Mexican President Felipe Calderon, interviewed by Lally Weymouth
Mexican President Felipe Calderón is a busy man -- battling drug lords, coping with an economic downturn and, as always, pondering his country's relationship with the United States. He sat down recently with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth to offer a progress report. Excerpts:
You have been fighting a war against the drug cartels in your country, and many Mexican soldiers have been killed. How do you feel it's going? What would you like to see the United States do to help?
From the very beginning I told the people that this was going to be a long-term battle, that there will be casualties and a high cost in terms of money and of time. We should fight this battle and must win the battle. It's not only a question of narco-trafficking alone -- my goal is to establish the rule of law. My goal is to transform Mexico to a safe place where people and children could be really free. We are moving ahead according to the plan to attack organized crime, and we are kicking them really hard. There are a lot of casualties and people have died, but let me tell you: Probably about 90 percent of those people are linked with organized crime in one way or another.
The problem is not only a criminal problem but also a social problem, in the sense that we have young people without opportunities who are [hired] by criminals as distributors of drugs. Finally, they die in the streets. I have serious concerns about that. The only way to defeat the crime is to combat it with a comprehensive strategy; one part is to use all the power of the state in order to fight the criminals, to preserve or in some cases to recover the authority of the state. . . . The second part [requires] renovating all the police corps in the country.
What does that mean?
I would start with the federal police. I want to deliver to my people, when I finish my presidency, a new and cleaner police corps at the federal level.
So that it can take over from the army? Right now, you have the army in the streets?
Right now we have the army and the navy supporting the actions of the formal authorities because it's inside their mission to preserve internal security in the country, not only external security. But of course my goal is that once we can build this new police corps -- not only at a federal level but at a local level -- we can withdraw gradually the presence of the army and the armed forces from the streets.