Clinton Touts Anti-Drug Cooperation In Mexico

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico Wednesday to underscore the Obama administration's concern over drug cartel violence and the potential for it to spill over into the United States. Her visit comes a day after President Obama announced an increased security policy along the southern border.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said the United States shares the blame for Mexico's deadly drug wars. She pointed to what she described as, America's insatiable demand for illegal narcotics. Secretary Clinton arrived in Mexico for a two-day visit. It's aimed at bolstering cooperation in the war against drug cartels.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico in the last year, and it's increasingly spilling over into the United States.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Mexico City and joins us now.

And, Jason, Hillary Clinton's trip comes a day after the Obama administration announced beefed up border security measures. How are she and that new plan being received there?

JASON BEAUBIEN: She's being received very well, actually. This plan that was just put out by the Obama administration has been welcomed here. And basically Hillary is saying what Mexicans have been wanting to hear for a long time, which is that the U.S. shares responsibility in this drug war - this incredibly messy drug war that is killing people all across the country - it's come to dominate President Calderon's time in office here - that the demand for drugs in the U.S., as well as the weapons that are flowing out of the U.S., are fueling this incredibly bloody fight.

SIEGEL: Well, beyond acknowledgements like that, what does Mexico hope to get out of this visit?

BEAUBIEN: Well, they're hoping that the U.S. starts moving with a lot of the money that has been put forward in the Merida Initiative. This was approved by Congress. It's millions and millions of dollars for fighting drugs throughout Central America. But the bulk of it is going to Mexico and it's been kind of slow in flowing. So they're hoping that, that will get sped up. They're also hoping for equipment.

And they're also really hoping that on the border itself, the U.S. can do more to stop the flow of money that's coming back into Mexico and weapons that are coming in. Ninety-five percent of the guns that are getting picked up after drug related shootings here - according to the State Department, according to the U.S. State Department - are being traced back to the U.S.

So it's very clear that the weapons - the heavy weapons, and I mean AK-47s, other assault weapons - are coming from the U.S., and they really want to see the U.S. try to stop that. And in this plan that was just announced, there's going to be an effort to put in a screening on rail cars that are flowing into Mexico. That hasn't been done before. Some X-rays, some other things like that, that would be done by the U.S. to try to track this stuff down.

SIEGEL: Jason, give us some sense of how bad the drug violence has become in Mexico. How much does it impinge on daily life there?

BEAUBIEN: I mean it is really interesting. In some parts of the country, in Juarez and Tijuana, it is completely dominating daily life. In other parts of the country, you'd never know that this was going on at all. In Juarez, for instance, you know, the police chief quit after the drug cartels basically told them you have to quit or we're going to kill an officer every 48 hours. And to sort of prove their point, they gunned down his second in command with - more than a hundred shells were found at the scene - him and all four of his bodyguards, killed in a pickup truck.

It's incredibly violent in places. And it's incredibly worrisome to the government because places like Juarez, basically they had to send in the military to take over security. The police are now being run by the Mexican military in Juarez. That's how bad it's gotten.

SIEGEL: Now, the drug war, obviously, is item number one on the agenda, but other big items would be trade, also immigration. No?

BEAUBIEN: Yes, absolutely. And the foreign secretary here, that was one of the first things she talked about was immigration, about Mexico wanting its citizens who are in the United States, many of them working illegally, to get a legal platform, something - a better way of being treated in terms of immigration hearings, things like that. There's great concern in Mexico for the millions of Mexicans who work in the United States. And so that is very much on the agenda.

Also, the economy is a huge issue. You know, the slowdown in the U.S. economy, it's had huge effects here in Mexico and there's talk about how do you work together to repair the economy, both in the U.S. and what can Mexico do to sort of assist in that and what can the U.S. do to assist Mexico, in what is an extremely tough economic time for Mexico.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Mexico City.

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