Elections in Mexico: the return of the PRI – did the dinosaurs learn how to fly?

Enrique Pena Nieto
President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)

Elections in Mexico: the return of the PRI – did the dinosaurs learn how to fly?

On July 1st, 2012, Mexican people elected a new president, soundly routing out the PAN, the party of exiting president Calderon. After a 12-years lapse, they returned to power the party that had ruled the land with an iron fist through systemic corruption and patronage for 71 years, until its historic 2000 defeat.

The PAN itself had broken the PRI’s 71-years grip on power on July 2, 2000, after the first reasonably fair election in the history of Mexico. The fairness of the 2000 election can be credited to Ernesto Zedillo, the last president of the then uninterrupted PRI rule, who ended up displaying surprising honesty and integrity. Unlike the vast majority of his predecessors, Zedillo didn’t amass vast fortunes while in office, he didn’t empty the country’s coffers before leaving office, and he set in place the conditions for reasonably fair elections and a smooth transition of power to PRI’s longtime nemesis.

Why, then, did Mexicans return to power the much loathed and feared PRI after a mere 12 years hiatus?

Several reasons have been advanced, starting with the relative weakness of the PRI’s presidential opponents. The most serious contender, leftist Andre-Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his acronym AMLO, spooked moderates with his raucous and bitter reaction to his narrow loss of the contentious 2006 election, giving him a reputation of cranky sore loser. On the right, PAN’s candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota proved a rather tepid candidate with an uninspiring program based on vague claims for changes that voters could never quite figure out. She was further plagued by the unpopularity of her own party and its lukewarm support of her candidacy.

But the real reason for the PRI return to power is that it never left power in the first place; it merely retreated to its base at the state and local level and dug in to rebuild its power base and transform its government apparatus into a powerful political machine. Local governments are often run as fiefdoms in Mexico, frequently in open collusion with organized crime through all branches of government, starting with police and justice. The PRI controlled all 31 of the Mexican states until 1989. It still hanged on to 17 states at its lowest point in 2006, a share that grew back to 20 in 2010, and 22 in 2012 as the reconquest picks up steam.

A symbiotic relationship with narcotrafficking and organized crime

To properly understand the power of the PRI and its symbiotic relationship with organized crime, we must flashback one hundred years in history. In the aftermath of the often messy Mexican revolution, the PRI grabbed power and held on to it for seven decades thanks to widespread institutionalized fraud and rigged elections. The Mexican revolution coincided with the first opium prohibition laws in the US, which some Mexican revolutionaries opportunistically exploited to finance their operations through opium production and trafficking. The deep-rooted relationships between government and organized crime and drug traffickers were consolidated after the revolution and became one of the backbone of the PRI hold to power and an almost endless source of shady money. These links were especially strong, almost symbiotic at the state and local level. Thus were born the “gomeros”, as were nicknamed the opium producers, and their dynasties in the states of Sinaloa and Durango. Transit routes were established through the states of Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua. The small village of Badiraguato in Sinaloa at the heart of the gomeros territory gained notoriety as birthplace of a litany of druglords luminaries, starting with Pedro Aviles, the first Mexican drug kingpin, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo who established the modern Mexican drug cartels and the Colombian connection in the 1970s, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, his associate the legendary Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, and his cousins the Beltran Leyva brothers, among others.

A Pax Mafiosa was established, where the average citizen was essentially spared, except for the practically mandatory bribes required for virtually every single administrative operation, while drugs transited through the country without noticeable trail. The market was divided between two broad alliances in relatively peaceful coexistence, around the Sinaloa cartel on the Pacific side, and the Gulf cartel on the Caribbean sides.

The Pax Mafiosa started unraveling in the 1980s as a result of a conjunction of factors:

•             As the old “Dons” retired or were eliminated, cartels broke down in competing factions and a far more ambitious generation emerged in the late 1980s.

•             The closing of the Caribbean route through the Bahamas helped launch the Mexican trampoline to transit the cocaine from Colombia, dramatically raising the stakes and exciting the lust of the hot-blooded newcomers who had little patience and understanding for the virtues of backroom dealings and political patronage.

•             With the 1994 Signing of NAFTA, Mexican authorities came under increased pressure to give more than token support to the US War on Drugs. The administration of Ernesto Zedillo started distancing itself from the drug cartels, a move that was extended under President Vicente Fox in 2000. Felipe Calderon turned to full-fledged warfare at the onset of his bitterly contested presidency, unleashing the army unto the drug cartels and launching his doomed War on Drugs. The move was widely viewed as an attempt to prop up and legitimate his fragile powerbase, but largely backfired with disastrous consequences. The militarization of drug enforcement in Mexico yielded over 60,000 deaths, 20,000 disappeared and 300,000 displaced.

•             Coinciding with the end of the one-party rule, the Pax Mafiosa unraveled within the cartels as well. Alliances exploded, former allies went at each other’s throats with unprecedented violence and savagery.

•             An entire US-trained elite army unit defected in 1999 to work as hired guns for the Gulf cartel as los Zetas. Los Zetas launched the militarization of the drug cartels themselves; the cartels started large-scale recruitment campaigns through banner advertising, medias and the internet, setting up military-style training camps. Paramilitary convoys of heavily armed thugs routinely run commando operations against rivals or the army. The power of Los Zetas grew dramatically thanks to careful recruiting via secret army connections in Mexico itself and in Guatemala, where los Zetas set up a franchise. They diversified their operations into extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking and set up top-notch accounting systems. As their power kept growing, los Zetas distanced themselves gradually from the Gulf Cartel, whose power was waning after the arrest of its leader, leading to a bloody split in 2010 and an explosion of brutality and violence that is still ongoing to this day.

“Plomo o plata”, bribe or bullet, has been the core strategy of the cartels from the onset, but Los Zetas’ primary objective is to instill fear, while the Sinaloa cartel still prefers patronage and backroom dealings. This may explain why the Calderon administration largely spared the Sinaloa cartel in its fight against the cartels.

It should be noted a significant strategic change in the cartels modus operandi, which has had far-reaching consequences: whether produced locally or transited, drugs were traditionally exported in their entirety, with no significant local trail. In the 1980s, the Colombian cartels started paying their Mexican associates in merchandise instead of cash in order to spread the risks and to lower the money-laundering costs. The strategy backfired and allowed the Mexican cartels’ takeover of international drug trafficking. The Mexican cartels themselves started paying for services in kind, but the merchandize involved in the transactions mostly stayed within the country, and fueled a rapidly growing internal marketplace. As the trail left by narcotrafficking keeps growing, violence is increasingly for control of local markets rather than transit routes and is expanding throughout the entire country. Mexico must now face a rapidly growing substance abuse problem of a magnitude that it has so far failed to acknowledge. It should be noted that Mexico’s fate is shared by most emerging countries located on transiting or producing zones throughout Latin America, West Africa and Central Asia.

Operation Pena Nieto: the reconquest

The Mexican public went into the 2012 elections weary and fatigued, almost resigned, without enthusiasm or passion. While the issue of violence was omnipresent throughout the campaign, it was never addressed in any meaningful way by any of the three leading candidates; proposals were characterized mostly by their consistent vagueness. The Mexican War on Drugs itself was a hot potato issue promptly discarded with platitudes. Within the public was palpable a secret longing and nostalgia for a time when crime was more or less controlled and largely a matter of understanding between governments and criminal organizations, sparing the average citizen.

Now that the PRI got back to power, what can be expected? Given the profound transformation that reshaped the Mexican drug-trafficking landscape over the past 12 to 15 years, a return to the old cozy relationship between government and organized crime is unrealistic outside of the areas where such relationship was never disrupted. Given the paucity of details delivered on the campaign trail where broad promises ruled over the practical means to fulfill them, we are reduced to interpreting the rather opaque internal evolution of the party since its historical 2000 defeat, or rather, since the 1994 election of Ernesto Zedillo.

Zedillo was hastily picked by the PRI establishment four months before the 1994 elections after the assassination in Tijuana of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, who was viewed as a reformist within his party. Colosio’s murder is still unresolved and remains shrouded in rumors. Internal infighting within the PRI is widely invoked, especially as Colosio’s assassination was followed a few months later by the assassination in plain daylight in Mexico City of PRI president José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, brother-in-law of then president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Salinas’ own brother Raul was later charged for Massieu’s assassination. Mr. Salinas reign ended in scandals and controversy, his name synonymous with corruption and greed.

Left with empty coffers, which constrained him to a hasty devaluation upon taking office in December 1994, Zedillo turned against his mentor and accused him of ordering Colosio’s murder, among others. Suspect bank accounts and suspicious money transfers were linked to the Salinas clan and Salinas himself self-exiled to Northern Ireland. As already noted, Zedillo set in place the conditions for reasonably fair elections in 2000. Zedillo was rather unpopular within his own party who felt betrayed by him. To avoid a repeat of the Zedillo experience, the PRI selected a particularly dinosaurian candidate, Francisco Labastida, who lost decisively to Vicente Fox. The 2006 PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo was even more dinosaurian and suffered a humiliating defeat amidst open internal infighting, while the PRI’s state base shrunk to 17.

Reality finally sunk in that some changes were badly needed. Thus was launched a charm offensive centered on heartthrob Enrique Pena Nieto, EPN. Back from his self-imposed exiled, Salinas de Gortari is widely suspected to be pulling the strings of his longtime protégé EPN. Also behind EPN, is the powerful TV network Televisa, where EPN’s wife Angélica Rivera is a popular soap opera star, and who played a crucial role in building up EPN over the past few years, turning his governorship into a real life soap-opera.

