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TribBlog: Ambassador to Mexico Talks Border Security, Trade

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual kicked off the 2010 Border Security Conference in El Paso with a recap of the violence to date, and his explanation of why the border will survive.

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Despite their best efforts, the U.S. and Mexican governments are successful in seizing only 3 to 5 percent of the billions made annually by drug cartel operations that do business in both countries, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual said today at the Border Security Conference at the University of Texas at El Paso.

He said the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimate that $19 to $29 billion dollars are laundered annually between both countries. At best, both countries capture $1 billion annually in bulk cash, Pascual said.

Pascual gave a 30-minute speech to a packed auditorium where he didn’t downplay the violence in Mexico but instead methodically highlighted some of the most recent atrocities in the country. Included in those was the July 15 car bombing in Juárez, Chihuahua — the city visible from the UTEP campus that’s become the epicenter of cartel-related violence. Pascual said that since the beginning of this year, more than 1,700 people have been slain in the border city. The figure represents an increase of almost 50 percent compared with the same timeframe in 2009, which to date is the deadliest year the city has witnessed. Pascual also spoke about the recent grenade attacks in Ciudad Victoria and Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas state — which borders Texas at Laredo and McAllen — and said the disruption of the day-to-day lives of Mexicans has meandered as far south as Monterrey, Nuevo León, one of the country’s leaders in technology and education.

But the ambassador also noted that those Mexican cities' U.S. counterparts have impressively low crime rates. El Paso, he said, is one of the safest cities of its size, as are several other cities in border states, including Austin, Phoenix and San Diego. Credit that to his boss, he said.

“The most important lesson is that nations, states and communities have to invest in law enforcement to sustain the rule of law. That is what the Obama administration has done,” he said. Since the president took office, he said, the number of ICE and Border Patrol agents have increased to more than 26,000, eclipsing the 17,000-agent high achieved during the Bush administration. He also touted the positive effects of the Merida Initiative, which has to date sent millions of dollars worth of training and equipment to Mexico, including five Bell helicopters, six more of which are expected to be delivered soon. He didn’t, however, acknowledge the findings of a Government Accountability Office report released last month that states that the U.S. is slow to deliver on most of the goods promised. Pascual also touted a bill passed this week by Congress that dedicates $600 million for additional border security.

The beefed up manpower on the ground also spurred a modest group of protesters into action. Members of the Border Network for Human Rights, which has adamantly opposed what it calls militarization of the border, protested outside the conference center for a brief spell before Pascual spoke, demanding a review of what National Guard troops and additional law enforcement could mean for average citizens.

And despite his morbid analysis of the violence and its cause, including the U.S. demand for illegal narcotics and the cache of arms Mexico receives from smugglers here, Pascual said he envisions a “21st century” border, where technology and preparation will continue to facilitate the trade that remains consistent between the two countries.

“Over a million people cross the border every day; over $1 billion worth of legitimate trade crosses the border every day. The border does not just follow a river as it courses between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez," he said. "The border has one end at a strawberry field in Guanajuato and the other end in the produce market at a Costco in Kansas City and includes everyone in the process."

Pascual’s counterpart, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, is also scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin.

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