May 8, 2009

Bersin starts second stint on the border with a new agenda

By Mariana Martínez

 

A new era of candor is the description given to current US-Mexico relations, by Border Czar for Department of Homeland Security, Alan Bersin.

Bersin visited the Otay Mesa Port of Entry on Monday as part of a border tour announcing a series of changes in border enforcement, the most evident one, the south bound check by Customs and Border Protection Officers, focusing on gun traffic and the smuggling transfer of cash generated of drug transactions here in the US.

The program was started last month and it is expected to be permanent in all US/Mexico land exits in an unprecedented acknowledgment of the US government about illegal guns fueling the violence in Mexico.

“The agents asked me where I was going, what was my reason for going to Tijuana, if I had any guns…” said Juan Dominguez, college student who crossed to Tijuana at the time of Bersin’s visit and was questioned by two agents while going southbound.

“They asked me if I had money on me and I joked, “a lot less than I would want to have,” he added.

Bersin considers the drug problem can only be solved by mutual accountability, and one of the first steps was the recognition by the government of Mexico that the drug traffic is a threat to national security, the need to build an honest police force and judiciary.

“At the same time, this administration has acknowledged a co-responsibility for consumption and gun trade” he explained, “what leaves our two countries needs to be as taken into account as what enters, this is something we didn’t emphasize in the past, but we now see as part of the same cycle, that can only be broken by the coordinated action of our governments”.

The Mexican government recently announced its intention to start south bound inspections marking a shift in the institutional functions of the Mexican Customs Agency, to one of a law enforcement profile similar to Customs in the US.

The effort to fight traffic from inside US territory started a few years back, by a special group of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, working with partners at DEA and ATF.

One of the earliest groups started working in San Diego since 2006, resulting in seizures of 7,700 pounds of cocaine; 160, 000 pounds of marijuana 5000 arrests, more than 22.5 million dollars in currency going southbound to support the drug lords.

But in that same time period, only 500 weapons where seized.

“If the US doesn’t change the current gun laws, -and it won’t because the NRA is one of the biggest political contributors-, they will ultimately find a way into Mexico” said Victor Clark Alfaro, SDSU anthropology professor and long time border analyst.

“What these measures will do is just increase the price of arms, but organized crime has the will, money and wits to keep bringing arms into Mexico via the US, or broaden the relationship with gun traffickers from Russia or China” he added.

Clark doesn’t seem too hopeful about measures deterring money laundering either.

“The money being laundered it is not being transported to Mexico in trunks” he explains, “the bulk of the money is introduced in the financial system, banks, wires, real state, the operation is quite sophisticated, so it’s a good political measure but it won’t get the desired results”.

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