Reports began trickling out of Bolivia on Sunday of a major counternarcotics operation in Chiquitania, an area in the eastern province of Santa Cruz. Officials now say that the raid led to the seizure of what may be the biggest cocaine factory ever found in Bolivia—the world’s third largest cocaine producer.
On Monday, Oscar Nina, director of the government’s special anti-narcotics force, called the seizure of the factory, which was capable of producing 100 kilograms per day of highly refined cocaine, “the biggest setback to narcotrafficking to have occurred in recent years.” The factory is the fourth major lab to be discovered in 2009 in Bolivia. As in the other cases this year, a number of Colombian nationals were arrested and were believed to be working in collaboration with local teams.
Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s minister of government, used coverage of the action to voice his criticism of past U.S. anti-drug actions in the region and pointed out that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which had been active in the region, failed to discover the labs. Cocaine production in Bolivia grew in 2008 and the government has come under pressure to control the problem, particularly after receiving heavy criticism for expelling U.S. anti-narcotics officials from the country.
On Tuesday, former Mexican President Vicente Fox added his name to a growing list of prominent political figures urging the decriminalization of marijuana. He painted the current militarized approach as misguided and ineffectual, saying “it can’t be that the only way is for the state to use force.”
It’s not the first time Fox has publicly supported decriminalization. During his term in office, Fox urged the Mexican Congress to pass a similar measure, only to veto it when it reached his desk. No doubt, pressure from Washington forced the change of heart. At present, however, Fox’s position alligns with notable politicians on both sides of the border.
Back in November, both Michigan and Massachusetts voted to loosen marijuana laws, and in California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that “it’s time for debate” about legalization. For many in the Golden State, that debate is already decided: medical marijuana is currently the state’s largest cash crop, and Democratic state congressman Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation that would legalize the drug, generating billions in revenue via a $50 levy on every ounce sold. In the midst of a recession that’s opened up a a sizeable hole in the state budget, the windfall of drug revenue seems too good to pass up.
It’s also estimated the bill would save $1 billion a year by reducing the number of arrests, prosecutions and inmates from possession charges. With the world-leading incarceration rate—much of it for drug-related crime—some in the federal government are questioning the logic behind our drug war (though few are willing to contemplate—let alone advocate—decriminalization).
Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration’s Drug Czar, told reporters Thursday that he wants to “banish the idea that the US is fighting a ‘War on Drugs.’” Though the position is largely one of semantics at the moment, it does signal a new, more liberal approach to drugs and criminal justice.
The significance is no doubt apparent to Former President Fox, who acknowledged that any effort by the Mexican government must “be done in conjunction with the United States.” Nevertheless, the Mexican congress has taken the lead, passing a bill that decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and cocaine. President Felipe Calderón, a conservative, is expected to sign it soon.
Fox is not the only prominent Latin American politician to come out in favor of decriminalization this spring. In April, three other former Latin American presidents—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gavíria of Colombia, and Fox’s predecessor Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—urged the same as a means of staunching drug cartels’ principle source of revenue and mitigating the region’s rampant drug violence.
"The problem is that current policies are based on prejudices and fears and not on results," said Gavíria.
Venezuelan authorities seized 4,370 pounds of cocaine and arrested three suspects in central Miranda state on Saturday. In a separate case, 1,830 pounds of marijuana were seized in the western state of
Back in April, President Hugo Chávez dispatched federal agents and security forces to take over major seaports and airstrips in four Venezuelan states. Experts offered disparate interpretations for the move; some saw it as an effort to crack down on opposition leaders in three of those states, others as an attempt to placate critics in the US, Russia and Iran.
The U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, approved a supplemental appropriation of $470 million toward the Mérida Initiative yesterday. These funds will pay for three surveillance airplanes and four Blackhawk helicopters that will reinforce anti-narcotics operations.
President Obama submitted a request for $66 million for the two Blackhawk helicopters that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to the Mexican government during her recent visit to the country. The funding approved by the Committee on Appropriations represents an increase of $404 million over the amount initially requested by the White House. Congress increased the amount insisting on the urgency to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the government’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking
Two weeks ago, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved a new law that will allow greater power to authorities and expediency in confiscating assets from criminal organizations.
On April 23, The Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved a new law that allows greater power and expediency in confiscating assets from criminal organizations, specifically drug cartels. Previously, authorities had to abide by cumbersome legal procedures that could delay asset seizure for years.
The Ley de Extinción de Dominio was originally presented to Congress by President Felipe Calderón in September 2008. It was approved yesterday by an overwhelming majority─299 votes in favor, 9 against and 2 abstentions. The law is intended not only to weaken the financial apparatus of criminal organizations; confiscated money and property will go to a new fund to help the victims of organized crime.
This week the Calderón government also propsed four additional judicial reform initiatives designed to strengthen the fight against drug traffickers and other criminal organizations. Action is pending in the Mexican Senate.
