Mexican official: Fast and Furious 'poisoned' public opinion of US

The Mexican ambassador to the United States on Thursday said a botched gun-tracking operation by America “poisoned” public opinion of the United States for the citizens of its southern neighbor.

Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan told a room of reporters on Capitol Hill that the failed Operation Fast and Furious, which has been the focus of a Republican investigation in the House for more than a year, “put a lot of strain” on U.S.-Mexico relations.

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“Fast and Furious has poisoned the well-spring of public opinion in Mexico as it relates to the cooperation and engagement with the United States,” Sarukhan said.

“It does put a lot of strain on the huge strides that we’ve achieved with two successive administrations in the United States,” he said.

Sarukhan was on the Hill at the invitation of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to promote tighter gun laws in the United States, including the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

Sarukhan argued that Mexico has seen an enormous surge in illegal assault weapons since the ban was allowed to expire and that more must be done in the United States to try and curb the number of guns flowing into Mexico.

Nearly 70 percent of all guns found in Mexico came from the United States since 2007, according to the latest data released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) last month.

Gun-rights advocates say the numbers do not accurately reflect the true number of guns found in Mexico, which they argue is much higher. Instead, they say, the ATF's data reflect only the number of guns that were submitted for traces. 

Some gun advocates in the United States have argued that Democrats try to use the inflated numbers to make their case for stricter gun laws.

But Sarukhan, Democrats, and proponents for tighter gun laws cite the statistics in making their case to instate firmer penalties against illegal gun traffickers and straw buyers.

“Beyond learning what happened in Fast and Furious, there’s a much larger task at hand, which is how do we prevent the volumes of guns coming across the border into Mexico ... and feeding into the violence,” said Sarukhan, referring to the nearly 50,000 people who have been killed in Mexico over the past five years since that nation declared a war on the drug cartels.

Fast and Furious was an attempt by the ATF to track the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico by drug cartels in hopes of dismantling their network.

Nearly 2,000 guns were sold in the United States to straw buyers for the cartels, but instead of tracking the weapons, ATF agents were ordered to let them go with the hope of rediscovering them later at a crime scene or drug bust.

“We are extremely concerned about what happened with Fast and Furious,” Sarukhan said. “The Mexican government was never appraised of how the operation was being designed and implemented, therefore we also asked for a full-fledged investigation from the Justice Department, which we are awaiting.

“I hope to see that investigation concluded soon because hopefully that will provide some closer and a very clear sense of what happened and we hope also, if need be, the appropriate accountability of those involved,” Sarukhan said.

The Department of Justice's inspector general, at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, has been investigating Fast and Furious for more than a year and searching for who is responsible for the controversial “gun walking” tactics.

Sarukhan said that the Mexican government is conducting its own investigation into what happened once the weapons crossed the border from the United States.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has led Congress’s investigation into the operation and recently took steps to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents that the powerful lawmaker has subpoenaed.