Emboldened, Mexican cartels put down roots in U.S. heartland

Washington, May 3 (EFE).- The Mexican cartels that are the principal source of illicit drugs coming into the United States have managed to extend their tentacles to the U.S. heartland, where they represent a significant threat to public safety, a senior Drug Enforcement Administration agent told Efe Friday.

The battle against drug traffickers and organized crime was a major theme of President Barack Obama's just-concluded visit to Mexico.

Mexican cartels have a presence in more than 1,000 U.S. cities, according to the Justice Department.

"Obviously those numbers present some issues ... in some sense, certainly that's going to provide some security issues in places where they probably haven't had to think about it yet, but on the strong side of that ... we're in a much better position to share information and intelligence," Jack Riley, the head of DEA operations in Chicago, told Efe.

"We've been able to attack those criminal Mexican organizations, stopping the way they operate here (Chicago) and that, in a very distinct way, has really made a difference in terms of the violence of the street gangs," he said in a telephone interview.

The success, Riley said, is largely due "to great intelligence and information originating from the border region and in some cases from Mexico."

Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel, led by fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, boasts such a strong presence in the Windy City that the Chicago Crime Commission has labeled him "Public Enemy No. 1," an epithet first bestowed on Al Capone.

During a joint press conference Thursday with the visiting Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced some changes in the mechanics of bilateral cooperation on crime.

"Everybody's still waiting to see how that will play out," Riley said Friday. "I'm personally very optimistic that we will be able to continue that great relationship we've developed" with Mexican authorities.

"The fundamental relationships that I think have evolved during the last years I think are going to be there and I'm optimistic we're gonna continue to do the work that we've been doing," the DEA veteran told Efe.