Describing Mexico’s drug war an “insurgency” marked a major change of tack for the Obama administration.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s comparison of its southern neighbours’ battle against narcotics to the lawlessness of 1980s Colombia has sparked a diplomatic row.
“These drug cartels are now showing more and more indices of insurgency,” Clinton told an audience at the Council of Foreign Relations, a US think tank.
“All of a sudden, car bombs show up which weren’t there before. So it’s looking more and more like Colombia looked twenty years ago, where the narcotraffickers control certain parts of the country,” she added
Mexico disputes it risks losing territory to the drug barons as Bogota did two decades ago.
President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive to tackle the problem at the end of December 2006.
Since then, more than 28,000 people have lost their lives in violence mostly related to trafficking.
Most of the victims are those working in the drugs trade or the officials fighting them.
Mexico recently fired 3,200 police officers amid allegations of corruption.
The country’s drug cartels generate as much as 24 billion euros a year selling marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox said last month that the crackdown isn’t working and called for the legalisation of all drugs.
Fox wrote on his blog that it would “break the economic system that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn increases their power and capacity to corrupt.”
Felipe Calderon has called for a debate on legalisation but says he is personally opposed to the idea.
Across the border, Californians will vote on November 2 on a proposition to legalise marijuana.