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Latin America: Coca Production Up Last Year, UN Reports

In an annual report released Wednesday, Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found itself "surprised and shocked" to announce that the amount of land devoted to coca growing in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru had risen to more than 181,000 hectares, or more than 700 square miles. That is a 16% increase over 2006 figures and the highest level of cultivation since 2001.

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Bolivian coca leaves drying in warehouse -- the sign reads ''Coca Power and Territory, Dignity and Sovereignty, Regional Congress 2006-08''
Colombia, which remains the region's largest coca and cocaine producer despite a seven-year, $5 billion dollar US effort to wipe out the crop, had the most dramatic increase, jumping up 27%. Cultivation increased 5% in Bolivia, where a coca-friendly government is de facto allowing small increases, and 4% in Peru, where a non-coca-friendly government is in constant low-level conflict with coca growers.

"The increase in coca cultivation in Colombia is a surprise and shock: a surprise because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate coca; a shock because of the magnitude of cultivation," said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa. "But this bad news must be put in perspective," he added in desperate search of a silver lining. "Just like in Afghanistan, where most opium is grown in provinces with a heavy Taliban presence, in Colombia most coca is grown in areas controlled by insurgents", Costa said, noting that half of all cocaine production and a third of all cultivation occurs in just 10 of the country's 195 municipalities.

But despite the increase in coca cultivation, cocaine production remained stable. Last year, global potential production of cocaine was 994 metric tons, according to the UNODC, while in 2006, it was 984 metric tons. The UNODC pointed to lower yields as a result of pressure from massive aerial eradication, which caused farmers to seek out peripheral lands and resort to smaller, more dispersed coca patches.

"In the past few years, the Colombian government destroyed large-scale coca farming by means of massive aerial eradication, which unsettled armed groups and drug traffickers alike. In the future, with the FARC in disarray, it may become easier to control coca cultivation," Costa predicted rosily.

Last year, Colombia's drug police, working with US funds and US contractors, sprayed herbicide on 160,000 hectares of coca and manually eradicated another 50,000 hectares. But as in the past, Colombia's coca growing peasants, faced with few alternatives, have adapted rapidly, negating the gains of the eradicators.

While Congress has gone along with the $5 billion experiment to eradicate coca in Colombia in the last year of the Clinton administration and throughout the Bush presidency, the clamor is rising on Capitol Hill for a shift in emphasis in US aid. Currently, the aid goes 80% to security forces and 20% for development assistance. Solons can rightly ask just what they've been getting for all that money.

Feature: US Drug Policies Flawed and Failed, Experts Tell Congressional Committee

The US Congress Joint Economic Committee yesterday held a historic hearing on the economic costs of US drug policy. The hearing, titled Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses, was called at the request of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his opening remarks described the all-too-familiar failure of US drug policy to accomplish the goals it has set for itself. It was the second hearing related to incarceration that Webb has convened under the auspices of this committee.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
"Our insatiable demand for drugs" drives the drug trade, Webb pointed out. "We're spending enormous amounts of money to interdict drug shipments, but supplies remain consistent. Some 86% of high schoolers report easy access to marijuana. Cocaine prices have fallen by about 80% since the 1980s," the freshman senator continued. "Efforts to curb illegal drug use have relied heavily on enforcement. The number of people in custody on drug charges has increased 13-fold in the past 25 years, yet the flow of drugs remains undiminished. Drug convictions and collateral punishments are devastating our minority communities," Webb said.

"Our current policy mix is not working the way we want it to," Webb declared. "The ease with which drugs can be obtained, the price, the number of people using drugs, the violence on the border all show that. We need to rethink our responses to the health effects, the economic impacts, the effect on crime. We need to rethink our approach to the supply and demand of drugs."

Such sentiments coming from a sitting senator in the US in 2008 are bold if not remarkable, and it's not the first time that Webb has uttered such words:

In March of last year, he told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program This Week: "One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that's where I want to put my energy."

In his recently-released book, A Time to Fight, Webb wrote: "The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana," "It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities" and "Either we are home to the most evil population on earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more constructive ways."

