MEXICO CITY — The U.S. government Tuesday pledged greater cooperation with Mexico to go after the bank accounts of narcotics cartels along the border and halt the flow of illegal guns fueling a wave of violence.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, leading a top-level Cabinet delegation, said the two nations were studying new strategies against narcotics, focusing not only on security but also on financial intelligence sharing and social development.
"We are looking at everything that can work," Clinton said.
As Clinton spoke in a salon of the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Relations, soldiers in a hall outside guarded a vast display of sophisticated assault rifles and other weaponry, mostly made in the U.S., captured from drug gangs.
"We know that the flow of illegal guns is a problem for our Mexican friends, and we are doing all that we can within our laws to prevent, interdict, arrest, prosecute and jail those who deal in illegal guns," she said.
The top-level summit occurred just 10 days after the March 13 roadside slayings of a U.S. consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another consulate staff member, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city.
A few days after the killings, U.S. security personnel across the border in El Paso, Texas, arrested members of the Barrio Azteca gang — enforcers for the Juarez drug gang known as Los Aztecas — thought to be linked to the crime.
Clinton and her Mexican counterpart, Patricia Espinosa, in a joint statement cited "co-responsibility for cross-border criminal activity" and said the two nations would enhance efforts against cross-border money laundering and weapons traffic.
They also announced a pilot program of information sharing at two key border points: the San Diego-Tijuana border area, and the one between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano accompanied Clinton for the talks with top Mexican security officials. Clinton also met privately with President Felipe Calderon.
The summit focus was on the Merida Initiative, a $1.3 billion U.S. program launched in 2008 to help Mexico and Central America fight drug cartels.
Espinosa said U.S. officials had promised to remove bottlenecks in the disbursement of aid under the Merida Initiative.
Still, experts said the vast coffers of drug cartels make for a lopsided battle.
"The drug cartels are earning somewhere between $25 and $35 billion a year," said Roderic Camp, a scholar on Mexico at Claremont McKenna College in California. "There are repeated cases, even on the U.S. side, of people on the take. It's just too darn much money."
Since taking office in December 2006, Calderon has deployed some 50,000 troops to border areas to take on the gangs behind a record-number of slayings.
In a little over three years, some 16,000 people have been killed. Violence has worsened with the shattering of an alliance between the competing Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels, leading to a spate of beheadings and daytime slayings.
A U.S. Embassy fact sheet said Washington will deliver a CASA 235 maritime surveillance aircraft to the Mexican navy this year, and 3 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to the nation's public security ministry.
Rising bloodshed has triggered calls for drug decriminalization. Former Foreign Secretary Rosario Green told the El Universal newspaper Tuesday that marijuana use should no longer carry a criminal penalty. A day earlier, Mexico's third-richest tycoon, billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who controls broadcaster TV Azteca, said Mexico should legalize drugs.
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