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Southwest Asia: Taliban Makes $100 Million a Year Off Drug Prohibition

The Taliban made about $100 million last year by taxing Afghan farmers involved in growing opium poppies, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told BBC Radio. The money came from a 10% tax on farmers in Taliban-controlled areas, Costa said, adding that the Islamic insurgents profited from the illicit drug business in other ways as well.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"One is protection to laboratories and the other is that the insurgents offer protection to cargo, moving opium across the border," Costa told the BBC's File on 4 program.

Taliban opium revenues could decline slightly this year, Costa said, suggesting that yields and revenues are likely to decrease due to drought, infestation and a poppy ban enforced in the north and east of Afghanistan. That would lower Taliban revenues, "but not enormously," he said.

But a smaller harvest this year is unlikely to cause any shortages or put a serious dent in Taliban opium trade revenues. For the past three or four years, Afghanistan has produced more than the estimated world annual consumption, Costa noted. "Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,800 tons of opium," he said. "The world in the past few years has consumed about 4,400 tons in opium, this leaves a surplus. It is stored somewhere and not with the farmers," he added.

The Taliban have put the funds to effective use, as evidenced by the insurgency's growing strength, especially in southeast Afghanistan -- precisely the area of most intense opium cultivation. More than 230 US and NATO troops were killed in fighting in Afghanistan last year, and 109 more have been killed so far this year. US Army Major General Jeffrey Schloesser told reporters Tuesday Taliban attacks in the region were up 40% over the same period last year.

British officials interviewed by the BBC said it was incontrovertible that the Taliban was profiting off of the illegal trade created by prohibition. "The closer we look at it, the closer we see the insurgents [are] to the drugs trade," said David Belgrove, head of counter narcotics at the British embassy in Kabul. "We can say that a lot of their arms and ammunition are being funded directly by the drugs trade."

Which leaves NATO and the US stuck with that enduring Afghan dilemma: Leave the poppy trade alone and strengthen the Taliban by allowing it to raise hundreds of millions of dollars; or go after the poppies and the poppy trade and strengthen the Taliban by pushing hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers into their beckoning arms.

Latin America: Bolivia's Chapare Coca Growers Tell USAID to Get Lost, Say They Will Seek Funding from Venezuela

Coca grower union leaders in Bolivia's Chapare region said Wednesday they will suspend development projects funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and instead look to Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez for help. They accused USAID of using its assistance to undermine Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader who is an ally of Chávez, Washington's bête noire in Latin America.

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Bolivian congressman Asterio Romero spoke with Drug War Chronicle in person in March 2007
"We want USAID to go. If USAID leaves, we will have aid from Venezuela, which is unconditioned and in solidarity," Chapare coca leader Julio Salazar told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Venezuela already provides financial assistance to Bolivia. Chávez has also invested in the Andean nation's effort to create an industry around coca products, providing support in the building of coca-processing facilities.

Asterio Romero, vice president of Chapare's main coca-growing group, told the AP growers on Tuesday agreed to cancel the USAID's operations in the region and gave it until Thursday to leave.

The coca grower action has apparently taken both governments by surprise. The US Embassy in La Paz refused comment, saying it had not been officially informed of the coca growers' decision. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Tuesday he was not familiar with the decision, but that his government wants to make US aid "more transparent."

President Morales has accused USAID of financing his political opponents. Among them are wealthy landowners from the country's eastern provinces who are seeking greater autonomy or secession.

Latin America: Coca Production Up Last Year, UN Reports

In an annual report released Wednesday, Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found itself "surprised and shocked" to announce that the amount of land devoted to coca growing in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru had risen to more than 181,000 hectares, or more than 700 square miles. That is a 16% increase over 2006 figures and the highest level of cultivation since 2001.

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Bolivian coca leaves drying in warehouse -- the sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
Colombia, which remains the region's largest coca and cocaine producer despite a seven-year, $5 billion dollar US effort to wipe out the crop, had the most dramatic increase, jumping up 27%. Cultivation increased 5% in Bolivia, where a coca-friendly government is de facto allowing small increases, and 4% in Peru, where a non-coca-friendly government is in constant low-level conflict with coca growers.

"The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock: a surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa. "But this bad news must be put in perspective," he added in desperate search of a silver lining. "Just like in Afghanistan, where most opium is grown in provinces with a heavy Taliban presence, in Colombia most coca is grown in areas controlled by insurgents", Costa said, noting that half of all cocaine production and a third of all cultivation occurs in just 10 of the country's 195 municipalities.

