US targets gun flows into Mexico in bid to stem drug violence
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder visit Mexico Thursday to meet with their counterparts.
In the latest flurry of activity to help stem the drug-related violence that has engulfed Mexico and begun to spill over the US border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are meeting with their Mexican counterparts today in the city of Cuernavaca.Skip to next paragraph
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A centerpiece issue of the visit will be a new US pledge to help stem the flow of guns and other high-powered weapons into Mexico. The US is promising to beef up "exit controls" – improving detection systems at the border and at ports of entry – to help Mexico fight the drug-trafficking organizations behind more than 7,000 deaths since January 2008.
The meeting comes as Mexico, which has long criticized lax gun laws in the US but has offered little in terms of inspections and intelligence, has started to formulate its own policy on the illegal gun trade, even launching a border inspection pilot program last month.
"The complaints [against the US] are old, yet Mexico never had a structured policy to do anything about arms flow until recently," says Georgina Sanchez, executive director of the think tank Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy. "Both societies are just realizing how important the illegal gun trade is. And it is very good in principle that both are agreeing to talk and coordinate about these problems."
***US officials now estimate that drug traffickers operate in some 230 American cities, and the Obama administration has underscored a sense of "co-responsibility" for the narco-related violence that has engulfed Mexico and begun to spill over the US border. The trip to Mexico by Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Holder follows one by Secretary of State Hillary Clintonlast week. President Obama is due to visit later this month.
Focus on gun trade
The issues to tackle are immense and complex: there is demand for drugs in the US; corruption within police and judicial systems in Mexico; and grisly violence that overshadows all. Mexico is making some headway; On Thursday, the federal Attorney General's office announced the arrest of Vicente Carrillo Leyva, just a week after offering $2.1 million for his capture as a most-wanted drug suspects.
But the meeting Thursday, to focus primarily on the gun trade, gives Mexico a chance to address a key complaint: that no matter how hard they fight drug traffickers, their efforts will be undermined if the US continues to arm them.
It is no small task to access a gun in Mexico, at least legally. There are no commercial guns stores – those who want guns for self-protection or hunting must petition to the Mexican defense department. Intense background checks including psychological exams are carried out. Most of the guns in delinquents' hands in Mexico cross its borders illegally and circulate on the black market.
Even as Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed tens of thousands of troops across the country in an unprecedented push against drug traffickers, the weapons the traffickers employ are increasingly sophisticated.
90 perecent of guns recovered in Mexico traced to US
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) reports that more than 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexico are traced back to the US. That includes thousands of semi-automatic rifles or other high-powered weaponry – typically purchased in stores or at guns shows legally in the US and smuggled over the border, usually in a pattern called "ant traffic" – so-named because they trickle in under car seats a few at a time.