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Eradication Sparks Conflict in Peru's Coca Fields [FEATURE]

Newly installed Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is facing the first serious challenge to his authority as coca farmer unions have gone on strike to protest the resumption of coca plant eradication. Just last month, in a nod to growers whom he had promised he would halt involuntary eradication, Humala's government announced a temporary halt to eradication in the Upper Huallaga River Valley, but now eradication is again underway, and the coca farmer unions are up in arms.

CONPACCP members in the coca fields (photo by the author)
Earlier this week, strikers erected roadblocks on a major regional highway, and two people had been injured and seven arrested by the time Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the Ucayali region Tuesday night. Coca grower unions are threatening an "indefinite national strike" within two weeks if forced eradication isn't ended.

Coca has been grown in Peru for thousands of years and is an intrinsic part of Andean life. Although international anti-drug treaties consider it a controlled substance, tens of thousands of Peruvian farmers grow it legally under license from ENACO, the Peruvian state coca monopoly, which then sells the product for traditional, nutritional and industrial uses.

But tens of thousands of other coca farmers are not registered with ENACO, and their product often ends up being processed into cocaine for the insatiable North American, European, and Brazilian markets. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Peru has now surpassed Colombia as the world's largest coca leaf producer with 61,000 hectares planted, up 2% from last year.

"Eighty percent of the population here are farmers who want the government to redirect its eradication efforts," Jaime García, deputy mayor of the town of Padre Abad in Ucayali, told local radio in remarks reported by the Financial Times.

The same newspaper reported that Nelson Torres, head of the Ucayali chamber of commerce estimated the growers' road blockade was costing $3.6 million a day. He was dismissive of the Humala government's early steps to contain the conflict. "It's the same policy as the previous government," he told local radio. "You have to have to go on strike or create stoppages just to sit down and talk."

Perhaps Ricaro Soberon, the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA, is belatedly getting that message. He finally met with coca growers on Monday, but not before he told reporters in Lima last week that the Humala government will implement a "sustainable" eradication program that replaces coca with alternative crops. The country will also increase anti-drug spending 20% next year, step up interdiction efforts, and institute tighter controls on chemicals used to process coca into cocaine, Soberon said.

"Crop reduction must be definitive, which means replacing coca with an economically viable alternative," said Soberon. "This problem is well beyond our ability to confront alone so we're worried about the trend of declining international aid."

Soberon, an attorney and drug policy expert who has been a critic of past eradication programs, has already faced calls for his resignation for being "soft" on coca, and the temporary halt to eradication also raised concerns in the US.

Now, though, Humala and Soberon have to balance their sympathy for coca farmers whose support they successfully sought during the election campaign, against demands from Washington and conservative factions inside Peru that they repress the crop. On Tuesday, the national coca growers' union CONPACCP (the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys of Peru) issued a communique which announced that they would support an "indefinite national strike" against forced eradication within the next two weeks, even as they defended Soberon against attacks from the right.

"Coca or death" -- CONPACCP field office (photo by the author)
"Agents of US interests, like [former interior minister] Fernando Rospigliosi have unleashed a campaign of destruction against one of the few specialists in drug traffic, Ricardo Soberon," CONPACCP noted. "They say that Soberon's closeness to the cocaleros is a defect, when in reality, it is a logical consequence of his work as an analyst who has studied deeply the problematic of coca leaf cultivation and who could, if they let him do his job, propose solutions that transcend mere repression and criminalization of the weakest link in the chain, which in this case is the growers, and not the grand narcos and the apparatus that they have created around the commercialization of cocaine hydrochloride and its derivatives."

While defending Soberon, CONPACCP called for further meetings in a bid to find a nonviolent solution to the conflict and demanded that Humala fulfill his campaign promise to end forced eradication. It also had specific criticisms of the eradication program in Ucayali.

"The forced eradication campaign is going on in zones next to the highway that are affiliated with the CONPACCP, small parcels where farmers deliver their coca to ENACO, while they are not eradicating the grand plantations of coca that can be found 12 miles from the highway," the union complained. "They are taking photos and making recordings of these roadside eradications and then showing them next to images of [cocaine production] maceration pits as if they were at the same site in order to deceive the population."

Authorities are not going after the big plantations because they have "corrupted" the eradication program to be "untouchable," CONPACCP continued. To not eradicate the big plantations connected to the drug trade while eradicating small plots of registered farmers results in "incoherent anti-drug policies of the government," the union argued.

The eradicators themselves are behaving lawlessly, CONPACCP complained. "Besides the unjust eradication, they are robbing the animals and goods of the population" and have "unjustly detained" seven peasant farmers "whose immediate liberation we demand."

CONPACCP is supporting the current "indefinite strike" in Ucayali and is giving the Humala government two weeks to show good faith before it calls for a national coca grower strike. Humala and Soberon are going to have their work cut out for them as they attempt to chart a course that pleases both the coca growers and Washington.

Peru

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/wanted1.jpg
US Embassy in Mexico cartel wanted poster
Thursday, August 25

In Monterrey, 52 people were killed when suspected Zetas ignited gasoline at the entrance to the Casino Royale. As of August 31, twelve people are in custody for the attack. Many of those killed died of smoke inhalation after fleeing to offices and bathrooms in the interior of the casino.

Although the exact motive is yet unknown, police are investigating the possibility that the casino was attacked after having refused to pay protection money to the Zetas. Another possibility that has been floated in the Mexican press is that the casino was used to launder money for a rival cartel.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the former police chief of the town of Columbus pleaded guilty to conspiracy, smuggling, and public corruption charges. Angela Vega was arrested in March along with the town's mayor and 13 others. The group is known to have trafficked at least 200 weapons to La Linea, the military wing of the Juarez Cartel.

Friday, August 26

In Michoacan, wanted posters were put up by the Knights Templar Organization. The banners, which show the mugshots of five men the names of six men said to now be working for the Zetas, offered rewards of between $100,000 and $500,000 as well as a phone number to call.

Sunday, August 28

In Almoya de Juarez, near Mexico City, authorities discovered the decomposed bodies of five individuals buried in a corn field. The discovery was made after a family member of a missing man received a phone call from an unidentified man who said that 23 people were buried in the field. The other 18 remain unaccounted for.

Monday, August 29

In Acapulco, at least 140 local schools were closed after teachers refused to go to work because of extortion threats. School had just begun one week prior. Teachers indicated that at least four teachers had been kidnapped in the past eight days, and cars full of armed men were seen cruising past at least one school.

In Tamaulipas, authorities announced that a top Gulf Cartel commander was among several cartel members captured in the town of Camargo over the weekend. Abiel Gonzalez Briones, "R-2," 28, was captured after an aerial patrol spotted a group of armed men, at least seven of whom were captured. Gonzalez Briones is thought to have been a main financial operator of the Gulf Cartel and the area chief for the Miguel Aleman area.

In the mountain town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, seven bodies were discovered by the army. They had all been missing since August 13. Of the dead, six were strangulated to death, and the seventh, a woman, was shot. Additionally, near Ciudad Juarez, five human skulls thought to be several years old were discovered.

Tuesday, August 30

In Utah, authorities announced the dismantling of a Sinaloa Cartel cell. At least 30 people have so far been taken into custody after an 18th month investigation, which led to the discovery of several high-level men described as being "command and control" for the the cartel in Utah. At least 30 pounds of meth, 2.5 of heroin were taken into custody, as well as cash and high-powered weapons.

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,700

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

All the drug busts in Mexico don't seem to make a difference. (image via Wikimedia)
Wednesday, July 27

In Veracruz, a local newspaper published an editorial strongly denying that a recently slain journalist had ties to drug trafficking organizations. Last week the state attorney general said that journalist Yolanda Ordaz De La Cruz -- who was found decapitated and tortured -- may have been killed by one gang because of her ties to another. The newspaper, Notiver, has called on state attorney general Reynaldo Escobar to publicly apologize and resign.

In Ciudad Juarez, Interior Minister Francisco Blake said that federal forces would not be withdrawn from Juarez, despite a statement Tuesday by Mayor Hector Murguia that federal police would be withdrawn in the area in September. The relationship between local security forces and the federal police is notoriously bad. Just last week, federal police shot at the convoy of municipal police chief Julian Leyzaola.

Friday, July 29

In the city of Chihuahua, authorities captured a high-ranking figure in La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel. Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, "El Diego," is alleged to have participated in some 1,500 murders in the Ciudad Juarez area. Among the crimes he's accused of masterminding is the murder last year of a US consulate employee and the January 2010 massacre of 15 teenagers at a party.

Saturday, July 30

In Nuevo Laredo, about 80 local leaders including the mayor demanded that the local police force be reinstated. The Nuevo Laredo municipal police was disbanded in June and replaced with military personnel pending the vetting and testing of local police. Crime has since continued to rise. 21 other municipalities in Tamaulipas also had their security duties taken over by the Mexican military.

