Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is seeking ways to help Mexico bolster its civilian law enforcement institutions as it becomes clearer that military force isn't enough to quell skyrocketing violence south of the border.
Clinton, who is leading a high-level U.S. delegation to Mexico, pledged support Tuesday for what she called Mexico's courageous campaign against organized crime. The U.S. wants to expand its aid focus so that Mexico can better develop its judicial system and border patrols, and tackle some of the underlying social issues fueling violence that is ripping communities apart, she said.
"We have watched with great grief the terrible tragedies and murders that have taken place here in Mexico, and then our hearts were broken by the murders in Juarez, which took the lives of three people connected to our consulate," Clinton said. "They were but the latest horrible reminder of how much we have to do together and how crucial these meetings are."
Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is known as Mexico's murder capital. More than 2,600 people were killed in drug-related violence there last year, and more than 500 have already died this year.
Seized Weapons On Display
At the Mexican Foreign Ministry, dozens of confiscated weapons, from pistols to rocket launchers and machine guns — even gold-plated AK-47s — were on display for U.S. officials wandering in between meetings Tuesday. It was a stark reminder from the Mexican government that the U.S. needs to do more to stop the flow of weapons south.
"We know that the demand for drugs drives much of this illicit trade — that guns purchased in the United States, as we saw some of the examples outside, are used to facilitate violence in Mexico," Clinton said. "The United States must and is doing its part to help you and us meet those challenges."
Underscoring the U.S. commitment, her delegation included Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, as well as top intelligence, Treasury and Justice Department officials.
The Obama administration's drug czar and other law enforcement officials explained to their Mexican counterparts how they are trying to decrease demand for drugs and enforce gun and drug laws, Clinton said. She added that the U.S. is looking at anything that works, though when asked whether the U.S. might consider decriminalizing drugs, she quickly responded: "No."
Bolstering Law Enforcement
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa had only one complaint about U.S. support for the battle with the drug cartels. The so-called Merida Initiative to provide Mexico with $1.3 billion in military equipment, logistics and training began three years ago, but Espinosa says the aid has been slow in coming.
Espinosa said Clinton assured her this week that the U.S. deliveries will speed up.
Coinciding with Clinton's visit, 450 federal police officers arrived in Juarez on Tuesday, boosting the struggling Mexican anti-drug force there to 3,500.
Although many Mexicans are still wondering when the violence will end, Clinton said she found Mexican President Felipe Calderon determined to break the cartels' grip. U.S. government officials say the fact that gangs are now fighting each other is a good sign because it shows they are under pressure.
But she acknowledged that's a tough sell in Mexico, with so many innocent people being caught in the crossfire.