Mexican President Vows to Win Drug War

Felipe Calderon says Americans share responsibility for border violence.

April 15, 2009— -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is fighting a raging war against the drug cartels threatening the stability of his country, declared in an ABC News interview: "We will win ... I'm sure about that."

Calderon, 46, will host President Barack Obama for two days in Mexico City beginning tomorrow. It's the first visit by an American president to the teeming capital of 20-plus million people in 12 years.

In the ABC News interview, Calderon admitted that Mexico faces serious challenges in stemming drug-related violence, but he adamantly rejected the notion -- advanced in a Pentagon report in December and echoed by some analysts -- that his country is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

"Absolutely not," Calderon said. "Mexico is not a failed state. It's a very serious, I need to say, an expression that in that moment caused serious damage to the image of Mexico. But finally, in my opinion, it's absolutely clear that Mexico -- it's a state that's working. It's working in order to improve the quality of life of our people. And we are moving ahead on that."

Calderon was frank in fixing some of the blame for the violence and crime in his country on the voracious demand for drugs in the U.S. -- and on American gun sales. Mexican authorities say 90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexican criminal investigations were purchased in the U.S. and smuggled over the border.

"Of course we have a problem, and the roots of that problem are related with drugs, with the consumption of drugs in the United States or with the supply of weapons," he said. "But my idea is not to blame the United States all the time, my idea is to talk about that, we need to realize and recognize that this is a common problem and we need to solve our common problem, we need to think with the way that together we are more powerful than any criminal organizations."

The Mexican president argued that the killing in his country increased sharply in 2004, when the ban on the sale of assault weapons in America expired. He suggested the ban should be renewed.

Assault Weapon Ban: 'Very Good Legislation'

"I would like to see more commitment," Calderon said, "in the sense, to review or check the legislation like the ban on assault weapons. I think it was very good legislation. During that period, we didn't suffer a lot, like we suffered in the four or five years."

Calderon is a lifelong politician, the son of one of the founders of the National Action Party (PAN), the political party that worked for decades in opposition to the ruling, autocratic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), until the 2000 election of Vicente Fox ushered in a new democratic era in Mexico.

But Calderon came to office under a cloud, barely winning the 2006 presidential election against the leftist candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, amid charges of fraud.

Threats Against Calderon

Now, he is a man with a price on his head, and he knows it. By taking on the drug cartels -- sending tens of thousands of troops to border areas, cracking down on corruption, arresting drug lords -- Calderon has made himself a target. The cartels have killed many high-ranking officials, and there have been open threats against Calderon's life. He is the father of three young children, whom he said he has had to prepare for the possibility of his assassination.

"There was a threat someday and one of them was very worried," he said. "And I told them nothing is going to happen to me, but if something happens to me you can be sure that your daddy is doing exactly what he wants to be doing. And I feel very proud about that and I feel very proud to serve the country in this particular moment and you must feel proud about me and happy about that."

Calderon says he spends about 20 percent of his working day on the issue of drug trafficking and violence -- far more than any other single subject, including Mexico's economy, now in recession.

On immigration, the Mexican president argues that the only long-term way to stem the tide of his fellow citizens crossing the U.S. border illegally is to provide more economic opportunities in Mexico. In the meantime, however, he supports immigration reform efforts in the United States, to regularize the lives of millions of Mexicans living in America illegally.

Calderon Criticizes Border Fence

"There are people who live in the shadows, as President Obama says. We need to fix the problem of the people living in the shadows," Calderon said.

And he sharply criticized the fence being built by the U.S. government along the border. Many Mexicans see the fence as an insult.

"I respect the rights of every single country to establish the conditions to enforce the law," Calderon said. "But I cannot say that it's a friendly attitude from one neighbor to the other. For me it's absolutely clear. And it's very curious for me. Probably the most important event in history, in 20th century, was the end of the fence of Berlin. And it's a little bit sad that after that there will be another fence in America, the country of migration and freedom."