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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #275, 2/21/03

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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  1. Out from the Shadows: First Latin American Anti-Prohibition Summit Convenes in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
  2. Mérida Interview: María Mercedes Moreno of Mama Coca
  3. Mérida Interview: Luiz Paulo Guanabara, Brazil, Executive Director of Psico-Tropicus
  4. Rosenthal Verdict Fallout: Angry Jurors, Media Attention, a New Bill in Congress
  5. Victory for Bolivian Coca-Growers Imminent, Reports Say Government Will Allow Coca in the Chapare
  6. Thailand War on Drugs Turns Murderous, 600 Killed This Month -- Human Rights Groups Denounce Death Squads, Executions
  7. Peoria Needle Lady Busted in Pekin, But Charges Later Dropped
  8. Drug Czar's Office Masks True Costs of War on Drugs in Federal Budget
  9. Newsbrief: DEA Kills 14-Year-Old Girl in San Antonio, Claims Self Defense
  10. Newsbrief: US Spooks Killed, Captured in Colombia
  11. Newsbrief: French Cannabis Activist Faces Jail for "Encouraging Drug Use"
  12. Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week I
  13. Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week II
  14. Newsbrief: Oklahoma Report Urges Sanity in Sentencing
  15. DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator
  16. The Reformer's Calendar
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)

1. Out from the Shadows: First Latin American Anti-Prohibition Summit Convenes in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

The first hemispheric conference organized to call for an end to prohibition and the drug war took place in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, Wednesday, February 12 through Saturday, February 15. Some 300 academics, activists, government officials, journalists and legislators from the United States, Latin America and Europe gathered at the Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century conference to seek new approaches to drug policy centered on regulation and legalization of drug consumption and the drug trade. Sponsored by DRCNet, with the cosponsorship of the Transnational Radical Party's International Antiprohibitionist League and Narco News, and hosted by the Yucatán newspaper Por Esto! and the Autonomous University of the Yucatán, Out from the Shadows brought together for the first time the many disparate voices calling for drug legalization in the Americas.

Argentine harm reductionists exchanged tips with their Mexico City counterparts, North American activists met with Andean coca growers and their supporters, Mexican marijuana activists mingled with Brazilian legalizers, and legislators from five Latin American countries came face to face with a hemispheric drug reform movement in all its diversity. In two days of speeches and workshops and innumerable informal encounters, advocates of drug legalization in the Americas began to take the first steps toward, as DRCNet's David Borden put it in his opening remarks, "demarginalizing our viewpoing and shifting it into the mainstream of the public debate."

But it was the grand old man of Latin American legalizers, former Colombian Attorney General Gustavo de Greiff, who set the tone for the summit in his opening address. Calling the policy of drug prohibition "a failed policy, an erroneous policy," de Greiff bluntly observed that it is "a strategy that does not work." Citing years of drug war in his home country, the bespectacled, white-haired scholar noted that, "It is illogical to think we can suppress drug use or drug consumption. It is a big lie."

There is a better way, he said. "We need a politics of regulation of drug production and consumption, one that includes education on the dangers of drugs and treatment for the fallen," he told a rapt audience. "The policy of legalization is not a policy of supporting drug use," he added, "but a strategy designed to ruin the business of the narcos and the corrupt, and to help the addict." De Greiff also touched on another theme popular with speakers and attendees alike: the malignant role of US drug policy on the countries and societies of the hemisphere. "Other countries have to follow US policy because of economic and political pressures," he lamented.

It was a theme taken up the same day by Por Esto! publisher Mario Menéndez, who accused US officials not only of foisting a failed and destructive prohibition policy on the hemisphere, but of actively abetting the trade. "The US is the biggest consumer drug market in the world," he said. "The drugs enter the US because of corruption. All that cocaine... the US authorities who say they are fighting drugs allow the smugglers to enter because the US receives the benefits. In Mexico, the government gives orders to let pass the drugs that enrich the US. They talk about getting the narcos, but they don't chase the powerful ones. This is business," he said. The US has a long history of cooperating with the drug trade, he added, citing the World War II-era deal with Italian mobster Lucky Luciano as well as Oliver North's dealing with cocaine-trafficking Contra "terrorists" in the 1980s. "Where are those famous puritan principles?" he asked. "What moral principles are we talking about?"

For Menéndez, too, the correct policy was clear. "The politics of Por Esto! is to legalize," he said. "The drugs must be distributed free to addicts in health centers, and we must have a campaign of education and rehabilitation. Drug prohibition is a perversion," he thundered. "You in the US have your prisons full of low-end drug offenders; they go in and they are not human beings anymore when they come out. US prisons are like factories for drug dealing; people come out as a labor force for organized crime. And now it is happening here."

But if Menéndez' call for legalization was uncontroversial at the conference, his attack on the US provoked Drug Policy Alliance ( director Ethan Nadelmann to respond the next day. Nadelmann's reply both illustrated the difference in perspectives between North and South and represented an attempt to create a dialectic to bridge that divide.

"I want to challenge you to think in new ways about the forces behind the war on drugs," Nadelmann said. "Our capacity to organize and to act strategically depends on how sophisticated our analysis of the problems is. We cannot interpret all information through a single lens, and understanding what drives US drug policy is not so simple. I don't believe the war on drugs is driven primarily by economics," he added, conceding that there are economic interests that do profit from the drug war. "But the war on drugs is fundamentally in opposition to US economic and strategic interests."

Instead, Nadelmann continued, the motivating force behind US drug policy is "a quasi-religious imperative that comes from deep within our culture." In that sense, he added, US drug policy in Latin America is largely a projection outward of US domestic policy. "For you in Latin America who see the tremendous harms committed by my government, know that millions are also suffering in the US. And for those of you who ask, 'why doesn't America crack down harder at home,' I ask you to please stop saying that. Instead, we must build alliances across borders, across left and right, across the lines that divide worker and businessman."

With that appeal, Nadelmann touched upon another division within the hemispheric drug reform movement: the ideological divide between a Latin America historically more attuned to socialism, populism and anti-imperialism, and the libertarian impulse so prominent in the US drug reform movement and, increasingly, within Latin America itself. That tension was illustrated during the address of Fernando Buendía, advisor to new Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez and a leading official of Pachakutik Movement, the political branch of the nation's largest indigenous organization, CONAIE, and the driving force behind Gutierrez's electoral victory.

Buendía gave an eloquent speech, rooted in the traditions of Western dissent, in which he called drug abuse a result of the "crisis of Western civilization," which worships reason but destroys the social fabric. "Savage capitalism," said Buendía, "destroys human community and converts us into a set of atomized consumers. It decomposes ancient social bonds among families and communities, and people look to fill the immense vacuum with drugs. The war on drugs is part of savage capitalism," Buendía argued.

While his remarks were well-received by many in the audience, Costa Rican legislator Rolando Alfaro, for one, grimaced noticeably and shook his head at times. Alfaro, a member of Costa Rica's libertarian-leaning Movimiento Libertario party, had earlier told the conference he hoped for the triumph of the same Western reason that Buendía criticized. How the tension between the libertarian call for individual rights and the Latin American concern for community and society plays out will undoubtedly be a point of continuing concern as drug reformers of the left and the right seek to forge a unified movement.

But ideological and other divisions at Mérida should not be overstated. Most of the conference, both in formal sessions and in informal conversations, centered on addressing the concrete problems of creating a hemispheric movement for regulation and legalization. Whether it was Uruguayan Deputy Margarita Percovich calling on neighboring Brazil to step forward on drug reform, Mexico City harm reductionists seeking to forge links with their Argentine counterparts, the Bolivian delegation calling on the rest of the hemisphere to support its struggle on behalf of coca farmers, or Transnational Radical Party Members of the European Parliament urging Latin American governments to support change in the United Nations conventions on drugs, the primary focus of the conference was not debating differences but finding ways to work together.

