Staples used a Power Point presentation to hammer home the extent of the problem.
“The drug cartels are seeking a foothold inside the United States,” he told a crowd of nearly 200 at the Beeville Country Club, “and Texas has become an operational ground zero in that effort.”
Staples quoted Department of Public Safety estimates showing cartel profits from drug and human smuggling activity across the border as high as $39 billion a year — a profit associated with 25 homicides, 58 shootings at law enforcement and 337 cartel members arrested since 2009. In addition, the DPS has tallied 120 kidnappings in the United States since 2004 and 369 children trafficked into Texas between 2007 and 2011.
To combat such crime, Staples says, the U.S. Border Patrol is undermanned and under-gunned. “In California, Arizona and New Mexico, the Border Patrol averages 14 agents per mile of border. In Texas: six.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Staples said, “the cartels are not fighting for a hilltop view.”
He cites another sobering statistic: According to the Government Accounting Office, only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexican border is under some level of operation control.
He quoted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who, in a report to West Point last July, counted 13,000 drug-related murders in Mexico in 2011 — a 20 percent rise over 2010.
Much of the cartels’ success is that money talks. The United States estimates the cartels spend $100 million a month to bribe police officers, whose annual salaries often are no more than $500 a year.
Those same police, he says, are frequently involved in kidnapping and extortion; the cartels are estimated to control 980 local governments in Mexico.
“The United States tends to be in denial,” Staples warns.
Part of that denial is blamed on the cartels’ murdering at least 81 journalists since 2000.
Staples said Texas, acting where the federal government won’t, has spent $462 million in fighting the border violence.
As agriculture commissioner, Staples is concerned that increasing border violence may threaten the annual $100 billion ag industry among the 8,200 farms and ranches along the Texas-Mexico border.
He than offered five solutions:
•Triple the number of “boots on the ground.”
•Send surplus military equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan to the border.
•Additional funding for law enforcement.
•Modernize the current ports of entry and increase their staffing.
•Have Capitol Hill and the White House declare the cartel violence as terroristic activity.
Staples’ suggestions brought wide applause.
“What can we ranchers and farmers here do to help?” someone in the audience asked.
Staples suggested spreading the word by going to his website dedicated to border violence: www.protectyourtexasborder.com and to contact their congressmen.
While his presentation focused entirely on the supply side of the issue, he made no mention of the continued and persistent demand in the U.S. for illegal drugs.
“Why shouldn’t we just militarize the Texas border?” another member of the audience asked.
Staples pointed out that Mexico is this nation’s third-largest trade partner. “And,” he added, “the headquarters of the cartels are in a foreign country. We can’t send troops there. And I don’t want my ranchers and farmers to have tanks rolling across their property.
“There’s no silver-bullet answer to this,” he added. “Right now, border security should be called border insecurity.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.