In a blistering op-ed last Wednesday in Spain's most important newspaper, El País, the country's former drug czar, Araceli Manjón-Cabeza, called for an end to drug prohibition. Manjòn-Cabeza's call for legalization comes just a week after former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González also called for drug legalization.
Manjón-Cabeza is the former director general of Spain's National Drug Plan, a former judge in the criminal chamber of the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's equivalent of the Supreme Court, and is currently professor of criminal law at Complutense University in Madrid.
"Prohibitionism, installed in the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century, and imposed by that country on the rest of the planet, has failed," Manjòn-Cabeza wrote. "There are multiple law enforcement and public health reasons that recommend legalization."
Citing a list of pro-legalization luminaries ranging from economist Milton Friedman to novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, author Paulo Coehlo, and Latin American ex-presidents Henrique Cardoso, Ernesto Zedillo, and Cesar Gaviria, and the 17,000 people who have signed the Vienna Declaration calling for science- and evidence-based drug policies, Manjón-Cabeza argues that the bloodshed in Mexico as "the clearest proof" of the futility of drug prohibition.
"Mexico provides the clearest, but not the only, proof of the failure and unbearable costs of continuing [drug prohibition]," she wrote. "Since 2006, President Calderon's war on drugs has provoked two wars -- one unleashed among the drug traffickers and one by the state against organized crime -- and 30,000 dead (900 were minors under age 17)."
While drug use might go up temporarily under legalization, that must be weighed against other "beneficial effects," she wrote: "Quality control for the substances, which would prevent the ills associated with consumption of illegal poisons that exist today; reductions in price, which would drastically reduce the indices of drug-induced delinquency; delivering consumers from especially unhealthy and dangerous markets, in order to lead them to a legal and controlled market."
But there is more, Manjón-Cabeza wrote: "It would deprive organized crime of its favorite and most profitable activity, deprive it of part of its ability to corrupt public and private wills and infiltrate the licit economy, it would dispense with the legal exceptionality demanded by the persecution and repression of the drug trade, which, at times, brings us to the limit of what the state of law is able to support; it would make vanish the pretext of the United States that an effective struggle against the drug trade justifies its intervention in the affairs of other countries punished by that whip."
Many so-called "drug problems" are really the "children of prohibition," Manjón-Cabeza wrote. The US's prohibitionist crusade beginning a century ago was not inspired by public health concerns, but by "racist motives... economic motives... political motives," including "finding one of the pretexts -- others have been communism and Islamic terrorism -- to legitimize the intervention of a great power in the evolution of other countries."
She ends her op-ed thusly: "Launching whatever legalizing option inspires vertigo, overthrowing prohibition won't be easy, but maintaining global drug prohibition is madness."
One more voice in the growing anti-prohibitionist chorus. And a highly respected one at that.
by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported in August. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:
In Monterrey, the State Department told staff to send their children away from the city due to the ongoing drug-related violence. As of September 10th, no minor dependents will be allowed. Other diplomatic postings with a similar rule include Baghdad, Kabul, and Sa’naa, Yemen. The decision comes after a botched kidnapping attempt at a school attended by many of the children of US consulate staff.
In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, a car bomb exploded outside the local offices of Televisa. Nobody was wounded in the blast.
Sunday, August 29
In Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, the mayor was shot dead after being ambushed. Marco Antonio Leal Garcia was 46 years old. His four-year old daughter was seriously wounded in the attack.
In Reynosa, two car bombs were detonated near a morgue in which the bodies of 72 murdered migrants are being held. Fifteen people were wounded by the blasts.
In Panuco, Veracruz, at least eight people were killed after a 15-hour firefight between soldiers and suspected cartel gunmen. One soldier and one civilian were killed, as well as six gunmen.
Monday, August 30
Near Mexico City, police captured Edgar Valdez Villareal, a top drug cartel boss and the leader of a faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization. Valdez, also known as "La Barbie," is thought to be responsible for much of the violence in Central Mexico in recent months as he battled his former ally Hector Beltran-Leyva for control of the Beltran-Leyva Organization, which was left leaderless after Marines shot dead Arturo Beltran-Leyva in December.
