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Calderon defends drug war

MEXICO CITY — Gunmen slaughter 19 men at a rehab clinic. Sixteen bodies are dumped in a northern city. Twelve police officers die in an ambush. Soldiers kill 15 gunmen outside a tourist town. All in less than a week.

President Felipe Calderon, however, believes Mexico is getting a bad rap and wants to hire a public relations firm to improve its image. His own countrymen are frustrated by assurances that the drug war is going well.

"No matter how much the authorities want us to believe that they are winning this fight, the reality and the perception is that, on the contrary, it's a lost battle," said Miguel Jimenez, 21, a student in Morelia, the capital of Calderon's drug-plagued home state of Michoacan.

Calderon defends his military-led offensive against cartels, pledging not to withdraw the thousands of soldiers and federal police battling gangs across the country.

"The strategy is advancing in the necessary direction that was established from the start," Calderon said on his office's website this week. "Some analysts say that it was a mistake to fight crime, that we should not have 'provoked' them. I think this perspective is mistaken."

If there is more violence, Calderon said, it is because cartels are reeling and splintered. He said his government is embarking on long-term solutions, including U.S.-backed training of thousands of police and prosecutors in modern investigative techniques.

Some Mexicans agree.

The essay "was received with skepticism among commentators in the press and radio, where it has been commonly accepted that the strategy has failed," wrote columnist Hector Aguilar in the Milenio newspaper Wednesday. But "among the critics, there is nobody proposing an alternative to Calderon's strategy."

U.S. assistance

The State Department on Wednesday asked Congress to extend the Merida Initiative, which promised help to fight drug cartel violence in Mexico, past 2012. The initiative was created by former President George W. Bush in 2007. While the U.S. pledged $1.1 billion in aid, an Associated Press investigation showed only $161 million of that money has been spent so far.

Calderon defends drug war 06/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 10:48pm]
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