Obama's overtures seek to help a spiraling Mexico
Mexico's drug wars are spilling over into the US, forcing Obama's administration to refocus attention on the border.
The Obama administration is extending sympathy and a helping hand to Mexico – something originally expected of the Bush administration but never fully delivered – as concerns mount about the spillover of violence into the United States from its neighbor's brutal drug wars.Skip to next paragraph
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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – a former governor of the border state of Arizona – is promising stepped-up coordination with Mexico to stop the southward flow of assault rifles, many of which are imported into the US and then smuggled into Mexico for drug gangs. Calling Mexican drug cartels "a threat to US national security," Attorney General Eric Holder also announced plans last week to enforce a long-ignored ban on the importing of assault rifles.
Likewise, Capitol Hill approved $10 million in President Barack Obama's stimulus package toward a nationwide crackdown on gun-trafficking networks.
Even the "military to military" cooperation" once shunned by Mexico is growing as Mexico steps up the extradition of traffickers wanted in the US, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said. This coordination can help in narco hot spots like Sinaloa State and at strategic trade points on the border, he added.
"For the first time in many years ... the American government is starting to show more commitment," said Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who launched a war with the cartels that in two years has led to 10,000 deaths.
Evidence that Mexico's drug wars are now affecting the US is growing:
•Kidnappings are a growing problem in Phoenix, local and federal law enforcement officials report, as rival Mexican traffickers fight over smuggling routes and safe houses on the Arizona side of the border.
•A drug gang wreaking havoc on Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, announced publicly it would have no qualms about pursuing the city's mayor across the border to El Paso, Texas, where the mayor moved his family for safety.
•The Justice Department last week announced the arrests of 52 additional people in a two-year operation from California to Maryland that has netted more than 700 suspects linked to the Sinaloa drug cartel.
•Mexico's drug-trafficking organizations have a presence in at least 230 US cities and "constitute the largest threat to the US" in terms of crime and illegal narcotics distribution of all such organizations, according to the Department of Justice's National Drug Threat Assessment 2009.
"There's no question the consistency and intensity of violence on the Mexican side of the border has led to an increase in violence on our side," says Roderick Ai Camp, an expert in Mexico's military at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.
Nothing in the US yet nears the level of violence in Mexico, he says. Ciudad Juárez had more than 1,600 murders last year, while its border twin, El Paso, counted 16. Moreover, the cartels' gruesome methods, such as beheading victims, have yet to emerge north of the border.