EPN was handpicked in 2005 as governor of the state of Mexico by his predecessor from 1999 to 2005, his uncle Arturo Montiel Rojas. Arturo Montiel Rojas sought his party nomination for the 2006 presidential elections but dropped his bid among charges of widespread fraud and corruption. Monteil Rojas is widely suspected of creating for him and his sons a personal fortune worth 100s of millions of dollars through traffic of influences and the use of public funds for private purposes, among others. Monteil Rojas was acquitted in 2006 thanks to his successor, protégé and parent, EPN himself. Both Monteil and Pena Nieto are rumored to belong to the “Grupo Atlacomulco”, named after the birthplace of a long dynasty of politicians stretching back to 1942. Often synonymous with impunity, the nebulous group saw public service as a means of private enrichment, and produced six governors of the state of Mexico since 1942. The group also had an obsessive fixation on producing a Mexican president, a fixation that Pena Nieto fulfilled after several unsuccessful attempts.

To say that EPN is surrounded with shoddy characters is understated. Nevertheless, operation EPN was masterfully planned and executed. The PRI presented a firmly united front; its candidate approached the electoral season with stellar name recognition and a solid lead in the polls that was never seriously challenged throughout the campaign. But what kind of president will EPN be, and what kind of party has the PRI evolved into remains largely a mystery. Did the PRI merely get a facelift, or did it evolve and even mutate? Without a doubt, dinosaurs still abound within the party, but did the new generation learn how to fly? The 1994 presidential election, that saw the assassination of candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio and the subsequent election of Ernesto Zedillo, clearly demonstrate that the PRI is not as monolithic as most people think, although what it reveals about its means of handling dissensions is disquieting, for the least.

Corruption by design

The challenges facing the country are numerous and deep-rooted, most of them creation of and leftovers from the PRI rule and consequences of the PRI’s legacy of corruption by design that permeates the entire government apparatus, where rules and regulations are often intended as a mean to repay favors or extract bribes, especially at the state and local level. The often inextricable and confusing web of government procedures is considered a black hole of red tape. Thus for instance, the process for the opening and operation of even the simplest business is fraught with all kinds of obstacles, requiring up to a dozen different permits or more, and the required formalities are well beyond the capacity of a generally poorly educated population. As a result, the informal economy accounts for 30% of PNB and employs over 15 million people, sustaining over 30% of the population; it is also an inexhaustible source of extortion and bribing opportunities by officials and criminals alike, leaving the concerned populations exposed to all kinds of criminal activities. Capricious, arbitrary and excessive regulations are the main obstacle to the integration of the informal economy. To his credit, EPN promised to simplify the tax system to reduce the size of the informal economy and boost revenues, which would be a positive first step, but to be successful, the simplification must take place at the state and local level as well.

Another product of corruption by design is the highly dysfunctional and totally opaque justice system that is in dire need of deep structural reform, if not complete overhaul. Impunity is the rule in criminal cases. Civil cases can go on for decades, for the sole benefit of bribe-collecting judges and fee-collecting lawyers. Flawed property laws leave the door open to all kinds of frauds and abuse. Labor laws are extremely rigid and obsolete, often bordering the absurd; thus, some teaching jobs are hereditary and can be bought or sold. Many of Mexico’s teachers are imaginary or dead, some of them are barely literate; absenteeism is rampant; 80% of education expenditures go to teachers’ payroll. Calderon’s attempt to impose competency tests for teachers were met by stiff opposition and resulted in teacher riots in many parts of the country.

In the economic arena, corruption by design and systemic clientelism spawned the emergence of a neo-feudal system of quasi-monopolies operating behind custom-made regulatory firewalls and controlling vast sectors of the economy from telecommunications, to TV, to food-processing, to cement, to tortilla, sliced bread, alcohol, beer or dairy products. With bloated and highly inefficient states monopolies controlling oil and power, all the vital sectors of the economy are under tight control, stifling competition, raising costs and ultimately creating major hurdles to economic development. Mexicans pay as much as 40 percent more for basic goods and services because of monopolistic practices. The Mexican economy bears a heavy toll for the exorbitant privileges granted telecoms conglomerate Telmex/Telcel that turned its owner Carlos Slim into the richest man in the world, with a fortune equal to 7% of Mexican PNB. According to a 2012 report released by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), Mexican telecommunications customers are overcharged $13.4 billion per year, while the total loss attributed to the dysfunctional Mexican telecoms sector is estimated at $129.2 billion between 2005 and 2009, 1.8% GDP per annum.

In the media sector, two television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca control 97% of the country’s television viewership. Run by Emilio Azcarraga Jean, “El Tigrillo”, Televisa is the dominant player with 68% of the audience and yields considerable political might, with the power to make or break political careers. Televisa has been repeatedly accused of being the architect of the Pena Nieto reconquest operation, and the student movement YoSoy132, mobilized for months to protest against Televisa’s bias.

