MEXICO CITY, Mar 26 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that Washington will stand by Mexico in its fight against drug cartels and said the United States shared blame for the deadly unrest.
Mexico welcomed the fresh strategy adopted by the new US administration as Clinton’s trip here heralded more high-level visits culminating next month in a summit between presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon.
"The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between us and that support our continent," Clinton told a press conference on the first day of her visit here.
"They will fail," added Clinton, standing next to her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa.
"We will stand shoulder to shoulder with you," Clinton said after expressing confidence in Mexico’s bid to root out official corruption and reform its legal institutions as part of the fight against the cartels.
After a private meeting with Clinton later Wednesday at the official Los Pinos residence, Calderon praised the "first steps in terms of co-responsibility between the two countries in the fight against organized crime," according to a statement from Calderon’s office.
Analysts say the Obama strategy represents a break from the administration of George W. Bush, which offered to help Mexico fight the scourge even though it largely viewed it as a Mexican problem.
Clinton announced Washington was to give Mexico 80 million dollars to buy US-made Blackhawk helicopters to bolster its armory against drug-traffickers who control most of South America’s multi-billion-dollar cocaine trade.
"I’m pleased to announce that the Obama administration working closely with Congress intends to provide more than 80 million dollars in urgently needed funding for Mexican law enforcement," she said.
"These aircraft will help Mexican police respond aggressively and successfully to the threats coming from the cartels."
A senior US official told AFP the funds would buy three helicopters.
Some 5,300 people were murdered in drug cartel-related violence across Mexico in 2008, and 1,000 have died so far this year. Clinton acknowledged on the plane flight to Mexico City that the United States had to share the blame for the conflict.
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Clinton said as she headed on her third trip abroad since taking office and her first to Latin America.
"Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians," the chief US diplomat said.
"So yes, I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility, and part of what we are trying to do is not only acknowledge that but working with the Mexicans to create very best possible responses."
With violence now spilling over into the United States, the White House on Tuesday unveiled a tough new strategy seeking to stop the flow of weapons to the drug cartels.
"It’s not only guns, it’s night-vision goggles, it’s body armour," Clinton told reporters on the plane.
"These criminals are outgunning law enforcement officials" with "military-style equipment," the chief US diplomat said.
"And since we know that the vast majority, 90 percent of that (weaponry), comes from our country, we’re going to try to stop it from getting there in the first place," Clinton said.
In addition to tougher automobile and railcar inspections along the 2,000-mile border , she said the administration was trying "to get more tools" to prevent thousands of gun dealers from selling to the cartels.
She promised to accelerate efforts to deliver to Mexico hardware — such as helicopters, scanners and other equipment — under the three-year, 1.4-billion-dollar Merida Initiative, aimed at tackling the drug trade in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Clinton is paving the way for other high-level visits involving Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that will culminate with an Obama-Calderon summit on April 16-17.
Espinosa welcomed the new US push after recalling how Mexico had long raised concerns about the flow of weapons and cash to the drug gangs from the United States.
"We recognize very much these efforts that are now being undertaken by the US authorities," Espinosa said before adding: "There’s room for improvement here and there’s room for improvement in the US."