Thursday, February 13, 2014

There's a lot of skepticism surrounding the alleged connections between drug trafficking and terrorism. Perhaps rightly so: shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration backed a Super Bowl commercial pushing the connection between drugs and terrorists like Osama bin Laden, much to the consternation of pro-legalization advocates. "It's a cynical, cheap shot to take in the current political environment," said one New York-based advocate of drug law reform. "To make it sound like a kid who smokes pot is responsible for putting cash in the hands of Osama bin Laden is ludicrous."

But the connection, however tenuous, is real. No, your average pot-smoking kid probably doesn't contribute to Bin Laden's riches any more than your average SUV user; but there is real concrete evidence of drug trafficking and terrorism being linked.

The reason they're usually connected is, quite simply, a matter of desperation. Terrorism tends to stem from frustration at a system that is not allowing for advancement; when terrorism fails and ideology takes a back seat, and reality hits, drug trafficking enters the picture. It's an easy way to make quick money, and it's never difficult to find new recruits to peddle your drugs. Life is hard for most people, and a desperate and exploitative person can easily find a way in. Traffickers can easily utilise the same business connections and the same underground routes that terrorists use, much in the same way an old boys' network might operate.

Look at the FARC in Colombia, which has declined in recent years in part because of dwindling ideology. Around the late 90s, it became clear the FARC's Marxist ideology was no longer carrying it forward, and that it needed to turn to drug trafficking to support itself. Already a designated terrorist organization, the FARC was now also a drug trafficking organization (or DTO, in US authorities' parlance).

Interestingly, when terrorist groups turn to drug trafficking, it apparently makes it easier for the authorities to apprehend their leadership. Since roughly 2002, US authorities have extradited dozens of senior FARC members to the US on drug trafficking charges rather than terrorism charges. Likewise senior drug warlords in Afghanistan have been brought stateside for trial on drug charges, rather than terrorism, even when they were implicated in the former.

None of this really changes the fact that U.S. and Western European consumers are responsible for the drug intake, rather than it being a national security threat, but that said, the connection between terrorism and drug trafficking is very real indeed.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's been some time since I blogged, utmost apologies. Now that I've completed my Master's Degree, I'm going to start blogging more regularly, on topics related to war.

But first, I want to comment on the schmaltz surrounding the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. While tragic, his death was marked by hundreds of articles lamenting the failure of the drug war and heroin addiction in the United States.

Not one article that I read placed the blame of heroin consumption on U.S. consumers of the drug. Not one article that I read noted that 80,000 people have died in Mexico in the past several years alone due to U.S. consumption of drugs like heroin.

Not one article that I read noted the fact that a 12-year-long war in Afghanistan is coming to an end with little progress having been made in the fight against opium production.

Not one article that I read noted that kids are dying on the streets of Chicago because of middle-class heroin use.

There's a time for mourning, and there's also a time to put things in perspective.

Addiction is indeed a serious issue, one that has long been overlooked. But not all addicts turn to heroin; not all addicts turn to methamphetamine; not all addicts turn to cocaine. Some just carry on with their daily lives, because that's what we, as humans, do.

One can certainly argue that the war on drugs is not working. Heroin use in the United States is indeed on the rise (one estimate puts the jump at 373,000 users about six years ago to 669,000 in 2012) and I've not seen any data supporting a decline in other drug use. Pill use is once again on the rise (although in parts of Florida, I gather people are now switching to street heroin because it's cheaper than pharmaceutical opiates).

But if Americans continue to use these drugs, while the DEA and other law enforcement agencies are doing their damndest to break down cartels in Mexico and elsewhere, trying to get a bead on global smuggling and the narco-terror nexus, seizing heroin mills in the Bronx capable of producing $8 million worth of heroin and stopping doctors from illegally prescribing pharmaceuticals or busting medical marijuana fraud in Detroit, then what hope is there of the drug war having any success whatsoever?

Folks, if we're going to find a solution to the drug war, it has to come from us. Drugs are not a national security threat; the enemy lies within. Yes, the violence across the southern border is a serious concern, as is the gang threat in cities like Chicago, as is the threat of terrorists hooking up with drug traffickers. But the consumers are driving the demand, and if any progress is going to be made, people are just going to have to say no. (At risk of sounding like Nancy Reagan; I know it didn't work then but there's always hope.)

Alternatively, they can find the underlying root of their addiction, and treat that with therapy, or work harder, or use their inner voice of reason. However we do it, we have to stop feeding the monster.

