Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
The black smoke could be seen across Tijuana as Mexico’s biggest-ever marijuana haul went up in flames.
The equivalent of more than 250 million joints were soaked in gasoline and set on fire, with the smell of the drug soon overpowering the acrid smell of the fuel.
It took soldiers 10 hours to assemble all the bales for incineration, 134 tonnes in all, wrapped in packets all marked for their respective U.S. dealers, including some with Homer Simpson logos. They were seized across the city in homes and trucks, a public relations victory of sorts for President Felipe Calderon and his drug war.
The marijuana took two days to burn.
Still, private estimates put Mexico’s annual marijuana production at 7,000 tonnes, so there are either going to be a lot more bonfires, or, more likely, a lot smoke ups north of the border still to come.
Rubble lines the forlorn streets of Ciudad Juarez’s historic center just across the Rio Grande and the sleek glass towers of El Paso, Texas in the distance. Huge piles of grey debris lie on the roadsides as dogs sniff in the ruins of the destroyed Vampiro nightclub, its pink concrete walls nothing but a mountain of steel and dust.
The desolate remains of buildings in the Mexican border city look like the place has been bombed. This is a war zone, the bloodiest front in Mexico’s drug war where a staggering 5,500 people have died over the past 2-1/2 years. But there are no bombers flying over head.
Large marijuana seizures are frequent in the sweltering Arizona deserts that straddle the superhighway for people smuggling from Mexico — although this year they are breaking all records. Last month the Tucson sector of the U.S. Border Patrol announced that agents had seized more than 500 tons of marijuana smuggled up from Mexico since October, a leap of about 40 percent over the same period last year.Border Patrol spokesman Mike Scioli says seizures of marijuana – which is grown in Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels, and forms the backbone of their profits — have become more frequent as security along the border tightens, with more agents and infrastructure, including miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing.“Smugglers used to just drive vehicles over the border, now that the fence is in place, that’s prohibited them from doing that,” Scioli said of the barriers, part of 670 miles (1,080 kms) of fencing under construction border wide that block or snag trucks crossing north. “They’ve had to change and do things differently.”Scioli said agents are seizing more marijuana walked north over the searing deserts by smugglers carrying it in backpacks, as well as bundles attached to ultralight aircraft and flown below radar surveillance — which have appeared in recent months in Arizona.Federal border police have also found at least 16 clandestine drug tunnels punched beneath the border city of Nogales, Arizona, since October, which investigators say were used by affiliates of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel in a bid to avoid beefed up security at the ports of entry.The spike in seizures comes as both U.S. and Mexican authorities battle Mexico’s powerful cartels, which have killed more than 13,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006.President Barack Obama will fly to the western Mexican city of Guadalajara for his first North American leaders’ summit with Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday, at which the current state of the war to crush the traffickers will be high on the agenda. Meanwhile, U.S. federal police say stepped up enforcement is hurting the drug gangs.“They are finding more resistance from both Mexican and U.S. law enforcement,” said Ramona Sanchez, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix division. “Nowadays the stakes are too high, nowadays they cannot afford to lose a load” of narcotics.But while authorities make security gains, the multi-ton quantities of marijuana seized by border police in Arizona are but a tiny fraction of the total grown by Mexican cartels and smuggled north to meet the demands of an estimated 25 million Americans who smoke the drug.A recent drug threat assessment published by the U.S. government’s National Drug Intelligence Center pegged Mexican marijuana production at a massive 15,500 tons in 2007, the most recent year on record.Furthermore, it noted that the powerful cartels have moved much of their drug-farming operations to remote areas of the Western Sierra Madre Mountains, away from the Pacific coast states of Guerrero, Michoacan, and Nayarit, which had been the heart of eradication programs.The report also highlighted the resilient cartels’ savvy in relocating production, which also sought ”to reduce transportation costs to the southwest border and gain more direct access to drug markets in the United States.”For more Reuters coverage of the drug war click here.(Photos: Reuters and U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
“Nino” Vieira’s past as an old soldier was never far from the surface. It can have surprised few in Guinea-Bissau that the old coup maker’s death came at the hands of troops who turned against him in a country perpetually on the edge of failure because of military squabbles driven by centuries-old ethnic rivalries and the newer influence of drug smuggling cartels.
Covering the campaign for Guinea-Bissau’s first multiparty election in 1994, I found President Joao Bernardo Vieira far from being the most talkative of politicians. Sometimes actions said more. After one campaign stop, and in view of attendant dignitaries, Nino grabbed a military aide by the ear after he had caused offence and twisted it until he squealed in pain.
After more than seven years of U.S.-financed fumigation and eradication, Colombia is still producing at least 600 tonnes of cocaine a year. The U.N. estimated this month that coca leaf used to produce the drug covered 27 percent more land in 2007 than a year earlier. Violence from Colombia’s guerrilla war may have fallen sharply thanks to Washington’s funds, but the success of the anti-narcotics portion of the U.S. program is far less clear.
Now U.S. officials are touting their lessons in dealing with Colombian guerrillas as a possible model for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the poppy harvests and opium that help fuel that conflict. Can the U.S. really claim success against Colombia’s coca trade and what if anything from Colombia can be applied to Afghanistan’s war?
Members of Guinea-Bissau’s unruly armed forces have blotted the military’s record again with another attack against the country’s political institutions. Early on Sunday, Nov. 23, renegade soldiers, their faces hooded, sprayed the Bissau residence of President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The president survived unhurt this latest apparent attempt to topple him.
But The attack underlined the fragility of the small, cashew nut-exporting West African nation, one of the poorest in the world and a former Portuguese colony which has suffered a history of bloody coups, mutinies and uprisings since it won independence in 1974 after a bush war led by Amilcar Cabral. The assault followed parliamentary elections on Nov. 16 which donors were hoping would restore stability and put in place a new government capable of resisting the serious threat posed by powerful Latin American cocaine-trafficking cartels who use Guinea-Bissau as a staging post to smuggle drugs to Europe.