Monday, March 23, 2009

On the Border

The irony: for years the biggest threats to U.S. security at the border with Mexico were viewed as either terrorists or immigrants. Now, the drug violence sweeping Mexico is spilling across the border into American homes, and the long neglected War on Drugs has suddenly made an ugly and unrepentant return.

Tucson is hardly alone in feeling the impact of Mexico’s drug cartels and their trade. In the past few years, the cartels and other drug trafficking organizations have extended their reach across the United States and into Canada. Law enforcement authorities say they believe traffickers distributing the cartels’ marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are responsible for a rash of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, brutal assaults in Birmingham, Ala., and much more.

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors,” as a Justice Department report put it in December. The figure rose from 100 cities reported three years earlier, though Justice Department officials said that may be because of better data collection methods as well as the spread of the organizations.

But a crackdown begun more than two years ago by President Felipe Calderón, coupled with feuds over turf and control of the organizations, has set off an unprecedented wave of killings in Mexico. More than 7,000 people, most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. Many of the victims were tortured. Beheadings have become common.
And it's not just western states such as Arizona or New Mexico which are seeing a spike in violence.
The Atlanta area, long a transportation hub for legitimate commerce, has emerged as a new staging ground for drug traffickers taking advantage of its web of freeways and blending in with the wave of Mexican immigrants who have flocked to work there in the past decade.

Last August, in one of the grislier cases in the South, the police in Shelby County, Ala., just outside Birmingham, found the bodies of five men with their throats cut. It is believed they were killed over a $450,000 debt owed to another drug trafficking faction in Atlanta.
There has been a wholesale re-thinking of the War on Terror in recent months by the new administration, and planned changes were put forward for the War on Drugs. The new drug czar announced intentions to de-emphasize beefed up enforcement and put more focus on treatment, but that may end up changing.

The U.S. has been relatively insulated from the more violent aspects of the drug cartels, but as it spills onto our front porches, public outcry and grim reality may put us back on the same path we've been on the past 30 years.

Which would be a shame.

UPDATE: The White House announced on 3/24 that it will be sending "at least 450 more federal agents, drug-sniffing dogs, x-ray scanners, intelligence analysts and other law enforcement resources to the U.S.-Mexico border in what administration officials called a 'comprehensive response' to increased violence from Mexico's fight against transnational drug cartels[...] roughly $800 million in new and existing efforts." Also, a in-depth profile of our new drug czar Gil Kerlikowske in the 3/24 WaPo.

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