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Clinton slams U.S. drug policies

Thu., March 26, 2009

Secretary of State says U.S. failures play role in Mexico drug violence

MEXICO CITY – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Mexico on Wednesday with a stark mea culpa, saying that decades of U.S. anti-narcotics policies had been a failure and contributed to the explosion of drug violence south of the border.

“Clearly what we’ve been doing has not worked,” Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of her two-day trip. “It is unfair for our incapacity to have effective policies” on curbing drug use, narcotics shipments and the flow of guns “to be creating a situation where people are holding the Mexican government and people responsible. That’s not right.”

Clinton’s comments were the most sweeping yet by a top Obama administration official accepting a U.S. role in the drug havoc in Mexico. More than 7,000 Mexicans have been killed since January 2008, as cartels have warred over trafficking routes and lashed out at the government for deploying the military against them.

Mexican officials have long complained that the U.S. government pointed the finger at its neighbor while ignoring how American demand for cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines fueled the trade. Mexican authorities also blame some of the violence on the flow of American guns, which have been used in about 90 percent of the drug killings, according to both U.S. and Mexican officials.

Clinton’s comments came at the start of a U.S. blitz to improve relations at a moment when Mexico is facing perhaps the greatest challenge to its stability in a century. The Obama administration announced Tuesday it was sending hundreds more agents and extra high-tech gear to the border to intercept weapons and drug proceeds heading south. U.S. border states have become alarmed about a possible spillover of the drug violence, and Congress has held a flurry of hearings on the bloodshed and the potential threat to Mexico’s institutions.

Clinton signaled that the U.S. government planned to do more. She vowed to press for swift delivery of equipment promised under the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion package of anti-drug assistance to Mexico and Central America.

Mexican officials, historically sensitive to criticism from their richer, more powerful neighbor, have bristled at conclusions in U.S. military reports and in hearings recently that their government was losing control over parts of the country.

Seeking to heal the strain, Clinton went out of her way to accept U.S. responsibility for the problem. She said drug demand in the United States remained “insatiable,” blaming a lack of treatment facilities and insufficient campaigns to discourage narcotics abuse. American drug abusers provide Mexican traffickers with an estimated $15 billion to $25 billion a year.

“Neither interdiction (of drugs) nor reducing demand have been successful,” Clinton said, noting that “we have been pursuing these strategies for 30 years.”

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