Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just Between Friends

Border Tension Rises Between US and Mexico

Political tension over illegal immigration and crime along the US-Mexico border worsened this week, as Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, complained of a lack of co-operation from US officials after two US states declared emergencies along their borders with Mexico.

"My call to the US . . . is that instead of signals we make proposals, instead of working each on their own side we work together," Mr Fox said in Mexico's Sonora state, which borders Arizona.

Citing drugs-related violence on the US side of the border, Mr Fox asked: "If all the drugs that cross there arrive in the markets for consumption, what's being done on that side?"

Tony Garza, the US ambassador to Mexico and a friend of President George W. Bush, responded on Tuesday night that violence "from Matamoros to Tijuana" was "destroying the social and economic fabric of our border communities".

"The longer that violence continues, the tougher it becomes for many Americans to talk about Mexicans as our trusted partners with mutual interests," he said in a speech in Denver.

Tension over illegal immigration and border-area violence reached high levels of both governments last week, when Bill Richardson, New Mexico's governor, declared a state of emergency along his state's international border, prompting criticism from Mexico's foreign ministry. Janet Napolitano, Arizona's governor, did the same this week.

Ms Napolitano said that the "flood of unauthorised immigration" had led to hundreds of deaths - which have risen sharply this year - an increase in violent crime, and trespassing that had "damaged vegetation, wildlife and livestock".

Ms Napolitano, a Democrat, also said the US federal government had "failed in its responsibility" to secure the international border, and that Arizona would put $1.5m (€1.2m, £831,000) of its emergency fund towards fighting the problem. She also said the move was part of "close work" on sharing resources and intelligence with Sonora.

An outbreak of severe violence between drug gangs in Nuevo Laredo, on the border with Texas, recently led the US to close its consulate there.

The consulate re-opened last week, despite the assas sination of a city councillor. Mr Garza said he closed the Nuevo Laredo consulate partially to punish Mexico "for its failure to control violence in the region". Mexican politicians described it as an "over-reaction".

Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's minister for US relations, said: "It's important to differentiate between the specific public security problem in Nuevo Laredo, which is important, and the broader concept of security on the border.

"We should avoid the perception that the border is out of control along all its length."

He told the Financial Times that Mexican and US governments would announce new measures for clamping down on "coyotes", who smuggle migrants across the border, within the next few months.



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