Civil Conflict

RSS Feed for this category

Mexican President Surprised to Learn That the Drug War is Super Violent

Does Felipe Calderon even know what he's doing?

MEXICO CITY (AFP) — President Felipe Calderon Friday acknowledged the country's drug war is bloodier and tougher than he thought when he first took office in 2006, but vowed to eradicate the "cancer" that is consuming Mexico.

Really? That's odd because this has gone exactly as I expected and I haven’t been to Mexico in 20 years. He's the president. Why is he struggling to understand the basic dimensions of his own drug war?

If he admits that he didn't know it would get this bad, one wonders what else he doesn’t know. There were 6,000 people killed in Mexico's drug war last year alone and things appear to be getting worse, not better. Even Calderon's updated assessment may be proven horribly naïve.  

How much longer can the leaders of the drug war continue feigning surprise when their policies fail?

Drug War Protestors Block Traffic Along Mexican Border

Sandwiched between violent cartels and a brutal military occupation force, the Mexican people are understandably running out of patience:

Hundreds of people in Mexico have blocked key crossings into the US in protests against the deployment of the army fighting drug traffickers.

Traffic was brought to a halt on a number of bridges in several border towns in northern Mexico.

The protesters accused the army of abuse against civilians. [BBC]
We tend to view the U.S. and Mexican governments as well as the cartels as the primary actors in shaping the discussion of the nation’s drug war, but the Mexican people themselves will likely begin to play a more visible role as the situation further deteriorates. Rampant civil rights abuses by the Mexican military are quickly becoming regarded as a cure worse than the disease and it may only be a matter of time before public sentiments tip in favor of a dramatic change of course.

As one might expect, the Mexican government has been quick to dismiss the protestors, even going so far as to accuse them of collaborating with the drug traffickers:

…the governor of one state - Nuevo Leon - said he believed the Gulf drugs cartel and its armed wing, the Zetas, were behind the border protests.

"There are reasons to believe it has to do with the Gulf cartel and the group known as the Zetas," Governor Natividad Gonzalez said.

Unbelievable. I guess the idea that the citizens of Mexico would complain about human rights violations by their own military is so inconceivable that it simply must be the drug lords who made them do it.

Ultimately, it should prove difficult for the government to continue portraying public opposition as a PR experiment sponsored the traffickers. Trivializing public sentiment is a losing proposition in the long term, especially when you’re thoroughly unprepared to address the conditions that are pissing everyone off.

If anyone is serving the political and financial interests of the drug traffickers it is the U.S. and Mexican government officials who continue to champion the failed drug strategy that is ripping Mexico apart before our eyes.

Drug War Logic 101

Pete Guither and Dave Borden already mentioned it, but I just can’t get enough of this quote from the Wall Street Journal:

"If the drug effort were failing there would be no violence," a senior U.S. official said Wednesday. There is violence "because these guys are flailing. We're taking these guys out. The worst thing you could do is stop now."

So let me get this straight. According to the U.S. government:

No violence = drug war is failing
Intense violence = drug war is going well

So when do we win the drug war then? When everyone’s dead?

Feature: It's Time for a New Drug Policy Paradigm, Say Latin American Leaders

A blue-ribbon commission of Latin American leaders has issued a report saying that the US-led war on drugs has failed and it is time to consider new policies, particularly treating drug use as a public health problem and decriminalizing marijuana. The report is an attempt to intervene not only in Latin American, US, and European drug policy debates, but also in the United Nations' ongoing 10-year review of global drug policies, which will culminate next month in a ministerial meeting in Vienna.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugsanddemocracy.jpg
The report, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift, is the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, a 17-member panel that includes former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria. Other commission members include the writers Paulo Coelho, Mario Vargas Llosa, Sergio Ramírez and Tomás Eloy Martínez as well as leading scholars, media members and politicians.

Latin America is the leading exporter of both cocaine and marijuana. As such, it has faced the ravages of heavy-handed American anti-drug interventions, such as Plan Colombia and earlier efforts to destroy the Bolivian coca crop, as well as the violence of drug trafficking organizations and politico-military formations of the left and right that have grown wealthy off the black market bonanza. And while the region's level of drug consumption has historically been low, it is on the rise.

"The main reason we organized this commission is because the available evidence indicates the war on drugs is a failed war," said Cardoso at a Wednesday press conference in Rio de Janeiro to announce the report. "We need a different paradigm to cope with the problem of drugs. The power of organized crime is undermining the very foundations of democracy in some Latin American countries. We must acknowledge that these policies have failed and we must break the taboo that prevents us from discussing different strategies."

In the report, the commission calls for more humane and effective drug strategies. It emphasizes the following broad themes:

  • Treat drug use as a public health issue;
  • Reduce consumption through information and prevention actions;
  • Focus on enforcement against organized crime.

The commission also called on governments and civil society around the globe to "assess in the light of public health and advanced medical science the possibility of decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal consumption."

"We need to break the taboo that's blocking an honest debate," Cardoso said, repeating one of the phrases of the day. "Numerous scientific studies show that the damage caused by marijuana is similar to that of alcohol or tobacco," said the well-respected former Brazilian leader.

"Decriminalization is only part of the solution," warned former Colombian President Gaviria. "You need to do what the Europeans are doing, which is helping addicts. That's what the US doesn't do; it just puts them in jail," he scolded. "You tripled the jail population in the US in the last 20 years because of prohibitionism. The half million people in jail because of drug consumption, is that reducing consumption?" he asked. "The excuse is that people commit crimes to get money, but you deal with that putting addicts under a doctor and helping them with their problem."

The commission has three objectives, said Gaviria. "We want to create a Latin American policy around the consumption of drugs, we want to promote a debate in the US -- we are very concerned that there is no real public debate on the politics of drug trafficking in US politics -- and we want the European Union countries to take more responsibility for drug consumption," he said. "They are not doing enough to reduce the consumption of drugs."

"This report represents a major leap forward in the global drug policy debate," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who addressed a commission session in Bogotá last September. "It's not the first high-level commission to call the drug war a failure, nor is it the first time any Latin American leader has criticized the prohibitionist approach to global drug control. But it is the first time that such a distinguished group of Latin Americans, including three highly regarded ex-presidents, have gone so far in their critique of US and global drug policy and recommendations for what needs to be done."

The commission report is on "the cutting edge" of the global drug policy debate, said Nadelmann. "This is evident in its call for a 'paradigm shift,' in its recognition of the important role of harm reduction precepts and policies, in its push for decriminalization of cannabis, and in its critique of 'the criminalization of consumption.'"

Now it is on to Vienna -- and beyond -- said commission members. It is past time for a new approach, not only in the US, but internationally, they said.

"We hope the meeting in Vienna will not produce a result like previous meetings, where they just kept pushing back the date on which drugs will disappear," said Rubem Cesar Fernandes of the civil society organization Viva Rio. "The main discussion in Vienna should be whether the world should adopt European harm reduction policies. Most Latin American countries are supporting the approach of dealing with this as a health problem, not a criminal one."

Fernandes looked with guarded optimism at the new Obama administration. "We hope the Obama administration will at least be able to open that possibility because now the US totally opposes harm reduction as good policy," he said. "The world is not moving to follow the US jail policy. The US needs to think about whether putting people in jail is really solving the problem."

"Discussions in Vienna are not enough," said Cardoso. "We need national debates in all our countries, as well as inside the US. A clear dialog with the US is very important. We will try to get in contact with the Obama administration."

And so the pressure builds, on both the UN and the US. Will it be enough to force dramatic changes in Vienna or Washington? Probably not yet. But the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling, clearly if slowly.

Mexican Drug Cartels Dissolve Corpses in Vats of Acid

Lately, the drug war is sounding less and less like an actual government policy and more like a distopian future from a science fiction movie:

As the nation's drug war rages on, with its weekly tallies of headless torsos, it is getting harder to produce a shock wave in the Mexican media. But the gruesome recipes of "The Stewmaker" have gripped public attention here, as authorities describe how a "disposal expert" working for a Tijuana drug cartel boss allegedly got rid of hundreds of bodies by dissolving the corpses in vats of caustic liquid. [Washington Post]

They call him "The Stewmaker" and his henchmen attacked the police station with machine guns after he was captured.

Does any of this sound like the story of a drug policy that works? How much more of this unfathomable gory mayhem do we feel like putting up with? We’ve crossed the line into some seriously dark territory here and it’s way past time something is done about it, something completely different from everything we’ve tried before.

The Drug Cartels are Becoming More Powerful Than the Government

They’re even doing their own diplomacy:

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico – Mexico's warring cartels are negotiating a truce that, if it holds, could end one of the bloodiest eras since the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution, according to a U.S. official and experts familiar with the talks.

A peace agreement would be the second in two years and, like the last one, its chances of surviving are slim, the U.S. official said.

"In the end, greed prevails over reason," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. [Dallas Morning News]

Actually, it was the drug war that prevailed over reason. We were all watching when Calderón declared war on the cartels and…wait for it…a huge bloody war broke out! Why is anyone acting confused or surprised by what happened? It’s all perfectly clear. If you throw rocks at a beehive, expect swarms of angry bees.

