... And a Minus

The other side of the fight against drugs - squeezing off supply - has long been a tale of a few spectacular successes amid relentless failure. Weighing heavily on the failure side of this ledger is drug-related corruption in the countries where cocaine and heroin are produced or through which they're transported.

That facet of the drug problem grew darker with the recent news that Mexico's recently appointed chief of drug enforcement, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, has been detained on charges of taking bribes from cocaine traffickers.

General Gutierrez had been praised by US officials, including drug-control chief Barry McCaffrey. And the Mexican drug chief did, in fact, wear some laurels, having captured important figures in the cocaine trade. That, presumably, is why Mexico's president, Ernesto Zedillo, appointed him. Now it appears Gutierrez simply may have incarcerated those dealers who were competitors of his own handlers.

Gutierrez's precipitous fall from esteem leaves many in Washington, and doubtless in Mexico City too, wondering who can be trusted to stay out of the corrupting clutches of the drug lords. It has immediate implications for the imminent, contentious question of which countries should be certified by President Clinton as cooperative in the war against drugs.

US standards have been unevenly applied. But decertifying Mexico would accomplish little. Better to keep working closely with the Mexicans, and be glad they were able to net Gutierrez before he was able to further undermine enforcement efforts.

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