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Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update--October 22

by Bernd Debussman Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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: Friday , October 16 In Michoacan, three bodies were found , all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juarez area. Saturday , October 17 In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city. Monday , October 19 Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening “kidnappers, thieves and traitors” and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente. Tuesday , October 20 In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the “La Familia” cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco. Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck. Wednesday , October 21 A suspected member of the Juarez Cartel was added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Juarez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Juarez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juarez under the protection of the cartel. Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel. Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juarez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juarez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juarez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor. Total body count for the week: 113 Total body count for the year: 5,928 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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:

Wednesday, October 7

Three men were killed in the state of Guerrero in different parts of the city of Tecpan de Galeana. Police believe that armed men travelling in two vehicles were involved in all three incidents, which occurred the same night.

Thursday, October 8

A pregnant Guatemalan woman was killed along with her mother in Chiapas. The two Guatemalan women were found dead on a farm outside the city of Tuxla Chico. Additionally, five people were killed in Guerrero, three in Durango, and three decapitated bodies were found in Sinaloa. In the northern city of Monterrey, two people were killed and a third was wounded after a firefight took place inside a restaurant. Fifteen people were reported killed in Ciudad Juarez during the same 24 hour period.

Friday, October 9

In Tijuana, the mutilated body of a state official was found hanging from a bridge. The official, Rogelio Sanchez, was kidnapped Wednesday, and was suspected by police of giving fake drivers licenses to drug traffickers. Tijuana is currently the scene of a violent turf war between the Arellano-Felix Cartel and a breakaway faction led by Teodoro Garcia Simental.

In Guerrero, ten people were found executed, all bearing signs that read "This is what is going to happen to thieves and extortionists. Respectfully, the Boss of Bosses." Local authorities offered no explanation for the notes. (The same appellation was used in a September 12 killing in Acapulco.) Authorities were alerted to the bodies -- many of whose heads were found bound in masking tape -- by a series of anonymous phone calls. In recent months many low-level criminals have been killed by vigilante groups thought to be working with the support of drug traffickers or members of the police.

In the state of Jalisco, four suspected cartel gunmen were killed in an hours-long gun battle with the Mexican army. During the battle, a police helicopter which had been called to the scene was struck by gunfire. A helicopter gunship was also called in. In the state of Chihuahua, a soldier was killed and several wounded after being ambushed near the small hamlet of Colonia LeBaron. The area has been heavily patrolled following the July killing of an anti-crime activist and his neighbor.

Monday, October 12

In the waters of the port city of Mazatlan, four men were arrested after the ship in which they were travelling was found to be carrying approximately 500 kilos of cocaine. After catching sight of an American naval vessel in the area, the men were seen began throwing the drugs overboard, set fire to their ship, and jumped into the water. American naval personnel rescued the men and turned them over to Mexican military authorities.

Tuesday, October 13

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed in drug-related violence. Among them was a woman who was found beheaded. The woman was in her late twenties and had a tattoo of Santa Muerte, or "Saint Death", a symbol popular among Mexican criminals. In a separate incident, four men were killed when gunmen attacked a mechanics workshop, and three others were killed in other shootings.

In Navolato, Sinaloa, a group of armed men kidnapped and killed the brother-in-law of a brother of Vicente Carillo Fuentes, the reputed head of the Juarez Cartel. The man, Jacobo Retamoza, 34, was the lawyer who represented the La Guajira farm, where in November 2008 a group of armed men dressed in military uniforms kidnapped 27 people. He was driving on a highway when he was intercepted by a group of heavily armed gunmen who spirited him away in a truck. Several hours later he was found dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

In Chiapas, a vast arsenal was discovered after the arrest of four men, who ranged in ages from 21 to 41. The men had in their possession 21 AR-15 rifles, 18 AK-47's, and five pistols, one of which was jewel encrusted. Additionally, law enforcement officers found 17, 212 rounds of ammunition, over 300 grenades, several blocks of TNT, a sniper rifle, nine vehicles, and confiscated two race horses found on the property.

Total body count for the week: 178
Total body count for the year: 5,815

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Police Discover World's Most Expensive Marijuana


Police in Texas just made a remarkable discovery that could potentially turn the domestic marijuana industry upside down. Although a recent drug raid only turned up a single marijuana plant, officers determined that it is the most valuable marijuana ever reported. According to Sheriff Thomas Kerss, this type of marijuana has a street value of $6,000 per ounce!

That's some very impressive pot. According to the government's own data, collected by the National Drug Intelligence Center, high-grade marijuana prices top out at around $7,500 per pound in high-value markets. That's around $470 an ounce. Similarly, the marijuana magazine High Times estimates the average price of high-grade marijuana at $428 per ounce in August 2009.

As you can see, the marijuana just discovered in Texas is more than 12 times as valuable as anything currently on the market. Even the hippies at High Times have never heard of anything like this, but maybe that's because the police are doing such a good job keeping it off the streets.

*****
Or maybe the police lied about how much it's worth. After finding only one little pot plant in a big dramatic drug raid, they wildly inflated the value of their drug seizure in order to make newspaper headlines. It's happened before, although this is by far the most laughably outrageous marijuana price ever claimed by police in the three years I've been documenting this behavior.

At $6,000 an ounce, that would mean one little joint costs $200. A dimebag would be invisible to the naked eye. It just doesn’t make sense, which is why I refuse to believe it's an honest mistake when cops say stuff like this. Narcotics investigators buy drugs all the time so they can arrest people for selling to them. They know the market well and if their estimates come out all crazy, it's because they're trying to impress people with the fruits of their filthy labor.

But the stupidity doesn’t end there. Lying about the value of marijuana rather obviously encourages people to grow it. If these guys really gave a damn about "winning" the war on drugs, they wouldn’t be running around in the middle of an economic crisis telling people you can make thousands of dollars from a single marijuana plant. Nonsense like that could quickly blow up in your face.

Unless, of course, the people who get paid a good salary and benefits to bust marijuana growers actually want more people to do it. Say it ain't so.

Update: I just heard back from KRTE9 News and the online version of the story has been corrected to say $6,000 per pound, which makes a lot more sense. I'm told that "the DEA mistakenly told the sheriff 6,th an oz," which is pretty weird. That means multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in disseminating this number and no one noticed how absurd it was?

I'll take their word for it that someone just screwed up here, which is what a couple readers suggested to me as well. But please understand that this is hardly the first time I've encountered police claiming ridiculous marijuana prices that artificially inflated the value of their drug seizures. Whether it's done deliberately or not, this behavior serves to misinform the public and shouldn’t be tolerated.

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Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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/drugpatrols.jpg
Mexican army anti-drug patrol
Thursday, September 10

Last Thursday morning, the body count for the year passed 5,000. Four people were killed in Guerrero, among them a rural law enforcement officer. Additionally, in Chiapas, a group of gunmen threw a fragmentation grenade at a municipal office. Several people were wounded and a vehicle parked outside was damaged.

Friday, September 11

In Tijuana, authorities reported a spike in drug prohibition-related violence. Nineteen people were killed in the first eight days of September. Authorities have reported 405 homicides in Tijuana from January 1st through September 11th. This is less than half of the 843 homicides reported in 2008, but 68 more than the 2007 total. The Baja California attorney general's office believes that much of the recent violence is due to reprisals against suspected informers following the arrest of several high-level traffickers.

Saturday, September 12

In the resort city of Acapulco, five bullet riddled bodies were found dumped in a landfill. According to Mexican authorities, police found a note near the bodies which was signed "the boss of bosses." It is unclear to whom the note refers.

In Sinaloa,a municipal police commander was killed when his car was ambushed by four vehicles carrying an estimated twenty armed men. His 13-year old son and a friend of his were wounded. Two innocent bystanders, aged 14 and 17, were killed by stray bullets as they sat under a tree near the road. Meanwhile, four charred corpses were found in a burning car on the Mexico City-Oaxaca highway. In Ciudad Juarez, 12 drug-related murders were reported.

Sunday, September 13

In Ciudad Juarez, Eight people were killed in just a few hours. The eight people who were killed died in six different incidents. Among the dead was Jose Robles Ortiz, who was riddled with bullets on September 11th. His death is being investigated by the state prosecutor's office for the state of Chihuahua.

Monday, September 14

At the El Paso border checkpoint, over $1 million in cash was seized over the period of a few days. The largest seizure took place on Friday afternoon, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials found $802,720 in an SUV that was headed towards Mexico. Two Mexican nationals, aged 33 and 34, were detained and remain in El Paso County Jail. Two other seizures made during the week totaled $206,000. El Paso is just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, and is a lucrative drug trafficking corridor for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. It is a federal offense to not declare currency over $10,000 dollars upon leaving or entering the US.

Tuesday, September 15

In Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, 21 people were killed on Tuesday. In Tijuana, firefighters found six bodies inside a burning car. Four of the men were seated in the car, while two were found in the trunk. In Ciudad Juarez, five people-including two brothers-were gunned down at a car wash. Ten people were killed in other acts of violence in the city. Five people were killed when gunmen opened fire at a hardware store, and five men in a pickup truck were killed when they were ambushed.

Wednesday, September 16

In Ciudad Juarez, suspected drug cartel gunmen attacked a drug rehabilitation clinic, killing ten. This is the second such attack this month. Drug gangs have targeted rehab clinics in Ciudad Juarez, claiming that they are protecting members of rival trafficking organizations. A spokesman for the states attorney's office said that the dead included nine men and one woman.

Mexican independence day celebrations took place under extremely heavy security, due to fears of violence. Security was especially tight in Morelia, Michoacán, where a grenade attack by members of La Familia cartel killed eight people and wounded over 100 during last year's celebrations. In many cities, traditional children's parades and outdoor parties were canceled because of security concerns.

Body count for the year: 5,136
Body count for the week: 181

Read last week's Mexico drug war update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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, September 10 Last Thursday morning, the body count for the year passed 5,000. Four people were killed in Guerrero, among them a rural law enforcement officer. Additionally, in Chiapas, a group of gunmen threw a fragmentation grenade at a municipal office. Several people were wounded and a vehicle parked outside was damaged. Friday, September 11 In Tijuana, authorities reported a spike in drug prohibition-related violence. Nineteen people were killed in the first eight days of September. Authorities have reported 405 homicides in Tijuana from January 1st through September 11th. This is less than half of the 843 homicides reported in 2008, but 68 more than the 2007 total. The Baja California attorney general’s office believes that much of the recent violence is due to reprisals against suspected informers following the arrest of several high-level traffickers. Saturday, September 12 In the resort city of Acapulco, five bullet riddled bodies were found dumped in a landfill. According to Mexican authorities, police found a note near the bodies which was signed “the boss of bosses”. It is unclear to whom the note refers. In Sinaloa,a municipal police commander was killed when his car was ambushed by four vehicles carrying an estimated twenty armed men. His 13-year old son and a friend of his were wounded. Two innocent bystanders, aged 14 and 17, were killed by stray bullets as they sat under a tree near the road. Meanwhile, four charred corpses were found in a burning car on the Mexico City-Oaxaca highway. In Ciudad Juarez, 12 drug-related murders were reported. Sunday, September 13 In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed in just a few hours. The eight people who were killed died in six different incidents. Among the dead was Jose Robles Ortiz, who was riddled with bullets on September 11th. His death is being investigated by the state prosecutor’s office for the state of Chihuahua. Monday, September 14 At the El Paso border checkpoint, over $1 million in cash was seized over the period of a few days. The largest seizure took place on Friday afternoon, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials found $802,720 in an SUV that was headed towards Mexico. Two Mexican nationals, aged 33 and 34, were detained and remain in El Paso County Jail. Two other seizures made during the week totaled $206,000. El Paso is just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, and is a lucrative drug trafficking corridor for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. It is a federal offense to not declare currency over $10,000 dollars upon leaving or entering the US. Tuesday, September 15 In Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, 21 people were killed on Tuesday. In Tijuana, firefighters found six bodies inside a burning car. Four of the men were seated in the car, while two were found in the trunk. In Ciudad Juarez, five people-including two brothers-were gunned down at a car wash. Ten people were killed in other acts of violence in the city. Five people were killed when gunmen opened fire at a hardware store, and five men in a pickup truck were killed when they were ambushed. Wednesday, September 16 In Ciudad Juarez, suspected drug cartel gunmen attacked a drug rehabilitation clinic, killing ten. This is the second such attack this month. Drug gangs have targeted rehab clinics in Ciudad Juarez, claiming that they are protecting members of rival trafficking organizations. A spokesman for the states attorney’s office said that the dead included nine men and one woman. Mexican independence day celebrations took place under extremely heavy security, due to fears of violence. Security was especially tight in Morelia, Michoacán, where a grenade attack by members of La Familia cartel killed eight people and wounded over 100 during last year’s celebrations. In many cities, traditional children’s parades and outdoor parties were canceled because of security concerns. Read last week's Mexico drug war update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 4,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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/mexicandrugpatrols.jpg
Mexican anti-drug patrol
Friday, August 21:

- The mother and brother of the reputed head of the La Familia drug cartel were arrested by Mexican authorities. This came despite explicit threats on television last month by Servando Gomez, the cartel boss, that any action against his family would bring retaliation. Gomez's mother, Maria Teresa Martinez, was released two days after her arrest because of a lack of evidence. The brother, Luis Felipe Gomez Martinez, is still being held.

-43 Mexicans were indicted by federal courts in Chicago and Brooklyn. The indictments, unsealed Thursday , charge them with operating a coast-to-coast distribution network through which drugs and money have flowed for the last 20 years. The three most high profile suspects -- Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Ismael Zambada García and Arturo Beltrán Leyva -- are the current and former leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, although Beltran Leyva now operates his own, independent organization. 35 of the 43 suspects remain at large, while the other eight were arrested during the last week in Chicago and Atlanta.

Saturday, August 22:

-The Mexican government decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth. Under the new laws, people are now allowed to have 5 grams of marijuana, 50 mg of heroin, half a gram of cocaine, and 40 mg of meth. Mexican prosecutors believe that the new law will help in the war against drug cartels by allowing federal prosecutors to focus on combating large-scale traffickers and distributors rather than small-time users. This change in policy comes at a time when drug cartels are selling an increasingly large number of drugs domestically. A 2008 government study found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost tripled in the past six years.

-In Ciudad Juarez gunmen killed a Mexican army officer and another man in a bowling alley. Gunmen entered the Bol-Bol bowling alley and gunned down Captain Alejandro Aranda and an unidentified companion late on Friday night. Aranda was an administrator of a dining hall in a Ciudad Juarez military facility. Also, in Tijuana, three police officers were wounded when their patrol cars came under fire from suspected cartel gunmen.

Monday, August 24:

-The Mexican Army announced on Monday that it has captured a leading member of the La Familia drug cartel in the Pacific coast city of Manzanillo. Luis Ricardo Magana, also known by the alias "19 1/2" (traffickers frequently use numerical codenames), is alleged to be responsible for the cartel's shipments of methamphetamine to the United States. He is one of Mexico's most wanted fugitives and is also thought to be involved in the planning of retaliatory attacks on federal police agents. Also on Monday, in the state of Sinaloa, a cooler containing four severed heads was found by the side of rural road. The headless bodies were found some 3 miles away.

-16 people were killed during a 24-hour period in Ciudad Juarez. Among the victims was a police officer who wanted to resign after having previously received unspecified threats. In a separate incident, a group of heavily armed gunmen shot and killed a 15-year-old boy outside his home. The 16 killed now bring the death toll in Ciudad Juarez for the year over 1,100 killed.

Tuesday, August 25:

-Another 29 people were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico during a 24-hour period. Among the victims were a police commander and two of his officers in Nayarit who were killed when the car in which they were traveling was attacked by gunmen wielding automatic weapons. In Gomez Palacio, Durango, two prison guards were found dead, while, in a separate incident, gunmen attacked a couple. The man died while the woman was left in serious condition. In Nogales, a cooler containing a dismembered human body was left at the entrance to a technical university. Additionally, six individuals were killed in Ciudad Juarez, three bodies were found at a ranch in Sonora, four people were murdered in Guerrero, and parts of nine human bodies were found across Sinaloa.

-Recent court documents examined by the Houston Chronicle detail an ultra high-tech communications network employed by a Mexican drug trafficking organization. The federal court documents detail the testimony of Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, 38, who is alleged to be a cartel communications expert. According to his testimony, his organization uses a string of hand-held radios on a network which stretches from Guatemala to the Mexico-Texas border. His team included an expert who specialized in installing radio towers and antennas, and another who researched new technology.

Total reported body count for the last week: 155

Total reported body count for the year: 4,587

Read last issue's Mexico drug war report here.)

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 4,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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: Friday, August 21 - The mother and brother of the reputed head of the La Familia drug cartel were arrested by Mexican authorities. This came despite explicit threats on television last month by Servando Gomez, the cartel boss, that any action against his family would bring retaliation. Gomez’s mother, Maria Teresa Martinez, was released two days after her arrest because of a lack of evidence. The brother, Luis Felipe Gomez Martinez, is still being held. -43 Mexicans were indicted by federal courts in Chicago and Brooklyn. The indictments, unsealed Thursday , charge the 43 Mexicans with operating a coast-to-coast distribution network through which drugs and money have flowed for the last 20 years. The three most high profile suspects--Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Ismael Zambada García and Arturo Beltrán Leyva-- are the current and former leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, although Beltran Leyva now operates his own, independent organization. 35 of the 43 suspects remain at large, while the other eight were arrested during the last week in Chicago and Atlanta. Saturday, August 22 -The Mexican government decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth. Under the new laws, people are now allowed to have 5 grams of marijuana, 50 mg of heroin, half a gram of cocaine, and 40 mg of meth. Mexican prosecutors believe that the new law will help in the war against drug cartels by allowing federal prosecutors to focus on combating large-scale traffickers and distributors rather than small-time users. This change in policy comes at a time when drug cartels are selling an increasingly large number of drugs domestically. A 2008 government study found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost tripled in the past six years. -In Ciudad Juarez gunmen killed a Mexican army officer and another man in a bowling alley. Gunmen entered the Bol-Bol bowling alley and gunned down Captain Alejandro Aranda and an unidentified companion late on Friday night. Aranda was an administrator of a dining hall in a Ciudad Juarez military facility. Also, in Tijuana, three police officers were wounded when their patrol cars came under fire from suspected cartel gunmen. Monday, August 24 -The Mexican Army announced on Monday that it captured a leading member of the La Familia drug cartel in the Pacific coast city of Manzanillo. Luis Ricardo Magana, also known by the alias “19 1/2” (traffickers frequently use numerical codenames), is alleged to be responsible for the cartels shipments of methamphetamine to the United States. He is one of Mexico’s most wanted fugitives and is also thought to be involved in the planning of retaliatory attacks on federal police agents. Also on Monday, in the state of Sinaloa, a cooler containing four severed heads was found by the side of rural road. The headless bodies were found some 3 miles away. -16 people were killed during a 24-hour period in Ciudad Juarez. Among the victims was a police officer who wanted to resign after having previously received unspecified threats. In a separate incident, a group of heavily armed gunmen shot and killed a 15-year-old boy outside his home. The 16 killed now bring the death toll in Ciudad Juarez for the year over 1,100 killed. Tuesday, August 25 -Another 29 people were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico during a 24-hour period. Among the victims were a police commander and two of his officers in Nayarit who were killed when the car in which they were traveling was attacked by gunmen wielding automatic weapons. In Gomez Palacio, Durango two prison guards were found dead, while, in a separate incident, gunmen attacked a couple. The man died while the woman was left in serious condition. In Nogales, a cooler containing a dismembered human body was left at the entrance to a technical university. Additionally, six individuals were killed in Ciudad Juarez, three bodies were found at a ranch in Sonora, four people were murdered in Guerrero, and parts of nine human bodies were found across Sinaloa. -Recent court documents examined by the Houston Chronicle detail an ultra high-tech communications network employed by a Mexican drug trafficking organization. The federal court documents detail the testimony of Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, 38, who is alleged to be a cartel communications expert. According to his testimony, his organization uses a string of hand-held radios on a network which stretches from Guatemala to the Mexico-Texas border. His team included an expert who specialized in installing radio towers and antennas, and another who researched new technology. Total reported body count for the last week: 155 Total reported body count for the year: 4,587

Feature: Hit List -- US Targets 50 Taliban-Linked Drug Traffickers to Capture or Kill

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/afghan-cache1.jpg
hidden drug cache, Afghanistan 2008 (from nato.int)
A congressional study released Tuesday reveals that US military forces occupying Afghanistan have placed 50 drug traffickers on a "capture or kill" list. The list of those targeted for arrest or assassination had previously been reserved for leaders of the insurgency aimed at driving Western forces from Afghanistan and restoring Taliban rule. The addition of drug traffickers to the hit list means the US military will now be capturing or killing criminal -- not political or military -- foes without benefit of warrant or trial.

The policy was announced earlier this year, when the US persuaded reluctant NATO allies to come on board as it began shifting its Afghan drug policy from eradication of peasant poppy fields to trying to interdict opium and heroin in transit out from the country. But it is receiving renewed attention as the fight heats up this summer, and the release of the report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has brought the policy under the spotlight.

The report, Afghanistan's Narco War: Breaking the Link between Drug Traffickers and Insurgents, includes the following highlights:

  • Senior military and civilian officials now believe the Taliban cannot be defeated and good government in Afghanistan cannot be established without cutting off the money generated by Afghanistan's opium industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world's heroin and generates an estimated $3 billion a year in profits.
  • As part of the US military expansion in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has assigned US troops a lead role in trying to stop the flow of illicit drug profits that are bankrolling the Taliban and fueling the corruption that undermines the Afghan government. Simultaneously, the United States has set up an intelligence center to analyze the flow of drug money to the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, and a task force combining military, intelligence and law enforcement resources from several countries to pursue drug networks linked to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan awaits formal approval.
  • On the civilian side, the administration is dramatically shifting gears on counternarcotics by phasing out eradication efforts in favor of promoting alternative crops and agriculture development. For the first time, the United States will have an agriculture strategy for Afghanistan. While this new strategy is still being finalized, it will focus on efforts to increase agricultural productivity, regenerate the agribusiness sector, rehabilitate watersheds and irrigation systems, and build capacity in the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock.

While it didn't make the highlights, the following passage bluntly spells out the lengths to which the military is prepared to go to complete its new anti-drug mission: "In a dramatic illustration of the new policy, major drug traffickers who help finance the insurgency are likely to find themselves in the crosshairs of the military. Some 50 of them are now officially on the target list to be killed or captured."

Or, as one US military officer told the committee staff: "We have a list of 367 'kill or capture' targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and insurgency."

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burning of captured Afghanistan hashish cache, world record size, 2008 (from nato.int)
US military commanders argue that the killing of civilian drug trafficking suspects is legal under their rules of engagement and the international law. While the exact rules of engagement are classified, the generals said "the ROE and the internationally recognized Law of War have been interpreted to allow them to put drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list, called the joint integrated prioritized target list."

Not everyone agrees that killing civilian drug traffickers in a foreign country is legal. The UN General Assembly has called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. In a 2007 report, the International Harm Reduction Association identified the resort to the death penalty for drug offenses as a violation of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"What was striking about the news coverage of this this week was that the culture of US impunity is so entrenched that nobody questioned or even mentioned the fact that extrajudicial murder is illegal under international law, and presumably under US law as well," said Steve Rolles of the British drug reform group Transform. "The UK government could never get away with an assassination list like this, and even when countries like Israel do it, there is widespread condemnation. Imagine the uproar if the Afghans had produced a list of US assassination targets on the basis that US forces in Afghanistan were responsible for thousands of civilian casualties."

Rolles noted that while international law condemns the death penalty for drug offenses, the US policy of "capture or kill" doesn't even necessarily contemplate trying offenders before executing them. "This hit list is something different," he argued. "They are specifically calling for executions without any recourse to trial, prosecution, or legal norms. Whilst a 'war' can arguably create exceptions in terms of targeting 'enemy combatants,' the war on terror and war on drugs are amorphous concepts apparently being used to create a blanket exemption under which almost any actions are justified, whether conventionally viewed as legal or not -- as recent controversies over torture have all too clearly demonstrated."

But observers on this side of the water were more sanguine. "This is arguably no different from US forces trying to capture or kill Taliban leaders," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on drugs, security, and insurgencies at the Brookings Institution. "As long as you are in a war context and part of your policy is to immobilize the insurgency, this is no different," she said.

"This supposedly focuses on major traffickers closely aligned to the Taliban and Al Qaeda," said Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute. "That at least is preferable to going around destroying the opium crops of Afghan farmers, but it is still a questionable strategy," he said.

But even if they can live with hit-listing drug traffickers, both analysts said the success of the policy would depend on how it is implemented. "The major weakness of this new initiative is that it is subject to manipulation -- it creates a huge incentive for rival traffickers or people who simply have a quarrel with someone to finger that person and get US and NATO forces to take him out," said Carpenter, noting that Western forces had been similarly played in the recent past in Afghanistan. "You'll no doubt be amazed by the number of traffickers who are going to be identified as Taliban-linked. Other traffickers will have a vested interest in eliminating the competition."

"This is better than eradication," agreed Felbab-Brown, "but how effective it will be depends to a large extent on how it's implemented. There are potential pitfalls. One is that you send a signal that the best way to be a drug trafficker is to be part of the government. There needs to be a parallel effort to go after traffickers aligned with the government," she said.

"A second pitfall is with deciding the purpose of interdiction," Felbab-Brown continued. "This is being billed as a way to bankrupt the Taliban, but I am skeptical about that, and there is the danger that expectations will not be met. Perhaps this should be focused on limiting the traffickers' power to corrupt and coerce the state."

Another danger, said Felbab-Brown, is if the policy is implemented too broadly. "If the policy targets low-level traders even if they are aligned with the Taliban or targets extensive networks of trafficking organizations and ends up arresting thousands of people, its disruptive effects may be indistinguishable from eradication at the local level. That would be economically hurting populations the international community is trying to court."

Felbab-Brown pointed to the Colombian and Mexican examples to highlight another potential pitfall for the policy of targeting Taliban-linked traffickers. "Such operations could end up allowing the Taliban to take more control over trafficking, as in Colombia after the Medellin and Cali cartels were destroyed, where the FARC and the paramilitaries ended up becoming major players," she warned. "Or like Mexico, where the traffickers have responded by fighting back against the state. This could add another dimension to the conflict and increase the levels of violence."

The level of violence is already at its highest level since the US invasion and occupation nearly eight years ago. Last month was the bloodiest month of the war for Western troops, with 76 US and NATO soldiers killed. As of Wednesday, another 28 have been killed this month.

How Bush's Drug Czar Fooled the Media and the American People


Remember back in 2007 when Bush's drug czar John Walters announced that cocaine prices were spiking and proceeded to do a proud drug war victory dance in newspapers nationwide? It was the high-water mark of his tenure in terms of positive press for the national drug strategy he'd championed shamelessly since taking office in late 2001. If drug prices were increasing, his argument claimed, then our campaign to rid the nation of drugs must be on the right track and our arsenal of brutal drug war tactics was being vindicated for all to see.

John Walters
Well, it looks like the truth finally caught up with him. Ryan Grim has a fascinating piece at Reason laying out the plotline behind Walters's victory parade and it's really a remarkable window into the epic dishonesty that characterizes not only John Walters, but the foundations of the drug war itself.

I recommend reading Grim's account to understand how badly Walters manipulated the data to make his case, but what I find most troubling in all of this is the role of the press in enabling such a transparent and self-serving deception. This is the story of a man who had already jettisoned all credibility through an endless series of similarly dubious pronouncements. ONDCP's bogus theatrics were sufficiently notorious by this point that even the conservative Washington Times balked at the opportunity to break the story of the Bush Administration's self-proclaimed surprise victory in the war on drugs.

It was Donna Leinwand at USA Today who gave Walters a podium from which to deceive the American public about the success of his policies. Drug policy was – and remains – Leinwand's beat at USA Today, thus she could easily have included a counterpoint in her coverage from one of the many experts that would gladly take her call. Instead, she uncritically passed along the claims of a notoriously deceitful propagandist to the American public, igniting a firestorm of press coverage that fraudulently propped up the drug czar's political agenda.

If there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it seems not to have sunk in yet. Only a month ago, Leinwand was still promoting misleading claims about the success of the war on cocaine. It is, of course, perfectly appropriate to quote the leaders of the worldwide war on drugs as they endeavor desperately and predictably to highlight any and all miniscule data points that favor their fixations. But that should only be half the story. If you base an entire news report on something a drug war cheerleader told you, then your story won’t be true and the public that relies upon you for drug policy news will end up understanding less about the issue than if they'd never read your article to begin with.

Ironically, widespread disgust with John Walters and the entrenched drug warrior mentality he represented has likely helped set the stage for the present political climate in which the drug policy debate has finally gone mainstream. The case for reform is at long last embraced and amplified by the same media that once ignored it at every turn. Prominent journalists themselves are speaking out and saying things that used to be off-limits.

Still, all those who rejoice at the impending collapse of the great drug war juggernaut should not lose sight of the fact that only 2 years ago, a single man was able to freeze time with a simple lie.

Latin America: Washington, Bogota on Verge of Deal to Make Colombian Military Air Base Regional Hub for Counter-Narcotics, More

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that US and Colombian negotiators are nearing agreement on a plan to expand the US military presence in Colombia by allowing the US to base hundreds of Americans at a Colombian Air Force Base in the Magdalena River valley to support US anti-drug interdiction missions. A fifth and final round of talks later this month could seal the deal.

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anti-Plan Colombia poster (courtesy Colombia IndyMedia)
The base would take up the drug war slack left by the ending of interdiction operations from the international airport at Manta, Ecuador, which is set for this week. The Manta base had been home for some 220 Americans supporting E-C AWACS and P-3 Orion surveillance planes scouring northern South America and the eastern Pacific for vessels and planes they suspect are carrying drugs. But Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa refused to renew the US lease, saying the US military mission there violated his country's sovereignty.

Colombian officials told the AP the plan was to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations. The current draft of the plan, they said, would allow more frequent visits by US aircraft and warships to two naval bases and three air bases in Colombia, with the Palanquero air base being the centerpiece of the plan. Palanquero had been off limits to US forces until April for human rights reasons -- a Colombian military helicopter operating from Palanquero had killed 17 civilians in 1998.

But that's ancient history now. A bill already passed by the House and pending in the Senate would earmark $46 million for new construction at the base, which is home to the Colombian Air Force's main fighter wing. That funding would be released 15 days after an agreement is reached.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is one of America's few remaining staunch allies in the region, and acceptance of the base deal could further stress already strained relations between Colombia and its more left-leaning neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela. It's also certain to raise concerns about Latin Americans wary of US interventions in the region.

Such concerns are not helped by Pentagon planning documents that suggest that beyond its anti-drug mission, Palanquero could be a "cooperative security location" from which "mobility operations could be executed." In other words, a jumping off point for US military expeditionary forces.

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coca eradication
The US has pumped several billion dollars of primarily military and police assistance into Colombia since Plan Colombia began in 1999. Originally defined as a purely anti-drug program, under the Bush administration, it took on the additional burden of counter-insurgency, defining the rebel FARC guerrillas as narco-terrorists who must be defeated.

Despite all those billions of dollars in anti-drug aid, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer. Neighboring Peru is second, and Bolivia is third. Bolivia under President Evo Morales also forms part of the emerging left-leaning bloc in Latin America.

Former Colombian defense minister Rafael Pardo, who is running for president in the May 2010 elections, told the AP that the radar and communications interception ability of US surveillance planes extends well beyond Colombia's borders and could cause problems with its neighbors.

"If it's to launch surveillance flights over other nations then it seems to me that would be needless hostility by Colombia against its neighbors," Pardo said.

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