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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The end of the "Plan Colombia" era

A large U.S. delegation is in Colombia yesterday and today. Led by James Steinberg, the number-two official at the State Department, the visit initiates a “High-Level Partnership Dialogue” whose purpose is to “re-launch the agenda” of U.S.-Colombian relations.

Instead of the overwhelming past focus on aid to combat drugs and terror, the future relationship, in Steinberg’s words, is to be based on “reciprocity and mutual respect.” The new U.S. ambassador, Peter McKinley, told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper last week, “This relationship is evolving beyond narcotrafficking, security and the FTA [free trade agreement, signed in 2006 but awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress]. It should be a relationship of partners, mature and based on the priorities of the country and its new government.”

The “Partnership Dialogue” is divided into three working groups, which will meet again early next year: (1) Human Rights and Good Governance; (2) Energy; and (3) Science and Technology. The choice of topics is remarkable for the absence of “Drugs,” which has been the dominant theme of U.S.-Colombian relations since the 1970s.

Almost no details or concrete “next steps” are spelled out in the Steinberg delegation’s few documents and public statements. It is clear, though, that the Obama administration for the first time is seeking to put its own stamp on U.S. policy toward Colombia. It is doing so, though, more by changing emphases than by assigning new resources.

In fact, this new rhetoric about “partnership” and “equal footing” tells us that levels of U.S. aid to Colombia are going to continue, and probably accelerate, the decline that began in 2008. (After all, aid donors and recipients, by definition, are not “equal partners.”) This autumn, the Obama administration is finalizing its 2012 foreign aid request to the U.S. Congress, which it will submit in February. In our own informal discussions with administration officials, we have heard several indications that the 2012 aid proposal will include a significant cut for Colombia.

We don’t know yet how significant it will be (the 2011 aid proposal, submitted earlier this year, already proposed a 5 percent cut for Colombia). But it will mean a big change for the country that, in almost every year since 1990, has been the Western Hemisphere’s number-one recipient of U.S. military and police aid.

It is a big enough change, in fact, that we can consider the Steinberg delegation’s “re-launching” visit to be the unofficial end of the “Plan Colombia” era in U.S.-Colombian relations.

For our purposes, we can place the start of the “Plan Colombia” era even before Plan Colombia began. It really got going during the second half of the 1990s, when U.S. policymakers were forced to acknowledge that defeating the Medellín and Cali drug cartels had not affected supplies of cocaine entering the United States.

The “Plan Colombia era” went through four distinct sub-phases:

  1. Second half of the 1990s. As the Clinton administration cut ties and even denied a U.S. entry visa to scandal-tarred President Ernesto Samper, Colombia’s National Police became Washington’s main point of contact. U.S. aid, most of it police aid, roughly doubled in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Administration officials and leaders of the Republican Congress grew increasingly concerned about the rapid rise in power of the FARC guerrillas (and, to a lesser extent, the AUC paramilitaries). The response at the time focused on counter-narcotics: an aerial interdiction program (somewhat successful) and an herbicide fumigation program (largely ineffective).

  2. “Plan Colombia” (roughly 2000-2003). In 2000, responding to a plan for “peace, prosperity and the strengthening of the state” drawn up with the government of President Andrés Pastrana, the Clinton administration moved through Congress a US$1.3 billion “emergency supplemental” aid package for Colombia and its neighbors. The funding expanded the fumigation program, provided dozens of helicopters, planes and boats, and turned significantly to the Colombian armed forces for the first time since the height of the cold war. Aid levels would stay in the US$500-700 million-per-year range for the rest of the decade.

  3. “Plan Patriota” (roughly 2003-2006). In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration convinced Congress to allow counter-drug aid to Colombia to be used for “counter-terrorism.” The new government of President Álvaro Uribe got generous U.S. support to create mobile military units and to launch an ambitious offensive against the FARC in its southern Colombian strongholds. While the FARC were weakened and violence measures declined, they and “new” paramilitary groups remained active, “re-taken” territories proved difficult to govern through military force alone, and cocaine production remained stubbornly high.

  4. “Consolidation” (roughly 2006-present). While the military component of the strategy remained dominant, the focus began to shift toward civilian governance. This shift was helped along after 2007 by the new Democratic-majority U.S. Congress, which cut military aid and increased economic assistance. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, working with the U.S. Southern Command, pushed for an “Integrated Action” strategy to bring non-military institutions into areas taken from armed groups. The area subject to fumigation declined.

Today, at the end of the “Plan Colombia” era, there is a widespread belief that Colombia’s drug and violence problems, though not resolved, have declined to manageable levels. Attention that used to go to Colombia is now fixed on Mexico, where cartel-related violence continues to spiral. Meanwhile, as Colombia’s national budget and gross domestic product have grown over the past decade, the slowly decreasing U.S. aid package, provided in ever-weakening dollars, has rapidly declined in relative importance.

Amid the talk of “partnership,” the relationship has also grown a bit more distant. The Democratic Party majority in the U.S. Congress, citing human rights concerns, has kept the 2006 free-trade pact in the freezer. After Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a 2009 defense cooperation agreement with the United States, requiring that it first pass through Colombia’s Congress, President Juan Manuel Santos indicated to congressional leaders that he would not submit it to the legislature, which effectively renders the agreement null and void.

With the end of the “Plan Colombia” era, what will replace it? The “High Level Partnership Dialogue” rhetoric offers few clues, beyond a desire to “de-narcotize” the relationship, the certainty of less U.S. aid, and perhaps the desire to make Colombia one U.S. friend among many in Latin America, rather than the one-and-only go-to ally that it was during the Uribe years.

It is plain, though, that the new framework for relations is predicated on an optimistic belief that things are getting better in Colombia, and will continue to do so. And they may be, as long as the political will, creative leadership and resources are in place to keep Colombia’s old problems from recurring.

None of these problems has been vanquished. The guerrillas are not defeated, and won’t be beaten on the battlefield for at least several more bloody years. The “new” paramilitaries are growing, and responsible for an alarming spike in urban crime. Colombia is still the world’s largest cocaine producer, and drug mafias continue to enjoy great political and economic power. Meanwhile it is extremely rare to see a human rights abuse punished or stolen land returned to victims.

The United States needs to stay engaged with, and help to fund, issues that form part of the new “partnership.” “Human Rights and Good Governance” are more than just a rubric for a working group - they are a set of requirements that need generous U.S. assistance. Priorities include ensuring that the “Consolidation” programs are truly civilian in nature, that the justice system is beter able to investigate and punish corruption and abuse, and that the Santos government’s ambitious land-tenure and victims’ reparations initiatives achieve their stated goals.

During the “Plan Colombia” era, most U.S. aid to Colombia went to the country’s security and counter-drug strategies, which were based heavily on military and police operations. The next frontier to be crossed is strengthening civilian governance and reducing impunity. While these objectives are ultimately up to Colombia to achieve, this is not the time for U.S. investment in these priorities to decline.

Monday, October 25, 2010

US-Mexico Policy Challenges in Combating Organized Crime

The Mexico Institute at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute held a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center on October 22 entitled "Shared Responsibility: U.S. - Mexico Policy Options for Confronting Organized Crime." The event coincided with the two organizations' release of a book of the same name, and discussed the U.S.-Mexico security relationship.

The conference was divided into two panels:

Panel I: "Policy Challenges in Mexico and the U.S."
Panel II: "Geography of Drug Trafficking in Mexico, Central America, and the U.S."

and included the following panelists and discussants:

John Bailey on binational strategies for combating drug trafficking; José Díaz-Briseño on Mexican black tar heroin distribution networks in the U.S.; Steven Dudley on organized crime in Central America Dolia Estévez on protecting press freedom in an environment of violence and impunity; Doug Farah on money laundering and bulk cash transfers to Mexico; Daniel Sabet on Mexico's police forces and professionalization efforts;David Shirk on the geography of Mexico's drug trafficking organizations; Andrew Selee the Director of the Mexico Institute; David Shirk the Director of the Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego; Eric L. Olson the Senior Associate for Security Programs at the Mexico Institute.

The prominent theme of the discussions was the ultra-violent, politically savvy, adaptive nature of the drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Mexico, and their ability to shift and accommodate different political and economic environments. This reality underscores the need for comprehensive policy options from both sides of the border to attack DTO violence at the root causes and methods as opposed to just responding to the spectacular levels of violence that capture media attention on both sides of the border.

Under the larger headings, the panels discussed the major challenges ahead of achieving sustainable reform. These challenges include the inquisitorial vs. adversarial judicial model, a lack of intelligence cooperation, corrupt local police forces, public insecurity, poverty, violence against the press, and ineffective border security.

Another major issue addressed at the conference was the controversial role of the military in Mexico's anti-drug strategy. Some of the Mexican public perceives the military as more trustworthy and aggressive than local police forces, which may increase levels of overall public security in the midst of DTO violence. David Shirk of the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute argued that, "The military [and the church] are the most respected institutions in Mexico." Conversely, others argue that increased military oversight in combating drug trafficking has left the institution open for increased corruption and impunity. Abigail Poe of the Center for International Policy (CIP) recently wrote a blog entry on Just the Facts outlining the major details of the Washington Office on Latin America's (WOLA) recent report, "Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez", which details specific accounts of military abuse and human rights violations in Mexico.

The panelists agreed that the Mexican and U.S. governments have already begun to implement policies that adhere to the idea of addressing the cartel violence via the "Four Pillar Strategy" and another binational efforts. The four pillars are (1) disrupting organized criminal groups; (2) institutionalizing the rule of law; (3) building a 21st century border; and (4) building strong and resilient communities.

One of the major topics addressed at the conference was the need to build up Mexico's civilian institutional capacity to combat impunity and corruption within local armed forces. Recently, under the framework of the Merida Initiative, the U.S. government has received the consent of the Mexican government to station at least one U.S. intelligence official in Ciudad Juarez, the virtual epicenter of drug violence in Mexico. According to a Mileno editorial detailing U.S. presence in Ciudad Juarez:

"The goal is to strengthen intelligence gathering and Mexican government agencies to establish links between Mexico and the United States to maximize real-time information and guiding the Mexican strategic and tactical operations, is based on the report."

Despite such efforts, more policy options must be pursued. This includes addressing U.S. domestic consumption issues and improved financial system regulation to stop illicit flows and money laundering.

To see the Milenio article discussing recently increased U.S. intelligence operatives presence in Ciudad Juarez, click here (Spanish). The actual text of the Ciudad Juarez Crime Fact Sheets is available in English at the bottom of the article.

In the end, all of the panelists and discussants agreed that a "spirit of collaboration" between the United States and Mexico will be a major determining factor in how effectively and how soon the influence and violence of Mexican drug cartels can be diminished. They also agreed that the reforms will likely require long-term observation and attention, but that this is the only way to produce sustainable change in Mexico's drug wars.

This post was written by CIP intern Allison Gilchrist

Friday, October 22, 2010

Week in Review

  • Mexican authorities seized 134 tons of marijuana on Sunday near the Mexico-U.S. border. On Wednesday, the 15,300 bales were set ablaze. One heavily quoted excerpt from the New York Times on the "bonfire" no longer appears in the article, but is included in the slideshow of the event. It reads:

    And so up in smoke went the equivalent of a few hundred million joints in what Mexican authorities called the largest seizure of the drug in the country’s history, a dash of hype befitting the elaborate ceremony to both get rid of it and highlight a success, any success, in a bloody, lingering drug war.

  • 30 members of Congress sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting a suspension of U.S. aid to the Honduran government. This letter argues that "assassinations, arbitrary arrests, beatings and death threats targeting political activists and the human rights workers who attempt to protect them" continue with impunity. LAWG's Lisa Haugaard provides more information about recent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in Honduras in this Huffington Post article.

    State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question about the letter on Wednesday, stating that the State Department does not intend to cut off assistance to Honduras, as requested in the letter.

    ... I think where we disagree with our congressional colleagues is that they conditioned progress on the human rights as a precondition for the return of Honduras to the OAS. We think they go hand in hand – improving the democratic performance of the government is vitally important, but also reintegrating Honduras into the community of democratic nations in this hemisphere is also important. And in fact, the election of the Lobo government was itself a major step forward for Honduras.

  • Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent Congress a proposal that would reform Mexico's military justice code, requiring troops to be tried in civilian courts for three types of human rights abuses: torture, rape and forced disappearance. Mexican and international human rights organizations argue that the proposal "falls short of what was expected from Mexico," and "fails to hold armed forces accountable." Here are some responses to the proposed reform from LAWG, WOLA, Human Rights Watch and 13 Mexican organizations.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on September 24th on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly "to encourage the release of Alan Gross," a USAID contractor arrested in Cuba on December 3, 2009 after being accused of spying.
  • In response to the news that Russia is to build a nuclear power plant in Venezuela, President Obama said, "We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the U.S., but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly."
  • A new report by the National Commission on Human Rights in Honduras says that every 88 minutes someone is murdered in Honduras.
  • In Colombia, a former high-ranking DAS official, Martha Leal, said that ex-DAS director Andres Peñate ordered her to spy on opposition figures at the "express request of former President Alvaro Uribe." Leal has been ordered to testify in the investigation into former President Uribe's involvement in the illegal wiretapping of his opponents.
  • A new report by the Third National Survey on the Verification of the Rights of the Displaced in Colombia says that, as a result of violence, 6.65 million hectares of productive lands were abandoned in Colombia between 1980 and July 2010.
  • The Houston Chronicle's Dudley Althaus writes about police reform in Mexico.
  • Assistant Secretary of State David T. Johnson traveled to Guatemala and Honduras this week. While in Guatemala, Assistant Secretary Johnson ratified the United States' support in the country's fight against organized crime. "The United States is committed to working with Central America and Guatemala to combat corruption and organized crime through security services and rule of law," he said during a press conference at the National Civilian Police headquarters. In Honduras, he met with President Porfirio Lobo and convened the U.S.-Honduras Merida-CARSI Task Force. Johnson said, "I do not think that Honduras is about to become a 'narco-state', but I do think that the country has the challenge to confront it and I think that working together they can build institutions that can confront this challenge."
  • Over the weekend, Brazilian presidential candidate José Serra promised a "great war against drugs" if elected president in the upcoming runoff election against Dilma Rousseff. A recent Vox Populi poll shows Rousseff with 51 percent of vote intention compared to 39 percent for Serra.
  • A high-level delegation of U.S. officials will arrive in Colombia on Sunday. The group will include Undersecretary of State James Steinberg, Assistant Secretary of State, Arturo Valenzuela, and Maria Otero, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Officials say that good governance, democracy, human rights, energy and science and technology will be the main issues discussed--notably absent from these bilateral talks is the word "drugs."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reform in Mexico Fails to Deliver for Victims of Military Abuses

This is cross-posted from the Latin America Working Group's blog, the LAWG Blog. It was written by Jenny Johnson, Vanessa Kritzer, and Ben Leiter

Mounting pressure from rights groups in Mexico and the Obama Administration, and a ticking clock on an order by the Inter-American Court, spurred President Calderón to unveil his long-anticipated proposal to reform Mexico’s military justice code. But while reform is desperately needed to end the historic impunity for members of the Mexican military that have committed human rights abuses, Mexican and international human rights groups agree that President Calderón’s proposal doesn’t do nearly enough.

