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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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:

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anti-drug patrol by Mexican soldiers
Friday, November 27

Twenty-three people were killed in drug-related violence in the state of Chihuahua. Eight of these killings occurred in the capital city of Chihuahua, and 12 occurred in Ciudad Juárez. In Chihuahua, four men and a teenager were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling was ambushed by a group of gunmen. In another part of the city, an eight-year old boy was killed after being hit by a stray bullet. Among the dead in Ciudad Juárez was a woman who was badly burned after an explosive device went off in the brothel in which she was thought to work.

Saturday, November 28

An army officer and six gunmen were killed in two separate gun battles in Zacatecas and Michoacan. In Zacatecas, the army repelled an attack by gunmen, killing five and capturing eight. They also seized five vehicles, weapons, clothing and food. In Michoacan, an army officer was killed after a military convoy was ambushed by gunmen in a hillside community. Two other people were killed in drug-related violence in Michoacan, six in Ciudad Juárez, and one in the greater Mexico City area.

Sunday, November 29

At the Calexico, CA border crossing, authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana hidden in a shipment of door knobs. Dogs alerted officers to the truck in which more than 458 wrapped packages of marijuana were found. A 30-year old Mexican national was taken into custody.

In Tijuana, three men were shot and killed by suspected cartel gunmen wielding AK-47s. The killings came just hours after a firefight between soldiers and drug traffickers at a gas station left one soldier wounded in the foot. In another part of Baja California, six men were arrested on suspicion of being tied to a known drug trafficker, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, aka "El Muletas" ("crutches").

Seven people were killed in Chihuahua, six of whom were killed in Ciudad Juárez. One of the murders occurred just feet from soldiers that were guarding the city's main plaza, where national security officials were meeting to analyze drug-related violence. In Chiapas, an anti-mining organizer was killed by a gunman on a motorcycle. Mariano Abarca was head of the Mexican Network of Communities Affected by Mining.

In Reynosa, police rescued a US citizen who had been kidnapped a week earlier in McAllen, Texas. Raul Alvarado, 36, was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and taken to a safehouse in Reynosa, where he was bound and beaten. His abductors demanded a ransom of $30,000 and two luxury cars. It is unclear if any ransom was paid. There has been an increase in kidnappings on the US side of the border, most of them linked to illegal activity.

Tuesday, December 1

In Mexico City, a protected state witness was gunned down in a Starbucks. Edgar Enrique Bayardo, a former federal policeman, was killed by two gunmen wearing dark suits. His bodyguard was seriously injured in the attack, and a customer at a nearby table was also wounded. Bayardo was arrested last year on suspicion of being employed by the Sinaloa Cartel. Bayardo, whose lavish lifestyle raised suspicion, was made a state witness under the protection of the attorney general's office. He had apparently been followed by gunmen for several days, and it is unclear why he was not better protected or out in public.

Wednesday, December 2

In the Ciudad Juárez area, nine suspected assassins were arrested in an operation carried out by the army. The men are all suspected of working for El Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and its enforcement arm, La Linea.

Total Body Count for the Week: 144
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,882

