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Biden, Hailing Mexico Drug Crackdown, Ends Move to Warn American Travelers

Times Staff Writer

A leading Senate critic of Mexico’s record on drug enforcement on Friday praised that country’s recent efforts to crack down on drug trafficking and related violence and called off an attempt to force the State Department to formally warn Americans that travel in Mexico is dangerous.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) withdrew his amendment to a State Department spending bill that would have required the travel advisory. It was tacked onto the legislation two months ago after Biden complained of official foot-dragging by Mexico in efforts to clear up drug-related crimes and other violence against Americans, including the slaying earlier this year of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena.

In withdrawing his amendment, Biden supported a substitute that was approved. It calls for the State Department to make written reports to Congress every 90 days on progress in investigating the Camarena case, the status of investigations into the disappearances of other Americans and on “the general safety of United States tourists” in Mexico.

Efforts Resisted

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An upsurge in attacks against Americans in Mexico prompted U.S. diplomats last year to suggest that a warning might be in order. But more recently, the State Department has resisted congressional efforts to take such a step, which some officials fear could strain already-testy relations with the government of President Miguel de la Madrid.

Nonetheless, the House adopted a resolution last month warning Americans that it could be hazardous to visit the Mexican state of Jalisco, where attacks have been reported against U.S. citizens in Puerto Vallarta. The measure infuriated many Mexicans, who complained that Washington was trying to embarrass and discredit their nation.

Mexican officials worry that such actions could scare away Americans and other tourists, crippling an industry that provides Mexico with more dollar revenue than any other industry except oil.

In a statement explaining his action, Biden said that he proposed the advisory because some Mexican officials were attempting to cover up the Camarena killing and the De la Madrid government had grown lax in efforts to stem the production of illegal drugs and their entry into the United States.

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‘Corruption and Violence’

“I believed that the corruption and violence perpetrated by drug traffickers in Mexico, and an apparent lack of commitment by the Mexican government to respond, could be a direct threat to the lives of Americans who might travel to Mexico,” Biden said.

Since April, the Mexican government has arrested several major drug figures suspected of complicity in the Camarena killing and begun what appears to be a thorough housecleaning of law enforcement agencies, Biden said. In addition, he said, the Mexican government has for the first time begun actively investigating the disappearance in Guadalajara last year of six Americans.

“However, this is only the beginning and much still needs to be done,” Biden said. “Most important will be the successful prosecutions of major drug traffickers, corrupt law enforcement officials and those responsible for the murder of agent Camarena.”

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