by Tom Ramstack

Washington, DC

Presidential candidate Rick Perry is stirring up a firestorm of controversy in Latin America with his recent comment that if he is elected next year he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to fight drug cartels.

Mexico's diplomats and political commentators are responding by saying they would never allow American troops in their country.

During a campaign stop in Manchester, NH, Perry said, "It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network."

Witnesses in recent congressional hearings on the drug war have said Mexico risks losing control over its own people and government unless it can end the corrupting influence of the cartels.

More than 41,000 people have been killed in the war since Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent troops to help fight the gangs in December 2006.

"I don't know all the different scenarios that would be out there," Perry said. "But I think it is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing."

He took the tough stance against Mexican drug cartels after being accused by his political adversaries during a televised debate last month of being soft on illegal immigration.

Perry's comments are playing big in Mexico's news media this week as political leaders say American troops in their country would trample their sovereignty as a nation.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, said, "The issue of participation or presence of U.S. troops on Mexican soil is not on the table."

American troops are "not a component" of the strategy against transnational crime, Sarukhan said at a press conference.

He also said Mexico has made its position against U.S. military intervention clear "for a long time."

The Mexican newspaper La Vanguardia warned in an editorial that American troops in Mexico would backfire if it becomes a U.S. policy.

"For Mexico, the direct U.S. aid to fight drug trafficking, with the dispatch of troops, as proposed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, would represent a serious intrusion into its sovereignty," the editorial said. "For the United States itself, a proposal such as that would involve a clear confrontation with the Latin American drug empire in a neighboring country, with the risk of a serious escalation of violence too close to the border along the Rio Grande, which could even reach into U.S. territory."

The U.S. government has sent National Guard troops to the border and provided advisors to the Mexican military. In addition, the U.S. government uses airborne drones to monitor drug cartel movements. Mexican troops fly in helicopters provided by the U.S. armed forces.

However, the idea of sending troops into Mexico to fight the cartels directly far outstrips any previous proposals considered by the U.S. government, according to American diplomats.

Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns recently described the boundaries of U.S. foreign policy to the news media.

"There are clear limits to our role," Burns said. "Our role is not to conduct operations. It is not to engage in law enforcement activities. That is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that's the way it should be."

Perry's idea of sending in troops is reviving Mexicans' resentment as their tempers simmer over Operation Fast and Furious, an American law enforcement effort to track illegal guns smuggled into Mexico.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed thousands of guns to be purchased illegally at American gun shops then smuggled across the border. ATF agents hoped to track them to their ultimate users among drug cartels.

Instead, the ATF lost track of many of the guns. Some of them later were traced to murders of police and civilians.

The Mexican government demanded an apology as details of the operation were reported in the American news media earlier this year. Congress continues to investigate.


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Rick Perry Proposal of American Troops in Mexico Stirs Criticism | Politics