Pubdate: Sun, 04 Feb 2007
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2007 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Author: Sam Enriquez


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

Since taking office in December, Calderon has sent thousands of 
soldiers to a half-dozen states, where they have pulled up marijuana 
plants and opium poppies by the hectare and searched thousands of 
vehicles at roadblocks.

He also has fast-tracked the extradition of some of the hemisphere's 
biggest drug kingpins.

Unfortunately for the Mexican leader, who put the drug war 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 did not get 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 in 2006, according to news 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 are safe places for their 
families, where their children can live and grow up in peace," 
Calderon told a meeting of Mexico's governors Monday.

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 low crime rates and statistics 
that indicate declining drug use among teens.

The U.S. military has cut aerial surveillance over Pacific Ocean and 
Gulf Coast smuggling routes by more than half and Navy patrols by 
one-third since 2002.

"Mexico is sending a clear message to the U.S., saying: 'We're doing 
everything we can, even more than you,'" said Mexico historian Lorenzo Meyer.

But he said Calderon must find a way to regain U.S. attention.

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.

Yet, no lawmaker in the Mexican Congress, even among opposition 
parties, has raised a legal challenge. The newspaper El Universal 
published a poll recently that showed that one-third of respondents, 
spread equally among the three major parties, approved of Calderon's 
actions; one-third said it was too early to judge, and fewer than 
one-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 said.

Texas lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would pay Mexico $850 
million in new 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," 
said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat. "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 past 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 
druglords - 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 phoned Calderon on Wednesday to commend him. And the U.S. 
government's drug czar, John P. Walters, said: "The boldness of the 
Mexican response 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 the Drug 
Policy Analysis Program at the University of California at Los 
Angeles. "Politicians are incapable of dealing with it."

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

Common sense, he said, suggests that Mexican law enforcement ought to 
attack "the side effects of trafficking" - the violent dealers and 

"Make the bad guys keep their head down," Kleiman said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman