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Speeches and Statements

Keynote address by U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual Border Security Conference “Re-Envisioning The Border Community To Foster A U.S.-Mexico Partnership For Prosperity, Progress And Socio-Economic Development”

(As prepared for delivery)

EL PASO, TEXAS                                                                                           AUGUST 12, 2010

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  It's always a pleasure to be with a distinguished group of scholars, politicians, students, and business and community leaders.  It’s a special pleasure to be with you because all of you care deeply and passionately about the United States and Mexico, the relationship between our countries and our peoples; and, specifically in this conference, about the communities that make up the “Borderland” that both our countries share. 

In the seven years since the first El Paso Border Security Conference, this has become a premiere public forum for discussion between the public and private sectors at the national, state and community levels of both countries.  The annual El Paso Border Security Conference explores ways to safeguard our common security while fostering the human interchange and cultural and economic growth between the United States and Mexico.  I would like to thank the University of Texas, El Paso and President Natalicio for your leadership in continuing to host this forum in the world’s largest, bi-national metropolitan area. 

I would also like to thank Congressman Sylvestre Reyes, Representative for the 16th Congressional District of the great State of Texas.  Your constant support for the annual Border Security Conference has been critical to public discourse on the border and the bilateral relationship.  From your many years in the Border Patrol and your work as a member of the U.S. Congress, you have become one of the authoritative voices on border security.  On June 11-12 I had the opportunity to see your expertise at work at the inter-parliamentary meeting in Campeche of Mexican and U.S. legislators – I can assure this gathering that Congressman Reyes is representing the interests of his community well.

Thank you both for your service to the United States, to the bilateral relationship, to the Border Community and to the millions of concerned citizens of goodwill in both the United States and Mexico. 

As this morning’s keynote speaker and as the United States Ambassador to Mexico, I have an unenviable task.  In all honesty and good conscience, we cannot begin a serious discussion of border security in August, 2010, without fully examining a level of violence and social strain on the Mexican side of the border that must be described as alarming.

Just across the Rio Bravo, El Paso’s sister city remains the epicenter of the violence spawned by drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.  On July 15, a car bomb exploded along a major thoroughfare, killing four Mexicans, most of whom were first responders, and wounding many others.  This attack was the first example of a car bomb used by one of Mexico's drug trafficking organizations.  This signals a change in weaponry, in the level of sophistication, and in ruthlessness of the cartels.  Since then, the drug trafficking organizations have mounted attacks on Mexican police at all levels in Ciudad Juarez.  There are now, on average, eight killings per day in Ciudad Juarez, with 1,700 murders during the first seven months of 2010.  The same period in 2009 saw 1,150 killings -- an increase from last year of close to 50 percent.  As you all know too well, the international bridge linking El Paso and Ciudad Juarez has been closed several times in the last month because of violence. 

A similar pattern of violence has now erupted in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo.  The turf-war across Tamaulipas between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel continues unabated.  A gubernatorial candidate from the PRI was ambushed and killed in Tamaulipas days before the July 4 elections.  The second explosion of a car bomb occurred just one week ago in Ciudad Victoria.  In Nuevo Laredo, there have been grenade explosions in various parts of the city, including a grenade thrown into the U.S. consulate compound in April, and major shootouts on July 16, 21 and 30.

Cartel-driven violence has moved southward to Mexico’s business capital, Monterrey, forming a “north eastern triangle” of violence among Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey.  The security environment in Monterrey has turned, in just months, from seeming benevolence to extreme violence.  On July 31, there were 20 narco-blockades that paralyzed much of the city center.  The total number of cartel-related executions for 2010 has already exceeded the combined total for the previous 12 years.  The number of violent carjackings has already surpassed all of 2009.  A new pattern in Monterrey is the prevalence of kidnappings, often for relatively small amounts of money.  Released or rescued kidnap victims have told of safe houses holding as many as 40 captives at once. 

While the details of these events could not have been predicted, the overall pattern was foreseeable and foreseen.  Increased pressure on the cartels first drove them to battle each other to control border crossings and markets within Mexico.  As Mexican and U.S. authorities have improved our intelligence and targeting, and as Mexican authorities have made more and more serious hits, the battle with and among criminal groups has intensified.  The cartels have diversified into other aspects of organized crime – extortion, racketeering, robbery, trafficking in persons, and kidnapping.  

