Held Tuesday, July 20, 2010
BEYOND BORDER SECURITY:
COMBATING MEXICO’S VIOLENT DRUG CARTELS
VICE PRESIDENT FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS,
HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT,
THE WASHINGTON POST
AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES,
UNITED MEXICAN STATES
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX)
TUESDAY, JULY 20, 2010
Federal News Service
MATT BENNETT: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for coming. About three weeks ago, some stray bullets fired from Mexico entered a ninth-story window in the city hall in El Paso, Texas. They passed through an interior wall and eventually lodged into a picture frame inside city hall. Nobody was injured in this shooting, thankfully.
And in stark contrast, as all of us know, since 2006, more than 23,000 people have been killed in Mexico in the drug and crime-related violence there. I think that offers an interesting metaphor for the discussion today. We have the beginning, the possibility that this violence will begin to leak north, but the enormous toll being paid by the people in the border regions and all over Mexico.
My name is Matt Bennett. I’m cofounder and vice president of Third Way. It’s my honor to welcome you here today for this timely and urgent discussion about this topic. The subtitle of this event is “Combating Mexico’s Violent Drug Cartels,” but that’s really too narrow. The cartels that have been responsible for the violence in Mexico have become full-blown transnational criminal organizations. They’re dealing in drug production, for sure, but they’re also dealing in human smuggling and the trafficking of weapons and bulk cash. And just recently, we’ve seen them devolving into a horrifyingly familiar form of violence with car bombs.
Now, yesterday, we heard from the Obama administration about how 1,200 National Guard troops are going to be deployed along the border to help confront this threat. We are grateful that the administration is dealing with this problem with such seriousness. At the same time, it must be said that the deployment of these troops shows just how serious the problem is and that we need new, more comprehensive approaches to this very serious problem.
Because in our view, the cartels do pose a significant threat to the United States – not only violence along the border, but their role as drug suppliers to the gangs in every region of this country. And it’s not just a Mexican problem. Guns and money are flowing from the United States’ South and fueling this problem and drugs are traveling north and fueling the drug problems that we confront in this nation.
With the threat of the cartels endangering both of our countries, it’s clear that combating them is going to require real cooperation between Mexico and the United States, continuing to work together to disrupt the cartels’ operation and eventually to dismantle their networks on both sides of the border.
Third Way published a memo last week laying out a number of areas where we think that United States policy can be improved to help disrupt the cartels, from stopping the flow of guns and cash to cracking down on cartel-related gang networks inside the United States. And as we point out in the memo, we have a lot of work to do on this side of the border.
But we also make the point that the fight won’t just be won with law enforcement alone. Combating the cartels is going to require long-term security cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico and it has to be coordinated carefully. So to that end, we are delighted to have assembled the speakers that represent both sides of the border and senior levels of this coordination effort.
We’re grateful to have Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, to give us a perspective from his nation. Ambassador Sarukhán is, of course, a career diplomat with extensive experience in U.S.-Mexico foreign policy. He first came to Washington in 1993. In 2006, he joined the presidential campaign of Felipe Calderon as foreign policy advisor and international spokesperson. And in February 2007, he was appointed ambassador to the United States, a fitting post for someone who also has a master’s degree in U.S. foreign policy from SAIS. Ambassador Sarukhán, thank you so much for joining us.
We’re also very lucky to have one of the leading experts and spokespeople on this issue in the United States Congress, Congressman Henry Cuellar. There aren’t many people in Congress who know more about this issue or have more invested in it. He represents 250 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. And since coming to Congress, Congressman Cuellar has stressed the importance of U.S. foreign policy to Mexico, trade, the Mérida Initiative and other aspects of cooperation between the two countries.
In fact, when he first came here in 2005, the congressman authored some of the first legislation to provide financial and other assistance to help Mexico combat narco-violence. And today, he has become a leading voice on border and homeland security issues. Congressman, thank you for joining us.
And finally, let me introduce our moderator, Spencer Hsu. Spencer is the homeland security correspondent for the Washington Post. He began covering domestic security just after September 11. He’s also covered Washington’s immigration debate, focusing on border security and immigration enforcement, so he’s a real expert in these issues as well.
He knows both the politics and the policy of border security and he’s going to guide us today for what I think will be a very enlightening conversation. So we’re going to first hear some opening comments from the ambassador and congressman and then we’ll turn it over to Spencer. Ambassador?
AMBASSADOR ARTURO SARUKHÁN: Good morning. It’s a distinct privilege to be here with you this morning. And we are particularly grateful for Third Way for putting together what I think is a very timely panel and discussion on the issue. And I’ll be very brief in my opening remarks because I understand that the whole gist of this exercise is that we have a discussion and debate before opening up to you.
This is an issue which clearly, and we must continue to underscore this, in which our two countries will either fail together or succeed together. That’s as simple as it goes. Either our two countries understand that they need to remain co-stakeholders to what each side is doing: Mexico preventing the flow of drugs that either originate in Mexico – mainly marijuana, small quantities of relatively low-grade heroin, a bit of methamphetamine, but most of it marijuana – or drugs that originate outside Mexico, but that transit through Mexico on their way to the United States – cocaine.
But on the other side of the border, the critical effort and the critical support that we need from the United States to prevent bulk cash and weapons coming from the United States into Mexico, the bulk cash and the weapons that precisely provide the drug syndicates with the ability to kill and to corrupt.
The second opening statement that I would like to make is obviously one that relates to perceptions. And whereas probably the formal, diplomatic, bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States is as good as it has ever been in the recent past, if you look at public opinion on both sides of the border – whether it’s U.S. citizens concerned about border violence or unscrupulous politicians in this country pumping up the volume to score points as we head into November.
