Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mexican Standoff Over August 24 Shooting Incident

Mexican authorities are still being tight-lipped about Friday's shooting incident, in which two U.S. Embassy employees and a Mexican Navy officer were wounded by gunfire while driving to a naval facility south of Mexico City. The first report from the Associated Press called the incident "a confused running gunbattle," and that remains the case nearly three days later. See Diplopundit's write-up (here) for details of what little is known.

The first official Mexican press release came from the Naval Ministry, and it placed blame on the federal police for misidentifying the embassy vehicle. A Mexican Attorney General's Office spokesman confirmed Saturday that all the shots were fired by federal police units, and he added that Mexico's top police official, Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, personally went to the site of the shooting, indicating how seriously he is taking the incident. I've seen unconfirmed reports that twelve federal policemen were relieved of duty pending investigation, however, federal police spokesman Ramon Salinas told CNN yesterday that he would have no further comment and that in the future all information must come from the office of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. President Calderon's office did not respond to a request from CNN.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City waited about twelve hours before sending out its first, and so far only, press release.

So, what exactly happened? Did narcos attempt to stop the embassy vehicle, thereby provoking a chase by federal police? If so, it seems they got away clean, leaving no trace behind. Or did federal police mistakenly assume the embassy vehicle was operated by narcos using fake diplomatic plates - which would be an entirely plausible scenario - and fire on it when it evaded their ambush? Did the embassy employees mistake a cluster of federal police vehicles for a narco ambush and flee, leading to mutual confusion? Were the federal police posing as narcos, in some kind of a ruse? Were the federal police themselves narcos?

That last question is the big one, and such suspicion is warranted. Just last week Mexico announced that it replaced all 348 federal police officers assigned to security details at the Mexico City International Airport as a result of the June 25 incident in which three officers were shot to death by fellow officers who were involved in trafficking drugs through the airport.

Mexican press reports say the two embassy employees were treated at a hospital in Cuernavaca for only two hours before they were taken elsewhere. From that, I conclude that somebody thought it prudent to get them into U.S. control as soon as their conditions were stable enough for them to travel.

Since there are two witnesses to the incident who are not under the control of the Mexican government, I assume we will eventually get a satisfactory explanation of what happened.

FYI, Google Earth has good overhead and Street View imagery of the location of the incident. Search for "El Capulin, Morelos, Mexico" and look for the intersection of two east-west highways, Mexico 95D and the Cuernavaca-Ciudad De Mexico. The shooting reportedly took place on a side road about 100 meters north of the large square paved space (which is a Pemex gas station) in between the two highways.

The Mexican news media report that I've embedded above has a depiction of the incident starting at about the 1 minute mark, and well as more still photos and video of the Mexican response to the crime scene than I've found anywhere else.


Anonymous said...

Great report TSB! It looks like the Federales were ready to use overwhelming force 1st and ask questions later. Unless they were told something that could be their rules of engagement? gwb

James said...

All your scenarios are plausable. I think that they had a mexican naval officer with them is key. The Mexican Navy has seemed to be relatively uncorrupt and effective against the narcos. This was I think intended as a message to the Mex. Navy and the U.S..

Anonymous said...

TSB: Nuland clearly is not going to say anything until the Mexicans quit "investigating". I think that means the Federales are authorized to take action against anything they suspect might be a threat and the USG is going to have to work out something better than a license plate to protect their people. gwb

TSB said...


I agree about the Mexican Marines. Squeaky clean, apparently, and the preferred anti-narcotics force.


This incident seems to have really embarrassed the Mexican President. I bet he'll have something to report this week.

James said...

I think someone is calculating that with the "Fast and Furious" blow up in Washington (even though held to a low level by the press) the killing of more U. S. personel would spook the Obama regime into a drastic reduction of our cross border involvement. Especially this close to the election.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) said the U.S. government should continue to spend aid money training Mexican police.

“This transformation is going to take years,” he said. “And no matter how much training you have, you can still have a few bad apples.”
The magic words that have sustained the war on drugs everywhere: transformation, apples and $billions in "aid". gwb

TSB said...

GWB: Billions more for training Mexican police, and millions more to keep the gringo trainers in armored vehicles.

Anonymous said...

TSB: I see now why they are threatening to prosecute these SEAL TEAM 6 guys! Turns out very little of the WH version was true and the military guys have a bit of contempt for their Commander In Chief! gwb

Anonymous said...

Why a Toyota vehicle? A Suburban or Tahoe would stand out less in Mexico. Plenty of those vehicles there. Who is authorizing unnecessary foreign purchases or are those Toyotas made here?

TSB said...

Federale: All agencies have to deal with the Buy American Act. Historically, USG agencies mostly bought Suburbans and some other Chevys for armored vehicles overseas, but that is phasing out due to problems like a lack of worldwide servicing availability. (You could get Chevy servicing in Mexico, but agencies run their vehicle programs centrally and want interchangeability.) Also, in many places they need low-profile vehicles. Toyotas are worldwide and by far the most common kind of vehicle in most of the high-threat places.

I'm surprised GM hasn't gotten a bigger lock on the government market now that the government owns 20-something percent of it.

Anonymous said...

TSB: "This incident seems to have really embarrassed the Mexican President. I bet he'll have something to report this week."

I think USG told Mexico to keep a lid on this til after the election.

Well, Syria was what blew up in August... what will it be in September? 11th anniversary of 9/11 and foreign jihadis are running wild. gwb

TSB said...

GWB: It looks like Calderon is even more embarrassed than I'd thought, since he is still investigating. The Federal Police Chief said today that his agents were investigating a kidnapping when they opened fire on the embassy vehicle. Lots of investigating going on south of the border these days.