A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was killed and another wounded in Mexico today. They were driving through San Luis Potosi on their way to the northern city of Monterrey when they stopped at a checkpoint. Gunmen opened fire on their black SUV.
According to a Mexican military official quoted by the AP, the checkpoint may have appeared to be a military one, but the military does not have checkpoints in that area.
Right now it's not clear whether the ICE agents were targeted specifically because they were ICE agents or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their black SUV, with tinted windows, is the kind often used by narcos, so they could easily have been mistaken for narcos by either rival narcos or the army. It's unclear whether they had diplomatic plates.
Was the checkpoint a "narco-bloqueo," as blockades often set up by the narcos are known? Or was it a military checkpoint, and the military screwed up?
Narcobloqueos have been set up on this road before. And if the narcos knew a pair of ICE agents were on their way to Monterrey, that would have been an easy time to get them.
That would be a definite escalation from what we've seen in the past. Ten DEA
law enforcement liaison officers have been killed since 2007, 51 FBI contacts
have been murdered, and more than 60 top Mexican law enforcement officers have died, but US officials have not been targeted specifically.
According to one of the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks, US officials "frankly don't know enough about how DTO (cartel) members think and operate to know what factors might trigger a decision to mount such an attack, but the potential threat is very real. We assess that the threat to U.S. personnel could increase if the violence continues to escalate and more high-level government officials and political leaders are targeted."
If the ICE agents were indeed targeted, it would be the first killing of a US agent on Mexican soil since DEA agent Kiki Camarena was kidnapped and killed in 1985.
Agents have since been threatened – in 1999, Osiel Cardenas Guillen famously told two of them: ‘You fucking gringos. This is my town, so get the fuck out of here before I kill you" – but none have been killed.
Camarena's death prompted what I believe is the largest DEA investigation in history; it led to the capture of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (El Padrino), Ernesto Fonseca and Rafael Caro Quintero. A handful of Mexican cops were also involved in Camarena's kidnap/killing.
Could the military have accidentally shot at the agents? Well, I sincerely hope not, because if it did, and the checkpoint is no longer there, then the military realized what it had done and bolted. A hit-and-run on US agents would not be advisable.
One last thing: This occurred on the main highway to Monterrey. In recent months, the narcos have ratcheted up their blockades and caused trouble along this road, albeit further north. San Luis Potosi is usually not so problematic, but wouldn't it pay to think a little, and put up some military checkpoints all along this road to prevent the narcos from doing it first? Just a thought.