by Todd Jackson
A Romanian AK-47-type WASR-10 rifle picked up on November 23 at the murder scene of Mexican beauty queen Maria Susana Flores Gamez has been identified as one of the guns sold to drug cartels by the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as part of the infamous Operation Fast and Furious. Gamez was slain during a shootout between the Mexican military and a Sinaloa drug cartel with whom she had been traveling. It was speculated at first that Gamez had fired upon the military along with cartel members, but it now appears that she was used as a human shield and died in the crossfire.
Sinaloa state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera says that “She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout. That’s what we’re going to have to investigate.”
In February of 2012, Gamez was selected as the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa. A 2011 movie, Miss Bala, addresses the association, surprisingly common, between Mexican beauty pageant contestants and drug cartels. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Javier Valdez, the author of a 2009 book on this controversial subject, says of the women that “They are disposable objects, the lowest link in the chain of criminal organizations, the young men recruited as gunmen and the pretty young women who are tossed away in two or three years, or are turned into police or killed.”
The rifle was found at Ciudad Guamuchil, Sinaloa, Mexico, at the crime scene of Gamez’ murder. It had been purchased by Uriel Patino, a Fast and Furious suspect. Patino purchased over 700 weapons of various types, all while he was under the ATF’s surveillance. Patino bought the rifle, along with nine other semi-automatic rifles at a gun shop in Arizona on March 16, 2010. The rifle is similar to the AK-47-type rifles found at the December 2010 murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
The discovery, made by Congressional investigators, is itself another chapter in the tug of war between Congress and the Obama Justice Department over full disclosure about Fast and Furious. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, reported that though the Justice Department had agreed to full disclosure of Fast and Furious weapons as they were uncovered, the Department did not inform Congress when it discovered the weapon last month. This pattern of conflict between the branches over the Operation peaked this summer during the standoff between Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Sen. Grassley has sent a letter to the Justice Department inquiring whether the Department intended to release all relevant information about the weapon.
During Operation Fast and Furious over 2000 ATF weapons, many not yet accounted for, fell into the hands of drug cartels. Nor was Fast and Furious the only “gunwalking” operation ATF engaged in inside Mexico. The full extent of ATF gunwalking operations in Mexico is not yet disclosed to the public.
Taken as a whole, the episode highlights the power and reach of the Mexican drug cartels, courted by American crime fighting agencies and Mexican beauty queens alike, even as, for the Obama Administration, it draws unwanted attention to its complicity in gun violence in Mexico even as it makes its first moves to ban such weapons in the aftermath of massacre at Newtown, CT. The revelation further takes place against the backdrop of controversy over the arrest of American Marine Jon Hammar – on charges of gun-running.