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As reported on August 21, 2009 by the New York Times, "Mexico enacted a controversial law on Thursday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs while encouraging government-financed treatment for drug dependency free of charge" ("Mexico Legalizes Drug Possession"). Along with the aforementioned substances, Mexico's decriminalization law also allows citizens to possess "personal use" amounts of LSD and methamphetamine. People caught with 5 grams or less of marijuana, half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine, and 0.015 milligrams of LSD "will no longer face criminal prosecution," and people "caught with drug amounts under the personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment." The law makes treatment mandatory for "those caught a third time," but it does not outline "penalties for noncompliance."
According to Mexican authorities, the new law simply codifies "the longstanding practice [there] of not prosecuting people caught with small amounts of drugs." Additionally, an August 24 New York Times article reports that although "Mexicans caught with small amounts of drugs were not routinely prosecuted" before the passage of the new law - which went into effect on Friday, August 21 - "the change [in law] takes the discretion of whether to throw drug users in jail away from police officers, who frequently shook down people by threatening them with arrest." The article also states that "The decriminalization effort [...] is intended to free up prison space for dangerous criminals and to better wean addicts away from drugs" ("In Mexico, Ambivalence Over a Drug Law").
However, as that same August 24 article reports, Mexico will continue to target traffickers and dealers using both federal and local resources and agencies. According to the Times, Mexican officiaLs say that "[r]evising drug possession laws, in fact, will help focus the drug war more effectively" not only by "taking the focus of law enforcement officials off small-time users" but also because "the law allows the state police to arrest those with up to 1,000 times the personal consumption amounts," who would be considered dealers. Additionally, "[a]nyone with larger amounts would be seen as trafficking drugs, and would be handed over to federal authorities."
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Obama Administration Submits Favorable Report to Congress Regarding Mexico's Drug War Human Rights Record
According to an August 17, 2009 AP report, "The Obama administration has sent Congress a Favorable report on Mexico's human rights record that could allow the release of $100 million in U.S. aid to help the country fight drug traffickers" ("Mexican Rights Report Sent to Congress"). Despite Sen. Patrick Leahy's laudable protests, State Department spokesperson Laura Tischler "said Monday [that] the report [had been] forwarded to Capitol Hill on Aug. 13," adding that Mexico had initiated "a major effort to reform and overhaul its justice system - including major reforms affecting police, prosecutors and the way the legal system functions." Moreover, according to Tischler, "the law does not require the secretary of state 'to sign a certification' that Mexico is respecting human rights. Rather, it requires that the State Department report that 'the government of Mexico is continuing to take certain steps to promote and protect human rights and advance the rule of law, as they relate to security forces in Mexico."
However, according to the AP report (via Amnesty International), "Since 2006, more than 2,220 complaints of human rights abuses such as disappearances, killings, and torture have been lodged against the Mexican military with the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights." In short, since Calderon ramped up his drug war and got the military involved, human rights violations have increased, and Mexico's human rights record has come under increasing scrutiny. But the country will likely get its Merida funding regardless of the massive abuses it has committed against its citizens.
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On August 12, 2009, Ontario's Windsor Star newspaper reported that, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the "United States and Mexico are 'winning' an often brutal war against drug cartels that operate across the border separating the two countries" ("U.S., Mexico Winning Drug War: Napolitano"). Citing "a string of drug and weapons seizures" and a body count of over 12,000, Napolitano claimed that "We are not only fighting this fight, but we are winning it."
However, Napolitano's declarations ring hollow, even to supposedly objective newspaper reporters. As the Star states, the Secretary claims recent seizures evidence "that the billion-dollar-plus war against the drug cartels [is] succeeding, despite a violent push back from gangs who often appear able to outgun and outspend Mexican federal forces." Moreover, Napolitano's predictions for the future look much bleaker than those one would expect from a war's victor. She stated that "there will no doubt be more [deaths]" and "[w]arne[d] that further violence [is] likely." If winning looks like this, we would hate to see what the government defines as "losing."
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Media outlets like the Christian Science Monitor and Bloomberg News correctly predicted that the drug war would dominate this year's North American Leaders Summit, hosted in Guadalajara and attended by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. While the leaders discussed other topics - including H1N1 (swine flu), trade, and immigration - the drug war held its own on the summit stage Monday, August 10, 2009.
In a next-day article, the Latin American Herald Tribune stated that the "North American Leaders Summit concluded with no grand pronouncements, but with expressions of mutual support and cooperation on trade, immigration, battling illegal drugs and coping with the swine flu epidemic" ("North American Leaders Tout Commitment to Drug War, Trade"). According to an August 11 Reuters report, "Obama, in Mexico for talks with Calderon and [...] Harper, defended Mexico's army crackdown" on drug cartels ("Drug Gangs are Mexico's Worst Rights Problem - Obama"), and a same-day article in the Dallas Morning News said that "President Barack Obama on Monday reiterated U.S. support in helping Mexico fight drug-trafficking cartels" ("Obama Pledges to Help Mexico Fight Drug War").
However, BBC News contends that "behind the scenes[, things were] more complex." The article claims that "Mexico is frustrated that still it has received little of the almost 1.4[ billion] in aid" promised to the country by the United States to help with Mexico's drug war ("North America's Three Amigos Make Nice"). Additionally, "Canada is worried that Mexico's problem is becoming its own" as the US-Mexican border becomes more heavily and accurately policed, leading "traffickers [to] explore new markets and new smuggling routes on the east and west coasts of Canada." Reports do not mention any resolution to Harper's stated concerns, but reports on Obama's reaction to Mexico's worries abound.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, "Obama stressed his support for the $1.4 billion Merida initiative - aimed at bolstering the battle against drugs in Mexico and Central America - and for Calderon's efforts on that score, even though human rights groups have criticized the Mexican president's militarized approach to the problem." As Obama himself asserted, "I have great confidence in President Calderon's administration applying the law enforcement techniques that are necessary to curb the power of the cartels, but doing so in a way that's consistent with human rights." For his part, Calderon flatly denied human rights abuses by his drug war-implementing army. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Mexican president "challenged anyone to prove 'any case, just one case' of human-rights violations" committed in the name of the drug war, and Obama backed him up, "tacitly acknowledg[ing] some concerns of alleged human-rights violations" but turning those allegations back on drug cartels; Obama contended that "The biggest by far violators of human rights right now are the cartels themselves that are kidnapping people, extorting people and encouraging corruption. That's what needs to be stopped." But human rights advocates - as well as those advocating drug policy reform - remain skeptical regarding both men's claims. Human Rights watch responded with a statement "saying that there is 'plenty of evidence' to prove abuse by Mexico's military." Indeed, anyone who doubts the group's claims should check out its report, Uniform Impunity: Mexico's Misuse of Military Justice to Prosecute Abuses in Counternarcotics and Public Security Operations, released in late April of 2009.
In sum, not much came out of the 2009 North American Leaders Summit, nicknamed the "Three Amigos Summit" by then-President George W. Bush during the countries' leaders' first of the now annual meetings in 2005, where the drug war is concerned. Harper and Obama reiterated their support of Calderon's efforts as well as his strategies, which have been questioned by everyone from nonprofit advocacy groups, the Washington Post, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and Washington's own Office on Latin America. Both Harper and Obama pledged to continue supporting the Mexican leader's counterproductive counternarcotics strategy, and Mexico will likely receive its coveted Merida funding. All in all, this year's Summit outcomes look grim for anti-prohibitionists, human rights groups, and the Mexican, Canadian, and US citizens at which the drug war aims.
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Leahy Seeks to Block Merida Initiative Funding Due to Human Rights Concerns
According to an August 5, 2009 article in the New York Times U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently "discouraged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton from releasing a favorable report on Mexico's human rights record, which would free up $100 million in American anti-drug assistance" ("Leahy Balks at Mexico Report"). As the article explains, "Fifteen percent of the aid to Mexico in the so-called Merida Initiative cannot be spent unless Mexico is found to have met certain human rights conditions," which Leahy claims "have not been met." The Senator thus joins human rights advocates in seeking to block the funding, citing "serious abuses" by the Mexican Army in Mexican President Felipe Calderon's drug war. Although "State department officials had been eager to secure the additional funds for Mexico's drug war in advance of President Obama's trip [...] to Guadalajara for a summit meeting of North American leaders," the funding still lay in question as of his arrival during the weekend of August 8.
Is the U.S. Trying to Flip Alleged Gulf Cartel Boss?
Federal agents arrested alleged Gulf Cartel "top boss" Osiel Cardenas Guillen "nearly three years ago," but his legal trial is just beginning in Houston, Texas. The authors of an article published on August 5, 2009 in the Houston Chronicle, however, suspect that something strange is going on with Cardenas' case ("Alleged Drug Lord May be Ready to Talk"). As they write, "Recent records on the case were sealed by the trial judge, raising questions about whether there will be a trial" at all. Furthermore, the alleged cartel leader underwent "a 90-minute 're-arraignment' before U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle" on Thursday, July 30. According to the Chronicle, "[a] rearraignment is almost always conducted for a change of plea," but Cardenas has pleaded not guilty to all charges" against him. Thus, unless Cardenas underwent a change of heart last week, reporters and attorneys believe that he may be trying to strike a deal with the government, trading freedom for information.
As reporters Dane Schiller and James Pinkerton write, "Could U.S. prosecutors be brokering a deal with Cardenas in exchange for telling what he knows about Mexico's underworld, including who has been on his payroll?" Indeed, 42-year-old Cardenas - also known as "The Ghost" - could have a lot of information to trade. The Chronicle states that he was "seen as having been a particularly vicious and hands-on crime boss" during his Gulf tenure and "is [...] credited with creating the now notorious Zetas, a personal security force that included former Mexican soldiers." The charges on which his current trial centers relate to Cardenas' alleged death threat against "two U.S. federal agents during a tense, armed face-to-face confrontation on the streets of Mexico." However, "veteran courthouse observers said that the re-arraignment leaves little doubt [that] a deal has been in the works involving charges in a [different] 2002 indictment." Those charges accuse Cardenas of "being the leader of a cartel that smuggled tons of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States and operated cells in Houston as well as Atlanta, Chicago, and other cities." According to "sources close to the case," Cardenas has been "cooperating to avoid a trial that could shut him away in a supermaximum-security prison for the rest of his life" - or even, as seen in the trial of "his predecessor, Juan Garcia Abrego," send him to a supermax prison to serve 11 life sentences. And the cards aren't exactly stacked in Cardenas' favor. The Chronicle states that "victory [for Cardenas] at trial appears to be an increasingly daunting task, as numerous informants have lined up against him and federal agents" dangle their "3,700 hours of covert recordings" in front of the defendant's face.
Thus, Cardenas has plenty of good reasons for opening up to prosecutors, who hope that, "[a]lthough [his] contacts and information may be dated, what he knows may be of incresed value as drug cartels have increasingly been seen as a U.S. nemesis and a threat to national security." The alleged cartel boss won't be the only one who could profit from his informant testimony; the Chronicle claims that Cardenas' cooperation "would be the latest blow against the cartel, which last month saw four of its leaders [...] indicted in Washington and New York." Moreover, the DEA has not only "arrest[ed] more than 600 individuals" involved with the Gulf cartel but also recently "seiz[ed] 17 tons of cocaine and some $72 million in currency" from the group. Perhaps most importantly, prosecutors who have worked to convict cartel members "said they intend to seize up to $1 billion in case from [just] one of the cartel leaders."
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Drug Cartel Suspect Arrested in Church, Bishops Protest Police Raid
On August 1, 2009, federal authorities interrupted a Mass service with raid that resulted in the arrest of purported La Familia lieutenant Miguel Angel Beraza, also known as "The Truck," and "another suspect after surrounding a church in Apatzingan, in Michoacan state," the Washington Post reported on August 4, 2009 ("Drug Cartel Suspect Seized in Church Raid"). Beraza was arrested on suspicion of "moving a half-ton of crystal methampethamine into the United States each month" and is said to be "in charge of La Familia's methamphetamine shipments to the United States." Michele Leonhart, "acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration," called Beraza's arrest "the result of the 'resolute partnership' between the United States and Mexico." The Catholic Review additionally reports that "33 alleged La Familia members" were arrested in the raid, including Beraza and the aforementioned unnamed suspect ("Mexican Bishops Criticize Federal Police for Drug Raid During Mass"), but most of "those arrested with Beraza have since been released," as the Latin American Herald Tribune reports ("Mexican Government Defends Arrest at Church").
However, according to an August 5 post at Catholic Culture, local church authorities have expressed much less jubilance over raid and resulting arrest than have their federal counterparts in both the U.S. and Mexico. As the blog post states, "Insisting that 'Mass is sacred and must be respected,' Mexico's bishops condemned the federal police raid of a church during Mass on August 1 in order to make a drug-related arrest." In an statement issued the previous day, the bishops proclaimed their "energetic protest against the lack of respect and the violence exercised o nthe part of the forces [...]. Nothing explains this kind of action inside a religious place, and must less in these moments were Mexico is noted internationally as an insecure and violent country." The Catholic Review provides a much more indepth description of the raid, which involved "armored vehicles," and "two Black Hawk helicopters." Addictionally, "photos of the parish showed dislodged furniture and other minor damage to property." According to Father Mateo Calvillo Paz, the raid "marked the first time that police officers have burst into a parish to arrest suspects linked to organized crime." In short, drug warriors have now resorted to staging militaristic attacks on places of worship and their inhabitants simply because one or two drug suspects might also be partaking in Sunday services.
A later Latin American Herald Tribune article reports that the "Mexican government defended [its] decision to arrest" Beraza during the Mass celebration, "citing the danger that the suspect might escape or start a shootout." However, "[n]o shots were fired during Beraza's arrest," and it remains unclear how a suspect might escape from something that never would have happened had authorities reconsidered their decision to raid a religious service. If federal police possess intelligence so precise that they are aware of a suspect's location on Sunday afternoon, why couldn't that same intelligence have informed them of where Beraza might head following the Sunday Mass? Either way, as the Catholic Review states, the incident shines a spotlight on "the increasing vulnerability of church officials and the faithful [...] being caught up - inadvertantly or not - in the ongoing federal crackdown of drug cartels."
Mexican Officials Questioning Calderon's Drug War
In a July 28, 2009 article for the Washington Post, journalists William Booth and Steve Fainaru assert that support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon's military-led, U.S.-backed drug war is waning not only among ordinary citizens but within the Mexican government as well ("New Strategy Urged in Mexico"). As their article states, "There are now sustained calls in Mexico for a change in tactics, even from allies within Calderon's political party, who say the deployment of 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels is a flawed plan that relies too heavily on the blunt force of the military to stem soaring violence and lawlessness." Ramon Galindo - a senator, supporter of the President, and former mayor of border city Cuidad Juarez - told Booth and Fainaru that "The people of Mexico are losing hope, and it is urgent that Congress, the political parties and the president reconsider this strategy."
Although U.S. DEA chief of intelligence Anthony Placido, when "[a]sked whether he would make any changes to [Calderon's] strategy," answered with a resounding "None," Mexico's northern neighbors do anticipate a lengthier, more violent, and more costly battle than either side had initially estimated. Indeed, Mexico faces unique challenges due at least in part to its geography and economic situation. The Post states that "Mexico [...] faces a more daunting challenge" than comparison countries like Colombia "in part because it sits adjacent to the United States, the largest illegal drug market in the world. In addition, at least seven major cartels are able to recruit from Mexico's swelling ranks of impoverished youth and thousands of disenfranchised soldiers and police officers." Still, in spite of the challenges, "U.S. and Mexican government officials say the military strategy, while difficult, is working," citing arrest and extradition statistics as evidence for their claims. But many inside Mexico disagree. Analysts like Carlos Flores, "who has studied the drug war extensively for Mexico City's Center for Investigations and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology," told the reporters that "I'd like to be more optimistic, but what I see is more of the same polarizing and failed strategy." Earlier in July, "[l]awmakers in Chihuahua state [...] debated [...] whether Calderon's surge was a 'total failure,'" particularly in light of the fact that "drug gangs have [apparently] infiltrated the military's intelligence networks and figured out how to circumvent the guantlet of security forces in Juarez."
Because "neither high-profile arrests nor mass troop deployments have stopped the cartels from unleashing spectacular acts of violence," many Mexican officials say they don't know where to turn for answers. "There are no alternatives," Monte Alejandro Rubido, who works as "Calderon's senior advisor on drug policy on Mexico's National Security Council, told the paper. However, some officials, like Galindo, say they have "urged Calderon to change course. Instead of relying on the army to destroy cartels, he said, the federal government should work to strengthen local communities that are most vulnerable to the traffickers." Carlos Heredia, "a former Michoacan official who now works as an analyst at a Mexico City think tank, said the government's iron-fisted approach is a recipe for failure in regions where mistrust of the government is high," particularly when cartels are, as the Heredia claims, "play[ing] Robin Hood" to win "the hearts and minds of the local population."
Despite dissension and against the advice of several of his allies and partners in the government, "Calderon has no intention of changing course," and the United States has his back - even as the Mexican leader is growing "increasingly isolated" in his own country. But with violence unquellable even through military force, that the Mexican population and their governing officials are questioning the President's policies comes as little surprise; it may, however, act as a small beacon of hope to those looking for change in an otherwise bleak landscape.
Cartel Member Arrested in Connection with Federal Agent Murders Opens Up to the Press
People accused of crimes or who operate within criminalized industries are generally wary of speaking publicly - or at all - about their activities. However, Jose Alberto Lopez Barron broke with that tradition on July 23, 2009, as CNN reports ("Mexican Drug Cartel Suspect Opens Up About Operations"). Lopez Barron, who was "arrested this week in connection with the torture and killings of 12 federal police agents [on] July 13," addressed the "journalists shouting at him during a police lineup Wednesday, opening up a new window on how his reputed cartel [La Familia Michoacana] operates."
According to CNN, "Mexican federal officials say Lopez Barron, also known as 'El Gordo,' is one of the top leaders of La Familia Michoacana, a drug cartel blamed for a rash of violence that has left at least 18 federal agents and two soldiers dead since July 11." However, the article states that Lopez Barron spoke to journalists "in a calm manner" about his cartel, contradicting assumptions about and media portrayals of Mexican drug traffickers, as he continued to do throughout his statements. He asserted that "even if the cartel acted outside the law, it operates in an orderly manner and under rules that not only cartel members have to obey, but also residents in Arteaga, one of the cities the cartel controls." Lopez Barron spoke in some detail about those rules; for example, he told reporters that "You can't go around shooting off guns [...]. You can't go around killing people, [and y]ou can't speed in your vehicle. You can't traffick any kinds of drugs without telling us first." Additionally, the cartel higher-up discussed La Familia's state-wide prohibition on methamphetamine sales. Lopez Barron even went so far as to name his "direct boss," Servando Gomez, also "known as 'La Tuta.'" Readers may recognize Gomez's name from earlier reports that the cartel boss called into a radio show to "offer a truce with the federal government," only to be rejected due to Mexico's policy against "mak[ing] pacts with criminal organizations." According to Lopez Barron's statements, "authorities have tried to capture Gomez but local residents have protected him."
The picture Lopez Barron paints of Mexican drug trafficking - and particularly of La Familia - runs slightly counter to those North Americans and citizens of other affected countries typically see in the press. He describes an orderly organization that not only "respects the police" but that garners law enforcement's respect as well (though this may be at least partially a consequence of the protection-guaranteeing bribes cartels still offer local police). Moreover, Lopez Barron's account suggests that some Michoacan residents support the cartels. While describing an attempt by federal agents to ensnare Gomez, Lopez Barron states that "Elements from the federal investigations agency arrived in town [...] and we had to leave town for the hills. We arrived at a small ranch called La Pena, and they gave us nourishment and refuge."
None of this intends to suggest that the violent acts committed by cartels are justified or acceptable, but it does offer up a different interpretation of Mexican drug cartels not often considered in the mainstream media. Moreover, it could suggest a desire on the part of cartel members to legitimize themselves and their activities. Perhaps they, too, are tired of fighting the drug war.
Mexican Drug Cartels Go Global
The Dallas Morning News reported on July 22, 2009 that "Mexican drug traffickers are branching out as never before - spreading their tentacles into 47 nations, including the U.S., Guatemala and even Colombia, long the heart of the drug trade in Latin America" ("Mexican Drug Cartels Branching Out Across Globe"). The article, written by AP reporter Juan Carlos Llorca, suggests that the escalation of Mexico's military-run drug war shoulders much of the blame for this dispersion of the country's drug cartels, but it also suggests that the cartels "are trying to get closer to the source of supply and take over the transport" - in other words, the expansion of which the article speaks results both from the interdiction efforts that necessarily follow prohibitionist drug policies and, perhaps primarily, a desire on the part of Mexican cartels to stage something of a drug trade coup.
Indeed, the article discusses an "investigation that included dozens of interviews with officials and experts in seven countries[, which] found that the Mexican mobs increasingly buy directly from the cocaine-producing Andes and have begun using distant countries to obtain raw material for methamphetamine." According to Jere Miles, who leads a unit "that tracks money laundering for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement" (ICE), "The belief is that the Mexican[ cartels] are trying to get closer to the source of supply and take over the transport." The article additionally notes a link between the cartels' increasingly global presence and Mexico's 2007 ban on "the import and export of" certain chemicals - pseudoephedrine and ephedrine - used to make methamphetamine.
Llorca's article too often blurs the important distinction between "Mexicans" and "Mexican cartels," but it nevertheless provides useful insights into Latin American drug trade politics. Though his main points are summarized above, Llorca also provides further details about drug traffickers' sophisticated strategies, discusses the impact that Mexican cartels' expansion efforts have had on other countries, and informs readers of the interdiction efforts governments are utilizing to dampen the cartels' successes. Though Llorca does not explicitly make the point that global drug prohibition plays a major role in the increasing violence, corruption, and instability associated with transnational drug trafficking, interested parties are encouraged to read between the lines and connect those dots themselves.
Prohibition Related Violence Ramps Up in Mexico (Ongoing Updates)
In a July 13, 2009 article ("Mexican Drug Gang Unleashed Against Government"), The Examiner reported that Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana launched "a coordinated attack against the Mexican government" on Sunday, following the arrest of "Arnoldo Rueda Medina - the second in command for the drug cartel known as La Familia Michoachana" by Mexican authorities the preceding morning. As The Examiner explains, " the police station in which [Medina] was being held came under heavy rifle and grenade attack" soon after the kingpin's arrest took place. Though and perhaps in part because "the onslaught failed to free Medina, the Familia Michacana launched a series of coordinated attacks in the cities of Acapulco, Morelia, Zitacuaro, Zamora, Lazaro Cardenas, Apatzingan, La Piedad and Huetamo. Combined, these attacks left [at press time] three police officers and two soldiers dead." As CNN reports ("Mexican Police, Soldiers Killed in Multicity Attacks by Drug Gang"), "Saturday's attacks came just days after a drug gang in Tijuana declared they were at war with the police, threatening to kill five officers every week until Police Chief Julian Leyzaola resigns." La Familia itself also "declar[ed] war" against the government and its drug offensive, unleashing, as Singapore news outlet Straits Times reported on July 15 ("'La Familia' Declares War"), "one of the most spectacular murder offensives in recent years against Mexican authorities, boldly targeting President Felipe Calderon's home state."
The attacks were still ongoing as of July 15, 2009. AP reports in a same-day release ("30 Dead in Mexico Violence") that the "vicious 48-hour period has seen 30 people killed," including 12 tortured federal law enforcement agents "whose bodies were found dumped alongside a mountain road in the western state of Michoacan late Monday," July 13. The Washington Post ("La Familia Accused of Torturing and Killing 12 Mexican Federal Agents") contends that, although extreme and highly visible drug war violence has slowly become normalized in Mexico since Calderon expanded his counter-narcotic efforts in 2006, the agents' "abduction, torture, and execution [...] marks a steep escalation in [the Mexican President's] war with the drug cartels." The Post continues, reporting that "Though drug mafias often clash with local police officials they fail to intimidate or corrupt, a direct counterattack against federal forces is almost unheard of."
Furthermore, the recent up-tick in violence has not been exclusive to Michoacan. In addition to the murdered agents, on July 13 "suspected drug gang members [...] shot dead [Chihuahua mayor] Hector Meixueriro in his SUV as he drove to work in Namiquipa, Chihuahua state, in the latest brazen killing to challenge President Felipe Calderon's army-led clampdown on drug cartel violence" Reuters states ("Mexican Drug Hitmen Kill Mayor in Revenge Attack"). Police have joined cartels in ramping up their efforts. On July 12, as Voice of America News reports ("Mexican Police Kill One Gunman in Michoacan Violence"), "federal authorities [...] killed one gunman [...] as they continued to fight off a series of attacks on federal forces in western Michoacan state." Press TV added on July 13 ("Mexico Nabs 2 Over Attacks on Police") that "Mexican federal agents [...] arrested two suspect[ed]" perpetuators of the ongoing attacks during the "shootout with federal police" that left dead the unnamed gunman described in Voice of America's report.
The Christian Science Monitor alleges in a July 14 article ("Drug Cartels Launch Mexico's 'Tet Offensive'") that "The attacks [...] do little to bolster Calderon's national action party, which already fared poorly well in legislative elections last week." According to Bruce Bagley, "a Latin America drugs expert at the University of Miami," the cartels "'are demonstrating to the government that [its] security strategy has only limited impact.'" He adds, "'They demonstrated that they have ongoing capacity to intimidate, coerce, and carry out violence against police despite militarization," supporting drug war opponents who claim that escalating militarization - not to mention drug prohibition itself, both inside Mexico and by its U.S. neighbors to the North - only increases drug-related harm to society.
Update (July 17): According to the UK's Guardian, on July 16 ("Mexican Gang Leader Offers Drug War Truce"), "The alleged leader of [La Familia] offered a truce in the country's brutal drug wars during a telephone call to a television show." The man, "who identified himself as Servando 'La Tuta' Gomez," claimed that "his gang was only responding to attacks by police" when they carried out the above-mentioned acts of violence over the last week. "What we want is peace and tranquility. We want to achieve a national pact," Gomez said, adding that "We want the president [...] to know that we are not his enemies, that we value him, that we are conscientious people."
The Mexican government declined Gomez's offer. Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont replied, according to the article, that "The federal government does not ever dialogue, does not negotiate, does not reach deals with any criminal organisation. There is no other alternative for their members but to submit to the law."
For further discussion of these developments, read both the above-linked Guardian piece and BBC's Mexico Rejects Any Drug Gang Deal.
Update (July 20): As the UK's Telegraph reported on July 19 ("Mexican Police Officers Arrested Over Murder of Federal Agents"), members of Mexico's police force "had been detained to 'determine their responsibility' for the murders [of 12 federal agents] and for allegedly carried out 'criminal acts' on behalf of [...] La Familia Michoacana." The Telegraph states that "Corruption is rife among Mexico's local police forces and officers have not only protected cartels [in the past], but also murdered their rivals." However, "the killing of the 12 agents, whose bodies were found piled beside a road [a]long with warning notes, showed the cartels were becoming more willing to attack the federal government."
Though the article misses the connections linking drug trafficking, violence, and official corruption to prohibitionist drug policies, making these connections should pose little difficulty to drug reform advocates, who have long recognized the ways in which drug prohibiton (and, thus, illicit drugs' deregulation) allows for and produces such outcomes.
Mexican Army Accused of Massive Human Rights Violations, Putting US in Tough Position
In a July 9, 2009 expose for The Washington Post ("Mexican Army Using Torture to Battle Drug Traffickers, Rights Groups Say"), Steve Fainaru and William Booth report that "The Mexican army has carried out forced disappearances, acts of torture and illegal raids in pursuit of drug traffickers, according to documents and interviews with victims, their families, political leaders and human rights monitors." Fainaru and Booth describe gruesome torture tactics employed by members of the Mexican army seeking information, acts of rape and physical assault committed against women and men of varying ages, and reports of soldiers stealing " food, milk, clothing and medication" from civilian families. Although the Post does not - indeed, cannot - provide exact figures regarding the number of human rights violations carried out by the government-backed armed forces, it cites a 2007 National Human Rights Commission report, which "concluded that the army committed abuses against 65 people" over a period of just three days in the state of Michoacan alone.
As the writers explain, "Mexican security forces have long had a spotty human rights record, but the growing number of abuse allegations appears to be a direct response to the savagery unleashed by the cartels after President Felipe Calderon put the military in charge of the drug war in December 2006." According to the article, Mexican officials claim both that the reported incidents are isolated and that "drug traffickers may be accusing the army of torture and other human rights violations as propaganda and to deflect attention from the government's attempts to dismantle their operations." Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont, " who is responsible for coordinating security operations across Mexico," states that he "'know[s] that the armed forces are not acting innappropriately, although there have been some cases.'" He continues, "'The government honestly believes that. There is no incentive for abuse.'" However, numerous documents, eyewitness and victims' testimonies, and reports from human rights groups contradict officials' claims.
Fainaru and Booth report that "The U.S. government has encouraged and, in part, funded, Calderon's risky strategy of using the army to fight the cartels." However, as the Post reminds readers, "Under the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package that President George W. Bush requested in June 2007, 15 percent of the money cannot be released until the secretary of state reports that Mexico has made progress on human rights." That report "will be delivered to Congress within weeks" of the articles' printing; however, although "U.S. officials said Calderon has initiated reforms that they think ultimately will increase respect for human rights among soldiers and police," an unnamed source involved in those proceedings told the Post that "it remains unclear whether the report will be enough to satisfy the conditions to release the money."
Due to the dire circumstances currently facing Mexico and U.S. border states, "the State Department is hoping that Congress will release the money despite human rights concerns." Moreover, "U.S. officials expect a backlash" from the Mexican government, which "has long opposed the human rights conditions included in the Merida agreement," if Congress witholds the promised financial support. Indeed, according to the article, "Many Mexican human rights activists do not support the [Merida human rights] conditions, noting that they were imposed by a U.S. government widely accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
While some "human rights groups have lobbied the U.S. government to send a blunt message by witholding the money," other human rights watchdogs see the situation differently. Ryan Powers, writing for the web site Think Progress ("Torture by Mexican Government in Drug War Highlights U.S. Loss of Credibility on Human Rights"), asserts that "The accusations of hypocrisy highlight one of the hard-to-quantify costs of the Bush administration's use of torture against suspected terrorists [...]: the loss of credibility as a champion of human rights." He cites "a growing number of nations [that] have rejected calls from the U.S. to end human rights abuses" due to its previous administration's own use of torture and questionable detaining practices.
Thus, whether Congress ultimately decides to provide Mexico with Merida funds or withold them based on Mexico's human rights record, Powers writes, "Obama must work to rebuild the credibility that his predecessor squandered." And, no matter what Congress decides to do with the Merida money in the coming weeks, the primarily U.S.-driven, global "war on drugs" will no doubt continue to produce and promote violence, human and civil rights violations, and various forms of corruption both at home and abroad.
US May Send 1,500 National Guard Volunteers to Mexican Border
According to a June 29, 2009 AP release ("Guard to Seek Volunteers for Border"), "The Obama administration is developing plans to seek up to 1,500 National Guard volunteers to step up the military's counter-drug efforts along the Mexican border." The "largely federally funded" effort will reportedly "last no longer than a year and would build on an existing counter-drug operation," which has been dubbed "Operation Jump Start" and currently "involves about 575 Guard members." According to the AP report, "the program would mainly seek out guard members for surveillance, intelligence analysis and aviation support. Guard units would also supply ground troops who could assist at border crossings and with land and air transportation."
Officials cite escalating drug (as well as "cash and arms") trafficking-related violence as the primary reason for the potential up-tick in National Guard volunteers patrolling the border. AP reports, paraphrasing under secretary for national protection at the Homeland Security Department Rand Beers, that "The White House came to the decision that it is simply not enough for the United States to provide funding in support of the Mexican government's counter-drug efforts."
However, not all administration officials are reportedly enthused by the proposed operation. The Christian Science Monitor ("Obama Could Send 1,500 National Guard Troops to Mexican Border") reports that the plan, which was still being hashed out as of July 1, could carry a price tag of about $250 million, and officials are unable to say with certainty how long the program might actually last. Beers declined to provide AP with an exact timeline, saying "only that it would not be lengthy." Moreover, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has, AP states, "expressed concern that tapping the military for border control posts is a slipperly slope and must not be overused." Additionally, the Christian Science Monitor claims that "many are questioning the wisdom of [...] sending the National Guard, saying it risks further involving the military in domestic security, stretching the military too thin, and inflaming an already caustic national debate on immigration."
Mexican Congress Hosts Three-Day "Forums on the Regulation of Cannabis"
In mid-April of 2009, as the Drug War Chronicle reports, "the Mexican Congress held a three-day debate on the merits of decriminalizing the personal use of marijuana." Participants included "government officials, elected representatives, academics and experts," who engaged "in a lively discussion of Mexican marijuana policy." The debate resulted at least partially, according to the Chronicle, from "the blood-stained fall-out from President Calderon's war against the cartels[, which] is creating social and political space for reform discussion that would have been impossible a decade ago." Unfortunately, however, due to upcoming midterm elections, the Chronicle doubts that substantive policy changes will come out of the otherwise productive meeting.
For its part, the Obama adminstration "has not weighed in on marijuana legalization or decriminalization in Mexico." The DEA, however, stated that "Either course would mark a 'failure' of US and Mexican Drug Policy," creating more addicts and having little to no impact on the cartels, which officials who spoke to the Chronicle claim "would simply shift their attention to other illegal activities."
To read more about the forum and its participants' ideas, predictions, and feelings, check out the above linked Drug War Chronicle feature. Additionally, readers who are fluent in Spanish can check out Partido Socialdemocrata's ideas about drug legalization here.
Drug Decriminalization Proposed by Mexico President
Since December 2006 about 30,000 troops have entered eight states in Mexico in an attempt to quell drug prohibition violence, but almost 3,000 people have been killed this year due to drug trafficking violence. According to the New York Times October 3, 2008 article, ("Mexican President Proposes Decriminalizing Some Drugs") "President Felipe Calderon, who has made fighting drug traffickers the centerpiece of his administration, proposed legislation on Thursday that would decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cocaine and other drugs for addicts who agreed to undergo treatment. Mr. Calderon said that the proposal was intended to attack the growing problem of drug addiction in Mexico. Still, it will probably be controversial both at home and abroad. A similar measure two years ago provoked strong opposition from the United States and was eventually dropped."
The article states, "A recent government survey found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost doubled in the past six years to 307,000, while the number of those who had tried drugs rose to 4.5 million from 3.5 million. Drugs used to flow through Mexico to the United States, and they still do, but an increasing amount of those narcotics now stays in Mexico to feed the habits of domestic consumers. Under Mr. Calderon's proposal, Mexican authorities would not prosecute people found to be carrying small amounts of drugs if they declared they were addicts and submitted to a treatment program. Those who are not addicts could avoid prosecution by entering a prevention program. Fines could be imposed for those who declined to enter such programs.The new legislation caps the quantities that would not be subject to prosecution at 50 milligrams of heroin, 2 grams of marijuana, 500 milligrams of cocaine and 40 milligrams of methamphetamine.The Mexican attorney general's office has said that it is so overwhelmed with prosecuting organized crime that it cannot handle the large number of small-time drug cases."
