By Drazen Jorgic
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -U.S. officials and anti-narcotics agents turned a blind eye to Mexican corruption for decades, according to a report released on Thursday by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's office and which calls for a re-think of future security cooperation.
Grassley, the Republican co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), often accusing it of mismanaging resources and failing to conduct oversight of foreign operations despite mounting evidence of problems.
Grassley's efforts to question DEA leaders and seek answers have largely been met with silence, prompting his office to take the unusual step of writing about the perceived failures in joint U.S.-Mexico efforts to fight drug cartels.
Tracing allegations of corruption back to the 1980s, Grassley's report accuses generations of U.S. officials of disregarding graft by their Mexican counterparts in order to get their cooperation in seizing drugs and arresting traffickers. But doing so placed U.S. agents at risk and hurt the long-term fight against the cartels, the report argues.
"For the past 40 years, U.S. officials have overlooked widespread corruption in Mexico in favor of cooperating with and funneling resources to foreign actors," said the report.
"The costs were enormous in terms of human lives and taxpayer resources," according to the report, which called on the U.S. Congress to reevaluate Washington's security cooperation policies in the Western Hemisphere.
The DEA said it follows evidence across the globe, including the investigation and prosecution of public corruption.
"DEA remains relentlessly committed to working in close cooperation with our partners in the United States and our Mexican counterparts to save lives by bringing drug traffickers to justice and disrupting the illicit drug supply chain," a DEA spokesperson said.
Mexico's presidency did not respond to a request for comment.
Privately, many DEA officials in the past have said it is impossible to get results in Mexico without the cooperation of local officials, some of whom they suspect are corrupt.
The report adds to mounting criticism, particularly from Republicans, that the Biden administration has been ineffective in its fight against fentanyl and failed to get Mexico to take stronger action against criminal groups producing and trafficking the synthetic opioid.
"This report paints an ugly picture of U.S. drug enforcement efforts in Mexico and makes clear that we need an improved response and sharper congressional oversight of this issue," Grassley said in a statement sent to Reuters. "We must hold U.S. federal agencies and corrupt Mexican officials accountable and get serious about ending the cartels and protecting our communities."
The report points to the case of former Mexican Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna as one example among many of high-profile Mexican corruption. It alleges that the DEA had credible information in 2010 that Garcia Luna, who was a minister at the time, was working for the Sinaloa Cartel but failed to share the information with the then-U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
A U.S. court earlier this year convicted Garcia Luna of taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel.
The report also alleges the DEA had credible information that the commander of one of the Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU), which were elite teams of vetted Mexican police working with American agents, was also working for the Sinaloa Cartel but continued to give him awards, training and sensitive information.
The DEA spokesperson said the agency "led the investigation and prosecution" of both Garcia Luna and the SIU commander, along with U.S. Attorney's Offices in the United States and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985 in Mexico is also given prominence in the report. Citing trial testimony, Grassley's office points out there were allegations Manuel Bartlett, Mexico's then-interior minister, was linked to his killing.
Bartlett, who is an influential ally of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and today runs Mexico's state power utility, has always denied involvement in Camarena's murder.
Bartlett's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report also said oversight of security equipment given to Mexico under the multi-billion Merida Initiative was inadequate. The U.S. military initially gave military aid to Mexico to fight drug cartels under the terms of that deal, which was announced in 2007.
It also said the Bicentennial Framework, a new U.S.-Mexico initiative designed to address production of synthetic drugs, particularly fentanyl, and weapons smuggling, was unworkable due to restrictions Mexico's government placed on its officials.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Paul Simao and Leslie Adler)