Mexican Drug War

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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 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 in 2010 and approximately 12,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrests or killings 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:

Wednesday, January 4

In Altamira Prison in Tamaulipas, a clash between groups of rival inmates left 31 dead. Another 13 were wounded in the incident, which began when a group of men stormed a wing of the prison which they were forbidden from entering. Local media reported that the fighting was between members of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, but that has not been confirmed. Later on, twenty prisoners were detained for their part in the fight.

Thursday, January 5

In Michoacan, five bodies were found abandoned in a burning SUV. Authorities believe the five men were all cartel gunmen killed during intense gun battles between rival local criminal organizations.

In Tijuana, a Sinaloa Cartel figure was arrested. Omar Cabrera Bengoecha, "R-12," is alleged to be a former municipal police officer who worked for a faction of the Tijuana Cartel that broke away from the Arellano-Felix Organization and allied with El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. In 2008, Cabrera Bengoecha was dismissed from the police force for his involvement in illicit narcotics transport.

Saturday, January 7

In Nuevo Leon, authorities announced the arrest of four men for participating in a kidnapping cell. One of the men was suspended professional goalkeeper Omar "El Gato" Ortiz. It is alleged that the gang -- which is tied to the Gulf Cartel -- participated in at least 20 kidnappings.

Monday, January 9

In Michoacan, 13 bodies were discovered dumped at a gas station near the town of Zitacuaro. At least two of the dead were minors. All the dead individuals were male and most had been shot in the head and tortured. A message left at the scene led authorities to believe the killings are in relation to the ongoing struggle between La Familia Michoaca and an offshoot group known as the Knights Templar.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were murdered in two multiple homicides. In one incident, a woman and three men were taken from their home by five heavily armed gunmen and executed. According to reports, the suspects wore black uniforms and said they were federal police officers. While the five men searched the home for drugs, at least ten other gunmen stood watch outside.

Tuesday, January 10

In Nuevo Leon, an army patrol killed four gunmen during an engagement near the municipality of Cerralvo, about 50 miles from the Texas border. A woman was seriously wounded in the fighting, but it is unclear if she was a kidnapping victim or lived at the rural location. Several weapons and vehicles were captured.

In Washington, the Treasury Department said in a statement that they were placing two Mexicans and a Colombian national on Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers list for their involvement with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, whom they called the world's most powerful drug trafficker.

In Ciudad Juarez, one municipal police officer was killed and five others wounded after being attacked by a group of gunmen. Five civilians were also wounded in the attack.

In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, authorities disarmed a car bomb left outside a state police facility.

Wednesday, January 11

In Mexico City, two bodies were found in a burning SUV left outside a high-end shopping mall in the city's Sante Fe area. A note left at the scene was signed by a local organization known as the "Hand with Eyes." Both victims had been decapitated.

[Editor's Note: Our 2011 estimated death toll is 12,150, pending the release of official figures. Our new 2012 death toll is also an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,150

Total Body Count for 2012: (approx.) 100

TOTAL: > 46,000

Mexico

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 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year and approximately 12,000 this year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, December 22

In Veracruz, suspected Zetas attacked three passenger buses with gunfire and a grenade in an apparent robbery spree, killing eleven people. Three of the dead were later confirmed to be US citizens who were visiting relatives in Mexico for the holidays. The army later announced that it killed the five gunmen after they were shot at attempting to arrest them.

Friday, December 23

In Culiacan, army commandos captured the head of security for the Sinaloa Cartel. Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, "The Engineer," is thought to have run cartel operations in Durango and in part of Chihuahua. No shots were fired during the arrest operation. Over the course of 2011, Cabrera was involved in a bloody dispute with another Sinaloa Cartel faction in the state of Durango.

In the port of Manzanillo, authorities seized 21 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to produce crystal meth on a ship headed towards Guatemala.

In Tampico Alto, Veracruz, ten bodies were discovered. The bodies all bore signs of having been tortured and several were decapitated.

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, three decapitated bodies were discovered at a location where the body of a municipal police officer was found on December 18th.

Saturday, December 24

In Michoacan, the body of a teenage American citizen was found in the trunk of a burned car along with two others. The teenager, Alex Uriel Marron, 18, was reportedly from the Chicago area and visiting family in the village of Quiringuicharo.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, three gunmen were killed in a fire fight with police. A fourth person was wounded. Several assault rifles were confiscated from a car in which the gunmen were traveling.

Sunday, December 25

In Tamaulipas, authorities discoved 13 bodies in an abandoned truck just across the state border from Veracruz. A banner left with the bodies indicated that the killings were due to an ongoing cartel battle for control of the Veracruz region.

Tuesday, December 27

In Mexico City, the leader of a small cartel was arrested at the airport. Luis Rodriguez Olivera, "Whitey," is thought to have been head of the "Blondies" Organization which has been allied to several larger cartels. US authorities were offering a $5 million reward for his capture, and accuse him and a brother of smuggling cocaine and meth to the US and to Europe.

In Nuevo Leon, police discovered seven bodies buried in a shallow pit or in a well. The bodies, which were found in Linares and Montemorelos, were discovered using information provided by a group of captured kidnappers alleged to be Zetas.

In Sinaloa, a former high-ranking federal police official was sentenced to 10 years for helping the Sinaloa Cartel. Javier Herrera Valles was arrested in 2008, although the arrest was controversial because he had recently accused some of his commanding officers of corruption or incompetence.

Wednesday, December 28

In Michoacan, six gunmen were killed in two separate clashes with the army. In the first, which took place Wednesday night, three men were killed after encountering an army patrol in the Buenavista Tomatlan area. Later, early Thursday morning, another three were killed in a nearby village. All the dead men are thought to be members of the Knights Templar Organization, which is active in the area. In 2011, troops in 21st military district in Michoacan shot dead a total of 91 gunmen from several organizations.

In Ciudad Juarez, a leading cartel enforcer was arrested by police. Arturo Bautista, 31, "El Mil Amores," is thought to be a high-ranking member of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel. It is unclear, however, if that is his real name. He has been identified as a resident of El Paso, Texas. Bautista was arrested along with three other men after the murder of a woman whom police say was thought to have been passing intelligence to a rival criminal group.

Friday, December 30

In Veracruz, the Zetas hung up a banner stating they were not responsible for the December 22 bus attacks which killed at least seven people, including three US citizens. The banners claim that corrupt police officers were responsible for the attacks.

In Coahuila, seven suspected Zetas were captured by the army on the Saltillo-Torreon highway. One of the men was identified as a high-ranking member, but the army has so far not identified him.

Saturday, December 31

In Ciudad Juarez, at least four people were murdered in several incidents. According to researcher Molly Molloy, this brings the city’s 2011 homicide numbers to 1,980 for the year. This is nearly 40% lower than the 3,622 murders that took place in 2010, but still considerably higher than the 2008 total of 1,623. In total, since 2007, 10,299 homicides have taken place in Ciudad Juarez. February was the bloodiest month in 2011, with 231 murders having taken place.

Sunday, January 1

In Mexico City, the National Human Rights Commission said that they concluded that five men held in connection with a July 2010 car bombing in Ciudad Juarez had been tortured to obtain confessions. They recommended that six federal police officers and a doctor be questioned in relation with the incident. The men were also accused of the killings of two federal agents. Although cleared in those incidents, the men remain incarcerated on narcotics and weapons charges.

Tuesday, January 3

In Sonora, at least five people were murdered. In one incident, the bodies of three young men were found on the side of a highway. In another part of the state, two men were found dead in a bullet-riddled truck. Several weapons, including an AK-47 were found in the truck.

Drug-related violence was confirmed in at least six other states, with nine people confirmed dead.

[Editor's Note: Our 2011 estimated death toll is 12,150, pending the release of official figures.Our new 2012 death toll is also an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,150

Total Body Count for 2012: (approx.) 15

TOTAL: > 46,000

Mexico

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

The new year is upon us and 2011 is now a year for the history books. But we can't let it go without recognizing the biggest global drug policy stories of the year. From the horrors of the Mexican drug wars to the growing clamor over the failures of prohibition, from the poppy fields of Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle to the coca fields of the Andes, from European parliaments to Iranian gallows, drug prohibition and its consequences were big news this year.

Of course, we can't cover it all. We have no room to note the the emergence of West Africa as a transshipment point for South American cocaine bound for Europe's booming user markets, nor the unavailability of opioid pain medications in much of the world; we've given short shrift to the horrors of "drug treatment" in Southeast Asia; and we've barely mentioned the rising popularity of synthetic stimulants in European club scenes, among other drug policy-related issues. We'll be keeping an eye on all of those, but in the meantime, here are our choices for this year's most important global drug policy stories:

The Mexican Drug Wars

militarized US-Mexico border
This month marks the fifth anniversary of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's declaration of war on his country's drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- and five years in, his policy can only be described as a bloody disaster. The death toll stands at somewhere around 45,000 since Calderon sent in the army and the federal police, but that figure doesn't begin to describe the horror of the drug wars, with their gruesome brutality and exemplary violence.

Mexico's drug wars pit the army and the state and federal police against the cartels, the cartels against each other, and different factions of state, local, and federal police, and even different military commands, aligned with various cartels fighting each other in a multi-sided dance of death. All the violence and corruption has had a corrosive effect on Mexicans' perceptions of personal and public safety and security, as well as on its political system.

It has also tarnished the reputation of the Mexican military. After a two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch reported last month credible evidence that the security forces, led by the military, were responsible for 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances and 24 extrajudicial killings in the five states they studied.

And, as the cartels battle each other, the military, and the various police, the violence that was once limited to a handful of border cities has spread to cities across the country. Once relatively peaceful Acapulco has been wracked by cartel violence, and this year, both Veracruz and Monterrey, cities once unaffected by the drug wars, have seen murderous acts of spectacular violence.

Meanwhile, business continues as usual, with drugs flowing north across the US border and voluminous amounts of cash and guns flowing south. Calderon's drug war, which has racked up a $43 billion bill so far (and an additional nearly one billion in US Plan Merida aid), has managed to kill or capture dozens of cartel capos, but has had no discernable impact on the provision of drugs across the border to feed America's voracious appetite. Worse, the attempted crackdown on the cartels has led them to expand their operations to neighboring Central American countries where the state is even weaker than in Mexico. Both Guatemala and Honduras have seen significant acts of violence attributed to the cartels this year, while El Salvador and Nicaragua also complain of the increasing presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

There are, however, a couple of positives to report. First, the carnage may have peaked, or at least reached a plateau. It now appears that the 2011 death toll this year, while tremendously high at around 12,000, didl not exceed last year's 15,000. That would mark the first downturn in the killing since Calderon called out the troops.

Second, the bloody failure of Calderon's drug war is energizing domestic Mexican as well as international calls to end drug prohibition. A strong civil society movement against the drug war and violence has emerged in Mexico and, sadly, the sorrow of Mexico is now Exhibit #1 for critics of drug prohibition around the world.

Afghanistan: Still the World's Drug Crop Capital

anti-opium abuse posters at a drug treatment center in Kabul (photo by the author)
A decade after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on, even as it begins to wind down. And Afghanistan's status as the world's number one opium poppy producer remains unchallenged. In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies.

The Afghan poppy crop was down in 2010, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. In 2011, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the area under poppy cultivation increased 7%, but that the expected harvest increased 61% because of better yields and would produce about 5,800 metric tons of opium.

The 2010 blight-related poppy shortage led to price increases, which encouraged farmers to plant more poppy and more than doubled the farm-gate value of the crop from $605 million to more than $1.4 billion. Additional hundreds of millions go to traders and traffickers, some linked to the Taliban, others linked to government officials. Last year, US and NATO forces embarked on counter-drug operations aimed at traders and traffickers, but only those linked to the Taliban.

And it's not just opium. According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2011, Afghanistan is also "among the significant cannabis resin producing countries," producing somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 metric tons of hash in 2010, with no reason to think it has changed dramatically in 2011. That brings in somewhere between $85 million and $265 million at the farm gate.

A decade after the US invasion, Afghanistan remains the world's largest opium producer by far and possibly the world's largest cannabis producer. Given the crucial role these drug crops play in the Afghan economy, there is little reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

The Return of the Golden Triangle

In 2010's roundup of major international drug stories, we mentioned the reemergence of opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle. In 2011, production has accelerated. According to the UNODC's Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2011, opium production has been increasing since 2006, but jumped 16% last year.

The region produced an estimated 638 metric tons this year, of which 91% came from Myanmar, with Laos and Thailand producing the rest. The region is now responsible for about 12% of annual global opium production.

The amount of land under poppy cultivation is still only one-third of what it was at its 1998 peak, but has more than doubled from its low point of 20,000 hectares in 2006. More importantly, estimated total production has rebounded and is now nearly half of what it was in 1998. The UNODC points a finger at chronic food insecurity, weak national governments, and the involvement of government actors, especially in Myanmar.

If Afghanistan does not produce enough opium to satisfy global illicit demand, the countries on the Golden Triangle are standing in the wings, ready to make up the difference.

The Rising Clamor for Legalization

former Mexican president Vicente Fox speaking at the Cato Institute
2011 saw calls for ending drug prohibition growing ever louder and coming from ever more corners of the world. Throughout the year, Latin American leaders, such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, have called repeatedly for drug legalization, or at least a serious discussion of it. Although the specifics of their remarks shift over time -- sometimes it's a call for drug legalization, sometimes for marijuana legalization, sometimes for decriminalization -- leaders like Fox and Santos are issuing a clarion call for fundamental change in global drug policies.

That such calls should come from leaders in Colombia and Mexico is no surprise -- those are two of the countries most ravaged by drug prohibition and the violence it fuels. By the fall, even current Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who unleashed Mexico's drug war five years ago, was starting to join the chorus. In an October interview with Time magazine, Calderon said he could never win in Mexico if Americans don't reduce demand or "reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs." While he was unwilling to take the final step and embrace ending prohibition, he added that "I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs."

But the biggest news in the international battle to end drug prohibition came at mid-year, when the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a star-studded panel of former presidents and prime ministers, public intellectuals, and business magnates, called the global war on drugs "a failure" and urged governments worldwide to should shift from repressive, law-enforcement centered policies to new ways of legalizing and regulating drugs, especially marijuana, as a means of reducing harm to individuals and society, in a report that drew press attention from around the world.

The commission, heavily salted with Latin American luminaries, grew out of the previous year's Latin American Initiative on Drug Policy and includes some of the same members, including former Brazilian President Henry Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. It is paired with the UK-based Beckley Foundation's Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform, which launched in November and is eyeing changes in the legal backbone of international drug prohibition, the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its successor treaties. The global commission also picked up strong support from an organization of Latin American judicial figures, Latin Judges on Drugs and Human Rights, which echoed the commission's call with its own Rome Declaration.

European Reforms

wall paintings near the entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (wikipedia.org)
Drug reform continued its achingly slow progress in Europe in 2011, with a handful of real advances, as well as a number of parties in various countries taking strong drug reform stands. But while Europe has largely embraced harm reduction and seen the positive results of Portugal's decade-long experiment with drug decriminalization, getting to the take level -- ending drug prohibition -- remains elusive.

In March, Scotland's Liberal Democrats voted to making campaigning for heroin maintenance treatment part of their party platform. Heroin users should not be fined or imprisoned, but should be given the drug through the National Health Service, party members agreed.

In September, their more powerful brethren, the British Liberal Democrats, who are junior partners with the Conservatives in the governing coalition, did them one better by adopting a resolution supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and the regulated distribution of marijuana and calling for an "impact assessment" of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that would provide a venue for considering decriminalization and controlled marijuana sales. That is going to lead to debate in parliament on the issue next year.

In August, the Greek government proposed drug decriminalization in a bill sent to parliament by Justice Minister Miltadis Papioannou. Under the proposed bill, drug possession for personal use would qualify only as "misconduct" instead of a more serious criminal offense. The bill would also guarantee the right to drug treatment, including for people currently imprisoned. People deemed "addict offenders" by the courts would be provided treatment instead of being jailed. But given the other pressing matters before the Greek government, the bill has yet to move.

Probably the most significant actual drug reform achievement in Europe in 2011 was Poland's passage of a law that allows prosecutors to divert drug users into treatment instead of prison. That law went into effect in December. The new law lets prosecutors bypass the courts in a "treat, not punish" approach to drug use when confronted with people arrested in possession of small amounts of drugs. A person arrested with personal use quantities of drugs can now be immediately referred to a therapist, and prosecutors are compelled to gather information on the extent of the person's drug problem. Still, there is an appetite for more reform; a political party that wants legalize soft drugs won 10% of the vote in the October presidential elections.

There has been some movement on marijuana and hints of more to come, as well in 2011. In an otherwise dismal year for weed in the Netherlands (see below), the Dutch high court ruled in April that anyone can grow up to five pot plants without facing criminal charges, no matter how big the harvest. The ruling came after prosecutors went after two different people who produced large multi-pound yields from a handful of plants, arguing that such harvests violated the Dutch five-gram rule. The court disagreed, but said that the pot would have to be turned over to police if they came to the door.

In June, Italy's top court ruled that balcony pot grows are okay, finding that the amounts of pot produced in such grows "could cause no harm." It's a small advance on earlier court rulings, and a step in the right direction.