Sunday, July 31

In Ciudad Juarez, two people were murdered. According to researcher Molly Molloy, this brings July's total to 216, including 13 women and 8 minors.

In Michoacán, police arrested the head of the Knights Templar Organization for the city of Apatzingan. Nery Salgado Harrison, 24, has been in charge of the Apatzingan area since 2009 and is thought to be heavily involved in the production and local distribution of meth. The Knights Templar is an off-shoot of La Familia, which splintered into quarreling factions after the death of boss Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno in December 2010.

Monday, August 1

In Acapulco, federal police captured a high-ranking leader of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. Moises Montero Alvarez, 42, "El Koreano," was captured along with one other suspect. Alvarez is thought to be connected to the September kidnapping and murder of 20 tourists from Michoacán, after apparently being mistaken for members of La Familia.

In Nuevo Leon, a police supervisor and his son were gunned down in front of a school in the town of San Nicolas de las Garza.

Tuesday, August 2

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities announced the arrest of a prison director and four guards in connection with last week's deadly clashes which killed 17 inmates in Ciudad Juarez's municipal jail facility. The director, Lucio Cuevas, is accused of granting favors to inmates. Video of the shooting shows guards letting in gunmen to open fire on inmates.

In Coahuila, authorities captured Valdemar Quintanilla Soriano, allegedly the number two financial operator of the Zetas Organization. Quintanilla is also thought to have connections to the top tier of Zetas leadership, such as Heriberto Lazcano. Another man was also taken into custody.

In Reynosa, five gunmen were killed in a fire fight with the army. The city used Twitter and other social networking sites to warn residents of the fighting, which took place at around noon in the Las Fuentes area of the city. Reynosa is just across the border from McAllen, Texas.

Total Body Count for 2007: (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008: (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010: (official) 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,600

Mexico

Chronicle Book Review: To Die in Mexico

To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War, by John Gibler (2011, City Lights Press, 218 pp., $13.95 PB)

In Mexico, journalist John Gibler points out, there is the War on Drugs and then there is the drug war. The War on Drugs is the spectacle -- the well-publicized deployment of troops, the high-level diplomatic meetings, the perp walks of captured capos before the media, all designed to show that the Mexican government is dead serious about confronting the "menace to society" that Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the mislabeled "cartels," represent.

The drug war is what is really going on -- the tens of thousands of murders, the amazing ability of cartel killers to do their dirty work in broad daylight in cities full of police and soldiers and never get arrested, the unending flow of drugs north and guns and cash south, the undeniable collusion between factions of the security apparatus and different cartels, all within the context of a nation unable to provide safety or security for its citizens.

The Mexican War on Drugs is little more than a charade, or, as Gibler puts it, "a terrifying farce." And it is a charade in which the US is complicit. Our government is handing out $1.4 billion in Plan Merida funds, most of it going to the Mexican military and law enforcement apparatus to "strengthen institutions." But those institutions our money is supposed to strengthen -- the army, the national police -- are precisely the ones complicit in the drug wars.

How is it that Ciudad Juarez could see 3,000 drug war murders last year in a city filled with soldiers and military checkpoints? How is it that 95% of those murders are never even investigated? How is it that convoys of SUVS filled with rifle-toting cartel gunmen pass freely through the streets? How is it that 90% of those arrested in the drug war in Juarez are affiliated with the Juarez Cartel (La Linea), while the Sinaloa Cartel, which is waging a deadly battle to take over la plaza (the franchise), has hardly anyone arrested? How is that 90% of those who were arrested are later released without charge?

And how is it that there is la plaza in the first place? To be clear, the term refers to the ability of a cartel to go about its smuggling business unimpeded in a particular geographic location. That means someone, typically a military or national police commander has awarded la plaza to a particular cartel, allowing  safe and secure transit for its goods and either looking the other way or actively participating in the killing that needs to be done.

This is the second week in a row that I've reviewed a book that left me angry. Last week, it was The Wars of Afghanistan with its carefully documented evidence that billions of US taxpayer dollars going to Pakistan to help the US in Afghanistan were instead used to help gin up Islamic fundamentalist armies aimed at establishing a pro-Pakistan caliphate in Afghanistan, all under the watchful eye of the CIA and the Pentagon. And now, Gibler's revelations about the complicity of Mexican military and law enforcement in the drug trade--while we finance them.

Of course, it's not really a revelation. Anyone who has been seriously watching Mexico knows exactly what is going on, but given the lame US media coverage, it's easy to slip into a sort of crime beat mentality that is good for counting the bodies, but not so good for much else. To Die in Mexico is a sure antidote for that particular ailment.