Or Mexican citizens on my side of the border who believe that we’re paying a heavy toll for what is basically a U.S. responsibility, or Mexicans who believe that we shouldn’t be doing what we’re doing because this isn’t, basically, our problem. If you look at public perceptions on both sides of the border, they’re running counter to where the formal, bilateral relationship is headed.
And this provides a very important challenge to policymakers on both sides of the border as we continue to build on the fundamental sea change that has occurred between Mexico and the United States as we deal with issues related to security, whether it’s drugs and thugs on the border, whether it’s how we prevent transnational terrorism from trying to tap into the resources, the infrastructure, the ports of entry, the flow of people and goods that cross our borders every day.
Or as to how Mexico and the United States work together on the U.N. Security Council, as was the case regarding sanctions against Iran this past June, where the Security Council sent a very powerful message as to how the rest of the international community understands and sees these challenges.
So one of the most critical issues that we will be facing – and Congress is a critical partner in this process and I want to publicly recognize Congressman Cuellar because he has been probably one of the most important leaders and voices on Capitol Hill, underscoring the importance of changing the narrative, but also changing the dynamics of how our two countries cooperate as we fight against organized crime.
Finally, just an issue that I would like to put on the table: We’ve, sort of, inherited the parlance that we used to use in the fight against drugs of 10, 20 years ago. We don’t see a cartel structure in Mexico. For a cartel to exist, they have to get together, collude and fix prices. That is precisely what the Mexican drug syndicates are not doing. That is one of the reasons why you’re seeing violence.
You’ve seen an uptick in violence in Mexico because precisely the rival drug syndicates aren’t colluding to fix price. They’re fighting amongst themselves to grab a market share, create domestic consumption patterns. And so we have the opposite of what would be happening, or what happened during the Colombian era of the cartels. So just this is something – things like “war” and “cartels” are words that I’d like to try and get rid of in this discussion. But I’ll leave it at that and wait for us to engage in the dialogue.
MR. BENNETT: Congressman?
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you, again, very much. And I also want to thank the ambassador because he’s been somebody that’s been a leader when we’re trying to convince other members of Congress, senators, why it’s important that we work together with Mexico.
This is important because in the past – I think, Matt, you know this and Spencer, you’ve done a lot of writing – the United States has a tendency of looking at other parts of the world. But there is a tendency, in my opinion, that the Congress was not looking in its backyard and that is, at our friends in Mexico. We’re at a very critical time right now because if you look at it, Mexico is a very important partner to the United States, very important.
Every day, there is about $1 billion of trade between the U.S. and Mexico. The trade between the U.S. and Mexico is so important. You look at trade and tourism and the retail industry and if you go to the border – I’m from Laredo, Texas, largest inland port in the southern part of the United States. And we see this trade. We see this tourism. We see this business between the two countries. And if you want to see how, in our area, how the river – Rio Bravo, Rio Grande – it doesn’t divide us as two countries. It actually unites us together.
But in between this trade we’re seeing now, there’s, of course, violence that has occurred over there. You know, the question that I get as the chairman of the subcommittee of homeland, dealing with border security, is, has it spilled over? I think on the U.S. side, our federal, state, local officials have done a good job at preventing that over. Isolated situations, without a doubt, but I think the big difference, if I can say this – that in Mexico, to catch somebody, it’s been difficult.
There’ve been some successes. I think the intelligence that the U.S. has provided to Mexicans and the closer relationship has been good. To prosecute somebody in Mexico – at least the figure, the last time I was done there, was less than a 2 percent chance. You know, to get caught, very small. To get prosecuted, you have less than a 2 percent chance to be prosecuted.
Here in the U.S., it’s almost the reverse. A prosecutor here has 95 percent. Once they take you to the system, they’ll have 95 percent. So knowing, I think, that is one of the things that deters some of that violence from coming over here. Bottom line is, as the ambassador says, it’s a mutual responsibility between the U.S. and Mexico. We cannot let Mexico fail. There’s no way. As partners for trade, tourism and other type of interchange is so important to both countries. And this is why we need to make sure that we continue working together.
You know, it’s interesting, Mr. Ambassador, but back in 2005 – you know, I’ve lived there almost half a century, there in the border – I was a state representative. I was secretary of state for the state of Texas and now in my second career here at the federal level. But I’ve seen the border and I’ve seen the border change in so many ways. And you know, the old days where people used to just go across and go to the plaza and go have some cabrito has changed now.
Now, when they talk about plazas, it’s exactly what the ambassador was talking about. The plazas are the routes that the different drug organizations are trying to take over – who controls the routes – which is very powerful. You look at the estimated billions of dollars that go from the United States into Mexico. Different estimates: I’ve heard $18, $25, $30 billion a year of drug money going back into Mexico.
One of the things, as we work closer together, and I’ll conclude with this, is, you know, we’ve seen some changes up there. We’ve seen, for example, if you look at some of the recent headlines, we’re seeing – of course, we saw what happened in Ciudad Juarez with the explosion. I hope the ground rules haven’t changed over there and to start using those car bombs that we’ve seen in other places – I hope those ground rules haven’t changed over there.
But we’re seeing that and that means that, you know, our effort between the U.S. government and Mexico has to include, has to improve. Let me just say this: 2012 is important, not because of some calendar or the movie, “2012”, but I think because of the election that’s coming in Mexico. My perspective –
AMB. SARUKHÁN: And in the U.S.
REP. CUELLAR: In the U.S., also. But we’re interested, from our perspective, what happens in Mexico, because President Calderon has been outstanding. And you know, we don’t interfere. That’s your foreign sovereignty, just like we expect Mexico to respect our sovereignty over here.
We see that election as very important because we’re hoping, at least from our perspective, that we get somebody like President Calderon that will be willing to continue that working relationship, that new paradigm, between the U.S. and Mexico. In conclusion, let me just say this: (in Spanish). Thank you very much. And Spencer, thank you for the great writing, also, that you’ve been doing.