The Bolivian delegation certainly had little time for philosophical questions. With their nation in flames -- fighting between police and soldiers left 19 dead in Bolivia the day before the conference started (see related story below) -- the Bolivians arrived without their most prominent leader, Congressman Evo Morales, who had initially planned to attend. But Congressman Felipe Quispe, El Mallku (high leader) of the indigenous Aymara Nation, did make it to Mérida, where he gave a heartfelt address vowing never to surrender to the coca eradicators in La Paz and Washington. "Coca may be a poison for the white man, but it is a blessing for the Indians," said Quispe. "Coca is everywhere. There is no other agricultural production in the coca areas. This is our livelihood; it buys us food to eat and clothes to wear. If we can't grow coca, what will the government do? They want to stop us, but it is impossible."

The Bolivian government cannot win, said Quispe, because its soldiers and police do not want to die for coca eradication. "We are willing to die for our coca," he vowed. "Coca or death! The government will never win because the Indians are mobilized and we will not stop here. In the eyes of the elite, my brown face makes me invisible, but the middle ranks realize they will never win. We demand respect," said Quispe, "we demand respect for our traditions and for the coca plantations."

And if, as Quispe argued, "coca is everywhere," that was certainly evident in Mérida. Many conference attendees sampled coca leaves and coca candy courtesy of Peruvian coca expert Baldomero Cáceres and the delegation from the National Association of Coca Producers. (Meanwhile on the streets of Mérida, a conservative and relatively isolated provincial city, both cocaine powder and crack could be procured quickly and cheaply by any interested party.)

Cáceres and Quispe were not the only ones waving coca leaves. In an emotional speech, Peruvian cocalero leader Nancy Obregon from the Huallaga Valley, told the conference that her people would never give up their coca. "For us, the sacred coca leaf is our life," she said. "It is our history, our economy, it provides the education for our children. It is the source of our history and the source of our heritage," explained the 35-year-old subsecretary general of the Peruvian Confederation of Coca Growers (CONCPACCP). And Obregon called for stronger struggle against the machinations of Washington, exhorting her audience to stand tall against eradication. "What is it we lack to confront Washington?" she asked. "Is it courage? Do we lack the will? We lack dignity, my friends, and to regain this dignity, we must fight to achieve our objectives."

For Cáceres, too, the leaves of the coca plant are "holy leaves, a gift from Father Son and Mother Earth. But I can't take them to the US." How can a plant be illegal?, he asked. "These are medicinal plants, not drugs." Cáceres also urged a reevaluation of attitudes toward drug use. "I smoke marijuana and I am not disturbed, but the psychiatrists say I am an addict," said the sixty-something academic. "Also, I drink alcohol. Therefore I am a complete lunatic in the eyes of Catholic Lima, which believes in sin."

It was not sin on the minds of parliamentarians in attendance, but changing the global prohibition regime. "Los dos Marcos," the Italian Radical tag-team of Marco Perduca and Marco Cappato, entranced legislators and activists alike with their discussions of efforts to reform the system of UN conventions that dictate the bounds of the permissible in national drug policies. UN anti-drug strategy will be evaluated at a meeting in Vienna in April, Cappato said. "A reevaluation of the failed war on drugs is possible at the UN," he noted. "We are coordinating legislators from around the world and we are talking about how to unite to take our efforts to the next level."

While urging governments to cooperate in amending or revoking the UN conventions, Cappato also called for other forms of political action. "We need proposals for governments to take to Vienna," he said, "but we must also go to the streets. We are right, but being right isn't enough. The prohibitionists seek to impede debate, so we must transform our ideas into political action, into popular action."

Likewise, Colombian senator and former chief justice of the Colombian Supreme Court Carlos Gaviria was more interested in human rights than morality. Gaviria, who authored the 1994 decision legalizing the use and possession of drugs in Colombia, also called for legalization as the only workable solution. "The drug problem must be seen as an economic and human rights problem," he told the conference. "The only solution is legalization, but it will be a long, hard process." Drug consumption by itself should not be within the purview of the state, he added. "Just taking drugs in itself does not hurt the rights of others, and a democratic, pluralistic state cannot justify this. There is no worse dictatorship than that which seeks to impose its ideas over all others."

But the current Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe is heading in a different direction, Gaviria told DRCNet. "They are seeking a referendum to recriminalize drug use," he said. "This is a very repressive position from a very repressive government. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to accomplish this."

But while Colombia under its current leadership is heading steadfastly backwards, other governments in the region may be more amenable to change, according to various conference participants. Uruguayan legislator Margarita Percovitch told the assembly efforts are underway at home to create more progressive drug policies. And although Brazilian Deputy Fernando Gabeira could not attend the conference, he sent a statement in which he vowed to work for change under the new government of President Lula Da Silva. Similarly, Ecuador's Buendía told DRCNet that while the new government there has barely had time to take office, it was reviewing drug policy and that Ecuador had already decriminalized drug use. But consumption is not the problem in Ecuador, Buendía said, the problem is the drug traffic and the resulting "sinister proposals like Plan Colombia, that seek to militarize and control the region."

For all the talk about coca and the drug war in South America, the conference took place in Mexico, and delegates from the host country also had plenty to say. Mexican congressman Gregorio Urias German from the state of Sinaloa, long a hotbed of the drug traffic, called for bringing the debate on drug policy to a new level. "If we can't even discuss the alternatives, if we can't even admit the drug war is a failure, then we will never solve the problem," Urias argued. Existing forums, such as the UN and the Organization of American States, are not fruitful places to advance this discussion, he said, "because only the repressive policies of the United States are discussed at these forums." Instead, Urias said, he has been working with a group of Latin American parliamentarians to advance discussion of the issue.

But while Urias averred that his interest was "the majority of society, not drug users," members of the Mexican pro-marijuana movement spoke of an emerging drug consumers' movement in there. Members of groups such as the Mexican Association for Cannabis Studies (AMECA), magazines such as Generación, and web sites such as Ricardo Sala's, described the growth of the movement in Mexico, regaling attendees with tales of the Million Marijuana Marches in Mexico City and the nascent struggle to open a space for pot-smokers in a country that remains a leading marijuana producer. Similary, Julio Schnell of described the emergence of activism around hemp issues in Mexico. And Cuban-born Mexican resident Sylvia Maria Valls would have been at home at any US pro-pot rally. "We must revoke any laws that criminalize the use of these plants," the activist grandmother said. "Cuban independence hero Jose Marti once said 'the final struggle is between false erudition and true knowledge,'" she continued. "We must trust the wisdom of our people."

A single report cannot do justice to all that occurred in Mérida -- the workshops on social movements, organizing for Vienna, and attacks on freedom of the press in the name of the drug war; the panels on legislative efforts, the informal gatherings and much more. DRCNet will be providing videotapes of the entire conference in the near future, as will Italy's Radio Radicale, and interested readers may also want to visit the Narco News web site, which is already full of reports from the 26 young journalists awarded scholarships by the Narco News/Por Esto! School of Authentic Journalism who covered the conference and who retreated this week to Isla Mujeres off the Cancun coast for more studies.

The Mérida conference was a first for the hemisphere, and numerous participants told DRCNet that while no concrete proposals resulted and no manifestos were drafted, the conference was the beginning of something bigger. Enthusiasm for making the conference an annual event was also high, with the refrain "next year in Rio," being heard repeatedly. Alternately, Ecuador's Buendía suggested that DRCNet bring a delegation to the annual Global Social Forum, which will convene next January in Quito.

And as a first try, the conference was not perfect, or at least, some participants had suggestions to make it better. A number of attendees complained of a lack of time for discussion or questions. "It might have improved matters a bit if we could have had questions and comments at the end of long speeches," said Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt of the London-based Mordaunt Trust and editor of the Users' Voice, a British harm reduction publication.

That critique was echoed by Silvia Inchaurraga of the Latin American Harm Reduction Network. "Some people came from very far away and had many things to discuss, but didn't get a chance to do so," she told DRCNet. "And perhaps we should have had a declaration or manifesto of common purpose," she added. "We also need more clarity about different models of legalization or regulation and the distinctions between decriminalization and legalization. This is not something that is necessarily clear to the Latin Americans."

