Brownsville, Texas — The U.S. government is partnering with Mexico in a renewed strategy to hit drug cartels where it hurts the most: their pockets.
A firefight between Mexican military and presumed drug cartel foot soldiers, just a few miles south of the Texas border in Matamoros, is a reminder that the decades-long drug war is alive and well. It has produced a record number of homicides in Mexico totalling 31,174 deaths in 2017 alone, according to government records.
It even prompted President Trump to react on Twitter, calling on stronger border security.
“We should care because obviously we have a drug problem in the U.S. and that’s much of the motivation,” said University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley professor Terence Garrett.
Dr. Garrett has studied border security since he moved to the Rio Grande Valley 18 years ago. He’s not surprised cartels were able to survive this long.
“It’s like air in a balloon, right? You can press one area but the balloon moves to another area,” he explained. “They just shift resources around. They are very mobile, they have high levels of technology, they have many resources.”
Examples of such resources in the last month include a bunker discovered inside a Matamoros home. It featured a mechanical moving floor under a washing machine that contained a stash of weapons, drugs and close to $2 million in cash.
Days later, Mexican authorities seized nine boxes with hundreds of military uniforms made on ranch property across the border near Roma, Texas.
“It’s a national problem. Actually, it’s an international problem,” said Chicago’s Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge Brian McKnight
The DEA announced Wednesday it would strengthen its partnership with Mexico to focus resources on high valued targets to stem the flow of hard drugs through cities across the country.
“We’ll be aggressively targeting the cartel’s financial infrastructure by denying revenue going back down across the border,” said McKnight.
Capturing the big fish and aiming at their wallets isn’t getting to the root of the problem argues Dr. Garrett. He testified before a Senate panel last year and shared what he believes is the solution.
“It’s the decriminalization of drugs. I mean, you have to take the profit incentive away from these drug trafficking organizations, first and foremost, and everything else will fall into place afterwards,” he said.