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Bloody Culiacan

As we reported on Friday, Culiacan, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, was the scene of a two-day forum last week, the International Forum on Illicit Drugs, where there was much criticism of the Mexican drug war and the planned escalation of it envisaged by Plan Merida, the $1.4 anti-drug aid package cooked up by the Bush and Calderon administrations. The so-called "narco-violence," which might more accurately be called "prohibition-related violence," was, unsurprisingly, a central concern of presenters at the forum. In the year and a half since President Calderon took office and unleashed the Mexican military on the narcos, some 4,000 people have been killed. As if to punctuate that concern, just as the conference was wrapping up Wednesday, a series of armed confrontations broke out in central Culiacan. Sparked by a joint military-federal police sweep that was attacked by AK-47-wielding narcos in a Chevy Tahoe, gun battles broke out across the city as narcos swooped in to lend aid to their colleagues being harassed and captured by the law and other, rival narcos intervened. In one shoot-out between rival narco factions, two men were killed. In another shoot-out, between narcos and state police, two cops were killed. The military and police arrested 13 presumed cartel gun-men and seized a huge arsenal of heavy weapons, cash, and drugs. Thursday morning, military pick-ups and Hummers were cruising the streets of Culiacan, soldiers at their posts in back with heavy machine guns. Military helicopters buzzed over the city, although it was unclear whether they were supporting urban ground operations or were on their way to search for marijuana and poppy fields in the nearby mountains. (I apologize for not having any photos of this stuff. My camera battery went dead Tuesday morning, and having brought with me the wrong bag of electronic stuff, I couldn't recharge it. I went to five different camera stores in Culiacan looking for either a new battery or a charger, to no avail. I finally found a store in Mexico City Friday that charged it for me, so I have lots of photos of Saturday's Global Marijuana March in Mexico City. They will show up in a blog post later today.) The heavy military and law enforcement presence didn’t do much good. Friday night, the narcos struck back, ambushing a federal police patrol in the heart of Culican, killing four officers and leaving three other seriously wounded. But it wasn't just narcos vs. cops and soldiers Friday night. As reported by the Mexican news agency Notimex, a little after 11 Friday night, at least 60 armed men broke into three houses in a city neighborhood and seized five men, then took off in a 15-vehicle convoy, which was in turn attacked, leaving one man dead at that scene. At the same time, two other shoot-outs erupted in different neighborhoods of the city, while simultaneously, on the outskirts of town, presumed narcos shot and killed two Culiacan city police. It's not always easy to figure out who is killing whom. There are local, state, and federal police, any one of whom could be working for the cartels. There's the army. Then there are the competing cartels themselves. In Culiacan, long controlled by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel, Guzman and his group are being challenged by the Arrellano Felix Juarez cartel, which wants to take over "la plaza," or the franchise, as the local drug connection is known. Just to complicate things further, the Juarez cartel is allegedly being aided by the Zetas, the former elite anti-drug soldiers turned cartel hit-men, who usually work for the Gulf cartel. And this is just in Culiacan. There are other prohibition-related killings every day, soldiers and police being assassinated every day. On Saturday, the Mexican secretary of public security held a ceremony to honor the nine federal police killed by the narcos in the last few days. Another was gunned down in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan Friday night, too. All of this pathology, of course, is a direct result of prohibitionist drug polices aggressively pursued by Washington and Mexico City. And what is their response? Let's have more of the same, only more so.
Location: 
Culiacan, SIN
Mexico

Bush and the Drug Czar Want You to Pay For the Mexican Drug War

President Bush and Drug Czar John Walters want Congress to give Mexico $1.4 billion of our money to waste on the drug war. Mexico can't afford a massive drug war like ours, so we're supposed to just go ahead and buy them one. It's a terrible plan.

