In a nation weary of U.S. criticism, President Clinton put much of the blame for Mexico’s drug corruption and violence on America’s demand for cocaine and marijuana. “The battle against drugs must unite our people, not divide them,” Clinton said Wednesday.
Speaking to a cross section of Mexicans who filled the cavernous National Auditorium, the president acknowledged that Americans are the world’s biggest consumers of narcotics: “The money we spend on illegal drugs fuels narco-traffickers who, in turn, attack your police and prosecutors and prey on your institutions.”
“I know the hardship and sacrifice this has caused,” Clinton said, citing the 200-plus Mexican law officers who died last year in drug violence. “As terrible as this toll is, the price of giving up and giving in would be higher.”
For Mexicans, his message was welcome respite from attacks in Washington on their country’s scandal-ridden effort to combat illegal drugs.
Clinton and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo also addressed critics of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. “Many people in both our countries painted a dark picture of lost jobs and boarded up factories should NAFTA prevail,” Clinton said. “Well, they were wrong.”
Ending two days of fence-mending before traveling to Costa Rica, Clinton said, “We seek a peaceful, prosperous partnership, filled with respect and dignity.” He recalled his honeymoon in Mexico nearly 22 years ago and pronounced himself charmed all over again. “Me encanta Mexico,” Clinton said, “I am enchanted by Mexico.”
With his official business done, Clinton flew by helicopter to Tlaxcala, a 500-year-old town 50 miles outside Mexico City. Thousands of people jammed the narrow street along his motorcade route and the air was filled with red, white and blue confetti thrown from rooftops.
“President Clinton is a good friend of the Mexicans because he respects them,” Zedillo told the throngs in a town square lined by American and Mexican flags. “He now understands what he has known for a long time - that we Mexicans are a proud people.”
Unable to resist the lure of the crowd, Clinton moved slowly on crutches along a rope line to shake hands and sign autographs.
Later, browsing the wares of local merchants, Clinton tried a few steps with two carved, wooden canes. The president has been suffering back spasms since last weekend but was feeling better Wednesday after undergoing ultrasound treatment, a spokesman said.
He and his wife, Hillary, wanted to buy a vase and nativity scene but the merchant insisted on making them gifts.
“Don’t fight me,” Clinton said, pulling out some pesos. “I’m trying to build up your tourism.”