And though conference organizers strove to maintain a strong focus on Latin American voices, attendees from throughout Latin America had a complaint they didn't expect -- more of the speakers should have been from the US.

But all in all, conference attendees seemed uniformly happy to be there and pleased with the results. They were, after all, present at the birth of what promises to be a vigorous and growing hemispheric drug reform movement that can play a vital role in a global effort to end prohibition in the 21st century.

Visit for background information and ongoing updates on the global anti-prohibition campaign.

2. Mérida Interview: María Mercedes Moreno of Mama Coca

Based in Paris and dividing her time between France and her native Colombia, María Mercedes Moreno is the coordinator of Mama Coca (, an international consortium of academics, activists and researchers studying the illicit crops of Latin America. A political scientist with an advanced degree in ethnology, Moreno is an instructor in the French national university system. DRCNet spoke with Moreno by phone from her home in Paris before the conference began.

Week Online: What is Mama Coca? Who is involved?

María Mercedes Moreno: Mama Coca began as a loose network mainly of academics concerned with coca production in Colombia. People working in the field found that we needed to network to exchange information, and so much material was coming through that we started a journal. It really started with Plan Colombia, the US drug war policy in that country, but now it has grown to encompass Peru, Bolivians working with Evo Morales, and we are even forming relationships with Brazilian President Lula da Silva and his Workers Party.

Our first mission is to stop the chemical warfare in Colombia. The fumigation of crops there is only becoming more intense. President Uribe wants more and more spraying; he's said so himself. And it's not only the spraying with glyphosate. They're doing biological warfare experiments on the Ecuadorian border, testing the fungus oxysporum.

WOL: The US has become increasingly involved in Colombia. How is it going?

Moreno: Things are getting worse. President Uribe is working to create new paramilitary forces, the so-called self-defense forces. He is legitimizing the paramilitaries because the dialogue now is with them, not with the guerrillas. These self-defense forces basically protect the oligarchy from social protests, land reforms and guerrilla extortion. Uribe is in effect creating a counter-agrarian reform. And Uribe is legitimizing the paramilitaries with the acknowledgement of the US. The US says, "Carlos Castano [paramilitary leader], we can't talk to you because you're a drug trafficker," so Castano says okay, he's not a trafficker anymore. It's like a game.

The paramilitaries are using the money from the drug trade to buy land -- that is a key element of the counter-agrarian reform. When the government wants to fumigate, first they send in the paramilitaries, who "cleanse" the land, they assault the people and push them out, because otherwise the guerrillas could shoot down the spray planes. But the paramilitaries also want the land for cattle-raising. They either buy it or take it. Part of the problem is that the Colombian army is so corrupt that it is hard to win a war with them. That's why they need the paramilitaries. The army doesn't want to fight the guerrillas, but the paramilitaries are in it for the land and they're willing to go in and do what has to be done. That is why the US accepts the paramilitaries.

We are seeing increased human rights violations, increased violence. By using the paramilitaries, the government is privatizing the violence, and of course, the US government is in on it. This is not left-wing conspiracy talk; this is what the researchers and academics are reporting. It sends the helicopters, it pays for the spraying, it has troops now in Colombia protecting an oil pipeline. And Uribe has this pending referendum that includes an article against drug trafficking and addiction, but it is hallucinatory. It is all directed at small producers and consumers and really says nothing about large-scale trafficking. There is no mention of seizing traffickers' assets. Instead he is talking about recriminalizing drug possession. In Colombia, smoking a joint is like having a glass of wine. They think they can turn this back.

There is also a very dangerous concentration of power in the Uribe administration. Uribe's people tell me he is determined to be a strong leader, although he is certainly not autonomous when it comes to the US. Likewise, his right-hand man, Fernando Londono, is now both Minister of Justice and Minister of Government. Londono has said that the people who oppose fumigation are with the guerrillas, they are subversives. This is a very repressive sort of mini-dictatorship.

WOL: Does Mama Coca take a position on legalization and regulation of the trade?

Moreno: Funny you should ask. We attempted to get some funding from the Tides Foundation, but they said we needed to form a legal association, but when we did we got a call from French intelligence saying, "What is this all about?" French law doesn't allow you to make propaganda in favor of drugs. So Mama Coca as an organization has as its main objective defending human rights and exposing how this war on illicit drugs attacks the human rights of many people.

Personally, most of us favor legalization, but Mama Coca is a pluralist organization. We publish people from the left, the right, but what we publish is people who specialize in the subject. And the politics can get strange. For example, the Colombian Minister of Agriculture holds the same position as most of us, but he is a member of repressive rightist regime. What is most important is that a debate on the topic of legalization take place.

WOL: Do you see any possibility of a unified Latin American or Andean approach to the political economy of coca and cocaine?

Moreno: It's funny, when we try to talk with our Peruvian and Bolivian friends about coca cultivation in Colombia, even they are thinking in terms of the narcotraffic. "Who profits from this?" they want to know. But they know the profits from this trade go to the States and Europe, and what stays in Colombia goes to buy land and to consolidate the counter-agrarian reform. People think the indigenous people in Colombia have no right to grow coca; even Colombian researchers say it is not traditionally a coca-growing country. Mama Coca is the first group to defend coca-growing as a traditional right in Colombia.

But there is much we don't know, and the Peruvians and Bolivians have helped us greatly. We are hoping to work with people there, as well as with countries that are not big producers, like Ecuador and Brazil. All of these Latin American countries share common concerns, we're all interested in food safety and the environment. But in Colombia the peasants are dying. You can't make a living off the land when it has been fumigated for coca. All the crops get killed. The food crops get killed. But our concerns are broader than Colombia alone, and I'm certain that we can get together to change things. We are growing fast and have so many connections now. We will overcome misperceptions and stereotypes. We will find a common voice.

WOL: What do you hope to see at the Mérida conference? [Ed: This interview was conducted before the conference.]

Moreno: It sounds great. Everyone is saying, "See you there." In Mérida, I would hope that we could at least reach a common stand regarding plants. How can you make a plant illegal? I hope we can all agree that poppy and coca and marijuana are nature's plants and we refuse to accept that they are illegal. We want them off the UN Conventions. The Europeans are behind this. This is not really anyone's domestic issue anymore; this belongs to all of us. My expectation is that we can stand firm on the plants, that we can all agree on that. I'm not sure what else we can agree on, but at least we should respect nature.

I also want to meet these people from all over, and I want to learn about what is going on elsewhere, especially in the States.

3. Mérida Interview: Luiz Paulo Guanabara, Brazil, Executive Director of Psico-Tropicus

Luiz Paulo Guanabara is the founder and director of Psico-Tropicus, a Brazilian harm reduction and anti-prohibitionist organization. A practicing psychologist, Guanabara is a Brazilian pioneer in integrating the principles of harm reduction with psychotherapy for drug users. For Guanabara, unifying the two disciplines implies being non-judgmental with clients and working with drug users who are not ready to seek abstinence. His career as a harm reductionist began in 1996 in Rio de Janeiro, when he was invited to participate in the city's first needle exchange program. DRCNet spoke with Guanabara in Mérida the evening the conference ended.

Week Online: What is Psico-Tropicus and what does it seek to accomplish?

Luiz Paulo Guanabara: Psico-Tropicus is an independent agency that is anti-prohibitionist and interested in harm reduction. As a matter of policy, Brazilian harm reduction projects are funded by the federal government, mainly because of the AIDS epidemic. Psico-Tropicus has very few funds rights now, but we have a good chance this year of gaining funding from an American foundation. We are also looking for funds from some Brazilian nonprofit organizations. The group is still being formed and is composed already of academics and professionals in the health field, and we will probably have Federal Deputy Fernando Gabeira as our man in Congress.

Our main objective is to participate in the formulation of a new Brazilian drug policy. We want to take harm reduction and anti-prohibitionism into the meetings with government officials and civil society and to draw attention to the huge damage that drug prohibition causes to Brazilian society and the Brazilian people. Psico-Tropicus only came to life because we have a new government that we believe will be more open to new perspectives on drug policy. The violence associated with prohibition is unbearable, and we think the people are tired of all this violence. We will be like an independent agency that will strive to insinuate itself into the fabric of the new Brazilian drug policy that is now being planned.

Psico-Tropicus has five main objectives. First, we call for the total decriminalization of drug users. Second, we want to further develop harm reduction strategies. Third, we call for the immediate legalization of marijuana. Fourth, we want to be an organization to advocate for harm reduction and anti-prohibitionist policies with international groups interested in networking and maybe even opening chapters in Brazil. And last but not least, we call for the total decriminalization of all drugs and the normalization and regulation of drug production and sales.

WOL: What are the drugs of choice in Brazil?

Guanabara: Marijuana use is the norm in Brazil. It is widely used and should be normalized as quickly as possible. It's already part of our culture. I've never had anyone come to me and say he had a marijuana problem, and if they did, I would suspect there was something else underlying it. There are virtually no people seeking treatment for marijuana in Brazil, and the few who are in treatment for marijuana are usually young people sent by their parents or by the stupid drug courts they are trying to establish.

The main problematic drugs in Brazil are alcohol, tobacco and cocaine. You don't see much heroin in Brazil. With cocaine, it was once only used by high society, but nowadays, cocaine is used by all classes, from the richest to the poorest, and it is very cheap. And in Rio, it is only powder cocaine, not crack, because the drug dealers banned crack. They know their employees would go nuts; it would be bad for their business.

I have done research in the favelas (slums), and I found that cocaine use and sales are really wide open. People buy it and do it right on the street, then go drink beer in the favela bars. When it comes to injection drug users, cocaine is 100% of the problem here. We do needle exchange programs, and sometimes we have to give them 20 syringes a day because they are shooting up so frequently.

WOL: You mentioned the drug dealing in the favelas. Can you tell us about the drug gangs, the so-called "parallel power"?

Guanabara: The parallel power controls the favelas. To do anything in the favelas, you have to get their permission. If you want to do a social program, put on a concert, do a tourism tour, you need their authorization. The parallel power -- they also call them "commands" -- developed inside the prisons. In the 1970s, during the military dictatorship, the government threw leftist guerrillas into the same jails as the common criminals. The guerrillas taught the criminals how to organize, and they created the Red Falange. Its leaders were middle-aged men, but the Falange split up into two groups, the Red Command and the Green Command, and the original leaders were killed and replaced by younger, more violent men. These are the men who now control the favelas.

WOL: Where is the Brazilian government?

Guanabara: That's what the people want to know. The government is absent, it doesn't really care about the millions of poor in the favelas. They don't send assistance, they don't do social programs, the only thing they send is the police. They send the police to contain and repress the poor. In that sense, prohibition works as an excuse for the repression of the poor. We have great hopes that this will change with the new government of Lula.

WOL: What other sorts of drug reform efforts are underway in Brazil?

Guanabara: There is a movement to legalize marijuana, but it is only at the beginning. Last year was the first time Brazilians participated in the Million Marijuana Marches, and I was a spokesman for that. We had more than a hundred reporters present, as well as the civil police, who came and photographed everything. There was some fear we would be arrested for our advocacy, but the government of the state, the Workers' Party of Lula, said it was free speech. Congressman Gabeira is really the leader of the marijuana legalization movement in Brazil. He has been advocating legalization for years and years, but now that Lula is in office we hope it will happen within the next few years. I think the Workers' Party will be receptive.

WOL: You've just finished the conference in Mérida, where you helped MC the event. How do you think it went?

Guanabara: I think it was great. I have the feeling that some of the nicest people in the world were there. And we got a lot of work done. We talked to the deputies from the Transnational Radical Party and will arrange for them to meet with Gabeira and other members of the state and federal congresses. We also did a lot of work with our Latin American friends from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, and we are now, as a result of this conference, closer than ever to uniting to stop the drug war and end prohibition in Latin America. There is a common understanding in Latin America that prohibition is tremendously more harmful than drugs could ever be. We especially have much in common with Argentina, because neither country is a coca producer, and we can concentrate on the problems of consumption under prohibition. So our networking with Argentina is more developed than with other Latin American countries right now. But in the future we will also bring up the issues that are important in Bolivia and Peru and the other producing countries. We understand that coca and cocaine are commodities that can bring wealth to the consumer countries instead of destruction, so we favor this commerce. We also have a deep respect for the ancient indigenous traditions of coca use; it is a sacred plant. For us in Brazil, marijuana is also a sacred plant. The prohibition of these plants is a profound manifestation of human ignorance. It cannot stand.

4. Rosenthal Verdict Fallout: Angry Jurors, Media Attention, a New Bill in Congress

The conviction of marijuana cultivation guru Ed Rosenthal on marijuana manufacture charges on January 31 may have been a pyhrric victory for the US government. The two weeks since a federal jury wearing court-ordered blinders convicted Rosenthal, who was growing medical marijuana within California guidelines and with the express approval of the Oakland City Council, have seen those same jurors react furiously to the deception to which they were subjected, continuing mass media attention, and the formulation of a new bill soon to be introduced in the US Congress which would provide an effective defense for medical marijuana providers arrested under US anti-marijuana laws.

Almost as soon as they walked out of the federal courthouse in San Francisco following the verdict, jurors were stunned and angered to discover that they had convicted a man deputized by the city of Oakland to provide medical marijuana to sick patients. Some of those jurors reacted with public outrage and a repudiation of the verdict they delivered. And in an unprecedented move, many of them stood in solidarity with the man they had just convicted.

"I feel like I made the biggest mistake in my life," juror Marney Craig said at a joint news conference with Rosenthal the next day. "We convicted a man who is not a criminal. It's the most horrible mistake I've ever made in my entire life. The city of Oakland attempted to give him immunity and he operated under that assumption," Craig said. "Ed Rosenthal is not a criminal; he should never have been convicted. He needs a jury that is allowed to hear all the evidence."

At that same event, jury foreman Charles Sackett said he hoped Rosenthal's guilty verdict is overturned on appeal. "Some of us jurors are upset about the way the trial was conducted... I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to decide with all the evidence," he said. Sackett then read aloud a letter of apology to Rosenthal and his family.

Two more of the six rebellious jurors who denounced the verdict also spoke at the news conference. Kimberly Sulsar called the affair "truly disheartening and shameful," while juror Pamela Klarkowski said she was "absolutely appalled" upon realizing she had voted to convict Rosenthal without knowing all the facts in the case.

Those jurors have continued to speak out, to both local and national media, and have been joined by an avalanche of outrage from Rosenthal supporters, California officials and activists that continues to this day. The Media Awareness Project ( archive of drug policy-related news currently lists more than 80 news stories devoted to the Rosenthal verdict and its aftermath, and that does not include television and web-only reports. Even the staid New York Times weighed in with an editorial criticizing the persecution of medical marijuana providers and concluding that "the administration should stop tyrannizing doctors and sick people."

The verdict has also sparked a new round of activist organizing by groups such as Americans for Safe Access ( in more than a hundred cities across California and the nation. This Tuesday saw "Evict the DEA" protests in dozens of cities as part of ASA's broader Medical Marijuana Week organizing project.

And the Rosenthal verdict has inspired three California members of Congress, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), to draft legislation designed to blunt the impact of the federal war on medical marijuana in the states. The bipartisan legislation would create two categories of marijuana under federal law -- criminal and medical. Under the draft legislation, growers who can prove they grow their product for medical use only would be able to use that fact as a valid defense in a federal trial.

"In states such as California, which has a medical marijuana statute allowing for its growth and distribution, growers are still subject to raid, arrest and prosecution from federal agencies," said Farr at a news conference Thursday announcing the draft legislation. "We have seen this happen time and time again. These federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department have no respect for the laws we here in California have established to allow patients to live pain-free lives. The purpose of this bill is to allow defendants in federal criminal trials to introduce evidence that their marijuana-related activity was performed for a valid medical purpose under state law. If a jury finds that a defendant was following state medical marijuana law, then the defendant should not be sent to prison. It's as simple as that," he said.

The bill has been endorsed by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has been criticized in the past for tepid support of the state's medical marijuana laws. "I support Congressman Farr's bipartisan effort to change federal law so that all the facts would be before a jury," he said after attending the event. "I think many people are offended by the lack of due process associated with the Rosenthal conviction. It seems to me to be just fundamental fairness to allow his Proposition 215 defense to have been presented to the jury," Lockyer said.

While even the proposed bill's supporters concede it will be an uphill battle to win passage in the current conservative climate, they vowed to fight the good fight. When formally introduced, the Farr-Woolsey-Rohrabacher bill will be the only medical marijuana bill on Congress' plate. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D) filed a bill in 2001 which would reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, allowing it to be prescribed under federal law, but that bill failed to gain any traction in Congress. Frank has not yet re-filed the bill this session.

The federal government may have won the battle, but with a few more victories like the Rosenthal verdict, it could face open rebellion in California and the eight other states that provide for medical marijuana. And while the feds would love to see Rosenthal behind bars for at least the next 10 years, even that isn't a done deal yet. He remains free on bail and is seeking a new trial or a reversal of the verdict on appeal.

Reports on the Rosenthal Verdict:

Connie Chung on CNN:

Dan Forbes on Manipulation of the Grand Jury, for

Ann Harrison on Jurors' Anger and Call for New Trial, on Alternet:

5. Victory for Bolivian Coca-Growers Imminent, Reports Say Government Will Allow Coca in the Chapare

While some attendees at the Out from the Shadows conference in Mérida last week expressed disappointment that Bolivian coca leader and Congressman Evo Morales was not present, it now appears Morales stayed away because he was in the midst of successful negotiations with the reeling government of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to reverse the government's "zero coca" policy in the Chapare region. According to Knight-Ridder News Service, the Bolivian government will formally announce within a week that it is backing away from the "zero coca" option and will allow farmers in the Chapare to grow up to one-fifth of an acre of coca.

The apparent deal came at mid-week last week, with the Sanchez de Lozada government staggering from crisis to crisis as long-standing peasant and worker mobilizations around coca-growing, fiscal policy and privatization gave way to heavy fighting between the Bolivian army and police and demonstrators. At least 29 persons were reported killed in fighting in the capital, and government buildings were burned after soldiers opened fire on police in front of the government palace.

The government crisis continues this week, as Sanchez de Lozada was forced to accept the resignations of his entire cabinet in a bid to retain control of the government. Caught between the repeatedly expressed demands of his primary financial backer, the United States, that the eradication campaign continue heedless of the political cost, and the growing mobilization by peasants over the coca issue, Sanchez de Lozada chose to heed the demands of his countrymen in a bid to quiet at least one of the many rebellious sectors of Bolivian society calling for his removal. Now, Sanchez de Lozada faces the prickly task of appeasing the drug warriors from Washington.

The US, which publicly considers Bolivia's coca eradication campaign one of its few "success stories" in Latin America, has long pressured successive Bolivian governments to ignore popular resentment and move forward with the "zero coca" option. It has provided nearly $1.3 billion in anti-drug and development assistance -- all tied to eradication -- to Bolivia in the last decade. Newly arrived US Ambassador to Bolivia David Greenlee has quickly moved to continue the US's heavy-handed policies toward the Bolivian government, warning repeatedly in the national media in recent days that failure to move toward "zero coca" could result in a cut in US assistance. "A pause in eradication is a pause in development," Greenlee warned, adroitly applying the same sort of rhetoric of blackmail the US routinely decries when used by other countries.

While Bolivian coca farmers say that the plant has many legitimate uses in the national and international markets other than cocaine, the US government staunchly holds the position that no expansion of coca production is justified.

Under the agreement between Morales and government negotiators reached last week in Cochabamba as violence flared nationwide, about 15,000 farmers in the Chapare will be allowed to grow a catu -- about one-fifth of an acre -- during a six month period. Bolivian drug czar Ernesto Justiniano told Knight-Ridder that the government would undertake a study during that period to determine the extent of the legal market for coca.

Allowing limited coca crops in the Chapare would only increase the nation's current crop by about 10%. Bolivia currently allows about 30,000 acres of coca to be grown for the local legal market in the Yungas region. That is down from about 180,000 acres cultivated prior to the beginning of the "zero coca" campaign in 1998. While US officials routinely call the Bolivian campaign a "success story," it has succeeded primarily in expanding the area of coca production in neighboring Peru and, most recently, in Colombia, where the crop had not been traditionally grown. Colombia is now the world's largest coca producer.

The Bolivian "success story" has also led to the massive mobilizations that have shaken the US-backed government of Sanchez de Lozada to its foundations and to the rise of political parties and leaders who are strongly pro-coca. The leader of the cocaleros, Evo Morales, fell only 43,000 votes short of winning the presidency last fall, and Morales and his political allies now control a third of the Bolivian congress.

The "zero coca" option in Bolivia is now dead, Morales told Knight-Ridder, adding that he believed that by the time negotiations were completed, the amount of new cultivation allowed will be two or three times the one-fifth acre per farmer currently under consideration.

6. Thailand War on Drugs Turns Murderous, 600 Killed This Month -- Human Rights Groups Denounce Death Squads, Executions

Early this year, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced an ambitious campaign to eradicate drugs in Thailand by April ( While initially greeted with raised eyebrows as an unachievable goal, a mounting death toll since the campaign got underway on February 1 shows that the Thai government is deadly serious in its effort to wipe out the drug trade. According to the Thai Interior Ministry, 596 alleged drug dealers had been killed in the first two weeks of the campaign.

Thailand is one of the world's leading consumers of methamphetamine pills, which are smuggled by the hundreds of millions annually from factories operated by the United Wa State Army in neighboring Burma. According to the Thai government, approximately one million of the country's 62 million inhabitants are regular methamphetamine users.

Prime Minister Thaksin and police officials have said that the vast majority of the killings were the result of vendettas among drug traffickers and the rest were committed by police acting in self-defense, but few observers are buying that. Thai police have admitted killing at least a dozen "blacklisted" drug dealers in what they frankly refer to as a "no red tape" policy of state-sanctioned murder, the South China Morning Post reported.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed "grave concern" about the rapid rise in apparent police murders of drug suspects. "It is getting worse by the day," Amnesty International's Thailand office director, Srirak Plipat, told the Asia Times. "The number of extrajudicial deaths is unusually high, but that does not mean there were no extrajudicial killings before during anti-drug crackdowns," he added. But the current crackdown is different, he said. "The language is new. The government is taking the cause very seriously, and has conveyed that it will use violence to pursue it."

Local human rights organizations are also raising the alarm. "This smacks of a great wrong being done," Somchai Homlaor, secretary-general of the regional human rights group Asia Forum, told the Morning Post.

Members of the Thai national human rights commission have also warned about the excesses of the campaign, saying it could usher in a new era of rule by "gun and goon." "This is supposed to be a democracy under the rule of law," commissioner Pradit Charoenthaithawee told the Morning Post. "But there is no law that covers the gunning down of people on the whim of the local authorities. This is a step back into the dark ages," said Pradit.

"This has become a land of fear. It is very ugly. Who is killing whom?" asked Jaran Ditapichai, another human rights commissioner.

Yet another human rights commissioner, Jaran Ditapichai, told the Guardian (London) last week that public support for the anti-drug campaign was diminishing as the rising death toll led to fears of creeping authoritarianism. "The public see death tolls rising, but they don't know who killed those people," he said.

