Pubdate: Thu, 26 Mar 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City
Note: Josh Meyer in our Washington bureau contributed to this report.
Bookmark:  Mexico Under Siege (Series)

Mexico Under Siege


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a Two-Day Visit to 
Mexico, Accepts That the U.S. Market for Narcotics and a Cross-Border 
Trade in U.S. Guns Contribute to Mexico's Drug Violence.

In candid comments aimed at reassuring a sensitive neighbor, 
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted Wednesday that the 
United States shares blame for Mexico's drug violence, and promised 
more equipment and support to help the country's war against traffickers.

Clinton said the U.S. has a duty to help since it is a major consumer 
of illicit drugs and a key supplier of weapons smuggled to cartel hit men.

"We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the 
demand for illegal drugs in the United States, that they are armed by 
the transport of weapons from the United States to Mexico," Clinton 
said during a news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia 
Espinosa. "We see this as a responsibility to assist the Mexican 
government and people."

Mexico's leaders are defensive over commentary in the United States 
suggesting that their nation is in danger of becoming a "failed 
state." Mexican President Felipe Calderon two weeks ago labeled such 
talk as "false, absurd," and challenged the United States to clean up 
its own act by curbing drug use and arms trafficking.

Calderon even wondered aloud whether a campaign to discredit the 
Mexican government was afoot.

Clinton used the opportunity of her first visit to Mexico as 
secretary of State to try to soothe those fears. On the trip down, 
she told U.S. reporters traveling with her that "our insatiable 
demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade."

And she acknowledged that U.S. anti-drug policies have failed, noting 
that "clearly, what we have been doing has not worked and it is 
unfair for our incapacity . . . to be creating a situation where 
people are holding the Mexican government and people responsible."

Once in Mexico City, she described Calderon's 2-year-old war against 
drug-trafficking organizations as "courageous."

In response, Calderon issued a statement urging that "binational 
cooperation in this area should be strengthened."

The Obama administration is already taking some steps in that 
direction. Clinton said Washington hopes to provide $80 million worth 
of Black Hawk helicopters to Mexico. Some of the funds would come out 
of the $700 million already approved by Congress in security aid for 
Mexico under a three-year, $1.4-billion program called the Merida Initiative.

The Black Hawks would be in addition to five Bell helicopters already 
funded by the aid package. U.S. officials have said it could take 
until next year to deliver the five aircraft, prompting complaints 
from Mexican officials.

"We're going to see what we can do to cut that time," Clinton said 
during the news conference, after meeting with Calderon and Espinosa.

Clinton is to tour a police training facility today and travel to the 
northern city of Monterrey, a business hub that has also seen a big 
jump in drug-related violence.

Her two-day stopover is, in part, a customary get-acquainted call by 
the top diplomat of a new U.S. administration. But the visit comes at 
a delicate moment.

Mexico's escalating drug violence, especially near the U.S. border, 
and a brewing trade dispute over cross-border trucking, have caused 
long-standing bilateral tensions to percolate.

A day before Clinton's arrival here, the Obama administration 
announced that it would send hundreds of additional federal agents 
and intelligence analysts to the border to target drug cartels and 
keep the violence that has killed more than 7,000 people in Mexico in 
the last 15 months from spilling into the United States.

Skeptics on the U.S. side question whether the plan goes far enough 
to ensure that serious violence doesn't cross the border. Mexican 
officials privately expressed doubt about whether the plan devotes 
enough resources to put a real dent in arms trafficking and money laundering.

At a hearing Wednesday in Washington, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) 
said he planned to request funding to boost resources and hire 
additional law enforcement and investigative personnel to work to 
halt the flow of drugs and guns across the southern border.

"The administration's latest response to the southwest border 
violence represents a significant first step forward," said 
Lieberman, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and 
Governmental Affairs.

"Our government is really mobilized, but it's going to be a long fight."

Mexico's military-led offensive has roiled the country's drug 
underworld, leading to gunfights between soldiers and hit men as well 
as brutal feuding between rival trafficking groups.

More than 6,000 people died in drug-related violence last year alone.

Mexican leaders have been irked by comments from Washington, 
including by the U.S. national intelligence director, Dennis C. 
Blair, suggesting that Mexico is losing ground to the criminal syndicates.

Clinton took issue with depictions of Mexico as a state in danger of collapse.

"I don't believe there are any ungovernable territories in Mexico," 
she said, "but I remember very well when we had such a crime wave 15, 
20 years ago, there were many parts of cities in our country that 
people didn't feel safe going to."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake