Obama reaffirms support for Mexico's anti-drug efforts

08:13, March 04, 2011      

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Mexican President Felipe Calderon hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the White House in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, March 3, 2010. Obama on Thursday reaffirmed his support for Mexico's efforts to combat drug smuggling as bilateral relations are strained over a number of issues. (Xinhua/Zhang Jun)



U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday reaffirmed his support for Mexico's efforts to combat drug smuggling as bilateral relations are strained over a number of issues.

At a joint press conference with his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon held after their meeting at the White House, Obama praised his guest for his "extraordinary courage" in fighting drug cartels in Mexico and offered to expedite assistance to Mexico in the form of equipment and training.

"We're very mindful that the battle President Calderon is fighting inside of Mexico is not just his battle, it's also ours," Obama said. "We have to take responsibility just as he's taken responsibility."

Calderon launched a war on his country's drug cartels in December 2006 upon taking office by mobilizing the army and federal police. His efforts led to the capture and killing of a series of top drug lords over the past year, yet drug-related deaths have reached 34,600 and violence has been increasing in the country.

"I reiterated that the United States accepts our shared responsibility for the drug violence," Obama said.

A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on Calderon's visit by phone on Wednesday said that the Obama administration would deliver 500 million dollars worth of aid to Mexico this year.

Under the Merida Initiative launched in August 2007 by the two neighbors, which also involves the Central American nations in efforts to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in the region, the U.S. government had appropriated 1.4 billion dollars for Mexico as of November 2010, but only 351 million dollars had been spent in more than three years in the form of equipment and training.

"We're also deepening our cooperation against the drug cartels that threaten both our peoples," Obama said. "I have reaffirmed to President Calderon that in this cause, Mexico has a full partner with the United States."

Calderon said that in the security area, both governments are " co-responsible," adding that "We commend U.S. effort to stem the flow of guns into Mexico."

Despite U.S. efforts to stop flows of cash and guns southward to Mexico, about 90 percent of the guns seized and traced in Mexico last year were initially sold in the United States, official U.S. statistics show.

Calderon's visit came as bilateral ties are hurt by revealed U. S. diplomatic cables, the killing of a U.S. agent last month in Mexico and the immigration issue.

Classified U.S. cables released by the WikiLeaks website grumbled about squabbling and mistrust among Mexican agencies and an ineffective intelligence apparatus, saying criminals were not prosecuted or prosecutions were delayed as a consequence.

In one cable, a Mexican government official raised the fear that some territory was falling under the control of organized criminals.

The cables provoked ire in Mexico. Calderon hit back with blunt criticism in an interview with Mexican El Universal newspaper on Feb. 22, accusing U.S. diplomats of damaging the cross-border relationship with distorting comments. He also alleged that the U. S. government is not doing enough to help Mexico in its fight against drug cartels, saying that drug use in the United States is not reduced and the flow of weapons southward from the U.S. has increased.

As immediate neighbors, the United States and Mexico share a 2, 000-mile (3,200-km) border. A newly released U.S. State Department report said that Mexico is both a major transit and source country for illicit drugs reaching the United States, and also a major supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine to the United States.

Adding to the tension was the killing of Jaime Zapata, a 32- year-old U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, who was shot dead in Mexico on Feb. 15.

Zapata and his fellow ICE agent Victor Avila came under fire while driving from the northern city of San Luis Potosi to Mexico City. Zapata's death, the first of a U.S. agent on Mexican soil since 1985, provoked outrage in the United States.

Calderon announced his visit to Washington last week when Obama and other top U.S. officials offered congratulations for the arrests of six suspects from the Zetas drug cartel in the killing of Zapata. One suspect said that the attack was due to mistaken identity.

"His death must urge us to work together to ensure a prosperous and peaceful future for our region," Calderon said at the White House press conference. He pledged to "strongly renew our efforts and to redouble our efforts to accomplish the security that our people deserve."

As the second largest economy in Latin America, Mexico is the second largest export market for the United States and the ancestral home of over 30 million Mexican Americans.

Shannon K. O'Neil, a fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that Calderon's trip could prove "an important turning point" in bilateral relations. She wrote in an essay that the visit is a chance to right "a teetering relationship" as the United States' future "is tied to Mexico's."

In addition to security, Obama and Calderon had commerce, immigration and other issues on their agenda.

Obama told reporters that he and Calderon had reached a deal that would allow Mexican trucks cross the U.S. border, ending a long-simmering dispute between the two neighbors.

"I'm especially pleased to announce that after nearly 20 years, we finally have found a clear path to resolving the dispute over trucking between our two countries," Obama said.

Source: Xinhua
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