These international cartels use the money they obtain from all parts of the “franchise” to buy more arms and to buy (and buy off) people, perpetuating a vicious circle of crime and violence. DEA and ICE estimate that $19 to $29 billion dollars are laundered annually between the United States and Mexico.  At best, both countries capture a total of $1 billion dollars annually in bulk cash.  That means that criminal groups have access to tens of billions of dollars to perpetuate criminal activity.  This point is clear:  to cripple organized crime, we must cut off access to these vast sums of laundered money.  If we fail to curtail these money flows, the confrontation with organized crime will generate more violence and more corruption.

In contrast to this grim picture, cities on the U.S. side of the border convey a different picture.  Based on FBI statistics for 2009, the four lowest rates for violent crime in U.S. cities of at least 500,000 inhabitants are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin.  Here in El Paso, just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, there have been just two murders this year, neither related to drugs.  El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States.  What can we learn from this contrast?  And what does it mean to talk about the spillover of violence into the U.S. border states? 

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.

Border Patrol and ICE agents on the border have been increased from about 15,000-17,000 during the Bush administration to over 26,000 today.  The House of Representatives and Senate have both passed bills to provide an additional $600 million dollars to add 1,500 more civilian border agents.  As a bridging mechanism until personnel can be hired and trained, President Obama has deployed 1,200 National Guard to the border for one year.

By focusing on building civilian capacity, murders are down from 2006 to 2009 in cities on the border and in border states, not even discounting for population growth:                          

  2006 2009
San Diego 68 41
Phoenix 234  122
Tucson 51   35
El Paso  13 12
Laredo   22 17
San Antonio  119  99

So, then, is there a spillover of drug-related violence?  Yes, but not in the way stereotypically conceived – not between cities across the border, but from Mexican border areas to urban centers in both countries.  This kind of “spillover” shatters lives and communities in both our countries.

In the U.S., that spillover is felt most far from the Rio Grande and from the Mojave Desert.  It is happening on the streets of Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and dozens of other places where the effects of addiction and illegal trafficking undermine our communities and the lives of our youth.  In Mexico, what has happened in Monterrey in the last few months could be called a spillover from the violence in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo.  Cartel-related violence from the Familia Michoacana has spilled from rural areas of Michoacán into Morelia. 

Throughout the hemisphere we find points of supply, demand and transit that drive this destruction of the social fabric in both Mexico and the United States.  We each have a responsibility to contain and curtail the sources of consumption, production and violence embedded in the drug trade.  We have a self-interest in helping each other.  And that is what we are doing, with the evolution of the Merida Initiative, started under President Bush, into a strategy based on four pillars that reflect deep and constant self-assessment to stay ahead of the cartels.  Secretaries Clinton and Espinosa, with a host of cabinet officials from both sides of the border, announced the four-pillar framework in March.  President Obama and Calderon affirmed it as a bi-national policy in May.

The First Pillar is to disrupt the capacity of organized crime to operate.  This was the initial focus of the Merida Initiative.  Together Mexico and the United States focused attention on the heads of cartels – to demonstrate that they could not operate with impunity.  As we worked together, it became clear that taking out top leadership is necessary – but not enough.  New criminals replace them, sometimes even more ruthless.  We learned that we must see the drug trafficking organizations as corporations – to understand production, imports, transit routes, marketing, money flows, and how they get their firepower -- and then target strategic nodes that can cripple these organizations.  Integrating intelligence and operations became critical.  The problem is too big and the cartels operate with too much precision to go after them randomly, without strategic direction. 

Today, the U.S. and Mexico are working together more closely to develop and share real time intelligence from air assets on the movements along narcotics trafficking routes, and using that information to plan operations against drug trafficking organizations.  The U.S. is providing tools to increase Mexican mobility in operations against the cartels, including five Bell 412 Helicopters for the Mexican Army last December and six additional helicopters, scheduled for delivery later this year.  Improved capacity has produced results. Major cartel figures such as Arturo Beltran Leyva, Carlos Beltran Leyva and Nacho Coronel can no longer wreak havoc in Mexico.  Information shared with us from Mexico was critical to major U.S. operations such as Xcellerator, Coronado and Deliverance that have resulted in thousands of arrests of Mexico-linked traffickers in the United States. 

