Drug War 40

The global war as seen from the center of North America

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.”

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Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

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
2010)
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
interpretation.

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
Toronto

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

An idea whose time has come

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

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME

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

“Citizens must make their voices heard”

To sign a petition in support of this effort, go here.

For immediate release

El Paso, Texas

For more information, contact Susie Byrd, El Paso City Council
Representative, at 915-204-9813 or susiebyrd2009@gmail.com

*COMMUNITY LEADERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:*

*DRUG WAR HAS FAILED JUÁREZ.*

*REFORM DRUG LAWS TO HELP REDUCE VIOLENCE.*

*Media Conference*

* *

*What:* El Paso and Las Cruces community leaders to gather to present
“Declaration in Support of Ciudad Juárez and Its Efforts to Reduce The
Violence Related to Drug Trafficking”

*When:* Monday May 17, 2010 at 1 P.M. (Mountain Standard Time)

*Where:* Lion’s Plazita (910 S. Santa Fe St., at the base of the Paso del
Norte Bridge on Stanton Street, El Paso, Texas)

On May 19, 2010, President Barack Obama will host a State Dinner for Mexican
President Felipe Calderón.

In anticipation of that meeting, community leaders—including local elected
officials, civic leaders, faith leaders, business leaders and academics from
El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico—will gather to call on President
Obama to recognize that the U.S. 40-year War on Drugs has been a dismal
social, economic and policy failure.

One of the organizers of this effort, Professor Oscar J. Martinez states,
“This is one of the most critical moments in the history of Ciudad
Juárez and El Paso. At this time of crisis, citizens must make their voices
heard. Change is needed like never before. We must begin the process now of
ending the violence in our binational region.”

The Drug War has not achieved its goals of reducing drug consumption and
drug access, and narco-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border is
raging at unprecedented levels with no end in sight. The seven point
“Declaration in Support of Ciudad Juárez and Its Efforts to Reduce The
Violence Related to Drug Trafficking” asks for reform of current drug laws
and drug enforcement policies as a way to help curb violence related to drug
trafficking in Mexico. We will ask that President Obama and President
Calderón take serious steps to reform drug laws and the U.S./Mexico
relationship to help bring an end to the violence in Juárez.

The Declaration will be presented at the media conference with a call to the
public to contact President Obama and other federal elected officials to
demand immediate and sustained action until such time as the violence in
Juárez has been reduced.

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

Prohibition, then and now

Oddly, the excerpt from the Fresh Air interview with Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition author Daniel Okrent do not connect the past and present (although perhaps the full interview as aired did). The full interview can be found here. A couple of excerpts that beg for a comparison to today:

On the political beliefs shared by a majority of Prohibitionists

“It largely had to do with a xenophobic, largely anti-immigration feeling that arose in the American Middle West, that arose among white, native-born Protestants. It also had a strong racist element to it. Prohibition was a tool that the white South could use to keep down the black population. In fact, they used Prohibition to keep liquor away from black people but not from white people. So you could find a number of ways that people could come into whatever issue they wanted to use and use Prohibition as their tool. The clearest one, probably, was women’s suffrage. Oddly, the suffrage movement and the Prohibition movement were almost one and the same — and you found organizations like the Ku Klux Klan supporting women’s suffrage because they believed women would vote on behalf of Prohibition.”

Prohibition loopholes

“The second one was medicinal liquor. I have a bottle on my shelf at home — an empty bottle — that says Jim Beam, for medicinal purposes only. In 1917, the American Medical Association — supporting Prohibition — said there was no reason at all to use alcohol as a therapeutic remedy of any kind. Then they realized with this loophole that there was an opportunity to make some money. And capitalism abhors a vacuum. Within two or three years, you could go into virtually any city in the country and buy a prescription for $3 from your local physician and then take it to your local pharmacy and go home with a pint of liquor every 10 days. And this is really how many of the large distilleries in Kentucky and the middle of the country stayed in business throughout the Prohibition years.

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

President Obama, the Drug War has failed Juarez

Press release from the office of city Rep. Susie Byrd

For immediate release
El Paso, Texas
For more information, contact Susie Byrd, El Paso City Council Representative, at 915-204-9813 or susiebyrd2009@gmail.com

COMMUNITY LEADERS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:
DRUG WAR HAS FAILED JUÁREZ.
REFORM DRUG LAWS TO HELP REDUCE VIOLENCE.

