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Plan Merida under fire
Inforpress Centroamericana
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United States proposes Plan Merida, a sweeping anti-drug program for Central America and Mexico.

The US State Department’s annual Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) released on Feb. 29 says that Central America’s geographical location between Colombia and Mexico, large areas of sparsely populated jungle and unguarded coastlines have made the region the Number 1 trans-shipment route for Colombian cocaine and heroin smuggled into the United States via Mexico.

The report said despite an increase in cocaine seizures in Costa Rica and improvements in Guatemalan police, widespread corruption continues to be a common denominator and the main obstacle to fighting drug-trafficking.

David T. Johnson, Assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, upon presenting the report stated that US President George W. Bush “has asked Congress to fund a new security cooperation initiative with Mexico and the countries of Central America to combat the threats of drug trafficking and transnational crime in Mexico and Central America.”

The Bush administration has requested US$550 million in supplemental assistance for Mexico and Central America for 2008. Although details of the proposed 2009 figures are not yet available, if they track proposed 2008 spending, nearly 70 percent of the funding will go to military and police related assistance.

However, critics have compared the proposal — which is still awaiting congressional approval — to the controversial Plan Colombia, under which US troops were stationed in Colombia. Several Democrats in Congress have also complained that the proposal has been put forward in a highly non-transparent manner.

A new scenario
Mexican cartels have become increasingly powerful and it has even been suggested that they are displacing Colombian mafias in the United States.

According to Mexican drugs expert Eduardo Pizarro León-Gómez, the Colombian mafias are losing their power whereas the Mexican cartels are growing. “Unfortunately for Mexico, the Colombian mafia is losing the most profitable slice of the pie,” he wrote in January for the Mexican magazine Contralínea.

“Colombian drugs are shipped via the Pacific route to the Central American and Mexican mafias, which then ship the cargoes to the US or transport to Brazil and there to the European market. This means that Colombia gets 20 percent of the profits and the Mexican, Central American, Brazilian and Russian cartels get the remaining 80 percent. The Colombian mafias are weakening and the Mexicans are strengthening.”

Pizarro adds that the consumption of cocaine in the United States has decreased as the consumption of synthetic drugs is rising whereas the use of cocaine in Europe, particularly in the former Socialist bloc is on the increase.

This, says the analyst, could gradually weaken the Colombia-Guatemala-Mexico route as the Colombia-Venezuela-Brazil-Africa-Europe route becomes increasingly important.

However, Ricardo Vargas, associated researcher with the Transnational Institute disagrees with Pizarro and argues that “although the Mexicans have specialized in trafficking drugs to the US this does not mean that the Colombians are losing control. What is happening is that the cartels are diversifying.”

According to Vargas, cocaine use in the United States has remained stable since 2000 but this does not mean that the market is shrinking: “In Europe there is currently an increase in consumption, particularly in Spain, the UK and Switzerland. This has broadened the market but it doesn’t mean that the US market is receding.”

Political tool
Vargas points out that the US-led counter-narcotics strategy has been tainted by politically motivated double standards as political enemies are branded as “narco-states” but the United States turns a blind eye to drug trafficking in friendly regimes that are often just as corrupt.

This year’s INCSR states that Venezuela is “one of the key transit points for the drugs trade due to its high levels of corruption and weak judicial system” after Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez ordered the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to leave the country in 2005 and accused agency staff of spying.

Guatemala, on the other hand, whose former President Oscar Berger was an important US ally, was praised for improvements in its law enforcement institutions even though drug seizures have not significantly increased there in recent years.

Vargas says that the “US uses drugs as a part of its security policy. One of the factors that encompass the anti-drug fight is politics since drugs are used to undermine some regimes that the US doesn’t like.”

He added that the United States is acting like a global referee in the fight against drugs, tending to change the rules where it serves its interests.

“If there were a more democratic body in terms of participation of other governments in the hemispheric policies maybe things would be different,” he said. “This can no longer be seen in terms of consumer countries versus exporter countries.”

Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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