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Latin America: Tijuana Mayor Vows to Investigate Entire Police Force for Links to Drug Trade

The mayor of the Mexican border city of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, announced over the weekend that the entire municipal police force is to be investigated for involvement in the drug trade. The city is home to the Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization, one of the most powerful in Mexico. The group is locked in a bloody battle with the competing "Juarez cartel," led by the criminal heirs of the legendary Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies" before his death in 1997. Dozens of people have been killed this year in Tijuana in battles between the rival groups.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tijuanalogo.gif
Tijuana police logo (courtesy DrugWar.com)
Tensions have worsened in the city since the August arrest of Francisco Javier Arellano Felix by US authorities off the Baja California coast in August. Since then, violence has escalated, and the dead include at least five police officers from city, state, or federal agencies, including assistant Tijuana police chief Arturo Rivas Vaca, who was gunned down in his patrol car in mid-September.

After that incident, Tijuana officials accused federal law enforcement officials of not doing enough to help fight the traffickers, which prompted an unusually testy response from the federal attorney general's office. In a communiqué issued in late September, the office accused Mayor Rhon and Tijuana secretary of public safety Luis Javier Algorri Franco of "complacency or direct complicity" with the drug traffic.

Rhon was also facing pressure from powerful Tijuana business interests worried that the corruption and violence could affect their bottom lines. The major business group in the city, the Entrepreneurial Coordinating Council, had announced last month it was boycotting public functions until local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began working together, and last week, it threatened to move businesses from the city unless something was done.

That is apparently what prompted Rhon's weekend call for a mass investigation of the municipal police. While police corruption in Tijuana has been endemic for years -- local police report 66 of their own arrested in the past six months -- it is the open political spat between Rhon and Mexico City that greased the wheels for the investigation and the pressure from business that made it happen.

"Everyone from the policeman on the beat to the state police superintendent will be subject to this investigation," Rhon told a weekend press conference.

"We haven't waited for anyone to come from outside to help us with the theme of corruption," Algorri said in the weekend press conference announcing the mass investigation of Tijuana's 2,300 police. Algorri added that it was unfair to single out the city police. "The problem of corruption in police agencies is a reality, and all of the police agencies have problems with corruption," he said.

The Chronicle plans a trip to the Andes

Snowflakes are falling in the Dakotas today. With winter coming to the High Plains, it's a good time to be thinking about heading south, and that's just what I intend to do in a few weeks, probably in early January. Thanks to a targeted gift from an individual donor (the same guy who financed my Afghanistan trip last year), I will be heading to Bolivia and Peru to report on the status of the Andean drug war. Colombia is currently the largest coca producer in the world, but Peru and Bolivia are second and third. They are also the historic heartland of traditional coca production by the indigenous people of the Andes, which makes them more interesting from the cultural perspective. With limited funds, I could not visit all three countries, and having already set foot in Colombia, this time I will focus on Peru and Bolivia. Thanks in part to our hemispheric anti-prohibitionist work around the Merida Out From the Shadows conference, DRCNet and the Chronicle are fairly well-connected already in both countries. One of friends, Peruvian coca grower leader Nancy Obregon, is now a member of the Peruvian congress. I hope to be able to visit Nancy's home and fields to see the coca crops first-hand. I've also been talking to a pair of Peruvian academics, Hugo Cabieses and Baldomero Caceres--more folks we know from that conference. In Bolivia, Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network has pledged to help out in setting up interviews and outings. I've also been in contact with the Bolivian Embassy in Washington and will be going over to talk to them when I'm in DC for the SSDP conference next month. The Bolivian Embassy is very friendly; maybe I can even wrangle an interview with President Morales himself. This will be a three-week trip. Right now, I'm thinking I'll fly to Lima, spend two weeks wandering around Peru, then go overland from Cuzco (I'm not going to Peru without seeing Macchu Picchu!) to Bolivia and spend a week there. If anyone has questions they want answered down south or has suggestions for people to talk to, comment here. I'll be checking back.
Location: 
United States

Mexican Police 'Probed on Drugs'--The entire police force in the Mexican city of Tijuana is to be investigated on suspicion of being involved in drug trafficking and organized crime

Location: 
Tijuana, BCN
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
BBC News
URL: 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5415018.stm

Book Review: "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" by Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2006, 290 pp. PB)

If one wishes an object lesson in the unintended consequences of drug prohibition, one need look no further than the other side of the Rio Grande. Like all borders, the US-Mexican border has always been the scene of a lively trade in contraband. Although the authors of "From the Maras to the Zetas: The Secrets of the Drug Trade, From Colombia to Chicago" don't get into the prehistory of Mexico's powerful drug trafficking organizations, way back in those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of marijuana moved across that border, but it was a largely peaceful trade, often a family affair.