EPN promised to open up the Pemex oil monopoly, and the CFE power monopoly, but it is doubtful that he will do much to curtail the power of Telmex,Televisa, or any of the other oligarchies.

EPN and the Mexican War on Drugs

The most pressing issue facing EPN, and the one for which he is most anxiously watched in the US is the Mexican War on Drugs and the cartel violence. While he promised policy changes on the campaign trail, EPN remained extremely short on details. He committed nonetheless to change focus from combating drug trafficking to curbing violent crime, kidnapping, extortion and robbery. This will be a welcome move within Mexico if he can deliver, as justification is hard to find for prioritizing the fight against drug trafficking, a criminal activity that affects mostly a foreign country, over the fight against the crimes that affect all Mexicans. EPN also insisted on the US responsibility in controlling guns trade towards Mexico.

With victory behind him, EPN could become more open about his real intentions; just two days after the elections, EPN declared in an interview with well-respected PBS that legalization should be part of the drug strategy debate. EPN’s openness to the drug legalization debate might explain the surprising support he received from ex-president Vicente Fox, who defeated the PRI in 2000. Vicente Fox, along with his predecessor Ernesto Zedillo, has been a vocal opponent of the war on drugs since leaving office.

The debate about drug policy reform has evolved rapidly in Latin America over the past few years, with calls for reform coming from a growing number of retired presidents, including the last two Mexican presidents, and ex-presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Chile. Colombian President Santos has toyed for a while with the idea of legalization, and his government decriminalized possession of cocaine and marijuana for personal use on June 29. Guatemalan president has been asking for an open debate about legalization since taking office in January 2012, while Uruguay announced on June 22 its intention to legalize and control marijuana. Argentine and Brazil are currently debating their own drug policies. Drug possession for personal use is decriminalized in most of the region. Mexico joining the drug reformist camp would signal a radical shift in the region and could be the catalyst needed for the formation of a regional coalition for drug policy reform.

Did he learn how to fly?

So, what can we expect from Pena Nieto and his party for the next 6 years? His two predecessors made sweeping promises of reforms they could never deliver for lack of support in the Mexican senate and congress. The PRI being the largest party in both houses, Pena Nieto will have more latitude to implement the much needed structural reforms he promised on the campaign trail, and that are strikingly similar to those sought by the PAN for the past 12 years. He is still short of a majority and will need to build alliances. Pena Nieto and the PRI will be under intense scrutiny over the next 6 years, both from inside and from the US. In any case, the PRI should be kept in check thanks to its lack of absolute majority, which could also be a recipe for paralysis and an alibi for maintaining the status quo. The PRI has been given a second chance. Will it squander it or will it make the most of it?

Although his legacy has been badly tainted by his doomed War on Drugs, Calderon leaves a country with remarkable economic fundamentals and a rapidly improving investment climate, moderate public spending, solid fiscal accounts, low inflation, low interest rates and a stable currency. Mexico is projected to grow more than 4.5 percent in 2012, its fastest growth rate in a decade. On the flip side, inequality and poverty have been growing steadily over the past 6 years, not to mention out of control violence and insecurity. Enrique Pena Nieto thus inherits an economically and fiscally sound Mexico, though confronted with daunting security and poverty issues. Will he live up to the occasion, build on the legacy he inherits, and propel the country into the century with the badly required reforms? Will he rein in the neo-feudal system of concentrated economic power that created him in the first place?  Did the little dinosaur evolve enough to learn how to fly? Will he resist the predatory impulses of his mentors and his ancestors?

As governor of the state of Mexico from 2005 to 2011, Pena Nieto built a reputation of openness and tolerance, with strong negotiating skills and a capacity to build alliances across the political spectrum. He cut the state’s debt by about a quarter, ramped up investment and his state outperformed the Mexican economy. He will need all of these skills and more to succeed in his new position. A return of the PRI to its plutocratic past is unlikely, as is a return to the Pax Mafiosa of the past, which doesn’t rule out some backroom understanding with the least violent cartels, or even a de-facto alliance to crush the much reviled Zetas. The country has changed dramatically over the past 18 years. The transformation launched by Ernesto Zedillo is irreversible. If he hasn’t learned how to fly yet, EPN might not have another choice but to try.

Jeffrey Dhywood
Investigative writer,
author of “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization”




Drug legalization debate gaining momentum in Central America

Honduras President invite Colombia and Mexico to the March 24 SICA meeting in Guatemala

On March 9, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, acting as the SICA president and at the request of its members, invited Colombia and Mexico to join the next meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Guatemala on March 24.  Both presidents Santos and Calderon accepted the invitation. The meeting will focus on the recent proposal by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to legalize drugs.

