USIS Washington 

24 February 1999


(Decisive U.S. response needs Mexican cooperation)  (840)
By Bruce Carey
USIA Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- "Organized crime groups from Mexico continue to pose a
grave threat to the citizens of the United States," Thomas
Constantine, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration,
told a Senate panel.

Constantine said to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics
Control February 24 that he had never before seen "any group of
criminals that has had such a terrible impact on so many individuals
and communities in our nation.

"They have infiltrated cities and towns around the United States,
visiting upon these places addiction, misery, increased criminal
activities, and increased homicides," he said.

"Most Americans are unaware that vast damage has been caused to their
communities by international drug-trafficking syndicates, most
recently by organized crime groups headquartered in Mexico,"
Constantine added. "On any given day in the United States, business
transactions are being arranged between the major drug lords ... and
their surrogates who have established roots within the United States,
for shipment, storage, and distribution of tons of cocaine and
hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine and heroin to trafficking groups
in the United States."

Constantine explained that cross-border drug traffic is no longer
dominated by Colombians. Drug distributors had for many years relied
on Colombian traffickers for the transportation resources to get
cocaine and other drugs into the United States. "However, over the
past five years, Mexico-based crime syndicates have gained increased
control" over trafficking, "resulting in increased threats to the
well-being of American citizens as well as government institutions and
the citizens of their own country," he said.

For many years Mexican drug organizations had dominated markets in the
Western United States. But in recent years DEA has detected increased
Mexican organization dominance in the Eastern portion of the country
as well, he noted.

"Statistics tell part of the story. From 1994 to 1998, Mexicans
detained ... increased dramatically, from 594 to 4,036. DEA arrests of
Mexican nationals ... increased by 65 percent. Most of these arrests
took place in cities the average American would not expect to be
targeted by international drug syndicates in Mexico -- Des Moines,
Iowa; Greensboro, North Carolina; Yakima, Washington; and New
Rochelle, New York," said Constantine.

"The damage that these traffickers have caused the United States is
enormous. Cities and rural areas from the East Coast to the West are
living with the havoc and erosion of stability that these individuals
and organizations have caused," he said. "Organized crime groups from
Mexico rely on violence as an essential tool of the trade. Much of the
drug-related violence which has become commonplace in Mexico has
spilled over to communities within the United States."

But Constantine emphasized that strong U.S. enforcement against drugs
and drug violence must be met by the kind of integrity in enforcement
on the Mexican side of the border that produced the victory over
organized crime a generation ago in the United States.

"Corruption is the central tool of the criminal protectors. The
criminal group relies on a network of corrupt officials to protect the
group from the criminal justice system. The success of organized crime
is dependent on this buffer, which helps protect the criminal group
from both civil and criminal government action," Constantine observed.

"It is imperative to have strong institutions ... to minimize the
damage that organized crime can inflict on society. Aggressive, honest
law enforcement, sophisticated legal tools, and the will to mount a
sustained attack on organized crime are essential," he argued. "The
ability of any government to attack powerful criminal organizations is
dependent on the existence of honest, dedicated law-enforcement

"To attain this goal, meaningful anti-corruption initiatives which
lead to sound criminal investigations and prosecutions of corrupt
officials must be aggressively pursued.

"Only when implementation of these measures results in widespread
behavioral changes can success be realized by an honest cadre of
law-enforcement officials against the major Mexican drug-trafficking
mafias," Constantine declared.

"History has tought us that organized crime groups depend on an
environment of corruption and intimidation to survive. Until the
environment is changed -- as in the United States -- syndicates are
able to insulate themselves into national institutions and damage the
foundations of any society they target," he said.

In the case of Mexico, unfortunately, conditions have allowed crime
organizations "to grow even stronger" in the past few years, he
pointed out. There exists "little law-enforcement activity leading to
the arrest of major traffickers." Because they do not fear law
enforcement, traffickers have been able to work to undermine
legitimate investigations.

"It will take time" to stop drugs in Mexico, he conceded. "And many
changes need to be made in law-enforcement institutions ... to ensure
that the rule of law is paramount in their struggle against these

Constantine concluded by warning that "law-enforcement reform can take
many years and ... change can be exceedingly slow."