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Elsewhere, the elimination of drugs had equally dramatic effects. The government of Myanmar (formerly Burma), which had both condoned and profited from the Southeast Asian drug trade, turned instead to the mining and marketing of talc. In Mexico, endemic official corruption withered as drug money dried up. "Thank goodness the Americans stuck with it," said Mexican President Vicente Fox, as he toured a former drug compound that had been converted to a senior center. "If they had cut and run two or three years ago, before the back of the drug trade was finally broken, there would be a freebasing lab here instead of shuffleboard."
In America, the inner cities were transformed virtually overnight. "We used to have a situation where a 14-year-old kid could make $300, $400 a day distributing crack and smack," said the Rev. Winston Weatherford, a Boston minister and community activist. "With the drugs gone, they can't do that now. My teacher friends, they haven't heard a beeper go off in months."
According to law enforcement officials, a particularly significant event was the arrest, in Roxbury, Mass., of Cedric Grieg, the nation's last drug dealer. "We knew if we locked up enough of the dealers, eventually we had to get them all," a senior Administration official said in a White House briefing that preceded yesterday's Rose Garden event. "It's just basic arithmetic."
One concern, the official noted, is that eventually someone somewhere in the world may resume producing drugs and attempt to slip some into the United States. "We need to be as vigilant as ever," the official said, adding that, as a precaution, the Bush Administration will soon propose a ban on all powdery white substances. "Still," he said, "as long as all the distributors and dealers are in jail, the pipeline will stay plugged."
Speaking yesterday at the Rose Garden event, Attorney General Ashcroft sounded a philosophical note. "You know, there's a lesson here," he said. "Year after year, the doubters would look at the drug-use numbers staying put and the street prices declining and the revolving prison doors spinning, and they'd say we weren't getting anywhere. And some of us, just shouting into the wind, kept saying that if we could put men on the moon, we could win this thing--and the American people knew in their heart we could win it, and that's why they stuck with us when we redoubled our efforts. It just shows that sometimes our hearts see better than our eyes."