Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mexican Drug War: US/Mexican Border Violence (part 2)

The nearly 2,000-mile-long border separating the United States and Mexico is one of the most frequently crossed and one of the most economically significant international borders in the world. With drug-related violence along the Mexico/U.S. border continually on the rise; however, lawmakers have been struggling to find the answers for what has been, and is increasingly, a full-scale epidemic. This month three US senators—Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer, and Sheldon Whitehouse—released a report entitled "Halting U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico” (June 2011). The report was submitted to the US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and details ways to improve efforts to curb firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico.

Based on updated ATF tracing data, the report states that of the 29,284 firearms seized and successfully traced in Mexico in 2009 and 2010, 20,504 (or 70%) came from a US source (i.e. gun shops, gun shows, or private sales). 69 percent of those firearms were purchased in either one of three US states: California, Arizona, or Texas.

The three senators noted that under federal law, background checks are not required for sales by unlicensed sellers at U.S. gun shows. They also noted that military-style weapons are readily available for civilian purchase in the US: “Many of these are imported from former Eastern bloc countries and then can be bought by straw purchasers and transported to Mexico…In addition, some importers bring rifle parts into the United States and reassemble them into military-style firearms using a small number of domestically manufactured components.”

Although this number seems daunting, it is down from a 2009 ATF report that stated “over 90 percent of the firearms seized in Mexico and traced over the last 3 years have come from the United States” (ATF, pg. 20, 2009). Still, there is no real way of knowing precisely how many rifles, handguns, grenades, and RPGs are in Mexico right now and being used by the Narco-traffickers, because these weapons have not been seized. Meanwhile, pro-gun groups, like the NRA and conservative media outlets, criticized the government statistics, claiming that they were exaggerated to support an agenda for restricting firearms ownership and stepping all over the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the report, the three senators made several recommendations, in the form of stricter gun-control regulations, to help with the problem. One of their recommendations—More rigorous background checks—however, won't accomplish much because these gangs are wise to US law, and purchasers select those with clean records to do the purchasing.

Most of their suggestions involve increasing gun law restrictions:

1. Reinstating the assault weapons ban
2. Requiring all gun sellers at shows to run background checks
3. Requiring the reporting of multiple long guns
4. Banning the use of semi-automatic rifles for “non-sporting purposes”
5. Quick ratification of CIFTA
6. Expanded eTrace access for the Mexican federal police

As if the problem was not bad enough, this month it was reported by CNN that corruption is running rampant not only by the Mexican authorities aiding the drug-traffickers, but also US border agents. According to Charles Edwards, the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, American border agents have been protecting and escorting traffickers as well as allowing contraband and unauthorized immigrants through inspection lanes. Edwards mentioned the Los Zetas drug gang, citing them as one of the leaders “involved increasingly in systematic corruption.”

At least 127 US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been arrested or indicted for acts of corruption since October 2004, according to the Department of Homeland Security Commissioner, Alan Bersin. Responding to the reason for this problem, Bersin said that the rapid hiring spree pursued by CBP has come at the cost of hiring less qualified agents.

In March 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her opinion of the role the US plays in the violent narco-trade in Mexico: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

In a press release earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—coordinated through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program—announced that a large Mexican drug trafficking organization operating in metro Atlanta has now been dismantled after an indictment and a series of federal arrests; the indictment and arrests were the result of a three year investigation, code-named “Operation G-60.” Yet, despite this month’s recent press release from the DEA, 2010 has been deadliest year so far, with 15,273 drug-related murders—up 60% from last year’s number of deaths, 9,616.

Murders in Mexico’s drug wars have been detailed in a huge new release of crime data by the Mexican government. The Mexican government has released a database it says covers all murders presumed to have a link to the country's drug wars in which at least seven different cartels are fighting each other. The database is the most detailed official picture of the drug wars yet made public, showing the geographical distribution of the violence down to the municipal level. While no region has escaped, the killing is seen as particularly intense in northern and Pacific coastal states. Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from Texas, has been the most violent city since 2008 despite also have the heaviest federal presence.

There seems to be no simple solution to this problem. The drug cartels make so much money that combating them appears almost impossible. These cartels have expanded so much that they have broken down into many more cartels; each of them trying to maintain business and constantly fighting with each other. Even the big industrial city of Monterrey, which was dubbed the safest metropolitan zone for numerous years at the start of the millennium, has now been overtaken by drug-cartel violence; with gun fights near schools and near parks, civilian life (even in Monterrey) is no longer civil.

Yet, those like Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, continue to downplay the severity of this situation. At a port of entry in El Paso called the Bridge of the Americas, Napolitano asserted recently that, “Violence along the Mexican border is merely a mistaken “perception” because the area is better now than it ever has been thanks to the Obama Administration’s commitment to ‘fostering a secure and prosperous’ region.” Napolitano also proclaimed, “Unfortunately, misinformation about safety is negatively impacting border communities by driving visitors away and hurting local businesses, Napolitano says.”

Nonetheless, Napolitano’s recent description of a U.S.-Mexico border that’s “as secure as it has ever been” appear to be in direct opposition to a Pentagon assessment. According to officials at Judicial Watch, a public-interest group that investigates public corruption and fraud, U.S. Defense Department officials believe the border is actually a gateway for Mexican criminal organizations that have infiltrated the entire country and joined forces with terrorist groups. For months the nation’s Napolitano has repeatedly insisted that everything is safe and secure on the southwest border, even as violence escalates and overwhelmed federal agents are increasingly attacked by heavily armed drug smugglers.

Back in April 2011, a top Pentagon official contradicts Napolitano’s fairytale assessment, pointing out that Mexican criminal organizations extend well beyond the southwest border to cities across the country, including big ones like Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit, according to Judicial Watch. This official was apparently correct, as seen by this month’s DEA press release, detailing their dismantling of a large Mexican drug trafficking organization operating in metro Atlanta. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) acknowledged the problem: “The U.S. is still not doing enough to safeguard its border with Mexico,” McCain told reporters in March 2011. “The violence level at the border is incredibly high, and we haven’t kept up with that,” McCain added.

In May 2010, President Obama authorized the deployment of up to an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border to provide support for surveillance, reconnaissance and narcotics enforcement to augment U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Customs and Immigration (ICE) authorities already in place. Those deployments began in Aug. 2010. Obama also requested $600 million in supplemental funds for enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities.

“Over the past year and a half, this administration has pursued a new border security strategy with an unprecedented sense of urgency, making historic investments in personnel, technology and infrastructure,” Napolitano said in a statement released on 19 July 2010. “These troops will provide direct support to federal law enforcement officers and agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the Southwest border,” she stated further in the statement. Napolitano also announced in July 2010 that more than $47 million in fiscal year 2010 Operation Stonegraden grants for the Southwest border states to support law enforcement personnel, overtime, and related costs. Nearly 80 percent of the funding will go to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, up from 59 percent in 2008.


READ PART 3 (Fast & Furious)

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