By Robin Emmott
MONTERREY, Mexico, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Mexico’s army-backed assault on drug cartels is cutting supply to the United States and forcing up narcotics prices, although a side-effect is more border violence, U.S. drug czar John Walters said on Thursday.
The average price of a gram of pure methamphetamine on U.S. streets increased by 73 percent to $244.53 between January and September last year, according to a new report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The price of a gram of pure cocaine rose 44 percent to $136.93.
The purity of both drugs sold in the United States dropped in the same period.
The data indicate less narcotics are getting through, Walters said in a telephone interview during a two-day meeting with Mexican officials in the beach resort of Los Cabos.
"For the first time we are seeing a decline in purity and price rises across multiple drugs. We are seeing the results of cash and narcotics seizures, the closure of toxic labs," he told Reuters.
Marijuana eradication in Mexico and U.S. customs seizures also increased last year compared with 2005 and 2006, Walters said. "The Mexican army is making an enormous effort to get into difficult terrain, systematically going after the crop."
Since taking office in December 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent some 25,000 troops and federal police to bring order to regions dominated by drug gangs, such as the U.S.-Mexico border area.
The military crackdown is weakening cartels and breaking down the narcotics delivery chain into the United States, Mexican intelligence officials say.
But at the same time fighting among rival Mexican gangs has killed more than 320 people so far this year.
More than 2,500 people were killed in 2007 in turf wars mainly between the Gulf Cartel near Texas and an alliance of traffickers from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa.
U.S. PLEDGE OUTSTANDING
Walters said he was anxious to reward what he said was unprecedented Mexican cooperation on the drug fight and make good on a $1.4 billion pledge by U.S. President George W. Bush last year to fund new equipment for Mexico’s drug war.
"We have got two-thirds of the commitment for the three-year program specified and we want to get this done as soon as possible," he said, but declined to give a time frame for the so-called Merida Initiative, named after the Mexican city where Bush and Calderon first discussed the issue.
The plan is pending approval by U.S. lawmakers, who say they are concerned about a lack of detail on spending.
"They are asking where the money is going and I cannot tell them the name of every last piece of battery equipment it will be spent on, but we are getting answers to them about what is sensible," Walters said. (Editing by Catherine Bremer and Mohammad Zargham)