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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Sales Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a £multi-million award w...

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent