10/19/2007

Report: Violence in Mexico may spread to U.S.

The Associated Press

HOUSTON Drug-related violence in Mexico could spill into the United States, where the border area is vulnerable because law enforcement is poorly coordinated, undersupplied and sometimes corrupt, a consultant's report says.

The report, submitted to Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Border Security Council, says Mexico's drug violence is getting worse, with more than 2,100 people killed in drug-related violence since Jan. 1, making 2007 the deadliest year yet.

An advance copy of the 17-page report to be released Wednesday was obtained early by the Houston Chronicle. The report's chief author is former State Department counterterrorism agent Fred Burton, now an Austin-based consultant and a member of the governor's council.

The Associated Press reported in August that at least seven killings in Laredo in the last two years were linked to Mexican drug cartels. Rosalio "Bart" Reta, a 17-year-old U.S. citizen and alleged soldier for the cartel, pleaded guilty this summer to a Laredo killing and still faces charges on others.

The report comes as U.S. and Mexican officials are working to wrap up an anti-narcotics aid package worth at least $1 billion.

U.S. officials say the aid package is essential for both countries, and praise Mexican President Felipe Calderon's resolve to take on drug traffickers in the first 11 months of his six-year term. Calderon has deployed as many as 20,000 troops and federal police to battle the country's powerful drug cartels, which are fighting among themselves for dominance.

The Mexican government says gangland killings steadily declined through the spring and summer after peaking at 319 in March. Some 195 gangland-style killings were reported in August.

However, Burton's report says the security situation in Mexico is deteriorating despite Calderon's efforts.

On the U.S. side of the border, the report says, "the underreporting of crimes ... and corruption among low  and midlevel U.S. law enforcement officials facilitate the northward spread of cartel activity."

Conrado Cantu, the former Cameron County sheriff whose territory included the border city of Brownsville, is serving 24 years in federal prison for drug trafficking, extortion and corruption.

Nevertheless, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Steve Robertson said the United States and its Latin American partners have had major successes in the past year.

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