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Mexican President Unveils Anti-Drug Campaign - 2002-06-27

For years, drug consumption has been on the rise in Mexico, especially among the country's youth. Now, Mexican authorities say their nation is awash in illegal narcotics, due in part to tighter U.S. border controls in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Wednesday, Mexican President Vicente Fox unveiled an ambitious national anti-drug initiative. The program focuses on interdicting illegal narcotics and educating the public about the dangers of drug consumption. Mr. Fox says the need for the initiative has never been greater.

Mr. Fox said "In the last three decades, Mexico's consumption of cocaine has more than tripled. And," he said, "heroine, which was once found only in Mexico's northernmost states, is now distributed throughout the country." President Fox said of even greater concern is that children are consuming drugs, including ecstasy and methamphetamines, at ever-younger ages.

But if drug consumption has been on the rise in Mexico in recent decades, authorities say the problem has increased exponentially over the last nine months. For years, the vast majority of illegal narcotics that entered Mexico from Colombia and elsewhere merely passed through the country, bound for the United States. But that has changed since September 11. Responding to the terrorist attacks, the United States has significantly boosted security along the once-porous U.S.-Mexico border. Now, Mexican officials say, tons of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs intended for U.S. consumption are, essentially "stuck" in Mexico. Francisco Cayuela is an attorney for the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

Mr. Cayuela said "What is worrisome is that illegal drugs are now staying in the state. The drugs are being distributed to and consumed by the youth of Tamaulipas."

Mexican officials say drug traffickers, frustrated in their efforts to get their products to the United States, have begun targeting Mexico's youth as a secondary market. They say the sheer quantity of illegal narcotics being stockpiled in Mexico has driven down their "retail" prices on the street, making them more attainable for the country's young people.

Tamaulipas social worker Marina Arechiga says drug addiction is an underlying cause of much of the crime committed in the state.

Ms. Arechiga said "Most adolescents apprehended by authorities are drug addicts," she said. "In many cases, young people are arrested for robbery, but it is known that they steal in order to get money to buy drugs."

Wednesday, President Fox pledged to crack down on drug trafficking and to try to inoculate young people from the temptation to consume illegal narcotics. To that end, the government will step up interdiction efforts and distribute a book entitled How To Protect Your Children from Drugs (Como Proteger a sus Hijos Contra las Drogas) to parents and schools nationwide. Mr. Fox has called on Mexicans to unite behind the initiative, saying nothing less than the nation's future is at stake.