Gibler's taut prose, keen eye, carefully honed outrage, and willingness to actually do on-the-scene reporting bring the horrifying reality of Mexico's drug war to vivid light. He travels with reporters who don't report because they don't want to end up like the 60 journalists murdered in Mexico in recent years; he travels with crime beat (nota roja) photographers who memorialize the corpses on the pages of their tabloids; he goes to Culiacan, the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, to interview Mercedes Murillo and the Sinaloa Civic Front and the journalists of Rio Doce, who tell him they can't do real journalism because it would be bad for their health. (I made that same trek, talked to those same people, three years ago).

The cowing of the press is a critical issue. Because of it, Gibler writes, a cone of silence descends over the drug war. The killings are noted, yes, but never is there any discussion of who did it or for whose benefit. There is no investigation beyond local cops counting bullet casings at the scene while managing to miss the convoys of cartel gunmen roaring by. Those whose tortured bodies prove their guilt by virtue of having been killed.

It's not just the corruption and impunity in Mexico. Gibler offers a devastating and heartbreaking critique of drug prohibition as well. His arguments are not new to people who follow this, but his eloquence is moving and astounding. And he offers a critique of a global capitalist order in which Mexico exports goods, workers, and drugs and imports guns, cash, and the violence of prohibition.

Yes, I am angry after reading To Die in Mexico. I've been cranking out the Drug War Chronicle for more than a decade because I hate drug prohibition and what it has done not only to our society, but around the world. Years of immersion in the huge pile of crap and lies that is the drug war tends to coarsen one, but work like Gibler's gets the righteous juices flowing again. I think that's a good thing.

Gibler writes with a wisdom and eloquence about Mexico and its drug war unmatched by anyone except the Sage of the Southwest, Charles Bowden. And like Bowden, he sees Mexico's drug war for what it is: a horrifying charade, a terrifying farce. And we're paying for it. I heartily recommend this book.

Chronicle Book Review: The Wars of Afghanistan

The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers, by Peter Tomsen (2011, Public Affairs Press, 849 pp., $39.99 HB)

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/the-wars-of-afghanistan.jpg
With a publication date this week, The Wars of Afghanistan couldn't be more timely. On Monday, the Obama administration, angered by Pakistani double-dealing, announced it was cutting $800 million in military assistance, and the Pakistani military responded by announcing it would withdraw troops deployed near the Afghan border whose stated purpose was to assist the US effort in Afghanistan by blocking infiltration routes for Taliban and allied fighters. On Tuesday, a gunman assassinated a major Afghan government player, regional warlord, CIA asset, and reputed opium and heroin trafficker, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who just happens to be the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (The Taliban took credit for the deed, but who really knows?)

Meanwhile, US drone attacks killed a reported 58 suspected terrorists on the Pakistan side of the border, the latest in an escalating campaign aimed at Al Qaeda, Taliban, and affiliated fighters in what had formerly been a secure rear base for Afghan insurgents and Arab Islamist holy warriors alike. And, nearly a decade after the US invaded Afghanistan to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban, US and NATO soldiers are killing and being killed on a daily basis. Five French NATO troops died Tuesday in a roadside bombing.

If its timing couldn't be better, it is also difficult to imagine a more impeccably informed author than Peter Tomsen, a career State Department diplomat who served as the ambassador-rank US special envoy to the Afghan mujahedeen from 1989 to 1992, met with everyone from Saudi and Russian diplomats to Afghan warlords of various stripes to the Taliban to the Pakistani military and intelligence officers who guided the jihad against the Russians, then played the Americans for fools for the past quarter-century. Tomsen, now retired from the State Department, has kept a close eye on the region ever since, and, with The Wars of Afghanistan, has produced a magnum opus.

The Wars of Afghanistan is not about opium farmers or drug trafficking. Tomsen mentions US concerns about the drug trade as part of longstanding American policy considerations in Afghanistan, and he makes occasional references to this or that warlord fighting over control of the drug trade, but that's about the extent of it for drug policy. And that's just fine, because while Drug War Chronicle is by its very nature drug policy-centric, larger reality is not necessarily so, and neither are the conflicts in Afghan and Pakistan. As drug policy wonks, it behooves us to view our concerns within the broader context, and in this particular case, while Tomsen perhaps underplays the role of drug prohibition and the poppy trade in the Afghanistan wars of the past 30 years, he does an outstanding job of making a hideously complex and complicated conflict comprehensible to the educated lay reader.

Tomsen guides readers through the intricacies of Afghanistan's still powerful ethnic and tribal politics, the delicate balance between center and periphery in the Afghan state, and -- very importantly -- how successive outside powers have failed to understand the nature of Afghan politics, fatally undermining their efforts to control Afghanistan for their own purposes. The US is just the latest, and, Tomsen argues, is making the same errors as the British, the Soviets, and the Pakistanis before them.

Equally importantly, Tomsen makes a highly persuasive case that since the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1988, the US and Pakistan -- ostensible allies -- have actually been deadly rivals in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani intelligence services (the ISI) and the Pakistani military high command working relentlessly to create an "unholy alliance" of Islamic fundamentalist radicals -- Wahhabite Arabs including bin Laden and Al Qaeda also supported by Saudi cash, disaffected Pashtuns from both sides of the border, Pakistani religious parties and their militias, Islamic militants from around the world, and now, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban -- first to drive out the Soviets, then later and to the present day to impose an Islamic fundamentalist puppet state in Kabul. Tomsen names names and cites specific meetings, as well as relying on once classified diplomatic cables and other sources to make his case.

It's bad enough to think successive US governments dating back to Clinton have been suckered by Pakistani duplicity -- the US government has given the Pakistanis $13 billion in military assistance since 2001, some not insignificant portion of which has gone to support the Taliban and associated warlords (Gulbuddin Hekmatyr, the Haqqani network) killing US, NATO, and Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan -- but Tomsen offers an even more damning assessment of the role of the CIA and, to a lesser degree, the Pentagon.

Going back to the Afghan civil wars of the early 1990s, after the Soviet effort at hegemony in Afghanistan collapsed (and helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union itself), Tomsen argues persuasively that the CIA effectively allowed itself to be led by the ISI, thus subverting official US policy in Afghanistan. In that era, US policy (running on autopilot after the Russians left) was to support movement toward a broad-based, moderate, democratic Afghan government, but the CIA instead supported the ISI in its efforts to impose a fundamentalist Islamic warlord government. The CIA thus helped turn Afghanistan into a bloody "shatter zone" for years and abetted the rise of the Taliban. This is ugly and disturbing stuff and cries out for deeper investigation.

While Tomsen has harsh words for every US administration since Bush the Elder when it comes to Afghanistan policy, he does give the Obama administration some props for its belated efforts to turn the screws on the Pakistanis and to actually make a working Afghan government. In fact, the US action cutting military assistance this week could have come right out of Tomsen's playbook for how to begin extricating ourselves from this graveyard of empires.

But we're a long way from there right now. There are currently about 100,000 US and 30,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and, Tomsen reports, about 150,000 mercenaries and contractors. We are spending $2 billion a week to support our war efforts there, and through a decade of military assistance to our Pakistani "allies," contributing hundreds of millions or billions more to the people who are killing our troops. Bizarrely, in this Afghanistan war, we seem to be paying for both sides.

The drug trade in Afghanistan is probably worth a billion or two dollars a year, but that's what US taxpayers are spending there in a week. Yes, the profits of prohibition fill the coffers of the Taliban… and criminal gangs… and Afghan traffickers… and Pakistani traffickers… and Afghan government officials, not to mention tens of thousands of Afghan farm families, but, as Tomsen makes perfectly clear, it's not all about the drugs.

The Wars of Afghanistan is an important work and an urgent warning. Anyone with an interest US foreign policy in the region needs to read it, starting with our policymakers.

Afghanistan

Feds vs. Deadheads in Missouri "Schwagstock" Forfeiture Battle [FEATURE]

Since 2004, when veteran musician Jimmy Tebeau brought the 350-acre rural property in central Missouri and turned it a camping and concert venue, Camp Zoe has been Deadhead central in the Show Me State. A member of the Grateful Dead tribute band The Schwag, Tebeau has hosted numerous Schwagstock and Spookstock festivals, as well as other concerts and events, drawing nationally known acts and thousands of fans for weekends of outdoor fun in the sun.

Jimmy Tebeau (image via campzoe.com)
But the DEA and the Missouri Highway Patrol harshed Camp Zoe's mellow vibe last November, when they rolled into the venue early in the morning and searched the site. A week later, they announced that they were initiating federal civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the property because of alleged rampant drug use and Tebeau's failure to put a halt to it.

According to a complaint filed November 8 in the Eastern Missouri US District Court, the feds alleged that "over the past several years law enforcement agents have specifically observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSD (acid), ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium and marijuana-laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs."

