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Napolitano: Mexican drug war 'not a failure'

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
February 27, 2012 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks at a press conference on Monday in Mexico City.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks at a press conference on Monday in Mexico City.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Homeland security secretary is on a 5-day tour that started in Mexico
  • She also will go to Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama
  • In Mexico, Napolitano said she still considers the country a safe destination for tourists
  • "Americans come and go freely to Mexico ... I expect that to continue," she said

(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Monday that the war on drugs in Mexico "is not a failure."

At a press conference in Mexico City after meeting Mexican Interior Minister Alejandro Poire, Napolitano called the drug policies of both Mexico and the United States "a continuing effort to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs."

Napolitano also said that among the things discussed at the meeting with Poire was how to have a more regional approach to a number of security issues threatening the United States, Mexico and Central America.

Asked why, in spite of efforts by both Mexico and the United States, the leader Mexico's most powerful criminal organization -- the Sinaloa drug cartel -- remains at large, Napolitano implied it's only a matter of time before Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman falls.

"It took us 10 years to find Osama bin Laden and we found him," Napolitano said. "And you know what happened there. I'm not suggesting the same thing would happen with Guzman but I am suggesting that we are persistent when it comes to wrongdoers and those who do harm in both of our countries."

Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001, and both Mexican and U.S. authorities are offering multimillion-dollar rewards for information leading to his capture.

Mexican reporters also asked whether the U.S. Homeland Security secretary still considers Mexico a safe destination. Twenty-two Carnival Cruise Lines passengers were robbed of valuables and their passports Saturday while they were traveling by bus in the middle of a shore excursion near the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.

Napolitano didn't specifically address that incident, but suggested she doesn't believe there is a generalized security problem.

"I think Americans come and go freely to Mexico all the time and I expect that to continue. It's a wonderful country. There are many, many places to go and to see. And obviously we also do a tremendous amount of commerce," Napolitano said.

The meeting with Poire was Napolitano's first stop of a five-day regional tour that will also take her to Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama.

Napoliticano was specifically asked whether the U.S. government is as concerned about the power of criminal organizations in Latin America as it is about terrorism. She called both terrorism and drug trafficking a global scourge, but pointed out there are important distinctions between the two.

"(Drug trafficking) has to be handled in a somewhat different way. It's a different type of crime and it's a different type of plague, but that's also why it is so important that we act not only bi-nationally, but in a regional way, to go after the supply of illegal narcotics," Napolitano said.

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