Pubdate: Wed, 3 Dec 2008
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2008 The Christian Science Publishing Society


With an Internal War on Narco-Gangs, Mexico Needs the US to Reduce Its
Drug Addiction.

For two years, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has waged war on
powerful and violent drug cartels, deploying 20,000 troops and the
full might of the state. Nearly 6,000 lives have been lost - more than
all US casualties in Iraq. With no end in sight, Mr. Calderon now says
he can't win if the US doesn't do more to curb its drug addiction.

He's not alone in this plea to deal with America's

The US ambassador to that country, Tony Garza, said recently that drug
violence in Mexico would not be so high "were the United States not
the largest consumer of illicit drugs and the main suppliers of
weapons to the cartels."

Americans also need to worry about a spill-over of this war across the
border and the reach of the cartels into dozens of US cities. The
cartels sell $13.8 billion a year worth of marijuana, cocaine,
amphetamines, and heroin to US users.

Under President Bush, the response to Mexico's war has largely been
one of helping beef up law enforcement, which was sorely needed. In
June, Congress passed a three-year, $1.4 billion aid program called
the Merida Initiative to assist both Mexico and Central American
nations with fighting drug gangs. Dozens of Mexican narcotic kingpins
are now being extradited to the US for trial - where they are less
likely to escape, run their operations from prison, or further corrupt
law officers.

Mexico's war became necessary since Colombia suppressed its cartels in
the 1990s and Mexican groups took over much of the trafficking. Also,
the end of Mexico's one-party rule in 2000 ended unwritten agreements
that allowed some drug gangs to control certain markets. An end to
those pacts led to an eruption of battles for turf and even more
corruption of officials.

Last month, Calderon's former "drug czar" was arrested on charges of
selling secrets to a drug cartel. And with nearly half of all police
considered either corrupt or incompetent - they earn about $5,000 a
year - soldiers now patrol some cities where gruesome, drug-related
murders are the norm. Sweeping out corrupt officials is as big a task
as the campaign against narco-gangs.

With Mexico's governing institutions at risk, the US needs to do more.
Calderon has hopes that an Obama administration can better tackle
rampant US drug use.

Enforcement is still necessary but can be limited. A recent US report,
for instance, found efforts to suppress cocaine growing in Colombia
have faltered. Bolivia's leftist leader has thrown out US drug agents.

In his selection of a "drug czar," President-elect Obama needs to
place more emphasis on addiction as a health problem. One name being
circulated for that post is retiring congressman Jim Ramstad, a
recovering alcoholic who helped pass a new law requiring health
insurance to cover mental problems.

Mr. Obama should also set up a summit soon with Latin American leaders
to focus on all aspects of the drug problem, which now pervades the
hemisphere. A common front is needed, although each nation has its
unique challenges.

For the US, the main challenge is to create better and more drug
rehabilitation programs and provide other public services for addicts.

The US "war on drugs" should also be a "war on addiction." It is one
more way to help Mexico.
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