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Drug use spreads through Mexico's streets

Mexicans increasingly turn to drugs, including crystal meth.

Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana, has followed the rise of addiction closely since the early 1990s.

He estimates the number of drug distribution points in the city has risen from about five in each neighborhood in 2004 to a staggering 20 in each neighborhood this year.

“The rise in drug use here has been exponential,” Clark said. “It is making the city increasingly unstable.”

Many of the new selling points have emerged in Tijuana’s sprawling Eastside, a collection of unruly barrios growing into the hills overlooking the downtown.

A wave of bloodshed in Tijuana last year was blamed on a battle between Eastside traffickers and the dominant cartel running the center of the city.

Known as tienditas, or little shops, the distribution points can be anything from street corners to the parking lots of bars to houses with holes carved out in the doors.

But whatever they look like, all are taxed by the dominant drug cartel, reinforcing the links between street level dealing and the sprawling crime empires in Mexico.

“You have to pay up according to how much you sell,” said Guillen, the reformed addict. “If you run your business right you should have no problem paying your turf and still making money. But there are always some people who mess up and can’t pay. And that is what a lot of the killings are about.”

Guillen was born in Mexico but spent his teenage years in Los Angeles, where he first used and sold drugs.

After being jailed and deported he continued to smoke meth in his homeland. This movement of returning migrants has been a key factor of the rise of drug use here.

But addiction has also increased as smugglers pay their lieutenants in narcotics as well as cash.