NR: "So, America, get serious or stop complaining."
March 14, 2009
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In a special hour of NewsRoom, Fredericka Whitfield hosts a sort of revolving panel discussion on the Mexican drug cartels and how the US is affecting them and vice versa. Michael is part of the first segment and the final one. (Not sure whether the point he wanted to make at the end of the first segment is something he covered at the end of the program.)
FREDERICKA WHITFIELD: We've got a great panel here. CNN's Michael Ware who spent some time in Juarez, Mexico, El Paso city council member Emma Acosta who helped commandeer a town hall meeting, a discussion taking place in El Paso today. We'll get her take on how that went as we try and work out the audio. And CNN's Josh Levs who has been fielding a lot of your e-mails, I-reports, your questions and concerns about how it got here.
Now, Emma Acosta, can you hear me?
EMMA ACOSTA, EL PASO CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Yes, I can.
WHITFIELD: Let me begin with you because you have this town hall meeting today for very good reason. People are afraid. You are right across the border from Juarez, Mexico, which has seen a lot of violence. What do people say today?
ACOSTA: Well, first of all, they were very happy that I actually had this panel of law enforcement experts in our discussion today.
WHITFIELD: And what were people asking? What do they want to know from law enforcement?
ACOSTA: Well, they were asking, you know, what happens? What happens when an individual is shot at the bridge? And then, you know, he's taken to one of our hospitals. And do they all interact? And I wanted to assure them today that our law enforcement agencies are working with each other to make sure that our community is safe.
WHITFIELD: So when we look at the numbers of nearly 7,000 people who have died in the past year in Mexico as a result of drug cartel violence and it's spilling over into the borders, your border town is being hit hard. Have you seen deaths related to the drug cartels, and if so, in a big way?
ACOSTA: Well, what we see is every day when you pick up the newspaper, we'll see murders occurring, you know, 10, seven, five, every single day. Last month in February we had over 200 murders that occurred across the border. We are so, in such close proximity to Juarez that wherever you stand in El Paso, you can probably see our sister city of Juarez, Mexico. It's so close to us that I think it's, for me to say no I'm not afraid would be inaccurate.
Because obviously, you know, the violence is there. It's happening within our eyesight. So we need to be concerned. We need to make sure that our law enforcement agencies are actually working together. And they are. You know, we're very confident that they are working together. Along with our local enforcement as well.
WHITFIELD: Yes and I understand you grew up in El Paso. So you really have a reference point of how it has changed over the years. I want to ask you about that throughout this hour. Meantime, Michael Ware joining us now from New York. You spent some time in Juarez. And you were focusing primarily on the trading and the smuggling of U.S. weapons into Juarez. Describe how bad you think the situation is.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly American authorities say that, you know, over the last several years there's at least 62,000 weapons that have crossed from America into Mexico, into the hands primarily of the cartels. Now that's just the weapons that the authorities say they're aware of.
Let's look at what these cartels are armed with. And what we're seeing is a fight that's being bitterly fought with American weapons on both sides. The government and the cartels, indeed, particularly some of these former special forces military types for the Mexican army who have moved on to form organizations like the Lazetas. These men know what they're doing.
And their armaments include 50-caliber Barrett sniper rifles. Made in the U.S., weapons that are deadly effective over perhaps a mile and which I've only ever seen in the hands of U.S. marine sniper teams or army sniper teams. These guys also have U.S.-made grenades, American-made ak-47s, you know, IR-15s. America is very much fuelling this fight, not just in its taste for illicit drugs, but in the actual weapons that are being used to kill.
WHITFIELD: Well this is fuelling discussions in households across America. Josh Levs has been receiving a whole lot of e-mails throughout the day. What are people saying about their worries about a full-out war unfolding right in their backyard.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of passion, Fred. A lot of big concerns and I'll tell everyone who is just joining us, right now. There are two big ways to join us. Let's zoom in on the board. You can tell us whatever you're thinking at my Facebook page right now, joshlevscnn. We're going to monitor it throughout the hour, and also some of the e-mails at [email protected]. We're going to start off with his from Joanne.
Listen to this. And this is a great question for Michael. "How do I feel about the obvious and ominous threat of Mexican drug cartels setting up both shop and housekeeping in our country? After watching a History Channel special I was scared out of my skin. We absolutely need to make closing our borders and routing out drugs and gang lords the highest priority or we will have our own Afghanistan right here."
