By Tom Ramstack

Washington, DC

The U.S. State Department is trying to smooth over relations with Mexico after a congressman implied the Mexican government is losing control over its own country.

Drug cartels are "undermining the Mexican state," according to Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs western hemisphere subcommittee.

Mack's statement during a subcommittee hearing last week prompted a backlash of criticism in Mexico.

Mexican political commentators also are upset by Mack's statement that the Merida Initiative has shown few signs of success despite more than $1.5 billion in U.S. contributions.

The Merida Initiative is a 2008 treaty between the United States and Mexico designed to fight drug cartels. It has included transfers of military equipment to Mexico and training for the Mexican Army and police.

Mack's committee is trying to find a replacement for the treaty, which expires this year. The Florida congressman suggests a "counterinsurgency plan" that targets hotbeds of drug cartel activity. He also wants a more comprehensive strategy that coordinates the efforts of several U.S. federal agencies.

"The Mexican drug cartels have evolved into what some call the greatest national security threat faced by the United States with the ability to severely damage the U.S. economy," Mack said. "The administration has failed to set target dates or tangible goals to measure the success of U.S. programs and the Mexican drug cartels have capitalized on this failure, actively undermining the Mexican state through insurgent activities, such as violence, corruption and propaganda."

Mack's criticisms prompted political commentator Armando Alcocer to write in the Mexican publication Sexenio, "Perhaps our neighbors to the north are not satisfied with outright interventionism in the public policies and economics of Mexico. What's next, armed occupation?"

The U.S. State Department responded with a statement of support for Mexico.

"Mexican authorities assert control throughout Mexico, in all Mexican states," the State Department said. "Although organized crime tries to act with impunity, the Mexican government is using its resources to ensure that state authority will prevail and criminals will be punished, and we are supporting them."

The State Department also described accomplishments of the Merida Initiative, which included training more than 6,800 federal police officers, transferring 14 helicopters to Mexico and improving information sharing that resulted in the capture of 29 top drug cartel leaders.

"We believe the [Merida] Initiative is already having a positive impact," the State Department said. "Through its bold efforts, with U.S. support, the Mexican government has successfully dismantled drug smuggling routes, seized major amounts of illicit drugs and jailed drug kingpins."

Nevertheless, complaints are rising among Mexico's neighbors over how the five-year-old war with drug cartels is spilling over its borders.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is demanding stronger legislation to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States.

Last year, 3,231 Mexicans filed for political asylum in the United States, up from 2,670 in 2005. To qualify for political asylum, they must prove they have a "credible fear of persecution or torture."

Mexico's southern neighbors also are feeling crimped by the drug war violence.

President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic recently said a crime increase in his country's central cities of Santiago and Jarabacoa was caused by Mexico's drug cartels.

The executions of three Colombians and a Venezuelan, as well as the decapitation of a Dominican, were examples of Sinaloa Cartel activity, Fernandez said during a speech last week in Santiago.

"The seal of the murders for hire shows that the Mexican cartels are here, more than the Colombians," Fernandez said.


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State Department Answers For Congressman's Criticism Of Mexico Policy | Global Viewpoint