US antidrug policies have failed, Clinton says

Shares blame for Mexico's drug violence

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post / March 26, 2009
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MEXICO CITY - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Mexico yesterday with a stark admission, saying that decades of US antinarcotics policies had been a failure and had contributed to the explosion of drug violence south of the border.

"Clearly what we've been doing has not worked," Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of her two-day trip. She said it was unfair for the United States "to be creating a situation where people are holding the Mexican government and people responsible. That's not right."

Clinton's comments appeared to be the most sweeping by a top Obama administration official in accepting a US role in the drug violence in Mexico. More than 7,000 Mexicans have been killed since January 2008, as cartels have warred over trafficking routes and lashed out at the government for deploying the military against them.

Mexican officials have long complained that the US government pointed the finger at its neighbor while ignoring the fact that American demand for cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines fueled the trade. Mexican authorities also blame some of the violence on the flow of guns from the United States. Guns have been used in about 90 percent of the drug killings, according to both US and Mexican officials.

Clinton made her comments at the start of a US blitz to improve relations at a moment when Mexico is facing perhaps the greatest challenge to its stability in a century. The Obama administration announced Tuesday it was sending hundreds more agents and extra high-tech gear to the border to intercept weapons and drug money heading south. US border states have become alarmed about a possible spillover of the drug violence, and Congress has held a flurry of hearings on the bloodshed and the potential threat to Mexico's institutions.

Clinton signaled that the US government plans to do more. She vowed to press for swift delivery of equipment promised under the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion package of antidrug assistance to Mexico and Central America. Mexican officials and US lawmakers say there are long lag times for helicopters and other gear that are desperately needed. In addition, Congress has approved only $700 million of the $950 million that the Bush administration requested for the program since it began.

Clinton also said the administration would "try to get more tools to go after the gun dealers" and those who purchase weapons to pass on to the cartels. She did not elaborate. Several US lawmakers have already balked at the idea of cracking down on guns on the US side of the border.

Mexican officials, historically sensitive to criticism from their richer, more powerful neighbor, have bristled at conclusions in US military reports and in hearings recently that their government was losing control over parts of the country. President Felipe Calderón has described such statements as part of a campaign against his country.

Seeking to heal the strain, Clinton went out of her way to accept US responsibility for the problem. She said drug demand in the United States remains insatiable, and she blamed a lack of treatment facilities and insufficient efforts to discourage narcotics abuse. American drug abusers provide Mexican traffickers with an estimated $15 to $25 billion a year.

"Neither interdiction nor reducing demand have been successful," Clinton said, noting that "we have been pursuing these strategies for 30 years."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is hitting the road next week for a hearing on US-Mexico border violence.

Senator John F. Kerry, the committee's chairman, announced yesterday that the forum will be Monday morning at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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