WHITFIELD: Michael, do you see that? You've spent time in Afghanistan. Do you see any parallels?
WARE: Yes. There's a certain degree to which, you know, the dynamic in Afghanistan in terms of the drug trade is relevant here. And also the dynamic in Iraq where for better or for worse I lived for six years in terms of the fight on the ground, which is an insurgency. I mean, this is the thing. You really do have an insurgency right on the U.S. border.
And despite the efforts of the combined agencies of American authorities operating in Texas and Arizona, the real fight is on the other side of the border. And there it's not being won. And what I saw on the ground -- in a week where eight police officers were killed in the city of Juarez alone, forcing the police chief to step down -- there's no future where I can see that there's an imminent tactical victory on the ground in sight. We really need to approach this with a whole different way of thinking.
WHITFIELD: And we're going to talk about that a bit more, too, the approach the U.S. is thinking about later on in this hour. Josh, we got one more e-mail -
LEVS: I do.
WHITFIELD: - before we need to go to break.
LEVS: Yes, let's take a quick look at this. Because some people are saying it's really the opposite. That this is getting blown out of proportion. Let's zoom in quickly. This is from Anton, "Stop with all this Mexico border bashing. I plan on visiting very soon. I have friends there. They're all just fine. You're more likely to get shot anywhere in the United States than in Mexico. Is there any truth to that these days?"
WHITFIELD: Miss Acosta.
ACOSTA: Well, we haven't seen a lot of shootings here in El Paso. But we've certainly has seen or heard about the shootings across our sister city of Juarez, Mexico. So we know that the violence is occurring in Juarez. We know that it's happening. That kind of violence has not spilled over into El Paso. So while we see people that are getting shot, some of them coming across and going to our hospitals. But we're not seeing the actual violence occurring here in El Paso.
WHITFIELD: Too close for comfort.
ACOSTA: But we're not seeing the actual violence occurring here in El Paso. We're still the third-safest city in America. And I want to make sure that everyone knows that.
WHITFIELD: Okay. Too close for comfort. We're going to take a short break. Michael, I know you have a thought. We're going to try to get to that in a moment. We know this has not popped up in the last couple of weeks, but this is pretty entrenched and it's far reaching. How did we get to this point?
WHITFIELD: And that is exactly the sentiment that we're hearing from a lot of e-mailers, too, that Josh has been fielding.
LEVS: I'll show you, Fredricka and Emma, because this is the last big topic we're getting on Facebook and in e-mail. Let's zoom back in. I'll let everyone know, the conversations continuing even after the show at the Facebook page here: joshlevscnn.
Check this out, Fred.
This is Waseema, who says, "I'm leaving for Cancun Riviera Maya at the end of April. Is the cartel violence throughout the entire country of Mexico, or is it just the border areas?"
And a similar e-mail here. "We have plans to go to Cabo San Lucas in a few weeks. Do you have any specific information about Cabo and any crime incidence in that resort town?" From Sandy.
So how do they know if they're safe or not?
Let's ask our Michael Ware, who's back with us in New York, to kind of round out the whole discussion this hour.
Michael, any safe spots?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, obviously the violence is certainly concentrated in particular areas that are of vital importance to the cartels. Is there a security threat across Mexico for foreigners? Yes. Is it this raging drug war violence that we see in the border town of Juarez necessarily? No. Go to Mexico, but keep your eyes open. Bottom line here is, America has effectively an insurgency on its border. It's an insurgency that America is fueling with demand for drugs and with the guns with which that insurgency is being fought.
This is going to be a war that's going to be battled over the hearts and minds of the Mexican population, much like a counterinsurgency. When the people feel safe, they'll be able to turn on the drug cartels.
WHITFIELD: All right.
WARE: So America, get serious or stop complaining.
WHITFIELD: And we're going to see that getting serious. In the next couple of weeks, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, heading to Mexico to have direct talks with the Mexican government about how to try to contain this.
Big thanks to everyone involved in the hour-long discussion. Very riveting stuff.
Michael Ware; Ione Molinares with CNN en Espanol; Craig Shagin out of Philadelphia; Emma Acosta out of El Paso, Texas; Sam Quinones, Los Angeles; Josh -- did I forget anybody? Oh, Professor George Grayson, also, thank you so much from William and Mary.
LEVS: Big team today, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Thanks so much to all of you.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield.