U.S. News

Treasury sanctions 54 Mexico drug gang members

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed sanctions on 54 members of two powerful Mexican drug gangs it blames for a spike in killings near the U.S. border in recent weeks.

The Treasury said the actions target “principal lieutenants and enforcers” of the powerful Gulf cartel and Los Zetas, a splinter group now battling the Gulf cartel.

By adding the individuals to its blacklist of “specially designated narcotics traffickers,” the Treasury is banning Americans from doing business with them and seeking to freeze any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

Treasury’s announcement came a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to help Mexico broaden its war with drug traffickers who are now threatening civil society.

Clinton was in Mexico City on Tuesday as part of a delegation to underscore U.S. concern over Mexico’s drug violence. She was joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. concern over the bloodshed sharpened this month after the shooting deaths of two U.S. citizens in the violent Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The U.S. Treasury’s sanctions against the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas members are similar to those it imposes against terrorist financiers and weapons proliferators, which seek to block their access to the international banking system.

The department had previously blacklisted the two drug gangs and their principal leaders as significant foreign drug traffickers. Wednesday’s action targets “the narcotics traffickers, assassins, money launderers and enforcers that compromise the support network and underpinnings of the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas,” the Treasury said in a statement.

It said many of the individuals, some of whom already face U.S. federal drug trafficking indictments, control the narcotics trade in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon and as well as some other parts of Mexico.

“The Gulf cartel and Los Zetas have terrorized innocent people in Tamaulipas and throughout Mexico,” said Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury’s sanctions arm, the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“Today’s action amplifies Treasury’s ongoing efforts to target the support networks of drug organizations worldwide and to deny these criminals access to the international financial sector,” he added.

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott and Andrew Quinn in Mexico City; Editing by Doina Chiacu