WASHINGTON – Using unusually blunt language, FBI Director Robert Mueller told US legislators on Capitol Hill Wednesday that there is an “unprecedented” level of violence in Mexico linked to the country’s drug wars.
“I would not call it a full-scale war,” Mueller told members of the House of Representatives as he discussed his agency’s 2012 budget.
“I would say there are full-scale warring factions that utilize homicide as a mechanism of retaliation, staking out one’s turf, retribution, that have contributed substantially to the number of deaths in Mexico,” Mueller said.
There have been some 35,000 homicides in the past four years, Mueller said.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s unprecedented,” he said. “The last couple of years, I think, have been particularly bad.”
The frank words are uncommon for a senior US official: the US ambassador to Mexico resigned in March after Mexican President Felipe Calderon said diplomatic cables written by the envoy — in which he depicted the Mexican military leadership as unprepared for the war on drugs — damaged bilateral ties.
And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September had to back off of comments that the Mexican drug cartels “are showing more and more indices of insurgencies,” and that the country is “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, when the narcotraffickers controlled certain parts of the country.”
Even though the Mexican military and police “have undertaken substantial efforts” to address the violence, “it’s certainly not under control at this point,” Mueller said.
The FBI director said the investigation is continuing into the murder of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata, who was shot dead on February 15 in northern Mexico. A second ICE agent was wounded in the ambush.
“We have had access to the evidence from the scene. We have had access to the scene itself. And we’ve been working with the Mexican authorities to make certain that everyone involved in that sees justice,” Mueller said.
It was the first death of a US agent in Mexico since the abduction and murder of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.
Mexican police said Tuesday they had captured a member of the Zetas drug cartel who allegedly participated in the February attack on the ICE agents.
Mexico and the United States share a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border and have strong economic and demographic ties.
About 95 percent of the estimated cocaine flow towards the United States transits through Mexico, according to a March State Department report. The report said that Mexico was also a major supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines to the US.
Washington has promised training and equipment to Mexico’s security forces under the three-year, $1.3-billion Merida Initiative to tackle organized crime.
Separately, experts meeting at a global anti-drug summit in Cancun said that that drug cartels were expanding operations to Central America and even Africa.
Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were especially affected, said Mexican Secretary of Security Genaro Garcia Luna. He credited the Mexico’s crackdown for squeezing out the cartels.
The cartels were also moving operations to west Africa with the goal of smuggling drugs to Europe, according to a report from the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
The head of Colombia’s police, General Oscar Naranjo, said that Mexicans and Colombians linked to the cartels have been captured in Freetown, Sierra Leone, setting up safe houses.
Seven Colombian drug cartel leaders were captured in mid-2010 in Liberia, said US Drug Enforcement Agency chief Michele Leonhart.
Europe has become the world’s second most important market for cocaine, according to the INCB report.
The report singled out Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and France as growing markets.