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As violent Puerto Rican drug trade seeps into mainland US, Washington must act

Drug trafficking is at the root of most of the 1,136 homicides perpetrated in Puerto Rico in 2011, the highest number ever recorded, exceeding even Mexico's murder rate. The Puerto Rican government cannot manage this crisis alone. Washington must intervene.

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Puerto Rican US Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Raul Hernandez stands guard during a joint patrol with a police officer in Orocovis, Puerto Rico May 21, 2010. A drug-related crime wave on the island pushed murders to record levels and caused violence to surge even in its central mountain heartland.

Ricardo Arduengo/AP Photo

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A fifteen-minute blast of automatic and semi-automatic weapons ushered in the New Year in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, captured on a homemade video by cowering revelers. The incident brought to a close a year of brutal violence.

Drug trafficking is at the root of most of the 1,136 homicides perpetrated in Puerto Rico in 2011, the highest number ever recorded. While the US homicide rate dropped to a 40-year low in 2010, Puerto Rico’s rate peaked, exceeding even Mexico’s murder rate.  The unmitigated demand for illegal drugs on the mainland US continues to fuel criminal violence on the Island.

The Puerto Rican government cannot manage this crisis alone.  It has appealed to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske for additional drug-fighting resources. Last week, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Betsy Markey traveled to the Island, but no commitments have been made to date.

To the 3.7 million Americans living in Puerto Rico, Washington’s inaction on the violent Puerto Rican drug trade signals that federal protections afforded to US citizens do not fully convey outside the 50 states.  The federal government must step up to the plate and ensure that all of its borders are secure and all of its citizens are safe.

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