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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

Regulating Heroin Trade Suggested

Location: 
Bridgeport, CT
United States
Publication/Source: 
Connecticut Post
URL: 
http://www.connpost.com/news/ci_4463922

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."

Feds Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensary (This one in Palm Springs)

Location: 
Palm Springs, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Desert Sun
URL: 
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061005/NEWS05/61004013/1009

Mexico's Mounting Drug Trade

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Council on Foreign Relations
URL: 
http://www.cfr.org/publication/11599/mexicos_mounting_drug_trade.html

BAY AREA: Drug agents arrest 15 in raids on major marijuana club (San Francisco Chronicle)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/10/04/POT.TMP

Southwest Asia: Leading Scholar Takes Senate Foreign Relations Committee to School on Afghan Drug Trade

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kabul2.jpg
war-torn Afghanistan (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2005)
While Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Washington this week for meetings with President Bush and other officials, and politicians of both parties were calling for increased anti-drug spending in Afghanistan to deal with that country's burgeoning opium crop, a little noticed Senate hearing last week provided a real crash course on a rational drug policy in Afghanistan. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on September 21, New York University Professor Barnett Rubin, perhaps the country's leading Afghanistan expert, provided a strong critique of the obsessive focus on crop eradication and even suggested policymakers consider regulating the opium trade. Rubin is most recently the author of Aghanistan: Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in March.

Rubin addressed the issue both in his prepared remarks and in a brief question and answer session at the end of the hearing. His remarks are worth quoting extensively. Here is what he said in his prepared remarks (available only to paid subscribers):

"On narcotics, I would like -- sometimes when people call for a stronger counternarcotics policy, which I fully endorse, they focus on crop eradication, as if crop eradication were the central point of counternarcotics. I would submit that that is an error.

"First, we have to be clear about what is the goal of our counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan. Where does the harm come from? We are not trying to -- or we should not be trying to -- solve the world's problem of drug addiction in Afghanistan. If we, with all our capacity, cannot stop drug addiction in the United States, we are certainly not going to use law enforcement successfully to eliminate half the economy of the poorest and best armed country in the world.

"Therefore, we must focus on the real harm which comes from drug money. Now, 80% of the drug money inside Afghanistan, regardless of the 90% of the total income from drugs which goes outside of Afghanistan -- 80% of the drug money inside of Afghanistan is in the hands of traffickers and warlords, not farmers. When we eradicate crops, the price of poppy goes up, and the traffickers who have stocks become richer. Therefore, we should be focusing on the warlords and traffickers, on interdiction and so on, while we are helping the poor farmers. That is also consistent with our political interests of winning the farmers over and isolating those that are against us.

"Furthermore, it is a mistake to consider the drug problem in Afghanistan as something that is isolated in the major poppy growing areas. For instance, now there is fighting in Helmand province, which is the major poppy producing area in the world. Because there is fighting going on, it is not possible to implement a counternarcotics strategy in Helmand. We need to implement rural development throughout Afghanistan, especially in the areas where there is no poppy, in order to show people what is possible and build an alternative economy."

And here is an exchange between Rubin and Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Frank Lugar (R-IN):

VOINOVICH:

"Mr. Chairman, could I just ask one last thing? You alluded to the issue of the drug problem in the United States. And I got the impression that some of these drugs are coming into the US. Is that...

RUBIN:

Well, I perhaps should have said the developed world. I believe actually the bulk of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan are consumed in Iran and Pakistan.

VOINOVICH:

OK. So that's why the Iranians are so interested in making sure it stops.

RUBIN:

Yes.

VOINOVICH:

The reason I bring it up is I just had our local FBI director visit with me from Cincinnati, and he said, "Senator, the issue of terrorism is one that we're gravely concerned about." But he said the biggest issue that we've got here in the United States that we're not paying attention to is the drug problem, and that our resources are being, you know, kind of spread out. And we really have got to look at that. It's still there, and we need to deal with it. And we're not directing our attention to it. And I think you remember the other hearing we had a year or so ago, we had the folks in here and they were talking about how active the Russian mafia is in the United States and seemed to be doing about whatever they want to do, because we don't have the resources to deal with that problem. So from my perspective, you're saying the biggest market is in those countries you just mentioned...

RUBIN:

That's in physical quantity. The biggest market in money is in Europe and of course in the United States. If I may add, if you don't mind my mentioning something that I heard in the other house yesterday, Dr. Paul, a Republican from Texas, mentioned at the hearing yesterday that in his view we had failed to learn the lessons of prohibition, which, of course, provided the start-up capital for organized crime in the United States, and that, in effect, by turning drug use into a crime, we are funding organized crime and insurgency around the world. And it may be that we need to look at other methods of regulation and treatment.

VOINOVICH:

Thank you.

LUGAR:

Thank you, Senator Voinovich. It's a fascinating thought that you just imparted, that although the bulk of the drugs may be utilized by Iran and Pakistan, that the greatest value for those that are not imbibed by these countries comes from Europe and the United States. Why? Because the people surely don't receive it for free, but what is the distribution? Why are Pakistan and Iran so afflicted by drugs from...

RUBIN:

Well, they're closer. Basically, the cost of production is a negligible portion of the price of narcotics.

LUGAR:

So it's transportation...

RUBIN:

No, no. It's risk because it's illegal.

LUGAR:

I see.

RUBIN:

If it were not illegal, it would be worth hardly anything. It's only its illegality that makes it so valuable.

LUGAR:

Another fascinating topic. (LAUGHTER) Well, we thank you again for your help (inaudible). The hearing is adjourned."

Another fascinating topic, indeed. At least someone is trying to educate our elected officials about the economic and political consequences of drug prohibition -- in Afghanistan, anyway.

New Intervention: Novel Police Tactic Puts Drug Markets Out of Business

Location: 
High Point, NC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Wall Street Journal
URL: 
http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n1284/a01.html

Barnett Rubin Lectures the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Afghan Opium

On Thursday, I crossed back into the US from British Columbia and spent the day listening to all the back and forth over Chavez's "devil" comments as I drove across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. About 4am, I checked into a motel in Broadus, Montana—which is about 150 miles from nowhere in any direction—flipped on the tube, and lo and behold, there was Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin giving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a tutorial on the complications of US Afghan policy. What really caught my attention was Rubin's closing remarks. Unfortunately, the C-Span video link to Rubin's remarks isn't working as I type these words (but perhaps is by the time you are reading them; give it a try), but the good professor basically lectured the committee on the foolishness of attempting to wipe out the opium crop. Addressing the senators as if they were a group of callow undergrads at a seminar, Rubin explained that the only way to deal with the opium problem was to regulate and control it. That caused Sen. Frank Lugar (R-IN) to stir himself from his lizard-like torpor long enough to mutter something to the effect that "this is a big issue for another day." Here is what Rubin had to say in his prepared remarks:
"The international drug control regime, which criminalizes narcotics, does not reduce drug use, but it does produce huge profits for criminals and the armed groups and corrupt officials who protect them. Our drug policy grants huge subsidies to our enemies. As long as we maintain our ideological commitment to a policy that funds our enemies, however, the second-best option in Afghanistan is to treat narcotics as a security and development issue. The total export value of opiates produced in Afghanistan has ranged in recent years from 30 to 50 percent of the legal economy. Such an industry cannot be abolished by law enforcement. The immediate priorities are massive rural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including roads and cold storage to make other products marketable; programs for employment creation through rural industries; and thoroughgoing reform of the ministry of the interior and other government agencies to root out the major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections. "News of this year’s record crop is likely to increase pressure from the US Congress for eradication, including aerial spraying. Such a program would be disastrously self-defeating. If we want to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to help the rural poor (which is almost everyone) and isolate the leading traffickers and the corrupt officials who support them."
What he actually said at the end of his testimony was even stronger. Check it out if that damned C-Span link ever actually works.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

British Soldiers Accused of Gun Smuggling for Drugs (Zaman Daily Newspaper, Turkey)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.zaman.com/?bl=hotnews&alt=&trh=20060924&hn=36746

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