- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

Riding the crest of the wave that swept him into the upset election for president of Mexico, Vicente Fox has declared war on corruption and drug traffickers. His ambitious proposal for a crackdown includes an increase in arrests of drug lords, border patrols and a sweeping overhaul of the law-enforcement system, which has been corrupted by traffickers.

In taking on what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) called last month "powerful organized crime syndicates" which pose a threat to U.S. law-enforcement agencies, Mexico's president-elect is doing what no Mexican executive has done before he is "calling out" the most threatening crime syndicate in the Western hemisphere, one which exports over one-half of the cocaine available in the United States, controls the methamphetamine and a large portion of the "black tar" heroin trade and which dominates the marijuana trade across the southwest borders of the United States and has found its way to several Midwest urban centers.

The Mexican cartels in Tijuana, Sonora, Guadalajara, Nayarit and Juarez that Mr. Fox is set on destroying are also responsible for the crime and violence on U.S. borders as well as the murders of U.S. law-enforcement officials most visibly marked in the clandestine graves discovered late last year.

Last month, U.S. drug enforcement agents busted a heroin smuggling ring based in Nayarit, Mexico, which was sending $7 million dollars' worth of heroin across the United States each month, from Hawaii to Georgia. This black tar heroin, higher in purity and lower in price, is reaching unprecedented levels of use as the drug of choice across the United States and across income lines, prompting the Centers for Disease Control to initiate a study which will be released during the summer. Mexico's proposal to open the borders to workers, therefore, poses new problems to the drug enforcement efforts.

"Si se pudo," (yes, we could) was Mr. Fox's National Action Party slogan, but it will take more cooperation with Washington and U.S. counternarcotics agencies to defeat the cartels. Previous Mexican administrations have tried but were too entrenched in the corrupt party machinery, which turned a blind eye to the developing dominance of the syndicates.

Mr. Fox's task is weighty, because it must by definition also involve an anti-corruption program in a desperate economy which has seen an increase in the disparity of income between rich and poor during the past few years and a plummeting education and social welfare budget.

To be sure, Mr. Fox has a popular mandate: Corruption, crime and drug lords are the reasons most voters pointed to including the largely undecided block of voters for giving their support to the new regime.

And Mr. Fox has generated enthusiasm and high expectations in both Mexico and the United States. He will soon head to Washington in an attempt to garner support for his opening of worker and migration policies in exchange for some of the cooperation he seems to be willing to concede in the areas of counternarcotics trafficking. President Clinton has invited Mr. Fox to come to the United States to talk about his programs prior to his inauguration in December.

He will need Washington's help in order to:

• Coordinate a strategy with Washington that goes further than the strategies of the past, including allowing DEA officials to carry arms across the Mexican border.

• Work with the Special Field Intelligence Program in the United States, which gathers information on Mexican-based heroin traffickers operating within the United States, particularly across the U.S. southwest border.

• Work with the U.S. on law-enforcement and extradition in the arrests of the drug traffickers, such as the arrest last month of Ismael Higuerra-Guerrero, also known as "Mayel," a major leader of the Arrellano-Feliz drug family a task difficult when no major drug traffickers were extradited to the U.S. in 1999.

• Convince the U.S. Congress to substitute the unilateral certification process on countries in Latin America with a multilateral agreement including countries that produce, traffic or transit drugs, and countries that consume them.

Dismantling a multibillion-dollar industry will not be easy with increased trade and migration and involves increased cooperation in apprehension, convictions and exposure of money-laundering operations.

Increased help from Washington and some flexibility on issues key to Mexican workers such as more open migration policies is necessary to make this happen, but the payoff would be great for the United States.

Pamela Falk is a professor of international law and trade policy at Queens College School of Law in New York.

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