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International Drug Related News from ONDCP

Colombia To Initiate New Counterinsurgency Strategy.  The Inter Press Service (12/27) reported the “announcement of a new counterinsurgency strategy by the Colombian government, dubbed ‘Plan Victoria,’ and the deterioration of diplomatic relations with Ecuador point to a new phase in the internal armed conflict afflicting Colombia for over four decades.  It was reported in Quito on Dec. 26 that a week earlier, Colombia's rightwing President Álvaro Uribe approved Plan Victoria, described as a strategy to defeat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and force them to engage in peace talks.  … Thus, the start of Plan Victoria, the ‘consolidation phase’ of Plan Colombia, and the resumption this month of aerial spraying of coca crops in Colombia near the Ecuadorian border would not appear to be isolated developments.  Quito protested the spraying, which triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries, with no solution in sight.” 

Swiss Police Say 1 Million Ecstasy Pills Transported To US Inside Cycling Shorts.  Bloomberg (12/19, Heaven) reported Swiss police “have arrested 20 drug-trafficking suspects accused of flying on dozens of trips to the U.S. with Ecstasy tablets sewn inside their cycling shorts.  The suspected smugglers are accused of transporting 1.2 million Ecstasy pills worth an estimated $18 million stitched inside their biking shorts on 61 flights from Switzerland to New York and Miami from 2002 until last year, Zurich police said.” 

Afghan Government To Fumigate Poppy Crops.  In its Asia Pacific section, the New York Times (12/20, Wafa, 1.16M) reports the government “said it would use ground spraying to reduce the poppy crop but did not say where or when. It has resisted chemical spraying in favor of persuasion combined with eradication campaigns by local police officers, who break up poppy crops with tractors or cut them down.  … Over the weekend, President Hamid Karzai removed the governor and deputy governor of Helmand, the biggest poppy-producing province by far.” 

Soldiers In Mexico Find Widespread Cultivation Of Hybrid Marijuana Plant.  The AP (12/20) reports thousands of soldiers “sent to seize control of one of Mexico's top drug-producing regions have discovered widespread cultivation of a hybrid marijuana plant that is easy to grow and difficult to kill.  The plants can only be killed by having their roots pulled, a slow and tedious task, Army Gen. Manuel Garcia told The Associated Press, one of four media outlets allowed to accompany soldiers on the daylong raid.  The hybrid first appeared in Mexico two years ago but has become the plant of choice for drug traffickers in western Michoacan state.  … On Tuesday, dozens of soldiers wielding assault rifles swarmed 38 marijuana plantations, ripping plants out of the ground.  As they flew back to their base, they spotted 32 new fields.”

55 Suspected Drug Traffickers Arrested.  The Los Angeles Times (12/19, Enriquez, 850K) reported Mexican government officials said they “had destroyed 600 acres of marijuana plants and seized more than 6 tons of harvested pot during a crackdown by federal police and the military in the state of Michoacan.  Authorities also announced the arrest of 55 suspected drug traffickers in Operation Michoacan United, President Felipe Calderon's first effort to make good on his promise to combat a turf war among drug gangs that has claimed about 2,000 lives nationwide this year.  … The seizures and arrests struck at Michoacan drug gangs that are allegedly allied with the Gulf cartel.  Members and associates of the cartel are locked in a war with the Pacific Coast-based Sinaloa cartel over market share and smuggling routes.” 

Colombians Suspect Warlords’ Cooperation Will Shield Continued Drug Smuggling.  The AP (12/20) reports one of Colombia's most feared paramilitary warlords testified Tuesday before a special tribunal, a confession meant to sharply reduce his jail time for hundreds of murders and forcing tens of thousands from their land during a decade-long reign of terror.  Salvatore Mancuso's closed-door court appearance was the first by a top militia commander as part of a 2003 peace deal that led to the demobilization of 31,000 right-wing fighters.  … Like much of the United Self-Defense Forces' leadership, Mancuso soon got deep into Colombia's lucrative cocaine trade, slaughtering enemies while displacing tens of thousands of peasants.  Many Colombians believe that Mancuso and 58 other top jailed warlords plan to divulge only what prosecutors already know while secretly shuttling huge fortunes overseas and maintaining cocaine-smuggling operations.” 

The Washington Post (12/20, A20, Forero, 690K) reports some disclosures “have led many Colombians to wonder whether the government is committed to aggressively dismantling a group that is accused of killing thousands of people.  Although officials say 30,000 paramilitary fighters have disarmed, investigators believe several bands remain intact or are reorganizing to traffic in cocaine and liquidate opponents.” 

Coca Consumption Cited Among Threats To US-Bolivia Relations.  The Wall Street Journal (12/20, 2.04M) reports friction between President Evo Morales and Washington threatens a program that aids farmers.  … Bush administration officials and lawmakers in Washington…are also dismayed that Mr. Morales -- a former coca-grower activist -- is championing ‘traditional’ coca consumption.  Coca cultivation in Bolivia has grown to more than double the 29,640 acres the government reserves for nonnarcotic uses, said U.S. officials, who worry that much of that production will be siphoned off to make cocaine.”

The AP (12/19) also reported Morales “says his government is ready to expand the allowed production of coca.  Morales told a gathering of coca growers late Tuesday that he had ‘no problem’ with a proposal to decree an expansion of legally permitted coca production to 49,400 acres from the current 29,700.” 

Peru’s President Promotes Coca Salads.  The AP (12/20) reports President Alan Garcia on Tuesday “suggested an unorthodox use for the coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine: Why not toss it in a salad?  … Garcia's comments put him in the company of leftist presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who have publicly promoted mixing the high-calcium leaf into everything from toothpaste to soft drinks.  … A recent report by a Peruvian anti-drug group questioned coca's potential benefits to people, however, saying some studies showed that its nutrients cannot be absorbed by the human body.” 

Venezuela Disputes US Ambassador’s Assessment Of Drug Trafficking.  El Universal (12/18) reported the National Government “took issue with US Ambassador William Brownfield, who said recently that drug traffic has increased in Venezuela following termination of existing anti-drugs cooperation programs with the US Government.  Minister of the Interior and Justice Jesse Chacón belied Brownfield's remarks ‘for lack of information or due to an underlying intention when he made such statement.’”  Chacón “explained that an agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) terminated because the agency carried out ‘intelligence work on government officials’ and failed to address drug traffic.” 

China’s Xinhua News Agency (12/19) reports Venezuela “defended its drug policy on Monday after the United States criticized the South American country for its lack of cooperation with U.S. drug officials in fighting trafficking.  Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon told reporters that drug seizures had risen. He said that although President Hugo Chavez had severed ties with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005, the country had intensified cooperation with its European and Latin American counterparts.  Chacon's claim came in response to U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield's criticism last week that drug smuggling via Venezuela had soared tenfold in five years, partly due to Chavez cutting ties with the DEA.” 

Rood Says US Government Is Committed To OPBAT.  In an editorial, the Freeport News (12/18) wrote, “Given the success of OPBAT, it was therefore a matter of grave concern to the Bahamas when the U.S. Army announced earlier this year that it would end its participation in OPBAT; however, as [U.S. Ambassador John D. Rood] did when that announcement was made, Rood again gave assurances last week that the ‘U.S. government remains firmly committed to OPBAT.’   He said an ‘inter-agency group that has been tasked with developing an acceptable alternative to U.S. Army support for the mission has come up with a series of options that could ensure OPBAT retains its current capabilities or, in some areas, could even strengthen them.’”  The Freeport News adds, “There is no question that without OPBAT, the Bahamas would once again find itself fighting a losing battle to reduce the high level of drug trafficking through the Bahamas, as was the case back in the 1970s and 1980s.”  

Uribe Says Fumigation Of Coca Crops Aimed At Guerrilla-Controlled Drug Trade.  The AP (12/18) reported Colombian President Alvaro Uribe “said Monday that aerial fumigation of coca crops along the Ecuadorean border aims to combat the area's guerrilla-controlled drug trade - not Ecuadorean farmers who have complained about the program.  … Colombia last week renewed spraying against coca…to within 100 meters of the border because coca growers had swarmed into the area.  The spraying came despite Ecuador's complaints that the herbicide Glyphosate was drifting across the border, killing legal crops and causing health problems.” 

