In Mexico, Obama touches on cartels

President Barack Obama on Monday reiterated U.S. support in helping Mexico fight drug-trafficking cartels and promised a push for immigration reform would come within months.

The statement came as a summit of North American leaders concluded.

“I would anticipate that before the year is out we will have draft legislation along with sponsors potentially in the House and the Senate who are ready to move this forward, and when we come back next year, that we should be in a position to start acting,” Obama said.

He predicted a difficult battle ahead but said it is one he is determined to wage whether his “poll numbers are at 70, or if my poll numbers are at 40.”

Obama praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s “courageous effort” and tacitly acknowledged some concerns of alleged human rights violations committed by the Mexican military as they take on cartels nationwide.

But Obama also referred to drug traffickers as the biggest human rights violators and said his administration would continue supporting Calderon “as long as he is president of Mexico.”

“I am confident that as the national police are trained, as the coordination between the military and local police officials is improved, there is going to be increased transparency and accountability and that human rights will be observed,” he said.

In a spirited defense of his military-led strategy, Calderon challenged anyone to prove “any case, just one case” of human rights violations, arguing that the fight against drug traffickers isn’t so much against stopping northbound drugs, but to establish a rule of law in Mexico and to keep Mexicans safe from drug violence.

Underscoring the threat of drug violence, Mexican law enforcement authorities on Monday announced they had arrested in Mexico City members of a cell of hitmen who, they say, were plotting to kill Calderon.

The five men belonged to the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, officials said. The timing of the assassination attempt wasn’t immediately clear. Heavy weapons were also confiscated.

Asked during the press conference to elaborate, Calderon said he had some knowledge of the details. He said, “It certainly won’t be the first or the last occasion on which we might hear something about an attempt against my … life.”

Calderon stressed his government won’t stop its campaign. “We’re destroying their criminal organizations,” he said. “We’re hitting them hard. We’re hitting at the heart of their organizations. We’re making them back away.”

Since his administration began in December 2006, Calderon has sent more than 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels across the country. So far, more than 4,000 people have been killed this year across Mexico, many along the Texas-Mexico border as cartels fight for distribution routes north.

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.