Barack Obama

Mexico drug war not comparable to Colombia: Obama

A forensic worker takes pictures at a crime scene where five hitmen were killed in a shootout with soldiers in the municipality of Juarez, neighbouring Monterrey September 3, 2010. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday denied that rising drug violence made Mexico look increasingly like Colombia at the height of its drugs war, rebuffing comments made by his Secretary of State.

“Mexico is vast and progressive democracy, with a growing economy, and as a result you cannot compare what is happening in Mexico with what happened in Colombia 20 years ago,” Obama told Los Angeles-based Spanish language newspaper La Opinion.

Obama’s comments were printed in Spanish and no English transcript was available from the White House.

The U.S. leader’s remarks appeared a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said cartels operating in Mexico and Central America were starting to look like an “insurgency,” a comment that reflected Washington’s growing concerns.

Mexico is “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers control certain parts of the country,” Clinton told a foreign policy think-tank in Washington.

Colombia has spent decades battling leftist rebels financed by a lucrative cocaine trade. At the height of Colombian violence in the 1980s and 1990s, the South American country was gripped by attacks on political figures and civilians.

While violence has waned in Colombia, Mexican cartels have grown in power in recent years as they took over much of the drug trade from Colombians, analysts and officials say.

More than 28,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006, but the Mexican government says a spike in violence reflected cartels’ vulnerability.

Homicides in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, home to Mexico’s most violent drug war city, Ciudad Juarez, dropped to 44 in August from 107 in July due to government security operations, senior Mexican official Alejandro Poire told a news conference on Thursday.

Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Missy Ryan and Paul Simao