Clinton vows U.S. help to Mexico in drug war

March 26, 2009|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,Tribune Newspapers

MEXICO CITY -Asserting that the United States shares blame for Mexico's drug violence, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised more equipment and support to help the country's war on traffickers

Clinton said the United States has a duty to help because it is a major consumer of illicit drugs and a key supplier of weapons smuggled to the cartels.

"We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States, that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States to Mexico," Clinton said Wednesday at a news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. "We see this as a responsibility to assist the Mexican government and people."

In her first visit to Mexico since becoming secretary of state, Clinton announced that the Obama administration hoped to provide $80 million in new Black Hawk helicopters. Some of the funds would come out of the $700 million previously approved by Congress in security aid for Mexico under a three-year program called the Merida initiative.

The Black Hawks would be in addition to five Bell helicopters included in the $1.4 billion Merida aid package. U.S. officials have said it could take until next year to deliver those five, prompting complaints from Mexican officials.

"We're going to see what we can do to cut that time," Clinton said after meeting with Espinosa and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Clinton described Calderon's two-year war against drug-trafficking organizations as "courageous." She is scheduled to tour a police training facility Thursday and go to the northern city of Monterrey, a business hub that has seen a jump in drug-related violence.

Violence near the U.S. border and a brewing trade dispute over cross-border trucking have heightened long-standing bilateral tensions.

Part of Clinton's assignment was to assure Mexico that the United States views the drug war as a mutual struggle.

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