Eradication

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Development First: Lessons Learned in Promoting Rural Development and Reducing Illicit Crop Cultivation in Afghanistan and the Andes

The Washington Office on Latin America (in cooperation with Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman, Subcommittee on International Development Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Representative John Tierney, Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) cordially invite you to this Capitol Hill briefing. FEATURED SPEAKERS INCLUDE: - Tom Kramer, Researcher, Drugs and Democracy Program, Transnational Institute (TNI), The Netherlands - Carlos Rosero, Founder, Black Communities Process (PCN), Colombia - Vanda Felbab-Brown, Fellow, Foreign Policy, 21st Century Defense Initiative, The Brookings Institution - James T. Smith, Independent Consultant, Former Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade - Coletta Youngers, Senior Fellow, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) Refreshments will be provided. Mr. Rosero will present in Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation into English available. All other presentations will be in English. The event is free of charge and open to the public, but seating may be limited. If you plan to attend, please reply no later than Monday, December 7, to Rachel Robb at rrobb@wola.org or (202) 797-2171.
Date: 
Tue, 12/08/2009 - 3:00pm - 4:30pm
Location: 
Senate Visitor Center, Room 215 First and East Capitol Streets
Washington, DC
United States

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

What's the Actual Value of a Marijuana Plant?

We've found many examples of police exaggerating the value of marijuana seizures, so I was interested to see this article in The Fresno Bee that debates the value of marijuana plants:

"I don't think most plants [would yield a pound] at any one time, unless it's a massive plant," [NORML's Keith Stroup] said. "What would make more sense would be to weigh the buds," which are the part of the marijuana plant where the intoxicant, a chemical called THC, is located.

Special Agent Casey McEnry of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in San Francisco disagrees.

"We're not weighing the plants," she said. "When I give an estimate, it's based on how many pounds [a plant] is capable of producing."

No it's not, because you have no way of knowing that. Overall yield depends heavily on the strain and the growing conditions/techniques. It varies from a couple ounces to multiple pounds. Ever notice how some kinds of trees grow taller then others? Same principle.

The value of marijuana plants is hardly the biggest lie being passed around in the drug war debate, but it shouldn’t be ignored either. Every day, some poor soul gets sentenced to prison based on erroneous estimates like this. These simplistic calculations frequently serve to falsely equate personal growers with major suppliers, all because law-enforcement officials are too lazy to actually weigh the appropriate part of the plant.

Once again, the people enforcing our drug laws literally do not know what they're talking about.

Southwest Asia: Russia Says US, NATO Anti-Drug Efforts in Afghanistan "Inadequate," Urges Aerial Eradication of Poppy Crops

In a Wednesday interview with the Associated Press, Russia's anti-drug chief said US and NATO anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan were "inadequate" and called for joint action to stem the flow of Afghan heroin flooding into Russia and the former Soviet republics.

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anti-drug artwork, Nejat Center, Kabul (photo by Phil Smith, fall 2005)
Viktor Ivanov told the AP that he had recently urged the Obama administration to begin a program to eradicate opium poppies by spraying them with herbicides from the air. Such a program was argued for by former drug czar John Walters and others during the Bush administration, but was rejected. Earlier this year, the US announced it was shifting away from any eradication and would focus instead on interdiction, destroying drug-making facilities, and disrupting the drug trade.

Russia is burdened with rising heroin addiction rates fueled by cheap Afghan heroin, and injection drug use has been a key factor in spreading the HIV virus there. There are an estimated 2 to 2.5 million heroin addicts in Russia, with about 30,000 dying from overdoses each year.

Ivanov, a former KGB captain who served in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, complained that by abandoning eradication efforts in Afghanistan, the West was dooming Russia to a wave of heroin addiction. He also said that growing wheat and other legal crops isn't practical in the middle of a war.

"As long as the situation remains tense and the confrontation continues, no one will engage in agriculture," he said. "They won't be able to cultivate grain even if they want to."

Ivanov noted that the US continues to fund a similar program to eradicate Colombian coca plants. Manual eradication in Afghanistan has failed and will continue to fail because the West has left it to the Afghan government and local authorities lack the clout (or sometimes the will) to effectively implement it, he said.

Ivanov said he had discussed the matter with Obama drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and State Department officials during a September meeting and that both sides agreed to continue discussions on aerial eradication. "I hope that our open-minded dialogue will encourage the US to take more adequate measures," Ivanov said. "We are interested in cooperation."

It Sucks to be the Drug Czar of Afghanistan

Fortune Magazine tags along with Afghanistan's minister of counternarcotics for a drug war victory party in which a huge stash of opium gets blown up with gasoline. Boom!

But afterward, as he is driven back into town in a black SUV with tinted windows, he seems restless, frustrated, perhaps a little defeated, as if he knows the morning's events were a set piece of political theater. As Kabul comes into view he points to a string of car dealerships and, with resignation, says that they are owned by traffickers. Passing a row of large, ornate homes -- commonly called "poppy palaces" or "narcotecture" -- he says drug money built them all. Then he sighs deeply, rubs his hands together, and stares through the darkened glass.

Cheer up, dude. At least you got to see a cool explosion.

Marijuana Eradication is Destroying Everything Except Marijuana

As a child, my folks took me to see the magnificent trees in Sequoia National Park and I'll never forget it as long as I live. It's a precious ecosystem, housing the largest trees in the world as well as countless other unique plant-life not found anywhere else on earth. Not surprisingly, it's also a great place to grow marijuana and that could soon become its downfall:

In Sequoia National Park, $1 million has been spent since 2006 on marijuana plantation cleanup alone, and the damage done to Crystal Cave will be felt for years to come, said the park spokeswoman, Adrienne Freeman.

"We are continually discovering new species in that cave, and we are letting Mexican cartels threaten to wipe that out," she said. [CNN]

She's damn right we're letting them do it. We've surrendered the fate of irreplaceable national treasures to these drug traffickers, simply because we won't allow responsible Americans to produce their own marijuana on private property. The consequences of our failure are catastrophic, yet the solution is painfully simple.

It's really amazing to watch the police, the forest service, and the press just cringing and whining about this awful problem, without uttering a word about how we're going to save our forests from imminent destruction. They seriously don’t have a clue. You can read any of the dozens of recently published stories on this topic without seeing anyone even attempt to figure it out. Their only idea is to keep pulling up pot plants, as the growers plant ever more to ensure that some survive.

Fortunately, there exists one perfect solution to this problem. And it offers far more than the salvation of our precious wilderness. When we fix our marijuana laws, I guarantee you, we will solve problems we didn’t even know we had.

free marijuana

You lazy ass pot heads don't do anything but complain and cower behind your cheesy ideals!! Get off your ASSES and do something real! Stop wasting your seeds and take back the Earth. Give them back to the earth that gives them to us. Hemp has been food, fuel, and pharmaceutical - it's time for it to be a weapon. Take it to the rivers, lakes, and streams... leave seeds in puddles and storm drains... press them into some soft bread and feed them to the ducks and geese... press them into some cheese fish bait and go fishing... put them into bird feeders... drop them into storm drains and puddles... press them into some ground meat and leave them for the foxes and coyotes to eat and distribute, feed seeds to your outdoor cat or your dog that you take to shit in the park or neighbors yard... FREE the WEED! SO WHAT if the result is ditch weed... it's NOT about THC content anymore, or profits... it's about freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of weed! Stop wasting your money on OVER PRICED and OVER RATED kinds! Spread the word and your seeds. Enlist you relatives, bud buddies, and neighbors. The D.E.A. CANNOT eradicate marijuana if it grows EVERYWHERE! Your government cannot possibly tear out every wild weed if we all work together... it's time to stop crying about prices and busts and free your weed! Don't throw away the gift of life that is in each seed and don't hoard them... give them all a chance to live. Toss them anywhere there is water- irrigation ditches, lakes, rivers, gardens and parks... anywhere they can haver a chance to grow. If one tenth of all smokers did so there would eventually be too much of our favorite plant to eradicate. Prices for market weed would have to be competitive because there would be free ditch weed for all. And the best part- no more having to bum smoke from a Budd and no more having to bum them some... just send them to the nearest wild crop. It's Time For Revolution! Free weed is just a seed's throw away. So what if the result is ditch weed... it's not about THC content anymore, or profits... it's about freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of weed! Spread the word and your seeds. Get every friend, neighbor, and relative to help fight the war on the war on drugs. Reforest what man has cleared in the name of progress... reclaim earth for our plants. With enough plants we could fight Global Warming! Your government cannot possibly tear out every wild weed if we all work together. In just a few years we could see it overwhelm them to a point where they will have to legalize low THC content cannabis... and that's a move in the right direction. Drop your seeds in every flower pot, planter and garden at your local courthouse, police station, library, and park. Let them know they cannot stop our plant! Repost this message anywhere you can or print it out to pass around.

Every Year is a Record Year for Marijuana Eradication

Each August, like clockwork, you can expect to see announcements like this one about the success of this year's marijuana eradication efforts:
According to the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, a multiagency task force managed by the state’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, this year is already one for the record books. In more than 425 raids since late June, some 3.4 million plants have been seized, up from 2.9 million all of last year. And, officials note, they still have roughly a month and a half before the campaign expires with the end of harvest season. [NYT]
So, if more marijuana is seized each year, what does that mean? It means there's more marijuana every year. The harder you try to stop people from growing marijuana in the forest, the more marijuana they will plant. It's a very simple and predictable routine, such that one could easily republish last year's news coverage of this same phenomenon without changing a word and no one would know the difference.

The only variable in this equation is the finite acreage of our forests, which will eventually be destroyed under a policy that serves to increase rather than eliminate the practice of illicit outdoor marijuana cultivation.

Actually, come to think of it, there's a second variable here: our marijuana laws. If we changed them to allow personal marijuana growing on private property, then nobody would grow pot in virtually inaccessible patches of fragile wilderness. How many more harvest season eradication records will be set before that reality begins to sink in?

Feature: Hit List -- US Targets 50 Taliban-Linked Drug Traffickers to Capture or Kill

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hidden drug cache, Afghanistan 2008 (from nato.int)
A congressional study released Tuesday reveals that US military forces occupying Afghanistan have placed 50 drug traffickers on a "capture or kill" list. The list of those targeted for arrest or assassination had previously been reserved for leaders of the insurgency aimed at driving Western forces from Afghanistan and restoring Taliban rule. The addition of drug traffickers to the hit list means the US military will now be capturing or killing criminal -- not political or military -- foes without benefit of warrant or trial.

The policy was announced earlier this year, when the US persuaded reluctant NATO allies to come on board as it began shifting its Afghan drug policy from eradication of peasant poppy fields to trying to interdict opium and heroin in transit out from the country. But it is receiving renewed attention as the fight heats up this summer, and the release of the report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has brought the policy under the spotlight.

The report, Afghanistan's Narco War: Breaking the Link between Drug Traffickers and Insurgents, includes the following highlights:

  • Senior military and civilian officials now believe the Taliban cannot be defeated and good government in Afghanistan cannot be established without cutting off the money generated by Afghanistan's opium industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world's heroin and generates an estimated $3 billion a year in profits.
  • As part of the US military expansion in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has assigned US troops a lead role in trying to stop the flow of illicit drug profits that are bankrolling the Taliban and fueling the corruption that undermines the Afghan government. Simultaneously, the United States has set up an intelligence center to analyze the flow of drug money to the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, and a task force combining military, intelligence and law enforcement resources from several countries to pursue drug networks linked to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan awaits formal approval.
  • On the civilian side, the administration is dramatically shifting gears on counternarcotics by phasing out eradication efforts in favor of promoting alternative crops and agriculture development. For the first time, the United States will have an agriculture strategy for Afghanistan. While this new strategy is still being finalized, it will focus on efforts to increase agricultural productivity, regenerate the agribusiness sector, rehabilitate watersheds and irrigation systems, and build capacity in the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock.

While it didn't make the highlights, the following passage bluntly spells out the lengths to which the military is prepared to go to complete its new anti-drug mission: "In a dramatic illustration of the new policy, major drug traffickers who help finance the insurgency are likely to find themselves in the crosshairs of the military. Some 50 of them are now officially on the target list to be killed or captured."

Or, as one US military officer told the committee staff: "We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and insurgency."

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burning of captured Afghanistan hashish cache, world record size, 2008 (from nato.int)
US military commanders argue that the killing of civilian drug trafficking suspects is legal under their rules of engagement and the international law. While the exact rules of engagement are classified, the generals said "the ROE and the internationally recognized Law of War have been interpreted to allow them to put drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list, called the joint integrated prioritized target list."

Not everyone agrees that killing civilian drug traffickers in a foreign country is legal. The UN General Assembly has called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. In a 2007 report, the International Harm Reduction Association identified the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses as a violation of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"What was striking about the news coverage of this this week was that the culture of US impunity is so entrenched that nobody questioned or even mentioned the fact that extrajudicial murder is illegal under international law, and presumably under US law as well," said Steve Rolles of the British drug reform group Transform. "The UK government could never get away with an assassination list like this, and even when countries like Israel do it, there is widespread condemnation. Imagine the uproar if the Afghans had produced a list of US assassination targets on the basis that US forces in Afghanistan were responsible for thousands of civilian casualties."

Rolles noted that while international law condemns the death penalty for drug offenses, the US policy of "capture or kill" doesn't even necessarily contemplate trying offenders before executing them. "This hit list is something different," he argued. "They are specifically calling for executions without any recourse to trial, prosecution, or legal norms. Whilst a 'war' can arguably create exceptions in terms of targeting 'enemy combatants,' the war on terror and war on drugs are amorphous concepts apparently being used to create a blanket exemption under which almost any actions are justified, whether conventionally viewed as legal or not -- as recent controversies over torture have all too clearly demonstrated."

But observers on this side of the water were more sanguine. "This is arguably no different from US forces trying to capture or kill Taliban leaders," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on drugs, security, and insurgencies at the Brookings Institution. "As long as you are in a war context and part of your policy is to immobilize the insurgency, this is no different," she said.

"This supposedly focuses on major traffickers closely aligned to the Taliban and Al Qaeda," said Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute. "That at least is preferable to going around destroying the opium crops of Afghan farmers, but it is still a questionable strategy," he said.

But even if they can live with hit-listing drug traffickers, both analysts said the success of the policy would depend on how it is implemented. "The major weakness of this new initiative is that it is subject to manipulation -- it creates a huge incentive for rival traffickers or people who simply have a quarrel with someone to finger that person and get US and NATO forces to take him out," said Carpenter, noting that Western forces had been similarly played in the recent past in Afghanistan. "You'll no doubt be amazed by the number of traffickers who are going to be identified as Taliban-linked. Other traffickers will have a vested interest in eliminating the competition."

"This is better than eradication," agreed Felbab-Brown, "but how effective it will be depends to a large extent on how it's implemented. There are potential pitfalls. One is that you send a signal that the best way to be a drug trafficker is to be part of the government. There needs to be a parallel effort to go after traffickers aligned with the government," she said.

"A second pitfall is with deciding the purpose of interdiction," Felbab-Brown continued. "This is being billed as a way to bankrupt the Taliban, but I am skeptical about that, and there is the danger that expectations will not be met. Perhaps this should be focused on limiting the traffickers' power to corrupt and coerce the state."

Another danger, said Felbab-Brown, is if the policy is implemented too broadly. "If the policy targets low-level traders even if they are aligned with the Taliban or targets extensive networks of trafficking organizations and ends up arresting thousands of people, its disruptive effects may be indistinguishable from eradication at the local level. That would be economically hurting populations the international community is trying to court."

Felbab-Brown pointed to the Colombian and Mexican examples to highlight another potential pitfall for the policy of targeting Taliban-linked traffickers. "Such operations could end up allowing the Taliban to take more control over trafficking, as in Colombia after the Medellin and Cali cartels were destroyed, where the FARC and the paramilitaries ended up becoming major players," she warned. "Or like Mexico, where the traffickers have responded by fighting back against the state. This could add another dimension to the conflict and increase the levels of violence."

The level of violence is already at its highest level since the US invasion and occupation nearly eight years ago. Last month was the bloodiest month of the war for Western troops, with 76 US and NATO soldiers killed. As of Wednesday, another 28 have been killed this month.

Latin America: Five Killed, Six Wounded, Six Missing in Attack on Colombian Soldiers, Coca Eradicators

Three Colombian soldiers and two civilian members of a coca eradication squad were killed Monday when the boat in which they were riding came under rifle and grenade attack. Six more were wounded and six others were still missing Wednesday evening. The attack occurred in western Choco state, where leftist FARC guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries are both active.

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coca eradication (courtesy sf.indymedia.org)
Early reports from the scene quoted witnesses blaming members of the FARC's 34th Front, with a local ombudsman telling Radio Caracol the group had been attacked on its way to eradicate coca fields. But another local official told the Associated Press that drug gangs and rightist paramilitaries also operate in the area.

In the past three months, eradication teams have destroyed nearly half of the estimated 1,500 hectares of coca plants in the area. But as Monday's incident demonstrates, those efforts are not always appreciated. At least 26 of the 6,000 eradication workers employed by the Colombian government have been killed in the last three years.

Manual eradication of coca is far outweighed by aerial eradication using herbicide. But despite spraying or uprooting hundreds of thousands of acres of coca plants each year, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2009 World Drug Report, last year Colombia produced 81,000 hectares of coca, down from 2007's 99,000 hectares. Colombian coca production was at 80,000 hectares in 1997, then ballooned to 163,000 hectares in 2000, before declining and reaching an apparent plateau at around 80,000 hectares since mid-decade.

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