US warns on Mexico drugs war
By Daniel Dombey and Adam Thomson
Published: June 29 2008 22:53 | Last updated: June 29 2008 22:53
A top US counter-narcotics official has warned that Mexico’s democratic development is at stake in the country’s battle against drugs cartels.
Speaking as the US Congress approved a long-awaited $400m (€253m, £200m) aid package for Mexico’s anti-drug drive, David Johnson, the top counter-narcotics official at the Department of State, also gave a stark depiction of the challenges posed by the drugs industries of Afghanistan, Colombia and Burma.
Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president, has deployed the country’s army in fighting its powerful cartels, but an upsurge of violence has led to 1,881 drug-related murders this year, according to local media reports.
While official Mexican figures are lower, they indicate a rise of almost 50 per cent from the same period last year. Last week alone, 130 people died, the highest such total for years.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Johnson, head of the department’s bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, described the violence as “an extraordinary burden on the Mexican people”.
The situation was the “consequence of confronting a very real problem which, left unaddressed, would foment even more violence and has the potential for eroding those healthy state institutions that have grown up through the last several years in Mexico”.
George W. Bush is this week expected to sign the legislation authorising the US aid, finally approved by the Senate last week although the funds granted were less than the US president had originally sought.
“The most important thing is that at last the US recognises that it is a shared problem,” Juan Camilo Mouriño, Mexico’s interior secretary, told a news conference after the US Senate vote.
He said that the package, which is known as the Merida Initiative, would provide and improve equipment to fight the narcotics trade, such as transportation aircraft, x-ray machines and information technology.
A further $73.5m of the total must be used for judicial reform, institution-building, human rights and rule-of-law issues in Mexico.
Also, 15 per cent of the funds will be dependent on Mexico making headway in human-rights issues, on which the US Secretary of State will have to report periodically to Congress.
Last week, the United Nations’ annual world drugs report said that drug use worldwide had been contained to less than 5 per cent of the adult population.
However, it added that there appeared to have been “a surge in the supply of illicit drugs in 2007”. This increase was especially marked in drugs from Afghanistan, where production increases almost doubled world opium output since 2005.