Mexico has disbanded a select anti-narcotics unit that for a quarter of a century worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to tackle organized crime, in a major blow to bilateral security cooperation, Reuters reports. The group was one of the Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) operating in about 15 countries which U.S. officials tout as invaluable in dismantling powerful smuggling rings and busting drug lords around the globe. The units are trained by the DEA but under the control of national governments. In Mexico, the 50 officers in the SIU police unit were considered many of the country's best and worked on major cases like the 2016 capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, then boss of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
The closure threatens to imperil U.S. efforts to combat organized crime groups inside Mexico, one of the epicenters of the multi-billion dollar global narcotics trade, and make it harder to catch and prosecute cartel leaders. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's government formally notified the DEA last year that the unit had been shut down. The closure could prove costly on U.S. streets, where authorities are battling to reduce a surge in overdoses that last year led to more than 100,000 deaths mostly linked to a new wave of synthetic drugs produced by Mexican cartels. For Mike Vigil, the DEA's former chief of international operations, the SIU closure and Lopez Obrador's curbing of security cooperation will hurt both countries. "It will mean more drugs going to the United States and more violence in Mexico," he said.