Military Operation In Mexico Destroys More Than 2,000 Marijuana Farms.  Bloomberg (12/19) reports Mexico’s military “assault on marijuana farms in the state of Michoacan destroyed 2,116 growing operations in a week, the defense minister said.  Troops took out crops on 586 acres and found other drugs in the raids, Defense Minister Guillermo Galvan said yesterday in Mexico City. Based on a price of 18,000 pesos a kilo — the market rate north of the border with America — the marijuana, seeds, and other drugs destroyed have a value of about $619.2 million, Mr. Galvan said.”

The AP (12/18) reported Mexican soldiers and federal police “sent to restore order in Michoacan state have discovered 1,795 marijuana fields in the past week and seized or destroyed marijuana worth about $8.2 million, security officials said Monday.  Officials estimate the raids cost the drug cartels as much as $626 million, counting not only the value of the destroyed plants but also the drugs that could have been produced with opium poppies and marijuana seeds seized in the raids, the army said.”

Purported Drug Cartel Chief, Assassins Arrested.  On its Web site, Voice of America (12/19) reports Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia “says the crackdown on illicit drug trade has begun.  He says Alfonso Barajas, known as ‘Ugly Poncho,’ and a local chief of the Gulf cartel, was arrested Saturday in Apatzingan, a battleground town where rival drug gangs have been fighting in recent months.  … So far, more than a dozen people in Michoacán state have been arrested, including two assassins, Leonel López Guizar and Rosalio Mendoza González, who are being held in the town of Apatzingan.”   

Afghan Government Replaces Governor In Helmand Province.  In Kabul, the AP (12/18) reported the Afghan government “has fired the governor of its biggest drug-producing province, officials said Monday.  Former Gov. Mohammad Daud was replaced by Asadullah Wafa over the weekend to lead the province that grows more than a third of the world's opium.  … Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the government was happy with Daud's work but that the appointment of Wafa would help increase security in the province.  … A Western official in Kabul said Daud, who had been governor for about a year, was a "high-integrity guy" and said media reports claiming the United States wanted him replaced were false.” 

In Colombia, Warlord To Testify As Part Of Peace Pact.  The AP (12/19) reports, “One of Colombia's most feared paramilitary warlords was headed to court to address his role in hundreds of murders of civilians during a decade-long reign of terror.   Salvatore Mancuso's court appearance Tuesday was to be the first by a top commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, as part of a 2003 peace deal with the government that has led to the demobilization of 31,000 right-wing fighters.  … Like much of the AUC leadership, Mancuso soon strayed from the group's original aim, immersing himself in Colombia's lucrative cocaine trade - for which he's wanted for extradition to the United States - and slaughtering enemies, real or imagined, while forcibly displacing peasants from their lands.” 

Report’s Author Claims “War On Drugs” Is Failing.  The UK’s Guardian (12/19) says the author of the report, Jon Gettman, “says the figures show the war on drugs is not working: ‘Illicit marijuana cultivation provides considerable unreported revenue for growers without corresponding tax obligations to compensate the public for the social and fiscal costs related to [its] use.’  His suggestion that the crop be legalized and taxed was rejected by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which pointed to countries with large drug cash crops, notably Colombia and Afghanistan.”

Mexican Soldiers Capture Suspected Drug Cartel Boss.  The AP (12/18) reports Mexican soldiers “have captured a suspected drug cartel boss in the most significant arrest since President Felipe Calderon sent thousands of troops to restore order in a western state terrorized by drug gangs, the military said Sunday.  Elias Valencia, a suspected head of the Valencia cartel, was arrested along with four other people Friday at a mountain ranch near the town of Aguililla in Michoacan state, said Gen. Cornelio Casio.  … Mexican investigators say Elias Valencia is one of several figures who have run the cartel since his father, Armando Valencia, was arrested in 2003.  He and the others were arrested with several hundred pounds of marijuana and an arsenal of firearms, Casio said.” 

Drug Operation Seen As A Bust.  The Los Angeles Times (12/16, Enriquez, 850K) reported Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon “didn't wait long to challenge the violent drug traffickers that control parts of Michoacan, his home state.  But Operation Michoacan United, announced Monday, so far looks like a bust — and not the kind Calderon had in mind.  … Despite the fanfare accompanying Calderon's anti-drug operation, which included roadblocks and air surveillance, the effort had yielded no arrests as of Friday afternoon.  The operation is concentrated in 13 municipalities in the southwestern portion of the state, an area suffering from high illiteracy and poverty rates and site of a third of the state's homicides this year.” 

Seven Killed At Peru’s State-Run Coca Company.  The AP (12/17) reported five police officers and two employees of Peru's state-run coca company “were shot to death in this southern jungle state early Saturday, authorities said.  The bodies of the officers and workers from the National Coca Company — the only company legally authorized to sell coca in Peru — were found near the town of Machente in Ayacucho state.  No other details were immediately available.”

Drug Traffickers Said To Have Strong Political Influence In Honduras.  The Inter Press Service News Agency (12/15) reports, “Traditionally powerful families and drug traffickers have enormous political influence in Honduras today, according to analysts.  … Alfredo Landaverde, an expert on drug trafficking issues and adviser to the state on security, said that ‘narco’ penetration in Honduras can be seen in money laundering, car theft, forgery of documents, trafficking of arms and persons, and the activities of ‘maras’ or youth gangs.”  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “reported that around 100 tons of cocaine move through Honduras annually, while domestic consumption levels have soared in the last few years.  Most of the cocaine comes from Colombia and is on its way to the United States, according to the Honduran police and the DEA.”

Poppy Crop Fumigation Said To Be Unconfirmed By Afghan Government.  Pakistan’s PakTribune (12/16) reported John Walters “announced that Afghanistan's poppy crops will be sprayed with herbicides in an effort to put a crimp in the country's booming opium and heroin trade.  But the Afghan government, which is not enthusiastic about spraying, has yet to confirm Walters' pronouncement.  … The problem for Walters and the US is that embarking on widespread eradication is also likely to feed the insurgency as farmers and traders turn to the Taliban for protection from the central government and the ‘infidels.’  The Taliban is already doing just that, and it is using opium profits to fund its resurgence.” 

In Ecuador, Colombia’s Fumigation Of Coca Plants Seen As Hostile Act.  Los Angeles Times (12/15, 850K) reports Ecuador's foreign minister “said Thursday that Colombia's decision to resume aerial fumigation of coca plants near the two nations' border after a yearlong suspension was ‘an unfriendly and hostile act’ that could cause a break in diplomatic relations.  Ecuadorean President-elect Rafael Correa, speaking to reporters in Buenos Aires, agreed with Foreign Minister Francisco Carrion, saying Colombia's resumption of spraying Tuesday was a hostile act.  … The two countries' usually amicable relations have been strained since the start of Plan Colombia in 2000, the $4-billion anti-drug and anti-terrorism program funded by the United States.  Ecuador says refugees are fleeing into the country, and that it is not adequately compensated by the United States for the support it gives to the war on terrorism and drugs.” 

Mexico’s Government To Expand Anti-Drug Operation.  The AP reports (12/15) reports Mexico's government “said Thursday it would send troops and police to root out drug smugglers in several states, expanding an offensive that began this week in one violence-plagued state where soldiers clashed with traffickers trying to protect a marijuana field.  Attorney General Eduardo Medina said raids could take place simultaneously in various states, apparently to prevent traffickers from fleeing between regions.  He declined to name the states.  … On Tuesday, some 6,500 troops and federal police rolled into Michoacan state to round up traffickers and burn marijuana and opium fields.” 

US Agents’ Business Cards Found Taped To Body In Mexico.  The El Paso Times (12/14) reported U.S. law enforcement agencies “were informed by their Mexican counterparts that a man found murdered in Juárez last month had the bloodied business cards of two U.S. agents taped to his forehead.  The victim, who has not been identified, was dropped from a van at the Chamizal park in Juárez on the afternoon of Nov. 23.  The man had the cards of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Raul Bencomo and of a DEA agent with the first name Todd stuck to his forehead with masking tape.”  Officials with ICE and DEA “confirmed they were told about the cards found on the Chamizal body by Mexican authorities, but said they were not part of any investigation.” 