Tebeau and other Camp Zoe staff members "were in the immediate area" when drug deals were going down and "took no immediate action to prevent the activity," the complaint continued. It added that "undercover purchases have been made as recently as September 2010," when Schwagstock 45 was held, but noted that the investigation stretched back to 2006 and included evidence from "surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records, and interviews."

Most critically, the complaint alleges that Camp Zoe was "knowingly opened, rented, leased, used, or maintained for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using controlled substances." In other words, the feds are arguing that the purpose of Camp Zoe was not to be a concert venue, but a drug den, and it could thus be lawfully seized, along with nearly $200,000 in cash they seized from the site and various bank accounts.

good clean fun at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
The case pitting a local counterculture icon and his property against the power of the federal government has stirred considerable interest in Missouri, as well as among members of the peripatetic Deadhead set. (In fact, I had a conversation about the case with a dreadlocked young woman at a Northern California music festival last weekend.) It has also excited the attention of asset forfeiture reformers and critics of overweening governmental power.

But wait, it's even worse. The feds upped the ante further just a couple of weeks ago. After stalling the asset forfeiture proceedings for seven months -- leaving Camp Zoe silent and vacant and Tebeau without his primary source of income -- and seeing that Tebeau was not about to roll over for them, federal prosecutors last week sought and got a criminal indictment charging that Tebeau "knowingly and intentionally profited from and made available for use, with or without compensation, said place for the purpose of unlawfully storing, distributing, or using controlled substances."

"This is the sort of things Soviet thugs did and that continues to happen in Russia under Vladimir Putin," said Eapen Thampy, executive director of the Kansas City-based Americans for Forfeiture Reform. "They take a businessman, take his money, and take him to jail. I see this as an attempt by rich and powerful law enforcement agencies to acquire property or money they can turn into salaries or equipment."

fun and camping at Camp Zoe (image from campzoe.com)
"The Camp Zoe situation is really interesting," said Dave Roland, a St. Louis-based attorney who is director of litigation for the libertarian-leaning Missouri Freedom Center. "The federal government has recently come back and said they will charge him with maintaining the property for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions, but that seems like an after the fact justification for their attempt to seize the property. The more likely explanation is that the government was embarrassed by the fact people kept saying how can you take this property without alleging he's doing something illegal in the first place," he ventured.

"There was no one engaging in violence at Camp Zoe, there were no allegations of harm or injury," Roland continued. "That the government is concentrating on these sorts of victimless crimes demonstrates misplaced priorities. Especially in light of the financial crunch, we ought to be reallocating resources to deal with real threats to the health and safety of the community and not these drug witch hunts."

But there's the rub. Missouri law enforcement agencies profit handsomely from asset forfeiture, especially when they do an end run around state asset forfeiture law and partner with the feds. Under a 2004 asset forfeiture reform law, funds seized by state and local law enforcement agencies are supposed to go to the state education fund, but that's not what happened.

The state auditor's reports on asset forfeiture activity show a quick learning curve by state and local law enforcement. While, after the 1994 reforms, schools got 27% of seized funds in 1996 and 1997, in 1998, that figure fell by half to 14%. There was no audit done in 1999, but in 2000 and every year since, schools have gotten 2%, with that figure dropping to 1% in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile the Justice Department and state and local cops have raked in millions of dollars, gobbling up the vast majority of funds that were supposed to go to Missouri's schools.

"Asset forfeiture abuse is rampant all over the country," said Roland. "Here in Missouri, the state made an effort to improve its statutes a decade ago, but the problem is that law enforcement agencies find alternative ways to accomplish the same end. Now, you see state and local law enforcement handing cases over to federal agencies because they get a kickback from the asset forfeitures. There is an actual financial incentive to assist federal agencies in the unconstitutional use of asset forfeiture laws."

"Missouri has laws that say how asset forfeiture should be conducted and where the money should go, but they aren't being followed," said Thampy. "When you put this into that context, these abuses are way more serious," he said, adding that he believed 90% of Missouri counties were not in compliance with the law.

Neither Roland nor Thampy were impressed with the criminal charges now being brought against Tebeau. Nor were they aware of other cases of "maintaining a drug premise" being brought against other concert venues. That law is widely known as the "crack house" law.

"The government has a pretty steep hill to climb to prove that Tebeau was operating this camp so that people could buy illegal drugs," said Roland. "I'm very skeptical that the government is going to be able to carry its burden of proof."