(Tomorrow: Understanding the narco-terror nexus)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's been a while since I last blogged, my apologies to those who follow, I'm currently enrolled in a Master's degree course on War Studies. I will start blogging on subjects pertaining to my studies in the coming weeks; in the meantime, I'm going to post daily about some of the victims of the drug war in recent years, whose stories I've come across in my research. Jan. 1, 2008 Mia Alvarado Rodriguez was tucked up in her bed in her parents' house in Ciudad Juarez, asleep. It was five minutes past midnight. Her father heard a cry. He ran to the bedroom Mia shared with her three siblings. Mia was standing up, or at least, trying to. Blood was streaming down her front. She had been hit by a stray bullet from an AK-47. Mia would die six days later. She was only three years old.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chapo's son – or not

Apologies for not posting for some time, I've been busy working on other projects. Just wanted to offer a quick opinion regarding the arrest of Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, one of Chapo's sons. Or not one of his sons. It appears that the young man arrested in Zapopan on Thursday was actually Felix Beltran and not Chapo’s son, according to his attorney, Veronica Guerrero. He was, however, found with a large cache of weapons and $160,000 in cash. Everyone's jumping to criticize the authorities, who apparently were acting on intelligence provided by the DEA. My initial reaction, given the mistakes made in this drug war, are to do the same. HOWEVER... every news report I've read seems to take the attorney's word for it. Given that this young man had weapons and vast amounts of cash on him, there is reason enough to believe he's guilty of something. And while I'm not gonna say that this guy is Chapo's son, I have little doubt that Chapo's son has a nice little alibi ready – fake ID in hand – in case of arrest, and an attorney ready to step in (as well as, in this case, someone to come and claim she is his mother). If he doesn't, then the Sinaloa cartel is not run the way I believe it is. I'm not saying this is all a show and an effort to manipulate the media, public opinion and the authorities, but it could well be. So, I'm gonna wait and see with this story before pronouncing judgment. I should also mention that the authorities are investigating whether the marines involved in the arrest may have planted the weapons on Felix Beltran. If so, that is a huge blow to US-Mexican cooperation, in my mind. The marines, and SEMAR (the navy) are far more trusted than the army. US agents have been turning to them more and more in recent years, due to trust issues, and if the marines are screwing things up, then that does not bode well for intelligence-sharing and joint ops. I sincerely hope this was not the case. Stay tuned... PS - Meantime, here's a link to a recent Newsweek International article on Mexico's generals and their side of the war on organized crime. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/06/17/in-mexico-s-drug-war-generals-may-stand-down.html

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Close but no cigar

Apologies, it's been a while since I last blogged. Been busy, studying up on counterinsurgency and how it might be applied to Mexico. Also finished writing another book: Hasta El Ultimo Dia (Ediciones B, Mexico) which should now be on sale in Mexico only (at most bookstores.)

My thoughts on the latest news about Chapo: There was a close call, apparently, near Los Cabos, in late February. According to the Associated Press, Chapo was recently at a private residence between the Cabo San Lucas Highway and the beach, in Baja California Sur.


Two men and two women were arrested at the house.Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas, Mexico's assistant attorney general in charge of organized crime investigations, told the AP: "We know he (Chapo) was there."

But when, exactly?

The operation to raid the home, one of several multi-million dollar exclusive properties along that route, apparently started on Feb. 21. The operativo apparently took a few days. (a few days – to raid a house ?????)

Then, to quote the AP: "Salinas said he didn't know if this time Guzman was in the house with only four other people and lacked the expected entourage of bodyguards and surveillance equipment, which reportedly normally includes helicopters. He would not give details of how the operation was carried out or what the four may have told authorities.

"That's classified information," he said.

This time? So, when was Chapo in this house then? This month? Last year? The guy has hundreds of houses throughout Mexico. More details please.

* * *

I'm not saying the authorities are lying, but some have in the past just to get the feds off their backs. As for Chapo, well, he is a master of misinformation and manipulation, as can be expected of such a powerful and elusive drug trafficker. A close call during his wedding in the mountains in 2007 was not a close call; according to my reporting, he deliberately disseminated a fake wedding date so the authorities would come, after he had already gotten married. He could easily have told the people in the house to tell the authorities he was there while he was basking in the sun in Mazatlan.

This latest raid is not clearly a sign that the authorities are really going after Chapo, in my mind.

"We're still searching," Salinas told the AP. When asked if the authorities are close, he just smiled, the AP reported.

This last bit is interesting. The Mexican authorities usually get prickly when asked questions about failing to catch Chapo; they've been fielding these questions for over a decade now, after all, and the frustration is understandable, given that he is just one man in a massive equation. Salinas' smile doesn't really mean anything necessarily, but it does make you wonder whether something is up. A press conference by Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire following the raid, in which he mentioned Chapo, also adds to the sense of wonder: is something going on?

Everyone knows capturing Chapo won't end the war on drugs. But it would silence Calderon's critics, and give the PAN good momentum going into the July elections. So lots of people are talking about a so-called October Surprise. Thankfully, the PAN has already silenced those conspiracy-minded critics who said the Sinaloa cartel was being protected. There have been so many arrests of high-ranking Sinaloa members since 2009 that few would dare say the PAN was protecting Sinaloa now.

(That said, the conspiracy theories do continue on account of Chapo's corruption network, and the allegations that he played a role in turning on his comrades when they were no longer useful to him. But that doesn't make the government complicit in any way.)