The article adds, "The measure is reminiscent of a proposal that passed the Mexican Congress two years ago but never took effect. It decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs for people who could convince a judge that they were addicts.That law, which did not require treatment for those found with drugs, provoked an uproar among United States officials, some of whom raised the image of Americans going to Mexico to enjoy legal drugs. Under intense lobbying from the United States, Vicente Fox, the president at the time, asked Congress to amend the law and the measure was dropped. Responding to Mr. Calderon's plan, American officials said Thursday that United States policy opposed the legalization of even small amounts of drugs."
Thousands in Mexico march to protest the violence associated with the government escalated drug war. According to the Dallas Morning News August 31, 2008 article,("Protesters Demand That Authorities Stop Killings") "Throngs of frustrated people across Mexico, many carrying pictures of kidnapped loved ones, marched Saturday evening to demand that authorities act to stop the tide of killings, abductions and shootouts. The mass protests were a challenge to the government of President Felipe Calderon, who has made fighting crime a top priority and deployed more than 25,000 soldiers and federal police against powerful drug cartels."
The article states, "A sea of white-clad demonstrators carrying candles filled the 2.5-mile route between Mexico City's Angel of Independence monument and the main Zocalo square. City officials refused to give a crowd estimate, but the Zocalo can hold nearly 100,000 people. Tens of thousands overflowed into the surrounding streets, unable to squeeze into the square. Thousands more marched in other cities across the country."
The article adds, "Despite the arrest of several drug kingpins, little has improved since the Calderon government began its crackdown. Homicides have surged as drug cartels battle each other for control of trafficking routes and attack police nearly each day. In the gang-plagued border state of Chihuahua alone, there have been more than 800 killings this year, double the number during the same period last year. Last week, a dozen headless bodies were found in the Yucatan Peninsula, home to Mexico's most popular beach resort, Cancun."
The drug war in Mexico is generating record levels of violence. The rate of killing in Juarez in 2008 is nearly double the rate from the year before. Meanwhile, the group Reporters Without Borders calls Mexico the deadliest country for journalists in the Americas.
The El Paso Times reported on July 6, 2008 ("Juarez slayings set record as cartels' drug war drags") that "Deaths fueled in part by the drug cartel war in the Juarez area are approaching 600, and at least one expert says the violence is not likely to end soon. As the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels battle amid a crackdown by federal forces, more than 560 homicides have occurred so far this year. The total number of homicides for all of 2007 was 304. 'There are at least two reasons why it might get worse,' said Tony Payan, a Mexico expert and political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who is closely watching developments. 'One, there seems to be an impasse between the cartels. Neither seems to be winning out,' Payan said. 'Right now, it seems to be pretty much a tie.' Secondly, Payan said, the Mexican federal government does not appear to be willing to negotiate with the cartels as it is rumored to have done in the past. 'The government seems determined to finish them off.' The staggering toll is believed to be the highest in Juarez history. By comparison, in all of 1997, 250 people were slain. Some of those deaths occurred after the July 4 death of reputed drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes caused a power struggle within his cartel."
According to the El Paso Times, ""Chihuahua ( state ) continues to see the most pronounced levels of violence this year despite the deployment of troops and federal police," stated a monthly news report for June by the Justice in Mexico Project of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. The project, which studies criminal justice issues in Mexico, reported that the more than 500 "cartel-related deaths" in Chihuahua this year are more than three times the 2007 total."
Reporting on the situation in Mexico is made more difficult, to say the least, by the violence. The group Reporters Without Borders in its annual report on Mexico for 2008 said "Freedom of expression moved forward on paper with the decriminalisation of press offences at federal level, but in practice, the country is still the most deadly in the Americas for journalists, with two killed and three vanished in 2007. Three media assistants were also killed and prospects are not good with some local authorities working with organised crime."
The report further notes that "Felipe Calderón, of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) who was narrowly elected president on 2 July 2006, faces a parliament divided between the country’s three main political forces and has to rely on the support of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. A similar situation between the federal government and the states (most of them still controlled by the PRI) has slowed efforts by the judiciary and federal authorities to fight impunity and local obstacles to free expression. Some regional officials showed contempt for the right to inform the public and in 2007 newspapers were seized, media outlets censored and attempts made to spy on journalists (in a town in Guanajuato state). The Chihuahua state government on 24 November dismissed a CNDH [Mexico's National Human Rights Commission] recommendation about physical attacks by state police on three journalists."
The Mexican government is reportedly planning to increase the size of its federal police force in response to the escalating violence. The Washington Post reported on July 11, 2008 ("Mexico plan adds police to take on drug cartels") that "The Mexican government plans to nearly double the size of its federal police force in order to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking, under a confidential anti-narcotics strategy that officials made available Thursday. The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers and initiating social measures -- such as improving safety in public spaces -- designed to improve public confidence in government agencies tainted by corruption. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations. Other aspects are still in formative stages, such as fortifying poorly staffed border checkpoints to stifle the smuggling of arms and money into Mexico from the United States. The written strategy amounts to the most complete picture of Mexico's anti-narcotics game plan in a violent struggle over the past year and a half between the federal government and cartels that control the bulk of cocaine, marijuana and heroin smuggling into the United States. More than 2,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year, and Mexicans are horrified by almost daily reports of decapitations, shootouts and assassinations of police and municipal officials."
According to the Post, "The strategy builds on Mexico's renewed commitment to greater cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials after years of suspicion and insularity. Last month, President Bush signed a $400 million package to help Mexico fight cartels. The measure, known as the Merida Initiative, was pushed through in large part by lawmakers who said they were impressed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon's commitment to working more closely with U.S. law enforcement. The internal Mexican strategy formalizes the Calderon administration's multinational approach by strengthening information exchanges with South American cocaine-producing nations and with Central American nations that are key transit points."
The human rights violations alluded to in the excerpt above were reported on by the Washington Post the following day (Report cites abuses by Mexican military," July 12, 2008). According to the Post, "The National Human Rights Commission on Friday accused the Mexican military of wrongfully killing eight civilians at roadblocks, torturing witnesses and allowing soldiers accused of rights violations to escape prosecution during its continuing campaign against drug cartels. In a lengthy report, commission investigators documented a case of soldiers jamming splinters beneath the fingernails and toenails of a witness and forcibly injecting alcohol down his throat. The man had been mistaken for a drug dealer operating in the hills near the border south of Phoenix, the report said. In another case, soldiers stormed a house in the western village of Uruapan and allegedly tortured two suspects by stabbing their genitals with electric cattle prods. Other suspects were held at military facilities, forced to undress and barred from communicating with lawyers or family. Most of the abuses have gone unpunished, the report said. For instance, no action has been taken against soldiers suspected of shooting dead four civilians at a roadblock in the central state of Sinaloa, the report said. The commission's report held the military's top brass to be as responsible for the violations as the low- and mid-ranking soldiers accused of committing the actual offenses. In some instances, civilian law enforcement authorities have been impeded because the military delayed the release of information, the report said."
The Post noted that "Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has dispatched more than 30,000 solders and federal police officers to fight drug cartels. The military-style operations are credited, in large part, for the arrests of more than 26,000 drug suspects and the seizure of 1.6 million rounds of ammunition from cartels, according to the government. But Mexican and international human rights groups have repeatedly called for the withdrawal of the military, which they say is poorly prepared for policing. More than 980 rights complaints -- 75 percent of which are connected to the anti-narcotics operations -- have been filed against the military since Calderon took office. [Human rights commission president Jose Luis] Soberanes, who once called for the military "to return to its barracks," now says that the temporary use of soldiers is necessary to contain the growing power of drug cartels, which are blamed for more than 2,000 killings this year. On Friday, Soberanes reiterated his view that soldiers have a place in the fight but called on Calderon to set a date for their withdrawal. Many Mexican governors have applauded the president for dispatching the military and have urged him to send more troops. But the troops have not stemmed the violence. On Friday, officials in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa, said this year's death toll of police and other public officials had reached 62, after two police officers were killed Thursday in a daylight shootout that left 10 other people dead."
The US Border Patrol lost a 6-year veteran agent in an incident in southern California when he was run down by a suspected drug smuggler attempting to flee pursuit.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 21, 2008 ("Agent's Death Highlights Attacks on Border Patrol") that "The off-road enthusiasts were revving their dune buggies and all-terrain vehicles Saturday morning when a brown Hummer suddenly cut into the campground. The man at the wheel, a suspected drug smuggler, was heading to Mexico, fast. U.S. Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar, the only person in the way, threw a spike strip in front of the car. The Hummer sped up. 'It looked like the man swerved and hit the agent intentionally,' said one witness. Aguilar, struck by the Hummer going an estimated 55 mph, died within minutes."
According to the Times, "Aguilar, 32, a six-year veteran, was part of an anti-smuggling team patrolling the scenic landscape of sand dunes and trailer-dotted campgrounds in southeast California. On weekends, when the dunes fill with riders, Mexican smugglers slip across the open border, trying to blend in with the other off-road vehicles. Authorities suspect the Hummer was carrying drugs. The suspects had been driving west on Interstate 8, but when they saw the Border Patrol following, they turned off the freeway and started speeding back to Mexico. On an access road to the Buttercup campground, just two miles from the border, Aguilar was waiting for them at an intersection. Authorities said it was unclear whether the suspect intentionally ran over the agent, or swerved to avoid the spike strip."
The Times noted that "Nationwide, assaults against Border Patrol agents rose from 752 in 2006 to 987 in 2007. Authorities say clashes are likely to continue as smugglers respond to beefed-up border security with more aggressive measures."
The US and Mexico have nearly finalized negotiations for a $1.4 billion dollar drug control funding package. Legislation to approve the deal is reported to be included in a much larger military spending bill. The Dallas Morning News reported on Oct. 2, 2007 ("US May Send Mexico $1.4 Billion In Drug War") that "Tucked in the Pentagon's massive budget request is at least $1.4 billion in U.S. aid to Mexico for its fight against increasingly violent drug kingpins - including better training and high-tech tools. Negotiators for the two countries have agreed on the package now awaiting U.S. congressional approval, officials familiar with the proposal said Monday."
According to the Morning News, "It was unclear whether the Mexican aid package is contained in the $460 billion 2008 defense authorization bill, which the U.S. Senate approved 92-3 Monday night, or in a pending $193 billion supplemental Iraq war budget. One Senate Republican aide familiar with details of the bill said the money is in the measure approved Monday night, but neither U.S. nor Mexican officials could confirm that. In any case, the defense bill still needs to be finalized by House and Senate negotiators before going to President Bush for his signature - and the legislative process is still weeks from completion. A U.S. official familiar with the aid package said it probably will come up for debate in the coming days and weeks as details of the bill become public. The official requested anonymity. Beyond the two-year duration of the aid arrangement, the governments would probably form a permanent cooperation agreement that must be agreed upon by the next U.S. administration following the 2008 presidential election, officials said. In general, the plan calls for the U.S. to take on a bigger role in the fight against Mexican drug traffickers - and it represents a significant increase from the estimated $40 million Mexico currently receives annually from the U.S. government."
The Morning News noted that "Phil Jordan, former head of the regional Drug Enforcement Administration office in Dallas, is skeptical. 'Until you reduce U.S. demand for drugs and weed out the immense corruption among Mexico's law enforcement, pouring more U.S. money into Mexico won't necessarily solve the problem,' he said."
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has announced plans to institute drug testing in schools throughout Mexico. Leaving aside concerns about the effectiveness of student drug testing in general, the question is begged as to whether the Mexican government can afford such an initiative.
The Houston Chronicle reported on July 3, 2007 ("Mexico's President Unveils Anti-Drug Plan") that "Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday launched a new phase of his anti-narcotics crusade that will include the drug testing of students in more than 8,000 schools nationwide. Calderon's initiative is seen as recognition of a growing problem among Mexican adolescents. Many Mexicans, including police and other officials, have long seen drug trafficking as an American problem, limiting the public's support for combating the problem. "Society is demanding a coordinated response from the authorities to confront this social cancer," Calderon said at a junior high school in Monterrey, the industrial hub 150 miles south of Laredo, Texas, that has been battered by gangland violence this year. In addition to calling for drug testing, Calderon said local, state and federal governments will build more parks and sports complexes and push for public involvement in them, with an initial $7 million investment in Monterrey. And he said more than 300 clinics would be opened across Mexico to treat drug and alcohol addictions."
According to the Chronicle, "The number of Mexico City middle- and high-school students who admitted using crystal meth doubled between 1997 and 2003, to 3.6 percent, according to the most recent study by the National Psychiatric Institute. Fifteen percent admitted to using some kind of narcotic, with cocaine, marijuana and meth the drugs of choice. However, experts say actual drug use among Mexican adolescents is probably twice that high, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods."
The Chronicle noted that "Warfare between the criminal gangs that smuggle cocaine and other drugs into the United States has killed more than 1,300 people this year and rattled the Mexican public. Police increasingly blame rivalries among retail drug traffickers -- who sell in neighborhoods and villages -- for a growing percentage of the bloodshed. Calderon has sent more than 24,000 army troops into drug producing and trafficking regions where the violence has been worse in recent years. Last week, his administration removed nearly 300 commanders from the federal police forces, replacing them with officers supposedly more trustworthy. The violence has slackened in recent weeks, spurring speculation that the major trafficking organizations have reached a truce that will help take public attention off them."
One serious concern regards the amount of resources available to the Mexican education system. A 2005 report by RAND Corporation,
"Education In Mexico: Challenges and
Opportunities," noted that:
The RAND report further notes:
As well, they report:
Drug wars in Mexico have claimed the lives of as many as eleven journalists so far in 2007, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle ("Mexico 2nd Only To Iraq In Journalist Slayings"). The Chronicle reported that "Statistics vary among watchdog groups, but they agree that Mexico has surpassed Colombia, a country plagued by decades of guerrilla and drug violence, in the number of journalists killed each year. Seven Mexican journalists were slain last year, according to a count by the Miami-based Inter American Press Association. The Paris-based Reporters without Borders tallied nine killings, and the Federation of Mexican Journalist Associations reported 11. Three journalists were killed in Colombia last year, according to Reporters without Borders. The group counted 65 journalists and media assistants slain in Iraq over the past year."
According to the Chronicle, "Many Mexican reporters, particularly in the embattled border states, have stopped writing about organized crime, and, as the drug war spreads south, journalists across the country are becoming targets. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the decapitated body of a local drug dealer turned up outside a newspaper in the eastern port city of Veracruz. According to local press reports, the killers left this warning: 'For Milo, you'll all pay. You know it, and more heads of damned reporters are going to roll.' The threat was presumed to be directed at Milo Vera, a local columnist. 'There's total impunity,' said Jose Antonio Calcanio, president of the Federation of Mexican Journalists Associations, which represents 137 journalist groups nationwide. 'The government has no interest in resolving any of these cases,' Calcanio said. 'It's only when there's a prominent case like Amado Ramirez that they pretend to act, but then they forget, and nothing happens.' Two suspects were arrested in the days after the radio host's murder, but both were released on bail. Many of Ramirez's colleagues suspect the men were scapegoats."
The Chronicle noted that "Nearly 1,000 people have died in gangland-style killings related to drug-trafficking in the first four months of the year, compared with 2,000 in all of last year, according to Mexico City's El Universal newspaper. The southwestern state of Guerrero, home to Acapulco, has been one of the hardest hit, with some 300 gangland homicides last year. The city made headlines worldwide after several heads were dumped outside government offices last summer and another washed up on a beach. Then came a series of armed raids on local police stations, including one in which seven state officials died in February. After Ramirez's murder, the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory for Mexico, for the first time warning of drug-gang violence in Acapulco."
Violence and corruption are inevitable byproducts of prohibition. The drug war is reaching new heights in Mexico as the fight for control of border trafficking escalates. The Indianapolis Star reported on March 24, 2007 ("Nearly 500 Killed In '07 In Mexico's Drug War") that "According to media reports, nearly 500 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars so far this year despite a crackdown on the illicit trade by President Felipe Calderon. The dead include dozens of police officers, the daughter of a retired Army general, and a suspected cartel hit man in the northern city of Monterrey left with a knife sticking out of his chest and a message to local officials affixed to his body. 'Attorney General: don't be a fool,' the note said. It accused local officials of protecting Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the bitter rivals of the Gulf Cartel, based in the border state of Tamaulipas. 'This is just the beginning.' According to a tally kept by the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, the number of drug-related killings had reached 491 by Friday."
A state security official was one of those who survived an attack by cartel gunmen recently. The New York Times reported on March 19, 2007 ("Mexico Questions Police Officials About Ambush") that "Three high-ranking state police commanders and a former police chief were being held for questioning on Sunday in the attempted killing of the Tabasco State secretary of public security, after hundreds of soldiers and federal agents raided the police headquarters there the day before. The raid was the latest in a series of similar operations President Felipe Calderon has ordered to counter the influence of drug cartels in state and local police forces. 'It's part of the general strategy to go into the states that have problems with narcotics traffickers,' said Miguel Monterrubio, a spokesman for the president. On March 6, gunmen yet to be identified tried to kill Francisco Fernandez Solis, the secretary of public security who took office only a few months ago. Mr. Fernandez Solis survived the ambush but his driver was killed. Last Thursday, a severed human head was thrown on the ground in front of the police headquarters. The grisly act was seen as a warning to officers to avoid meddling in the drug trade. Over the last year, decapitations have become a common way for drug traffickers to intimidate rival gangs and the police in Mexico. On Saturday afternoon, about 350 federal police officers and 150 soldiers and federal agents surrounded the state police headquarters in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco, seized the armory and disarmed the local police, as they have done in Tijuana, Oaxaca and other cities since Mr. Calderon took office in December. After the raid, state police officers returned to duty with only nightsticks, while armed federal officers patrolled in pickup trucks. Federal investigators were testing the guns to determine whether any had been used in the attack on the police chief or in other crimes, officials said."
