By Randal C. Archibold, publicado en The New York Times
Nearly three months after a sport utility vehicle carrying two C.I.A. employees was attacked south of here, divisions have emerged among the Mexican law enforcement agencies trying to determine the motive.
In the past week, top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office and the federal police force have clashed over the case in an unusual public airing of differences by rival agencies, both of which have received American training to help fight the drug war.
Mexican prosecutors this month charged 14 federal police officers with trying to kill the C.I.A. employees and a Mexican Navy captain who was riding with them as they traveled to a naval shooting range near Mexico City on Aug. 24 for an unspecified exercise.
The police officers, who were dressed in civilian clothes and riding in unmarked sport utility vehicles, fired on the vehicle. The prosecutor’s office said on Sunday that 152 bullets struck the vehicle, and that several police commanders were also under investigation for trying to cover up the officers’ role, in part by ordering them to change into their uniforms before they were interviewed by investigators.
The attack ended when navy personnel and other federal police units arrived. The wounded Americans were evacuated from the country the following day.
In charging the officers, the prosecutor’s office accused them of trying to kill the vehicle’s occupants, judging by the number of shots fired, but left open the question of why. The police have offered their own version of events, which similarly leaves many questions unanswered.
In that vacuum, theories abound among Mexican and American officials, including the possibility that the gunmen targeted the vehicle by mistake and then tried to cover it up by killing the witnesses. The prosecutor’s office said Sunday that the attack did not appear to be linked to organized crime, a possibility initially considered among American and Mexican investigators.
But almost from the start of the case, federal police officials have said it was not an ambush or an intentional attack, but a case of mistaken identity. They have said that the officers were in the area investigating a kidnapping ring and, overlooking or ignoring the diplomatic license plates, opened fire to stop the vehicle.
Last week, a report from the internal affairs unit of the federal police, leaked to the newspaper Milenio, accused the prosecutor’s office of a “witch hunt” against the police as it is under intense pressure from the American Embassy to resolve the case. After that, the police commissioner, Maribel Cervantes, appeared on a closely watched political talk show to defend her agency, saying again that contrary to an American Embassy statement on the day of the attack, there was no ambush.
“When I spoke to various American authorities I was very emphatic in that, in accordance with the information we had, it did not involve an ambush, nor a deliberate attack,” she said on the program, “El Asalto a la Razón,” adding that she had spoken with the American ambassador, Anthony Wayne.
An embassy spokesman confirmed the conversation and the sharing of information between the governments but declined to comment on the case because the investigation had not concluded.
Ms. Cervantes continued her news media campaign with radio and newspaper interviews this week.
On Sunday, however, the attorney general’s office took the unusual step of directly rebutting her. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Victoria Pacheco Jiménez, said at a news conference that while there had been a kidnapping in the area, it did not figure into the federal investigation of the attack.
The federal police force has doubled in size in recent years, and has been promoted by both American officials and President Felipe Calderón as an important tool against organized crime.
But it has come under fire lately over corruption scandals. The entire force at the Mexico City airport was replaced after two officers, believed to have been involved in the drug trade, killed three colleagues in the food court of a terminal in June.
The federal police have “been held up as a shining example of police reform” during Mr. Calderón’s tenure, “but recent indications suggest that there are problems of integrity in its ranks,” said David A. Shirk, a scholar who studies Mexican justice at the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who will take office on Dec. 1, has proposed folding the federal police agency into the Interior Ministry, as part of a government streamlining plan.
But the prosecutor’s office, known as the P.G.R., has also been criticized by experts for a relatively low rate of conviction. State Department reports indicate that just 2 percent of people arrested on drug-trafficking charges are convicted.
“One of the biggest challenges for the next government is making the P.G.R. work,” said Shannon O’Neil, an expert on Mexico at the Council on Foreign Relations. “During the Calderón administration, this is probably the element within the state security apparatus that has fallen behind, losing resources and momentum to the federal police. But if you can’t successfully prosecute the guilty — and free the innocent — you can’t strengthen the rule of law in a real, lasting way.”