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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan


Special Briefing
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York, NY
September 26, 2009

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MR. KELLY: Well, good afternoon. My name is Ian Kelly, State Department spokesman. We are very pleased to have with us today U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, and then Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan. They just finished a very good and productive meeting of the U.S.-Mexico high-level group meeting, chaired by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Espinosa.

The two ambassadors will make remarks at the beginning, and then we will open it up to your questions. And I will ask Ambassador Sarukhan to speak first.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Thank you. Good afternoon. We had, I think, a very constructive meeting, ensuring that both the Secretary of State and the foreign secretary of Mexico are monitoring the progress that we are achieving in our counter-narcotics cooperation, discussing the next steps to deepen our bilateral cooperation -- how do w build upon the success that we have achieved through the Merida Initiative -- what those next steps should look like, and how do we deliver on the mandate that we have received from both our presidents, President Obama and President Calderón, as a result of the three bilateral meetings that they have held so far, since President Obama was sworn into office.

So, let me start off with that. And, Carlos, if you want to make some general remarks?

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: Just a couple of things. One of the things that has been important about our security cooperation between Mexico and the United States is that it's been very much driven by Mexico. And Arturo speaking first is not just symbolic, it's real, in that the strategy has to come from Mexico. And the way that the United States plugs into that is what makes it effective.

Otherwise, for example, under the Merida Initiative, where we have committed $1.4 billion over 3 years, it's a significant amount of money, but, relative to what Mexico is investing in its security budget, it's tiny. And it only has an impact because we're actually able to do it strategically, together.

One of the things that we have been trying to do is to recognize that the drug trafficking organizations and, in some ways, you can call them organized crime groups, keep revising their strategy. They're looking at this from a hemispheric perspective. We need to stay in front of them.

And so, in that context, we keep looking at: How do we revise and adapt the strategy on disrupting the cartels? How do we keep building up the institutional and law enforcement capacities within Mexico to sustain the rule of law? And how do we look at these issues on how they play back at a community level? And these are elements of the strategy that we have been developing together.

And so, that's really what we were trying to focus on, is how we keep looking ahead, how we keep the sharper edge, and how we keep achieving an impact.

But let me stop there, and take the discussion whichever way you guys want to take it.

QUESTION: Can you sketch out for us where you see the next steps as being -- you know, what are the things that we're going to see over the next year or two, three years that are different from --

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Probably one of the most important aspects is that Mexico and the United States have had success in disrupting some of the trafficking routes coming through Mexico into the United States. We are starting to see the effects of that in Central America and the Caribbean. In many ways, our success has spelled challenges for other nations in the Caribbean and Central American region.

So, one of the critical components of what we will start to develop in the coming months -- and, obviously, making sure that both the U.S. congress and the Mexican congress are co-stakeholders to this vision is: how do we create a regional, holistic approach to fighting drug syndicates in the region?

You know the figure, it's like a water-filled balloon. You squeeze here, and it's going to bulge out here. We have to take into account that we are disrupting the way, the modus operandi, of the drug syndicates in Mexico. It's having an impact on price and purity of, especially, cocaine in the United States. But it's also having other collateral impacts in the region, as the drug traffickers who are -- they don't have to deal with bureaucracies or Congress. They are much more nimble and flexible than we are in adapting. They very quickly devise new methods and new routes of trafficking into the United States and other parts of the world.

So, this will be a very important component. We will be seeking to develop this in the course of the next months so that, hopefully, by the end of next year, we have a vision in place, and a mechanism in place which can bring in some of our regional partners. And that can also ensure that we have developed this common approach -- Mexico and the United States, with other partners in the region, like Colombia -- and the success that we have achieved in triangulation, for example, of intelligence information sharing with our Colombian friends, as we seek to take on, for example, some of the maritime trafficking patterns that have evolved as a result of their not being able to use the land trafficking routes that they used to to bring into the United States.

QUESTION: For Carlos. A big chunk of Merida, if I'm not mistaken, however, was directed at the Central American states, correct? In other words, a large portion of that money was to go to them. So, I guess, two questions. One would be, do you think you need much more money for that, if you're seeing this, you know, sort of alternative routes?

And then, secondly, can you just describe for us, in broad brush, what are the other routes that you're now seeing? What are the countries that are particularly suffering, as it were, from what you described as your success?

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: Yes. First of all, the whole Merida Initiative began with the Mexican proposal. And so, in that sense, it started with a major focus on Mexico. But there was a recognition that other countries needed to be involved.

About 80 percent of the funding actually went to Mexico -- or maybe about 75 percent of the funding went to Mexico -- and Mexico itself is investing about 5 to 6 times the amount that the United States is putting in -- just to give us that context.

And one of the things that we're doing now, as we're looking at going forward, is starting a process of consultation with the Congress, both on where we continue to move on the Mexico pieces, as well as the Central American and Caribbean pieces. And so, in part, I don't want to jump too far, because there are some of those discussions and conversations that still need to take place, and have been ongoing, but still need to take place.

The kinds of things that you increasingly see is that, I mean, on the positive side, building on what Arturo was saying, is that there has been a particular crackdown on cocaine. And we see the volumes of cocaine that are going through Mexico -- and even the United States -- the consumption has been going down. The figures that ONDCP -- the Office of --

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: National Drug Control Policy.

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: -- thank you; better expert on Washington than I am, that's for sure -- have been giving us about a 14 percent reduction in cocaine. And so, as a result of that, they're looking at other additional routes that they might go through, either through Guatemala, through eastern Honduras, and then through sea routes coming into different parts of the United States.

There was a time when Miami had been the hub of many of the landings in the U.S. I recently had a conversation with the chief of the police force, which -- who told me that now Atlanta really has become the hub, and that increasingly you get attempts to land in smaller ports, say in Georgia, that will be taking land routes. And so, it's that kind of evolution that we're starting to see in some of the movement of the traffic.

What we have been trying to do – and here I will come back to the Mexico strategy, because that's the part that we have been working on – some of the types of things that we're doing, you know, we've had a big focus on high-value targets, because, in the end, you had to disrupt the cartels and demonstrate that you were going after major characters. And we have had some success with that.

But as we do that, we also get more information on the organizations. And so we're pushing that down, looking -- taking a strategic look at the organizations, as a whole, and looking at how do you disrupt the capacity of the organizations to function. As we have been working together on the institutional issues, one of the things that we began up front was to work on the development of the federal police force. They have had training programs, and now have -- in fact, this summer, had -- a very important program with 1,500 police investigators that were trained, indicative of the kind of progress we're making there.

Then, now moving at the state and local level, how do you begin to develop greater capacity there? How do you start pilot programs on those areas?

And so, what you will see more of in the future is not as much of an emphasis on the equipment side, because early on, one of the important components that was necessary were injections of equipment to increase mobility. And now that we have had adequate funding to contract for those, these pieces will be coming online in the coming 6 to 10 months or so.

But in the future, the kind of work that we are going to be doing more is on the intelligence side, on institution building, on training, on shared lessons, and so forth.

QUESTION: Now, are you going to ask Congress for more money, the U.S. Congress? Do you think you are going to have to ask them for more money to address the Central American/Caribbean --

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: There will be an additional need for money for the program, overall. I am not in a position to go into what, exactly, that would be.

But one of the things that was important between President Obama and President Calderón, when they met in Guadalajara, was that they agreed that the Merida Initiative that we had was a framework for the first three years, but that we need to continue our work beyond that, because, you know, organized crime isn't going to go away -- the challenges are going to stay there -- and that it is a hemispheric challenge.

And I think the other part that's particularly important is that, as Mexico strengthens its capacity, it becomes part of the solution to fixing that hemispheric problem. And, quite frankly, you can't fix this if you don't have partners like Mexico involved.

QUESTION: If I were to write that you need more money, partly because of Central America and the Caribbean?

QUESTION: Wasn’t the idea that you will always need more money? I'm not sure I understand why you're asking that. I mean, it was always going to need more money.

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: Well, yes. The first three-year period was a start. And what we are saying is that we are going to have a continuing relationship that is going to go beyond three years, and that relationship will include more money for Mexico and more money for the Caribbean. Exactly what the amounts are, I am not in a position to --

QUESTION: On that point, so does Merida continue? Or after the three years does it get absorbed into ongoing U.S.-Mexican cooperation and the aid goes that way?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Remember that Merida was conceived as a three-year budgetary process, and it was presented to the U.S. Congress as such. So, we are now, hopefully, in the last phases of discussion of what FY 2010 will look like.

And, beyond that, we need to make sure that the level of cooperation that has been detonated as a result of Merida continues. Will there be requirements for additional training or institution-building as we continue to develop the next phase of the cooperation? Probably. I think that we will be looking at our friends at the State Department and the White House to figure out exactly what it entails.

But I would like to underscore that, beyond the issue of dollars and cents, I think that what we are really after is to ensure that the dynamism that we have achieved these three past years, the injection of equipment that has arrived in Mexico as a result of the three budgetary processes that have been approved -- two that have already been approved by Congress; one that we hope will be approved in the next weeks -- can allow us to continue to deepen that cooperation.

QUESTION: You don't necessarily have to call it Merida, but the cooperation, it’s just now institutional?

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: Right. I mean, we really do want to make this a cooperative and institutionalized relationship. And that is going to continue. And you know, whether you want to call it "Beyond Merida," or whatever, I mean, those are the kinds of right terms that we’re thinking about. But it's just not -- it's not just a three-year relationship.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Yes. There has been a sea change in the way Mexico and the United States cooperate on security issues, and that's what we want to build upon.

QUESTION: Just a follow on some of the announcements that the administration made in March or April about, you know, to tackle the flow of weapons, the flow of money, which wasn't -- I mean, which was part of Merida, but -- I mean, have you seen a direct effect on those initiatives if you could say? Because at the time, the Mexicans were very concerned that the flow of money and guns was affecting your efforts.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: We're still concerned. This is an important issue. The fact that both weapons and bulk cash feed into the drug syndicates operating in Mexico is a challenge that both sides will have to face. But I think that the efforts of the Obama administration, of the Justice Department, and of DHS to not only solve issues like Title 21, which can allow ICE to play a much -- an increased role in counter-narcotics policies, but putting equipment, manpower, and resources into southbound interdiction of weapons and bulk cash has already started to show results. It has to be built up, because it has focalized in some of the corridors leading down into Mexico.

But the first data that is coming out, and that DOJ and DHS are producing, I think is indicative that it's starting to work, and that the United States is ensuring that we work on both sides of the border to shut those north and southbound flows down.

QUESTION: So, AFP here, I just wanted to ask – you’re going to focus on the intelligence side, institution-building. Are you thinking of some transnational institution where you have offices, and you coordinate intelligence that way?

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: What we're really thinking about is the relationship between the United States and Mexico. The United States will have relationships with -- obviously, we do -- with Colombia. What we will each do, as we improve our -- the key focus right now between the United States and Mexico is to work together in supporting and strengthening Mexico's capacity to take on the drug trafficking organizations.

And so, as they are organizing themselves more effectively to do that, the questions that we're asking are: Where can we give you support, in terms of intelligence that we are able to share and provide, in terms of institution-building and training, and support on lessons learned that we may have picked up in either our own activities in the United States, or in other parts of the world?

And so, that's step number one. We are not, at this point, talking about a transnational entity. There is, obviously, at JIATF South, an interagency task force that has some participation from all different parts of Latin America. That, obviously, is going to continue. But their mandate has principally been to look out to the Caribbean. And that is something that I know General -- or Admiral -- no, General Fraser.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: No, General.

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: Yes. The blue uniforms just trying to remember which one.

General Fraser is very much committed to being able to continue this support.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Yes. I would just add that I personally share the healthy Anglo-Saxon suspicion of transnational bodies or institutions. I don't think we are looking to create --

QUESTION: Even though you’re here in New York?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Even though I'm in New York. I don't think we're looking at creating some transnational body.

What we are trying to do is that a lot of the cooperation that is already going on -- for example, again, between Colombia, the United States, and Mexico -- in terms of intelligence, trafficking routes, interdiction end game, which is allowing us, for example, to seize a lot of the maritime shipments, the semi-submersibles that we have detected that are being used by some of the Colombian drug traffickers to bring cocaine into the western seaboard of the United States, that type of intelligence sharing which is taking place in NORTHCOM with Canada and Mexico,
in Key West with some of the Latin American countries, and -- that we can continue to ensure that we are getting intelligence in real time. But we are not thinking of creating --

QUESTION: Just to spell it out, what groups are adapting fast, and changing their routes, just to -- it's probably all there in our copy, but --

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: So what are the --

QUESTION: What are the crime gangs that are causing the most problems and being most nimble, as you mentioned at the beginning?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: Well, for starters, I think some of the Colombian drug syndicates that are being able to devote -- to buy or build some of the semi-submersibles, and --

QUESTION: The names?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: I wouldn't know the names of the Colombian organizations. In Mexico, it is basically the Sinaloa drug organization --

QUESTION: Right.

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: -- which has been, because of its geographic position in Mexico's Pacific coast, and the Tijuana groups, the Tijuana organization, which are being -- capitalizing these new maritime flows into the United States.

But, for example, what we have seen is ONDCP has what it calls high-intensity drug trafficking areas. That's how they sort of divvy up the U.S. map, and they look at things like hospital room admissions, price and purity of the drugs, and they get a sort of a sense of what's going on with drugs in the United States.

There has been a dramatic increase in price, and a dramatic fall in the purity of cocaine in every single high-intensity drug trafficking area in the United States, except one: the Pacific Northwest. And intelligence would seem to suggest that there hasn't been that change in the Pacific Northwest because we may already be seeing the impact and the effect of cocaine being shipped directly to the Pacific Northwest, either on the Canadian or U.S. side of the border. And that's why we haven't seen shifts in the price and purity of cocaine in that part of the United States.

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: If I could just add a couple of things on this, as well, because, you know, this is the sort of issue that, if we don't raise it, you will then ask yourself, "Why didn't I ask the question," afterwards. And it's a sensitive topic. But incidents of crime and homicides are obviously still high and, in some cases, have been rising. The question is why, and how do these realities co-exist with one another?

And, in effect, you know, if you look at the homicides, 90 percent of them are actually between drug cartels. And what's happening is that there has been increased pressure that has been put on them. And one of the ways that they're adapting is that they're going into new lines of business: extortion, robbery, kidnapping. And, indeed, it's particularly the kidnappings that have created great concern among ordinary Mexicans, because now they are really -- you know, they're not just looking at this as drugs moving to the United States. It's actually hitting their own communities, and it's actually part of what's getting communities to begin to organize.

And so, while it may seem counter-intuitive to see high violence rates and homicide rates and say there is progress, part of it is the progress of bringing additional pressure on the cartels. The kind of things that you will see, for example, is the cartels fighting one another for crossing points, and the – in Ciudad Juarez, for example, it's been traditionally controlled by the Carrillo Fuentes organization.

And, increasingly, what we begin to see is that the Sinaloa cartel is looking for land routes across the same area. And you get some of the other cartels that don't want the Sinaloa cartel to expand its presence in that area, and so you get these odd alliances, where you get the Gulf and the Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva organization aligning with the Carrillo Fuentes organization. And that's where you get the clashes and the kinds of fights that you're seeing between, say, the Sinaloa cartel and the others.