"That charge is complete bullshit," Thampy responded bluntly. "If they wanted to charge him with drug trafficking or drug possession, those would be appropriate charges if they could prove them. But charging him with running a drug premise says that he got this land for the sole purpose of conducting drug transactions. It would be putting it mildly to say this is an abuse of prosecutorial power."

"To the best of my understanding, this is not a commonly used statute," said Roland. "I don't recall ever seeing it used in the context of a concert venue owner. They're alleging that the property is being used for the purpose of facilitating drug transactions simply because Tebeau didn't take some unspecified affirmative action."

Now facing criminal charges as well as the seizure of Camp Zoe, Tebeau is still refusing to roll over and cut a deal. With his income-producing property shut down and his bank accounts seized, Tebeau is at a real disadvantage, but thanks to his fans and followers and continuing gigs as a musician, he has so far been able to raise the funds to defend himself.

"A just outcome would be dropping the charges and dropping the attempted asset forfeiture," said Roland. "If we're not going to legalize drugs, the government needs to at least focus on the people and activities they're really worried about. Jimmy hasn't been charged with actually being involved, and it's unjust to target him for a criminal action because someone else was doing something illegal. That's manifestly unjust."

Camp Zoe
MO
United States

Daniels Vetoes Indiana Asset Forfeiture "Reform"

A bill that would have given 90% of the proceeds from seized cash and goods to local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies involved in the case has been vetoed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). The remaining 10% would have gone to the Common School Fund.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has vetoed a smelly asset forfeiture bill. (Image courtesy state of Indiana)
Under the Indiana constitution, all proceeds from seized items must go to the Common School Fund, but county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have found several means of skirting the law. Some county prosecutors have contracted out asset forfeiture cases to private attorneys, leading to lucrative pay-outs to lucky litigators. Others have claimed ludicrous law enforcement "expense of collection" costs to justify keeping hold of their looted lucre.

In vetoing Senate Enrolled Act 215, Gov. Daniels said paying out 90% of every forfeiture dollar to police and prosecutors for "expense of collection" was improper. "That is unwarranted as policy and constitutionally unacceptable in light of the Supreme Court's recent guidance and the plain language of Article 8, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution," Daniels said in his veto message.

On April 27, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed that asset forfeiture funds must be paid to the Common School Fund. But two days later, the Republican-led General Assembly voted to approve the change in asset forfeiture distribution anyway.

Now, Gov. Daniels has stood up for Indiana schoolchildren -- and the rule of law -- in the face of the law enforcement lobby and despite the wishes of his own Republican peers.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Discusses Drug Legalization

In a radio interview on WOR-AM last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly brought up the subject of drug legalization. Responding to a question about medical marijuana tweeted by a listener, Bloomberg seemed to realize he was stumbling into a minefield. "I'm sort of reticent to bring it up," he said, "What's up with medical marijuana in NYC," he continued, reading the question aloud. "Is it going to be okay soon? Need to know by this weekend," he read, inspiring mayoral laughter.

Mike Bloomberg
"We don't allow medical marijuana in this state," he replied. "They do in California…"

Then, apparently very much in the moment, Bloomberg turned from medical marijuana to drug legalization: "The argument is that the only way you're going to end the drug trade is to legalize drugs and take away the profit motive," he said. "And that the corruption funds enormous dislocations, like Mexico, where thousands or tens of thousands of people have been killed in the wars where the government tried to crack down on the drug dealers..."

Good start! Mayor Bloomberg, uncharacteristically for a prominent mainstream US politician, had articulated two of the core arguments made by legalization advocates. But then, perhaps realizing where he had gone politically, Bloomberg fumbled. "There is no easy answer to these things... There are places where they've legalized drugs, and whether it destroyed society or didn't is open to debate."

Actually, no country has legalized drugs. There are countries, however, that have embraced drug policies less reliant on repression via law enforcement, such as the Netherlands, with its tolerance of cannabis coffee shops and personal possession, or Portugal, which decriminalized drug possession a decade ago.

Both countries still exist and seem to have actual few ill effects as a result of their liberal approaches. The Netherlands has marijuana use rates similar to other European countries and lower than in the US. There have been problems with organized crime involvement in cultivation and supplying the cannabis cafes, but those problems are artifacts of an incomplete legalization. The Dutch liberalization does not provide for a legal supply for the cannabis cafes, thus, the so-called back door problem -- partial prohibition.

As for Portugal, Glenn Greenwald has done a comprehensive review for the Cato Institute. Bloomberg might want to read it. Greenwald found that "judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success."

