Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Mawkish and the Macabre: Mexico's Museum of Enervantes

It's a private museum housed in the Secretary of Defense in Mexico City.

It's a museum filled with objects and information about the drug war but collected by the military.

Its keepers say that it's a museum with a message, and an explicit training purpose for public officials about the lives, lifestyles, deaths, and activities of the drug trafficking organizations, especially so these officials can resist being corrupted.

And yet it's never been open to anybody but members of the military and public officials.

Until this past week.

On Wednesday 18 August, for the first time since its construction in 1985, the Mexican military allowed reporters to tour its Museum of Enervantes. (In English, "enervantes" roughly translates as "nerve wracking" and in Spanish sometimes refers to drugs.)

Most of the museum contains articles confiscated from drug traffickers -- gold machine guns and pistols, examples of bags of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, a diamond-encrusted cell phone, images of dead drug chiefs -- leading one British newspaper to write that it was filled with "narcobling."

But there was more than that.

For the first time the Mexican military revealed how many of its members have died since 1976 and also since 2006. The latter year is crucial as it includes the start date of President Felipe Calderon's expanded militarized strategy against the drug trafficking organizations. Since 2006, and according to Agence France Presse 191 Mexican military have died. Of these, thirty five were officers, one a cadet, and 148 were troops. Since 1976, 694 military have died fighting drug traffickers.

The military has rarely made its losses public.

But since it granted access to the Museum of Enervantes to reporters, all had to file past an entryway which newspaper La Cronica observes included a mural to fallen military.

It's important to note that the numbers of military are included in the figure of 28,000 people killed since Calderon's drug war began in 2006. The great number of those people are nameless, and the large part of those were civilians caught up in the turf wars between the drug trafficking organizations and the military.

Of course, the drug trafficking organizations have been able to maintain their operations since 2006. And so have the military. Which means that irrespective of the romantic displays of paraphernalia in the museum, civilians have been the losers in Mexico's war on drugs.

How do you think the drug war will end?

When it comes to ending the drug war, what's your theory of the pace of change: fast, slow, gradual, or revolutionary?
Recent evidence from U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress suggests that the drug war is ending.

But that it's ending in a piecemeal, or gradual, fashion.

Consider the recent example of the U.S. Congress "narrowing" -- a term used by the New York Times in its article -- the disparities for crack and powder cocaine possession. Under previous sentencing guidelines from 1986 threshold levels for powder cocaine possession were one hundred times higher than for crack cocaine. The new guidelines just signed into law by President Obama elevate the thresholds for crack cocaine. At least two generations of Black men have been treated unfairly by courts and prosecutors.

The previous guidelines came from the mid-1980s and have been seen as a motor for black and Latino overincarceration.

So, that's one piece of good news.
Now here's another. This time the U.S. Supreme Court did the right thing on a criminal justice issue -- and it did so as a majority!

The Court ruled as a majority in favor of petitioner José Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a lawful permanent resident and a Mexican national. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought to deport Carachuri-Rosendo, even though he had spent most of his life since the age of five in the United States. A U.S. immigration court confirmed his deportation because of two state misdemeanor drug offenses in Texas. The first was a twenty-day sentence for possession of a joint of marijuana; a year later, the second was a ten day sentence for possession of one tablet of Xanax without prescription. At the time of his deportation, Carachuri-Rosendo petitioned ICE for cancellation of removal based upon the elevation of his second sentence to a felony, and not on the first marijuana conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a notoriously reactionary court, sided with the Immigration Court. The Supreme Court eventually decided to hear his case in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder.

The Supreme Court found in his favor, meaning that only actual felonies, not elevated misdemeanors, can qualify for a reason for deporation.

You may think that Carachuri-Rosendo's case is unique. It's not. Time and time and time again, lawful permanent residents, people who may be one step from citizenship, have fallen foul of a simple drug possession being seen as a a felony in the immigration process, often making them automatically liable for deportation. According to a University of California study reported by Immigration, Law, and Policy Blog, 87,884 lawful permanent residents were deported in a ten year period from 1997 to 2007. Of this number, 68 per cent were deported of non-violent crimes. That's a whole lot of disruption to a family's life for one Xanax.

