U.S. lawmakers concerned about Mexico drug violence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday said they feared that ferocious Mexican drug gang wars might spread across the border into the United States.

“With over 6,000 dead in 2008, and over 1,000 dead in January 2009 alone, the violent clash of drug cartels in Mexico has caught the attention of many of us in Congress,” Rep. David Price, the Democrat chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on homeland security, said at a hearing.

About 90 percent of all cocaine consumed in the United States comes through Mexico, which is also a major source of heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana in the United States, according to Homeland Security officials.

Mexico has deployed thousands of troops to Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, the bloodiest flashpoint in President Felipe Calderon’s war against drug cartels fighting for control of smuggling routes.

“Many of the instruments of this violence are from weapons smuggled from the United States into Mexico,” Marcy Forman, director of the office of investigations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in testimony.

The Mexican cartels use weapons made in China, the United States and Israel, some bought in the United States illegally, she said.

Price asked homeland security officials at the hearing to provide the subcommittee with information on the flow of weapons into Mexico from the United States to “help us sort out the dimensions of this problem.”

Execution-style murders and kidnappings linked to Mexican crime and 750 arrests in the United States associated with the Mexican drug trade signal that the violence has already seeped across the border, some lawmakers said.

“This is a war with potentially devastating consequences for the United States,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, the senior Republican on the subcommittee, who complained that some in government did not take the situation seriously enough.

“We have our heads in the sand,” Rogers said. “I don’t see us taking it seriously.”

The United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico and the two countries are major trading partners.

The lawmakers praised Calderon for taking a tough stance against the drug cartels.

Last week, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. military was ready to help Mexico fight the cartels with some of the same counter-insurgency tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“While Mexican President Calderon dismissed reports that Mexico is at risk of becoming a ‘failed state,’ concern is rising about impact of the violence on the region and beyond,” Price said.

“It appears so far that such violence is not yet systematically ‘spilling over’ as some have alleged,” he said. “But the fact that the violence is largely limited to Mexico does not mean that it is not of grave U.S. concern.”

Editing by Alan Elsner