Sunday, January 27, 2008

More documentation, obfuscation, about drug cartel violence on the border and the response by US law enforcement

Continuing on recent days' theme of confronting the US-side infrastructure of multinational drug cartels, I was interested this morning to read this article ("US working to help contain violence in Mexico," Jan. 27) by David McLemore of the Dallas News, which adds both new data and anecdotes to the mix of public information available about recent cartel-related violence:

The U.S. side of the border has not been exempt from drug violence. Cartel leaders in Nuevo Laredo have successfully ordered hits on rival drug dealers on the U.S. side. And U.S. lawmen have increasingly become targets.

Border Patrol officials said violent assaults on agents along the Southwestern border totaled 987 in fiscal 2007, a 31 percent increase over the year before.

"The American public must understand that this situation is no longer about illegal immigration or narcotics trafficking," said David V. Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol. "It is about criminals and smuggling organizations fighting our agents with lethal force to take over a part of American territory so they can conduct criminal activity." (Emphasis added)

The most recent assault occurred Jan. 19, when a civilian Hummer carrying drugs ran down a Border Patrol agent near the Arizona-California line. Border Patrol officials said the killing was intentional.

Border Patrol Chief Aguilar's observation is the insight motivating me to focus more in recent months on the threats from cartel violence. You can be for or against drug prohibition. You can be for or against expanded immigration. Each are legitimate positions. But you can't be in favor of these mass-murdering thugs: Any serious drug policy reform agenda must include, IMO, a way to confront this growing threat from organized crime.

A non-serious drug policy agenda won't bother: E.g., some of the comments from the local yokel agencies in McLemore's story seemed particularly hubristic considering evidence of cartel-related assassinations on the US side, the vast problems with police corruption among US-side border cops and the nearly unabated trafficking of arms through Border Sheriff's jurisdictions. Reported McLemore:

The sheriff said the cartels are battling over control of entry points into the U.S., not U.S. turf.

"The cartels know we're better trained, better equipped and not as corruptible as our Mexican counterparts," [Hidalgo County] Sheriff [Guadalupe] Trevino said. "If a gunbattle erupted in Hidalgo County and a police officer or a civilian was killed, the cartels know the wrath of God would fall on them."

Mr. Reay said the Texas Sheriff's Coalition has joined with border law enforcement agencies in three other states to form the Southwest Border Sheriff's Coalition to share intelligence and enforcement methods.

I don't buy for a second the Hidalgo Sheriff's claim cartels don't operate in the US because the border law enforcement too diligent! That's a bit of self-serving PR flotsam.

The #2 commander of the Reynosa division of Los Zetas, for example, was living, working and doing his grocery shopping in Hidalgo County before his more or less accidental arrest last year! We also know Los Zetas are training US born teenage assassins who've allegedly committed murders on both sides of the border. (See the previous post for a brief overview of documented cartel infrastructure on the US side.)

Besides, if the drugs come north, common sense tell us that the money (and guns) must head back south directly through these agencies' jurisdictions.

That said, I was interested to see this chart showing (pdf) that the US side assaults on Border Patrol agents is much higher in Arizona and California than in Texas entry points; the Rio Grande Valley had the highest Texas numbers. That must be partly because a river separates the two nations in Texas, while in Arizona the border is an imaginary line in the dirt. Or maybe in Texas the fix is in deeper in law enforcement than in those other states? I don't know what explains those disparities, particularly since the I-35 route through Laredo is the main throughfare the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels have been feuding over.

Personally I'm still skeptical that President Bush's $1.4 billion anti-drug package to Mexico is a wise investment, nor do I think the Mexican Congress will accept stipulations the US Congress seems intent on adding to the aid package. Instead, I'd like to see those resources focused on undermining the cartels' infrastructure on the US side, starting with well-funded, wide ranging investigations of money laundering and police corruption.

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