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update--December 2

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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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, November 27 Twenty-three people were killed in drug-related violence in the state of Chihuahua. Eight of these killings occurred in the capital city of Chihuahua, and 12 occurred in Ciudad Juarez. In Chihuahua, four men and a teenager were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling was ambushed by a group of gunmen. In another part of the city, an eight-year old boy was killed after being hit by a stray bullet. Among the dead in Ciudad Juarez was a woman who was badly burned after an explosive device went off in the brothel in which she was thought to work. Saturday, November 28 An army officer and six gunmen were killed in two separate gun battles in Zacatecas and Michoacan. In Zacatecas, the army repelled an attack by gunmen, killing five and capturing eight. They also seized five vehicles, weapons, clothing and food. In Michoacan, an army officer was killed after a military convoy was ambushed by gunmen in a hillside community. Two other people were killed in drug-related violence in Michoacan, six in Ciudad Juarez, and one in the greater Mexico City area. Sunday, November 29 At the Calexico, CA border crossing, authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana hidden in a shipment of door knobs. Dogs alerted officers to the truck in which more than 458 wrapped packages of marijuana were found. A 30-year old Mexican national was taken into custody. In Tijuana, three men were shot and killed by suspected cartel gunmen wielding AK-47s. The killings came just hours after a firefight between soldiers and drug traffickers at a gas station left one soldier wounded in the foot. In another part of Baja California, six men were arrested on suspicion of being tied to a known drug trafficker, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, aka “El Muletas” (“crutches”). Seven people were killed in Chihuahua , six of whom were killed in Ciudad Juarez. One of the murders occurred just feet from soldiers that were guarding the city’s main plaza, where national security officials were meeting to analyze drug-related violence. In Chiapas, an anti-mining organizer was killed by a gunman on a motorcycle. Mariano Abarca was head of the Mexican Network of Communities Affected by Mining. In Reynosa, police rescued a US citizen that had been kidnapped a week earlier in McAllen, Texas. Raul Alvarado, 36, was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and taken to a safehouse in Reynosa, where he was bound and beaten. His abductors demanded a ransom of $30,000 and two luxury cars. It is unclear is any ransom was paid. There has been an increase in kidnappings on the US side of the border, most of them linked to illegal activity. Tuesday, December 1 In Mexico City, a protected state witness was gunned down in a Starbucks. Edgar Enrique Bayardo, a former federal policeman, was killed by two gunmen wearing dark suits. His bodyguard was seriously injured in the attack, and a customer at a nearby table was also wounded. Bayardo was arrested last year on suspicion of being employed by the Sinaloa Cartel. Bayardo, whose lavish lifestyle raised suspicion, was made a state witness under the protection of the attorney general’s office. He had apparently been followed by gunmen for several days, and it is unclear why he was not better protected or out in public. Wednesday, December 2 In the Ciudad Juarez area, nine suspected assassins were arrested in an operation carried out by the army. The men are all suspected of working for El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and it’s enforcement arm, La Linea. Total Body Count for the Week: 144 Total Body Count for the Year: 6,882

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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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:

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Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, November 19

In Ciudad Juárez, four policemen were killed and two were wounded in two separate incidents. According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, unknown gunmen killed two undercover officers after opening fire on their care. Several hours later, gunmen attacked a police patrol, killing two and wounding two. A gas station attendant caught in the crossfire was also killed.

Friday, November 20

In Chicago, 15 alleged members of a "command and control" groupof La Familia were indicted by federal authorities. These arrests come a month after 300 alleged members of the cartel's US distribution network in the US were arrested in a nationwide sweep. The group in Chicago had, since at least 2007, been taking orders from unidentified cartel bosses in Mexico collected approximately $20 million. 550 pounds of cocaine and $8 million in cash were seized when the arrests were made.

Monday, November 23

The mayor of a wealthy suburb of Monterrey has sent his family out of the country for their protection as he campaigns against organized crime. Mayor Mauricio Fernandez of San Pedro Garza Garcia made headlines last week when he publicly announced the death of a kidnapper hours before his body was found by police. He has also suggested using groups that operate outside of the law to combat crime, and is planning to form his own intelligence network of civilians and police.

In Tijuana, five men were killed in different incidents. One of the men was found inside a residence with a gunshot wound to the head. In another incident, a man with his hands and feet tied with extension cords was found inside a burning truck. No arrests were made in any of the murders.

In Guerrero, at least six people were killed in drug related violence throughout the state. During the same 24 hour period, at least 12 people were killed in Sinaloa, 8 in Ciudad Juárez, and 2 in Chihuahua city.

Tuesday, November 24

In the state of Sinaloa, five bodies were found by the side of the Culiacan-Mazatlan highway. Among them was a relative of Jose Carillo Fuentes, who was head of the Juárez Cartel until dying in a botched plastic surgery in 1997. Eleven people were killed in Chihuahua, of whom 9 were killed in Ciudad Juárez. At least six people were killed in other incidents throughout Mexico.

In Matamoros, an American citizen, Lizbeth Marin, died after being wounded by gunfire. Initial reports indicate that she may have been shot when the weapon of a Mexican soldier was accidently discharged as he climbed into a vehicle. Another unidentified American woman of 54 years of age was found dead in a home in Tijuana Monday, bearing signs of blunt injuries and contusions to her neck, head and face.

In Colombia, an alleged member of the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested by Colombian intelligence agents in the city of Cali. Carlos Adolfo Garcia Yepes, aka El Chino, was apparently in charge of logistics and coordinating the seaborne traffic of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, from which it was then smuggled into the United States.

Body Count for the Week: 158

Body Count for the Year: 6,738

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update--November 25

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr. [Editor's Note: We publish the Mexico Update early this week because Bernd is on his way home for Thanksgving.] 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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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: Thursday, November 19 In Ciudad Juarez, four policemen were killed and two were wounded in two separate incidents. According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, unknown gunmen killed two undercover officers after opening fire on their care. Several hours later, gunmen attacked a police patrol, killing two and wounding two. A gas station attendant caught in the crossfire was also killed. Friday, November 20 In Chicago, 15 alleged members of a “command and control” group of La Familia were indicted by federal authorities. These arrests come a month 300 alleged members of the cartel’s US distribution network in the US were arrested in a nationwide sweep. The group in Chicago had, since at least 2007, been taking orders from unidentified cartel bosses in Mexico collected approximately $20 million. 550 pounds of cocaine and $8 million in cash were seized when the arrests were made. Monday, November 23 The mayor of a wealthy suburb of Monterrey has sent his family outside the country for their protection as he campaigns against organized crime. Mayor Mauricio Fernandez of San Pedro Garza Garcia made headlines last week when he publicly announced the death of a kidnapper hours before his body was found by police. He has also suggested using groups that operate outside of the law to combat crime, and is planning to form his own intelligence network of civilians and police. In Tijuana five men were killed in different incidents. One of the men was found inside a residence with a gunshot wound to the head. In another incident, a man with his hands and feet tied with extension cords was found inside a burning truck. No arrests were made in any of the murders. In Guerrero, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/73762.html " target=_blank_> at least six people were killed in drug related violence throughout the state. During the same 24 hour period, at least 12 people were killed in Sinaloa, 8 in Ciudad Juarez, and 2 in Chihuahua city. Tuesday, November 24 In the state of Sinaloa, five bodies were found by the side of the Culiacan-Mazatlan highway. Among them was a relative of Jose Carillo Fuentes, who was head of the Juarez Cartel until dying in a botched plastic surgery in 1997. 11 people were killed in Chihuahua, of which 9 were killed in Ciudad Juarez. At least six people were killed in other incidents throughout Mexico. In Matamoros, an an American citizen, Lizbeth Marin died after being wounded by gunfire. Initial reports indicate that she may have been shot when the weapon of a Mexican soldier was accidently discharged as he climbed into a vehicle. Another unidentified American woman of 54 years of age was found dead in a home in Tijuana Monday, bearing signs of blunt injuries and contusions to her neck, head and face. In Colombia, an alleged member of the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested by Colombian intelligence agents in the city of Cali. Carlos Adolfo Garcia Yepes, aka El Chino, was apparently in charge of logistics and coordinating the seaborne traffic of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, from which it was then smuggled into the United States. Body Count for the Week: 158 Body Count for the Year: 6, 738

Latin America: Former Mexican Foreigner Minister Accuses Army of Extra-Judicial Executions in Drug War

Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's foreign minister under President Vicente Fox, said Saturday that the Mexican military is engaging in the extrajudicial execution of members of drug trafficking organizations. The frank and surprising comments came as Castañeda spoke on a panel at the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Jorge Castañeda
"We are having more and more 'false positives,'" Castañeda said, referring to a term used in Colombia to describe people executed by the military and then described as guerrillas killed in combat. "Here in Mexico, apparent gang war killings are in fact being carried out by the military. Every time the cartels catch the police and military infiltrators and slice them up, the army says 'We're taking out ten of yours.' The statistics say that 90% of the killings are within the cartels, but the army is engaging in these killings."

