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US Drug Czar Supports Venezuela Shooting Down "Drug Planes"

Over the weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country should consider shooting down drug-carrying planes. On Tuesday, US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske seemed to signal his approval of the idea.

Hugo Chavez is open to shooting down suspected drug planes (image via Wikimedia)
Chavez told lawmakers Saturday he is considering letting the military shoot down drug-laden planes if they ignore orders to land. Drug smugglers often ignore military orders to land and sometimes mock those orders over the radio, Chavez said. He added that he doesn't necessarily like the idea of shooting down planes, but that parliament should debate it.

Although no coca is grown in Venezuela, the country has become a major hub for drug traffickers smuggling Colombian cocaine. The Venezuelan government has been criticized by the US over the use of its territory by drug traffickers, but Venezuela contends that despite its lack of cooperation with the DEA, it is doing all it can to stifle the trade.

US drug czar Kerlikowske was in Colombia on a three-day trip when he commented on Chavez's remarks. "Venezuela has expressed clearly its support for curbing drug trafficking by air," he said, adding that other countries in the region should adopt similar measures.

The US supported a similar program in Peru beginning in the Clinton administration and even provided CIA and military personnel to support it. But that program came to a crashing halt after a Peruvian Air Force fighter jet shot down a plane carrying American missionaries in 2001, killing Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter.

Venezuela

US Drug War Military Presence in Costa Rica Rejected

Location: 
Costa Rica
In the middle of this year, the Costa Rican Parliament authorized the arrival of 7,000 soldiers, 46 war ships, more than 200 helicopters, 10 Harrier planes and two submarines. The permission provoked the rejection of various parties and social sectors, regarding it as anti-constitutional and violating national sovereignty. "We are quite much worried with such an excessive military force to fight drug trafficking," said Victor Emilio Granados, from Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusion (PASE) - Accessibility without Exclusion Party. Other parties such as Frente Amplio and Accion Cuidadana also rejected the US military presence.
Publication/Source: 
Inside Costa Rica (Costa Rica)
URL: 
http://www.insidecostarica.com/dailynews/2010/december/16/costarica10121603.htm

Drug Prohibition War Spills Into San Diego

Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States
In San Diego's Otay Mesa industrial area, warehouses may be housing cross-border tunnels used to smuggle huge amounts of drugs from Tijuana, Mexico. After two major underground passages were discovered last month less than two blocks from one of nation's busiest border crossings for cargo, federal authorities are knocking on doors of warehouse owners and tenants to ask for help.
Publication/Source: 
WALA (FL)
URL: 
http://www.fox10tv.com/dpps/news/national/west/border-drug-tunnels-put-warehouses-under-scrutiny-nt10-jpe-_3668143

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 30,000 people -- as of this week more than 9,000 this 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:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/labarbie.jpg
Edgar Villarreal (''La Barbie''), after capture
Wednesday, November 17

In the city of Chihuahua, two Ciudad Juarez attorneys and a companion were executed after being snatched off a street by an armed commando. The two men were in Ciudad Juarez to investigate a case for a client they represent who faced federal charges.

Friday, November 19

In Tamaulipas, 11 suspected members of the Zetas Organization were killed during a clash near the town Nueva Ciudad Guerrero. The firefight occurred after soldiers on patrol came under fire. Two other gunmen were captured and nine rifles were seized, as well as four handguns, a grenade launcher and body armor.

In Ciudad Juarez, five people were murdered across the city. Among the dead was a municipal policeman who was gunned down on his day off. He is the 55th municipal police officer killed this year. In total, 130 policemen from the various law enforcement bodies that operate in Juarez have been killed so far  in 2010.

Saturday, November 20

In Mexico City, authorities began the process to extradite Edgar Valdez Villareal, better known as La Barbie, to the United States. Valdez, 37, was a high ranking lieutenant in the Beltran-Leyva Organization before being captured in August. He is charged in a 2002 indictment in Louisiana and a 1998 indictment in Texas, both for his involvement in cocaine trafficking. Valdez is a US national, as he was born in Laredo, Texas.

Sunday, November 21

In Colima, a former state governor was shot and killed at his home. His wife was wounded in the attack. Cavazos left office in November 2009. He is one of several governors, ex-governors and gubernatorial candidates killed in Mexico in the last few years. Colima has been relatively free of the rampant drug-related violence seen in other parts of the country. The state Secretary of Economic Development, who was visiting Cavazos at the time of the attack, was also wounded in the incident.

In Tepic, Nayarit, five suspected drug traffickers were shot and killed during a series of firefights across the city. The incident began after soldiers began chasing a vehicle with armed men aboard. One gunman was captured in the incident, and two soldiers were wounded.