But despite the increase in coca cultivation, cocaine production remained stable. Last year, global potential production of cocaine was 994 metric tons, according to the UNODC, while in 2006, it was 984 metric tons. The UNODC pointed to lower yields as a result of pressure from massive aerial eradication, which caused farmers to seek out peripheral lands and resort to smaller, more dispersed coca patches.

"In the past few years, the Colombian government destroyed large-scale coca farming by means of massive aerial eradication, which unsettled armed groups and drug traffickers alike. In the future, with the FARC in disarray, it may become easier to control coca cultivation," Costa predicted rosily.

Last year, Colombia's drug police, working with US funds and US contractors, sprayed herbicide on 160,000 hectares of coca and manually eradicated another 50,000 hectares. But as in the past, Colombia's coca growing peasants, faced with few alternatives, have adapted rapidly, negating the gains of the eradicators.

While Congress has gone along with the $5 billion experiment to eradicate coca in Colombia in the last year of the Clinton administration and throughout the Bush presidency, the clamor is rising on Capitol Hill for a shift in emphasis in US aid. Currently, the aid goes 80% to security forces and 20% for development assistance. Solons can rightly ask just what they've been getting for all that money.

Feature: US Drug Policies Flawed and Failed, Experts Tell Congressional Committee

The US Congress Joint Economic Committee yesterday held a historic hearing on the economic costs of US drug policy. The hearing, titled Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses, was called at the request of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his opening remarks described the all-too-familiar failure of US drug policy to accomplish the goals it has set for itself. It was the second hearing related to incarceration that Webb has convened under the auspices of this committee.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
"Our insatiable demand for drugs" drives the drug trade, Webb pointed out. "We're spending enormous amounts of money to interdict drug shipments, but supplies remain consistent. Some 86% of high schoolers report easy access to marijuana. Cocaine prices have fallen by about 80% since the 1980s," the freshman senator continued. "Efforts to curb illegal drug use have relied heavily on enforcement. The number of people in custody on drug charges has increased 13-fold in the past 25 years, yet the flow of drugs remains undiminished. Drug convictions and collateral punishments are devastating our minority communities," Webb said.

"Our current policy mix is not working the way we want it to," Webb declared. "The ease with which drugs can be obtained, the price, the number of people using drugs, the violence on the border all show that. We need to rethink our responses to the health effects, the economic impacts, the effect on crime. We need to rethink our approach to the supply and demand of drugs."

Such sentiments coming from a sitting senator in the US in 2008 are bold if not remarkable, and it's not the first time that Webb has uttered such words:

In March of last year, he told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program This Week: "One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that's where I want to put my energy."

In his recently-released book, A Time to Fight, Webb wrote: "The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana," "It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities" and "Either we are home to the most evil population on earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more constructive ways."

Still, drug reformers may be impatient with the level of rethinking presented at the hearing. While witnesses including University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, author of "Drug War Heresies," and John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) offered strong and familiar critiques of various aspects of US drug policy, neither of the words "prohibition" or "legalization" were ever uttered, nor were the words "tax and regulate," and radical alternatives to current policy were barely touched upon. Instead, the emphasis seemed to be on adjusting the "mix" of spending on law enforcement versus treatment and prevention.

The other two witnesses at the hearing, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and community coordinator Norma Fernandes of the same office, were there to talk up the success of drug court-style programs in their community.

[The written testimony of all four witnesses is available at the hearing web site linked above.]

"US drug policy is comprehensive, but unbalanced," said Reuter. "As much as 75% of spending goes to enforcement, mainly to lock up low-level drug dealers. Treatment is not very available. The US has a larger drug problem than other Western countries, and the policy measures to confront it have met with little success," he told the committee.

Reuter said there were some indications policymakers and the electorate are tiring of the drug war approach, citing California's treatment-not-jail Proposition 36, but there was little indication Congress was interested in serious analysis of programs and policies.

"Congress has been content to accept rhetoric instead of research," Reuter said, citing its lack of reaction to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's refusal to release a now three-year-old report on drug use levels during the Bush administration. "It's hardly a secret that ONDCP has failed to publish that report, but Congress has not bothered to do anything," he complained. "We need more emphasis on the analytic base for policy."

But even with the paltry evidence available to work with, Reuter was able to summarize a bottom line: "The US imprisons too many people and provides too little treatment," he said. "We need more than marginal changes."