According to the Times, "Investigators in Tabasco originally theorized that drug dealers had attacked the police chief because he was cracking down on their business, but now federal prosecutors are pursing a second line of inquiry, officials involved in the investigation said. That theory holds that a shadowy 'brotherhood' of rogue officers angry over the new police commander's rigorous approach to fighting the drug trade carried out the attack."
Mexican police have become the targets in a bloody turf war among drug cartels. The Dallas Morning News reported on Feb. 7, 2007 ("Cartels Kill 5 Mexican Police") that "Drug cartel assassins posing as soldiers disarmed police at two stations in Acapulco before shooting five officers and two secretaries to death Tuesday in the face of anti-drug operations ordered by President Felipe Calderon, authorities and analysts said. The brazen morning killings came as thousands of federal police and soldiers, some in helicopters, patrolled the beach resort in an attempt to reduce violence from a fierce turf war between the Nuevo Laredo-based Gulf cartel and its Sinaloa state rivals. A police commander also was gunned down in the Sinaloan capital of Culiacan, and on Monday a grenade exploded outside a police building in a town near Acapulco. Witnesses said the Acapulco gunmen brought video cameras to document the slayings. They apparently used the presence of the military to fake a weapons examination at the two police stations, such as one carried out legitimately by soldiers in Tijuana. The Acapulco officers readily handed over their weapons to the fake soldiers, some of whom wore the red berets of army special forces. 'Our colleagues accepted turning over their guns to the seven presumed soldiers. Later they went to a storage area, and then they [the fake soldiers] opened fire on them,' said Jesus Aleman, deputy attorney general for the state of Guerrero."
According to the Morning News, "'This is a demonstration of force,' said Javier Trujillo, who writes on the drug cartels for two local publications in Acapulco. He said he could not remember a greater number of police killed in one day in Guerrero. More than 400 people died in drug violence in the state last year, a dozen of them decapitated. But Tuesday's message, Mr. Trujillo said, is as much for rival traffickers as for the government. The state police killed in the attack, he said, were alleged to have been working for the Sinaloa cartel and its enforcement arm, Los Pelones. For two years, they have been fighting an incursion in their Acapulco 'turf' by the Gulf cartel and its enforcers, Los Zetas, who are based along the Mexico-Texas border. 'To me, this is an operation carried out by the Zetas because they knew that the police commanders in Zapata and Renacimiento were with the Pelones,' said Mr. Trujillo. 'What's surprising is their use of army uniforms. This was a very clean operation.'"
The Morning News noted that "Violence was not limited to Acapulco on Tuesday. In the Sinaloa capital, Culiacan, a police commander was riddled with more than 100 bullets by men who fired at his pickup. And on Monday a grenade exploded outside a federal police building in Tecpan de Galeana, Guerrero, about two hours up the coast by car from Acapulco. No one was injured. The one-day death count of six police officers and two police secretaries was one of the highest for law enforcement in many months. In November, six police officers were slain in the central state of Michoacan."
The new president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, has sent thousands of troops and federal police into Tijuana to take over from the local police. The New York Times reported on Jan. 7, 2006 ("Mexico's New President Sends Thousands Of Federal Officers To Fight Drug Cartels") that "The president has sent thousands of federal police and troops into the drug-plagued states of Michoacan and Baja California to break up criminal organizations and stop the brutal violence they perpetuate. The federal forces have burned marijuana crops, arrested suspected drug gang members and disarmed local police forces the authorities say are crippled by corruption."
According to the Times, "In Tijuana on Tuesday, Mr. Calderon ordered 2,600 soldiers and 110 federal police officers to begin an operation aimed at ending the grip of mobsters on the local police department, slowing the flow of drugs and ending kidnappings and killings related to the trade. The officers began patrolling the streets with caravans of pickups filled with heavily armed officers in black combat outfits. The army set up roadblocks, while navy boats prowled the coast and helicopters buzzed overhead. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms pulled over cars at random and searched them. Federal and state police manned checkpoints in the town. The federal government also stripped all 2,320 city police officers of their weapons on Wednesday night. The move prompted fears that anarchy would break out in the city streets, where drunken brawls, car thefts, muggings and drug-induced mayhem are a daily fact of life. The city secretary of public security, Luis Javier Algorri, said Friday morning there were too few federal officers to keep order, much less ferret out drug gangs at the same time. 'We think they don't have the experience to deal with these sorts of problems,' Mr. Algorri said. 'And without firearms this kind of work will be hard to carry out.' The decision to disarm the local police reflects the belief among federal officials that many local officers are on the payroll of drug cartels as assassins, enforcers and, in some cases, kidnappers. Federal prosecutors say the lack of help from the local police in border towns, either because they are corrupt or afraid, makes it nearly impossible to dismantle drug cartels."
The Times noted that "But some opposition politicians and experts on the drug trade wonder if the federal interventions are not more flash than substance, and question if they will have a lasting impact on the drug trade and police corruption, whose roots run deep. Mr. Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, created an elite force to combat narcotics dealers and arrested dozens of drug cartel leaders during his six-year term. Rather than stanch the violence, however, the arrests led to a brutal war between the remaining traffickers for the smuggling routes and territory."
A growing number of authorities around the US are becoming aware that Mexican methamphetamine production has been increasing dramatically in the past few years since states and the federal government have been cracking down on domestic US production. The Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 26, 2006 ("US Crackdown Sends Meth Labs South Of Border") that "Methamphetamine production has surged south of the border, from Baja California ranches to the highlands of Michoacan to the industrial parks here in Mexico's second largest city, where authorities in January busted the largest laboratory ever discovered in the Americas. The fortress-like compound ringed by high brick walls housed 11 custom-designed pressure cookers that could produce 400 pounds of the drug per day. It dwarfed anything ever found in California, where the standard cooking tool is a 23-quart beaker and a 20-pound batch is considered a good production day. 'It was the mother lode of mother lodes,' a U.S. law enforcement official said. The boom in Mexican methamphetamine production stems from successful efforts in the U.S. to control the sale of chemicals used to produce the drug, including the cold medicine pseudoephedrine. Drug traffickers, some of them ex-convicts and fugitives from the United States, including a former chemistry professor from Idaho arrested last month, authorities say, have resettled in Mexico because of the easy access to pseudoephedrine and other chemicals. The largest share of the chemicals is believed to be shipped to Mexico from factories in China and India and routed through Hong Kong. China has emerged as the top concern for U.S. authorities. Like traffic in heroin and cocaine, the methamphetamine economy has become a global phenomenon. So too is the battle to control what most U.S. law enforcement authorities consider the country's greatest drug threat."
According to the Times, "The rural fringes of California metropolitan areas, including the Inland Empire, which once were centers of methamphetamine production, remain important distribution hubs. But the number of 'superlab' discoveries in California has dropped from 125 in 2003 to 12 through mid-October this year, according to the DEA. Nationwide, the numbers have dropped from 130 to 19 during the same period. Superlabs are operations that can produce more than 10 pounds of methamphetamine per cooking cycle. Authorities now estimate that 80% of the methamphetamine on U.S. streets is controlled by Mexican drug traffickers, with most of the supply smuggled in from Mexico. Methamphetamine seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border jumped 50% from 2003 through 2005, from 4,030 to 6,063 pounds. Mapping the methamphetamine production network is difficult in a country of remote ranchlands and under-patrolled metropolitan areas. Few law enforcement authorities are trained to recognize the signs of a drug lab, including the fumes and pollutants that pose significant environmental hazards. Nonetheless, the number of labs discovered by Mexican authorities nearly tripled from 2002 to 2005, from 13 to 37, and methamphetamine seizures more than doubled, to 2,169 pounds, during the same period. U.S. authorities believe the numbers are a fraction of actual activity, as signs of an extensive production infrastructure have surfaced in the last year or so. Among those signs: Mexico's importation of cold medicines jumped suddenly in recent years, from 92,000 tons in 2002 to 150,000 tons in 2005. Though recently imposed restrictions have cut legal imports by about half this year, U.S. authorities believe significant amounts are still being smuggled through corruption-ridden Mexican ports."
The Times noted that "In Mexico, meanwhile, drug lab discoveries have spanned the country. In Mexicali, several labs have erupted in flames. In Michoacan, authorities have discovered large production operations and believe lab activity is rife in the state's rural areas. Producers also have flooded the Mexican domestic market with the drug, creating an epidemic of methamphetamine addiction and drug-related crime in many cities. 'It's a grave public health problem of enormous dimensions,' said Victor Clark Alfaro, a border expert and director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana. Guadalajara, capital of the western state of Jalisco, has emerged as a production hub for methamphetamine, authorities say. Lab activity is easily camouflaged in the metropolitan area of 4 million people, which encompasses isolated ranchlands, industrial areas and densely packed urban neighborhoods where exhaust and sewer smells mask the fumes of superlabs."
Though it is difficult to imagine it is believed that corruption at the border and drug trafficking into the US from Mexico is getting even worse. The Dallas Morning News reported on Sept. 25, 2006 ("Narcotics Seizures On Rise Along Border") that "With the fiscal year almost over, Customs and Border Protection's Laredo sector saw its heroin seizures jump 40 percent. Seizures of undeclared currency, frequently a measure of illegal drug proceeds headed south, jumped 72 percent to nearly $10 million. And officials are particularly alarmed that a relatively new kid on the block, a purer and more addictive Mexican-produced methamphetamine, is showing up all over the state in huge amounts."
According to the Morning News, "The illicit drug marking the biggest increase -- and the most alarming, authorities said -- is the smokable form of methamphetamine, known as 'ice.' This fiscal year, customs inspectors at eight ports of entry between Brownsville and Del Rio have seized 683 pounds of meth as of July 5, the most recent month for which data are available. That compares with 627 pounds for all of fiscal 2005. DPS agents seized 123 pounds of Mexican meth in the first quarter of fiscal 2006, compared with 28.8 in the same period in the previous. fiscal year. In June, DEA administrator Karen Tandy told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that about 80 percent of the meth used in the U.S. is distributed by Mexican trafficking organizations and comes from large 'super labs' built on the Mexican side of the border. Three are located at Monterrey, Ciudad Acuna and Piedras Negras."
The Morning News noted that "The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates 65 percent of all narcotics smuggled into the U.S. enters from Mexico. Three of the four major distribution pipelines used by Mexican drug cartels pass through Texas. But for every strategic advance by drug agents, Mexican traffickers try out new ways to bypass law enforcement's attention. For instance, Border Patrol agents in McAllen caught a man last June with 38 pounds of heroin sewn into a vest. Inspectors in the Valley find that smugglers are opting for frequency over quantity, running smaller loads across the international bridges more often. 'We now have more people and are better equipped to conduct border inspections faster and more efficiently,' said Felix Garza, spokesman for Customs and Border Protection at Pharr. 'The smugglers know that, and they're always looking for ways to beat the system.' And for the area around Laredo, the continuing lethal turf battle between rival drug organizations across the river in Nuevo Laredo plays a key role in the intensified movement of drugs, said Leticia Moran, director of field operations for the Customs and Border Protection's Laredo office, which covers eight ports of entry from Brownsville to Del Rio. 'It appears the organizations are trying to move more hard narcotics in an effort to make more money,' said Ms. Moran. 'They try to put more of the smaller loads of the more expensive drugs across.'"
A graphic by the Morning News displaying statistics on border seizures along with other drug data is available by clicking here.
Corruption and violence are also on the increase. The El Paso Times reported on Sept. 20, 2006 ("Feds Agent Took Money, Let Drugs Pass Checkpoint") that "A veteran U.S. Border Patrol agent has been arrested on accusations he was bribed to wave drug loads through the checkpoint on Highway 62/180 east of El Paso, federal court documents state. Arturo Arzate Jr., 47, was arrested Friday as part of an on-going multi-agency investigation that included undercover agents, said Special Agent Andrea Simmons, a spokeswoman for the FBI in El Paso. Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said Arzate has been with the agency since 1985 and has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case."
According to the Times, "According to a federal criminal complaint, Arzate was allegedly paid $50 per kilo of marijuana and $1,000 per kilo of cocaine he allowed to pass through the checkpoint between El Paso and Carlsbad. The document alleges Arzate met with smugglers to plan when he could allow contraband to pass. An investigation began last November when someone told the FBI that Arzate had been seen with a now-dead local drug trafficker named David Soto discussing moving drug loads through the checkpoint, the complaint stated."
US officials are now expressing concerns that drug cartels have the upper hand in Mexico. The Dallas Morning News reported on Sept. 21, 2006 ("Are Drug Cartels Gaining Upper Hand In Mexico?") that "Once encouraged by Mexico's assault on drug traffickers, U.S. officials now worry that the cartels' growing geographic reach and the recent killing of a judge and police officials are signs that the government may be losing control of the drug fight. The powerful cartels are securing smuggling routes through Central America and are recruiting gunmen from there, say senior U.S. officials in Washington and Mexico City. 'The concern is growing. There is a dramatic spike in violence,' said one senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The tense presidential succession now under way in Mexico will make the coming months 'very dangerous,' the official said. Law enforcement officials from both countries will meet today in the Texas border city of Laredo, in part at the urging of U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza, who last week described lawlessness in Mexico as an urgent problem. The U.S. Embassy issued a new travel advisory to Americans, warning them of a rising level of 'brutal violence' throughout Mexico, especially along the border with Texas. Mexican officials acknowledge the violence but say it is a result of their aggressive law enforcement efforts. They say the U.S. must share responsibility for the problem because of the continuing demand for illegal drugs. Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez called Mr. Garza's comments 'unfortunate.'"According to the Morning News, "The attacks against public officials have led some U.S. officials to compare the situation in Mexico to Colombia in the 1980s and '90s, when drug cartels declared war on the government and targeted police, judges and even politicians. 'It's a practice, a pattern of terrorism in that they are trying to influence public opinion about who's really in charge and what their capability is and to silence those who may want to come forward and help both of our governments,' said a senior U.S. anti-narcotics official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'Mexico is waking up to a new era of brutality. Anyone who gets in the way, including law enforcement, pays the price. They're turning it into this public spectacle. That's alarming.' Most of the victims of drug violence continue to be members of the drug-trafficking organizations, which are battling for control of turf and trading routes, officials say. More than 1,500 people have been killed this year in drug-related violence, and the violence has taken a brutal turn, with 13 beheadings in recent weeks. Last week, authorities in the central state of Michoacan arrested three Guatemalan men, two of whom identified themselves as former soldiers. The men had 12 military-style assault rifles and nearly 3,000 bullets. Investigators said that they may have belonged to a brutal anti-insurgency battalion in Guatemala known as Kaibiles and that they may have participated in six beheadings this month in Uruapan, Michoacan. Prosecutors said the men testified that there are more former Guatemalan soldiers in the state, fighting a fierce turf war between the Gulf cartel, based in Nuevo Laredo, and the local Milenio organization. Current and former U.S. law enforcement officials say the brutal tactics, if not halted, may travel beyond the U.S.-Mexico border and into the United States. 'If these beheadings and other types of violence aren't curtailed in the killing fields of Mexico, don't be surprised that soon they will find their way to El Paso, Laredo or the Dallas metroplex,' said Phil Jordan, former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief in Dallas. 'Narcoterrorism knows no boundaries.'"
The Morning News noted that "A new study by Mr. Yanez (Jose Arturo Yanez Romero, a professor at Mexico's National Institute for Criminal Law) found that 3,502 federal investigators of the attorney general's office have been investigated for corruption since 2001, and hundreds more for other crimes. The attorney general's office has 12,000 employees. In a presentation this month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Mr. Yanez said that 400 members of the military have been killed in the battle against drug traffickers since 2000. More than 60 federal investigators have been killed in that period, along with hundreds from state and municipal police forces. One of the issues troubling U.S. officials is the lack of response from Mexican law enforcement authorities in going after criminals who've assassinated government officials =AD setting a dangerous precedent for fellow police authorities and elected officials. The recent killings of the judge and the police officials are examples of 'where a line must be drawn and not allowed to cross,' said the senior U.S. anti-narcotics official. 'What we saw happening 10 to 15 years ago in Colombia is now very, very alive and well in Mexico. The dynamics between Mexico and Colombia are different, but the challenges are the same,' the official said. 'Mexico is waking up to a new era of violence never seen before.' In Villa Madero, Michoacan, the entire 32-member police force resigned or failed to show up for work this week after being threatened by drug traffickers, local authorities said. Members of the force complained about a lack of arms and communications equipment to protect themselves. The town is near the state capital of Morelia."
Mexican President Vicente Fox, bowing to US pressure, has told the Mexican legislature to reconsider the decriminalization measure which it recently passed even though his administration had introduced the measure in the first place. The New York Times reported May 4, 2006 ( "Under US Pressure, Mexico President Seeks Review Of Drug Law") that "After intense pressure from the United States, President Vicente Fox has asked Congress to reconsider a law it passed last week that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs as part of a larger effort to crack down on street-level dealing. In a statement issued late Wednesday, Mr. Fox said the law should be changed 'to make it absolutely clear that in our country the possession of drugs and their consumption are and continue to be crimes.' Officials from the State Department and the White House's drug control office met with the Mexican ambassador in Washington Monday and expressed grave reservations about the law, saying it would draw tourists to Mexico who want to take drugs and would lead to more consumption, said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy."
According to the Times, "Later in the day, Mexico's chief of the Federal Police, Eduardo Medina Mora, tried to clarify the law's intent, saying its main purpose was to enlist help from the state and local police forces. Until now, selling drugs has been solely a federal offense, and the agents charged with investigating traffickers are stretched thin, he said. Mr. Medina Mora, the main architect of the first measure, which Mr. Fox sent to Congress in January, said it was true the law would make it a misdemeanor to possess small quantities of illegal drugs, but he added that people caught with those drugs would still have to go before a judge and would face a range of penalties. 'Mexico is not, has not been and will not be a refuge for anyone who wants to consume drugs,' Mr. Medina Mora said. The current law has a provision allowing people arrested on charges of possessing drugs to argue they are addicts and that the drugs were for personal use. The new law sets an upper limit on how much of each drug one could possess and still claim to be using it to support a habit, Mr. Medina Mora said, and stiffens penalties for people possessing larger amounts of drugs."
The Times noted that "Judith Bryan, a spokeswoman for the American Embassy here, said the officials in Washington had urged Mexico "to review the legislation and to avoid the perception that drug use would be tolerated in Mexico and to prevent drug tourism." It is unusual for American officials to try to influence internal Mexican legislation. Mr. Fox made it clear late Wednesday he would not sign the bill in its current form, but would send it back to Congress with proposed amendments."
The nation of Mexico has moved closer to decriminalizing personal use possession of small amounts of some drugs. According to the New York Times on April 29, 2006 ("Mexico Passes Law Making Possession Of Some Drugs Legal"), "Mexican lawmakers passed a sweeping new drug law early Friday that would crack down on small-time dealers, legalize the possession of small quantities of drugs and mandate treatment for addicts. Under the bill, it would be legal to have 25 milligrams of heroin, a fifth of an ounce of marijuana or half a gram of cocaine. The bill also makes it legal to possess small amounts of LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote. President Vicente Fox had proposed the law in January 2004 in the hopes of slowing down the rapid growth in drug addiction and the ranks of small-time dealers that has hit Mexican cities and towns in recent years, just as it has long plagued American cities. Both houses of the Mexican Congress passed it in a last-minute flurry of legislation as their session drew to a close. The final version of the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 53 to 26 during an all-night session that ended Friday morning. After its final approval, the president's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Mr. Fox would sign it into law. 'This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do so much damage to our youth and children,' Mr. Aguilar said."
The Times reported that "Supporters of the bill said it was meant to fix major flaws in Mexico's current drug laws. First, it will allow local judges and the police to decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be prosecuted when caught with small amounts of drugs. Previously, every drug suspect had to be prosecuted, a system that put many addicts in jail while dealers went free after bribing officials. Second, the state and local police will be empowered to arrest and prosecute street dealers who are carrying more than the minor amounts allowed under the law. Under existing laws, drug crimes were handled only by federal officials. The new measure also requires people caught with less than the legal limits to go before a judge, prove they are addicts and seek treatment. 'We are not authorizing the consumption of drugs,' said Senator Jorge Zermino, the bill's sponsor in the Senate. 'We are combating it and recognizing that there are addicts that require special treatment. We cannot close our eyes, nor fill our jails with addicts.'"
The reaction of the US government was muted. According to the Associated Press on April 29, 2006 ("US Cautious On Mexico Drug Measure) that "The United States reacted cautiously on Saturday to a Mexican measure that would make it legal to carry small amounts of cocaine, heroin and other drugs for personal use. News of the decriminalization did not make the front pages of any major Mexico City newspaper, nor was it discussed in editorials. It was slightly better publicized in the north of the country, where turf wars between rival drugs gangs have caused hundreds of killings along the Mexico-U.S. border, but was still overshadowed by news about immigration."
Reaction in the US was mixed. The San Antonio Express-News reported on April 29, 2006 ("Mexico Close To Legalizing Drug Use") that "A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry expressed displeasure and called the vote a 'tragic reversal of the war on drugs.' 'Obviously, this will create a lot more problems with drug traffickers along the border,' spokeswoman Kathy Walt said, adding that Texas had lost its 'partner' in the drug war. 'We expect the situation will only get worse,' she said. Gary Johnson, the controversial Republican governor of New Mexico from 1994 to 2002, welcomed the move and suggested laws should be relaxed further. 'I think it is certainly a step in the right direction,' Johnson said, taking a break from a marathon bike ride from New Mexico to California. 'If an individual is smoking marijuana in the confines of their own home, doing no harm to anyone other than arguably themselves, that shouldn't be a crime,' he said. The U.S. government, often critical of Mexico's efforts to fight drug cartels, declined to officially comment. 'We haven't studied the law yet, but any effort to decriminalize or legalize illegal drugs, even for personal use, would not be helpful,' said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the delicate nature of international relations."
According to the Express-News, "Along the Rio Grande, drug-fueled violence and corruption are so entrenched that officials are desperate for relief. Francisco Chavira, a Nuevo Laredo city councilman, supported the bill and said its provisions would allow authorities to focus on kingpins and spare the addicts. 'It is good that Congress passed the measure, because being a consumer and being a drug trafficker are not the same thing,' said Chavira, who believes addicts should not be punished, but treated. 'The war on drugs is one thing; addiction is another,' he said. 'Different strategies are needed for each.' In nearby Laredo, Webb Country Sheriff Rick Flores said Mexico was hunting for solutions. 'Right off the bat, I can tell you that Mexico is trying an experiment to see how to deal with minor offenders,' he said. 'The Mexican bill is not as radical as it sounds, but letting drug users off the hook could actually cause a rise in other crimes.'"
Law enforcement in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, was shaken up in March with the departure of two top officials. The San Jose Mercury News reported on March 24, 2006 ( "Violent Border City Seeks New Top Cop") that "In a new sign of turmoil on the violence-racked Mexican border, the police chief in Nuevo Laredo has resigned and authorities have quietly replaced the military general in charge of law enforcement, officials confirmed Thursday. The changes came a week after the administration of President Vicente Fox blamed corrupt elements of the city police force for a spectacular attack that killed four federal intelligence agents last week. A Fox official indicated that the hit men were aligned with a drug cartel. Police Chief Omar Pimentel, in the job for only eight months, resigned Wednesday night and the mayor accepted his resignation, said city press officer Marco Antonio Martínez. Pimentel was the successor to Alejandro Domínguez, who was gunned down last summer on his first day in the job. Officials named a temporary replacement Thursday and said patrols would continue uninterrupted. Also Thursday, a representative of the Federal Preventative Police (known here as the PFP) confirmed that Gen. Álvaro Moreno Moreno, who had been leading law enforcement efforts in Nuevo Laredo since last summer, had been replaced March 14 without official announcement."
According to the Mercury News, "Nuevo Laredo, 2 1/2 hours south of San Antonio, is at the center of a war between two drug cartels competing for access to lucrative distribution routes into the United States. Already, 57 people have been slain in gangland-style attacks this year, more than double the number killed during the same period last year. Late last week, only a day after authorities sent in some 600 reinforcements from the PFP, suspected traffickers gunned down four federal agents dressed in civilian clothes in a brazen afternoon attack. Rubén Aguilar, a press officer for the president, said evidence pointed to involvement by corrupt city police officers."
The Mercury News noted that "Moreno, who was leading the federal agents in Nuevo Laredo, had left quietly weeks earlier, officials told Knight Ridder. His departure came amid Mexican media reports and public statements raising questions about whether the PFP forces sent to restore order have themselves been infiltrated by elements of the drug cartels. PFP official Daniel Popoca said Thursday that Moreno had been rotated out as part of a routine change in the federal police forces, not because of his performance."
Media reports are raising concerns that members of the Mexican military, frustrated by low wages, are going to work for drug traffickers and have even crossed into the United States conducting illegal business.
The Dallas Morning News reported Dec. 24, 2005 ( "Drug War Corruption Taints Mexico Military") that "U.S. officials and analysts say there are new signs that drug corruption is spreading within the Mexican military, an institution long regarded as more professional and less prone to criminality than the country's law enforcement agencies. In interviews, four senior U.S. officials, a senior Mexican intelligence official and three independent analysts all expressed concern about the expanding role of the Mexican military in the drug war. Some said low pay among the middle and lower ranks makes military personnel vulnerable to offers from cartel leaders who may double or triple their pay. 'Corruption is more serious in the Mexican military than just about any other Latin American military,' a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. 'The reason is not that the Mexicans are any more venal; it's that we're talking about huge amounts of money because drugs flow into Mexico and that makes them more vulnerable.'"
According to the Morning News, "The emergence of two new paramilitary groups, Los Negros and Los Numeros, which may seek to bolster their forces with military personnel and federal agents, has added to the concern, U.S. officials said. The groups are said to work for the Sinaloa cartel, purportedly headed by Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman. They were recruited to battle the rival Gulf cartel and its enforcement arm, the Zetas, and to spread the Sinaloa cartel's dominance along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, the officials said. The Mexican government's central role in fighting drug trafficking is a relatively recent development. In 1996, during the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo, the U.S. government encouraged the Mexican government to give the military a central role in anti-narcotics efforts - in part because the military was viewed as uncorrupted, analysts said. 'We're the ones who pushed the Mexican military into fighting narcotics,' said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, head of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 'We've pushed them into narco-corruption.'"
The Morning News noted that "The military - historically a rallying point of Mexican nationalism - was long viewed as relatively free of the kind of corruption that has engulfed the country and many of its institutions. For example, this month the Mexican attorney general's office said that 1,493 federal agents - about one of every five members of an elite force of 7,000 working for an agency modeled after the FBI - were under criminal investigation. In the past five years, President Vicente Fox has dramatically increased the military's participation in anti-drug efforts by including military personnel on the attorney general's payroll. 'I think it's very dangerous to move military officers into what should be civilian jobs,' said another senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'It's very risky, not only to the mission they're supposed to perform, but to the institution from where they come.' Since 1996, the U.S. government has spent at least $225 million on training and other military assistance for anti-drug aid programs, according to a report by the Washington Office of Latin America, or WOLA, a nongovernmental organization that monitors military cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. Giving the military a central role has 'allowed drug traffickers to penetrate deep into the military structure,' without markedly slowing the flow of drugs to the U.S., the report said. 'Transparency is essential to combating corruption, but the Mexican military has managed to avoid external oversight,' said Joy Olson, executive director of WOLA. 'It should come as no surprise that the military's secrecy is one factor that has made it more vulnerable to the corrupting influence of the drug trade.' Low wages U.S officials and analysts stressed that low pay among rank-and-file soldiers makes them especially vulnerable to drug traffickers. Soldiers make about $300 a month, compared with $5,000 for lieutenant colonels and about $28,000 for the defense secretary, according to a salary scale on the military's Web site."
Adding to the concern are reports that Mexican soldiers, allegedly in the employ of trafficking organizations, have crossed into the US repeatedly over the past several years. The Los Angeles Daily News reported on Jan. 15, 2006 ( "Document Says Mexican Soldiers Crossing Border Into United States") that "The Mexican military has crossed into the United States 216 times in the past nine years, according to a Department of Homeland Security document and a map of incursions obtained by the Daily Bulletin. U.S. officials claim the incursions are made to help foreign drug and human smugglers into the United States. The 2001 map, which shows 34 of the incursions, bears the seal of the president's Office of National Drug Control Policy."
According to the Daily News, "Kristi Clemons, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, would not confirm the number of incursions, but said Saturday the department is in ongoing discussion with the Mexican government about them. 'We - the Department of Homeland Security and the CBP ( U.S. Customs and Border Protection ) - are determined to gain control of the border and will continue to collaborate with our partners on the border,' Clemons said. Border Patrol agents say they for several years have reported sightings and confrontations with Mexican military inside the United States, which the Daily Bulletin documented last year in its Beyond Borders series about immigration. 'We've had armed showdowns with the Mexican army,' said a border agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'These aren't just ex-military guys. These are Mexican army officials assisting drug smugglers.' In one 2000 incident, more than 16 Mexican soldiers were arrested by border agents in a small town west of El Paso, in Santa Teresa, N.M., after Mexican soldiers fired on the agents, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. None of the agents was injured in the gunbattle, and U.S. State Department officials forced the border agents to release the soldiers and return them to Mexico with their weapons, Bonner added."
The Daily News noted that "Mexican government officials said they have neither seen the report nor map and dispute the findings, stating that at no time in recent years have military personnel crossed the border into the United States. 'I strongly deny any incursion by the Mexican military on United States soil,' said Rafael Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. 'When it comes to Mexican military on the southern side, I have no reports of them crossing into the United States. That would mean that the patrol got lost or lack of expertise and orientation. This could be smugglers with fake uniforms as a tactic to confuse the authorities.' Laveaga added that Mexico's law enforcement agencies work closely with the FBI, Office of National Drug Control Policy and other U.S. agencies to assist in the capture of drug cartel members. Further, Laveaga contended that wealthy smugglers can afford fake uniforms and camouflage their vehicles to resemble those of the military."
The head of a Guatemalan anti-drug police force and two of his deputies were arrested on trafficking charges by US authorities in Nov. 2005. The Associated Press reported on Nov. 16, 2005 ( "US Arrests Top Guatemalan Drug Investigator") that "Police in Virginia have arrested Guatemala's top anti-narcotics investigator and two of his key aides and charged them with conspiring to smuggle drugs into the United States, Guatemalan authorities said Wednesday. Adan Castillo and two deputy investigators, Jorge Aguilar Garcia and Rubilio Palacios, were arrested Tuesday, Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielman said during a news conference in Guatemala City, the nation's capital. They were charged in a three-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Washington after a four-month investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Guatemalan government. 'More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan police officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation that they were entrusted to prevent,' DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said in Washington."
According to AP, "Castillo was in Virginia for a training course on fighting drug trafficking in ports when U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, Vielman said. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Castillo said he was ready to quit after six months in his post because he was frustrated with a losing battle against drug smugglers. He said traffickers were aided by corrupt officials at all levels of government."
AP noted that "The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that 75 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States passes through Guatemala, much of it arriving aboard go-fast boats from Colombia."
A Mexican anti-narcotics intelligence official has alleged that former members of an elite Guatemalan counterinsurgency unit are now working with Mexican traffickers. The newspaper El Universal reported on Oct. 31, 2005 ( "Officials Say 30 'Kaibiles' In Mexico") that "A top official for the Special Investigation into Organized Crime, or SIEDO, said Sunday that former members of an elite Guatemalan counterinsurgency unit had indeed been joining the ranks of the feared drug hit men known as the 'Zetas.' At a press conference Sunday, SIEDO's José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos produced a report carried out by the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) that he said showed evidence that 30 Guatemalan ex-paratroopers, known as 'Kaibiles,' are collaborating with the Zetas."
According to El Universal, "Fears of Kaibil integration with the Zetas began last month, after seven men with military backgrounds were detained near the Guatemalan border. At first, officials said they doubted the men were Kaibiles. Shortly thereafter, however, they said the detainees had received training from Kaibil forces, but that they were still investigating whether the men had drug links. On Sunday, Santiago Vasconcelos told reporters that evidence now confirmed that 30 of the exparatroopers were being paid US$700 a week to work with the Zetas and carry out drug smuggling operations in Mexico."
Guatemalan officials tried to cast doubt on the report. AP reported on Nov. 1, 2005 ( "Guatemalan Official: Report Is Dubious") that "Jorge Ortega Gaytán, a Guatemalan army spokesman, said Monday that army leaders doubt the reports. 'These are their suppositions,' he said, referring to the assertions of the Mexican authorities. Mexico's chief organized crime investigator, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, told reporters Sunday that at least 30 of the socalled 'kaibiles' have been hired by the Zetas, a group of ex-elite Mexican soldiers who now work for the Gulf drug cartel. In terms of that number, Ortega said, 'I don't know how they are counting them. ... They're just throwing out a random number.'"
According to AP, "The Zetas are former members of the elite Special Forces' Mobile Air Group who deserted their posts in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where they were assigned to combat the Gulf cartel, to become hitmen for the cartel. The group formed at the end of the 1990s. The kaibiles are former members of an elite Guatemalan paratrooper counterinsurgency unit known for its grueling jungle-survival training. The unit was created in the 1970s and named after an insurgent Maya prince, Kaibil Balam. Still in existence, the group has been blamed for some of the massacres that occurred in Guatemala during its 36-year civil war."
AP noted that "In September, Defense Secretary Gerardo Clemente Vega said there were indications the Zetas had invited the kaibiles to work with them. The PGR later reported that seven Guatemalans had been detained, but the Guatemalan government said only four of them had been trained as kaibiles. Of those captured, all but one were deserters. The non-deserter had asked to be discharged from the army, Guatemalan officials said at the time."
A lawsuit by a former US Drug Enforcement Administration agent has revealed some disturbing information about US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undercover operations. The El Paso Times reported on Oct. 5, 2005 ( "Ex-Attorney General Was Briefed On Juáez Case") that "Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was briefed on the drug investigation that almost cost the lives of two Drug Enforcement Administration agents and involved an informant tied to the death of at least 12 men in Juárez, a DEA administrator revealed in court recently. The case involved an Immigration and Customs Enforcement informant known as "Lalo," who oversaw the executions of at least 12 men for the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel. Internal ICE memos show ICE agents knew of the killings and did nothing to stop them until two DEA agents assigned to Juárez were mistaken for drug dealers and almost killed."
According to the Times, "The agents and their families were pulled from Mexico, and ICE contacted Mexican federal police, who raided a safe house in Juárez and found 12 male bodies buried in the back yard. Ashcroft was told of the 'debacle,' DEA Administrator Karen Tandy testified in a Miami court recently. Tandy was subpoenaed in a suit by Sandalio Gonzalez, the former DEA special agent in charge in El Paso. Gonzalez said in an interview Tuesday that it was all the more puzzling that the government never investigated the alleged criminal wrongdoing by agents in the case. 'This incident was serious enough to go all the way to the attorney general.' His boss, Tandy, said a review team from ICE and DEA came to El Paso from Washington. The results of that review were never released and no one apparently was disciplined."
The Times noted that "Tandy's testimony in late August offers a glimpse into the damage the case did to relations between ICE and DEA. Gonzalez's letter, Tandy said, was 'like tossing a hand grenade into the middle of a firefight.' An e-mail entered into evidence in the case suggests officials weren't only concerned with repairing interagency cooperation, but also about avoiding negative press coverage. In the e-mail, Tandy wrote that Gonzalez was 'not to speak to the press other than a no comment, that he is to desist writing anything regarding the Juárez matter.'"