Clearly something has to be done—and soon. Reports of grisly human rights abuses committed by the military, including torture, rape, and extrajudicial execution, have gone unchecked. Of the over 4,000 complaints of human rights violations that have been filed with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission during President Calderón's administration, only one of those cases has been punished in the notoriously opaque military tribunals – and none in civilian jurisdiction. 

Still, the question is: does President Calderón's long-anticipated proposal go far enough to ensure a real improvement in access to justice for victims?  Regretfully, Mexican and international human rights organizations have responded with a resounding ‘no. A group of highly-respected Mexican organizations with expertise in human rights made the candid assessment that this proposal falls short, a “cosmetic gesture meant to give the appearance of reforming what, in practice, will continue to remain the same, especially considering that the tendency for the military to commit human rights abuses continues unabated.”

The biggest disappointment is that President Calderón’s proposal would carve out only three of the many human rights crimes committed by soldiers against civilians– forced disappearance, rape, and torture– to be tried in civilian courts. Soldiers who commit any other human rights abuses, like extrajudicial executions or arbitrary detention, could continue to rely on the same impunity that they’ve long enjoyed within the military system.

For example, this past spring, a convoy of soldiers shot at the car of an innocent family driving to Easter celebrations, killing 9-year-old Martín and 5-year-old Bryan Almanza Salazar.  According to eyewitness accounts, the soldiers openly fired unprovoked into the family’s vehicle. And to make matters worse, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission investigation found that soldiers had dramatically altered the scene of the crime, planting cars and weapons to bolster their fabricated story that they were shooting in response to gunfire from drug traffickers instead of a family with children.  If President Calderón’s proposal were approved, similar cases in which soldiers open fire on innocent civilians or alter crime scenes to implicate the victims or otherwise subvert criminal investigations would still languish in military courts, thwarting justice for murders like those of Martín and Bryan.  

This is unacceptable. As the Washington Office on Latin America recently noted, “a reform that is truly progressive will require that all human rights violations committed against civilians be tried in civil courts, not in the military system.”

Amnesty International voiced its concern about the “role of the military prosecutor in determining, at the stage of initial investigation, the nature of the criminal offense and therefore whether it will be transferred to the civil justice system.  This mechanism could, in fact, act as a block on the cases reaching the civil courts, even for those offenses that the draft law excludes from the military justice system.”

As we explained in an earlier blog, a State Department report to Congress last month stated that an estimated $26 million of the funds in the 2010 supplemental aid package to Mexico would be withheld until two events took place, one of which is the introduction (but not the passage or implementation) of legislation to reform Mexico’s military justice code.  Since we’ve had the opportunity to review the details, it is clear that more work is needed to transform this proposal into the meaningful reform to ensure that human rights violators aren’t let off the hook.  Mexican rights groups are working hard to make sure this happens, but the U.S. needs to do its part too. We must be persistent in reminding Secretary of State Clinton and other officials that long-lasting improvements to public security in Mexico cannot be accomplished without ensuring advances in human rights.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The defense budget burden: Colombia and the United States

Thanks to a column by Hernán González Rodríguez in today’s edition of Medellín’s El Colombiano newspaper, we found a very useful document (PDF) on the website of Colombia’s Treasury Ministry. It breaks down, according to function and institution, the Colombian government’s budget for 2010, and what it expects to spend in 2011.

Colombia, which has an internal armed conflict and Latin America’s second-largest armed forces after Brazil (and an army that’s actually larger than Brazil’s), will spend 20.0 percent of its budget, and 3.9 percent its entire economy, on its military and police next year. This would be up from 18.4 percent of the budget and down from 4.2 percent of the economy this year.

Colombia will spend US$12.1 billion on its Defense Ministry and National Police next year, at the current peso-to-dollar exchange rate. That’s about US$270 from each one of Colombia’s 45 million citizens.

But U.S. citizens bear an even higher military burden, as indicated in the White House’s budget estimates for 2011 (go here [PDF] and look at “Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function”).

The United States will spend US$749.7 billion on defense next year. That’s 23.0 percent of on-budget spending, and 4.8 percent of the U.S. economy. This is up from 22.7 percent and down from 4.9 percent in 2010.

That’s about US$2,400 from each one of the United States’ 310.5 million citizens.

