Obama, Clinton Split on Mexico Drug War Parallel With Colombia Insurgency

 
By Anne E. Kornblutand Scott Wilson
     Sept. 10 (Washington Post) -- Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton sees similarities between the drug violence now
afflicting Mexico and Colombia's narco-war of the 1980s.
President Obama, not so much.
     "You can't compare what is happening in Mexico with what
happened in Colombia," Obama told a Spanish-language newspaper in
remarks published on its Web site on Thursday.
     Obama's remarks in La Opinion appeared at odds with
Clinton's comments a day earlier that the situation in Mexico is
"looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago," with
drug traffickers controlling "parts of the country."
     "In Colombia, it got to the point where. . . more than a
third of the country - nearly 40 percent of the country at one
time or another - was controlled by the insurgents, by FARC,"
Clinton said, referring to the Colombian revolutionary group.
     The two sets of comments seemed to reflect a rare
disagreement between Obama and Clinton, former political rivals
who have gone to great lengths to emphasize their unity and
growing friendship over the past year and a half.
     But the administration denied that there was any daylight
between the president and his secretary of state.
     Asked whether Obama's interview contradicted Clinton's,
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley replied, "Not at all."
     "These are two different countries and different
circumstances. The Secretary completely agrees," Crowley said in
an e-mail. "What she was saying is that, first, criminal
organizations are challenging authority in Mexico as we saw in
Colombia. The growing brutality is beginning to resemble what
Colombia experienced. Colombia turned its situation around
through decisive action by a democratic government, supported by
the United States and the international community. We are seeing
the same sustained action by the Mexican government. As she said
also, this is a shared responsibility and we and others need to
support Mexico in this effort."
     Obama, in the interview, said the reason the two countries
cannot be compared is the gap between their economies.
     "Mexico is a large and progressive democracy with a growing
economy," Obama said.
     But in fact, two decades ago in Colombia, the elected
president, Cesar Gaviria, pushed through a series of economic
reforms known as "the opening," which, despite drug-related
violence, led to years of economic growth. With U.S. assistance,
Gaviria's government tracked down and killed Pablo Escobar, the
head of the Medellin cartel, in 1993.
     Clinton's comments made the front pages of Mexico's national
daily newspapers and were fodder for cable news and talk radio on
Wednesday and Thursday morning.
     Obama's remarks went up on news Web sites and television
news Thursday afternoon.
     The stories reported that Obama "rejected" or "corrected"
Clinton's statements. "Obama: You cannot compare Mexico to
Colombia" was the headline on the El Universal news Web site.
     Clinton's remarks were controversial in Mexico. President
Felipe Calderon administration's central mission is to not become
like Colombia was 20 years ago, when car bombs exploded daily in
the national capital and driving into the countryside was risky.
     Responding to Clinton on Wednesday, 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."
     Poire also took a dig at the United States, saying that the
only thing the two conflicts have in common is that the drug
cartels in both countries are "nourished by the enormous,
gigantic demand for drugs in the United States."
     Some Mexican leaders, however, agreed with Clinton's
assessment. Many anti-narcotics experts and law enforcement
agents, along with Mexican journalists, frequently debate the
comparisons between Mexico's drug war and the one waged in
Colombia.
     "We are on our way to Colombianization," said Mexican
senator Alejandro Gonzalez, who belongs to Calderon's
center-right party.
     kornbluta@washpost.com wilsons@washpost.com
     Correspondent William Booth in Mexico City contributed to
this report.
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