Mexico's drug wars a serious threat to U.S.

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As I've written before, the escalating and increasingly violent drug wars in Mexico represent a serious national security threat to the United States. And recognizing the proven link between drug trafficking and illegal immigration, we should urge our elected representatives to reject amnesty programs disguised as "comprehensive immigration reform."

Last October I wrote a column quoting local terrorism expert Larry Martines, a former homeland security adviser to Gov. Jim Gibbons, on the connection between illegal immigration and drug trafficking in Northern Nevada and elsewhere throughout the nation. According to Martines, four ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels are battling for control of lucrative drug routes into the United States. He also reported that more than 5,000 Mexicans - including women and children caught in the crossfire - have been killed since 2006.

Since I wrote that column the security situation along the Mexican border has deteriorated and some experts, including Martines, fear that the Mexican government is losing control of the situation despite U.S. financial assistance and the best efforts of center-right President Felipe Calderon. Following a three-day visit to Mexico last month, former U.S. Drug Czar Gen. (ret.) Barry McCaffrey, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, concluded that "the Mexican state is engaged in an increasingly violent internal struggle against heavily armed narco-criminal cartels that have intimidated the public, corrupted much of law enforcement and created an environment of impunity to the law."

Moreover, although the United States is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Mexico to combat drug cartels, the results are disappointing. As Gen. McCaffrey noted, "The struggle for power among drug cartels has resulted in chaos in Mexico and in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Drug-related assassinations and kidnappings are now commonplace occurrences throughout the country," and cross-border violence extends to nearly 300 U.S. cities including Las Vegas, where a 6-year-old boy was kidnapped last October in a drug deal gone bad. Northern Nevada is almost certainly in the cartels' gunsights as they search for new territory to conquer, and they are probably recruiting well-armed gang bangers in Reno and Carson City.

On a personal note, I spent last Thanksgiving with friends in San Diego and over that holiday weekend more than 30 Mexicans were murdered just across the border in Tijuana. The situation is even worse in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, where a top federal prosecutor was gunned down in mid-December by drug traffickers at a busy intersection just 100 yards from the U.S. border - one of 1,600 homicides in Ciudad Juarez last year.

And then there's the entrenched corruption problem. "Corruption is pervasive and ruins the trust among Mexican law enforcement institutions at the local, state and federal levels," McCaffrey wrote. Mexico's former Drug Czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, was arrested last year on suspicion of taking a $400,000 bribe from the drug cartels and just last month Mexican Army Maj. Arturo Gonzalez, a member of President Calderon's security detail, was arrested for being on the cartels' payroll to the tune of $100,000 per month, more than a Mexican soldier could earn in many years.

According to Martines and others, Gonzalez's arrest exposed potentially fatal flaws in the president's protective detail and represented a security breach at the highest level. The Los Angeles Times recently described a dilemma facing the incoming Obama administration: "Either walk away or support President Calderon's strategy, even with the risk that counter-narcotics intelligence, equipment and training could end up in the hands of cartel bosses."

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last week urged his successor, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, to place border security at the top of her policy agenda. She should do that and renew our commitment to the $400 million Merida Initiative in order to keep Mexican drug violence out of the United States.

- Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, worked on a number of anti-narcotics programs during his 28-year U.S. Foreign Service career.


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