drug policy
Over the past year, an influx of children has been immigrating to the United States. This has been connected to the increasing violence in Central America, which in turn, has recently been linked back further to the drug trade based in the areas of emigration. This drug trade seems to be fueled by markets in the United States.

Since October 2013, about 57,000 unaccompanied children have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Three out of four of these children are from Central America, and most from Honduras.

Honduran President Juan Hernandez spoke out about the link between drug trafficking violence and children fleeing the country. “Seven out of nine children who venture on the dangerous journey toward the United States come from the most violent areas of Honduras. Those are also the regions where the drug cartels are most active,” he stated.

The President then requested the United States to aid the drug problems continuing in Central America, as the United States fuels the market. After a group of Hondurans were deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduran first lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez spoke out about the issue, stating:

“The countries consuming drugs need to support and take joint responsibility because if there wasn’t demand, there wouldn’t be production and we wouldn’t be living like we are.”

While the cartels were mainly in Mexico and Colombia in the past, large operations were carried out to minimize the illegal drug trade there, which pushed much of the trafficking to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Hernandez suggests that the United States fund similar anti-drug programs in Central America that have been carried out in Mexico and Colombia in order to curb violence. This, in turn, would lead to less emigration.

While Honduras is hopeful for aid from the U.S., they are still making other plans to address the crisis. The Honduran government requested Mexican officials to add four new Honduran consulates to the U.S.-Mexico border in order to provide humanitarian aid to those who need it.

It is predicted that without U.S. aid directed toward alleviating the drug problem, more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors could leave Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for the United States border.

Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program, states that one of the biggest challenges for the U.S. will be creating a balance between responding to the influx of immigrants humanely without encouraging more to cross over illegally.

The current U.S. fiscal plan announced by the Department of State is to slash $285 million in aid to Latin America and place it toward military training, drug policy and social programs. Central America is hopeful that this will change.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, Fox News
Photo: Yahoo

Over the years, Colombia has rebuilt its image, moving past stereotypes of violence and drug lords ruling the country. Yet Colombia is facing setbacks in one of its main port cities, Buenaventura. Over 400,000 people call Buenaventura home, and yet more than 50,000 residents have been forced to leave during the last three years due to a myriad of reasons, including extortion and forced gang membership.

Colombia made efforts to build international relationships such as The Pacific Alliance, a group that attempts to unite Latin American countries like Peru and Chile with Asian countries to further their economic reach. Despite the steps forward, the signing ceremony took place in Cali, Colombia, as far from Buenaventura as possible.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the instability stems from a right wing paramilitary group, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), that vowed to put down their arms a decade ago. This would have served as a peace agreement, but many members struggled to survive and picked up the weapons again to fight for survival.

The citizens of Buenaventura struggle to find solace, with 80 percent of its population living below the poverty line and 30 percent below the rate of unemployment, according to The Economist.

To make this danger more tangible, in late June, Colombian police found another dismembered body in the style of gang “chop houses.” This is the 15th body found in such a mutilated state.

Analysts believe the aggression stems from warring drugs gangs with the intent to control the territory and infiltrate the drug trade between southeast Asia and Central America between the sub groups of the national neo-paramilitary groups “Los Rastrojos” and “Los Urbeños.”

These displays of violence are not uncommon as the people of Buenaventura attempt to quietly avoid the brewing conflicts.

It is unlikely that Colombia will reach any sort of economic and social stability as the gang-related danger continues to brew. The country cannot progress when nearly half a million people are forced to live in fear.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: The Economist, Columbia Reports, WSJ
Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

After more than 13 years on the run, the infamous leader of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico has finally been caught. Joaquin Guzmán, known as “El Chapo” for his short stature, was caught on February 22 after joint efforts between the Mexican Marines and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA.)

Before dawn that day, the team of Mexican marines raided Guzmán’s beachside condominium in the resort town of Mazatlán. The marines insured the occupants of the condominium were asleep using infrared and body heat scanners before entering the building.

When they entered, they found the drug king asleep shirtless next to his beauty queen wife along with an AK-47 within reach. Guzmán’s 2-year-old twin daughters and his bodyguard were also asleep in the next room.

The arrest was preceded by months of extensive findings by the DEA and Mexican authorities that led them closer to Guzmán. In recent months, authorities arrested several members of the Sinaloa cartel and discovered a system of tunnels underneath seven houses in Culiacan. Mexican marines almost captured Guzmán the previous week, but Guzmán narrowly escaped arrest by exiting one of the houses through a hatch beneath a bathtub.