President Felipe Calderon deployed the military against the so-called cartels in December 2006. Since then, more than 15,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico, including more than 6,000 so far this year. Hundreds of police and soldiers are among the dead.

In response to a question asking for documentation of his assertions, Castañeda said: "The only known incident was a town in Chihuahua where the bodies of 29 sicarios (assassins) were found, with witnesses who said this was after they were detained. The press has not wanted to investigate this."

But the military can't keep its mouth shut, Castañeda said. "They go to bars and restaurants and get drunk and talk and they are going around saying how many people they have knocked off," he reported. "The 12 military officers killed by the cartels in Michoacan -- that's why the army went out and killed a bunch of other people."

Castañeda's comments come as the US State Department is preparing the process of certifying Mexican compliance with human rights conditions as part of the $1.4 billion Plan Merida anti-drug assistance package. The bill authorizing the aid requires that portions of it be withheld if the State Department determines Mexico is not in compliance.

Castañeda also criticized President Obama for turning a blind eye to human rights violations by the Mexican military. "Obama regrettably said that the human rights violations he was most concerned with was with the victims of the drug war," the former diplomat noted.

Feature: Fired Up in Albuquerque -- The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Jazzed by the sense that the tide is finally turning their way, more than a thousand people interested in changing drug policies flooded into Albuquerque, New Mexico, last weekend for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance. Police officers in suits mingled with aging hippies, politicians met with harm reductionists, research scientists chatted with attorneys, former prisoners huddled with state legislators, and marijuana legalizers mingled with drug treatment professionals -- all united by the belief that drug prohibition is a failed policy.

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candlelight vigil outside the Albuquerque Convention Center (courtesy Drug Policy Alliance)
As DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said before and repeated at the conference's opening session: "We are the people who love drugs, we are the people who hate drugs, we are the people that don't care about drugs," but who do care about the Constitution and social justice. "The wind is at our backs," Nadelmann chortled, echoing and amplifying the sense of progress and optimism that pervaded the conference like never before.

For three days, conference-goers attended a veritable plethora of panels and breakout sessions, with topics ranging from the drug war in Mexico and South America to research on psychedelics, from implementing harm reduction policies in rural areas to legalizing marijuana, from how to organize for drug reform to what sort of treatment works, and from medical marijuana to prescription heroin.

It was almost too much. At any given moment, several fascinating panels were going on, ensuring that at least some of them would be missed even by the most interested. The Thursday afternoon time bloc, for example, had six panels: "Medical Marijuana Production and Distribution Systems," "After Vienna: Prospects for UN and International Reform," "Innovative Approaches to Sentencing Reform," "Examining Gender in Drug Policy Reform," "Artistic Interventions for Gang Involved Youth," and "The Message is the Medium: Communications and Outreach Without Borders."

The choices weren't any easier at the Friday morning breakout session, with panels including "Marijuana Messaging that Works," "Fundraising in a Tough Economy," "Congress, President Obama, and the Drug Czar," "Zoned Out" (about "drug-free zones"), "Psychedelic Research: Neuroscience and Ethnobotanical Roots," "Opioid Overdose Prevention Workshop," and "Border Perspectives: Alternatives to the 40-Year-Old War on Drugs."

People came from all over the United States -- predominantly from the East Coast -- as well as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe (Denmark, England, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, and Switzerland), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico), and Asia (Cambodia and Thailand).

Medical marijuana was one of the hot topics, and New Mexico, which has just authorized four dispensaries, was held up as a model by some panelists. "If we had a system as clear as New Mexico's, we'd be in great shape," said Alex Kreit, chair of a San Diego task force charged with developing regulations for dispensaries there.

"Our process has been deliberate, which you can also read as 'slow,'" responded Steve Jenison, medical director of the state Department of Health's Infectious Disease Bureau. "But our process will be a very sustainable one. We build a lot of consensus before we do anything."

