We must work to stop drug violence

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mexico is in the midst of a brutal war on drugs that resulted in over 6,000 deaths last year. Ten percent of these murders were of Mexican military and law enforcement officials, killings that often included beheadings and other grisly acts. Much of this drug-related violence has taken place along the U.S.-Mexico border.

To get a firsthand look at the situation, I traveled to El Paso, Texas, last week to participate in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee field hearing that examined the problem. At the hearing, we heard from officials from both countries about the violence and discussed ways to help end it. We focused on the Mexican city of Juarez, which last year accounted for over 25 percent of the country’s drug-related murders.

The level of violence seen in Juarez and other parts of Mexico has yet to spill over to our country, though it is alarming in terms of its frequency and proximity to our border. There is no question that Mexico’s escalating drug war is a serious situation America cannot ignore. The United States should continue working with Mexican authorities to ensure the violence is contained and ultimately stopped before it spreads across the border.

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It is estimated that 90 percent of cocaine enters our country through Mexico, resulting in over $12 billion flowing from the U.S. to Mexico and falling into the hands of violent drug cartels. In order to address this problem, our country recently formed a partnership with Mexico. In 2007, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and then-President Bush met in the Mexican city of Merida to discuss a way forward. In recognition of President Calderon’s willingness to combat drug trafficking cartels — as well as the need to keep Americans safe from this violence — President Bush pledged to assist in delivering additional training and equipment for Mexican authorities. The resulting program has become known as the Merida Initiative.

Since then, Congress has appropriated $700 million for the Merida Initiative. These funds have helped provide Mexican authorizes with the proper training and equipment to root out drug cartels that pose a threat to both our countries. In response, the drug cartels have fought back against the Mexican government and also against each other, resulting in the spike in violence recently seen near our border.

President Calderon should be credited for trying to eradicate these drug gangs, but there is more that needs to be done to ensure the violence does not spill onto the streets of the U.S. I agree with the Obama administration’s recent decision to pledge an additional $700 million to advance the Merida Initiative. It is in our national security interest to help Mexico defeat these violent drug cartels and put an end to the violence along our border.

One thing we can do to end the violence is help stop the illegal shipment of guns to Mexico. Part of the problem has stemmed from some in our country breaking our laws and helping smuggle weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Unfortunately, this has led to gun critics in Washington calling for tighter gun control — something I strongly oppose.

Instead of creating more gun regulations and restrictions in the U.S. — which will only hamper our Second Amendment rights — our country needs to do a better job of enforcing the laws already on the books. We should strengthen our border checkpoints and increase federal agents to ensure legal guns are not illegally sold to the drug cartels.

After visiting El Paso and talking with both U.S. and Mexican authorities, I have concluded that while the violence along the border is a serious concern, there is no need for panic. The Mexican government is taking the proper steps to eliminate the drug cartels in their country.

Assisting Mexico in this effort will help ensure our national security, and it is the right thing for our country to do. As our government continues taking steps to stop the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, I will work to make sure it is done in a way that guards both our national security and our Constitutional rights.

Roger Wicker is a U.S. Senator representing Mississippi.