The McAllen Monitor: Stopping the flow of drugs internationally

Washington, May 4, 2014

COMMENTARY: Stopping the flow of drugs internationally

U.S. REP. HENRY CUELLAR | Guest columnist

I recently joined Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and other members of the Appropriations Committee to meet with Colombian and Mexican officials to discuss joint efforts to combat the spread of illegal narcotics.

The United States, Mexico and Colombia have a partnership to eradicate illegal drug crops, disrupt supply chains and seize shipments. As part of this partnership, the United States assists in training and equipping Mexican and Colombian security forces. Our assistance also includes counter-narcotics and law enforcement support through coordination in law enforcement efforts, intelligence-sharing efforts and promotion of rule of law and improvements to the judicial system.

American support contributes to strengthening judicial infrastructure and improving rule of law in both countries. In Colombia, the government has worked to bring the government into un-governed territories by supporting programs that combine military security and civilian development strategies. In Mexico, American support has enhanced the ability of federal, state and local entities to conduct law enforcement, counter-narcotics, border control and counterterrorism operations throughout Mexico, particularly where drug trafficking organizations are challenging Mexican authorities for control of major cities, including those on the U.S./Mexico border.

As members of the Appropriations Committee, we direct funds for these critical activities in the annual budget process. I sit on the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations subcommittee, which sets funding levels for the State Department and foreign assistance programs for the U.S. government.

Once drugs cross our borders, it costs billions of tax dollars to track and investigate the supply, seize the narcotics and prosecute criminal cases. Working with our partners in Mexico and Colombia, we can stop the flow of illegal drugs at its source, resulting in huge savings in dollars and human lives. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to advocate for smart spending to stem the flow of illegal drugs and keep our communities in South Texas safe.

I worked with my colleagues to successfully protect critical investments in the anti-narcotics efforts of our southern neighbors. These funds are critical not just to combat the illegal drug trade but also to continue supporting our trade partnerships with Mexico, Colombia and the rest of Latin America.

We have great partners in the Mexican and Colombian administrations. This opportunity to meet with the heads of state of these two countries is an important moment for our three governments to continue our important collaboration to stop the flow of illegal drugs. It is vital for us to maintain strong lines of communication with our partners in Latin America, especially those in Mexico and Colombia.

The relationship we have with Latin America is one of our strongest on the international stage. Mexico is our third-largest trading partner and more than $500 billion in goods and services crossed the U.S.-Mexico border this past year. We recently ratified a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and trade in goods and services reached $40 billion in 2013.

As a representative of 150 miles of the U.S./Mexico border and part of the Appropriations Committee, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to advocate for border residents and their concerns. South Texas, from Laredo to Brownsville, handles over 50 percent of trade with the United States and Mexico. The thousands of 18-wheelers that cross the southern border every day are a tangible example of the importance of strong ties with Mexico and Latin America.

We must continue to strengthen our trade and security ties for the sake of economic prosperity and homeland security. I welcome opportunities like these to further strengthen our economic, political and strategic partnership with our southern neighbors and I look forward to continuing our important work together.

Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, is serving his fifth term in Congress.