Still, drug reformers may be impatient with the level of rethinking presented at the hearing. While witnesses including University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, author of "Drug War Heresies," and John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) offered strong and familiar critiques of various aspects of US drug policy, neither of the words "prohibition" or "legalization" were ever uttered, nor were the words "tax and regulate," and radical alternatives to current policy were barely touched upon. Instead, the emphasis seemed to be on adjusting the "mix" of spending on law enforcement versus treatment and prevention.

The other two witnesses at the hearing, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and community coordinator Norma Fernandes of the same office, were there to talk up the success of drug court-style programs in their community.

[The written testimony of all four witnesses is available at the hearing web site linked above.]

"US drug policy is comprehensive, but unbalanced," said Reuter. "As much as 75% of spending goes to enforcement, mainly to lock up low-level drug dealers. Treatment is not very available. The US has a larger drug problem than other Western countries, and the policy measures to confront it have met with little success," he told the committee.

Reuter said there were some indications policymakers and the electorate are tiring of the drug war approach, citing California's treatment-not-jail Proposition 36, but there was little indication Congress was interested in serious analysis of programs and policies.

"Congress has been content to accept rhetoric instead of research," Reuter said, citing its lack of reaction to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's refusal to release a now three-year-old report on drug use levels during the Bush administration. "It's hardly a secret that ONDCP has failed to publish that report, but Congress has not bothered to do anything," he complained. "We need more emphasis on the analytic base for policy."

But even with the paltry evidence available to work with, Reuter was able to summarize a bottom line: "The US imprisons too many people and provides too little treatment," he said. "We need more than marginal changes."

"US drug policies have been in place for some time without much change except for intensification," said WOLA's Walsh, noting that coca production levels are as high as they were 20 years ago. "Since 1981, we have spent about $800 billion on drug control, and $600 billion of that on supply reduction. We need a stiff dose of historical reality as we contemplate what to do now," he told the committee.

With the basic policies in place for so long, some conclusions can now be drawn, Walsh said. "First, the balloon effect is real and fully relevant today. We've seen it time and time again, not just with crops, but also with drug smuggling routes. If we want to talk about actually reducing illicit crops and we know eradication only leads to renewed planting, we need to be looking for alternatives," he said.

"Second, there is continuing strong availability of illicit drugs and a long-term trend toward falling prices," Walsh said, strongly suggesting that interdiction was a failed policy. "The perennial goal is to drive up prices, but prices have fallen sharply. There is evidence of disruptions in the US cocaine market last year, but whether that endures is an open question and quite doubtful given the historical record," he said.

"Third, finding drugs coming across the border is like finding a needle in a haystack, or more like finding lots of needles in lots of different moving haystacks," he said. "Our legal commerce with Mexico is so huge that to think we can seal the borders is delusional."

With respect to the anti-drug assistance package for Mexico currently being debated in Congress, Walsh had a warning: "Even with US assistance, any reduction in the flow of drugs from Mexico is unlikely." Instead, Walsh said, lawmakers should adjust their supply-control objectives and expectations to bring them in line with that reality.

Changes in drug producing countries will require sustained efforts to increase alternative livelihoods. That in turn will require patience and a turn away from "the quick fix mentality that hasn't fixed anything," Walsh said.

"We can't expect sudden improvements; there is no silver bullet," Walsh concluded. "We need to switch to harm reduction approaches and recognize drugs and drug use as perennial problems that can't be eliminated, but can be managed better. We need to minimize not only the harms associated with drug use, but also those related to policies meant to control drugs."

"It is important to be able to discuss the realities of the situation, it's not always a comfortable thing to talk about," Webb said after the oral testimony. "This is very much a demand problem. I've been skeptical bout drug eradication programs; they just don't work when you're supplying such an enormous thirst on this end. We have to find ways to address demand other than locking up more people. We have created an incredible underground economic apparatus and we have to think hard about how to address it."

"The way in which we focused attention on the supply side has been very much mistaken," agreed Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were the only other solons attending the hearing. "All this focus on supply hasn't really done anything of any value. The real issue is demand, and prevention and dealing with people getting out of prison is the way to deal with this."

Reuter suggested part of the solution was in increase in what he called "coerced abstinence," or forced drug treatment. Citing the work of UCLA drug policy researcher Mark Kleiman, Reuter said that regimes of frequent testing with modest sanctions imposed immediately and with certainty can result "in a real decline in drug taking and criminal activity."

