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Jamaica Says it Can Win Its Drug War for $1 Billion

It's a strategy so ingenious, I can't believe no one thought of it before:

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Jamaica is seeking $1 billion in loans and grants to rid the country of “cancerous” drug gangs that have taken over poor neighborhoods on the Caribbean island and hurt economic growth, Finance Minister Audley Shaw said.

Someone should tell the Jamaicans that the U.S. has already tried the whole spend-a-billion-dollars-to-eradicate-drugs idea so many times that it's become a rather unfunny joke, and the only way the drug czar can even get the money anymore is if he pretends it's for something else, like treatment programs.

The last thing Jamaica needs is to owe a billion dollars back to a bunch of international banks for massive drug war that didn't work. Good luck accomplishing anything except an endless series of bloody gunfights that cripple your tourism industry.

If you want a reduction in drug war violence, begin by regulating and taxing the marijuana that's being sold by the handful all over the country. The thing I keep hearing about Jamaican herb is that no one can even finish the $20 bag they bought at the airport when they arrived. You could tax it at 300% and the tourists wouldn’t even notice. Now that's a billion dollar drug strategy.

Feature: Jamaica Rocked As Kingston Drug Gangs Fight Police and Army -- At Least 73 Dead

The capital of Jamaica, Kingston, is still smoldering -- literally -- after four days of violent conflict between Jamaican security forces and a fugitive drug "don" (as the heads of gangs are called there) and his supporters left at least 73 people dead by official count. The fighting took on much of the form of an urban insurrection, with gunmen attacking police and soldiers and assaulting at least 18 police stations, one of which burned to the ground. Three policemen were killed in the first day of fighting.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding
The fighting pitted followers of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, an alleged major gang leader and drug and weapons trafficker wanted by the US, against a government they felt had betrayed him -- and them. Last week, after months of trying to block an American extradition request, the government of Prime Minister Bruce Golding gave in to mounting political pressure and ordered him sent to the US, setting off mass demonstrations by his followers centered in the tough Kingston neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens.

Dudus' supporters put up street barricades of wrecked vehicles and other debris and armed young men strolled the streets amid reports that members of other Jamaican drug gangs, or posses, were streaming into to Kingston to join the fight. Golding announced a state of emergency Sunday night after the first attacks on police stations, but it took until Thursday for the police and the army to exert control over Tivoli.

Although the violence has died down, many issues remain unresolved. Dudus is still a free man, having eluded the authorities' assault on his stronghold in Tivoli Gardens, the prime minister's relationship with Dudus is being closely scrutinized, and now, complaints about unjustified killings by security forces this week are once again raising serious concerns about Jamaica's human rights record.

And while the violence has died down, it hasn't ended. Police stormed a house in the middle class community of Kirkland Heights Thursday after hearing that Dudus may have holed up there, setting off a two-hour firefight. Among the casualties there was the brother of former Minister of Industry and Commerce Claude Clark, who was killed by security personnel in the crossfire.

The confrontation in Kingston is shining the spotlight on long-acknowledged but usually quietly ignored connections between Jamaica's two main political parties, the ruling Labor Party and the opposition People's National Party, and tough Kingston slum gangs. Ever since violent election campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s, when leaders of both parties recruited neighborhood toughs, the "rude boys" of reggae lyrics, in Kingston slums like Tivoli or Trenchtown to act as their deniable armed wings, the parties have relied on these neighborhood gangs not only for fighting when necessary, but also to deliver the vote. In return, they turn a blind eye to some of the gang's more nefarious activities.

Dudus, as leader of the Tivoli Gardens posse, which was affiliated with Labor, had long been an ally of Prime Minister Golden. The neighborhood is even part of Golden's constituency -- thus the anger against the government by residents who had benefited from Dudus' largesse amid poverty and neglect from the government.

Like Pablo Escobar in Colombia, who gained popular support by building schools and soccer stadiums, or the contemporary Mexican drug cartels, who do the same sort of public-minded philanthropy for the same mix of genuine and public relations purposes, Dudus provides services -- as well as security -- for Tivoli Gardens and its residents. In doing so, he came to be viewed by many as a sort of Robin Hood figure.

"Coke was the standard 'Teflon don,'" said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, whose associate, Katherine Haas, this week published in a most timely fashion, Jamaica: Different Drug War, Different Strategy, a critique of US drug policy on the island. "For a relatively small percentage of the swag, he saw to it that there was a tremendous amount of goodwill in the neighborhood for his candidates. For Coke, it was always Labor, the Republicans of Jamaica."

Prime Minister Golding did his part by stalling for nine months the extradition order against Dudus after he was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons smuggling charges by a federal grand jury in New York. He even went as far as hiring a Washington, DC, public relations firm to attempt to lobby the indictment away, but when that became public knowledge, Golding's support for Dudus was not longer politically tenable.

"Coke was working for the JLP and Golding stalled as long as he possibly could to get the extradition going, but his ability to sustain his position vanished, so they had to go after Coke," Birns said. "But Coke had developed a cordon sanitiare of affection and appreciation because of what he has done for his neighborhood."

"They do have popular support because of the numbers of beneficiaries, and the financial support they provide to the communities," agreed Jamaican marijuana legalization activist Paul Chang.

US drug policy toward Jamaica hasn't helped, said Birns, whose organization has become increasingly critical of drug prohibition in recent years. American efforts to ameliorate some of the negative results of that policy are too little, too late, he said.

"US drug policy plays a role in this because the administration has announced a new program that will emphasize institution-building all the drug-infected countries in the region and emphasize the demand side, but we've heard all that before," he said. "Administration after administration has hurled rhetoric at the problem, but the existence of the drug cartels shines a laser-light like on the results of these policies. Anyway, although none of these islands has a viable economy, they want to give the paltry sum of $100 million to the Caribbean and Central America under Plan Merida. Guatemala alone could consume all that," he said.

"When it comes to Jamaica, you have the confluence of inadequate Latin America policy-making fused to a misconceived drug policy, and that becomes a very explosive mixture, and the ensuing violence we see in Jamaica is just the result," Birns summed up.

As of this writing, Dudus is still on the lam, Tivoli Gardens is still smoldering, Amnesty International is calling for an investigation of alleged street executions by security forces, and Prime Minister Golding is still holding on to power. But the violent challenge to the state's monopoly on the use of force has rocked Jamaica and revealed the dark webs of power linking politics and the underworld. The reverberations from this week will be felt in Jamaica for a long time to come.

Drug Cartel Assassins Caught on Camera

This video is freaking people out in Mexico. Most of the violence is occurring off-camera, but it's pretty effective at revealing how openly these guys operate. 8 people were killed in the vicinity of what you're seeing here:

But don't worry, the violence means we're winning the drug war. Soon, all the drug traffickers and innocent bystanders will be dead and then we can all go to Mexico for Spring Break and get wasted without worrying about getting shot by machine guns.

Are There Any Good Guys in the Mexican Drug War?

Once again, what passes for a victory in the Mexican drug war is really just another bloody mess:

Reporting from Mexico City - The dead drug lord lay on his back, blood-soaked jeans yanked down to the knees. Mexican peso notes carpeted his bullet-torn body, and U.S. $100 bills formed neat rows next to his bared belly.

Even in a country where pictures of gruesome crime scenes routinely show up on the front pages of newspapers, the Beltran Leyva images have stirred controversy over who staged the tableau and whether Mexican authorities did so to send a taunting message to the rest of his powerful drug trafficking gang.

"It is the state forces that adopted the basic language of the narco," columnist Luis Petersen Farah wrote in the Milenio newspaper. " 'There's your money,' the photograph seems to say. It's the language of war." [LA Times]

There's something deeply unsettling about watching the Mexican military mimic the intimidation tactics of the drug lords. Finding peace is simply not on the agenda anymore.

A Magical Day in Mexico

This is what passes for good news in the Mexican drug war:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- ''Not one person murdered yesterday,'' Ciudad Juarez's leading newspaper proclaimed in a banner headline. It was big news in this border city, ground zero in the drug war -- the first time in 10 months that a day had passed without a killing.

The next day, 9 people were shot. Does anyone still believe that the drug war reduces violence? If so, I've got a condo in Ciudad Juarez I'd love to sell you.

Proof that the Drug War Sucks: Mexico

No seriously, just look at Mexico and tell me that the drug war isn't a complete disaster:

TIJUANA, Mexico — Tijuana's public security spokesman says a fleet of brand new patrol cars has been burned in a Molotov cocktail attack.

Ernesto Alvarez says the 28 vehicles were hit in the predawn attack at a Mazda dealership. Six were destroyed, the rest damaged but possibly reparable. [AP]

Reparable, you say? Yeah, imagine it's your first day on the job as a cop in Tijuana and they give you a new patrol car that's already been lightly toasted by a firebomb.

The Weekly Standard Cheers on Mexican Drug War Bloodshed

Jaime Daremblum at The Weekly Standard uses math to prove that Mexico's drug war is getting results:

But despite the continuing violence--in a particularly vicious attack on September 2, 18 people were killed execution style at a Juárez drug-rehabilitation center--Calderón's efforts have not been in vain. A new report from the U.S. State Department observes that "more than 43,000 individuals connected with the major cartels were arrested between December 2006 and February 2009," including senior members of the cartels. Mexican authorities confiscated 4,220 weapons in 2006 and 9,500 a year later; all told, they have seized "more than 27,000 since the beginning of 2008." Since January 2007, they have also confiscated some 65 metric tons of cocaine, nearly 1,250 kilos of methamphetamine, and roughly 4.2 million kilos of marijuana. These achievements are not insignificant.

He's right. These achievements are significant indeed. They got 7,500 people killed last year.

Don't you understand that the exact activities you're rooting for are the reason people are dying? What is so complicated about this? It's a simple formula: more drug war = more death. It's perfectly incoherent to root for arrests and drug seizures, while simultaneously expressing hope that the violence will subside. It doesn't work that way. Anyone struggling with this concept should just pull up a chair and watch what happens next.

Drug War Violence is Destroying Mexico's Economy

According to a new expert analysis, Mexico's brutal drug war is costing the country a whole hell of a lot of money:

Tobias estimates the economic cost of Mexico’s violence is 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP, and the total cost is $120 billion, or about 12 percent of Mexico’s $1.085 trillion GDP in 2008. The estimate by Bulltick, a Miami-based brokerage with offices in four Latin American countries, includes prevention measures, prison costs, lost foreign direct investment and expenses to victims and businesses. [Bloomberg]

What I just can't understand, no matter how hard I try, is why on earth anyone ever expected a different outcome than this. It is literally the goal of Mexico's chief drug war strategists to reduce violence and save their nation's reputation. That is what they thought would happen if they cracked down on the drug trade. Instead, every single problem they sought to address has gotten worse.

And as bad as things have gotten, you can bet that the leaders of the Mexican drug war will look at this data and say that it shows the need for more aggressive strategies to finally defeat the cartels.

How Many Americans Die Every Year in The War on Drugs?

According to Esquire, it may be as many as 15,000. It's awfully hard to calculate with any certainty, but the author's point is to demonstrate that Mexico's frightening drug war death toll isn't the only one worth discussing. Americans are also paying a great price for our disastrous drug policy and it's time to take a closer look at how those numbers add up and how ending the drug war can bring them back down.

Predictably, Mark Kleiman has a problem with the article's pro-legalization angle and expresses his doubts about the 15,000 figure. My question for Kleiman is this: if that number is wrong, then what's the correct number? How should it be calculated? The bottom line here is that people are getting killed constantly in the war on drugs and we're trying to do something about it.

Kleiman hypocritically attacks both sides in the drug war debate for failing to use what he considers "factually and logically sound arguments," while simultaneously insisting – without any proof -- that legalization will create catastrophic spikes in drug use. He could be right, but we don’t really have any way to find out other than by doing exactly what he says we shouldn’t do. Personally, my gut instinct is that Kleiman is partially right, but that the benefits of reducing the collective harms of prohibition will decisively outweigh the new harms he anticipates. Again, there's only one way to find out.

Moreover, it's just crazy to accept the current body count based on the assumption that alternatives can't possibly work. LEAP's Neill Franklin nails this point:

But what about the argument that drugs will spread like wildfire if we don't keep bringing down the hammer?

"First, there's no concrete study to support such a belief — it's all completely speculation," Franklin insists. "So in my left hand I have all this speculation about what may happen to addiction rates, and then I look at my other hand and I see all these dead bodies that are actually fact, not speculation. And you're going to ask me to weigh the two? Second, if the addiction rate does go up, I'm going to have a lot of live addicts that I can cure. The direction we're going in now, I've got a lot of dead bodies."

Regardless of how legalization might impact addiction rates, it's just a fact that people are presently getting shot to death over drugs on a daily basis. If you think it has to be that way, you're wrong. People do not have to be murdered in the streets constantly. We can change that, we really can, and then we can do some more number crunching and decide if regulating drug sales is worth it or not.

Drug Traffickers Plot to Kill Mexico's President

I've had a creeping feeling for a while now that the cartels might try to take things to the next level:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has captured a drug smuggler believed to have been plotting to assassinate President Felipe Calderon in revenge for the army's crackdown on trafficking, a senior police official said on Monday.

Dimas Diaz, a mid-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel in northwestern Mexico, was arrested on Sunday in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan with four other traffickers, said Ramon Pequeno, head of the federal police's anti-drug wing.

"Government intelligence reports led us to find out the threat was from the Sinaloa cartel, with Dimas Diaz entrusted with the details of a possible attack," he told reporters. [Reuters]

The magnitude of all this is quite incredible to behold. We've reached a point where anything is possible in Mexico (anything, that is, except victory in the bloody war on drugs). The prospect of a Presidential assassination is a deeply unnerving reminder that the situation in Mexico could actually become considerably uglier than it already is.

I shudder to think what effect such an event would have on the already problematic level of U.S. involvement in Mexico's disastrous war on drugs. Please, let's just stop this now before it literally destroys everything there is to destroy.

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