Drug Trafficking Spurs Violence On U.S. Border

Drug-related violence has killed more than 1,500 on the U.S.-Mexico border.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 2:49 PM

Aug. 19, 2008— -- In Mexico, the "war on drugs" isn't just an expression people use. Half an hour drive from San Diego in frontier towns like Tijuana, it's a war zone.

Authorities are fighting a bloody battle against the drug lords. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,500 people have been killed, a third of them members of the military and police officers.

"This is a war, and in a war, you have tragedies," Tijuana Police Chief Alberto Capella said. "And we are not finished paying the costs."

Capella had a near miss, himself, when drug lords showed up at his home in November. He said 20 gunmen laid siege to his house in the middle of the night, firing 250 shots.

"The noise is incredible, incredible noise," he said. "They start shooting, and when I saw my room, it [was] illuminated from the bullets."

Capella shot back at them and survived, earning the nickname "Tijuana's Rambo" for his bravery.

The violence has been fierce for 18 months, ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels. Calderon has said that drug trafficking is more than a crime -- it is a national security threat that affects the safety of the country's institutions and people.

He has enlisted the army, deploying 25,000 troops along the border with the United States, to stop smugglers. It is estimated that $40 billion worth of narcotics are moved across the border and hit America's streets each year.

But "this is a two-way street," Mexican criminal justice expert Jorge Chabat said.

"We send drugs and you send arms to Mexico, which are used by drug traffickers. Obviously, they commit a lot of crimes with these arms," he said.

While the violence between traffickers and the authorities is on the rise, that is just one aspect of the increasingly bloody drug war in the region. Traffickers have been killing one another and there has also been fighting within cartels, themselves.

"If you give a ton of cocaine to somebody and he has not paid, you kill him," Chabat said. "Big cartels are in the process of fragmentation, and they are fighting each other ... re-accommodat[ing] themselves to register with the power."