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U.S. drug czar urges funds for war on Mexico cartels
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House drug czar John Walters urged the U.S. Congress on Tuesday not to "sabotage" relations with Mexico and pass a $1.4 billion anti-narcotics package to help crush drug cartels.
Congress has scaled back the so-called Merida initiative that President George W. Bush proposed in October as a three-year plan to provide Mexico with aircraft, equipment and training to fight drug traffickers.
The Senate version also includes amendments aimed at protecting human rights, but which Mexico says would require constitutionally unacceptable changes to its laws.
"If we asked other nations what we are asking of Mexico, we would sabotage our relationship," Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at a news conference.
"These provisions are counterproductive and self-defeating ... We risk sabotaging this opportunity," he added.
The Merida initiative was to offer Mexico $500 million in this fiscal year that ends September 30, but Congress has scaled that back to between $350 million and $400 million.
Walters said that the Senate version would require trials of Mexican soldiers in civilian courts, and federal officials taking on state and local judicial roles in Mexico.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa rejected the Congressional amendments on Tuesday and complained they did not put Mexico "on an equal footing" with the United States.
In a letter to U.S. legislators, Walters said their conditions heightened sovereignty concerns for Mexico.
"Insisting in such conditions would reduce the possibility of implementing our strategic partnership and compromise relations with a vital partner in the fight against crime and illegal drugs," he said.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has made the war on drug cartels the centerpiece of his presidency, deploying some 25,000 troops and federal police across the country, but the operation has sparked considerable bloodshed.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in drug violence across Mexico so far this year, a faster pace than in 2007 when around 2,500 were murdered over the year.
Despite rising drug violence in Mexico, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart said Calderon's effort has been a success because drug prices were higher on U.S. streets.
Cocaine prices have risen 86 percent in Boston, 50 percent in New York and 33 percent in Los Angeles this year, she said.
"We're very confident we can put (the drug gangs) out of business," she added.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Monterrey; Editing by Anthony Boadle)
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