As we accelerate the tempo of action, we need to increase our capacity to strip the cartels of resources that fuel their brutality.  The United States captures about $450 million in bulk cash annually.  Mexican and U.S. financial intelligence centers now have strong information links.  The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned hundreds of Mexican entities linked to the drug trade.  But this is but a small dent in the $19-$29 billion in illicit cash that we estimate funds the drug trafficking organizations.  There needs to be a national property register, careful analysis of notary notices on transactions over $10,000, and undercover operations that open insights into how and where money moves. 
Also crucial is controlling the flow of arms that drug trafficking organizations use to confront authorities and to intimidate and extort citizens.  Most of those guns flow south into Mexico from the U.S. side of the border.  ICE and ATF are working jointly on weapons seizures through programs “Armas Cruzadas” and “Project Gunrunner.”  ATF’s eTrace is a searchable database that allows law enforcement agencies to monitor and trace firearms data.  ATF has now developed a Spanish language interface to e-Trace, allowing Mexican investigators to trace weapons known to originate in the United States. 
We saw an important result from e-Trace on Tuesday this week, when a District Court Judge in Tucson sentenced the leader of a firearms trafficking conspiracy to 57 months.  Other defendants, who had supplied 117 assault rifles and other weapons to the Sinaloan drug cartel, will serve more than 40 months.  Fifteen of the guns were tracked through eTrace, allowing ATF agents in Arizona to identify this trafficking group.  The firearms were predominately assault-style rifles, including a .50 caliber rifle, and handguns known to be weapons of choice by the Mexican drug cartels.  
The Second Pillar of our strategy is building institutional capacity to sustain the rule of law in Mexico.  Here too we have learned important lessons.  At the outset, the presumption was that organized crime would be tackled from the top down – by cutting of the leadership of the drug cartels – and that the key requirement was for a federal police force to work this challenge from the center.  What became clear over time is that the violence among the cartels manifests itself locally – on the streets of places like Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Culiacan, and Morelia.  Containing and preventing this requires local law enforcement capacity as well as federal interventions.  It necessitates a civil justice system that puts and keeps criminals in jail.   

As this understanding has evolved, so have our joint efforts.  Today, the United States is supporting comprehensive reforms in Mexico's criminal-justice system through the professionalization of police and prosecutors, judicial exchanges, and partnerships between Mexican and U.S. law schools.  As Mexico moves to pass legislation to reform its state and municipal police this coming year, we have committed to work together to build the training and vetting programs needed to create local police forces that people can trust, in addition to continuing our efforts at a federal level.

Mexico is starting to train a new generation of police officers unlike any Mexico has ever seen.  As of March 2010, 5,500 federal and state officials from all levels of law-enforcement and judicial agencies have participated in newly designed professionalization programs.  Over 4,300 police officers have graduated from the Federal Police Basic Investigation Techniques course in San Luis Potosi and are now deployed throughout Mexico.  These college-educated officers are the first of a new cadre of professional police officers in Mexico who will help transform the way crimes are investigated and prosecuted.  But there is a long way to go – across all levels, there are about 450,000 police in Mexico.  We have taken just the first steps in a decade-long process.

We have also expanded expert-to-expert exchanges, programs, and workshops between Mexican and U.S. criminal-justice professionals.  These programs help professionals in both our countries work together more closely in combating organized crime.  Together we are developing trial advocacy skills, including evidence collection and preservation; extradition and fugitive apprehension; witness protection; internal integrity; advanced witness interview techniques; officer safety and protection; and asset forfeiture and asset management.

Building institutional capacity for the rule of law is crucial to long-term success.  In 2008, Mexico passed a crucial constitutional reform to create oral trials and a more transparent legal system where all parties – from police to prosecutors to judges – are held accountable.  Now every state and the federal government have to pass laws to comply with the constitution.  In some areas, increased operational effectiveness is resulting in greater numbers of arrests in Mexico.  But lack of familiarity with the new system and the lack of trust by witnesses willing to come forward for trials, means that many criminals are released for want of evidence and the ability to prosecute them. 

For Mexico, the challenge is also this:  building institutions like federal, state and local police, and a core of prosecutors and judges trained to implement oral trials, takes time.  And so in parallel with these measures to build capacity, Mexico must also get the most out of the security and judicial corps that it has today.  That will require deploying forces differently and more effectively.  For example, rather than just deploying army, navy and federal police in separate zones of a state, it may mean integrating them across an area to take advantage of their different legal authorities and capacity. 