Jenison added that the New Mexico, which relies on state-regulated dispensaries, was less likely to result in diversion than more open models, such as California's. "A not-for-profit being regulated by the state would be less likely to be a source of diversion to the illicit market," Jenison said.

For ACLU Drug Policy Law Project attorney Allen Hopper, such tight regulation has an added benefit: it is less likely to excite the ire of the feds. "The greater the degree of state involvement, the more the federal government is going to leave the state alone," Hopper said.

At Friday's plenary session, "Global Drug Prohibition: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives," Australia's Dr. Alex Wodak amused the audience by likening the drug war to "political Viagra" in that it "increases potency in elections." But he also made the more serious point that the US has exported its failed drug policy around the world, with deleterious consequences, especially for producer or transit states like Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

At that same session, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda warned that Latin American countries feel constrained from making drug policy reforms because of the glowering presence of the US. Drug reform is a "radioactive" political issue, he said, in explaining why it is either elder statesmen, such as former Brazilian President Cardoso or people like himself, "with no political future," who raise the issue. At a panel the following day, Castaneda made news by bluntly accusing the Mexican army of executing drug traffickers without trial. (See related story here).

It wasn't all listening to panels. In the basement of the Albuquerque Convention Center, dozens of vendors showed off their wares, made their sales, and distributed their materials as attendees wandered through between sessions. And for many attendees, it was as much a reunion as a conference, with many informal small group huddles taking place at the center and in local bars and restaurants and nearby hotels so activists could swap experiences and strategies and just say hello again.

The conference also saw at least two premieres. On the first day of the conference, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Legalization, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of a near-final version of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" -- which enjoyed a larger budget and consequently higher production level -- played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted." "10 Rules" was one of a range of productions screened during a two-night conference film festival.

The conference ended Saturday evening with a plenary address by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who came out as a legalizer back in 2001, and was welcomed with waves of applause before he ever opened his mouth. "It makes no sense to spend the kind of money we spend as a society locking up people for using drugs and using the criminal justice system to solve the problem," he said, throwing red meat to the crowd.

We'll do it all again two years from now in Los Angeles. See you there!

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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 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:

Wednesday, November 11

In Tijuana, several policemen were the victims of an assassination attempt after gunmen opened fire on them outside a hotel. A TV cameraman from TV Azteca who was at the scene to cover the event was detained and beaten with a rifle by a policeman, even after having identified himself.

Thursday, November 12

Business groups in Ciudad Juarez publicly called on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to quell the violence in the city. The groups, which represent various assembly plants, retailers, and others businesses, said they plan to submit a request to the Mexican government and to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Daniel Murguia, president of the Ciudad Juarez chapter of the National Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism, was quoted as saying that "We have seen the UN peacekeepers enter other countries that have a lot fewer problems than we have." Ciudad Juarez has had 1,986 homicides through mid-October. Antonio Mazziteli, regional chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, quickly dismissed the idea, saying that he believed that the situation in Mexico did not warrant peacekeepers, as they have not been requested by the government.

Sunday, November 15

In Managua, Nicaragua, police seized a large cache of weapons thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel. The weapons -- which included 58 assault rifles, 2 mortars, 10 grenades, and 30 sticks of TNT -- were seized after a car chase and shootout with suspected cartel members, who managed to escape. Police are now searching for a Mexican national who is thought to be the group's leader and who has rented a house in Managua for at least the last month. Mexican cartels are known to have a strong presence throughout Central America, which is an important route for drugs coming from South America on their way to the US border.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 15 people were killed in violence across the city. Among them were a seven-year old child and his parents from El Paso who were killed after being attacked by several gunmen. In a separate incident, a university professor was killed after his car was ambushed. His wife was left wounded. In another incident, soldiers killed a suspected cartel gunman while wounding and capturing another. In Sinaloa, a high-ranking public security official was shot 38 times and killed. At least 6 other people were killed in drug-related violence in other parts of Mexico, including an army officer who was attacked while driving on the Guadalajara-Colima highway.

