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Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.
Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.
coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Latin America: 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 an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, June 10

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, four human heads were left to be discovered near the national Congress and three other locations in and around the city. A note threatening the interior minister and head of the national prison system was left with one of the heads. While leaving decapitated heads to be found happens with some frequency in Mexico, such cases are rare in Guatemala. Organized crime in Guatemala is integrally linked to Mexico, as Mexican cartels have an extensive presence in the country, which they use to move shipments of cocaine into Mexico from South America.

In Houston, Texas, federal authorities announced the arrest of 2,200 suspects linked to Mexican drug cartels. The arrests came during a 22-month probe which targeted cells of every major drug cartel. On Wednesday, some 400 people were arrested across 16 states. The probe led to the seizure of $154, 1,200 pounds of meth, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,400 pounds of heroin, and 69 tons of marijuana.

Friday , June 11

In the city of Chihuahua, 19 people were killed and four were wounded when gunmen raided a drug-rehabilitation clinic. At least 30 gunmen traveling in six vehicles stormed the Christian Faith and Life Center, using assault rifles to kill 14 people immediately, which was followed by the execution of an additional five. The attackers left a threatening message as they withdrew. The attack was similar to two which took place in Ciudad Juarez in September, which left 28 people dead. Initial reports from police suggest that the center may have housed members of the "Mexicles" gang, which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel as it battles the Juarez Cartel for control of the Chihuahua drug-trafficking corridors.

In Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, at least 20 people were killed in five incidents across the city. The incidents began late on Thursday night when police clashed with an unclear number of gunmen who were moving in vehicles in the city. Police later discovered bodies on a nearby beach on several other locations in Madero.

Sunday , June 13

In Tepic, Nayarit, eight gunmen and a policeman were killed during a chaotic gun fight in a crowded shopping mall. At least 1,500 shoppers were present during the incident, which began when police entering the shopping mall to investigate a report of suspicious activity were met by gunfire from at least 15 gunmen. At least one civilian, a taxi driver, was killed in the crossfire. Four other killings were reported in Tepic on Sunday, making it the most violent day in the city's recent history.

Monday , June 14

Across Mexico, 43 people were killed in drug-related violence. In Michoacan, 12 police officers were killed after being ambush near the town of Zitacuaro. One gunman was killed in the ensuing firefight. The army and police launched an immediate manhunt for the remaining gunmen, who escaped.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, 28 prison inmates were killed in a gunfight inside the confines of the prison. At least some of the inmates were said to be members of the Zetas Organization. The incident comes just a week after Sinaloa Governor Jesus Aguilar warned about the repercussions of overcrowding in the Mazatlan prison, which houses 6,000 inmates, many of the linked to drug-trafficking organizations. Sinaloa has long been at the heart of the Mexican drug trade.

Tuesday , June 15

In Taxco, 15 gunmen were killed during a 40 minute-long firefight with elements of the Mexican Army. No soldiers were wounded or killed in the fight, which began after troops came under fire while investigating a suspicious location. Initial reports indicate that the gunmen were part of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel faction loyal to US-born drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, so nicknamed for his blue eyes and light complexion.

Wednesday , June 16

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were murdered in a 15-minute span across the city, and 22 were killed by the end of the day. In one incident, six people were killed at a methadone clinic, including a man who was killed next to his two-year old son.

In Monterrey, seven police officers were kidnapped and executed by armed men. The bodies of the officers -- all showing signs of torture -- were later found on an abandoned plot of land along with a message. One of the men was decapitated. Three teenagers were also killed in a separate incident in Monterrey. In Santiago, 19 miles away from Monterrey, two police officers were found shot to death.

Thursday, June 17

In Costa Rica, 14 drug traffickers were arrested by police. Four of the suspects were found to Mexican nationals and representatives of an unspecified cartel. Costa Rica has seen an increased presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations who seek new routes for cocaine headed north from South America.

Total Body Count for the Week: 416

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,210

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

The Border: Obama to Send 1,200 National Guard Troops in Bid to Fight Drugs

The Obama administration said Tuesday it would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border and spend more law enforcement money there to combat drug smuggling. The troops will not be used on the front-line, but will provide support services to the already beefed-up border law enforcement apparatus.
Esequiel Hernandez was killed by US Marines near the Texas border, while herding sheep. Are there more such victims to come?
The announcement came as the administration came under increasing pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to "do something" about border security and reflects concerns about the politics of immigration as well as the war on drugs.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) last week called on Obama to send National Guard helicopters from neighboring states to Arizona. She didn't get the choppers, but she did get some attention, and now she will get some National Guardsman.

