difficult to carry out missions since the Ministry requests notifications two weeks in advance of any operational movement. Because most missions need flexibility and speed, many have been abandoned at key moments.

"The plane was invaluable to our missions. It is very important to the DEA's ability to function and be effective in Mexico,” said  Leonardo Silva, a former DEA agent. DEA agents added that the plane was also essential to rescue US agents in dangerous situations.

The opposition’s senators of the PAN, PRI and MC called López Obrador's actions a “political failure” in the fight against organized crime. They stressed that that taking away a much-needed bilterarally coordinated effort without having a backup plan in place is irresponsible and proves that security is not a government priority.

Damián Zepeda, a PAN Senator, said that currently Mexico already does not enjoy an optimal relationship with the US, mainky because of López Obrador's position on the war in Ukraine and his threat to boycott the Summit of the Americas. Consequently, his decision to revoke the parking lot may cause the relationship to deteriorate futher.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Reuters, La Silla Rota, El Universal,
Photo by:   Daniel Klein
Paloma Duran Paloma Duran Journalist and Industry Analyst