Increased Enforcement Disrupts Drug Supply From Mexico, White House Says

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; Page A09

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 1 -- Mexico's crackdown on drug cartels and stepped-up U.S. border enforcement have disrupted the flow of illegal drugs and caused cocaine supply shortages in 37 U.S. cities, including Washington, according to a report scheduled for release Tuesday by the White House drug policy office.

Cocaine prices have nearly doubled in some cities and soared from a nationwide average of $95.89 a gram during the first quarter of this year to $118.70 in the second quarter, the report says. Law enforcement officials track drug supply levels in part by monitoring prices. Rising prices typically indicate reduced supplies.

Larry Birns of the nonprofit Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a frequent critic of U.S. drug policy, dismissed the numbers as "seasonal" blips.

"The long-term trend is prices remaining constant or going down," Birns said in an interview from his Washington office. "Law enforcement agencies claiming successes in this anti-drug battle is somewhat illusory."

The cocaine supply figures are part of a rollout of new data -- and the declassification of parts of the Bush administration's strategic counternarcotics plan -- by White House drug officials who were criticized last month by the Government Accountability Office.

The watchdog agency accused the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy of not coordinating sufficiently with Mexican law enforcement during a time when Mexican cartels penetrated nearly all regions of the United States and took in up to $23 billion annually in revenue. The White House paints a rosier picture, citing "a robust counterdrug relationship between the United States and Mexico," according to a summary of the declassified plan obtained by The Washington Post.

"This is historic progress," John Walters, director of the White House drug policy office, said in a telephone interview from Washington on Monday. "We've never worked better together."

Walters also said that "we're a couple of days away from releasing details" of a massive aid package to help Mexico fight drug cartels. "We're finalizing things."

The aid package is expected to be the largest U.S. anti-drug endeavor overseas since the 2000 launch of Plan Colombia, a multibillion-dollar campaign designed to eradicate coca and erode support for Marxist rebels. The Mexico proposal, which will likely require congressional approval, will probably have two phases, a top Bush administration official said Monday. The first phase, which would include money for training and equipment, would be "just shy of $1 billion," the official said.

Independent of the aid package, the Bush administration says it is engaged in reshaping its drug strategy along nearly 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The strategic counternarcotics plan, which Walters plans to release Tuesday in San Diego after meeting with state, federal and local law enforcement officials, calls for more efficient distribution of information among U.S. agencies and for U.S. officials to share more information with Mexican law enforcement.

"Unfortunately this information is not adequately compiled, analyzed and disseminated throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities," the summary says.

Without going into detail, the summary also says the United States will increase resources dedicated to stopping drugs at ports of entry along the border by employing "ground-breaking technology and time-tested tactics, such as the use of K-9 units." The plan also calls for the deployment of more aircraft to "eliminate air travel's utility to criminals."

The U.S. plan praises Mexico, saying President Felipe Calder´┐Żn's "recent aggressive actions have sent a strong and promising signal." Mexico destroys most of the opium and marijuana crops there each year, the summary says. And the United States is "assisting Mexico in the establishment of a command, control and intelligence center," the summary says.

Mexico has been particularly effective at reducing importation of chemicals used to produce methamphetamines, shaving imports from 216 metric tons in 2004 to 12 metric tons in 2007, according to a copy of Walters's presentation. Walters predicts a "significant impact" on the amount of methamphetamines reaching the United States within the next three months.

The impact of reduced cocaine supplies is already being felt, Walters says. Positive results in workplace drug tests have dropped in an "unprecedented" fashion, according to a study by test provider Quest Diagnostics that Walters plans to release Tuesday. In the first six months of 2007, the study says, the number of positive drug tests plummeted 15.9 percent.

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