Pubdate: Tue, 05 Nov 2002
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2002 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author:  Will Weissert


MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico, long focused on the war against top drug lords 
and cartels that smuggle narcotics to the United States, must do more to 
curb its own fast-rising drug-use and addiction rates, President Vicente 
Fox said Saturday.

Two days before he is scheduled to unveil his government's aggressive, 
five-year anti-drug strategy, Fox said the new plan will push for improved 
drug treatment and prevention programs nationwide and work to impose 
tougher punishments for those caught selling drugs on Mexico's streets.

"In the past they talked about drug production and smuggling to the large 
market in the United States," Fox said in his weekly radio address. "But 
now the problem is hitting much closer to home because it affects our 
children, our young people."

For decades dubbed a "transit" country that drugs flowed through on their 
way to an insatiable market on America's streets, law enforcement officials 
on both sides of the border now agree Mexico is beginning to look more like 
a drug "consumer" nation.

The number of Mexicans addicted to hard drugs has skyrocket over the past 
decade and addicts have begun congregating in border towns where drugs are 
easily available and law enforcement often looks the other way.

Mexican drug use is still well below U.S. levels, but Fox acknowledged that 
it is rising fast. He said Mexico's past emphasis on busting up major 
smuggling gangs that move drugs across the border has forced smugglers to 
cultivate a Mexican market for their products.

"We were so busy focusing on that task that we failed to take care of the 
health of our own young people," he said. "That can't happen."

Fox's administration has been responsible for the arrest of several 
high-profile kingpins this year, including Benjamin Arellano Felix, the 
alleged leader of the Arellano Felix smuggling gang.

Fox, who appeared on the radio with Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la 
Concha and his administration's top drug-addiction adviser, took a call 
from Hugo Ernesto Garcia, a 20-year-old who said drug dealers now hang out 
on every street corner in his working-class neighborhood in northwest 
Mexico City.

"They deliver (drugs) to your house like pizza," Garcia told the president, 
adding that the police often protect drug pushers in exchange for small bribes.

Another 20-year-old caller said Mexico's drug problem "was now such a 
normal part of life" that there was very little Fox's government could do 
about it.

Fox responded by calling on Mexican families to make sure their children 
weren't using or selling drugs.

"This is a job that clearly the government should do, wants to do and is 
going to do," he said. "But in no way is the government capable of winning 
this battle without the cooperation of young people themselves and their 
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