TOPICS > World

U.S. Delegation in Mexico to Address Drug Violence

BY Max Brett  March 23, 2010 at 3:30 PM EST

Military police guard a murder scene in Juarez, Mexico. Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travelled to Mexico Tuesday to discuss ways to fight organized drug crime, following the killing of three people connected to the U.S. consulate in a border town.

Drug violence, particularly in the lucrative drug market along the U.S. border, has killed an estimated 18,000 people in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. Earlier this month, three people connected to the U.S. consulate were ambushed and shot as they drove home from a child’s birthday party in the town of Juarez.

“There is no question that they are fighting against both of our governments,” said Clinton in remarks released after the closed-door session, the Associated Press reported. “Tragically, that fact was underscored on March 13th,” with the three deaths in Juarez, she said.

Tuesday’s meeting, which was also attended by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, focused on strengthening cross-border cooperation to combat drug cartels. The Mexico delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

The $1.3 billion Merida Initiative, which became law in 2008, is aimed at supplying Mexico with drug-detection equipment, weapons and training. But some U.S. lawmakers are pressing for a larger pledge of money and assistance.

“Clearly, what we’ve done until this point has not been enough,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, at a U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 18.

The meeting of businesspeople, academics and officials from both countries delved into the implications of the killings. There have been 500 drug-related deaths this year in Juarez alone.

There's no more important threat to the rule of law in Mexico today than that which the drug traffickers generate as a result of their illicit business.Mexico Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan

“Obviously, the cartels are testing us,” said Robert Pastor, the director of the Center for North American Studies at American University.

Mexico Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan defended Calderon’s efforts to fight the drug cartels, including dispatching thousands of soldiers to drug-war hotspots, an initially popular move that has become less so as violence continues unabated.

“President Calderon’s decision to shut down and push back against organized crime is not a moral crusade against drugs,” Sarukhan said. “There’s no more important threat to the rule of law in Mexico today than that which the drug traffickers generate as a result of their illicit business.”

Sarukhan acknowledged that the Mexican government’s success in stemming drug shipments into the United States has led some drug organizations to branch out into kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking to supplement their incomes.

He said success in the war on drugs is contingent on “winning public support on both sides of the border.”

“There are consequences” of the clampdown, Pastor said. “Instead of destroying the cartels in the short term, [the offensive has] led to more violence.”

Relying on the Mexican army to patrol the border and enforce law and order can be problematic because, according to Pastor, there is a perception that the army is not as well-suited to police inner cities and concerns that the military is operating with impunity in the violent areas of the country, he said.

Alleged crimes perpetrated by the Mexican army are generally prosecuted in military court and there are rarely public convictions, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mexican authorities, however, point to their successes in capturing or killing narco-bosses, including the death of cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva and arrest of his brother Carlos. Another Mexican drug kingpin Osiel Cardenas Guillen was extradited to the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison last month.

But U.S. officials say the arrests are only part of the battle.

The cartels are “like hydra-headed monsters,” said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant deputy director for Canada, Mexico and NAFTA issues at the State Department, at the March 18 conference. “You have to go after the entire body.”