Several parts of this new report interest me, but let's kick off the discussion summarizing a few fact bites about the US-backed drug war in Mexico and Latin America that make the topic more concrete:
- The drug war is expensive. Between 2000-2006, the United States spent $7 billion in Latin America on drug interdiction, roughly $397 million of it in Mexico.
- Most illegal drugs make it to US consumers. Overall, drug seizures represent "a very small percentage of the estimated drug supply." E.g., GAO estimates that an average of 275 metric tons of cocaine entered the US annually between 2000-2006, while seizures averaged 36 tons per year over that period.
- Seizures don't keep up with supply increase. Between 2000-2006, total drug exports to the US increased 23%, but seizures "did not increase proportionately." In other words, if the drug war were really a war, we'd be losing worse than ever.
- Drug business extremely lucrative. GAO estimates total illicit drug proceeds to Mexico at between $8-23 billion per year. That's a wide range, and odds are the real number is closer to the high end (a footnote suggests that the "amount of proceeds returned to Mexico is likely greater than the reported estimates").
- Laredo the epicenter of Mexican exports. Though the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border has 43 legitimate crossing points, the bridge at Laredo handles about 40% of all Mexican exports. That's why Nuevo Laredo, across the river, has become a battleground between warring cartels (and secondarily, the police and the Army) to control this critical transportation route.
- Is there room for 25 million more people in US jails and prisons? "According to the 2005 National Survey, an estimated 97.5 million Americans aged 12 or older have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, representing 40 percent of the U.S. population in that age group. The number of past year marijuana users in 2005 was approximately 25.4 million (10.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older) and the number of past month marijuana users was 14.6 million (6 percent)."
- Diplomacy failure ended aerial surveillance. Reports GAO, "An aerial surveillance program along the U.S.-Mexico border was suspended because the United States and Mexico could not reach agreement on certain personnel status issues. Without an air surveillance and interdiction program along the U.S.-Mexico border, cognizant U.S. law enforcement officials report indications of increased drug trafficking."
- 'Zetas' allied with corrupt Nuevo Laredo cops. While not mentioning that the core original members were all trained by US Special Forces at Fort Benning Georgia, GAO notes that, "The Gulf Cartel has also employed a criminal gang referred to as the Zetas, which is primarily composed of rogue former Mexican military commandos. The Zetas are known for their violent methods and intimidation and are thought to be working closely with corrupt law enforcement officials. In June 2005, in a possible demonstration of the cartel’s influence over local law enforcement authorities, Mexican Army patrols sent to stem drug related violence in Nuevo Laredo were openly attacked by local police units." However the report did mention that despite the Zetas SNAFU, the US military continues to train Mexican commandos. "During 2000-2006, [the Department of Defense] provided training for about 2,500 Mexican military personnel in the use of certain kinds of equipment, as well as training to enable them to coordinate with U.S. aircraft and vessels." (The report also failed to mention that the Zetas now are teaching the techniques learned from America's finest soldiers to a new generation of thugs and assassins.)
- Targeting "kingpins" didn't work. During the Vicente Fox administration, the US and Mexico targeted "kingpins" like Felix Arellano of the Tijuana cartel. Says GAO, "this strategy does not appear to have significantly reduced drug trafficking in Mexico, [although] it disrupted the cartels’ organizational structure. However, the disruption caused by the removal of some of the leadership presented opportunities for other drug traffickers to take advantage of the changing balance of power, and, in particular, to gain control of important transit corridors leading to the United States, such as Nuevo Laredo. Such struggles led to increased violence throughout Mexico, with drug related deaths estimated at over 2,000 in 2006."
- Current anti-drug strategy losing ground. GAO concludes that "the flow of illicit drugs through Mexico to the United States has not abated, and interdiction efforts in Mexico have seized relatively small quantities of the illicit drugs estimated to be transiting through or produced in Mexico. Moreover, drug related corruption persists throughout much of Mexico, and Mexican [drug trafficking organizations] have increasingly become a threat in Mexico, which has seen an increase in drug related violence, and expanded their presence throughout much of the United States."
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