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President-elect Fox’s challenge

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Three months ago, Mexico's drug lords demonstrated their power by killing Oaxaca police chief Javier Orlando Guzman Monforte, shooting him approximately 25 times with AK-47 rifles. A month before that, they killed Tijuana's police chief in a similar manner.

The killings were meant to show that Mexico's lawless faction is strong enough to operate with impunity and in open defiance of authority. Rather than being subject to the government, the drug lords are serving the enormous appetite for narcotics in the United States.

This is the challenge facing new Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox, and it the reason why the United States should not expect too much too soon from his promises to clean up corruption.

Fox's election this week was, without question, the most hopeful thing to occur in Mexican politics in 71 years. It ended one-party rule and brought to power a man unburdened by the official corruption of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has ruled the nation for so long.

Fox has an excellent opportunity to end this official corruption. He has talked of setting up a commission to investigate the mysterious crimes that have occurred in recent years, including political assassinations. This is a positive step. If successful, it could have somewhat the same effect on Mexico's public confidence as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had on South Africa's confidence in the post-apartheid era.

He also could end corruption by making the federal police answerable to a new Security and Justice Ministry and by taking away the attorney general's powers to both investigate and judge cases, both things he has promised to do.

But the drug problem, which is of great concern to the United States, won't be so easy to solve. Nearly half of the cocaine consumed in the United States enters the country through Mexico, even though it originates in Colombia. In addition, vast quantities of marijuana and heroin are produced in Mexico. Drug users in the United States have made Mexican drug lords enormously wealthy and powerful. U.S. government officials now say these people are much stronger than the ruthless and violent Colombian drug lords, which have threatened the stability of that nation.

Reuters has quoted Fox as saying he can't win the battle against the drug cartels without help from other countries. That is true, and the United States bears a clear responsibility to help, seeing as how demand in this country is responsible for the problem. Utahns ought to be particularly concerned. This state is a major conduit for drugs being distributed from Mexico to distant parts of the United States.

No nation can operate successfully as long as lawless factions operate with autonomy within its borders. This is Fox's biggest burden as he attempts to lead Mexico into the world of free and prosperous states.