I do believe Chapo's days are numbered. But not because the authorities say so. I believe it because I believe Chapo and his cronies believe it.

On Jan. 30, 2009, according to DEA agent testimony coming out of the Vicente Zambada-Niebla trial, three DEA agents met with a source in Mexico City. The source allegedly told them that he had been instructed by Chapo to meet with Vicente Zambada-Niebla; Chapo and El Mayo, apparently, were interested in having the heir to the Sinaloa throne cooperate with the DEA in order to expunge his existing US charges.
DEA agent Manuel Castanon testified that he told the source that they would consider the possibility of a meeting with Zambada-Niebla, but no promises were made.

On March 17, 2009, DEA agent Castanon allegedly arrived in Mexico City and met with another agent at the Sheraton Hotel on Paseo de la Reforma, just down the street from the U.S. Embassy, they met up with Agent Fraga and several other DEA agents operating out of Mexico City.

At 12:30 pm that night, Zambada-Niebla allegedly arrived. The DEA agents allegedly talked to him, but made no promises. They were unable to make promises without clearance from their superiors; they were also unable to make an arrest as they don't operate in Mexico in that capacity. They allegedly discussed the possibility of setting up a meeting in another country, maybe even the United States.

Zambada-Niebla left.

Just a few hours later, he was arrested by the military and federal police in Colonia Jardines del Pedregal, outside of a home located at número 269, Calle Lluvia.

He is now on trial in Chicago.

Please buy Hasta El Ultimo Dia to find out more.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Enrique Pena Nieto and the three little books

Mexican and international commentators are, unsurprisingly, having a field day over presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto's inability to name three books that influenced his life at the Guadalajara Book Fair over the weekend.

But the real story isn't that he hasn't read three books. He has. Of course he has. He's a well-educated man, with a bachelor's degree from the Universidad Panamericana and a master's in business.

The real story is that it is quite possible, with all the posturing and puppeteering going on, both during his governorship and his campaign, with all the political platitudes he's dished out over the years, that he has forgotten how to think for himself. And when asked a question about his own life, his personal life, books that changed that life, he can't actually remember. This might even be more worrisome than if he had not read any books, if he's to be the next president of Mexico.

The Mexican people need a person as their president, not a puppet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ron Paul and the drug war

Ron Paul is getting a fair bit of credit for some of the matter-of-fact things he said in the last debate, particularly his comments on the drug war. A sampling:

“I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure. You can—you can at least let sick people have marijuana because it’s helpful, but compassionate conservatives say, well, we can’t do this; we’re going to put people who are sick and dying with cancer and they’re being helped with marijuana, if they have multiple sclerosis—the federal government’s going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison. Why don’t we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol? Alcohol is a deadly drug. What about—the real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs. They kill a lot more people than the illegal drugs. So the drug war is out of control. I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties. It magnifies our problems on the borders. We spend—like, over the last forty years, $1 trillion on this war. And believe me, the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn’t worked.”

On the surface, the guy seems smart, and almost compassionate. Calling it like he sees it; even echoing the anti-drug war, left-leaning crowd which argues that the $1 trillion spent on a drug war that has not really reduced consumption and has only filled up U.S. prisons. According to some media reports, Paul really caught the attention of the so-called youth vote with these comments.

But look closer: Paul goes on to mention the "real deadly drugs." Prescription pills. Anyone know what the DEA's new No. 1 priority is? Going after, yes, prescription pills.

Now, I'm not a drug war-basher just for the sake of bashing, as anyone who has read The Last Narco will tell you. I'm not really for drugs, nor really against them, except when they clearly destroy lives. Personally, I don't like them because I prefer beer.

I'll even go so far as to say that I support the drug war as it exists today, because I haven't seen a truly viable alternative (no, nationwide legalization is not viable, because it won't ever happen.)

But what I don't support are politicians twisting their own opinions to pander to certain crowds. If the DEA makes pills its priority, does anyone really think the war on traffickers of other drugs will ease up? Why would it? An all-out war on pills would mean a bigger budget because you've got one more illicit substance to go after; that budget could and most likely would be allocated pretty much anywhere a vast bureaucracy likes.

Again, I'm all for going after pills, and the people who sell them to unsuspecting victims illegally. It's a sordid affair, and needs to be stopped. But please, don't pretend to be against a $1 trillion war that will only continue if you go after the pills!

It's this easy: I, ––––––––, think the DEA should go after prescription pills, perhaps the deadliest drug threat of them all. I recognize that the drug war has not entirely succeeded, especially in the eyes of many critics, and we need to seriously examine how to better combat the drug scourge in the future. Debating legalization is futile, unless you, the American people, decide to actually vote for it (California didn't; I somehow doubt the rest of you will). So in the meantime, we will add prescription pills to the long list of illicit substances our authorities will go after, and do our utmost to fix the underlying societal issues that are turning our kids to drugs.