WASHINGTON — Washington on Friday said it would boost its anti-drug aid to Mexico and focus on helping state police in their blood-soaked war on the country's powerful drug cartels.
The $500 million dollar aid increase under the crime-fighting Merida Initiative broadens US anti-drug assistance beyond Mexican federal law enforcement.
The "criminality and violence" associated with the drug cartels "continue to threaten the security and prosperity of both our nations," read a statement after high-level talks chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa.
The United States, which shares a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border with Mexico, has promised training and equipment to Mexico's security forces under the three-year, $1.3 billion Merida Initiative to tackle organized crime.
About 95 percent of the estimated cocaine flow toward the United States transits through Mexico, according to a March report by the State Department, which found Mexico to be a major supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines to the United States.
Experts see Mexican state and local police as the weakest link in the strategy to fight the cartels.
The final statement said the "strong partnership" between the two countries, "based on the principles of shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for each country's jurisdiction, is a fundamental component of our bilateral efforts."
Mistrust, however, is widespread on both sides: Mexico is upset over the flow of US weapons into their country, while US officials fear that Mexico is riddled with institutional corruption.
The meeting ended without a customary press conference.
Also at the meeting were US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Mexican counterpart Guillermo Galvan; US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Blake; and US Attorney General Eric Holder and his counterpart Marisela Morales.
Separately, key US lawmakers urged Clinton in a letter to support labeling Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups and craft a strategy to help Mexico defeat them.
"The Mexican drug cartels present a dangerous threat to the national security of the United States," said the group, led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, a Republican.
"It is clear violent actions taken by the Mexican drug cartels have evolved and are acts of terrorism. These cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations," they wrote.
The lawmakers warned that escalating violence perpetrated by the cartels in Mexico "threatens the very foundation of that nation" and threatens to turn into "a lawless haven."
More than 34,600 people have been killed in suspected drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a widespread military crackdown on criminal gangs at the end of 2006, according to official figures.
When she visited Mexico in March 2009, Clinton acknowledged that the United States shares blame for Mexico's drug wars in which she said security forces are often outgunned by military-style equipment bought in her country.
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