Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Latin leaders aim for shared front on fight against drugs

AGENCIES , PANAMA CITY

Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama vowed on Friday to unite to crush warring drug gangs in Latin America by sharing crucial intelligence, clamping down on money laundering and extraditing more top capos.

“Organized crime could destroy us all if we do not come together to fight it,” Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said at a meeting of the country’s four leaders at a beach resort in Panama.

Latin American nations have long been divided in the fight against powerful drug cartels, reluctant to share information and doing little to stop the laundering of drug profits in real estate and banking.

But the drug war has escalated dramatically over the past two years, particularly in Mexico where 5,700 people were killed last year as drug gangs fight each other and battle troops and federal police sent in by Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

VIOLENCE

Guatemala and Panama have also seen a sharp upsurge in violence and Colombia remains the world’s top cocaine producer despite massive US anti-drug aid.

Panamanian President Martin Torrijos said organized crime and drug trafficking represented “strategic threats to national security and the viability of democratic states” in Latin America.

The regional leaders gave few specifics on their joint fight but said in a statement that they agreed to work toward a “single legal instrument open to all countries in the region” that would create common rules in the way they fight drug kingpins.

Other Central American nations Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador, which do not suffer as much drug violence though they are key transit countries for US-bound narcotics, were not present at the meeting and it was not clear if they would be included in the pact.

Washington is increasingly concerned about the violence in Latin America and is channeling US$1.4 billion in a three-year aid package to Mexico and Central America to buy surveillance equipment and train police and judges

COMMON FRONT

The leaders sought to establish a common front against powerful cartels that increasingly control all stages of drug trafficking, from production and smuggling to distribution and final sale.

The countries will share intelligence, strategies and technical information to fight criminal activities including drugs, human trafficking, money laundering and terrorism.

“I call for all of us to close ranks against crime in Latin America,” Calderon said.

Torrijos said the agreement aims to improve channels for exchanging anti-crime information and connecting the countries’ criminal databases.

Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using Central American nations to move drugs, and are dealing directly with Colombian cartels to obtain cocaine.

“We are facing a multinational organization,” Calderon said. “I share the idea that information is power. We have to share the information.”

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