Violence-plagued Mexico sees hope in US border plan


Mexicans desperate for an end to drug gang murders, abductions and extortion saw a glimmer of hope yesterday as the United States vowed to tighten security on the increasingly violent border.

US officials announced a $184million (€136million) program to add 360 security agents to border posts and step up searches for smuggled drugs, guns and money, as Mexico's spiralling drug war seeps over the border into the United States.

"This is what we have wanted for so long. People can leave their houses again," said taco seller Andres Balderas in Ciudad Juarez, the bloodiest flashpoint in Mexico's drug war.

Cartel violence has killed 2,000 people in the city in the past year.

"They should have done it a long time ago, given they are responsible for this drug demand and violence," he added.

As President Felipe Calderon stakes his presidency on an army-led war on drug cartels, he has urged Washington to crack down on weapons smuggling to Mexico, where nine of every 10 guns found at crime scenes and raids are traced to US dealers.

Although experts warned the security plan would not be enough to stop the violence, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said it showed a determination from both countries to stamp out organized crime, in particular the smuggling of US guns, drug-making chemicals and cash into Mexico.

Business leaders say the violence is hitting investment and want closer cooperation between US and Mexican forces.

"Mexican authorities are overwhelmed by crime. They need funding, infrastructure and intelligence," said Roberto Quijano, head of the business chamber in Tijuana, another northern border city wracked by drug cartel violence.

Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said the plan was better than previous US policies of building border fences to keep out illegal Mexican workers and drug traffickers.

California Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger also praised it.

Mexican troops seized $5million in cash and a huge stash of cocaine and guns on Tuesday at a house in the Pacific state of Sinaloa, territory of top drug fugitive Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman's bands of smugglers.

The army also captured a top hitman for the Beltran Leyva cartel, Hector "Junior" Huerta, who had a $1million price tag on his head, in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, Mexican media reported.