SPENCER HSU: I appreciate it. It’s a pleasure to join you, Ambassador Sarukhán, Chairman Cuellar and our host and Third Way cofounder Matt Bennett. Thank you and thanks to our audience for attending. I want to jump straight to the issues and leave time for questions from the audience and for media in the last quarter-hour.
But taking up both our panelists’ remarks about setting the context and how we got to this point, I wanted to pick up on the ambassador’s question about the disconnect that both countries are experiencing. And given that, to start with the specific question: Mr. Ambassador, are the Obama administration’s discussions of post-Mérida assistance adequate?
And what key elements do you think the American public needs to know that Mexico most needs to succeed? And Mr. Chairman, given the budget and other political constraints in the U.S. to the proposals you’ve heard or made, what do you anticipate Congress’s reaction to be. And what should it be?
AMB. SARUKHÁN: Certainly, I think we have seen a very powerful sea change, as I referred to in my opening remarks, not only because of the willingness of the Mexican government, in this case headed by President Calderon, but because the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have bought into and have become costakeholders to this new vision of how our two countries need to take this transnational challenge head-on.
I think the Obama administration, in particular, with the support of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats, I must underscore – has increased resources and manpower to do something which the United States had not done in the past, which is southbound inspections of vehicles heading into Mexico to detect weapons and bulk cash. Just a couple of days ago, I think in San Diego, we had a second important seizure of weapons heading into Tijuana. This is a critically important issue.
And I know that many of you may be scratching your heads, those of you who don’t follow Mexico very closely, and saying, well, why are guns a problem vis-à-vis Mexico? Well, because Mexico has very stringent gun-control laws. You can’t buy a weapon if you walk into a store as you can in certain parts of this country.
And this is what drives what I think it a startling number, but it’s not a surprising number. Just on the Texas and Arizona border with Mexico alone, we have 7,000 federal firearms licensees, gun shops. Now, let me be very clear because this has created a bit of a ruckus in certain circles here because of Mexico’s request of the United States and of Congress for support in the issue of guns.
Regardless of what I may think of the Second Amendment and regardless of whether I believe that you need to by armor-piercing ammo to hunt deer or not, Mexico is not challenging the Second Amendment. That’s a sovereign decision of Congress. That’s a sovereign decision of the American people.
What we are asking Congress and the administration to help us with is to, A, prevent international organized crime from illicitly purchasing weapons in the U.S.; B, preventing international organized crime from transporting those illicitly purchased weapons across an international border; and three, preventing individuals from a country like Mexico purchasing weapons that, in that country, are prohibited.
So what we are basically asking the U.S. is to help us enforce what’s in the books, help us improve the U.S.’s ability to prevent weapons crossing and to investigate who and how the drug syndicates are purchasing – mainly from store purchasing – are purchasing the weapons on this side of the border. This will be a very important component.
It won’t magically solve the issue of violence in Mexico. If we were shut down the flow of weapons into Mexico, magically, tomorrow, it won’t terminate the problem. But it will allow the Mexican authorities to not have to call in the 7th Cavalry every time local and state law enforcement are confronted with the firepower of the drug syndicates and the firepower that the drug syndicates are reaching. And our 7th Cavalry is our armed forces.
The second issue that we are seeking greater traction with the U.S. and support from the U.S. is how we combat bulk cash trafficking into Mexico. Both countries, Mexico and the United States, have been pretty successful in shutting down the formal money laundering through the banking system.
So again, no surprise: A lot of the cash that comes back into organized crime is now crossing the border as bulk cash. And we estimate that it may be around the 8 billion (dollar), with a B, figure of money crossing the border from the United States into Mexico. So this is the second issue that we are seeking enhanced support and cooperation from the United States.
But finally, something which both you and Congressman Cuellar addressed. And look, given that small furry mammals and lipstick became so much in vogue in the presidential election in this country in 2008, this is one pig I’m not going to put lipstick on. Corruption and the need to continue improving and strengthening judicial reform in Mexico is going to be a critical component in Mexico’s fight against organized crime.
Because yes, we’re seizing and we’re extraditing in record numbers and we’re fundamentally diverting the flow of cocaine that comes in through Mexican territory into the United States, but if you can’t prosecute, if you can’t bulletproof judges, if you can’t improve your ability to arrest, to indict, to detain people – that is going to be a critical component.
So how we work with the United States to improve judicial training, to strengthen the ability of judges to prosecute, to improve watchdog capabilities of Mexican NGOs that are working in judicial reform: This will be a very important component in our joint efforts to strengthen Mexico’s ability to take on organized crime.
MR. HSU: Chairman Cuellar, I just wanted to ask a little sharper question. I mean, the Obama administration’s proposals would ratchet back military aid significantly, focusing on judicial reforms. Do you think that – you know, will there be any appetite for other, additional resources? And also, I wanted to ask you about Congress’s appetite for gun control or gun-safety legislation.
REP. CUELLAR: Well, let me start – yeah, let me start out with the easiest one, the Second Amendment. No, I don’t think there will be much change on the Second Amendment, at least not until November, the election itself. But I would say this: First of all, our relationship with Mexico and our assistance has grown a lot.
Back when we started this effort, I used to tell folks, look, the United States gives one country about $1 billion a year in trade – in assistance – Israel. Egypt gets about $800 million. I think Colombia was getting a little bit over 500 (million dollars). Peru was getting more than Mexico; at that time, Mexico was getting only $36 million a year. And my thing is, here is one of our most important trading partners, important trade neighbor, with a 2,000-mile border. And we are only working with them at $36 million.
Of course, Mérida came in – $1.3 billion. And I think we’re in the last installment. And I think this last installment – you can see, there’s a little change as to the four pillars. I think they call it, now, the four pillars, where you’re going to have the – I think it’s important – the professionalism of police, the judiciary, the prosecutorial aspect, also. I think the prison system over there also has to be worked on and I think you’re seeing that change from over here.
Mexico’s changing, also, its legal system, from what I call the written statement to the advocacy, oral statement. I think that will be good also. And talking to President Calderon the last time we were there, some months ago, he was also talking about – of course, given the military, some rules also up there in Mexico, like we have here in domestic matters. I think that’s important, also, to what Mexico’s going through.
I think the fact that they were even talking about – some of the congressmen and senators that we met with were saying, well, maybe we ought to take some of the power away from the local police and make them more traffic. And then have the police more at the state, federal level – and I assume that’s more to vet them and make sure because as you know, you hear stories about some of the local folks taking sides with one organization or the other organization themselves.
So Mexico’s going through a debate and I think that is very, very important. What we’re doing – and I think once this last installment for the Mérida – I hope it’s not the last installment. I’ll be one who says that we need to continue our assistance because it’s not going to stop with this last installment that we want to work with.
Border security: I think the $701 million that the House passed and we’re hoping the Senate will send back to us will give us assistance, also, to look at border security. But in my view, when we talk about border security, it’s multidimensional, in the sense that what we do on the U.S. side and what we do on the Mexican side – if we help them across the river, that helps us over here on the U.S. side, also.
MR. HSU: Great. Each side faces difficult domestic contexts. Mr. Ambassador, first, this notion that a clock is ticking or that time may run out on public support – you know, Mexico had its July elections, the cabinet shakeup, including the change at the interior department. The PRI gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas was assassinated. A candidate for mayor in Ciudad Juarez faces gruesome threats at his home.
Both men had been outspoken in sustaining the fight against cartels. Voter participation in some areas was strong, but in the July elections abstention rates in other areas reached 60 to 70 percent. How much more violence does the Calderon administration believe the Mexican people can accept? Is there a time element to this? How much room does the president have to maneuver, to negotiate with PRI?
AMB. SARUKHÁN: Let me start this way. As you can imagine, many individuals and colleagues and journalists ask the constant question of, how do you define success in the fight against organized crime? Or how is the Mexican government benchmarking success?
This is one of the critical areas: violence. The violence that drug syndicates have unleashed against Mexican citizens, not because they are the targets but because in the fight that is taking place in Mexico for the control of either the staging ground or trafficking routes, or growing consumer markets that they are creating internally, the level of violence has gone through the room.
So one of the benchmarks with which Mexico and others will have to measure success is how fast and how deeply we can bring down levels of violence being unleashed against either the state or Mexican society. Now, let me say a couple things because if you look at the narrative – no direct assault on the Washington Post, but if you look at the narrative in mainstream media, it would seem that Mexico is ablaze from the northern border to the border with Guatemala.
Despite the uptick that we have seen as a result of the fight against organized crime in Mexico, Mexico today has the lowest criminal rate indexes in the past 30 years, despite the uptick in the fight against organized crime. We have approximately 12.5 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. That same ratio for the U.S. is about five or six per 100,000 inhabitants.
The ambassador isn’t trying to brush under the carpet the issue of violence, but what I’m trying to do is to put into context, A, that it is focalized; B, that is taking place mostly on those strategic corridors which are the conduits of drugs coming into the United States, or in places like Ciudad Juarez, that have become the staging ground of drugs moving north and weapons and cash moving south.
And more importantly because it explains how violence has exploded, it is the laboratory in which Mexican drug syndicates, not being able to place drugs in their market of choice – their primary market of choice, which is the United States – are now creating domestic demand for drugs. And so a lot of the violence that you see in Ciudad Juarez is actually, how do you control retail and distribution capabilities on the street corners of Ciudad Juarez?
But this also allows me to plug into the question that you asked Chairman Cuellar, which is, you, sort of, used the word, ratcheting back support or funding for military programs as part of the Mérida Initiative. I would put it, probably, differently. From the outset, if you looked at the balance of resources in the three-year Mérida process, it was about a 60-40 ratio, civilian versus military.
But it started, the first fiscal year of Mérida – fiscal year ’08 started with a very heavy emphasis on military because given that they were being used as a stopgap measure by the president, they were the ones that could immediately soak in that support and that equipment to be able to push back the drug syndicates operating in Mexico.
Now that we are moving into a phase where, given that we have pushed back some of the operations, some of these social programs, some of the institutional programs, some of the efforts to strengthen institutions can now take hold. You’re seeing that fine-tuning in the programs and in the budgets that are being allocated to Mérida. So I think it is important to underscore that.
MR. HSU: Great. Chairman Cuellar, can the United States have an honest debate in election year over what it means to secure the country’s borders? And given the, you know, drumbeat of aid to the border, securing the border, over the last 10 years, really, if not longer, and the fact that also, violence has not yet spilled over the border – crime rates in places like San Diego, El Paso, Phoenix, the state of Arizona border countries are among the lowest in the country and down over 30 years – how do you – and also, arrests, apprehensions of people crossing the border – how do you define victory? For the U.S., how do you get to success for a secure border?
REP. CUELLAR: And actually, I think that’s a good point. When you talk about how do you measure success, that’s always the important part. But let me just say this: Surely, can we have an honest debate? Yes, we can. During election time, it makes it a little bit more interesting. I’ve always told folks that if you thought the health-care bill was a healthy debate, wait until we start talking about immigration reform.
As you know, immigration reform – and I’ll mention that because one part of that has to do with border security. And the second part is a guest-worker plan that works. And the third part is, what do we do about the 11 or 12 million undocumented aliens that are here? And I mention that because, when you talk about border security, somehow or another, the immigration reform issue certainly will come in.
