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The Narco News Bulletin

"The Name of Our Country is América"

-- Simón Bolívar

November 24, 2000

A Narco News Global Alert

Updated at 9 a.m. ET Friday Morning

Mexico's next Secretary of State, Jorge Castañeda, takes the helm on December 1st. He says:

Legalize the Drug Trade

But Other Key Fox Appointees are Allied with the Narco-Banking System

Narco News Analysis: On Friday, December 1, Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, will take office.

This week, Fox named the first members of his cabinet.

Among a list of US-educated businessmen who, by their own admission, will continue the neoliberal economic policies imposed by the United States upon Mexico, Fox also nominated as his Foreign Minister - the equivalent of the Secretary of State in the US - the author and political consultant Jorge G. Castañeda.

Castañeda will oversee the Mexican embassies abroad and deal face to face with US and other foreign powers.

Reaction has been swift and angry from certain sectors of the US foreign policy club, a knee-jerking display of Cold War nostalgia that, on the surface, denies logic: Castañeda, on the grand economic questions, is one of them.

So how to explain the bothered response from Roger Noriega, top aid to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Jesse Helms? Noriega denounced Castañeda's appointment instantly in an Associated Press story. He charged that "Castañeda's attitude and writings have been fairly anti-U.S." He continued, "Inasmuch that Mexico's relations with the United States are so important, we were hoping for someone in the foreign ministry who could play a constructive role in that relationship. That may still happen, but it remains to be seen whether Castañeda can put aside his anti-U.S. prejudices and work with us."

"At a time when Mexico is moving closer to the United States in economic terms, it will move further away from the United States in diplomatic terms," Delal Baer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the AP.

These voices of the extreme right in US foreign policy circles are not speaking of Castañeda's alleged "leftist" credentials; years ago Castañeda abandoned them, dismissed the revolutionary movements of Latin America, turned against Cuba, and in those matters is likely to please his new critics, in part, by borrowing upon his "reckless youth" to justify unjust US-imposed policies.

Then what's the rub? Why are they criticizing Castañeda?

Simply put, Castañeda's long-time and articulate stance against drug prohibition has them worried.

Friday morning update: And Castañeda, now having gained the powerful Foreign Ministry post that his father held from 1977 to 1982, is not backing down from his position against drug prohibition.

This morning's La Jornada of Mexico City reports, in an article by Blanche Petrich:

Among the six challenges of Mexican foreign relations over the next six years is to 'readjust' the agenda in front of the United States, said the next Chancellor Jorge Castañeda. Since 1994, he says, "we have found ourselves without a compass, without ambition, without an agenda" before the neighbor to the North.

"...We can no longer simply react to the US positions," (said Castañeda), "Mexico must insist" with a "grand campaign" as it did to achieve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the United States change its laws regarding certification in the anti-drug fight and find 'a new focus' towards drugs.

On this point, Castañeda tackles the problem with a perspective that many governments recognize in private and elude in public: "The decriminalization, over the long term, of certain substances that are currently illicit... and the utilization of market mechanisms to undermine the profits that come from the prohibited character of drug commerce."

Thus, it appears that Castañeda is not backing down from his pro-decriminalization position. To the contrary, he is hinting that a "grand campaign" might be in the cards for bilateral relations in the coming years; a campaign to call the bluff on the hypocrisy of US drug policy throughout América.

A "Grand Campaign" like that would resonate not just across Mexico, but will find support, both open and behind the scenes, from other nations and governments who suffer the failure of drug prohibition in the hemisphere.

US policy toward Mexico in recent years has desperately tried to keep the lid on the drug legalization debate in Mexico. They see it as Pandora's Box: If they let the debate happen, then history could follow. US officials know that the Mexican public does not believe that the drug war is sincere or meant to combat drugs. The Mexican people have seen too much, they know better.

And so the Embassy and other agencies have worked overtime to pressure academic institutions and media outlets (recall that former US Ambassador James R. Jones is now on the board of directors of TV Azteca in Mexico City) and others to not allow serious discussion or debate of the issue.

In other words, US officials cheer "democracy" in Mexico -- unless and until the democratic will of the people disagrees with US policy.

The naming of Castañeda as Secretary of State, while not likely to bring any rapid change in drug policy (indeed, outgoing Secretary of State Rosario Green is also sympathetic to drug legalization and in September of 1998 threatened that Mexico would begin abstaining from the drug war if "decertified" by the US as a trusted drug war ally), does bring Mexico a small step away from the national debate that the US government dreads.

Castañeda - as an internationally known author and columnist - is someone who could, if provoked, bring the issue to the front pages. In that sense, Fox's appointment of Castañeda serves as a potential counterbalance to US pressures: The machinery is now in place to launch that debate on a moment's notice.

