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'War on Drugs' Gives Way to the Dangerous New Face of Narco-Politics

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A shotgun blast of news this year shredded what most Americans believe about what used to be called the "war on drugs" -- that it was being fought to curb what were seen as simply criminal enterprises. Instead, it left us all facing the new dangers of narco-politics, whether it is cartels challenging governments and attacking social institutions, capitalizing on corruption, or involvement in the drug trade by terrorist groups.
As a veteran California law enforcement officer told Politics Daily: "What we're seeing in Mexico is cartels as new 'state making' agencies."
That's politics, even if, as that street cop noted, it doesn't sound like politics "in the sound byte sense."
A study by the private Center for a New American Security released in 2010 reported that " . . . crime, terrorism and insurgency are interwoven in new and dangerous ways that threaten not just the welfare but also the security of societies in the Western Hemisphere . . . the capability to destabilize governments has made the cartels an insurgent threat as well as a criminal one."
DrugsA March report by our government's Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that the number of "foreign terrorist groups" involved in the global narcotics trade "jumped from 14 groups in 2003 to 18 in 2008."
Terrorists may "tax" smugglers of drugs, sometimes as a prelude to taking over the business -- CRS, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the California street cop cite as an example Columbia's FARC group, which formed in the 1960s with the goal of overthrowing the government and replacing it with a Marxist regime.
The Taliban, which is not on the State Department terrorist list but is at war with the U.S. in Afghanistan, has alliances with narcotics traffickers, although al-Qaeda does not appear to sanction such connections, according to the CRS.
By the end of 2010, narco-related violence will have accounted for nearly 30,000 murders in Mexico -- everything from grisly beheadings to thug vs. thug gunfights, to raids by squads of cartel gunmen.
Mexico's Congress failed to act on President Felipe Calderon's plan to squeeze the cartels by cracking down on money laundering and reorganizing local police forces so that they could better stand up to them. Mexico's ordinary citizens are losing faith in their government. Cartel-fostered lawlessness has prompted ordinary Mexicans to resort to vigilantism to protect themselves from rapes and kidnappings including, in at least one instance, digging a trench around their town to prevent thugs from reaching it by going off-road in their SUVs.

Related Stories:

- Drug Wars: U.S., Mexico Wrestle With Violence
- Mexican Drug Wars: Press Freedom Is the Latest Victim

Cartels attack every element of "legitimate" society – cops, teachers, medical personnel. Cartels attack journalists, prompting El Diario, the leading paper of Juarez, Mexico, this September to publish an extraordinary Sunday front page "letter" to the cartels, saying: "Explain to us what you want from us. What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by? You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city . . ."
In a blood-soaked irony, many guns in cartel arsenals – including AK-47s and other assault rifles -- come from the United States, according to a Washington Post investigation. They are often legally bought here and then smuggled across the border by gunrunners called hormigas (ants) even as cartel drug mules smuggle narcotics in the opposite direction. Efforts to regulate guns are hot-button political issues in the United States, and The Post article quotes Chris W. Cox of the multimillion-dollar lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, as saying: "To suggest that U.S. gun laws are somehow to blame for Mexican drug cartel violence is a sad fantasy."
Meanwhile, Mexican cartels -- already key importers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the U.S. – now dominate what was once our "homegrown" market in meth, the killer drug that began ravaging our heartland in the 1990's.
Economists talk about "contagion" -- a political, cultural, or social force "infecting" a neighboring group. Contagion is an issue for the United States beyond the cartels' core business of, say, providing the meth that destroys a teenager in Montana.

The Dual "Contagions"
Two narco-politics' contagions are of key concern: corruption and violence.
Narco-cartels in Mexico have corrupted almost every level of government.
However, a spokesman for America's Drug Enforcement Agency told Politics Daily that because our country suffers less from poverty and broken institutions than Mexico, we are unlikely to be infected with Mexico's cartel-related level of corruption.
But Louis Mizell, a private security and counter-terrorism expert, for years has warned about "inside man" corruption. For example, since 9/11, Mizell's data shows that at least 624 corrupt and disloyal Americans have exploited their jobs at borders and ports of entry, allowing terrorists and spies, as well as drug and human traffickers, to defeat our defenses.
Even FBI agents have been corrupted, and Mizell has tracked over 100,000 instances of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) workers providing "breeder documents" -- like driver's licenses -- to outlaws. A seemingly not-so-evil phony driver's license allows smugglers or terrorists to build fake identities, to move and hide in plain sight throughout America.
"Just as athletes claim they need steroids to compete," Mizell told Politics Daily, "hardened criminals and once-legitimate citizens alike are increasingly rationalizing the use of violence and corruption to stay in the game."
Corruption is a slice of America's apple pie. This year, we reelected a Republican senator linked to prostitutes and a Democratic congressman on his way to being censured for financial irregularities. Wall Street deals that triggered our recession still savage our economy with their amazing mixture of corruption and arrogance.
While an investigation by Politics Daily found no evidence that the cartels tried to influence the defeat of California's Proposition 19 that would have legalized marijuana, this did not surprise Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project for the Institute for Policy Studies. Tree said the cartels don't need to involve themselves with trying to block American efforts to relax drug laws, because drugs are "a third rail issue," and no American politician wants to be seen as soft on crime or drugs.
Violence is the other key contagion issue from the cartels. Politics Daily checked with Texas border-town crime reporter Jared Taylor of the McAllen, Texas Monitor, who notes that while "on the Mexican side (of the border), all hell has broken loose," on the U.S. side, "it's mostly life as usual," although there's been a rise in carjackings of high-end vehicles favored by cartel bosses. (If a vehicle is carjacked instead of stolen by often-damaging hot-wire techniques, the carjacked vehicle is in better shape for personal use).
"The cartels don't (mess) with U.S. authorities if they don't have to," said Taylor. However, he notes, on both sides of the border "there is a definite fear of violence. And that may be just as bad as an actual spike of crime."
The cartels' 2010's narco-trafficking reveals a new phenomenon found by most experts that Politics Daily interviewed. Organized crime and the cartels were "early adapters" to the 21st Century Facebook-like "social networking," according to John Sullivan, senior research fellow at the Center For Advanced Studies on Terrorism.
Someone who's run afoul of a Mexican cartel in Los Angeles can be "green lighted" for murder via criminal social networking connections made in Virginia by gangs like MS-13, which began with Salvadoran nationals and has since expanded and operates in Central America and the U.S.
That means these cartels don't need to operate with the movie-famous Mafia's old-fashioned hierarchical structure. Yes, there are jefes, but rather than needing to import a rank-and-file structure to the U.S., cartels utilize network connections, selling meth or heroin to existing American organized crime groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Russian or Albanian crime families, prison-based gangs.

"Keystone Cops" Policies
Money may or may not make the world go round, but politics comes out of our global spin -- and that adds another complication to 2010's multibillion dollar network of narco-trafficking. Keeping abreast of everything from terrorists to who's running Moscow means Uncle Sam often closes his eyes as our soldiers patrol past fields of Afghan poppies cultivated for heroin, or as our spies sneak down alleys in search of treacherous characters whose essential corruption might serve America's essential well-being. Thus, sometimes what happens is more a Keystone Cops-Spy vs. Spy farce than coherent public policy.
This month, The New York Times broke a story that Haiji Juma Khan, currently awaiting trial in New York City and described by prosecutors "as perhaps the biggest and most dangerous drug lord in Afghanistan." He had supplied the Taliban with money and weapons . . . was also a longtime American informer, working with both the DEA and CIA, and was paid "a large amount of cash" by the United States, as well as having been "secretly flown to Washington for a series of clandestine meetings with CIA and DEA officials" in 2006. On that trip, says the Times, he went shopping and sight-seeing in The Big Apple.
Whatever comes next in the Khan case, we can at best be sure we're seeing only a glimpse of "the whole truth," which, as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi noted in "Star Wars," all depends on your point of view.
America's "point of view" toward narco-politics has changed since our first major legal effort in 1914 to regulate intoxicants like tobacco, alcohol, opium products (heroin and morphine), as well as marijuana and the host of Frankenstein chemicals like LSD, Ecstasy and meth that emerged from labs and trailer park cookeries after World War II.
President Richard Nixon famously declared our "war on drugs" in 1971, but newly released snippets of the famous White House tapes indicate he linked this drug strategy as much to his hatred of marijuana-using "radical demonstrators" opposing his Vietnam war policies as to concerns about heroin then ravaging both our troops there and civilians in our cities.
Then last May, President Barack Obama's new "drug czar" and former undercover street cop Gil Kerlikowske moved to banish the brand name of a "war on drugs," saying: "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them. We're not at war with people in this country."
But regardless of your point of view, come this time next year -- in addition to the $181 billion annual cost to America because of "drug issues" estimated by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy -- whether from overdoses, the wasting death of addiction, "collateral casualties" of gangsters' gun battles, criminal disputes settled with high-caliber insistence, or brave cops cut down by narco-bullets -- you can be sure we'll see thousands more human beings worldwide sprawled dead in the red dust of narco-politics.

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dc walker

People think that if you legalize drugs the problem will go away. Anyone who has worked the Mexican border will tell you its about smuggling to survive. If it weren't drugs it would be something else. People smuggle Cuban sacks of sugar, prohibited turtle oil cream, parrots, eggs, poultry,etc. We could say tomorrow that toothpicks are prohibited and by evening that will be the item of choice for smugglers. They are in it for the money. With education stopping at age 12 the Mexican people smuggle, nothing new. Perhaps Mexico could shut down their 35 consulates in the United States and build 35 schools in Mexico.

December 29 2010 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The amount of revenue generated by drugs is unbelievable people!! The sad thing is, both sides are raking it in, while the innocent bystanders and users, pay the freight!! Both sides are profiting from this epidemic, if the public only understood who is getting paid, they would then realize why things are the way they are presently!!!

December 29 2010 at 8:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Legalisation is a complex issue and should be debated based on hard evidence and not on fallacies, prejudices or ill-founded arguments. Personally, I do believe that the war on drugs is one of the most heinous policies ever engineered, and should be stopped.

Perhaps the debate could be moved forward by acknowledging the high level of responsibility our countries, the US and the UK, or any other drug consuming country for that matter, have for sustaining and stimulating the market for narcotics and therefore, for fuelling the violence, corruption and destabilisation of the democratic institutions of drugs producing countries south of the US border — more than 30,000 drug related deaths have been recorded in Mexico alone over the past four years.

Only by recognising it, would we be able to repel the so-called War on Drugs and start thinking in more rational, effective and practical policies to deal with the devastating effects the market for illicit drugs is having on both producing and consuming countries.

Gart Valenc

December 29 2010 at 8:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem with the War on Drugs is simple - it doesn't change the supply and demand of the drugs. As long as Americans want to get high on drugs, there will be a constant supply of these drugs. Since the 80's, we have been fighting a losing battle. By making drugs illegal, we have boomed the illegal drug trade. By locking up people with mandatory sentencing for drugs, we have created a major expense and over population in our prisons. This is why we have murders, rapist, pedphiles, etc walking the streets while crack cocaine users and distributors are still serving life in prison. Personally, I'd rather have murders, rapist and pedophiles put to death immediately, but no one seems to want to change the current laws! The entire policy should be reviewed and changed. Drugs should be decriminalized and pot should be outright legalized. Addicts should be sent to a clinic like the methodone clinics and controlled there. Mandatory sentencing should be undone and each case should be reviewed by the judge as once was done. And all of this would cut directly into the profits of the druglords who would have to become legal businesses in order to fill the demand of the clinics. Pot would simply be grown here as it is now and would become an entirely new tax paying business. Playing it stupid for another 30 years will simply continue to be a losing battle allowing druglords to become even stronger. America needs to stop pretending it can control drugs by just say no or some other ignorant statements. Face the facts.

December 28 2010 at 4:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Drug addition shouldn't be viewed as a criminal problem but as a medical one. When a person is caught with drugs send them to treatment, not prison. Yes, legalize all drugs, stop the cartels. Stop this insane "war". Educate about all drugs, then if a person decides he wants to use them, it's on him, if he kills himself with them, it's still on him. As far as pot, no treatment is needed. It is far less additive than anything else out there and is safe to use, not one death reported from it. Tax and regulate just like alcohol is.

December 28 2010 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Everyone has always made money with the "War on Drugs", Cartels, DEA, local Police, the prison systems, the smugglers, our elected officals. The War on Drugs has been a great industry for the US. There is still plenty more money to be made now that the violance is esclating and spilling over into the US. Look at all of the possabilites. The War on Drugs is the best thing that has happened to this country sence sliced bread. Thank our Government for seeing the possibilites by passing laws aginst drugs. If they would have made them legal no one would have made a cent.

December 28 2010 at 12:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I commend Politics Daily for admitting there is a problem, and shedding some light on a subject that is usually ignored by the mainstream media. As Terry Anderson said many years ago, -"If you ain't mad, you ain't paying attention." For those people who know Mexico, outside of what the mainstream media has been telling us, this article could have been written 4 years ago. There is a lot of pro-illegal propaganda, one example is that some 'studies' say the vast majority of guns come the U.S.A. -One thing the Mexican Government does well is take pictures of their gun and drug seizures. In those Pictures, you see guns, and weapons from Russia, China, Israel, left over weapons from the El Salvadore conflict, suspected weapons from Colombia. -With Billions of dollars, the Cartels can easily get weapons from anywhere on earth. Do they get weapons from the U.S.A., -of course they do, but not to the extent that the Mexican Government says they do. They like to try to blame the U.S.A. for Mexico's problems with the Cartels, it makes for good propaganda.

December 28 2010 at 12:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Clearly people are going to use drugs illegally...the drug cartels are getting rich, the jails are overcrowed,and paid for by tax dollars...Legalize marijuana the most profitable drug in the world...the most beneficial product in the world...hemp saves trees...the one the drug that's less lethal than alcohol and the one cartels are getting rich off of, and the one that lawmakers are being paid not to legalize by drug cartels, and take the wind out of their sales.

December 28 2010 at 12:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

These drug cartels have literally billions of dollars. They can readily buy weapons off the world market. Liberals, predictably, will attempt to use this as leverage for additional gun control laws in the U.S. It's absurd. Many U.S. made vehicles are used to smuggle narcotics. Maybe we should outlaw those too...

December 28 2010 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

legalize hemp/Marijuana and save the environment, cut into the profits of these powerful/terroristic drug cartels

December 28 2010 at 11:47 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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