The top drug control official in the U.S., Gil Kerlikowske, is speaking out against increasing drug violence in Mexico and in support of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. In the most recent violence, 21 people died Thursday in a gun battle between rival gangs in Sonora, Mexico, just 20 kilometers from the U.S. border. In an exclusive interview, VOA's Carolyn Presutti spoke with Kerlikowske.
Every scene has familiar police markings - blood of the fallen, connections to drugs. Fifteen dead in a gun battle in Taxco.
Fifty-five more at an abandoned silver mine near that same tourist town.
And every time Mexican President Felipe Calderon calls for it to stop.
"We are dealing with security for the whole country," said President Calderon. "Criminals don't discriminate. This is a moment of unity and decision."
Mr. Calderon can count on the Obama administration to back him. Gil Kerlikowske is the top U.S. drug control official, commonly known as America's drug czar. He has a long history in law enforcement.
"I'm very pleased that, one, President Calderone is very courageous, in his administration, in taking this issue on," said Gil Kerlikowske. "And as he says, this is a question of who is going to run that country. Is it going to be criminals, criminal enterprises? Or is it going to be the elected officials and the appointed officials of that democracy?"
Crime experts say the cartels are running Mexico. Midway through Mr. Calderon's six year term, drug-related violence has claimed more than 23,000 lives. And lately, the targets have been political.
A deputy state prosecutor was gunned down in Ciudad Juarez, along the border with Texas.
A gubernatorial candidate was ambushed in Tamaulipas.
"I think history throughout the world, when it comes to law enforcement taking on organized crime, always shows an increase or a spike in violence as you confront them," said Kerlikowske. "That's horrible for the people in Mexico."
Kerlikowske spent years as a police chief in American cities, but he favors treatment programs over jail time for drug uses. He also praises Colombian President Avaro Uribe for lowering his country's coca production, resulting in less cocaine passing through Mexico into the United States.
"For many years, we would point our finger, particularly at Mexico, and say 'Please stop sending your drugs across the border to us.' And Mexico would say, 'Well look, if you weren't consuming so many drugs, we wouldn't have the problems we are having.' I think we're pretty far past that," he said.
With drug use high, Kerlikowske says U.S. scientists conduct 85 percent of the world's research on drug treatment. He says more countries should take advantage of free information to start their own treatment programs.