That got a nod of agreement from prosecutor Swern. "How long you stay in treatment is the best predictor of staying out of trouble or off drugs," she said. Swern is running a program with deferring sentencing, with some flexibility she said. "The beauty of our program is it allows us to give people many chances. If they fail in treatment and want to try again, we do that," she said.

As the hearing drew to an end, Webb had one last question: "Justice Department statistics show that of all drug arrests in 2005, 42.6% were for marijuana offenses. What about the energy expended arresting people for marijuana?" he asked, implicitly begging for someone to respond, "It's a waste of resources."

But no one connected directly with the floating softball. "The vast majority of those arrests are for simple possession," said Reuter. "In Maryland, essentially no one is sentenced to jail for marijuana possession, although about a third spend time in jail pre-trial. It's not as bad as it looks," he said sanguinely.

"There's violence around marijuana trafficking in Brooklyn," responded prosecutor Swern.

WOLA's Walsh came closest to a strong answer. "Your question goes to setting priorities," he said. "We need to discriminate among types of illicit drugs. Which do the most harm and deserve the most emphasis? Also, given the sheer number of marijuana users, what kind of dent can you make even with many more arrests?"

And so ended the first joint congressional hearing to challenge the dogmas of the drug war. For reformers that attended, there were generally thumbs up for Webb and the committee, mixed with a bit of disappointment that the hearings only went so far.

"It was extraordinary," said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. "They didn't cover some of the things I hoped they would, but I have to give them props for addressing the issue at all."

"Webb was looking for someone to say what he wanted to say with the marijuana question, that perhaps we should deemphasize law enforcement on that," said Doug McVay, policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy, who also attended the hearing. "I don't think our witnesses quite caught what he was aiming for, an answer that arresting all those people for marijuana takes away resources that could be used to fight real crime."

Sen. Webb came in for special praise from Tree. "Perhaps because he's a possible vice presidential candidate, he had to tone things down a bit, but he is clearly not afraid to talk about over-incarceration, and using the Joint Economic Committee instead of Judiciary or Foreign Affairs is a brilliant use of that committee, because this is, after all, a policy with enormous economic consequences," Tree said. "Webb is clearly motivated by doing something about the high levels of incarceration. He held a hearing on it last year, and got the obvious answer that much of it is related to drug policy. Having heard that kind of answer, most politicians would walk away fast, but not Webb, so I have to give him credit."

Reversing the drug war juggernaut will not be easy. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing Thursday was perhaps a small step toward that end, but it is a step in the right direction.

Latin America: US House Approves Mexico Anti-Drug Aid Bill, But Mexico Balks at Senate Human Rights Conditions

The US House of Representatives Tuesday approved a $1.6 billion, three-year anti-drug assistance plan aimed at helping Mexico and Central American countries fight the region's powerful drug trafficking organizations, but the package is now in doubt after the Mexican government voiced strong objections to provisions in the Senate version of the bill that tie the aid to human rights measures. The version of the bill in the Senate has yet to be approved.

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poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith)
The vote came amidst rising levels of prohibition-related violence in Mexico. Some 4,000 people -- including more than 450 police and soldiers -- have been killed in the drug war since President Felipe Calderón escalated it at the beginning of last year by sending some 25,000 troops and federal police into drug trafficker strongholds. The traffickers have taken time off from fighting among themselves to strike back at government forces, recently assassinating several top federal and municipal police commanders. Last week, traffickers in Culiacán ambushed and killed eight police in one day.

The bill, passed by the House 311-106, would begin to implement the Mérida Initiative, named after the Mexican city where US and Mexican officials sat down last year to hammer out an assistance package. Under that plan, the US funds would go for equipping and training security forces in Mexico and Central America and for improving justice systems in the region. Mexico would get $1.1 billion, while Central American and Caribbean countries would get roughly $400 million. Another $74 million would go to trying to slow the flow of illicit weapons from the US to Mexico.

But while Mexico had been eager to win the aid package, it is balking at the conditions in the Senate bill, which include human rights reviews, judicial reforms, and other issues. The conditions mark a return to "certification," where the US unilaterally determined whether nations where complying with US drug objectives, complained Mexican assistant attorney general for international affairs José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos.