The experiences of both countries could hold valuable lessons for a man who presides over a city that spends $75 million a year arresting marijuana users, according to a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance. In fact, New York city accounts to close for 10% of all marijuana possession arrests nationwide, and this in a state that has decriminalized marijuana possession. [Editor's Note: That's only possible because the NYPD has a practice of stopping and frisking young men of color and ordering them to empty their pockets, then charging them with possession in public, a misdemeanor. You do not have to empty the contents of your pockets.]

While these NYPD practices originated under Bloomberg predecessor Mayor Giuliani, whose tenure saw a quick ten-fold increase in marijuana arrests -- primarily of African Americans and Latinos -- they have continued unabated under Mayor Bloomberg. Given the understanding the mayor evidently has of prohibition, he should act to end these costly and unjustifiable policies, especially in a city undergoing a fiscal crisis, not equivocate with uninformed commentaries.

Venezuelan Drug Trafficker, Walid Makled, Says Chávez Government Officials Tied to Cocaine Trade

Location: 
Venezuela
Walid Makled says he had top Venezuelan generals and government officials on his payroll. He says that five or six plane-loads of cocaine take off everyday from San Fernandeo de Apure, in south-western Venezuela, bound for the US, via Honduras and Mexico. "It’s an everyday thing. Not every other day, it’s every day. Between FARC and the Venezuelan Army, we’re talking about four or five planes leaving Apure every day."
Publication/Source: 
PODER (FL)
URL: 
http://www.poder360.com/dailynews_detail.php?blurbid=10919

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 36,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. 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:

Ciudad Juarez
Wednesday, March 9

In Honduras, authorities discovered a cocaine lab which was used to process up 200 to 400 kilos of cocaine a week. The lab – which processed cocaine paste into powdered cocaine hydrochloride – is the first of its kind discovered in Honduras, and among the first discovered in Central America. Honduran officials have suggested that the lab might have belonged to El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel.

Thursday, March 10

In Columbus, New Mexico, the mayor and police chief were arrested along with nine other suspects for allegedly running guns to Mexico. According to the 84-page indictment, Columbus mayor Eddie Espinoza and the other suspects trafficked some 200 firearms to Mexico, including a shortened AK-47 variant. Columbus is just across the border from Palomas, Chihuahua, which has seen high levels of drug-related violence.

In Ciudad Juarez, former army office and Tijuana police chief Julian Leyzaola took command as police chief. He is widely credited with bringing down the level of drug-related crime in Tijuana, but has been criticized for violating the human rights of officers he thought to be corrupt.

Three days after taking office, a man (who had been tortured but was alive) was found wrapped in a blanket
alongside a note welcoming Leyzaola to Ciudad Juarez. The note was signed by the Sinaloa Cartel, which is battling the Juarez Cartel for control of the cities drug trafficking routes and distribution points.

In Ciudad Juarez, five people were murdered in several incidents. In one incident, a federal police officer was gunned down as he left his home. According to researcher Molly Molloy, these killings bring the number of dead in Ciudad Juarez to 8,000 since January 2008.

Saturday, March 12

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were murdered. In one incident, a man escaped gunmen who attacked his home, but was later discovered hiding in the bathroom of a nearby business and shot dead. A 58-year old woman who owned the business was also gunned down. In another incident, a security guard was dragged from his car and shot dead in front of his infant son.

In San Fernando, Tamaulipas, eight suspected Zetas were killed during an army raid on an armed camp. Nine others were captured, and 12 vehicles, weapons, uniforms and 150 pounds of marijuana were seized. One of the captured individuals said she had been held captive at the camp.

In Guamuchi, five people were killed at a wake for a young man who was recently murdered in Nayarit. Initial reports indicated that at least a dozen SUVs full of gunmen were involved in the attack. One of the victims appears to have been the father of the man killed in Nayarit."

Tuesday, March 15

In Mexico City, a judge decreed that the son of a former Juarez Cartel boss is to stand trial on Monday
laundering charges. Vicente Carillo Fuentes is the son of Amado Carillo Fuentes, who led the Juarez Cartel under his death in a botched plastic surgery operation in 1997. His uncle, also named Vicente, is the current leader of the cartel.

In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, a female prison warden died after being stabbed repeatedly by an inmate. Warden
Rebeca Nicasio’s predecessor disappeared last December after 150 inmates escaped from the same prison under mysterious circumstances.

Total Body Count for the past two Weeks: 341

Total Body Count for the Year: 1,661

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war through 2010: 34,849

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war to date: 36,510

 

Mexico

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