MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - President Felipe Calderon has rejected accusations that a lack of coordination in Mexico is undermining his fight against drug cartels, saying the real culprit is the rivalry within U.S. intelligence agencies.
In unusually critical remarks given strong U.S. support for Mexico’s drug war, Calderon told El Universal newspaper on Tuesday the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the CIA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were constantly trying to outdo each other while evading responsibility.
“The reality is that they don’t coordinate with each other, they’re rivals,” Calderon told the newspaper, saying they had a policy of passing the buck without getting results, such as stopping the flow of U.S. weapons into Mexico.
Calderon, a conservative, has staked his reputation on beating back powerful drug cartels. He sent thousands of troops across the country on taking office in December 2006 in a dramatic move that won praise from Washington and ordinary Mexicans tired of gang extortions, kidnapping and threats.
But more than 34,000 people have died since then, and violence has spread from the violent northern border to engulf wealthy cities and beach resorts, putting Calderon under pressure while hurting the popularity of his National Action Party (PAN) ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Mexico last month to show strong support for Calderon, but in diplomatic cables published by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, U.S. officials said in January last year that Mexican authorities were not working together to bring the cartels to heel.
The shooting of two ICE agents by suspected drug gang members north of Mexico City last week prompted U.S. officials to voice outrage over the attack, further pressuring Calderon.
Calderon said in the interview that the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual had shown “ignorance” about current events and distorted what was happening in the country.
Calderon said U.S. President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush had shown willingness to help fight Mexico’s drug war. Washington is giving Mexico $1.3 billion in drug war aid to buy equipment and train police.
“But evidently cooperation on an institutional level has ended up being notoriously insufficient,” he said.
Despite increased U.S. efforts to seize flows of cash and guns south to Mexico, about 90 percent of the guns seized and traced in Mexico last year were initially sold in the United States, according to official U.S. statistics.
“What do the Americans need to cooperate on? In reducing drug consumption, but they haven’t reduced it. And secondly, in putting a stop to the flow of arms, but they haven’t reduced it, it’s increased,” Calderon added.
Reporting by Dave Graham; editing by Robin Emmott and Cynthia Osterman