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Whose drug problem?

7 February 2005

What’s behind the drug-violence flap?
BY FRED ROSEN/The Herald MexicoFebruary 06, 2005

Many Mexicans have become fatalistic about the burgeoning transnational drug trade based in their country and even about its attendant violence. A recent Parametria poll reports that 54 percent of those questioned believe there is no way to bring the major drug traffickers under control, and a surprising 9 percent feel the illicit trade actually benefits the country for the hard currency it brings in.

But that fatalism vanishes when it comes to perceived U.S. criticism and interference in the country’s internal affairs, even when that criticism is directed at the universally acknowledged violence emanating from the illicit drug trade.

Mexicans across the entire political spectrum react strongly against any implied criticism of their domestic affairs, especially when it comes from north of the border. Among other things, they worry about the hidden intentions that may (or may not) lie beneath the criticisms.


The latest round of perceived interference took place last month as U.S. officials publicly took Mexican authorities to task for their inability to bring drug-related violence under control. The criticism followed wire service reports of a number of U.S. citizens who had disappeared presumably having been kidnapped in Nuevo Laredo and Piedras Negras, Mexican cities on the U.S.-Mexico border.


The U.S. press has responded with story after story of how neither Mexican police nor Mexican prisons have been able (nor, perhaps, willing) to contain the drug violence. Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, opined last week in a public letter that the violence “…could have a chilling effect on the crossborder exchange, tourism and commerce so vital to the region’s prosperity.” Mexican police, he said, seem incapable of dealing with it.

On the face of it, Garza’s letter was not unreasonable, but Vicente Fox, a decidedly pro-U.S. president, reacted strongly to it. “Mexico’s fight against drug trafficking is firm,” said Fox in a public statement. “The Mexican government does not admit judgment from any foreign government about political actions taken to confront its problems.”

Secretary of Government Santiago Creel, a likely PAN presidential candidate, reacted even more strongly. In response to U.S. criticism that imprisoned drug lords were able to orchestrate the escalating violence from behind bars, Creel responded that at least Mexico was putting the capos in jail. “I would like to see more drug lords in United States prisons,” he remarked.
The Mexican press has by and large backed Creel. The principal illicit drug market is in the United States, goes the Mexican version of the story: The cartels, much like the undocumented workers who cross the border illegally, are only responding to market signals emanating from an outof-control U.S. drug culture.


The Bush Administration has no apparent interest in improving bilateral relations anywhere except on its own terms. That makes bargaining difficult and raises the suspicion that the latest round of mild criticism from the U.S. ambassador may be meant to soften up the Mexicans for some stillunnamed concessions. Historical paranoia, that is, may in this case be reasonable wariness.


Courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency:

The US is the major consumer of cocaine , heroin, marijuana, and increasingly methamphetamine from Mexico; consumer of high-quality Southeast Asian heroin; illicit producer of cannabis, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and methamphetamine; money-laundering center .

Mexican opium poppy cultivation (2001 figures): 4,400 hectares; cannabis (2001 figures) 4,100 hectares); government eradication efforts have been key in keeping illicit crop levels low; major supplier of heroin and largest foreign supplier of marijuana and methamphetamine to the US market.

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