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War on drugs takes center stage as Calderon meets with Obama

April 02, 2012|By Brian Bennett
  • President Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, center, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepare for an official photo during a North American summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, in August 2009.
President Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, center, and Canadian… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The unchecked scourge of drug violence in Mexico and that country's campaign to hobble the cartels is expected to overshadow economic discussions when Mexican President Felipe Calderon visits the White House today.

Calderon will be meeting with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss economic policies, climate change and security issues facing the three North American nations, according to the White House.

U.S. officials have been pushing for Mexico to reform the state-owned oil monopoly, Pemex, to open the country’s oil sector to private investment and develop new oil and gas reserves.

But the war on drugs will likely take center stage.

Since Calderon came into office in December 2006, about 50,000 people have died in drug-related killings.

An aggressive campaign to arrest cartel leaders has sometimes had the unintended consequence of escalating violence while factions within the criminal organizations fight for control of lucrative drug markets and trading routes.

In an effort to combat the problem, Calderon has pushed to reform the judicial system, raised salaries for the military and national police and deployed thousands of Mexican troops and police to areas run by the network of drug cartels.

Mexico has also repeatedly asked the U.S. to do more to stop the flow of guns and cash moving south to Mexico. Experts estimate that $2 billion leaves the U.S. for Mexico every year in the drug trade.

Congress has authorized $1.6 billion in aid to Mexico and Central American countries through the Merida Initiative to purchase military equipment, train investigators and prosecutors and launch social programs intended to diminish the power of drug cartels in the region.

Today's visit will be Calderon’s final scheduled trip to the White House before his six-year term ends in November. Mexico’s presidential elections are scheduled for July 1. The leading candidates in the race have pledged to continue Calderon’s campaign against the cartels.

The meeting between Obama, Calderon and Harper was first scheduled to be held in Hawaii in November, but was canceled after Mexico’s top Cabinet secretary, Francisco Blake Mora, was killed in a helicopter crash outside Mexico City. As interior minister, Blake Mora had led Calderon’s flight against the cartels.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Original source: War on drugs takes center stage as Calderon meets with Obama

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