Although Brewer and other conservatives -- and some liberals -- are screaming to high heaven about the need for more border enforcement, the need for it isn't absolutely clear. In Arizona, the crime rate is down, there are signs that immigrants are leaving, and despite wildly exaggerated claims, Mexican drug cartels are generally very good at keeping their spectacular violence on the other side of the border.

The Obama National Guard deployment is a faint echo of President Bush the Junior's two-year deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the border beginning in 2006. Those troops were credited with helping in the arrest of more than 160,000 undocumented immigrants, the seizure of $69,000 in cash, and 305,000 pounds of drugs.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, fending off a challenge from a rightist congressman, said that 1,200 troops wasn't enough. In a Senate maneuver, he tried to get funding for 6,000 troops Thursday, but was rebuffed.

Latin America: 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 over 19,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 3,000 so far in 2010. 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:
Minerva Bautista, wounded in recent Michoacan attack
Wednesday , April 21

In Monterrey, gunmen raided two hotels and kidnapped at least six people. The incident began when dozens of gunmen stormed the Holiday Inn at around 3:00am and went room to room looking for specific individuals -- taking at least four guests while allowing others to leave. The hotel receptionist and possibly a security guard were also abducted. Another receptionist was abducted from a hotel across the street. The gunmen were apparently being led to the fifth floor by a handcuffed man with whom they arrived. Before the attack, the gunmen blocked off access to and from the hotels by parking stolen trucks in the road.

Friday , April 23

In Ciudad Juarez, six federal police officers and a local policewoman were killed in an ambush. The incident took place after two patrol cars were flagged down for assistance by an unidentified man, only to be ambushed by several gunmen. On Monday (April 26), Mexican police arrested five suspects in the incident, all thought to be members of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel. In addition to the killing of the police officers, the gunmen confessed to 39 other homicides since 2009, and at least 21 extortions.

Saturday , April 24

In Michoacan, gunmen attacked the motorcade of a high-ranking public security official. Four people were killed and eleven were wounded, including the Michoacan State Security Secretary, Minerva Bautista. Gunmen wielding AK-47's and using fragmentation grenades attacked the convoy, sparking a firefight in which two bodyguards were killed, as well as two civilians who were caught in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, in Monterrey, a soldier was wounded and six gunmen were killed in a clash between the army and suspected drug traffickers.

Sunday , April 25

In Sinaloa, hooded prisoners killed four men inside a prison. The four men had been at the prison for 15 minutes and were on their way to a medical checkup when they were attacked and stabbed by the assailants. It was later reported the four men who were killed had been under investigation in the murder of several police officials, including two police chiefs. Violence is common in Mexican prisons, and many local jurisdictions have complained of having to house violent federal inmates with ties to drug cartels alongside common delinquents.

Wednesday , April 28

In Ciudad Juarez, gunmen shot dead eight individuals inside a bar in the center of the city. At approximately 4:00am a group of 20 gunmen entered the bar and ordered most clients and staff to leave, before leading the eight victims to a parking lot where they were shot. At least two of the dead were adolescents. The bar where the incident took place is just two blocks from a hotel where a large contingent of federal police officers is housed.

In another part of Ciudad Juarez, three men were shot dead and another left seriously wounded after being attacked in a shopping center parking lot.

In Nuevo Leon, soldiers raided a ranch in Sabinas Hidalgo and found 16 hostages. After a brief firefight with approximately 10 gunmen, two of whom were killed, soldiers stormed the compound and discovered the 16 hostages, which included a mother and child. The other eight gunmen managed to escape into the nearby mountains. It appears that the ranch and the gunmen belonged to the Zetas Organization. At least three of the hostages had been taken at gunpoint from an improvised checkpoint on the Monterrey-Reynosa highway.

The incident was the second hostage rescue in 24 hours in Nuevo Leon. Earlier, soldiers had raided another location in the town of General Bravo and rescued seven hostages, most of whom were local farmers who were being held as part of an extortion plot.

In Acapulco, 26 local police officers were taken into custody by Mexican Navy personnel. The police were taken into custody on suspicion of being involved in illegal activities in the sectors to which they were assigned, and of being in possession of a large collection of automatic weapons that were not registered with the police department. Additionally, one of the vehicles searched in the operation was found to contain a large bag of marijuana.

Total Body Count for the Year: 3,349

Total Body Count for the Week: 208

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 19,660

Total Body Count 2009: 7,724

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: 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 over 18,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 2,000 so far in 2010. 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:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday, March 26

Near the town of General Trevino, Nuevo Leon, the decapitated body of a local police chief was found inside a car alongside the body of his brother. Heriberto Cerda was the police chief of the nearby town of Agualeguas. His killers left his head on his lap. The two men had been reported missing on Thursday. The windshield and drivers windows had the letters "C.D.G" written in blood, indicating that the killings were the work of the Gulf Cartel. The incident comes one day after Mexican Marines were involved in a large firefight in another Nuevo Laredo town, Cerralvo. That incident occurred after Marines ordered gunmen in a six-vehicle convoy to stop and were answered by gunfire, leading to the deaths of six suspected drug traffickers.

