The Modesto Bee told a heart-wrenching story last weekend of a young Tijuana meth dealer named Hector Rodriguez Estrada, who was killed in cold blood along with his pregnant girlfriend, by a rival gang attempting to seize his drug turf. The story gives a face to the deteriorating social system in many parts of Mexico, in which cities are morphing into nothing more than shooting galleries between rival cartels.
In impoverished areas where factory workers make $60 a week, selling meth on a corner can be a very attractive economic option. According to Rodriguez’s older brother, Samuel:
When you live by the sea, you look for fish.
In other words, for many people in the poorest nations of the world, drug production or distribution is not a moral or ethical issue. It’s a matter of survival. These people exist within a black market that provides massive financial incentives to participate. Without any regulation or government-imposed morality, there is also a huge incentive to kill off competitors. This is a completely free market economy. There are no longer any rules or norms.
Perhaps once cartels saw benefit in respecting rival turf and developing in areas without conflict. But an aggressive campaign by President Calderon, coupled with an influx of US military weapons and aid has created a virtual anarchy to replace a tenuous balance. Tijuana drug rivalries fueled 443 murders in the last three months of 2008. Gang members were left in dumpsters by the dozens with severed heads, limbs, and fingers.
Until this economic system is supplanted with another, the cycle of violence will continue. There will be many more Hector Rodriguez Estradas. And there will be just as many rivals willing to punch his ticket for a new drug corner to run. Madness begets madness.Rick
AC360° Correspondent, Randi Kaye ran a report on the apparent growing trend of growing marijuana in national parks and public land. No, it’s not being done by a roving group of dead-heads or Phish fans hiding out in the bushes. The people that are doing it, now cultivate 80% of outdoor marijuana growth in these places.
Supposedly, the squatters of our wonderful national parks who are tending pot farms, may be illegal immigrants that were brought over the border by the Mexican drug cartels. Many are forced to work as farmers; taking care of the seeds, fertilizer and anything else needed to continue the green garden.
It seems it’s a win/win for the cartels. They already know all the drug-smuggling routes and possibly have bribes in the wind that help them gain access to the United States so it makes sense that they would bring over illegal immigrants to “work” in America. If the illegals become captured, they scratch that cultivation, find more illegals and then start over in another area — all of the locations of a certain cartel will not be raided, so something will make it to the black market, thus bringing back money to the cartel.
The adventure for Kaye and deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department begin with a ride in a helicopter to Los Padres National Forest in California, just two hours from Los Angeles. The pilot slowly hovers over roughly 7,000 marijuana plants — Kaye says the aroma was overwhelming with an estimated $3.5m worth. She watched as the officers uprooted the plants, destroying the crop. As the deputies watched over, armed and ready for action, Kaye herself pulled up a plant with ease. Stalks were broken in two to ensure unrecoverable damage.
After informing Kaye and her team that sometimes the growers stayed nearby, armed with AK-47s, hiding in homemade underground bunkers, the deputies and team pushed a bit deeper into the forest and found the “hooch” (or camp) that the growers use from Spring to Fall, the optimal time for a harvest. The deputies went through it looking for any drugs or weapons and then destroyed it.
Time to go home, and with no growers being found, the team hiked back through the forest to a ridge and caught another chopper ride, all knowing deep inside that the physical and monetary damage that was done today will be recovered later down the road by the cartel.
Watch Randi Kaye’s full report tonight on AC360° @ 10pm ET or more than likely tune into tFS for a video of that broadcast.Russ
In the midst of its worst drug-related violence in decades, the Mexican Congress has planned a three day debate on the feasibility of legalizing weed. The talks are planned to conclude (not coincidentally) a day before President Obama arrives to discuss the future of American and Mexican drug war efforts.
Any move towards decriminalization would surely irk the American delegation, who have been repeatedly dumping billions of dollars into assisting Mexican military forces with their efforts to battle several incredibly well financed and entrenched drug cartels.
Dubbed “Plan Mexico” by its detractors, the plan has the US on the hook for over a billion and a half dollars in technology and training, with further provisions coming down the pipe including the delivery of several brand new Black Hawk helicopters. The debate will also chafe the sensibilities of President Felipe Calderon who has staked a reputation on a more violent and brute force-like approach to his country’s drug problems.
Alternatively, the debate comes with the blessings of three former presidents: Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil’s Fernando Cardoso, and Columbia’s César Gaviria. These leaders maintain that a decriminalization campaign could vastly reduce the income stream of cartels. It’s estimated that marijuana accounts for 60% of cartel profits. This speaks to the massive volume of Mexican weed in circulation given that Mexico is also the largest US supplier of both cocaine and methamphetamines.
Having already dismissed legalization proponents in his own country, a southward-bound President Obama may find a less receptive audience than he’s used to.
Most of Sarukhan’s comments were centered around the violence, specifically in border towns, and the war with drug cartels.
When asked what the U.S could do to help support Mexico, he said:
We need the support of the United States to shut down the flow of weapons and bulk cash.
Towards the end of the short CBS interview, he was asked about marijuana. Schieffer asked:
Mr. Ambassador, what if marijuana were legalized? Would that change this situation?
The way the Ambassador dodges this question is something to be marveled at. Clearly Arturo Sarukhan is in the right profession.
This is a very divisive issue. There are proponents and opponents on both sides of the border. I think that those who would suggest that some of these measures be looked at understand the dynamics of the drug trade — that you have to bring demand down and the one way you can do it is by moving that direction. But there are many others who believe that by doing this you would only fan the flames. This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously, that we have to engage in on both sides of the border: both in producing, in trafficking, and in consumption countries.
So, to answer your question Mr. Schieffer, I will not answer it at all and instead, tell you that there are two opposing views and the discussion should be taken seriously. Silly me, I actually expected him to answer the question.Joseph
Garza was being held at Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas 200 miles east of El Paso. He has been in custody since 2001 after a drug deal with the feds did not work out in his favor. Garza, 46, whom was once a top lieutenant in the Gulf Cartel, attempted to sell about a ton of marijuana to federal agents resulting in the indictment of 12 people. His boss, Osiel Cardenas, was extradicted to Houston, Texas in 2008, and stands to go on trial for various charges in September.
The Gulf Cartel is responsible for the transportation of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico to the United States, as well as the distribution of those narcotics within the United States.
Jose Manuel Garza Rendon has been released to immigration. But since he cut a deal with the feds that prevented a longer sentence, once he is set free on Mexico soil, he better hope to have a fresh pair of running shoes.
As Lee Morgan, a retired U.S. Customs Officer, puts it:
About the only thing I can say is it’s about self-explanatory; it’s not a real bright future. [...] All I can tell you is they (cartel operations) have long memories.
The violence of the cartel struggle may eventually wind up being its undoing. Mexican cartel leader Eduardo Arellano Felix was recently captured after the violence became too much and someone revealed Felix’s location to law enforcement.
Felix had a $5 million reward leading for information for his arrest, after nearly 150 people (many in Felix’s organization) were killed in the last month alone.
In all, at least 57 suspected organized crime members, a majority of them believed to be part of the Arellano Felix organization, were killed in the last week, including 12 dumped in front of an elementary school Sept. 29 and eight tossed in an industrial yard Thursday.
Experts argue over whether taking down Felix as the head will actually make a difference. “Old cartels don’t seem to go away; they just seem to morph into new variants over time,” said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. “There’s strong continuity for these organizations, dating back multiple generations of smugglers.”
[image via Sigloxxi]
Citizens, cartel experts, and military personnel in Mexico have increased the demand for government to stop the crackdown of cartel activity. Staggering violence and statistics give an idea of how fierce the battle has become between President Felipe Calderon and his targets; local corruption, as well as regional and international drug cartels.
So far this year, roughly 3,500 murders have been directly attributed to the drug war including 500 politicians, judges and and other government employees. The violence and brutality was stepped up a notch recently, when Calderon sent 30,000 troops to the northern border where the corruption between local law enforcement is considered worst.
The most poignant part of the story comes towards the end in an interview with Terry Nelson, a 32-year military vet whose career included narco-traffic interdiction training and surveillance missions across Mexico, Central and South America.
During that time, he says, SSB East successfully seized of over 230,000 pounds of cocaine throughout Latin America. Nelson’s biggest, personal drug trafficking bust happened off the coast of Ecuador, resulting in the seizure of 30,000 pounds of cocaine.
Much to his dismay, even such a large-scale bust yielded absolutely nothing by way of a drop in street supply — or an increase in price. “If that big a bust doesn’t affect the street trade,” he muses, “what chances do you have doing it a gram or a kilo at a time?”
It really gives insight on just how ineffective those seizures we see on the news are.