Drug War 40

The global war as seen from the center of North America

Big (drug) business needs big banks

From Bloomberg News:

Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.

They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.

The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its August 2010 issue.

This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.

The admission came in an agreement that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.

Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Analysis, News

Criminalization and dehumanization: Conflating immigration, drugs and security

This is an important conversation to have. Many scholars, analysts and advocates have noted the danger to a rational public policy discourse when the issues of security, immigration and crime are conflated into one ball of “build the damn wall higher” and “kick ’em all out.” We might add that putting the Drug War in a national security context adds exponentially to the atmosphere of militarization of the border.

From a piece by Laura Carlsen, which can be read here.

The growing criminalization and dehumanization of Mexican undocumented immigrants has fomented a legal limbo where human rights, including the right to life itself, fall prey to ill-defined national security concerns. It has fostered a political climate where security forces and vigilantes argue openly that fatal attacks on citizens from other countries in a non-war context are justified simply because they lack a visa. Such governance without respect for basic human rights is nothing but a dangerous lie.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Wash Post: EPIC fail

From a column “Spy Talk,” written by Jeff Stein, which bills itself as “intelligence for thinking people.”

Audit: El Paso Intelligence Center a bust

The El Paso Intelligence Center, launched in 1974 to identify drug traffickers south of the border, is all but a complete bust, the Justice Department’s Inspector General reported Tuesday.

The 86-page report was a virtual laundry list of seemingly intractable problems at the border intelligence post, opened by the Drug Enforcement Administration with great fanfare 36 years ago.

“EPIC could not produce a complete record of drug seizures nationwide because of incomplete reporting into the National Seizure System, which is managed by EPIC,” Glenn A. Fine, chief of the Office of the Inspector General, reported.

“EPIC had not sustained the staffing for some key interdiction programs, such as its Fraudulent Document unit, its Air Watch unit, or its Maritime Intelligence unit….” Fine added.

“As a result, EPIC’s service to users in these program areas had been disrupted or diminished for periods of time.”

How long, or how seriously the programs had been “disrupted or diminished,” he did not say.

Then there were EPIC’s “coordination problems,” the OIG said, demonstrating that the unit is not immune to the failure-to-share bugaboo that has long afflicted U.S. intelligence, as documented in repeated reports and studies over the years.

“EPIC member agencies [are] not sharing information or contributing resources to sustain programs at EPIC,” the OIG said.

“Further, we found that EPIC’s coordination with federal and state intelligence organizations across the country is inconsistent,” Fine added.

Even worse: “EPIC did not maintain an up-to-date list of key intelligence and fusion centers and their points of contact, and EPIC did not know if it had users in each center….”

Fine’s other findings raise the question of how EPIC’s intelligence personnel spend their day.

“EPIC does not analyze some information that it uniquely collects, and as a result, EPIC may not be adequately identifying trends and patterns in trafficking activity that could be used to increase the effectiveness and safety of drug interdiction activities,” the OIG said.

“For example, at the time of our review, EPIC was not identifying trends or patterns in the use of documents sent to EPIC that were suspected of being used to commit fraud.”

In its most devastating statistic, the auditors found that “less than 1 percent of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers” use EPIC’s intelligence.

Tuesday’s report echoed problems found previously in drug interdiction programs, especially since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, which scrambled responsibilities among a handful of new agencies.

“Partnerships have changed since 9/11 and outdated interagency agreements have led to conflicts with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and operational inefficiencies at CBP [Customs and Border Patrol],” the Government Accountability Office noted in 2007.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department recommended almost a dozen specific fixes for the problem at EPIC, which had a major cameo in Traffic, the 2000 movie about a skeptical White House “drug czar,” played by Michael Douglas.

The DEA generally concurred in all of the criticisms, adding explanations (or rationalizations, the OIG seemed to think) for its shortcomings, and steps it had already taken to correct them.

“Although DEA has been responsible for the management of EPIC since it inception, EPIC is a true multi-agency center that remains heavily dependent on a variety of agencies for data, staffing and participation,” an OIG memorandum on DEA’s responses said. Some 21 agencies provide staff to EPIC.