What I always get a kick out of is some – with all due respect to some of my colleagues – when we talk about immigration reform and the first thing they say is, we’ve got to have border security. And if you recall, a couple years ago, I think it was in 2006 – the Senate passed an immigration reform and the response, at that time, by the house to the immigration reform was, one, somebody get a magic crayon and put a 700-mile border fence, and then the second thing was to say that it would be a felony to dig a tunnel under an international border. That was the response to immigration reform.
And what happens when they talk about border security, how do you measure security, especially in the context of immigration reform, people keep moving the goalposts? They keep moving this. If you look at it, crossings and other things have gone down along the border. Since 2004, we’ve increased border patrol from 10,000 to 20,000, and under the supplemental that we’re about to hopefully pass – $701 million includes 1200 new border patrol ICE agents, ATF, DOJ. And on top of that, there’s another $135 million for temporary use of the National Guard down there.
Unfortunately, some folks think that if you put a fence, which is, I think, a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem – look what happened to the Wall of China, to the Berlin Wall, to the French, also. And I think one of these days, I can see a Mexican president standing on the other side and saying, “Mr. President, tear down this wall.” And so we’ve got to be smart on how we do border security and how we use the taxpayers’ dollars for border security.
At one time – and I think those figures change – it would cost about $1 million to put one mile of technology. And then it would cost about $3 million to put one mile of fencing. Now, that cost of fencing, because they contracted this out in advance, is now – we’ve seen some figures at $6, $7 million a mile of fencing. Now, you tell me, if you use a glider or however way they want to use that, or how you come across.
And keep in mind that 40 percent of the people that we’ve gotten over here, that are in the U.S. – the part of the undocumented aliens – 40 percent of them came in through a legal permit or visa. The only thing is, the U.S. didn’t stay stopover. So even if you put a fence, it’s not going to address that. So I say all this because the context is, how do you measure this? Well, the only thing I do is, especially in the immigration context, don’t keep moving the goalposts, like some folks have done since 2006.
MR. HSU: Right. A question about this critical date, the end of 2012, with President Calderon term-limited and President Obama facing re-election. Starting with you, Mr. Chairman, how do you expect the president to manage this challenging combination of assistance to Mexico, border security or immigration in the next two years, given the prospects of a more Republican Congress, pent-up frustrations in the base among many groups, and as people like Sen. Lindsey Graham have said, you can’t do immigration while there’s a drug war on the border.
REP. CUELLAR: Right, and that moving the goalposts is what we’ve got to be very careful about doing. Congressman Jeff Flake made a comment the other day that I thought he was pretty right on, when he said using visas will help us control the border. Because if you have a guest worker plan that works, then you can concentrate on the bad apples that are trying to come in, because then you know who comes in and know who goes out.
And if you keep in mind, we’ve done that in the past. During World War II – World War II, for the United States, changed different sectors of our community. As a lot of our young men went over to war, certain professions opened up. Nursing used to be a male-dominated profession. Women came in. In our ag area, our young men went out to fight, so the United States turned over to Mexico and said, we need workers. So they created the Braceros Program. And then from there, of course, after the war, they said, thank you very much, and then that was it.
But I think having this type of guest worker plan that works is important, especially for a country – if you look at the United States, having – you know, there are certain areas that are very important to the United States. I think having a great educational system, you know, the transportation and that type of business factor – the infrastructure – is important. And I think having new, young blood is important and the immigration part of the thing is important.
I would say that in the election, it’s difficult. Definitely, it’s difficult. But it can be done. In 1986, a Republican president, Reagan, and a Democratic Congress were able to do it. It’s got to be done bipartisan. A lot of people think all Democrats are going to vote for immigration reform. No, it’s not going to happen. There are some of my colleagues that, no way they will vote on it. But we’ll get Republican support on that, and I think in a bipartisan way, we can help address this issue. Difficult issue, but look at history.
The United States has gone through this before. The world – anytime you look at mankind, mankind moves around for different reasons: war, famine, economics, like we’re seeing this right now – economic reasons. And we’re seeing that. We’ve seen this in the past. Sometimes, there’s – the ugly part comes out, which is unfortunate. But again, we’ve got to keep this in a logical, stable way of addressing this issue.
MR. HSU: Matt, I want to get your take on this in one minute, but one last question for the ambassador, and before we open it up to questions. Twenty-twelve (2012) – again, curious about your assessment of the relationship with PRI. And also, will President Calderon need to concentrate on finding a presidential candidate – you know, someone who will share his security concerns and carry forward his legacy, or can he also drive a substantive policy agenda forward? And does his surprise selection of Blake Mora, who we gather is a relatively unknown or surprising choice as secretary of interior offer any indications of where he is headed?
AMB. SARUKHÁN: Well, first of all, regarding the president’s selection, Mr. Blake may be qualified by some as sort of a relatively unknown politician on the Mexican national landscape, but he has one asset, which I think is one of the reasons why the president, among others, chose him, which is, he is a Baja California prosecutor, a state attorney general, who’s worked on the day-to-day relationship with the United States across the border with his California counterparts. He knows the border well. He knows the dynamics on the border, whether it’s drugs and thugs or the illicit flow of goods and people and services.
So I think he brings these assets to the table and I think that it certainly signals the president’s commitment that there can be no u-turns in the decision of the Mexican government to take on organized crime in a frontal way. The other issues of how this will move forward and what the candidates – we’ll have to wait, Spencer. We’re still – even though each year, like in the United States, the primary season starts earlier and earlier and earlier, we’re still a bit away from that.
In Mexico, I think they’re still – the processes won’t formally start, probably, until next year. But what I do think is that, regardless of the specifics of the strategy, I think across the board, Mexicans and Mexican political parties and Mexican politicians understand that the status quo ante, of turning a blind eye, of letting organized crime fester and penetrate institutions, was and is a very dangerous recipe.
And I think that there may be – once the primary season kicks off and once the parties elect their nominees for the presidential electoral process, there may be, again, discrepancies in terms of the tactics or the strategy. But I don’t think the end game will vary tremendously.