"US drug policies have been in place for some time without much change except for intensification," said WOLA's Walsh, noting that coca production levels are as high as they were 20 years ago. "Since 1981, we have spent about $800 billion on drug control, and $600 billion of that on supply reduction. We need a stiff dose of historical reality as we contemplate what to do now," he told the committee.

With the basic policies in place for so long, some conclusions can now be drawn, Walsh said. "First, the balloon effect is real and fully relevant today. We've seen it time and time again, not just with crops, but also with drug smuggling routes. If we want to talk about actually reducing illicit crops and we know eradication only leads to renewed planting, we need to be looking for alternatives," he said.

"Second, there is continuing strong availability of illicit drugs and a long-term trend toward falling prices," Walsh said, strongly suggesting that interdiction was a failed policy. "The perennial goal is to drive up prices, but prices have fallen sharply. There is evidence of disruptions in the US cocaine market last year, but whether that endures is an open question and quite doubtful given the historical record," he said.

"Third, finding drugs coming across the border is like finding a needle in a haystack, or more like finding lots of needles in lots of different moving haystacks," he said. "Our legal commerce with Mexico is so huge that to think we can seal the borders is delusional."

With respect to the anti-drug assistance package for Mexico currently being debated in Congress, Walsh had a warning: "Even with US assistance, any reduction in the flow of drugs from Mexico is unlikely." Instead, Walsh said, lawmakers should adjust their supply-control objectives and expectations to bring them in line with that reality.

Changes in drug producing countries will require sustained efforts to increase alternative livelihoods. That in turn will require patience and a turn away from "the quick fix mentality that hasn't fixed anything," Walsh said.

"We can't expect sudden improvements; there is no silver bullet," Walsh concluded. "We need to switch to harm reduction approaches and recognize drugs and drug use as perennial problems that can't be eliminated, but can be managed better. We need to minimize not only the harms associated with drug use, but also those related to policies meant to control drugs."

"It is important to be able to discuss the realities of the situation, it's not always a comfortable thing to talk about," Webb said after the oral testimony. "This is very much a demand problem. I've been skeptical bout drug eradication programs; they just don't work when you're supplying such an enormous thirst on this end. We have to find ways to address demand other than locking up more people. We have created an incredible underground economic apparatus and we have to think hard about how to address it."

"The way in which we focused attention on the supply side has been very much mistaken," agreed Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were the only other solons attending the hearing. "All this focus on supply hasn't really done anything of any value. The real issue is demand, and prevention and dealing with people getting out of prison is the way to deal with this."

Reuter suggested part of the solution was in increase in what he called "coerced abstinence," or forced drug treatment. Citing the work of UCLA drug policy researcher Mark Kleiman, Reuter said that regimes of frequent testing with modest sanctions imposed immediately and with certainty can result "in a real decline in drug taking and criminal activity."

That got a nod of agreement from prosecutor Swern. "How long you stay in treatment is the best predictor of staying out of trouble or off drugs," she said. Swern is running a program with deferring sentencing, with some flexibility she said. "The beauty of our program is it allows us to give people many chances. If they fail in treatment and want to try again, we do that," she said.

As the hearing drew to an end, Webb had one last question: "Justice Department statistics show that of all drug arrests in 2005, 42.6% were for marijuana offenses. What about the energy expended arresting people for marijuana?" he asked, implicitly begging for someone to respond, "It's a waste of resources."

But no one connected directly with the floating softball. "The vast majority of those arrests are for simple possession," said Reuter. "In Maryland, essentially no one is sentenced to jail for marijuana possession, although about a third spend time in jail pre-trial. It's not as bad as it looks," he said sanguinely.

"There's violence around marijuana trafficking in Brooklyn," responded prosecutor Swern.

WOLA's Walsh came closest to a strong answer. "Your question goes to setting priorities," he said. "We need to discriminate among types of illicit drugs. Which do the most harm and deserve the most emphasis? Also, given the sheer number of marijuana users, what kind of dent can you make even with many more arrests?"

And so ended the first joint congressional hearing to challenge the dogmas of the drug war. For reformers that attended, there were generally thumbs up for Webb and the committee, mixed with a bit of disappointment that the hearings only went so far.

"It was extraordinary," said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. "They didn't cover some of the things I hoped they would, but I have to give them props for addressing the issue at all."

"Webb was looking for someone to say what he wanted to say with the marijuana question, that perhaps we should deemphasize law enforcement on that," said Doug McVay, policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy, who also attended the hearing. "I don't think our witnesses quite caught what he was aiming for, an answer that arresting all those people for marijuana takes away resources that could be used to fight real crime."

Sen. Webb came in for special praise from Tree. "Perhaps because he's a possible vice presidential candidate, he had to tone things down a bit, but he is clearly not afraid to talk about over-incarceration, and using the Joint Economic Committee instead of Judiciary or Foreign Affairs is a brilliant use of that committee, because this is, after all, a policy with enormous economic consequences," Tree said. "Webb is clearly motivated by doing something about the high levels of incarceration. He held a hearing on it last year, and got the obvious answer that much of it is related to drug policy. Having heard that kind of answer, most politicians would walk away fast, but not Webb, so I have to give him credit."

Reversing the drug war juggernaut will not be easy. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing Thursday was perhaps a small step toward that end, but it is a step in the right direction.

Press Release: House Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: June 17, 2008 Contact: Tony Newman, tel: (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper, tel: (202) 669-6430 Wednesday, June 18th: House Judiciary Committee to Renew Controversial Drug Enforcement Grant Program Linked to Racial Disparities, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Abuses Twenty Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform Groups Urge Congress Not to Renew Byrne Grant Program without Reforming It Renewal of Program without Reform a Slap in the Face to Victims of Tulia and Hearne, TX Scandals—the Basis of Two Forthcoming Feature Films Last week the U.S. House Crime Subcommittee voted to renew the controversial but politically popular Byrne Justice Assistance grant program without debate or amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the issue tomorrow, Wednesday June 18th. The Senate has already passed legislation renewing the program, which has been linked to racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses. Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee not to renew the program without first reforming it. The groups include included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. “There are clear steps Congress can take to reform this program, from providing better oversight to requiring law enforcement agencies receiving federal money to document their traffic stops, arrests and searches by race and ethnicity,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Judiciary Committee Members renew this program without fixing it, they will be responsible for the racial disparities and civil rights abuses it breeds.” In a deeply troubling example of the consequences of the Byrne grant program, a magistrate judge found that a regional narcotics task force in Hearne, Texas routinely targeted African Americans as part of an effort to drive blacks out of the majority white town. For the past 15 years, the Byrne-funded task force annually raided the homes of African Americans and arrested and prosecuted innocent citizens. The county governments involved in the Hearne task force scandal eventually settled a civil suit, agreeing to pay financial damages to some of the victims of discrimination. The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in 1999 in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African-American residents (representing 15% of the black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to corroborate his allegations. Suspicions arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program. The program has been linked to numerous scandals and civil rights abuses across the country. “Every dollar Congress spends on the Byrne grant program is a dollar used to perpetuate racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses,” said Piper. “Unless this program is reformed this year, members of Congress should consider cutting funding to it.” What: Markup of H.R. 3546, a bill to reauthorize the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, and other bills. When: Wednesday 06/18/2008 - 10:15 a.m. Where: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building Key Points of Interest: - Oscar-nominated actors Alfre Woodard and Michael O'Keefe star in the recently completed feature film American Violet. Based loosely on the Hearne scandal, the film follows the harrowing journey of a young mother fighting the devastating consequences of America's drug task force programs. The film is scheduled to begin festival screenings worldwide early this fall. - Lionsgate films is currently producing a feature film based on the Tulia, Texas scandal starring Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. - Twenty civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have released a letter today urging the House Judiciary Committee to not renew the program without first reforming it. The groups included the ACLU, the Brennan Center, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, National Black Police Association, the National Council of La Raza and the Drug Policy Alliance. - Four leading conservative groups have urged Congress to completely eliminate the Byrne grant program, because the program “has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources.” (American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens against Government Waste and National Taxpayers Union). - A 2002 report by the ACLU of Texas identified 17 scandals involving Byrne-funded narcotics task forces in Texas, including cases of falsifying government records, witness tampering, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, stealing drugs from evidence lockers, selling drugs to children, large-scale racial profiling, sexual harassment and other abuses of official capacity. Recent scandals in other states include the misuse of millions of dollars in federal grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions based on police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower their charges in exchange for money or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. - A 2001 study by the General Accounting Office found that the federal government fails to adequately monitor the grant program or hold grantees accountable.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Go Directly to (Federal) Prison: The Criminalization of Almost Everything

