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Seven youths mutilated in drugs war in Rio

Rio de Janeiro
Independent News Agency (Macedonia)

Singapore kills two African traffickers

The Irish Times

Canada: Vancouver Mayor Calls for Large-Scale Methamphetamine, Cocaine Maintenance Trials

According to a Monday press release, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan wants the Canadian federal government to grant the city an exemption from the country's drug laws so he can pursue a plan to provide at least 700 hard-core cocaine and methamphetamine users with maintenance doses of stimulant drugs. The idea, commonly known as substitution therapy, is similar to that of providing heroin addicts with maintenance doses of other opiates.

While researchers led by John Grabowski at the University of Texas at Houston have had success with small-scale methamphetamine substitution trials, the proposed Vancouver trials would be the largest ever. Mayor Sullivan is ready to take the plunge.

"Prescribing legally available medications provides people an opportunity to regain stability in their lives and ultimately a path to abstinence," he said. "Recognizing that drug addiction is one of the root causes of property crime and public disorder, I believe that this new approach will also help to reduce harm to the community."

It comes as part of a broader package of initiatives aimed at cleaning up homelessness, panhandling, and drug dealing before the 2010 Winter Olympics. Known as Project Civil City, the initiative sets out goals of a 50% reduction in the three areas by then.

Feature: In Mexico, Now It's Calderon's Drug War

Newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December after a razor-thin victory over his leftist rival, Andres Lopez Obrador, last summer, and in the few weeks since he has been in power, Calderon has moved quickly and aggressively against the country's powerful, wealthy, and ruthless drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels. But while Calderon's bold moves have won him kudos from Mexicans hungry for law and order and from the Bush administration, Mexico analysts are skeptical they will mean anything in the long run, especially without fundamental reforms of the country's police, military, and judicial systems.

Mexican anti-drug patrol
With cartel violence reaching record levels, Calderon moved quickly and dramatically, sending 6,000 soldiers and police into his home state of Michoacan, where disputes among the cartels have led to horrendous violence. A week later, he sent 3,000 more into the border city of Tijuana and disarmed the city police, who are widely believed to be thoroughly infiltrated by the cartels. At the same time, Calderon sent even more soldiers and police into Acapulco, the Pacific resort city that up until last year had been far removed from cartel violence. That changed when heavy gun-battles featuring submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers broke out in the tourist destination last summer.

Late last Friday night, Calderon made another dramatic move, when he agreed to extradite 10 top drug traffickers to the United States, most prominent among them Osiel Cardenas, who ran the Gulf cartel from a prison cell since his arrest in 2003. Also extradited was Hector Palma, reputed to be Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's right hand man. Guzman would have made the list himself, but he escaped from prison in 2001. Calderon also extradited brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, top henchmen in the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel.

"We are determined not to tolerate any defiance to the authority of the state," Calderon said last Friday.

Calderon's deeds and words won quick praise from the Bush administration. "The actions overnight by the Mexican government are unprecedented in their scope and importance," US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement Saturday. "Never before has the United States received from Mexico such a large number of major drug defendants and other criminals for prosecution in this country."

But despite thousands of searches, hundreds of arrests, and the seizure or eradication of large quantities of marijuana, there may be less to Calderon's offensive than meets the eye. "Calderon has achieved in creating a public image that he is going to be serious about organized crime from the beginning," said Maureen Meyer, the Washington Office on Latin America associate for Mexico and Central America. "The high level of operations is a clear signal, as was the extradition of cartel members to the United States," she told Drug War Chronicle. "But in terms of long-term results, that remains to be seen. We haven't seen many reports about eradication totals that are greater than normal," she noted.

"This campaign is really aimed at Washington as much as it is at Mexico City," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC. "It's a kind of shock and awe breakaway by Calderon to announce his presidency," Birns told the Chronicle. "Calderon has been worried that his defeated rival, Lopez Obrador, has outshone him with his political shenanigans, and he can use this anti-drug campaign as a piece of drama to overshadow his rival. The only problem is that the idea that Mexico will ever solve its drug problem is largely an illusion."

If Mexico wants to come to grips with the cartels, it's going to take more than high-profile raids and military operations, the analysts said. "The steps Mexico should be taking are more structural reforms of the judicial system so there is more transparency in the process, better investigations, and more mechanisms for accountability and oversight within the military and the police," said WOLA's Meyer. "If you don't accompany these big anti-drug operations with reforms in the judiciary, law enforcement, and the military, you will probably see the same results you saw in the past."

Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, led a similar aggressive campaign against the cartels early in his administration, but without the reforms Meyer mentioned, his war on the cartels led not to a decrease but an increase in violence. As Fox managed to disrupt or decapitate various drug trafficking organizations, the remaining cartels and cartel leaders fought with each other in order to secure the lucrative "plaza" or "franchise" from corrupt law enforcement officials in various cities, leading to steadily increasing death tolls among the traffickers and the police who either fought them or were allied with them.

By last year, the violence had reached record levels, with more than 2,000 killed in the cartel wars. That's more than the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq during the same period. The violence also reached new levels of horror, or, more precisely, exemplary terror, with policemen decapitated in Acapulco and the heads of murdered traffickers thrown onto the middle of a night club dance floor in Michoacan, among other atrocities.

It is likely that instead of reducing the violence of the cartels, Calderon's offensive will, like Fox's before it, only lead to more violence as the traffickers try to reestablish themselves after the hits they've taken. "The tendency has been for the government to target the higher levels of the cartels, then there is a struggle for power among them, as well as within the cartels as mid-level leaders struggle for supremacy. We will most likely see more inter-cartel and intra-cartel power struggles now," said Meyer.

With illicit drug revenues estimated at $142 billion in US and Canada each year, and Mexican traffickers pocketing a significant fraction of them, the cartels have every reason to battle each other for supremacy. And while they have traditionally refrained from open warfare on the national government, there are fears that Calderon's pressure and especially his okaying of the extradition of leading traffickers will lead Mexican cartels to follow the lead of the Colombian confreres, who in the early 1980s unleashed a war on the Colombian state when threatened with extradition to the US.

There are also fears that the corruption that has enveloped various Mexican police forces will engulf the military as it is pulled into Calderon's drug war. "Members of the military aren't immune to corruption," WOLA's Meyer noted, pointing to the rise of the Zetas, a group of US-trained former military anti-drug personnel who switched sides to join forces with the Gulf Cartel and who are blamed for some of the most horrendous violence.

"When you have a police officer or a military officer paid one-fiftieth of what he could make working for the narcos, the odds are really against you," said Birns. "That's why you see the subversion of the security forces and the periodic firing of all the police."

As long as the underlying reality of America's insatiable appetite for illegal drugs remains, Birns said, the latest Mexican anti-drug crusade is little more than theater. "This is more decorative than anything," he said. "It's the semblance of doing something. With all that money involved, how are you ever going to turn off the spigot? One is going to have to think the unthinkable and investigate the politics and economics of drug legalization."

In an as yet unpublished editorial written as Calderon was about to assume power, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann was eerily prescient about events in Mexico. "The new president will vow to crack down on the drug traffickers and do whatever he can to reassure Washington on that score," Nadelmann wrote. "He'll appoint new people to key military and criminal justice positions and tell them to do whatever they can to reduce the drug violence. Some of the most notorious traffickers will land up in prison or dead. The violence will quiet. Media on both sides of the border will cheer the new resolve. And then… It will all start up again. The drug trafficking gangs will re-group with new leaders and new connections. Previously incorruptible officials will be corrupted. Police of all ranks, and all shades of probity, will tremble in fear of assassins' bullets. And Mexicans will once again wonder why the cycle never really stops."

And so it goes in the Mexican front of our drug war.

Drug gangs using schoolchildren in deals

United Kingdom
The Birmingham Post (UK)

Afghan government won't spray poppies

Canadian Press

Europe: Moscow Mayor Calls for Harsh Drug Laws Including Death Penalty

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called Monday for drug dealers to be "destroyed" during a speech to law enforcement and city offficials at the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Drug Control Service, according to an account in the Moscow Times. Luzkhov suggested Russia implement drug laws like those in Singapore, where drug traffickers face execution.

"In Singapore, there is no drug addiction," he said. "Let us do the same." Luzkhov somewhat wistfully noted that "these days, a democratic government does not accept" a draconian drug policy like Singapore's, but added that Russia should "accept something close to it."

But Russia has gone in the other direction in recent years. Since 2004, when a new law decriminalized simple drug possession, official drug policy has been to go after traffickers and sellers, but not users. Apparently, the increased penalties for drug dealers and traffickers under the 2004 law is not enough for Luzkhov, and the decriminalization of drug possession sticks in the craw of Russian narcs. The Federal Drug Control Service has fought bitterly to reinstate penalties against small-time possessors, first attempting to subvert the new law's intent by defining personal use quantities at ridiculously low levels, such as 0.01 grams of heroin. Instead, the personal use quantity was set at one gram, but in a small victory for the drug warriors, that was cut back to half a gram last year.

