Congressman Michael McCaul

Representing the 10th District of Texas

Let's make a commitment to war on Mexican cartels- U.S. should consider strategy used in Colombia

Mar 29, 2011
Op-Eds

On Feb. 15, Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila identified themselves in Spanish as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and pleaded for their lives moments after members of a Mexican drug cartel forced their vehicle bearing U.S. diplomatic plates off the highway in Central Mexico. The cartel members responded by firing more than 80 rounds from automatic weapons, killing Zapata and wounding Avila. This event instantly changed the landscape of our nation's involvement in Mexico's bloody war.

For the first time in 25 years, the cartels are targeting American law enforcement. Avila recently described to me this ambush by the Zeta cartel, composed of former Mexican military special forces, as "pure evil." Even at the facility in Mexico where he was hospitalized, he feared that they would come back and finish the job.

President Felipe Calderon should be praised for his efforts to eradicate the cartels. When U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and I visited Calderon in Mexico City in 2008, he told us security was his top priority. He had boldly declared war against the narcoterrorists that were infiltrating his military and local police forces and killing anyone who dared threaten the free flow of drugs, weapons and cash.

After more than 35,000 killings in the past five years, increased spillover crime into the United States and the murder of Zapata, it is time for the United States to take decisive steps to end this rampant war just south of our border. The solution goes well beyond securing our borders.

In 2007, Cuellar and I built bipartisan support to increase funding to fight international narcoterrorism.

In 2008, Congress passed the Merida Initiative, directing $1.3 billion in resources to help the Mexican government fight the cartels. To date only one quarter of that amount has been directed and the violence in Mexico is only increasing.

Mexicois in danger of becoming a failed state controlled by criminals. If this happens, Mexico could become a safe haven for terrorists who we know are attempting to enter through our porous border.

In the interest of our national security, trade with our third largest partner, and our rich cultural ties, we cannot afford for this to happen.

As the chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee, I am convening a hearing to ask the question, "What is the United States' role in Mexico's war against the cartels?"

I believe we should explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico, similar to the 1999 Plan Colombia. This plan aimed to destroy that country's cocaine trade, eradicate its cartels and restore its economic and national security, and we certainly saw results.

In the first five years, heroin poppy cultivation decreased 58 percent. Homicides dropped by 60 percent. Kidnappings went down 254 percent. Terror events fell 420 percent. Extraditions of drug traffickers increased exponentially, which destroyed the leadership and industrial capacity of the infamous Cali cartel.

Today, Mexico is on a dangerous path to where Colombia once was. Mexico may need a similar strategy.

In addition, I plan to introduce legislation that would require the State Department to classify the cartels as foreign terror organizations. Mexican cartels kidnap, kill and mutilate innocent civilians, elected officials and law enforcement. While their motives are different, they are as savage and cold-blooded as the terrorists who continue to plot against America from the Middle East. Similarly, they use gruesome tactics to intimidate the Mexican government and citizens to abide by their rules.

Classifying Mexican drug cartels in the same manner as al-Qaida, the Taliban or Hezbollah would make them a higher priority for American law enforcement and would subject them to laws that target their finances and networks in the United States.

Furthermore, we cannot forget the importance of securing our borders. Essential to this is to intensify southbound inspections to seize weapons and cash that arm and fund drug trafficking organizations. The United States funnels an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion a year into Mexico to fund the cartels. We should seize this money and use it against the cartels to help pay for U.S. border security operations.

It is time for the United States to show serious commitment to this war on our doorstep. Without attacking the cartels at their roots, our borders will continue to be an expensive Band-Aid on a wound that will not heal.

McCaul, a Republican, represents the 10th Congressional District of Texas.