- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who plays host to President Obama in Mexico City Thursday, has become increasingly bold in blaming Americans for the plague of drugs, guns and corruption that is fueling his nation’s vicious war with drug cartels.

The two leaders will both have their eye on domestic politics even as they look for ways to help each other move forward on some of the thorniest issues each nation faces: trade, immigration and drugs.

U.S. law enforcement officials have been effusive in their praise of the 46-year-old Mexican president’s determination to take on the cartels, but Mr. Calderon has signaled he needs more concrete help from across the border.

“Of course we have a problem, and the roots of that problem are related with drugs, with the consumption of drugs in the United States or with the supply of weapons,” Mr. Calderon told ABC News in an interview this week.

“But my idea is not to blame the United States all the time, my idea is to talk about that. We need to realize and recognize that this is a common problem and we need to solve our common problem, we need to think with the way that together we are more powerful than any criminal organizations.”

Mr. Calderon ordered Mexican troops to police the border after violence spiked last year, with some 6,300 deaths attributed to clashes between rival drug cartels and security forces. Mexico’s national security spokesman, Monte Alejandro Rubido, said this month that drug violence dipped by 26 percent across the country in the first quarter of 2009 compared with the same period last year - a sign, he said, that the government is making progress.

Like Mr. Obama, the Mexican president styles himself a reformer and has labeled the violent flare-ups as “dust in the air,” the byproduct of a countrywide housecleaning. He also angrily denounces charges that Mexico is close to becoming a failed state - a possibility raised by a Pentagon report earlier this year

Still, Mr. Calderon is looking to show some progress as he is buffeted by politics at home - his party is bracing for major losses in congressional elections set for July, according to Mexico expert George Grayson, who teaches at the College of William & Mary.

His recent rhetoric includes stepped-up accusations that 90 percent of illegal firearms seized by Mexican authorities are from U.S. sources and, more starkly, he has accused the United States of corruption.

“What is absolutely clear for me is that it is impossible to pass tons of drugs and cocaine to [the] U.S. without some greater complicity of some American authorities,” he told the BBC in an English-language interview two weeks ago.

Mr. Grayson said that nearly 2 1/2 years into his six-year term, Mr. Calderon has been “a weak president, has had a weak Cabinet,” though he has just recently shaken up his administration and installed experienced dealmakers.

“He’s a decent person, but he’s politically inept and has only recently brought adults into his Cabinet,” Mr. Grayson said.

Still, U.S. officials and private analysts say Mr. Calderon has put himself on the line with his push to fight the drug cartels.

American law enforcement agencies have stepped up their coordination with the Mexican government since Mr. Calderon and then-President George W. Bush negotiated the Merida Initiative in mid-2007, a $1.4 billion, three-year U.S. program to assist Mexico’s drug fight.

“Let’s look at what Calderon is doing. He’s clearly shown he and his government have the political will to take on these criminal elements,” said a former senior Bush official, who asked not to be named so as to speak without conflict with his new job. “Second, he’s actually taking action against them, and third, he’s putting his own Mexican national resources toward this.”

The Bush official said that “we left the Obama administration in a good position. What I see the Obama administration doing on Mexico is probably the most vivid example of continuity of U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere.”



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