Sat, Feb 28, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Mexico to quell drug violence by 2012: president

NOT PAKISTAN Felipe Calderon bristled at a US suggestion that Mexico was losing control of its territory, saying his country could in no way be considered a failed state

AP , MEXICO CITY

Mexican President Felipe Calderon hopes to quell Mexico’s rampant drug violence by the end of his term in 2012, and disputes US fears that Mexico is losing control of its territory.

In interviews with reporters on Thursday, Calderon and his top prosecutor said the violence that killed 6,290 people last year — and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of this year — is a sign that the cartels are under pressure from military and police operations nationwide, as well as turf wars among themselves.

“To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false,” Calderon said. “I have not lost any part — any single part — of Mexican territory.”

Calderon, a Harvard-educated conservative, said smuggling could not be eliminated as long as Americans continue to use drugs, but hopes he can beat back the cartels by 2012 to a point that the army and federal police can withdraw and leave the problem in the hands of local law enforcement.

He declined to give a specific timeline for winning the war against drug gangs.

Calderon easily switched between English and Spanish in an hour-long interview at the colonial National Palace. Sitting in a chair decorated with Mexico’s national symbol — an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a serpent — he was relaxed and jovial.

Mexico had bristled when the US Joint Forces Command put it on par with Pakistan, saying both were at risk of “rapid and sudden collapse.”

That and other reports have put a global spotlight on Mexico’s growing violence and pressured Calderon to change tactics.

He said on Thursday that wasn’t an option.

“Yes, we will win,” he said, “and of course there will be many problems meanwhile.”

Calderon sent the army and federal police out into drug strongholds on his first day in office in December 2006, promising to turn a tide in a war that was seeing increasingly brazen tactics such as beheadings, assassinations and the attempt to control local governments.

Since then, Mexico has spent US$6.5 billion on top of its normal public security budget, but that falls short of the US$10 billion Mexican drug gangs bring in annually, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said in another interview on Thursday.

But violence has increased, more than doubling Last year. Medina Mora said that does not reflect the drug gangs’ power; “It is reflecting how they are melting down.”

As proof, he said street prices of cocaine in the US have doubled in the last three years, while purity has dropped by 35 percent. He said the government has crippled Mexico’s methamphetamine trade by banning precursor chemicals.

Medina Mora predicted Mexico was “reaching the peak” of the violence, adding that the government’s goal was to make smuggling through Mexico so difficult that the drug gangs are forced to look elsewhere.

“We want to raise the opportunity cost of our country as a route of choice,” he said.

Even as he spoke, five more suspected drug killings were announced by authorities in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero. The men were shot on Wednesday night.

Medina Mora said 90 percent of the dead were involved in the drug trade, while only 4 percent were innocent bystanders. The rest — some 800 to date — were police officers and soldiers.

Both Calderon and Medina Mora called on the US to do more, by stopping the flow of powerful US assault weapons and mountains of drug cash into Mexico. Calderon, whose government has arrested more than 25 high-level officials for suspicion of taking drug bribes, also called for the US to purge its own corrupt officials.

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