Washington DC - Drug-related violence blamed for last weekend’s death of two U.S. citizens in the border city of Juarez will be at the top of the agenda when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Mexico next week, Washington’s top diplomat for Latin America said Friday.
The situation in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, “is very serious,” Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela told reporters at a briefing on Clinton’s upcoming trip.
Her visit will be the occasion for a meeting of the bilateral High Level Consultative Group to review the progress of the Merida initiative, a U.S.-funded regional plan to battle drug cartels and organized crime.
Mexico has received hundreds of millions of dollars in crime-fighting aid under the initiative.
Clinton will be accompanied to Mexico by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, Valenzuela said.
Lesley Ann Enriquez, an official at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, and husband Arthur H. Redelfs were killed last Saturday by gunmen who fired on their vehicle on a busy street in the Mexican city.
The couple’s baby, riding in the backseat, was not harmed.
Mexican citizen Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of another consulate employee, died in a similar attack minutes later.
Valenzuela called the killings in Juarez a “reminder of the challenges both countries are facing.”
Turf battles among drug cartels and the security forces’ struggle against the illegal trade have claimed nearly 19,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when current President Felipe Calderon took office.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police to the country’s most conflictive areas, yet the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, from 2,700 people in 2007 to 7,724 fatalities last year.
This year’s death toll has already topped 2,000.