Lobo Sosa notably declared: “President Calderón, President Santos, and the leaders of the Central American isthmus have agreed that the manner in which we are [dealing with drug trafficking] is not the solution because we continue to lose human lives.”

Although the debate has been brewing for a while, the first expression of regional discontent came on December 6th, 2011, with the publication of a declaration calling for the exploration of “regulatory or market oriented options”, signed by 10 heads of states of the Central-American and Caribbean region members of the Tuxtla System for Dialogue.

The current debate was launched by Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina, a former general elected on a law and order platform. Perez Molina surprised everyone a few days after taking office in January 14th, 2012 when he declared the war on drugs a failure and asked for an open debate to explore alternatives, including legalization. Following discussions with Colombian President Santos, President Perez Molina further declared on February 11th his intention to present his proposal for drug legalization at the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. He sent his Vice-President Roxana Baldetti on a tour to promote his proposal to regional leader on February 29th.

The move was greeted by a quick rebuke from the US government, who dispatched Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to the region on February 28th, one day ahead of Roxana Baldetti’s own tour. Napolitano was followed by US vice-president Joe Biden, who visited Mexico to reiterate US commitment to the War on Drugs, before heading to the March 6 meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA) hosted by president Porfirio Lobo Sosa in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Considering President Lobo Sosa initial opposition to legalization, this latest move represents an interesting development. In his declaration, President Lobo Sosa affirmed  “This very important proposal is something that we need to assess and manage in a positive way so that, if the discussion is successful, we can offer to the world a better solution, if we are able to find it, to the terrible problem of narco-trafficking.”

This latest development reaffirms the determination of Latin American countries to the legalization debate and seems to indicate a willingness to accelerate the process in preparation for the Summit of the Americas on April 14-15. While the March 6 SICA meeting, undoubtedly hold off by Biden presence at the meeting, didn’t produce much more than an intent to open the debate, we can expect concrete proposals at the March 24th meeting. President Perez Molina announced that workgroups are actively preparing the details of his proposal.

There are good reasons to suspect that Colombian president Santos has been involved with the Perez Molina initiative from the very start, as alluded to by Perez Molina himself. The fact that President Santos is now coming out more openly is significant. Colombia is considered the best US ally in the War on Drugs, and is often touted as a success story and a model by the US anti-drug apparatus. The Colombian themselves have a more measured appreciation. While there has been undeniable progress since the peak of narco-violence in the 1990s, Santos himself acknowledges that the problem is contained at best. Colombia is still the main cocaine producer in the world and while the mega-cartels of the past may have been destroyed, it has opened the gates to the Mexican cartels and has resulted in an explosion of mini-cartels. The loss of its Colombian ally would be a major blow to the US anti-drug strategy, a blow that could prove fatal if Mexico was to join the legalization camp.

It is too early to say where the Perez Molina initiative will lead to, and what its true objectives may be. It may be a ploy to increase pressure on the US government to allocate more resources to the region, as has been argued. On the other hand, if any lesson can be drawn from the Colombian and Mexican experience, it is quite obvious that their war-like strategy came at a very high human cost for these countries. Central American countries have borne the brunt of narco-violence for the past three decades and as this violence keeps increasing, they seem to be genuinely ready to call it quits and to be looking for more realistic and workable alternatives. These already impoverished countries do not have the resources to deploy a US style prohibitionist system, and it would be folly for them to even attempt to. They are plagued by systemic corruption, youth unemployment, poor education and gang violence. Their gang problem itself is largely the result of the US policy of deportation of illegal immigrants with criminal records to their native countries. As the US prison system is a notorious training ground for criminals, where inmates are far more dangerous when they get out than they were when they got in, the US has been sending droves of hardened criminals south of their border, with catastrophic consequences for the receiving countries. This, added to the constant flow of weapons flooding the region because of the US impotence at regulating its own gun industry, is adding to the profound discontent in the region, which is tired to take the blame and pay the price for an issue that they rightly perceive as being imposed onto them.

In any case, it would be well advised for all the drug policy reform activists the world over to come resolutely in support of the Perez Molina initiative and to contribute as much as possible to the debate going on in Latin America.

I have argued for quite some time, most notably in my recently published “World War-D”, that Latin America is the only part of the world where drug policy reform can emerge. We might be witnessing this emergence and might be on the verge of a major paradigm shift in drug policy.

This, folks, is history in the making. Be part of it! To that effect, I invite you to sign and promote the Perez Molina petition: http://signon.org/sign/support-guatemalan-president

Jeffrey Dhywood is an investigative writer, author of “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization” http://www.world-war-d.com/. Follow on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/worldward or Twitter: @JDhywood

Jeffrey Dhywood
Investigative Writer

LEAP endorses petition in support of Perez Molina initiative – help needed for AVAAZ

Update on the Perez Molina Initiative and petition, 3/1/2012

Welcome to the new signers and thank you again to those who received the previous updates. I hope they are useful and informative. Most of all, I hope they keep you motivated and eager to do more to promote this initiative. Make no mistake folks, this is one of the most significant developments in drug policy reform in a long time, and we cannot afford to waste this opportunity.

Underneath, I will give you some hints on actions you can take to help spread the word. You can find more tips and links at: http://www.world-war-d.com/2012/02/28/petition-in-support-of-guatemalan-presidents-call-for-drug-legalization/. Feel free to be as creative as you want and come up with your own strategy. Let me know what worked for you, to share with others.

LEAP endorsed today the petition in support of the Perez Molina initiative. People can now sign directly from LEAP website http://www.leap.cc/. It will be broadcasted to their 50,000 + members over the next few days, so we should expect some amazing bumps in the numbers.

The petition is also posted on the ENCOD website (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies) http://www.encod.de/info/SUPPORT-GUATEMALA-S-PRESIDENT-S.html. Thank you to whoever posted it there.

I encourage everybody to contact any groups or forums that may promote the petition.

I contacted AVAAZ and could use your help to get their attention. You can go to http://www.avaaz.org/en/contact/ and fill up the form. The more request they get to support the petition, the more likely they are to take it over. There is the option to create a new petition on http://www.avaaz.org/en/contact/, but that wouldn’t give us just the AVAAZ platform, not the AVAAZ logistical support. It might be best to be consistent when we contact them. Underneath are the title and copy of my message:

Support the Guatemalan President Perez Molina Initiative for drug legalization

You may be aware of the recent developments on the drug policy reform front in Latin America, starting with the Tuxtla declaration on December 6th, and the recent proposal put forward by Guatemalan president Perez Molina, to raise the issue of legalization at the sixth Summit of the Americas on April 14-15, 2012. For the first time ever, legalization will be debated at a major international Summit, with the leaders of the 34 countries of the Americas in attendance! This is an unprecedented event. All activists should take advantage of this opportunity to generate massive mobilization of support for significant and meaningful debate on drug policy reform, especially as obstruction can be expected from the US.

In support of this action, was initiated on Monday February 27, 2012, a petition in support of Guatemalan president’s call for drug legalization http://signon.org/sign/support-guatemalan-president. Considering your history of support for drug policy reform, I kindly request your help for its promotion. Having the logistical support of AVAAZ would give this action the exposure it deserves. This can and should be one of the largest AVAAZ campaign ever, similar in scope to the action you had last year on drug policy reform.

Please feel free to contact me for any clarification you may need. Thank you for your consideration.

You may also contact AVAAZ founder Ricken Patel on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/rickenpatel77

Update on the Perez Molina Initiative

Despite the hurried dispatch, one day ahead of Roxana Baldetti’s own tour, of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on a tour of the region on February 28th to drum up support for the War on Drugs, Guatemala managed to get the support of Costa Rica so far. http://telenoticias7.com/detalle.php?id=122813

The UK government quickly aligned behind the US position, but the powerful British Inter-parliamentary group on drug policy reform was just as quick to warmly embrace the Perez Molina initiative. http://www.guatemala.gob.gt/index.php/2011-06-30-23-44-4/agenda/item/74-parlamento-brit%C3%A1nico-apoya-%E2%80%9Ciniciativa-p%C3%A9rez-molina%E2%80%9D

Colombia and Mexico are still on the sidelines and haven’t reacted yet to the Guatemalan proposal. A lot will depend on the attitude of these two most influential countries in the region. Should these countries decide to seriously explore alternatives to the War on Drugs and move resolutely towards more pragmatic and realistic policies, the balance of power would be drastically altered and other countries could be persuaded to align behind them, but nothing can happen without Colombia and Mexico onboard.

Therefore, if you live in Colombia or Mexico, or if you have friends and contact there, please sign and diffuse the petition. Reach out as much as you can in Latin America. Perez Molina talked about a regional meeting to discuss his proposal on March 6 and 7. Between now and then, we must drum up as much support as we can.

Finally, I have been sending press releases and 2 have been published so far. Feel free to send as many press-releases as you want. You can also write opinion pieces or letters to the editor. Feel free to use the material found on my blog (www.world-war-d.com) or write your own. If you could help me translate some of this material in Spanish, that would be great. You can reach me at jd@world-war-d.com



Feedback from signers

I got a lot of wonderful feedback and I apologize for not being able to reply to everybody.

LEAP co-founder and chair, Jack Cole wrote: “I am the co-founder and Board chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I am also a retired detective lieutenant—26 years with the New Jersey State Police and 14 in their Narcotic Bureau, mostly undercover. I bear witness to the abject failure of the U.S. war on drugs and to the horrors produced by this self-perpetuating, constantly expanding policy disaster. You have the backing of LEAP’s 50,000 police, judges, prosecutors and supporters in 86 countries.”

Neill Franklin: “As the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), our organization of over 50,000 supporters worldwide, support this petition.”