In Sonora, the police chief of the border city of Nogales was ambushed and killed by gunmen armed with AK-47's. Additionally on Friday, gunmen in Ciudad Juarez attacked a hotel used by federal police officials, killing one and wounding two others. Earlier that day, a police investigator was gunned down in a residential area of the city.

Saturday, March 27

In Morelia, Michoacan, two police officers were shot dead at a gas station. Two other unidentified men were found dead at the scene as well. One of the officers had previously been suspended from duty, and the other was apparently off duty. The two men had apparently gone to a gas station to purchase beer when they were attacked. Additionally, in Acapulco, a man whose hands were bound was found shot to death in a car.

Monday, March 29

In Durango, gunmen killed ten young people at a roadblock in the "golden triangle" region where the states of Durango, Chihuahua and Sinaloa intersect. The ten individuals, ranging in ages from 8 to 21, were killed by gunfire and grenade blasts as they tried to speed through an improvised roadblock. In other news, Mexican authorities arrested a member of Los Aztecas gang in connection with the March killings of three people linked to the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez.

Around the town of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon several people were reported killed in various incidents. Among the dead were two people gunned down in a motel along the highway to Saltillo, and a police officer found dead in a burning patrol car. In another incident, a group of gunmen attacked an army convoy in an attempt to free a prisoner who had been detained Saturday with 13 kilos of cocaine. The gunmen were traveling in a five-vehicle convoy and were heavily armed with automatic weapons and grenades. In the twenty-minute firefight that ensued, two soldiers and two civilians were wounded. After the incident, the army detained six individuals who were disguised as members of the municipal police.

In Sinaloa, six people, including a police agent, were found dead. In one incident, gunmen barged into a hospital in the town of Los Mochis and shot dead a young man who had been wounded in an earlier incident. In another part of Sinaloa, a decapitated body was found along the road from Pericos to the small town of Badiguarato, which is known as the "cradle of capos" for the large number of high-level drug traffickers which were raised in the area, most notably Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

In other parts of Mexico, three policemen were killed in Chihuahua, two people were killed in Quinta Carolinas, five in the Ciudad Juarez area, two in Tamochi, three in Chilpancingo, one in Acapulco, four in the state of Mexico, and one in Jalisco.

Monday, March 29

In Morelos, four decapitated bodies were discovered alongside a road stretching from Cuernavaca to Acapulco. A note was left at the scene threatening American-born drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villareal. This indicates that the killings are somehow related to the ongoing power struggle between Villareal and Hector Beltran-Leyva for leadership of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel, which was left without a leader after the December killing of Arturo Beltran-Leyva by Mexican naval commandos. Additionally, two brothers were found shot dead in a house in the town of Ahuatepec, near Cuernavaca.

Tuesday, March 30

In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, soldiers clashed with gunmen in at least five city neighborhoods. At least six people were killed in the fighting, and twelve people were taken into custody. At least two of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire, and two were soldiers. During clashes in the Loma Linda sector of the city, several grenade detonations were reported. In Tampico, Tamaulipas, three men were reported killed in an exchange of gunfire between two rival groups. Tamaulipas has recently seen a drastic increase in violence as the Zetas Organization battle their former masters, the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, April 1

In the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, gunmen mounted seven large, coordinated attacks on seven locations, including two army bases. Eighteen people were reported killed in the fighting. In a rare frontal attack, the gunmen attacked in military style unit-formations with armored trucks, automatic weapons, and fragmentation grenades. In several locations, gunmen reportedly parked trucks and SUV's outside military bases and streets in an effort to block the movement of troops to and from garrisons. One soldier was lightly injured in the fighting.

During the fighting, soldiers captured 54 assault rifles, 61 grenades, RPG's, eight homemade IED's, and six bulletproof vehicles.

Total Body Count for the Week: 123

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,446

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 18,757

Read the last 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 18,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 2,000 so far in 2010. 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:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Saturday, March 13

In Ciudad Juárez, three people with ties to the US consulate in the city were murdered in two different incidents. In the first incident, a Mexican man, Jorge Alberto Sancido Ceniceros was shot dead by gunmen. Ten minutes later, a US consulate worker, Lesley Enriquez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, were chased down and killed by gunmen just blocks from the border. Two children were wounded in the first incident, and the seven-month old daughter of the couple was left unharmed in the second incident.

Initial reports suggest that the killings were carried out by the Aztecas gang, which is tied to La Linea, the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel. Although reports have been conflicting, it appears as though the killings may have been a case of mistaken identity. Additionally, the killings prompted another visit to Ciudad Juárez by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and more angry demonstrations against his policies.

Soon after the murders, the State Department urged Americans to delay all non-essential travel to parts of large swathes of Northern Mexico.

Monday, March 15

In the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, 17 people were killed in clashes over the weekend. At least four of the dead were found decapitated, two of them found near a busy strip of nightclubs and bars. In another incident, six police officers were killed when their patrol was ambushed in the outskirts of the city.

In a separate incident in the state of Guerrero (of which Acapulco is part), 11 people were killed in a ferocious gun battle between soldiers and gunmen. The incident began when soldiers knocking on the door of a home in the town of Ajuchtitlan del Progreso were met with gunfire, sparking the battle, which took place in broad daylight in the center of town. Of the 11 killed, one was a soldier and 10 were suspected drug traffickers.

In Nuevo Leon, eight men were killed in running gun battles between Mexican Navy commandos and suspected members of the Gulf Cartel. The incident began after the gunmen tried flee in several vehicles after detecting the presence of helicopters and the commandos. No sailors were reported wounded or killed in the battle.

In the town of Creel, Chihuahua, seven people were killed by suspected drug traffickers. The killings were carried out by a large group of gunmen traveling in at least 15 separate vehicles. Three of the dead were found outside a home, while the other four were found on a highway leading away from the city, after presumably being dumped there by the gunmen. In November 2008, Creel was the scene of a particularly violence incident in which 13 people, including one child, were killed after being attacked by gunmen.

Wednesday, March 17

In the state of Tamaulipas, across the border from south Texas, 10 people were murdered in several incidents. In one, a vehicle abandoned near the town of Llera was found to contain four bodies. Near the town of Jimenez, three gunmen were killed after a firefight with the army.

In other parts of Mexico, six people were killed in Sinaloa, three in Sonora, and three in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua. In Nuevo Leon, a man was gunned down after attempting to flee from soldiers.

Total Body Count for the Week: 296

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,072

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 18,277

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: Mexico Conference Calls for New Direction in Drug Policy, Says Prohibition Has Failed

On Monday and Tuesday in Mexico City, political figures, academics, social scientists, security experts, and activists from at least six countries came together for the Winds of Change: Drug Policy in the World conference sponsored by the Mexico City-based Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CUPHID). Coming as Mexico's war on drugs turns bloodier by the day, the conference unsurprisingly concluded that current prohibitionist policies are a disaster.

"The principal conclusion is that we need a more integrated drug policy based on prevention, scientific evidence, and full respect for human rights," summarized CUPHID president Jorge Hernandez Tinajero. "It remains clear that, yes, there exist alternatives to the current strategy."

In a press release after the conference, CUPHID emphasized the following points:

  • The so-called war on drugs has failed and, without doubt, we need "winds of change" to advance toward alternative policies to address the problematic of drugs across the globe.
  • The prohibitionist paradigm has been ineffective, and furthermore, for the majority of countries it has implied grave violations of human rights and individual guarantees, discrimination, and social exclusion, as well as an escalation of violence that grows day by day, ever broadening the scope of impunity for organized crime.
  • Drugs are never going to disappear. Thus, a more realistic drug policy should focus on minimizing the harms associated with drug use -- overdoses, blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS, and violence. This concept is known as "harm reduction," and must be the backbone of any drug policy.
Colombia Cesar Gaviria, former President of Colombia, on left (courtesy
The conference opened Monday morning by putting its star power on display. In its opening session, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, who, as a member of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy coauthored a report a year ago with former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo denouncing drug prohibition as a failed policy, returned to the theme. Noting that as president of Colombia in the 1990s, he had been a firm supporter of prohibition, Gaviria said he had changed his tune.

"With the passing of time, prohibitionism, in which I believed, has demonstrated itself a failure," he told an attentive crowd jammed into a conference room of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in upscale Colonia Napoles. The attendant human rights abuses were a big reason why, he said.

"You have to be very careful in the matter of human rights," Gaviria said. "The issue of militarization is so risky because militarization of the struggle against the drug trade, even though it may seem necessary and imperative at a given time, almost always veers into violations of human rights."

Militarization is an especially prickly issue in Mexico, where President Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in the war against drug trafficking organizations. While the military has failed to stop the so-called cartels or reduce the violence -- it has, in fact, increased dramatically since the military was deployed three years ago -- it has generated an increasing number of human rights complaints. According to the official National Commission on Human Rights, more than 1,900 complaints alleging abuses by the military -- ranging from harassment, theft, and illegal entry to torture, murder, and disappearances -- were filed in Mexico last year.

