U.S. drug officials nab record amounts of cocaine
By Alicia A. Caldwell
FORT BLISS, Texas — U.S. counter-drug efforts yielded record seizures of cocaine last year and forced drug traffickers to find new ways to try to smuggle drugs into the country, top drug interdiction officials said Thursday.
John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said U.S. authorities seized a record 316 metric tons of cocaine in 2007. The seizures, he said, have led to a 21 percent jump in the price of cocaine and a 10 percent drop in the purity of the drug.
Walters spoke Thursday at Fort Bliss, just outside El Paso, during a break in meetings with The Interdiction Committee, a multi-agency committee focused on stopping the flow of drugs into the U.S.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard and chairman of the committee, said the rise in drug prices shows U.S. anti-drug efforts are working.
He also said traffickers have been forced to find new ways to try to sneak drugs in, including the use of self-propelled semi-submersible crafts capable of carrying up to 10 tons of cocaine.
"We have forced them to change," Allen said, adding that U.S. officials are also seeing liquid cocaine more often.
But Walters said that U.S. operations alone won't get the job done, and he praised the ongoing efforts of Mexican President Felipe Calderon to crack down on drug cartels across Mexico.
"There has never been an investment like this before," Walters said, referring to a proposed U.S. aid package and the Mexican deployment of soldiers around the country. "We can't do this effectively without international partnerships."
Walters also reiterated his criticism of conditions some Senate leaders have proposed for the aid package, a three-year commitment that would provide about $1.4 billion to help Mexico in its ongoing fight against drug cartels and violent gangs.
"It needs to come in a form that is helpful," Walter said.
Some lawmakers have urged prohibition of U.S. funding for Mexican authorities accused of human rights, corruption or other criminal violations.
If the aid package pending in Congress is approved, it would allow for $500 million to be given the Mexican government this year to equip and train police and military units to fight drug cartels.
Increasing levels of violence among drug cartels, particularly in northern Mexican border cities where police are routinely being targeted by the cartels, is proof that the government's latest efforts are working, said Michael Braun, chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Braun said a similar spike in violence was seen in Colombia when the government there launched its offensive against powerful drug cartels.
"This is a classic turf war," Braun said. "An added dimension of the story is the commitment by President Calderon ... to take on these very powerful drug cartels. And when that happens, people, sometimes many people, are going to be killed."
But continued efforts by both governments will eventually lead to drops in crime in Mexico, Walters said.
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