Conflict in the White House over the war on America's doorstep

Only time will show if Mexico is indeed sliding into drug-war anarchy like that which gripped Colombia in the 1980s. But President Obama's correction of his Secretary of State's suggestion that Mexico's crisis was beginning to resemble the Colombian one underlined one thing: the acute concern in America at events in its vitally important southern neighbour.

The rift – if rift it truly is – was exposed when Hillary Clinton used a wide-ranging foreign policy speech on Wednesday to warn that Mexico was beginning to look "more and more like Colombia 20 years ago," when the drug lords "controlled parts of the country."

Ever-sensitive to criticism from Washington, the Mexican government took issue with Ms Clinton's assertion. The situations of Mexico today and Colombia in the 1980s were very different, insisted Alejandro Poire, national security adviser to President Felipe Calderon. Mexico was acting forcefully to avoid the fate of Colombia.

Within 24 hours, he had the support of none other than Ms Clinton's boss. "You can't compare what is happening in Mexico with what happened in Colombia," Mr Obama told the Los Angeles-based Spanish language newspaper La Opinion. Mexico, the US President contended, was a "large and progressive democracy with a growing economy". For the Mexican media yesterday, his words were proof that Mr Obama had "rejected" or "corrected" of his Secretary of State.

If so, it would be a rare public disagreement between the White House and Ms Clinton, who, after a shaky start, has won considerable praise for her diplomatic skills, and for working so harmoniously with the rival who bested her in 2008, after the fiercest presidential primary battle in recent US history.

Yesterday, officials predictably brushed off all talk of disagreement between them: "these are two different countries and two different circumstances, the Secretary agrees," a State Department spokesman said.

By most measures, Mexico has some way to go before it becomes another Colombia where, by the end of the 1980s, the government was at war with two left-wing guerrilla movements that at one point controlled a third of the country, and the most infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, was elected to parliament.

In the end, however, the central government, working closely with the US, prevailed – only for the drugs trade to move north to Mexico, where an estimated 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Calderon sent in the country's army against the cartels in late 2006.

Speaking at the Council for Foreign Relations, Ms Clinton argued the Mexican cartels were "showing more and more indices of insurgencies," and to an extent, the facts bear her out. In Ciudad Juarez, directly across the Rio Grande from the Texan city of El Paso, more than 2,000 people were murdered in the first eight months of 2010, making it one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. In June, the top candidate for governor in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas was shot dead.

Even so, the violence has not reached the levels of Colombia, where car bombs were daily events, and public officials and businessmen died in their thousands. The Mexican government claims that the violence mostly reflects ever more savage turf wars between drug gangs – a sign, it says, that the offensive against the cartels is having an effect.

It is also netting some big fish, the latest of them Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka "Barbie", wanted in the US for importing four tonnes of cocaine, whose capture is being touted as a major success for President Calderon as he tries to convince a wavering public that the war on crime is worth the violence it is causing.

Lucky break: Mexican police caught their top target by accident

Edgar Valdez Villarreal

The Mexican police officers who arrested the infamous drug suspect, alias "La Barbie", did not initially know who they had caught. The Mexican government has depicted the capture of the US-born Valdez as the result of a one-year investigation and a carefully planned raid involving agents trained abroad.

Police papers indicated that while special police teams were in the area where Valdez was caught on 30 August, the officers who actually detained him were simply following a suspicious vehicle. The report federal police sent to prosecutors says a patrol was driving on a road west of Mexico City when a convoy of three vehicles passed at high speed. The unidentified officers followed the convoy for more than two miles before the vehicles stopped and officers ordered the occupants to get out.

The first person to descend from the vehicles was "a light-complexioned man who we later learned was Edgar Valdez Villarreal", according to the report, which also says the arresting officers were co-ordinating patrol efforts with a special operations unit.

Police said earlier that they had traced Valdez to a ranch in the wooded outskirts of Mexico City by tracing his assets and from information obtained following the arrest of some of his associates. A police spokesman said the two versions of Valdez's arrest were not contradictory.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea