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United States must help Mexico combat drug traffickers, envoy says

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_13980646?source=rss United States must help Mexico combat drug traffickers, envoy says The Associated Press Posted:
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2009

      United States must help Mexico combat drug traffickers, envoy says
      The Associated Press
      Posted: 12/12/2009 12:15:30 AM MST

      MEXICO CITY - Mexico is facing a strong and growing threat from transnational criminal organizations, leaving the United States little choice but to assist its southern neighbor or risk an increasingly grave threat to its own security, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said Friday.
      In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Pascual warned that the security implications for the United States go far beyond its cities bordering Mexico.

      "The big challenge here isn't just the challenge of the U.S. border cities, but the linkages between hundreds of cities across the United States and Mexican cartels, and that is what we have to interrupt and block," he said.

      "So the more we work with Mexico to combat the infiltration of organized crime - drug trafficking organizations here (in Mexico) - the more it will help us in our efforts in the United States."

      Those cities include Dallas, which has emerged as a strategic hub for not just the notorious paramilitary group known as the Zetas, but also for the deadly and fast-expanding cartel known as La Familia, a drug-trafficking organization and methamphetamine supplier based in the central Mexican state of Michoacan.

      In October, at least 84 people were arrested in the Dallas area, nearly a third of the 300 arrested nationwide under Operation Coronado, which targeted La Familia operations in the United States.

      Pascual's remarks were made as another violent week unfolded in Mexico, with a series of grenade attacks in the northern state of Sonora, resulting in only minor injuries, and dozens more killings in Ciudad Juarez, a city on border with Texas that has become the deadliest in Mexico.

      So far this year, more than 7,100 people have been killed nationwide as a result of drug violence. One senior U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that the violence could actually increase in the coming days as cartel members "desperately want to finish their pending jobs before they take a hiatus for Christmas."

      In the interview, Pascual also outlined Obama administration initiatives to assist Mexico, and he disputed a recent government report that suggested U.S. aid was too slow in arriving in Mexico.

      The United States is providing $1.4 billion in assistance to Mexico under the Merida Initiative to combat criminal groups, which now control or wield influence in more than 40 percent of Mexican territory, according to experts at El Colegio de La Frontera in Baja California.

      The Merida Initiative, a three-year program begun under the Bush administration, will continue under President Barack Obama but evolve in strategy, Pascual said. The plan is to move from simply hunting "high-value targets" to attacking drug cartel organizations as corporations, he said. This will be done by "studying their markets," how they use and move cash, how they produce and distribute their product, "and how best to intervene."

      In doing so, both sides are working on ways to best use new equipment, training and intelligence sharing in joint operations, such as one that recently led to the discovery of an illegal tunnel between San Diego and Tijuana. Another joint operation will soon begin in the Juarez-El Paso region, Pascual said.

      Pascual added that new strategies will include training some of the 400,000 state and municipal police in Mexico and strengthening the rule of law, in part by revising course outlines at law schools across Mexico.

      Pascual said efforts are ongoing to assist the Mexican government in generating more jobs, including the rezoning of neighborhoods to help build "more resilient communities" and take away the social base from which cartels can recruit teens as hitmen or drug pushers.

      "If you have major areas for bars and strip bars, the likelihood that you will have illegal activities is quite high," he said.

      A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO, criticized the slow pace at which the U.S. aid was reaching Mexico. As of Sept. 30, it said, only $26 million of the $1.2 billion designated for Mexico had been spent.

      Pascual took issue with the report, saying that $359 million, or nearly a third of the $1.2 billion U.S. package to Mexico, was "in process," including the delivery of five Bell 412 helicopters, valued at of $66 million, expected to be introduced Tuesday at a ceremony in Mexico City.

      The GAO figure "isn't a very good reflection of what is in implementation," Pascual said.

      Despite the bleak outlook in Mexico, Pascual said he sees hope, in part because Mexican society is waking up to a stark, troubled reality and taking action. He listed a plethora of new nongovernmental organizations that realize that the growing power of criminal groups "is no longer just a border issue."

      "And as that understanding penetrates into society and into political life, I think we're seeing a greater, growing consensus that there must be a fight not just from the state, but from the bottom up, and that's healthy."
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