Clinton backs Calderon's drug fight on Mexico trip

GUANAJUATO, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered strong support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on narcotics traffickers on Monday even as drug-related violence shows no sign of abating.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa hold a joint news conference at the Alhondiga de Granaditas in Guanajuato, Mexico, January 24, 2011. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool

Making her second visit to Mexico in less than a year, the U.S. secretary of state arrived in the central colonial city of Guanajuato as State Department cables released by WikiLeaks revealed U.S. doubts about Mexican intelligence gathering.

More than 34,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Calderon deployed thousands of army troops and federal police to combat gangs soon after he took office in late 2006. More than 15,000 people were killed in 2010 alone.

The Mexican government says the bloodshed is a sign the gangs are weakening. But rampant killings, including grenade attacks and decapitations, are spreading across Mexico and beginning to spook international investors.

“The drug traffickers are not going to give up without a terrible fight,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in Guanajuato.

“When they do things that are just barbaric, like beheading people, it is meant to intimidate,” she added, saying Calderon had no choice but to confront them. “It is hard. It carries all kinds of costs. But there is no alternative.”

“I’m a fan. I believe (in) and greatly admire what President Calderon is doing,” she said.

Clinton acknowledged the vast U.S. demand for illegal drugs and the flow of U.S. weapons south across the border to drug smugglers were major contributors to the violence.

About two dozen protesters chanted “No more guns!” as Clinton arrived for her talks with Espinosa. Later, as they had lunch, another small group shouted “No more violence.”

Clinton then flew to Mexico City for talks with Calderon expected to focus on his push to overhaul Mexico’s troubled judicial system and overcrowded jails despite some opposition in the Mexican Congress.

“Just stay with it,” she told reporters with Espinosa. “A well-equipped, well-trained judicial system is essential.”

Clinton pointed to the killing and capture of more than two dozen top cartel capos as a sign of Calderon’s success.

But in a leaked cable from 2009 published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, U.S. Embassy officials said, “Calderon’s security strategy lacks an effective intelligence apparatus to produce high-quality information and targeted operations.”

The cable described the Mexican government’s intelligence apparatus as “fractured, ad hoc, and reliant on U.S. support.” Clinton said she could not comment on the alleged State Department documents released on the Internet.

Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Paul Simao