In Cancun, eight people were killed after a bar was firebombed. Four of the dead were women. The same bar had reported two extortion attempts in the past, apparently by the Zetas Organization.
In Mexico City, police announced that 3,200 federal police officers have been fired after failing drug and lie detector tests, or having assets which could not be accounted for. A separate batch of 465 officers is due to be fired in Juarez. Among them is a police commander who was detained at gunpoint by his own men who were angry at his misconduct.
In Ciudad Juarez, authorities announced that celebrations for Mexico's bicentennial on September 16th were to be canceled due to the ongoing violence. Independence Day is Mexico's most important national day and public gatherings to celebrate are an integral part of the culture of most towns and cities.
Wednesday, September 1
In Ciudad Juarez, at least ten people were murdered across the city. Three of the victims were minors aged 11, 13 and 16. The killings bring Ciudad Juarez's 2010 total to approximately 2,039.
Total Body Count for the Week: 239
Total Body Count for the Year: 7,570
Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.
by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this month. 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:
Thursday, August 5
In Ciudad Juarez, eleven people were killed in various incidents across the city. In one case, a 20-year old woman was shot dead as she walked with a 4-year old girl, who escaped unscathed. In another incident, an apparent extortionist was shot and killed after a shoot-out with security guards. Drug trafficking organizations across Mexico are also involved in extortion.
Friday, August 6
In Matamoros, at least 14 inmates were killed during a clash between rival gangs inside the prison. Troops from the Mexican army were eventually sent into the facility to restore order. It is unclear which groups participated in the fighting, but much of the recent violence in the Matamoros area been the result of fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas Organization.
Saturday, August 7
In Mexico City, thousands of journalists marched to protest the killings and disappearances of journalists due to prohibition-related violence in the country. Similar protests were planned in Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Over 60 Mexican journalists have been killed since 2000. This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that 10 journalists have been killed, and many face daily threats to their lives and harassment.
Sunday, August 8
In Ciudad Juarez, over 200 armed federal police officers raided the hotel where their commander, Salomon Alarcon, was staying. After blocking off the streets to prevent his escape, they detained Alarcon at gunpoint, accusing him of having planted drugs on officers to force them to become involved in extortion plots. The officers found weapons and drugs in his hotel room. The officer was held captive until the Federal Police Commissioner General agreed to suspend him pending a full investigation into the allegations. It was later found that Alarcon was on the payroll of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Also in Ciudad Juarez, two federal police officers were shot dead as they walked in plainclothes through the center of the city at night. A large police operation was immediately launched, but no arrests or confrontations occurred.
In Palomas, Chihuahua, three severed heads were discovered in the main plaza as locals left Sunday mass. A charred SUV with the headless bodies was discovered south of the town. A note left with the bodies indicate that the victims were extortionists who were killed by a rival criminal organization. Last October, the mayor of Palomas was kidnapped and found murdered.
Monday, August 9
At a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexican authorities said that drug-trafficking organizations pay an estimated $100 million in bribes monthly to municipal police officials. According to Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, this estimate is based on officer perceptions and on a list of payouts to police officers that was seized during recent operations. He also said that 20% of municipal police officers make less than $79 a month, and 60% make less than $317 a month.
In Morelos, seven people were killed in prohibition-related violence. Among the dead were three men who were decapitated in the town of Ahuatepec. In Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the dismembered body of an officer.
Tuesday, August 10
In Morelos, 10-12 heavily armed men ambushed a police convoy carrying a high-profile prisoner to jail. Two officers and the prisoner were killed in the ambush. Mario Alberto Chavez Traconi, 54, was known as the King of Fraud. The ambush occurred after the police convoy was cut off by SUV's and the gunmen attacked the police officers with assault rifles.
Total Body Count for the Week: 146
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,994
Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.
The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.
Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.
Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.
On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."
Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.
"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)
by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor
Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.
And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.
"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs. It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.
We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.
We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.
As Bowden notes:
"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."
Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.
Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.
Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.
But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.
We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."
Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.