Mexico's Calderón tells Congress he needs U.S. help in fighting drug wars

Mexican President Felipe Calderón, center, front, is greeted by lawmakers as he arrives at the House Chamber to speak to a joint session of Congress. Calderón said Mexico's deadly drug wars have often been fueled by assault weapons and other arms from the United States.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón, center, front, is greeted by lawmakers as he arrives at the House Chamber to speak to a joint session of Congress. Calderón said Mexico's deadly drug wars have often been fueled by assault weapons and other arms from the United States. (Gerald Martineau For The Washington Post)
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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderón, speaking to a joint session of Congress Thursday, pleaded for more help in limiting the flow of weapons to Mexico, saying they were contributing to the devastating drug violence in his country.

In a speech punctuated by applause and standing ovations, Calderón thanked lawmakers for providing hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster his country's fight against drug gangs. He emphasized his government's resolve to confront the narco-traffickers, who have killed more than 20,000 people in Mexico in recent years.

However, he said, Mexico needs greater U.S. assistance stopping the flow of assault weapons and other deadly arms across the border.

"I understand that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee good American citizens the ability to defend themselves and their nation," he said. "But believe me, many of these guns are not going to honest American hands."

The Obama administration has won goodwill in Mexico by publicly acknowledging the role of U.S. guns and drug consumption in fueling that country's narcotics trade. President Obama has ordered increased searches of Mexico-bound train cargo and other measures to crack down on the illegal stream of weapons. But Mexican officials have expressed frustration that more progress has not been made.

Calderón said his government had seized 75,000 guns in Mexico in a three-year period and found that 80 percent of those whose origin could be traced were bought in the United States.

The Mexican leader also asked lawmakers to "consider reinstating" the assault weapons ban, a 10-year measure passed in 1994. Many Democrats jumped to their feet, clapping.

The Obama administration has shown no inclination to take on powerful gun-rights supporters and the National Rifle Association with such a move. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently acknowledged that there would be little appetite for it in Congress.

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA, noted that when Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. proposed reviving the assault weapons ban last year, 65 House Democrats sent him a letter opposing the idea. Most Republicans in Congress are strong defenders of gun rights.

"The answers to Mexico's drug and violence problems do not lie in stripping away the rights of law-abiding Americans on this side of the border," Arulanandam said.

Calderón's speech came on the second and last day of his state visit. The warm reception in Congress reflected the widespread praise he received in Washington for his government's aggressive fight against the cartels. However, his approach is increasingly unpopular at home because of the spike in bloodshed.

The Obama administration has sought to continue the Merida Initiative, which was begun under the Bush administration and provided $1.3 billion in equipment and training in the past three years.

In his speech, Calderón also tried to convince lawmakers that his government is doing all it can to stem illegal migration to the United States by creating jobs and better opportunities for Mexicans. He said the immigration reform backed by Obama, which would create a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants, was "crucial to securing our common border."

An immigration-reform bill has been introduced but is not expected to pass this year.

In an unusual move for a foreign leader visiting Congress, Calderón also took a swipe at the anti-illegal-immigration law recently passed in Arizona, saying it is a "threat to civil rights and democracy."


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