Meanwhile, the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico continues at flood-like levels.

A nationwide, multi-agency counter narcotics sweep last week netted 429 arrests, plus “$5.8 million in cash, 2,951 pounds of marijuana, 247 pounds of cocaine, 17 pounds of methamphetamine, 141 weapons and 85 vehicles,” according to the New York Times.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. called the raid “our most extensive, and most successful, law enforcement effort to date targeting these deadly cartels.”

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

Payan on CNN: Failed border policy

Originally posted on cnn

El Paso, Texas (CNN) — On Monday, a U.S. Border Patrol officer shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, under one of the international bridges that connects or, these days, divides, El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
The boy lay dead on the Mexican side and the Border Patrol agent was removed from the scene by U.S. officials. American officials say it was a case of self-defense. Mexican authorities condemned the killing as the use of excessive force.

The facts are still coming out, but based on the English and the Spanish news reports, it is easy to see that the two sides do not agree on the particulars, much less on their interpretation.

To people across the two nations who see reports of the death on TV or in the papers, it’s a dramatic news story — a boy with a bullet in his head and an agent under investigation. But here at the border, the scene, the actors, the act — as if carefully choreographed, chosen and scripted — read like an up-close metaphor for everything that is broken with our border and with immigration.

At a basic level, the incident at the Black Bridge seems to reveal two nations moving ever further from acknowledging our inevitable common destiny. As the two countries face the economic call-and-response of illegal immigration and the drug trade, we seem to cast each other increasingly as enemies. In this context it becomes justified to deal with each other with violence: throwing rocks and shooting bullets.

One could say that that boy represents the aspirations of many Mexican people because — whether, as some reports have suggested, he intended to cross the border or as others have said, was being used as a decoy for others to make a run — the spot where he died is known as a place where people try to cross illegally in search of work and a better life.

At the same time, a dehumanization plays out at the border, where some lives are worth more than others — a calculus that usually runs along wealth lines, as those with money can afford visas to cross over the bridge and the poor have to stay out or risk their lives by crossing under it.

Additionally, the episode highlights the blunt instrument — barriers and increased militarization — that the United States has chosen to deal with the countries’ 2,000-mile border.

Thousands of Border Patrol agents have been added in the past few years alone, and last month President Obama promised to send an additional 1,200 National Guard troops. An ineffectual fence stretches in fits and starts along about 30 percent of the border; it has been breached thousands of times, according to the Government Accountability Office, and costs thousands more to patch.

More fences, more walls, more armored vehicles and the National Guard, more helicopters and drones, more sensors and infrared goggles, more cameras and guns, and thousands of increasingly armed agents are all part of the border’s choreography. From October 1 through May 31, Custom and Border Protection agents have used their firearms 31 times, a spokesman told CNN. In these circumstances, it is only a matter of time before more deaths occur.

In this incident lies the inability of the Mexican authorities to protect their people and the apparently questionable practices of our own Border Patrol, which, for one thing, sends bike-patrol officers to a well-known trouble spot and for another seems unclear about whether they can or cannot shoot across the borderline.

Neither side seems to believe that we deserve much more than these poorly pieced-together strategies, which reflect failures of both the Obama and the Calderón administrations. Mr. Calderón has been unable to face squarely the inequalities of his people: More than one in three Mexicans would leave the country and move in search of a better life, according to data collected for a Pew Global Attitudes Project report.

And the event speaks to the political inability of President Obama to coax Congress toward immigration reform — to include an orderly flow of low-skilled workers, easing the pressure on the border itself and thereby acknowledging the continued integration of the two countries’ labor markets.

Now a Border Patrol officer will have to live with the idea of having cut short the life of a young boy whose death, regardless of what he was doing at the bridge, means pain and sorrow for a family likely under the stress of 30 months of outrageous drug-related violence in Ciudad Juárez.

It is mindboggling to think that $50 billion a year in trade makes its way back and forth over the bridges that divide El Paso and Juárez, but bullets and rocks are now traded right under them.

So, we have to ask: Is that what we want the future of our border to be? An incident such as this should not spur us to finger pointing but to acknowledging that we have a problem; that we desperately need to sit down to order and shape our interactions and take joint control of our future.

