US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to Mexico to pursue a broad diplomatic agenda that will be overshadowed by spiraling drug violence there and fears of greater cross-border spillover.
A day after the administration of US President Barack Obama announced it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure country’s southwestern frontier and help Mexican authorities in their battle against drug cartels, Clinton was to depart yesterday on a two-day trip to Mexico City and Monterrey aimed at bolstering anti-narcotics cooperation.
US officials said they did not want relations with Mexico to be dominated by the violence, which has spread from the border region on the Mexican side into some US border states.
The officials maintain that Clinton also wants to discuss trade, climate change and the global financial crisis in her meetings.
Among the contentious issues, new Mexican tariffs on 89 US products imposed last week in retaliation for a US decision to cancel a cross-border program that gave Mexican truckers access to US highways, a move that could affect about US$2.4 billion in annual trade.
Yet US officials acknowledge that the violent battle between Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government and the cartels, along with bloody turf battles among the traffickers, are the most urgent issues the two countries face. Clinton’s talks are designed in part to encourage Mexican authorities to do more in response to the stepped up US effort, they say.
The escalating violence has set off alarm bells in the US and triggered a State Department travel alert last month that compared recent confrontations between Mexican authorities and the cartels to “small-unit combat.” Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of this year.
It has also led to a spate of kidnappings and home invasions in some southwestern US cities, prompting calls from state and local officials for troops to be sent to the border.
Clinton’s trip marks the start of several high-level meetings on the matter. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are to meet Mexican officials early next month before Obama is expected to visit Mexico ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration rolled out a multi-agency plan to protect the border, including the deployment to the border of nearly 500 federal agents and support personnel, building on efforts begun during the Bush administration. However, officials did not say where the additional agents would come from or how long they would stay in their new assignments.
“If the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more,” Obama said on Tuesday during a prime-time news conference.
Obama said the US needs to do more to prevent guns and cash from flowing back to the cartels.
“That’s part of what’s financing their operations. That’s part of what’s arming them. That’s what makes them so dangerous,” he said. “And this is something that we take very seriously and we’re going to continue to work on diligently in the months to come.”
Mexico once would have bristled at the prospect of the US government sending more agents to the border, especially National Guard units.
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