It’s been an eventful couple of months in the criminal underworld. Following a narco-summit two months ago, the Zetas cartel formed a pact with the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) against their rival, the Sinaloa cartel.
The Zetas scored another victory when Rogelio Gonzalez Pizaña, alias “Z-2” was released from prison early this week. Many expect Z-2 to rejoin the cartel he co-founded with former members of the Mexican Army’s elite Airborne Special Forces.
Not content with being second to the Sinaloa, the Zetas are out for a bigger slice of the $30 billion in annual drug revenues.
Outside of Mexico, much of this has gone unnoticed. American reporting on border security issues has focused on the influx of unaccompanied minors and, more recently, the threat of infiltration by ISIS terrorists.
While terrorism concerns are warranted, it is important to keep them in proper context. The probability of terrorists entering the U.S. via the southwest border is no greater than the risk of them reaching the homeland by other available means.
In 2012, The University of Maryland’s “National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism,” funded by the DHS, reported that between 1984 and 2004, only 264 people connected to terrorism had crossed the southwest border. This is an infinitesimal number, considering that an average 11 million people cross that border daily.
Other concerns are overblown as well. Many falsely claim that the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) increases the likelihood for an attack, as European passport holders continue flocking to the Islamic State. A recent Heritage Foundation publication clearly articulates that the VWP actually enhances U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Focusing on the possibility of Islamic State terrorists coming over the border distracts from the corrosive effects the cartel-led drug trade is having throughout Latin America. 1980s era trafficking routes are being revived throughout the Caribbean corridor, wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Central American governments have been brought to their knees by the violent gangs running throughout the isthmus, and Mexico’s “War on Drugs” continues with no end in sight.
Declines in U.S. regional security efforts, combined with growing American reluctance to confront an increasing number of regional adversaries, assure that violence will continue on this upward trajectory. Venezuela has already emerged as a major international drug trafficking hub, with its government leading the way. High-ranking government officials in Caracas– equivalent to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency– have all been designated by the U.S. government as “Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers.”
So far, the threat of the Islamic State remains beyond the borders of the U.S., but that shouldn’t provide us with a false sense of security. Fixating on one method of entry is not effective and distracts attention away from violent organizations that have already penetrated the border.
Ana Quintana is a Heritage Foundation research associate specializing in Latin America policy issues.