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Mexican President Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

After presiding for years over the bloodiest drug war escalation in history, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is finally ready to discuss legalization.

MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon said he would consider a debate on legalizing drugs Tuesday as his government announced that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006.

"It's a fundamental debate in which I think, first of all, you must allow a democratic plurality (of opinions)," he said. "You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides." [AP]

It's just an earth-shattering concession from the man who staked his presidency on a desperate attempt to prove that aggressive enforcement could somehow restore peace and order. Now, with the streets stained in blood and corruption permeating the highest levels of government, Calderon appears poised to confront the crushing reality that there's just no upside to any of this. He needs room to maneuver, and after exhausting every traditional tactic in the drug prohibition playbook, there remains only one conversation left to be had.

Of course, Calderon was careful to clarify that he's acknowledging, rather than endorsing, the legalization argument:

But Calderon has long said he is opposed to the idea, and his office issued a statement hours after the meeting saying that while the president was open to debate on the issue, he remains "against the legalization of drugs."
 

Riiiight. He's a politician and surely realizes that paying lip service to a touchy subject like this serves only to give it momentum. Posturing aside, Calderon knows exactly what happens when you open this door. He can see it already in the American press, and I can only imagine that he's now perfectly willing to witness the emergence of a sizable movement for reform in Mexico. If he weren't, you can bet he'd never dare drop the "L" word with a microphone at his mouth.

Whether he intended to or not, Calderon has spent his presidency performing the most compelling imaginable exhibit in the failure of prohibition. After sacrificing so much, his only chance at redemption may depend on his willingness to take the lead in learning something from the smoldering nightmare that now surrounds him.

Juarez Grenade Attack Caught On Tape; Attack Comes 2 Weeks After Bomb Blast

Location: 
Ciudad Juarez
United States
Drug prohibition violence continues in Ciudad Juarez where Mexican federal police officers were attacked with a grenade, nearly two weeks after Mexican federal police were attacked with a car bomb. 262 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in July -- that's about 8 per day.
Publication/Source: 
KVIA (TX)
URL: 
http://www.kvia.com/news/24475973/detail.html

"Murder City," by Border Cognoscenti Charles Bowden (BOOK REVIEW)

"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)

by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murdercity.jpg
Last Saturday, Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, marked a grim milestone: its 6,000th murder victim since the beginning of 2008. The discovery of 10 bodies that day pushed the beleaguered city past that marker, but the week -- still only half-done as I write these words -- held more gore. On Wednesday, two headless bodies appeared propped up against the wall of building. The heads sat atop upended ice chests in front of them. Writing on the ice chests claimed that one of the men was a carjacker and the other a kidnapper and extortionist, and that both were members of the Aztecas, a street gang that peddles dope and acts as neighborhood enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.

Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.

And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.

"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs.  It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.

We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.

We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.

As Bowden notes:

"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."

Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.

Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.

Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.

But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.

We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."

Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.

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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on earlier this month), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/arellano-felix-dea-poster.jpg
DEA 'wanted' poster with members of Arellano Felix cartel
Friday, July 23

In San Diego, Federal authorities announced criminal charges against 43 members of the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix Organization. 31 of the 43 men are in custody, 27 of them having been arrested in the United States. Among the arrested men was Jesus Quinones Marques, the director of international liaison for the Baja California attorney general's office. He is accused of attempting to plant information about murders in local newspapers in an attempt to blame rival gangs.

Saturday, July 24

In Ciudad Juarez, the murder rate passed 6,000 since January 1st, 2008. As of Saturday, there had been 235 murders in July, and 1,645 so far in 2010. In 2009, there were 2,754 and 1,623 in 2008. On Saturday, 10 people were killed in several incidents in the city. Four of the dead were killed when gunmen attacked a barbershop, and another three were killed in an attack on a house.

Sunday, July 25

Mexicans officials now claim that gunmen who committed a massacre last week in Torreon were let out of the prison at night to carry out drug-related killings. The prisoners are thought to be involved in at least three mass shootings in Torreon this year, killing a total of 35 people. Ballistics testing has also indicated that the weapons were those of prison guards, who lent them to the hit men.

In Nuevo Leon, at least 51 bodies were discovered by authorities after a three-day excavation of a mass grave. The grave site spanned a 7-acre area, and most of the dead seem to be men between 20 and 50, many of them tattooed. Similar mass graves have been found in Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Quintana Roo in recent months.

Monday, July 26

In Guerrero, six men were found dead inside a car near the town of Chilpancingo. A sign reading, "This will happen to all rapists, extortionists and kidnappers. Attentively, the New Cartel of the Sierra," was left with the bodies. Authorities are now investigating this previously unheard of organization. The car was reportedly taken from its owner after he was stopped and hijacked on a road.

In Sinaloa, two men were ambushed and killed by gunmen in Culiacan. The men -- Jose Antonio and Luis Alberto Vega Heras -- were the son and nephew of a known high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel, known as El Gaucho. Additionally, two other men were killed in the city. Killings were also reported in Morelos, Jalisco, and Chihuahua, including at least five in Ciudad Juarez.

In the Laguna region of Durango and Coahuila, four journalists went missing after being kidnapped by an unknown group. Two were cameramen from Televisa, one was a reporter for Multimedios television, and one a reporter for El Vespertino. Three were kidnapped Monday at around noon and the fourth on Monday night.

Tuesday, July 27

In Durango, eight severed heads were found left in pairs along a highway. In Puebla, three federal agents were killed by gunmen during a firefight. A relative of the Governor-Elect was assassinated in Parral, Chihuaha. In Tamaulipas, the army claimed to have captured nine Guatemalan citizens during operations against drug gangs.

Wednesday, July 28

In Ciudad Juarez, two severed heads were discovered in coolers with the bodies left nearby. Along with the bodies were left notes which read "I'm a kidnapper and extortionist. I'm an Azteca" and "I do carjackings and work for La Linea and the Aztecas." The Aztecas are a street gang affiliated with the Juarez Cartel, and La Linea is the enforcement wing of the Juarez Cartel.

Total Body Count for the Week: 236

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,671

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Mayhem Raises Fears of Wider Mexican Violence

Location: 
Mexico
Mexico's drug war, which has not ended the gang violence and killings or stopped the flow of drugs, is failing miserably. Now, some experts fear a new level of violence in the already brutal war among drug traffickers and the Mexican government -- one that could be cutting into foreign business investment and tourism, two staples of the nation's legal economy.
Publication/Source: 
AOL News (US)
URL: 
http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/recent-mayhem-raises-fears-of-wider-mexican-violence/19571517

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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on Thursday), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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:

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday, July 16

In Ciudad Juárez, four people were killed when a car bomb blew up near federal police headquarters. The dead included two police officers, a doctor, and a paramedic. The Juárez cartel claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks if authorities do not crack down on the rival Sinaloa Cartel. This attack marks the first time such tactics have been used in Mexico's prohibition-related violence.

Sunday, July 18

In Torreon, Coahuila, 17 people were killed when gunmen opened fire in a crowded party without any warning after having blocked the exits. At least 18 people were also wounded in the attack, many of them seriously. Many of those in attendance at the event learned of it through Facebook. Torreon has seen several large-scale multiple homicides in recent months, especially after fighting began between the Zetas Organization and the Gulf Cartel. This battle has led to a drastic increase in violence in northern Mexico, including Coahuila.

Monday, July 19

In Guadalajara, Jalisco, three policemen were killed after being ambushed by gunmen in two separate incidents. In the first, two officers were shot dead in a car stereo shop. In the second incident, a police patrol car was attacked by armed men with rifles and grenades, leaving one officer dead.

Tuesday, July 20

In Ciudad Juárez, seven people were killed in several incidents across the city. Among the dead was a man found hanging from a bridge and a dismembered body which had to be pieced together from several locations.

Wednesday, July 21

In Nuevo Laredo, one person was killed and sixteen were wounded after a grenade attack on a sports complex.

Thursday, July 22

In a mountainous remote part of Chihuahua, eight gunmen were killed after a clash with soldiers near the town of Madera. Reports indicate that the incident occured after an army patrol came under fire from an unclear number of gunmen. It is unknown to which organization the gunmen belonged. The area is heavily used by marijuana and poppy growers under cartel control.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, two police officers were killed after being chased by gunmen. The chase ended when the two officers exited their vehicle and attempted unsuccessfully to escape on foot. In Guasave, a known drug-trafficking stronghold, a woman was shot dead by two gunmen as she held her baby. She was killed and the child was wounded. A police officer was killed in Nuevo Leon. In Colima, a man was shot dead after being ambushed as he drove on a highway.

In the city of Nuevo Laredo, the city government sent out a Facebook message warning residents to stay inside due to ferocious gun battles with cartel gunmen.

Total Body Count for the Week: 187

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,435

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on Thursday), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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, July 9

In Ciudad Juarez, sixteen people were killed in various incidents across the city. Among the dead was an 85-year old man, and another man who was apparently beaten to death with rocks.

Sunday, July 11

In Ciudad Juarez, three men were killed in an intense gun battle between police and suspected cartel members. The incident began after gunmen attacked a combined municipal and federal police patrol. Several of the gunmen were reportedly armed with grenades.

Monday, July 12

In Nayarit, nine men were arrested in connection with the Sunday killing of two police officers. Several vehicles, weapons and marijuana were seized in the raids, which took place in the cities of Xalisco and Tepic.

In Acapulco, marines captured Aguirre Tavira, who is thought to be head of the Villareal faction of the Beltran-Leyva organization in the city.

In Guerrero, five men were killed during a firefight with an army patrol. Drug-related killings were also reported in Nayarit, Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon.

Tuesday, July 13

In Cuernavaca, three bodies were hung from an overpass. A note was left at the scene accusing the men of worker for Edgar Valdez Villareal, the leader of a breakaway faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization. Cuernavaca has seen a drastic surge in violence in recent months as rivals battle for leadership positions in the organization, which was left leaderless after the death of its boss, Arturo Beltran-Leyva, at the hands of Mexican Marines in December. It was later revealed the men had all recently escaped from prison.

Thursday, July 15

In Ciudad Juarez, three people were killed after suspected gang members rammed an explosives-laden car into two police patrol trucks. Two of the dead were police officers and a third was a paramedic. Nine people were wounded in the incident, which occurred just hours after the arrest of a high-level boss in the Juarez Cartel's armed wing, La Linea.

In Chihuahua, the nephew of a governor-elect was killed after attempting to flee from kidnappers. Near Monterrey, four men were found shot dead after being bound with tape and blindfolded.

In a small town near Ciudad Juarez, eight houses were burned to the ground by a group of heavily armed men. Two of the properties attacked in the town of Guadalupe, Distrito Bravo, belonged to former mayors who were murdered in the last three years.

Total Body Count for the Week: 277

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,248

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Chronicle Reviews: Two Books on Mexican Drug War, One on Border

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: Ruben Aguilar and Jorge Castaneda, "El Narco: La Guerra Fallida [The Failed War] (2009, Punto de lectura, 140 pp., $10.00 PB); George W. Grayson, "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" (2010, Transaction Publishers, 339 pp., $35.95 HB); Tim Grayson, "Midnight on the Line: The Secret Life of the US-Mexico Border (2010, St. Martin's Press, 304 pp., $25.95 HB)

On the streets of Mexican cities, a deadly, multi-sided war, complete with horrific exemplary violence -- among competing drug cartels, between the cartels and the Mexican state, and sometimes between different elements of the Mexican state -- rages on, the body count rising by the day, if not the hour. The cartels -- Frankenstein monsters birthed by drug prohibition, swollen with profits from supplying our insatiable demand for their forbidden goods -- not only fight the Mexican state, but also insinuate their way into it, and into Mexican society at large, buying with their immense wealth what they cannot command with their bullets.

This is commanding attention not only in Mexico, but also here north of the border, where the drugs are consumed and the cash handed over, where the fear looms that the violence will leak across the border. Despite the hyperventilating cries of some paranoid nativists, that has mostly not been the case, but if the violence hasn't arrived it's not because the cartels haven't extended their tentacles into Gringolandia. They are here, from San Antonio to Sacramento to Sioux Falls, doing business, and business is -- as always -- good.

Throw in some festering anti-immigrant (read: Mexican) sentiment, Congress's failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform, and some zealotry from the land of Sheriff Joe, and Mexico and the border are commanding a lot of attention. That's being reflected in the publishing world. Over the past two or three years, I've reviewed a handful of titles about Mexico and the border (and read more), and now we have three more contributions -- one an academic study of the cartels by a leading American Mexicanist; one a polemic against President Calderon's drug war by a Mexican journalist and a former Mexican foreign minister; and one a journalist's look at the world of smuggling, of both drugs and people, and counter-smuggling along the 1,700 mile border.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/graysonmexico.jpg
George Grayson's "Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?" is an extremely thorough and comprehensive history and analysis of the rise of the cartels in the context of the weaknesses of the Mexican state. If you can't tell your Carillo Fuentes from your Arellano Felix, if you're not sure if it's the Gulf Cartel or the Zetas, if you keep getting "La Barbie" mixed up with "El Chapo," Grayson will save you. He's got all the cartel players and all their nicknames -- and they all have them -- he's got all the busts and the shootouts, he's got what is so far the definitive history of the cartels and Mexico's response to them.

But Grayson is a political scientist, and that means we also get a history lesson on Mexican politics and culture, which for Grayson is largely a history of authoritarian institutions (the Catholic Church, the "perfect dictatorship" of the PRI), which the cartels imitate in their internal structures. Under the PRI, which ruled until Vicente Fox's PAN won the presidency in 2000, drug cartels existed, but in a modus vivendi with elements of the state. It was the political earthquake that shook loose the PRI that also unleashed the cartel wars, as old arrangements no longer served and new ones had to be forged. The ramping up of the drug war, first under Fox, and then under his successor, has only worsened the situation.

Grayson doesn't see any easy way out. It is "extremely difficult -- probably impossible," he writes, to eradicate the cartels, even with heightened law enforcement measures on both sides of the border. Raking in billions of dollars a year and employing nearly half a million Mexicans (and no doubt, some Americans, too), the cartels may just be, in a phrase, too big to fail. Just like the Mexican state, in Grayson's opinion. It may be corrupted, it may be suborned, but it goes on.

Although Grayson certainly plays it close to the vest, in the end he denounces the drug war. "Few public policies have compromised public health and undermined fundamental civil liberties for so long and to such a degree as the war on drugs," he writes.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/laguerrafallida.jpg
One gets the feeling that Jorge Castaneda, coauthor along with Ruben Aguilar of "Narco: La Guerra Fallida" (sorry, it's only available in Spanish), would like to be part of that Mexican state again. The former foreign minister has for years publicly suggested that it is time to talk about drug legalization, and "Narco" feels like part of a campaign to position himself for a run at office in 2012 or a post in whatever government emerges after elections that year. It is a polemic aimed directly at President Calderon's drug policies.

Castaneda and Aguilar set out to systematically demolish the reasons cited for ramping up the drug war, and do a pretty thorough job of it. (Although not everyone agrees with them. I saw Castaneda roundly berated at a Mexico City conference earlier this year for arguing that drug use in Mexico was not a significant problem, one of the central claims in the book.) Guns coming into Mexico from the US are not the cause of the violence, they also argue, and a full-blown confrontation with the cartels is not the way to go.

Instead, they propose increasing public security and reducing the "collateral damage" from drug prohibition and the drug wars by concentrating police on street crime and selectively targeting the most egregious drug offenders. The others? Perhaps a modus vivendi can be reached, if not at the national level, perhaps at the state or local level, as long appeared to be the case in Sinaloa. Decriminalization is another response, although not without the US joining in at the same time, lest Mexico become a drug tourism destination. And harm reduction measures should be applied. But "Narco" is ultimately a call for ending drug prohibition -- and a marker for Castaneda in forthcoming political moves.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/gaynormexico.jpg
Of course, all those Mexican-controlled drugs have to get here somehow, which means they have to cross the US-Mexican border, and Reuters reporter Tim Gaynor's "Midnight on the Line" has got that covered. This is a fast-paced, entertaining, and insightful look at the contraband traffic -- both drugs and people -- across the border and the people who try to stop it. Gaynor works both sides of the border, talking to coyotes in Tijuana, showing up in a dusty Sonora border town and following the illegal immigrant's harrowing journey through the searing deserts of Arizona, and interviewing all kinds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol folks, as well as other officials on this side.

Gaynor demonstrates with some verve the continuous, perpetual struggle between contrabandistas and the US authorities (or, like the Minutemen he interviews, volunteers) who struggle to choke off that traffic. He tracks for sign with Indian scouts on an Arizona reservation that has in recent years become a smuggling hotspot, he rides horseback and in a Blackhawk helicopter with the Border Patrol and tags along with one of its SWAT teams, he learns about the drones patrolling high overhead and the tunnels being bored far beneath the ground. And he introduces us to the people involved on both sides.

Gaynor concludes arguing -- no doubt much to the consternation of the "secure the border" crowd -- that the border is tighter than ever, and that the steady increase in federal officers there this decade has had an impact. But, he notes, this success has perverse results. Tightening the border has been "a market maker for ruthless and profit-hungry coyotes and drug traffickers, for whom smuggling has never been more profitable," he writes. And so it goes.

Gaynor's book is no doubt the easiest read, Castaneda's is more a marker of a political position than anything, and Grayson's belongs in the library as a desk reference for anyone really serious about following the cartels and Mexican politics. Happy reading.

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication.jpg
Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Latin America: 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 an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest 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, June 28
In Sinaloa, a well-known musician was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Sergio Vega, 40, was driving to a concert when he was intercepted and murdered just hours after having gone on the radio to deny reports that he had been killed. Vega was known to sing "narco-corridos" or drug ballads. Several other musicians of this genre have been killed in Mexico in recent years. Some are known to take commissions from drug-traffickers to write songs about them, or otherwise be involved in the drug business.

In Tamaulipas, a candidate for governor and four others were killed after his motorcade was ambushed. Borderlandbeat.com reported that the attackers used clone military vehicles and were dressed in fake Marine uniforms. Rodolfo Torre Cantu, 46, was the PRI candidate and a frontrunner. He was later replaced by his brother. The Torre killing is the most significant political assassination since the 1994 murder of presidential candidate Luis Colosio. There has been significant violence in Tamaulipas in recent months as the Zetas fight their former employers, the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, July 1

In a remote area near Nogales, Sonora 21 people were killed during a battle between rival groups of drug-traffickers. The incident began after a convoy of 50 vehicles was ambushed by rivals near the village of Tubutuma. One of the groups was apparently allied to Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, while the other was comprised of a mixed force of gunmen loyal to Hector Beltran-Leyva and the Zetas Organization. It is unclear who ambushed whom, but BorderReporter.com has reported that the Sinaloa Cartel gunmen took the brunt of the casualties.

In Nogales proper, two burnt heads were found hanging on a fence near just outside a cemetery. A handwritten note from one gang threatening another was left at the scene, but it was unclear if this is related to the Tubutuma ambush.

Friday, July 2

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexican officials announced the capture of a key suspect in the March murder of a US consulate employee, her husband, and a third-Mexican national. The suspect, Jesus Ernesto Chavez, is reported to be a senior leader in the Aztecas gang, which provides enforcers for the Juarez Cartel. He has since claimed that he ordered the killing of the consulate employee because she provided visas to rivals. However, US authorities have disputed this claim, saying there are no indications that the killings were due to the employee's job, and that she did not even work in the section which provided visas.

Saturday, July 3

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 15 people were killed in incidents across the city. In one shooting, a 90-year old man was killed by a stray bullet as he stood near a house which was attacked by a group of armed men. Three others (apparently the targets) were also killed. In another incident, four people were killed at a truck repair company's offices.

Tuesday, July 6

In Sinaloa, three decapitated heads were found on the hood of a car near the town of Angostura. The bodies were found inside the car.

In Tamaulipas, police arrested a bodyguard who worked for the governor on allegations that he also worked for a drug cartel. The guard, Ismael Ortega Galicia, has been named by the US Treasury department as being a part of either the Zetas or the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, July 8

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, armed men stormed a police facility and took back several vehicles which had been confiscated by the authorities in recent operations. At least 10 gunmen took part in the raid, including some who drove a multi-level car-carrier to take the vehicles away. Hours earlier, gunmen in the area also raided a municipal police facility and rescued three men who were being detained there.

Total Body Count Since Last Update: 520

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,971

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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