US defiant on Mexico drugs war

21/03/2010 | Taimur Ahmad, Greg Brosnan

A top State Department official has told Emerging Markets that the US remains firm in supporting Mexico in the war on drugs, despite mounting warnings that the countries’ joint efforts are failing

The US remains firm in supporting Mexico in the war on drugs, a senior official has said, despite mounting warnings that the countries’ joint efforts are failing.

The surge in violence this month “just makes us more determined” to work with Mexican authorities to rein in the scourge of drugs violence that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives in three years, Craig Kelly, a top US State Department envoy for Latin America, told Emerging Markets in an interview.

The violence ratcheted up yet again last week after gunmen hunted down and killed two Americans and a Mexican linked to the US border consulate in lawless Ciudad Juarez.

Kelly said that a change in strategy – under which the US has helped Mexico on counter-narcotics training, equipment and intelligence – is unnecessary.

Violence is increasing because Mexico has ramped up efforts to deal with drug gangs, he said. “But we can take heart by looking at other countries like Colombia, to realize that if you keep at it and you’re firm, you can have success. We’re in this for the long haul.”

Kelly’s comments come ahead of a meeting next week between senior US and Mexican officials to assess a $1.3 billion aid package designed to help Mexico fight drug cartels.

The message from Mexico City and Washington is that, far from proving that policies are failing, the heightened violence of recent weeks shows that the cartels are becoming ever more desperate as a result of the crackdown.

But that mantra is wearing thin, especially with innocent victims now increasingly being caught up in the violence, and analysts say it is time for a radical rethink.

Eric Olson, a senior security adviser at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said: “It’s clear that simply deploying the military is not enough. There needs to be a new, more nuanced strategy that focuses on institutional things like the police and judicial system, investing on social development in critical areas like Ciudad Juarez and better deploying their law enforcement capabilities.”

Kelly says the joint anti-drug strategy is already broad-based, but that Washington is always willing to consider a new tack. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Mexico this week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, to discuss the next step.

Mexico insists that the drug violence is far from widespread and limited to a few hotspots, but the government is not taking any chance here in Cancun. Heavy artillery mounted on army Humvees surround the conference center where the IDB meeting is being held.

IDB President Luis Moreno, whose legacy at the bank – and re-election in July – is riding on capitalization, said the bank would be in serious trouble without agreement on a capital injection. “It would put us in a very difficult situation. We could only continue to approve projects until the middle of this year.”

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