If we forget or justify this incident, we will be condemning ourselves to many more like it.

Editor’s note: Tony Payan is an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso. He teaches border studies, Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexico relations on the U.S.-Mexico border. He is the author of “Cops, Soldiers and Diplomats: Explaining Agency Behavior in the War on Drugs” and The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration and Homeland Security. His current research focuses on the violence in Ciudad Juárez. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tony Payan.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Just Watch this Video

Then read this:

Filed under: Analysis, News

An exchange about the NPR reports re: Mex gov favoring Sinaloa Cartel

The first message here is a response from NPR reporter John Burnett to a note from researcher James Creechan. The note from Creechan was distributed on the Frontera Listserv.

Estimadas Colegas,
We were very frustrated with Edgardo Buscaglia’s own figures of cartel arrests so we decided to create our own database. At the beginning of our investigation, I asked Edgardo the source of his cartel arrest statistics–he claims 941 out of 53,174 organized crime arrests in the past six years were people associated with the Sinaloans. He told me these figures were given to him by a source within the PGR and they include state arrests. We asked if we could speak to his source, if he had any documentary proof, or any way we could independently verify his numbers. He said there wasn’t. Basically, trust me.
That’s when we decided to analyze PGR news releases. As far as we can tell, that’s the only database in the country that has comprehensive arrests, prosecutions and sentencing of named cartel members for organized crime offenses.
Gobernacion said in February, and again Tuesday in response to our reports, that 72,000 “delincuentes” were arrested for drug offenses between Dec 1, 2006, to Feb. 4, 2010. We asked some trusted sources in Mexico City about this and they think the government’s 72,000 figure is phantasmagorical. If the number is accurate, they’re counting every dealer they arrested and possibly users, many of whom do not claim allegiance with any cartel.
We believe our database accurately reflects several observations:

* The Mexican government may be inflating the number of Sinalaons it arrests to counter criticism that it’s not going after them.
* It may be undercounting the number of Zetas arrested–which accounts for 44% of the total–to make the cartel war look more balanced.
* The number of arrests in Juarez–only 104 in two years–is striking given that there are so many federal forces there.

I invite your comments and questions. The dialogue on Molly’s group is always lively.

Best regards,
John Burnett

—–Original Message—–
From: frontera-list@googlegroups.com [mailto:frontera-list@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of molly
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2010 10:40 AM
To: Frontera LIst
Subject: [frontera-list] Sinaloa Cartel Seems Favored In Mexico’s Drug War–background

For questions on this, contact Jim Creechan directly. I will upload
the pdf file to the front page of the Frontera-List. For more
background, see the Narco-Mexico Blog: http://narcocartels.blogspot.com/

from James Creechan
date Thu, May 20, 2010 at 8:30 AM
subject Re: Is the Sinaloa Cartel Protected?

There have been a number of email exchanges about the latest NPR
report that the Sinaloa cartel has been “insulated” and/or protected.

I created a pdf file that has tracks references to this “protection
hypothesis”. This file (49 pages…large) has sequenced the news
references to this idea that Sinaloa has been protected.

Here’s a brief summary of the events and the growth of the story (as
pulled from my records):

1. The first reference to actual statistics (low arrests for
Sinaloa) appeared in the Economist in the second edition of the new
year (January 9, 2010). Edgardo Buscaglia is cited as the source of
information about low arrest rates.
2. On January 14, La Jornada publishes a report by Alfredo Mendez
that cites Buscaglia and addresses the hypothesis that there is a
negotiation in the background.
3. The AP picks up part of the story and publishes a report by Mark
Stevenson in late January (January 24)
4. In Sinaloa, Manuel Clouthier (son of El Maquio, the well
respected PAN candidate for President in the 1980’s) made a public
declaration that the Sinaloa cartel has been untouched in the drug-
wars. This announcement and proclamation will become the basis for
most of the reports about the “untouchability of the Sinaloa cartel”.
Clouthier’s declarations are widely reported and repeated.
1. The story was first published in Proceso 1637 (February
2. Reports from Noroeste.com and from Rio.Doce.com.mx are
also included here to show the impact of Clouthier in forwarding this
“Sinaloa is protected argument”
5. Esquire (Europe) publishes another long analysis based on
Buscaglia’s argument and makes reference to the statistics in March.
This Esquire article also contains many important insights by
Buscaglia about the nature of Organized Crime in Mexico- very few of
which have filtered into the mainstream press or into the policy and
academic circles examining crime.
6. The NPR story and it’s statistics are included here. Although
the numbers differ (significantly), the basic argument that Sinaloa is
relatively protected seems to be validated by the low numbers of
arrests – especially considering the estimates that the Sinaloa cartel
controls between 45-48% of all the drug trade in Mexico (according to
other statistics which are obviously rough estimates and subject to

Although there are many reasons to question the statistics presented
by NPR, and probably to question those originating with Buscaglia –
all of the other evidence and information does beg an answer to the
questions raised by Manuel Clouthier Carrillo – “How does the Sinaloa
(New Federation) avoid the level of scrutiny and intervention that
have hit the other cartels?”

Jim Creechan

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

NPR’s John Burnett interviewed

Drug cartels have been linked to corruption, killings and a spike in drug-related violence in Mexico. In a four-month investigation, NPR found evidence that the Mexican army is colluding with one of Mexico’s most powerful drug mafias. NPR correspondent John Burnett shares what he uncovered in Mexico. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

CONAN: And in your stories, you’ve described a battle taking place between two factions fighting for control over the border city of Ciudad Juarez, La Linea and the Sinaloa cartel.

BURNETT: That’s right. Let me also just add something to your intro to our conversation here. What we’ve been reporting this week is that elements of the Mexican army appear to be compromised in this fight against the cartels. We’re really not saying that the army as a monolithic institution is completely committed to one side.

CONAN: Well, that’s what I was going to say. Is it fair to say that in fact one of these cartels has bought more of the Mexican army than the other one?

BURNETT: That’s exactly right, yeah. And where we did found most of our evidence and certainly spent most of our time, myself and producer Marisa Penaloza, was in Ciudad Juarez, which has been called Murder City. It’s the -has the highest homicide rate in Mexico. It’s ground zero of the cartel war.

And we went into federal court to look at testimony in the U.S. We interviewed former law enforcement officials in the U.S., in Mexico, talked to dozens of folks on the ground there, and came away with a very strong belief that elements of the Mexican army are colluding with the Sinaloa cartel, which is locked in a battle for the territory of Juarez. That’s really a very valuable smuggling corridor into the U.S., as we know, and that the army has been used by the Sinaloans, which is Mexico’s largest, richest and oldest drug cartel. They’ve been using the army to help them defeat the Juarez cartel, which is also known as La Linea, sort of the local mafia that’s been there for decades.

For the full interview, click here

Filed under: Uncategorized

They won’t talk about it

From the Washington Post:

Legalizing drugs — what Obama and Calderon won’t discuss

By Edward Schumacher-Matos

President Obama calls Mexican President Felipe Calderon Mexico’s Elliott Ness and is receiving him today in an official state visit. Calderon is surely a brave man, and he is right to fight to curb the power of the drug cartels inside Mexico. His predecessor as head of his National Action Party, former presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallo, has gone missing; the suspicion is that a drug cartel has kidnapped him. The cartels have infiltrated much of the police and government and run many border towns through fear.

But Elliott Ness never stopped illegal liquor. The lifting of Prohibition did. Similarly, the only solution to the drug trafficking and violence on both sides of the border is to legalize drugs.

That, however, won’t be on the agenda in the talk between the two presidents. Rather, the talk will be of improving police intelligence collaboration, of speeding up delivery of promised military aid under Plan Merida, of cutting off the flow of guns and money back into Mexico, of Mexican efforts to clean up corruption and improve its enforcement capabilities. All that is necessary for Mexico’s normal development and immediate crisis, but none of it will put much of a dent in the flow of drugs.

Border towns such as El Paso, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, are rated as some of the safest places in the country. Most border mayors from Texas to California oppose militarizing the border. The El Paso city council voted for a resolution condemning Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. Earlier, sensibly, it voted for a resolution in favor of a national legalization of drugs.

Maybe we should move the capital to El Paso.

Filed under: Uncategorized

AP ‘failed Drug War’ report ignites debate

AP Impact report on failed drug war ignites debate
By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN (AP) – 19 hours ago

McALLEN, Texas — A Texas city councilman waging a lonely fight against U.S. drug policy sent an excited e-mail to his constituents Friday: “We’re on the brink of significant change.”

Across the nation, people who long ago declared the war on drugs a failure were encouraged by an Associated Press review that shows $1 trillion spent over 40 years has done little to stop the flow of illegal drugs or related violence, and by the U.S. drug czar’s admission to the AP that the war has not been successful.

“One of the most damning and comprehensive articles on the failure of the drug war was published throughout the world yesterday,” said El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke, who has had a front-row seat to the failure across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent, drug-plagued city.

“The AP article … uses clear metrics (expressed in dollars spent, lives lost, availability and use of drugs, etc.) to describe what a catastrophe our War on Drugs has been so far.”

The AP report played across Texas newspaper front pages on Friday, ran high on Internet news sites and ignited the blogosphere, where the left-leaning, independent news service AlterNet declared: “The Associated Press takes the entire U.S. drug war strategy and rakes it over the coals. It’s about damn time!”

Read more here

Filed under: Analysis, News

An idea whose time has come

From the newsletter of city Rep. Beto O’Rourke:


There were a number of developments this week that, when taken together, make me think that we’re finally going to make some progress on the most fundamental causes of the violence in Juarez: drug demand and drug prohibition.

First, a number of El Pasoans have come together around a statement that offers several clear-cut proposals to help stem the violence, including: explicitly linking drug use in the U.S. to drug terror in
Juarez (you buy drugs here, you’re helping to kill someone in Juarez); ending the disastrous prohibition of marijuana (which contributes nearly $8-9 billion into the coffers of the cartels annually); and focusing U.S. foreign aid on critical social, educational and economic infrastructure. The statement is timed to coincide with President Calderon’s visit to Washington D.C. and the state dinner that will be hosted in his honor at the White House. There will be a press conference Monday at 1pm at Lion’s Placita near the Paso del Norte Bridge. I’ve posted the press release further down in this newsletter.

The full statement is also posted on the Drug War 40 website (https://drugwar40.wordpress.com/) and you can sign a petition in support of the statement by clicking here.

Second, one of the most damning and comprehensive articles on the failure of the drug war was published throughout the world yesterday. The AP article, titled “US drug war has met none of its goals”, uses clear metrics (expressed in dollars spent, lives lost, availability and use of drugs, etc.) to describe what a catastrophe our War on Drugs has been so far. The opening paragraph:

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

* Read the full article by clicking here.

Third, the White House has announced a new drug war strategy. It is deeply flawed; it does not get to the fundamental problems with the war on drugs; but it is a small, incremental step towards a better policy. It talks about demand reduction (reducing teen use by 15%), it increases funding for rehabilitation and recovery, but its primary focus is still interdiction and imprisonment.

But, taken with the stunning, widely circulated AP story, the building national consensus that drug consumption and prohibition in the U.S. are causing terrible damage in our country and in Mexico, and the leadership we are seeing throughout our community in demanding a solution to the violence in Juarez, I think we’re on the brink of significant change. The administration’s attempt to save 40 years of face and position itself to ride the wave that just might be coming in tells me that we’re close to proving Victor Hugo right.

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

Drug War 40

We are concerned citizens working to understand and tell the story of the Drug War in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. We have become a hot spot: Thousands have died in recent years, and the world's attention is on us. But this is multi-generational and international, 40 years in the making. We are only one of many global war zones in which criminal organizations use violence to control markets and fight prohibitionist forces. Those war zones include North American inner city retail sales markets, Mexican transportation hubs and centers of production in the jungles of South America and the fields of Central Asia, and many other places. We primarily see things from the relatively unscathed frontline on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border, but have a global perspective and the desire for peace for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the line.

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Photos from Public Radio International's report "Mexico's War on Drugs"

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