Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mexican Drug War: US/Mexican Border Violence (part 1)

The war on drugs in the United States has long been a topic of concern. Even before the term “War on Drugs” was first uttered by President Richard Nixon back in 1969, drugs had already plagued the U.S. Yet, there has been no bigger threat to the U.S. in regard to drugs than in recent years like Mexico. The U.S. has failed to make a dent in Mexican drug trafficking despite multiple efforts and millions upon millions of dollars spent to combat it. In fact, 90% of all cocaine consumed in the U.S. is transited from Mexico. Along with cocaine Mexico is also a major source of heroine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, as well as a primary placement point for the laundering of narcotics and derived criminal proceeds. This begs the questions: Is the United States partly responsible, and what is our role in this diabolical skyrocketing industry?

It wasn’t long ago that Columbia was known as the drug capital of the world. Back in August of 2000, President Bill Clinton and then Columbian President, Andres Pastrana, signed “Plan Columbia,” in which we spent some $7.5 billion to fund the war on drugs in Columbia. Most of that money came from us; the rest from Europe and the United Nations. However, by then most of the problem had shifted to Southern Mexico and Mexico City and quickly drifted-up toward U.S. borders. The shift was mainly due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was signed by Bill Clinton back on January 1, 1994.

NAFTA created the largest free trade region in the world, eliminating trade barriers, and promoting investments between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It was praised for its economic benefits. However, it also opened up the borders for a flood of drug trafficking that has spun into a multi-billion dollar industry. By 2000, the domination of Mexican drug cartels contributed to a phenomenal increase in border violence. In Mexico, drug related violence has risen from approximately 2,700 deaths in 2007, to over 5,000 in 2008. Drug related deaths average about 10-12 a day over the last three years, according to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of 2009. The Mexican police and military appear to be overwhelmed with the drug cartels and a force that protects these cartels, which has gotten little media coverage her in the U.S.

The Los Zetas are a criminal mercenary army that protects cartels along Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The Zetas are primarily comprised of former members of the Mexican Army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFA) or (Airmobile Special Forces Group). Most of the Los Zetas were originally trained Mexican soldiers who had either gone a-wall or had retired. They have since partnered with different, competing drug cartels in an effort to protect them as hired guns; a task that earns them far more then any legal job.

Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, has compared the Zetas to Al-Qaida in the fact that they operate as a cell-like structure in order to limit the information that any one member of the organization knows about the association. The Zetas have teamed with these cartels for almost ten years now and are responsible for a myriad of deaths. They are also responsible for Casino robberies, and have recently freed twenty-five fellow Narco-traffickers from a prison in Apatzingán, Michoacán. The Los Zetas are ruthless, and their criminal activities also include kidnapping, murder-for-hire, assassinations, extortion, money laundering, and human smuggling. Some Zetas have even crossed the U.S. border into Texas and formed partnerships with criminal gangs in pursuit of criminal activities.

The Mérida Initiative was announced on 22 October 2007 and signed into law on June 30, 2008, by President George W. Bush. This new plan to combat Mexican drug trafficking is similar to Plan Columbia, and is a security cooperation between the United States and the government of Mexico and the countries of Central America, with the aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational crime, and money laundering. As part of this bilateral enforcement effort, the Bush Administration implemented a three-year, $1.4 billion aid package to assist Mexico. In the first year we sent Mexico $116 million to purchase military equipment to conduct surveillance operations, combat drug-trafficking related violence, organized crime, and other counter-narcotics programs.

In 2009, Congress and President Barack Obama approved an additional $300 million (on top of the $1.4 billion) to Mexico in Merida funding. Additional funding is also available to Mexico from the U.S. Defense Department for military and law enforcement personnel, but this is only a small drop in the bucket. Regardless of this funding, drug-trafficking in the region continues to escalate at an enormous rate. There is no doubt that the biggest reason for this at this point is that Mexican and Columbian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) generate nearly $35 billion annually in wholesale drug proceeds. This calculates to approximately $105 billion in three-years. That means that we are spending less than 1% of what the DTOs are during the three-year Merida Initiative.

Others blame President Calderón for the escalating trafficking and violence. In the three-years he’s been in power, Mexico has tripled its spending on security, and has seen nearly 14,000 people dead from drug-related violence. The border city of Ciudad Juárez has since been turned into a warzone. There was even one reported incident where a drug cartel stormed into a clinic and killed everyone (nurses, doctors, patients, and all staff). It was reported that the killings occurred because the clinic had cooperated in some way with a rival cartel; they did it to send a message.

A big part of the criticism of Calderón comes from his October 2008, proposed legislation which decriminalized possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. In April 2009, Calderón singed the bill into law, allowing for the personal use of some illicit drugs. This contradiction by Calderón has inflamed his critics. The new law allows individuals to possess small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and methamphetamine without penalty. The breakdowns of the legal amounts are as follows:

• Marijuana – 5grams (approx. 3 joints)
• Cocaine – half a gram (approx. 4 lines)
• Heroin – 50 milligrams
• Methamphetamine – 40 milligrams
• LSD – 0.015 milligrams

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office characterized the law as regulating rather than legalizing drugs to give the public greater legal certainly. Some Mexican defense lawyers, however, view the changes as merely codifying what has been an informal practice among public officials within the Mexican Justice System. The break-out of the H1N1 virus (a.k.a. the Swine Flu) distracted the public and international opposing voices regarding the contradictory nature of this new drug law, as it came out at about the same time that the law was enacted.

Despite all of these efforts to combat drug trafficking, this problem continues to get worse. From 2001 – 2008, the amount of cocaine transited from South America towards the U.S. ranges from 494 to 710 metric tons. Seventy-percent of all cocaine that comes into the U.S. is transited through the Mexican-Central American corridor. The primary means of smuggling include:

1. Go-fast boats (a.k.a. cigarette boats – like the one’s seen in Miami Vice)
2. Commercial & private vessels
3. Submarines
4. Commercial & private vehicles
5. Rail traffic
6. Busses
7. Tunnels
8. Pedestrians

What else can be done to combat this growing problem?



READ PART 3 (Fast & Furious)

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