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Mexico attorney general: We don't need U.S. troops to intervene in drug war
February 25, 2009

Mexico’s attorney general said Tuesday he sees no need for U.S. troops to intervene in his country’s war on drug cartels, nor to gear up for a spillover of violence across the border.

Written by Todd Gillman, The Dallas Morning News


WASHINGTON — Mexico’s attorney general said Tuesday he sees no need for U.S. troops to intervene in his country’s war on drug cartels, nor to gear up for a spillover of violence across the border.

“I don’t see that,” Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t see the U.S. military playing an active role. The size of the problem on the U.S. side is not calling for that, and certainly Mexico has enough institutional capabilities to deal with this.”

U.S. officials view the violence as a potential national security threat, and last month the Bush administration’s homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, said Washington has drawn up contingency plans for a “surge” of both civilian law enforcement and military assets along the border.

Texas also has developed a contingency plan to cope with spillover violence. On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry demanded a tighter security net from Washington, saying he’s asked the Obama administration for more aircraft and “a thousand more troops” to the border.

“I don’t care whether they’re military troops, or they’re National Guard troops or whether they’re customs agents,” he said during a visit to El Paso with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former U.S. drug czar who warned two months ago that Mexico could soon become a “narco state.”

“I’m concerned,” Perry said in an interview, calling the city directly across the border from El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, “one of the deadliest cities on the North American continent. … Darn tootin’ it concerns us.”

The drug violence has cost more than 6,000 lives in the past 13 months, as drug gangs fight for territory and trafficking routes and battle a Mexican army crackdown. Juárez, a city of 1.3 million, has had almost a third of the killings.

Last Friday, the city’s police chief resigned after gunmen killed one of his officers and a jail guard. Three days earlier, his top deputy and three other officers were killed, and gangs had threatened to shoot a policeman every 48 hours until the chief quit.

Medina-Mora, over coffee at Mexico’s Embassy a few blocks from the White House, said there is little hope of eradicating the drug trade or ending the violence entirely.

“This is beyond our means and our capability” as long as demand for narcotics persists, he said. Rather, the goal is to regain “normality” for Mexican citizens.

“This means fragmenting and diminishing the power that these criminal groups have accumulated throughout the years, and transform it from a national security problem …to a police problem, to a public security problem,” he said.

Criminals account for nine out of 10 casualties, Medina-Mora said. Most of the others are police, though a few innocent bystanders have been killed. Beheadings of rival gang members have grown more common, and police corruption is widespread.

“The police forces of Tijuana and Juárez were in a way privatized by these criminal groups,” he said. “It’s no accident that violence is very high in those areas, where the local police force was not precisely sound, and to rebuild those forces is difficult.”

He said the violence can also be attributed to the success of Mexico’s aggressive use of Federal Police and army units to disrupt the drug trade. New U.S. figures show that the street price of cocaine has more than doubled since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office at the end of 2006 and began the crackdown.

“We have been successful in dismantling their criminal infrastructure, building up obstacles for them to produce income,” Medina-Mora said.

The “unwanted” effects of the war on the drug trade, he asserted, will ultimately lead to an easing of violence.

“I think that this is foreseeable in the near future.” he said. “… Criminal groups that are active in this activity are in the process of breakdown.”

Last week in Paris, Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said that if Calderón had not taken on the cartels, “the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.”

Medina-Mora disagreed, but added: “I certainly believe that there was no choice for President Calderón but to address this in a very bold manner. The challenge from these groups to institutions, particularly local police forces, was already too big.”

He called it natural that the residents of Juárez remain frustrated with the escalating violence. But the lawlessness in border regions doesn’t mean the Mexican state is failing, as some critics assert.

“Mexico has never been a weak state. It is not today. It will not be in the future,” he said. “We do have a critical problem that needs very bold, determined action by the government, which is taking place.”

Medina-Mora said Mexicans remain frustrated with the flow of cash and guns from the U.S. drug trade — $10 billion a year and thousands of weapons, which are illegal in Mexico. He discussed that topic Monday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and on Tuesday with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“These groups easily get into their hands assault rifles and weapons that are coming from the U.S.,” he said, adding that although Mexico respects the rights of Americans under the U.S. Constitution, “the Second Amendment was never meant to arm foreign criminal groups.”

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