The AP (12/15, Caldwell) reports photographs of the victim “published in…the Spanish-language newsapaper El Diario de El Paso, show one of the business cards is from Raul M. Bencomo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. Bencomo oversaw a controversial drug informant who led authorities to the bodies of about a dozen men buried in the yard of a Juarez house in 2004.  The second card, which is barely legible in the photos, is believed to be from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.”  Media outlets that used the AP story include FOX News, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Dallas Morning News. 

On its Web site, KDBC-TV, El Paso, Texas (12/15) reports, “On the front page of the Diario today... a story about a possible DEA Informant found murdered.  The newspaper worries this story may have something to do with a suspicious car found in their parking lot. Diario Employees found a car with Mexican plates and the Diario logo on it in front of their building.  The Mexican Woman driving it says she was sent for a job interview, but could not explain why she was driving the car or who sent her there.” 

Local TV Coverage.  KTSM-TV, El Paso, Texas (12/14, 10:00 p.m.) aired, “Juarez police say execution style murders are becoming more frequent and more gruesome.  Just last month an unidentified man was found at the Chamizal Park murdered with two bloodied business cards taped to his forehead.  One card belonged to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, the second to a DEA agent.  One of the man's fingers had also been cut off and shoved into his mouth.” 

KVIA-TV, El Paso, Texas (12/14, 10:00 p.m.) noted a front-page story which ran in Thursday morning's edition of El Diario.  KVIA reported, “The story outlines the murder of an alleged DEA informant whose body was found mutilated and dumped in the Chamizal Park in Ciudad Juarez.” 

Report: Mexican Embassy Identifies Man Killed At Hospital As Drug Cartel Member.  The El Paso Times (12/15) reports a man who “narrowly survived a street shooting in Juárez only to be followed by his attackers inside a hospital and killed Tuesday was one of the men who was videotaped unloading drugs from a crashed SUV during a standoff in Hudspeth County in January.  César Alonso Gándara Reyes, 30, was first shot at...in a neighborhood near the Zaragoza Bridge on Tuesday afternoon, Juárez police said.  He was transported to the Clínica Zaragoza…by someone who quickly left the hospital.  While Gándara was being treated for his wounds, a group of men pretending to be police officers shot him on a gurney.”  According to the Times, Gándara was identified on the Mexican Embassy Web site as a member of the Escajeda family, a cell of the Juárez drug cartel.  Thursday, DEA officials “said they had no information about Gándara's death.” 

Five Canadians Face Charges For Roles In Drug-Smuggling Scheme.  In Calgary, the Globe and Mail (12/14) reported a long-running international smuggling operation that “used small planes to ferry illegal drugs between Alberta and Montana has been dismantled by police, who said yesterday that five Canadians face charges in connection with the plot.  The nine-month investigation, dubbed Project IDEA, resulted in the seizure of $5.2-million worth of drugs, including 500 kilograms of marijuana, 30 kilograms of cocaine, 9,000 tablets of diazepam and 210 vials of ketamine.”    Authorities “worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement to crack what Insp. McCallum described as an ‘independent’ operation.”

The Calgary Sun (12/14) reported the drugs “have a combined street value of $5.2 million and were all seized in the United States.”

In Colombia, Uribe Ally Accused Of Doing Business With Illegal Militias.  The AP (12/15) reports a political ally of President Alvaro Uribe “is under investigation for allegedly doing business with illegal right-wing militias as head of a company that sells fruit for shipment to the United States and Europe.  Juan Manuel Campo, a member of the Uribe-allied Conservative Party's executive committee, heads a company that supplies 40 tons of plantain bananas a week from land cleared of its rightful owners through intimidation by banned paramilitaries.”  However, “to date, no major politician ally of Colombia's law-and-order president has been proven to have illegally benefited financially from ties with paramilitaries, which are deeply involved in drug trafficking and listed by Washington as ‘terrorist organizations