MS. HSU: Okay, thank you. Matt, your take?
MR. BENNETT: Mr. Ambassador, I think one American innovation you can only hope goes south is that all of our leading presidential candidates get their own cable news show. (Laughter.) So perhaps that will give the people a better sense of who the opposition is. Two points, quickly, before we open it up.
One is, on the point about guns that the ambassador made earlier on, before founding Third Way, my colleagues and I ran a group called Americans For Gun Safety, and we did a lot of work on the politics of guns and the question of how you could control the flow of guns to criminals and criminal gangs.
And really, we came up with two conclusions. One, as you point out, there has to be better enforcement, particularly of straw buyers and other illegal, federally licensed dealers, many of whom are on the border. The other is that there remains a major loophole in American gun laws, which allows unlicensed sellers to sell guns at gun shows in places like Texas without running a background check.
Our principal ally, in trying to close the gun show loophole, back in 2004 and before that, was John McCain. He sponsored a bill that actually passed the Senate in 2006. John Kerry and John Edwards came off the campaign trail to vote for it – passed the Senate and the NRA eventually ended up killing it. But we were sad to see John McCain move away from his support for that kind of responsible gun laws. And we think it’s a very important part of not only controlling the flow of illegal guns to Mexico, but also inside the United States.
And then very quickly, on the question of immigration reform, I agree with the chairman. Immigration reform is an immensely complex political issue that is dealt with in simplistic ways by too many in Congress. What we found is, the public has very complicated views about immigration review. On the one hand, a majority would like to deport the 12 million undocumented workers. On the other hand, the strong majority is for the path to citizenship. These are complex views, and people up here, too often, are very simplistic about it.
MR. HSU: Great, thank you. And can we take questions, maybe alternating English in Spanish? We’ll start right here.
Q: Yes. My name is Jose Diaz (sp). I’m the Washington correspondent for Reforma, a newspaper in Mexico. I have a question regarding the car bombing in Juarez. The AP is reporting today that the ingredient used in the explosive is Tovex, a mining explosive. I want to hear from the ambassador whether he can confirm this or not.
And in general, a question for both of you is, what does the attack in Juarez represent? Is this a new phase in this so-called war? Are we entering, you know, the narcoterrorism phase, as in Colombia? Or is it just an isolated incident.
AMB. SARUKHÁN: Obviously, Jose, no, I will not speculate or comment on what AP has to say. I’ll wait until I get my formal briefings from Mexico City to then be able to answer and confirm or deny what is being published. I’ll wait to get that information from Mexico City.
The issue of whether the car bomb that was used in Ciudad Juarez signals either a new phase or new tactics by organized crime – we still don’t know. It’s probably too early to tell. What I think is important to underscore is, A, this doesn’t seem to be either an indiscriminate decision and, B, it’s not targeting civilians. That is, it was not a car bomb that was placed in the middle of a marketplace.
It was clearly targeting the police, because there was a dead body in the car. A call was placed to police headquarters saying that there was someone in the car. The moment the police arrived to inspect the car, the car bomb was detonated by cell phone. So it was targeting police because, a couple of days before, the police had arrested one of the key lieutenants of this group of hitmen, that has now decided to also muscle its way into the business, not only of assassinating people, but of also running drugs.
And so in terms of the information that we have and the intelligence that we have seen so far, A, I think it is important not to create the perception that this has now become, sort of, an indiscriminate policy, quote, unquote, by organized crime to threaten civilians or to attack civilians. It was targeting police. It’s not the first time that the drug syndicates have used other means to confront law enforcement authorities.
We saw it in Morelia in the celebrations of Mexican independence, when they threw a couple of grenades into a crowd. And we’ve seen that in a couple of occasions, they used a dud, which did not go off, against the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. But so far, this would not seem to suggest, necessarily, that we’re going into a new phase of violence by the drug syndicates, as of today.
REP. CUELLAR: Yeah, let me – yeah, the basic information we have, same thing. They used the bait, where they had – they called in, said there was a policeman in jeopardy. Police gets there. They use cell phone and on. So we don’t know if – like I said, I hope the ground rules haven’t changed, over their using that. But I guess it’s too early, right now. My understanding – and you might want to correct me on this – the figures I’ve been given in Mexico that of all the killings, the large number of killings – about 93 percent or so – are folks that are involved, one way or the other.
And then you’ve got maybe 5 percent, or a little bit more, the federal police and the police, the military. And then of course, a very small innocent bystanders. So the majority of the folks – doesn’t make it right or wrong – but you know, the majority of the folks are folks that are fighting each other, itself, there. You know, it’s – you know, I think what we’re seeing there is the tactics are getting – it’s basically a retaliation.
You get one of ours; we’re going to get one of yours. Basically, that’s what you’re seeing. And they’re trying to come back, and this is why we’ve seen, you know, bodies without heads and you know, I’ve seen some videos and photographs of situations there that, they’re really making a case, you know, saying you get one of ours, darn it, we’re going to go ahead and get one of yours. So they’re using that intimidation process to a great extent.
MR. HSU: Great. Over here and then there. Yeah, go ahead.
Q: My name is Brendan Riley with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. I have a question for Ambassador Sarukhán. We’ve talked a lot about beyond Mérida, and the fourth pillar we’ve talked about has this very vague sort of rhetoric about social programs or socioeconomic causes of the drug war, if you want to call it that.
While we don’t really know exactly what programs have been started, or exactly what exact measures are being taken to further this, I know that President Calderon in Mexico has started some new social programs – I believe, a pilot program in Ciudad Juarez. So if you could speak a little bit about that, and how that might relate to what the Obama administration would like to do. Thank you.
AMB. SARUKHÁN: As we have moved into the next phase of U.S.-Mexico counternarcotics cooperation, organized-crime cooperation, we have developed, again, Spencer, what we were saying a few minutes ago – sort of, what should the next phases of our counternarcotics cooperation look like? And we’ve developed a four-pillar approach, which will allow us to continue moving forward.
And one of those key pillars is, how do we strengthen the resilience of society to take on organized crime. And it’s with things as simple as providing citizens with the means to, with SMS, denounce crimes. You have to develop a proprietary software so that, if you send a message, you can’t trace that back to who sent it in, so you can protect that individual.
So that is – sort of, it’s as simple as that and it’s as complex as “Todos Somos Juarez,” which is the signature program, which is being implemented in Ciudad Juarez, which is precisely driving at the core issue of, how do you develop and strengthen the ability of society to withhold (sic) the corrosive power of organized crime?
And why Ciudad Juarez? Because Ciudad Juarez not only has become, sort of, the ground zero in the fight against organized crime, but because Ciudad Juarez has a very, very contradictory social, demographic and economic footprint. As a result of NAFTA, Ciudad Juarez suddenly saw a huge expansion of wealth. Per capita income went through the roof. It became one of the cities in Mexico with the highest per capita income in all of Mexico. Investment flowed in as a result of the maquiladora programs, which were tied into NAFTA.
But at the same time, if you looked at socioeconomic indicators, such as the number of clinics, schools, hospitals, theaters, cinemas, sports fields, it was in the last percentile of all large or medium-sized Mexican cities. So there was a huge disparity between available income and economic growth and the socioeconomic base with which citizens interacted in. That is the gap that the program that is being implemented by the Mexican government, and in some of these components of the program, with support through the Mérida Initiative, which is being set in motion.
It has 160 very specific commitments, benchmarked commitments. Some of them are immediate; some of them are by December, 2010; and some of them are permanent. They all have benchmarking and follow-through so the citizens, NGOs, the federal, the state and local government can track the progress that is being achieved.
I hate to read, but I’m not good with numbers, so 12 of these 160 commitments are to improve security, from kidnapping to extortion; 16 are aimed at spurring economic growth and employment through new productive activities and investment and job opportunities and training; 39 of those 160 are programs to improve health – that is, harm mitigation, harm reduction; 71 of those action items are to improve education; and 22 of those action items are aimed at supporting civil society, social development, assisting NGO efforts, improve housing and public spaces.
So as you can see, it’s a relatively healthy, holistic approach to, how do you rebuild the social fabric of a place like Ciudad Juarez. And quite frankly, I don’t think any one of us who is in public service in Mexico can look into the eyes of our law enforcement personnel and tell them to go into harm’s way if we aren’t doing this at the same time, so that we can do and we can develop a multi-pronged, holistic approach.
I do believe in multitasking. I do believe that it is possible to chew gum, whistle and speak on the BlackBerry at the same time. So this is what the Mexican government is trying to do in this phase of the fight against organized crime.
MR. HSU: And before this, we do need to let Chairman Cuellar depart shortly. He’s going to be presiding over the House as speaker pro temp. So can we – are there any other questions? We can ask the questions at the same time and then get an answer here, allow our two guests to finish the questions. So here, here, anyone else? And then Suzanne. Okay, good. These three, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. My question is for Rep. Cuellar. Earlier, you had mentioned that border security is multidimensional, and I would like to focus a little bit on our labor laws. Would you support a measure like, for example, the bipartisan BRIDGE resolution that not only strengthens border security, but also would make E-Verify mandatory?
And maybe speak a little bit to – you had mentioned the Braceros Program, but you also had preceded that by saying that a lot of posts, a lot of jobs had become available, which, right now, obviously, is not the time from my hometown in San Diego, where we have over 10 percent unemployment. So could you mention a little bit of labor laws and how we would incorporate that into immigration reform?
MR. HSU: Oh, I’m sorry. And name and affiliation.
Q: Oh, I’m Silavia Senor (ph) and I work for Congressman Duncan Hunter.
REP. CUELLAR: Congressman who?
Q: Duncan Hunter, California 52nd, San Diego.
REP. CUELLAR: Yeah, I saw him last night – a great hunter, also, like his dad.
MR. HSU: We’ll let the others ask their questions and then take them as a group.
REP. CUELLAR: Okay.
MR. HSU: Good, over here.
Q: Hi. I was just wondering – my name is – (inaudible, off mike) – and I was wondering, what role do you feel government and security-force corruption plays in crime on the border, and what checks and balances are in place in order to detect and fight that, both in each country and coordinated? Thank you.
MR. HSU: Great, and then, Suzanne?
MR. : She’s AP.
Q: Sorry, Suzanne Gamboa from AP. I have a very simple question. I’m wondering how much U.S. funding is going to the social programs you mentioned in Ciudad Juarez to support that kind of thing. Are you getting that kind of – the same kind of thing as, like, from Mérida, that you are getting? Anyway, there you go.
REP. CUELLAR: Okay. Yeah, let me see if I can answer a couple of them and then I’ll let the ambassador. E-Verify, voluntary – yes, I support that, number one. Number two, if you talk to your agricultural areas and other industry, they advertise. And you know, I’m a member of the Agriculture Committee. I represent a lot of agricultural areas. There’s certain area – and you know Roger – ambassador over here that used to be in the State Department that worked on the Mérida Initiative.
You advertise, try to get people to do that work and you can’t find them to do that. And I say that and, you know, you might have a 10 percent – and Laredo just went up to a little bit over 9 percent. And we’re seeing areas that, no matter how much you advertise, you can’t get them. In fact, some of my ag areas were saying, hey, we’re going to lose our agricultural products because we can’t get them. My father was a migrant worker. My father came across the river, became a legal resident, then became a U.S. citizen.
And he was a migrant worker, as my mom was. And the bottom line is, there are certain areas that you need those type of workers. I think in the United States, what we do is, we tell our kids – I’ve got two little girls and we tell our kids, just like my parents – my parents got a 3rd and 6th grade education and they were not able – you know, in those days, the more hands you had, the more you could do because you could bring more money into the system – so I’m the oldest of eight kids.
We tell our kids, hey, we want you to work harder and go get a college education so you can go pick melons. Do we say that? Or work hard, because we want you to be the best dishwasher in this hotel? No, we want them to have that social mobility. So therefore, there are certain areas that you need those workers. And this is why, if you look at that, especially as you look at the aging population and you look at the statistics where we’re going to be losing a lot of folks, we have to get certain workers to come into an area.
This is why, I think, a smart guest worker plan would be very important. The other issues that we’re looking at – they were explained, the U.S. Mérida. Keep in mind that what we’re going to do in Ciudad Juarez is part of this Mérida, part of it. How – I don’t know what the State Department’s going to finally come in – but it’s part of the Mérida plan, the third installment that’s coming in. And as the ambassador said it well, we came in, added money for the Mexican – what Secretary Galván (ph) and Dravo (ph) in customs and other folks wanted in there.
But I think we’re now moving into the area of professionalism of the police, of some of the – and it gets very thick, because sometimes, our conservative friends, when you use, “social,” they’ll be against it. And I had, when we were looking at the programs – and you know this, Roger, working with the Bush administration – we kind of kept away from certain buzzwords that would get either the liberals or the conservatives excited.
So we had to be careful how we drafted some of that language itself, there. But I’ll just conclude with this: Whatever we do in Mexico, especially this area that we’re going to the judiciary, the prisons, the judges and all that, it’s not going to happen overnight. And I know, Mr. Ambassador, I’ll say this very carefully, because there is no comparison. But if you saw what we did in Colombia, that took years.
And what we’re planning to do in Mexico – and no – I try to be very careful, because I had a conversation with the prior ambassador from Mexico when I said, we’ve got Plan Mexico – this is back before he came here – no, don’t use that language because there is no comparison. But I just want to use the comparison of time.
What we’re doing and what we plan to do, working with Mexico, will take time. And for anybody that thinks this is going to happen, if you professionalize the police, the judges, the judiciary, the prison system in Mexico, the institutions that you don’t want those bad elements to permeate, it’s going to take time to build that up. So I just say that in conclusion.
AMB. SARUKHÁN: I couldn’t agree with you more. This isn’t a shake-and-bake policy. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take commitment by both governments. And it’s going to force us to commit resources and political willingness and investment of diplomatic and political capital over the long run. The two issues that I’ll address is the question over social programs and Mérida.
Yes, this has become one of the centerpieces of the next phases of the Mérida Initiative. Even if you look at the first three years of the Mérida Initiative were fiscal years ’08, ’09 and ’10. If you look at especially fiscal years ’09 and ’10, you’re already going to see an important component of support for institutions, NGOs and social programs as part of the Mérida Initiative.
And my guess is that as we move to implement the four pillars that we’re working on, one of which is, how do you strengthen social resiliency on both sides of the border, that this will become a very important component in the next stages of the Mérida Initiative that we have triggered between both countries.
Q: (Off mike.)
AMB. SARUKHÁN: The 1.3 (million dollars) have already been appropriated, not spent, unfortunately.
REP. CUELLAR: Which is another story – he’s correct.
REP. CUELLAR: – the State Department to move faster.
AMB. SARUKHÁN: The resources probably have not moved as fast as, I think, we all would need them to move. But they have been appropriated. I don’t have it here in my hard drive how much of the 1.3 – of that breakdown – goes to social. We can, if you give us a call this afternoon, we’ll give you the full breakdown of how much of that goes into social programs.
It’s public; it’s there; Congress has it. The challenge that we’re looking at is, how do we enhance that chapter, because of the importance of pillar four – social resiliency – in the next phases of counternarcotics cooperation between Mexico and the United States under the umbrella of the Mérida Initiative, regardless of what we call it in the next phase.
Sorry, the last issue on, how do you deal with corruption on the border – this is a phenomena that, you know, to suggest that it only happens on one side of the border is probably irresponsible or naïve. We have a problem on both sides of the border. You know, if people say, oh, 80 percent of the cocaine that comes into the United States comes through Mexico, well, 100 percent of the cocaine that enters the U.S. market comes through ports of entry in the United States. So we have a challenge on both sides of the border.
What we’re doing to confront this is, we’ve created vetted units that are working together. We vet these groups. We vet these individuals. We train them. We have them work together so that we can create a threshold of certainty of knowing who these agents – law enforcement agents working on both sides of the border – are. There’s a fully thorough vetting process, both in Mexico City and in the U.S., as these two units work together.
But you know, when you have – you know, when, in a single seizure in Mexico City in a safehouse, you can seize $265 million in bulk cash in hundred-dollar bills, this tells you the amount of money that is out there that is used to corrupt officials on both sides of the border. So this is an issue that I think both our governments look at and deal with seriously. I think that we set up internal-control mechanisms in our law enforcement agencies and the joint vetted units that are working together to take on organized crime in both directions.
MR. HSU: Thank you, Suzanne. And that question on Mérida – Third Way national security program has a new paper out on combating the cartels. There’s some numbers here. I don’t know if it gets to your question, but it says $15 million total for economic support, $859.5 (million) for foreign military financing, $420.8 for international narcotics control and law enforcement. So not a specific breakdown, but you do see the general civilian-military split.
Lastly, any question from Spanish media? Okay. Well, thank you very much to Ambassador Sarukhán, to Chairman Cuellar, for your time and your thoughtful answers. Thank you – (applause) – to our audience here, who’s watching, and also to our host, most of all. Matt, any remarks?
MR. BENNETT: No. Thank you all and thank you for coming. Thanks, Spencer.