By Karen Pierog
CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexico will set up a joint team in Chicago targeting Mexican drug cartels and their leaders and finances, to try to stem a flow of drugs that has led to a spike in U.S. overdose deaths, officials said on Wednesday.
DEA Chief of Operations Anthony Williams said at a joint news conference with Mexican government officials in Chicago that targeting cartel finances was key because “the sole purpose of these entities is one thing and one thing only – money.”
Mexico remains the principal highway for cocaine to the United States and has become the top source of heroin, which is fueling a surge in opioid addiction in the United States. It is also a major supplier of methamphetamines.
“It’s not just a Chicago problem, it’s a national problem. Actually, it’s an international problem,” Brian McKnight, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Chicago Field Division, said at the news conference.
Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning nationalist, has vowed to shake up Mexico’s war on drug cartels after he takes power in December. He wants to rewrite the rules, aides have said, suggesting negotiated peace and amnesties rather than a hardline strategy that critics say has only perpetuated violence.
However, a change of direction without the United States could increase friction between the neighbors, who have been often at loggerheads since Donald Trump became U.S. president.
Trump has irked Mexico with demands that it pay for a border wall and his comments that it does nothing to slow illegal immigration. He has also pushed to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to favor the United States.
But despite difference with the Trump administration on migration and trade issues, officials and security experts in the United States have applauded long-running bilateral efforts to crack down on drug gangs.
For the past 12 years, Mexico has fought the violent cartels by deploying thousands of police, soldiers, and intelligence officers.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog, Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)