Calderon’s Drug War Comes Under Attack as Clinton Visits Mexico

March 23 (Bloomberg) — Mexico’s drug-related violence is sparking demands that President Felipe Calderon drop his war on criminal gangs as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Mexico City to review the countries’ anti-drug strategy.From Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who controls broadcaster TV Azteca SAB and retailer Grupo Elektra SAB, to the parents of bystanders killed in shootouts, criticism of Calderon’s U.S.-supported crackdown is growing. Salinas urged Mexico and the U.S. in a March 19 interview to legalize drugs. Soldiers on the streets have exacerbated the violence, he said.“They are not winning this battle,” said Roderic Camp, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, who has published more than 20 books on Mexico, including two on its army. “At best, they’re maintaining the status quo with many more negative consequences.”Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are scheduled to meet with Mexican officials, including Calderon, today to discuss ways break up border gangs and tighten border security, Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters yesterday.Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen will also attend, reviewing the progress of the Merida Initiative, a program providing Mexico with more than $1 billion to help combat trafficking. Mexico will push the U.S. to speed up aid under the plan, Sarukhan said.Urgency of ViolenceThe urgency of dealing with violence in Mexico, where 2,213 drug-connected deaths have been recorded since the start of the year according to El Universal newspaper, was heightened for the U.S. on March 13 when gunmen killed three people connected to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas.Within the past week in Monterrey, headquarters to companies such as Cemex SAB and Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB, two university students and a mother of three were killed in two separate shootouts. An elderly couple was wounded in a third. All were bystanders. Drug gangs demonstrated their power by blocking major highways with cars and buses seized from motorists.During her visit last year to Mexico, Clinton praised Calderon’s unprecedented use of more than 50,000 army and navy troops to take on the gangs that ship cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines and heroin to the U.S.Juarez MurdersAfter the Juarez murders, Clinton reiterated support for Calderon’s effort to “cripple” the trafficking organizations. Yesterday Calderon’s office said in a statement that President Barack Obama had called to express his backing for Mexico’s efforts.The offensive has resulted in a record number of arrests and confiscations. At the same time, the death toll has climbed every year since Calderon took office in December 2006. Once popular, the military patrols on the streets of Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana now stir fears that innocents are getting caught in the cross-fire between gangs and shootouts with the army.“This isn’t the way to fight it,” Rosa Elvira Alonso, the mother of one of the slain university students in Monterrey, said in an interview aired by Milenio television. “It’s costing the lives of a lot of innocent people.”U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela has portrayed the surge of violence as a sign Calderon’s tactics are working.‘Quantum Leap’“As you bring down certain kinds of criminal organizations, you encourage a certain degree of conflict between them,” Valenzuela told a U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on March 10. Since the 1990s, there has been “a quantum leap” in U.S. cooperation with Mexico, he said.In his book “Drug Trafficking: The Failed War” published in October, Jorge Castaneda, foreign minister under Calderon’s predecessor, President Vicente Fox, wrote that Calderon’s military offensive on crime was designed to legitimize his presidency after a disputed election.“I think it’s really dangerous in terms of civil liberties and it’s not going to lead to anything except more violence,” said Salinas Pliego, whose Mexico City-based companies have made him the country’s second-richest person after Carlos Slim according to Forbes magazine. “We should definitely reconsider this mistaken policy.”Press AheadCalderon said he will press ahead with the drug fight. Drug-related killings reached a record 7,724 last year and are on track to surpass that in 2010, according to the Mexico City- based El Universal, which keeps an unofficial tally.“Because of our duty to preserve liberty and security for every Mexican family, we are not taking, and will not take, even one step backward from those who want to see Mexico on its knees and without a future,” Calderon said in a March 21 speech.The U.S. hasn’t done enough to support Mexico with materiel or stopping illegal weapons or reducing drug demand, Claremont McKenna’s Camp said. Of the $628.6 million of helicopters, polygraph units and armored vehicles that the U.S. has committed to provide to Mexico, $112.9 million has been delivered, according information provided by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.“I don’t see any end in sight,” Camp said. “Citing how many drugs they seize or how many drug cartel leaders they kill, it just doesn’t alter the flow of drugs, which only can be altered by us.”–With assistance from Crayton Harrison and Adriana Lopez Caraveo in Mexico City. Editors: Fred Strasser, Brendan Walsh

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