Indeed, Mexican Civil Society may provoke the debate before Castañeda even opens his mouth on the theme.

The bulk of Fox's appointments ought to be reassuring to the neoliberal social engineers in the US regime: A band of bankers and business magnates who will continue the delivery of Mexican natural and human resources at cut rate prices to US interests, while wreaking havoc on the environment and quality of life for the Mexican people.

The new economic team will cover-up the FOBAPROA banking scandal and its narco-money trail that leads into the United States. They will leave almost no budget for social reconstruction, thus rendering most of Fox's next wave of cabinet appointments moot before they are even announced.

Mexico's most widely-read columnist, Carlos Ramírez, who has often defended the Fox transition from its critics, seems especially disheartened by Fox's choice of Treasury Secretary, Francisco Gil Díaz (CEO of the Avantel cellular communications company, owned by neo-Banamex president Roberto Hernández).

Ramírez wrote in his Thursday column: "Fox's promises of social welfare will have to be postponed until the next six-year term, or at least while Gil Díaz lasts at Treasury."

"Fox essentially has made a cabinet that answers to the sharing of power between powerful political, economic and business groups. The Romo-Aspe group and the Hernández-Banamex group get Treasury, but the (telephone company magnate) Carlos Slim group obtained the Secretary of Communications and Transportation."

The other appointment announced by Fox yesterday that will generate a fierce polemic is that of Rafael Macedo de la Concha -- the top military prosecutor who has stood in the way of every human rights initiative in Mexico under the PRI party -- as the next Attorney General of the Repubic.

Héctor González, the Mexican journalist most expert in Military and Law Enforcement matters, revealed yesterday the details of a secret mission by the outgoing Zedillo administration together with Fox transition officials to Washington DC last week during which the US government, in effect, approved General Macedo de la Concha as its Mexico's new AG.

"If it's already a given that the President-elect has chosen to be pro-yankee, and confirmed by the announcement that the next Attorney General of the Republic, Rafael Macedo de la Concha was imposed by Washington, then we the Mexican people are truly defeated," wrote González in his syndicated column, "Tinta Negra," or Black Ink.

"Information leaked to this column indicates that last Wednesday and Thursday, November 15th and 16th, a group of officials from the Attorney General's office and of the cowboy Fox traveled to Washington to meet with their counterparts in that country, to propose the designation of General Macedo de la Concha, the current military prosecutor, to the foreign government."

"In this historic trip, according to information given by some discontented members of the PAN party of Vicente Fox, they flew in an airplane of the Attorney General's office to Washington with assistant attorneys general Everaro Moreno, Navarrete Prida and Eduardo Nicolín from the PGR, and those present from Fox's team were Rafael Macedo de la Concha (and) José Luis Vázquez Reyes...."

"The goal of this trip was to meet with representatives of the United States police agencies, including the CIA, the FBI and the DEA among others, as well as Department of Justice officials of that powerful country, to receive their blessing for the military prosecutor."

And so we repeat what we have said all along at Narco News about the Mexican transition from 71 years of one-party rule: Deeds, not words, will decide the legacy of the Fox government.

In the next week before his December 1st inauguration, Fox will make some other important appointments, such as his Interior Minister, various key undersecretaries, and the planned "Super-Secretary" of Public Safety.

The real and immediate history begins on December 1st.

We maintain that the first indication of whether change has come to Mexico, or just more of the same under different party colors, will be determined by whether Fox complies with the San Andrés Peace Accords. Those agreements, as they were signed in 1996 by the government and the Zapatista rebels, provide for indigenous autonomy. They were signed and sealed, but not delivered.

Fox must comply with that agreement, as he promised in his campaign.

And to accomplish the peace, Fox will have to order the federal military troops out of the "low intensity" war-zone of Chiapas, where the Armed Forces now manage the drug trade instead of combatting it.

If Castañeda is sincere, he's going to have his hands full.

As a public service, we print here the full text of Jorge Castañeda's September 6, 2000 Newsweek column advocating for the legalization of drugs.

From somewhere in a Country Called América,

Al Giordano


The Narco News Bulletin


As a Public Service, We Print the Words of Mexico's new Secretary of State:

How We Fight A Losing War

The time is right for Latin and North Americans to rethink a failed drug policy

By Jorge G. Castañeda

Newsweek, September 6, 1999

In the central-western canyons of the Mexican border state of Chihuahua, where waterfalls and abandoned mines blend in with secret landing strips and vertical mountain plots, the few remaining peasants have a choice. They can cultivate corn on barren cliffs, or they can receive 300 pesos for each kilo of marijuana they grow on their own land, paid by the pilots who will deliver the cargo to the border of the United States, a few hundred miles to the north.

The farmers' cut may not seem much, and it is certainly a great deal less than the 5,000 pesos per kilo that the plane crews obtain for their work. Still, marijuana is more profitable than any legal crop in a countryside that is breathtaking in its beauty but not really meant for men and women to live on. For the pilots the payoff is much more substantial. A small single-engine plane can carry half a ton of marijuana; the profit margins are huge, and the risks, at least on the Mexican side of the border, are virtually nil. There are dozens of 200- or 300- meter strips in the area, and the planes fly so low that they cannot be picked up by radar, balloons or any other surveillance mechanism. Once near the border, the cargo is offloaded onto trucks, cars, buses and nearly anything that moves, on its way north, east and west into the United States.

Delivering the goods is tougher work, more dangerous but better paid. And that, of course, is the point; at every stage in the chain of supply, there is an opportunity for someone to make more money dabbling in drugs than he would from legal work. This battle of the war on drugs in Mexico was lost before it began.

Such also seems to be the case in Colombia. The country was not traditionally a coca-leaf-producing nation; the crops were grown in Peru and Bolivia, harvested there and then shipped on to Colombia, where further refining took place. But since Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori imposed a virtual no-fly zone along his borders, shooting down anything that flew or moved, the cartelitos have sown vast fields of coca leaf in Colombia. On some estimates, there are now 110,000 hectares of coca in Colombia, and to that can be added a large poppy crop, used to produce heroin, and traditional marijuana plantations. Colombia is now taking full advantage of its resources and climate; there, too, the war on drugs is being lost.

It's hard to find a place where the war on drugs is being won. Certainly not in Miami, where charges were brought last week against more than 50 American Airlines and Miami International Airport employees, accused of smuggling drugs into the United States in food bins, ashtrays and garbage bags. And there are no winners, either, in Austin, Texas, where Gov. George W. Bush's travails have led Latin Americans to wonder where all the hypocrisy on drugs leads. What is the purpose of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight against drugs, plunging countries into civil war, strengthening guerrilla groups and unleashing enormous violence and corruption upon entire societies, if American leaders can simply brush off questions about drug use in their youth?

The issue here is not whether such questions relate to private matters (they undoubtedly do), nor whether small-time peccadilloes 30 years ago should disqualify someone from contending for the White House (they clearly should not). The point is that according to the polls, none of the debate about what Bush may have ingested, when, seems to worry the voters. But if that is so, why should Latin Americans get worked up about drug abuse in the United States, either by statesmen in the White House or teenagers in the ghettos? Either cocaine and marijuana are terribly dangerous substances, and breaking the law by consuming them is a major offense that should be severely punished, or these are minor, personal matters that do not really count in the big picture of a man's life. If the latter is the case, then the rationale for a bloody, costly and futile war against drugs simply disappears.

Indeed, the time is uniquely propitious for a wide-ranging debate between North and Latin Americans on this absurd war that no one really wants to wage. The United States has a Republican candidate bothered by awkward questions about past drug use, a squeaky-clean Democratic candidate and an open-minded lame-duck incumbent; in Latin America, particularly in Colombia and Mexico, the whole question of drugs now engenders a growing sense of despair. This may be the moment for rethinking the war on drugs.

Such a debate should start with a coldblooded evaluation of what has worked and what has failed. Talks could then move on to examining ways in which market and price mechanisms can be brought to bear on the drug business in order to make it less lucrative, and so to align its relative prices with those of other goods--which would reduce the trade's propensity to engender corruption. Finally, the legal implications of such market mechanisms should be examined.

In the end, legalization of certain substances may be the only way to bring prices down, and doing so may be the only remedy to some of the worst aspects of the drug plague: violence, corruption and the collapse of the rule of law. To many in the United States, for good reasons and bad, legalization remains anathema; but its costs and benefits must be assessed in the light of the pernicious, hypocritical and dysfunctional status quo. Using present tactics, the war on drugs is being lost; it is long past time to reassess a failed policy.

Early Narco News Stories that provide context for this story:

"Society is Not Clamoring for War" -- Castañeda, April 2000, LA Times

Read Castañeda's Comment in April 2000 LA Times Story

Read Our April 2000 Story That Predicted the Rise of Mexico's Legalization Movement

The Mexican Transition: Immediate History

Part I: Mexico's Next Secretary of State says Legalize Drugs

II: Fox's 1st Challenge is to enact the Chiapas San Andrés Accords

III: Fox Names Drug Reformer Gertz as Nation's Top Cop

IV: Answer the Call to Mexico City, February 2001

V: Marcos to Zedillo: "You Lost the War"

VI: A Play in Two Acts by Marcos

VII. Marcos Welcomes Fox: "You Start from Zero"

See Our Previous Nine Part Series on the Narco in Chiapas

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