War on the Border
Posted on: 2008-09-02 09:04:06

Reports look at chances for drug war spillover into El Paso

Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?

By Daniel Borunda

Drug traffickers could be more prone to confront U.S. law enforcement as they come under pressure and the cartel war continues to rage in the Juárez region, an analysis issued by the National Drug Intelligence Center states.

The possibility that the cartel war could cross the border was raised last week when it was revealed that El Paso authorities had received unconfirmed information stating that Mexican drug cartels had approved sending hit men into the United States to kill targets here.

More than 900 people have been slain so far this year in Juárez -- killings thought to be due to a war between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels. Juárez has also seen a jump in kidnappings for ransom and in bank robberies, which total more than 50 this year.

"Once a dominant cartel is established in the El Paso-Juárez plaza, stability will return to the area and the flow of drugs most likely will increase," states an annual analysis of the West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, released in May by the National Drug Intelligence Center.

The potential for spillover of cartel violence into West Texas was mentioned in the analysis, which included information from earlier this year.

"This violence could spill into the HIDTA region, since DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) may more readily confront law enforcement officers in the United States who seek to disrupt these DTOs' smuggling operations," the report states. "Violence has extended into the HIDTA region in the past when traffickers felt pressure from U.S. law enforcement."

The West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area covers 12 counties near the border and includes the cities of El Paso, Midland and Odessa.

But police and sheriff's officials in the El Paso-Las Cruces area have said it is unlikely that violence will cross the border. Still, officers are prepared in case in happens, officials said.

"I don't think the Mexican cartels will confront U.S law enforcement directly. Any confrontation will be the result of them coming after targets in the United States," said Robert Almonte, a retired El Paso police deputy chief who is executive director of the Texas Narcotics Officers Association.

"The last thing they want to do is confront U.S. law enforcement, either local or federal," Almonte said. A confrontation with law enforcement in the U.S. would raise the ire of authorities.

Almonte said cartel enforcers prefer to lure targets into Mexico or kidnap victims in El Paso to take them to Juárez.
"They have been doing it over there (in Mexico) because they stand a much better chance of getting away with murder in Juárez," Almonte said.

The National Drug Intelligence Center analysis says six major Mexican drug organizations plus 120 multistate groups and 606 local drug trafficking rings are operating in West Texas. The groups range in size from five to dozens of members.

The Mexican cartels also have distribution cells in dozens of cities across the United States, and have formed alliances with prison gangs, street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs, stated a Congressional Research Service report issued in February, titled "Mexico's Drug Cartels."

The Dallas Morning News has reported that the Zetas, the notorious Gulf Cartel enforcers, are behind murders in Laredo and Dallas. The Zetas are also known to operate in Juárez.

The National Drug Intelligence Center report stated that law enforcement is up against a sophisticated opponent with extensive financial resources, including those of "corrupt Mexican businessmen," capable of paying for high-tech equipment, including satellite phones.

Cartel gatekeepers are in charge of collecting "taxes" on drug shipments moving through their turfs. Such "tolls" were behind a drop last year in cocaine distribution in the El Paso region, the intelligence center's report states.

"Law enforcement reporting indicated the temporary suspension of cocaine shipments by a cartel operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza occurred in 2007," the report states. "This suspension is believed to have occurred because the organization implementing the suspension wanted to make sure that all cocaine shipments were being 'taxed.' "

In Juárez, authorities unable to control the crime wave are making changes to Joint Operation Chihuahua, the federal anti-crime offensive that has been renamed Operation Juárez.

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