Mexico has started to do this in Tijuana, where the army coordinates arrests and interrogations with vetted police units and local prosecutors.  The result has been a steady decline in homicides – now being complemented with a massive training program on judicial reforms that was begun this week.   Progress is possible.  But creative management is also critical.

The Third Pillar of our strategy is creating a 21st century border.  The strategy for this comes from many of the people in this room.  It means creating a border that prevents the illicit movement of drugs and trafficking in persons and that expedites the flow of licit trade as well as travelers and neighbors. 

Our economic competitiveness is critical to border security.  If there is no hope of finding a job with a steady income in the licit economy, people will turn to crime, a gang or a cartel.  High levels of unemployment only make cartel recruitment easier.  The lack of jobs feeds a vicious economic cycle in which organized crime further undermines the legitimate economy.  Extortion forces legitimate businesses to close, and kidnapping causes businesspersons to hide or flee.   

We also need a border that positions Mexico and the United States to compete together in a global economy.  I have spoken with U.S. businesses in almost every sector who have told me that integration with Mexico has allowed them to lower costs and compete in markets where they would otherwise be excluded.  That means more jobs and exports for both the United States and Mexico.  But it also means that the border must be efficient – to help reduce the cost of integration so that we increase our net competitiveness in global markets. 

Building this 21st century border requires us to rethink long held concepts of what our common border is and should be.  We have always thought of the border as a line separating two entities.  Border security therefore meant strengthening that line, constructing stronger walls, and protecting one side from the other.    
Modern technology allows us to re-conceptualize the border as something more than a juridical line that separates two countries.  Our shared border is the entire set of activities that flow cross it.  Over a million people legitimately cross the border every day.  Over one billion dollars worth of legitimate trade crosses the border every day.  The border does not just follow the river as it courses between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.  The border has one end in a strawberry field in Guanajuato and the other end in the fruit section of the Costco in Kansas City; and it includes everyone involved in the process from production to transport to sale.   

We have begun work on the 21st century border by expanding existing and building new ports of entry.  Multi-hundred-million dollar expansions are now underway at three key ports of entry – San Ysidro, Nogales-Mariposa, and the World Trade Bridge in Laredo.  After a decade in which no new crossings opened, we opened a new port of entry at Anzalduas last December and are on track to open two other new ports of entry this year at San Luis II, and Donna-Rio Bravo.  We are improving our processes to accelerate the movement of goods by increasing hours of operation at ports of entry and by double stacking customs officers on entry lanes.  Trusted traveler programs such as SENTRI and non-intrusive inspection equipment continue to expedite the flow of people.  The reopening last April of designated student lanes at the Paso del Norte downtown crossing, and last week's announcement of our intent to open a new pedestrian crossing point between Tijuana and San Diego are further steps in expediting the flow of people. 

What is most exciting and has the potential to be truly transformative are proposals we are studying to create internal ports.  These would locate centers for customs inspection and clearance in places like Monterrey or Guanajuato – or potentially San Antonio or Phoenix.  Once cleared, goods could then move along secure corridors across the border.  This would free up processing at the border and relieve the infrastructure demands in border communities, allowing for faster crossings for everyone.

These efforts are still in early stages.  When Presidents Obama and Calderon met in Washington in May, they issued a Joint Declaration on 21st Century Border Management.  That declaration establishes an Executive Steering Committee (ESC) of senior representatives from both our countries.  Their mission is both to break the many small logjams and to implement big thinking, like the internal ports concept, to implement the 21st Century Border.  We expect the first meeting of the Executive Steering Committee to take place next month.  It will be a major step forward in implementing the 21st Century Border.

The Fourth Pillar of our strategy is helping to build, and rebuild, strong and resilient communities.  This pillar of our joint strategy reinforces all the others.  It is a new area of cooperation between the United States and Mexico that has emerged in the past months.  We continue to experiment and learn, but let me give you a sense of how our efforts can come together in Ciudad Juarez, drawing on the good work that many of you in this community are deeply engaged in.

Under the Todos Somos Juarez program, the Mexican government has engaged local community groups on priorities to keep kids out of crime, create new role models and lure others from a world of violence.  Yesterday I met with some of the kids from the Red Juvenil, a network of 50 community groups that spans the world of graffiti artists, break dancing, hip hop, sports, and health care.  From medical students to former gang members, these kids are saying that youth can use their time to help their community.  On July 24, 13,000 of these kids came together to sponsor a concert and graffiti art contest.  Now they are poised to take these tools deep into their communities.