The fact that they’re negotiating their own peace agreements does not reflect well on the decades-long war that was supposed to disrupt the drug industry. They’ve become a second government that even controls its own territories:

Already, the violence is crippling regions and cities, some of them on the border with Texas. Some top U.S. officials and analysts describe these cities, including Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, as "failed cities," in which cartels, not city or police officials, have control. [Dallas Morning News]

Amazingly, the U.S. and Mexican governments actually believe we should continue the policies that produced this outcome.

The Drug War Only Causes Violence. It Can't Create Peace.

Someone help me understand what Mexico’s U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza is thinking:

"Calderón must, and will, keep the pressure on the cartels, but look, let's not be naïve – there will be more violence, more blood, and, yes, things will get worse before they get better. That's the nature of the battle," Garza said. "The more pressure the cartels feel, the more they'll lash out like cornered animals." [Dallas Morning News]

This is correct except for the part about how Calderón has to do this (no, he doesn't) and the part about how things will get better (no, they won't). We’ve heard all this a thousand times before and it just gets sillier every time. The bottom line is that cracking down on the cartels either works or it doesn’t. It makes no sense to say that aggressive drug war policies will create violence in the short term, and then eventually that same approach will begin reducing bloodshed. That’s not logical.

The drug war causes violence. Just admit it. Stop pretending that it’s going to produce the opposite result at some point in the future. It isn’t going to.

Mexican Gangs Threaten School Children

Every day, the stories coming from Mexico get worse. Nothing surprises me at this point. Not even this:


MEXICO CITY – Elementary school teachers are the latest victims of an exploding extortion racket in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, as criminal gangs threaten educators to either hand over their coming Christmas bonuses or see harm done to their families or students, teachers' groups say.

With Monday a school holiday and news of the threats spreading in the media, on the Internet and by word of mouth during the long weekend, there were fears that an increasing number of parents would keep their children at home today, forcing additional schools to close. [Dallas News]


Is anybody going to come forward and claim this is just a temporary problem? Shall we double our drug war donations to restore law and order? Let’s get real. The drug war is destroying the entire country before our eyes and there’s no limit to how bad it can get.

It’s amazing to witness the criminal feeding frenzy that is now erupting all over the country now that the drug war has turned Mexico’s justice system into a complete mockery. Dangerous levels of police corruption have created a horrific laboratory in which violent criminals have begun experimenting with all sorts of terrible schemes. Can you even imagine what’s next?

If anything can solve the crime problems plaguing Mexico, it will have to be the exact opposite of everything we're doing right now.

Mexican Drug War Violence Has Begun Spilling Into the U.S.

The harder we push back against Mexican drug cartels, the more violence we’ll begin see within our own borders. Just look what’s happening in Pheonix:

A CBS News investigation has discovered that as of last weekend, there have been 266 reported kidnappings and 300 home invasions this year alone. Sources say the real figures could run as much as three times higher because so many go unreported.

"It wasn't uncommon to have a new kidnapping case coming into our offices on a daily basis," Burgett said.

Law-enforcement sources say the kidnappings signal the brutal expansion of the raging Mexican drug wars spilling across the border.

Now CBS News has learned enforcer gangs just south of the Mexican border have added military-grade hand grenades to their arsenal - something special agent Jose Wall expects to see in Phoenix any day.

It's not just hand grenades, kidnappings and home invasions that have law enforcement on edge. They say it's only a matter of time before innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire. [CBS News]

It’s really just amazing that this can continue to escalate before our eyes without provoking a widespread, spontaneous revelation that something is fundamentally wrong with our drug strategy. How much more obvious could it be? The harder we push the worse it gets. That’s how this works. It’s the only outcome the drug war formula ever produces.

The only thing we’ll get in exchange for the hundreds of millions we’re pouring into the Mexican drug war is more violence within our own borders. Nothing short of a full reversal in our strategy can prevent that result. And since Obama has pledged to continue this madness, we can be reasonably sure this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Mexican Drug War Scaring Off Investors

Further evidence that the Mexican drug war is making progress…in the exact wrong direction:

MONTERREY, Mexico, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Companies in Mexico are scrapping plans to float shares on the stock exchange for fear of raising their profile amid a brutal drug war and a surge in kidnappings, the bourse president said on Tuesday.

Stock exchange President Guillermo Prieto said that aside from market volatility in the past two months due to the global financial crisis, crime was a major issue for firms thinking about initial public offerings (IPOs).

Going public to raise funds for expansion requires far greater company disclosure and a higher public profile for company executives who go on roadshows to attract investors.

This is a whole new level of economic disruption, as the drug war begins to chip away at financial institutions. If this kind of thing continues, there’s no limit to how far-reaching the damage could become.

Violence and corruption are just the first symptoms of the disease of drug prohibition. If left untreated, the sickness spreads throughout every social institution, weakening anything it touches.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School