Just listen to all the stuff the Drug Czar wants to buy for them. It's like building decades of drug war infrastructure overnight. The very fact that you need all this stuff ought to provide a clue that drug prohibition is a raging disaster of an idea:
*Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners, canine units for Mexican customs, for the new federal police and for the military to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.
*Technologies to improve and secure communications systems to support collecting information as well as ensuring that vital information is accessible for criminal law enforcement.
*Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system to trial, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and establishing witness protection programs.
*Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid operational response of law enforcement agencies in Mexico.
*Initial funding for security cooperation with Central America that responds directly to Central American leaders’ concerns over gangs, drugs, and arms articulated during July SICA meetings and the SICA Security Strategy.
*Includes equipment and assets to support counterpart security agencies inspecting and interdicting drugs, trafficked goods, people and other contraband as well as equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures in the region.
Of course, the fact that we're even talking about this just shows the pathetic state of affairs we've achieved after decades of drug war demolition tactics. With nothing to show for the untold billions we've already poured down the drug war drain, our tough drug generals just want more money and more time.

The drug cartels are already funded by U.S. drug dollars. If we buy Mexico an entire anti-drug army to fight them, we'll be funding both sides of a brutal war in a foreign nation all because we can't come to terms with our own drug use.

The violence and chaos has to stop and it won't stop if we spend $1.4 billion to continue it. The mess in Mexico is our responsibility, but only because we've been so stupid about drugs for so long. This war can only end one way and that is to bring home the soldiers and send in the tax collectors.
Location: 
United States

Latin America: Ecuador Files Complaint Against Colombia for Spraying Coca Fields Near Border

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador announced Monday that her government has filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice (World Court) asking it to order Colombia to stop spraying herbicides on coca fields along its border. The court sits in the Hague.

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eradication: much pain, no gain
The move comes as tensions between Ecuador and Colombia remain high over a Colombian military raid last month into Ecuadorian territory that killed a high-level Colombian guerrilla leader, several of his comrades, an unclear number of Mexican students, and possibly, one Ecuadorian citizen.

During a Monday press conference, Salvador said that Ecuador had tried for years to get Colombia to stop spraying near the border and "the diplomatic process was exhausted." There was "overwhelming evidence" that herbicidal spray has crossed into national territory, ''and as a result the health and economics of numerous Ecuadorians have been seriously affected.''

Ecuador will ask the world court to rule that Colombia violated its sovereignty. It seeks an ordered halt to spraying within six miles of the border, as well as damages from Colombia.

Colombia had agreed in late 2005 to suspend spraying near the border, but started up again in December 2006, saying the guerrillas had swarmed into the area. In February of this year, Colombia announced another suspension, saying it would eradicate plants by hand, but Ecuador says it is not sure Colombia would not start spraying again in the future.

Latin America: Bloody Easter Weekend in Mexico's Drug Wars

Prohibition-related violence in Mexico took no break for the Easter holiday, with 59 people killed in the three-day period between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, according to Mexican press reports compiled by New Mexico State University's Frontera NorteSur (FNS) news service. The victims included former and current policemen, four soldiers, street-level drug dealers, used car salesmen, and an American citizen, Cuban-born Humberto Flores, who was gunned down in Cancun.

The violence ran the length and breadth of the country, with killings occurring in the northern border states (Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas), the center (Guanajuato, Mexico state), the Yucatan peninsula (Quintana Roo), the east coast (Veracruz), and the Pacific Coast (Oaxaca, Guerrero, Sinaloa). As FNS noted: "Once again, the geographical pattern of killings demonstrates how organized crime has extended its violent reach to virtually every nook and cranny of the country."

But there are hotspots, and one of them is Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso. Nearly two dozen killings took place there over Easter weekend, including four people found burned to death at Los Lamentos ("The Regrets"), Chihuahua, on the New Mexico border. The police chief there crossed the US border into New Mexico seeking asylum after his deputies quit, saying he feared drug traffickers.