Ten years ago, the American Bar Association Task Force on the Federalization of Crime published its final report documenting the enormous size and scope of federal criminal law. During congressional hearings, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the chairman of the Task Force, testified to the numerous damaging consequences that “flow from the inappropriate federalization of crime.” Leading members of Congress are increasingly concerned about the ramifications of this over-federalization. Professor John Baker, a member of the original Task Force, has updated the Task Force’s work and concludes that there are now at least 4,450 federal crimes. In addition, his data indicate that Congress enacts more criminal offenses in election years than in non-election years. The purpose of this program is to analyze how Congress can renew its commitment to constitutional and prudential limits on the federal criminal power. Speakers include: The Honorable Louie Gohmert (R-TX) Ranking Member U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security John S. Baker, Jr. Dale E. Bennett Professor Law, Louisiana State University Law School, Original Member, ABA Task Force on the Federalization of Crime Host: Edwin Meese III Chairman, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation For more information contact Jason Murphy at 202-675-1752. To RSVP, see www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev061708b.cfm.
Date: 
Tue, 06/17/2008 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: 
214 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
United States

Congress to vote on medical marijuana - take action now

Dear friends:

If you take only one action to help reform our nation's marijuana laws this year, it should be this one.

Please take one minute to ask your U.S. House member to vote for the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would stop the federal government from arresting patients who are using medical marijuana legally under state law.

The full U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the amendment in just a few weeks — and there will probably be earlier committee action on medical marijuana legislation any day now — so it's crucial that your U.S. representative hear from constituents like you.

MPP's online action system makes it easy. Just fill in your name and address and we'll do the rest.

Take action here.

Twelve states have passed laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail. However, the federal government continues to ignore those state laws. For instance, just last month, DEA agents conducted a series of raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state law.

It's outrageous that the federal government is overturning the will of the people in these 12 states.

It's outrageous that the federal government is kicking in the doors and breaking the windows of medical marijuana dispensaries, stealing cash and marijuana from the proprietors of these establishments, and racing off in their black SUVs before TV news cameras arrive to document these governmental assaults.

I know you feel strongly that this is wrong. Would you please use your voice to deliver that message to Congress?

If we stand together, we will persuade Congress to change federal law.

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
Washington, DC
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Latin America: US House Approves Mexico Anti-Drug Aid Bill, But Mexico Balks at Senate Human Rights Conditions

The US House of Representatives Tuesday approved a $1.6 billion, three-year anti-drug assistance plan aimed at helping Mexico and Central American countries fight the region's powerful drug trafficking organizations, but the package is now in doubt after the Mexican government voiced strong objections to provisions in the Senate version of the bill that tie the aid to human rights measures. The version of the bill in the Senate has yet to be approved.

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poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
The vote came amidst rising levels of prohibition-related violence in Mexico. Some 4,000 people -- including more than 450 police and soldiers -- have been killed in the drug war since President Felipe Calderón escalated it at the beginning of last year by sending some 25,000 troops and federal police into drug trafficker strongholds. The traffickers have taken time off from fighting among themselves to strike back at government forces, recently assassinating several top federal and municipal police commanders. Last week, traffickers in Culiacán ambushed and killed eight police in one day.

The bill, passed by the House 311-106, would begin to implement the Mérida Initiative, named after the Mexican city where US and Mexican officials sat down last year to hammer out an assistance package. Under that plan, the US funds would go for equipping and training security forces in Mexico and Central America and for improving justice systems in the region. Mexico would get $1.1 billion, while Central American and Caribbean countries would get roughly $400 million. Another $74 million would go to trying to slow the flow of illicit weapons from the US to Mexico.

But while Mexico had been eager to win the aid package, it is balking at the conditions in the Senate bill, which include human rights reviews, judicial reforms, and other issues. The conditions mark a return to "certification," where the US unilaterally determined whether nations where complying with US drug objectives, complained Mexican assistant attorney general for international affairs José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos.

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Ríodoce (newspaper) cover -- Sinaloa keeps bleeding. Why more (soldiers)?
"Why don't we tell the Americans to use those [funds] for their own interdiction forces or interception forces... and stop the flow of weapons," Santiago Vasconcelos said in a radio interview cited by the Dallas Morning News. "Rather than giving them to Mexico, they can be used by the Americans to reinforce their Customs service, their Border Patrol, and stop the arms trafficking to our country."

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said last week that President Calderón is waiting to see the final version of the bill before making a decision. "The president will very carefully consider what is finally approved, and defending the best interests of Mexico, will make the correct decision, of that we can be sure," he said.

