The Treasury Department Wednesday imposed financial sanctions on 54 members of two powerful Mexican drug cartels blamed for the recent spike in border violence under a law that allows the government to freeze their bank accounts.
The move targets “principal lieutenants and enforcers” of the powerful Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, a splinter group of former Gulf cartel hit men. In a statement released Wednesday, Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control, said these gangs are “responsible for much of the current bloodshed in Mexico.”
Under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, the sanctions ban Americans from doing business with blacklisted groups and freeze any US assets held by people on the list. These US Treasury sanctions are similar to those imposed against terrorist financiers and weapons dealers, which attempt to block their access to the international banking system. Szubin also said the action would assist the Treasury Department’s targeting of drug supply networks.
This is part of the larger crackdown on growing violence along the US-Mexican border instituted by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. She pledged Tuesday to broaden the Obama administration’s commitment to the drug war in Mexico while acknowledging that the demand for illegal drugs in America and the flow of US arms to Mexico are central to the problem.
Clinton, along with a delegation of senior US officials, arrived in Mexico City for a day of talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Included in the delegation were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Adm. Mike Mullen.
Their visit came on the tail of a severe rise in narcotics-related violence in Mexico that has left more than 2,000 people dead since the start of 2010. The toll included three employees of the US consulate killed in the violent Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez earlier this month.
Drug-related violence in Mexico has killed more than 18,000 people since Calderon took office in late 2006 and launched his war against the cartels. “We will not take even one step back in the face of those who want to see Mexico on its knees and without a future,” Calderon said Sunday. Despite new social programs and tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police deployed in troubled areas, Calderon’s offensive has shown few results and critics say this is a result of corruption engendered by the complex control of more than six organized crime groups.
“The federal government is too weak to control the state governments, so it is crazy to think they can control organized crime in those states,” said Samuel Gonzalez, a former drug tsar who turned critic of Calderon’s military-led strategy. The role of the army has also been called to account by a state human rights official, Gustavo de la Rosa, who accused the military of playing a part in “social cleansing.”
More than 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez last year, a city of 1.3 million across from El Paso, Texas, known as Mexico’s murder capital. Efforts by the 10,000-strong federal army to control violence in the city have been largely unsuccessful.
Mexican officials, for their part, blame the United States for the continued demand for lucrative narcotics. More than $40 billion worth of illegal drugs are shipped north of the Mexican border each year, and marijuana makes up more than half of drug revenues.
The US Treasury has already blacklisted dozens of business and individuals connected to narcotics trafficking, allowing authorities to seize $13 million and freeze $3 million in drug-related assets in the past ten years. “The Gulf cartel and Los Zetas have terrorized innocent people in Tamaulipas and throughout Mexico,” said Szubin. “Today’s action amplifies Treasury’s ongoing efforts to target the support networks of drug organizations worldwide and to deny these criminals access to the international financial sector.”
In her speech Tuesday, Clinton said the administration is “looking at everything that can work” to combat the cartels. The United States has pledged $1.4 billion in 2007 to help Mexico fight drug cartels, but only $128 million has been delivered so far and the package formally ends after this year.
But according to Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the anti-drug war Drug Policy Alliance Network, “That is simply not true, because the most effective thing the United States could do to reduce the power of the drug traffickers in Mexico would be to end the marijuana prohibition in the United States.
“At the very least, they could show some willingness to engage in a more sophisticated and honest dialogue,” he went on to say.
When asked by a reporter whether she would consider decriminalizing narcotics in the United States […] , Clinton said simply: “No.”