Mexican president, Texans discuss cartels

Gary Martin, San Antonio Express News

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Washington, January 22, 2008 | comments
Mexico is making progress in its fight against narcotics cartels but more needs to be done to quell violence along the U.S.-Mexican border, two Texas lawmakers said Tuesday.

Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Mike McCaul, R-Austin, met with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and other Mexican officials in advance of U.S. congressional consideration of a $1.4 billion aid package to fight drugs and violence.

"They need assistance, and we need to engage them and help them," Cuellar said after returning from a three-day swing to Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Mexico City.

The lawmakers returned one day after a top drug lord from Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, was arrested by Mexican officials, an event praised by U.S. officials as a major benefit to the United States.

McCaul agreed that progress is being made in the war against the traffickers, but he warned that "more needs to be done."

"They are admitting to us that they have a problem and that they need our help," McCaul said. "It's not just their problem, it's our problem. It's on our border."

Cuellar and McCaul, both members of the House Homeland Security Committee, were accompanied in Mexico by Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

The trip comes as the U.S. Congress is scheduled to begin debate on a sweeping aid package unveiled last year by the Bush administration and Calderón.

If approved by Congress, the package would provide $500 million in equipment and training. Cuellar said the measure could be included in a supplemental spending bill this spring.

The package also includes a U.S. crackdown on gun smuggling that Mexico says is fueling the violence by cartels in border cities.

The total package would rise to $1.4 billion over several years.

Opposition to the measure has come from congressional Democrats who have complained that the Bush administration failed to consult them before unveiling the package.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the plan focuses on enforcement instead of using a strategy that includes empowerment and development.
Lawmakers from southwest border states, however, are urging Congress to approve the plan, citing the escalation of violence along the border.

"It is a war," McCaul said, noting that 60 people were killed last month in acts of violence in Mexico border cities that include running gunbattles in Matamoros.

Calderón has dispatched 24,000 soldiers and police officers to the border states and areas the narcotics cartels control.

Despite the effort, violence has increased in border cities from the Rio Grande Valley to California,
according to U.S. lawmakers who support the aid package.
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