Corruption

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Bush: Stay the Course in Colombia

President Bush never tires of spending our tax dollars losing not winning various wars. Now he wants to give Colombia another $600 million International Herald Tribune reports.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns calls it a strategy adjustment:

"In any counterterrorism or counter-narcotics campaign you sometimes have to adjust strategy to be effective as conditions change," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Bogota, announcing the White House was seeking to maintain current levels of support for its caretaker in the war on drugs through 2008. "We'll be open to any suggestions the Colombian government makes."


I think what he meant to say was that we refuse to adjust our strategy and we’re not open to suggestions. And what does he mean "as conditions change"? Nothing's changed since Plan Colombia began eight years ago . That’s the problem.

Meanwhile the police we trained with the last $600 million are getting killed systematically. Sound familiar?


Location: 
United States

People are Getting Beheaded in Mexico

It’s horrible. But there’s nothing very surprising about it. The drug war promises endless violence and always delivers. Pablo Escobar killed three presidential candidates in the same election and blew up an entire passenger plane to kill two snitches.

This year beheadings are popular. I wonder what people would say if things like this were happening on American soil:

In the most horrendous instance, drug lord gangs busted into a nightclub, toting rifles, and rolled five heads across the dance floor, terrifying onlookers.

People were surprised, but I’m sure everyone knew what it was all about. This kind of thing has been commonplace ever since the drug war began.

Various anti-immigration bloggers are now citing these incidents as evidence that our borders must be secured, for fear that Mexicans will come to America and start cutting peoples’ heads off.

It’s a bit silly, because the worst drug traffickers have no reason to leave Mexico. They’ve got the run of the place. The people crossing the border are poor folks who come here for economic opportunities, less-overt corruption, and white picket fences that don’t have severed heads impaled on them.

If you’re concerned about immigration, note that our drug war incentivizes traffickers to dig tunnels and cut holes in the fence.

If you don’t want your tax-dollars spent educating foreigners, note that you’re footing the bill to train counter-narcotics police in Colombia that just get massacred ten at a time.

And if you’re troubled by all the beheadings near our border, note that our current policy ensures their continuation for the remainder of human history.

Stopping the drug war is our only chance to defund drug terrorists and bring a close to this global catastrophe.


Location: 
United States

Rise in Bribery Tests Integrity of US Border--From California to Texas, 200 Officials Indicted Since 2004

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/socal/la-na-border23oct23,0,2778084.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Veteran Payne County Oklahoma Deputy Sheriff Brooke Buchanan Suspended Amid (Meth Lab?) Investigation By State

Location: 
Stillwater, OK
United States
Publication/Source: 
More Bad Cop News
URL: 
http://www.morebadcopnews.com/veteran-payne-county-oklahoma-deputy-sheriff-brooke-buchanan-suspended-amid-meth-lab-investigation-by-state.html

Lawmaker Outlines Intensifying Border Problems

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/state/15774690.htm

Guard pilot gets prison for flying drugs (AP, Poughkeepsie Journal)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061015/NEWS05/610150361/1009

Latin America: Tijuana Mayor Vows to Investigate Entire Police Force for Links to Drug Trade

The mayor of the Mexican border city of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, announced over the weekend that the entire municipal police force is to be investigated for involvement in the drug trade. The city is home to the Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization, one of the most powerful in Mexico. The group is locked in a bloody battle with the competing "Juarez cartel," led by the criminal heirs of the legendary Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies" before his death in 1997. Dozens of people have been killed this year in Tijuana in battles between the rival groups.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tijuanalogo.gif
Tijuana police logo (courtesy DrugWar.com)
Tensions have worsened in the city since the August arrest of Francisco Javier Arellano Felix by US authorities off the Baja California coast in August. Since then, violence has escalated, and the dead include at least five police officers from city, state, or federal agencies, including assistant Tijuana police chief Arturo Rivas Vaca, who was gunned down in his patrol car in mid-September.

After that incident, Tijuana officials accused federal law enforcement officials of not doing enough to help fight the traffickers, which prompted an unusually testy response from the federal attorney general's office. In a communiqué issued in late September, the office accused Mayor Rhon and Tijuana secretary of public safety Luis Javier Algorri Franco of "complacency or direct complicity" with the drug traffic.

Rhon was also facing pressure from powerful Tijuana business interests worried that the corruption and violence could affect their bottom lines. The major business group in the city, the Entrepreneurial Coordinating Council, had announced last month it was boycotting public functions until local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began working together, and last week, it threatened to move businesses from the city unless something was done.

That is apparently what prompted Rhon's weekend call for a mass investigation of the municipal police. While police corruption in Tijuana has been endemic for years -- local police report 66 of their own arrested in the past six months -- it is the open political spat between Rhon and Mexico City that greased the wheels for the investigation and the pressure from business that made it happen.

"Everyone from the policeman on the beat to the state police superintendent will be subject to this investigation," Rhon told a weekend press conference.

"We haven't waited for anyone to come from outside to help us with the theme of corruption," Algorri said in the weekend press conference announcing the mass investigation of Tijuana's 2,300 police. Algorri added that it was unfair to single out the city police. "The problem of corruption in police agencies is a reality, and all of the police agencies have problems with corruption," he said.

The Chronicle plans a trip to the Andes

Snowflakes are falling in the Dakotas today. With winter coming to the High Plains, it's a good time to be thinking about heading south, and that's just what I intend to do in a few weeks, probably in early January. Thanks to a targeted gift from an individual donor (the same guy who financed my Afghanistan trip last year), I will be heading to Bolivia and Peru to report on the status of the Andean drug war. Colombia is currently the largest coca producer in the world, but Peru and Bolivia are second and third. They are also the historic heartland of traditional coca production by the indigenous people of the Andes, which makes them more interesting from the cultural perspective. With limited funds, I could not visit all three countries, and having already set foot in Colombia, this time I will focus on Peru and Bolivia. Thanks in part to our hemispheric anti-prohibitionist work around the Merida Out From the Shadows conference, DRCNet and the Chronicle are fairly well-connected already in both countries. One of friends, Peruvian coca grower leader Nancy Obregon, is now a member of the Peruvian congress. I hope to be able to visit Nancy's home and fields to see the coca crops first-hand. I've also been talking to a pair of Peruvian academics, Hugo Cabieses and Baldomero Caceres--more folks we know from that conference. In Bolivia, Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network has pledged to help out in setting up interviews and outings. I've also been in contact with the Bolivian Embassy in Washington and will be going over to talk to them when I'm in DC for the SSDP conference next month. The Bolivian Embassy is very friendly; maybe I can even wrangle an interview with President Morales himself. This will be a three-week trip. Right now, I'm thinking I'll fly to Lima, spend two weeks wandering around Peru, then go overland from Cuzco (I'm not going to Peru without seeing Macchu Picchu!) to Bolivia and spend a week there. If anyone has questions they want answered down south or has suggestions for people to talk to, comment here. I'll be checking back.
Location: 
United States

Mexican Police 'Probed on Drugs'--The entire police force in the Mexican city of Tijuana is to be investigated on suspicion of being involved in drug trafficking and organized crime

Location: 
Tijuana, BCN
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
BBC News
URL: 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5415018.stm

Book Review: "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" by Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2006, 290 pp. PB)

If one wishes an object lesson in the unintended consequences of drug prohibition, one need look no further than the other side of the Rio Grande. Like all borders, the US-Mexican border has always been the scene of a lively trade in contraband. Although the authors of "From the Maras to the Zetas: The Secrets of the Drug Trade, From Colombia to Chicago" don't get into the prehistory of Mexico's powerful drug trafficking organizations, way back in those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of marijuana moved across that border, but it was a largely peaceful trade, often a family affair.

In 1982, when President Ronald Reagan, having declared a new war on drugs, sent Vice-President George H.W. Bush to Miami to head up a new effort to block the flood of Colombian cocaine flowing across the Caribbean to Florida, the Colombians adjusted by shifting smuggling routes through Mexico. The Colombian used existing smuggling networks, which since then have grown into a Frankenstein monster, not only in the eyes of the Mexican state, but also in the eyes of their Colombian counterparts, who have found themselves squeezed out of end-stage distribution to the US and the massive profits that followed.

Fueled by Colombian cocaine, American dollars, and American weaponry, in the past 20 years, Mexico's so-called "cartels" -- a misnomer for these brutally competitive trafficking organizations -- have corrupted legions of Mexican police, soldiers, and politicians, and murdered as many more. Every time the Mexican state, hounded by its partner to the north, tries to crack down on the cartels, the result is not social tranquility or the end of the drug trade, but bloody gang wars as the different organizations fight for position -- and the flow of drugs never seems to be affected.

In the past couple of years, the cartels have become so brazen and the death toll from the constant "ajuste de cuentas" ("adjusting of accounts" or "settling scores") so horrendous -- more than 1,500 last year and a like number so far this year -- that they appear to be working with impunity.

Enter Mexico City journalists Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo. With the drug trafficking groups beheading police and engaging in street battles with RPGs in Acapulco and wreaking mortal havoc along the US border, their timing couldn't be better because they aim to explain the murky workings of the Mexican drug trade. They study and report on Mara Salvatrucha, the much screamed about gang that grew out from the children of Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles and other American cities (another lesson in unintended consequences) who learned all too well the ways of the thug life, then re-exported it back home to Central America. According to Fernandez and Ronquillo, Mara Salvatrucha controls much of the traffic in illegal immigrants and drugs -- on Mexico's southern border. But like the truly Mexican criminal organizations, its tentacles extend far to the north as well.

They also provide the skinny on the Zetas, the US-trained former anti-drug elite force that switched sides and now acts as the armed forces of Osiel Cardenas and the Gulf Cartel -- one more lesson in unintended consequences. Thanks to the paramilitary skills of the Zetas, Cardenas has been able to directly confront the Mexican state, as when his men killed six prison employees in Matamoros in early 2005 in retaliation for a federal government crackdown on imprisoned cartel leaders.

There is much, much more in between. Fernandez and Ronquillo warn that imprisoned cartel leaders spent part of their time behind bars buddying up with imprisoned leftist guerrillas and could be either learning tactical lessons or forging unholy alliances with them. Despite the apparent ideological differences between Marxist rebels and drug traffickers, the Mexican cartels have shown that when it comes to business they are nonpartisan. They will corrupt politicians of any party, make deals with whoever can benefit them, and kill those who get in their way.

The cartels circle around power. When the old-time PRI ran the government, the cartels corrupted the PRI. When the PAN government of President Vicente Fox came to power, they attempted to corrupt it, and as Fernandez and Ronquillo demonstrate, they have arguably succeeded. PANista politicians have been caught attending the funerals of leading narcos, PANista local administrations have been bought off, and the narcos even managed to place an associate in President Fox's inner circle before the taint of scandal drove him off.

But while Fernandez and Ronquillo are quite good in unraveling the mysteries of the cartels and explicating the results of decades of prohibitionist drug policy, they fail to make the leap to the next level. For them, "From the Maras to the Zetas" is a desperate wake-up call for the Mexican public and political class, a warning that the power of the cartels threatens the integrity of the Mexican state. They do not take the next step and ask if there is not a better way. But then again, they really don't have to -- the book itself is eloquent testimony to the corrupt and bloody legacy of prohibition in Mexico.

Yes, the book is only available in Spanish. It won't be much use to many of our North American readers, but Drug War Chronicle also goes out in Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps if we can drum up a little interest here in Gringolandia, an American or Canadian publisher will print a translation. Goodness knows we get very little serious reporting up here about the Mexican drug war.

In the meantime, for you English-only speakers out there with an interest in this topic, I recommend the recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America, "State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico."

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