Homeland Security secretary doesn’t budge on U.S. drug policy

Casa Presidencial photo Ms. Napolitano with President Laura Chinchilla

President Laura Chinchilla met for about an hour Tuesday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The U.S. official told reporters later that among other topics, the two discussed the drug situation.

Ms. Napolitano, who is in charge of border security, immigration and the U.S. Coast Guard, restated to reporters the U.S. position on drugs. She said the policy was integrated and included interdiction, treatment and law enforcement.

Ms. Napolitano came to Latin America at a time when some leaders are discussing the decriminalization of drugs as a way to stop the cartels and violence. She came to Costa Rica from El Salvador and was to leave this morning for Panamá.

Ms. Chinchilla did not attend the brief press conference after her meeting with the Homeland Security secretary. And reporters were allowed to ask just three questions. They all involved the drug trade. The first sought her opinion on the consumption of drugs in the United States. She quickly characterized the problem as one of supply and consumption but noted that President Barrack Obama has dramatically increased the funding for drug treatment.

As she spoke, an international task force was on duty in the Caribbean and the Pacific in what is being called Operation Martillo or hammer. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Tuesday that Costa Rica is indeed involved in the operation, although the country was not on a list provided by the U.S. Southern Command.

The ongoing cooperation by the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in anti-smuggling efforts, including its ongoing patrols of Costa Rican littoral waters, are a significant contribution to Operation Martillo, said the spokesman.

The confiscation of 2,000 kilos of cocaine in the Gulfo Dulce near Golfito might well be added to the Operation Martillo list of achievements, said the spokesman. That was Jan 31 when a U.S. Coast Guard plane spotted three fastboats at sea and then Costa Rican patrol boats chased them to land.

The U.S. Embassy never mentioned the operation when it started.

In an earlier visit, Ms. Napolitano said the US was not losing its decades-long war on drugs.

She defended Washington’s anti-narcotics efforts Monday in Mexico City after a meeting with Mexican Interior Minister Alejandro Poire.

“With respect to, ‘is the drug war a failure and are we going to change our strategy?’ I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure. I would say however that it is a continuing effort, to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs,” said Ms. Napolitano.

Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón launched a military crackdown against the country’s drug cartels.

During her visit to Mexico City, Ms. Napolitano and Poire announced the United States will begin flying undocumented Mexican immigrants directly back to their home states instead of leaving them at the border where they could be targeted by criminal gangs.

Her visit to Mexico was the first stop on a five-nation tour of Central and Latin America. She also visited Guatemala, whose president, Otto Pérez, has called for a debate on the legalization of narcotics as an alternative approach.

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