March 5, 2009
MEXICO CITY (AFP) — Mexican President Felipe Calderon hit back at accusations his government is failing in the fight against violent drug cartels, saying that corruption in the United States is also to blame. With murders among feuding Mexican drug cartels on the rise and continued ravenous demand for cocaine and other illegal drugs north of the border, Calderon said the United States should take a hard look at itself before pointing the finger at anyone else. "The main cause of the problems associated with organized crime is having the world's biggest consumer next to us," Calderon said in an interview with AFP. "Drug trafficking in the United States is fueled by the phenomenon of corruption on the part of the American authorities," he said, calling on US President Barack Obama to step up the fight against drugs in his own country. Calderon admitted some Mexican officials had helped cartels, but urged the United States to consider how many of its officials have been implicated. "I want to know how many American officials have been prosecuted for this," he said, listing a string of prosecutions made against Mexican police officers and government officials during his administration. "It is not an exclusively Mexican problem, it is a common problem between Mexico and the United States," he said.
Although cocaine is largely produced in South America, Mexican cartels control much of the multi-billion-dollar trade, transporting the drug to consumers in the United States. Since taking office in late 2006, Calderon has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on drug cartels, often with bloody repercussions, as cartels hit back with ever-higher levels of violence and intimidation. Mexican cities on the US border have suffered the brunt of the violence, prompting concerns in Washington that the killings and attacks could spill over the border. Some 5,300 people were murdered in drug violence across Mexico in 2008. Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, was worst hit, with more than 1,600 drug-related deaths reported. Top US military official Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is due in Mexico later this week as Washington prepares to step up military and other assistance to tackle the heavily armed cartels. "One of the things he expects to talk to his counterparts in Mexico and other officials about is the growing violence and growing threat with regard to narco-trafficking and the drug cartels," Captain John Kirby, spokesman for Mullen, also told AFP on Wednesday. Mexico's ill-equipped police and security forces are often out-gunned by the well-armed gangs. The administration of George W. Bush pledged 1.6 billion dollars over three years in security assistance to Mexico and Central America, primarily aimed at better equipping Mexico's security forces.
To even the playing field further, Calderon called on US officials to do more to stem the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico, a route often used by traffickers to acquire arms. "The biggest empowerment of organized crime are the weapons that arrive from the United States," the president said. "Since 2006 we have decommissioned 27,000 arms, everything from missile launchers to 2,500 grenades. We have also found uniforms and arms belonging to the US Army." But he said recent talks with Washington had offered hope: "I have spoken to Obama about this subject.... We now have a clearer, more decisive response (from the current administration), one which matches the magnitude of the problem which we face. In late February, US Attorney General Eric Holder said US and Mexican authorities had arrested 750 people over 21 months in an anti-drug sweep, including 52 members of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel. That announcement came as Calderon said an additional 5,000 troops and 1,000 police would be deployed to the border region. While the United States has played down calls for its own troop deployment, recently appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said contingency plans to deal with violence spilling over the frontier are being reassessed.