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International Drug Related News from ONDCP

Calderon Increases Salaries Of Mexico’s Soldiers.  In Mexico City, the AP (2/20) reports soldiers “waging a nationwide offensive against drug traffickers will get a pay hike of nearly 50 percent this year in a bid to insulate them from corruption, Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced Monday.  The increase is the latest move by Calderon to deal with corruption in Mexican law enforcement ranks, where drug traffickers routinely buy off low-paid officers to protect their smuggling routes.”  Calderon “said that rank-and-file troops who earned $319 a month will now take home $474.  The increase is retroactive to Jan. 1.” 

Calderon Expands Anti-drug Operation.  ABC World News (2/18, story 7, 3:05, Harris, 8.78M) reported, “Iraq is not the only place where there's a military surge going on right now. In Mexico the government has decided to send in troops to fight against ultra-violent drug cartels.  And today, the President of Mexico announced that he is expanding that fight to two more provinces.  … Unable to trust the police, Mexico's recently-elected President Felipe Calderon has deployed 20,000 soldiers and marines.  He vows this will be a permanent fight to the finish.”  ABC added, “Acapulco’s Mayor, Felix Salgado, told us he was struggling with the drug problem in his city.  … Three days later, Mayor Salgado himself was accused of links to drug gangs.  He denies it.  He's under investigation.”

In Mexico City, the San Antonio Express-News (2/19) reported the federal government “announced Sunday that about 3,300 military personnel and police will be deployed to two besieged states bordering South Texas.   The push comes as part of President Felipe Calderón's continued use of the military to take on gangs he contends threaten to destabilize the nation.”  The operation “will focus on the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, which hug the Texas border from the Gulf of Mexico to just west of Laredo, at the end of Interstate 35.”

The AP (2/19) reported officials “said that in the two months since intensive raids began in central and western Mexico, they had destroyed almost as many opium fields as plots of marijuana, long Mexico's principal drug crop.” 

Assistant State Prosecutor Questioned Following Opposition Leader’s Killing.  The AP (2/20) reports an assistant state prosecutor in Mexico “was detained for questioning in an investigation into the killing of an opposition politician and four others, and the passing of information to drug traffickers.  In the border city of Nuevo Laredo, gunmen wielding assault rifles attacked a vehicle carrying a federal Congressman, wounding him and killing his driver just a day after the government announced a crackdown on drug crime in the area.  The detention of prosecutor Hugo Resendiz Martinez, who was immediately fired from his post in the northern state of Durango and taken to Mexico City, was a rare public acknowledgment of the degree to which drug corruption has penetrated law enforcement.” 

“Economic Refugees” Said To Be Replenishing Taliban Ranks As Poppies Are Eradicated.  In the Wall Street Journal (2/20, A16, 2.04M) Vanda Felbab-Brown writes, “As NATO braces for a spring Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, many in the Bush administration, the Congress and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are calling for it to take on a prominent role in combating the narcotics trade.  Although this task is meant to help Afghanistan repress the worrisome, if predictable, expansion of its opium economy, it will greatly hamper NATO's effectiveness.  NATO's crucial role is to establish security throughout the country -- and not to dilute its focus in eradication and interdiction missions that are presently bound to fail.  … Meanwhile, the damage to the crops has generated a new wave of economic refugees to Pakistan, many of whom have been replenishing the ranks of the Taliban.” 

Scandal Said To Be Putting Plan Colombia In Jeopardy.  The Washington Post (2/17, 690K) reported Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) “said Colombian officials cannot count on easy passage of a free-trade agreement or military assistance, as is currently being provided under a program known as Plan Colombia.  ‘Colombia F.T.A. cannot pass the Congress, as constructed, and Plan Colombia is in more jeopardy because of these scandals, the infiltration of the paramilitary into the inner workings of the Colombian government,’ Levin said.”  The Post notes that on Thursday, “Sen. Álvaro Araújo Castro, the brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araújo, was arrested along with three other senators and a congressman.  Authorities said they are investigating links that those lawmakers -- along with a sixth legislator who remains at large -- may have had ties to a paramilitary organization that has terrorized [Colombia] for years while shipping tons of cocaine to U.S. cities.”

Foreign Minister Resigns.  The Los Angeles Times (2/20, Kraul, 850K) reports Colombia's foreign minister “resigned Monday, the latest casualty in the country's growing investigation into ties between right-wing paramilitary forces and top politicians.  Maria Consuelo Araujo, a favorite of President Alvaro Uribe and a member of a powerful clan, stepped down following the arrest Thursday of her brother and four other lawmakers for alleged links to illegal paramilitary fighters.”

The AP (2/19) also reported on the resignation.