US cracks down on Mexican drug cartels, 300 arrested
23 October 2009, 01:48am IST
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WASHINGTON: US law enforcement officials said Thursday they had arrested more than 300 members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel and seized
tonnes of drugs in the largest ever crackdown of its kind.
"This operation has dealt a significant blow to La Familia's supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons, and cash flowing between Mexico and the United States," US Attorney General Eric Holder announced.
Over 3,000 federal agents and police officers were deployed across 19 US states over the past two days, part of a wider operation that has netted nearly 1,200 arrests since 2005.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed 50,000 troops in a nationwide crackdown on drug gangs, but has so far failed to stem Mexico's spiraling drug violence that has killed some 14,000 people since late 2006.
La Familia controls drug production and distribution in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan and from there ships vast quantities of cocaine and methampetamines to the United States, US officials say.
"The La Familia cartel has demonstrated an incredible level of sophistication and ruthlessness," said Holder. "By seizing their drugs and upending their supply chains, we have disrupted their 'business as usual' state of operations."
Holder noted the seizure of 3.4 million dollars in cash, 144 weapons, 109 vehicles, 729 pounds (331 kilograms) of methamphetamines, 137 pounds (62 kilograms) of cocaine and 967 pounds (439 kilograms) of marijuana.
"These are drugs that were headed for our streets, and weapons that often were headed for the streets of Mexico," he said, noting that arrests were ongoing to add to the 303 already announced.
The United States imposed sanctions on La Familia and two other Mexican drug trafficking groups earlier this year under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
La Familia's operations "stretch far into the United States," said Holder, calling the gang the "most violent" of the five main Mexican drug cartels.
A New York grand jury has indicted alleged La Familia chief Servando Gomez-Martinez and three other gang members on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and methamphetamines.
They face at least 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The long-running problem of drug trafficking between the United States and its southern neighbor "is not a one-country problem, and solving it will take more than a one-country solution," said Holder, who praised the Mexican government's "heroic" effort to combat the scourge.
He cautioned that "no one strike is going to bring an immediate end to the cartels," but said "these sustained, direct blows to the heart of cartel operations in the United States are making a difference."