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