In 1982, when President Ronald Reagan, having declared a new war on drugs, sent Vice-President George H.W. Bush to Miami to head up a new effort to block the flood of Colombian cocaine flowing across the Caribbean to Florida, the Colombians adjusted by shifting smuggling routes through Mexico. The Colombian used existing smuggling networks, which since then have grown into a Frankenstein monster, not only in the eyes of the Mexican state, but also in the eyes of their Colombian counterparts, who have found themselves squeezed out of end-stage distribution to the US and the massive profits that followed.

Fueled by Colombian cocaine, American dollars, and American weaponry, in the past 20 years, Mexico's so-called "cartels" -- a misnomer for these brutally competitive trafficking organizations -- have corrupted legions of Mexican police, soldiers, and politicians, and murdered as many more. Every time the Mexican state, hounded by its partner to the north, tries to crack down on the cartels, the result is not social tranquility or the end of the drug trade, but bloody gang wars as the different organizations fight for position -- and the flow of drugs never seems to be affected.

In the past couple of years, the cartels have become so brazen and the death toll from the constant "ajuste de cuentas" ("adjusting of accounts" or "settling scores") so horrendous -- more than 1,500 last year and a like number so far this year -- that they appear to be working with impunity.

Enter Mexico City journalists Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo. With the drug trafficking groups beheading police and engaging in street battles with RPGs in Acapulco and wreaking mortal havoc along the US border, their timing couldn't be better because they aim to explain the murky workings of the Mexican drug trade. They study and report on Mara Salvatrucha, the much screamed about gang that grew out from the children of Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles and other American cities (another lesson in unintended consequences) who learned all too well the ways of the thug life, then re-exported it back home to Central America. According to Fernandez and Ronquillo, Mara Salvatrucha controls much of the traffic in illegal immigrants and drugs -- on Mexico's southern border. But like the truly Mexican criminal organizations, its tentacles extend far to the north as well.

They also provide the skinny on the Zetas, the US-trained former anti-drug elite force that switched sides and now acts as the armed forces of Osiel Cardenas and the Gulf Cartel -- one more lesson in unintended consequences. Thanks to the paramilitary skills of the Zetas, Cardenas has been able to directly confront the Mexican state, as when his men killed six prison employees in Matamoros in early 2005 in retaliation for a federal government crackdown on imprisoned cartel leaders.

There is much, much more in between. Fernandez and Ronquillo warn that imprisoned cartel leaders spent part of their time behind bars buddying up with imprisoned leftist guerrillas and could be either learning tactical lessons or forging unholy alliances with them. Despite the apparent ideological differences between Marxist rebels and drug traffickers, the Mexican cartels have shown that when it comes to business they are nonpartisan. They will corrupt politicians of any party, make deals with whoever can benefit them, and kill those who get in their way.

The cartels circle around power. When the old-time PRI ran the government, the cartels corrupted the PRI. When the PAN government of President Vicente Fox came to power, they attempted to corrupt it, and as Fernandez and Ronquillo demonstrate, they have arguably succeeded. PANista politicians have been caught attending the funerals of leading narcos, PANista local administrations have been bought off, and the narcos even managed to place an associate in President Fox's inner circle before the taint of scandal drove him off.

But while Fernandez and Ronquillo are quite good in unraveling the mysteries of the cartels and explicating the results of decades of prohibitionist drug policy, they fail to make the leap to the next level. For them, "From the Maras to the Zetas" is a desperate wake-up call for the Mexican public and political class, a warning that the power of the cartels threatens the integrity of the Mexican state. They do not take the next step and ask if there is not a better way. But then again, they really don't have to -- the book itself is eloquent testimony to the corrupt and bloody legacy of prohibition in Mexico.

Yes, the book is only available in Spanish. It won't be much use to many of our North American readers, but Drug War Chronicle also goes out in Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps if we can drum up a little interest here in Gringolandia, an American or Canadian publisher will print a translation. Goodness knows we get very little serious reporting up here about the Mexican drug war.

In the meantime, for you English-only speakers out there with an interest in this topic, I recommend the recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America, "State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico."

Mexico's Mounting Drug Trade

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Council on Foreign Relations
URL: 
http://www.cfr.org/publication/11599/mexicos_mounting_drug_trade.html

