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Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Holds Hearing on
Drug Trafficking Violence in Mexico

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, held a hearing on drug trafficking violence in Mexico and its implications for the United States.

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s prepared opening remarks:

“We are here today because reports of the growing drug cartel violence in Mexico are increasing in frequency. President Calderon has made the fight against drug trafficking and the cartels one of his top priorities. And it is clear that Mexico is paying a very high price in this fight.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes into the United States and in Mexico. The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that Mexican and Colombian drug cartels make upwards of $18 to $39 billion in wholesale drug proceeds from the United States.

According to media reports, more than 22,700 people have been killed throughout Mexico in drug-related violence since the beginning of President Calderon’s offensive against drug trafficking organizations in December 2006.

In Ciudad Juarez alone, there were 2,657 drug-related homicides in 2009 and 764 from January to April this year.

Since March 2008, more than 7,500 soldiers and 2,000 federal agents have been deployed to cities within Chihuahua, Mexico.

Yet the violence has primarily remained south of the U.S. Border.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified last week in the Judiciary Committee that there has been little spillover violence on the U.S. side.

The 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment found that conflicts among major cartels in Mexico rarely occur in the United States.

Border cities in the United States remain relatively safe. Murders in Dallas and in San Diego have fallen to their lowest levels in 30 years.

However, there have been some troubling incidents that warrant concern. These have been limited primarily to attacks against members of human smuggling organizations and their families, and those connected to the drug trade.

One area of great concern is the increased number of cross-border kidnappings. El Paso and several other cities along the border are seeing reports of extortion connected to kidnappings. Many of these kidnappings occur in Mexico, where the victims’ relatives living in the United States have been extorted for ransom payments.

Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona testified last month that along the Southwest border, U.S. Attorneys are seeing drug- and non-drug-related kidnappings tied to transnational organized crime. Many of these kidnappings involve “drug rips,” in which both kidnapper and victim have connections to drug trafficking organizations.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Report in recent years, kidnappings in Phoenix have numbered in the hundreds, with 260 in 2007, 299 in 2008, and 267 in 2009. This represents a large increase in the number of kidnappings as compared to the previous three years when 178, 173 and 190 kidnappings were reported. An individual may be kidnapped because of a lost drug load or failure to pay a drug debt.

Along with kidnappings, home invasions are a problem in Arizona. The Tucson Police Department recorded 86 home invasions from January to September 2009. They have found that 80 to 85 percent of all home invasions are drug related. Many of these home invasions involve robbery crews that target drug stash houses to steal and resell the drugs they find inside.

Law enforcement is working to quell such incidents through intelligence sharing between local, state and federal agencies and through support of Mexico’s campaign against drug cartels --the Mérida Initiative.

The Mérida Initiative aims to disrupt organized criminal groups, strengthen Mexican institutions, create a modern border, and build strong and resilient communities.

We must also continue to make drug demand reduction a priority in the United States. The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them.

The U.S. has a responsibility to stop the transfer of illicit drug money and the export of weapons from the United States to Mexico for use by the cartels.

There have been real results from the efforts of the United States and Mexico:

  • The U.S. is sharing cartel related intelligence and providing training to our Mexican counterparts.

  • Since the start of the Calderón Administration in December 2006 to early 2010, Mexico has arrested 71,250 people involved in cartel activity.

  • The U.S. has enhanced border security programs, and is working to intercept drugs, money, and weapons in both directions across the Southwest border.

  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ national initiative to stop firearms trafficking to Mexico, Project Gunrunner, has yielded impressive results. From Fiscal Year 2006 to February 2010, Project Gunrunner teams seized 6,700 firearms and 779,103 rounds of ammunition headed to the Southwest border.

  • Extraditions of key criminals from Mexico to serve justice in the United States are at record levels since the start of the Calderón Administration. In 2009, 107 people were extradited compared to 12 in 2000.

  • All across the border Operation Stonegarden grants are being applied to help local, state and tribal law enforcement collaborate to identify threats and fight border related crime. Of this grant funding, 85 percent went to law enforcement along the Southwest border.

All of this amounts to substantial progress. Yet continued reports of criminal activity in Mexico by drug trafficking organizations is troubling.

We must remain vigilant to suppress the violence along our Southern border.

I look forward to hearing from all of the witnesses today about how the United States and Mexico can best work together to decrease drug related violence in Mexico and maintain security along the U.S. border.”

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