Reigning In Mexico's Drug Cartels

Vincente Fox Mexico AP

For years in Tijuana, the only thing rising faster than the body count has been the profits of the drug lords — about $15 billion a year supplying the U.S. demand for cocaine and other drugs, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whiaker.

In fact, Tijuana's ruthless Arellano-Felix brothers cartel is so far-reaching, one brother is on the FBI's most wanted list, and so powerful Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, took an unprecedented step: vowing to capture them his first 100 days in office.

"We have declared war on organized crime," President Fox said. He put soldiers on Tijuana's streets. Still the drug lords remain free, and the president's 100 days run out this month.

Record Drug Seizures
Over the years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made some record-setting seizures of illegal drugs. Here are some of the largest:

Internationally:
  • Marijuana: 4,260,000 lbs. in Mexico on November 8, 1984.
  • Hashish: 290,400 lbs. in Pakistan on January 27, 1995.
  • Heroin: 2,816 lbs. in Bangkok, Thailand on February 11, 1988.

    In the U.S.:
  • Marijuana: 389,113 lbs. in Miami, FL on August 8, 1988.
  • Hashish: 75,066 lbs. in San Francisco, CA on May 24, 1988.
  • Heroin: 1,071 lbs. in Oakland, CA on May 20, 1991.

    Source: DEA
  • Mr. Fox may be the first president to set such a deadline, but he's not the first government official to try to put the drug lords out of business. But the others have proven no match for what people here call the cartel's "silver and lead." Silver, the money to pay off government officials. Lead, the bullets to kill those they can't bribe.

    The Tijuana cartel is tied to the execution of the city's last police chief and the recent torture death of three government drug agents. The day after Mr. Fox announced his crackdown, a drug lord in a neighboring state walked out of a maximum-security prison, allegedly bribing prison officials.

    Observers say the cartels earn almost $50 billion a year and are better armed and better financed than the government.

    "It's not a fair fight. A study several years ago showed that the estimated bribery budget of the collected cartels, five at that time, was about $500 million a year. The total bdget of the attorney general's office in Mexico City for the country was $200 million a year," explained Peter H. Smith, of the University of California at San Diego.

    "They have lawyers, they have doctors, they have accountants, they have engineers," said Jorge Cornejo, a jouranlist for La Jornada. Cornejo has gotten death threats for writing about the drug lords. He says President Fox has one six-year term to kill the cancer-like cartels.

    "It's a new president working the same old system, with the same old corrupt officers. It's going to take more than six years to change things here," predicted Cornejo. When asked about what President Fox promised, 100 days, Cornejo said, "Not even 100 years I think, but we have to hope."

    American officials hope President Fox has the solution too. But how many more tons of drugs, how much more violence and corruption before hope on both sides of the border turns to hopelessness?



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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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