Media Conference

What: El Paso and Las Cruces community leaders to gather to present “Declaration in Support of Ciudad Juárez and Its Efforts to Reduce The Violence Related to Drug Trafficking”
When: May 19, 2010 at 1 P.M. (Mountain Standard Time)
Where: Lion’s Plazita (910 S. Santa Fe St., at the base of the Paso del Norte Bridge, El Paso, Texas)

On May 19, 2010, President Barack Obama will host a State Dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

In anticipation of that meeting, community leaders—including local elected officials, civic leaders, faith leaders, business leaders and academics from El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico—will gather to call on President Obama to recognize that the U.S. 40-year War on Drugs has been a dismal social, economic and policy failure.

The Drug War has not achieved its goals of reducing drug consumption and drug access, and narco-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border is raging at unprecedented levels with no end in sight. The seven point “Declaration in Support of Ciudad Juárez and Its Efforts to Reduce The Violence Related to Drug Trafficking” asks for reform of current drug laws and drug enforcement policies as a way to help curb violence related to drug trafficking in Mexico. We will ask that President Obama and President Calderón take serious steps to reform drug laws and the U.S./Mexico relationship to help bring an end to the violence in Juárez.

One of the organizers of this effort, Professor Oscar J. Martinez states, “This is one of the most critical moments in the history of Ciudad
Juárez and El Paso. At this time of crisis, citizens must make their voices heard. Change is needed like never before. We must begin the process now of ending the violence in our binational region.”

The Declaration will be presented at the media conference with a call to the public to contact President Obama and other federal elected officials to demand immediate and sustained action until such time as the violence in Juárez has been reduced.

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

Drug War strategy review

Originally posted on Alternet:

Drug War Chronicle / By Phillip S. Smith

Draft of Obama’s National Drug Strategy Leaked: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Document indicates some positive shifts away from Bush-era drug policy paradigm, yet it seems the drug war juggernaut will still be rolling along.
May 10, 2010 |

A leaked draft of the overdue 2010 National Drug Strategy was recently published by Newsweek, and it reveals some positive shifts away from Bush-era drug policy paradigms and toward more progressive and pragmatic approaches. But there is a lot of continuity as well, and despite the Obama administration’s rhetorical shift away from the “war on drugs,” the drug war juggernaut is still rolling along.

That doesn’t quite jibe with Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP — the drug czar’s office) director Gil Kerlikowske’s words when he announced in April 2009 that the phrase “war on drugs” was no longer in favor. “Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Analysis, News, opinion

Castañeda: “Going nowhere”

An important piece of the argument of former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda here, somewhat lost in the bigger picture, is questioning the assertion that Mexico’s domestic drug consumption is going up. Castañeda also argues for an “understanding,” the former state of affairs, with the cartels. (Although many argue that an “understanding” is a current state of affairs, at least with one of the cartels.)

What is going on with Mexico’s drug war? Why are we in our current mess, and what are the possibilities of getting out of it in any reasonable time frame?

We are in this mess today, as opposed to over the last 40 or 50 years, because when the current president, Felipe Calderón, took office over three years ago, he felt that he had no choice but to declare a full-fledged, no-holds-barred war on drugs. He declared this war after a three-month transition period, which was very rocky because of the controversy surrounding the elections. And he declared this war because he had the impression that it was as if a patient had come to him and said, “I have a stomachache.” Thinking it was a problem of appendicitis, he opened the patient up and found that the entire abdominal cavity was invaded by cancer. He had no option other than to go in with everything he had to fix it. This was the country Calderón said he found. He had to declare a war on drugs because the drug cartels had reached a level of power, wealth, violence, and penetration of the state that made the situation untenable.

Why the War on Drugs?
Why did president Calderón declare the war on drugs? The first reason was violence. In the last year of President Vicente Fox’s administration there had probably been more incidents of violence related to drugs in some states of Mexico than in previous years. This is a hard judgment to make because only in the last 15 years has Mexico been a country where there is a real congress, where there is a free press, and where there is some sort of accountability and transparency.

