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The Drug War With Mexico

The discovery of bodies of suspected drug-cartel victims on an arid Mexican ranch may have reverberations 2,000 miles away when Congress debates in March whether Mexico is a cooperating ally in the war on narcotics.

The Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson spoke to White House Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey, to get a closer look at how the government views Mexico in its compliance with the U.S. in this multinational drug war.

While U.S. officials are praising Mexico's cooperation in allowing the FBI to participate in the exhumations of as many as 100 victims, the grisly operation offers vivid evidence of the lawlessness in regions controlled by Mexico's drug kingpins.

"What we're really talking about is the most powerful organized crime systems in the world," said Thomas Constantine, who retired as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration earlier this year. "They create more damage in the United States than they ever have before."

U.S. lawmakers, who have chafed at Mexico's inability to crack down on the drug cartels, will be called on in March to decide whether to certify Mexico and other drug-producing countries as cooperative allies. De-certification could lead to economic sanctions and loss of foreign aid.

Certification of Mexico, which is the transit point for an estimated 70 percent of all illicit drugs smuggled into the United States, has been hotly debated on Capitol Hill in recent years. But it would take a two-thirds vote by Congress to overturn a presidential certification recommendation, and the Clinton administration has been a staunch ally of Mexico.

"The U.S. is a giant engine sucking drugs through Mexico, better part of $57 billion a year," says Gen. McCaffrey. "I think what you are seeing is the primary threat to Mexican national securityÂ…the drug effort."

The U.S. has no choice but to remain allied with Mexico to combat trafficking, McCaffrey argued.

"We have the biggest open border on the face of the earth. Three hundred million people cross that border each year, and 80 to 100 million cars and trucks," McCaffrey said. "We have no option but to work with Mexico...on the enormous common drug problem that threatens all of us."

By one U.S. government estimate, the drug traffickers spend as much as $6 billion annually in bribes to Mexican officials. But McCaffrey said the courage of Mexican officials who are combating the drug trade at great personal risk cannot be ignored.

"They are scared. But they are determined not to hand over their own future to those enormously frightening criminal organizations," he said.