Drug War 40

The global war as seen from the center of North America

Bowden: “Somewhere there has to be a record”

From NPR link

April 1, 2010
Journalist Charles Bowden, who details a city in collapse in his new book about Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, says that at first glimpse the border town looks like a flat tapestry of one-story buildings.

“It can be an illusion at first,” he tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly. “You’ll see an Applebee’s; you’ll see a Radisson, a Denny’s. You’ll think everything’s all right.

“What you don’t see until you look closely is 100,000 people who’ve lost their factory jobs; 40 percent of the businesses have folded in the last year; 25 percent of the houses have been abandoned. And, of course, there’s the killings,” he says.

The killings are the focus of Bowden’s new book, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. Most recently, the city was in the news after three people associated with the U.S. consulate were gunned down and killed.

But the reality is that on most days killings in Juarez don’t make the front page. They’ve become, as Bowden has called it, “part of the ordinary noise of life.”

Bowden says a recent study in Chihuahua state, in which Juarez is the largest city, found that 40 percent of young males harbored the ambition to become contract killers. He says half of any young man’s peer group will be neither in school nor employed.

The drug industry makes $30 billion to $50 billion a year and is second only to petroleum among Mexico’s lucrative exports.

“The drug industry is the future,” he says. “The problem is you won’t live long, but you can’t live very long … if you work in those factories because the wages are essentially slave wages.”

Bowden says that this wasn’t always the case. In the book, he writes: “There was a time when death made sense in Juarez. Those were the good old days.” Bowden lays the blame at the hands of, among other things, the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. policies and the election in 2006 of Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Bowden says thousands of Mexicans have been affected since Calderon’s election and his decision to attack the drug industry. In 2007, he says, there were 307 homicides in Juarez; in 2008, 1,600; 2,600 in 2009. The homicide rate so far this year exceeds last year’s, Bowden says.

Still, he says, there are other contributing factors.

“Juarez rolled along for years merrily building factories that paid wages you can’t literally live on,” Bowden says. “And I think eventually, among other things, the chickens come home to roost, and this drug war was just the frosting on the cake.”

Bowden says that despite the seemingly endless violence, he keeps returning to Juarez because there needs to be witnesses to how the city has broken down.

“What I think is that a record has to be made,” he says. “So frankly, I don’t want to cover this. I’d much rather go smell the coffee somewhere, go catch a trout.

“Five thousand people have been butchered in this city in three years. Somebody has to write this down. Somewhere there has to be a record.”


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The Future of Mexico’s Drug War

From Minnesota Public Radio


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The Drug War is not color-blind

From author Michelle Alexander:

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

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Examining the impact on our communities

Global Public Policy Forum on the War on Drugs

September 21-22, 2009, El Paso-Ciudad Juárez/U.S.-Mexico Border
Summary and Recommendations
Kathleen Staudt, Sito Negrón, Charles Ambler, Josiah Heyman, Howard Campbell, Tony Payan, and Lucinda Vargas

A precedent-setting, two-day conference on the forty-year old war on drugs, hosted by the University of Texas at El Paso, drew speakers of multiple points of view from the academic, government, and advocacy sectors. Conference collaborator, Plan Estratégico de Juárez, A.C., hosted Dr. Sergio Fajardo, ex-Mayor of Medellín, Colombia, as part of its own conference series on strategic topics. In succinct summary, the consensus follows:

U.S. consumer drug demand fuels profitable organized crime, wreaking havoc on societies and fueling challenges to democracies in the Americas. The situation demands serious consideration of a range of practical alternatives to the currently costly and ineffective prohibition policies.

Over a thousand people attended events, launching a civil-society call to change prohibition policies: the failed drug-control interdiction and criminalization paradigm that invests little budgetary support into public health approaches such as addiction prevention and treatment and harm-reduction approaches. While government officials spoke on several panels, two invited U.S. political appointee ‘czars’ did not attend, depriving attendees of opportunities to engage over policies in the current administration. Nevertheless, speakers and attendees developed some consensus (see below) about alternative strategies for change.

Why was this serious discussion launched at and from the U.S.-Mexico border?

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History Moment: “Operation Just Cause”

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_Drugs#Operation_Just_Cause ):

In December 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, which involved 25,000 American troops. Gen. Manuel Noriega, head of government of Panama, had been giving military assistance to Contra groups in Nicaragua at the request of the U.S. which, in exchange, allowed him to continue his drug trafficking activities, which they had known about since the 1960s. When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) tried to indict Noriega in 1971, the CIA prevented them from doing so.[26] The CIA, which was then directed by future president George H. W. Bush, provided Noriega with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as payment for his work in Latin America.[26] However, when CIA pilot Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, documents aboard the plane revealed many of the CIA’s activities in Latin America, and the CIA’s connections with Noriega became a public relations “liability” for the U.S. government, which finally allowed the DEA to indict him for drug trafficking, after decades of allowing his drug operations to proceed unchecked.[26] Operation Just Cause, whose purpose was to capture Noriega, killed numerous Panamanian civilians; Noriega found temporary asylum in the Papal Nuncio, and surrendered to U.S. soldiers on on January 3, 1990.[28] He was sentenced by a court in Miami to 45 years in prison.[26]

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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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