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.
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"Janet Napolitano is promising to close the border to prevent the introduction of arms into the US. It's not an overall solution, but it's a partial one, and very positive for Mexico," says Eduardo Valle, a Mexican newspaper columnist and former drug official in the Mexican attorney general's office.Skip to next paragraph
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US to upgrade border surveillance
Last week, the US unveiled a border protection plan that calls for increased traffic inspections southward, including for every rail car heading to Mexico. The US will employ technologies such as mobile X-ray to inspect cars and license-plate readers to identify smugglers. Napolitano, who began her trip Wednesday in San Diego, announced plans to spend more than $400 million for the upgrading of entry ports and surveillance systems along the border.
During the visit in Mexico, officials are also expected to discuss ways to target "straw purchasers," those who buy guns for smugglers, as well as continuing cooperation with the ATF and other agencies to trace weapons back to sellers in the US.
Mexico to extend pilot inspection program
The talks come as Mexico, which has little control over the people and products flowing into its territory, launched a pilot program in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, to inspect vehicles, including weighing them for anomalies and reading license plate to share intelligence with other agencies. According to Mexican Customs, the program will be extended to other points of entry along the northern border, as well as the southern border, which is also a point of entry for many illegal weapons from Central America, by the end of the year.
It is a small step but an important one, says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a Mexico expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, since currently only about 10 percent of vehicles are checked along the 2,000-mile border. Cars pass through a light system; only if the light is red, which it rarely is, must drivers stop at a second point for inspection.
Still, corruption must be tackled
Inspection commitments by both countries is no magic bullet. Ms. Sanchez says, for example, that a full clampdown on illegal gun smuggling is not possible until corruption in customs on both sides of the border is tackled.
And some question the effectiveness of inspections as long as weapons are so easy to access in the US. The Obama administration is considered tougher on arms. "The Bush administration was pro-arms," says Sanchez. "In principle, this is changing with Obama."
But no one expects the president to trample heavily on the right to bear arms. Even though Holder had discussed renewing the ban on assault weapons in February, the subject is not expected to be on the agenda in Mexico Thursday. It's still a tricky political issue, says Mr. Peschard-Sverdrup. "The exit controls are an indirect way of addressing the issue without encroaching on the right to bear arms or anything that can be perceived or used politically by the NRA [National Rifle Association] or the Republicans as a wedge issue here in the US."