Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Perry's Missed Opportunity with Mexico

The latest news from Mexico is bad. Really bad. Over the weekend the El Paso Times reported in an article written by Diana Washington Valdez that:
Mexican authorities have excavated more than 100 bodies of men and women from clandestine graves in Juárez over the past 14 years.

The latest such grave -- with the bodies of seven men and two women -- was discovered March 13-14 in a desert patch near the Villas de Alcala area in far northeastern Juárez, across the border from San Elizario.

Marisela Ortiz, a founder of the Nuestras Hijas, said "the Mexican government itself will be on trial in the case before the international court."

Jaime Hervella, an El Paso businessman and co-founder of the International Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons, is asking the FBI to help families of victims find relatives who may be missing in Mexico.

A Juárez member of the organization contends the cartel is suspected of abducting more than 900 people during the past 14 years, including 30 to 50 U.S. citizens.

"We would like for the FBI to help the families who want to know if they match the DNA samples taken from victims of the (clandestine) graves in Juárez," Hervella said. "The families are afraid of the Mexican authorities, and won't go to their offices.

Wow, mass graves in Mexico that are in all probability linked to drug cartels?!? The last time Americans heard about mass graves was nearly ten years ago during the Bosnian-Serbian war.

As if that weren't enough to worry folks along the Mexico/Texas border, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory to Americans on February 20, 2009:

Mexican drug cartels are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict - both among themselves and with Mexican security services - for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.

Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. The U.S. Mission in Mexico currently restricts non-essential travel to the state of Durango and all parts of the state of Coahuila south of Mexican Highways 25 and 22 and the Alamos River for U.S. government employees assigned to Mexico. This restriction was implemented in light of the recent increase in assaults, murders, and kidnappings in those two states. The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.

The situation in Ciudad Juarez is of special concern. Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in the city since January 2008. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings while traveling in Ciudad Juarez, avoid isolated locations during late night and early morning hours, and remain alert to news reports. A recent series of muggings near the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez targeted applicants for U.S. visas. Visa and other service seekers visiting the Consulate are encouraged to make arrangements to pay for those services using a non-cash method.

All of this alarming news gave Governor Perry a unique opportunity to take the national stage during a moment of not just an international border crisis, but a crisis affecting border towns in Texas. Yet instead of working to foster stronger relations with federal and state agencies to protect communities along the Texas border, the Governor instead asked the White House for a martial law like response.

Today's press release from the Governors office provides his reasoning (and seemingly whining) about the President's refusal to send troops to Texas' border:

Statement by Gov. Rick Perry on the Obama Administration's Plan to Combat Mexican Drug Cartels:

"Texas is pleased the Administration recognizes that securing the U.S.-Mexico border is vitally important to public safety and homeland security.

"While we appreciate the additional investigative resources, what we really need are more border patrol agents and officers at the bridges to conduct increased northbound and southbound inspections, as well as additional funding for local law enforcement along the border to deny Mexican drug cartels access to the United States.

"I have asked the Administration for an immediate deployment of 1,000 additional National Guard troops to support civilian law enforcement and border patrol agents and remain hopeful that we will get the resources we need. The state of Texas will continue to fill in the gaps until the federal government provides adequate resources necessary to secure our border and protect our citizens from those seeking to do us harm."

Texas is currently spending $110 million to secure the Texas-Mexico border and the governor has requested an additional $135 million from the Texas Legislature to continue these border security efforts and combat transnational gangs.

Here are a few steps Perry could have taken:

  • Inviting the Governors of New Mexico, Arizona and California to Texas for a "border state summit";
  • Sending envoy's to the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila -- the Texas Secretary of State's office already works with Mexican states on other issues;
  • Sending the Governor's Director of Homeland Security, Steve McCraw, to border communities to get intel of his own from those that live there;
  • Specifically requested money for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to setup temporary task forces with local law enforcement to combat drug cartels in Texas communities.

Asking the legislature for another $25 million isn't going to do much. With the upcoming gubernatorial election just 587 days away, Governor Perry needs to demonstrate real leadership. Whining about the President not sending troops to the border in a martial-law like manner isn't going to get many votes.

Today's New York Times reminded Americans that:

The suggestion by Mr. Obama that American troops might be moved toward the border to combat drug cartels prompted Gen. Guillermo Galván, Mexico’s defense secretary, to assert that no deployment of foreign soldiers would be allowed on Mexican soil. History was at the root of the concern here, as even Mexican schoolchildren know of the war a century and a half ago in which the United States seized half of Mexico’s territory.

To understand a more about the drug cartels impact on border states, click here to watch an ABC News report that aired earlier today.

As Texans we certainly expect more solutions and clearer stances from Senator Hutchison as she moves from her exploratory committee to actually announcing her official intent to run against Rick Perry.

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