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Trying To Stop Mexico Drug Trade

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Mexico is considered a pipeline for illegal drugs into the United States, with cartels supplying a large portion of the cocaine and other narcotics being consumed in this country.

Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo is in Washington Friday for a meeting with President Clinton, and the drug trafficking problem may be on the agenda.

Last week, U.S. officials released a list of a dozen suspected international drug kingpins, and six of them were Mexicans.

Jack Riley, the director of the Rand Criminal Justice Program, a nonprofit public policy research organization, spoke with CBS News Early Show co-Anchor Jane Clayson.

Mexico is the leading source of imported drugs into the country, a situation that Riley says has been developing over the course of the last ten years.

Riley says the drugs coming from Mexico include cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana.

"The meth is what is produced in Mexico and brought into the United States. But the cocaine that Mexico brings into the United States is actually coming from suppliers further down in South America," Riley explains.

"Ten years ago, the primary source of cocaine coming into the country was Colombia," said Riley. It shifted because of two reasons:

  • In the early- to mid-1990s, the U.S. was successful in pressuring the Peruvian government to shut down the air bridge out of Peru into Colombia. That shifted the cocaine production from Peru into Colombia. So Colombia became a producer of cocaine, instead of a refiner and exporter and that, in turn, helped shove some of the traffic and the middleman activity to Mexico.
  • The second reason is that the U.S. was successful in dismantling the major Colombian cartels. As the higher level trafficking organizations regroup, some are grouped around Mexican entities.
"Border enforcement, in trying to stop the flow of drugs into the country is a very, very difficult problem," says Riley. "I think it's fair to speculate that without any type of effort to stop the flow of drugs into the country, that the problem might be worse. But given the volume of commerce over the border between the United States and Mexico, it's a tough thing to try to stop the flow."

Riley sees "amazing creativity in terms of smuggling drugs into the country. I've heard stories about cocaine products being baked into sort of plastic forms that...were shaped to look like dog houses."

He says drugs are constantly being put in large shipments of agricultural goods that are brought into the country.

"There are on unlimited number of ways to get the drugs into the country," he says.

Riley says the Mexicans have a clear interest in controlling the flow of drugs into the U.S.

"One of the potential consequences is the buildup of the drug problem in their own country. To some extent, we're seeing some of the consequences in the form of some of the violence that is occurrig in Mexico. But I'm speaking more of a potential drug use problem that they don't currently have to the extent that we do," Riley says.