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.

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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

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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