Archive for Saturday, February 28, 2009

U.S. sees serious threat in Mexico drug violence

Survey also says Afghanistan opium trade still poses risk

February 28, 2009


— Spiraling drug violence in Mexico, narcotics trafficking elsewhere in Latin America and a thriving opium trade in Afghanistan pose significant national security threats to the United States, the Obama administration said Friday.

In its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, the State Department painted a grim picture of the situation in Mexico, where government attempts to fight traffickers are hindered by rampant corruption. The battle between authorities and drug cartels killed more than 6,000 people last year and more than 1,000 so far in 2009.

Mexico is the main transit point for cocaine entering the U.S. and a source for much of the heroin, marijuana and methamphetine consumed in America. The report praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon for “courageous” and “unprecedented” steps to combat drug trade, but noted corruption still plagues the effort.

At the same time, it said that Calderon’s successes may be responsible for fueling the surge in violence as drug lords battle each other for control and take on Mexican security forces.

“They are confronting each other and the result is unfortunately a significant increase in violence,” said David Johnson, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement. “This is a serious challenge for both the government of Mexico and the United States.”

The report offered the chilling assessment that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have been effective at “utilizing violence as a psychological weapon, intimidating political leaders, rival groups and the general public.”

The violence has spilled over across the border into the United States and the report noted an increase in contract killings and kidnappings on U.S. soil carried out by Mexican drug cartels, sometimes using weapons that were purchased or stolen in America.

It said that firearms obtained in the U.S. account for an estimated 95 percent of the country’s drug-related killings. Johnson said that should be addressed by improving the ability of Mexican authorities to identify the source of weapons and cooperate with the United States in prosecuting them.

In addition to the dire situation in Mexico, the report detailed a spike in narcotics trafficking through Bolivia and Venezuela, particularly as the government of neighboring Colombia continues to crack down on the trade. Still, it said, Colombia remains the source of nearly 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.

The report found that despite ongoing eradication and crop substitution efforts, Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium poppy, the precursor to heroin, although the report noted that several factors, including weather, led to a slight decline in cultivation and production last year.

The report said that insurgents and warlords are making hefty profits on narcotics, estimated at $50 million to $70 million in protection payments from farmers and another $200 million to $400 million from “taxing” drug processing and trafficking in 2008.

“Greater leadership and effort by the Afghan government, both at the central and provincial levels, will be required to combat the corrosive effects of the drug trade, which fuels both the insurgency, as well as rampant corruption,” Johnson said.

The report criticized Bolivia and Venezuela, both of which are led by leftist presidents with anti-U.S. sentiment, for failing to cooperate in the war on drugs.


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