Felipe Calderon: We Must Win the Battle

Article excerpt

Byline: Lally Weymouth

The president of Mexico on organized crime and the economic downturn.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon was already embroiled in a brutal war against drug lords before the slump in the United States hit his export-driven economy hard. He sat down recently with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth to talk about how hard it's been to fight this two-front battle. Excerpts:

How do you feel the drug war is going? Many Mexican soldiers have been killed.

From the very beginning I told the people that this was going to be a long-term battle, that there will be casualties. We must win the battle. We are moving ahead according to the plan to attack organized crime, and we are kicking them really hard. People have died, but let me tell you, probably about 90apercent of those people are linked with organized crime in one way or another. The problem is not only a criminal problem but also a social problem in the sense that we have young people without opportunities who are [hired] by criminals as distributors of drugs. Eventually, they die in the streets. I have serious concerns about that.

There is a lot of discussion about weapons from the U.S. flowing into Mexico.

It is a big problem for us. Most of the weapons we seize--in the last three years we have seized about 45,000 weapons--come from the United States. There are about 12,000 stores that sell weapons on the border with Mexico. I recognize the American government is improving its actions [in] stopping the flow [of weapons] to Mexico.

What is the most damaging weapon?

Armor-piercing bullets, which do a lot of damage against our police corps. We are working with the American government in order to stem the flow, but we have a very large border, and it is very difficult to be successful.

Do you feel the U.S. is helping you enough?

The U.S. has been very helpful to us, and we are improving and getting better results. For instance, some of the most important drug lords [have been] either captured or died in action. [Sharing] intelligence was very useful in these [successes].

No other country in Latin America has been hit worse by the economic crisis than your country.

Yes, you are right. There's an expression: "When the United States catches a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia." And that was exactly the case last year. …