The Washington Post
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page A21

Mexico Says U.S. Warning Is Unfair

Fox 'Laments' Alert On Border Violence

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 27 -- A U.S. State Department warning to American citizens about a "deteriorating security situation" on the U.S.-Mexico border provoked an angry response Thursday from Mexican officials, who called it unfair. They pointed out that the United States, as the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs, shares blame in a recent spate of drug-related killings and kidnappings, some of which involved U.S. citizens.

President Vicente Fox issued a statement late Thursday that said his government "does not accept judgment" from any foreign government and "laments the alarm" that could be caused by the warning.

Santiago Creel, Mexico's interior minister, echoed the theme in a televised interview, saying Mexico in recent years has had unprecedented success in arresting drug cartel leaders. "I wish there were more capos in U.S. prisons, and above all, that they do something about the problem of consumption: Of course it's what drives drug trafficking," Creel said.

The State Department warning, issued Wednesday in conjunction with a letter from the U.S. ambassador, noted that "Mexico's police forces suffer from lack of funds and training, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Thursday that 27 Americans had been kidnapped in the last six months on the Mexican side of the border. Two were killed and 11 remain missing.

"We do feel it's important to tell Americans about the security situation near the border," Boucher said. "There are a great many people who visit back and forth, and we do note that the vast, vast majority . . . visit without any mishaps or difficulties."

U.S. law enforcement officials have said that while some of the 27 U.S. citizens were innocent victims, more were involved in the drug trade. They also said they were frustrated that the abductions were being treated as a local problem in which more experienced Mexican federal officials could not intervene.

An FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had been no progress on these cases, despite considerable evidence and witnesses in some instances.

U.S. Ambassador Antonio O. Garza also sent a letter to Mexican officials this week saying, "I worry that the inability of local law enforcement to come to grips with rising drug warfare, kidnappings and random street violence will have a chilling effect on the cross-border exchange."

Mexicans are worried, too, about the economic effect of the U.S. warnings. Thousands of U.S. citizens cross into Mexico every day to shop and visit relatives, but that traffic has sharply dropped off in some areas along the border, hurting local businesses.

An exceptional number of Mexicans have been killed along the border -- nearly 100 in three states this month. Federal officials here have attributed the violence to warring cartels. Fox's government has won praise for arresting many drug cartel leaders, but now some are causing turmoil and violence from prison.

Two of the biggest drug leaders, Benjamin Arellano Felix and Osiel Cardenas Guillen, joined forces behind bars, according to Mexican officials. They said the two plotted drug shipments and ordered executions from adjoining cells in La Palma penitentiary. Federal officials took over La Palma with soldiers and tanks earlier this month.

© 2005