HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexico Debates Stepped-Up Drug War
Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jul 2005
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Dallas Morning News
Authors: Lennox Samuels and Laurence Iliff, The Dallas Morning News
Note: Staff writer Michelle Mittelstadt in Washington contributed to 
this report.


Leaders Cite Arrests, Seizures, but Some Say Price Has Been Violence

MEXICO CITY - Mexico finally is fighting the war on drugs that the 
U.S. government has demanded for decades: a frontal assault on drug 
barons, their organizations and their merchandise, using the police 
and military in concert with U.S. intelligence.

The results, Mexican and U.S. authorities say, have been impressive. 
Forty-six thousand people jailed on drug charges, President Vicente 
Fox said in a recent speech, 97 tons of cocaine seized, more than a 
million marijuana plants destroyed. It's been four years, Mr. Fox and 
U.S. officials said, of steady progress.

But a rising chorus of voices in Mexico and the U.S. says the real 
results are record levels of violence, instability and corruption in 
Mexico, resurgent drug cartels, nearly 200 dead police officers and 
soldiers, along with millions of wasted dollars in a country where 
half the population of 105 million is poor. Mexico receives almost no 
aid from the U.S. government.

And the result in the U.S.? No noticeable drop in the supply of cheap 
drugs - and an actual decline in the price of cocaine, according to a 
new U.N. report.

Some analysts say Mexico's approach has not only failed to stanch the 
flow of drugs but is also destabilizing the young democracy. Mexico 
needs to turn back now, they say.

"The Americans pressure us to carry out a head-on drug war, and when 
the situation starts to get out of control, the Americans complain 
that there is violence on the border," said political commentator 
Jose Antonio Crespo. "There is no way of making them happy because 
they always have some reason not to be."

Before the violence spirals out of control, as it has in Colombia as 
a result of similar policies, Mr. Crespo said, Mexico should go back 
to pretending to fight an unwinnable war rather than fighting it in earnest.

"If the United States is not going to legalize drugs, then Mexico has 
to come to terms with the narcos," he said. "There were agreements in 
the past to let 80 percent of the drugs through, to allow some 
seizures for the Americans and for the media, and there was a lot 
less violence."

Mr. Fox said recently that is not an option.

"We have the strength, the capacity, the moral integrity to win this 
battle," Mr. Fox said June 24 to mark the international day on 
fighting drug abuse and trafficking. "What is at stake here is the 
future of our girls, boys and young people."

Mexico's Interests

Dave Murray, a policy analyst with the White House Office of National 
Drug Control Policy, said Washington understands the sacrifice being 
made by Mexico, but that it also is in Mexico's interest to fight the 
traffickers vigorously.

"It's been a horrendous fight for them. We have to salute their 
willingness to take on this fight," said Mr. Murray. But turning a 
blind eye is not an option.

"If drugs transit through your country and you think, 'Well it's just 
for those norteamericanos. The money comes to us, the drugs to them. 
What's the problem?' They soon discover drugs are left behind as 
payment in kind for services provided. And local traffickers soon 
become drug dealers. And to whom do they sell? To local kids," said Mr. Murray.

"The problems will become worse and worse as narcotraffickers corrode 
the system ... and you will find them growing into a power within the 
nation that can actually threaten the legitimacy and viability of 
democratic governments."

But that, critics say, is just what is happening now with the stepped-up war.

Northern border cities such as Nuevo Laredo essentially have slipped 
out of the government's control despite increasing deployment of 
soldiers and federal police, some analysts say.

More drugs are getting left behind because of the drug fight, they 
say, and addiction is up at home.

The nightly accounting of deaths associated with the drug fight has 
made public security the No. 1 issue among Mexicans in recent months, 
overtaking unemployment and the lackluster economy, according to a 
public opinion survey by the Televisa TV network.

Tourism to the Texas-Mexico border is down. For Mexican critics of 
the policy, an upside is hard to find.

Even the U.S. State Department acknowledges that not much has changed.

"Despite its intense law enforcement efforts, Mexico is the leading 
transit country for cocaine and a major producer of heroin, 
methamphetamine, and marijuana destined for U.S. markets," said the 
2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Further, it acknowledged: "As a result of the huge traffic in drugs, 
Mexican criminal organizations dominate operations, controlling most 
of the thirteen primary drug distribution centers in the U.S. The 
violence of warring Mexican cartels has spilled over the border from 
Mexico to U.S. sites on the other side."

