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Mexican Presidents Talk Drug Legalization

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Vicente Fox
Last Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon briefly opened the door to drug legalization, saying it was something that needed to be discussed, only to clarify in a press release hours later that he remained opposed to legalization. Now, Calderon's predecessor, former President Vicente Fox, has stepped up to call forthrightly for legalization, and just two days ago Calderon again expressed a willingness to rethink his aggressive anti-drug campaign.

The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.

Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.

Felipe Calderon attending security conference
"We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs," wrote Fox, like Calderon, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked. Legalizing in this sense does not mean drugs are good and don't harm those who consume them," he wrote. "Rather we should look at it as a strategy to strike at and break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power."

Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.

On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."

Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.

Mexico

American Gets Drug Death Sentence in Indonesia

A court in Jakarta has sentenced a US citizen to death for his role in an international drug trafficking organization, the Jakarta Globe reported Wednesday. Frank Amado, 46, had been arrested in October carrying more than a pound of methamphetamine outside of his apartment. Police found 11 more pounds of meth when they searched his apartment.

"Considering that during the hearings there was nothing that could lighten the defendant's sentence, and that after deliberations the judges found the defendant proven guilty of the primary charge against him, the defendant is sentenced to death," presiding Judge Dehel Sandan said as he read out the court’s verdict. "Frank intentionally committed a criminal act, unlawfully becoming a courier in a Class I narcotics trade together with Peyman bin Azizallah aka Sorena aka Paulo Russo," Judge Dehel continued.

Peyman, an Iranian citizen, had been getting drugs from two other Iranians, who fled and are still at large. Peyman then turned the drugs over to Amado for delivery. It's unclear what happened to Peyman.

"The defendant was actively involved in a large-scale drug trade that could have fatal consequences for society, especially the younger generation. The sentence was to act as a deterrent for foreigners involved in the drug trade," Judge Dehel said.

According to a June report from the   International Harm Reduction Association , The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses 2010: A Global Overview, Indonesia is one of a group eight Asian and Middle Eastern nations with a "low commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses, meaning that while they had the death penalty on the books for drug offenses, they applied it sparingly in practice.

The report said two people were executed for drug crimes in 2008 and none last year. But of 111 people on Indonesia's death row, 56 are there for drugs.

Jakarta
Indonesia

"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

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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.

Anti-Prohibitionist Candidates Challenge New York Status Quo (FEATURE)

An unlikely pair of anti-prohibitionist insurgents are running statewide campaigns in New York designed to challenge the political status quo. Randy Credico, a comedian turned activist turned senatorial candidate, is challenging incumbent Charles Schumer for the Democratic Party senatorial nomination, while hedge fund manager turned madam turned convict Kristin Davis is running for governor on the Anti-Prohibition party ticket.

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Randy Credico
Credico is familiar to the activist community as a relentless organizer against the Rockefeller drug laws from his post at the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, while Davis's notoriety comes from her prosecution and four-month imprisonment as a "Manhattan Madam" who procured prostitutes for deposed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Both are proving adept at milking the media for all it's worth in a bid to bring their anti-prohibitionist messages to the public eye.

By all accounts, neither has a chance of winning outright. In the latest Siena Poll of New York politics, Credico was pulling 11% against Schumer, up from 9% last fall, but still hardly a close race. Davis has not figured in any polls, but is running as a third party candidate in a year when Democrat Andrew Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in in November.

Still, both are committed to doing all they can to bolster their campaigns and get the spotlight focused on their issues. Last week, the Credico campaign handed in signatures in a bid to qualify for the Democratic primary, while the Davis campaign is in the midst of a signature drive of its own.

"I'm exhausted, I just spent 38 days on the petitioning drive," said Credico on the way back from Albany after handing in signatures. "I'm sick. I have some bronchial problem. If Paterson signs the medical marijuana bill, I might be able to get some relief. We have enough signatures to get on the ballot. Now we have to wait to see if Schumer challenges us," Credico said.

That may be unnecessary, given that the state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs told the New York Daily News Sunday that Credico and his allies had not turned in enough signatures to make the party ballot. But whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico will be in the race. He is also on the ticket for both the Libertarian Party and Davis's Anti-Prohibitionist Party.

"Randy submitted 7,000 signatures himself, and one running mate submitted 6,500, and the third guy was supposed to submit 9,000, but only handed in 500," said Roger Stone, a Republican political operative who is friends with Credico and is advising Davis. "The next morning, the Democratic state committee was peddling the story that Randy had fallen short. I think the third guy was working with Chuck Schumer in a Nixon-style dirty tricks operation. Why does Chuck Schumer fear competition? Why deny people a vote?"

Stone might know a thing or two about political tricksters. He has a long history of political shenanigans, most notably a role in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riots" in Florida in the disputed 2000 presidential election, where mobs of angry Republicans rushed election offices as officials scrutinized chads. He denies any involvement in that.

"I'm a libertarian Republican, not a religious right or Moral Majority Republican," Stone said. "I'm pro-freedom, I favor gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, casino gambling, and prostitution. The only way to get the pimps and drugs out of it is to regulate it. It's a $10 billion industry -- let's legalize it and run out the mob, the pimps, the guys who exploit women, let's empower women."

He is also critical of New York's drug laws. "The Rockefeller laws were racist," Stone said bluntly. "If you were a rich white kid, you could get a break. I think there's a difference between cocaine and marijuana, and I'm not for the legalization of heroin, but until someone can convince me marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, I say legalize it. It's a harmless herb that grows from the earth, and the idea it's a gateway drug is horseshit. New York has millions of marijuana users and they didn't all turn into heroin addicts."

Whatever Stone's motives, he is pushing both anti-prohibitionist campaigns and played a key role in getting Davis into the governor's race. "I met Roger Stone on a Sirius radio show, and afterward, I approached him about lobbying for the legalization of prostitution," said Davis, whose blonde bombshell looks belie a keen intellect. "That was right after a woman who had worked for me was killed by the Craig's List killer in Boston. I feel very strongly she would still be alive if prostitution were legal. If one of his earlier victims had felt comfortable calling the police, he might have been caught before he killed," she said.

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Kristin Davis
"My platform is pro-freedom," said Davis, adding that some of her issues are getting more play than others. "We've sort of moved into being most vocal on marijuana and gay marriage," she said. "These are the two issues that resonate most with people. New York is broke, deeply in debt, so we're looking at marijuana not so much as a social issue, but as an economic one."

Davis acknowledged that actually winning the governorship was unlikely, to say the least, but said her campaign was more about getting the issues addressed and getting enough votes to get the Anti-Prohibitionist Party official status in New York. "People say you can't expect to win, but that depends on your definition of winning," she said. "Andrew Cuomo has approval ratings over 60% and $23 million in campaign funds, but voting for me sends a clear message to the career politicians that these issues need to be heard. If we can get 50,000 votes for the party, then we're officially recognized and can lobby for our issues. Every single vote matters. Every vote for me shows the career politicians that New Yorkers care about these issues, that they want legal marijuana."

The anti-prohibitionist tag team has been doing some joint appearances, Davis said. "Randy is on my Anti-Prohibitionist Party petition as the Senate nominee. We just did an event over the weekend. It was a signature drive kickoff slash birthday party for me," she said. "There were maybe 300 people there."

Davis's notoriety has both helped and hindered her campaign, the former madam said. "It's a double-edged sword. Compared to sex, people by and large are not so interested in politics," she explained. "Sex gets people interested, and I'm an interesting character, but on the other hand, the mainstream media has been skeptical. The Post and New York One have not covered the campaign at all. I hope that once we're on the ballot, and they see this isn't a hoax, they'll start taking us a little more seriously."

"She's been able to use the celebrity that came out of her brush with Eliot Spitzer to her advantage to continue to point out the inequities of the criminal justice system," Stone said. "She went to prison, and he went back to his town house."

If politics makes strange bedfellows, anti-drug war politics makes even stranger ones. Stone is a libertarian Republican, Davis describes herself as a libertarian, but Credico comes out of a left-leaning social justice perspective. They don't agree on everything. For instance, Credico has come out in favor of allowing a mosque to be built near the former World Trade Center site, while Davis opposes it. Similarly, Credico touts an anti-war, anti-interventionist foreign policy, while Davis doesn't touch those issues.

"In the end," said Stone, "Credico and Davis become running mates and are on the same side. The drug war is one of the issues that motivates them both."

Whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico isn't going away. "We're going to start a war of attrition against Schumer," the activist/comedian turned candidate vowed. "We'll be making inroads in the black, latino, lesbian and gay communities, we'll be making inroads with people upstate concerned about their mortgages and credit cards. "I know Schumer is not happy I'm in the race," said Credico. "I'm the last person he wants challenging him. I have a show biz background, I have charisma."

But he also has street cred dating back to his days agitating against the Rockefeller drug laws. "I worked with the families of prisoners, I worked with the African-American community. That's what helped get me over the top. Women whose kids were incarcerated came out and canvassed for me. Schumer has nothing to offer them," Credico said.

Credico compares and contrasts his career with Schumer's and finds the incumbent fares badly. "I ran a civil rights organization, and he conducted himself as someone opposed to civil rights, as manifested by his support of the Patriot Act, the drug war, ID cards, the wall on the border, and other repressive measures. He's anti-civil rights, not for constitutional or civil rights for most Americans."

The Schumer campaign did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

"I'm for civil rights, human rights, a clean environment, and pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia," Credico elaborated. "Schumer was going to waltz right in there without having to talk about this, and New Yorkers deserve better. Why is he an avid supporter of the drug war? Why isn't he as progressive as [Republican senators] Sessions and Hatch on the crack/powder sentencing disparity?" the long-time activist asked.

"I'm for legalization of marijuana," Credico continued. "We should be able to grow marijuana here, without taxing it. Let's not give the government any more layers of power. Prohibition has to be abolished. We have to talk about this. The drug war is a Trojan horse to incarcerate people of color for social control."

The Republicans and Democrats in New York have shown little taste for challenging drug war orthodoxy, but insurgent candidates Credico and Davis are determined to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to justifying prohibitionist policies. Let the games begin!

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

EU Court Upholds Dutch Border Town's Ban on Drug Tourism

In a decision that cuts against the grain of the European Union's laws governing free markets and the free movement of people within its borders, the EU Court of Justice has upheld the Dutch border town of Maastricht's bid to ban foreigners from its cannabis coffee shops. The ruling came last Friday.

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downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
Maastricht decided to limit admission to coffee shops to Dutch residents only, in a bid to stanch the flow of pot-seeking tourists, mostly from France and Belgium, who flood into the town conveniently close to the French and Belgian borders. City officials said 4,000 tourists a day come to Maastricht to score, and they make up some 70% of the border town coffee shop business.

The move prompted a legal challenge from Marc Josemanns, a coffee shop owner and chairman of the Association of Official Maastricht Coffee Shops. He argued before the Dutch council of state that the ban contravenes EU legislation on the free movement of citizens, goods, and services within the EU. The council asked the EU Court of Justice to interpret EU law, which it will then incorporate in its ruling later this year.

EU Court of Justice Advocate General Yve Bot found that drugs do not count as regular, legal goods because they are against the law. "Narcotics, including cannabis, are not goods like others and their sale does not benefit from the freedoms of movement guaranteed by European Union law, inasmuch as their sale is unlawful," he said. But marijuana does "come under internal market rules" in cases of medical or scientific use, he specified.

Since Maastricht was correct to view drug tourism as "a genuine and sufficiently serious threat to public order," Bot said, restricting foreigners from coffee shops "constitutes a measure necessary to protect the residents of the municipality from trouble."

Bot even went a step further, saying that pot heads descending on the Netherlands to get stoned and enjoy themselves was itself a threat to EU security. "Drug tourism, insofar as it conceals, in actual fact, international trade in narcotics and fuels organized criminal activities, threatens even the European Union's internal security," he said.

Of course, if the EU just legalized the drug trade, that would eliminate drug tourism at the Dutch border and deprive organized crime of revenues, but this appears to be too much to ask.

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.

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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.

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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."

Seeing the Trend....

About ~ our privacy is at risk and nobody seems to make heads or tails of this. Ongoing debate? i'm not sure this would even be considered a 'free country' if this were done.' ie: The new bill Lieberman has before the President. The Fail-Safe 'shut down' of all personal computers should a 'National Emergency' be deemed and subsequent collection of any and ALL information in one's private affairs. (see url below) It's already a nightmare of epic proportions. And with the size of ever-increasing hard drives, i don't believe they realize the fallout or the MAJOR & obvious violations of our human rights and civil liberties. IF (and i wouldn't believe it could) this bill does pass. AS an advocate/activist i am careful about such things. If computers did not exist, the closest scenario I could think of would be if such a 'state of emergency' were called - the likely scenario would be that anyone from a gov agency wanted to...it would be no different than setting a curfew and going into folks homes/apartments to take all personal and other information from bills, to private notes/messages to lovers, friends, children, family, All of your pictures, scrapbooks, family albums and writings, art, poetry and music to try and find something.... it's a blatant invasion of privacy. I've wanted to post for a long time but now i'm more reluctant to do so. I will be making donations and as far as i'm able, willing to act and help. Much Gratitude~ and all my best to those who need it :)

Death Penalty: Iran Goes On Drug Offender Execution Binge

Just three weeks ago, we did a feature article on the International Harm Reduction Association report, The Death Penalty for Death Offenses: Global Overview 2010 and the associated international campaign against the death penalty through the Harm Reduction and Human Rights campaign known as HR2. Since then, Iran has been on an execution binge, proving the report's contention that it is one of the world's most egregious offenders and highlighting the need for the anti-death penalty campaign to continue and intensify.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran, Iran
According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, which compiles information about death sentences and executions from local sources, Iranian hangmen have been very busy with drug offenders indeed lately.

On May 23, two days after our article came out, a man identified only as "SR" was hanged in Khuzestan's Karoun Prison for carrying 675 grams of heroin. Two days later, four people identified only by their initials were hanged in Yazd Prison, three for trafficking crack, marijuana, opium, and heroin, and one for trafficking 125 kilos of opium. On May 31, Afghans in Afghanistan's western Herat province reported that seven of their relatives had been executed in Taibad prison and asked the government's help in retrieving their bodies. That same day, another Afghan citizen, Nour Jamal S., was hanged at Isfahan prison for smuggling 1,385 kilos of crack cocaine, and two more people were hanged in Shirvan Prison in Khorasan province for drug trafficking.

There was no let-up so far this month. Last Friday, Jalil B. was hanged in Mianeh Prison in East Azerbaijan for drug trafficking. On Monday, 13 people were reported hanged for drug trafficking in Ghezel Hesar Prison in Teheran. On Tuesday, a man identified only as Masoud, 33, was reported hanged in Teheran for drug trafficking.

That's 30 people executed for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic in the last three weeks. But Iran isn't the only offender, even if it's the only one that actually put someone to death for a drug offense in that time period. Death sentences for drug offenses were handed out to a methamphetamine trafficker in Malaysia, five drug offense death sentences were handed down to foreigners in the United Arab Emirates, and five Chinese nationals were sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Vietnam.

And the beat goes on...

Feature: Jamaica Rocked As Kingston Drug Gangs Fight Police and Army -- At Least 73 Dead

The capital of Jamaica, Kingston, is still smoldering -- literally -- after four days of violent conflict between Jamaican security forces and a fugitive drug "don" (as the heads of gangs are called there) and his supporters left at least 73 people dead by official count. The fighting took on much of the form of an urban insurrection, with gunmen attacking police and soldiers and assaulting at least 18 police stations, one of which burned to the ground. Three policemen were killed in the first day of fighting.

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Prime Minister Bruce Golding
The fighting pitted followers of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, an alleged major gang leader and drug and weapons trafficker wanted by the US, against a government they felt had betrayed him -- and them. Last week, after months of trying to block an American extradition request, the government of Prime Minister Bruce Golding gave in to mounting political pressure and ordered him sent to the US, setting off mass demonstrations by his followers centered in the tough Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens.

Dudus' supporters put up street barricades of wrecked vehicles and other debris and armed young men strolled the streets amid reports that members of other Jamaican drug gangs, or posses, were streaming into to Kingston to join the fight. Golding announced a state of emergency Sunday night after the first attacks on police stations, but it took until Thursday for the police and the army to exert control over Tivoli.

Although the violence has died down, many issues remain unresolved. Dudus is still a free man, having eluded the authorities' assault on his stronghold in Tivoli Gardens, the prime minister's relationship with Dudus is being closely scrutinized, and now, complaints about unjustified killings by security forces this week are once again raising serious concerns about Jamaica's human rights record.

And while the violence has died down, it hasn't ended. Police stormed a house in the middle class community of Kirkland Heights Thursday after hearing that Dudus may have holed up there, setting off a two-hour firefight. Among the casualties there was the brother of former Minister of Industry and Commerce Claude Clark, who was killed by security personnel in the crossfire.

The confrontation in Kingston is shining the spotlight on long-acknowledged but usually quietly ignored connections between Jamaica's two main political parties, the ruling Labor Party and the opposition People's National Party, and tough Kingston slum gangs. Ever since violent election campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s, when leaders of both parties recruited neighborhood toughs, the "rude boys" of reggae lyrics, in Kingston slums like Tivoli or Trenchtown to act as their deniable armed wings, the parties have relied on these neighborhood gangs not only for fighting when necessary, but also to deliver the vote. In return, they turn a blind eye to some of the gang's more nefarious activities.

Dudus, as leader of the Tivoli Gardens posse, which was affiliated with Labor, had long been an ally of Prime Minister Golden. The neighborhood is even part of Golden's constituency -- thus the anger against the government by residents who had benefited from Dudus' largesse amid poverty and neglect from the government.

Like Pablo Escobar in Colombia, who gained popular support by building schools and soccer stadiums, or the contemporary Mexican drug cartels, who do the same sort of public-minded philanthropy for the same mix of genuine and public relations purposes, Dudus provides services -- as well as security -- for Tivoli Gardens and its residents. In doing so, he came to be viewed by many as a sort of Robin Hood figure.

"Coke was the standard 'Teflon don,'" said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, whose associate, Katherine Haas, this week published in a most timely fashion, Jamaica: Different Drug War, Different Strategy, a critique of US drug policy on the island. "For a relatively small percentage of the swag, he saw to it that there was a tremendous amount of goodwill in the neighborhood for his candidates. For Coke, it was always Labor, the Republicans of Jamaica."

Prime Minister Golding did his part by stalling for nine months the extradition order against Dudus after he was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons smuggling charges by a federal grand jury in New York. He even went as far as hiring a Washington, DC, public relations firm to attempt to lobby the indictment away, but when that became public knowledge, Golding's support for Dudus was not longer politically tenable.

"Coke was working for the JLP and Golding stalled as long as he possibly could to get the extradition going, but his ability to sustain his position vanished, so they had to go after Coke," Birns said. "But Coke had developed a cordon sanitiare of affection and appreciation because of what he has done for his neighborhood."

"They do have popular support because of the numbers of beneficiaries, and the financial support they provide to the communities," agreed Jamaican marijuana legalization activist Paul Chang.

US drug policy toward Jamaica hasn't helped, said Birns, whose organization has become increasingly critical of drug prohibition in recent years. American efforts to ameliorate some of the negative results of that policy are too little, too late, he said.

"US drug policy plays a role in this because the administration has announced a new program that will emphasize institution-building all the drug-infected countries in the region and emphasize the demand side, but we've heard all that before," he said. "Administration after administration has hurled rhetoric at the problem, but the existence of the drug cartels shines a laser-light like on the results of these policies. Anyway, although none of these islands has a viable economy, they want to give the paltry sum of $100 million to the Caribbean and Central America under Plan Merida. Guatemala alone could consume all that," he said.

"When it comes to Jamaica, you have the confluence of inadequate Latin America policy-making fused to a misconceived drug policy, and that becomes a very explosive mixture, and the ensuing violence we see in Jamaica is just the result," Birns summed up.

As of this writing, Dudus is still on the lam, Tivoli Gardens is still smoldering, Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of alleged street executions by security forces, and Prime Minister Golding is still holding on to power. But the violent challenge to the state's monopoly on the use of force has rocked Jamaica and revealed the dark webs of power linking politics and the underworld. The reverberations from this week will be felt in Jamaica for a long time to come.

Southeast Asia: Not Executing Drug Offenders Sends Wrong Signal, Singapore Says

An official of one of the world's leading drug executioner states has justified its mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking by saying to do otherwise would send the wrong signal to "drug barons." The state is Singapore, the authoritarian city-state on the tip of the Malay Peninsula, and the official was Law Minister K Shanmugam.

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Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign flyer featuring Yong Vui Kong case
Shanmugam made his remarks to the Straits Times Sunday when asked about the case of Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, 22, who was sentenced to death for smuggling 47 grams of heroin in 2007. His case has attracted international attention from human rights groups and is now before the Singapore Court of Appeal.

It would be wrong if drug smugglers got off too cheaply because of mitigating factors like youth or motherhood, he said. "We are sending a signal to all the drug barons out there: Just make sure you choose a victim who is young, or a mother of a young child, and use them as the people to carry the drugs into Singapore," the minister said.

In March, Yong's attorney argued before the appeals court that the mandatory death penalty for trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin was unconstitutional because it gave judges no discretion to consider mitigating factors. But the government responded that the sentence was in line with the law passed by Singapore's legislature.

According to a report on the death penalty for drug offenses from the International Harm Reduction Association, more than 400 people have been executed in Singapore since 1991, the majority for drug offenses. Drug executions accounted for 76% of all executions there from 1994 to 1999, and Singapore has been executing drug offenders at a rate of about 20 a year for the past decade.

It's worth it, said Shanmugam. The death penalty had been critical for suppressing drug trafficking and use in the city-state, and unlike most countries, it had not lost the war on drugs. "But you won't have human rights people standing up and saying: 'Singapore, you have done a great job, having most of your people free of drugs,'" he said.

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