Unlike Colombia, this figure does not include police forces, who are scattered across thousands of state and local jurisdictions and impossible to add here.

(U.S. 2011 GDP estimate: the White House’s 2010 “Mid-Session Review

Colombia 2011 GDP estimate: the IMF’s 2010 Article IV Consultation [PDF])

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recent Violence in Colombia

Since 2008, Colombia's security forces claim to have killed 7 of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group's top 14 commanders. The group's membership, estimated at over 18,000 by 2002, is now approximately 8,000. With the killing of Jorge Briceño, alias "Mono Jojoy," FARC's top military leader, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced that it was "the beginning of the end" for the already weakened insurgency. However, the FARC persists, while Colombia continues to face violence from groups descended from pro-government paramilitary militias like Los Rastrojos, the Black Eagles, and others linked to drug trafficking.

On October 2nd, the town of Santa Barbara in the southwestern province of Nariño experienced the toll of such urban violence when David Creo, an ex-town councilor, and his family of 4 were killed in their home. Colombia's national ombudsman, Volmar Pérez, reported that the massacre was carried out by 20 armed, unidentified paramilitaries. The murder of Creo and his family forced 83 peasants to seek refuge in the neighboring village of La Soledad. Pérez explained that paramilitary forces and groups working in the "service of drug trafficking" are engaged in disputes over territorial and social control, and added that "comprehensive and effective measures of prevention and protection to guarantee the right to life and (physical) integrity for the civilian population" must be adopted.

In response, on October 4th, President Santos announced that the National Police force would grow by another 20,000 members over the next four years to help fight violence in the nation's urban centers. Furthermore, he promised 300 billion pesos (about US$150 million) towards initiatives to help prevent youth violence, explaining that "public security cannot come independent of democratic security, but is a necessary compliment to ensure...the tranquility of all citizens."

Violence in Colombia has not only been limited to paramilitary activity. On October 11th, a Colombian court found seven members of an elite Colombian military unit guilty of killing a civilian and claiming he was a leftist rebel killed in combat in 2007. This verdict was reached after the October 7th arrest of Colombian Army Major Orlando Arturo Céspedes Escalona, who was arrested for his alleged role in eleven "false positive" murders. The term refers to a mid-2000s epidemic of civilians killed by the military, with their bodies later presented as those of armed groups killed in combat in order to reap rewards. According to some estimates, the Colombian military may be responsible for as many as 3,000 of such murders.

This post was written by CIP intern Johannes Schmidt

Friday, October 15, 2010

Regional Implications of California's Prop 19

On November 2nd, California voters will head to the polls to vote on, among many other things, Proposition 19. Also known as the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010" (the text of the proposed law can be downloaded here), Proposition 19 is a ballot proposition which would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use in California. "Adults could possess up to one ounce of the drug and grow small gardens on private property. Local governments would decide whether to allow and tax sales of the drug," explains the Associated Press.

California's Proposition 19 has sparked a debate about the potential effect the end of prohibition of marijuana in the United States could have on drug cartels, and whether other countries should follow suit. Proponents argue that Proposition 19 will cut off funding to drug cartels via a reduction in revenues from marijuana sales and provide an important first step toward the end of the current drug war policies. Opponents argue that the impact on revenues will be insignificant, as marijuana is not as lucrative for drug cartels as other drugs, such as cocaine and heroine, and other criminal enterprises, including kidnapping, extortion, and human smuggling.

The main group advocating for the passage of Proposition 19, Yes on 19, argues that Proposition 19 will "cut off funding to violent drug cartels across our border who currently generate 60 percent of their revenue from the illegal U.S. marijuana market." However, a new RAND paper released this week counters that argument. The authors of "Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico: Would Legalizing Marijuana in California Help?" find:

  1. Mexican DTOs' gross revenues from illegally exporting marijuana to wholesalers in the United States is likely less than $2 billion;
  2. The claim that 60 percent of Mexican DTO gross drug export revenues come from marijuana should not be taken seriously;
  3. If legalization only affects revenues from supplying marijuana to California, DTO drug export revenue losses would be very small, perhaps 2-4 percent;
  4. The only way legalizing marijuana in California would significantly influence DTO revenues and the related violence is if California-produced marijuana is smuggled to other states at prices that outcompete current Mexican supplies. The extent of such smuggling will depend on a number of factors, including the response of the U.S. federal government.
  5. If marijuana is smuggled from California to other states, it could undercut sales of Mexican marijuana in much of the U.S., cutting DTOs' marijuana export revenues by more than 65 percent and probably by 85 percent or more.

The director of the U.S. Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Gil Kerlikowske, applauded the new RAND report and emphasized that "this report shows that despite the millions spent on marketing the idea, legalized marijuana won't reduce the revenue or violence generated by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations." However, with the release of RAND's new paper, many analysts have zeroed in on the report's fifth key finding listed above: "If marijuana is smuggled from California to other states, it could undercut the sales of Mexican marijuana in much of the U.S., cutting DTOs' marijuana export revenues by more than 65 percent and probably 85 percent or more," a scenario which RAND estimates could lead to a 20 percent loss of total drug export revenues for drug trafficking organizations. On the Foreign Policy blog, Joshua Keating asks, "with this caveat, couldn't the report be viewed less as a case against legalization in California than an argument for extending it nationwide?"

