Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Mexican drug cartels threaten many U.S. cities

WASHINGTON — Mexico’s increasingly brazen drug cartels have infiltrated as many 230 U.S. cities and now represent the most serious organized-crime threat to the United States, top administration officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

“The cartels have fingertips that reach throughout the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel.

The former Arizona governor and federal prosecutor agreed with assessments by lawmakers that the drug cartels represent “an existential threat” to the Mexican government, and that the violence they’ve spawned fighting each other has started affecting innocent Americans.

It was one of the gravest assessments by Napolitano to date of the chaotic situation along the border, where murders have spiked in Mexico and kidnappings have risen to alarming levels in border communities, most notably Phoenix.

“The danger here is clear and present,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Napolitano’s testimony before the committee came a day after the Obama administration unveiled a major escalation of interdiction efforts along the southern border.

On Tuesday, the administration announced it’s sending hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, to the Southwest, mainly to keep violence from bleeding over the U.S.-Mexico border.

National Guard troops could be sent to protect the border if the situation worsens, Napolitano said.

But Obama administration officials have stressed that they are not eager to militarize the border.

The violence has prompted a series of high-level visits, which are already under way. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was heading to Mexico on Wednesday for talks with President Felipe Calderon and his administration.

Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama are also scheduled to visit Mexico in the coming days and weeks.

Still, some lawmakers voiced concern that the ramp-up might not be enough.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., commended the Obama plan, but warned, “I’m convinced that we must do much, much more,” including cracking down on demand for drugs in the U.S.

In a rare moment, Lieberman asked Napolitano if she needed more funding.

“If we need to scale up, that is something we will bring to you,” Napolitano said.

Much of the U.S. support for Mexico comes through the Merida Initiative, a security deal with Mexico and Central American countries that funds training, intelligence and equipment to combat drug trafficking and money laundering.

Congress allocated $300 million for the Merida Initiative for 2009 – $150 million less than the Bush administration and Mexico had sought. Congress and the Obama administration are now working on the 2010 budget.

Napolitano said the administration’s plan is focused on:

— Stopping gun and cash shipments from going south into Mexico. This is a major part of the problem, she said.

“We need to get beyond getting lucky at lane inspections,” she said. A recent quick sweep by U.S. officials netted almost 1,000 guns and $300,000 in cash, all headed into Mexico, Napolitano said.

She also called for tracing guns used in crimes in Mexico.

Holder has talked about re-instating the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, but Napolitano said existing laws could be used to effectively prosecute the gunrunners supplying the Mexican cartels.

“I’ve got to play the hand of cards I have,” she said.

• Supporting state and local law enforcement along the border.

• Backing Calderon in his brutal war against the cartels.

“President Calderon has taken courageous and decisive action,” said James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service