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Life in the US of A, The Obama Years

US focuses internally in war on drugs (March 2009)

US focuses internally in war on drugs

  • –  25 March 2009 04:34
  • –  AFP (Carlos Hamann)
  • /  FOCUS
  •   781 Words
  • /
  • US Mexico crime drugs border

President Barack Obama’s plan to fight Mexican drug cartels in the southwestern United States acknowledges that a domestic effort is needed in the cross-border war on illegal narcotics, experts say.

The plan unveiled Tuesday includes sending more anti-drug agents to the region, cracking down on money laundering, adding more intelligence efforts to disrupt Mexican drug cartel operatives and new high-tech equipment to search for illegal drugs.

It comes in response to an increase in drug-related violence in Mexico, where more than 5,300 people were killed in 2008, many of them in border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.

US authorities have done little in the past to crack down money laundering or weapons smuggled into Mexico, said Oscar Martinez, a border expert at the University of Arizona at Tucson.

Washington “has to be an active partner” if Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s effort to destroy his country’s powerful illegal drug cartels is to succeed, Martinez said.

“You can’t fight a drug war without both countries participating,” he said.

The United States, the world’s largest consumer of illegal narcotics, shares an often porous 3,000-plus kilometer (2,000 mile) frontier with Mexico.

The plan announced Tuesday is “a great improvement … over arresting meat packers and sewing plant workers and calling that homeland security,” said Josiah Heyman, a border expert at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Since the early 1990s US border policy has focused on “halting labor migration … in an undirected way, and not paying attention to the flow of money and the flow of weapons back and forth across the border,” Heyman said.

Over the past years billions of dollars have been allocated to raise walls along the border and bolstering the Border Patrol, doubling its size to 18,000 over the past eight years.

The Obama measures, which zero in on the drug cartels, tackle “a real focused security threat,” said Heyman.

Trust between US and Mexican law enforcement officials, however, is a key stumbling block. Lawmakers fear aid money can be pocketed, and US agents have long said they are reluctant to share information with their Mexican counterparts out of fears of corruption.

“I think we have been overly critical of the Mexican government — you have to allow for some corruption when you deal with these things,” and cannot use that as an excuse to minimize cooperation, said Martinez.

And if some of the aid to Mexico is lost, “well, a huge amount of money going to Wall Street has been lost, so why are we being so hypocritical here?” Martinez asked.

Both Martinez and Maureen Meyer, with the Washington Office on Latin America, also noted that US agents have also been involved in corruption cases. “It’s not just a Mexican problem,” said Meyer.

For decades Mexico has complained that Washington is doing little about weapons sold on US soil then smuggled into Mexico for drug cartels use.

US officials have “never really made an effort” to follow traffic southbound, Heyman said, and local US border residents are not accustomed to southbound inspections.

Increased southbound inspections would likely increase border delays and could impact trade, Heyman said.

He suggested new areas at border crossings where suspicious southbound cars and trucks can be separated for inspection. “There is going to be some transition that’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Mexico and the United States, along with Canada, are partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico is the second largest US trade partner, after Canada.

Every year there are some 4.5 million commercial border land crossings, mostly large trucks moving goods between the two neighbors, according to US government figures.

Meyer sees the US measures as “a complementary effort” to the Merida Initiative, the 1.4 billion dollar multi-year US assistance plan for Mexico which focuses on training and equipment of anti-drug forces.

Still needed on the US side: closing loopholes on the sales of weapons at gun shows that require no background checks, and closer cooperation among lower-level US and Mexican agents, Meyer said.

“It’s certainly a long-term process,” she said.

The Brady Campaign, a Washington-based group that supports stricter gun laws, said in a statement that border states like Texas and Arizona have “virtually non-existent gun laws” that “enable access to a ready supply of guns including assault weapons and .50 caliber sniper rifles.”

Mexican criminals “cannot get the guns they need in Mexico because of Mexico’s strong gun laws,” said group president Paul Helmke.


About Carlos Hamann

Washington D.C.-based writer and editor


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