MEXICO CITY — At the end of two days of meetings with Mexican officials, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that cooperation between the United States and Mexico was stronger and “fundamentally different than that which existed in the past.”
In an interview on Friday before meeting with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Mr. Holder and his Mexican counterpart, Eduardo Medina-Mora, said the stakes of their new efforts to stem the drug violence wreaking havoc in Mexico were high for both countries. Both men dismissed assertions in a Pentagon report in December that the crisis had pushed Mexico to the verge of becoming a failed state.
Mr. Medina-Mora, however, raised images of Colombia, where corruption and insecurity were so rampant that the leader of the powerful Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar, was elected to Congress. And Mr. Holder recalled the years when the crack epidemic caused a crisis of crime and corruption in the United States.
“Mexico has never been a weak state,” Mr. Medina-Mora said. “It is not today. It will never be in the future. We have faced even more difficult problems than this one. And it is relevant to put this in perspective.”
But he added: “What is at stake is the ability of Mexico to keep peace and tranquillity for its citizens. That is why our objective is not ending drug trafficking. It is to remove power from these groups and remove their ability to seize and to kidnap our right to live in peace.”
Talking about the efforts of Mexican law enforcement officials to end the drug trade, Mr. Holder pounded his hand on the table and said, “People have to understand this, people really have to get this: they are putting their lives on the line in a fundamental way.”
In their meetings with Mr. Calderón, Mr. Holder and the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, discussed plans to provide training to Mexican canine teams, and to increase cooperation between the United States Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy to stop the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers using the Pacific Ocean as a result of increased enforcement along the land border.
“We are going to operate almost like a vise,” Ms. Napolitano said of the United States and Mexico, after the meeting with Mr. Calderón. “We’re going to take out the cartels that have been plaguing our communities for far too long.”
In the interview, Mr. Holder said he was sending an additional 100 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the southern border to crack down on the so-called straw gun purchases — in which one person submits to the federal background checks to obtain guns for someone else — that fuel much of the southbound smuggling. And with marijuana sales central to the drug trade, Mr. Holder said he was exploring ways to lower the minimum amount required for the federal prosecution of possession cases.
“The reality of the level of cooperation that now exists is fundamentally different from that which existed in the past,” he said. The current Mexican administration, he said, was “in a fundamentally different place, and the possibilities of cooperation, as a result, are substantially greater, and they will show results.”
Mr. Medina-Mora said Mexico and the United States were working on ways to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of smuggling and violent crimes, so that when there was a choice of jurisdiction, trials would be held in the country with the toughest applicable laws and penalties.
He said that all federal agents involved in investigating and enforcing laws on organized crime were being vetted by both Mexican and American investigators. And he said that the government was upgrading most of its law enforcement infrastructure and technology to make it easier to oversee officers’ activities and detect irregularities, which he said may occur because of “technical reasons or because of corruption.”
By GINGER THOMPSON
Published: April 3, 2009
New York Times