March 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Clinton blames U.S. drug abuse

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has broken new ground in hemispheric relations, frankly acknowledging that violence in Mexico is to a large extent the result of the drug abuse in the United States. Mrs. Clinton was visiting Mexico City, holding extensive talks about the drug war along the border with President Felipe Calderon and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. The U.S. government recently increased assistance to Mexico, and is in the process of deploying hundreds of federal agents to the border. To smooth things over in preparation for President Obama's first visit to Mexico (on April 16), Clinton praised President Calderon for his "courage." Good. See Washington Post.

There is certainly much truth in Mrs. Clinton's main point (about drug-abusing Americans), but her comments that past U.S. anti-narcotics policies have exacerbated the violence in Latin America is highly questionable. It may well be that U.S. policies have been ineffective, but calling them counterproductive is wrong, both factually and morally. As the Post article noted, Clinton's claim that U.S. drug interdiction efforts have been unsuccessful is contradicted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials. Furthermore, such words can be confusing to Mexicans who are sticking their necks out to help track down the bad guys. If we don't have confidence in what we are doing, how are Mexicans supposed to do so? It also takes the pressure off the Mexican government to reform its own police and military forces, which are riddled with corruption. There is only so much we can do to encourage the Mexican government to clean up its own act, but attending to our own problems with corruption (Blagojevich, et al.) would be a good start.

While in Mexico City, Mrs. Clinton also discussed the dispute over the access to American highways, which was part of the NAFTA agreement of 1994 that we never implemented. It's a big shame, and the Democrats in Congress are bowing to union pressure (Teamsters, mainly) in making sure that Mexican trucks stay off our roads. Protectionism at its worst.

Based on the situation in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, I have updated the maps on the Current situation page. Since last year, Argentina and Brazil have stabilized, while Peru and Mexico (especially the latter) have become more turbulent.

Costa Rica - Cuba

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica announced that his government would extend diplomatic recognition to Cuba, for the first time since relations were severed in 1961. This doesn't necessarily signify a shift in Costa Rican foreign policy, however, it is more likely a gesture to encourage the new government of Raul Castro to continue political liberalization. Arias previously served as President of Costa Rica from 1984 to 1989, and he won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the "Contadora" peace initiative. See Costa Rica's international influence is greater than might be indicated by its small size. In October 2007 it became one of the last in Latin America to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, bowing to economic realities. Doing so was a precondition set by the government in Beijing for any country that seeks diplomatic ties with China.