Pubdate: Mon, 12 May 2008
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A13
Copyright: 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mary Anastasia O'Grady


Stories of campus drug use in the U.S. are so common that last week's 
arrest of 75 alleged dealers at San Diego State University was 
shocking chiefly due to the number netted.

The occasional big bust aside, the long running drug war has become 
almost background noise.

At least in this country. American nonchalance about drug use stands 
in sharp contrast to what is happening across the border in Mexico. 
There lawmen are taking heavy casualties in a showdown with 
drug-running crime syndicates. On Thursday the chief of the Mexican 
federal police, Edgar Millan Gomez, was assassinated by men waiting 
for him when he came home, becoming the latest and most prominent 
victim of the syndicates.

What the activities of the San Diego students demonstrate is that 
here in the land of demand, the "war" isn't taken nearly as seriously 
as in the land of supply.

The Associated Press reported that when undercover agents decided to 
investigate drug dealing on the San Diego campus, they were surprised 
at how easy it was to "infiltrate" the crime ring. All they had to do 
was to reflect interest in a given substance and suppliers appeared. 
The transactions at the university went on "in front of dorms, in 
parking lots or behind frat houses, sometimes in broad daylight in 
full view of surveillance cameras," the AP reported.

It's no secret that the narcotics trade is like a roach infestation. 
If you see one shipment or dealer, you can be sure that there are 
many others that go undetected. That's why such brazen behavior at 
the university should be disturbing to America's drug warriors.

The signs of an infestation are everywhere, making a joke of their 
40-year claim that any day now they will wipe out American drug use.

Yet if prohibitionists should find this lack of results troubling, 
imagine how Mexico must view it. That country doesn't even produce 
cocaine, but it became a transit route to the U.S. when enforcers had 
some success in curtailing supplies coming through the Caribbean in 
the late 1990s. That success didn't change the U.S. appetite for the 
mind-altering substances. Instead, drugs started flowing over land 
routes and Mexican cartels took charge.

Now they are rumored to be in control of most of the traffic from the 
Andes northward.

They are also suppliers of marijuana and synthetic drugs.

Prohibition puts value in their product, because customers at places 
like San Diego State are willing to pay the premium that illegality exacts.

A U.S.-Mexican joint assessment estimates that more than $10 billion 
in cash from drug sales flow from the U.S. to Mexico every year. The 
upshot: Americans underwrite Mexico's vicious organized crime 
syndicates. The gringos get their drugs and the Mexican mafia gets 
weapons, technology and the means to buy off or intimidate anyone who 
gets in their way. Caught in the middle is a poor country striving to 
develop sound institutions for law enforcement.

The trouble for Mexico is that, even if it understands that U.S. 
demand is not going away, it cannot afford to cede large swaths of 
the country to the drug cartels.

Thus Mexican President Felipe Calderon has made confronting organized 
crime a priority since taking office in December 2006. His attorney 
general, Eduardo Medina Mora, told me in February that the goal is to 
reclaim the state's authority where it has been lost to the mafias. 
But after 17 months of engagement, while San Diego students party on, 
victory remains elusive and the Mexican death toll is mounting.

Most of the drug-related killings since Mr. Calderon took office seem 
to be a result of battles between rival cartels.

Still, the escalating violence is troubling. The official death toll 
attributable to organized crime since the Calderon crackdown began 
now stands at 3,995. Of that, 1,170 have died this year. Especially 
alarming are the number of assassinations among military personnel 
and municipal, state and federal police officers.

The total is 439 for the 17 months and 109 so far this year. Many of 
these victims have been ordinary police officers whose refusal to be 
bought off or back off cost them their lives.

But as the murder of police chief Millan makes clear, high rank 
offers no safety. Two weeks before he was gunned down, Roberto 
Velasco, the head of the organized crime division of the federal 
police, was shot in the head. The assailants took his car, which 
leaves open the possibility that it was a random event, but most 
Mexicans are not buying that theory.

Eleven federal law enforcement agents have been killed in ambushes 
and executions in the last four weeks alone.

If U.S. law enforcement agencies were losing their finest at such a 
rate, you can bet Americans would give greater thought to the 
violence generated by high demand and prohibition. Our friends in 
Mexico deserve equal consideration. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake