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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "drug war"

What Drives U.S. Policy in Central America?

June 12, 2012 ·

Sanho Tree Al Jazeera The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has launched an investigation into a raid on a remote Honduran village that killed four people including two pregnant women. Four others were also injured in the operation in May.

In the waking hours of May 11, a group of indigenous villagers travelling by canoe in the Mosquita region came under helicopter fire. Four of them including two pregnant women and a child died. US officials said the killings followed a sighting of men unloading cocaine onto a truck nearby. The US State Department-owned helicopters were sent to investigate.

Read more, and watch the entire video, on Al Jazeera.

Is Now the Time for Countries to Legalize Street Drugs?

February 29, 2012 ·

A minimally processed agricultural commodity that receives a huge price support from government. Photo by Tomas Aquino.Along with Sanho, policy analysts at the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation were asked to participate. Here's the question, along with Sanho's response:

Question: In recent months, three sitting Latin American presidents have suggested that it is time to consider a debate about legalizing drugs, with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina most recently promising to raise the issue with other Central American leaders in a coming meeting. Would legalizing drugs have a significant effect on the crippling violence that has wracked Mexico and Central America in recent years, as some analysts suggest, or would the gangs and cartels merely focus on other illegal activities? Is there likely to be a more substantive policy discussion of drug legalization in the coming years? How would the United States react to such a debate?

SANHO TREE: Legalizing drugs would have a significant impact on criminal profits in the long run.While many traffickers have recently diversified their revenue streams, drugs have been their preferred source of income because it's simple and efficient. Otherwise, they would have switched to more profitable crimes long ago. In recent years, extreme prohibition-related violence has destroyed the social contract and emboldened other types of criminals. It's important to remember that this carnage has been over the right to traffic what are essentially minimally processed agricultural commodities that are easy to produce and should cost pennies per dose. Instead, the risks of the drug war have given these criminals an indirect 'price support' or 'crop subsidy' because of prohibition economics. We will never reduce the supply of drugs by making them astronomically more valuable.

As the violence caused by drug prohibition threatens governments throughout the region, the demand for ending prohibition will intensify. Previously, it had been only retired politicians and officials who spoke openly of their views. Now, sitting heads of state are joining the discussion.U.S. officials will be the last to join because they see this as a 'third rail' issue. As the prime minister of Luxembourg said of another issue, 'We all know what to do, but we don't know how to get re-elected once we have done it.' For the first time, however, U.S. opinion for legalizing marijuana has surpassed 50 percent. Such culture war issues are deeply rooted in generational politics, but new generations are fast taking over."

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Eight Fearless Mexicans

December 17, 2011 ·

An unprecedented number of Mexicans have received international recognition over the past year for their courageous work on behalf of migrants, workers, and the millions of victims of the country’s spiraling violence, institutional decomposition and appalling inequality.

Most recently, Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, received a nod from TIME Magazine, which proclaimed that "the protester" was the 2011 "person of the year."

Below, we profile some of these movement leaders, artists, grass roots organizers, labor leaders, and clergy people who are working in the front trenches of the struggle for human rights. Through them we can hear the voices of millions more Mexicans crying out for justice and for the very soul of their nation.

They urge us to respond to the frightening militarization of Mexico, the hyper-exploitation of the poor, indigenous, and working classes; and the infuriating impunity enjoyed by well-connected and ruling-class criminals. They embody the struggle to end the profound injustice — both economic and legal — at the root of the murderous crime wave sweeping the country.

These eight distinguished advocates have been recognized because the Mexican government has failed to respond to a growing national emergency. As Mexico’s crisis deepens, these patriots have gone abroad to sound an urgent alarm — amplified by the human rights, labor, and cultural groups who invited them — that Mexico is at the breaking point.

These are the kinds of Mexicans that President Obama, the U.S. Congress, the media, the American public, and philanthropic foundations should be listening to and taking their cues from. These are the voices of those who have lived the tragic consequences of bad bi-national policies — so unlike President Calderon and his supporters north of the border who echo the hollow victories of the drug war and repeat market based delusions of success in the face of NAFTA’s bitter harvest.

The need for profound systemic changes on both sides of the border is painfully clear. 50 thousand Mexicans have died since President Calderón escalated the drug war. Millions are displaced by the economic disaster of “free trade.” In Mexico, as in the United States, ultra-rich plutocrats have hijacked the political system and are trying to foreclose on a dignified future for the poor and middle classes.

We need intelligent strategies and urgent action to end the “war on drugs,” level the economic playing field, and to make real our democratic aspirations on both side of the border. We must not let the inheritance of Mexico’s NAFTA generation be a disintegrating society where neither jobs nor educational opportunities exist for an expanding and politically repressed underclass.

In 2012, both Mexico and the United States will hold presidential elections. These elections, while no doubt important, won't bring the kind of deep changes needed in both countries. Such change and the movement necessary to make it happen must be driven from below — by those who bear the greatest burdens of inequality and have the most to gain by shattering the toxic status quo.

During 2011 movements led by victims of violence and those who are alienated from politics as usual have broken through the discourse of silence, altered the political landscape, and brought calls for revolutionary change back into view in both our countries.

The new struggle for fundamental reform is just getting underway and will take many forms, some of them unpredictable. But you can be sure that, as resistance to war and inequality grows on both sides of the border, the Mexicans leaders profiled below will be on its frontlines. They'll join their voices together with millions more on both sides of our shared border.

  • Abel Barrera, an anthropologist and human rights defender of indigenous and rural communities, who founded the respected and successful NGO Tlachinolan in the southern and impoverished state of Guerrero, was honored by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights;
  • Javier Sicilia, a leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, was awarded a “people’s choice” human rights prize by Global Exchange; The movement is led the victims of the “drug war”. He was also profiled in TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue.
  • Gael Garcia, a well-known Mexican actor, and AMBULANTE, an organization he co-founded, headlined the Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) annual gala in recognition for his passionate and committed work to give visibility to the plight of migrants who undertake the perilous journey north and to the organization’s work to promote documentaries and to bring these films to the Mexican population;
  • Father Pedro Pantoja received the Letelier–Moffitt International Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC on behalf of Bethlehem, the Migrants’ Shelter of Saltillo, for its work to protect migrants in Mexico from kidnapping, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder — courageously challenging organized crime and corrupt public officials.
  • Marta Ojeda, a long time maquiladora activist, was saluted by the New York Radio Festival and received an award for her organization, the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and “La Frontera,” a documentary investigation of organized crime, violence and impunity and injustice along the Mexico-U.S. border; Marta connects the dots between the neoliberal policies, economic dislocation, arms industries, money laundering corruption, and impunity that have submerged Mexico in a deep crisis.
  • Napoleon Gómez Urrutia is the president of Mexico's mine workers union. He received the AFL-CIO Kirkland Award in recognition of his brave work, which included accusing the Mexican government of industrial homicide following a mine explosion that killed 65 miners — and whose bodies remain buried. The government retaliated with bogus charges, and he has been forced into de facto exile in Canada.
  • Sister Consuelo Morales, who received the Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award for her work in Mexico to defend victims of human rights violations and hold their abusers accountable. She has worked with indigenous communities and street children, and she founded Citizens in Support of Human Rights (CAHDAC) in her native Monterrey.
  • Tita Radilla was granted an award by Peace Brigades International and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk for her relentless struggle for human rights.She has worked for more than 30 years with the Association of Relatives of Disappeared and Victims of Human Rights Violations (AFADEM), demanding justice for the victims of enforced disappearance in Mexico.

Ted Lewis directs the Mexico Program of Global Exchange. Manuel Perez-Rocha is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.
An earlier version of this post ran on Global Exchange's blog.

Shutdown The War Grant To Mexico That Has Cost $1.5 Billion; Save $600 Million!

April 6, 2011 ·

Creative Commons photo by Brandon Doran

The Merida Initiative is the project through which the United States teaches its southern neighbor how to wage local wars against drug lords. The initiative is modeled after the Plan Colombia, which has send billions to the U.S. South American ally but has actually failed to stall the underground market that, as Sanho Tree’s column indicates, now sees Colombia as the origin of 97% of the cocaine produced in the United States.

The federal government can save some real dough by cutting the funding to this ill conceived program that has done nothing to curb drug cartels in Mexico.

According to the Congressional Research Service, programs related to the Merida Initiative have given $1.5 billion between 2008 and 2010 (pdf). The administration requested $310 million in the currently stalled FY 2011 budget and $289.8 to be discussed for 2012. Mexico uses a great deal of the money it receives to buy U.S.-made equipment like military helicopters and arms. While the U.S. also funds a wall to seal the border from undocumented workers, the military industrial complex and the traffic of illicit arms is transnational.

This unfair system makes us wonder why U.S. tax payers must fund this war in Mexico. It is particularly outrageous when Mexico's billionaires have increased their fortunes dramatically despite the fact that millions have engrossed the ranks of poverty in the last years. Carlos Slim increased his fortune approximately $20 billion (yes billions!) in 2010 alone.

The drug war in Mexico has left 36,000 dead so far, including 1,000 minors. The governments in both countries must shift their approach in relation to drugs by accepting that drug use is a public health issue, moving towards decriminalization, withdrawing the military from the streets, strengthening Mexico’s judicial and police systems, stemming the flows of illicit arms and money and stopping our entanglement in the corrupt politics of government aid for military purposes.

SOTU: Free the People

January 26, 2011 ·

With 2.3 million prisoners in the United States (about one quarter of all the prisoners on the planet), it's a shame President Barack Obama didn't bring up criminal justice reform.

It's one of the few areas in which the U.S. is still No. 1. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, and nearly one quarter of our prisoners are there for nonviolent drug offenses.

Even far right figures like Newt Gingrich have pleaded for prison reform because it's breaking our budgets — especially at the state level. Moreover, Rev. Pat Robertson has called for decriminalizing marijuana because jail is "costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people."

Even though this is a traditional third-rail issue, there's tremendous political cover for Obama to come out for reform. Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all admitted to drug use. Obama himself wrote about his use of marijuana and cocaine.

These facts raise an important question of fairness: Would a good stiff prison sentence have been good for them and their careers? If not, then why is it so good for everyone else (especially poor people and people of color)? What message does that then send to kids? "Don't get caught?"

The budgetary and political stars are finally aligned for serious criminal justice reform. Just yesterday, a group of former world leaders and other dignitaries came out against the drug war. With this much political cover, he would be practically impervious to jabs from the right.

Must we wait for another epoch before they realign to do what is right? Please lead, sir.