Pubdate: Thu, 22 Nov 2001
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Julie Watson, Associated Press


Tougher US Security Hinders Smuggling

TIJUANA, Mexico - With a vial of crack cocaine teetering between her 
fingers, a glassy-eyed woman pauses while rummaging through a pile of 
trash near the US-Mexico border, mesmerized by the morning traffic.

Nearby, a man in his 20s sits on the curb behind a parked pickup and 
lights a vial with a tiny white rock inside. A police car passes as 
he inhales. A forgotten hypodermic needle rests on the truck's tire.

Others shuffle by, their clothes and faces dirty as they awaken on a 
recent midmorning from sidewalks, abandoned houses and cars. Several 
approach an American reporter and photographer, wondering if they are 
potential customers for their goods - crack cocaine, heroin and 

''Looking for anything special?'' they ask in broken English.

This is the heart of Tijuana's drug district - the street called 
Ninos Heroes, or Child Heroes, a noble name for a place where 
Mexico's youth waste away smoking and shooting up on the curbs.

Long a transit country where drugs passed through to an insatiable US 
market, Mexico has seen addictions to hard drugs skyrocket over the 
past decade.

Now, officials fear tightened US border security in the aftermath of 
the Sept. 11 attacks may exacerbate the problem as smugglers try to 
sell their undelivered loads locally.

Mexican cities along the US border already lead the country's drug 
use as traffickers pay their transporters in drugs rather than money. 
Tijuana has the highest consumption of illegal drugs in the country - 
three times the national average, according to the government.

''We are watching what's happening on the border very carefully,'' 
said Edward Jurith, who leads the White House's fight against drugs, 
during his visit to Mexico last week.

Recovered heroin addict Jose Luis Avalos, who runs a drug 
rehabilitation center in Tijuana, said the longer the US government 
seals the border, the more dealers will be looking to the domestic 
market as an alternative.

Experts say Mexican border cities can't handle the problem as it is. 
Drug rehabilitation centers have grown rapidly in Tijuana over the 
past five years, with more than 70 centers housing some 3,500 
addicts. Another 2,500 are outpatients.

Avalos's group, the Integral Recovery Center for Alcoholic and Drug 
Addicts, is considered among the best. But state human rights 
prosecutor Raul Ramirez said abuses abound at some other centers. 
There have been cases of addicts being beaten to death, chained to 
walls and denied food in the name of discipline.

Ramirez blames the government for not doing enough for addicts. 
Failing to clean up corruption has fueled the problem, he said.

''The police know where the drugs are being produced, where the 
heroin, the cocaine are being distributed. They go by each week and 
get paid themselves,'' Ramirez said. ''The problem is extraordinarily 

Police deny involvement, but users say they pay officers to leave them alone.

Fernando Enriquez sits on the curb, dazed and smiling. The 
22-year-old lives in an abandoned house with a skinny dog.

''I learned my English selling crack to Americans,'' Enriquez said, 
sitting next to a blond, blue-eyed woman from Oceanside, Calif. She 
said she had been living on Tijuana's streets for five years.

Among Enriquez's customers are tourists from California who cross the 
border for the lower prices on crack, heroin and methamphetamines, 
which sell for less than $5 a hit.

When Enriquez has no drugs to sell, he works as a prostitute. At the 
worst times, he eats trash and begs. He has been living on the 
streets for six years, but said he believes he will give it all up 

''Yeah, I can give this up,'' he said. ''I'd give it up if I had a 
reason to, like if I had a son. Yeah, if I had a baby boy I'd leave 
this. I definitely would because I would want what's best for my 
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