On Saturday, the Bangkok Post weighed in with an editorial scoffing at the government's claims that the killings were the result of gang vendettas and police were obeying the law. "Such assurances ring hollow, given the poor records of the police, where scapegoats abound and unexplained deaths of prisoners in detention cells are all too frequent," it said. "If Mr. Thaksin is not careful we will be taken back to those dark days when suspects are presumed guilty until proven innocent."

The Thai government and its backer in the anti-drug struggle, the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP), appear unconcerned, even defiant. "The government is firm in its policy," said Prime Minister Thaksin, responding to criticism last week. "Whoever wants to criticize, let them criticize. It's bandits killing bandits," he baldly claimed. Thaksin also appealed for understanding of the killings, which he characterized as "self-defense." "These officers do not deal drugs. I think it quite unusual that the drug dealers getting killed by the police are getting sympathy," he told the Bangkok Post.

And the UNDCP's East Asia and Pacific office head, Sandro Calvani, sounded downright supportive of the mass killings. "The Thai campaign makes sense," he told the Bangkok Post, because it is a broad campaign against an entrenched problem. "There is a sense of urgency," he added. When asked by the Post about the mass killings, Calvani gave lip service to the UN's support of human rights and the rule of law, but also noted that the UN is committed "to the rights of the children and youth to live in a drug-free environment."

If the Thai government is having no problems with the UNDCP, it is apparently much more skittish about another UN organization, the Office of the Secretary General. Hina Jilani, a representative of that office, was scheduled to arrive in Thailand at the end of this month to gather information about the situation facing human rights activists there, which would presumably include an interest in extrajudicial killings. The Thai government last week postponed that visit. A new trip has not been scheduled, according to the Bangkok Post.

Thailand is set to host the International Harm Reduction Association's ( 2003 14th International Harm Reduction Conference, set for April 6-10 in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. At press time, IHRA had not responded to a DRCNet query about whether the conference is considering relocating or responding in some other fashion to the wave of state-sanctioned murders sweeping the country. The mass murder of drug suspects would appear to be incompatible with the principles of harm reduction.

7. Peoria Needle Lady Busted in Pekin, But Charges Later Dropped

Beth Wehrman, an Iowa and Illinois harm reduction worker and Registered Nurse who last year gained notoriety as the "Peoria Needle Lady" after town officials there passed an ordinance barring her from doing street-side needle exchanges (, was arrested last week in nearby Pekin, IL, on syringe possession charges after police received a complaint of "suspicious activity" where she was going about her work.

But Wehrman told DRCNet Thursday evening that the charges had been dropped after the Tazewell County Attorney Stewart Unmolz conceded that her activities were protected under Illinois criminal code provisions that provide an exemption for public health workers engaged in research activities. Under an agreement with the Chicago Recovery Alliance (, all needle exchange participants in Wehrman's Lifeguard Harm Reduction Services program ( provide data for researchers tracking HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C infections.

"The police chief isn't happy," Wehrman told DRCNet, "but I plan on talking to him to explain what I do, and I hope to speak with police officers at roll call there. They may not like it, but they have to accept it. They have to understand that even in Pekin there is a really high hepatitis burden. The needle exchange is needed so people can protect themselves."

Police pulled her over on her way out of town, Wehrman said, but didn't seem to know quite how to deal with her and her car full of dirty needles and prevention materials. "It took the cops 20 minutes to come back and tell me to follow them to the station, and the lieutenant on duty seemed convinced I was a drug user," she related. "He asked me three times which drugs I was using."

Pekin police eventually decided to charge her, Wehrman said, noting that she was never fingerprinted or given a Miranda warning. She didn't even realize she had been arrested until receiving a call the next day from a reporter who had reviewed police logs, she added.

Wehrman vowed to return to Pekin, "although I don't think I'll go to that same spot," she said. "Gosh, in my book this is pure and simple harassment, and we just have to keep on going on," she said. "Maybe the cops will come around."

Now, if only Wehrman can get the same cooperation in Peoria. When that city last May passed an ordinance requiring needle exchanges to take place in buildings, Wehrman searched for a suitable location, but was unable to find a landlord willing to rent to her. "I don't do exchanges on the street anymore; I go to people's homes and distribute syringes. Some of those people become secondary distributors. It's not like having a building, but it does build up involvement and participation by the affected community."

8. Drug Czar's Office Masks True Costs of War on Drugs in Federal Budget

(press release from Drug Policy Alliance)

Using new accounting procedures, this year's White House Drug Strategy, released last week, looks different from past years, with little actual change. This year's drug strategy for the first time ever conceals billions of dollars spent on incarcerating drug offenders and certain law enforcement efforts by excluding these categories from the budget, while including inflated expenditures on treatment services. Recent polling by Peter Hart Research Associates shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans want treatment, not incarceration, for nonviolent drug offenders. The 2003 Drug Strategy plays to this public sentiment by appearing as if it's focused on treatment, but in reality it continues the same reliance on law enforcement and interdiction.

An analysis of the new budget numbers revealed that by hiding the costs of incarceration, military activities and other known costs of the drug war, the Office of National Drug Control Policy was able to bring their enforcement to treatment ratios more into line with public sentiment. Last year, the Office stated it spent 33% of the drug war budget on drug treatment and prevention activities while 67% went to law enforcement and interdiction. This year, despite making no substantive spending changes, the Office claims to be spending 47% on drug treatment and only 53% on law enforcement activities. In addition, the office appears to inflate its numbers by including alcohol treatment, which by law is specifically excluded from their scope of responsibilities.

The White House's 2003 National Drug Control Strategy is deceptive in numerous ways:


The new 2003 Drug Strategy shows the federal government spending only about $11 billion dollars a year, when the real cost (more accurately reflected in last year's drug strategy) is around $20 billion. ONDCP said it will not count drug war expenditures by many law enforcement agencies, while acknowledging that these agencies will remain focused on drug control efforts.


* By reducing reported law enforcement costs, eliminating reported prison costs, and artificially boosting reported drug treatment expenditures, ONDCP Director John Walters attempts to make the drug war look more compassionate. Although the actual drug war budget maintains focused on supply reduction (with nearly 70 percent of the budget), the new drug strategy makes the assertion that spending is almost split evenly between supply and demand efforts. This distortion makes the drug war look more humane, and makes it harder for drug treatment and prevention groups to advocate for needed additional funding.


ONDCP reduces the official estimate of federal drug war costs by eliminating agencies that mainly focus on the consequences associated with the activities of other primary counter-drug agencies. This means, among other things, not counting the costs of imprisoning federal nonviolent drug offenders at about $3 billion a year. According to the ONDCP, although these [prison costs] are real costs to society, they do not factor into the core of drug law enforcement decisions made by national policymakers. Yet these costs result directly from federal drug war policies.


Although ONDCP stops counting many law enforcement expenses, it appears to continue counting many drug treatment and prevention expenses for agencies not actually involved in drug war efforts. It may also fraudulently increase the amount of federal drug treatment expenditures reported to Congress and the public by counting money spent reducing alcohol abuse, even though ONDCP's charter specifically excludes alcohol from its scope of responsibilities.

"These changes are especially alarming because they leave Members of Congress and the American public without accurate information about the real costs of the failed war on drugs," said Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Computing the drug war budget without incarceration is like computing the Defense budget without soldiers. That's far fetched, even by Washington standards."

Visit for further information.

9. Newsbrief: DEA Kills 14-Year-Old Girl in San Antonio, Claims Self Defense

Fourteen-year-old Ashley Villarreal of San Antonio died on February 11 after being shot in the head three days earlier by a DEA agent while driving away from her home. Outrage over the shooting is high in the city, according to various reports in the San Antonio Express News. While investigations into the killing are underway, DEA officials have already expressed their belief that the killing was justified.

