Citing the United States’ present approach as “failing”, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) called on multiple cabinet level agencies to develop a new, cohesive strategy to help the Mexican government combat the drug cartels that have taken over much of Mexico and that pose an increasing threat to both nations.
“The fundamental question of this hearing is ‘what is our strategy down there?’”, said Rep. McCaul at the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee hearing, which he chaired. “It is time for the United States to take decisive action.”
“We need to act now because it is a crisis. We cannot afford for Mexico to become a failed state overtaken by these drug cartels where terrorists could operate out of.”
In the latest effort, the 2008 Merida Initiative, Congress approved $1.3 billion in military resources for the Mexican government. To date, however, the State Department has allocated only one-quarter of the funding and the violence has escalated.
Luis Alvarez, Assistant Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, described the level of cooperation with the Mexican government as “excellent”. However, he testified that the increased threat to US law enforcement, highlighted by the recent murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata, has put a chilling effect on his agency’s efforts.
“One of the problems that we face now is trying to recruit ICE agents to actually go down to Mexico and work on our behalf. It’s getting more and more difficult as a result of the increased violence,” Alvarez said.
As part of a new strategy, Congressman McCaul has introduced legislation to designate Mexican drug cartels as Foreign Terror Organizations. This designation would allow the United States to limit cartels’ financial, property and travel interests, and to impose harsher punishment on anyone who provides material support tocartels.
The cartels have killed more than 35,000 people in Mexico in five years employing gruesome tactics and in the past year have increased the number of assassinations and murders of high profile Mexican officials in efforts to intimidate and control.
“It’s going beyond just a criminal enterprise,” Rep. McCaul said. “They actively affect the political, judicial and law enforcement systems in Mexico to gain political and economic influence.”
“We’ve got to get out of this mindset where we are only dealing with the phased fanatic that is a suicide bomber screaming “Allahu Akbar!” agreed Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “We need to call it for what it is. And we need to respond accordingly. I completely support you on that,” Adler testified.
Congressman McCaul has further proposed examining successful tactics used in Plan Colombia, a joint military and intelligence operation,which helped undermine that country’s drug cartels and restore its national and economic security.
“We could work jointly in a military fashion as partners. We have the capability to wipe out these drug cartels if we have the leadership to do it,” Rep. McCaul said.
Today’s was the first of a two-part hearing. Congressman McCaul plans a second hearing in April to focus on efforts on the US side of the border.