A helicopter crash claimed the lives of some Mexican police and security in Sept. 2005. Reuters reported on Sept. 22, 2005 ( "Mexico Probes Drug-War Minister's Chopper Death") that "Public Security Minister Ramon Martin Huerta and eight others died on Wednesday when the helicopter carrying them slammed into a fog-shrouded mountain near the capital. Martin Huerta was a close ally and friend of President Vicente Fox, and a key operative in a war on drugs that has seen a surge of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border this year. As rescue teams removed bodies from the remote crash site on Thursday, the government said it would leave no stone unturned in the investigation. But it played down fears that drug bosses may have shot down the helicopter or otherwise sabotaged it. 'Investigations have barely begun, reports are being made, but everything points to a terrible accident,' Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca told reporters."
According to Reuters, "Martin Huerta's chopper was flying to the La Palma maximum-security penitentiary that holds several of Mexico's most feared drug criminals."
Reuters reported that "The Bell 412 helicopter apparently crashed at full speed into a rocky area and burst into flames after the pilot apparently lost visibility, officials said. Jose Antonio Bernal, an inspector from a state-run human rights watchdog, was also killed in the crash. He had received at least three death threats from notorious drug capo Osiel Cardenas, who was captured in 2003 but continues to run his cartel and order executions from behind bars, the Mexican government has said. 'No line of investigation should be closed, although we should not jump to a conclusion (of foul play) I frankly don't see,' said Alejandro Gertz, Fox's former public security minister. Also among the dead was Tomas Valencia, the head of the Federal Preventive Police, one of Mexico's federal police forces."
The US Drug Enforcement Administration now contends that Mexican gangs dominate the trafficking of illicit drugs into the United States. The Miami Herald reported on July 31, 2005 ( "Mexico Now Top Supplier Of US Drugs") that "Mexican drug traffickers have pushed aside their Colombian counterparts and now dominate the U.S. market in the biggest reorganization of the trade since the rise of the Colombian cartels in the 1980s, U.S. officials say. Mexican groups now are behind much of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine on U.S. streets, the officials say, with Mexican law enforcement agencies viewed as either too weak or too corrupt to stop them. Mexico's role as a drug-trafficking hub has been growing for some time, but its grip on the $400-billion-a-year trade has strengthened in recent years. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last month, 92 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States in 2004 came through the U.S.-Mexico border, compared with 77 percent in 2003. And the Key West-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates federal drug interdiction efforts and intelligence, has reported almost 90 percent of the cocaine heading to the U.S. market goes by boat to Mexico or other countries in Central America, and then by land to the U.S. border."
(For a discussion of the value of the world drug market, check out Drug War Distortions.)
According to the Herald, "Officials describe the Mexican cartels as business-savvy, tight-knit family affairs that operate weblike networks of international partnerships. The Colombians cartels controlled the drug trade from its production to its wholesale distribution. The Mexicans tend to focus more on distribution, the business' most lucrative leg. Anthony Placido, the DEA's top intelligence official told a congressional panel in June that the Mexican gangs have links to groups from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and 'street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs, who conduct most of the retail and street-level distribution throughout the country.' The Mexicans don't control the coca or opium poppy crops in South America but are 'taking ownership of [drugs] and beginning to deliver the drug themselves to Mexican distributors in the United States,' said David Murray, a senior advisor with the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. The DEA noted 14 cities as 'staging areas:' Albuquerque, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, Los Angeles, McAllen, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Tulsa, San Antonio, San Diego and Tucson."
The Herald noted that "U.S. law enforcement agencies have uncovered over 30 tunnels below the border built by drug traffickers. One congressional aide described them as 'industry-standard tunnels that you would find in a mining operation.' The Mexicans also offer a more varied menu of drugs than their Colombian counterparts, who traditionally dealt in cocaine and heroin. According to the DEA, Mexico is the second-largest supplier of heroin in the United States after Colombia, and the largest foreign supplier of marijuana. Mexican gangs also are becoming a major force in the burgeoning methamphetamine trade by setting up production laboratories on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In 2004, a record 3,600 pounds of methamphetamine was seized along the south-west border, a 74 percent rise since 2001, according to DEA figures."
In an interesting example of 'Blowback,' current anti-methamphetamine production laws may have actually helped Mexican gangs solidify their control of that market. The Dallas Morning News reported on July 29, 2005 ( "No Drop Overall In Meth Use") that "A widely copied Oklahoma law that has led to a dramatic drop in small-time methamphetamine labs has done little to curtail meth abuse overall. Users are turning to Mexican-made versions of the highly addictive drug, according to drug agents and others dealing with the problem."
According to the Morning News, "Seizures of 'crystal ice' have risen nearly fivefold since a state law began putting local meth makers out of business. Oklahoma was the first of more than a dozen states to limit over-the-counter sales of cold medicine containing a key ingredient used to make meth. 'Our problem hasn't gone away,' said Oklahoma City Police Lt. Tom Terhune, who investigates drug cases. 'The problem that's gone away is the meth labs.' Oklahoma has seen a 90 percent drop in lab seizures since it put medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters in April 2004. Congress is now considering similar legislation. In the same 15 months, however, ice seizures rose to 1,875, compared with 384 seizures in the previous 15 months, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation statistics show."
Mexican authorities, acting on information provided by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, thought they had finally captured the leader of the Juarez cartel, Vicente Carrillo. However, as Reuters reported on July 7, 2005 ( "Mexico Admits Identity Mistaken In Big Drug Arrest"), "Mexico admitted on Thursday that a mustachioed middle-aged man it arrested last weekend was not the top drug lord that police had believed he was, the latest in a series of high-profile law enforcement bungles. However, authorities continued to hold the man while probing possible links to the drugs trade, despite statements from relatives that he is a respected architect and not Vicente Carrillo, boss of the powerful Juarez drug cartel, as the government said it had suspected. A senior government official admitted on Thursday it was not Carrillo after DNA test results came back negative. 'We have no doubt that this is not Vicente Carrillo,' Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the head of the federal police's organized crime unit, told reporters. The attorney general's office earlier this week said two witnesses produced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, had identified the suspect as Carrillo, who is reported to have undergone extensive plastic surgery to alter his face. Carrillo is one of Mexico's leading drug barons and listed as one of the DEA's top 10 international fugitives with a $5 million reward on his head."
This was just the latest in a series of errors made by law enforcement in Mexico. As Reuters noted, "[T]he government was left red-faced by the latest error, which came after last month's mistaken arrest of a man authorities claimed was an international terror suspect. He turned out to be a harmless Lebanese-born tourist. On Wednesday, a federal judge publicly lambasted prosecutors for shoddy work on a criminal case against several family members of Mexico's most wanted man, reputed drug lord Joaquin Guzman, who escaped from prison in 2001. Judge Jesus Guadalupe Luna said he was forced to uphold a lower court decision rejecting arrest orders against a dozen Guzman family members due to prosecutors' 'useless and faulty arguments' in appealing the decision. More than 500 people have been killed this year in drug-related violence that has escalated since Fox launched a 'mother of all battles' against drug gangs."
The violence in Mexico has also claimed the life of another high-ranking police officer in Nuevo Laredo. Reuters reported that "Last month, Fox sent hundreds of anti-drug troops to the Mexico-U.S. border. On Wednesday, a new police chief took over in Nuevo Laredo across the border from Texas, a month after his predecessor was murdered within hours of taking office. But the violence continues, and one of the new police chief's senior commanders was murdered on Wednesday night. The off-duty commander, Martin Gonzalez, was hit with two bullets to the head when gunmen opened fire with assault rifles from a moving vehicle and from behind a tree as he drove his luxury pickup truck in the city. Two police officers who were with Gonzalez were wounded. 'I don't know what happened. It is like they were hunting us,' said one of the officers, Guillermo Martinez, who suffered three bullet wounds in the attack."
Observers of the US drug war in Mexico are concerned that the anti-drug efforts may be fueling a growth in violent crime and ultimately destabilizing the country. The Dallas Morning News reported on July 4, 2005 ( "Mexico Debates Stepped-Up Drug War") that "Mexico finally is fighting the war on drugs that the U.S. government has demanded for decades: a frontal assault on drug barons, their organizations and their merchandise, using the police and military in concert with U.S. intelligence. The results, Mexican and U.S. authorities say, have been impressive. Forty-six thousand people jailed on drug charges, President Vicente Fox said in a recent speech, 97 tons of cocaine seized, more than a million marijuana plants destroyed. It's been four years, Mr. Fox and U.S. officials said, of steady progress. But a rising chorus of voices in Mexico and the U.S. says the real results are record levels of violence, instability and corruption in Mexico, resurgent drug cartels, nearly 200 dead police officers and soldiers, along with millions of wasted dollars in a country where half the population of 105 million is poor. Mexico receives almost no aid from the U.S. government. And the result in the U.S.? No noticeable drop in the supply of cheap drugs - and an actual decline in the price of cocaine, according to a new U.N. report. Some analysts say Mexico's approach has not only failed to stanch the flow of drugs but is also destabilizing the young democracy. Mexico needs to turn back now, they say."
Some are even calling for a return to the old days of unofficially dealing with the traffickers, allowing them to do business in return for peace at home. According to the Morning News, "'The Americans pressure us to carry out a head-on drug war, and when the situation starts to get out of control, the Americans complain that there is violence on the border,' said political commentator Jose Antonio Crespo. 'There is no way of making them happy because they always have some reason not to be.' Before the violence spirals out of control, as it has in Colombia as a result of similar policies, Mr. Crespo said, Mexico should go back to pretending to fight an unwinnable war rather than fighting it in earnest. 'If the United States is not going to legalize drugs, then Mexico has to come to terms with the narcos,' he said. 'There were agreements in the past to let 80 percent of the drugs through, to allow some seizures for the Americans and for the media, and there was a lot less violence.' Mr. Fox said recently that is not an option."
There is no question that present policies are leading to internal strife. The Morning News noted that "Northern border cities such as Nuevo Laredo essentially have slipped out of the government's control despite increasing deployment of soldiers and federal police, some analysts say. More drugs are getting left behind because of the drug fight, they say, and addiction is up at home. The nightly accounting of deaths associated with the drug fight has made public security the No. 1 issue among Mexicans in recent months, overtaking unemployment and the lackluster economy, according to a public opinion survey by the Televisa TV network. Tourism to the Texas-Mexico border is down. For Mexican critics of the policy, an upside is hard to find. Even the U.S. State Department acknowledges that not much has changed. 'Despite its intense law enforcement efforts, Mexico is the leading transit country for cocaine and a major producer of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana destined for U.S. markets,' said the 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Further, it acknowledged: 'As a result of the huge traffic in drugs, Mexican criminal organizations dominate operations, controlling most of the thirteen primary drug distribution centers in the U.S. The violence of warring Mexican cartels has spilled over the border from Mexico to U.S. sites on the other side.'"
A few voices can be heard calling for an alternative to the present course: legalization. As the Morning News reported, "U.S.-inspired drug policies have been 'a negative in terms of cost' to such countries as Mexico and Colombia, said Gary S. Becker, economics professor at the University of Chicago. He said the drug war has hindered Colombia's economic growth rate and 'the preoccupation with cartels has hurt the country.' 'Mexico may be moving in that direction,' said Dr. Becker, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1992. 'This is a very expensive process for the U.S. and other countries, and there's little bang for the buck, as it were. My conclusion is that we have to look at more radical solutions such as legalization of drugs.' Dr. Becker acknowledged, however, that such a development is unlikely any time soon, noting that 'the vast majority of politicians are unwilling to take on legalization in any serious way.'
Federal troops have moved into Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican city on the US border, to try and restore order after the most of the police force was taken into custody for questioning on suspicion of corruption and other crimes relating to drug trafficking. The San Jose Mercury News reported on June 14, 2005 ( "Troops Take Over Violent Mexican City") that "Residents of this besieged city awoke Monday to find their police force gone, replaced by Mexican special forces troops who took over this border community stung by drug violence. After a gradual buildup over the weekend, Mexican troops -- some of whom were trained by the U.S. military -- swept into the city before daybreak and took control of a number of strategic operations, including city hall, the communications tower and police installations. They also detained hundreds of local police officers suspected of being in cahoots with drug traffickers."
According to the Mercury News, "Most of the 1,200-member police force underwent drug tests and background checks, local officials here said on the condition of anonymity. More than 700 officers were loaded onto trucks and detained for further questioning here and in Mexico City. Some U.S. law enforcement officials praised Mexico for the action, but said, 'We have sent them addresses, photographs of suspects. Let's see if they really mean business or if it's just a show.' In Mexico City, officials of President Vicente Fox's administration called on the U.S. government to assist in stopping the entry of illegal weapons into Mexico that have contributed to widespread bloodshed. Many of those weapons -- assault rifles, Uzis and AK-47s -- are purchased at gun shows throughout Texas, U.S. and Mexican intelligence officials say."
The Mexican government reponded to concerns that this was an escalation of the drug war. "Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar denied the government was militarizing the border and said the operation has been in the planning stages for weeks. 'There are very clear signs of a relationship between elements of the Nuevo Laredo police and drug smuggling, hence the decisive action,' Aguilar said. Nuevo Laredo represents the largest hub for land trade and a key transshipment point for South American cocaine and Mexican-produced marijuana and other narcotics heading for the United States."
Nuevo Laredo had already been known as a home for the Zetas, a former military anti-drug unit which had switched sides and gone to work for drug traffickers. The Dallas Morning News reported on March 8, 2005 ( "Fear Runs High In Mexico Town") that "Authorities on both sides of the Rio Grande say the bloodshed is happening now because rival drug traffickers are fighting for control of the city, a key corridor for Texas-bound cocaine, marijuana and heroin. The bodies of two unidentified men killed Saturday night showed signs of torture, police said. Local newspapers splashed color photos of their bodies across the front pages Monday. 'One victim's head blown off by a machine gun blast,' La Tarde said. But many Nuevo Laredo residents say they aren't interested in such gruesome details. And many would rather not get involved or even talk about the violence. They're understandably afraid, said Arturo A. Fontes, a special agent for the FBI. 'People across the border live life with a gun pointed to their head,' he said. Everyday fears are evident in the police officer who still doesn't know how to use a gun and constantly looks over his shoulder, the businessman who's had enough of Mexico's mayhem and is moving across the border to Laredo with his family, the reporter who 'limits' himself in what he writes for fear of retaliation from a shadowy hit squad known as the Zetas. 'We're all selling our houses and moving across the border to Texas,' said Alicia Anaya, 76, a retired vendor who sat Monday with her son and daughter in the shade of a Nuevo Laredo newspaper stand.
The violence in Nuevo Laredo has reportedly already far north across the US border. As the Dallas Morning News reported on Feb. 19, 2005 ( "Mexican Zetas Extending Violence Into Dallas"), "A team of rogue Mexican commandos blamed for dozens of killings along the U.S.-Mexico border has carried out at least three drug-related slayings in Dallas, a sign that the group is extending its deadly operations into U.S. cities, two American law enforcement officials say. The men are known as the Zetas, former members of the Mexican army who defected to Mexico's so-called Gulf drug cartel in the late 1990s, other officials say. 'These guys run like a military,' said Arturo A. Fontes, an FBI special investigator for border violence based in Laredo, in South Texas. 'They have their hands in everything and they have eyes and ears everywhere. I've seen how they work, and they're good at what they do. They're an impressive bunch of ruthless criminals.'
According to the Morning News, "Concern over the Zetas' activities in Dallas comes at a time of increased violence along the border and a crackdown on drug cartels by Mexico that President Vicente Fox has dubbed 'the mother of all battles.' In the first seven weeks of this year, about 135 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico, mostly in northern states, including Tamaulipas and Chihuahua - which border Texas -and Sonora and Sinaloa. In Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state, about 300 people have been reported missing in recent months, including 27 Americans, some of whom are believed to have been victims of the Zetas-sponsored drug violence. The Americans included two abducted this week and released Thursday after a ransom was paid, a U.S. law enforcement official said."
The US Drug Czar's office released its estimates for Mexican heroin and marijuana production in 2004. According to the Czar ( "2004 Marijuana And Opium Poppy Estimates For Mexico"), "Marijuana cultivation fell 23 percent between 2003 and 2004, to an estimated 5,800 hectares, down from 7,500 hectares in 2003. The Mexican government continued intensive efforts against the marijuana crop, eradicating 30,836 hectares for the year. Marijuana potential production fell to an estimated 10,400 metric tons (down from 13,400 the previous year). Opium poppy cultivation likewise fell in 2004, declining 27 percent to an estimated 3,500 hectares from 4,800 hectares in 2003. Mexican government forces eradicated 15,925 hectares of opium poppy. Potential production of heroin fell to an estimated nine metric tons (pure heroin equivalent), down from an estimated twelve metric tons in 2003."
Yet the decline touted by ONDCP isn't significant when viewed in context. The US State Dept.'s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2005 reveals that production in 2003 and 2004 were alarmingly high compared to historical levels, as this chart of Mexico production statistics from the State Dept's 2005 INCSR shows.
Sixteen US soldiers and law enforcement officers pleaded guilty to drug charges in one of the "largest public corruption cases along the US-Mexico border in recent years." The Los Angeles Times reported on May 13, 2005 ( "US Soldiers, Law Officers Snared In Border Drug Sting") that "A brazen conspiracy among U.S. law enforcement officers and soldiers to smuggle cocaine from Mexico was disclosed Thursday by the Justice Department, adding to concerns that public corruption north of the border was growing. Wearing uniforms and even driving U.S. military vehicles, 16 suspects were caught in a sting run by an FBI-led task force. Eleven entered guilty pleas Thursday in Tucson; the other five have agreed to do so soon."