We don’t really know how many people were killed in drug wars in the 1970s and the 1980s because there was nobody to count them. We know how many were killed in 2003, 2004, 2007, or 2008, because we now have a free press, we have an opposition in congress, we have international monitors, we have Human Rights Watch, we have the Drug Enforcement Administration, and we have all sorts of people doing those jobs. Since we didn’t have that in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, we really don’t know if there is that much more violence now than there was then. However, President Calderón had the impression that there was more violence when he assumed office and so he had to take on the drug cartels for that reason.

The second reason is that Calderón also thought there was more corruption now — or three years ago — than before. However, the notion that drug-related corruption is worse today than 30 or 40 years ago is not really that clear since, again, we do not know how much corruption there was before. Still, it’s probably true that there is less corruption stemming from drugs today because there is less corruption, in general, in Mexico today for many reasons, including politics, globalization, and NAFTA. Therefore, that reason was a difficult one to accept at face value.

A third explanation given by the president was that the drug cartels had penetrated the political arena at the local, state, and federal levels to such an extent that Mexico was losing control of parts of its territory. Again, this is a tough call to make in a country where we have had that type of penetration for many years.

Finally, President Calderón has argued that Mexico has ceased being simply a transit country and has become a country of drug consumption. That notion struck a chord in Mexican public opinion: “We are not doing this for the Americans anymore; we are doing it for ourselves because drugs are reaching our children.”

The problem with this argument is that the government has not been able to come up with any statistics over the last three years to substantiate the claim. In fact, most of the figures the government does provide, like the number of users, occasional users, addicts, and so on, show that, at best, there has been a very small increase in the number of users, whether they are occasional users or addicts. One shortcoming of the numbers that the government generally uses is that they only quantify “users,” without breaking down the data between occasional, recreational, or addicted users. “Users” of drugs have gone up from 307,000 to 465,000 over the last seven years (2002—2008), which in a country of 110 million people, is not a huge drug problem. Mexico is, by and large, today a middle-class country, with approximately 60 percent of the country ranked as such. In a typical middle-class country you have much more than 0.4 percent of the population that has used drugs.

Fighting the War
Who is waging this war? This is a complicated question. We have an army in Mexico, the purpose of which is not to be a fighting army, but to participate in rescue efforts when some natural disaster strikes the country. Mexico’s political system has, since the 1920s, deliberately ensured that the army is useless. There is a tremendous consensus in the country on this matter. We want an army that is corrupt, poorly trained, poorly equipped, and totally useless. Why? Because those armies don’t overthrow their governments. We have not even had an attempted military coup in Mexico since 1938.

An old, distinguished Mexican politician, Jesús Reyes Heroles, who in the 1960s was head of Pemex, the stateowned oil company, once told me that one day there was a riot somewhere in the country, and the minister of defense came to him and said, “I need more gas for my trucks.” Mr. Reyes Heroles refused, so the minister of defense went to complain to the president about why he couldn’t have any more gas for his trucks. The president then called the head of Pemex and asked him about the situation. Mr. Reyes Heroles said, “Look, Mr. President, I’ll do whatever you want, but standing orders here in Pemex are never to give the army more than two days’ of gasoline. If you want me to give them more, I’ll do it. But this is the way things operate.”

It’s not as stupid as it sounds; it was actually very wise. The caveat is that you can’t ask such an army to go to war because that’s not its business. Therefore, you have an army that is totally unprepared to fight a war against drug cartels. The second question is who else could be fighting this war if we don’t have an effective army? What about the police? The problem is that Mexico doesn’t have a national police force like Chile or Colombia. We have county and state police. Each of the 2,500 counties and 32 states in Mexico has its own police force, and they are the ones fighting the war on drugs. The problem is that local policemen go through an identity crisis every day regarding who they work for. Do they work for the drug cartels or the citizens of the country? They work for the drug cartels — and everybody in Mexico knows that. Clearly, you can’t ask them to fight the drug cartels because they are part of the drug cartels.

Therefore, Mexico has an army which is not ready to fight a war on drugs, and a police force that is not willing to do so. The remaining alternative is the United States, but that option is quite complicated. Historically, Mexico has always wanted U.S. support for law-enforcement efforts, and the United States has been willing to give us such support, but we want it on our terms, not on U.S. terms. And, since approximately the end of the Vietnam War, the United States has placed a series of restrictions on military aid that involve human rights provisions, military supervision, and instruction, among others. That means that we can’t get American aid on our terms, and thus it has been very limited. Who then is fighting the war on drugs? We don’t really know.

Another problem the president and the government faced has to do with the Powell Doctrine. During the Gulf War, General Colin Powell, then head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine for U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad, and it establishes several conditions: you need to have a definition of victory, you need to have overwhelming force, you need to have an exit strategy, and you need to have the support and understanding of the people.

If you apply the Powell doctrine to Mexico’s war on drugs, you will quickly notice that first, there is no overwhelming force — as a matter of fact, there is no force. Second, there is no exit strategy, because there is no way to know whether you have won the war on drugs or not. Third, there is no foreseeable way out of this war. And fourth, you have public support for this endeavor only as long as you are not affecting the daily lives of the people, and even though the war on drugs continues to have the support of most Mexicans, that support is quickly fading locally. If you ask someone what he or she thinks about the army taking over Ciudad Juárez or Cancún, that person would probably say that it is a good idea. But if you ask the people of Ciudad Juárez or Cancún whether they liked the massacre last week in the penitentiary or whether they liked seeing the severed head of the newly appointed chief of security displayed by the side of the road three weeks ago, they will say they are not so happy about it.

Unrealistic Expectations of U.S. Change
Everyone in Mexico knows that we can’t win this war. The government, acknowledging this, has begun to say that drug trafficking and violence can’t be solved until the United States does two things, knowing full well that those are impossible. One is reducing the demand for drugs. It is well known that U.S. demand for drugs over the past 40 years has remained pretty much stable, although the types of drugs consumed have changed: marijuana was the drug of the 1960s and 1970s, cocaine and crack were the drugs of the 1990s, and methamphetamine is the drug of the first decade of the 21st century. However, the overall number of users has remained pretty much the same. If the United States hasn’t been able to reduce drug consumption in 40 years, it’s very unlikely that it will be able to do it now.

The first Mexican president to realize this was Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, in 1969, when Richard Nixon told him “Yes, you’re right, absolutely, we have to do something on the demand side.” Since then, every American president has recognized the need to do something about drug demand, but nothing has happened because it’s not feasible.

The second request to the U.S. government is to stop the traffic of weapons from the United States to Mexico because — the Mexican authorities claim — all of the violence and all of the killing is done with American guns. In fact, we only know with certainty that about 18 percent of guns come from the United States, according to Mexican and U.S. sources.1 The rest is surely coming from Central America, countries of the former Soviet Union, and beyond. And as countries as diverse as Brazil, Paraguay, Somalia, and Sudan attest — all countries with a higher arms per capita than Mexico — you don’t need a border with the United States to gain easy access to guns. Nevertheless, the possibilities of really limiting the sales of weapons in the United States is not imminent, to put it mildly. Moreover, asking the United States to stop arms trafficking from north to south is like asking Mexico to control its border from south to north, whether it is for drugs, people, or anything else. It’s not going to happen.

What Can Mexico Do?
President Calderón, in response to a recent report by former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, and César Gaviria of Colombia calling for the decriminalization of marijuana, said that such a move would condemn entire generations of Mexicans to destitution and despair.2 It seems that he didn’t understand that what these former presidents were calling for was decriminalization of drugs everywhere, not just in their own countries, but in particular, in large drug-consuming nations such as the United States.

There is no possible way that Mexico could get away with unilaterally decriminalizing possession, commerce, and consumption of drugs in Mexico if the United States didn’t do the same thing, and in that sense, president Calderón is right. Not only would Mexico become a meeting point for junkies from all over the world — and particularly from the United States — but the real issue would be the pressure from the U.S. government not to do that, which would be unbearable for Mexico.

Does that mean that Mexico cannot do anything until the United States does something, and that, in the meantime, we have to continue with this fratricidal war on drugs? I don’t think so. There are things Mexico can do, although they are controversial even in Mexico. First, we need to go back to the modus vivendi that the government, society, and the cartels had over the past 50 years. There was no explicit deal or negotiation, but there was an understanding, and those tacit rules were followed by all sides. They were not ideal rules, and every now and then there were screw-ups: we would have to hand somebody over to the United States as a scapegoat, or we would have a problem with the United States that we had to fix. This could be shocking to many who might wonder how a democratic government could reach an understanding with criminals. Well, Mexico would not be the first country in which this happened.

