Mexican Drug War

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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:

Sunday, February 14

In Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of people participated in a protest against the government. The demonstration, organized by the National Front Against Repression, was protesting against both the drug-related violence in the city and the presence of the army, which is widely seen by locals as exacerbating the violence. (See related story here.)

Monday, February 15

In Guerrero, a a Mexican paratrooper assigned to the elite Presidential Guard in Mexico City was kidnapped and killed while on vacation. The body of the soldier -- Hermelindo Delgado Soto -- was found floating in the Balsas River. He had been kidnapped the previous Friday. It is unclear whether his death was related to his posting serving with the Presidential Guard.

Tuesday, February 16

In Sinaloa five decapitated heads were found next to a primary school in the town of Palmilla. Last week, three heads were found in the same location. Two of the bodies (to which the heads belonged) were found to have the letter Z carved into their back. This suggests that the killing had some relation to the Zetas organization, but it is unclear whether the men were killed by los Zetas or were members.

Wednesday, February 17

Five municipal police officials were among 30 people who were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico. Three of the police officials were murdered after being kidnapped by a group of heavily armed men in Sinaloa. The two other police officials were killed after gunmen attacked the home of a high-ranking police official where the two men stood guard. Another 25 people were killed in various parts of Mexico, seven of them in Ciudad Juárez. In another notable incident, three teenagers kidnapped in Sinaloa were found burned in a car.

In Chiapas 11 individuals were arrested in possession of weapons and drugs. The men were arrested after federal agents raided several locations across the state. They seized 351 grams of cocaine and 408 grams of marijuana, as well as several rifles and pistols, an SUV, $60,000 US dollars and 27,910 pesos (about $2,149). The rather small sums of money and drugs indicate that those captured were low-level operatives for drug-trafficking organizations.

President Calderon visited Ciudad Juárez for the second time in two weeks. He announced a change in strategy, although he said the army troops would remain. He also promised (without saying when) that specialists in solving kidnapping and extortion cases would be brought to the city, and encouraged citizens to pass information to authorities. Additionally, he announced that all cars in the city must have license plates (although technically this was already the law) and tinted windows would no longer be permitted. Several news agencies reported that there were some protests against his presence in the city.

Total Body Count for the Week: 111

Total Body Count for the Year: 1,264

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 17,469

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: El Paso City Council Passes Resolution Criticizing Drug War, But Only After Killing Marijuana Regulation Language

A year ago, dismayed at the violence rocking its sister city of Ciudad Juárez just across the Rio Grande River, the city council in the remote Texas border city of El Paso unanimously passed a resolution calling for serious consideration of ending drug prohibition, only to see it vetoed by Mayor John Cook. Then, after heavy-handed warnings from US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and the city's delegation in the state legislature that such a resolution could threaten the city's funding, the city council backed down, failing to override Cook's veto.

With those votes and the controversy surrounding them, El Paso was thrust into -- and helped ignite -- a national debate on the country's drug policies. This week, the El Paso city council returned to the issue when, led by Councilmembers Beto O'Rourke and Steve Ortega, it considered a resolution calling for a "comprehensive examination of our country's failed War on Drugs," and advocating for "the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws" and their replacement with taxed, regulated, and controlled marijuana production, sales, and consumption for adults.

The resolution also called for an immediate meeting between Mexican President Felipe Calderon and US President Obama to address prohibition-related violence in Mexico, rejected the "militaristic" approach of Plan Merida, the three-year, $1.4 billion anti-drug assistance scheme for Mexico and Central America, called for that aid to be tied to strict human rights reporting requirements, and called for any additional aid to Mexico to be aimed at improving the country's "social, educational, and economic development."

"It's up to us to act and make some tough decisions and do some uncomfortable things," said O'Rourke, as he urged his colleagues to support the resolution.

"The fuel to the fire in Juárez is the profits of a black market," said Councilwoman Susie Byrd, explaining why she supported the marijuana regulation language.

But not all the council members were in accord. "We didn't talk about demand reduction. We didn't talk about prevention, and we didn't talk about treatment," said Councilman Carl Robinson, explaining his vote against the resolution.

The public also joined in the debate, with University of Texas-El Paso political science professor Tony Payan refreshing the council's member about the city's historic role in marijuana prohibition. "It was the first city council a hundred years ago that passed the first resolution forbidding the use of marijuana," he said. "One hundred years later we've come full circle, and now we're debating 100 years of a failed policy."

"We've got this war that's cost us billions of dollars in Iraq and there's a huge problem next, right next door!" said El Paso resident Eric Contreras.

"It is time to change the laws because drug prohibition is a failed policy," said El Paso resident Richard Newton, a retired veteran US Customs agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "The bottom line is that the reason you have cartels in Juárez fighting each other is to sell drugs in the United States. They sell drugs because they can make money. Get rid of the money and you get rid of the cartels."

Not everyone was on board, however. "Quit calling it our sister city. No one wants a disease-riddled prostitute as a sister," said El Paso resident Armando Cardoza. [Ed: That was rude.]

After debating the resolution on Monday, the council voted, arriving at a 4-4 tie vote. Once again, Mayor Cook swooped in to block reform, even in the form of a resolution. His vote against the resolution broke the tie.

But that wasn't the end of it. The council then amended the resolution by dropping the paragraph referring to marijuana regulation and unceremoniously passed the amended resolution on a 6-2 vote. O'Rourke was one of the no votes, saying that regulating marijuana was an integral part of his approach.

Still, the El Paso city council has gone on record as condemning current US drug policies and demanding a shift to a smarter, more humane approach to drug sales and use. And it has clearly called on the US government to take a smarter, more humane approach to the drug violence just across the river in Juárez.

When asked what is was about El Paso that made it amenable to passage of such a resolution critical of the drug war, LEAP's Newton mentioned the city's unique location. Tucked into the triangular tip of far West Texas, El Paso not only borders bloody Ciudad Juárez, with its daily prohibition-related killings, but it also borders New Mexico, a state that has been a leader in drug policy reforms, ranging from medical marijuana to passing the country's first Good Samaritan drug overdose law to working with the Drug Policy Alliance on methamphetamine prevention and education programs.

"This is a strange city for Texas," Newton continued. "The state is very Republican, but there aren't any Republicans in El Paso. Bush didn't carry El Paso County. Silvestre Reyes has not had a Republican run against for several elections now. I wouldn't say El Paso is especially liberal or progressive, but it is Democratic."

Last year, Mayor Cook and Congressman Reyes pulled the plug on the resolution, but there is no sign yet that we will see a repeat this year. That would be progress, even if O'Rourke lost his marijuana regulation language. And he and the rest of the council still have three years to make up for city council's 1913 vote to criminalize marijuana. The city was a leader then; it can be a leader once again, only this time in the right direction.

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:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/reynosa-weapons-confiscation.jpg
weapons confiscated by military in Reynosa, 2008 (from presidencia.gob.mx)
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.

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 almost 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:

Saturday, January 30

In Ciudad Juárez, police discovered two severed heads near bodies which were wrapped in blankets. In total, 15 people were killed during a 24-hour period. In one incident, gunmen opened fire on a family in a truck, killing one man and one woman and wounding a 5-month old child. In another incident, a man was killed and a pregnant woman was wounded after being attacked by gunmen.

In Michoacán, six headless bodies were found, and a group of at least 12 gunmen ambushed a police convoy, killing five officers.

Sunday, January 31

In one of the most high-profile incidents in Mexico's drug war, at least 16 people, most of them teenagers, were killed when gunmen stormed a house party in Ciudad Juárez. While accounts of the incident vary, it appears that between 15 and 25 gunmen blocked off a street and entered the house, herded the youngsters into a back room and opened fire. Mexican authorities have taken one man into custody in connection with the incident. The suspect, Jose Dolores Arroyo Chavarria, has said that he acted as a lookout for the gunmen, who were apparently enforcers for the Juárez Cartel. They had apparently received information that rival drug traffickers were to be in attendance at the party, and were ordered to kill everyone there. Parents of the victims have denied that anyone attending the party was involved in criminal activity. Chavarria was taken into custody after troops apparently interrupted the planned assassination of a rival. Another suspected drug trafficker, who is said to have overseen the killings, was killed in a shootout with Mexican soldiers.

Monday, February 1

In the port city of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán, a group of at least 20 armed men attacked several law enforcement facilities with gunfire and grenades. One police officer and two civilians were killed, and two police officers and six civilians were wounded. The gunmen were later chased through the streets of the city, and several exchanges of gunfire were reported. At least four police patrol cars were destroyed in the attacks.

In total, 45 people were killed in prohibition-related violence across the country. Sixteen were killed in Chihuahua, 11 in Coahuila, 5 in Sinaloa, 7 in Michoacán, two each in Sonora and Guerrero, one in Durango, and one in the state of Mexico.

Tuesday, February 2

Eight people were killed during a gun battle in the city of Torreon, Coahuila. Seven of the dead were suspected cartel gunmen and one was a federal police officer. The firefight occurred after federal police went to a shopping mall where a kidnapping attempt was reported. When they arrived they were met with gunfire. The officers then chased the suspects onto a highway, where the bulk of the shooting occurred. One suspect, three police officers, and two kidnapping victims were wounded in the incident. It appears the gunmen were members of the Zetas organization, which is thought to control drug trafficking in Coahuila.

In the state of Michoacán, members of the La Familia organization put up a dozen banners urging citizens to form a "resistance front" against the Zetas. The signs, which were put up in the capital of Morelia and in the town of Apatzingan, were quickly taken down by the authorities.

Wednesday, February 3

In La Paz, Baja California, two police officers were killed and another was wounded after gunmen opened fire on a house. In a 12-hour period, eight people were killed in Sinaloa, a corpse showing signs of torture was found in San Luis Potosi, and a decapitated body was found on a ranch near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

Body Count for the Week: 378

Body Count for the Year: 980

Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Body Count since Calderon took office (December, 2006): 17,185

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Proposes Banning Narcocorridos (Drug Ballads)

Los Tucanes de Tijuana performing "The People's Doctor." The good doctor who has the medicine to cure his patients' ills sends his "Greetings to all my patients in Texas and Colorado, and also Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, and Chicago, and California and Arizona, and Nevada, my biggest market."

Under a bill presented to Mexico's congress last week by the ruling National Action Party (PAN), musicians could be sent to prison for playing songs that glorify the drug trade. People who produce or perform songs or films that glamorize criminality could be imprisoned for up to three years, according to the proposed legislation.

The bill is aimed squarely at narcocorridos, the norteño musical form typically featuring men in cowboy hats playing guitars, accordions, and drums, and singing about the exploits, trials, and tribulations of people in the drug trade. Corridos have been a border musical form for more than a century, but in the past, their themes tended to romance, revolution, and banditry.

These days, narcocorridos are popular on both sides of the border, with groups like Los Tigres del Norte or Los Tucanes de Tijuana pulling in crowds of tens of thousands in Tucson and Torreon, Austin and Aguascalientes. But as with gangsta rap in the US, politicians, law enforcement officials, and moral entrepreneurs have denounced the form for glorifying Mexico's wealthy, violent drug trade.

Traffickers have been known to pipe taunting or threatening messages accompanied by narcocorridos into police radio networks after some killings. And while narcocorridos often lament personal disasters in the drug trade, they also extol successes, lionize leading traffickers, and ridicule security forces.

And now the government of President Felipe Calderon, who has presided over an explosion of prohibition-related violence since taking office in December 2006 and calling out the army to take on the traffickers, is going after the singers. "Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless -- but they are the opposite," Oscar Martin Arce, a PAN MP, told the Associated Press.

The bill was also aimed at low-budget films glorifying traffickers, Martin said. "We cannot accept it as normal. We cannot exalt these people because they themselves are distributing these materials among youths to lead them into a lifestyle where the bad guy wins," Martin said. The intent was not to limit free speech, but to prevent the incitement to crime, he said.

That didn't sit well with Elijah Wald, author of "Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas." Wald told the AP politicians were trying to censor artists instead of addressing Mexico's real problems. "It is very hard to stop the drug trafficking," he added. "It is very easy to get your name in the papers by attacking famous musicians."

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 over 7,000 so far in 2009. 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:

Friday, January 22

At the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego Border Patrol officers seized 708 pounds of marijuana hidden under a truckload of white sea bass. A 34-year old Mexican national was taken into custody.

In Sinaloa, police discovered the body of a man who had been tortured and strangled. The letter "H" had been carved into his chest with a knife. It is unknown to what or whom this refers. Police believe this may be related to an incident which occurred last week, in which three dead bodies were arranged to form the letter "H". At least five other drug-related homicides occurred in other parts of Sinaloa, and one in Queretaro.

In Durango, a federal police official was shot dead and another was wounded after being ambushed by gunmen. Four people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, and one police officer was wounded after attempting to stop an assault.

Saturday, January 23

In Chihuahua, a gunfight ensued after a Cessna aircraft flown by drug traffickers was forced to land by a police helicopter. After being forced to land, several men who were in the Cessna opened fire on the helicopter, wounding the pilot, who managed to safely land the helicopter. The men who were on board the Cessna managed to escape. 200 kilograms of marijuana were found in the Cessna, and the pilot and passengers on board the police helicopter were later rescued by elements of the Mexican Army. The incident took place in a remote area of the state where there are no roads, and which is known for the cultivation of marijuana and poppy plants.

In other incidents, 12 people were killed in Chihuahua, seven of them in Ciudad Juarez. Eight people were killed in Baja California, and another eight were killed in Sinaloa. A minor was killed in Durango.

Monday, January 25

In the town of Doctor Arroyo, in Nuevo Leon, six people were killed in a gun battle between soldiers and suspected cartel gunmen. Two of the dead were soldiers, and the other four were gunmen. The firefight began when an army patrol came under fire. Three of the gunmen were killed inside a home and the fourth was killed in a vehicle. Additionally, in Veracruz, the body of a court official that had been missing was found dead. A note was left with the corpse, which is indicative of a drug-related murder.

Tuesday, January 26

In Tijuana, four men were killed in various incidents in different parts of the city. In the first incident, 41-year old Cipriano Medina was shot dead by gunmen wielding assault rifles. At least 33 spent shell-casings were found on the scene. In another incident, two men, aged 22 and 30, were gunned down with automatic weapons. At least 90 people have been murdered in Tijuana so far this year.

Total Body Count for the Week: 162

Total Body Count for the Year: 602

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office (December, 2006): 16,807

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 16,000 people, with a death toll of over 7,000 so far in 2009. 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:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday, January 15

The Mexican government announced that it plans to deploy an additional 2,000 federal police to Ciudad Juárez. This deployment is part of a recently announced strategy in which the federal police will take over many of the patrolling duties currently performed by the 6,000 soldiers in and around the city. The police will also take charge of Ciudad Juárez's emergency response center.

Saturday, January 16

A Mexican crime reporter was kidnapped and murdered in Sinaloa. The body of radio journalist Jose Luis Romero was found near the town of Los Mochis, wrapped in plastic. Romero had been missing since December 30, when he was kidnapped from a restaurant. Police officials stated that his hands and a leg had been broken before he was executed. Romero is the third journalist killed in the last few weeks, and at least the 24th killed since 2006.

Sunday, January 17

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, a severed head with a flower tucked behind the earwas left in front of the tomb of Arturo Beltran-Leyva, who was boss of the Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO) until he was killed in a raid by Mexican naval special forces on December 16. Sinaloan prosecutors said the decapitated body was found in a bag atop a nearby grave which belongs to another drug trafficker.

Additionally, in the port city of Manzanillo, authorities confiscated more than 3 tons of pseudoephedrine, which is used in the production of methamphetamine.

The Mexican government announced that an additional 860 soldiers are to be deployed to Tijuana, where they will assist local law enforcement in setting up roadblocks and creating anonymous complaint centers. These reinforcements are being sent into the city just a week after the arrest of Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental, a violent cartel boss who led a breakaway faction of the Tijuana Cartel which allied itself with the Sinaloa Cartel. Many are concerned that his arrest could lead to an increase in violence in the city as rival drug traffickers fight to fill the void in leadership.

Near Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, authorities found the bodies of five men who were apparently killed by vigilantes. Four of the men were strangled or asphyxiated with tape, and the fifth was shot. Notes were found attached to each of the bodies, all bearing the same message and apparently in the same handwriting. The signs read "This is what is going to happen to all the rats who rob houses, cars, pedestrians. Let the rats be advised." Rat is a common slang term for thieves. Many petty criminals have been killed in recent years by vigilante groups thought to be operating on behalf of drug traffickers or the police, or both.

Monday, January 18

In Guasave, Sinaloa, a group of heavily armed gunmen forced their way onto an ambulance and executed a woman. Maria Arminda Perez Quintera was being driven to a Culiacan hospital after being wounded in an assassination attempt the same evening. The gunmen forced the driver and a paramedic to get out of the ambulance before they shot Quintera dead and fled the scene.

In Mazatlan, six men were killed in a gun battle between two groups of gunmen. Four of the men were found dead at the scene of the firefight, and the other two died of their wounds while being driven to the hospital.

Tuesday, January 19

In Tijuana, authorities arrested three people who reportedly worked for the faction of the Tijuana Cartel which until last week was under the leadership of Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental. The two men and a woman were arrested as they prepared to dissolve a body in chemicals. Police raided the house after receiving a tip that drugs were being stored there. Upon entering the house, they found a body in a bathtub, as well as 258 pounds of marijuana, three rifles, a pistol and two bulletproof vests.

Wednesday, January 20

In Durango, a prison brawl left 23 men dead. Although the reason for the fight is still unclear, Mexican prison violence is often associated with drug trafficking organizations.

Body Count for the Week: 101
Body Count for the Year: 440
Body Count for 2009: 7,724
Body Count since President Calderon took office (December 2006): 16,645

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: In US First, California Assembly Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

A bill to legalize the adult use, sale, and production of marijuana was approved Tuesday by a 4-3 vote in the California Assembly Public Safety Committee. While the vote was historic -- it marked the first time a state legislative committee anywhere had voted for a marijuana legalization bill -- a Friday legislative deadline means the bill is likely to die before it reaches the Assembly floor.

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hearing room audience
Still, supporters pronounced themselves well pleased. "The conversation is definitely gaining traction in Sacramento," bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) told a press conference at the capitol after the vote. "This is a significant vote because it legitimizes the quest for debate. There was a time when the m-word would never have been brought up in Sacramento."

"This historic vote marks the formal beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who testified before the committee both Tuesday and in an earlier hearing. "Making marijuana legal has now entered the public dialogue in a credible way. Decades of wasteful, punitive, racist marijuana policy have taken quite a toll in this country. The Public Safety Committee has demonstrated that serious people take ending marijuana prohibition seriously."

"The mere fact that there was a vote in the Assembly to regulate and control the sale and distribution of marijuana would have been unthinkable even one year ago," said former Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who also testified before the committee last fall. "And if the bill isn't fully enacted into law this year, it will be soon. Or, the bill will be irrelevant because the voters will have passed the measure to regulate and tax marijuana that will be on the ballot this November," Gray pointedly added.

The bill, AB 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, would impose a $50 an ounce tax on marijuana sales and would task the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate them. It was amended slightly from the original by Ammiano. In one example, the bill strikes "legalize" and replaces it with "regulate." It also strikes out language saying the bill would go into effect after federal law changes. And it adds language to clarify that medical marijuana does not come under its purview.

Tuesday's Public Safety Committee opened to a hearing room packed with legalization supporters, but also by more than a dozen uniformed police chiefs and high-ranking police officers from around the state. Law enforcement was out in force to make its displeasure known.

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police and preacher in attendance to oppose the Ammiano bill
But first came Ammiano himself, recusing himself from his position as committee chair to testify in favor of his bill. "This is landmark legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana," Ammiano told his colleagues. "It would generate nearly a billion dollars annually in revenues, according to the Board of Equalization, and would leave law enforcement to focus on serious crimes, violent crimes, and hard drugs. The drug wars have failed," the San Francisco solon said emphatically. "Prohibition has fostered anarchy. Legalization allows regulations, and regulation allows order."

Since the primary hearing on the bill took place last fall, Tuesday's hearing was limited to 30 minutes, and witnesses either said their pieces succinctly or were gently chided by committee Vice-Chair Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills). The Drug Policy Alliance's Gutwillig recapped testimony he gave last fall, as did the Marijuana Policy Project California state director Aaron Smith.

"AB 390 is a historic reversal of failed marijuana policies," said Gutwillig. "It would begin to control a substance that is already commonly available and consumed, but unregulated. Prohibition has created enormous social costs and jeopardized public safety instead of enhancing it."

"This legislation would finally put California on track for a sensible marijuana policy in line with the views of most California voters," said Smith.

Also endorsing the bill was Matt Gray of Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety, a California group lobbying for more progressive criminal justice policies. "We support the bill," said Gray. "Marijuana is the state's largest cash crop, and this bill will remove a revenue stream from organized crime and decrease availability for youth."

The opposition, led by law enforcement, church and community anti-drug groups, and a former deputy drug czar, threw everything short of the kitchen sink at the committee in a bid to sink the bill. Hoary old chestnuts reminiscent of "Reefer Madness" were revived, as well as new talking points designed to discourage members from voting for legalization.

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bill sponsor Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, with Dale Gieringer, Stephen Gutwillig and Aaron Smith in background
"I traveled here with a heavy heart," said former deputy director for demand reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy Andrea Barthwell, the big hitter leading off for the opposition. "The eyes of America are upon you," she told the committee. "We don't want you to set a course that worsens the health of Americans for years to come. This is a scheme that will benefit drug cartel kingpins and corner drug dealers and create chaos in our public health system," she warned.

"People all over the country are afraid California will have this leverage in the same way the medical marijuana initiative was leveraged to create a sense that these are reasonable policies," Barthwell continued. "We've reduced drinking and smoking through public health, and prohibition is working for our young people to keep them drug free," she added.

"Legalization of marijuana will only increase the challenges facing us," said San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer. "What good can come from making powerful addictive drugs more cheaply available? Don't we have enough trouble with the two legal drugs? Adding an additional intoxicant will lead to increase drugged driving and teen sex," she told the committee. "Marijuana of today is not the dope your parent's smoked," she added for good measure.

After mentioning that in the Netherlands cannabis cafes have "run rampant," asserting that "drug cartels will become legal cultivators," and that legalization would bring about "quantum increases" in the availability of marijuana, Manheimer swung for the fence. "To balance the budget on the back of the harm caused by illegal intoxicants is mind-boggling -- I would call it blood money," she said. Worse, "the addictive qualities of these drugs will cause more crimes as people struggle to find money to buy marijuana. We are very concerned about marijuana-related violence."

Then it was the turn of Claude Cook, regional director of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition. "This is dangerous work we do," Cook said by way of introduction. "We are strongly opposed to AB 390, we see no benefit for our communities. Marijuana is also carcinogenic. If we want to raise revenue, maybe it would be safer to just bring back cigarette vending machines. This is human misery for tax dollars." And by the way, "Drug offenders who are in prison have earned their way there by past criminal conduct," he said.

Cook predicted downright disaster were the bill to pass. "Use by juveniles will increase. Organized crime will flourish. California will become a source nation for marijuana for the rest of the country. The cartels will thrive. Highway fatalities will rise," he said without explaining how he arrived at those dire conclusions.

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police waiting to speak at anti-drug rally after committee vote
"I see the devastation of marijuana and drugs in my community," thundered Bishop Ron Allen, "CEO and president" of the International Faith-based Coalition, and a self-described former crack addict who started with marijuana. "If marijuana is legalized and we have to deal with it in our liquor stores and communities, you have never seen a devastation like you're going to see. It's going to lose us a generation. You don't want this blood on your hands."

"I'm going to discount the ad hominems and alarmist attacks," Ammiano replied after the testimony. "Some of the arguments today reminded me of Reefer Madness," he said.

Before moving to a vote, committee members briefly discussed their positions. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) noted that because of the state's medical marijuana law, "We have created a class difference, where a certain class of our population can utilize dispensaries for their own reasons to use marijuana, and on the other hand, we have the street activity around marijuana that is not under semi-legal status."

Skinner voted for the bill, while saying she was not sure she would support it on the Assembly floor. "I'm not supporting marijuana, but the question is do we regulate it and is it time to have a serious debate."

In the end, four of five Democratic committee members -- all from the Bay area -- supported the bill, while one Democrat joined the two Republicans on the committee in opposing it.

The bill would normally head next to the Assembly Health Committee, but given the time constraints on the legislature, no further action is likely to be taken this session. Still, Tuesday was a historic day in Sacramento and in the annals of the American marijuana reform movement.

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 over 7,000 so far in 2009. 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:

Friday, January 8

A particularly gruesome killing occurred in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. The body of 36-year old Hugo Hernandez was found in seven pieces and left with a note threatening members of the Juarez Cartel. Hernandez's face had been skinned off his body and stitched onto a soccer ball and left in a plastic bag near city hall. His torso was found in another location, and his arms, legs, and skull were found in a box at a third location. Hernandez had apparently been kidnapped January 2nd in the neighboring state of Sonora, in an area known for cannabis cultivation.

In the city of Saltillo, Coahuila, the body of a local journalist was found tortured and shot five times from close range. Valentin Valdes, 29, was a reporter for a local newspaper. He was executed outside a motel where 10 reputed Gulf Cartel members had been arrested in the last week. Valdes has been kidnapped Thursday in downtown Saltillo along with another journalist, who was released after being beaten. A note was left with the body that read "This is going to happen to those who don't understand that the message is for everyone." At least 12 journalists were killed in Mexico in 2009, and two others are missing and presumed dead.

Sunday, January 10

In the the biggest single-day death toll in Mexico's drug war so far, 69 people were killed in a 24-hour period. The previous record was 57 killed in a 24-hour period on August 17, 2009. Twenty-six of the killings occurred in Ciudad Juarez, which reported a total of 2,635 murders in 2009. Among the dead in Ciudad Juarez were two bodies found decapitated, one of which had his eyes gouged out. Eight people were killed in other parts of Chihuahua, seven in Sinaloa, one in San Luis Potosi, five in Durango, five in Guerrero, six in the state of Mexico, seven in Mexico City, two in Guanajuato, three in Tijuana, and one in Tierra Caliente.

Sunday, January 10

In Sinaloa, the bodies of four members of a family were found by the side of a highway. The three men and one woman had been kidnapped from their home in Culiacan last Thursday. The bodies were found with their hands and feet bound and suffered multiple gunshot wounds. A note which called the killings "a black gift" was found with the bodies. Two other bodies were found in other parts of Sinaloa.

In Sonora, six people were murdered, four of them in Nogales, just across the US border. In Tijuana, a gun battle between rival criminal bands left one man dead and two wounded. In Mexico City, a young man was shot by his brother as they rode in a Mercedes-Benz.

Tuesday, January 12

In a major coup for the government, Mexican forces arrested one of Mexico's most important drug cartel bosses. Teodoro Garcia Simental, 36, is the leader of a breakaway faction of the Tijuana Cartel which has allied itself with the Sinaloa Cartel. Authorities believe he is linked to some 300 murders, many of which involved beheadings or bodies being hung from bridges or dissolved in acid. He is also thought to be responsible for dozens of assassinations of Tijuana law enforcement personnel. He was arrested in a raid at a luxury beachfront condo in La Paz, Baja California.

The Ciudad Juarez killings of two teenagers has brought the 2010 total of homicides in the city to over 100. Fifteen homicides occurred on Monday.
During the same time period, eight homicides occurred in the city of Chihuahua, the capital of the state of Chihuahua of which Ciudad Juarez is part. Among the dead was a policeman who was killed in a gun battle which occurred after he and several colleagues were ambushed by suspected cartel gunmen. In Sinaloa, the body of a missing policeman was found dead.

Wednesday , January 13

In a change in strategy, the Mexican army will stop patrolling the streets of Ciudad Juarez. The army will continue, however, to participate in what the government calls "preventive" raids in coordination with the police. The new strategy calls for the introduction of 1,600 federal police officers to replace the military presence on the streets of the city. In addition, the government's new strategy calls for an increase in the use of technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) and surveillance balloons.

Overnight, the son of a radio-station owner was gunned down in Chihuahua after being ambushed at an intersection. At least one other person was killed and three wounded in drug-related violence in Chihuahua. At least seven people were killed in Ciudad Juarez. Among the dead was a teenage boy found bound and showing signs of torture.

In Tamaulipas, authorities confiscated 665 packages of marijuana, which totaled more than 7 tons. Three men were taken into custody after the seizure, which took place after police searched a house in the city of Reynosa.

Total Body Count for the Week: 202

Total Body Count for 2010: 339

Total 2009 Body Count: 7,724

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

[Editor's note: Bernd went on holiday Sunday; look for the rest of this week's Mexico news in the next issue of Drug War Chronicle.]

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
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 over 7,000 so far in 2009. 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:

Friday , December 18

An assistant soccer coach of Mexico's first division team Indios was killed in Ciudad Juarez. Pedro Picasso, 34, was found dead in a cell phone store along with another unidentified person.

Saturday , December 19

In Nuevo Leon, a high ranking Gulf Cartel member nicknamed "The Korean" was killed, along with five others, after a gun battle with army personnel. Two of the dead were municipal police under the employ of the drug traffickers. The army also seized 616 kilos of marijuana and several weapons, including two assault rifles, from the men.

Additionally, in Sonora, a federal police official in charge of combating retail drug distribution was gunned down in Nogales, and six bodies were found in Puerto Penasco. In other violence across Mexico, four people were killed in Durango, four in Baja California, two in Puebla, and one in Aguas Calientes.

In Ciudad Juarez, four policemen were killed after a series of attacks on patrol cars across the city. In one of the attacks, two brothers who worked for different police agencies but were patrolling together were killed. Two other policemen were wounded in the shootings.

Tuesday , December 22

The family of naval commando Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Cordova, who was killed in the raid that led to the death of drug lord Arturo Beltran-Leyva, was executed in their hometown of Villahermosa. Just hours after the family had returned from an elaborate state funeral for Ensign Argulo, gunmen burst into their home, killing his mother, sister, aunt and brother. Another sister was wounded in the attack.

The following day, four people were arrested in connection with the murders. Two are accused of paying the hitmen, while the other two are accused of acting as lookouts. All four are accused of being members of the Zetas organization, which is allied to the Beltran-Leyva cartel.

In Coahuila, gunmen opened fire on a restaurant with the mayor of a US town inside. Chad Foster, mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, was dining with Coahuila Attorney General Jesus Torres when gunmen sprayed the restaurant with gunfire. A woman standing outside was killed. Torres was quickly spirited away by security personnel and Foster returned to the US on his own.

Thursday , December 24

In the state of Guerrero, ten bodies were found in two mass graves. Authorities found the bodies after being tipped by an anonymous phone call. Based on the state of the bodies, it appears that the bodies were killed and buried two months ago. Also in Guerrero, seven members of the Beltran-Leyva organization were arrested, including one man suspected in the killing and decapitation of military personnel.

In the town of Tulum, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, a journalist was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Jose Alberto Velazquez Lopez, who owned a magazine and worked for a TV station, was driving to work when he was shot and lost control of his car. Two men were later taken into custody, but released because tests could not determine whether they had discharged firearms or not.

Saturday , December 26

In a 36-hour period, 10 people were killed across Sinaloa. Among the dead were two men who were found bound and executed with shots to the head, and a teenage boy who was killed when a group of gunmen opened fire on a group of people Christmas morning.

Total Body Count since last update: 321

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,598

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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