And so, the dynamic that's going on is disturbing. But it's important to understand the context of it. And, in that context, part of what the security challenge is is to, in fact, create the capacity to maintain some safety in the streets, and to be able to have the adequate information to be able to go after the organizations in a strategic way, and to be able to use law enforcement capabilities and prosecutorial capabilities to deal with these issues, so that it doesn't just get resolved in gun battles on the streets.

QUESTION: You said you were going to emphasize in the second phase of the Merida Initiative the intelligence issues. That means that the military forces are not going to be deployed in Mexico as we have seen it? And that means that the violence that you are talking about will be reduced in the next year, in the next months, you’re expecting that?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: There is -- let me challenge your sequencing of how you posed the question.

For starters, the armed forces' presence on the field doing law enforcement isn't what is causing the violence. Again, what we think and what we see is that most of the violence is as a result of the squeeze that we have put on the drug trafficking syndicates, and they're fighting for power and for access to those staging grounds or trafficking routes in Mexico. So, with or without the armed forces, the idea is that we can continue to squeeze them.

So there isn't a direct connection between the armed forces' presence and violence going up or down. The indication of violence going down, hopefully down the road, is that we are succeeding in bringing down levels of violence in Mexico.

As you know well, President Calderón, at the outset of his administration in December of 2006, decided to use the armed forces as a stop-gap measure. Why? Because we had a severe challenge of using local and state law enforcement to take on the drug traffickers, because of the corruption that, you know, these drug trafficking syndicates can trigger in, sometimes, very low-paid, local state law enforcement units.

So, the idea is that, as the army continues to be deployed in this law enforcement role, we are rebuilding the civilian institutions, vetting the new police units, so that some time in the medium run we can start bringing back the armed forces into the barracks, and substituting them with a newly vetted and created civilian police force. And that's sort of the end game here, as we continue the deployment of the armed forces.

QUESTION: One quick thing, on non-drug issues. I’m Janine with Bloomberg. Sorry if this has been resolved, but did you raise the trucking dispute issue with Secretary Clinton? Has there been any progress on that?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: No, the trucking dispute was not part of this conversation today. It was mainly focused on our security and counter-narcotics cooperation and, obviously, because of how Mexico and the United States have been deeply engaged and cooperating and coordinating, Honduras, obviously.

But no, this issue wasn't there. We have been working, both with Congress and the administration, to try and seek resolution to this 15-year-old dispute. I have always said that the reason why Mexican trucks are not on U.S. roads has nothing to do with the security of American roads, it has to do with protectionism. But we are working, I think, constructively with the administration and with Congress to find ways in which, hopefully soon, we can bring a final resolution to this issue.

MODERATOR: One last question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What did you discuss about Honduras? And did you discuss about immigration reform?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: No. Again, the only topics that were discussed today between the two Secretaries were the several issues of the bilateral counter-narcotics and security cooperation and Honduras. That was the extent of the discussion. Obviously, Honduras, where we are, what our perceptions on what the situation on the ground is, what role can some of the parties that are involved in the discussion in mediation play, and what are the next steps, both Mexico and the United States, with some of our regional partners, and multilateral bodies can achieve in the next hours.

QUESTION: We're coming up to the election. So, I mean – or the scheduled election – and the international community has said that it wouldn't accept an outcome that was determined under these conditions. But -- so what happens? Like, does Honduras just not have an election until this is resolved?

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN: I am the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., so I would prefer to defer on that question to those who are responsible of implementing policy towards Honduras.

AMBASSADOR PASCUAL: There are so many pieces that I’ve got to leave that to Tom.

QUESTION: Can we ask you about Burma policy?

(Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you.

###



PRN: 2009/T12-29



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