Feds announce $30 million in grants to border agencies


By Rene Romo
Albuquerque Journal

EL PASO, Texas — Mexico's military-led battles with drug cartels have spawned violence south of the border but also an "unprecedented" partnership with the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

Speaking Tuesday at the sixth annual Border Security Conference at the University of Texas at El Paso, Napolitano said that for the first time, the two countries are treating drug-related violence as a "shared problem."

"We are fighting this fight together," Napolitano said. "We have a unique opportunity now with Mexico to really break up these cartels, and shame on us if we do not take up this opportunity."

Napolitano announced Tuesday that the federal government was allocating an additional $30 million to Operation Stonegarden, a program that reimburses local law enforcement agencies on the Mexican border for work targeting drug-trafficking, illegal immigration and terrorism.

U.S. Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M., who attended the conference, said he will sponsor legislation aimed at making Operation Stonegarden funding permanent.

Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said Mexico's "national war" on drug cartels, including the deployment of 5,000 Mexican Army soldiers to the border city in March, "has been successful."

Reyes said that because of the Army's presence in the city, the number of bank robberies and convenience store robberies has fallen, and the number of killings has dropped from 10 per day to one per day. Cartel revenue streams have shrunk, Reyes said.

In recent months, however, the number of homicides in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million people, has again spiked. Juarez saw 1,600 killings last year and more than 1,100 killings have been recorded so far this year.

"It doesn't show we've failed," Reyes said. "It shows we need to continue to change."

Other speakers at the conference said the United States should consider reducing federal money for militarized anti-drug efforts and spend more to foster economic development in Mexico in order to reduce the allure of the drug trade.

Copyright 2009 Albuquerque Journal

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