Mexico Plan Adds Police To Take On Drug Cartels

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 11, 2008

MEXICO CITY, July 10 -- The Mexican government plans to nearly double the size of its federal police force in order to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking, under a confidential anti-narcotics strategy that officials made available Thursday.

The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers and initiating social measures -- such as improving safety in public spaces -- designed to improve public confidence in government agencies tainted by corruption.

Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations. Other aspects are still in formative stages, such as fortifying poorly staffed border checkpoints to stifle the smuggling of arms and money into Mexico from the United States.

The written strategy amounts to the most complete picture of Mexico's anti-narcotics game plan in a violent struggle over the past year and a half between the federal government and cartels that control the bulk of cocaine, marijuana and heroin smuggling into the United States. More than 2,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year, and Mexicans are horrified by almost daily reports of decapitations, shootouts and assassinations of police and municipal officials.

"Currently, drug trafficking -- a criminal and socioeconomic phenomenon of enormous complexity -- is the biggest threat to national security," the document states.

A key element of the strategy centers on disrupting cartel logistical operations. A new rule that forces all private planes to stop for inspection at either the Cozumel airport on the Caribbean coast or Tapachula on the Guatemala border is credited, in part, for leading to confiscations of more than 270 planes in the past 1 1/2 years.

The strategy builds on Mexico's renewed commitment to greater cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials after years of suspicion and insularity. Last month, President Bush signed a $400 million package to help Mexico fight cartels. The measure, known as the Merida Initiative, was pushed through in large part by lawmakers who said they were impressed by Mexican President Felipe Calderón's commitment to working more closely with U.S. law enforcement.

The internal Mexican strategy formalizes the Calderón administration's multinational approach by strengthening information exchanges with South American cocaine-producing nations and with Central American nations that are key transit points.

The cooperative endeavor is a major step forward for nations that have, at times, had strained relations. As part of the initiative, Mexico is already receiving information about suspicious ships leaving ports in Colombia and Ecuador.

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