US, Mexico, and Drugs

Mexico and the United States are joined, inseparably, in the battle against illegal drugs. The trouble is, it's a different struggle south of the border than north of it.

The difficulty of the battle within Mexico is illustrated by recent events:

* In Ensenada, a city 60 miles from the California border, 18 people from three families were gunned down. Suspicions are this is the latest, and bloodiest, instance of the drug-related violence rampant in Mexico's border areas.

* A number of high-level investigators with an elite, US-trained police unit failed to pass required lie-detector tests when asked about contacts with drug dealers. US officials worry that intelligence they've passed to the unit went straight to traffickers.

* Swiss officials, gathering evidence in a civil suit aimed at seizing more than $100 million in allegedly laundered funds, have concluded that Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of the ex-president of Mexico, raked in millions selling protection to drug lords shipping their wares through the country. Mr. Salinas, jailed in Mexico on a murder charge, denies it.

The battle in Mexico, as these latest in a continuing series of stories indicate, is against lawlessness and corruption that eats away at legitimate authority. Drug money permeates the country's police and judicial systems. And it threatens to infiltrate the relatively clean Army which, at Washington's urging, has taken a more active role against the narcotics trade.

Significant progress against trafficking itself can only come with progress in the battle against corruption. The US should forge ties with officials it knows it can trust, starting with President Ernesto Zedillo. In this way, the US can work toward a more balanced partnership in which its influence won't be misinterpreted as bullying.

THE main US effort has to focus north of the border. Surveillance can be beefed up to keep more cocaine and other drugs out. But the crucial battle is against US citizens' demand for the traffickers' products. This requires determined efforts in schools, homes, and workplaces to convince people of all ages they have more important things to do with their lives than use drugs. It must also include more widely available rehabilitation programs to reduce the number of hard-core addicts. Such rehabilitation has to include an awakening to a greater purpose in life than the bogus ethos of self-gratification.

The battles against drugs on both sides of the border call for long-term commitment. Capitulation, in the form of legalization of narcotics, is no answer. It's a moral sellout. The drug economy, generating corruption in Mexico and social and moral decay in the US, has to be shut down by consistent efforts on all fronts - with demand the most important.

The battles against drugs on both sides of the border call for long-term commitment.

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