Monday, November 22

In Colima, police accidentally shot dead a doctor during an operation to find the killers of ex-governor Cavazos.

Tuesday, November 23

In Brownsville, Texas, border patrol agents seized over 700 pounds of marijuana in the remote Flor De Mayo area of the city, which is located off Highway 281 and is just across the Rio Grande. The area is a well-known crossing point for drugs coming from Tamaulipas.

Total Body Count for the Week: 159

Total Body Count for the Year:  9,241

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Election 2010 and US Drug Policy in Latin America [FEATURE]

This month's election returns, which resulted in the Republican Party taking back control of the US House of Representatives, have serious, if cloudy, ramifications for progress on drug policy on the domestic front. Similarly, when we look south of the border, where a cash-strapped US has been throwing billions of dollars, mainly at the governments of Colombia and Mexico in a quixotic bid to thwart the drug trade, the Republican return to control in the House could mean a more unfriendly atmosphere for efforts to reform our Latin American drug policy.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/clinton-plan-merida-meeting.jpg
Plan Merida funding on the line?
Or not. Analysts consulted by Drug War Chronicle this week said it was too soon to tell. They varied on the impact of the Tea Party movement on Republican drug policy positions, as well as reaching differing conclusions as to whether the Tea Party's much-touted allegiance to fiscal austerity will be trumped by mainstream Republican militarism, interventionism, and hostility to drug reform.

Since 2006, and including Fiscal Year 2011 budgets that have not actually been passed yet, the US has spent nearly $2.8 billion on military and police aid to Colombia, with that number increasing to roughly $7 billion if spending back to the beginning of Plan Colombia in 1999 is included. Likewise, since 2006, the US has dished out nearly $1.5 billion for the Mexican drug war, as well as smaller, but still significant amounts for other Latin American countries and multi-country regional initiatives. Overall, the US has spent $6.56 billion in military and police assistance to Latin America in the past five years, with the drug war used to justify almost all of it.

Even by its own metrics, the US drug war spending in Colombia has had, at best, limited success. It has helped stabilize the country's shaky democracy, it has helped weaken the leftist guerrillas of the FARC, and it has managed to marginally reduce coca and cocaine production in Colombia.

But those advances have come at very high price. Tens of thousands of Colombians have been killed in the violence in the past two decades, Colombia has the world's highest number of internal refugees, widespread aerial spraying of coca crops has led to environmental damage, and paramilitary death squads linked to the government continue to rampage. Some 38 labor leaders have been killed there so far this year.

The results of US anti-drug spending in Mexico have been even more meager. The $1.4 billion Plan Merida has beefed up the Mexican military and law enforcement, but the violence raging there has not been reduced at all. To the contrary, it has increased dramatically since, with US support, President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels at the beginning of 2007. Around 30,000 people have been killed since then, gunfights are a near daily occurrence in cities just across the border from the US, and the flow of drugs into the US remains virtually unimpeded.

That is the reality confronting Republicans in the House, who will now take over. The shift in power in the House means that the chairmanship of key foreign affairs committees will shift from moderate Democrats to conservative Republicans. Current House Foreign Relations Committee chair Howard Berman (D-CA) will be replaced by anti-Castro zealot Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), while in the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, Elliot Engel (D-NY) will be replaced by Connie Mack (R-FL).

Other Republicans on the subcommittee include hard-liners Dan Burton (R-IN) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). But there will be one anti-drug war Republican on the committee, Ron Paul (R-TX).

"Ileana and her committee will try to stir things up more, but it's too early to say what that means for drug policy," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. "She'll do anything she can to screw over the Castro brothers, and that is the lens through which she sees the world."

That could mean hearings designed to go after Castro ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who threw out the DEA several years ago, and whose country is cited each year by the State Department as not complying with US drug policy objectives. But beyond that is anybody's guess.

"I think you might see a change of tone," said Adam Isaacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "You'll see Venezuela portrayed more and more as the drug bad guy, but neither Ros-Lehtinen or Mack can see much beyond Cuba," he said.

"If you bought the premise that the drug war was an extension of the Cold War, you could have a brand new Cold War framework here," said Isaacson. "They won't be able to buy a lot of Blackhawks, but they can use it as another way to beat up on the Obama administration."

"I think not much is going to change," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "To the extent the need is to cut money, Republicans might want less funding for these programs, but that's a big if. But this is a different sort of Republican, and so there may be the possibility of a left-right coalition to quit funding Plan Colombia. I'm not sure the Republicans can keep their people in line on Mexico and Colombia."

"Obama has been unyielding when it comes to maintaining the status quo on hemispheric drug policy," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "He hasn't come up with any new programs or expressed any sympathy for the progressive drug policy initiatives coming out of Latin America. He is not going to allow himself to be accused of being soft on drugs. All hope for reform is gone, and there is little likelihood that the administration will come up with any drug-related initiative that will cost more money than we're spending now or that would challenge the pro-drug war lobby that now exists. I don't think we will see much activity on this front," he predicted.

Nor did Birns look to Tea Party-style incoming Republicans to break with drug war orthodoxy. He cited campaign season attacks from Tea Party candidates that Washington was "soft on drugs" and suggested that despite the occasional articulation of anti-drug war themes from some candidates, "the decision makers in the Tea Party are not going to sanction a softening on drugs in any way."

"I'm not aware of a single reference to the prospective drug policy of the new class of representatives," said Birns. "It seems to have become desaparicido when it comes to hemispheric policy."

"The Tea Partiers are very vague on foreign policy in general, and we're seeing things like John McCain coming out and attacking Rand Paul for not being interventionist enough," noted Tree.

Despite calls from conservatives for vigorous budget cutting, Tree was skeptical that the Latin American drug war budget would be cut. "In the Heritage Foundation budget cut report, for example, they killed ONDCP's funding and foreign assistance, but nothing from the military budget," he noted. "Maybe they can find some common ground on the drug war, but I'm not holding my breath."

"We haven’t heard them say too much yet," said Isaacson, disagreeing with Tree. "But they don't have any money. The Tea party wants to cut the budget and the foreign aid budget is most vulnerable. Even the Merida Initiative could be in play," he said.

But, Isaacson said, the old-school hard-liners are already at work. He cited a Wednesday conference on Capitol Hill called Danger in the Andes, which explores the "threat" from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

"A lot of these new guys went," he said. "John Walters, Roger Noriega, and Otto Reich were there. Good to see some new faces," he laughed painfully.

"We still don't know much about the Tea Party when it comes to foreign policy," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "Whether these guys will follow their budget-cutting instincts and look to reduce foreign aid and the military presence abroad, or whether they will follow the neoconservative wing of the party that believes in empire and strong defense and pursuing interventionist policies all over the world is the question," he said.

"I expect more of the same under the Republicans," said Hidalgo. "I don't foresee big changes. This Tea Party is going to play conservative when it comes to the war on drugs," he predicted. "But I haven't seen a single Tea Partier say what they believe on this issue. We have to give them six months to a year to show their colors."

Mexican Marines being trained by US Marines
The Tea Party movement has already shown conflicting tendencies within it when it comes to foreign policy in general and US drug policy in Latin America in particular, Hidalgo argued. "Some part of it is militaristic and interventionist, like Sarah Palin. On the other hand, there are people link Rand Paul, who stands for a non-interventionist foreign policy and who thinks drug policy should be reassessed," he said. "We don't know how that is going to play out."

But Hidalgo strongly suggested he thought that it wasn't going to be in a reformist direction. "Even though the Tea Partiers believe in smaller government, the movement has been hijacked by the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party," he said. "Its biggest names are Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, both of whom are ultraconservative Republicans. I would be pleasantly surprised to see Tea Party representatives come into office and say the war on drugs is a failure, a big waste of money that has failed miserably. They claim they will look at every single budget item, and what better way to cut spending? I'll believe it when I see it," he said.

One thing that managed to win reluctant Democratic votes for funding the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico was human rights conditionality, meaning that -- in theory, at least -- US assistance could be pared back if those countries did not address identified human rights concerns. With tens of thousands dead in both Mexico and Colombia in the drug war, with widespread allegations of torture and abuses in both countries, the issue should be on the front burner.

In reality, human rights concerns always took a back seat to the imperatives of realpolitik. That's likely to be even more the case with Republicans in control of the House.

"There is not going to be much sympathy to human rights as a driver of US policy," said Birns. "The Republicans initially used human rights as an anti-communist vehicle; it was never meant to be used against rightists. Given that the Obama administration has been conspicuously silent on Latin America, human rights, like drug policy reform, is an issue that has largely disappeared from the public debate. If anything, the noise level of things to come on drug policy will be significantly lowered. Whatever was in the air about new approaches has pretty much been put to bed for the winter."

"On Plan Merida, the Democrats attached human rights conditions because of concerns the Mexican army was committing human rights abuses," said Hidalgo. "It's an open question whether a Republican House will be less concerned about human rights when it comes to helping Mexico, or will they say we should cut spending there?"

For Hidalgo, the big election news in 2010 was not the change in the House of Representatives, but the defeat of Proposition 19 in California.

"Before the vote, several Latin American leaders, including Colombian President Santos, said that if it were to pass, that would force Colombia to reconsider its drug policy and the war on drugs and bring this issue to international forums like the United Nations," he said. "That gave many of us hope that Colombia would precipitate an international discussion on whether to continue the current approach or to adopt a more sensible approach like Portugal or the Netherlands," he said. "Now, that is not going to happen."

Washington, DC
United States

EU Drug Traffickers Get Crafty

Location: 
Elaborate methods of smuggling cocaine and a record number of new unregulated drugs are challenging drug control policies in Europe. Traffickers are increasingly using exports such as clothes, plastics and fertilizers to smuggle cocaine base which is then extracted in clandestine laboratories.
Publication/Source: 
The Financial Times (UK)
URL: 
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/eb64e108-ecb1-11df-88eb-00144feab49a.html#axzz14ti9V5Cw

New Zealand's War on P (Methamphetamine) Continues, but Price Hardly Changes

Location: 
New Zealand
It has been a year since Prime Minister John Key declared war on the drug P (methamphetamine). The authorities, and Mr. Key, had hoped to see P prices rising as evidence that the anti-P campaign was working. But that hasn't happened.
Publication/Source: 
TV3 (New Zealand)
URL: 
http://www.3news.co.nz/Govts-war-on-P-continues-but-price-hardly-changes/tabid/423/articleID/185310/Default.aspx

Peru Wants More US Aid for Drug War; New Ambassador Hints 'No'

Location: 
Peru
Peruvian President Alan García met with President Obama over the summer and directly accused Washington of pushing cocaine growth into Peru. The world's second-largest cocaine producer, Peru has asked for more US aid in combating drug trafficking and blamed Washington's policies for driving coca plant production in the country. Despite Peru's leaders repeatedly calling in recent months for more US aid in fighting drug trafficking, the new US ambassador said in her first media interview that resources are limited.
Publication/Source: 
The Christian Science Monitor (MA)
URL: 
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/1021/Peru-wants-more-US-aid-for-drug-war-new-ambassador-hints-no

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 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.

Servando Gomez ("La Tuta")
Thursday, October 14

In Michoacan, a radio statement broadcast a recording described as a conversation between a high-level drug trafficker and a federal lawmaker. W radio said that the recording was between La Familia Cartel figure Servando Gomez (La Tuta) and politician Cesar Godoy. The two express support for one another and discuss offering a bribe to a journalist. Godoy was one of 36 Michoacan people accused of ties to the La Familia organization last year.

In Tamaulipas, Mexican authorities temporarily called off the search for a missing American. David Hartley has been missing since a shooting incident on Falcon Lake, which sits on the US-Mexico border. Mexican authorities will resume the search after a review of search strategies.

Friday, October 15

In the city of Chihuahua, six members of the prison Immediate Reaction Task Force were killed after the vehicle in which they were driving to work was ambushed. At least 10 gunmen fired on the vehicle with assault rifles. The attack occurred just two days after the La Linea -- the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel -- declared war on prison officials for their supposed favorable treatment of Sinaloa Cartel members.

In Jalisco, soldiers confiscated a massive cache of arms and ammunition at a home in the town of Zapopan. The arsenal included 51 rifles, 49 handguns, two rocket launchers, 20 grenades and 38,000 rounds of ammunition. Police also seized 18 kilos of meth, a small amount of cocaine, and a vehicle. No arrests appear to have been made.

Sunday, October 17

In Ciudad Juarez, 15 people were murdered in several locations. In one incident, eight people were killed when gunmen stormed a house. In another incident, the mayor of the nearby town of El Porvenir and his son were gunned down. The two had fled El Porvenir three weeks ago after the kidnap and murder of several neighbors.

Tuesday,  October 19

In Tijuana, soldiers and police seized 134 tons of marijuana during early morning raids in several locations. The marijuana was packaged in at least 15,000 different packages, which were marked with coded phrases and pictures, including images of Homer Simpson saying "I'm gonna get high, dude" in Spanish. Initial reports suggest the load belonged to the Sinaloa Cartel. The raids followed a shootout with several suspects, who led authorities to the stash locations.

Total Body Count for the Week:118

Total Body Count for the Year: 8,508

Mexico

Mexico Seizes 105 Tons of Marijuana in Tijuana. Does It Matter?

Location: 
Tijuana, BCN
Mexico
Mexico's national security spokesman Alejandro Poire trumpeted 'the largest seizure in the country's history of marijuana prepared and packed for sale and distribution.' But will this make a dent in the bi-national effort to stem the power of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico? Weapons, cash, and drug seizures, as well as top arrests of drug traffickers, are always touted by the government as signs of success, but they do little to impact the overall structure of the organizations, experts say.
Publication/Source: 
The Christian Science Monitor (MA)
URL: 
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/1020/Mexico-seizes-105-tons-of-marijuana-in-Tijuana.-Does-it-matter

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