Cracking Down

Targeting the Cartels

On the eve of the president's first visit to Mexico, the Obama administration is moving to bolster the country's anti-gang efforts, adding several new cartels to a list of banned foreign "drug kingpins." The move will allow the federal government to seize the cartels' assets--which are estimated to be in the billions of dollars--as well as to seek criminal penalties against U.S. firms or individuals who provide weapons, launder money or transport drugs or cash for the organizations. According to Julie L. Myers, a former Justice Department official who led Immigration and Customs Enforcement until last fall, these designations have been powerful tools against Colombian drug cartels, but that the tactic only works authorities identify specific assets owned by the cartels. "If there's no assets," she said, "it's an important symbolic gesture, but it's kind of an empty threat." In addition, Obama has committed to speeding up a three-year, $1.4 billion countertrafficking aid program for Mexico.