Many proponents of the end of marijuana prohibition are calling Proposition 19 just that--a first step toward the end of prohibition nation-wide and the beginning of an exit strategy from the "disastrous" war on drugs. On the other hand, opponents to Proposition 19, including Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, argue that it will undercut international efforts to combat the drug cartels and drug trade.

Below are excerpts of quotes that both support and negate the argument that Proposition 19 will affect the revenues of international drug trafficking organizations.

Arguments in support of Proposition 19 in relation to its impact on the fight against drug cartels:

Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

Creating an exit strategy from the disastrous war on marijuana has to start somewhere. Ending marijuana prohibition, bringing the multi-billion dollar marijuana market into the light of day and under the rule of law, will deal a major blow to criminal syndicates on both sides of the border. California can't put these cartels out of business by itself, but Prop. 19 is a crucial first step.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox:

According to the Los Angeles Times, former President Vicente Fox is calling for legalization and regulation of all drugs as the best way to cripple the drug cartels economically. Fox recently said that "passage of Proposition 19 would be a 'great step forward' and could 'open the door to these ideas for us.'"

The Economist magazine:

...The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the prohibition of drugs, in the face of all the evidence that this policy fails to curb their consumption while creating vast profits for organised crime. It is welcome that California is now debating before a referendum on November 2nd, whether to legalise marijuana. This newspaper would vote for the proposition, because we believe that drug addiction, like alcoholism and tobacco consumption, is properly a matter of public health rather than the criminal law.

If California votes in favour of legalisation, Mexico would be wise to follow suit (the bottom would anyway fall out of its marijuana business). The drug gangs would still be left with more lucrative cocaine and methamphetamines. But it would become easier to defeat them. And Mexicans should make no mistake: they must be defeated. The idea of going back to a tacit bargain that tolerates organised crime, favoured by some in Mexico, is inimical to the rule of law, and thus to democracy and a free society. The sooner Mexico turns its new-found sense of urgency into a more effective national policing and law-enforcement strategy the better.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady, op-ed columnist for the Wall Street Journal:

To help Mexico deal with this "antitrust" problem, the U.S. has to recognize that competition in the narcotics sector is preferable to the monopolistic syndicates that threaten the state and could move north. But this would require greater flexibility from U.S. drug warriors. ...

Mexican officials estimate that the marijuana business makes up more than half of the Mexican cartels' income. Legalizing grass in the U.S. would mean increased competition for Mexican exporters and lower profit margins, thereby depriving the monopolies of important income.

Edward Schumacher-Matos, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post:

In the upcoming California referendum on legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske have something in common. Both are missing the forest for the weed. ...

Calderon's assertion that this is a hypocrisy is right, "but only if you don't see the California referendum for what it is: a step. And a very big one, considering that California represents one-seventh of American marijuana consumption and has long been a first-mover in American cultural and political trends."

But what all this means for the United States and Mexico is that more steps away from prohibition need to follow. Issues such as pricing, taxation and other drugs also need careful confronting. But marijuana and California are good beginnings.

Ruben Aguilar, former Mexican government spokesman under President Vicente Fox:

People in California will be in their supermarkets and their Walmarts with their legal pot, and down here we'll be killing each other. Things will have to change here. It makes no sense for us to keep killing.

Stephen Downing, former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief of Police:

Proposition 19 is a giant step toward a much-needed, new direction for our marijuana policies. We've tried the prohibitionists' way, for over forty years, and the only result has been more and more drugs flowing into our country and more and more profits going into the pockets of organized criminals. There's one reason we don't see wine cartels growing grapes in our national parks, and that's because alcohol is legal. We have to move away from prohibition and toward controlling and regulating the market for marijuana, just as when we ended alcohol prohibition to put Al Capone's smuggling buddies out of business.

Arguments against Proposition 19 in relation to its impact on the fight against drug cartels:

Both Mexican President Calderon and Colombian President Santos have come out against Proposition 19, claiming that its passage would generate a "peculiar paradox" and a "hypocrisy" if the United States legalizes consumption domestically, but still encourages other countries to combat drug production within their borders. The two presidents have argued that such a decision would have international implications and therefore cannot be made unilaterally. "Unilaterally we cannot legalize drugs because they are a problem not only for national security but also have international implications," noted President Santos.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon:

"I think they have very little moral authority to condemn Mexican farmers who out of hunger are planting marijuana to feed the insatiable [U.S.] appetite for drugs."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos:

Legalizing marijuana in California as the region combats illegal drug use and trafficking will "generate a peculiar paradox."

"How does one explain to indigenous people that they are not to grow marijuana at the risk of being thrown into jail, but that in the richest state of the United States, they have legalized its production, sale, and consumption?"

Secretary General of the Organization of American States Jose Miguel Insulza:

While Secretary General Insulza has argued that "the war on drugs, as it has been carried out, has not produced the expected results," and that the fundamental flaw of the strategy is that we have not attacked the finances of the narcotraffickers, he appears to come out against Proposition 19. He has said that if Prop 19 passes, it will mean people abroad will no longer be ready to "fight to their death against a product that is going to be legal at the other side of the border."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Ecuadorian military's delayed reaction

Writing in Influencias y Resistencias, a new book about civil-military relations in Latin America, FLACSO-Ecuador analyst Simón Pachano remarks on the Ecuadorian armed forces’ history of high political activity, especially during times of crisis. “[T]he armed forces,” Pachano writes, “have occupied, directly or indirectly, a place of importance on the political scene.” He notes “their participation as actors of last resort during political crises.”

Pachano lays out three ways in which the military has intervened in Ecuadorian politics. One — in which they step in and govern directly — has happened infrequently. The other two, though, are common:

  • When the armed forces take a particular faction’s side in a political dispute, and
  • When they act as “arbiters during situations that, supposedly or actually, can’t be solved through institutional frameworks. On these occasions they take charge of restoring an order that was momentarily lost, put things back in their places and return power to the civilians.”

Both of Pachano’s categories seem to describe the role that Ecuador’s military played during the events of September 30, when the national police force staged an uprising. The nationally coordinated protests, organized to protest benefit cuts, spiraled into a near-coup, with police holding President Rafael Correa hostage until the army rescued him amid an intense firefight.

As events progressed on September 30, Ecuador’s armed forces ended up siding with a faction — that of constitutionally elected President Rafael Correa, not the police. (Ecuador’s national police are not a branch of the armed forces, nor are they part of the Defense Ministry.) They did so, though, only after a few curious hours of inaction. The Army then acted forcefully as an “arbiter,” “restoring an order that was momentarily lost” by rescuing the president.

While it was the army, along with some elite police agents, who rescued President Correa on the evening of the 30th, there was a several-hour period in which the military’s commitment to constitutional order was less clear. During this period, hundreds of rank-and-file military personnel, especially Air Force members, joined the protests.

It wasn’t until about 2PM — at least 6 hours after the police protests began — that the armed forces chief made a public statement of support for Correa and called for an end to the protests. What happened in the meantime?

By several accounts, the high command withheld support to the government to pressure for repeal of the law cutting police and military benefits. “Before offering his support,” writes Reuters reporter Frank Jack Daniel, “armed forces chief Ernesto Gutiérrez demanded the president reform or annul the controversial public sector law.”

While they did not agree to overturn the law, civilian leaders appear to have entered into a quid pro quo arrangement with the top brass, agreeing to increase their pay in exchange for their support.

Notes Reuters’ Daniel, “Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper reported that in the midst of Thursday’s protests Defense Minister Javier Ponce met military top brass and promised to deposit money for soldiers’ back pay that had been disputed by the government.” Observes Alberto Acosta, a close Correa confidant turned critic: “When the head of the Joint Command went out and said that the military supported President Correa, in a press conference at 2:00 in the afternoon, he said to the president: ‘Remember, President Correa, that there is still an issue with salaries.’” The next day, adds the Argentine daily Clarín, “The head of the Joint Command, together with the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, met with the minister of defense, Javier Ponce, to ensure that their economic incentives would not be cut.”

A few days later, on October 5, Defense Minister Ponce announced a pay increase for the military and police.

A report from Inter-Press Service contends that Ecuador’s Army leadership was loyal to President Correa, but that the Navy and Air Force were insisting on holding out for economic concessions. “A high-level government source who asked to remain anonymous told IPS that ‘while the army showed loyalty to Correa from the very start, things were more complicated in the other two branches, and it was necessary to negotiate.’”

Ecuador’s armed forces — though not its police — have come out stronger politically in the aftermath of the September 30 uprising. A partial state of emergency continues, with military personnel, not police, guarding the National Assembly and other Quito facilities. “In moments of crisis,” writes Reuters’ Daniel, “the armed forces call the shots in Ecuador. Last week was no exception. … Correa looked vulnerable to Ecuador’s traditional volatility last week and the military could choose to exploit the moment to extract more concessions from him in return for continued support.”

While hundreds of police are under investigation or arrest, it remains unclear whether military personnel who participated in the protests will be sanctioned. This is especially the case for the Ecuadorian Air Force airmen who shut down airports in Quito and elsewhere. President Correa said on October 6 that “The revolt by the air force technical experts was completely different from the police uprising,” and Defense Minister Javier Ponce said on October 8 that any punishment would be up to the Ecuadorian Armed Forces’ own justice system. On October 11, the Air Force began disciplinary proceedings against 160 airmen. Though no criminal prosecutions have been opened, several members of the air force’s intelligence apparatus were fired after the uprising.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recent News Overview in Mexico

Institutional impunity, human rights violations, and terror continue to fuel Mexico’s weakening security environment. Among the latest pieces of news related to violence in Mexico and drug trafficking:

  • Mexican President Felipe Calderón strongly criticized California’s Proposition 19 ballot initiative that would legalize the sale and use of marijuana. Calderón alleged that, if passed, the California provision would encourage U.S. consumption, thus expanding the market for Mexican traffickers.
  • U.S. officials reported via the Associated Press that the Zetas drug cartel is thwarting efforts to reclaim the body of David Michael Hartley, a U.S. citizen shot on Lake Falcon, along the Texas-Mexico border, while on a fishing trip. Including Hartley, the death toll for U.S. citizens in Mexico is on pace to exceed the record 90 murders in 2009.
  • A USA Today report, “The fear is always there,” documents the dangers of being a Mexican mayor amid the increasing influence of drug cartels. The most recent murder of Antonio Jiménez Baños marks the 12th slaying of a Mexican mayor this year. Experts fear that political assassinations will affect the long-term stability of Mexican democracy because the best and brightest may be too intimidated to run.
  • In response to weak police forces and poor information-sharing practices, President Calderón advanced legislation to consolidate police forces, to create a ‘Mando Unico’ that, it is hoped, will weed out corrupt police officers and drug cartel influence. Opponents of the legislation charge that Calderón should focus on strengthening internal affairs units, increasing civilian oversight, and improving information collection on existing police.
  • Amid violent political assassinations, impunity, and civil unrest, Slate magazine claims that there are a few lessons Mexico can draw from the Colombian experience.

This post was written by CIP intern Allison Gilchrist

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Report: Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh) released a new report today on human rights violations in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The report, "Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez: An Analysis of Human Rights Violations by the Military in Mexico," focuses on human rights violations that occurred in Ciudad Juarez in the context of Joint Operation Chihuahua, which began in March 2008, and reviews the drug policies adopted by the Mexican government, with support from the U.S. government, to address the security crisis in Mexico.

Here are a few statistics from the report:

  • As of June 2010, roughly 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the beginning of President Felipe Calderón's administration in 2006.
  • In 2009 alone, more than 8,200 drug-related murders were reported. By June 2010, 6,200 people had been killed so far in the year.
  • More than half of the drug-related killings have occurred in the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, and Baja California, but drug violence has touched upon every Mexican state and the Federal District in the past 3 1/2 years.
  • Since December 2006, SEDENA (Mexico's Department of Defense) has acknowledged it has received a total of 3,981 complaints of human rights abuses filed before the National Commission (prior to June 2010).
  • It is estimated that only 25% of crimes in Mexico are reported and only 2% result in a sentence.
  • In the introduction of the report, the authors write, "This report gives voice to some of the victims of the war against organized crime in Mexico: in particular, individuals who have been abused by the very security forces who are supposed to protect them." Five cases are described in the report involving acts of torture, forced disappearance and sexual harassment of women by Mexican soldiers deployed in Ciudad Juarez. Here is one of the cases:

    In August 2008, Roberto drove down the road to the company in Ciudad Juarez where he had worked on the night shift for 25 years. Before he got to work he was stopped at a military checkpoint. The soldiers took him out of his car, inspected it, and in a violent manner asked him questions. What was he doing out in his car at this hour? Where was he going? Why was he nervous? Although he tried to answer in the best way possible, the fear of what had happened to many other people in Ciudad Juarez made him nervous. After the soldiers searched the car, they showed him a packet of drugs [that Roberto did not recognize] and began another interrogation. Where did he get the drugs? Who had sold them to him? Roberto was not able to answer. He had never used drugs, bought or sold them — he was simply going to work.

    Roberto was blindfolded, tied by the wrists and taken to an unknown location, that he experienced only by sounds, hard footsteps that came and went, questions from the soldiers, violent blows, and the screams of others being tortured.

    After three days of interrogations and beatings, they released him with a warning: "If anyone asks you what happened to you, tell them that you were kidnapped. Remember that we know where your family lives."

    "Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez" concludes with this:

    While institutional strengthening has been part of the Mexican government's security strategy, the central element has clearly been the deployment of military-led security forces in counter-drug operations. This focus has failed to decreased drug-related violence in Mexico, while also resulting in a dramatic increase inhuman rights abuses.

    And offers the following recommendations:

    1. Effectively withdraw the military from public security tasks;
    2. Guarantee that human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces are investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities;
    3. Strengthen Mexico's civil judicial system - the government needs to increase its efforts to implement fully the reforms passed in 2008 and enact measures to address the historic challenges in the system (such as corruption, lack of transparency and weak judicial institutions);
    4. Development of new systems of internal and external controls, or strengthening existing systems in the police corps, particularly at the state and local levels, are essential so that police officers receive a clear message that they will be sanctioned for any criminal behavior, including human rights abuses.

    Read the press release here.

    Download the report in English or Spanish.