Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Drug War still dominates US foreign policy challenges south of the border

Since Grits so far this week has focused mostly on the drug war, let's stick with that theme and turn our attention south of the border, calling readers' attention to several recent items demonstrating how US drug policy and Latin American foreign policy have become inextricably intertwined:

Washington to Mexico: Do as we say, not as we do
According to the UK Financial Times (March 1), the US has criticisms of how Mexico, Venezuela, and other countries are pursuing drug enforcement, but ironically heroin production from Afghanistan under US occupation is at an all-time high:

Washington yesterday warned that the security of Mexico and the US were at stake in the battle against Mexico's booming drugs trade, acknowledging that the increasingly violent fight is far from being won.

In a comprehensive annual report on the international drug trade, the US also said opium production in Afghanistan hit "historic highs" last year, with a harvest valued at $4bn, more than a third of that country's gross domestic product.

Some 90 per cent of the cocaine consumed in the US passes through Mexico, which last year also increased cultivation of both opium poppies and marijuana. Washington maintains that Mexican drug traffickers now control many of the drug distribution networks within the US.

Felipe Calderón, Mexico's president, has made his attempted crackdown on the country's drug cartels one of the signature issues of his tenure since taking office in December 2006.

"Mexico is confronted with an extraordinary challenge in the level of organised crime that it faces from the drug trade," said David Johnson, the chief State Department official responsible for anti-narcotics strategy, presenting the annual survey.

Mexican AG: US drug demand root cause of violent crime in Mexico
Telling US officials a message everyone knows is true but few American pols will admit out loud, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora Icaza says US drug demand and poor controls on black market weapons smuggling and money laundering are key contributors to instability and violence in Mexico.

``Pure cash crossing the border," Icaza said.``Weapons that are illegally shipped to Mexico from the United States and cash which relates to the illegal trade of drugs, which we assess together with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in the range of $10 billion of cash a year."

He said there's no way to break the connection between drug consumption in the United States and violence in Mexico.

``The violent behavior is the most prevalent threat to national security in Mexico," he said.

Icaza met with Gov. Janet Napolitano as he arrived in Phoenix for a conference of attorneys general from Mexico and the United States.

``The U.S. is the number one consumer in the world for drugs that are either produced or cross through Mexico," Icaza said. ``There is no way we can break the relationship between consumption in the United States" and violence in Mexico.

Assault rifles, grenades found in Cancun golf resort
For obvious reasons, authorities suspect drug smugglers after finding a cache of weapons in the Yucatan resort town that included 22 automatic weapons (some with laser sites), 14 grenades, and 500 rounds of ammunition. You could do a lot of damage pretty quickly with that stockpile.

Cartel boss who pled guilty last year walks back into Mexico a free man
Though prosecutors last year made much hay over the plea bargain and life sentence of a boss from the Tijuana cartel, one of his brothers who was just as involved was released from prison this month and allowed to go back to Mexico with no additional restrictions or pending charges. He pled guilty in 2007 to drug possession, but now is free to go. Compare that to this drug possession sentence against someone far less powerful or dangerous.

Mexico's Boss of Bosses?
Over at the BorderFire Report, read the story of Mexico's "boss of bosses" who allegedly purchased the loyalty of "Los Zetas" on behalf of the Juarez Cartel (based across the river from El Paso). I've read elsewhere that Los Zetas had separated from the Gulf Cartel, which originally recruited them, and were operating independently, but this is the first I've heard of them working on behalf of the Juarez Cartel instead.

Colombia invades Ecuador looking for FARC rebels
Finally, in Colombia a foreign policy imbroglio recently left that country, Ecuador and Venezuela on the brink of armed conflict after Colombia raided Ecuadorian territory to attack FARC rebels. BBC has the story. (For more background on America's "Plan Colombia" financing largely failed anti-drug initiatives in that country, see the recent article from Rolling Stone, How America Lost the War on Drugs.)

RELATED: From Pete Guither: UN Drug Policies Violate United Nations Charter

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