Ashley Villarreal was the unintended victim of a DEA stake-out designed to catch her father, Joey Villarreal, whom the DEA suspected of involvement in cocaine sales. According to a San Antonio police spokesman, DEA agents in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles were watching the Villarreal residence when, shortly after dark, Ashley and an adult male got into a car and proceeded to drive away from the house without headlights on. "The agents say a man matching the description of the suspect got into the passenger side of a black Mitsubishi eclipse," police Sergeant Gabe Trevino told 1200 WOAI news. "A girl got into the driver's side of the vehicle, and when they started leaving without the headlights on, and at a high rate of speed, the agents felt certain that this was their suspect and he was trying to escape."

The man in the vehicle, David Robles, was not the DEA's suspect.

According to Trevino, DEA agents in unmarked vehicles boxed the car in, then stopped and attempted to arrest the man. "The agents in front were head on with the suspect vehicle, they got out wearing vests that very clearly said 'police' on it," Trevino said. "He clearly yelled that they were police and ordered the driver of the vehicle to stop and the occupants of the vehicle to show their hands."

According to Trevino, Ashley Villarreal continued to drive toward the approaching agents, at which point two DEA agents fired two shots each into the car, striking the girl in the back of the head. Trevino did not explain how a boxed-in car could continue to drive or how it became a threat to the narcs.

There are other questions and doubts about the police version of events. "The agents made it very clear to the people in the car that they were police, that they were agents," Trevino said. But David Robles told the Express News that as Ashley drove him away from the house, it appeared that they were being pursued by unknown assailants. Neither, said Robles, did the assailants identify themselves as law enforcement officers until after they shot into the trapped vehicle, fatally wounding the girl.

Robles' account was supported by "earwitnesses" who heard a crash and then shots. Manuel Martinez, who lives across the street from the shooting site, told the Express News he heard a crash followed by gunfire. "I heard them call to 'Stop! Don't move,'" he said. "I didn't hear them say they were policemen." Other witnesses cited by the Express News supported that account, raising the obvious question about what threat Ashley posed to the agents after her vehicle had already been stopped and boxed in.

Ashley's uncle, Peter Villarreal, echoed widespread community sentiment in calling her death unjustified. "She was killed because she committed a traffic violation," he said. "A 14-year-old girl," he added, "should not be buried on Valentine's Day."

DEA agent Bill Swierc has been named as the man who fired the fatal shots, and both the DEA and the San Antonio Police Department are investigating the killing. But as readers of this newsletter know, police shooters in drug cases are rarely bound over for prosecution.

We might as well be in Thailand.

10. Newsbrief: US Spooks Killed, Captured in Colombia

Leftist guerrillas of the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) have killed a Colombian soldier and a US CIA agent and taken three other agents as prisoners of war after apparently shooting down their plane in Caqueta province in southern Colombia on February 12. The US government has been uncharacteristically quiet about the incident, but according to Colombian military sources cited by the Times of London, among other press accounts, the four US citizens and one Colombian soldier "were on a secret intelligence mission inside rebel-held territory" when they were shot down and captured.

According to the Times, the men were heading from Bogota to the Larandia military base, an anti-drug and counterinsurgency operations center deep in the jungles of Caqueta, in south-central Colombia. US Special Forces troops have used Larandia as a base for training Colombian Army anti-drug battalions, and the base is also known to harbor radar facilities used to track smuggling flights and coordinate the aerial fumigation of drug crops. Newsweek magazine reported this week that the plane carried "jungle-busting" radar used to try to track down and capture the leaders of the FARC's feared 15th Front.

According to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who penned a column calling for greater "force protection" for US mercenaries and soldiers in Colombia, the four US citizens were employees of California Microwave, Inc. of Sunnyvale, CA, working under contract with a CIA front called the Office of Regional Administration, which is housed in the US Embassy in Bogota. In spook speak, the men are thus "CIA agents," or persons hired by the CIA to do its dirty work. Persons actually employed directly by the agency are known as "CIA officers."

The dead US citizen was identified as James Thomas, hometown unknown, in the Colombia press; US officials have not identified him. While Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said the two men had been "murdered," and Colombian military commander Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora said they had been killed in an "execution-style in an act of cruelty," other accounts reported that the men had died attempting to resist capture by FARC guerrillas. And while US media outlets like the New York Times followed the official line in describing the other three CIA contract employees as having been "kidnapped" by the FARC, a less tendentious account might simply have noted that they were foreign belligerents captured by the enemy in enemy territory.

The FARC has stated publicly for several years that US government operatives assisting the Colombian state in its four-decades-old conflict with the guerrillas are legitimate military targets. A shift in US policy last year—from counter-narcotics to an open alliance with the Colombian state in the ongoing civil war against the guerrillas has only hardened that position.

Although the FARC has seized some 46 US citizens at various points in recent years, last week's incident marked the first -- and probably not the last -- time that it has captured US government employees or contractors.

11. Newsbrief: French Cannabis Activist Faces Jail for "Encouraging Drug Use"

A leading member of the French pro-pot group Cannabis Research and Information Collective ( was placed under formal investigation for encouraging drug use early this month after police raided his shop and found cannabis seeds, growing equipment, and T-shirts bearing the logo "In France, it's illegal to say cannabis is good" being offered for sale. Stephane Karscher, who operates the "Bad Seed" shop in Montpelier, faces a possible jail sentence under French laws barring the advocacy of marijuana use.

In 1998, CIRC founder Jean-Pierre Galland was fined 50,000 francs ($8,300) after CIRC sent a joint to every member of parliament in hopes of spurring a debate on cannabis law reform. Karscher was involved in that effort, but escaped punishment.

The arrest comes in the midst of a crackdown on drugs and drug advocacy by the conservative French government of President Jacques Chirac and Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy. Since Chirac and Sarkozy took office last fall, the country has passed tough new drugged driving legislation, vowed to crackdown on electronic music festivals, and expressed grave concern about the growing popularity of cannabis. According to French government data, approximately one out of every four French adults have used cannabis.

Karscher told the newspaper Liberation (Paris) on Wednesday that police were looking for any excuse to arrest him. "They take everything at face value. It's a pretext to ban any debate on cannabis," Karscher said.

12. Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week I

Due to the Week Online's absence the last two weeks while we were organizing and attending the Out from the Shadows conference, this week we have two winners in the Corrupt Cop of the Week Competition. The first winner is the Lawrence, KS, Police Department's star drug cop Officer Stuart "Mike" Peck. Peck was named Officer of the Year last year by a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and is well-known among local defense attorneys for his role in numerous drug busts in recent years. But he was slapped down last week by Douglas County District Court Judge Michael Malone, who found that Peck lied about informants in order to obtain search warrants in drug cases.

Now Peck has been suspended from duty pending further investigation, and local prosecutors are starting to drop cases in which he was involved. "As far as we're concerned, this officer is not available to testify on criminal cases at this time," District Attorney Christine Kenney told the Lawrence Journal-World on January 28. "More than a dozen" cases will be dismissed, said Kenney, adding that the situation was "unfortunate" and would "cause a lot of hardship" -- presumably for prosecutors, not defendants.

Peck's methods aroused the Judge Malone's ire after Peck assured the judge that the credibility of an informant he used in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant was "unquestioned," when the informant actually had a lengthy felony criminal history and was -- gasp -- a known drug user. Peck's testimony led to the court approving a November 3, 2001 search warrant against local resident James D. Hawkins. On January 24, Judge Malone suppressed the evidence -- including marijuana, cocaine and paraphernalia -- seized from Hawkins' home, saying he had no choice because Peck had lied.

In seeking the 2001 warrant, Peck assured the court that the anonymous informant was "credible" and that his criminal record included only a few "traffic-type things, driving on a suspended license... a lot of domestic-type things. A lot of failure to appears or failure to complies. There was a theft." But Judge Malone later found out that the informant had three drunk-driving convictions, two felony theft convictions, a forgery conviction and a bad check conviction. Malone also found that Peck had engineered the dismissal of speeding tickets and a domestic violence charge for the informant, and had failed to arrest him when he was found with marijuana during another traffic stop.

Defense attorneys were cheered by the ruling. "As chairman of the Douglas County Criminal Defense Bar Association, I can assure you that, as a group, we've been concerned about Officer Peck's work for quite some time," said attorney Jonathan Becker. "But for now, it appears that Officer Peck quite clearly crossed the line. You don't lie in an affidavit that's submitted to the court," Becker said. "That's a very, very big deal."

13. Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week II

Our second winners this week are the "Riders," a group of Oakland, CA, police officers who ran roughshod through the city's neighborhoods from 1996 to 2000. The three officers involved -- a fourth apparently fled to Mexico -- are currently on trial for 26 counts of kidnapping, assault, and filing false police reports against minority community members. (See and for previous coverage.)

But while the criminal trial of the rogue cops continues, the city of Oakland announced Wednesday that it will pay more than $10.9 million in damages and lawyers' fees to 119 victims of Riders' misconduct, as well as instituting serious reforms in the Oakland Police Department. The move settles a civil rights lawsuit brought by the victims. As part of the settlement, the city of Oakland explicitly denied any responsibility for the wrongdoing of its officers, but the terms of the settlement appear to belie that claim.

Under the settlement, which has been approved by a federal judge, the department's internal affairs unit will be beefed-up and its complaint system improved. Officers' use of force or pepper spray will also come under closer scrutiny within the department. Field supervisors will also be held more accountable for the misbehavior of their underlings. Most damning, the settlement also calls for the hiring of an independent monitor to oversee the scandal-plagued department's compliance for the next five years.

According to University of California law professor Franklin Zimring, the settlement was a tacit admission that the department was out of control. "That degree of structural detail and that range of contemplated structural change is testament to acknowledgment of a real problem," Zimring told the Sacramento Bee Thursday.

The Oakland Police Officers Association had no comment, but community organizer Jo Su of the group PUEBLO did. "One lesson we've learned from this whole Riders incident is the police really can't be trusted to police themselves," Su said.

14. Newsbrief: Oklahoma Report Urges Sanity in Sentencing

The Oklahoma Sentencing Commission will recommend major changes in Oklahoma sentencing policies as part of an effort to rein in out of control prison spending in the Sooner State, the Daily Oklahoman reported Wednesday. The recommendation will come as the state grapples with a prison budget that has doubled to $400 million per year in the last decade, largely driven by Oklahoma politicians' reflexive embrace of ever harsher drug sentences. Currently, drug offenders make up a full third of all new prisoners, according to the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center, a state agency (

The Daily Oklahoman received an advance copy of a sentencing reform report produced by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center for the Sentencing Commission, and reported that it "suggests major reforms in how criminals, specifically drug offenders, are sentenced in Oklahoma."

According to the Oklahoman, the report calls for:

  • Intermediate sanctions for probation and parole violations. Under current law, probation or parole violators are sent to prison.
  • Quantity thresholds for drug crimes, especially methamphetamine offenses. Oklahoma law currently allows no discretion for certain cocaine and meth offenses.
  • Lower sentences for "low-level" meth manufacturing, particularly when the drug is made for personal use and not for sale.
  • Increased use of misdemeanor convictions and community sentencing for drug offenders.
  • Lower sentences for drug possession.
  • Probation for nonviolent repeat offenders.
  • Allow probation for non-violent repeat offenders.
Oklahoma, a state where sentences in the centuries are not uncommon and thousand-year sentences not unheard of, has a history of being harsh with drug offenders, particularly those identified with the demon drug du jour, in the present case, methamphetamine. Under current Oklahoma law, meth cooks can receive life in prison. But the state is having problems affording the prison sentences it loves to dish out.

Lowering the number of drug offenders could save big money, Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie told the Oklahoman. "That seems to be the largest category of people coming in, is drug crimes," Massie said. "It's been that way for several years. "The major way we're going to reduce our budget is if the population (of prisoners) goes down."

15. DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator

DRCNet is accepting resumes from applicants for the position of Campus Coordinator, a full-time job working on the campaign to repeal the HEA drug provision ( The ideal candidate will be a recently graduated college drug reform activist, but others will be considered. This position will involve non-stop high energy work contacting student organizations and student government leaders around the country, as well as basic maintenance of the campaign web site and database, speaking with campus media, tracking drug provision impact data and other tasks.

Please send resumes via e-mail to [email protected] or fax to (202) 293-8344, attn: David Guard.

16. The Reformer's Calendar

(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)

February 22-24, 7:00pm each, Columbus, OH, "D.A.R.E. to end the Drug War." Sponsored by Ohio State University SSDP, contact [email protected] for information.

January 25-26, Kingston, RI free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at University of Rhode Island. Contact [email protected] or [email protected] for information.

February 3-4, Las Vegas, NV, free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Contact [email protected] or [email protected] for information.

February 10-11, Berkeley, CA, free medical marijuana activist training, sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Americans for Safe Access, at Ohio State University. Contact [email protected] or [email protected]">[email protected] for information.

February 11, Bradford, PA, Eric Sterling speaks on "Origination of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws and What We Can Do Instead." At the University of Pitt at Bradford, organized by Reconsider: Forum on Drug Policy. Visit for information or contact Mike Smithson at (315) 488-3630 or [email protected].

February 11, 5:30-7:30pm, San Francisco, CA, "Women and Prisons: The Unseen Body Count." Panel and discussion hosted by the Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero, visit for info.

February 12, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "The Policies of the War on Drugs," featuring the video "War on Drugs, A War on Ourselves" and presentations by Judge Jack Guedalia, Summary Court, Central Bond Court Magistrate, Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, and Special Agent John Ozaluk, in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Offices for South Carolina. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

February 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century," sponsored by the DRCNet Foundation in partnership with organizations around the world. Visit or e-mail [email protected] for further information.

February 18, noon, nationwide, "Evict the DEA" national medical marijuana protest. Call (510) 486-8083, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

February 19, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Prisoners in the War on Drugs," featuring the video "The War on Drugs" and presentations by Nora Callahan of The November Coalition and Wyndi Anderson of South Carolina Advocates for Pregnant Women. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

February 26, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs," featuring Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for info.

March 1-2, Kingston, RI, 2003 Students for Sensible Drug Policy Northeast Regional Meeting. At the University of Rhode Island, featuring speakers, training sessions, break-out discussions, entertainment, e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

March 4, Brussels, Belgium, public hearing on Europe's role in international drug policy reform. At the European Parliament, Room PHS 4B 01, sponsored by the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies. For further information, visit or contact 00 32 (0)3 237 7436 or [email protected].

March 5, Antwerp, Belgium, meeting of European drug policy activists, sponsored by the International Coalition of NGOs for Just and Effective Drug Policies. For further information, visit or contact 00 32 (0)3 237 7436 or [email protected].

March 12, 7:00pm, Charleston, SC, "Alternatives to Prison in the War on Drugs," featuring Dr. Gene Tinelli, Addiction Psychiatrist, Syracuse, NY, Probate Judge Irv Condon, Charleston Drug Court, and Mark Cowell, Director, Charleston County Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Services. At the College of Charleston, Education Center, Room 118, 25 St. Philip St., contact [email protected] for further information.

April 4-6, Providence, RI, Medical Marijuana Symposium, organized by Brown University Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Contact [email protected] for further information.

April 6-10, Chiangmai, Thailand, "Strengthening Partnerships for a Safer Future," 14th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm, sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Coalition in partnership with the Asian Harm Reduction Network. For further information, visit or contact [email protected] or (6653) 223624, 894112 x102.

April 17-19, San Francisco, CA, 2003 NORML Conference. Details to follow, visit for information.

April 23-26, Manchester, NJ, 13th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Visit for further information.

June 7-11, Denver, CO, 23rd National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry. Visit or contact Sr. Carleen Reck at [email protected] for information.

November 5-8, East Rutherford, NJ, biennial conference of Drug Policy Alliance. At the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel and Conference Center, 2 Meadowlands Plaza, visit for further information.

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PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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