Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dismantling the Drug War, Bit By Bit

The U.S. House of Representatives just voted to eliminate $34 million in funding for the National Drug Intelligence Center for fiscal year 2011 (on a 262-169 vote). While this news could seem mundane on its face, it's a huge development. This demonstrates that conservatives in Congress will finally put their money where their rhetoric has been for a long time. Drug policy reformers should be encouraged that there are indeed hidden supporters in Congress. Now we need to educate them, spreading the message that the drug war represents the most dramatic expansion of the size and scope of the federal government in the history of this country.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drugs and Peru's Presidential Politics

It's a trend blowing through electoral politics and drug policy around the Americas. Last year, Mexico's Felipe Calderon mentioned having a debate about legalizing drugs; last month, U.S. President Barack Obama told a YouTube audience that the debate needs to take place; Colombia's President Santos has joined this chorus, now for a second time; in late January Bolivia sought and failed to achieve an exception to Coca-leaf chewing via a UN treaty; and, lately debates about drug policy have entered Peruvian political life.

Watchers of the wind of global drug policy will want to follow Peru's upcoming presidential race, scheduled for April 10, 2011. Drug policies have taken something of a center stage in the Western Andean nation, of late, in part because of former (2001 - 2006) President Alejandro Toledo's current campaign to return to the presidency on a ticket which espouses socially progressive policies: drugs, abortion, gay rights. Our friends over at the Drug War Chronicle provide an excellent overview of what different presidential candidates have said or done over the issue, and whether or not the debate is actually meaningful since Peru has already decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and cocaine.

Peru's importance as a drug producer is well known, and the proximity to the wealth of cocaine affects all parts of life. Even Toledo has suggested that Peru must not become a "narco-state." Whether the country manages to offer a different approach to the "war-on-drugs" may depend on the outcome of April's election.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gray's Anatomy: Guns and their Sources in the Mexican Drug War

Trying to figure out where the drug trafficking organizations in Mexico obtain their arms is a major task. It is widely accepted that notwithstanding some of the strictest gun purchasing laws in the Western Hemisphere, the country is awash with firepower. Making their presence felt are guns, grenades, and other materiel, many of which have helped to kill about 36,000 people since 2006 in a brutal and widening drug war.

Politics also bedevil the attempt to classify guns seized during Mexican military and justice operations, and compromise methods used to ascertain Mexico's gun market. In the United States, the right refuses to accept the Department of Justice and Department of State's calculation that ninety percent of guns in Mexico come from US sources, calling it a "myth". Senator Charles Grassley has also alleged that the DOJ's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms division was involved in smuggling arms from the United States, arms which may have killed a Border Patrol Agent in December 2010. New Wikileaks' cables employed by the left suggest the fruitfulness of investigating questions about how US military materiel has made it to Mexico.

Some analysts have pointed out that that the US and its decommissioned military armaments are not the largest part of Mexico's secretive gun market. Firepower is finding its way from China, and in a number of cases old arms arrive from Central and South America. These analysts suggest that the DOJ and State ignore these sources as a way to criticize the sources by which guns arrive in Mexico from the United States. In one investigation, one Houston-area gun shop has had 115 guns sold through its store, all of which ended up being used in crimes in Mexico.

But the US cases are some of the best documented, notwithstanding a 2003 US law that shields the identities of gun dealers whose guns are used in crimes in Mexico. In December 2010 the Washington Post wrote a lengthy article which featured Houston, TX as it is the gun-buying capital for Mexico. Houston is preferred, one long-time ATF agent told the Washington Post reporters, because "you can go to a different gun store for a month and never hit the same gun store." About four or five years ago, ATF initiated Project Gunrunner to interdict and document gun sources. Many of the statistics used in this State briefing document about Gunrunner have been questioned by the right.

Another things is certain: drug traffickers use these arms to defend and protect their hold over an illegal drug market, defending it from rival traffickers or Mexico's authorities. The other thing that is certain is that guns and drugs are intimately linked in the mindset of US law enforcement: the Southwest Border Initiative focuses on shipment of guns and traffic of drugs.