Referring specifically to the Mexican situation, Gaviria added: "In the long run, one of the things that most delegitimizes public policies against drugs is when human rights are violated."

Gaviria's comments sparked a quick reply from Deputy Carolina Viggiano of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who called Calderon's decision to send in the military "the worst mistake" of his administration and one that was likely to ruin the prestige of the Mexican military by the time his term ends in three years.

While arguing that organized crime must sometimes be fought with extreme measures, such as anti-mafia laws and integrated counterintelligence operations, Gaviria also said that at some point, governments have to bring the traffickers in from the cold, perhaps by agreeing to let them plead guilty to offenses with short prison sentences. "Not 40 or 50 years in prison, but maybe eight or 10, and then the person can say, 'I'm done with this, I confess my crimes, I'll do my time, and that's that.' That is a solution with the justice system, not through militarization," he said.
Jorge Castañeda
If Gaviria was looking for reconciliation with the traffickers, his co-panelist former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda was a bit more provocative. He suggested that Mexico needs to go back to the "good old days" of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), at least when it comes to dealing with drug trafficking organizations.

The PRI, of course, ruled Mexico in a virtual one-party state for 70 years before being defeated by Vicente Fox and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in the 2000 elections. It was widely (and correctly) seen as not fighting the drug trade so much as managing it.

Given the bloody mess that is the Mexican drug war today, perhaps it is time to return to a quiet arrangement with the cartels, Castañeda suggested. "How do we construct a modus vivendi?" he asked. "The Americans have a modus vivendi in Afghanistan," he noted pointedly. "They don't care if Afghanistan exports heroin to the rest of the world; they are at war with Al Qaeda."

Castenada's comments on Afghanistan rang especially true this week, as American soldiers push through poppy fields in their offensive on Marja. The US has made an explicit decision to arrive at a modus vivendi with poppy farmers, although it still fights the trade by interdiction and going after traffickers -- or at least those linked to the Taliban.

Casteneda also came up with another provocative example, especially for Mexican leftists in the audience. "We had a modus vivendi with the Zapatistas in Chiapas," he noted. "We also pretended they were real guerrillas with their wooden rifles. We created a liberated zone, and the army respected it, and it's still there. But it is a simulation -- the army could eliminate it in 90 seconds."

And in yet another provocative comment on the theme, Casteneda suggested that somebody may already have arrived at a modus vivendi with the Sinaloa Cartel -- a suggestion that is getting big play in Mexican newspapers these days. "Why is it that of the 70,000 drug war prisoners in Mexico, only 800 are Chapo Guzman's men?" he asked. "Many people think the government has made a deal with the Sinaloa cartel. I don't know if it's true."

The Mexican government was forced Wednesday to deny such claims, a clear sign they are getting wide circulation.

Peruvian drug policy analyst Ricardo Soberon told the conference that while Latin America has been a loyal follower of the UN's and the US's prohibitionist drug policy discourses, it was time for something new. "The UN anti-drug paradigm is broken," he said. "We have to change the paradigm. We have to offer something other than prohibition and the criminal justice system, but what? A regulated market? What does that mean? What we need in any case are policies that are fundamentally based on human rights and deal with it from a public health viewpoint."

Human rights and the drug war remained a key theme of the conference on its second day, with Luis Gonzalez Placencia, president of the Federal District (Mexico City) Commission on Human Rights, and Monte Alejandro Rubido, Subsecretary for Human Rights for the Secretariat of Public Security, speaking and being grilled by the audience.

"The violent and militaristic policy against drugs generates more violence and has produced more dead," said Placencia. "We have to consider whether this anti-drug policy has become counterproductive," he added.

But Rubido, a federal functionary, stood fast, saying the Calderon government remained firm in its commitment to keep drugs criminalized. Far from being a failure, the strategy is working, he said, to hoots and groans from the crowd. "It is achieving good results," he said.

During a question and answer session that followed the pair, Rubido was raked over the coals by questioner after questioner, but remained stolidly unshakable in his support for current policy.

"How many people has marijuana killed and how many has the policy of repression killed?" asked one conference-goer, but Rubido just smirked in silence.

"People have consumed drugs forever," said Haydee Rosovsky, the former head of Mexico's national commission on addiction, from the floor, as she called out the bureaucrats. "You functionaries have to come out like Gaviria and Zedillo, and not wait until you are ex-functionaries."

National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) researcher Luis Astorga presented graphs showing which party governs which Mexican states and which coastal and border municipalities and how they appear to be affiliated with different blocs of cartels. "The PRI governed states on the Gulf Coast are where the cocaine flows," he said, "and the PRI controls most border municipalities."

That is the province of a bloc of cartels consisting of the Gulf (los Zetas) and Juarez cartels and the Beltra Leyva breakaway from the Sinaloa cartel, Astorga suggested, while taking pains to say his research is only "a work in progress." On the other hand, the ruling National Action Party (PAN) controls the northwest states of Baja California, Sonora, and Sinaloa, playground to the Sinaloa, and La Familia cartels, and breakaway factions of the Tijuana cartel. Echoing Casteneda, Astorga suggested it might be time for a "pax mafioso," although he admitted it would be difficult to find political cover for such a move.

Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance briefed the crowd on the US medical marijuana experience at event organizers' request, although he expressed bemusement at the issue's relevance to Mexico and its drug war and labored to make a useful connection.

"Medical marijuana provided the angle of attack that broke the marijuana policy logjam in the United States," he noted. "What Mexico needs is to find some sort of similar issue, some sort of similar angle. Perhaps the best approach is to argue that by legalizing marijuana we can deprive the cartels of a significant income stream," he suggested.

The Mexico City conference this week is just one more indication that the cracks in the wall of drug prohibition in Latin America are spreading. But while the drug reform movement in the hemisphere has some big names behind it, it is still going to take on the ground, grass roots organizing in countries across the hemisphere to move forward. The conference in Mexico City helped lay the groundwork for that, at least in Mexico.

Latin America: Mexico's Drug War Stirs Opposition in the Streets and from the Bishops

As the death toll tops 17,000 since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the so-called drug cartels in December 2006, and with no end to the killing in sight, demonstrators took to the streets of bloody Ciudad Juárez Sunday to denounce the killing and the government's approach. The next day, Calderon's drug policies came under attack from an entirely different direction: the Catholic Church in Mexico.
Council of Bishops event releasing report
In Juárez, where more than 2,600 people were killed in prohibition-related violence last year and 15 teenagers were gunned down last week in an incident that shocked the nation, more than a thousand people took to the streets Sunday in a "March of Anger" against the drug violence, with some leaders saying the presence of 6,000 federal troops is only making things worse.

"The army's presence is anti-constitutional and violates citizens' rights. That's why we're asking them to withdraw," National Front Against Repression leader Javier Contreras told the crowd.

Human rights and civil society groups in Juárez and, more broadly, across Mexico, have charged that Mexican law enforcement and armed forces have harassed, tortured, kidnapped, "disappeared," and killed innocent people in overzealous prosecution of the drug war. That won't work, said Contreras.

"You can't fight violence with more violence and breaking the laws," he said.

The protest came just days after President Calderon visited Ciudad Juárez in a bid to placate angry and frightened citizens. He apologized to the families of the massacred teenagers for initially blaming their deaths on gang warfare, said he was sending in 400 more federal police, and vowed to seek community cooperation in setting a new strategy against crime and violence. Still, he was booed by crowds during that visit. He returned again this week, touting a new security plan.

If Calderon is having a hard time placating angry Juárez residents, he's not having much better luck with the Catholic Church. The day after the Juárez protest, the Mexican Church's Council of Bishops issued a report critical of Calderon's drug policies.

In the report, the bishops said that using thousands of army troops to police Mexican cities raises severe human rights concerns. The bishops also pointed at a corrupt judicial system. They said many suspects are paraded before the media in "perp walks" even before being charged with any crime and called on the government to speed up police reforms so the troops can return to their barracks.

The bishops conceded that Calderon's deployment of the military initially had broad public support, but warned it was eroding. "As time passed, the participation of the armed forces in the fight against organized crime has created uncertainty in the population," the report said. "The armed forces have the obligation to respect human rights."

The bishops also harshly criticized the criminal justice system, saying few criminals are brought to justice because of corruption and inefficiency, while at the same time, innocent people are too often jailed because of police tactics. They noted that many of those people arrested and paraded before the media end up being released or charged with much lesser crimes than those announced at the time of their arrest.

The "perp walks" should stop, the bishops said. Authorities must "respect the judicial principle that someone is innocent until proven otherwise, because now we see that detainees are exhibited before the media before they are brought before judicial authorities."

More than halfway through his six-year term, President Calderon faces the threat of seeing his presidency defined by the bloody drug wars his policies have not only failed to stop, but have exacerbated. He seems to have no response except more of the same.

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 16,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 1,000 so far in 2010. 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:
weapons confiscated by military in Reynosa, 2008 (from
Saturday, February 6

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, six people were shot dead in a nightclub. Four armed men entered the club, shot dead two waiters and a customer, before turning and shooting dead three men who were at the front door.

Additionally, in the state of Chihuahua, it was announced that Governor Jose Reyes would be moving his office, the state legislature, and the state judiciary to Ciudad Juárez in an effort to combat the violence in the city.

Monday, February 8

In Michoacan, four men were killed in two different incidents. In one case, a man was shot dead by an assassin riding a motorcycle. In the other incident, three young men were gunned down near a taxi stand.

Tuesday, February 9

In Tijuana, two high-level drug traffickers belonging to a breakaway faction of the Tijuana cartel were captured by Mexican authorities. Jose Manuel Garcia Simental and Raydel Lopez Uriarte were part of an organization that was headed by Teodoro Garcia Simental before his capture on January 12. Their organization was formerly part of the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO) before splitting away and joining the Sinaloa Federation led by "El Chapo" Guzman. Authorities believe the group if responsible for numerous kidnapping and murders in Baja California. Raydel Uriarte, it should be noted, was nicknamed "Crutches" after the condition in which he left many of his victims. These arrests effectively wipe out the senior leadership of the organization.

In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, six men were killed in a firefight between suspected cartel gunmen and elements of the Mexican army. Three of the dead were gunmen, and the other three were soldiers. Four soldiers were wounded and 12 suspects were taken into custody in the incident. The exact details of the battle are unclear, but it is known that a truck carrying an unknown quantity of marijuana was captured. On Wednesday, El Universal reported that a video of the incident was uploaded by unknown parties onto YouTube, which can be found here.

In other parts of Mexico, a group of armed men ambushed and killed two policemen in Guanajuato, and an unidentified body was found in a black trash bag in another part of the state. In Guerrero, authorities found the headless body of a municipal police commander. Two people were reported killed in Ciudad Juárez, and 11 in Sinaloa. Two bodies were found in an unmarked grave in the border region between Michoacan and Guerrero.

Wednesday, February 10

Heads belonging to four people were found, three of them in Sinaloa and one in Guerrero. The bodies to which they correspond have not been found yet, however. Three of the heads were found in Sinaloa in front of a restaurant and a school in the town of Palmillas. All three were young males. A message was left with the heads, which is indicative of a drug-related murder. The fourth head, discovered in Guerrero, was discovered in a cooler left by the side of a road, and a note was left in this case as well. Additionally, the Guerrerro Public Safety Secretariat noted that the man's facial skin had been removed.

Also on Wednesday, President Felipe Calderon declared he will not withdraw the Mexican army from Ciudad Juárez. More than 5,500 troops occupy the border city, home to more than 2,600 prohibition-related deaths last year. They have been accused of failing to stop the violence, if not exacerbating it, and of human rights violations.

Total Body Count for the Week: 173

Total Body Count for the Year: 1,153

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 17,358

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: CIA Misled Congress, Dragged Feet on Disciplining Employees in Killings of US Citizens in Peru Drug War Plane Shootdown

Nearly nine years ago, a Peruvian air force fighter guided by CIA employees in a spotter plane blew a civilian aircraft out of the sky over the Amazon, thinking it was shooting down drug smugglers. But the plane was not carrying drug smugglers; it was carrying American missionaries Jim and Veronica Bowers, their two children, and a civilian pilot. Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter were killed.

The ensuing uproar led to the ending of the US-sponsored program of shooting down suspected drug smuggling planes and heated calls from Congress to get to the bottom of the affair. That didn't happen. Instead, the CIA stonewalled Congress, promising an internal investigation.

This week, that investigation finally concluded. As ABC News reported, the investigation found that CIA operatives and Peruvian officials failed to follow their strict rules of engagement. The pilots failed to identify the plane by its tail number and did not order the plane to land. Tapes of the incident show the CIA spotters growing doubtful at the last moment that their target actually was a drug plane, but failing to act on their doubts in time to prevent the Peruvian fighter jet from firing on the plane.

On Wednesday, the CIA announced that its investigation had concluded that 16 CIA employees should be disciplined, including the CIA agent then in charge of counternarcotics. But many of those employees no longer work for the CIA, and for some who still do, the discipline consists of nothing more than a letter of reprimand inserted in their personnel files.

That was too much for Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Bowers were his constituents, and from the beginning, Hoekstra had demanded answers about what happened over the Amazon that day and who was responsible.

"If there's ever an example of justice delayed, justice denied, this is it," Hoekstra told ABC. "The [intelligence] community's performance in terms of accountability has been unacceptable. These were Americans that were killed with the help of their government, the community covered it up, they delayed investigating."

While the Intelligence Committee held hearings on the incident, it didn't get very far. The State Department reported in 2001 that the shoot-downs occurred only after "exhausting international procedures for interception." The Department of Justice declined to prosecute anyone in 2005.
Veronica Bowers and daughter Charity, in their family's houseboat on the Amazon (photo by Joe Sherman, via
Then the CIA Office of the Inspector General delivered its report, "Procedures Used in Narcotics Airbridge Denial in Peru, 1995-2001," in 2008, seven years after the fact. That report found that at least 15 planes were shot down under the Narcotics Airbridge Denial Program beginning in 1995 and that in most of the downings, pilots fired on aircraft "without being properly identified, without being given the required warnings to land, and without being given time to respond to such warnings as were given to land." (Many of those planes crashed in the jungle and have never been reached, leaving open the question of whether they were carrying drugs.) The report also said that the CIA withheld from the National Security Council, Congress, and the Justice Department the results of investigations that showed continuing and serious violations of procedures designed to prevent the shooting down of innocent aircraft.

When the Inspector General handed that report over to then CIA director Michael Hayden, he assembled an Agency Accountability Board, which insisted it found no evidence of a cover-up, that "reasonable suspicion" was established in every shoot-down except that of the Bowers' plane, and that no CIA officer acted inappropriately. Instead, 16 people were to be sanctioned for "shortcomings in reporting and supervision."

Speaking to Michigan's WOOD-TV Wednesday evening, Hoekstra was outraged. "This is one where the bureaucracy protected itself. Immediately after the shooting in 2001, Congress was misled. Some would say the CIA lied to us about exactly what happened, then dragged this out for years," he said.

"They were brutally murdered, and the US government was complicit in making that happen," Hoekstra continued. "The CIA was reckless, they made serious mistakes that resulted in the deaths of two Americans. This is also about accountability. The CIA has some of the most tremendous powers, and we need to make sure that there is accountability, that CIA operates within the boundaries we set for it, and when they don't, they are held accountable. Tragically, as we close this chapter, I don't think those things are going to happen."

"They wouldn't testify when it happened, they stonewalled this from the get-go, when Hoekstra was demanding they testify," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies and long-time student of US-Latin American relations. "I recall Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) demanding to know who was in charge. Was it Southcom, was it CIA, was it the US Embassy? And all the witnesses just pointed fingers at each other. It now seems that had more to do with embarrassment than protecting national security."

When asked about what the whole affair said about CIA accountability, Tree just laughed.

Coincidentally, Hoesktra's remarks came the same day US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee the government has the right to kill Americans abroad if they present a direct threat to US security. "We take direct action against terrorists in the intelligence community," Blair told lawmakers at the hearing. "If that direct action -- we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."

Blair said he made the admission to reassure Americans. "We're not careless about endangering American lives as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country," he said.

On Wednesday, the CIA claimed it was not careless in the killing of Veronica Bowers and her daughter, either. In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the CIA said the program to shoot down suspected drug planes had ended in 2001 and was run by a foreign government.

"CIA personnel had no authority either to direct or prohibit actions by that government. CIA officers did not shoot down any airplane. In the case of the tragic downing of April 21st, 2001, [sic] CIA personnel protested the identification of the missionary plane as a suspect drug trafficker," the statement said. (The incident actually occurred April 20, 2001.)

In fact, the shoot-down was the result of an ongoing operation in which the CIA and the Peruvian government worked as partners to blow suspected drug planes out of the sky. Video and audiotapes of the incident show the CIA employees deciding not to check the plane's tail numbers for risk it might flee, and those tapes show that the CIA employees did not express doubts about the identity of the craft until moments before it was shot down.

"This was a tragic episode that the Agency has dealt with in a professional and thorough manner," continued the statement. "Unfortunately, some have been willing to twist facts to imply otherwise. In so doing, they do a tremendous disservice to CIA officers, serving and retired, who have risked their lives for America's national security."

"One of the problems here is that these intelligence services are given a sort of thankless task of operating on the margins of our assumptions about what a society should be about," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "This produces an environment where you get these scandalous things taking place and there is not an adequate corrective procedure, so there is no warning shot across the bow for CIA and other clandestine services. They always seem to assume they can act outside the law because their mission is so important, and one administration after another is willing to look the other way."

"This is all being done in the name of these countries doing domestic law enforcement," Tree noted. "Since we were not at war, what kind of law enforcement allows the policeman to be judge, jury, and executioner? This wasn't law enforcement -- this was extrajudicial killing."

"I don't know why we're surprised about this," said Birns. "It's almost built into the dynamics of the situation. If the government wants them to engage in irregular warfare and take risks with the rules of the game and they know that in the past they have usually been exonerated, of course they are going to bend the rules. It is disenchanting when you reflect on how many incidents there have been where the CIA has compromised itself," said Birns. "We can be outraged that the values we insist on domestically go un-honored in our international behavior, but we shouldn't be surprised because we have put such great value on achieving those policy goals."

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