In both these scenarios -- sentencing disparities reformed in Congress or the Supreme Court ending the elevating of non-violent offenses into felonies under immigration law -- drug reformers can say that the winds of change are blowing in a favorable direction.

Gradually, it seems, though, no?
And, maybe we need to go a little faster? As these cases show we can't keep people in prison forever and we can't deport them on flimsy legal fictions. To end the abuses to fairness and justice that stem from prohibition, why not Just Say Now?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drug Reform in Rio: The Second Latin American Drug Policy Conference

Latin America continues to be a vibrant place for government officials, anti-drug war activists, and drug reform professionals. At the beginning of August, Mexican president Felipe Calderon and his immediate predecessor Vicente Fox, showed their willingness to debate, if not support outright and immediately, the legalization of marijuana. Now a gathering in Rio will further the debate.

At next week's end, Latin America's committed drug policy professionals, brought together by conference organizers Psicotropicus of Brazil and Intercambios of Argentina, will burnish the region's repuation for tackling the excesses of the drug war. Across two session-packed days on 26 and 27 August, parties from across the Americas -- including SSDP Colombia and SSDP USA -- will discuss reining in the drug war at the Law Faculty at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It's the second such conference of its kind, and it builds on a decade of similar conferences held in Argentina. And, of course, within that timespan Argentina has decriminalized small quantities of drugs.

The program opens with addresses from Brazil's Ministries of Justice, Health, Human Rights, and Secretary of Drug Policy. (By the way, it's impossible to think of a conference in the U.S. which manages to bring government representatives together with non-profit groups and other reform-minded advocates.)

The two days of events include the following panels:

Human Rights and Drug Policy

Drug Users in the Agenda of Multilateral Organizations

Social Health Policies

Structural Determinants of Problems Associated with

Holistic Attention to Drug Users

Consequences of the War against Drugs

Legislative Reforms in Latin America

There is also plenty of time built into the schedule to network with other activists, and reach out to future partners. SSDP's delighted that a representative of our newest international chapter, SSDP Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota will be in attendance, meaning that the student presence at such meetings continues to be welcomed and celebrated.

We'll be blogging about the conference after its dust has settled, so to speak.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Student Organizing Manual!

SSDP's outreach staff has revamped our student organizing manual to provide you with an in-depth guide to everything you need to know about running an SSDP chapter. This new manual features guides on lobbying, working with the media, running productive meetings, organizing successful events and much more.

Sections on recruiting and retaining members have been expanded on and we've added an appendix full of sample materials like a press release, flyer, budget and even a chapter curriculum to give new chapters an idea of what a semester with SSDP looks like.

Flip through the pages below and get fired up just in time for back to school!  

Coming up next... our new website!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Truth & Rights in South Dakota

When we break the law, the government has the power to strip us of certain rights. In most cases, judges revoke rights by limiting our physical freedom - jail time or probation - but on occasion, judges can take away our first amendment rights, or freedom of speech. This is what happened to South Dakota NORML activist Bob Newland, who was not allowed to engage in "any public advocacy for Cannabis law reform," says Paul Armamento on the NORML blog, while on probation for marijuana possession. 

Now, after about a year of silence, Newland is once again a free man, and he's already on the job . The enduring activist published an op/ed piece in the Rapid City Journal a few days ago that discusses his legal plight in relation to the drug war, and it pulls no punches.
As for every politician who endorses prohibition, every judge who sentences someone for possession, every cop who arrests someone for possession; they all are awash in the blood of the 23,000 Mexicans who have been killed in the civil war over drug turf in Mexico during the past three years, and in the less visible detritus of the lives they have shattered senselessly.
Amid this carnage, there can not be found a shred of benefit, unless you count (I don't) employment for prison guards, cops, state's attorneys, judges, probation officers, and urine testers. We'd be better off if most of these people were forced into productive jobs.
Bring Medical Marijuana to South Dakota
When we stand for personal rights, sometimes it means breaking the law, and we have to be prepared to endure the consequences if we are convicted for doing so. But we cannot let such hardship hinder our cause. Like Newland, we must manipulate these experiences to fuel our cause.
SSDP's chapters in South Dakota are hard at work to help pass Measure 13 in South Dakota this November.