GAO: More money needed to combat Mexican violence

The U.S. needs to provide Mexico with more money to effectively combat gun trafficking operations that fuel the high levels of violence along its border with the U.S., according to a government agency watchdog.

While organized efforts to curb the flow of guns to the border region are only recently being put in place, the Government Accountability Office, in its report released Friday, said the U.S. and Mexico are hampered by a lack of dedicated funding, the continued delay of a Spanish-language gun tracing system, and corruption within the Mexican government.

Under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. is giving Mexico $1.4 billion over three years, for military and law enforcement training and equipment, like helicopters, and includes extensive contracts for U.S. hardware and training.

“Although the Merida Initiative…provides general law enforcement and counternarcotics assistance to Mexico, it does not provide dedicated funding to address the issue of arms trafficking,” the report stated.
 
“A number of efforts officials told us could be helpful in combating arms trafficking, such as establishing and supporting a bilateral, multiagency arms trafficking task force, have not been undertaken.”
 
President Obama recently announced his intention to step-up U.S. assistance to Mexico, especially with regard to a partnered gathering of intelligence, as well as increasing the level of seizing ships, aircraft and vehicles carrying illegal drugs, guns, and money by drug cartels across the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
In Obama’s plan, he also recognized that until then, the U.S. did not have a comprehensive strategy to combat the flow of illegal cash and weapons.
 
The drug cartels in Mexico have killed more than 10,800 people since 2006. Mexican officials attribute the illicit trafficking of firearms, many of which come from the U.S., as the leading contributing factor, according to the GAO report.
 
“While it is impossible to know how many firearms are illegally trafficked into Mexico in a given year, over 20,000, or around 87 percent, of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced over the past 5 years originated in the United States,” the report states.
 
“Around 68 percent of these firearms were manufactured in the United States, and around 19 percent were manufactured in third countries and imported into the United States before being trafficked into Mexico.”
 
Many of the guns that officials seize in relation to the drug violence in Mexico are high-caliber semiautomatic rifles and those that are traced to the U.S. tend to come from gun shops and gun shows in states like Texas, California, and Arizona, the report states.
 
In addition to money, another major challenge to the U.S.-Mexico venture to curb the violence and gun trafficking in the region is that “the primary agencies implementing efforts to address this issue, do not consistently coordinate their efforts effectively, in part because the agencies lack clear roles and responsibilities and have been operating under an outdated interagency agreement. This has resulted in some instances of duplicate initiatives and confusion during operations.”
 
The report included a response from the Department of Homeland Security on the topic of interagency communication, saying that the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement frequently and effectively share information and coordinate casework.

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