Pubdate: Wed, 15 May 2002
Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Copyright: 2002, Denver Publishing Co.
Author:  Ben Fox, Associated Press


TIJUANA, Mexico- The fifth man to serve as the U.S. drug czar Wednesday 
visited a city ravaged by addiction, corruption and violence to renew the 
vow of his predecessors to fight narcotics traffickers and stem America's 
appetite for their wares.

"We intend to drive down demand and we intend to go after those who are 
suppliers with renewed vigor," John P. Walters said as he toured a 
residential drug treatment center in Tijuana.

Walters, director of national drug control policy, visited the center as 
part of a two-day swing through Southern California and Tijuana, his first 
since he was appointed by President Bush and announced a goal of reducing 
U.S. drug use by 10 percent in two years.

The visit was intended to highlight drug treatment, enforcement and 
prevention efforts in the $19 billion federal anti-drug budget that Walters 

He spoke to a substance abuse conference in San Diego; flew along the 
border at night in a sleek Customs Service Blackhawk helicopter; discussed 
Tijuana's growing addiction problem with Mexican officials; and viewed the 
latest tools for inspecting trucks at a U.S. checkpoint.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy is evaluating anti-drug efforts 
and trying to determine whether authorities on the Southwest border have 
been stretched beyond their limits by the extra demands for more security 
following the Sept. 11 attacks, Walters said.

Some of the anti-drug efforts are "obviously having some effect," he said 
just before taking off in the Blackhawk Tuesday night. "The question is 
whether we can do this more systematically."

The U.S.-Mexico border region in Southern California continues to be one of 
the nation's major transit points for illegal drugs. In the past six 
months, authorities at five border points confiscated 166,000 pounds of 
marijuana, about 23 percent of the total seized nationally by Customs.

Tijuana has suffered as a result of its location, said Dr. Jose Hector 
Acosta, director of the 26-bed treatment center that has a waiting list of 
35 people.

The border city has a rate of drug use three times higher than Mexico's 
national average because it is the final stop in the route to the United 
States and drugs are plentiful in Tijuana as they are in few places in the 
interior of the country, he said.

Walters agreed with this assessment.

"Where drugs pass, where drugs are produced consumption begins and 
addiction sets in," he told reporters at the clinic, which was also visited 
by another drug czar, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, in 1999.

Tijuana is also the base of operations for the Arellano Felix drug cartel, 
which U.S. authorities have long said controls the regional drug trade and 
is responsible for police and government corruption and scores of 
drug-related murders.

In recent months, Mexican authorities arrested the reputed head of the 
cartel, Benjamin Arellano Felix, following the death of his brother, Ramon, 
in a shootout with police in the beach resort of Mazatlan. Two other top 
cartel officials have also been arrested over the past year.

Walters said it is too early to say whether the blows against the cartel 
have weakened its position in the border region, but he praised Mexico's 

"It is not true, as some people say, these things don't make a difference," 
he said. "We cannot get to the lower levels of the people who are involved 
in the market here and in the United States unless the most dangerous 
individuals ... are brought to justice."
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