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Pentagon: Central America 'deadliest' non-war zone in the world

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US drug users contribute roughly $40 billion a year to Latin American cartels, Admiral James Winnefeld, head of the US Northern Command, in charge of US homeland security, added in testimony. The amount of US money that goes to Mexican cartels is so considerable that “if you ranked it among the world’s militaries, it would come into the top ten.”

On the other side of the fight, the US spends about $6 billion per year on interdiction and international efforts, according to the Office of National Drug Policy.

But that's only a small part of the actual cost, Winnefeld noted. "The annual direct cost for treatment, prevention, interdiction, and local law enforcement of drug abuse exceeds $52 billion," he explained. Indirect costs, including lost productivity and the impact on the criminal justice system, reach "nearly $181 billion annually."

Scale of the violence

Transnational criminal organizations “conduct illicit trafficking with near-impunity and are causing unprecedented levels of violence,” said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command, which has responsibility for US military partnerships in Latin American and the Caribbean.

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