The recent arrest of an El Paso County commissioner for his involvement in what federal authorities say was a drug-distribution operation left two Texas congressmen appalled.
“This begs the question, how deeply have these drug cartels crept into our American side and into our American society,” said Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio. “We need to be worried about the fact that these violent drug cartels not only threaten our border, they’re already in this network of distribution.”
Federal authorities on Thursday arrested county commissioner Guillermo “Willie” Gandara Jr., 37, on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Gandara and a co-defendant distributed more than 110 pounds of marijuana since Nov. 2010, according to a five-count indictment.
Gandara was mayor of Socorro, a small town sitting along the border, from 2004 to 2006. The area has being plagued for years by gangs associated with the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels. Gandara is now running for the Texas House 75th District seat.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, whose district encompasses El Paso and Socorro, expressed his disappointment with the commissioner’s alleged actions on Friday.
“These developments affirm my belief that we cannot wave the white flag of surrender to drug cartels,” Reyes said in a statement. “I will monitor this case closely as it goes through the judicial process and await the facts. All are presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country.”
Gandara is being held at the El Paso County jail without bond. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine per count if convicted.
The commissioner’s arrest and some recent shootouts along the border should serve as reminders to legislators that the United States is in a constant threat of violence and criminal activity by drug cartels, Canseco said in a statement released Friday. Canseco’s district encompasses almost 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Canseco added that the only way to eradicate this cross-border violence is by assisting the Mexican government’s crack on cartels. He urged his colleagues in Washington to “remain steadfast in the United States’ commitment to help Mexico deal with this serious threat” to both nations.
The U.S. government pledged $1.5 billion in equipment and training to the Mexican government in 2008. But only slightly more than $700 million had been given to our southern neighbor by early December. Canseco said this effort, known as the Merida Initiative, must be stepped up.
“From Brownsville to San Diego, anything that happens in Mexico, we suffer it in this side (of the border) as well,” Canseco said. “Instead of turning our backs to the problems of our neighbors, we need to make sure that we give them as much help as possible.”Houston Chron