- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection called Monday for the U.S. to reinstitute the ban on assault weapons and take other measures to rein in the war between Mexico and its drug cartels, saying the violence has the potential to bring down legitimate rule in that country.

Former CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner also called for the United States to more aggressively investigate U.S. gun sellers and tighten security along its side of the border, describing the situation as “critical” to the safety of people in both countries, whether they live near the border or not.

Mexico, for its part, needs to reduce official corruption and organize its forces along the lines the U.S. does, such as a specialized border patrol and a customs agency with a broader mandate than monitoring trade, Mr. Bonner said in an exchange of e-mails.

“Border security is especially important to breaking the power and influence of the Mexican-based trafficking organizations,” Mr. Bonner said. “Despite vigorous efforts by both governments, huge volumes of illegal drugs still cross from Mexico.

“In turn, large quantities of weapons and cash generated from illegal drug sales flow south into Mexico, which makes these criminal organizations more powerful and able to corrupt government institutions,” he said.

Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge who also headed the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Republican administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, said the still-raging battle “will determine who controls the legitimate institutions of government.”

“While better border law enforcement and interdiction of drugs, weapons and cash will not alone defeat the drug cartels, these steps, as part of a larger strategy, can and will weaken them and make it easier for the Mexican government to destroy them - just as was done over a decade ago with the destruction of the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia,” Mr. Bonner said.

“But successful efforts will require closer collaboration between U.S. and Mexican border law enforcement agencies, and this will depend on strengthening law enforcement capacity in the border region, including enhancing the professionalism of enforcement agencies to make them more corruption-resistant,” he said.

President Obama has described ongoing efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border as “vital to core U.S. national interests.” He has expressed his concern over the increased level of violence and the impact it is having on communities on both sides of the border.

Under the Merida Initiative — a security agreement including the U.S., Mexico and the countries of Central America to combat drug trafficking, transnational crime and money laundering — the United States is investing $700 million on law enforcement and judicial capacity to improve border security and reduce the illegal flow of guns and drugs across the border.

The Department of Homeland Security, under the Secure Fence Act, is building the necessary infrastructure to deter and prevent illegal entry on the Southwest border, including pedestrian and vehicle fencing, roads and technology.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that gaining effective control of the nations borders is a “critical element of national security.”

An armed conflict between the Mexican government and the drug cartels in that country, who now control almost all of the illicit narcotics trade in the U.S., has raged since 2006. The U.S. Justice Department has described the Mexican cartels as the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S.

The Mexican government has estimated that 1,000 federal forces, police and prosecutors have been killed since 2006 and that civilian deaths during that same period have topped 15,600.

Mr. Bonner, now in private law practice in Los Angeles, said that better border security will require both countries to align the structures of their border agencies to make them better able to work together.

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