Drug wars

August 12, 2005

THE RECENT closure of the American consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, was the wrong response to the carnage playing out along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last Friday, on the same day that Ambassador Tony Garza announced the consulate's reopening, rival drug gangs vying for control of limited transit routes into the United States claimed their latest victims: the head of the City Council's Public Security Commission and his bodyguard. Both men were gunned down in what has become a routine occurrence on Nuevo Laredo's blood-soaked streets.

The embassy closure was more symbolic than effective. Mr. Garza attributed its reopening to Mexican authorities' promise to take "back the border from the kingpins and capos," something they have been unable to do so far. Meanwhile, drug-related killings continue throughout Mexico and grow more brazen by the day.

The violence is noteworthy not just because more than 800 people have been murdered in the last six months and dozens more have gone missing (including at least 30 Americans), but because half the murders occurred in cities, such as Nuevo Laredo, that border the U.S. The violence may jeopardize decades-long efforts to stem illegal drugs entering the United States.

This threat, not Mr. Garza's repeated criticism of Mexico's failure to stop drug traffickers and rein in the corrupt police officers who assist them, should be impetus for the Bush administration to step up technical assistance and financial support to help Mexico fight back. The criticism, though accurate, has strained relations between the two countries. At the same time, however, Mexico has been too resistant to American involvement in its drug-fighting efforts.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy say Mexico is the source of the majority of cocaine, heroine, marijuana and methamphetamines consumed in the United States, yet the administration gave Mexico only $37 million in financial assistance last year for counter-drug initiatives, far less than the $474 million given to Colombia, where the United States has been helping combat drug-trafficking and violent guerrilla groups for years. During that time, Mexican drug kingpins replaced Colombian drug cartels as America's top suppliers.

Mexican authorities say American demand for narcotics fuels the drug trade - and they may be right. That's all the more reason for them to acknowledge the corruption and limited capabilities plaguing their state and local law enforcement agencies. Though stopping the traffickers should be Mexico's job, the chaos in Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere points to the need for the United States to provide more assistance - and for the Mexican government to welcome it.

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