According to the Times, "Justice Department officials describe the case as a 'widespread bribery and extortion conspiracy.' It is one of the largest public corruption cases along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. The defendants 'used their color of authority to prevent police stops, searches and seizures of narcotics as they drove the cocaine shipments on highways that passed through checkpoints,' the Justice Department said in a statement. The defendants pleaded guilty to transporting 1,232 pounds of cocaine and accepting $222,000 in cash for their activities. The 16 defendants are or have been employed by a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Army, the Arizona Army National Guard, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Arizona Department of Corrections, the local police department in Nogales, Ariz., and the immigration and naturalization service."
The Times noted that "U.S. Atty. for Arizona Paul Charlton has been sounding alarms about the problem of public corruption for several years, and the latest arrests seem to confirm what he and others have been saying. 'It is a problem along the whole border,' Charlton said in an interview more than a year ago. 'Along the port of entries, custom officials have been paid to assist with smuggling. Some of these people don't have the ability to say no.' In the last several years, almost every segment of the U.S. border with Mexico has had cases of law enforcement, customs and immigration officials, local police and U.S. military personnel prosecuted for bribery, drug trafficking and other federal crimes. In the last three years, a border patrol agent and his wife were convicted of smuggling illegal immigrants in San Diego, an immigration officer pleaded guilty to charges of helping drug dealers smuggle narcotics in Texas and two Forest Service rangers were convicted of marijuana trafficking along the Arizona border. As the convictions have mounted, concerns that well-financed drug and smuggling organizations in Mexico could corrupt the U.S. civil service and military along the border has been growing. The FBI set up a public corruption squad in its Phoenix office in 2003. Last year, federal authorities organized a joint meeting to step up efforts to combat corruption."
Could this be the tip of the iceberg? As the Times reported, "One of the biggest emerging concerns is that a corrupted southern border could leave the nation more vulnerable to terrorists who could more easily pass through undetected and possibly join forces with drug interests. 'It is not just the threat of drugs, but the possibility that terrorists will slip through,' said Douglas C. McNabb, a criminal defense lawyer who has represented government officials charged with corruption. 'We have a huge problem along the border.' Rumors about Operation Lively Green have been circulating among law enforcement officials in Arizona for years, said one federal agent who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'The big question in the field was why these guys weren't being prosecuted,' he said. 'Now, it looks like they were flipped.' Justice Department spokesmen confirmed that the defendants had cooperated with the investigation, which is continuing. The defendants were appearing before Magistrate Judge Charles R. Pyle in Tucson. Each conspiracy charge carries a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine."
Troubles in the Mexican prison system came to a head in January 2005. As BBC News reported on Jan. 22, 2005 ( "Mexico Jails Placed On High Alert"), " Mexico's three top-security prisons have been placed on maximum alert after the murder of six prison officers. The move means all visits to inmates are suspended and staff are being given extra protection. President Vicente Fox has vowed to wage 'the mother of all battles' against drug lords blamed for the killings in the northern Matamoros penitentiary. The prison workers were kidnapped and blindfolded before being shot and dumped outside the jail on Thursday. The army has sealed off the prison and the neighbouring city, on the border with Texas. Mexico's troops last week took over another prison - La Palma near the capital - following a series of killings there."
According to the BBC, " It is only a week since more than 750 federal soldiers and police were called into take control of another high security prison at La Palma. This came after a series of murders and rumours that two powerful drugs lords, Osiel Cardenas and Benjamin Arellano Felix, were joining forces inside the prison. Some inmates had been transferred from La Palma north to Matamoros to try to break up the group, our correspondent says. Some Mexican security analysts said the Matamoros murders were in revenge for what they described as the 'humiliation' dealt to drug lords at La Palma. Footage of top criminals there - lined up in the prison patio with their heads bowed and hands folded behind their backs - was recently aired on Mexico's TV."
The tensions in Mexico prompted the US to issue a travel alert, a move which was promptly denounced by Mexican authorities. According to a NY Times report carried by the San Jose Mercury News on Jan. 28, 2005 ( "Mexico Rebukes US For Travel Alert"), "The State Department travel alert Wednesday said most Americans visit Mexico without mishap, but it warned of 'deteriorating security' marked by a sharp increase in kidnappings and slayings that put Americans at greater risk. In a separate letter to Mexican officials, the U.S. ambassador, Tony Garza, expressed concern that state and local police on the Mexican side of the border had failed at 'coming to grips' with the fighting among gangs struggling for control of the drug trade. And he wrote that violence could have a 'chilling effect on the cross-border exchange, tourism and commerce so vital to the region's prosperity.' The letter stirred a storm in Mexico City, where the political classes remain extremely sensitive to any threat of U.S. intervention, about 150 years after the United States took over more than half of Mexico's territory. 'Mexico's fight against drug trafficking is firm,' said a statement released Thursday by President Vicente Fox. 'The Mexican government does not admit judgment from any foreign government about political actions taken to confront its problems.' High-level officials went on national television to defend Mexico's efforts to fight organized crime. Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez angrily dismissed Garza's letter as an exaggeration. And in an interview Thursday, Interior Minister Santiago Creel suggested that it had crossed diplomatic boundaries. Creel said that in recent years, Mexico and the United States had collaborated like never before to fight drug trafficking, and that Mexico had made unprecedented progress by putting some of this country's most wanted kingpins in jail. 'I'd like to see more kingpins in United States prisons,' he said."
The story continues: "But in recent weeks it has become clear that Mexican prisons have not confined the drug war as much as sheltered it. While new players have emerged along the border and begun a new fight for control, kingpins fight back from their prison cells, ordering assassinations and running their operations with the help of corrupt guards and prison administrators. Michael Yoder, the U.S. consul in Nuevo Laredo, warned last month that the number of Americans kidnapped and killed had risen from about three a year to more than 25 in the past six months."
A Mexican governor has fired the entire state police force. The BBC News reported on April 13, 2004 ( "Mexican Police Force Suspended") that " A governor in Mexico has suspended his entire state police force after two senior officers were jailed amid accusations of aiding a drug cartel. The governor of the central state of Morelos, Sergio Estrada, said he was suspending the force of more than 550 officers pending an investigation. He said their weapons had been taken away and offices placed under guard."
According to the BBC, "Last week, the state chief of police Jose Augustin Montiel was arrested, along with his operations director Raul Cortez Galindo. Both were remanded in custody on suspicion of helping the powerful Juarez drug cartel fly cocaine shipments from Colombia into Mexico. The cartel - named for the northern border city where it is allegedly based - is said to be one of the country's major drug trafficking organisations."
Governor Estrada has also come under suspicion. The Houston Chronicle reported on April 13, 2004 ( "Mexican State Governor Suspends 552 Detectives") that "Hours later, the governor himself was interviewed by federal agents amid newspaper reports that he was in league with drug gangs. At a news conference, Gov. Sergio Estrada vehemently denied any wrongdoing. 'I have a clean conscience,' Estrada told reporters. 'I deny any link with drug traffickers.'"
The temptation to corruption is certainly great. According to the Chronicle, "Analysts estimate that Mexican drug gangs make $3 billion to $30 billion annually by smuggling cocaine over the U.S. border and say they have police, politicians and judges on their payrolls."
The US government in early April 2004 released its estimate of Mexican drug production for 2003. According to the US State Dept. on April 6, 2004 ( "2003 Drug Cultivation Estimates For Mexico"), "The estimates indicate -- despite intensive Mexican eradication programs -- an overall increase in marijuana and opium poppy cultivation."
The State Dept. estimated that "Mexico’s intensive eradication efforts resulted in a record elimination of 36,600 hectares of marijuana, up from 30,777 hectares of marijuana eradicated in 2002. Unusually favorable growing conditions and increased planting efforts by narco-traffickers contributed to a 70 percent increase in marijuana cultivation for 2003. The number of hectares cultivated increased from 4,400 in 2002 to 7,500 in 2003. The estimates also show a 78 percent increase in opium poppy cultivation, again owing to unusually favorable growing conditions and stepped-up planting efforts. The number of hectares cultivated increased from 2,700 in 2002 to 4,800 in 2003. Mexico sustained 2002’s strong opium poppy eradication efforts, increasing slightly from 19,626 hectares of poppy to a record 20,000 hectares of opium poppy eradicated in 2003. The report noted that 2003’s opium poppy cultivation levels, while an increase over 2002, are well within the historic range of poppy cultivation seen for the last decade."
The State Department also noted, without irony, that "While the increases in illicit drug crop cultivation are of concern to both the United States and Mexico, cooperation between our two countries on counter-narcotics has never been better. In 2003 Mexico and the Fox Administration made major progress in both interdicting drugs and attacking drug trafficking organizations and cartel leadership. Mexican law enforcement agencies seized 2,019 metric tons of marijuana, 354 kilograms of opium and heroin, and 20 metric tons of cocaine. In addition, Mexican authorities captured major drug cartel figures, such as Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the head of a violent drug trafficking organization that smuggled marijuana and cocaine into the United States, and Manuel Campas, a member of the "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia organization, and extradited a record 31 fugitives to the United States (up from a record 25 in 2002)."
Officials in Mexico have detained for questioning several state police officers in Ciudad Juarez. The Charlotte Observer reported on Jan. 30, 2004 ( "17 Police Officers Suspected In Slayings") that "Authorities questioned 13 state police Thursday about drug trafficking and the murders of at least 11 people, feeding fears that officers in this border city take part in the crime they should be fighting. The officers were detained Wednesday. Their commander and three fellow officers were being sought. A state police spokesman acknowledged officials have been unable to clean up the force despite firing about 300 officers in the past two years. Thousands of other local, state and federal lawmen in Mexico have been dismissed in recent years. The money from drug trafficking is 'too tempting for people who are not committed to public service,' spokesman Mauro Conde said."
As the Observer noted, "Hundreds of murders have gone unsolved in Ciudad Juarez, including the cases of dozens of young women who were strangled and dumped in the desert outside of the city. Conde said the 13 officers focused on drug cases and were not involved in the investigations of the slain women, but they were linked to the bodies of 11 men found this weekend in the back yard of a house in a middle-class neighborhood."
According to the report, "The man who rented the house, Alejandro Garcia, was arrested Tuesday and told police he took part in the killings at the order of several state police officers and members of the Vicente Carrillo drug gang. That led officials to investigate all state police officers on the night shift in Ciudad Juarez. Thirteen were taken into custody when they showed up for work Wednesday night, and four others, including their commander, are being sought. The commander, Miguel Angel Loya, didn't show up for work Monday and hasn't been seen since, Conde said. The officers were flown to Mexico City, where federal agents questioned them about possible ties to drug trafficking and to the 11 bodies found at the house."
The Mexican government announced that yet another anti-drug unit, the Federal Special Prosecutor's Office for Drug Crimes or FEADS, has been busted for involvement with drug trafficking and narcocorruption. The London Independent reported on Jan. 18, 2003 ( "Mexico Disbands Anti-Drugs Force In Drive Against Corruption") that "Mexican soldiers have raided and closed the offices of a federal anti-drugs force in a crackdown on agents who work for or protect drug traffickers. Rafael Macedo, the Attorney General, who ordered the raids, said the 200-strong narcotics unit, Feads, will be shut down and its agents investigated."
As the Independent notes, "So the new evidence of serious problems inside Feads is an embarrassing reminder of how deep corruption runs inside Mexico's police forces. The raids on Feads offices in 11 states came less than a week after seven agents were arrested in the northern border city of Tijuana for allegedly offering to free two captured drug smugglers and give them back their drugs in return for a massive bribe. The soldiers allegedly discovered almost five tons of seized marijuana that the agents had failed to declare. The Feads force was set up in 1997 under former president Ernesto Zedillo to focus exclusively on the drug war. Since President Fox took office in December 2000, his government has captured or killed several leading traffickers, including Benjamin and Ramon Arellano Felix, two brothers who led the country's most ruthless drug gang. Several senior officials -- including a former governor of the Caribbean coastal state of Quintana Roo -- have also been arrested and US officials say the level of co-operation with Mexican drug units has never been better."
The raids represented a major show of force. The Arizona Daily Sun reported on Jan. 17, 2003 ( "Mexican Army, Cops Raid Police Drug Offices") that "Local media reported that the raids may have also been aimed at seizing possibly incriminating documents from the offices. Thursday's raids marked the most massive strike against police corruption in recent years in Mexico. Heavily-armed soldiers and FEADS investigators took control of the offices and posted guards around them. Television footage showed soldiers with full battle gear and assault rifles posted outside the FEADS office in Tapachula, a city near the Guatemalan border." According to the Sun, "The massive anti-corruption raid came after seven drug agents were arrested over the weekend for holding unregistered drugs and drug suspects, one of many documented cases in recent years of police protecting drug traffickers in Mexico. Hundreds of federal police agents or employees are under investigation for possible offenses ranging from bribery to abuse of authority, Angel Buendia, a top Justice Department inspector, told a news conference, noting that 1,180 such cases have been investigated since 2000." However, "The dozens of anti-drug agents under investigation were not arrested in the raids on offices of the Federal Special Prosecutor's Office for Drug Crimes, or FEADS in 11 states. FEADS offices were raided in Sonora, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Chiapas, Guerrero, Baja California, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Yucatan and Jalisco. 'No mention was made of any agent having been detained' in the raids, said Elizabeth Juarez, a Justice Department spokesman."
Authorities are investigating the deaths of two individuals found near the US-Mexico border in Arizona. The New York Times reported on Oct. 23, 2002 ( "Police Investigate Killings Of Illegal Immigrants In Desert") that "The police are investigating whether armed vigilantes, self-appointed guardians of the border with Mexico, fatally shot at least two illegal immigrants in the desert last week. A 32-year-old man who was part of a group of a dozen migrants waiting to be picked up by smugglers at a pond just west of here last Wednesday told investigators that he escaped through the brush after two men wearing camouflage fatigues descended on the group, firing an automatic rifle and a pistol."
According to the Times, "Migrants-rights advocates in Tucson, about 30 miles southeast of here, say the killings are part of a vigilante terror campaign intended to stop the flow of immigrants from Mexico. The advocates discounted the notion that rival coyotes, who usually blend in with their charges so as to avoid detection, were responsible for the killings. 'Never have I seen a coyote or a smuggler wear camo or military dress,' said John M. Fife, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson and a former member of the Sanctuary movement, which helped political refugees, primarily from Central America, gain asylum in the United States in the 1980s. At a news conference on Monday, Isabel Garcia, 49, a public defender in Pima County and co-chairwoman of the Human Rights Coalition/Indigenous Alliance Without Borders, said the killings 'crystalize the increasingly hostile and violent atmosphere created by failed U.S. border policies.'"
The vigilantes themselves deny any connection to the killings. As the Times reported, "Members of the self-professed border guardian groups denied any connection to last week's deaths. Glenn Spencer, founder of American Border Patrol, based in Sierra Vista, 19 miles north of the Mexican border, said his associates carried weapons during their patrols only for protection against mountain lions. But Mr. Spencer, 65, acknowledged that his goal was to repatriate all illegal immigrants, even ones who have been in the country for years. 'They're able to outsmart us all the time,' Mr. Spencer said of the migrants. 'I'm not interested in enforcing the law. It's about telling the American people what's going on at the border.'"
The Times continues:
That seizure of a marijuana load was reported on in the Tucson, AZ Daily Star on Oct. 17, 2002 ( "Armed Citizens Capture Pot Load"). According to the Daily Star, "Members of an armed citizens patrol seized about 280 pounds of marijuana Tuesday and Wednesday from smugglers crossing a ranch owned by The Nature Conservancy. About 13 volunteers for the group, called Ranch Rescue, have been working near Lochiel since Saturday in their first mission aimed at surveillance, rather than cleanups at border-area ranches. An official of The Nature Conservancy said Wednesday night the group was unaware Ranch Rescue members had been operating on the San Antonio Ranch, about 65 miles south of Tucson. Tom Collazo, the director of conservation for the conservancy's Arizona branch, said the ranch manager would ask the group to stop today."
The Daily Star noted that "For Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, the drug seizures were an unexpected twist to a situation he had been following because of its dangerous potential. Estrada's primary concern, since he learned of the Ranch Rescue operation, has been what might happen if members encountered typical border-crossers and tried to arrest them. What they did find still worries him. 'The concern is that these individuals, as well-meaning as they may be, could cause a major problem down there,' Estrada said. 'They don't have the training or the authority to be intercepting loads down there. That's better suited for law enforcement.' Estrada questioned the approximately 18-hour lapse between the time the smugglers dropped the initial load and the time the Sheriff's Department was notified. He also questioned why Ranch Rescue members moved the bundles from the spots they were dropped to a place near the ranch house. 'Obviously they wanted the impact of this particular event to reflect favorably on their presence, and they wanted the media there before we got there,' Estrada said. 'It could have been handled much better.'"
According to the Daily Star, "Until now, the group's operations have focused on helping ranchers fix fences and clean up trash, though they generally worked well-armed and wearing uniforms. This is the first time the group has mounted an operation focused on surveillance, Foote said. He said the volunteers working at the ranch near Lochiel are from other states, but Arizona members helped set up the mission, dubbed 'Operation Hawk.'"
The Daily Star reported that "Among the men at the property Wednesday was Rob Krott, who said he is a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and is the chief foreign correspondent of Soldier of Fortune magazine. Krott, an AR-15 slung over his shoulder and a sidearm holstered on his hip, reeled off stories of traveling to Afghanistan, Somalia and other world hot spots, as a soldier and on his own. Krott said he initially contacted Ranch Rescue with the idea of writing a story about the group. Then he decided to join Operation Hawk and bring his own 'tactical team' - ex-military friends he trusts. Part of the motivation, he acknowledged, is adventure, but he said he also believes in the group's property-rights message."
