Pubdate: Mon, 29 Jan 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sam Enriquez, Times Staff Writer
Note: Carlos Martinez and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City 
Bureau contributed to this report.
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


President Felipe Calderon Comes Out Swinging, but the U.S. Is Now in 
Another Arena.

MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. war on drugs has seldom seen a more willing 
recruit than Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Since taking office last month, Calderon has sent thousands of 
soldiers to half a dozen states, where they have pulled up pot plants 
and opium poppies by the hectare and searched thousands of vehicles 
at military roadblocks. He also has fast-tracked the extradition of 
men reputed to be among the hemisphere's biggest kingpins.

But unfortunately for the Mexican leader, who put the 
drug-trafficking battle at the top of his nation's domestic agenda, 
the issue that once was a staple of U.S. political speeches has 
fallen so far off the radar that for the first time in years it 
didn't warrant a mention in President Bush's State of the Union address.

Drug-related violence, meanwhile, has gone from bad to gruesome in 
Mexico, where traffickers have tossed hand grenades at enemies and 
left severed heads as messages. More than 2,000 Mexicans died in such 
carnage last year, according to media tallies.

Calderon has signaled that he'll ask for millions of dollars in U.S. 
aid to continue his campaign and extend it nationwide.

"The Mexican people are demanding that their parks, their streets, 
their schools, their neighborhoods be safe places for their families, 
where their children can live and grow up in peace," Calderon told a 
meeting of Mexico's governors last week.

The war against drug criminals, he added, "is a permanent fight."

But the U.S. war on drugs has been overshadowed by the war in Iraq, 
and its urgency has been tempered by historically low crime rates 
domestically and statistics that indicate declining drug use among 
American teenagers. The Times reported last week that the U.S. 
military had cut aerial surveillance over Pacific and Gulf Coast 
smuggling routes by more than half and Navy patrols by a third since 2002.

"Mexico is sending a clear message to the U.S., saying, 'We're doing 
everything we can, even more than you,' " Mexico historian Lorenzo 
Meyer said. "The U.S. ambassador won't be able to moan about Mexico 
not fighting crime."

Calderon must find a way to turn U.S. attention back to his 
advantage, Meyer said.

Calderon has no such challenge at home, where his crackdown enjoys 
broad support, despite the shaky legal ground of his military 
roadblocks. Mexicans have the same protections against unwarranted 
government searches as Americans do, said John M. Ackerman, a law 
professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National 
Autonomous University of Mexico. "The whole thing is of questionable 
constitutionality," he said.

Yet no lawmaker in the Mexican Congress, even among opposition 
parties, has raised a legal challenge. The newspaper El Universal 
published a poll last week showing a third of respondents, spread 
equally among all three major parties, approved of Calderon's 
actions; a third said it was too early to judge; and fewer than a 
fifth were opposed.

But without more U.S. help, Mexico stands little chance of winning a 
direct confrontation with sophisticated and brutal traffickers who 
have established a near monopoly in the estimated $65-billion U.S. 
drug market, analysts say.

Several Texas lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would pay Mexico 
$850 million in federal funds over five years for training police and 
prosecutors. It would more than double the $69 million a year Mexico gets now.

"The stars are finally aligned with Calderon, who is willing to work 
with the United States, who's extraditing criminals, and who's 
willing to send troops into hot spots and take on organized crime," 
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. "U.S. leaders have always 
said Mexico needs to do more, and now we have a Mexican president doing more."

Under pressure from the United States, nearly all new Mexican 
presidents over the last three decades have taken office with 
promises to crack down on smugglers and the government corruption 
that keeps them in business. But ties between Mexican officials and 
drug lords -- some proven, others not -- have scandalized every 
Mexican administration since the 1960s.

Calderon's campaign against Mexico's continuing drug violence, which 
makes daily headlines here, has not gone unnoticed north of the border.

Bush telephoned Calderon on Wednesday to commend him. And the U.S. 
government's drug czar, John P. Walters, said last week that "the 
boldness of the Mexican response here obviously calls upon us to 
continue, and to match that with our own boldness at home."

Despite the praise, the U.S. drug war "is nowhere on the political 
agenda," said Mark Kleiman, a professor and director of UCLA's Drug 
Policy Analysis Program. Kleiman argues that lack of political 
attention to drug policy is a good thing. "Politicians are incapable 
of dealing with it," he said.

Despite high-profile arrests and record annual seizures, he said, a 
steady supply of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine has 
been available in the U.S. since President Nixon famously declared 
drugs to be America's "public enemy No. 1."

Common sense, Kleiman said, suggests that Mexican law enforcement 
ought to attack "the side effects of trafficking" -- the violent 
dealers and organizations. Calderon has the right idea, to put 
pressure on competing drug cartels until they stop assassinating 
police officers, bystanders and one another's members, Kleiman said. 
"Make the bad guys keep their head down." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake