WASHINGTON – US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Tuesday proposed before House lawmakers an alliance between the US and Mexico to fight drug trafficking, although he insisted that a border wall must be built and said that he hopes it will be well advanced within a couple of years.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee in his first appearance before Congress since being confirmed on Jan. 20, Kelly said that Mexico could become a “huge partner” if the US helps it to eradicate poppy cultivation, that being the plant from which a syrup is extracted that is made into heroin, opium, morphine and other narcotics.
“I think a huge partner here is Mexico. And if we can help them get after the poppy production, as an example; if we can help them get after the production labs, if we can help them get after the heroin, methamphetamine as it’s moving in relatively large amounts before it gets to the border,” he said.
Kelly, a retired general who is very familiar with the Americas, mentioned the example of Colombia, which he called the “closest ally” of the United States in Latin America.
“If the drugs are in the United States, we’ve lost,” he said, going on to urge Congress to work with the Department of Homeland Security to “get into the business of drug-demand reduction.”
He said that last year, Colombia eradicated tens of millions of coca plants, seized tons of refined cocaine and destroyed hundreds of cocaine labs, thus preventing the a significant amount of the drug from being smuggled to the US.
Kelly said that if the drug is not intercepted in Colombia but gets to Central America, it is then impossible to prevent it from ultimately getting into the US.
He urged pursuing drug traffickers in countries that produce and ship illegal narcotics but he also said that such plans must be complemented by a domestic effort to eliminate illegal drug consumption in the US, where heroin deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, especially among middle class whites.
“All of a sudden, kids are dying in New Hampshire in large numbers, on the college campuses of places like Harvard, Stanford and Capitol Hill and Nob Hill and Beacon Hill in Boston. Now it’s a big issue,” said Kelly, who headed the US Southern Command from 2012-2016.
“I think we should capitalize on the fact that it’s got people’s attention and somehow put together a drug-reduction strategy that works and can reduce the number of people using drugs,” he added.
While at the helm of the Southern Command, Kelly forged alliances with Honduras, Colombia and Chile to devote more resources to border security to fight drug and people trafficking.
When asked by Republican Congressmen Mike Rogers about building a wall along the US-Mexico border, Kelly said it was difficult to know how long that would take, since it depends on financing, but he would like to see such a project well advanced within two years, adding that the lack of a wall is a major gap in US defenses, although he said that it would not be possible to have an actual wall along the entire border.
He said that se
ctions of solid wall, fencing and other physical barriers could be complemented with aerial monitoring by drones and other means.