- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

Last week’s brief “Three Amigos” summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, has been all but forgotten in the growing storm over health care reform.

That may be what the three North American heads of state, Presidents Obama and Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wanted. All three leaders did their best to ignore the skunk at their picnic — the serious threat posed to all of us by narco-terrorism. If comments after the confab reflect their thinking, thousands of dead and wounded at the hands of violent drug cartels warrant less attention than the “threat” of global warming and the H1N1 flu virus.

In his closing statement at the summit, Mr. Calderon devoted one sentence, just 43 words, to stopping “the traffic of weapons and money that go from north to south that strengthen and nourish organized crime gangs.” Mr. Harper — who spoke first in French and then in English — said Canada “recognizes the courageous commitment taken by President Calderon to combat organized crime in Mexico.” In English, he substituted “drug traffickers” for “organized crime.” That was it.

Mr. Obama did better — noting that the three leaders “resolved to continue confronting the urgent threat to our common security from the drug cartels that are causing so much violence and death in our countries.” He went on to assure that “Mexico has the support it needs to dismantle and defeat the cartels,” emphasized “our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs” and promised to “stem the illegal southbound flow of American guns and cash that helps fuel this extraordinary violence.”

There is considerable dispute about how much the “flow of American guns” contributes to the carnage, but there is no doubt that the phrase “extraordinary violence” is dead on the mark. On Aug. 11, just one day after the Guadalajara summit, Mexican police in Sinaloa arrested a cartel “hit man” and four other suspects and announced that they had thwarted yet another attempt to assassinate Mr. Calderon. Since then, violence in Mexico has spiked.

For the past three months, our Fox News “War Stories” team has been investigating the connection between drugs, money and narco-terror. What we saw and documented — from the Andean basin in South America, through Mexico, across the U.S. border and deep into the American heartland — is a chilling story that has been widely ignored by the so-called mainstream media.

Since January 2007, a staggering 11,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico. That’s more than double the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Savage gunfights among heavily armed drug cartels have spiraled out of control and threaten to spill across the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, narco-terrorists connected to Mexican drug cartels already have infiltrated 230 American cities.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday the indictment of 43 Mexican drug cartel members, but with most of the indicted still at large, it remains to be seen whether, as he contended, the announcement is more than “symbolic.”

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, immediately south of El Paso, Texas, is arguably the most dangerous municipality in the Americas. The mayor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, told me that in the past 12 months, more than 1,600 of his residents have been murdered as his city has become the epicenter of a vicious turf war among rival drug cartels vying for a larger slice of the lucrative drug delivery business. When he called for help, Mr. Calderon sent in the only force he could trust: the Mexican army. Retired military officers now run the city police force, and joint military/police units patrol the streets. Even this hasn’t stopped the bloodbath. Last month, more than 240 people perished in this murderous metropolis.

Fueling the violence next door: illegal narcotics. Nearly all the world’s cocaine originates with coca plants grown in South America — and 90 percent of the “coke” that ends up on our streets travels to the U.S. through Mexico. Eighty percent of the methamphetamine consumed by Americans is produced there. Our southern neighbor is also the main foreign supplier of marijuana. According to Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora, “at least $10 billion in bulk cash” related to drug trafficking “crosses the U.S.-Mexican border each year” — meaning that narco-dollars are nearly on par with money from tourism, which produces about $13 billion annually for Mexico.

With the help of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agents, our investigation took us from a cocaine-processing laboratory hidden beneath the jungle canopy in South America’s Andean basin to the coastline of Colombia, where drugs are sent north on “go-fast boats” and semisubmersibles to the streets of Mexico City, across the U.S.-Mexican border — all the way to a drug bust in an American back alley.

The result: an unprecedented, eye-opening look behind the curtain into the shadowy world of narco-terror — and those who put their lives on the line to keep the cartels from bringing their bloody battles into our neighborhoods. The extraordinary efforts of these brave law officers and steadfast soldiers deserve more attention than the short shrift they received at the Guadalajara Summit.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on Fox News Channel and the founder of Freedom Alliance.