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The Monitor's View

Mexico's extreme makeover

The US Congress must not undercut Mexico's effort to root out corrupt cops and drug cartels.

May 28, 2008



Call it Mexico's second revolution. A government campaign to root out corrupt cops and smash drug cartels has escalated into the kind of violence that hints it is working. Why then is the US Congress challenging an aid package aimed at helping Mexico become a lawful, prosperous country?

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Both the House and Senate have passed measures that would provide less than the $550 million requested by President Bush in a three-year program to support Mexico's cartel-busting efforts. And some in Congress appear bent on attaching strings to the aid package, demanding the very kind of law-enforcement reform that President Felipe Calderón desires in order to keep his country from descending into a narco-state.t

Congress risks a nationalist backlash in Mexico by such gringo-like bullying. Mexico doesn't attach such strings to its ties with the US and require an end to the giant sucking sound of $40 billion in illegal narcotics flowing to American drug users.

And Mexican police and military badly need the equipment and technical support that only the US can provide to fight the well-armed and politically entrenched cartels, whose tentacles are slithering farther across the border into street gangs and mainstream US society.

Since taking office 18 months ago, Calderón has deployed the army and federal police against the cartel bosses, who are fighting back hard by murdering top officials in a reign of political terror. The president himself has had to beef up his protection, especially after this month's assassination of the acting national police chief.

Cartel-related killings so far in 2008 are up nearly 50 percent from last year, reaching 1,378 as of last week. Since 2006, the tally has been 4,152, or more than the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq. And of those, about 1 in 10 were policeman, prosecutors, or military personnel.

This is a civil war, and America can't blink while Mexico fights again for clean democracy, just as it did in 2000 in ending the political monopoly of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The PRI's seven decades of rule left behind a severely corrupted political culture.

Calderón's campaign has achieved record seizures of cocaine, marijuana, and arms. He has also forced radical changes in police training and recruitment, hoping to curb the street-level graft that allows drug traffickers to thrive. But he still needs to improve intelligence gathering on the cartels and to insist that army soldiers are properly punished for any abuses of civilians.

And with cartels marking him for assassination, Calderón needs to make sure Mexico has a better constitutional process to select a new leader and prevent any political chaos in case presidents are killed. (His term ends in 2012.)

With several top police officials resigning for fear of cartel violence – and even seeking asylum in the US – Calderón's war is at a critical point. He needs several years of US support and some patience from critics over his methods.

In case anyone doubts the long-term implications of this campaign, even the US secretary of defense recently visited Mexico to show just how serious the US is in securing not only its 2,000-mile border from criminal gangs but also Mexico's future.

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