Additionally, 11 teenagers were wounded in Durango after gunmen opened fire inside a crowded bar. According to some reports, the gunmen had been chasing after rivals that sought refuge in the bar.

Tuesday, November 17

In Chihuahua, three men were killed after gunmen attacked a baseball game in which they were playing. Seven people were killed in various incidents across Ciudad Juarez, and three were killed in Sinaloa. Additionally, two men confessed to having been involved in at least 45 homicides committed in the Ciudad Juarez area.

Body count for the week of November 4th-November 10th: 196
Body Count for Last Week: 97
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,580

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conferences Opens Amid Optimism in Albuquerque

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, people poured into the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Drug Policy Alliance's 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference got underway yesterday. Set to go on through Saturday, the conference is drawing attendees from around the country and the world to discuss dozens of different drug reform topics. (See the link above for a look at the program.)

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screening of near-final version of the next Flex Your Rights film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police
This is the second time DPA has brought the conference to the distant deserts of the Southwest. In 2001, DPA rewarded libertarian-leaning New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) for becoming the highest ranking elected official in the US to call for ending drug prohibition by bringing the conference to his home state. Since then, the ties between DPA and New Mexico have only deepened.

As DPA New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski explained at the opening plenary session, the Land of Enchantment is fertile ground for drug reform. "Back in 1997, when drug policy reform was little more than a twinkle in the eye, New Mexico passed a harm reduction act mandating the Department of Health to give out clean syringes for people with HIV/AIDS," she noted. "Then, when Gov. Johnson said it was time to end the war on drugs, DPA very wisely immediately opened an office here. In 2001, we passed the overdose prevention act, allowing for the distribution of naloxone. Then we passed opting out on the federal welfare ban, we passed asset forfeiture reform, we passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act -- saving somebody's life is more important than busting them for small amounts of drugs."

But wait, there's more. "Thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson, we became the 12th state to have legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people," Szczepanski continued. "We're working on treatment instead of incarceration, we're working to end the war on drugs in New Mexico and this country. This is a very special place for drug policy reform."

New Mexico is also right next store to one of the drug war's bloodiest battlegrounds: the mean streets of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, which in turn in borders New Mexico. More than 2,200 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Juarez this year alone.

That violence just across the river inspired El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke to turn a motion expressing sympathy for El Paso's sister city into one that also asked for an open and honest debate on ending drug prohibition. The resolution passed the city council by a unanimous vote, only to be vetoed by the mayor. Then, as the council scheduled an override vote, the pressure came down.

"Each of us on the council got a call from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, our congressman and a very powerful figure," O'Rourke told the crowd Thursday. "He told us if we went forward with this, it will be very hard to get your district the federal funding you need. That's a powerful threat, since we rely on federal funding to deliver basic services. It was enough to get four members to change their votes."

While the resolution was defeated, the debacle opened the door for serious debate on drug policy in El Paso and generated support for ending prohibition as well, O'Rourke said. "Our local Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter came out very strongly and helped organize a global policy forum in El Paso. I received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails of support from around the country and the world," O'Rourke related to sustained applause.

If Councilman O'Rourke was a new face, Ira Glasser is a familiar one. Former executive director of the ACLU and president of the DPA board of directors, Glasser told the crowd he was more optimistic about the prospects for change than ever before.

"Today we stand on the brink of transformative progress," he said. "I have never said that before. We can almost touch the goals we have sought, the unraveling of the so-called war on drugs, which is really a war on fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights, on personal autonomy, on our sovereignty over our minds and bodies, a war against people of darker skin color."

Just as Jim Crow laws were the successor to the system of slavery, said Glasser, so the drug war has been the successor to Jim Crow. "It's no accident that after the civil rights revolution ended with the passage of the last federal civil right law in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on the southern strategy against progress on civil rights," he noted. "Within months of taking office, Nixon declared the modern war on drugs."

Glasser wasn't the only one feeling uplifted. "I am feeling good, better than ever before," said DPA executive director and plenary keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann. "The wind is at our back. We are making progress like never before. We have to move hard and fast. Historically speaking, there are moments when everything comes together," drawing a pointed comparison with the successful temperance movement that managed to get alcohol banned during Prohibition. But Prohibition generated its own counter-movement, he said, again drawing a pointed parallel.

"Now, we're in another moment," Nadelmann said. "We're hurting with the recession, state budgets are hemorrhaging. More and more people are realizing we can't afford to pay for our prejudices, we can't continue to be the world's largest incarcerator."

But it's not just the economy that is opening the window, he continued. "What's happening in Mexico and Afghanistan, where illicit drugs are ready sources of revenues for criminals and political terrorists, that has people thinking. We have two major national security problems causing people to think afresh."

Nadelmann had a suggestion: "Ending marijuana prohibition is a highly effective way of undermining that violence," he said. "Until we end it, buy American."

Just after the opening plenary session ended, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted."

The conference, of course, continued Thursday afternoon and will go through Saturday, but your reporter was busy getting this week's Drug War Chronicle ready to go. Come back next week for fuller reports on the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debussman 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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 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:

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Ciuded Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, October 29

In Guerrero, a body was found hanging from a highway overpass. The unidentified man had been shot in the head, and left with two notes with messages from "La Familia." In Ciudad Juárez, a high-ranking police intelligence official was killed when he was attacked by heavily armed gunmen as he ate in a restaurant. One policeman was killed, and the official and two bodyguards were wounded. A sign was later found taking responsibility for the attack, which was apparently ordered by "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa Federation. Additionally, nine other murders were reported in Ciudad Juárez, four in Sinaloa, one in Tijuana, and four bodies found in the trunk bed of a truck in Michoacán.

Saturday, October 31

In Sonora, a well known union leader was killed along with 14 others, including four children. Margarita Montes Parra, 56, was ambushed by gunmen armed with AK-47's. It is unclear whether his death was ordered by drug traffickers or as a result of his union work. One of his sons, Adrian, was killed two years ago in what is thought to be a drug-related murder. Parra made headlines by publicly accusing the governor of Sonora of protecting his son's killers. He also accused the Veracruz state government of being complicit in drug trafficking.

Monday, November 2

Officials identified four bodies that had been found executed in an SUV in Mexico City. Three of the men had the word "kidnappers" handwritten on their body with marker, and a sign was found in the vehicle which read "for kidnapping, the boss of bosses". This is the nickname of Beltran-Levy cartel boss Arturo Beltran-Levy. There has been an increase of violence against kidnappers and petty criminals in recent months on the part of vigilantes working with drug traffickers and elements of the police. Additionally, in Tijuana, 13 suspected cartel gunmen were captured after a firefight that wounded one soldier and one gunman.

Tuesday, November 3

In the town of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near Monterrey, the mayor announced the death of a drug trafficker hours before the body was actually found. After being sworn in, Mayor Mauricio Fernandez was quoted as saying that "Black Saldana, who is apparently the one asking for my head, was found dead today in Mexico City." His announcement came 3 ½ hours before the blindfolded corpse of "Black Saldana" (otherwise identified only by his first name, Hector) was found. While at first he evaded questions about his prior knowledge of the incident, Fernandez later claimed that he had been tipped off by US officials that he was going to be targeted, and then found out about Black Saldana's death through unspecified means.

In Durango, a journalist who specialized in police matters was found dead after being kidnapped by armed men on his way to work. Alongside the body was found a note, whose contents were not revealed to the public. Vladimir Antenna Garcia, who wrote for El Tempo de Durango, is the third journalist killed in Durango this year, and the eighth journalist killed in Mexico.

In Chihuahua, 18 people were killed in a 48 hour period. Nine of these murders occurred in Ciudad Juárez. Among them was a municipal police officer who was gunned down in a hair salon where he was accompanying his wife. Additionally, in the state of Veracruz, a high-ranking member of the Zetas organization, nicknamed "El Gonzo" or "Z-20" was killed after being shot by Mexican naval personnel. Four people were arrested during the operation.

Wednesday, November 4

In the city of Chihuahua, police and soldiers shot dead a federal policeman who was driving one of three cars that failed to stop for them. The police and troops were on a joint patrol when they attempted to stop the suspicious vehicles. The three vehicles ignored orders to stop, sparking off a gun battle that left the federal agent and left another unidentified man wounded.

In Ciudad Juárez, six people were gunned down in a bar. Among them was off-duty US Air Force Staff Sgt. David Booher, who was based at Holloman Air Force base outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. The motive for the attack was unclear, but it bore all the hallmarks of a drug-related murder in Ciudad Juárez. The incident brings the number of deaths in Ciudad Juárez to 30 over the last four days. Additionally, in Garcia, Nuevo Leon, a recently appointed police chief was killed along with four of his bodyguards when they were ambushed by an unknown known of heavily armed gunmen.

Body count for the week: 111
Body count for the year: 6,286
Body count since December 2006: 15,000+

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Editorial: How Much Does It Cost to Build an Air-Conditioned Drug Smuggling Tunnel?

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
Last year I attended a small lunch-time forum on the subject of immigration and the US-Mexico border. Seated at the table was a man in a military uniform, not one of the speakers, but clearly eager to say his piece. After the presentation was over, he put up his hand, told us he was an officer with Southcom -- the branch of the Armed Forces dealing with areas to the south of the United States -- and that his military education and experience told him that walls don't stop people. Walls just slow people down, he said -- you can go over a wall, you can through it, you can go around it, or you can go under it. And militarily he understood that a wall spanning our border would not slow people down enough to stop the kind of traffic that we have crossing the border -- not unless we simply shoot people to kill on sight, which he was unwilling to do.

Whatever one thinks about immigration, or attempts to block it at the border, the reasoning has clear implications for the so-far ineffective attempts at drug interdiction. If it is either impossible or at least difficult to stop people at the border -- and since we haven't managed to do it so far, it must at least be difficult -- how difficult must it be to stop the flow of drugs? After all, people have a certain height and width and depth, and they need oxygen and occasionally food and water and space to move. Drugs can be packaged in any shape or size, they don't require maintenance over the period of time involved in trafficking them, and a fairly small volume of certain drugs can be worth a small mint. It's fairly safe to say that drugs are not going to be kept out of this country, no matter how hard we try. It is simply not going to happen.

Since that time the issue has taken on a new degree of poignancy and urgency. Since Mexican President Calderon took office in 2006 and began his attempted crackdown against the cartels, more than 12,000 Mexicans have died in the surge of violence that followed. The 2009 death toll alone has passed 6,000. Because drugs are illegal, all the money people spend on them in the US goes into a criminal underground where violence is often the rule. The unabated flow of drugs across the US-Mexico border is powerful evidence of prohibition's failure.

The past week offered up a more visual form of evidence to make the point. Across the border from San Diego in Tijuana a partially-completed smuggling tunnel was found. They got almost as far as the border fence. It was found by the authorities before being finished, but not very long before. Military officials took a group of reporters to see it on Tuesday. The tunnel had been equipped with electricity and an air supply, according to the Associated Press.

The tunnel is neither a new nor unique development. Last year one was found in the Mexican state of Baja California. That one had an elevator and rail transport system. At least 75 have been found since the 1990s, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE). They're not limited to our southern border, either.

My two questions are: How many successful drug smuggling operations are needed in order to pay for constructing and maintaining such a tunnel -- might it only need to be used once? -- and how many more tunnels are there that have never been found? I have a feeling that there are many undiscovered smuggling tunnels, and that the cost of building one with air-conditioning and electric transportation is low compared with the likely rewards. Mexico offers a virtually unlimited labor pool. The proof that the cost is low is simply the fact that they keep building them over and over. They wouldn't keep building the tunnels if it weren't a cost-effective strategy.

Don't expect the drug trade to slow anytime soon, at least not because of law enforcement, and don't let the pictures of the latest tunnel or drug seizure fool you into thinking it might. Hope that something happens to stop the wave of violence terrorizing our southern neighbors and threatening our borders possibly too. But don't expect that finding another tunnel is what will do that.

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