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Regional Cooperation Credited in War on Drugs

Countries in the Western Hemisphere credit regional cooperation for recent progress in the Americas' war against illegal drugs. The upbeat assessment was made at a meeting of the Organization of American States' Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.

In his remarks to close the four-day meeting, President Fox stressed the regional nature of the drug problem, noting that the Americas both produce and consume more drugs than any other region of the world. He said the increased cooperation that has resulted from the commission's work has helped prevent the problem from growing worse.

Mr. Fox used the occasion to trumpet the success his own government has had in combating the illicit drug trade.

He said in the 23 months since his government took power, Mexican authorities have arrested 15,000 people for drug-related crimes. He said among them were 40 top drug smuggling chiefs. The Mexican president said that, on average, authorities arrest 25 people a day in Mexico on drug charges and that his government is keeping up the pressure, while, at the same time, promoting programs to reduce demand for drugs.

On hand for the event was the U.S. State Department's Director of Anti-Narcotics Programs for the Americas, Thomas Martin, who praised the accomplishments of the Fox administration and the cooperative efforts of governments throughout the region. Speaking to VOA, Mr. Martin acknowledged that the fight against drug smuggling is sometimes similar to squeezing a balloon, in that a successful reduction in output in one place often leads to an increase somewhere else.

But, he said, a comprehensive approach will work in the end. "I think the analogy to a balloon is a very good one, but I would also point out that a balloon has a very narrow neck, with a little device tied onto it. If you can break that by whatever means possible or if you can puncture it, then it will collapse," he said. "That is what we are trying to do."

Mr. Martin said the U.S. commitment to the fight against drugs was demonstrated by Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent trip to Colombia, where he promised more aid to help President Alvaro Uribe in his fight against drug production and trafficking. Mr. Martin said the United States is impressed by the determination of the Colombian people to rid themselves of such criminal activity.

"The Colombian people have indicated with their votes that they are fed up with the cost drugs have imposed, from the left-wing and the right-wing groups," he said. "President Uribe has pledged to address that problem very forcefully and the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Colombian people."

During this week's meeting of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha was elected president of the organization. The commission was formed in 1986 to coordinate not only the fight against drug trafficking in the Americas, but also the efforts to reduce demand and provide treatment for those who have become addicted to drugs.