Monday, December 08, 2008

Time for new US, Mexican anti-drug strategies

If the 81st Texas Legislature weren't nearly upon us, it'd be easy and timely to devote much more attention on Grits to criminal justice topics south of the border. That issue could take up an entire blog and then some, and Grits just doesn't have time or resources to tackle the story properly. Rather than delve deeply into these subjects, then, I at least wanted to point readers to several important, recent lowlights from law enforcement's battle against multinational drug cartels that significantly affect the Lone Star State.

Ironically, crime in Texas (including our murder rate) has actually declined during a period in Mexico when thousands were slain in battles between competing criminal organizations and the government over access to US consumers. The Los Angeles Times puts the total in Juarez (El Paso's sister city) at 1,300 cartel-related murders in 2008 alone. That's more killings in one city than the entire state of Texas sees in a year - in 2007 Texans reported just 1,172 total murders according to FBI crime stats.

I join the LA Times in their hope that the Obama Administration changes strategies on its Mexico policy because the first installment of President Bush's Plan Mexico anti-drug money takes what I think is exactly the wrong tack - indiscriminately throwing cash at the problem. As I learned from an article in the latest (Sept. - Dec.) issue of Voices of Mexico (an academic publication from the Mexican university, UNAM, not online), a shortage of funds is hardly the biggest challenge facing Mexican law enforcement:
It hardly seems necessary to emphasize that the problem in Mexico is not a matter of limited economic resources allocated for fighting crime. In 2007 public spending programmed for "order, security, and justice" was 60.46 billion pesos. In 2008 this amount was increased to 69.58 billion pesos. This last amount represented an 86.8 percent increase vis-a-vis 2003, when the amount designated was 37.25 billion pesos. Even so, President Felipe Calderon requested a 39 percent nominal increase over the current year in the Federal Spending Bill for2009 presented to Congress. In the last six years, the federal executive has used only approximately 50 percent of the amounts budgeted. Nevertheless, the results do not correspond by far to the [total] amounts spent in this area.
In light of these data, the importance of the so-called "Merida Initiative" seems more political and symbolic than practical. Mexico doesn't need our money, they need to clean up their own law enforcement agencies while America needs to focus on reducing both demand and corruption north of the border.

The VoM piece reinforces my sense that the United States shouldn't be spending so much on helicopters and equipment when many in Mexican (and increasingly US) law enforcement are working as much as agents of drug cartels as police.

That became apparent earlier this year when one of Texas' border Sheriffs who'd received Gov. Perry's multi-million dollar anti-drug grant was arrested for allegedly working as an agent of the Gulf Cartel. As state Rep. Jessica Farrar told the El Paso Times: "We may as well just send it directly to drug dealers ... We've been spending money against our own interests."

Driving home that concern are more recent arrests of corrupt officials on both sides of the border. According to AP:
Mexico's former acting federal police chief was accused Friday of collaborating with a notorious cartel and stealing money from a mansion during a raid to bust a drug trafficking ring.

A judge ordered Gerardo Garay's formal arrest on suspicion of organized crime, robbery and abuse of power, according to a statement from the Attorney General's office. Garay had been under preliminary detention for a month, but authorities had not revealed the allegations against him. He has previously denied any wrongdoing. ...

Some of those arrested had been at the helm of President Felipe Calderon's nationwide offensive to take back territory controlled by drug gangs, a two-year campaign involving the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers.
In November, Mexico's federal police liaison to Interpol was arrested as an alleged cartel conspirator.

Similarly, on the US side we continue to see episodic bouts of drug-related corruption among both law enforcement and others in officialdom. Just last week we saw another Texas-based Border Patrol agent "indicted for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for escorting narcotic loads."

The Brownsville Herald recently told the story of a paralegal who allegedly sold information she had access to through her employer, a private law firm, to a drug gang who used it to commit a murder. While Grits has focused the problem of police corruption, the Herald reminds us that "A cadre of attorneys, probation officers, paralegals, grand jurors and court staff has access to sensitive intelligence for which groups such as the Texas Syndicate or the Tamaulipas-based Gulf Cartel are willing to pay highly."

Finally, one can't talk about press coverage of the Mexican drug war without doffing one's hat to those journalists who risk their lives to bring us those stories. In particular, I can't help but imagine the horrific holiday season faced by the family of Armando Rodriguez, a crime reporter for El Diario de Juarez in Ciudad Juarez who was fatally gunned down Nov. 13 outside his home as he was taking his daughter to school. Keep them in your prayers and hope that we can find some way to combat drug trafficking that doesn't put reporters at risk.

In particular, I'd like to see the government make much more intelligence information about cartel activities public to take the pressure of journalists like Rodriguez, who are frequently killed for reporting things that law enforcement and courthouse insiders already know. Such "open sourced intelligence" could perhaps pressure the cartels in indirect but meaningful ways that can't be had through roadway interdiction or long-term undercover investigations.

