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Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 50,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and another 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, January 26

In Ciudad Juarez, a man was shot and killed inside a restaurant in front of dozens of customers. Several people who were with the victim ran from the scene.

Friday, January 27

In Nuevo Laredo, four gunmen and a soldier were killed during a fire fight. The incident began when gunmen traveling in six vehicles opened fire on an army patrol. Five soldiers were wounded and taken to a local hospital.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least ten people were murdered in several incidents. Ten more would be killed on Saturday.

Saturday, January 28

In Torreon, five people were gunned down by a group of men wielding assault rifles. Four other individuals were wounded in the incident.

In Monterrey, three bodies were found dead along with a message from a criminal organization.

Monday, January 30

In Sinaloa, the commander of army forces in the state said that marijuana and poppy growers have been severely hampered by drought and that his forces are detecting fewer grow sites than in previous years. Another army spokesman said that the drought did not mean a drop-off in overall cartel production.

In Nuevo Leon, police announced the capture of a suspected Zeta who allegedly confessed to killing 75 people, at least 36 of whom were taken from passenger buses. Enrique Elizondo Flores, "El Arabe," was arrested on January 20 but authorities say they delayed the announcement to give them time to verify his claims. Over 90 people were killed in three bus attacks thought to have been carried out by the Zetas in January and March 2011.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were killed.  In one incident, three gunmen were killed in a fire fight after attacking the police. At least eight municipal police officers have been killed in January in attacks that have been blamed on the New Juarez Cartel. In other incidents, a couple was murdered in an industrial park, a man was shot dead on a bus, and a body was found in a car after having been kidnapped on Sunday.

In Guasave, Sinaloa, three soldiers were killed during a fire fight with armed men. According to reports, an army patrol was chasing several vehicles with armed men who resisted. Several gunmen were also reported killed but the bodies were taken away. A pickup truck and several weapons were left abandoned at the scene. After the shooting, a tense standoff took place between soldiers and municipal police forces, who had ignored distress calls from the soldiers involved in the shooting.

In Monterrey, seven suspected Zetas were arrested on kidnapping and other charges. Two victims were rescued from their safe house.

Tuesday, January 31

In Mexico City, a top official confirmed that an army general and 29 of his troops are on trial for crimes they committed while operating in the Ojinaga, Chihuahua border area in 2008 and 2009. General Manuel Moreno and his underlings are accused of committing at least 10 killings and reselling seized narcotics, as well as stealing property during raids. They were originally charged in August 2009.

Off the coast of California, a motorboat laden with over a ton of marijuana was intercepted by authorities. Three Mexican nationals were arrested.

In Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors announced that three former Tamaulipas governors are being investigated. Authorities have declined to say why exactly the men are being investigated, however.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people had been killed by the end of 2011.

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and approximately 12,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, January 12

In Nuevo Leon, military personnel captured a high-ranking Zeta boss. Jesus Sarabia Luis Ramos, "El Pepito," was considered by authorities to be the fourth most important leader in the organization. He was known to operate in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

Sunday, January 15

In Culiacan, a Canadian national was gunned down. Salih Adabulazizz Sahbaz, 35, was apparently of Iranian or Iraqi origin and was carrying a large amount of cash on his person when he was murdered. The motive remains unknown. He is the third Canadian known to have been killed in Mexico so far this year.

Monday, January 16

In Cuernavaca, seven gunmen were killed in a fire fight with federal police. One officer was wounded in the clash. The gunmen were traveling in three stolen vehicles when police intercepted them.

In Zacapetec, Morelos, the local police chief was shot and killed by three men on motorcycles while he was at a gas station. He survived the initial shooting but later died in a local hospital.

Tuesday, January 17

In Little Rock, Arkansas, authorities indicted 22 individuals on trafficking charges for being part in a meth operation with links to Mexican cartels. Seventeen of those are now in custody. Police also seized 13.3 pounds of "ice" meth and seven vehicles, five weapons and $163,590.

In Ciudad Juarez, gunmen stormed a home and killed four individuals inside. Three of the dead were found in a bathroom where they had attempted to hide. Local media reported that at least some of the men had been released from prison six months ago.

In Nayarit, police arrested a local cartel boss. Benigno Ibarra Valle, 30, "El Guero Pelocho," was the head of the "Pelochos," a local branch of the Sinaloa Cartel. He is suspected in the deaths of at least five police officers in recent weeks. Nine other individuals were also taken into custody.

In Lazaro Cardenas, authorities seized 194 tons of meth precursor chemicals on a ship from China. The containers were all headed for Guatemala or Nicaragua.

[Editor's Note: We are no longer going to keep a running tally of the death toll; the figures are too unreliable. The latest figures below were released by the Mexican government in January.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600
 
Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Partial Body Count for 2011 (official): 12,093*

Total Body Count (official): 47,705*

* Official figures through September 30, 2011. Unofficial estimates put the entire year's death toll at around 16,000, meaning more than 50,000 people have been killed.

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year and approximately 12,000 this year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, December 22

In Veracruz, suspected Zetas attacked three passenger buses with gunfire and a grenade in an apparent robbery spree, killing eleven people. Three of the dead were later confirmed to be US citizens who were visiting relatives in Mexico for the holidays. The army later announced that it killed the five gunmen after they were shot at attempting to arrest them.

Friday, December 23

In Culiacan, army commandos captured the head of security for the Sinaloa Cartel. Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, "The Engineer," is thought to have run cartel operations in Durango and in part of Chihuahua. No shots were fired during the arrest operation. Over the course of 2011, Cabrera was involved in a bloody dispute with another Sinaloa Cartel faction in the state of Durango.

In the port of Manzanillo, authorities seized 21 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to produce crystal meth on a ship headed towards Guatemala.

In Tampico Alto, Veracruz, ten bodies were discovered. The bodies all bore signs of having been tortured and several were decapitated.

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, three decapitated bodies were discovered at a location where the body of a municipal police officer was found on December 18th.

Saturday, December 24

In Michoacan, the body of a teenage American citizen was found in the trunk of a burned car along with two others. The teenager, Alex Uriel Marron, 18, was reportedly from the Chicago area and visiting family in the village of Quiringuicharo.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, three gunmen were killed in a fire fight with police. A fourth person was wounded. Several assault rifles were confiscated from a car in which the gunmen were traveling.

Sunday, December 25

In Tamaulipas, authorities discoved 13 bodies in an abandoned truck just across the state border from Veracruz. A banner left with the bodies indicated that the killings were due to an ongoing cartel battle for control of the Veracruz region.

Tuesday, December 27

In Mexico City, the leader of a small cartel was arrested at the airport. Luis Rodriguez Olivera, "Whitey," is thought to have been head of the "Blondies" Organization which has been allied to several larger cartels. US authorities were offering a $5 million reward for his capture, and accuse him and a brother of smuggling cocaine and meth to the US and to Europe.

In Nuevo Leon, police discovered seven bodies buried in a shallow pit or in a well. The bodies, which were found in Linares and Montemorelos, were discovered using information provided by a group of captured kidnappers alleged to be Zetas.

In Sinaloa, a former high-ranking federal police official was sentenced to 10 years for helping the Sinaloa Cartel. Javier Herrera Valles was arrested in 2008, although the arrest was controversial because he had recently accused some of his commanding officers of corruption or incompetence.

Wednesday, December 28

In Michoacan, six gunmen were killed in two separate clashes with the army. In the first, which took place Wednesday night, three men were killed after encountering an army patrol in the Buenavista Tomatlan area. Later, early Thursday morning, another three were killed in a nearby village. All the dead men are thought to be members of the Knights Templar Organization, which is active in the area. In 2011, troops in 21st military district in Michoacan shot dead a total of 91 gunmen from several organizations.

In Ciudad Juarez, a leading cartel enforcer was arrested by police. Arturo Bautista, 31, "El Mil Amores," is thought to be a high-ranking member of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel. It is unclear, however, if that is his real name. He has been identified as a resident of El Paso, Texas. Bautista was arrested along with three other men after the murder of a woman whom police say was thought to have been passing intelligence to a rival criminal group.

Friday, December 30

In Veracruz, the Zetas hung up a banner stating they were not responsible for the December 22 bus attacks which killed at least seven people, including three US citizens. The banners claim that corrupt police officers were responsible for the attacks.

In Coahuila, seven suspected Zetas were captured by the army on the Saltillo-Torreon highway. One of the men was identified as a high-ranking member, but the army has so far not identified him.

Saturday, December 31

In Ciudad Juarez, at least four people were murdered in several incidents. According to researcher Molly Molloy, this brings the city’s 2011 homicide numbers to 1,980 for the year. This is nearly 40% lower than the 3,622 murders that took place in 2010, but still considerably higher than the 2008 total of 1,623. In total, since 2007, 10,299 homicides have taken place in Ciudad Juarez. February was the bloodiest month in 2011, with 231 murders having taken place.

Sunday, January 1

In Mexico City, the National Human Rights Commission said that they concluded that five men held in connection with a July 2010 car bombing in Ciudad Juarez had been tortured to obtain confessions. They recommended that six federal police officers and a doctor be questioned in relation with the incident. The men were also accused of the killings of two federal agents. Although cleared in those incidents, the men remain incarcerated on narcotics and weapons charges.

Tuesday, January 3

In Sonora, at least five people were murdered. In one incident, the bodies of three young men were found on the side of a highway. In another part of the state, two men were found dead in a bullet-riddled truck. Several weapons, including an AK-47 were found in the truck.

Drug-related violence was confirmed in at least six other states, with nine people confirmed dead.

[Editor's Note: Our 2011 estimated death toll is 12,150, pending the release of official figures.Our new 2012 death toll is also an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,150

Total Body Count for 2012: (approx.) 15

TOTAL: > 46,000

Mexico

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

The new year is upon us and 2011 is now a year for the history books. But we can't let it go without recognizing the biggest global drug policy stories of the year. From the horrors of the Mexican drug wars to the growing clamor over the failures of prohibition, from the poppy fields of Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle to the coca fields of the Andes, from European parliaments to Iranian gallows, drug prohibition and its consequences were big news this year.

Of course, we can't cover it all. We have no room to note the the emergence of West Africa as a transshipment point for South American cocaine bound for Europe's booming user markets, nor the unavailability of opioid pain medications in much of the world; we've given short shrift to the horrors of "drug treatment" in Southeast Asia; and we've barely mentioned the rising popularity of synthetic stimulants in European club scenes, among other drug policy-related issues. We'll be keeping an eye on all of those, but in the meantime, here are our choices for this year's most important global drug policy stories:

The Mexican Drug Wars

militarized US-Mexico border
This month marks the fifth anniversary of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's declaration of war on his country's drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- and five years in, his policy can only be described as a bloody disaster. The death toll stands at somewhere around 45,000 since Calderon sent in the army and the federal police, but that figure doesn't begin to describe the horror of the drug wars, with their gruesome brutality and exemplary violence.

Mexico's drug wars pit the army and the state and federal police against the cartels, the cartels against each other, and different factions of state, local, and federal police, and even different military commands, aligned with various cartels fighting each other in a multi-sided dance of death. All the violence and corruption has had a corrosive effect on Mexicans' perceptions of personal and public safety and security, as well as on its political system.

It has also tarnished the reputation of the Mexican military. After a two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch reported last month credible evidence that the security forces, led by the military, were responsible for 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances and 24 extrajudicial killings in the five states they studied.

And, as the cartels battle each other, the military, and the various police, the violence that was once limited to a handful of border cities has spread to cities across the country. Once relatively peaceful Acapulco has been wracked by cartel violence, and this year, both Veracruz and Monterrey, cities once unaffected by the drug wars, have seen murderous acts of spectacular violence.

Meanwhile, business continues as usual, with drugs flowing north across the US border and voluminous amounts of cash and guns flowing south. Calderon's drug war, which has racked up a $43 billion bill so far (and an additional nearly one billion in US Plan Merida aid), has managed to kill or capture dozens of cartel capos, but has had no discernable impact on the provision of drugs across the border to feed America's voracious appetite. Worse, the attempted crackdown on the cartels has led them to expand their operations to neighboring Central American countries where the state is even weaker than in Mexico. Both Guatemala and Honduras have seen significant acts of violence attributed to the cartels this year, while El Salvador and Nicaragua also complain of the increasing presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

There are, however, a couple of positives to report. First, the carnage may have peaked, or at least reached a plateau. It now appears that the 2011 death toll this year, while tremendously high at around 12,000, didl not exceed last year's 15,000. That would mark the first downturn in the killing since Calderon called out the troops.

Second, the bloody failure of Calderon's drug war is energizing domestic Mexican as well as international calls to end drug prohibition. A strong civil society movement against the drug war and violence has emerged in Mexico and, sadly, the sorrow of Mexico is now Exhibit #1 for critics of drug prohibition around the world.

Afghanistan: Still the World's Drug Crop Capital

anti-opium abuse posters at a drug treatment center in Kabul (photo by the author)
A decade after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on, even as it begins to wind down. And Afghanistan's status as the world's number one opium poppy producer remains unchallenged. In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies.

The Afghan poppy crop was down in 2010, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. In 2011, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the area under poppy cultivation increased 7%, but that the expected harvest increased 61% because of better yields and would produce about 5,800 metric tons of opium.

The 2010 blight-related poppy shortage led to price increases, which encouraged farmers to plant more poppy and more than doubled the farm-gate value of the crop from $605 million to more than $1.4 billion. Additional hundreds of millions go to traders and traffickers, some linked to the Taliban, others linked to government officials. Last year, US and NATO forces embarked on counter-drug operations aimed at traders and traffickers, but only those linked to the Taliban.

And it's not just opium. According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2011, Afghanistan is also "among the significant cannabis resin producing countries," producing somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 metric tons of hash in 2010, with no reason to think it has changed dramatically in 2011. That brings in somewhere between $85 million and $265 million at the farm gate.

A decade after the US invasion, Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer by far and possibly the world's largest cannabis producer. Given the crucial role these drug crops play in the Afghan economy, there is little reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

The Return of the Golden Triangle

In 2010's roundup of major international drug stories, we mentioned the reemergence of opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle. In 2011, production has accelerated. According to the UNODC's Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2011, opium production has been increasing since 2006, but jumped 16% last year.

The region produced an estimated 638 metric tons this year, of which 91% came from Myanmar, with Laos and Thailand producing the rest. The region is now responsible for about 12% of annual global opium production.

The amount of land under poppy cultivation is still only one-third of what it was at its 1998 peak, but has more than doubled from its low point of 20,000 hectares in 2006. More importantly, estimated total production has rebounded and is now nearly half of what it was in 1998. The UNODC points a finger at chronic food insecurity, weak national governments, and the involvement of government actors, especially in Myanmar.

If Afghanistan does not produce enough opium to satisfy global illicit demand, the countries on the Golden Triangle are standing in the wings, ready to make up the difference.

The Rising Clamor for Legalization

former Mexican president Vicente Fox speaking at the Cato Institute
2011 saw calls for ending drug prohibition growing ever louder and coming from ever more corners of the world. Throughout the year, Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have called repeatedly for drug legalization, or at least a serious discussion of it. Although the specifics of their remarks shift over time -- sometimes it's a call for drug legalization, sometimes for marijuana legalization, sometimes for decriminalization -- leaders like Fox and Santos are issuing a clarion call for fundamental change in global drug policies.

That such calls should come from leaders in Colombia and Mexico is no surprise -- those are two of the countries most ravaged by drug prohibition and the violence it fuels. By the fall, even current Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who unleashed Mexico's drug war five years ago, was starting to join the chorus. In an October interview with Time magazine, Calderon said he could never win in Mexico if Americans don't reduce demand or "reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs." While he was unwilling to take the final step and embrace ending prohibition, he added that "I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs."

But the biggest news in the international battle to end drug prohibition came at mid-year, when the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a star-studded panel of former presidents and prime ministers, public intellectuals, and business magnates, called the global war on drugs "a failure" and urged governments worldwide to should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, in a report that drew press attention from around the world.

The commission, heavily salted with Latin American luminaries, grew out of the previous year's Latin American Initiative on Drug Policy and includes some of the same members, including former Brazilian President Henry Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. It is paired with the UK-based Beckley Foundation's Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, which launched in November and is eyeing changes in the legal backbone of international drug prohibition, the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its successor treaties. The global commission also picked up strong support from an organization of Latin American judicial figures, Latin Judges on Drugs and Human Rights, which echoed the commission's call with its own Rome Declaration.

European Reforms

wall paintings near the entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (wikipedia.org)
Drug reform continued its achingly slow progress in Europe in 2011, with a handful of real advances, as well as a number of parties in various countries taking strong drug reform stands. But while Europe has largely embraced harm reduction and seen the positive results of Portugal's decade-long experiment with drug decriminalization, getting to the take level -- ending drug prohibition -- remains elusive.

In March, Scotland's Liberal Democrats voted to making campaigning for heroin maintenance treatment part of their party platform. Heroin users should not be fined or imprisoned, but should be given the drug through the National Health Service, party members agreed.

In September, their more powerful brethren, the British Liberal Democrats, who are junior partners with the Conservatives in the governing coalition, did them one better by adopting a resolution supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and the regulated distribution of marijuana and calling for an "impact assessment" of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that would provide a venue for considering decriminalization and controlled marijuana sales. That is going to lead to debate in parliament on the issue next year.

In August, the Greek government proposed drug decriminalization in a bill sent to parliament by Justice Minister Miltadis Papioannou. Under the proposed bill, drug possession for personal use would qualify only as "misconduct" instead of a more serious criminal offense. The bill would also guarantee the right to drug treatment, including for people currently imprisoned. People deemed "addict offenders" by the courts would be provided treatment instead of being jailed. But given the other pressing matters before the Greek government, the bill has yet to move.

Probably the most significant actual drug reform achievement in Europe in 2011 was Poland's passage of a law that allows prosecutors to divert drug users into treatment instead of prison. That law went into effect in December. The new law lets prosecutors bypass the courts in a "treat, not punish" approach to drug use when confronted with people arrested in possession of small amounts of drugs. A person arrested with personal use quantities of drugs can now be immediately referred to a therapist, and prosecutors are compelled to gather information on the extent of the person's drug problem. Still, there is an appetite for more reform; a political party that wants legalize soft drugs won 10% of the vote in the October presidential elections.

There has been some movement on marijuana and hints of more to come, as well in 2011. In an otherwise dismal year for weed in the Netherlands (see below), the Dutch high court ruled in April that anyone can grow up to five pot plants without facing criminal charges, no matter how big the harvest. The ruling came after prosecutors went after two different people who produced large multi-pound yields from a handful of plants, arguing that such harvests violated the Dutch five-gram rule. The court disagreed, but said that the pot would have to be turned over to police if they came to the door.

In June, Italy's top court ruled that balcony pot grows are okay, finding that the amounts of pot produced in such grows "could cause no harm." It's a small advance on earlier court rulings, and a step in the right direction.

And then there are moves that are pushing the envelope. Last month, the Copenhagen city council voted to explore how best to legalize and regulate pot sales. The move has the support of the mayor, but has to be approved by the Danish parliament, which has balked at such measures before. Maybe this time will be different. And raising the ante, the Basque parliament is set to approve a new drug law that will regulate marijuana cultivation, distribution, and consumption. The move is being propelled by the health ministry in the autonomous region of Spain, and would be a direct challenge to the UN conventions' ban on legalization.

Medical Marijuana's Slowly Growing Global Acceptance

It comes by dribs and drabs, but it comes.

In Israel, the Cabinet approved guidelines in August that will govern the supply of marijuana for medical and research purposes. In so doing, it explicitly agreed that marijuana does indeed have medical uses. The move came on the heels of a Health Ministry decision the week before  to deal with supply problems by setting up a unit within the department to grow medical marijuana. That unit will begin operating in January 2012. Currently, medical marijuana is supplied by private Israeli growers, but with the number of medical marijuana patients expected to rise from the current 6,000 to 40,000 by 2016, the state is stepping in to help out with supply.

In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Health said in September it plans to remove marijuana from its list of proscribed substances and allow it to be prescribed by doctors. The ministry said it would move to amend Czech drug laws by the end of the year to allow for the prescription of marijuana by doctors, although we haven't seen that actually happen yet. The ministry must also determine what sort of distribution system to set up. The Israeli model, where the state is licensing medical marijuana farms, is one oft-cited system.

In New Zealand, medical marijuana was on the agenda of the New Zealand Law Commission when it issued a report in May reviewing the country's drug laws. In addition to other drug reform measures, the commission called for clinical trials on medical marijuana "as soon as practicable" and said medical marijuana patients should not be arrested in the meantime. "Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the government consider doing this." The government there does not appear to be eager to follow those recommendations, but the commission report is laying the groundwork for progress.

In Canada, which has an existing medical marijuana program, the news is more mixed. Health Canada is in the process of adopting a "more traditional regulatory role" for the medical marijuana "marketplace, and envisions privatized medical marijuana provision by licensed and strictly regulated grower. That doesn't sit well with a lot of patients and activists because it means Health Canada wants to eliminate patients' ability to grow their own. Nor were patients particularly impressed with Health Canada's earlier attempt to provide privately produced and licensed medical marijuana. Without outright legalization of marijuana being more popular than the Conservative government, Canada may eventually get around to solving its medical marijuana problem by just legalizing it all.

Iran's Drug War Execution Frenzy

drug burn marking International Anti-Drugs Day, Tehran
Iran has garnered itself a well-deserved reputation as one of the world's leading practitioners of the death penalty, but 2011 saw an absolute explosion of death sentences and executions -- the vast majority of them for drug offenses. At the end of January, we reported that Iran had already executed 56 drug offenders for offenses involving more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin. As if that weren't enough, in February, the Islamic Republic made trafficking in synthetic drugs, including meth, a capital offense. More than 50 grams (less than two ounces) of meth could bring the death penalty, but only on a second offense.

At the end of May, by which time the execution toll for drug offenses had risen to 126, Iran announced it had 300 drug offenders on death row and lashed out at Western critics, saying if the West was unhappy with the killings, Iran could simply quit enforcing its drug laws.

"The number of executions in Iran is high because 74% of those executed are traffickers in large quantities of opium from Afghanistan bound for European markets," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights, during a press conference that month. "There is an easy way for Iran and that is to close our eyes so drug traffickers can just pass through Iran to anywhere they want to go," he said."The number of executions in Iran would drop 74%. That would be very good for our reputation."

In a December report, Amnesty International condemned Iran's drug executions, saying the Islamic Republic has embarked on "a killing spree of staggering proportions." The London-based human rights group said "at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offenses so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty International recorded at least 166 executions for similar offenses."

"To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment," said Amnesty's Interim Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Ann Harrison. "Drug offenses go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months," Harrison said.

Amnesty said it began to receive credible reports of a new wave of drug executions in the middle of 2010, including reports of mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one, on August 4, 2010, involving at least 89 people. While Iran officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offenses, Amnesty said it has credible reports of another 300 executions, "the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offenses."

"Ultimately, Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly," said Harrison.

Amnesty also accused Iran of executing people without trial, extracting confessions by torture, failing to notify families -- or sometimes, even inmates -- of impending executions, and mainly executing the poor, members of minority groups, or foreigners, including large numbers of Afghans.

Amnesty noted tartly that Iran receives significant international support in its war on drugs. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided $22 million since 2005 to support training for Iranian anti-drug forces, while the European Union is providing $12.3 million for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-drug cooperation. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, and Japan have all provided anti-drug assistance to Iran via UNODC programs.

"All countries and international organizations helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offenses need to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions," said Harrison. "They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths."

Iran may be the most egregious offender when it comes to killing drug offenders, but it is by no means the only one. Other countries that not only have the death penalty for drug offenses but actually apply it include China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Human rights activists argue that the death penalty for drug offenses violates the UN Charter. For information on ongoing efforts to curtail the use of the death penalty for drug offenses, visit the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project.

In a bit of good news on the death penalty front, in June, India's Bombay High Court struck down a mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses.The regional high court is the equivalent of a US district court of appeals.

"This is a positive development, which signals that courts have also started to recognize principles of harm reduction and human rights in relation to drugs. It is not utopia, but it is a giant step," said Indian Harm Reduction Network head Luke Samson.

"The Court has upheld at the domestic level what has been emphasized for years by international human rights bodies -- capital drug laws that take away judicial discretion are a violation of the rule of law," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International (formerly the International Harm Reduction Association) and author of The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Violation of International Human Rights Law"India's justice system has affirmed that it is entirely unacceptable for such a penalty to be mandatory. This will set a positive precedent for judicial authorities in the region, which is rife with draconian drug laws."

Weekly updates on executions worldwide including for drug offenses are available from the Rome-based group Hands Off Cain.

The Netherlands Will Bar Foreigners from its Cannabis Cafes... and More

a coffee shop in Amsterdam (wikimedia.org)
The Netherlands' conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte continued and deepened its effort to undo Holland's reputation as a marijuana haven and drug tourism destination last year. Plans to ban foreigners from Dutch cannabis cafes reached fruition in 2011, with the Dutch Justice Ministry saying in November that foreigners would be barred from southern border coffee shops effective January 1. A month later, the government announced that plan would be delayed until May, and would go into effect nationwide beginning in 2013. Goodbye, tourist dollars.

But it's not just clamping down on foreigners. The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, with local governments putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.). Now, the national government will be limiting their client base to 2,000 card carrying Dutch nationals each.

The national government also rather bizarrely declared in October that it wanted to declare high-potency marijuana a dangerous drug like cocaine or heroin and ban its possession or sale. That hasn't happened yet, but unless the Dutch get around to electing a more progressive government, the Christian Democrats and their allies will continue to work to undo the country's progressive pot policy reputation, not to mention its tourism industry..

North America's Only Supervised Injection Site Gets a Reprieve

Ending a years' long effort by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper to close Insite, the Vancouver supervised injection site for hard drug users, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in September that it should be allowed to stay open.

The Harper government, a foe of harm reduction practices in general and safe inection sites in particular, had argued that the federal drug law took precedence over British Columbia's public health policies. British Columbia and other Insite supporters argued that because Insite is providing a form of health care, its operation is a provincial matter. The federal government's concerns did not outweigh the benefits of Insite, the court said.

"The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for Insite cannot be ignored," the court said. "Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada."

Insite has been the only supervised injection site on the North American continent, but in the wake of that ruling, that may not be the case for long. In the wake of the September ruling, Montreal announced plans for four safe injection sites in December. It's not a done deal -- it will require financing from provincial health agencies -- but plans are moving forward. And there are distant rumblings of plans for an effort to get a supervised injection site running in San Francisco, which would be a first for the US, but don't hold your breath on that one.

If the Harper government has been defeated in its effort to kill supervised injection sites, it is moving forward with plans to pass an omnibus crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, including growing as few as six pot plants. With an absolute majority in a parliamentary system, there seems to be no way to block the bill's passage, which will mean a real step backward for our northern neighbor as it emulates some of our worst penal practices.

Bolivia Challenges the Global Coca Ban

coca leaves drying in warehouse, Ayacucho province (photo by the author)
At the end of June, the Bolivian government of former coca-grower union leader Evo Morales announced it was resigning from the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs because that treaty bans the cultivation of coca. The resignation is effective January 1. The move came after a failed effort last year by Bolivia to amend the treaty to allow for coca cultivation, a traditional activity in the Andes, where the plant has been used as a mild stimulant and hunger suppresser for millennia.

"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian at the time.

Bolivia will rejoin the convention sometime during the new year, but with the reservation that it does not accept the language proscribing the coca plant.

That move has aroused the concern of the International Narcotics Control Board, which issued a statement saying the international community should reject moves by any country to quit the treaty and return with reservations doing so "would undermine the integrity of the global drug control system."

Of course, there are many people aside from Evo Morales who believe the global drug control system lacks any integrity whatsoever. For those people, the actions of Bolivia represent the first serious effort to begin to undo the legal backbone of the global prohibition system.

Morales himself said last month
that he believes Bolivia will succeed next year. "I am convinced that next year we will win this international 'fight' for the recognition of chewing coca leaves as a tradition of peoples in Latin America, living in the Andes," he  said in an interview with the Bolivian radio station Patria Nueva.

In ending...

Global drug prohibition is under sustained, systemic, and well-deserved attack. It is being attacked (finally) in its core treaties and institutions, it is under ever broader political attack from around the planet; its central precepts are increasingly tattered. Ever year the clamor grows louder in the face of prohibition's screaming failure to accomplish its given ends and the terrible costs it generates. The process of chipping away at drug prohibition is under way. The prohibitionist consensus is crumbling; now comes the struggle to finally kill the beast and replace it with a more sensible, compassionate, and smarter approach to mind-altering substances.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, November 18

In Tijuana, $15 million -- thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel -- was confiscated from a safe house. Six kilos of cocaine and four weapons were also found during the army raid, although no arrests were made.

Monday, November 21

In Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, three police officers were kidnapped while on patrol and executed.

In Harris County, Texas, a controlled-delivery by police officers attempting to catch a drug shipment went awry when suspected Zetas cut off and shot dead a truck driver who had secretly been working with the authorities. A nearby Sheriff's deputy was also wounded, possibly by friendly fire in the chaos. Four men, three of whom are Mexican citizens, were taken into custody and charged with capitol murder. It is still unclear if the men were targeting the informant or attempting to rip off his 300-pound load of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 22

In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers were killed while riding in an unmarked car. Authorities recovered 44 bullet casings at the scene.

Wednesday, November 23

In Sinaloa, at least 20 people were killed in several incidents. In Culiacan, 13 people were found dead inside two vehicles which had been set fire in two different locations. Near Guasave, three men were shot and killed. In the municipality of Mocorito, four people were murdered. Mexican media has speculated that at least some of the killings may be related to a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization.

Thursday, November 24.

In Tamaulipas, the army announced that a large weapons cache and almost two tons of marijuana were captured during a series of operations in the city of Miguel Aleman, across the Rio Grande from Starr, Texas. The weapons cache included a rocket launcher and ten explosive devices, including pipe bombs. Miguel Aleman is currently controlled by a faction of the Gulf Cartel.

In Guadalajara, 26 men were found bound, gagged, executed and dumped in three vehicles. Many of the men had been asphyxiated, and some appear to have been shot. Notes left written on the victims and a banner left at one of the crime scenes suggest that the killings were carried out by the Zetas and by members of an allied organization, the Millenium Cartel. Some Mexican media outlets have speculated that the killing is in response to the September dumping of 35 men, many purportedly Zetas killed by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Friday, November 25

In the Hague, Mexican activists filed a war crimes complaint against Mexican President Felipe Calderon. According to the coalition behind the complaint, Mexican security forces have been involved in approximately 470 cases of human rights violations. The complaint filed in the Netherlands also mentions crimes committed by drug cartels, and specifically mentions Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The Mexican government immediately denied the accusations.

In Mexico City, the city's police chief announced that an investigation would take place to determine the circumstances behind a journalist's video, which shows a police officer dunking a man's head into a bucket following a firefight between gunmen and police in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Tepito.

In Matamoros, the son of a deceased Gulf Cartel boss was captured. Antonio Ezequiel "El Junior" Cardenas Guillen, 23, is the son of Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen Sr., "Tony Tormenta," who was killed in a firefight with Marines in November 2010. El Junior was arrested with four associates -- including two suspected cartel accountants -- as he left a party.

Saturday, November 26

In Nuevo Leon, three alleged Zetas suspected of involvement in the July killing of two men who served as bodyguards for the state's governor were arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities said the men also confessed to four other killings, three of whom were police officers murdered in May.

In the city of Chihuahua, two men and a woman were shot and killed. The two men tried run away after their car was cut off by gunmen, but were shot as they ran. The female was killed in the automobile. Police have no leads in the case.

Monday, November 28

In Ciudad Juarez, a four-year-old boy was shot and killed while playing outside a neighbor's house. Alan David Carrillo was playing with several other children outside the home when it was sprayed with automatic weapons. He was rushed to a hospital but died there shortly after arriving.

In Hermosillo, Sonora, a prominent member of Mexico's Movement for Peace and Justice and Dignity was shot and killed. Nepomuceno Moreno, 56, was shot at least seven times by a gunman in a passing car. Last year, Moreno had accused hooded police officers of kidnapping his 18-year old son, who was never seen again. For their part, the Sonora Attorney General’s office has said that the principal line of investigation in the case is that Moreno was somehow involved with organized crime groups. In 1979, he was arrested in Arizona for heroin smuggling and possession, and is also said to have been involved in more recent criminal activity.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,300

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Deaths Leveling Off, Study Says

(image courtesy wikimedia.org)
Hardly a day goes by without another report of some heinous prohibition-related violence in Mexico, but a new report suggests that the killings may have peaked and are leveling off -- albeit at horrendous levels. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, the report, "The Effect of Violence in Mexico on Migration and Immigration Policy," by researchers at the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, was presented at a discussion on the topic last week in San Diego.

The report put this year's drug war death toll in Mexico at just under 11,000 so far, meaning that if current trends continue until year's end, the body count would be significantly lower than the more than 15,000 the Mexican government says were killed last year.

[Editor's Note: Our weekly Mexico Drug War Update has conservatively estimated this year's death toll at just under 9,000 so far, but we will revise it upward in accordance with the figures from this research.]

The report, which is based on Mexican media sources, put the death toll as of November 4 at 10,933. The official toll for 2010 is 15,273. Since President Felipe Calderon sent thousands of soldiers and federal agents out to do battle against the cartels in December 2006, more than 45,000 people have been killed.

"The figures for this year are still quite bad, with more than 10,000 people killed," said Institute director David Shirk, adding that unlike last year, there was no year-to-year increase over the previous year. Drug war killings jumped 20% between 2009 and 2010, he noted.

Shirk cited a decrease in killings in Ciudad Juarez, where in 2009 one-third of the nation's killings occurred, as well as a new accommodation between rival traffickers in Tijuana.

"Violence in Tijuana peaked in 2008 and 2009. Now presumably, after drug traffickers realized that violence was bad for business, there's a pact between the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Tijuana (mob), with the former gaining influence, and that's pushed the violence to the east of the city," Shirk said.

That "Tijuana model" could be adopted in other Mexican cities, but that would require turning away from Calderon's frontal assault on the cartels, Shirk said. "That would mean all the death and violence has served no purpose, which is an unfortunate and cynical vision and a great tragedy if they're unable to interrupt the way the cartels conduct their business," he said.

Mexico isn't the only country that needs to change its policies, Shirk said. The US should legalize marijuana because enforcing its prohibition eats up too many law enforcement and prosecutorial resources even though it only accounts for 15-20% of cartel revenues, he said.

San Diego, CA
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Tuesday, November 1

In a swamp near Veracruz, an anonymous tip led to the discovery of eight bodies. The area where the bodies were found is near Bocas del Rio, where 35 bodies were dumped in September.

Wednesday, November 2

In La Piedad, Michoacan, town Mayor Ricardo Guzman, 45, was shot and killed. Guzman was handing out campaign flyers outside a restaurant when a gunman in a black SUV shot him once with a pistol. He was a member of President Calderon's PAN party.

In March, La Piedad police chief Jose Luis Guerrero was killed by gunmen with AK-47s. His successor was later attacked by up to 40 gunmen traveling in a ten-car convoy, but survived.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, at least three people were killed during a series of fire fights which took place in several locations around the city. Two of the dead were police officers. The fighting began between two groups of rival traffickers in the afternoon. Later in the day, students at a local university were trapped during a gun battle between Marines and unidentified gunmen.

Thursday, November 3

In Mexico City, SEDENA announced that 14 soldiers were convicted and given prison sentences for the shooting deaths of three children and two women who were killed at a checkpoint in Sinaloa in 2007. The commanding officer was given a 40-year sentence, and another officer given a 38-year sentence while 12 enlisted soldiers were given 16-year sentences.

Near Mexico City, a high-ranking member of the La Borradora Organization was captured by police. Victor Manuel Rivera Galeana, "Victor el Gordo," 35, is thought play a large role in his organization’s battle for control of retail drug sales and criminal activities in the Acapulco area.

In Ciudad Juarez, six gunmen were killed during a massive fire fight between groups of rival criminals. Two of the gunmen were killed in a car with Texas plates. Over 400 bullet casings were recovered after the battle.

Friday, November 4

In Culiacan, 11 people were killed in two separate incidents. In one of the incidents, eight people gathered at a volleyball court were killed when gunmen descended from several vehicles and opened fire on them with automatic weapons.

In another part of the same city, two men and a woman were gunned down. The killings are all thought to be related to the recent killing of Sinaloa Cartel enforcer Francisco "Pancho" Arce, who was said to be responsible for the murder of a nephew of Juarez Cartel boss Vicente Carillo Fuentes in Sinaloa not long ago.

In Hidalgo, Texas, two alleged Gulf Cartel members were arrested and charged in connection with an attempted kidnapping that occurred on Tuesday. The victim was rescued from the trunk of a car as the men attempted to smuggle him into Mexico. According to police, the men were attempting to recover a 1,500 pound narcotics shipment that had gone missing. Several other suspects are still being sought.

Saturday, November 5

In Guamuchil, Sinaloa, three bodies were left hanging from an overpass. At least one of the victims had been tortured before being killed. The other two appear to have been stored in a freezer until being dumped.

Sunday, November 6

In Veracruz, the offices of local newspaper El Bueno Tono were torched after gunmen stormed the building and told employees to flee. Nobody was injured in the incident, which involved at least 10 hooded and heavily armed men.

Monday, November 7

In Tijuana, an Arellano-Felix Cartel boss was captured after he opened fire on a car carrying two rival traffickers. Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, "El Ruedas," 34, is thought have reported directly to cartel boss Fernando "The Engineer" Sanchez Arellano. Sillas is thought to have played a large part in the AFO's fight with the Sinaloa Cartel between 2007 and 2009 and is alleged to have masterminded the kidnapping of three women tied to Sinaloa Cartel figure Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada in 2010.

In Sinaloa, the mayor of the tourist town of Mazatlan was unhurt when his car was ambushed by gunmen on the highway to Culiacan. Alejandro Higuera Osuna was traveling in a convoy with his bodyguards when they were ambushed by at least ten men who had been hiding in the brush.

In Ciudad Juarez, the dismembered bodies of two men were left on a busy street. Their heads were inside two coolers. A note, whose contents have not been revealed, was left with the bodies.

Wednesday, November 9

In Nuevo Laredo, a blogger was found beheaded. The man, so far only identified by his online moniker "Fiddler", was a moderator on the blog "Nuevo Laredo en Vivo". His body was left with a note which said that he had "failed to understand I must not report on social networks."

Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,500

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Monday, October 17

In an interview published in the New York Times, President Calderon said he believes that Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is in the United States. "He is not in Mexican territory, and I suppose that Chapo is in American territory," he said. Calderon also questioned why Guzman's wife wasn't detained when she gave birth at a Los Angeles area clinic in August.

Wednesday, October 19

In Arizona, an ICE officer was arrested for marijuana smuggling after a high-speed chase with authorities. Jason Alistair Lowery, 34, had been under investigation for more than a month after a known smuggler who had been arrested identified him as being involved in drug rips and in trafficking. He was arrested after agreeing to pick up 500 pounds of marijuana from a desert location.

Thursday, October 20

In Texas, the nephew of an imprisoned Gulf Cartel leader was arrested during a traffic stop in Port Isabel. Rafael Junior Cardenas Vela was charged with immigration and drug conspiracy charges in the operation, which was conducted by ICE. Rafael Cardenas allegedly admitted to being involved in large cocaine and marijuana shipments to the US. Additionally, a July 8 shootout near Brownsville is attributed to a Zeta attempt to capture or kill Rafael Cardenas.

In Monterrey, a car bomb attack was conducted against a military patrol which had been chasing suspected cartel members. No soldiers were wounded in the incident, which took place after they gave chase to a car with suspicious men on board during a patrol. Several other car bomb incidents have taken place in Mexico over the last year.

In Veracruz, eight bodies were found in the town of Paso de Viejas.

In Tecamac, Mexico State, a well-known local drug trafficker was arrested along with 10 of his bodyguards. Adrian Soria Ramirez, "El Hongo," had been leading a gang currently fighting for control of drug sales in several areas of the greater Mexico City area.

Saturday, October 22

In Durango, cartel activity led much of the population of the towns of Villa Ocampo and Los Nieves to lock themselves inside their homes when a convoy of armed men passed through the area. The local municipal police force fled to their station. Three men were abducted by the convoy and later found executed.

Sunday, October 23

In Sinaloa, the army raided an auto shop used by cartel members to bulletproof vehicles. Ten people were taken into custody and 16 vehicles were seized. Similar bulletproofing shops have been discovered in other parts of Mexico, notably Tamaulipas.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 9 people were murdered. Among the dead was a jeweler who was shot dead in his home by two armed men, and one person who was decapitated.

Monday, October 24

In Tamaulipas, a Mexican army unit was deployed to the Frontera Chica area across the Rio Grande from Starr County, Texas. The soldiers, from Mexico's 105th Battalion, will patrol the Camargo, Miguel Aleman and Ciudad Mier areas in response to recent fighting in the area.

Tuesday, October 25

In Acapulco, authorities announced that they recently arrested a man and a woman and discovered an icebox with a human head and other remains in the car they were driving. The car was pulled over by federal police because it matched the description of a car used in a recent kidnapping. The female suspect, 19 year-old Damaris Gomez, allegedly is the leader of a group of assassins employed by a local criminal organization.

Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,100

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Tuesday, October 11

In Veracruz, the young son of a Zeta boss who was killed in May was kidnapped by armed men dressed in fatigues. A friend of his was also taken. His father, Rolando Veytia Bravo, "El Manitas," was allegedly the Zeta boss for Veracruz until being killed in a shootout with the military in May.

Wednesday, October 12

In Saltillo, Coahuila, a high-ranking Zeta commander was captured. Carlos Oliva Castillo, "La Rana," is alleged to be the third highest ranking member of the organization and is thought to have ordered the August 25 attack on a casino in Monterrey which left 52 people dead. His arrest sparked a series of gun battles throughout the city as cartel gunmen attempted to rescue him from the Mexican military. His bodyguard and girlfriend were also taken into custody.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 16 people were murdered.  Among the dead were three anti-extortion investigators with the state Attorney General's Office who were gunned down near a high school. Additionally, a municipal police officer was shot and killed while waiting for his family in a supermarket parking lot.

Thursday, October 13

In Sinaloa, five gunmen were shot and killed by municipal police and soldiers. Four were detained, including two who were wounded.

Friday, October 14

In Mexico City, President Calderon acknowledged that the state of Veracruz had previously been left in the hands of drug traffickers. Violence has increased dramatically in Veracruz this year. Former Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran, who left office in December 2010, has repeatedly been accused of having allowed the Zetas to operate freely. He has rejected the accusations.

Saturday, October 15

In Matamoros, a prison fight left 20 inmates dead and 12 wounded. The fight apparently began between two individuals, but others soon joined in. It took authorities several hours to reassert control of the facility.

In Piedras Negras, Coahuila, 61 hostages were rescued from a safe house where they were being held captive. Three armed men guarding them were taken into custody. Shoot-outs were reported in the area throughout the day as the city was cordoned off and swept by the military.

Sunday, October 16

In Vallecillos, Nuevo Leon, nine suspected Zetas were captured by members of the army. At least 21 gunmen were killed by troops during three days of operations. Authorities suspect that a Zeta training camp was located in the area. Vallecillos is roughly 100 miles from Monterrey.

Tuesday, October 18

In Veracruz, authorities announced that nearly 1,000 police officers have been fired in an effort to root out corrupt elements of the force. The 980 officers were fired after failing lie detector tests and other parts of the vetting process.

In Mexico State, authorities announced the capture of a founder of a criminal network that operates in the Acapulco area. Christian Arturo Hernandez Tarin, "El Cris," was arrested with three associates. His organization, the "Street Sweepers," was formerly an underling of Edgar Valdez Villareal, "la Barbie."

[Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 8,000

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, October 5

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, a top Sinaloa cartel leader was arrested without incident. Noel Salguiero Navarez, "El Flaco Salguiero," was the head of La Gente Nueva, which is considered the armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel operating in Chihuahua and several other states. He is also thought to have been leading the Sinaloa Cartel's push to take Ciudad Juarez.

Thursday, October 6

In Veracruz, 32 bodies were discovered at three locations. The discovery came after Marines took eight members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel prisoner, who then led them to the locations. The government alleges that these men, who call themselves Zeta-Killers, are also responsible for the 35 bodies found on September 20.

Additionally, 12 members of the Zetas were captured, including Aguiles Amaranto Cruz Hurtano, the Zeta boss for the Veracruz region.

Friday, October 7

In Veracruz, Attorney General Reynaldo Esperez Perez resigned his office in the area. Escobar Perez was in office for only seven months. He is to be replaced by his deputy.

Near Monterrey, authorities announced that several police officers are being detained for allowing kidnap victims to be housed by their kidnappers in a local jail while negotiations were taking place. The hostages were rescued earlier in the week. The officers are thought to have been working for the Zetas.

Saturday, October 8

In Veracruz, 10 more bodies were discovered. Seven of the dead were discovered in the bed of a truck and the other three were found on roadsides in two different locations.

In Linares, Nuevo Leon, the entire police force of over 100 men was taken into custody for possible corruption and ties to drug trafficking groups. They were all driven out of the town on buses while the investigation continues. Mexican soldiers and federal police will take over policing duties in the town.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were killed. Among the dead were three men who were gunned down in the parking lot of a store in front of dozens of horrified witnesses.

Sunday, October 9

In Zacatecas, six police officers were killed in an ambush. The policemen were returning to the city of Valparaiso from a party when they were intercepted by a group of men wielding assault rifles and hand grenades.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered in four separate incidents. In one incident, two boys, aged 16 and 17, were gunned down inside a home in the El Papolote area of the city. Later that afternoon, three men were killed inside a home in the Fray Garcia de San Francisco area.

Tuesday, October 11

In Mexico City, the Navy announced that 11 cartel members were killed and 36 captured during five days of raids in several parts of Tamaulipas. Additionally, four tons of marijuana was seized from two locations and 251 grenades were confiscated.  Among those captured was the Gulf Cartel chief for the city of Miguel Aleman.

In downtown Monterrey, three men were shot and killed in separate incidents. In one incident, a 51-one year old man was shot and killed with an AK-47 after his car was intercepted by unknown gunmen.

Wednesday, October 12

In Reynosa, authorities discovered the body of the Gulf Cartel’s main financial operator. Cesar Davila Garcia, "El Gama" had had apparently been killed by unknown parties with a 9 mm handgun that was found at the scene. At one point, Davila Garcia had been the personal accountant of former Gulf Cartel leader Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, "Tony Tormenta," before his death in November 2010. He was briefly given control of the Tampico region before being sent to Reynosa to assume his duties as the cartel's main financial operator

[Editor's Note: We can no longer tally this year's drug war deaths in Mexico with any degree of accuracy. The figure for this year's deaths is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 7,800

TOTAL: > 42,000

Mexico

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