Report: Mexico’s Drug Cartels Increasing U.S. Presence

Mexican army soldiers arrive in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (Photo credit: AP)

An Associated Press investigation out Monday shows that Mexico’s infamous drug cartels are attempting to expand their networks in the United States, cutting out middlemen to increase profits.

Through interviews and reviewing court-documents, the AP says that the major cartels have stepped up their presence in cities throughout the United States. Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office, told the AP that the current push to consolidate control of the drug supply is “probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime.” Chicago recently named the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, as “Public Enemy No. 1,” the same title once given to Al Capone.

According to the AP, Chicago isn’t alone in seeing an upswing in cartel activity:

Border states from Texas to California have long grappled with a cartel presence. But cases involving cartel members have now emerged in the suburbs of Chicago and Atlanta, as well as Columbus, Ohio, Louisville, Ky., and rural North Carolina. Suspects have also surfaced in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. […]

“This is the first time we’ve been seeing it — cartels who have their operatives actually sent here,” said Richard Pearson, a lieutenant with the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department, which arrested four alleged operatives of the Zetas cartel in November in the suburb of Okolona.

Mexico’s war against drug cartels has claimed the lives of 70,000 according to some estimates — mostly civilians caught in the cross-fire or the victims of cartel executions. Three thousand cartel-related murders have taken place just since the December inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The Zetas cartel is among the most deadly and the most able to take advantage of the Mexican government’s lack of centralized control, having set up their own cell towers and other infrastructure in the process of completely replacing the government in running large areas of territory.

President Obama is due to travel to Mexico in early May and is sure to make U.S.-Mexican cooperation in clamping down on the drug trade a top priority. So far, under the Merida Initiative, a partnership between the two countries, the U.S. has spent roughly $1.6 billion to help suppress organized crime. Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t been doing everything possible to help that cause, forgoing prosecution of the banking giant HBSC for its role in laundering $881 million in drug money.

Policies to help end the demand for Mexican drugs and decrease the violence there have also fallen by the wayside or failed to gain support at the Federal level. A 2012 study indicated that state marijuana laws would help reduce the cartel’s profits, a policy that seems dead in the water in Obama administration. Also, the lapse of the assault-weapon ban corresponding to an increase in gun violence across Mexico. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA)’s renewed assault-weapon ban measure will not be included in the gun violence prevention package being moved forward in the Senate.