World

Calderón: We are Winning Drug War in Tijuana

Soldiers patrol a neighborhood close to the Tecnologico University after a shoot out between rival gangs in Monterrey, Mexico,Tuesday Oct. 5, 2010. Mexico's drug war has claimed an unprecedented 28,000 lives nationwide since President Felipe Calderon intensified the crackdown on the cartels, deploying thousands of soldiers and federal police across the country in December 2006. (AP Photo/Carlos Jasso)

Soldiers patrol a neighborhood close to the Tecnologico University after a shoot out between rival gangs in Monterrey, Mexico,Tuesday Oct. 5, 2010. Mexico's drug war has claimed an unprecedented 28,000 lives nationwide since President Felipe Calderon intensified the crackdown on the cartels, deploying thousands of soldiers and federal police across the country in December 2006. (AP Photo/Carlos Jasso)

Mexican President Felipe Calderón said his country seems to be winning the drug war in Tijuana, with far fewer residents getting kidnapped and extorted.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the president said a crackdown on drug cartels in Tijuana, which borders San Diego, seems to be working -- but the same approach in other towns like Ciudad Juárez has not. Tijuana, he said, once was “seized by terror” but now it is “motivated by hope.” In contrast, he said, Ciudad Juárez is still reeling from violence between rival gangs that spun out of control across the border from El Paso, Texas.

"In Ciudad Juárez, unfortunately, there has not been the same degree of collaboration and constructive attitude that we have found in other places, like Tijuana," he said. "Instead of everyone working together, they preferred the easy way out by blaming everything on the federal government and the president."

During the interview, Calderón also called the U.S. hypocritical because of a ballot measure in California that would legalize marijuana. He said while countries like his are busy fighting the war on drugs, the U.S. is trying to legalize it.

"For me, it reflects a terrible inconsistency in government policies in the United States," the Mexican leader said.

More than 28,000 people have died in drug violence since Calderón launched his crackdown on organized crime in late 2006.

Tijuana is emerging from the most violent spell in its history, marked by shootouts between rival gangs, decapitated bodies dumped near schools and soccer fields and mutilated corpses hung from freeway bridges. 

Calderón said Tijuana's peace is precarious and acknowledged that the city's murder rate has risen this year. Still, he noted that the murder rate is below a record high in 2008 and that assassinations of police officers have almost stopped after dozens were gunned down last year in the line of duty.

Nuevo Laredo, along the Texas border, also settled into a period of calm after a horrific wave of violence in 2005 only to see killings surge again recently in a battle between Gulf cartel and the Zetas, a breakaway drug gang made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers.

Calderón said Tijuana appears different than Nuevo Laredo and other cities along the Texas border, where he suggested the fleeting peace resulted from a temporary arrangement between criminal organizations.

"That zone in the north — (Nuevo) Laredo, Matamoros, Reynosa — was in peace and nothing happened. Yes, but the moment that the Gulf cartel and its (former) associates, the Zetas, start fighting ... there's a tremendous bloodbath," he said.

Calderón said the only recipe for lasting peace is a strong government that enjoys the support of its people.

"It's the most costly path in terms of time, money and loss of lives," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.