The United States is the biggest market for drugs, and also plays a key role in the distribution of the ingredients for their manufacture.
In June, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, praised the Mexican government for its cooperation in the war on drugs and against traffic in chemical precursors (substances required for manufacturing different drugs) since Vicente Fox became president in 2000.
The U.S. drug czar emphasized the cooperation between the two countries to curb production and distribution of methamphetamines, and the production in Mexican pharmaceutical laboratories of substances like ephedrine, and their distribution in the United States, was under constant surveillance.
Walters stressed that binational cooperation was essential for the success of the Synthetic Drug Control Strategy backed by President Bush.
Ephedrine is a building block in the manufacture of illicit methamphetamines, which are synthetic drugs of low-grade purity that can cause irreversible brain damage.
After a violent robbery of one ton of ephedrine from a laboratory in Mexico City, the secretary of public security, Joel Ortega, said that addiction habits had changed, with more methamphetamine and less cocaine being consumed.
According to Luis Astorga Almanza, of the Institute of Social Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, governments have focused on combating drug consumption and arresting as many drug traffickers as possible. This strategy has not worked, he said, and has had the effect of exacerbating reprisals by organized crime.
Astorga Almanza proposed focusing on the alternatives suggested by researchers at different institutions, and put forward the idea of creating, in Mexico, a specialist center for research into drug trafficking problems.
In contrast, he was against imitating policies implemented in other countries, such as Colombia or the United States, because they were designed for different contexts.
Rosa Hilda Valenzuela, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for seven decades, until 2000, remarked that the drug trafficking problem "is no longer a national, but an international one," requiring the design of global strategies aimed at the root of the problem.
A report released in June by the Ministry of Health said that in Mexico, 3.5 million people between 12 and 65 had taken drugs at some point in their lives, and within this population, 500,000 were addicts.
To address this problem, the National Council Against Addictions was created, as part of the Ministry of Health.
The council states that its National Survey of Addictions, to be presented this month, found cocaine consumption has dropped since 2003, but warned of the risk that this trend may be reversed, since the drug is easily available.
Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca told legislators in February that retail drug sales had tripled in the last eight years: 13,228 transactions were registered in 1997, and 33,885 in 2005. He said illegal drug dealing had become a matter of national security.
The attorney general urged legislators to penalize the sale of small amounts of drugs as a serious crime, and to allocate more resources to fight small-scale drug dealing. The draft law also specified what kind of drugs, and in what quantities, users could legally possess in their homes or carry around for personal consumption.
But this facet was frowned on by Washington, and also met with domestic resistance.
"We failed to inform people properly about this legal reform. It was misinterpreted and created confusion. That's why President Fox decided to veto it after it had been passed by the Chamber of Deputies," Lastra Marin said.
It was not about legalizing drug use, but about accepting that there are addicts who need treatment, he said.
The deputy added that if the law were reformed in this way, "as has already been done successfully in the Netherlands," drug dealers would see their illegal market shrink drastically.
Mexico also is focusing on measures to prevent addiction, and to provide for rehabilitation, as well as new laws to provide greater resources and broader powers for the state to combat drug-related crime.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Antonio Garza, has said drugs threaten the countries' bilateral relations, destroy families, generate crime and make the border zone extremely dangerous.
According to official figures from the state Youth Integration Centers (CIJ), which treat young drug addicts in the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, 80 percent of drug consumers use amphetamines.
The 2006 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, released in July, notes that 162 million people worldwide use cannabis (marijuana), 35 million are addicted to amphetamines, 16 million to heroin, and a further 13 million are cocaine addicts.
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August 3, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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