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Mexico Claims Progress Against Drug Traffic

Times Staff Writer

Mexico’s “drug czar” asserted Tuesday that the three-month-old administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has made major advances in combatting drug trafficking, including seizure of three tons of cocaine shipped from South America.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Javier Coello Trejo, the head of Mexico’s anti-drug effort, said that in the last three months, officials have destroyed 4,635 acres of heroin poppies and 1,892 acres of marijuana plants and confiscated 90 pounds of pure heroin and 106 tons of marijuana.

Although denouncing U.S. “intervention,” Coello clearly made the announcement to coincide with today’s opening of a U.S. Senate “certification” hearing to determine whether Mexico is cooperating with the United States in drug enforcement.

‘Working 24 Hours a Day’

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“The facts speak, the figures show that we are working 24 hours a day,” Coello said. “We would be proceeding with these actions whether or not they certify us. The president of Mexico has been clear in rejecting a foreign country’s claim to certify Mexico’s performance.”

Last year, the Senate, led by California Republican Pete Wilson, voted against certification, but the House killed the action. Decertification of a country that produces or transships narcotics requires the United States to cut foreign aid and to vote against loans by international lending agencies.

This year, both Mexican officials and U.S. Ambassador Charles J. Pilliod Jr. moved to head off any potential criticism of Mexico. Pilliod called a press conference last week to laud Mexico’s progress.

He called Coello, 40, “a real competent man with a reputation as an honest tough cop” and added: “I don’t anticipate Mexico will be decertified. There is no reason for it. They are working with us.”

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U.S. officials here and in Washington previously had expressed concern over the commitment of the Salinas administration to fighting drug trafficking because of several high-level police appointments, including Coello’s boss, Atty. Gen. Alvarez del Castillo. Before taking Mexico’s top law-enforcement post, Alvarez served as governor of the state of Jalisco, where several Mexican drug lords operate with relative impunity.

In his press conference Tuesday, Coello said the Mexican government has increased its budget for drug enforcement by 174% to $53 million. He said the government created a new anti-narcotics force in the Federal Judicial Police, with a budget for 1,200 agents Many of the agents are still being trained, but should be on the job in the next few months, Coello said.

In addition to the police, Coello said 22,440 soldiers are assigned to drug eradication operations. He added that the administration has disbanded 39 drug rings, although he did not elaborate on their size.


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