And then there are moves that are pushing the envelope. Last month, the Copenhagen city council voted to explore how best to legalize and regulate pot sales. The move has the support of the mayor, but has to be approved by the Danish parliament, which has balked at such measures before. Maybe this time will be different. And raising the ante, the Basque parliament is set to approve a new drug law that will regulate marijuana cultivation, distribution, and consumption. The move is being propelled by the health ministry in the autonomous region of Spain, and would be a direct challenge to the UN conventions' ban on legalization.

Medical Marijuana's Slowly Growing Global Acceptance

It comes by dribs and drabs, but it comes.

In Israel, the Cabinet approved guidelines in August that will govern the supply of marijuana for medical and research purposes. In so doing, it explicitly agreed that marijuana does indeed have medical uses. The move came on the heels of a Health Ministry decision the week before  to deal with supply problems by setting up a unit within the department to grow medical marijuana. That unit will begin operating in January 2012. Currently, medical marijuana is supplied by private Israeli growers, but with the number of medical marijuana patients expected to rise from the current 6,000 to 40,000 by 2016, the state is stepping in to help out with supply.

In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Health said in September it plans to remove marijuana from its list of proscribed substances and allow it to be prescribed by doctors. The ministry said it would move to amend Czech drug laws by the end of the year to allow for the prescription of marijuana by doctors, although we haven't seen that actually happen yet. The ministry must also determine what sort of distribution system to set up. The Israeli model, where the state is licensing medical marijuana farms, is one oft-cited system.

In New Zealand, medical marijuana was on the agenda of the New Zealand Law Commission when it issued a report in May reviewing the country's drug laws. In addition to other drug reform measures, the commission called for clinical trials on medical marijuana "as soon as practicable" and said medical marijuana patients should not be arrested in the meantime. "Given the strong belief of those who already use cannabis for medicinal purposes that it is an effective form of pain relief with fewer harmful side effects than other legally available drugs, we think that the proper moral position is to promote clinical trials as soon as practicable. We recommend that the government consider doing this." The government there does not appear to be eager to follow those recommendations, but the commission report is laying the groundwork for progress.

In Canada, which has an existing medical marijuana program, the news is more mixed. Health Canada is in the process of adopting a "more traditional regulatory role" for the medical marijuana "marketplace, and envisions privatized medical marijuana provision by licensed and strictly regulated grower. That doesn't sit well with a lot of patients and activists because it means Health Canada wants to eliminate patients' ability to grow their own. Nor were patients particularly impressed with Health Canada's earlier attempt to provide privately produced and licensed medical marijuana. Without outright legalization of marijuana being more popular than the Conservative government, Canada may eventually get around to solving its medical marijuana problem by just legalizing it all.

Iran's Drug War Execution Frenzy

drug burn marking International Anti-Drugs Day, Tehran
Iran has garnered itself a well-deserved reputation as one of the world's leading practitioners of the death penalty, but 2011 saw an absolute explosion of death sentences and executions -- the vast majority of them for drug offenses. At the end of January, we reported that Iran had already executed 56 drug offenders for offenses involving more than five kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin. As if that weren't enough, in February, the Islamic Republic made trafficking in synthetic drugs, including meth, a capital offense. More than 50 grams (less than two ounces) of meth could bring the death penalty, but only on a second offense.

At the end of May, by which time the execution toll for drug offenses had risen to 126, Iran announced it had 300 drug offenders on death row and lashed out at Western critics, saying if the West was unhappy with the killings, Iran could simply quit enforcing its drug laws.

"The number of executions in Iran is high because 74% of those executed are traffickers in large quantities of opium from Afghanistan bound for European markets," said Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights, during a press conference that month. "There is an easy way for Iran and that is to close our eyes so drug traffickers can just pass through Iran to anywhere they want to go," he said."The number of executions in Iran would drop 74%. That would be very good for our reputation."

In a December report, Amnesty International condemned Iran's drug executions, saying the Islamic Republic has embarked on "a killing spree of staggering proportions." The London-based human rights group said "at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offenses so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty International recorded at least 166 executions for similar offenses."

"To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment," said Amnesty's Interim Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Ann Harrison. "Drug offenses go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months," Harrison said.

Amnesty said it began to receive credible reports of a new wave of drug executions in the middle of 2010, including reports of mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one, on August 4, 2010, involving at least 89 people. While Iran officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offenses, Amnesty said it has credible reports of another 300 executions, "the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offenses."

"Ultimately, Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly," said Harrison.

Amnesty also accused Iran of executing people without trial, extracting confessions by torture, failing to notify families -- or sometimes, even inmates -- of impending executions, and mainly executing the poor, members of minority groups, or foreigners, including large numbers of Afghans.

Amnesty noted tartly that Iran receives significant international support in its war on drugs. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided $22 million since 2005 to support training for Iranian anti-drug forces, while the European Union is providing $12.3 million for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-drug cooperation. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, and Japan have all provided anti-drug assistance to Iran via UNODC programs.

"All countries and international organizations helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offenses need to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions," said Harrison. "They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths."

Iran may be the most egregious offender when it comes to killing drug offenders, but it is by no means the only one. Other countries that not only have the death penalty for drug offenses but actually apply it include China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Human rights activists argue that the death penalty for drug offenses violates the UN Charter. For information on ongoing efforts to curtail the use of the death penalty for drug offenses, visit the International Harm Reduction Association's Death Penalty Project.

In a bit of good news on the death penalty front, in June, India's Bombay High Court struck down a mandatory death penalty for some drug offenses.The regional high court is the equivalent of a US district court of appeals.

"This is a positive development, which signals that courts have also started to recognize principles of harm reduction and human rights in relation to drugs. It is not utopia, but it is a giant step," said Indian Harm Reduction Network head Luke Samson.

"The Court has upheld at the domestic level what has been emphasized for years by international human rights bodies -- capital drug laws that take away judicial discretion are a violation of the rule of law," said Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International (formerly the International Harm Reduction Association) and author of The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Violation of International Human Rights Law"India's justice system has affirmed that it is entirely unacceptable for such a penalty to be mandatory. This will set a positive precedent for judicial authorities in the region, which is rife with draconian drug laws."

