Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) yesterday called on House Democrats to hold a hearing on the surge in drug-related violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The violence is attributed to Mexican drug cartels, fighting turf battles and competing to control the U.S. drug trade markets.
In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Smith cited reports from Wall Street Journal and USA Today that Mexican gangs are operating organized crime rings in at least 230 U.S. cities.
Ranking Member Smith issued the following statement along with his letter:
The recent surge in drug-related violence on the Southwest border has turned some American communities and neighborhoods into the ‘wild west.’ Drug traffickers battling for an increased share in the U.S.-Mexico drug trade market are resorting to far more violent and deadly acts.
“According to national news reports, this violence resulted in the deaths of at least 9,000 people since 2007. A battle is building on the border and U.S. citizens are getting caught in the cross-fire. Congress must address the violence before more lives are lost.
Mexico continues to be the source or entry point for the vast majority of the narcotics that are consumed in the U.S. Mexico is the leading transit country for cocaine and heroin consumed in the U.S. It is also the leading source country for marijuana and now methamphetamine.
Occasionally, the federal government of Mexico temporarily deployed the military and federal police officers to maintain order against trafficker-generated violence in highly impacted cities. But more often than not Mexican military — or those posing as military — provide protection for the traffickers and drug gangs.
For nearly 10 years the extradition figures from Mexico have slowly increased. Nonetheless, no active major Mexican drug trafficker has been extradited to the United States.
The heavily-armed “Zetas” complicate matters even more. These are former Mexican military personnel and deserters, some of whom were actually trained by the United States in counter-narcotics operations.
While the Mexican government pledged an all-out effort against drug trafficking organizations, it lacks the capacity to eliminate or even control the leading cartels. The principal impediment to counter-drug success is Mexico’s inherent institutional weakness and endemic corruption.
In the longer term, if Mexico is to reduce the production and transit of illegal drugs, the government must continue to consider the problem a high priority, complete ongoing institutional restructuring and transition, and significantly strengthen special counter-drug law enforcement units.
The task is daunting, but early successes against leading drug traffickers have shown that law enforcement progress is achievable. Still, American law enforcement continues to be concerned over reports that Mexican federales and paramilitary personnel are in cahoots with the drug cartels and pose a threat to U.S. border patrol agents and local police in border jurisdictions.
The working relationship between the United States and Mexico on investigations against major traffickers continues. The professional capacity of Mexico’s lead counter-drug police agency, the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), has increased dramatically. However, it is not clear that the improvements have reduced the volume of drugs trafficked in Mexico. Some major traffickers, such as the Arrellano Felix Organization, have been damaged, but other traffickers have expanded operations.
In recent years, the Government of Mexico has arrested a former governor of the State of Quintana Roo, suspected of assisting in the transshipment of millions of dollars worth of cocaine from South America to the U.S. Mexican authorities also arrested Gilberto Garcia Mena, suspected leader of the Gulf Cartel, and Alcides Ramon Magaña, a known drug kingpin.
More recently, Mexican authorities captured Consolidated Priority Organization Targets Otto Roberto Herrera, Jaime Herrera Herrera, as well as Jose Aureliano Felix and Efrain Perez, two prominent members of the Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization wanted in the U.S.
Some traffickers operate drug organizations from jail, and extradition of active major traffickers to the United States remains a challenge. Mexican jails are far from secure. Even security at maximum-security prisons is compromised. It’s believed that prison administrators and guards are routinely paid off to help major traffickers “escape” from Mexican prisons.
In 2007, there were three killings at La Palma, including the inmate Arturo Guzman Loera, brother of drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera (El Chapo Guzman). Arturo’s murder occurred less than one week after Federal Preventive Police conducted a surprise operation at the facility, specifically to prevent the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other prohibited objects into the prison.
While Mexican interdiction of marijuana is fair, the interdiction of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remains poor: less than 2% of the volume trafficked in Mexico. These results are probably due to inadequate intelligence penetration of trafficking organizations for heroin and cocaine, and insufficient familiarity with methamphetamine trafficking.
Cocaine is susceptible to interdiction at sea or after it is imported into Mexico before it is distributed in smaller packages for onward transport. Subsequently, land interdiction may still be possible at checkpoints if inspectors are trained, equipped and supervised properly. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec constitutes a natural chokepoint for land transportation. The area offers interdiction opportunities which do not exist anywhere else in Mexico. Over one hundred metric tons of cocaine that arrives in Central America and in southern Mexico pass through or around the Isthmus.
Smuggling and diversion of precursor chemicals like pseudoephedrine within Mexico account for large amounts of methamphetamine becoming available for US markets. The Mexican government has updated its laws and regulations relevant to methamphetamine, and the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks, a division of the Ministry of Health, began to conduct unannounced inspections at the premises of importers of precursor chemicals.
New regulations control the number of pseudoephedrine tablets that can be purchased by individuals. However, at present Mexico neither has the necessary expertise nor the equipment to locate and seize methamphetamine laboratories. In many instances, these laboratories are discovered only when authorities react to fires or explosions.