We also have to push for drug decriminalization in Mexico and in the United States. Even though we can’t do it unilaterally in Mexico, we can’t be silent about it either. This is not just a U.S. decision, since it affects everybody — especially Mexico — and if there is one country in the world that feels the effects of what the United States does in any field or endeavor, it is Mexico.

We need to move in those directions, even though they are controversial and complicated. Last year, some 7,600 people died in drug-related episodes in Mexico — more than a thousand deaths more than in 2008. And the death rate in 2008 was, in turn, double that of the previous year. Mexico is paying an enormous price to fight a war which is going nowhere, which we are not winning, which we cannot win, and which the United States does not want to fight in its own territory, but wants others to fight elsewhere. We should find other solutions with the United States, not against the United States.

Notes
1. Rubén Aguilar V. and Jorge G. Castañeda, El Narco: La Guerra Fallida (Mexico City: Punto de Lectura, 2009), p. 68.
2. Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, “Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift,” February 2009.

Jorge Castañeda was foreign minister of Mexico during the administration of President Vicente Fox and is coauthor of El Narco: La Guerra Fallida (Punto de Lectura, 2009). This article is based in part on his lecture at the Cato Institute Benefactor Summit on March 7, 2009, on the Mayan Riviera, Mexico.

Originally published at the Cato Institute

Filed under: Analysis, Government and NGO Resources, News, opinion

Toast to Juarez

We’ve turned our back on Juarez. Some of us stopped going back in the 90’s, when news accounts of the femicides reached their peak. Now Juarez is a wholesale murder factory. We wring our hands, and sign petitions, and pray. So far to no avail.

I miss Juarez. I miss the mystery of it. I miss the duplicitous love it shows me. The loud music, and improbable color schemes. The simple pleasure. The stupid surly joy.

I’d like to fix Mexico. I’d like to eliminate the pervasive impunity. I’d like a free and honest press, capable of performing investigative reporting without getting murdered. I’d like a legal system that meted out justice based on something other than cash flows. I’d like a ruling class that was a little more benevolent and a lot less despotic.

But I can’t fix Mexico. And things might get a lot worse, all over Mexico, before Mexico gets fixed. Maybe it will take a revolution, or just revolutionary ways of thinking. If it takes a revolution, the poor will suffer disproportionately, the way the poor always suffer. The way they’re suffering now, in Juarez.

I can’t fix Juarez. I’m not even a Mexican. I can’t vote, I can’t politic, and I can’t interfere in their process, under penalty of Mexican justice.

But I don’t have to tell you that Juarez is more than real estate. The Strip is more than a handful of bars and pharmacies. Juarez is a state of mind. Maybe a fuzzy drunken state of mind. Maybe a suspension of belief state of mind. Maybe a Zen fueled Fellini state of mind, with evolving realities turning themselves inside out like a snake swallowing its tail.

Maybe it’s just unfathomable.

We can’t fix Juarez. But we can help, a little, and reclaim a little of our Juarez, the one we remember.

I propose that next Friday we go to the Kentucky Club. We can do it to pump a little money into the local economy, or we can do it for our own selfish gratification. We’ll sit at the bar, and drink Kentucky Club margaritas, and watch the long shadows cross the street. We’ll tip the bartenders, and they’ll take the money and buy groceries, and the money will flow through the Juarez economy, percolating up instead of trickling down.

We’ll get a little bit of our Juarez back. The Juarez we remember, and the Juarez we imagine. We’ll try to picture Juarez for what it could be. Should be. We won’t give up on Juarez. We won’t surrender that little piece of mental acreage, that representation of Juarez that we hold in our minds, an electrical whelm of sensory overload.

Juarez. Mexico. Hope to see you there.

rich wright

Filed under: Analysis, opinion

Prayer for peace

From the newsletter of city Rep. Susie Byrd:

Prayer Vigil for Juarez
Rosa Guerreo has organized a non-denominational prayer vigil to ask for peace in Juarez. The vigil will be on Saturday, May 1 at 10 A.M. at the Chamizal National Park. She is asking everyone to attend and participate.

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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