Opinion

The Great Debate

Is Burma the next Mexico?

By Federico Varese
The opinions expressed are his own.

Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes  a democratic country?

The totalitarian regime which has ruled Burma since 1962 has been, to a point, successful in keeping the production of illicit substances under control. In 1999, Burma’s notorious military junta (which is now dissolved) started a ruthless elimination plan of opium in the Golden Triangle (the Shan State, the Wa Region and the Kachin State). The region produced one-third of the world’s opium in 1998, but that figure was down to about 5% nine years later. From 2006 to 2007, the army eradicated 8,895 acres of opium fields. A 2007 United Nations Report trumpeted that “a decade-long process of drug control is clearly paying off.”

The actual story is a little more complicated. The regime did manage to reduce opium production, but this policy led to an increase in the production of amphetamines, methamphetamine in particular. The U.N. estimated that at least 700 million tablets were shipped from Burma to Thailand in 2003 alone, which is about 20 tons of methamphetamine, or 7.5% of what is manufactured globally.

Most recently, opium production in Burma is on the rise again, pushed by an ever-increasing demand for heroin in China, as documented by an eye-opening report compiled by the Transnational Institute, an NGO based in Amsterdam.

California vote and Mexican drug cartels

What would legalizing marijuana in California, America’s most populous state, mean to the drug cartels whose fight for access to American markets have turned parts of Mexico into war zones? Shrinking profits? Certainly. Less violence? Maybe.

These topics are being raised as the U.S. heads towards Nov. 2 mid-term elections which in California include a ballot initiative, Proposition 19, providing for marijuana to be treated like alcohol and tobacco for Californians over 21. A vote in favour would end 73 years of prohibition and have enormous political impact not only on the rest of America but also on the long-running global war on drugs.

Experts on the issue have been working overtime and the latest of a string of academic studies, out this week, came from the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank. The voluminous paper is entitled: Reducing Drug Trafficking and Violence in Mexico – Would Legalizing Marijuana in California Help? The study’s four authors, all prominent authorities on the illegal drug business, hedged their answer.

In Mexico, a drug war of choice?

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.

Obama, American guns and Mexican mayhem

During a visit to Mexico a year ago, President Barack Obama promised he would urge the U.S. Senate to ratify an international treaty designed to curb  the flow of weapons to Latin American drug cartels. It remains just that – a promise. Prospects for ratification are virtually zero.

Top officials in the Obama administration have called the cartels, and the extreme violence tearing apart Mexican cities on the U.S. border, threats to U.S. national security. Joining 30 other countries in the Western Hemisphere in an anti-arms smuggling accord would therefore seem a perfectly sane and logical thing to do. But logic often ends where American gun ownership begins.

The treaty in question is called the Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials. Known as CIFTA for its Spanish acronym, it was adopted by the Organization of American States in 1997. All but four of its 35 members have ratified it. Bill Clinton signed the convention but did not get the Senate to bless it.

Michelle Obama is ready for Mexico prime-time

west - 5-18 - morigi- Darrell M. West is Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.  He is the author of the forthcoming Brookings Institution Press book, Brain Gain:  Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy. The opinions expressed are his own -

Michelle Obama is a hit at home and abroad but she will come under particular scrutiny this week as she embarks on her first solo trip outside the U.S., visiting Mexico. How she performs on this diplomatic mission will be closely watched because she is not just the president’s wife, she is the most prominent ambassador for her husband’s foreign policies.

Such trips are not a small undertaking, and they can carry more weight than might be expected.

In drug war, failed old ideas never die

Here’s a stern warning to the U.S. states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. A United Nations body is displeased with your liberal medical marijuana laws. Very displeased.

The U.N. rarely takes issue with the internal affairs of member states, and even less with those of the United States. But that’s what the International Narcotics Control Board has just done in its latest annual report, published this week. Without mentioning by name the 14 American states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes, the 149-page report says:

“While the consumption and cultivation of cannabis, except for scientific purposes, are illegal activities according to federal law in the United States, several states have enacted laws that provide for the ‘medical use’ of cannabis. The control measures applied in those states for the cultivation of cannabis plants and the production, distribution and use fall short of the control requirements laid down in the 1961 Convention (on narcotic drugs.)

“Lawless hordes” and the U.S.-Mexico border

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

On the first Sunday of October, the Texan city of El Paso recorded its 10th murder of the year. On the same day, El Paso’s Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juarez, recorded its 1,809th murder of 2009. Mayhem on one side of the border, relative peace on the other.

The contrast is stunning. According to an annual ranking compiled by CQ Press, a Washington publishing house, El Paso is the third-safest large city in the U.S. (after Honolulu and New York). According to a Mexican think tank, Ciudad Juarez became the world’s most violent city this year, torn by a vicious free-for-all involving warring drug cartels, hit squads, common criminals, and the military.

The two cities form a sprawling metropolitan area of some 2.5 million, divided by a river and a border fence; united by family and business ties, history and now a shared fascination with Ciudad Juarez’s gradual descent into criminal anarchy. El Paso’s citizens follow the bloodletting across the river with rapt and horrified attention.

Drug wars and the balloon effect

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Why have billions of dollars and thousands of anti-narcotics agents around the world failed to throttle the global traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana? Blame wrong-headed policies, largely driven by the United States, and what experts call the balloon effect.

Squeezing a balloon in one place makes it expand in another. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one springs up. Take the example of Colombia and Mexico, at present a focus of U.S. attention because of large-scale violence that threatens to spill across the border.

First 100 days: Tackle traffic of weapons into Mexico

ambassadorsarukhan– Arturo Sarukhan, a career diplomat, has been Mexican ambassador to the United States since 2007. Ambassador Sarukhan was President Calderon’s chief foreign policy adviser and international spokesperson during the 2006 presidential campaign and headed his foreign policy transition team. The views expressed are his own. —

On January 12th, President Felipe Calderón and then President Elect Barack Obama held their first working meeting in Washington, DC, reflecting their commitment to strengthen the bilateral relationship. The conversation between the two leaders made it abundantly clearly that designing a framework that will simultaneously ensure the common prosperity and the common security of both our peoples remains the central conundrum our two nations face in a post 9-11 world.

Mexico is fully aware that a threat to the security of the United States will profoundly affect the bilateral relationship, and therefore common border security has been and will continue to be a top-priority. In this regard, a clear and present threat we both face is transnational organized crime.

Pakistan, Mexico and U.S. nightmares

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

What do Pakistan and Mexico have in common? They figure in the nightmares of U.S. military planners trying to peer into the future and identify the next big threats.

The two countries are mentioned in the same breath in a just-published study by the United States Joint Forces Command, whose jobs include providing an annual look into the future to prevent the U.S. military from being caught off guard by unexpected developments.

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