Mexican authorities announced a series of arrests of officials on charges related to drug trafficking and corruption. The New York Times reported on Oct. 22, 2002 ( "Mexicans Arrest 25 To Stop Ring That Worked For Drug Cartels") that "Mexican officials said today that they had arrested 25 people who infiltrated the army, the federal police and the attorney general's office on behalf of some of the nation's most powerful drug kingpins. The arrests were the first case of its kind under President Vicente Fox. They suggest that despite the recent jailing of leading figures from all the nation's major drug gangs, the cartels retain the money and the power to corrupt Mexico's government. The attorney general, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, said 'corrupt public servants' were at the heart of a network that had been stealing secrets from the government and selling them to the cartels since 1996. 'These unscrupulous people infiltrated and betrayed the government, and of course the citizenry, by sabotaging operations against drug trafficking,' he said. He said the ring included retired soldiers and law enforcement officers, as well as five midlevel officials in the attorney general's office, the Defense Ministry and the federal police. Each member was paid thousands of dollars a month, he said, and about $2.3 million in drug money used for bribes was seized in the investigation."
According to the Times, "The leader of the ring appears to have been a state police official named Francisco Tornez Castro, Mr. Macedo de la Concha said. He had previously worked for the federal judicial police, a notoriously corrupt institution disbanded by the Fox government. Investigators found that Mr. Tornez Castro operated a safe house in Mexico City that was the headquarters of the ring. The ring worked mainly for four of Mexico's most wanted drug lords, prosecutors said, and the ring's existence may explain the four men's continuing ability to evade arrest. One is Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the head of a major drug organization known as the Gulf Cartel, which operates out of Mexico's northeast. He is accused of shipping Colombian cocaine from Mexico's Gulf coast to the United States since 1997. Another is Ismael Zambada, who is vying to control cocaine trafficking in Mexico's northwest. The third is Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, who took over his brother Amado's drug operations when Amado died after botched plastic surgery. The fourth is Joaquin Guzman, who was serving 20 years for cocaine trafficking in a maximum security prison when, on Jan. 19, 2001, someone opened his cell, knocked out the video surveillance cameras, hid him in a burlap bag, put the bag in a laundry truck and drove him away."
Complaints have arisen during 2002 that the Mexican military has been crossing over the US border on drug missions. These crossings have led to some unfortunate incidents. As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 26, 2002 ( "Mexican Soldiers On Drug Detail Are Crossing Into US"), "Mexico has been sending more soldiers to the U.S. border to combat drug smuggling, and some are raising alarms on the other side by carrying their operations into U.S. territory. Even more worrisome, critics say, are recent shootings involving an American tourist, a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle and migrants. They fear the troops are overzealous and so poorly trained that they are a hazard to innocent people in both countries."
According to the Post-Dispatch, "Two of the shootings were on Mexico's side of the border, and the one on U.S. territory happened in a remote area where the border isn't marked well. It is along such stretches that Mexican troops have strayed onto the U.S. side - as American officers also occasionally cross into Mexico. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who has complained to Mexico's president about the border incursions, suggests U.S. troops are needed to protect Americans from Mexican forces."
New allegations have arisen which may justify Rep. Tancredo's concern. According to a report on WorldNetDaily on July 1, 2002 ( "Mexican Military Drug Running At Border?), "U.S. law-enforcement officers in the Southwest are convinced that Mexican military units are crossing the Arizona-Mexico border to aid smugglers in carrying drugs into the United States. In one incident, says a senior federal law-enforcement officer, a major in the Mexican army was caught at the U.S. port of entry at Naco, Ariz., carrying a detailed drug-smuggling map among his papers. The Mexican officer, said the official, was 'coming into the United States and they found the drug-smuggling maps on him that showed all the drop points and trails' that local smugglers used for bringing narcotics into the United States. The official said that in calendar year 2001, the U.S. government officially recorded 12 separate incidents in which Mexican military personnel crossed over the border into Arizona alone. On some occasions, a Border Patrol officer said, Border Patrol agents actually have arrested Mexican army personnel in U.S. territory."
According to the story, by writer Terence P. Jeffrey, "Another source said that because federal officials in Washington want to downplay the fact that the incursions are being made by Mexican military the incidents are logged as 'military/police' incursions. Law-enforcement officials in the field are convinced the intruders are Mexican military because they dress in fatigues, act like trained military personnel and frequently drive Humvees, a vehicle used by the Mexican military. This, however, does not necessarily persuade officials in Washington. 'We know that they are Mexican military,' said the senior law-enforcement officer. 'But officially we are not allowed to say that because every time we say that we get slapped down.'"
As Mexico prepares for a bloody gang war over control of the lucrative drug trade, allegations are emerging that the death of Ramon Arellano Felix, which has touched off the struggle, was arranged by rivals, not the Mexican government, as was previously believed. The Eugene, OR Register-Guard reported on April 7, 2002 ( "Gang Hit Blamed In Drug Lord's Death") that "Mexico's most ruthless drug lord probably was killed by a rival gang aided by corrupt police officers, not in a shoot-out with police as has been widely reported, according to a senior U.S. law enforcement official. The official said Ramon Arellano Felix, the enforcer of the Tijuana drug cartel run by his family, is believed to have been executed by gunmen on Feb. 10 in Mazatlan on Mexico's Pacific coast."
The Felix death is considered a victory in spite of its provenance. According to the Register-Guard, "The U.S. official stressed that the capture of Benjamin Arellano Felix, who was thought of as the family cartel's leader, was indeed a significant accomplishment for Mexican authorities. But the official said the killing of Ramon Arellano Felix was actually a drug-war assassination in which Mexican police officers were accomplices. For years, the Arellano Felixes and other leading Mexican drug lords have been able to escape capture by paying off police. A second U.S. law enforcement official agreed that the death of Ramon Arellano Felix was 'definitely not clever police work.' The official said Arellano Felix was killed by gunmen working for rival drug lord Ismael Zambada Garcia, who has now become a top target of U.S. law enforcement. The official said Zambada's gang and the Arellano Felixes have been fighting over the lucrative drug corridor into the California. He said Ramon Arellano Felix was on his way to a Mazatlan hotel to try to kill Zambada; instead, 'he was set up.'"
Police in the US and Mexico are hailing the arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix as a victory. As the BBC News reported on March 13, 2002 ( "Analysis - Mexico's Drug Wars Continue"), "The arrest and the confirmation of the death of his brother, Ramon, who ruthlessly ran the security side of the operation, led the Mexican attorney general's office to claim that 'we have taken the cartel to pieces'." However, observers and officials note that such victories have usually led to violent turf wars, as competing gangs vie for control of the profitable narcotics trade. The BBC noted that "Certainly, with arrests of other key figures made in recent months, the latest developments mean that the Tijuana operation has been dealt a body blow. But there is a growing realisation that, as in the past, when a vacuum appears at the top of a drugs gang, a bloody turf war follows. 'You can cut off the heads of an organisation, but they will always grow back,' said Luis Astorga, a specialist in the drugs trade at Mexico City's National Autonomous University. 'The business carries on because there are always people from within or outside the cartel that are waiting to take over.'"
There is already speculation about possible successors to the Arellano Felix organization. According to the BBC report, "The killings seemed to die down during the late 1990s as areas of control became more delineated, but now that uneasy status quo has been upset. A number of names are already being put forward to take over the Arellano Felix cartel. 'The logical scenario is that the cartels from Sinaloa and the Gulf of Mexico now try to break into Tijuana,' said Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of the Tijuana based magazine Zeta. 'There could be any number of candidates for that. Ismael Zambada, head of the Sinaloa cartel, which has already started encroaching on the Tijuana patch, is one. And don't forget there are a number of other members of the Arellano Felix family actively involved in the trade as well. They will want to assert their authority too.""
Mexican authorities are aware of the prospect for violence.
Again from the BBC:
Reuters reported on March 13, 2002 ( "Drug Traffickers' Feud In Mexico Leaves Five Dead") that "A gun fight between groups of drug dealers in Mexico's Tamaulipas state, bordering the United States, left five dead and three injured, a state official said on Tuesday. The Tamaulipas state police department said the battle occurred after an armed group entered a neighborhood in border city Nuevo Laredo on Monday night, 'only a few meters' from the frontier with the United States. 'The gun fight was between members of gangs involved in the sale of drugs,' a police department official told Reuters." The incident may have been unrelated to the expected gang wars. According to Reuters "The official said there was no information so far available linking Monday's deadly gun battle with the Arellano Felix arrest."
A 1,200-foot-long tunnel, through which it is alleged that billions of dollars of illicit drugs were smuggled into the US from Mexico, was discovered by US drug enforcement agents in February 2002. As the Washington Post reported on March 1, 2002 ( "Billions In Drugs Moved Via Tunnel"), "Investigators are calling the tunnel in this remote section of rocky border scrubland, 70 miles east of San Diego near a small town called Tecate, one of most lucrative drug-smuggling mechanisms ever discovered along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. 'It's one of the most significant finds ever along the southwestern border,' said Errol J. Chavez, special agent in charge of the San Diego office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 'They used this tunnel to smuggle billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs into the United States for several years.'
According to the Post, "Chavez, speaking to reporters in San Diego, said investigators believe the tunnel was built at least two or three years ago by the notorious Tijuana cartel, headed by several brothers in the Arellano Felix family. He said the Arellano Felixes moved tons of drugs in carts tha rolled on railroad-style tracks through the tunnel, which is about 20 feet below ground. The drugs were then likely loaded into pickups and other small trucks, which were used to deliver the drugs to Los Angeles and beyond. Chavez said investigators have learned that the Arellano Felixes charged other smuggling rings a fee to use the tunnel. He said that the tunnel seems to have been used exclusively for drugs and that there was no evidence that illegal immigrants were also moved through it."
As the Post wisely observed, "The tunnel, which is four feet square, offers further evidence of the difficulty of sealing the 2,000-mile border despite efforts to cut off drug smuggling and illegal immigration. Since Sept. 11, border security has been sharply increased and drug seizures are way up." Defending his agency's reputation, "Vincent E. Bond, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service in San Diego, said the tunnel shows that when one route is closed to smugglers, they find a new one." Yet, as the Post reported, "Tunnels are nothing new along the border. Several have been discovered since 1990. The largest one, found in 1993, stretched about 1,452 feet under the border at Tijuana, Mexico. That tunnel was never used because it was discovered just before it was completed. Chavez said it belonged to drug lord Joaquin Guzman, known as 'El Chapo,' who tried to keep the tunnel secret by murdering the workers who dug it."
According to the Post, "No arrests have been made on the U.S. side in the tunnel case. Chavez said investigators from the DEA and the U.S. Customs Service, which assisted in Wednesday's raid, are seeking several suspects, including a man who leased the house and was living there. Mexican police said they have detained for questioning two people who were found in the house at the Mexican end of the tunnel during the raid." Though probably a coincidence, the Post notes that "The discovery came just days before a visit to Mexico by Tom Ridge, the U.S. director of homeland security, who will discuss border security with top Mexican officials."
The Supreme Court of Mexico has put a stop to
some extraditions to the US. As the New York Times reported
on January 20, 2002 (
"Extraditions Are Limited By A Ruling In Mexico",
"The ruling, handed down in October but published in full
last month, has stopped the extradition of more than 70 high-profile
defendants." The Times explains further:
The Associated Press reported on May 13, 2001 ( "Violence Feared After US Extradition") that "Arturo 'Kitty' Paez, 34, who appeared in federal court in San Diego last week to face charges of conspiring to smuggle and distribute tons of cocaine into the United States, was the first in an expected wave of suspects headed north, part of a new policy based on a Jan. 18 Supreme Court ruling that some Mexicans call shameful."
Response to the new policy was mixed. AP reported, as might be expected, "American officials called it proof of Mexico's willingness to cooperate on the crackdown on drugs. Mexico has promised to try to extradite seven more alleged drug capos, including men prosecutors describe as the 'kings' of methamphetamines." However, some Mexican experts and legal authorities are concerned. "'Extradition is a very powerful weapon in the hands of a weak government,' said Jorge Chabat, a drug expert at Mexico City's Center for Economic Development Research. 'It's like putting an AK-47 in the hands of a child; he could kill himself. This could just provoke the rage of the narcos.'"
The Reuters news service reported on May 4, 2001 ( "Mexico Arrests Alleged 'Amphetamine King'" ) that "Mexican police arrested on Thursday an alleged drug lord accused of joining forces with his two brothers to smuggle huge quantities of synthetic drugs into the United States. President Vicente Fox said Adan Amezcua, dubbed along with his brothers as Mexico's 'kings of amphetamines' was arrested and was joining his two elder brothers behind bars."
The Reuters story notes that "Luis and Jose Amezcua were arrested in 1998 and U.S. authorities have requested their extradition on charges that they dominated the lucrative trade in smuggling amphetamines, or 'speed,' into the United States. Adan Amezcua served a U.S. prison term between 1993 and 1995 for conspiring to transport amphetamines, and was arrested in 1997 in Mexico but later released for lack of evidence. Mexico's Attorney General's office (PGR) said Adan Amezcua's most recent arrest was for charges of using goods and money of illicit origin and criminal association. Amezcua, in an interview with TV broadcaster Televisa, however, said he is just a rancher and unsure why he is being persecuted."
The Los Angeles Times reported on April 6, 2001 ( "General Accused Of Aiding Drug Traffic"), "In a case reminiscent of the drug corruption portrayed in the movie "Traffic," the Mexican government Thursday arrested a brigadier general accused of providing protection for one of Mexico's major drug cartels. The Defense Ministry said charges were brought against army Brig. Gen. Ricardo Martinez Perea as well as two junior officers for their alleged links with the Gulf Cartel." The US government alleges that the Gulf cartel is led by Osiel Cardenas-Guillen. The story notes that "Martinez is the fourth Mexican army general arrested in recent years on charges of protecting drug traffickers. Two other senior generals, Francisco Quiroz Hermosillo and Maria Arturo Acosta Chaparro, were jailed in August, but the most startling case was the February 1997 arrest of Gen. Jose de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, Mexico's anti-drug czar, who was convicted of supporting one trafficker while battling others. The Gutierrez story appeared to be the model for the narrative of corruption in high places in the critically acclaimed movie "Traffic."
Mexican President Vicente Fox Endorses Legalization As Solution To Corruption And Violence Caused By Illicit Trafficking
Mexican President Vicente Fox has endorsed drug legalization as a possible solution to the corruption and violence caused by illicit drug trafficking. According to an AP release in the San Diego Union Tribune ( "Legalizing Drugs Possible, Fox Says"), "In an interview published by two newspapers Sunday, Fox indicated agreement with a police official who suggested last week that the only way to win the war on drugs was to legalize drugs -- eliminating the profits and violence caused by illegal trafficking."
Recently, the governor of Chihuaua state, Patricio Martinez Garcia, joined in the call for legalization ( "Governor Says Drugs Must Be Legalized," El Universal (Mexico) March 27, 2001, translation by The Narco News Bulletin). The paper reports that in an interview Governor Martinez Garcia, who survived an assassination attempt reportedly contracted by drug traffickers, chastised the US for failing to heed the voices of reform like Governor Gary Johnson. "'There have been voices like that of the governor of New Mexico in the United States, Gary Johnson, that establish that the war on drugs is lost and that ask for it to be legalized. And this voice has not been listened to, nor has his proposal been seriously considered. I believe that this proposal must be studied seriously," the governor said.
President Fox's support for discussion of legalization is in line with earlier actions, particularly his cabinet appointments. As the National Post of Canada reported on March 21, 2001 ( "Legalization Of Drugs May Be On Agenda"), "He stunned the United States with the appointment of two pro-legalization officials to senior positions in his Cabinet. Alejandro Gertz, the former police chief of Mexico City and now Public Security Minister, has talked about the need to take economic incentives out of drugs and said Mexico should consider the Netherlands' approach to drug use and sales. Mexico's new Foreign Minister, Jorge Casteneda, a left-leaning academic and former guest columnist for Newsweek magazine, has written that legalization might be the only way to win the war on drugs and made reference to U.S. President George W. Bush's former cocaine use."
The National Post article speculates that "The President of Uruguay is to use next month's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City to raise the issue of legalizing drugs as a way of fighting illegal international cartels. President Jorge Batlle Ibanez said he will try to open debate on legalization of drugs either formally or informally." More information on the Summit of the Americas can be found at Summit of the Americas website, or at the website of the Organization of American States. Additional information on the OAS hemispheric anti-drug strategy can be found through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).
President Fox met with US President George Bush in 2001. The San Jose Mercury News reports that drug trafficking and the US drug war were at the top of their agenda -- in particular, the certification process, by which countries are determined to be cooperating with the US in the fight against drug trafficking.
According to the Washington Post, "Bush also said he was open to considering proposals on Capitol Hill to change the process that requires the United States to certify Mexico's drug-fighting efforts each years, that many here (in Mexico) find demeaning." A search on the Library of Congress's online THOMAS research service finds that Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) has introduced a bill (S219.IS) to suspend the certification process. According to an AP story in the Amarillo Globe-News, several other members of Congress favor either reforming the system or suspending certification altogether.
The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) is promoting its own Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM) as a tool for determining cooperation in the drug war. According to OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, a major drawback of the certification process is its tendency to "create friction among countries," according to a US State Department news report.
Mexico has for decades been known for systemic, drug-related government corruption, referred to by some, such as author Michael Massing, as a "Narco-State". President Fox has vowed to fight corruption in Mexico.
So far, Fox's admininstration has overseen a shakeup of the Customs agency. The San Jose Mercury News reports that new Mexican Customs director Jose Guzman "fired 45 of the agency's 47 supervisors around the country -- and expected to fire the remaining two as well -- after finding 'complete disorder' in offices in both border and port cities around the country." Some allegations do exist regarding President Fox's own ties to drug traffickers, but for the most part he seems to be living up to his image as a reformer.
US President Bush's drug policies are still taking shape. In a recent interview with CNN, President Bush revealed some surprising positions on some drug policy-related issues. Unfortunately, the president seems to be forming a Drug War Cabinet.