This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Border corruption and a 73 million dollar question

In a number of recent conversations the topics of corruption and border patrol agents has surfaced. On both sides of the border, it seems, taking bribes to allow the passage of certain trucks or certain individuals has become more of an issue. As media attention continues to focus on border violence between Mexico and the United States, many are aware that border agents on the Mexican side of the border have often taken bribes. Those that do not usually take a bullet.

On the US side of the border, however, such “plata o plomo” decisions have not been forced upon Border Patrol Agents, at least not that the media is aware. Corruption remains a concern, however, and when officials along the border talk about how Mexican organized crime will initially be felt inside the United States, the first answer is not what many expect. Firefights between members of Los Zetas and US Border Patrol are less likely than the clandestine offer of a white envelope stuffed with cash.

During his congressional testimony on 14 February, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, sat before the appropriate Senate Committee and explained why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs US$50.5 billion dollars for fiscal year 2009. Within this amount, there is a request for US$442.4 million for the Border Patrol. DHS wants to hire, train and equip 2,200 new Border Patrol agents in an effort to reach President Bush’s goal of adding a total of 6,000 new Border Patrol agents by the end of 2009.

The total would surpass 20,000 Border Patrol agents, more than double the amount used in 2001, according to Chertoff.

Could it be that a handful of those new agents working on the US-Mexico border may be corrupted along the way? Could it be that as the Border Patrol has ramped up from 10,000 to over 20,000 agents, some moles have been placed by Mexican DTOs?

Meanwhile, another interesting question was raised a week earlier in early February by House Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Noting that in President Bush’s 2009 fiscal year budget request, another US$73 million has been removed from money set aside for drug use prevention programs inside the United States, Rep. Engel asked his guests – leaders from the DEA, DOS, ATF, FBI, etc:

“Why are we cutting demand side spending at a time when we have promised the Mexican government to intensify our efforts on the demand side of the drug war? This is absolutely shocking to me and is no way to show our commitment to our partners in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere who are combating narco-traffickers on a daily basis.”

None of the witnesses that day came up with an adequate answer.

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