Posts Tagged el paso
Apr 2nd 2009 | EL PASO AND MEXICO CITY
Senior American officials are trooping to Mexico with assurances of support in its drug war. Will warm words be backed up by action?
ARIZONA’S attorney-general, Terry Goddard, says he started to worry about American guns ending up in the hands of Mexican drug traffickers two years ago. That was after a meeting in Cuernavaca with Mexico’s attorney-general, Eduardo Medina Mora, who urged him and several of his counterparts from other American states to enforce the law banning the export of assault weapons that can be legally bought north of the border. Keen to help, Mr Goddard spent months building a case alleging that George Iknadosian, the owner of a Phoenix gun shop, had knowingly sold some 700 assault weapons to “straw men” working for the narcos. It could have been a landmark case. Mr Iknadosian pleaded not guilty, and last month a state judge threw out all the charges against him on a point of law. Prosecutors blamed a clash between federal and state law on arms smuggling.
This is just one example of how hard it will be for the United States to implement its promise to collaborate with Mexico in quelling drug-related violence. But Mexican officials are pleased that at least the promise has been made. During a two-day visit last month, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, admitted that America’s “insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade” and that “our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians” in Mexico.
Her visit was the clearest sign that the American administration has woken up to what is at stake in the battle unleashed by Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, against the drug “cartels”, in which 10,000 people have died since December 2006. She was to be followed on April 2nd by Janet Napolitano, the secretary for homeland security, and Eric Holder, the attorney-general. Barack Obama himself will drop in for talks with Mr Calderón before both attend the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad on April 17th.
“They finally started paying attention,” says Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador in Washington. That is partly because some Americans fear the violence is starting to spread northward, although such worries look exaggerated (see article). But it is also in part owing to a war of words that has raged across the border in recent weeks.
This began with a report in November from the United States Joint Forces Command bracketing Mexico and Pakistan as the two countries most at risk of becoming “failed states”. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, then told a Senate committee that the corruption and violence of the drug cartels was hindering the Mexican government from controlling part of its territory. Having largely ignored Mexico’s fight against the drug gangs for the past two years, American television has suddenly latched on to it, in sensationalist terms. Spurred on by his own media, Mr Calderón, by instinct an American ally, responded by accusing American officials of corrupt complicity in the drug trade.
So Mrs Clinton’s comments were welcomed in Mexico. As to whether the words will lead to practical co-operation, Mexican officials say they are getting more help with intelligence on the drug gangs from their American counterparts. But Mrs Clinton’s promise of Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican police was undercut by Congress’s pruning of funding for the Mérida Initiative, a plan under which Mexico was to receive $1.4 billion in aid over three years. American officials now say they will seek to reverse the cut. But more than aid, Mexico wants the Americans to crack down on drug consumption, as well as the movement of guns and money southward. That is where the big difficulties lie.
The Obama administration promises to send several hundred more agents to the border, both from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The idea is that they will search southbound traffic and railcars. Mr Calderón wants the Americans to tip off their Mexican counterparts about gun trafficking, and to curb gun sales. Mrs Clinton said she favours the reinstatement of a federal ban on selling semi-automatic “assault weapons” such as AK-47s. Mexican police claim that since the ban lapsed in 2004, the cartels have become much more powerfully armed: of 30,000 guns they have seized since December 2006, 15,000 are assault weapons, nearly all bought at the 7,500 or so gun shops on the American side of the border.
But the gun lobby opposes the ban. John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, said in El Paso this week that violence in Mexico is an argument for more assault weapons, not fewer: “Why would you disarm someone when they potentially could get caught in the crossfire?” He continued: “The United States will not surrender our second-amendment rights for Mexico’s border problem.”
Facing so many other battles, Mr Obama would surely prefer not to be drawn into this one. Mr Sarukhan says that merely enforcing existing gun laws would be a big help. For Mexico, too, there are dangers in framing its relations with the United States purely around security. Trade, economic integration and immigration are equally vital. For now, however, the drug war has captured the headlines in both countries, leaving the politicians with no choice but to respond.
Apr 2nd 2009 | EL PASO
But still pretty safe—on the northern side
IS MEXICO’S drug war moving north? In Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, officials are alarmed by a spike in kidnappings for ransom and “other Latin American-style violence”. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, wants the federal government to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops and six helicopters in his state. A spokeswoman for the governor said that the request, which the administration is considering, is to prevent the situation worsening.
But many mayors along the border say that troops are not needed, at least not yet. They dismiss such talk as alarmist. “The sky is falling? Well, here comes more funding,” says Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass. He says that his town, on a rugged stretch of the Texas border, is fine. He crosses the border to Piedras Negras daily, even though his sister in Los Angeles called and warned him not to go to Mexico.
On March 30th the United States’ Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on border violence at the campus of the University of Texas in El Paso. Jaime Esparza, the El Paso district attorney, said that he had not seen an increase in violence and nor had his colleagues in other Texan border cities.
El Paso’s Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, is a different matter. With 2,000 killings since January 2008 it has become notorious (though the violence has abated since Mexico’s government sent 8,000 troops last month). El Paso itself had only 19 murders during the same period. Local leaders point out that their city is one of the safest in the United States, with a far lower crime rate than Washington, DC, the nation’s capital.
Downtown Ciudad Juárez has a forlorn air. The red-light district, a few blocks from one of the international bridges, was knocked down a few years ago and the area has not been redeveloped. Along the main pedestrianised street many shops are shuttered, windows are broken and pavements are crumbling. Heavily armed troops are stationed throughout the town.
El Pasoans say they feel safe at home, but nowadays make fewer trips across the border. Trini Lopez, the mayor of the suburb of Socorro, says that people have disappeared from his town and later been found dead in Mexico. For the time being, he is advising people to stay safe by staying in Socorro.