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Obama Sending More Federal Agents, Money to Mexico Border for Drug War

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Mexico today, a day after the Obama administration announced it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure the United States-Mexico border and bolster the Mexican government’s anti-narcotics operation. We go to the US-Mexico border to speak with independent journalist John Gibler. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move now to the border. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Mexico today, a day after the Obama administration announced it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure the United States-Mexico border and bolster the Mexican government’s anti-drug operation.

President Obama laid out the new plan at his press conference on Tuesday night.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are sending millions of dollars in additional equipment to provide more effective surveillance. We are providing hundreds of additional personnel that can help control the border, deal with customs issues. We are coordinating very effectively with the Mexican government and President Calderon, who has taken on a extraordinarily difficult task of dealing with these drug cartels that have gotten completely out of hand.

    And so, the steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected, and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence, and that we are helping the Mexican government deal with a very challenging situation.

    We’ve got to also take some steps. Even as he is doing more to deal with the drug cartels sending drugs into the United States, we need to do more to make sure that illegal guns and cash aren’t flowing back to these cartels. That’s part of what’s financing their operations. That’s part of what’s arming them. That’s what makes them so dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier Tuesday, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said the administration was, quote, “still considering and looking at” deploying the National Guard at the border. She added she would meet with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss sending a thousand National Guard troops to the border.

Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Mexico marks the start of several high-level meetings between Mexico and the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are scheduled to meet with Mexican officials in early April before President Obama’s visit just ahead of the Summit of the Americas.

Mexican authorities say over 6,000 people were killed in drug-related violence last year, and some American analysts have warned Mexico could become a, quote, “failed state.”

For some analysis from the US-Mexico border, I’m joined now on the telephone from El Paso, Texas, by independent journalist and author John Gibler. His book Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt came out earlier this year.

John, welcome to Democracy Now! The reaction on the border to the announcement yesterday, and what you see happening there?

JOHN GIBLER: Good morning, Amy. Thank you very much.

The reaction on the El Paso side is one of mild relief. There is a good deal of people kind of scared about this idea of spillover violence. And the reaction on the Juarez side of the border that I’ve been able to judge so far is one of skeptical “Well, we’ll see.” There’s a lot of energy, kind of skeptical of the Obama administration. They’ve not seen a lot of real promise and initiative from the US government on the drug war.

And one of the reasons there is, first of all, I think the United States government has always liked to export the perception of chaos and violence to other countries, like Colombia and now Mexico. So while the drug violence in Mexico is very real, at least the Mexican people are sufficiently outraged to demand change. Over the last few years, as the violence has exploded, every 2nd or 3rd of January the main headline of Mexico’s national dailies is the number of people that have been executed the year before. In 2007, that number was about 3,000. As you mentioned, in 2008, it was about 6,000 people. But where is the corresponding count in the United States?

Here, drug executions and violence between dealers who are disputing and battling over turf are a daily occurrence across the country, but the violence seems to have been ghettoized. There is no national political consciousness in the mainstream media or in the government about how that violence stems itself from the drug war. So now you have the mainstream media, the President coming along and warning us of spillover violence from Mexico.

I think that expresses the kind of racist logic of the drug war, where first drug violence is seen as spilling over from another country, instead of as something that is always transnational and related to the drug trade, and second, you know, the absence of the corresponding outrage for the drug violence that plagues most US cities — and the response there from the government seems to always be build more prisons and incarcerate more people of color.

AMY GOODMAN: And this issue of Mexico as a failed state?

JOHN GIBLER: I think, there again, it’s not so much that the state is failing, rather than rather uncomfortable facts about its true nature are exposed. And that has to do with the fact that the drug cartels, and for decades now, have so deeply infiltrated pretty much every institution in the state of [inaudible], so when the drug cartels enter into this extreme, bloody, very real war over territory, over trafficking routes, that war takes place within the structure of the state itself. That is, the different people in the judicial branch of government, the executive branch of government, the highest levels of the federal anti-drug forces, like those offices in the federal attorney general’s office, where Noe Ramirez Mandujano, the ex-anti-drug czar, was recently found taking $450,000 in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. Well, people start to fall internally to the state, as well, is one of the kind of levels [inaudible] casualties of that violence between rival cartels.

But here, as well, this should be a moment to pause and reflect and look back at the United States, as well, because, again, I think the US always tries to export this perception of chaos, export the perception of corruption, and it’s as if once the drugs cross the border they somehow teleport to their end users and are just [inaudible] across this vast nation without the aid of an incredible distribution network, highly organized, that will always need to rely on local fixers, and local fixers involved in every level of government. Again, here I think the Mexican people might have something to teach us in the fact that their outrage at the level of corruption and violence pushes society to act more, whereas here there’s just this tendency to export all of this chaos and violence to other countries and not look at how — you know, or [inaudible] to find the places where the drug cartels have also infiltrated the state here in the US.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, I want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist and author — his book is Mexico Unconquered — speaking to us from near the border in El Paso, Texas.

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