Weekly updates on executions worldwide including for drug offenses are available from the Rome-based group Hands Off Cain.

The Netherlands Will Bar Foreigners from its Cannabis Cafes... and More

a coffee shop in Amsterdam (wikimedia.org)
The Netherlands' conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte continued and deepened its effort to undo Holland's reputation as a marijuana haven and drug tourism destination last year. Plans to ban foreigners from Dutch cannabis cafes reached fruition in 2011, with the Dutch Justice Ministry saying in November that foreigners would be barred from southern border coffee shops effective January 1. A month later, the government announced that plan would be delayed until May, and would go into effect nationwide beginning in 2013. Goodbye, tourist dollars.

But it's not just clamping down on foreigners. The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, with local governments putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.). Now, the national government will be limiting their client base to 2,000 card carrying Dutch nationals each.

The national government also rather bizarrely declared in October that it wanted to declare high-potency marijuana a dangerous drug like cocaine or heroin and ban its possession or sale. That hasn't happened yet, but unless the Dutch get around to electing a more progressive government, the Christian Democrats and their allies will continue to work to undo the country's progressive pot policy reputation, not to mention its tourism industry..

North America's Only Supervised Injection Site Gets a Reprieve

Ending a years' long effort by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper to close Insite, the Vancouver supervised injection site for hard drug users, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in September that it should be allowed to stay open.

The Harper government, a foe of harm reduction practices in general and safe inection sites in particular, had argued that the federal drug law took precedence over British Columbia's public health policies. British Columbia and other Insite supporters argued that because Insite is providing a form of health care, its operation is a provincial matter. The federal government's concerns did not outweigh the benefits of Insite, the court said.

"The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for Insite cannot be ignored," the court said. "Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada."

Insite has been the only supervised injection site on the North American continent, but in the wake of that ruling, that may not be the case for long. In the wake of the September ruling, Montreal announced plans for four safe injection sites in December. It's not a done deal -- it will require financing from provincial health agencies -- but plans are moving forward. And there are distant rumblings of plans for an effort to get a supervised injection site running in San Francisco, which would be a first for the US, but don't hold your breath on that one.

If the Harper government has been defeated in its effort to kill supervised injection sites, it is moving forward with plans to pass an omnibus crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, including growing as few as six pot plants. With an absolute majority in a parliamentary system, there seems to be no way to block the bill's passage, which will mean a real step backward for our northern neighbor as it emulates some of our worst penal practices.

Bolivia Challenges the Global Coca Ban

coca leaves drying in warehouse, Ayacucho province (photo by the author)
At the end of June, the Bolivian government of former coca-grower union leader Evo Morales announced it was resigning from the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs because that treaty bans the cultivation of coca. The resignation is effective January 1. The move came after a failed effort last year by Bolivia to amend the treaty to allow for coca cultivation, a traditional activity in the Andes, where the plant has been used as a mild stimulant and hunger suppresser for millennia.

"This is an attempt to keep the cultural and inoffensive practice of coca chewing and to respect human rights, but not just of indigenous people, because this is an ancient practice of all Bolivian people," Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the British newspaper The Guardian at the time.

Bolivia will rejoin the convention sometime during the new year, but with the reservation that it does not accept the language proscribing the coca plant.

That move has aroused the concern of the International Narcotics Control Board, which issued a statement saying the international community should reject moves by any country to quit the treaty and return with reservations doing so "would undermine the integrity of the global drug control system."

Of course, there are many people aside from Evo Morales who believe the global drug control system lacks any integrity whatsoever. For those people, the actions of Bolivia represent the first serious effort to begin to undo the legal backbone of the global prohibition system.

Morales himself said last month
that he believes Bolivia will succeed next year. "I am convinced that next year we will win this international 'fight' for the recognition of chewing coca leaves as a tradition of peoples in Latin America, living in the Andes," he  said in an interview with the Bolivian radio station Patria Nueva.

In ending...

Global drug prohibition is under sustained, systemic, and well-deserved attack. It is being attacked (finally) in its core treaties and institutions, it is under ever broader political attack from around the planet; its central precepts are increasingly tattered. Ever year the clamor grows louder in the face of prohibition's screaming failure to accomplish its given ends and the terrible costs it generates. The process of chipping away at drug prohibition is under way. The prohibitionist consensus is crumbling; now comes the struggle to finally kill the beast and replace it with a more sensible, compassionate, and smarter approach to mind-altering substances.

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 45,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year and approximately 13,000 this year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Tuesday, December 13

In Chihuahua, two bodyguards were killed during an attack on the public safety secretary of the town of Gran Morelos. Miguel Angel Gomez Carrera was wounded along with his wife and two children. The two bodyguards were following them in a pickup truck. Carrera has been in the position since November 21, when his predecessor was arrested with a known drug trafficker.

In Monterrey, eight people were murdered. In one incident, five young men were kidnapped, taken to a street corner, lined up against a wall and shot.

Thursday, December 15

In Saltillo, Coahuila, a series of fire fights left 10 people dead, including one soldier and one bystander. The violence began early in the afternoon when soldiers began chasing a convoy of armed men. During the gun battle, a woman was shot and suffered wounds from which she later died. One gunman was killed when his vehicle crashed. Three men were later arrested during a raid at a safe house in connection with the incident.

Later that night, seven gunmen and a soldier were killed in a fire fight.

Near Culiacan, two men were executed and dumped off the side of a highway. One of the men, Juan Guzman Rocha, "El Juancho" is reported to be a first cousin or nephew of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman. He is also thought to be a member of Los Antrax, a group of Sinaloa Cartel enforcers.

In Zacatecas, armed men thought to be from the Sinaloa Cartel attacked targets in five towns, killing four people and wounded eight others. In one incident, armed men entered a hospital and threatened staff before taking away three men who were being treated there for wounds suffered earlier. Grenades were used in several of the attacks. In the town of Jerez, a convoy of 20 vehicles -- totaling around 70 gunmen -- briefly kidnapped and beat several local police officers before releasing them.

Friday, December 16

In Michoacan, the dismembered bodies of two men were found on a road in the municipality of Iguala. A note -- which was held in place by the two heads -- said that the men were executed for being kidnappers and extortionists.

Monday, December 19

In Durango, soldiers discovered a grave site containing 10 bodies. This is the 14th mass grave found in the state of Durango this year, totaling 287 bodies. Officials have said many of the killings are a result of an internal dispute within the Sinaloa Cartel.

In Mexico City, the army announced that between December 1, 2006 and December 19, 2011, soldiers had been involved in a total of 1,948 violent incidents with gunmen, in which a total of 126 soldiers and 2,268 gunmen were killed -- a 1:18 ratio. A total of 2,180 gunmen were captured and 348 wounded, compared to 744 soldiers wounded.

During that timeframe, the Army received 5,962 human rights complaints, for which 92 non-binding recommendations were issued by the governmental human rights commission.

Tuesday, December 20

In Arizona, authorities announced that some 200 alleged members of the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested following a 15-month investigation. Approximately $7.8 million dollars were seized, as well as 650 pounds of marijuana, 435 pounds of meth, 123 pounds of coke and 4.5 pounds of heroin, as well as over 40 weapons.

In Sinaloa, the former mayor of the town of Cosala was shot and killed in his home. He was mayor between 2008 and 2010.

Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 12,000

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Wednesday, December 7

In Ciudad Juarez, a total of 13 people were murdered. This includes four (reported last week) that were killed when gunmen rammed and attacked an ambulance with automatic weapons.

In the Comarca Lagunera area (which encompasses the cities of Torreon, Gomez Palacio and Ciudad Lerdo) at least 10 people were murdered. Seven of the dead were discovered stuffed into a VW Jetta parked in an industrial park. One person -- reportedly a Gomez Palacio police woman -- was found alive in the car and taken to a local hospital.

In Ciudad Juarez, an active-duty US army soldier and two others were arrested after an armed robbery at a gas station. Authorities later said that they later took responsibility for the killings of four Ciudad Juarez police officers this year.

Thursday, December 8

In Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, President Calderon formally inaugurated a new military barracks. In late 2010, most of the city was abandoned after civilians fled intense fighting between the Zetas and Gulf Cartel. The new barracks can house up to 600 troops. The army has taken over police functions in the area to allow local police to recruit and train new members.

Friday, December 9

In Nogales, the army discovered a 50-yard long tunnel. It is unclear if the tunnel was completed on the American side of the border. One armed man was detained at the scene.

Saturday, December 10

In Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, 11 gunmen were killed in a fire fight with Mexican soldiers. One soldier was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, which began when troops on patrol came under fire from a building. Valle Hermoso is just south of the Texas border town of Brownsville.

Sunday, December 11

In Veracruz, the former mayor of the town of Ixhuacan de los Reyes and three relatives were gunned down during an attack on the family's business. Two weeks previously, a firefight between gunmen and the army left four people dead.

In the city of Veracruz, one person was killed and nine others wounded in a grenade attack on an underground cockfighting ring.

Monday, December 12

In Cordoba, Veracruz, marines captured a high-ranking Zeta member. Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, "El Lucky" is a founding member of the Zetas and is thought to be the area boss for Veracruz, Puebla and Oaxaca. Authorities later said he was found to be in possession of a large arsenal of firearms totaling 169 guns as well as 29 grenades. One suspect was killed and a marine was wounded in the operation.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,600

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, December 1

In Mexico City, the Army announced that troops had dismantled a cartel telecommunications system that spanned four northern states. SEDENA said that troops confiscated 167 antennas, 166 power supplies, 1,400 radios and 2,600 cell phones in the operation, which took place in Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least nine people were murdered in several incidents.  Among the dead was a man who was chopped into pieces and scattered around a neighborhood. In another incident, three members of a musical group were gunned down as they rode in a car. In another part of the city, a group of armed men shot a woman dead outside a school.

In Ciudad Juarez, an American imprisoned on drug charges was released after American authorities determined that he had been tortured while in Mexican custody. John Huckabee, 24, had been arrested 26 months ago after Mexican authorities discovered marijuana in his car, a charge he denies. He had originally been sentenced to five years.

Friday, December 2

In Tabasco, 22 municipal and ministerial policemen were arrested on suspicion of involvement with the Zetas. The arrests, which took place across four municipalities, came after statements made by Santos Ramirez Morales, "Santo Sapo," a Zetas commander who was captured on November 24th in Chiapas.

In Ciudad Juarez, an anti-violence activist was wounded by a gunman. Norma Andrade, 51, was shot twice outside her home in what authorities are calling an attempted robbery. Her daughter, however, told the AP that suspicious men had been asking about her Friday morning. The attack happened later in the afternoon.

Sunday, December 4

In Veracruz, seven bound and gagged bodies were discovered. All appear to have been tortured. Military and police forces searched the area after the discovery, but no arrests were made.

Monday, December 5

In Acapulco, six members of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (CIDA) were captured in a Federal police operation. Among those captured was Gilberto Castrejon Morales "Comandante Gil," the reputed leader of the organization. CIDA has been heavily involved in the violence over drug trafficking in Acapulco this year.

In Washington, Congressional Republicans said they would open an investigation into recent reports that DEA agents have laundered and smuggled millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds in an effort to help identify ways in which cartels launder money, as well as the location of assets and cartel leadership targets.Critics of the operation have said that the DEA tactic comes dangerously close to facilitating criminal activity. The DEA, for its part, said the operations were conducted with the full knowledge and support of the Mexican government.

In Monterrey, authorities announced the capture of ten Gulf Cartel gunmen linked to two attacks on local bars which killed a total of 23 died. Ten assault rifles, five vehicles and three grenades were also seized.

In Ciudad Juarez, seven people were killed in several incidents. In one incident, a 21-year old man was shot and killed after being chased down by gunmen. In another, a man was shot and killed by gunmen who came to his front door. No witnesses were present, due to the snow and cold weather.

Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,400

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

Honduras Calls Out the Army to Fight Drug Cartels

The Honduran congress voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to send out the armed forces to combat Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The vote gives the military broad domestic policing powers, including additional powers in the fight against the cartels.

Honduran army troops training with US Marines (wikimedia.org)
"We cannot have an armed forces only for foreign threats when there are so many deaths in the country because of violence," Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of the Congress, said before the vote in remarks reported by CNN. "We are making this decision to support the Honduran people."

According to the United Nations, Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, with more than 82 murders per 100,000 people last year. By comparison, Mexico, where more than 45,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the cartels there five years ago, has a murder rate of 18 per 100,000 and the US 4.8.

About 20 people a day are murdered in Honduras, and most accounts blame most of the killings on drug cartels smuggling cocaine from South America. Under pressure in their home country, the Mexican cartels have expanded operations throughout Central America. El Salvador and Guatemala are also finding themselves running up against brazen cartel gunman.

The crime problem is aggravated by the existence of violent street gangs, and the national police have proven both ineffectual and corrupt. The move to involve the military in policing comes just after President Porfirio Lobo was forced to begin a purge of the national police, of whom 167 have just been arrested for charges ranging from corruption to murder.

While the Honduran military had already been involved in operations against the cartels, it had been limited to assisting police and could only go on joint operations with police. Soldiers did not have the power of arrest, nor could they collect evidence or send cases to prosecutors.

That has now changed. The military has full domestic policing powers, including making arrests, doing searches, and executing warrants in law enforcement matters. But armed forces spokesman Col. Alcides Flores said the military is not displacing the police, nor is it imitating Mexico, whose armed forces have been sullied by accusations of corruption and human rights violations during its campaign against the cartels.

"The new decree authorizes the armed forces to make captures without a police presence, but we are just augmenting the capacity of the police," he said. "At no time are we replacing the police. And we are not following the Mexican model. We are making a Honduran model," he said.

Tegucigalpa
Honduras

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Friday, November 18

In Tijuana, $15 million -- thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel -- was confiscated from a safe house. Six kilos of cocaine and four weapons were also found during the army raid, although no arrests were made.

Monday, November 21

In Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, three police officers were kidnapped while on patrol and executed.

In Harris County, Texas, a controlled-delivery by police officers attempting to catch a drug shipment went awry when suspected Zetas cut off and shot dead a truck driver who had secretly been working with the authorities. A nearby Sheriff's deputy was also wounded, possibly by friendly fire in the chaos. Four men, three of whom are Mexican citizens, were taken into custody and charged with capitol murder. It is still unclear if the men were targeting the informant or attempting to rip off his 300-pound load of marijuana.

Tuesday, November 22

In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers were killed while riding in an unmarked car. Authorities recovered 44 bullet casings at the scene.

Wednesday, November 23

In Sinaloa, at least 20 people were killed in several incidents. In Culiacan, 13 people were found dead inside two vehicles which had been set fire in two different locations. Near Guasave, three men were shot and killed. In the municipality of Mocorito, four people were murdered. Mexican media has speculated that at least some of the killings may be related to a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and a faction of the Beltran-Leyva Organization.

Thursday, November 24.

In Tamaulipas, the army announced that a large weapons cache and almost two tons of marijuana were captured during a series of operations in the city of Miguel Aleman, across the Rio Grande from Starr, Texas. The weapons cache included a rocket launcher and ten explosive devices, including pipe bombs. Miguel Aleman is currently controlled by a faction of the Gulf Cartel.

In Guadalajara, 26 men were found bound, gagged, executed and dumped in three vehicles. Many of the men had been asphyxiated, and some appear to have been shot. Notes left written on the victims and a banner left at one of the crime scenes suggest that the killings were carried out by the Zetas and by members of an allied organization, the Millenium Cartel. Some Mexican media outlets have speculated that the killing is in response to the September dumping of 35 men, many purportedly Zetas killed by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Friday, November 25

In the Hague, Mexican activists filed a war crimes complaint against Mexican President Felipe Calderon. According to the coalition behind the complaint, Mexican security forces have been involved in approximately 470 cases of human rights violations. The complaint filed in the Netherlands also mentions crimes committed by drug cartels, and specifically mentions Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The Mexican government immediately denied the accusations.

In Mexico City, the city's police chief announced that an investigation would take place to determine the circumstances behind a journalist's video, which shows a police officer dunking a man's head into a bucket following a firefight between gunmen and police in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Tepito.

In Matamoros, the son of a deceased Gulf Cartel boss was captured. Antonio Ezequiel "El Junior" Cardenas Guillen, 23, is the son of Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen Sr., "Tony Tormenta," who was killed in a firefight with Marines in November 2010. El Junior was arrested with four associates -- including two suspected cartel accountants -- as he left a party.

Saturday, November 26

In Nuevo Leon, three alleged Zetas suspected of involvement in the July killing of two men who served as bodyguards for the state's governor were arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities said the men also confessed to four other killings, three of whom were police officers murdered in May.

In the city of Chihuahua, two men and a woman were shot and killed. The two men tried run away after their car was cut off by gunmen, but were shot as they ran. The female was killed in the automobile. Police have no leads in the case.

Monday, November 28

In Ciudad Juarez, a four-year-old boy was shot and killed while playing outside a neighbor's house. Alan David Carrillo was playing with several other children outside the home when it was sprayed with automatic weapons. He was rushed to a hospital but died there shortly after arriving.

In Hermosillo, Sonora, a prominent member of Mexico's Movement for Peace and Justice and Dignity was shot and killed. Nepomuceno Moreno, 56, was shot at least seven times by a gunman in a passing car. Last year, Moreno had accused hooded police officers of kidnapping his 18-year old son, who was never seen again. For their part, the Sonora Attorney General’s office has said that the principal line of investigation in the case is that Moreno was somehow involved with organized crime groups. In 1979, he was arrested in Arizona for heroin smuggling and possession, and is also said to have been involved in more recent criminal activity.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of mid-November, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward by about 3,000 deaths. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011 (approx.): 11,300

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

Newt Gingrich Wants to Kill Dealers, Drug Test Everybody Else

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/Newt_Gingrich_by_Gage_Skidmore_retouched.jpg
Newt Gingrich (photo courtesy Gage Skidmore via wikimedia.org)
Ever since Newt Gingrich became the latest front-runner for the republican presidential nomination, a lot of people have been reminding us how horrible he is on drug policy issues. Heck, even Next Gingrich has been reminding us how horrible Newt Gingrich is on drug policy issues:

“I think the California experience is that medical marijuana becomes a joke.”

“My general belief is that we ought to be much more aggressive about drug policy.”

“In my mind it means having steeper economic penalties and it means having a willingness to do more drug testing.”

“I think if you are, for example, the leader of a cartel, sure.” (When asked if he supports killing drug smugglers)

“Places like Singapore have been the most successful at doing that. They've been very draconian. And they have communicated with great intention that they intend to stop drugs from coming into their country.” [Yahoo News]

Well yeah, by hanging people. They’ve been killing people for marijuana, which can’t even kill you by itself. And Newt Gingrich thinks that’s cool, even though he himself has smoked marijuana. It makes you wonder why Newt Gingrich doesn’t go track down the people who gave him marijuana in college…and kill them.

Seriously, this guy is such a screwball he should be hosting a show on AM radio, not polling in first place among republican presidential candidates. I mean, Singapore? Really? I’ve been following the drug war debate for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of the worst drug warriors in the world perform live: John Walters, Bill Bennett, Nora Volkow, David Murray, Kevin Sabet, to name a few, but I’ve never heard anyone come along saying that we need to be more like Singapore.

It’s an idea so violently ignorant, so recklessly unhinged, that only a lone fool acting alone would propose it, perhaps months after the resignation of the people whose job it is to stop you from saying such things.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

US-Mexico border (wikimedia.org)
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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Wednesday, November 9

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, soldiers captured a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel figure wanted by the United States. Ovideo Limon Sanchez is alleged to have been in charge of the cartel's cocaine shipments to Los Angeles and other parts of southern California and to have managed the distribution and transportation of the cocaine once in the US. He had been wanted by American authorities since 2007 and had a $5 million reward on his head.

Thursday, November 10

In Nuevo Leon, marines arrested a high-ranking Zeta boss after an anonymous tip-off. Rigoberto Zamarippa Arispe, "Comandante Chaparro," was arrested in the town of Cadereyta, near Monterrey.

In Saltillo, Coahuila, the 21-year old nephew of acting Governor Jorge Torres Lopez was shot and killed as he drove away from the law school which he was attending. He was killed when his truck was intercepted by gunmen wielding assault rifles.

Between Tuesday and Friday, at least six people were killed in a series of heavy clashes in Saltillo and the nearby town of Ramos Arizpe. On Wednesday, a kidnap victim was rescued during a raid on a cartel safehouse in the city.

Friday, November 11

South of Mexico City, Mexico's Interior Minister Jose Francisco Blake Mora was killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others. He was widely considered the public face of Mexico's drug war. The cause of the crash is still unclear, but experts have said it is extremely unlikely to be foul play, although many Mexicans believe it to be.

In 2008, another Interior Minister, Juan Camilo Mourino, was killed in a plane crash in Mexico City.

Sunday, November 13

In Michoacan, the army arrested a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar Organization. Juan Gabriel Orozco Favela, "El Gasca," is thought to have controlled his organization's operations in the city of Morelia and is alleged to be behind the torture and murder of 21 people who were killed in the city this June.

In Bocoyna, Chihuahua, six bricklayers were found brutally murdered. One victim had been decapitated and another had his hands cut off. All six had their throats slit, bled to death, and were then shot.

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, a well-known singer of narcocorridos (songs which tell the stories of drug traffickers) was shot and killed. Diego Rivas was killed along with two other men when gunmen in a passing car opened fire on him with an AK-47. Many of Rivas' songs were odes to members of the Sinaloa Cartel, such as bosses "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. Several other musicians of this genre have been killed in recent years.

Monday, November 14

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, army personnel and state police arrested 32 police officers and commanders from the nearby municipality of Ahome after having summoned them to a conference with state security officials. Once at the meeting, the men were disarmed and arrested. The Ahome municipal police force is alleged to have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by the Zetas and Beltran-Leyva Cartel.

Tuesday, November 15

In Torreon, Coahuila, a local newspaper's offices were attacked by armed men. The website of El Siglo de Torreon newspaper said that three armed men set fire to the façade of the office building and shot at the newspaper's sales offices. The motive remains unclear, as the newspaper ceased reporting on cartel activities over a year ago.

In Nuevo Leon, 11 suspected Zetas were captured during a series of army raids in the Cadereyta, Albero, and Rancho Viejo areas. In one of the three raids, a kidnap victim was rescued from a safe house.

Wednesday, November 16

In Torreon, Coahuila, a federal prosecutor was gunned down. Victor Manuel Martinez Cortez was sitting in his car about to leave his home when he was shot dead by an unknown number of gunmen.

In Mexico City, Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales announced that she has asked the US government to extradite six people held in American custody to Mexico on gun running charges. Three are being held in Texas and three in California. Two others are already being held on similar charges in Mexico. No further details on the six individuals were given in the statement.

[Editor's Note: We have been conservatively estimating Mexican drug war deaths this year after El Universal quit publishing a box score. As of last week, we had estimated 8,100 deaths so far this year, but in light of new figures have revised that figure upward to 11,000. Even that figure is an estimate, no more, until there is some official toll reported.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 11,000

TOTAL: > 45,000

Mexico

Drug War Issues

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