(CNN) - President Obama travels to Mexico on Thursday as the United States' neighbor to the south continues to wrestle with increasingly deadly drug wars.
Obama recently announced a crackdown on border violence and on the smuggling of cash and weapons into Mexico - a step that could mark an end to a blame game over where responsibility for the violence lies.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president designated three Mexican organizations, which he says are involved in drug trafficking, to face hefty financial sanctions under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The law, signed by President Bill Clinton in December 1999, authoritizes the president to impose penalties against foreign drug kingpins - and organizations that do business with them, according to the Treasury Department.
The president's action comes ahead of his trip to Mexico - along with attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago later this week - where drug violence will undoubtedly be debated. It's traditional for the new U.S. president to go north and south early on. Obama traveled to Canada in February.
Authorities on both sides of the border blame powerful drug cartels for escalating bloodshed. Analysts have said the bulk of the violence takes place along the U.S. border, particularly in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and Tijuana - as well as on Mexico's western coast.