By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 8:31 PM
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the surging drug violence in Mexico now resembles war-torn Colombia a generation ago, with criminal cartels looking like "insurgencies" battling for control of territory.
"It's looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country," Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
Mexico quickly responded. In an afternoon news conference, Mexican President Felipe Calderon's national security adviser Alejandro Poire said, "We do not share these findings, as there is a big difference between what Colombia faced and what Mexico is facing today."
Twenty years ago, Colombia was battling two revolutionary guerrilla movements, which at their peak controlled about a third of the country, as well as powerful drug lords such as Pablo Escobar and his Medillin cartel. Thousands of judges, journalists, politicians and business leaders, as well as police and soldiers, were killed in the Colombian conflict.
While Clinton praised Calderon for his courage and commitment in his military-led, U.S.-backed fight against drug-smuggling mafias and organized crime rings, her comments might signal growing anxiety in the Obama administration about Mexico.
Poire noted that both the Colombian and Mexican drug organizations "are nourished by the enormous, gigantic demand for drugs in the United States."
Poire said Mexico was acting with force and "in time" to save itself from Colombia's fate. He said that during the worst years in Colombia, drug boss Escobar was elected to his country's congress.
In her remarks, Clinton repeated that U.S. drug consumption was helping to feed the violence in Mexico, where more than 28,000 people have died in drug violence since Calderon sent his military after the cartels in December 2006.
"These drug cartels are showing more and more indices of insurgencies," Clinton said.
In the past three months, four car bombs have exploded in Mexico. The leading candidate for governor of the northern border state of Tamaulipas was assassinated by gunmen impersonating Mexican marines. Journalists in the north of Mexico, fearing for their lives, rarely report on running gun battles in their own cities. And a recent report to the Mexican congress revealed that kidnapping have tripled.
In the northern industrial and business capital of Monterrey, which Mexicans often compare with pride to Houston or Dallas, the U.S. State Department told its consular staff that the city wasn't safe and that their children should leave.
Clinton said that countries in Central America were relatively weak and needed more help to fight the narcotraffickers.
"We need a much more vigorous U.S. presence" in Central America to help countries improve their law enforcement capacity to fight drug traffickers, Clinton said.
In related news, officials in Tamaulipas have found two bodies that might be those of two agents investigating the massacre of 72 migrants. DNA tests are being conducted.
The Mexican government also announced Wednesday that marines have arrested seven gunmen suspected of killing the migrants from Central and South America.