Friday, April 8, 2011

Bring the Drones In: Reyes and Homeland Security

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) is not your prototypical border security hawk. Representing the El Paso area, Reyes doesn’t tap fears of “spillover violence” and illegal immigrants to promote his own agenda for increased border funding.

This stands in welcome contrast to the border security rhetoric of fellow Texas congressman and leading border security hawk Michael McCaul, a Republican who represents the state’s 10th congressional district – the nonborder area between Austin and Houston.

Still, the former Border Patrol chief has been a constant cheerleader for increased border security funding – especially high-tech instruments of border management including remote land and air-based surveillance. Like other border security hawks, notably McCaul (see his opening statement this week at the House’s Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee), Reyes closely associates border security and the drug war in Mexico.

In an interview published by an El Paso magazine this week, Reyes indicated that he supports the U.S. deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to hunt down cartel leaders in Mexico.

“We have to do what we’ve done essentially in Pakistan, and that is start taking out the heads of the cartels,” said Reyes, whose four-year tenure as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee ended in December. Reyes is also a leading member of the House Armed Services Committee and its Air and Land Forces Subcommittee.

According to the congressman’s website:
“As a member of the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the modernization of equipment used by our military's ground and aviation troops.  With a focus on the Army and Air Force programs, Congressman Reyes' service as a senior member of the Subcommittee allows him be involved in the decisions which affect the future of our national defense.  Specifically, the Subcommittee is responsible for funding key programs of importance to Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range, and Holloman Air Force Base include the Future Combat Systems (FCS), F-22 fighter aircraft, the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and all Army aviation programs.”

Reyes has long boasted of his support for the military-industrial complex’s presence in the El Paso area. In 2009, for example, Reyes stated: “As I serve on the House Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, I have been involved with the development of UAVs and know the importance of the intelligence they provide.” (See Tom Barry, “Reyes the Rainmaker.”)

Like Reyes, McCaul is also in favor of escalating U.S. military involvement in Mexico. At the March 31 hearing on “The U.S. Homeland Security Role in the Mexican War Against Drug Cartels,” subcommittee chair McCaul said that the Zetas’ Feb. 15 attack in Mexico on two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that killed one and severely wounded the other was “a game changer which alters the landscape if the United States’ involvement in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels.”

 “We should explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico, similar to the 1999 Plan Colombia which has succeeded in undermining that country’s cocaine trade, disrupting its cartels and restoring its economic and national security,” asserted McCaul.

“In addition, I have introduced legislation requiring the State Department to classify drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations as a means to limit the groups’ financial, property and financial interests,” stated McCaul.

Reyes also supports such a change, which would open the way for increased U.S. intervention in Mexico by the U.S. military and DHS.

Reyes’ spokesman Vincent Perez said the congressman had proposed designating Mexico’s drug cartels as terrorist organizations to the administration while he headed the House Intelligence Committee.

“They frequently engage in brutal acts of narcoterrorism to undermine democratic institutions and the rule of law, and to incite fear among the people and law enforcement,” Perez told El Paso Inc. “Such a designation would provide additional tools to help combat drug cartels and the threat they pose to the security of the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.”

In the El Paso Inc interview, Reyes expressed his admiration for President Felipe Calderón at a time of widespread public protests in Mexico against the president’s drug war.

“[Calderón is] probably the most courageous man I have ever met. He and (Colombian President Alvaro) Uribe,” said Reyes.

(Also see: Tom Barry, Fallacies of High-Tech Fixes for Border Security, CIP International Policy Report, April 2010.)

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