Drug use has been on the rise in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union since its dissolution. The country registers several hundred thousand "drug addicts" each year, with the real number being likely much greater. An estimated 70,000 Russians die from drug overdoses each year, and injection drug use is involved in many of the country's hundreds of thousands of AIDS cases.

While officials like Mayor Luzkhov see only greater repression as the answer, non-governmental organizations like New Drug Policy seek to balance the hardliners by lobbying for reasonable harm reduction policies. "Using a drug is not a criminal offense," said the group's Lev Levinson in response to the mayor's remarks. "It is punishable only by a fine. The mayor, Levinson said, had cast an envious glance on Singapore's harsh policy for at least a decade.

Europe: British Cannabis Confusion Continues as Policing Policies Evolve

Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) last week issued new guidelines for arresting or issuing warnings to marijuana possessors that would create a "three-strikes" rule for repeat offenders, but give officers discretion on whether or not to arrest teenage offenders. The move comes nearly four years after Britain reclassified marijuana as a less-serious Class C drug, giving officers the discretion to either arrest or issue warnings.

Members of European Parliament Chris Davies (UK) and Marco Cappato (Italy) after cannabis civil disobedience arrest, Manchester police station, December 2001 (radicalparty.org/antiprohibition/brief.htm)
According to ACPO, "These guidelines do not encourage the same offender being repeatedly warned for possession of cannabis. Where it can be verified that an offender has received two previous cannabis warnings then a further warning should not be considered."

But for people who have not had two previous cannabis warnings, ACPO said, "A police officer finding a person aged 18 or over in possession of a substance that they can identify as cannabis and who is satisfied that the drug is intended for that person's own use should not normally need to arrest the person."

At the same time, the ACPO guidelines said police could find "less intrusive ways" of dealing with teens caught with marijuana than arresting them. The group suggested that officers take the kid home to his parents and keep a record of the incident.

A similar "three-strikes" policy was considered by ACPO in 2002, but scrapped before the warning system was put in place. This latest guidance from ACPO responds to widespread concerns that the current situation leads to uncertainties among police and the public alike. Police have complained that many people they encounter believe marijuana has been legalized, while marijuana users complain that they are still being arrested.

So, when is someone likely to be arrested instead of warned for marijuana possession? According to the ACPO, an arrest may be warranted when:

  • The name and/or address of the suspect are not known or there are reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given is a real name.
  • It is necessary to prevent the offender suffering physical injury or causing injury to someone else.
  • If a locality has been identified through the National Intelligence Model as one where there is fear of public disorder associated with the use of cannabis which cannot be effectively dealt with by other means, such as where an open drugs (cannabis) market causes harm to communities.
  • It is necessary to protect a child or vulnerable person from the offender.
  • It is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offense.

A report issued this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Institute for Criminal Justice Policy Research, "Policing Cannabis as a Class C Drug" , suggests that much of the uncertainty and inconsistency lies with the police themselves. According to that report, in four police areas studied, police arrested marijuana possessors or smokers between 78% and 58% of the time. The decision to arrest or not depended on a variety of factors, including the attitude of the officer, the attitude of the offender, local policies, and the amount of marijuana seized.

"When cannabis was reclassified as a Class C drug, guidelines were issued advising officers to give street warnings for most possession offences, arresting only in aggravating circumstances," the report noted. "We found that street warnings were issued for under half of possession offences. Over half of officers were against the downgrading and many said that cannabis arrests often led to the detection of more serious crimes. In fact, we found that this occurred in less than one percent of cases."

Almost half of police officers complained of the unfairness of having to arrest teenagers -- a policy that has now changed. One police officer interviewed for the study said: "It just seems a bit unfair for a 16-year-old to get nicked for it and an 18-year-old in the same group to get a slap on the wrist and that's it."

The study also found that police seemed to encounter marijuana offenders more often among members of Britain's ethnic minorities. "People from black and minority ethnic groups were heavily over-represented amongst offenders in three of the sites and somewhat over-represented in the remaining site," the study reported. "Whilst the study cannot disentangle the factors that might explain this over-representation, it clearly highlights the need for police forces to monitor trends closely in the disposal of possession offences."

Brazil Becomes UN Center for Alcohol and Other Drugs Treatment

Brazzil Magazine

More drug violence expected after 15 extradited to U.S.

McAllen, TX
United States
The Monitor (TX)

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