San Diego Union-Tribune

May 11, 2001

DEA head lauds Mexico on cooperation fighting drugs


ARLINGTON, Va. -- Donnie Marshall, the outgoing administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, says he is confident that the new Vicente Fox administration in Mexico is moving in the right direction, but that the country "still has a long way to go" before it cracks the drug cartels.

In an interview, the veteran DEA official said the United States and Mexico must improve their "top level" cooperation to ensure the kind of relationship necessary to overcome the notorious drug traffickers.

Marshall characterized as significant the extradition of a top cartel leader from Mexico to face criminal charges in San Diego.

He was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for more immediate extraditions, saying there are dozens of cases before the Mexican courts that will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"The significance of this is that it has been done and we know under the right circumstances, it can be done," Marshall said, referring to last week's extradition of Arturo "Kitty" Paez Martinez, a top leader of the Arellano-Felix cartel of Tijuana.

"The Fox administration is trying to do more of it," Marshall said of Mexico's new president, who has vowed a crackdown on the major drug traffickers.

"The (Mexican) Supreme Court allowed it to be done once, so I'm hoping, and I believe it will happen more," Marshall said of the extradition. "We've always felt it was the most important step in breaking that cycle of corruption and intimidation."

Marshall, a 30-year DEA veteran, who was acting director and then director the past three years during the Clinton administration, this week announced he would resign within the next few months.

Marshall said Mexico's new administration and U.S. officials are working to improve high-level relationships to combat the drug cartels.

"I talked to (Mexican officials) and we all agree where we need to go. We have the person-to-person, the unit-to-unit relationship (among agents and police officials)," said Marshall. "The goal is to get to a higher level. So far it's been evolutionary."

Marshall's comments reflect concerns of other American and Mexican officials, who have criticized both countries for their failure to carry out an adequate game plan to stop the traffickers.

As part of that effort, Fox has proposed improved access for U.S. law-enforcement officials to help conduct security checks on Mexican police officials, known in anti-drug parlance as "vetting."

"There has been vetting going on for several years," Marshall said, "but Mexico has increased that vetting and has set up a center for it."