Napolitano: Mexico Drug War Not A Failure

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Monday defended the U.S. and Mexican war against drugs and drug cartels, stressing that her country would continue to assist Latin American nations in combating production of narcotics and drug trafficking.

Napolitano, who is currently on a five-day tour of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama, insisted during a joint press conference with Mexican Interior Minister Alejandro Poire that the ongoing U.S.-Mexico war against drugs was not a failure by any means.

Instead, Napolitano noted that the war against drugs undertaken jointly the U.S. and Mexican governments was part of "a continuing effort to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs."

Asked whether her department considered Mexico to be a safe destination for Americans despite escalation of drug-related violence in that country, Napolitano said: "I think Americans come and go freely to Mexico all the time and I expect that to continue. It's a wonderful country. There are many, many places to go and to see. And obviously we also do a tremendous amount of commerce."

"(Drug trafficking) has to be handled in a somewhat different way. It's a different type of crime and it's a different type of plague, but that's also why it is so important that we act not only bi-nationally, but in a regional way, to go after the supply of illegal narcotics," she noted.

Napolitano also compared the case of Mexico's most wanted drug dealer, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, with that of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was killed in an operation carried out by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan last May.

"It took us 10 years to find Osama Bin Laden and we found him. And you know what happened there; I'm not suggesting the same thing would happen with Guzman but I am suggesting that we are persistent when it comes to wrongdoers and those who do harm in both of our countries," she said.

Guzman has been on the run since he escaped from a Mexican prison ten years ago. He is the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, which is based in Mexico's Pacific coast and currently one of the most powerful organized criminal gangs in the Americas.

Last year, the Forbes magazine had included Guzman in its list of the world's richest men, reportedly worth more than $1 billion. He is believed to be hiding in the mountains in the northern state of Durango. The United States had declared a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

The Sinaloa cartel is presently engaged in a fierce turf battle with the Juarez cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes for the control of lucrative smuggling routes to the United States. The two cartels are blamed for most of the recent drug-related violence in Chihuahua and other northern States.

Mexico is currently struggling to contain the violence unleashed by rival drug cartels, mainly in the northern states. The country's most notorious drug gangs include the Sinaloa and the Juarez cartels, as well as the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

The Mexican government says that more than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence in the country since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug gangs after taking office in December 2006.

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