Bernd Debusmann

In Mexico, a drug war of choice?

Bernd Debusmann
May 21, 2010 15:17 UTC

Here is a short history of Mexico’s drug war, as told to a joint session of the U.S. Congress by President Felipe Calderon on May 20.

In 2004, a U.S. ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians was lifted. High-powered firearms started flowing south across the 2,000-mile border. Violence increased. “One day criminals in Mexico, having gained access to these weapons, decided to challenge the authorities in my country,” he said.

Calderon did not say what happened on that “one day,” by implication the day the president had no choice but to fight back.

There is another version of history, which goes as follows: Calderon won elections in 2006 with a margin so thin (0.58 percent) that it prompted cries of fraud, persuaded his left-wing opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to declare himself the real winner, and gave Mexico the unusual and embarrassing spectacle, for weeks on end, of two men claiming they were the legitimate president.

So, ten days after eventually being sworn in, Calderon announced that he had ordered the army into his home state of Michoacan to make war on Mexico’s drug cartels.

Obama, Karzai and an Afghan mirage

Bernd Debusmann
May 14, 2010 14:09 UTC

Last year, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan slipped three places on a widely respected international index of corruption and became the world’s second-most corrupt country. It now ranks 179th out of 180, a place long held by Somalia.

According to a United Nations report published in January, Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes in 2009, roughly a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (not counting revenue from the opium trade). The survey, based on interviews with 7,600 people, said corruption was the biggest concern of Afghans.

On the military front in a war more than halfway through its ninth year, attacks on U.S. forces and their NATO allies totaled 21,000 in 2009, a 75 percent increase over 2008, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) a week before Karzai’s visit to Washington. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, noted that Taliban insurgents had set up a “widespread paramilitary shadow government…in a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.”

The trouble with U.S. terrorist watch lists

Bernd Debusmann
May 8, 2010 17:18 UTC

(Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON, May 8 (Reuters) – What do the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, American Airlines pilot Kiernan O’Dwyer, Democratic congressman John Lewis and Sam Adams, aged 5, have in common? They have all been on one of America’s terrorist watch lists and found it easier to get on the list than off it.

That’s a trend almost certain to continue as the database grows relentlessly, resulting in a huge haystack of suspects in which to find the terrorist needle. There are no up-to-date figures on the size of that haystack but according to a report a year ago by the Justice Department’s inspector general, the “consolidated watch list” contained more than 1.1 million “known or suspected terrorist identities” by the end of 2008.

That corresponded to around 400,000 people, plus various aliases and ways of spelling names. If the growth rate of previous years is anything to go by, the database may well reach two million entries sometime before the end of this year. The government’s approach to the watch lists has fluctuated from rapidly expanding it after September 11 2001, to trying to trim it, as happened in the final year of the Bush administration.