HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexico Now Top Supplier Of U.S. Drugs
Pubdate: Sun, 31 Jul 2005
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2005 The Miami Herald
Author: Pablo Bachelet


Mexican drug traffickers have shoved aside their counterparts in
Colombia to take control of the $4 billion illegal drug trade in the
United States.

Mexican drug traffickers have pushed aside their
Colombian counterparts and now dominate the U.S. market in the biggest
reorganization of the trade since the rise of the Colombian cartels in
the 1980s, U.S. officials say.

Mexican groups now are behind much of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana
and methamphetamine on U.S. streets, the officials say, with Mexican
law enforcement agencies viewed as either too weak or too corrupt to
stop them.

Mexico's role as a drug-trafficking hub has been growing for some
time, but its grip on the $400-billion-a-year trade has strengthened
in recent years. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
last month, 92 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States in
2004 came through the U.S.-Mexico border, compared with 77 percent in

And the Key West-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which
coordinates federal drug interdiction efforts and intelligence, has
reported almost 90 percent of the cocaine heading to the U.S. market
goes by boat to Mexico or other countries in Central America, and then
by land to the U.S. border.

Terror link

The increase has sparked several recent reports by DEA and other U.S.
agencies, as well as hearings in both the House and Senate. Congress
members, worried that the smuggling networks could be used to sneak in
terrorists, are pressing the Bush administration to spend more money
on programs to intercept drug shipments before they reach the border.

Officials describe the Mexican cartels as business-savvy, tight-knit
family affairs that operate weblike networks of international
partnerships. The Colombians cartels controlled the drug trade from
its production to its wholesale distribution. The Mexicans tend to
focus more on distribution, the business' most lucrative leg.

Anthony Placido, the DEA's top intelligence official told a
congressional panel in June that the Mexican gangs have links to
groups from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and ``street
gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs, who conduct most of
the retail and street-level distribution throughout the country.''

The Mexicans don't control the coca or opium poppy crops in South
America but are ''taking ownership of [drugs] and beginning to deliver
the drug themselves to Mexican distributors in the United States,''
said David Murray, a senior advisor with the White House's Office of
National Drug Control Policy.

14 'staging areas'

The DEA noted 14 cities as ''staging areas:'' Albuquerque,
Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, Los Angeles, McAllen,
Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Tulsa, San Antonio, San Diego and Tucson.

U.S. law enforcement agencies have uncovered over 30 tunnels below the
border built by drug traffickers. One congressional aide described
them as ``industry-standard tunnels that you would find in a mining

The Mexicans also offer a more varied menu of drugs than their
Colombian counterparts, who traditionally dealt in cocaine and heroin.
According to the DEA, Mexico is the second-largest supplier of heroin
in the United States after Colombia, and the largest foreign supplier
of marijuana.

Mexican gangs also are becoming a major force in the burgeoning
methamphetamine trade by setting up production laboratories on both
sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In 2004, a record 3,600 pounds of
methamphetamine was seized along the south-west border, a 74 percent
rise since 2001, according to DEA figures.

Placido said the administration of President Vicente Fox has had some
success in undermining Mexico's traditional drug smuggling cartels and
upped its cooperation with its U.S. counterparts. But new traffickers
and syndicates have risen in their place.

Officials blame a turf war among Mexican drug cartels for a wave of
killings and kidnappings along the Mexican side of the border that
prompted the U.S. State Department to issue three travel advisories
warning U.S. citizens to stay away, including one on July 26.

Clamping down on the Mexico-U.S. drug traffic is a daunting task
because the border is one of the busiest in the world.

U.S. government statistics show that last year 48 million pedestrians,
90 million private vehicles and 4.4 million trucks crossed from Mexico
into the United States. Another 1.1 million people were caught trying
to cross.

Police corruption

Then there's Mexico's police corruption, which Placido called the
``single largest impediment to seriously impacting the drug
trafficking problem in Mexico.''

Congress is taking note of the problem.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who oversees drug issues in the Committee on
Government Reform, has warned that the lack of effective border
controls could affect ``the smuggling of people, terrorists and weapons.''

Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, has introduced legislation to improve security
cooperation between Mexico the United States and Canada.

At a recent hearing he pointed out that 3,000 illegal migrants caught
trying to cross the border last year came from ''nations that have
produced or have been associated with terrorist cells'' such as
Somalia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek