Pubdate: Wed, 25 Mar 2009
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2009 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Alfredo Corchado,  Mexico Bureau


Mexico Hopes Visit Signals Renewed Relationship With US

MEXICO CITY - Signaling that Mexico will be a priority for the Obama
administration, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives
today for a two-day visit that will highlight an issue of rising
concern to Texas - border violence.

"At a time when both countries are giving increased importance to the
violence caused by drug trafficking on their own communities,
Clinton's visit to Mexico will be crucial for developing a common
strategy for cooperation between the two countries," said Andrew
Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center
in Washington.

Clinton visits Mexico City today and Nuevo Leon, a state bordering
Texas, on Thursday. In Monterrey, she will discuss trade with state
officials, including Gov. Jose Gonzalez Paras, and then depart for
private events Friday in Dallas and then Houston.

A senior Mexican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a
visit by the country's top diplomat will help revive the U.S.-Mexico

During the Bush administration, the relationship was dominated by the
mammoth Department of Homeland Security amid concerns over U.S. border
security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the official

'Back in the Scene'

Security will continue to dominate the relationship, given Mexico's
drug violence and continued U.S. concerns over terrorism, the official
said. But Clinton's visit "tells us that the State Department is back
in the scene, and that's very, very good news for us. It's a sign that
the U.S. government is ready to re-engage with Mexico and the rest of
Latin America. That's welcome news."

Even so, the official said that Mexico will stress the importance of
"being a priority for the United States" at a time of unprecedented
violence across the country. An estimated 10,000 people have been
killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon took office
Dec. 1, 2006.

The Merida Initiative, a multiyear $1.4 billion assistance plan, is
designed to help Mexico fight organized crime. Congress has so far
approved $700 million to bolster Mexico's rule of law and its law
enforcement with training and equipment, including surveillance aircraft.

But delivery of some crucial equipment, such as five helicopters, has
been postponed until 2011 and 2012.

"Sometimes the message isn't so clear," the Mexican official said. "We
want special treatment, like Iraq or Afghanistan. We're facing a very
serious and dangerous threat, and we want to know that the United
States is there in a role of co-responsibility."

Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa applauded measures announced
Tuesday by the Obama administration to improve border security. The
steps, Espinosa said, "are congruent with the fight against organized

The carnage in Mexico is often referred to as Calderon's "war," but
some analysts and officials note that the violence engulfing parts of
Mexico does not yet amount to a full-scale conflict between government
troops and cartels.

The point is crucial, said Raul Benitez, one of Mexico's top military
experts, because there are doubts about whether the Mexican military
is up to the task of a full-scale conflict, or whether it even has the
weapons necessary to sustain a prolonged war against cartels with the
latest high-powered arms.

"This is not a war yet, but rather a fight between cartels and local,
state and federal law enforcement personnel," said Mr. Benitez, who is
preparing a profile of the Mexican military. "Up to now, for the most
part, the cartels have given the military a pass."

Some officials consider the prospect of joint U.S.-Mexico military
operations only a remote possibility, but others aren't so sure.

"If you have high-level assassinations in Mexico, what is Plan B?"
asked one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Is there
a Plan B? Can the Mexican military, as the last line of defense,
handle such a crisis? You just can't rule out anything, especially
joint operations."

U.S. Threat

The official said that Mexican drug cartels have set up shop in more
than 230 U.S. cities and are now considered the most powerful criminal
organizations in the U.S., a "real national security threat."

The senior Mexican official said such issues must be addressed
jointly, beginning with Clinton's visit today. Other senior Obama
administration officials expected to visit Mexico soon include
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric
Holder. President Barack Obama will stop in Mexico April 16 en route
to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake