Thursday, March 26, 2009

MONTERREY, MEXICO (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised Thursday to help Mexico end soaring drug-related violence along the border that she called “intolerable,” but she said Mexico must do its part in cleaning up its police and judicial systems.

Wrapping up a two-day visit south of the border, Clinton said the violence is terrorizing Mexicans and threatening U.S. border states. She also repeated a theme on her trip: The demand for illicit narcotics in United States is fueling the drug wars south of the frontier.

“Today, (our) ties are being put to new tests,” she told university students in Monterrey, an industrial hub just two hours south of Texas that has been caught up in the wave of drug-related violence that has claimed more than 9,000 lives in a little over two years.

“This situation is intolerable for honest, law-abiding citizens of Mexico, my country or of anywhere people of conscience live,” she said. “The United States recognizes that drug trafficking is not only Mexico’s problem. It is also America’s problem.”

Mexican officials have long complained that successive U.S. administrations have failed to assume enough or any responsibility for the drug violence.

But while Clinton answered Mexico’s call for a greater role in the cross-border battle, she also called on Mexico to “implement needed police and judicial reforms.”

“The United States will be stepping up to help address the serious security challenges that Mexico is facing and Mexico, of course, must do its part as well,” she said.

Mexico is wrapping up Operation Clean House, its latest nationwide effort at weeding out corrupt police and security officials. The operation was launched after several high-level officials, including Mexico’s former drug czar, were allegedly caught receiving payments in return for protecting the cartels.

Referring to her tour earlier Thursday of a federal police control center in Mexico City, she said the visit was an example of “intensive and increasingly effective” government action against the cartels and criminal gangs.

“I was very impressed by what I saw,” she said after federal police staged a hostage-rescue drill from a plane. She also toured a hanger where Blackhawk helicopters, some supplied by the U.S., were on display.

The control center is one of Mexico’s many efforts at unifying and professionalizing Mexico’s scattered and often corrupt police system. Officials use it to train officers and build national crime databases.

On a different issue, Clinton urged a quick resolution to a dispute over Mexican trucks entering the United States, saying both sides need to ensure that traffic across the border is safe and legal.

“We (in the U.S.) can worry about what’s coming north, but Mexican people are worried about what’s coming south: assault weapons, bazookas, grenades,” she said. “I mean, we’ve got to get together on this.”

After meeting Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa on Wednesday, Clinton predicted that “criminals and kingpins” trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between the United States and Mexico “will fail.”

She said the White House would seek an additional $80 million to help Mexico buy Blackhawk helicopters in addition to a three-year, $1.4 billion Bush administration-era program to support Mexico’s anti-crime and drug efforts.

A day before Clinton arrived in Mexico City, the Obama administration pledged to send more money, technology and manpower to secure the border in the Southwest U.S. and help Mexico battle the cartels.

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