Mexico Hails Its Progress in Battling Drugs

Mexico Hails Its Progress in Battling Drugs
Posted by FoM on January 27, 2000 at 07:26:37 PT
By Mary Beth Sheridan, Times Staff Writer
Source: Los Angeles Times
The Mexican government boasted Wednesday that it has increased its seizures of marijuana and heroin and plans to more than double its budget this year in the war on drugs.   "We are dedicating resources to this like never before," said Interior Minister Diodoro Carrasco.The announcements came just weeks before President Clinton's annual decision on which countries to certify as partners in battling the narcotics trade. 
   In the past, fierce debate has broken out in Washington over whether to certify Mexico, a major producer of heroin and marijuana as well as the principal transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine from Colombia.   Failure to get a passing grade could lead to economic sanctions against Mexico, the U.S.' second-largest trading partner.   At a ceremony Wednesday, Carrasco was joined by the Mexican attorney general and the secretaries of the army and navy in outlining the achievements in Mexico's fight against drugs in 1999. Though they did not mention the U.S. certification decision, due by March 1, they appeared to be pressing their case for approval.   "Without doubt, the results we are evaluating today demonstrate the seriousness of our institutional commitment," Carrasco said.   He said Mexico spent about $160 million in the fight against drugs in 1999 on such things as high-tech equipment, recruiting and training. The total in 2000 will rise to about $430 million, he said.   Carrasco did not specify how that money will be spent and did not field questions.   He said the increased budget and greater cooperation between ministries contributed to the improved results, such as an increase in drug seizures in 1999 compared with the previous year. Authorities said they confiscated 7% more cocaine, 47% more marijuana, 82% more heroin and 418% more opium paste.   Officials emphasized their successes, but seizures of cocaine and heroin were still lower than earlier in the decade.   And the officials did not address a key concern of U.S. anti-drug authorities: Mexico's failure to capture the leaders of the country's powerful drug cartels.   U.S. officials have assailed Mexico's anti-drug investigations. On Sept. 24, for example, a top U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official, Richard A. Fiano, told a U.S. congressional subcommittee that "the investigative achievements [by elite Mexican anti-drug units] as related to cases against the major Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are minimal."   He said Mexican anti-drug units were understaffed and lacked equipment and that corruption was so pervasive the DEA used "extreme caution" in sharing sensitive information with Mexican officials.   Asked about such charges Wednesday, Mariano Herran Salvatti, the head of the Mexican version of the DEA, known as FEADS, told reporters, "I think this vision has changed."   He said authorities had arrested 46 members of the Mexican cartels' hierarchies last year, although they hadn't detained the top figures.   Herran Salvatti said Mexican units had proved themselves by working with their U.S. counterparts in Operation Millennium, an investigation that resulted in the breakup in October of a major Latin American cocaine ring and the arrest of nearly three dozen people, including seven in Mexico.   However, he acknowledged, the top Mexican operatives escaped arrest and are still being sought here.   Herran Salvatti also acknowledged that the figures on Mexico's drug seizures might not be as promising as they first appear. They could reflect increased production, he said.   He noted that traffickers have developed genetically enhanced poppy plants with a greater number of bulbs that mature more frequently. Narcotics smugglers also have improved their strain of marijuana seeds, he said, displaying a photograph of plants that resembled small Christmas trees.   "If they apply technology to their crops, we have to use it too," he said, adding that authorities were testing new fumigation techniques and seeking more intelligence on the drug fields.   Authorities announced mixed results in eradicating drug crops last year. About 38% more marijuana acreage was eradicated compared with 1998, while the destruction of poppy fields declined by 8%.   One bright spot in the drug fight was the role played by the Mexican navy, officials said. It confiscated 26 tons of cocaine last year, about 90% of Mexico's seizures of that drug. Nearly all of it was discovered aboard three Mexican fishing vessels detained in the Pacific, said the navy secretary, Adm. Jose Ramon Lorenzo Franco.   The navy announced another major seizure Tuesday, the capture of a fishing boat off the western state of Michoacan containing nearly 3.3 tons of cocaine.   MEXICO CITYPublished: January 27, 2000Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times  McCaffrey Hails Mexican Drug Fight - 11/10/99 Contact Group on Drug Control Meets - 11/10/99 Leaders Praise Cooperation - 11/06/99 Nations To Coordinate Drug War - 11/05/99 
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