"I think one way or another, it's dead," political commentator Ricardo Alemán told the Morning News. "Mr. Vasconcelos is a very high-ranking police official and has support from the government," Alemán said, adding that Mexican pride is at stake. "Mexicans are very unyielding on this," he said. "First you reduce the amount, and then you put on conditions, so why don't you just keep your money."

A delegation of US senators flew last weekend to Monterrey, Mexico, to meet with Mexican officials in an effort to assuage their concerns, and there are signs they will seek to remove the offensive language from the Senate bill.

"We heard from everyone here the common message that this language has got to be changed," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), one of 11 US legislators attending the two-day meeting. "Our friends in Mexico needed to vent and explain how this issue was not handled well," the senator added. "Anything that smacks of certification is a nonstarter."

Now it's time to see if the US Senate will sacrifice Mexican human rights on the altar of the drug war.

George Bush and Cocaine: How the President Might Save His Approval Rating

[Editor's Note: Jimi Devine is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. His bio is in our "staff" section.]

As the eyes of the political spectrum make their way through Scott McClellan's expose on his Bush administration experiences, which includes information involving GW’s cocaine use, the president will continue to deny his actions. But Bush shouldn’t be so quick to repeat that he was too wasted to remember whether he powdered his nose -- look at this honest group of politicians who have come out on the record about their past drug use and the lack of negative effects on their political careers.

Obviously the current flagship of an open door policy to past drug use has to be Barrack Obama. In 1995's "Dreams From My Father" the Democratic frontrunner acknowledged his drug use before even becoming a member of the Illinois state legislature. Over primary season this did open Obama up to attack, most famously Mitt Romney noting: "I think that was a huge error by Barack Obama… it is just the wrong way for people who want to be the leader of the free world."

As we look at Obama and a few of the politicians who admit to being in the "once or twice" club, the underlying similarity between many is their political prominence. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously responded to the marijuana question with, "You bet I did, and I enjoyed it." Nevertheless, a dash of irony is added by New York being the marijuana arrest capital of the world.

While Bloomberg's approach wasn't for everyone, others did come out of the smokey closet. Past presidential contenders John Edwards, John Kerry, and Howard Dean admitted together at 2003 presidential debate they had all tried the drug in the past. Few went into detail like Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who cooked up his marijuana in some baked beans with a friend while at Columbia University.

Finally we come to Al Gore. As a senator in the 1980s he took part in the hearings to approve Supreme Court nominees. When Douglas H. Ginsburg came under fire for his past marijuana use, Gore stepped up and admitted he had also tried the drug in the past. Of course, it was later found at that “tried” meant a lot more than occasional consumption.

So here now we sit with allegations from a former press secretary that the President of the United States can't remember if he ever tried cocaine. I think it's pretty obvious how the president needs to use this as a boost to his credibility. Look at Dean and Gore, one is the Chairman of the DNC and the other convinced us that the ice caps are melting. If Bush decides to come out from his closet or from under his marble desk, at the very least he would be saying something the American people could believe.

Latin America: Rising Death Toll in Mexico's Drug War Signals Imminent Victory, Attorney General Claims

As of last Friday, the death toll in the prohibition-related violence wracking Mexico this year had climbed to 1,378, up sharply from the 940 dead at this time last year, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora reported. Since then, that number has gone even higher, with killing continuing on a daily basis. Among the dead this week, seven police officers were killed in Culiacán when they raided a house belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel.

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Shrine to San Malverde, patron saint of the narcos (and others), Culiacán -- plaque thanking God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and San Malverde for keeping the roads cleans -- from ''the indigenous people from Angostura to Arizona'' (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
More than 4,150 people, including at least 450 police and soldiers, have been killed in Mexico's drug wars since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the army against drug traffickers at the beginning of 2007, Medina Mora said. Currently, some 30,000 troops are deployed in border cities, Culiacán and Acapulco, and other drug war hot spots.

This month, at least six high-ranking police officials, including the police chief in Ciudad Juárez and the acting commander of the Federal Preventive Police have been assassinated, presumably at the hands of cartel gunmen. Others have fled to the US.

But for Medina Mora, the rising tide of blood is a sign the government's offensive is working. Recent arrests and seizures have created a power vacuum, and different cartel factions are vying for turf, he argued. "Evidently when they are cornered and weakened, they have to respond with violence," Medina Mora said.

The US government apparently doesn't agree. The Congress is currently considering a three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance program for Mexico aimed at defeating the cartels. And neither, apparently, does Medina Mora's own government. It announced this week that it will deploy the military against the cartels for at least another two years.

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