Militarization

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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.com/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.

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, June 10

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, four human heads were left to be discovered near the national Congress and three other locations in and around the city. A note threatening the interior minister and head of the national prison system was left with one of the heads. While leaving decapitated heads to be found happens with some frequency in Mexico, such cases are rare in Guatemala. Organized crime in Guatemala is integrally linked to Mexico, as Mexican cartels have an extensive presence in the country, which they use to move shipments of cocaine into Mexico from South America.

In Houston, Texas, federal authorities announced the arrest of 2,200 suspects linked to Mexican drug cartels. The arrests came during a 22-month probe which targeted cells of every major drug cartel. On Wednesday, some 400 people were arrested across 16 states. The probe led to the seizure of $154, 1,200 pounds of meth, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,400 pounds of heroin, and 69 tons of marijuana.

Friday , June 11

In the city of Chihuahua, 19 people were killed and four were wounded when gunmen raided a drug-rehabilitation clinic. At least 30 gunmen traveling in six vehicles stormed the Christian Faith and Life Center, using assault rifles to kill 14 people immediately, which was followed by the execution of an additional five. The attackers left a threatening message as they withdrew. The attack was similar to two which took place in Ciudad Juarez in September, which left 28 people dead. Initial reports from police suggest that the center may have housed members of the "Mexicles" gang, which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel as it battles the Juarez Cartel for control of the Chihuahua drug-trafficking corridors.

In Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, at least 20 people were killed in five incidents across the city. The incidents began late on Thursday night when police clashed with an unclear number of gunmen who were moving in vehicles in the city. Police later discovered bodies on a nearby beach on several other locations in Madero.

Sunday , June 13

In Tepic, Nayarit, eight gunmen and a policeman were killed during a chaotic gun fight in a crowded shopping mall. At least 1,500 shoppers were present during the incident, which began when police entering the shopping mall to investigate a report of suspicious activity were met by gunfire from at least 15 gunmen. At least one civilian, a taxi driver, was killed in the crossfire. Four other killings were reported in Tepic on Sunday, making it the most violent day in the city's recent history.

Monday , June 14

Across Mexico, 43 people were killed in drug-related violence. In Michoacan, 12 police officers were killed after being ambush near the town of Zitacuaro. One gunman was killed in the ensuing firefight. The army and police launched an immediate manhunt for the remaining gunmen, who escaped.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, 28 prison inmates were killed in a gunfight inside the confines of the prison. At least some of the inmates were said to be members of the Zetas Organization. The incident comes just a week after Sinaloa Governor Jesus Aguilar warned about the repercussions of overcrowding in the Mazatlan prison, which houses 6,000 inmates, many of the linked to drug-trafficking organizations. Sinaloa has long been at the heart of the Mexican drug trade.

Tuesday , June 15

In Taxco, 15 gunmen were killed during a 40 minute-long firefight with elements of the Mexican Army. No soldiers were wounded or killed in the fight, which began after troops came under fire while investigating a suspicious location. Initial reports indicate that the gunmen were part of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel faction loyal to US-born drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, so nicknamed for his blue eyes and light complexion.

Wednesday , June 16

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were murdered in a 15-minute span across the city, and 22 were killed by the end of the day. In one incident, six people were killed at a methadone clinic, including a man who was killed next to his two-year old son.

In Monterrey, seven police officers were kidnapped and executed by armed men. The bodies of the officers -- all showing signs of torture -- were later found on an abandoned plot of land along with a message. One of the men was decapitated. Three teenagers were also killed in a separate incident in Monterrey. In Santiago, 19 miles away from Monterrey, two police officers were found shot to death.

Thursday, June 17

In Costa Rica, 14 drug traffickers were arrested by police. Four of the suspects were found to Mexican nationals and representatives of an unspecified cartel. Costa Rica has seen an increased presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations who seek new routes for cocaine headed north from South America.

Total Body Count for the Week: 416

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,210

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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