Tijuana's Drug Boom Reflects Mexico's New Problem Despite headlines devoted to bloody battles between Mexico's drug cartels, there is something even more dangerous happening in Mexico's cities: a booming drug trade. With drug dealing inside Mexico up drastically, the effects are obvious in Tijuana, where the chief of police says arrests of petty drug dealers are up more than 400 percent.

Tijuana's Drug Boom Reflects Mexico's New Problem

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

We hear a fair amount about the cartels that run drugs across the border from Mexico, and we also hear about the bloody battles they fight against each other. Well, the Mexican government says there is something even more dangerous happening in Mexico's cities. Statistics show that drug dealing inside the country is up drastically. Take the city of Tijuana - the chief of police there says arrests of petty drug dealers are up over 400 percent.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the story.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm standing on a main street in Tijuana. In front of me is a dianita, a shop that sells crystal meth. Addicts knock, hand over money, and they get their their drugs passed to them through a hole in the door.

What's happening here is part of rising tide of drug dealing in Mexico. It's not unusual. Before, most drugs used to head to the United States. Mexico was simply a trans-shipment point. Now this country's becoming a consumer nation in its own right.

Mr. LUIS JAVIER ALGORI(ph) (Director, Tijuana Public Security): (Through Translator) It is not only just a problem. It is the main problem in this city in regards to public safety. Drug dealing has exploded all over the country, but we can see it a lot here in the border towns. We're extremely worried.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luis Javier Algori is the director of public security in Tijuana. He says the practice is spreading at an alarming rate.

MR. ALGORI: (Through Translator) We have very composite figures. In 2003, the police in Tijuana detained 1244 people for selling drugs. In 2004 it was stable, about the same. In 2005, it doubled to over 2500. But so far this year up until July, there have been 5742 people arrested. That's a 462 percent increase.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: More drug dealing means more addicts and a rise in crime because of it.

Mr. ALGORI: (Through Translator) Principally theft. Addicts steal to be able to pay for their addiction. We've seen a big increase, and there are some peculiarities. Theft of electricity and telephone cabling is very popular now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the moment, Tijuana is under a state of emergency. Over 100 checkpoints like this one have been set up across the city because of rising levels of violence due to turf battles by the big cartels.

But daily, dozens of people are also being found transporting drugs in their cars. Prisons are overflowing with these small time dealers. Tijuana police chief Victor Manuel Saparin(ph) says it is an uphill fight.

Chief VICTOR MANUEL SAPARIN (Police, Tijuana): (Through Translator) Tijuana is a city which has expanded in a disorganized way. There are people from all over. Drug dealing is one of the most lucrative professions and without a doubt, it will continue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sitting in his office, human rights activist Victor Clark plays a death threat he received on his answering machine to a visiting reporter.

(Soundbite of answering machine message)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The message says be prepared. I'm going to kill you. Over and over.

This isn't the first time he's gotten something like this. He often helps to close down illegal drug labs.

Mr. VICTOR CLARK (Human Rights Activist): (Through Translator) We estimate that in each neighborhood in Tijuana there are at least five meth stores. So we're talking about a minimum of 5000 places to buy drugs in the city. It's an extraordinary figure. And it's a phenomenon that's only begun in the last decade.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Drug enforcement officials here say the rising levels of drug dealing and consumption in Mexico happened because the United States has placed more security at the border, meaning the drugs are harder to move across. That's hard to prove. Experts say that the price of drugs in the U.S. is still low, an indication that supply has not waned.

Another explanation is that the cartels have over the last few years begun paying their mules with their product. The recipients then become dealers in their hometowns, making heroine, cocaine and marijuana more available than ever. It's cheap, too, especially crystal meth amphetamine, which can go for a few dollars a hit.

Clark says that corruption has also played a key role.

Mr. CLARK: (Through Translator) There is an incestuous relationship between the authorities and petty drug dealers. We have received many accounts from people who've seen cops go to known drug dens to collect protection money.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The cost is clear. Clark says there are an estimated 100,000 mostly meth addicts in this city of 1.2 million. Not surprisingly, Tijuana has become a flourishing center for rehabs. Some are suspect at best. Clark says he recently helped to shut down one where young addicts were being physically and sexually abused. Still, the state has scant resources to spend on rehabilitation and few of those on the streets get help.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tijuana.

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