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DEA Targets Tijuana Drug Ring - 2002-02-21

The director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, Asa Hutchinson, is in Mexico holding meetings with law enforcement officials there in an effort to stop the flow of illegal drugs. The main target of the DEA chief is the drug trafficking organization run by the Arellano Felix brothers in the city of Tijuana.

Coming before reporters at the Mexican Attorney General's office, Mr. Hutchinson said it was a top priority of both the United States and Mexico to capture Ramon and Benjamin Arellano Felix. Although, it is likely that some other drug traffickers might take their place if they were put behind bars, Mr. Hutchinson says it would still be a major accomplishment in the fight against drug trafficking.

"I do believe that their apprehension and the dismantling of that organization will have an impact on the flow of illegal drugs into the United States," he said.

The Arellano Felix gang has been operating out of the border city of Tijuana, near the U.S. city of San Diego, California, for at least two decades. Ramon Arellano Felix has been on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's most-wanted list since 1997 and yet neither country has been successful in eliminating the organization. In the past few years, Mexican police have captured some top members of the gang, but the brothers who head it remain elusive.

While many crime experts say the traffickers protect themselves with large bribes paid to Mexican law enforcement officials, Mr. Hutchinson was careful not to place blame. He said the United States is also working to fight corruption.

The DEA director also steered clear of controversies over the Mexican Supreme Court's refusal to allow Mexican citizens to be deported if they might face the death penalty or life imprisonment north of the border.

"As we deal in a spirit of cooperation, the DEA recognizes the sovereignty of Mexico," he said. "We respect that and we understand the limitations that you have to deal with in terms of your court system, your legislative bodies and your constitution. Whenever we have differences, we want to address those differences in terms of friendship."

For his part, Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha spoke of the successes bilateral cooperation has produced.

He said stricter border enforcement has forced traffickers to use sea routes and that cooperation between Mexican authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard had recently led to the seizure of a boat full of drugs. The top Mexican law enforcement official also emphasized the need to reduce demand for drugs, especially synthetic narcotics that are being used more frequently in both countries by young people.