Jude Hider, from the UK, summed up the sentiment of many: “Dear President Otto Perez Molina & Vice-President Roxana Baldetti thank you very much for this courageous action.”

A thinly-veiled call for drug policy reform at the XIII Tuxtla System for Dialogue

Last December 6th, 2011, the countries  from the Tuxtla System for Dialogue met in Merida, Mexico, to discuss, among others, the security situation in the region, focusing on organized crime and narco-trafficking.

The Summit was attended by the presidents of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom; Honduras, Porfirio Lobo; Mexico, Felipe Calderón; Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega; Panama, Ricardo Martinelli; Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández; and First Vice-President of Costa Rica, Alfio Piva and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize, Wilfred Elrington; Colombia, María Ángela Holguín; and El Salvador, Hugo Martínez. On this occasion, President of Chile Sebastián Piñera also attended in his capacity as Special Guest.

They published a one-page joint declaration  that expresses the growing frustration with the global war on drugs within the Central American region, and his the clearest regional call for  drug policy reform to date. (Declaracion conjunta sobre crimen-organizado y narcotrafico) – http://www.presidencia.gob.mx/2011/12/declaracion-conjunta-sobre-crimen-organizado-y-narcotrafico/ 

Here, is the key paragraph of the declaration:

“Senalaron que Lo deseable sería una sensible reducción de la demanda de drogas ilegales. Sin embargo, si ello no es posible, como lo demuestra la experiencia reciente, las autoridades de los países consumidores deben entonces explorar todas las alternativas posibles para eliminar las ganancias exorbitantes de los criminales incluyendo opciones regulatorias o de mercado orientadas a ese propósito. Así se evitaría que el trasiego de sustancias siga provocando altos niveles de crimen y violencia en naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas”.

or in plain English:

“They indicated that What would be desirable, would be a significant reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Nevertheless, if that is not possible, as recent experience demonstrates, the authorities of the consuming countries ought then to explore the possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end. Thus, the transit of substances that continue provoking high levels of crime and violence in Latin American and Caribbean nations will be avoided.”

The declaration uses almost verbatim previous declarations made by President Calderon and clearly bear his mark. It was largely ignored by the US medias, even though it represents a dramatic shift in attitude within the Central American and Caribbean region. Let’s hope that this new attitude will translate into a deliberate shift toward drug policy reform!

Will global drug policy reform start in Latin America?

Drug policy reform cannot take place unilaterally; any country trying this route would be clobbered by the prohibitionist camp led by the US, and nobody will dare to venture on the reform path on his own. But what if a coalition was to emerge? My own geopolitical analysis leads me to believe that Latin America is the only place where such a coalition can initiate, and in fact, we might be witnessing the early signs of its formation.

Let’s go over recent developments:

President Santos of Colombia has repeatedly said that he is in favor of legalization, with a strong caveat, though: if the rest of the world agrees. Which is not going to happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, President Calderon of Mexico, who launched a bloody battle against the drug cartels in 2006, seems to come to come to the realization that Mexico is getting the rotten end of the War on Drugs. He was especially incensed by the “fast and furious” debacle. Calderon started talking about seeking out “all possible options, including market alternatives” in his declaration following the August 25th, 2011 Monterey massacre: “If … they are resigned to consuming drugs, then they need to find alternatives … and establish clear points of access different from the border with Mexico, but this situation can’t keep going on like this.” He repeated similar assertions in various interviews and speeches throughout the fall of 2011, most notably during a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York. Such position was then adopted by the Tuxtla Dialogue and Agreement Mechanism in Mérida in its December 5th meeting. The Summit was attended by the presidents of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom; Honduras, Porfirio Lobo; Mexico, Felipe Calderón; Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega; Panama, Ricardo Martinelli; Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández; and First Vice-President of Costa Rica, Alfio Piva and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize, Wilfred Elrington; Colombia, María Ángela Holguín; and El Salvador, Hugo Martínez. President of Chile Sebastián Piñera also attended in his capacity as Special Guest. The Joint Statement on Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking, issued at the end of the meeting clearly bears Calderon’s mark, declaring:

“They indicated that What would be desirable, would be a significant reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Nevertheless, if that is not possible, as recent experience demonstrates, the authorities of the consuming countries ought then to explore the possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end. Thus, the transit of substances that continue provoking high levels of crime and violence in Latin American and Caribbean nations will be avoided.”

In one of his first speeches after taking office, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina called for a regional strategy for decriminalization.

So, where does this leave us?

Painfully aware of the failure of current prohibitionist policies and the high price they are paying for it, Latin American leaders seem to be testing the water, but nobody has dared crossing the line yet. For a movement to coalesce, leaders need to emerge. Presidents Calderon and Santos clearly stand out. No other heads of state can lead and unite a coalition of the willing with the credibility and the stature of these two heads of state. For Calderon, who pretty much bet his presidency on the Mexican drug war, the reversal must be particularly painful.