Further down the river in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, the body of Araceli de la Cruz, a 47-year-old woman kidnapped March 13, was dumped in front of an army post blindfolded and with a mutilated hand stuffed in her mouth. Accompanying the body was a note addressed to a Mexican army general warning of the fate that befalls informers.

In the past two years, as the Mexican government has undertaken massive offensives against the drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels have fought among themselves for control of lucrative franchises, the death toll has been around 2,000 a year. It looks as if 2008 is on, if not ahead of, the pace. And the killing continues: Nine more murders were reported in Ciudad Juárez by mid-week this week.

Simple Farmers Bearing Brunt of Afghan Drug War

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kalif Mathieu is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. His bio is in our "staff" section at http://stopthedrugwar.org/about/staff It was reported by the Associated Press on March 24 that 100 Afghan drug police were killed in the line of duty in 2007. One hundred deaths, not even counting civilians, simply to claim 13 provinces out of the country's 34 as poppy-free, seems like a brutal waste. And the war isn't truly even being fought against drugs, or even against a logical enemy of the state like the Taliban. This war is being fought against simple farmers, mostly in the remote and unruly provinces that don't have strong state presence. Farmers are thereby forced to pay taxes totaling in the tens of millions to non-governmental entities like the Taliban, essentially for "safe passage" in these lawless areas. This cost makes it a necessity, not merely an option, to secure the profits of growing opium. According to the World Bank: "[T]he cultivation of opium poppy started in the late 1970s -- with gross income per hectare yields 12 to 30 times higher than the country's staple, wheat." Given those numbers, it's easy to see why farmers living on the edge in a lawless province paying taxes to people like the Taliban would use opium growing to give themselves a little breathing room. It isn't that these farmers ideologically support opium or heroin use, or support the Taliban, quite the contrary. From the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's John Dixon of the Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance Service in 2004: "Opium is not a crop of choice for most Afghan farmers. There are just no attractive alternatives at present that can give them a return anywhere near the return opium gives." So why is it that the focus of all of this on eliminating the growth of poppies instead of increasing central government jurisdiction, thereby increasing general security? Even after clearing these 13 provinces of opium, farmers have started planting marijuana instead, according to the AP, and so the struggle continues. Stop wasting time and money and lives burning fields of cropland and start working on protecting these farmers from Taliban extortion! This would seem a much more positive plan of action than destroying their livelihoods and committing them to poverty. The process would also reduce Taliban funding since they would have fewer and fewer farmers to exploit. That may sound optimistic, but at least aiming for the goal of security is a little more helpful to the people and realistic to work toward than trying to eliminate the drug trade in a place like Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan doesn't even agree 100% with the United State's approach to the situation: in late 2007 the US was pushing to spray opium fields with pesticides from the air, but the Afghanis wouldn't allow it.
Location: 
Afghanistan

They're Producing Cocaine in Brazil Now, Too

Just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, the cartels controlling the cocaine trade will continue to expand their operations and defy US-funded eradication efforts in South America.

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 17 (UPI) -- A large-scale coca plant and cocaine production operations have been discovered in Brazil, the first of their kind, authorities said

At least four separate farms were found in the Amazon rain forest by way of satellite imagery analyzed by Brazilian officials, Agencia Estado news agency reported Monday.

The discovery shocked authorities, as coca plants do not normally thrive in the dense, humid Amazon rain forest. [UPI]

I suppose these precious rainforests become less humid when you burn them down to plant coca. Now that they know it works, we can expect much, much more of this. I wrote recently about the inevitable destruction of rainforests throughout South America if we continue mindlessly chasing coca production in circles. This latest move into Brazil is another step towards that outcome.

The thriving cocaine industry cannot be stopped, but it can be regulated and controlled to prevent violence, corruption, and environmental destruction. Some might call this "giving up," but when you're doing something so phenomenally expensive and ineffective, giving up eventually becomes your only option. Besides, I'd rather give up on the drug war than the rainforest anyway.