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Ríodoce (newspaper) cover -- Sinaloa keeps bleeding. Why more (soldiers)?
"Why don't we tell the Americans to use those [funds] for their own interdiction forces or interception forces... and stop the flow of weapons," Santiago Vasconcelos said in a radio interview cited by the Dallas Morning News. "Rather than giving them to Mexico, they can be used by the Americans to reinforce their Customs service, their Border Patrol, and stop the arms trafficking to our country."

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said last week that President Calderón is waiting to see the final version of the bill before making a decision. "The president will very carefully consider what is finally approved, and defending the best interests of Mexico, will make the correct decision, of that we can be sure," he said.

"I think one way or another, it's dead," political commentator Ricardo Alemán told the Morning News. "Mr. Vasconcelos is a very high-ranking police official and has support from the government," Alemán said, adding that Mexican pride is at stake. "Mexicans are very unyielding on this," he said. "First you reduce the amount, and then you put on conditions, so why don't you just keep your money."

A delegation of US senators flew last weekend to Monterrey, Mexico, to meet with Mexican officials in an effort to assuage their concerns, and there are signs they will seek to remove the offensive language from the Senate bill.

"We heard from everyone here the common message that this language has got to be changed," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), one of 11 US legislators attending the two-day meeting. "Our friends in Mexico needed to vent and explain how this issue was not handled well," the senator added. "Anything that smacks of certification is a nonstarter."

Now it's time to see if the US Senate will sacrifice Mexican human rights on the altar of the drug war.

Insite can remain open: judge--BC Supreme Court rules Vancouver's safe injection site can operate indefinitely

Publication/Source: 
Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=a8f52a12-21da-4b6c-9010-440d97e818e6

Southwest Asia: Iran Accuses West of Ignoring Afghan Opium, US Marines Conveniently Aid Tehran's Case

Iran Wednesday accused the US and NATO of indifference to Afghanistan's booming opium trade and called on the West to help fight smuggling of opium and heroin across the border the two countries share. A day earlier, an Associated Press story about US Marines newly deployed to Afghanistan's Helmand Province helped make Iran's case.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
In that story, some of the 2,000 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, freshly arrived in Helmand, the world's largest opium growing region and a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency, explained that they were ignoring the poppy crop because they feared alienating local residents dependent on the trade to earn a living.

"It's kind of weird. We're coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it's bad. But at the same time we know it's the only way locals can make money," said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

Second Lt. Mark Greenlief, 24, a Monmouth, Ill., native who commands the 2nd Platoon, said he originally wanted to make a helicopter landing zone in a local farmer's field. "But as you can see that would ruin their poppy field, and we didn't want to ruin their livelihood."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover's platoon is billeted beside a poppy field planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound. The Marines' mission is to get rid of the "bad guys," and "the locals aren't the bad guys," he said. "Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio," said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's okay to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, told the AP that his troops can't focus on the poppy crop when the Taliban is "terrorizing the people." The key is first to defeat the Taliban, he said. "I think by focusing on the Taliban, the poppies will go away," he said.

But the Marines, and the rest of the 30,000 US and 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan are caught in a terrible contradiction: If they go after the opium, they risk driving the population into the waiting arms of the Taliban. If they don't go after the opium, the Taliban makes as much as $100 million a year off its share of the trade, which goes to buy more weapons to fight the US, NATO, and the Afghan government.

Ignoring the opium crop -- Afghan opium accounts for 93% of the global supply, according to the United Nations -- does not sit well with Iran, which reportedly has the world's highest opiate addiction rate. "The exploding growth in the cultivation of opium... in Afghanistan last year has created many problems... especially for Iran," said Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, secretary of Iran's drug control headquarters, a day after the AP story appeared.

"We think NATO and foreign forces in Afghanistan are indifferent to the issue of drugs and have put other goals as their priorities," Ahmadi Moghaddam told a conference of officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "Since the time they entered (Afghanistan) we are witnessing an explosive rise in the production of drugs," he said.

Iran is spending $600 million a year to stop Afghan drugs from coming into the country, and could use some help from the West, which is evidently ignoring the problem, he complained. "Iran requests the serious and practical cooperation of the international community, especially European countries, as the main destination for smugglers, in fighting drug trafficking."

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

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