In drug war, the enemy is us

February 24, 1997|By Carl T. Rowan

MIAMI -- Mexico's drug ''czar,'' Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, has been thrown into a maximum-security prison on charges that he has received money, real estate and other gifts from one of Mexico's most notorious drug cartels. Two of his aides also have been locked up, one suspected of a kidnapping and murder last September.

The arrests come less than a month after the general came to Washington to get ''highly sensitive'' briefings about U.S. and Mexican plans to deal with the illicit drug cartels in Mexico, Colombia and other countries that are conduits of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drug shipments into the United States.

The power of money

This incredible compromise of military and police operations casts new doubts on whether the ''drug war'' can be won through military-police cooperation with the forces of neighboring countries. The money involved in peddling illegal drugs is so great that the cartels can bribe officials at the &L highest levels, including many in the United States.

In Mexico, it appears that bribes have become standard, supplemented with the assassinations of some officials who refuse to be bought. But there is no special bent for moral turpitude on the part of Mexicans. From Florida to Washington to New York and beyond drug money has corrupted policemen and officials.

This raises anew many questions about the U.S. ''war game.'' Is it reasonable to assume that at some point the military forces, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI or any combination of them will gain the upper hand over the drug cartels? It is not.

Are we ''solving'' the problem of widespread drug abuse when we build and fill new prisons with young men, mostly of minority background, who are guilty mostly of minor violations of laws that high-society drug users are breaking with impunity? We are not.

When, if ever, will we allocate enough resources to education, medical care and counseling to create a chance of drying up the U.S. appetite for dope, and thus reduce the supply of money that makes bribery and assassination so profitable for the drug merchants? If we cannot reduce the U.S. demand for these nation-crippling substances, high officials -- in Mexico and in the United States -- will always be susceptible to bribes and blandishments.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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