Location: 
United States

Latin America: First Coca Plantations, Cocaine Lab Found in Brazil

In an ominous sign for US coca eradication efforts in South America, the Brazilian military said Sunday it had for the first time discovered coca plantations and a cocaine laboratory on its national territory. Coca has been grown by indigenous people in the Andes for thousands of years, and in recent years, three countries -- Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- have accounted for all the world's coca leaf.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
The Brazilian army used helicopters and small boats to reach the coca fields and lab in a remote area near the northwestern city of Tabatinga, close to the borders with Peru and Colombia. The fields were discovered when satellite photos showed large clearings hacked out of the jungle.

Lt. Col. Antônio Elcio Franco Filho told reporters Sunday finding coca plants was a surprise. "It is the first time these plantations have been found in Brazil," he said, adding that the find had prompted authorities to look for more fields in the region.

"This is new in Brazil and it's a concern," Walter Maierovitch, an organized crime expert who once headed Brazil's anti-drug efforts, told the government's Agência Brasil news service. "It could mean a change in the geo-strategy of some Colombian cartels."

While coca grows well in the Andean-Amazon highlands, the climate in the Amazon basin is not believed to be favorable to coca cultivation. But according to Franco Filho, the leaf growing in Brazil could be adapted to that climate.

"We believe they are using a transgenic or an adaptation of the leaf used in the Andean region," Franco Filho said. "They are probably trying to find new locations to grow this, so we need to stay alert. Authorities need to crack down on them immediately. If we don't do anything it might even become a source of deforestation."

By Monday, US anti-drug officials were raising alarms. "Brazilian law enforcement is going to have to be vigilant on this front, so it doesn't become a major producer," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney told the Associated Press. If coca can be successful grown there, said Courtney, "the Amazon would be a perfect area, with all the brush and uninhabited areas. It almost creates a perfect opportunity. Drug traffickers and organizations are always moving to new areas."

No one was arrested in the raid. Brazil, whose status as the world's number two cocaine consumer nation may be threatened by the rising popularity of the drug in Europe, may now be about to join the elite ranks of the coca producing nations.

Latin America: Bolivia Defies UN Drug Watchdog, Will Fund Push for Expanded Coca Markets

Last week, the UN-affiliated International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) called on Bolivia and Peru to ban the growing and chewing of the coca plant, but both governments have rejected that call. The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales is going a step further: Instead of banning the plant, it announced that it plans to spend $300,000 this year in an effort to develop legal markets for coca products.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/bolivia-display-cnd08.jpg
Bolivian display at UN drug summit featuring coca-3000 years posters
Although used traditionally and non-problematically for thousands of years in South America, the coca leaf is also the source of cocaine. All the world's coca comes from three countries -- Colombia (50%), Peru (33%), and Bolivia (17%).

While Morales, a former coca grower union leader, first announced the funding last month, his government decided to publicize it in the wake of the INCB call last week. Vice Ministry of Social Defense spokesman Ilder Cejas told the Associated Press Tuesday the money would go to promote the "industrialization" of the coca leaf. The Bolivian government hopes that by broadening legal markets for coca products, such as tea, toothpaste, flour, and herbal medicines, it can rescue the leaf from the drug trade.

Although use of coca preparations is common in the Andes, the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Drugs, which, along with its successor treaties, forms the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime, lists the coca plant as a banned drug, like cocaine, heroin, and opium. Under the 1961 treaty, coca chewing was to be "abolished" by 1987. That hasn't happened.

Latin America: INCB Calls on Peru, Bolivia to Ban Coca Chewing

In its 2007 Annual Report, released Wednesday, the International Narcotics Control Board called on the governments of Bolivia and Peru to ban coca chewing, as well as its sale or export. The indigenous people of the Andes have chewed coca for thousands of years, and the call is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Andes.

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coca leaves drying by highway, Chapare region of Bolivia
The INCB is a 23-member independent commission that works with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), its Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and other international organizations to monitor implementation of the series of international treaties that form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. While its remit includes ensuring adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses (see related story here), it spends much of its resources trying to prevent any deviations from the global prohibitionist drug policy status quo. For instance, this year, the INCB once again criticized Canada for allowing harm reduction measures such as the Vancouver safe injection site and the distribution of "safe crack use kits."

In its review of coca and cocaine production in South America, the board noted that despite multi-billion dollar eradication efforts in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia -- responsible for 50%, 33%, and 17% of coca production, respectively -- cocaine production had remained stable at between 800 and 1,000 tons a year for the past decade. The way to get at cocaine production is to eliminate coca production, the board suggested.

"The Board requests the Government of Bolivia and Peru to take measures to prohibit the sale, use and attempts to export coca leaf for purposes which are not in line with the international drug control treaties," the group said. "The Board is concerned by the negative impact of increased coca leaf production and cocaine manufacture in the region."

It urged governments "to establish as a criminal offense" using coca leaf to make tea, flour, or other products. That would undercut efforts in all three countries to develop and expand markets for coca products.

Reaction from Bolivia, where former coca leader President Evo Morales has called for the removal of the coca plant from the list of substances banned by the international drug treaties, was swift and negative. "In Bolivia, there will never be a policy of zero coca,'' said Hilder Sejas, spokesman for the vice ministry of social defense. "To do so would walk over the rights of millions of Bolivians for whom coca is a symbol of our cultural identity," he told Bloomberg News Service Wednesday.

Treating coca as if it were a dangerous drug was "absurd," said Wade Davis, an author and botanist who studied coca in Colombia. "Coca is as vital to the Andes as the Eucharist is to Catholics," he told the news service. "There is no evidence of toxicity or addiction in 4,000 years of use."

The INCB call to ban coca use was also met by a sharp attack from the Transnational Institute, whose Drugs and Democracy Project seeks to develop and implement pragmatic, harm reduction approaches to global drug issues. "The Board is displaying both arrogance and blindness by demanding that countries impose criminal sanctions on distribution and possession for traditional uses of the coca leaf, which is a key feature of Andean-Amazon indigenous cultures," said Pien Metaal, a TNI researcher specializing in coca issues. "Isn't it time for this UN treaty body to get in touch with reality and show some more cultural sensitivity?"

Not only does the INCB proposal violate the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, it "would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region," TNI said. "It targets not just consumers, but also peasants who grow coca."

"The Board's position makes no sense," said Metaal. "It would criminalize entire peoples for a popular tradition and custom that has no harm and is even beneficial."

Latin America: Colombian Peasants Battle Police Over Coca Crops

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's plan to manually eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plants this year ran into violent opposition last week as some 2,000 peasants blocked a highway outside Medellin, smashed a toll booth, and fought with police in protest of Uribe's campaign. The peasant farmers are demanding two years to shift to legal crops.

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coca seedlings
A few days later, the violence over coca cultivation spread to the Venezuelan border, where two soldiers and three leftist rebels were killed in clashes over coca fields. The soldiers and rebels died in a Monday clash in Santander province.

The US and Colombian governments have spent billions of dollars in recent years in efforts to eradicate coca crops there, but the country remains the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The protests by peasants and shoot-outs between soldiers and rebels illustrate the obstacles faced by Uribe and his allies in Washington.

For the peasant farmers outside Medellin, protecting their coca crops is a matter of survival, said local officials. "They are asking for solutions to their food security and sustenance," the mayor of the town of Tarazá, Miguel Ángel Gómez, told Reuters.

"We're protesting because if they finish off the illegal crops, which we all know are illegal and damaging, then they finish off our way of sustaining our families," one farmer told local television.

The Colombian government has blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest guerrilla group, with fomenting the protests. Like many other actors in the Colombian conflict, the FARC profits from the coca and cocaine trade.

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