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AP Interview: Former Afghan customs chief says Afghanistan losing war against drugs

Location: 
London
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
International Herald Tribune (France)
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/01/29/europe/EU-GEN-Britain-Afghan-General.php

Feature: In Mexico, Now It's Calderon's Drug War

Newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in December after a razor-thin victory over his leftist rival, Andres Lopez Obrador, last summer, and in the few weeks since he has been in power, Calderon has moved quickly and aggressively against the country's powerful, wealthy, and ruthless drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels. But while Calderon's bold moves have won him kudos from Mexicans hungry for law and order and from the Bush administration, Mexico analysts are skeptical they will mean anything in the long run, especially without fundamental reforms of the country's police, military, and judicial systems.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/mexicandrugpatrol.jpg
Mexican anti-drug patrol
With cartel violence reaching record levels, Calderon moved quickly and dramatically, sending 6,000 soldiers and police into his home state of Michoacan, where disputes among the cartels have led to horrendous violence. A week later, he sent 3,000 more into the border city of Tijuana and disarmed the city police, who are widely believed to be thoroughly infiltrated by the cartels. At the same time, Calderon sent even more soldiers and police into Acapulco, the Pacific resort city that up until last year had been far removed from cartel violence. That changed when heavy gun-battles featuring submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers broke out in the tourist destination last summer.

Late last Friday night, Calderon made another dramatic move, when he agreed to extradite 10 top drug traffickers to the United States, most prominent among them Osiel Cardenas, who ran the Gulf cartel from a prison cell since his arrest in 2003. Also extradited was Hector Palma, reputed to be Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's right hand man. Guzman would have made the list himself, but he escaped from prison in 2001. Calderon also extradited brothers Ismael and Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, top henchmen in the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel.

"We are determined not to tolerate any defiance to the authority of the state," Calderon said last Friday.

Calderon's deeds and words won quick praise from the Bush administration. "The actions overnight by the Mexican government are unprecedented in their scope and importance," US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement Saturday. "Never before has the United States received from Mexico such a large number of major drug defendants and other criminals for prosecution in this country."

But despite thousands of searches, hundreds of arrests, and the seizure or eradication of large quantities of marijuana, there may be less to Calderon's offensive than meets the eye. "Calderon has achieved in creating a public image that he is going to be serious about organized crime from the beginning," said Maureen Meyer, the Washington Office on Latin America associate for Mexico and Central America. "The high level of operations is a clear signal, as was the extradition of cartel members to the United States," she told Drug War Chronicle. "But in terms of long-term results, that remains to be seen. We haven't seen many reports about eradication totals that are greater than normal," she noted.

"This campaign is really aimed at Washington as much as it is at Mexico City," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC. "It's a kind of shock and awe breakaway by Calderon to announce his presidency," Birns told the Chronicle. "Calderon has been worried that his defeated rival, Lopez Obrador, has outshone him with his political shenanigans, and he can use this anti-drug campaign as a piece of drama to overshadow his rival. The only problem is that the idea that Mexico will ever solve its drug problem is largely an illusion."

If Mexico wants to come to grips with the cartels, it's going to take more than high-profile raids and military operations, the analysts said. "The steps Mexico should be taking are more structural reforms of the judicial system so there is more transparency in the process, better investigations, and more mechanisms for accountability and oversight within the military and the police," said WOLA's Meyer. "If you don't accompany these big anti-drug operations with reforms in the judiciary, law enforcement, and the military, you will probably see the same results you saw in the past."

Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, led a similar aggressive campaign against the cartels early in his administration, but without the reforms Meyer mentioned, his war on the cartels led not to a decrease but an increase in violence. As Fox managed to disrupt or decapitate various drug trafficking organizations, the remaining cartels and cartel leaders fought with each other in order to secure the lucrative "plaza" or "franchise" from corrupt law enforcement officials in various cities, leading to steadily increasing death tolls among the traffickers and the police who either fought them or were allied with them.

By last year, the violence had reached record levels, with more than 2,000 killed in the cartel wars. That's more than the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq during the same period. The violence also reached new levels of horror, or, more precisely, exemplary terror, with policemen decapitated in Acapulco and the heads of murdered traffickers thrown onto the middle of a night club dance floor in Michoacan, among other atrocities.

It is likely that instead of reducing the violence of the cartels, Calderon's offensive will, like Fox's before it, only lead to more violence as the traffickers try to reestablish themselves after the hits they've taken. "The tendency has been for the government to target the higher levels of the cartels, then there is a struggle for power among them, as well as within the cartels as mid-level leaders struggle for supremacy. We will most likely see more inter-cartel and intra-cartel power struggles now," said Meyer.

With illicit drug revenues estimated at $142 billion in US and Canada each year, and Mexican traffickers pocketing a significant fraction of them, the cartels have every reason to battle each other for supremacy. And while they have traditionally refrained from open warfare on the national government, there are fears that Calderon's pressure and especially his okaying of the extradition of leading traffickers will lead Mexican cartels to follow the lead of the Colombian confreres, who in the early 1980s unleashed a war on the Colombian state when threatened with extradition to the US.

There are also fears that the corruption that has enveloped various Mexican police forces will engulf the military as it is pulled into Calderon's drug war. "Members of the military aren't immune to corruption," WOLA's Meyer noted, pointing to the rise of the Zetas, a group of US-trained former military anti-drug personnel who switched sides to join forces with the Gulf Cartel and who are blamed for some of the most horrendous violence.

"When you have a police officer or a military officer paid one-fiftieth of what he could make working for the narcos, the odds are really against you," said Birns. "That's why you see the subversion of the security forces and the periodic firing of all the police."

As long as the underlying reality of America's insatiable appetite for illegal drugs remains, Birns said, the latest Mexican anti-drug crusade is little more than theater. "This is more decorative than anything," he said. "It's the semblance of doing something. With all that money involved, how are you ever going to turn off the spigot? One is going to have to think the unthinkable and investigate the politics and economics of drug legalization."

In an as yet unpublished editorial written as Calderon was about to assume power, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann was eerily prescient about events in Mexico. "The new president will vow to crack down on the drug traffickers and do whatever he can to reassure Washington on that score," Nadelmann wrote. "He'll appoint new people to key military and criminal justice positions and tell them to do whatever they can to reduce the drug violence. Some of the most notorious traffickers will land up in prison or dead. The violence will quiet. Media on both sides of the border will cheer the new resolve. And then… It will all start up again. The drug trafficking gangs will re-group with new leaders and new connections. Previously incorruptible officials will be corrupted. Police of all ranks, and all shades of probity, will tremble in fear of assassins' bullets. And Mexicans will once again wonder why the cycle never really stops."

And so it goes in the Mexican front of our drug war.

Afghan government won't spray poppies

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Canadian Press
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.html?id=1e00c9cb-4e8a-4cfc-b72f-9ae140579008&k=41498

Is the Bush Administration Getting Nervous About Afghan Opium Licensing Schemes?

When the European drug policy and defense think-tank the Senlis Council in late 2005 unveiled its proposal to deal with illicit Afghan opium by licensing growers and diverting production to the global legal medicinal market for opioid pain medications, just about nobody thought the idea had a chance of going anywhere. Since then, as opium production there has continued to increase—Afghanistan now accounts for 90% of the global illicit opium supply—and Taliban insurgents have gathered strength, the licensing scheme has picked up support from politicians in Canada, England, and Italy, but still remains a long-shot. This week, as I will report in the Chronicle on Friday, the licensing notion gained new support, as the British Medical Association is suggesting that Afghan opium be used to produce medicinal diamorphine (heroin) for use in the National Health Service. The licensing idea also made it to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post last week, when columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece, "Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom, arguing that the US should do in Afghanistan now what it did so successfully in Turkey under President Nixon. Then, faced with an influx of Turkish heroin (the stuff of the infamous French Connection), the US worked with the Turkish government and farmers to regulate poppy production. Now, Turkey is the main supplier of medicinal narcotics to the US. The current US administration, however, is adamantly opposed to any such effort in Afghanistan. Instead, drug war extremists in Washington are pushing the Afghans to make stronger efforts to eradicate the poppy crop and are even trying to push herbicidal eradication down the throat of the Karzai government. That idea has little support in Afghanistan or even among our NATO allies. Both groups fear a sustained attack on the country's economic mainstay will lead to political upheaval and end up benefiting the Taliban, a not unreasonable worry. But it seems like the Bush administration is starting to worry that the licensing scheme is gaining too much ground. Or, at least, it has bestirred itself to attack the notion. In a letter from James O'Gara, the drug czars deputy for supply reduction in today's Washington Post, the administration tried to fight back:
The Wrong Plan for Afghanistan's Opium Anne Applebaum's proposal to foster legal Afghan opium ["Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom," op-ed, Jan. 16] is based on a misdiagnosis of the problem. First, there is no licit demand for Afghanistan's enormous supply of opium, currently more than 90 percent of the world's illicit market and almost double the world's entire licit production requirement. The United Nations reports a current global oversupply of opium-based products from existing licit producers. Pouring vastly more legal opium into the world system would cause prices to plummet, making the illicit trade that much more attractive to farmers. Second, Afghanistan produces opium because some regions remain under attack and lack security, to say nothing of the controls that are a prerequisite for any legal trade in narcotics. In the absence of such institutional controls, the distinction between legal and illicit opium is meaningless. Afghanistan needs peace, a flourishing economy and the rule of law. Each of these conditions is undone by narcotics production. Nowhere in the world do narco-warlords willingly relinquish their stranglehold on poor opium farmers, and nowhere in the world do such farmers become rich. The opium trade must be broken, not fostered, before it undoes the rest of Afghanistan.
O'Gara first claims there is no global need for more opioid pain relievers, citing the International Narcotics Control Board. That claim is debatable. In its proposal, the Senlis Council begged to differ, citing serious undersupplies, especially in the underdeveloped world. Second, O'Gara suggests that opium is being grown in Afghanistan only because of a lack of security and an effective national state. But the US government's insistence on attacking the poppy crop is precisely what contributes greatly to continued insecurity and political conflict within the country. Does he really think an all-out assault on the poppies is going to bring peace and tranquility? Whether the idea of licensing Afghan opium production is a good idea is open for debate. It is certainly as reasonable a response to the problem as heavy-handed repression efforts, and is much less likely to incite peasant resistance and support for the Taliban. But what is really interesting about all this is the fact that the drug czar's office feels a need to attack supporters of the idea. That suggests the idea is getting enough traction to pose a threat to the drug war as usual. We'll be staying tuned to this debate.
Location: 
United States

Indonesian drug czar supports death penalty for drug traffickers

Location: 
Jakarta
Indonesia
Publication/Source: 
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Germany)
URL: 
http://news.monstersandcritics.com/asiapacific/news/article_1250358.php/Indonesian_drug_czar_supports_death_penalty_for_drug_traffickers

'Use Afghan opium for NHS drugs'

Location: 
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
URL: 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/01/23/nopium123.xml

Mexican official plans more extraditions to U.S.

Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Mercury News (CA)
URL: 
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/16517027.htm

Burdened U.S. military cuts role in drug war

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-drugwar22jan22,0,6708065.story?track=mostviewed-homepage

Opium war revealed: Major new offensive in Afghanistan

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Independent (UK)
URL: 
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2171656.ece

Colombia "good model" for Afghan drug war, US says

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19329346.htm

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