Comprehensive Plan

Some critics say the two countries need a more comprehensive 
anti-drug policy that focuses on demand as well as supply.

"The policy is working in part, in the sense that we are catching and 
arresting the drug lords," said Sigrid Arzt of the nongovernmental 
organization Democracy, Human Rights and Security. "The problem is 
that the policy has focused on beheading the cartels without 
additional strategies to deal with consumption and things the U.S. 
should do in its own territory, such as decreasing the market.

"There will always be someone in line to succeed these drug kingpins. 
I mean, this is a huge economic business."

Mexico's anti-drug policy should incorporate "prevention, education 
and information," said Ms. Arzt, founder and partner in the 
organization. She said the government must do a better job of 
explaining to Mexicans why the drug problem is such a serious issue.

"People hear that drugs is a national security problem," she said, 
"but no one truly grasps the dimensions of tolerating this. We need 
to have a culture of understanding. And the government must work on 
building confidence in the actions it is doing."

A State Department official expressed a similar reservation.

"One of the things that the Mexican government could do a better job 
of is coming to the public [and saying], 'We have to stay in this for 
the long haul, for our survival. Do you want your kids to grow up in 
a violent and dysfunctional place?' Maybe that's what's lacking," the 
official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S.-inspired drug policies have been "a negative in terms of cost" 
to such countries as Mexico and Colombia, said Gary S. Becker, 
economics professor at the University of Chicago. He said the drug 
war has hindered Colombia's economic growth rate and "the 
preoccupation with cartels has hurt the country."

"Mexico may be moving in that direction," said Dr. Becker, who won 
the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992. "This is a very expensive 
process for the U.S. and other countries, and there's little bang for 
the buck, as it were.

"My conclusion is that we have to look at more radical solutions such 
as legalization of drugs."

Dr. Becker acknowledged, however, that such a development is unlikely 
any time soon, noting that "the vast majority of politicians are 
unwilling to take on legalization in any serious way."

The State Department official said neither Mexico nor the U.S. can 
afford to let up despite the prospect of "a long, vicious, difficult struggle."

"What's the alternative? Just let them do whatever they want and we 
won't have the violence? No, because then you'll end up with complete 
control by criminal elements. I certainly don't want to belittle the 
sacrifices ... but do you really want organized crime running your country?"



The U.S. State and Defense departments have spent $5.4 billion since 
2000 on the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, according to the 
nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The anti-drug program 
aids Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama and Venezuela. 
Colombia has received most of the money, about $4.5 billion.

"While there has been measurable progress in Colombia's internal 
security, as indicated by decreases in violence, and in the 
eradication of drug crops, no effect has been seen with regard to 
price, purity and availability of cocaine and heroin in the United 
States," the report said.

Meanwhile, U.N. figures published this month show that coca 
cultivation in the Andean region increased by 2 percent in 2004 as 
declines in Colombia were offset by increases in Peru and Bolivia.

Staff and wire reports


180 federal police officers and soldiers have died in the drug fight 
since President Vicente Fox took office on Dec. 1, 2000.

8,600 metric tons of marijuana have been confiscated, along with 97 
metric tons of cocaine, 1.2 metric tons of heroin and more than 3 
metric tons of methamphetamines. A metric ton equals 1.1 U.S. tons.

More than 600 presumed cartel operatives have died so far this year, 
mostly at the hands of rival drug gangs.

SOURCES: Mexican government and media reports


The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reports 
progress in anti-drug efforts, including a:

17 percent reduction in drug use reported among those 18 and under since 2001;

30 percent reduction in coca cultivation in Colombia, Peru and 
Bolivia since 2001;

50 percent reduction in opium poppy production in Colombia and 
Mexico, the hemisphere's two producers.


200 million people around the world, or about 5 percent of the global 
population, use illegal drugs at least once a year, based on figures 
from 2003 and 2004.

$322 billion was the overall retail value of drugs sold worldwide in 
2003, outstripping the individual economic output of 88 percent of 
the countries in the world.

$22,000 was the average inflation-adjusted wholesale price for a 
kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine in the United States in 2003, down 
from $23,000 in 2001.

SOURCE - U.N. 2005 World Drug Report
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake