Militarization

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US Drug War Military Presence in Costa Rica Rejected

Location: 
Costa Rica
In the middle of this year, the Costa Rican Parliament authorized the arrival of 7,000 soldiers, 46 war ships, more than 200 helicopters, 10 Harrier planes and two submarines. The permission provoked the rejection of various parties and social sectors, regarding it as anti-constitutional and violating national sovereignty. "We are quite much worried with such an excessive military force to fight drug trafficking," said Victor Emilio Granados, from Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusion (PASE) - Accessibility without Exclusion Party. Other parties such as Frente Amplio and Accion Cuidadana also rejected the US military presence.
Publication/Source: 
Inside Costa Rica (Costa Rica)
URL: 
http://www.insidecostarica.com/dailynews/2010/december/16/costarica10121603.htm

Dozens Dead as Police, Drug Gangs Clash in Rio

A week of fighting between authorities and drug-trafficking groups in Rio de Janeiro has left dozens of people dead and two favelas, or shantytowns, occupied by heavily armed military police. Those favelas had for years been bases for the Red Command, one of the more powerful of the gangs.

Favela in Rio de Janeiro (Image courtesy Wikicommons)
The violence broke out a week ago when the drug gangs responded to an increased police presence in the favelas by attacking police patrols and burning buses. Nearly a hundred vehicles have been reported burned, and the death toll as of Sunday morning was at least 35.

After more than 2,600 heavily armed military police backed by armored personnel carriers and at least five helicopters, swept into the Alemao favela complex, the death toll as of Sunday night was at least 50. Red Command gunmen had retreated there after troops drove them from another favela, Villa Cruzeiro, earlier in the week.

While authorities reported at least 174 arrests, hundreds of other Red Command gunmen are believed to escaped through the labyrinthine passageways of the favelas. Authorities also reported seizing hundreds of weapons and several tons of marijuana.

The clashes come as Rio begins a campaign to integrate the favelas into the fabric of city life in preparation for the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014 and the summer Olympics in 2016. The favelas and their residents have historically been ignored by the Brazilian state, leaving a power vacuum that the drug gangs have filled in a number of them. But now the state is interested in establishing governance in them, and the commands are not going without a fight.

The military said it will occupy Alemao and Villa Cruzeiro as long as necessary. That has not been the pattern in the past, where occasional police sweeps and occupations have changed things temporarily, but have not had the staying power to change things permanently.

Rio de Janeiro
Brazil

Will U.S. Drones Join Mexico's Drug Prohibition War?

Location: 
Mexico
Without leaving American airspace, remotely piloted surveillance drones — outfitted with cameras that provide real-time video — fly along the Texas border searching U.S. territory for drug smugglers, illegal immigrants and potential terrorists. Does the U.S. government ever risk the international fallout of using the aircrafts' high-tech surveillance abilities to take a peek south of the border — or share what they see with Mexican counterparts fighting for their lives? The American public likely never will know.
Publication/Source: 
San Antonio Express-News (TX)
URL: 
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/mexico/which_way_are_eyesin_texas_sky_looking_109590634.html?c=y&page=1#storytop

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported in August. 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:

Wednesday, September 15

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/el-diario-juarez.jpg
In Tamaulipas, 22 gunmen were killed during a two-hour gun battle with the army. The incident began when soldiers investigating suspicious activity came under fire. Twenty-five rifles and several grenades were seized during the incident.

In a separate incident, 19 gunmen were killed in a clash with the army in Nuevo Leon.

Thursday, September 16

In Ciudad Juarez, a young photojournalist was shot and killed in a parking lot. Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, worked for the Juarez daily El Diario. He became the second reporter from the paper to have been killed in two years. In 2008, the newspaper's lead crime reporter was shot and killed outside his home. A prosecutor assigned to his killing was also assassinated. A second photojournalist was critically wounded.

On Sunday, El Diario published a front-page editorial directed at the cities drug cartels, asking "What do you want from us?" and said that the cartels had become the de-facto authorities in the city. That prompted strong criticism from the Calderon administration, which said you cannot negotiate with criminals.

Friday, September 17

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed when gunmen opened fire inside a crowded bar just after 4:00am. The seven men and one woman were aged between 20 and 35. The former owner of the bar, Wilfred Moya, was shot and killed at the same location about two years ago.

Sunday, September 19

In Guerrero, the bodies of six police officers were recovered from a ravine. This brings the total death toll from a mass abduction of nine police officers who were taken captive by gunmen in the community of El Revelado to eight. Of the bodies that were recovered Sunday, four were dismembered. A note threatening authorities was left alongside the bodies. No motive or suspects have been announced in the attack.

Monday, September 20

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities released four men who had previously been accused of 55 murders, due to a lack of evidence. The men had been in custody in Mexico City for two months before being returned to Juarez, and are mandated to come to another hearing on Thursday, although they are no longer incarcerated. All four are suspected of belong to the Artist Assassins, a local drug gang which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Tuesday, September 21

Near Ciudad Juarez, a mob beat to death two alleged kidnappers. Federal police intervened, but the crowd blocked their squad cars and the two men died of their wounds. The town of Ascension, where the incident occurred, has been particularly hard hit by drug-related kidnappings and killings.

Wednesday, September 22

A Ciudad Juarez newspaper editor has been given asylum because of threats against his life in Mexico. Jorge Luis Aguirre is the editor of the online newspaper La Polaka. Last year, he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about his experiences as a journalist in Mexico. More than 30 journalists have been killed or have vanished since 2006.

Total Body Count for the Week: 187

Total Body Count for the Year: 8,049

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update

Mexico

British, Canadian Troops Smuggling Afghan Heroin: Report

Location: 
Afghanistan
Military police in Afghanistan are investigating whether British and Canadian soldiers may have smuggled heroin out of the war-torn country.
Publication/Source: 
CTV Television Network (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20100912/afghanistan-heroin-smuggling-allegations-100912/

US Withholds Some Mexico Drug Aid Over Human Rights Concerns

The Obama administration is withholding $26 million in anti-drug aid to Mexico that was appropriated this year because Mexico failed to meet human rights conditions. But at the same time, it is releasing $36 million it withheld last year for the same reason because Mexico has made some human rights improvements, the State Department said in a report released to the Senate Friday.

poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
In 2008, as Mexico sank deeper into prohibition-fueled mayhem, Washington approved a $1.4 billion, three-year assistance package called Plan Merida. Part of that legislation mandated Mexican compliance with human rights conditions.

"We believe there has been progress, very significant progress, on human rights in Mexico, but as a policy decision -- not a legal decision -- we are going to wait on a portion of new funding because we think additional progress can be made," said Roberta Jacobson, a deputy assistant secretary for Mexico and Canada at the State Department.

The State Department is withholding 15% of this year's appropriation until Mexico takes a series of measures. Those include limiting the authority of military courts in cases involving abuse of civilians, improving communications with human rights groups in Mexico, and enhancing the authority of the National Human Rights Commission.

Complaints of human rights abuses by the Mexican military have risen sharply since President Felipe Calderon deployed the Army against drug traffickers in December 2006. More than 2,200 have been filed with the National Human Rights Commission since then, but there is little information available about how those complaints have been resolved.

In one incident that renewed calls from human rights groups that civilian authorities -- not the military -- investigate cases involving the military, human rights officials accused the Army of shooting two children and claiming they were caught in the crossfire of a shootout between soldiers and gunmen. In that April incident, two brothers age five and nine were killed. Surviving family members said they were shot by soldiers at a highway checkpoint.

The Mexican government responded by saying it is trying to improve human rights and that Washington should send money faster and not stick its nose in Mexico's business.

"The State Department report establishes that the government of Mexico is carrying out actions to strengthen the observance of human rights," the Mexican Foreign Relations Department said in a statement. "Cooperation with the United States against transnational organized crime through the framework of the Merida Initiative is based on shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for the jurisdiction of each country, not on unilateral plans for evaluating and conditions unacceptable to the government of Mexico."

The State Department action won mixed reviews from human rights and advocacy groups north of the border. Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America told the Associated Press that withholding the funds sends the message "that you cannot fight crime with crime and you cannot fight drugs while tolerating abuses by your security forces."

But Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post the funding freeze didn't go nearly far enough. "Nothing should have been released, because Mexico is simply not meeting the human rights requirements," Steinberg said. "There are widespread and systematic abuses by the military, for which they have total impunity."

Washington, DC
United States

Mexican Army Kills US Citizen on Acapulco-Zihuatenejo Highway

According to Mexican press reports, the Mexican military shot and killed a US citizen on the Acapulco-Zihuatenejo highway Saturday night. The American was identified as Joseph Steven Proctor, either 32 or 35 years old, of Georgia.

The incident took place on kilometer 14 of the coastal highway, near the village of Cerrito de Oro in the municipality of Coyuca de Benitez in the state of Guerrero. For more than 30 years, the Mexican military has conducted patrols and checkpoints on the highway as part of its "permanent campaign against drug trafficking."

According to Lt. Francisco Javier Escamilla of the 68th Infantry Battalion, soldiers in a Hummer driving toward Coyuca encountered a Winstar pick-up truck traveling toward them. The truck opened fire on the soldiers, and when it refused to stop, the soldiers shot back, causing the truck to overturn.

The Mexican army did not initially report the incident, only issuing its statement after police found Proctor's body. Instead, an anonymous call to state police reported the truck and the body around 2:00am Sunday morning. When police arrived, they found Proctor's body in the truck. It had multiple bullet wounds. They also found an AR-15 rifle with a 41-cartridge clip holding only 34 cartridges.

[Editor's Note: Anyone with experience firing a semi-automatic rifle at oncoming military vehicles while driving solo down the highway, please contact us. We want to know just how that is done.]

Proctor's body was taken to Acapulco for forensic examination, then turned over to his wife, Mexican national Liliana Gil Vargas. Gil Vargas told the newspaper Reforma that her husband had left their home in Coyuca de Benitez at about 10:00pm Saturday night to go shopping at a supermarket.

State and municipal police are investigating. The US consulate in Acapulco is asking that the military cooperate in the investigation.

While the Mexican military has long played a limited role in enforcing drug prohibition, President Felipe Calderon unleashed it in December 2006, deploying some 50,000 soldiers and federal police in hot spots across the country. It is widely accused of human rights violations, ranging from rape and robbery to torture, murder, and forced disappearances.

Coyuca de Benitez
Mexico

Costa Rica Is Wary of Plans to Allow U.S. Naval Ships to Dock on Its Shores for Anti-Drug Missions

Location: 
Costa Rica
A U.S. warship capable of deploying more than 1,000 military personnel and dozens of helicopters is headed right for Costa Rica’s peaceful Caribbean coast. In July, Costa Rica's legislative assembly approved a U.S. request for permission to dock 46 warships and 7,000 military personnel, mostly for narcotics missions in Costa Rican territory, sparking outrage among skeptics of the global war on drugs, including outspoken politicians, pacifists, student groups and everyday "Ticos", who are proud of their country’s six decades without a military. In short, it’s been an outright public relations disaster.
Publication/Source: 
MinnPost (MN)
URL: 
http://www.minnpost.com/globalpost/2010/08/20/20764/costa_rica_wary_of_plans_to_allow_us_naval_ships_to_dock_on_its_shores

Mexican Presidents Talk Drug Legalization

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/fox_0.jpg
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

"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.

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