I'm not a great fan of the TV show "America's Most Wanted" - about 5 minutes of the breathless, hyped tone turns me off. But perhaps what's needed to reduce risk to journalists may be some sort of "Mexico's Most Wanted," an official or semi-official source of information to heighten public pressure and awareness.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature gave more than $100 million in grants (distributed through the Governor's office) to Border Sheriffs Association members in a pork-laden plan which grew out of Perry's 2006 re-election platform. This year, the Governor wants to boost that amount and expand the grant program to include police departments in interior cities in addition to along the border.

I think Gov. Perry is making the same mistake as the national government with its recent aid package to Mexico. By failing to prioritize reducing corruption, in the case of Sheriff Guerra Perry's plan put anti-drug money directly in the hands of someone who is now alleged to have been a cartel employee.

Though the issue never made it on the the presidential campaign radar screen, the Obama Administration definitely should move ASAP to set a new course for US drug policy, particularly regarding Mexico and Latin America. Reducing corruption (as opposed to purchasing guns and equipment) must become a more central focus of anti-drug law enforcement on both sides of the border, or else we risk witnessing an outcome that's openly feared in the Voices of Mexico article: "the imminent collapse of the Mexican state."


Red Leatherman said...

Back some time ago a person would read something of the many of the issues pertaining to this War on Drugs and say something like "Gee, that's a stupid mistake" and we keep hearing the encouraging defense that it is "just a isolated incident"
Lately I have come to the realization that there aren't that many morons in public service either elected or appointed and it is more likely our leaders and administrators know exactly what it is they are doing.

Anonymous said...

There is no war on drugs.

This country's thirst and desire for drugs pales in comparison to law enforcement corruption on both sides.

Our government allocates money for enforcement while demand for it is driven by our own people.

Reminds me of prohibition.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you finally talking about Merida. It's been a subect of discussion for two years now and was opposed by the National Sheriff's Association.

By the way, it was passed by Congress as an attachment to a supplemental war spending bill. It received strong democratic support. Funny you mention Merida is Bush's plan.

If my information is correct, it was opposed by Senators Hutchinson and Cornyn and received overwhelming support by Texas democrats in the house while being opposed by most Texas house republicans.

Please don't judge the acts of a few corrupt law enforcement officials on the US side as the vast majority of Texas law enforcement people on the border are honest.

Anonymous said...

I think it is time that America takes a look at what is happening right across our borders rather than half way across the world. What is happening in Mexico has a direct impact on America and if we want to fight Americas war on drugs we need to tackle the root of the problem and that comes in part from south of the border.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a hard time getting my head around this problem.

Mexico and the border areas have the largest concentrations of DEA, FBI, Customs and federal law enforcement.

Cocaine doesn't come from Mexico. Some heroin does and the only other drugs of any threat are Meth and Marijuana.

Meth production requires Ephedrine and Heroin needs Acetic Anhydride or it's chemical equivalent.

Marijuana doesn't need any chemicals so here's my point.

There are several lanes to attack the drug problem besides the consumer end and smuggling.

DEA has 75% of the word IDEA but it hasn't got a clue.

Sit down at your computer and you'll find that there are a limited number of companies that produce ephedrine. You'll find out who and where they are. One of those companies are providing it for production and it starts it's journey where it's made. Would it be that difficult to track that ephedrine from the licit to the illicit market.

DEA is so localized that an arrest of some MUTT in Atlanta means more to management than a meth lab in Mexico.

The problem isn't drugs; the problem is drug enforcement. The model needs to be changed so it combines treatment with effective enforcement strategies.

Right now everyone from a sheriff's jailer to the highway patrol is federally deputized. They covet a trafficker's money more than the trafficker and until that model changes; nothing will.

Anonymous said...

If you start with a lump of mud, no amount of work will magically turn it into an apple pie. Yet this is what we expect to do with drug prohibition.

We expect a a historically unworkable policy, one proved a failure time and again for as long as people have been keeping records, to magically produce desired results. We've spent upwards of a trillion dollars in just the past 4 decades in the attempt. We've acquired the largest prison population on the planet, outstripping less democratic nations such as China and Russia in carceral zeal...and have wasted both lives and treasure and have little to show for it. The DrugWar is the modern-day, real-life equivalent of the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, condemned to rolling a boulder uphill all day long, only to see it roll right back down to the bottom of the hill, where he had to start all over again.

The only people who'd favor such an endeavor would be those catering to the long as there's money in it. But even that's running out, and now this country has to decide if it will spend any more on this pointless exercise. It's our choice...and the fate of our neighbor nation's as well...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, 6:44, I've written about Merida before, I just don't track it closely. Why is it "funny" I should mention it?

I disagree that you can write off US side corruption as an aberration and no big deal. It's happening too often to look the other way or pretend there's no need to act.

Anonymous said...

I said it was funny you mention it was Bush's plan, not that you mentioned Merida. And while it may have been Bush's plan, I find it odd at how the vote went and that Merida was attached to a war supplemental spending bill. This bill would not have passed w/o the overwhelming support of democrats.

As a law enforcment officer, corruption is wrong and should be prosecuted to the maximum. Too bad, just like Merida, when it comes to prosecution, politics always seem to be involved.

And like retired Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson once said "There is no place for politics in law enforcement."

If you don't want Governor Perry to give us what we need because of the acts of the minority in our profession, so be it. And if the legislature does not appropriate the money, ok.

Perhaps there is another solution to the violence on the border that threatens to invade to the interior of our state. And providing more information to the media about who the players are might have some merit.

With the problems we face today in our own country, we should all feel insulted that our government voted to send this money to Mexico and other countries. The money could be better used by US law enforcement in the way of education, information and enforcement. In the meantime, don't lump us all as corrupt because of the acts of a few.

Anonymous said...

"By failing to prioritize reducing corruption, in the case of Sheriff Guerra Perry's plan put anti-drug money directly in the hands of someone who is now alleged to have been a cartel employee."

I would be interested to hear your solutions as to how to reduce corruption.

Anonymous said...

Illinois governor arrested today

Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on charges of conspiring to sell Barack Obama’s open Senate seat.

So how do you stop public corruption?

Anonymous said...

If you create a black market, criminals will fill it. No dodging that. As predictable as an eastern sunrise.

And corruption runs hand in hand with that black market, and no one is immune from its' influence, whether personally experienced or by association with those so enmeshed in it. For, like rust, it 'never sleeps'; it just keeps eating away at the bodies social and politic until what's left is so compromised as being unable to hide its' own infirmity. Which is what's happening on our side of the border...and has been for some time, only at a much lower profile.

But trying to put out the fire with petrol hasn't helped; the professional DrugWarriors have been clamoring for a more military approach to 'fighting drugs' and now that they have it in Mexico, the violence is spilling back over the border, with heavily armed and well-trained (thanks to the US) Mex military turncoats like las Zetas selling their expertise to the highest bidder...and willing to commit murder on both sides of the border.

More 'mud' for an inedible pie. And now there's ever more blood mixed in. No amount of tinkering will ever get this pie to become palatable. It's time it got thrown in the trash, once and for all. A national debate about whether we should have a DrugWar at all should become an issue in the incoming Administration, and the sooner the better, as we simply cannot afford the level of spending that has been blown on it so anyone facing unemployment will soon tell you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"how do you stop public corruption"

Why not start by spending new money to investigate it instead of buying new cars or helicopters?

To 11:18 - I don't lump all cops in with the corrupt. But at some point we must acknowledge corruption on the US side is an ongoing problem, not just an aberration. Is it every cop? Of course not! But it doesn't take many crooked ones to let a lot of dope through a checkpoint.

Anonymous said...


A big problem I see is what are called "gypsy cops." They bounce from one law enforcement agency to another, often times with little or no background investigation conducted by the agencies.

Despite efforts by TCLEOSE to stop this, many law enforcement agencies continue to falsely file termination reports with TCLEOSE and do not conduct proper hiring investigations.

Anonymous said...

You are right about acknowledging corruption. I do acknowledge it exists amd condemn it. And I agree about spending the money on investigations vs. buying helicopters and vehicles.

That's why I wrote and called both our US senators and my congressman Ralph Hall on more than one occasion about Merida and asked them to oppose it. Even though it passed, all three voted against Merida.

I will be quite now and go to the deer lease and not bother you about this subject any further.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis. TYC exploded because of "gypsy staff". Management allowed and covered for abusive/corruptive employees to be 'passed around' from institution to institution; with no disciplinary actions ever taken. After a period the entire structure/agency-TYC becomes corruptive. Rot becomes rot, where ever it clines for life. Get used to it, or be big enough to stand up to it. Most will accept the first step.

Anonymous said...

Well, everything is ultimately about money and politics and sovereinty, even deer leases. But heck, at least in the quiet of of Mother nature, you get a break from all the human B.S. For the most part, nature is simple, unless of course you disturb yourself with your own internal musings about stupid politics and corruption.

Anonymous said...

I admire big deer hunters, that bait areas, use blinds, fool the deer and then make the big kill. Too bad the system is not reversed to give the deer a chance, and misue the 'big men'. Then perhaps their thinking would stray more than ther own deer poop. Try hunting something that can shot back, big man!

Anonymous said...

Strategies for dealing with the drug problem should become more interesting over the next few years. For now, it's a conundrum in that opponents want to legalize and proponents want more enforcement. If you look at it closer, there is a middle ground and it's favorable for those that favor legalizaion.

Right now, the money that comes from drug dealers drives the dealer and it's driving enforcement. Take it away and use it for education and treatment.

Tax payers aren't going to foot the bill when it's gone and that will cause enforcement to naturally recede.

Try that as a next step before you let the legalizaion genie out of that bottle. Fix what's broke and see if there's movement after that towards legalizing some drug just because we learn more about things that most of us really don't understand.

Over the years, drug users are not sympathetic victims to most people but now almost every family is feeling the pain of addictions.

Corruption in drug enforcement is an individual pursuit of money for personal gain yet there's not a Police Chief; Head of the State Police; or Administrator of DEA who doesn't covet large sums of seized currency from a trafficker to better their department and themselves. They even benefit personally and I'm almost outraged that the normal citizen either doesn't see that there is no difference between the motives of either one; eventhough the former goes to jail while the latter appears to be effective.