Mexico's Drug War: Cartels Profit From U.S. Guns And Money-Laundering Help

Latin American leaders have long maintained that the United States' voracious appetite for illicit drugs weakens their efforts to stem the narcotics trade.

But abundant evidence suggests that all manner of weapons purchased in United States and smuggled to Mexico and beyond are increasingly facilitating the deadly work of drug cartels and leaving behind a trail of bodies as proof.

It's a cycle with no end in sight.

In fact, some 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexico during the previous five years were traced to the U.S., The Guardian reported, citing a federal Government Accountability Office report. Mexico's neighbor, Texas, was the single largest source.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before a House Judiciary Committee looking into a botched federal arms-trafficking investigation known as Fast and Furious.

Fast and Furious was the work of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Officials at the federal agency encouraged gun shops to sell up to 1,725 assault rifles and other weapons destined for the cartels. In Mexico, some of the weapons were used in murders. The justification: they were using gun runners to track down bigger fish in the cartels and other criminal enterprises.

Holder told lawmakers Thursday that it was inexcusable for the federal ATF to employ a controversial tactic known as "gun-walking" in an attempt to prosecute major arms traffickers along the border. Republican lawmakers on the panel suggested Holder fire subordinates at the Justice Department or face impeachment.

The proliferation of U.S.-bought weapons in the hands of narcotics traffickers south of the border is no longer a secret.

Last month, Holder told Congress that of 94,000 weapons captured from drug traffickers by the Mexican authorities, more than 64,000 originated in the US.

A report by Chris McGreal in The Guardian detailed the ease with which a unemployed 25-year-old machinist named John Hernandez went on a shopping spree in Houston, stocking up on tens of thousands of dollars worth of assault rifles destined one of Mexico's cartels. All he needed to prove was that he lived in Texas and had no criminal record, The Guardian reported:

Months later, one of those assault rifles was seized in neighbouring Mexico at the scene of the 'Acapulco police massacre,' after one of the country's most powerful drug cartels killed five officers and two secretaries in an attack at the beach resort once regarded as a millionaires' playground. Another was recovered after the kidnap and murder of a cattle buyer. Others were found in the hands of top-level enforcers for narcotics traffickers, or abandoned after attacks on Mexican police and the military. The guns have been tied to eight killings in Mexico.

Authorities said Hernandez was part of a ring that purchased more than 300 weapons for the notorious Los Zetas cartel. Some of those guns were linked to the killings of at least 18 Mexican police officers and civilians, including members of the judiciary and a businessman who was abducted and murdered, The Guardian reported. The weapons were only a fraction of the tens of thousands smuggled across the border to fuel a drug war that has claimed 45,000 lives in five years.

Now it appears that the U.S. is not only supplying the drugs cartels with their much-needed firepower but also helping them launder their dirty money.

Last weekend, The New York Times reported that undercover agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds. Current and former law enforcement officers told the newspaper that the effort was part of the growing role of the U.S. in Mexico's drug war. The agents moved shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the workings of the cartels.

Congressional Republicans promised an investigation into this latest twist in the never-ending narcotics drama

Meanwhile, the vicious cycle in the bloody cross-border drug war continues with no end in sight and bodies piling up.