Mexican Drug War
Drug trafficking and criminal organizations in Mexico have grown in size and strength over the last decade, fueled by a northward flow of illegal drugs and human trafficking and a southward flow of money and weapons. As a result, many cartels can outgun police and intimidate judges, while drug money further corrupts institutions and reduces public trust in the authorities.
Drug violence has escalated since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006 and vowed to fight corruption and drug cartels. Mexican drug trafficking organizations generate between $17 billion and $38.3 billion in annual sales from Colombian-produced cocaine and Mexican heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. Since his 2006 election, Mexican president Felipe Calderón has confronted corruption and drug trafficking.The cartels, already fighting each other over territories near the U.S.-Mexico border, have responded to the government's reform efforts with unprecedented violence, which claimed more than 6,000 lives in 2008 and 1,000 more in the first two months of 2009.
The spike of cartel violence in Mexico is primarily a reaction against the efforts of the Mexican government to take on the cartels and battle the organized crime, corruption, and violence that comes with the illegal drug trade, as well as a result of competition among the traffickers themselves to control constricted territories and smuggling routes. The cartels' backlash against the crackdown - though brutal and deeply troubling - is predictable. They seek to protect a very lucrative criminal livelihood. Mexican drug cartels have used violence as a tool of their trade for some time, but recent violence in Mexico between drug cartels - and, particularly, violence against Mexican officials by the cartels - has risen to unprecedented and disturbing levels.
2007 U.N. report estimates gang membership at 10,500 in El Salvador, 36,000 in Honduras and 14,000 in Guatemala, while criminal organizations are becoming increasingly active in neighboring Belize, Costa Rica and Panama. Central American gangs are increasingly transnational, noting that Salvadoran-based Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is believed to have 8,000-10,000 active members operating in 38 U.S. states. More than 1,800 of its members have been arrested in the United States since 2005. In a recent case, the gang's leaders were indicted for ordering the murders of two witnesses in the United States from their prison cell in El Salvador.
The violence in Mexico is not only an international threat. It is a homeland security issue in which all Americans have a stake. But the increase of cartel-related crime seen in the United States is not the same kind, on nearly the same scale, as in Mexico. While kidnappings and weapons violations have risen in cities close to the border such as Phoenix, at the same time, most major U.S. cities in border states saw declines in their murder rates in 2008. For example, the police department of El Paso, Texas reported 17 murders in 2008, while over 1,600 drug-related deaths occurred that year directly across the border in Ciudad Juárez.
Many Americans and Mexicans who live in border communities cross back and forth regularly - to work, to shop, or to visit family. Fear of the violence occurring in Mexican border cities has reduced crossings that are important to the lives of Americans and to the economic health of American border communities. The dynamic of the border region makes violence on one side of the border a pressing concern on both sides. The transnational nature of this threat clearly makes addressing the violence in Mexico a top priority in securing the United States.
America has a significant security stake in the success of Mexico's efforts against drug cartels. The cartels that Mexican authorities are battling are the same criminal organizations that put drugs on our streets and use violence as a tool of their trade. Through the Merida Initiative, the United States, Mexico and several Central American countries are confronting the shared threat of transnational organized crime. Announced by President Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón in October 2007, Merida grew out of President Bush's March 2007 visit to Latin America, where regional security figured prominently in his conversations with leaders in Guatemala and Mexico.
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