From the Maras to the Zetas

UPDATE: Check out Phil's book review of De los Maras a los Zetas here. Despite the daily toll of arrests and busts in the United States, America's drug war is waged largely in other countries. Mexico, for example, is likely to see more police killed in a bad weekend than the US will see in an entire year. And in Colombia, the drug war is now part of a messy civil war/war on drugs/war on terrorism with casualties—police, soldiers, guerrillas, paramilitaries, civilians—on a daily basis. But despite the occasional newspaper report, Americans hear very little about how our war on drugs is affecting producing and transit countries. I can't recall the last book published in English on the Mexican drug trade (hmmm…possible Soros grant opportunity here?). But just because it isn’t being written in English doesn’t mean it isn’t being covered. I'm now reading "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" ("From the Maras to the Zetas: The Secrets of the Drug Trade From Colombia to Chicago") by Mexico City journalists Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo. While I get the sense that Fernandez and Ronquillo are fairly mainstream in their approach—the book is in many ways similar to the "drug crime" genre in US publishing—the pair have compiled detailed information on the workings of the Mexican drug trade and opened up a panoramic view of the complex, complicated, and extremely bloody world of the underground economy. I think I will review the book this week, even though it is in Spanish, because the information it imparts is so critical to understanding the consequences of the American insistence on drug prohibition as the only approach to drug policy. Perhaps, if enough people here express interest, an American publisher will pick up this timely and important work. Until then, saber dos lenguajes es mejor que saber solamente uno. The book is published by Editorial Grijalbo, a highly respected Mexican press. When I called to inquire about getting a review copy, the folks at Grijalbo were so happy to get some interest from El Norte that they sent three other drug war-related titles in their catalog, including two by Mexico's most well-known narco-journalist, Jesus Blancornelas of Tijuana. I look forward to reading them. We invited Blancornelas to the 2003 Out From the Shadows conference in Merida, the first hemispheric anti-prohibitionist confab. Blancornelas, who had survived a 1997 assassination attempt at the hands of Arrellano Felix cartel gunmen, said he would come, but only if he could be accompanied by armed bodyguards. Merida is a long way from the violence of the US-Mexican border, and the vibe was entirely different. We didn’t want guns at our conference, so Blancornelas didn’t show.
Location: 
United States

Official sold drugs for years, agent says (The Plain Dealer, OH)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/lake/1159605254268330.xml&coll=2

Guatemalan troops storm prison with jacuzzi, drugs

Location: 
Guatemala
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2029896.cms

Pot Politics

It's going to be a lot of pot politics in the Drug War Chronicle this week. With the November elections now little more than a month away, there are developments in both Colorado and Nevada, the two states where measures that would free the weed are on the ballot. In Colorado, SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert is debating Colorado Attorney General John Suthers today.

In Nevada, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana reported late last week that its internal polling shows its initiative leading by a margin of 49% to 43%. I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, this will be the breakthrough year where we actually win a legalize marijuana campaign. But now, organized opposition is starting to rear its ugly head in both states. This week, I'll be reporting on both states, and I'll be trying to talk to some of these opponents and some neutral observers as well as the usual suspects.

Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition is also the title of a new book edited by SUNY-Albany psychology professor Mitch Earleywine. It includes chapters by a number of folks who should be familiar to readers of the Chronicle, including Marijuana Policy Project communications director Bruce Mirken, the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative's Charles Thomas, and marijuana economist Jeffrey Miron. My review copy just arrived, but I intend to suck it down in the next couple of days and have a review ready for this pot-heavy issue.

My boss, Dave Borden, will grumble. We are the Drug Reform Coordination Network, not the Marijuana Reform Coordination Network, he will point out. He will want some balance, something about harm reduction or sentencing or treatment. Well, we'll get some of that this week, but it'll just be in the news briefs. This is a marijuana week.

Location: 
United States

Barnett Rubin Lectures the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Afghan Opium

On Thursday, I crossed back into the US from British Columbia and spent the day listening to all the back and forth over Chavez's "devil" comments as I drove across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. About 4am, I checked into a motel in Broadus, Montana—which is about 150 miles from nowhere in any direction—flipped on the tube, and lo and behold, there was Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin giving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a tutorial on the complications of US Afghan policy. What really caught my attention was Rubin's closing remarks. Unfortunately, the C-Span video link to Rubin's remarks isn't working as I type these words (but perhaps is by the time you are reading them; give it a try), but the good professor basically lectured the committee on the foolishness of attempting to wipe out the opium crop. Addressing the senators as if they were a group of callow undergrads at a seminar, Rubin explained that the only way to deal with the opium problem was to regulate and control it. That caused Sen. Frank Lugar (R-IN) to stir himself from his lizard-like torpor long enough to mutter something to the effect that "this is a big issue for another day." Here is what Rubin had to say in his prepared remarks:
"The international drug control regime, which criminalizes narcotics, does not reduce drug use, but it does produce huge profits for criminals and the armed groups and corrupt officials who protect them. Our drug policy grants huge subsidies to our enemies. As long as we maintain our ideological commitment to a policy that funds our enemies, however, the second-best option in Afghanistan is to treat narcotics as a security and development issue. The total export value of opiates produced in Afghanistan has ranged in recent years from 30 to 50 percent of the legal economy. Such an industry cannot be abolished by law enforcement. The immediate priorities are massive rural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including roads and cold storage to make other products marketable; programs for employment creation through rural industries; and thoroughgoing reform of the ministry of the interior and other government agencies to root out the major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections. "News of this year’s record crop is likely to increase pressure from the US Congress for eradication, including aerial spraying. Such a program would be disastrously self-defeating. If we want to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to help the rural poor (which is almost everyone) and isolate the leading traffickers and the corrupt officials who support them."
What he actually said at the end of his testimony was even stronger. Check it out if that damned C-Span link ever actually works.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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