Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Drug War Lost

USA Loses the War
against Latin American Drug Cartels

Nil Nikandrov,

Staying at the baggage zone at the airport in Mexico City I was one of the passengers flying in from Venezuela who watched the local police drug unit catching a large cargo of drugs. Wearing black uniforms and masks, the agents rolled out of the baggage section not less than 40 quite sizeable identically-looking valises for all of us to see. I thought then: «Well done! It must be more than a tonne of cocaine!» The next day Mexican newspapers informed that the cargo was to be received by some Maria Rojas from Venezuela who never turned up at the airport that day. Later I came to realize the gist of the «drug show» performed for us as the audience…

The United States is set to resort to most extreme measures to fight Latin American drug cartels. Their main unit is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is lavishly financed (with official budget amounting to $2.5 billion), has a staff of6,000 to 7,000 special agents having at its disposal electronic equipment to trace drug routes, hundreds of aircraft and high-speed sea vessels and a powerful media machinery. It also relies on collaboration agreements with similar services in about 65 countries.

These agreements as often as not ensure DEA’s privileges to conduct «joint operations» against drug traffickers jointly with others. But even relying on the above the DEA management when US strategic interests are at stake, it is ready to violate the restrictive clauses of these agreements without hesitation. The covert goals of DEA activities can be easily sensed. They include interception of drug money flows and liquidation of unwelcome competitors that spring up to existence at the endless spaces of this profitable business. DEA primarily strikes at those drug mafia organisations that act against its interests. But how much did it achieve in the last several years?

Among its priorities in the last decade Washington declared launching a «crusade» against the cartels in Columbia, the epicenter of the drug business in the Western hemisphere. By implementing its «Plan Columbia» DEA management hoped to get control of the top positions in drugs organizations to use them for the ongoing «operative expansion.» Alongside this they had other tasks: destruction of the leftist Marxist guerilla groups in Columbia; pushing a segment of the Columbian drug business to Venezuela, then to Ecuador to discredit the governments of Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa, and vindicating deployment of new US military bases in the region.

Starting from 1999 US Congress earmarked not less than $6 billion to fulfill «Plan Columbia», but with lamentable outcomes. Columbia’s drug business, «independent» from the DEA increased its coca sowing land by 26% in 2008, increasing production of cocaine at its secret laboratories by 16%. «The Plan» aimed to halve the annual «production» of cocaine to 300 tonnes. It failed, as the figure 600 tonnes was quoted in many analytical documents on Columbia in 2008-2009.

The collapse of «Plan Columbia» affected the general process of transfer of hallucinogens from Latin America to the USA and Europe most negatively. The double standards of the US anti-drug service in its war on drug business were taken by the organised crime as some sort of a cart-blanche to boost their activities by using more sophisticated methods of supplying «drug commodities», winning new markets and further expanding the armies of consumers.

Supplies of Columbian drugs to the US «consumer markets» began to grow. Most often the countries of Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico were used as channels to deliver cocaine, heroine and marijuana. DEA experts and its mouthpieces made their best to prevent «international public» from taking a closer look at these routes. It was more profitable for politicians to use the theme of drug trafficking to attack leftist regimes. DEA offices in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and other «ideologically unfriendly» countries emphasized the problems of fighting drug-trafficking to create a false image of the governments that US administration viewed as unwelcome, accusing them of covert protection of «narcoguerillas» and engaging in «drug business.» DEA agents tried to put to doubt efficiency of anti-drug agencies in these countries, often deliberately preventing them from performing their activities. The situation was so evident that Latin Americans could not help but start acting. Hugo Chavez was the first to terminate DEA activities in Venezuela. Bolivian president Evo Moralez followed the example. In Ecuador Rafael Correa is going to close this year the base in Manta, which Americans refer to as a regional drug traffic control centre.

Speaking at the National Police Academy the Bolivian leader gave an extremely precise assessment of cooperation with Americans, saying: «The worst thing was the DEA did not fight drug dealers but rather encouraged them.» And things went this way in all the 30 years DEA acted in Bolivia. Moralez recalled that Americans used the revenues from Bolivian cocaine sales to finance «the dirty war» of «contras» units in Central America. DEA controlled and protected virtually all large cocaine «factories» in Santa Cruz. Another scandal broke out when anti-drug agents supported the transfer of 4 tonnes of cocaine by air from Bolivia to the United States in 1995. Later this sort of things became their usual procedure vindicated by motivation of the need to maintain «test supplies» with an eye at identifying the traffic channels used by narcotics mafia. In 2003 with the help of Bolivia’s Department of Financial Investigators in La-Paz DEA began to study personal bank accounts of Evo Moralez, David Chokeuanki, Marcel Cesada and other leftist India bloc politicians who were beginning to muster clout and influence. Attempts of patriotically- minded military and police officers to make relevant facts public not infrequently resulted in their harassment if not physical destruction.

DEA’s painstaking care of ensuring reliable «controllable» channels of drug trafficking to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean countries resulted in the emergence in the region of firmly consolidated mafia groups that worked under the DEA’s protection but never failed to see to their own commercial interests. Their corruption potential was so big that many DEA officials began and still continue to turn into double dealers. Statistics of inner investigations show the growth of this trend, the traitors are put behind bars or dismissed, but there are more and more successful «narcotics businessmen» who rely on their knowledge of the results of the latest DEA advanced techniques.

In Mexico for one, the critical level of narcomafia’s degrading influence on all aspects of social life has reached such heights that it now is no longer possible to disregard it. President F.Calderon had to play the part of a «dirt consumer», declaring he would make fighting for «public security» his priority. Indeed, he got down to business seriously but in the end, after two years of bitter struggle against «the drug underground» in all parts of the country he failed to achieve a decisive reversal of the situation. Mexican police stations now look like the «Atlantic Barrage Line» erected during the second world war. Grenade-thrower shootouts, attacks with the use of the latest automatic weapons and the tactic of «narco-commando» attacks on army columns and police check-points are now quite matter-of-fact.

Nearly 6,000 casualties of the deadly warfare waged by the narcotics cartels against prevention activities of law enforcement agencies and army units were registered in Mexico in 2008. The ominous statistics of the «drug war» reports in Mexico is way ahead of the losses of the «expedition force» in Iraq. Experts do not exclude that US special services, and primarily DEA deliberately provoke conflicts between «uncontrollable cartels» in Mexico in order to prevent them from crossing into the United States and establishing themselves there.

Chief suppliers of weapons for Mexican narcotics cartels are businessmen linked with the US military an industrial complex. US-made weapons kill people outside Mexico, too. Militants of Columbia’s semi-military organisations also value it as well as the rightist extremists in Venezuela, and criminal communities in Latin America. Not a single US supplier of smuggled weapons has ever been jailed. Its justice is on the lookout for the culprits wherever possible except at home. It would only be appropriate to recall the story of Viktor But, a Russian citizen whom US blames of every deadly sin including supplies of arms to Columbia. Indeed, that country has stockpiles of modern small arms and other weapons. But up to 90% of it is made in the USA! If one stumbles upon a Kalsahnikov assault gun, it would either be a clone made in China or Bulgaria. The leaders of law enforcement structures and the Attorney General prepared an analytical report for President Calderon dealing with illegal US arms trade with Mexico. The report has proof that the members of cartels Golfo, Sinaloa, Tjuana and others receive large consignments of US weapons on a regular basis. Most often these weapons are used by group of professional killers known in Mexico as «Zetas» that are actually combat units of narcotics cartels.

Anti-tank missiles and grenade-throwers of the latest design were found in the arsenals of narcotics cartels, as well as thousands of hand grenades, 28,000 units of small arms and 3.5 million pieces of different ammunition. According to experts that only one-tenth of the arms owned by Mexican cartels that act in close cooperation with their North American colleagues has been disclosed.

Predictions say that the drug war in Mexico would continue to become more intensified, more and more often crossing its borders. It has already felt in Guatemala in the south and left victims in all Central American states. Columbian and Mexican drug dealers continue to explore the South American continent. In the north the Mexican drug war keeps the forces of law enforcement alerted at the trans-border US territory. Relevant bodies have even started debating the potential use of US army units to reinforce the most vulnerable segments of its state border. Experts are coming up with alarming forecasts. Mexican drug barons have everything they need to efficiently protect their interests up to unleashing an asymmetric warfare in the United States, where local narcotics businessmen and consumers of hallucinogens in the upper echelons of power have long been acting as «the fifth column.»

The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy headed by ex-presidents of Mexico, Columbia and Brazil Ernesto Seilho, Cesar Gaviria and Fernando Enrique Cardozo have studied this problem for a year and published a report, in which without any reservation they acknowledged the total US defeat in the anti-drug war: «We find ourselves even farther than at any previous time from the declared goal of a total elimination of narcotics. Columbia is the best proof of this. For decades different ways of fighting it were used there, but the results are in no correlation with the spending. The same is true about «Merida Initiative» proclaimed in Mexico as a tool of fighting narcotics business in Mexico.» The recommendations of the Commission are of a general nature, and one of them was more than once voiced in the past, calling to boost the fight against drugs in the basic consumer European countries and the United States.

Now is the time to recall the «drug show» at the Mexico City airport. DEA tried to present the capture of the valises with cocaine as a successful joint operation of the United States and Mexico aimed at severing «the Venezuelan channel» of supplies, allegedly meaning to show that after the Bolivarian government with no sufficient grounds terminated its collaboration with DEA, the results are there for all to see. It showed how brazen their narco-dealers have become to be able to act almost openly. What other proofs would people need to see that the Chavez regime connives of the drug business?

Of course Venezuelan authorities responded to the accusations and began investigating the circumstances in relation to the use of Mexican flight for the transport of cocaine. It turned out that a number of Venezuelan National Guard officers acting as DEA agents had to do with that. We, ordinary passengers had to go through close searches and UV investigation throughout the entire process of boarding the plane, whereas DEA guards just taxied their jeep to the plane and without any obstacle loaded the cocaine valises into the cargo bay of our Boeing.

Still, the official investigation in Venezuela soon got into a deadlock. One of the people participating in the drug valise operation was soon found at the outskirts of Caracas peppered with bullets; others disappeared into thin air.

Has any of them survived? It is hard to tell. During the Bush administration’s stint both DEA and the CIA were licensed to play «games with no rules.» Will this licence be used under Barack Obama? It is hard to hope to get the truthful answer. But maybe it is not wise to trust agreements with cooperation with DEA without second thoughts. Dealing with this organisation there is always the danger of being framed up. Latin Americans had a lot of experience in this respect.

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