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US Warns Drug-Related Violence Imperils Trade with Mexico

The U.S. Ambassador in Mexico is warning that an alarming upsurge in drug-related violence on the border which both countries share will have a chilling effect on trade and tourism.

In an unprecedented step, Ambassador Tony Garza sent a letter to Mexico's attorney general and its foreign minister, outlining his concerns.

He says that the greater level of violence generally, has resulted in "greater risks to thousands of American citizens visiting and passing through the border every day. And increased numbers of murdered and kidnapped Americans in recent months bear this out."

President Vicente Fox is carrying out his pledge to wage what he calls "the mother of all battles," against organized crime and drug cartels, following the murders of six prison officers, who worked for the maximum security penitentiary at Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Federal agents and troops have gone in and taken it over, from the existing civilian administration.

The six officers were abducted by drug cartel gunmen last week, tied up, shot through the head and dumped in a van, less than a mile from the main gates of the prison.

It was a direct response to a shake up at the country's jails, in which some of the most dangerous cartel bosses were separated and dispersed more widely throughout the prison system, in an attempt to dilute their power and influence behind bars.

President Fox's reaction was swift and decisive. He deployed more than 600 heavily armed federal police to bolster army units in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where the influence of the drugs cartels is strongest, and where the massacre happened.

Public Security Minister Ramon Martin Huerta stresses that the drug cartels will not succeed in their campaign of violence and terror.

"They're not going to destabilize the country," he said.

Mexico, is the main transit area for large scale Colombian cocaine shipments into the United States, and the Mexican drug traffickers who facilitate this trade for the criminal associates to the south, have become increasingly powerful and rich.

Pedro Javier Gonzalez is the Director of the Mexican Institute of political studies. He says that in the ongoing war between the Mexican government and the cartels, the current balance of power is not in the hands of President Fox.

"At this moment, I think that the drug cartels have been able to manage the situation and they seem stronger than the Mexican state, because the Mexican state has not been able to hit in the very heart of the drug cartels, and that is their financial resources," he explained.

Mr. Gonzalez says that the Mexican government is not using its considerable resources to the best effect. He explains that financial power of the cartels is funneled through their money laundering operations, which are not being challenged and tackled to a great enough extent. He suggests that the Fox administration needs to create a new finance investigation task force.

"They don't have a division specializing in what we could call financial intelligence. I think a very important task, to develop that," he added.

Mr. Gonzalez says it's also necessary to improve crime busting cooperation even further, particularly with the United States and Colombia. But the origin and resolution of this national security nightmare, is home grown.