What will it take for Calderon and Santos to step up and lead, in defiance of their over-bearish Northern neighbors? 2011 clearly demonstrated the power of popular expression to move things forward and force the hand of history. I am convinced that popular support can tip the balance, but it won’t happen without massive mobilization. To that effect, I wrote the Calderon-Santos Initiative, calling on Presidents Calderon of Mexico and President Santos of Colombia to take the lead of a global coalition for legalization and control of currently illicit drugs. (see  http://calderon-santos.org/). I invite you to help promote this initiative and move forward global drug policy reform.

Sources and further readings:






10 goals for controlled re-legalization

10 goals for controlled re-legalization

As the drug policy reform movement gains traction around the world, it is critical that it reaches beyond its activist core and constructively address the legitimate concerns of the general public, as without its support, we are doomed to failure. The burden of proof is clearly on the drug-reformists side, as they need to overcome 100 years of official propaganda, moral panicking, fear mongering and brain washing. It is critical to be well informed, realistic and pragmatic, with clear objectives. This is one of the purposes of “World War-D”.

Therefore, I propose the following hierarchy of goals for controlled re-legalization:

  1. To greatly reduce, dismantle and if possible eliminate the illegal drug market. To reduce the presence and influence of organized crime. To reduce drug-related crime. The dismantling and elimination of the illegal drug market requires the dismantling of the prohibition system that created it in the first place.
  2. To reduce harm to existing users through safe and controlled legal access. To reduce the number of abusers/addicts; to reduce drug related deaths; to improve the health of remaining users/addicts; to improve their social integration.
  3. To reduce or eliminate the financial burden placed on taxpayers by the consequences of drug use and drug prohibition. To achieve taxpayer neutrality.
  4. To reduce initiation, especially among minors. Long-term improvements are predicated on substantially curbing initiation.
  5. To control and greatly minimize access to minors; eliminating access to minors altogether might be a laudable goal, but it is about as realistic as absolute sexual abstinence to reduce teen pregnancy.
  6. To reduce harm caused by problematic users to their proximate environment and to society at large.
  7. To prevent as much as possible moderate, responsible users from becoming problem users.
  8. To place reasonable access restrictions to the most damaging substances for new users and casual users.
  9. To acknowledge the legitimacy of the non-medical use of psychoactive substances and the potential danger of their abuse.
  10. To respect the civil liberties and lifestyle choices of informed, consenting adults as long as these choices do not intentionally endanger others. To end discrimination against users of psychoactive substances.

I believe these are realistic and attainable goals provided that the right policies are put in place. Unlike the fairly rigid prohibitionist model, there should be a lot of flexibility in the application of drug reform to allow for experimentation and adaptation to local realities. It should be obvious by now that those who wish to use psychoactive substances will go to great lengths to satisfy their desire, and it is far more advantageous for society to satisfy their need than to let the black market take care of it. The guiding concern shouldn’t be whether it is moral or immoral to provide psychoactive substances to those consenting adults who which to use them, but what is the least harmful way to do it.

D.E.A. Launders Mexican Profits of Drug Cartels

Fast and Furious revisited – during the laundry, the killing continues…

In the New York times today, an article about undercover money-laundering by the DEA in Mexico. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the DEA is involved in money-laundering. This, after all, has been going on for decades in other parts of the world.

And what for? Here is the conclusion of the NYT article:

“It is not clear whether such operations are worth the risks. So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a tiny fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.”

Considering that it is very unlikely that the next MX president, to be elected in July 2012, will follow Calderon’s harsh anti-drugs policies, 50,000 people (don’t believe the official count – most observers put the count over 50k), many innocent by-standers, will have died for nothing.

There is an alternative: check the Calderon-Santos initiative for a Global Protocol for legalization and regulation of the production, trade, and consumption of currently illicit drugs.

“Nut” Gingrich on the War on Drugs

While he admits to smoking pot in college, Newt Gingrich in an interview with Yahoo 2 days ago wants death penalty for Mexican drug dealers and mandatory testing for any kind of federal aid, including unemployment benefit. He would also crack down on medical MJ. Click here for the full article, just in case you had any doubt left on the mental sanity of “Nut” Gingrich, and just in case you were entertaining the idea of supporting him.

Here is an excerpt from “World War-D” dedicated to this dangerous nut:

“Newt Gingrich deserves a special lifetime award for hypocrisy. He has repeatedly tried to push legislation requiring the death penalty for drug traffickers (which incidentally is prohibited under international law) and went as far as proclaiming “I want a World War Two style victory plan – a decisive, all out cataclysmic effort to break the back of the drug culture.” But he admitted to smoking pot in the 1970s because it “was a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era.” “See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral. Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality. That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t. Any questions?” Yes, does he really believe his own bullshit?”