As if President Barack Obama didn't have enough on his plate—the Mexico drug war has really come up and brought the administration's focus back into this hemisphere. Besides grappling with a global financial meltdown, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the stunning severity of narcoviolence—and the "spillover" into the U.S.—is demanding immediate attention from the U.S. government, perhaps sooner than people would have thought or certainly hoped.
Congress is paying attention, holding several hearings and questioning officials from the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice, among other agencies. Unfortunately, the hearings have demonstrated there is no comprehensive strategy or clear coordination, or direction, in confronting the drug problem. In all fairness, it's still quite early in the Obama administration and people who would otherwise be working on this issue have yet to be installed in the government. And, the Merida Initiative—the $1.4 billion, three-year counternarcotics program for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and Dominican Republic initiated under the Bush administration—has only recently gone into effect.
After Congress made a big enough stink, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico last month, and President Barack Obama is due to visit Mexico City on April 16, before he goes to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. (Actually he’s arriving the evening of the 15th and leaving the 17th.)
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and its Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhán were at Mexico City’s airport at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to great the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration’s new era of bilateral relations. Both Clinton and Espinosa were ready to discuss areas of cooperation and move beyond the recent trade dispute—where Mexico imposed $2.4 billion of tariffs in response to the U.S. ending a pilot program (and caving into the Teamsters) allowing Mexican trucks to operate on U.S. roads—that had clouded bilateral relations in recent weeks.
But the excitement over Clinton’s visit extended far beyond her official meetings. Currently in Mexico City for a conference on immigration, I was able to coincide with the Secretary’s visit. And I can report that people around town had high expectations for what would come of her talks and those of future U.S. officials. Mexicans are rightly weary not just of the narco-violence but of U.S. media sensationalism of their country’s plight and the inaccurate label of a failed state.
There’s a lot on the agendas of the three cabinet members and President Obama when they travel to Mexico this month to meet with Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon. First it’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (March 25-26), then Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (April 1 and 2), and then the President—on his way to the Summit of the Americas.
For the first time in U.S. history the full complexity and proximity of our relationship with Mexico is being dealt with at the level it deserves. Everything from drug-cartel related violence, the economic crisis, trade, security, intra-regional relations, trade, NAFTA, and immigration will be on the list of items to be discussed. And the best part is that, at a rhetorical level, the administration is approaching this with the appropriate level of partnership that the relationship deserves—a trend started with President Bush’s Plan Merida program to support Mexico’s war on narcotics trafficking.
My concern? That immigration will slip through the cracks. To be sure, the context is set to deal with it in the right way: bilaterally. But the risk is that issues like the drug violence, trade spats and the economic crisis that have dominated the media coverage (particularly the former) will crowd out one of the most important bilateral issues we face: the flow of humans across our borders that serve the U.S. labor market and—through remittances back home—provide a crucial social safety net to poor communities in Mexico.
La violencia en México no para. La mafia y sus horrendos crímenes son cada vez más asiduos y tristemente empiezan a sentirse como el pan de cada día. Tal vez peor, las esperanzas de que la situación se solucione rápido son mínimas. Hace poco el Presidente Calderón cayó en cuenta de que los carteles son más poderosos, tienen más influencia y están mejor armados de lo que se creía (gracias en buena parte a su vecino del norte). ¡Vaya sorpresa!
Para el departamento de estado norteamericano, México puede estar convirtiéndose un estado fallido. Pero esta visión es alarmista, miope e hipócrita. México podrá estar lejos de reducir los actuales niveles de violencia, pero lo está mucho más de perder el control del Estado a manos de grupos mafiosos.
A mi juicio el verdadero problema no son los narcotraficantes sino su razón de ser, que surge de la miopía de la “guerra contra las drogas”, cuya incansable promoción ha estado a cargo de Estados Unidos desde hace más de 30 años.
Y es que repitámoslo una vez más: la guerra contra las drogas ha sido un gran fracaso.
This week brought another tragic murder of a journalist in Mexico. Armando Rodriguez was a well-known crime editor for El Diario in the violence-ridden, Mexican border-town of Ciudad Juarez. The hit (conducted while he was waiting to take his daughter to school, by gunmen who sped off) prompted strong condemnations by international NGOs and the OAS Inter-American Commission's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Yet despite the international outrage at the murder of a journalist doing his job, this isn't an easy case. We can safely assume that the murder was committed by extra-governmental groups--either narcotraffickers or corrupt police or military acting unofficially. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this is the fifth murder or Mexican journalist. The vast majority of such cases go unsolved.
The problem is what can be done to protect journalists when the state is itself attempting to regain control over the country. Much of the traditional human rights perspective has been based on protecting journalists and civil society from the government. But this is something more sinister and complex: how do you protect journalists from lawless groups that the government (presumably) is trying to control itself?
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.