Complement this with a project with the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez that maps out the correlation of violence with economic and social investments.  With the help of urban planners, Red Juvenil will make choices about where they bring their weapons of art and music, engage young kids, and offer alternatives on how they spend their time.  Perhaps it may start in micro areas – with a five-block radius – but they can begin to create a new dynamic of positive engagement for kids that have had no hope. 

Combine this further with the outstanding work of business groups like Paso del Norte Group, a private organization representing 360 business and civic leaders from El Paso, Ciudad Juarez and southern New Mexico, and FECHAC, a business fund from the State of Chihuahua – to target job creation programs for young people finishing high school.  Or, for kids in school, creating after school care that gives them access to computers and ways to make learning fun. 

Now imagine the military playing a new role, securing the perimeter of this small five-block by five-block area, and giving the kids inside it a sense that they are in a safe zone.  Add to that a deployment of foot police who engage the neighborhood and build trust.  And then keep expanding the perimeter – another two blocks at a time.  Keep engaging those who see the benefits of security to bring the lessons to other neighborhoods. 

And then bring in a capacity to institutionalize change with new schools, transit systems, and infrastructure projects that create more jobs and make the economy more competitive.  That is not a fantasy.  With support from USAID, Mexico has developed the means to issue state bonds that are backed by concrete investment plans.  Already these bond issues have raised sums ranging from $100 million to $250 million in several states, repaid over 15 years at competitive rates.  Combine that further with investments from NAD Bank, or the Inter-American Bank, or private funding – say for a light rail connector between Juarez and El Paso.  Now you have the sustained promise of economic progress. 

That is the kind of package that the United States and Mexico, together with your participation, are seeking to create. 

The problems of violence and social decay that are generated by the international drug trafficking organizations are complex and interconnected.   To deal with problems of this magnitude, we need a combined strategy, from both the United States and Mexico, based on a full understanding of that complexity. 

The Four Pillars that go “Beyond Mérida” is such a strategy.  Our overriding task right now is aggressively and effectively to implement all elements of that strategy. 
One of the underlying themes of my comments today is the need for all of us to do more.  Let me mention one final area where all of us know we need to do more in the United States: the absolute need to reduce the demand for illegal drugs in the United States.
Under the leadership of the new Director of the Office of National Drug Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, who I’m very pleased will be with us later today, the Obama Administration has charted a new policy.  The 2010 National Drug Control Strategy marks a paradigm shift in U.S. domestic policy in demand reduction.  It takes a holistic approach that integrates public health, community-based prevention, evidence-based treatment in the healthcare system, and innovations in the criminal justice system.  The 2010 Strategy establishes quantifiable five-year goals to reduce drug use and its consequences, including:
• Reducing the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent;
• Decreasing drug use among young adults by 10 percent;
• Reducing the number of chronic drug users by 15 percent; and
• Reducing the incidence of drug-induced deaths by 15 percent.
Obviously, no single policy statement will bring drug consumption down by itself.  And drug consumption in the U.S. cannot be reduced over night.  But the administration’s new strategy has integrated realistic approaches, has opened meaningful dialogue with communities and public health experts, and has set real goals for demand reduction for the first time.      

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have acknowledged the co-responsibility of the United States in the shared threat of international organized crime, drug trafficking, and the violence and harm that are caused in both Mexico and the United States.  We are beginning to meet that co-responsibility, not just in U.S. government support for Mexico, but in going after illegal money, reducing the southward flow of arms, and in reducing demand for illegal drugs. 

We are also listening to you on the border, and we need better and consistent ways to sustain this dialogue, so that we capture ideas to accelerate the legitimate and necessary movement of commerce and people.  We are fortunate to have the leadership of the University of Texas El Paso and Congressman Reyes in this task.  Again, Diana and Congressman Reyes, our thanks to the two of you. 

The tasks before us are not easy.  But it can be done.  We have the tools to succeed.  It will take unswerving commitment and scrutiny to keep us on the right track.  And in this spirit we need a partnership between government and civil society, to keep us focused and directed.  In this task, we will all succeed together.  It is the only way forward. 

Thank you.