The Mexican government has condemned comments made by the Undersecretary of the U.S. Army, Joseph Westphal, after he suggested the U.S. might need to send troops to Mexico and that organized crime groups could take over the country’s government.
Speaking at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Monday, the second highest ranking civilian official in the U.S. Army, described the Drug Violence problem in Mexico as an “insurgency.”
“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.”
His comments began after a question from the audience regarding foreign policy. Westphal said he didn’t want to ever see a situation in which “armed and fighting” American soldiers are sent to combat an insurgency “on our border, in violation of our Constitution, or to have to send them across the border.”
Westphal later retracted his comments, as originally reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, saying he "mistakenly characterized the challenge posed by drug cartels to Mexico as 'a form of insurgency.'"
"My comments were not and have never been the policy of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government toward Latin America," he added. "I regret that my inaccurate statements may have caused concerns for our partners and friends in the region, especially Mexico."
In a statement released late Tuesday the Mexican Interior Department said it “categorically rejects” the comments by Westphal.
The government specifically pointed out that violence in Mexico could not be characterized as a rebellion as suggested in the Army officials comments.
"Organized crime is seeking to increase its illegal economic benefits through trafficking of drugs and people, homicide, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and other crimes," the statement said.
"They are not groups that are promoting a political agenda."
It is not the first time Mexico has accused U.S. government officials of exaggerating the situation in Mexico. Last year, President Felipe Calderón protested after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mexico resembled Colombia two decades ago, when drug traffickers controlled sections of that country.
Drug gang violence in Mexico has reached unprecedented levels since Calderón deployed tens of thousands of troops and federal police to trafficking hot spots four years ago, vowing to crush brutal cartels.
Nearly 35,000 people have been killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this comment.