Serafin Zambada-Ortiz, the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, one of Guzmán’s lieutenants and heir-apparent of the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested in November 2013. The arrests of cartel members, followed by an examination of their cell phone usage, led authorities ever closer to the quasi-mythical Guzmán.

Guzmán maintained a legendary status in Mexico as an impossible to capture figure. In 2001, he escaped Puente Grande prison in a laundry cart. He is known for bribing his way out of situations, and stories abound of his paying the tabs of entire restaurants in order to escape the law. Yet he is also known for his generous habit of giving out money freely to those in need.

While Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is claiming this to be a success in the war on drugs, many other still believe that this latest arrest could still spell trouble for the Mexican state. With this power vacuum, drug cartels could ramp up their violent activities in an effort to win more turf. Further, the drug business drove billions of dollars into the state of Sinaloa, which will now need to rely on another source of income.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Los Angeles Times, CNN, CNN
Photo: Enrique Nieto

Mexican Vigilantes
The cancerous effect of drug-related violence over the past six years has nearly stripped Mexico’s resources to the bone. Drug lords and cartel members have continued to control the better part of the region by striking fear into residents through brutal extortions, kidnappings, and murders.

This has all but halted the local economy, as many business owners are afraid to open up shop out of fear of reprisal. With more than 70,000 lives already lost to gang and drug-related violence, a recently approved initiative by the Mexican government has started to build its foundation in an effort to put an affirmative end to the war.

“Guys from the self-defense groups are moving around the city, co-operating in certain ways with the federal government. Many, many people have been detained,” said Hipolito Mora, the leader of an unlikely group of vigilantes who have arrested approximately 200 gang members.

These arrests come at the heels of a recently passed initiative allowing “self-defense” movements to assimilate and work with federal forces to combat violence and gang activities. These quasi-military units have sprouted up around Michoacan and have seen their membership grow into 20,000 strong.

The agreement was formed between the leaders of the Mexican vigilantes, army and police officers; President Enrique Pena Nieto’s envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo. Wearing white-T-shirts as a symbol of identification, the Rural Defense Corps, as referred to by government officials, recently breached the central square of Apatzingan, a stronghold and command base for the Knights Templar drug cartel.

Working with governmental forces, the Rural Defense Corps cleared the area out of cartel gunman who notoriously fired upon them in October 2013, when they entered the city unarmed in a convoy of hundreds. The recent presence of vigilante forces is a much needed boost for residents who have been forced to live under viscous rule for several years.

“We need to enter Apatzingan, which is the heart of the whole region and, as we all know, of vital importance for the criminal organization,” Mora said. Currently, the Knights Templar survives off a steady supply of methamphetamine and marijuana smuggling in addition to extortion and a controlling thumb over the local economy.

Since the beginning of January, these “self-defense” vigilante groups have launched a series of attacks against the Knights Templar gang in order to take back several overthrown municipalities in Michoaca in hopes of liberating communities. Many offenders have been arrested and detained through roadblocks around western Mexico in addition to door to door searches.

While such news is encouraging, atrocities and violence continue to remain a looming factor for rising forces. Recently, a mass grave with approximately 20 bodies was discovered in the Michoacan town of Tinguindin as well as four other murders in the nearby village of Zacan. While Mora believes these acts of violence to be retaliation for his group’s recent triumphs, he remains determined. “There can’t be any further delay, as that would put under risk the lives of so many people who are supporting our movement.”

– Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, Daily Mail
Photo: Borderland Beat

As federal police officers and military troops stand on the street corners of small towns as guards with assault rifles at the ready, a picture of the drug cartel issue shows its true colors. Thousands of these police officials and military troops have been making arrests on suspected drug cartel members. They have also been “disarming untrustworthy local police officers.”

The compilation of troops has discouraged the vigilante groups in the Mexican state of Michoacan from fighting the Knight Templar drug cartel on their own. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s goal has been to avoid the domestic disaster that would take place if the separate groups were to collide.

Recently, the risk of social violence has been at an all-time high, considerably in the agricultural region known as Tierra Caliente. In the last month, shots were fired at the office of the federal prosecutor, injuring a 25-year-old window washer.

The residents of Michoacan interpreted the shooting as a violent protest conducted on the behalf of the allies of the Knights Templar. The city where these acts are taking place, Apatzingan, is an important base of operations.

A recent case of arson against a pharmacy in Apatzingan reaffirmed some residents suspicions that the federal government is either “unwilling or unable to stamp out the Knights Templar.” This group has been known for using terrorism and extortion to control majority of the commerce in Michoacan. The cartel has successfully infiltrated numerous local governments.

Due to the lack of action or protection on the behalf of troops who are present in Apatzingan, the residents have instilled their faith in the self-defense groups. These groups have been “staffing roadblocks alongside federal police on the outskirts of town.”

A violent shutdown between the vigilante self-defense groups and the drug cartel operatives seemed unavoidable in Nuevo Italia. These self-defense groups have declared themselves in control, and managed to disarm the local police.

According to a statement released by the federal government, police or military personnel have been assigned to every municipality in the southern portion of the state. Officials also said the arrests of Joaquin Negrete and Jorge Fabian Quezada, two alleged cartel leaders, were made.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: LA Times, CNN
Photo: SCMP

adams family
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports while drug use is stabilizing in industrialized countries, it is increasing in developing nations around the health and security of a nation than drug use in developed countries. Poor nations may not be able to handle drug abuse because of their underdeveloped boarders.

There has been a growth of heroine use in Eastern Africa and cocaine use in West and South Africa.  South East Asian and the Middle East are experiencing increased production and use of synthetic drugs (synthetic drugs include synthetic marijuana, MDMA, and “bath salts”.)

The Economist reports that Afghanistan is the heart of a multi-billion-dollar drug network smuggling heroine.  Tajikistan, part of the former Soviet Union, borders countries economy.  The majority of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day and often do not have power to heat their houses in the winter. However, the capital city of Dushanbe is full of mansions and flashy cars, signs that the city is profiting from the drug trade.

If is hard to find data on illicit drug use in developing countries but the use of opiates (heroine, opium, morphine) is likely to be the highest in Eastern Europe and Central, South and South East Asia where the drug is produced. Most opiate users, 7.8 million, live in and around Afghanistan and Myanmar, both major opiate-producing countries.

The World Health Organization reports that alcohol abuse and tobacco use have also risen dramatically in Eastern Europe and South and Southeast Asia. Research on the social and environmental causes of substance abuse has been lower than in the developed world but early research and case studies point to urbanization, poverty, migration, technological change, and interest in drug production as contributing factors.

Historically imprisonment has been the most common solution to illicit drug use and addiction. However research shows that imprisoning drug users is not very effective. The medicalization of drug use and the medical and therapeutic treatment of drug use is much more effective. Unfortunately developing countries face many barriers when implementing the medical treatment of drug addiction. Developing countries do not have the financial recourses or health infrastructure to provide programs like harm reduction initiatives (clean needles, needle drop off sites), drug residential rehab programs, or oral methadone.  There is also a moral view of drug use held by many people in poor countries that drug addiction is a personal choice and people should assume responsibility for it. These countries are more likely to take punitive action in dealing with drug use rather than treatment or harm reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: World Health Organization, Elements Behavioral Health, The Economist, The White House
Photo: Giphy.com

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In recent years, Myanmar has achieved a relative state of peace. The first civilian administration in 50 years has been marked by an array of golf courses, updated infrastructure, overall poverty reduction, and ethnic diversity.

Nearly twelve ethnic groups inhabit Myanmar, each with its own militia. Contrary to the suggestion of added security, the atmosphere is tense with potential violence between the various groups and drug operations in the region.

Opium production in the region has experienced an annual increase with a 26% increase between 2012 and 2013 alone. But eradication has proven impossible as each ethnic group maintains its own agenda and interest. While flare-ups between groups has decreased in the region, violence continues to erupt sporadically.

In addition, the illegal industry continues to gain profit as poor rural citizens lack means of legal financial gain. The majority of inhabitants on the country’s borders live on farms, earning income through opium cultivation. Government assistance in education and healthcare are lacking, inciting organizations like UNICEF to establish programs in the region.

Since declaring independence in 1948, Myanmar has benefited from UNICEF sponsored programs involving healthcare, nutrition, sanitation, education, and other child centered programs. The past five decades have seen increased enrollment in primary schools, longer life expediency from HIV infected women and children, an increase in literacy rates and a decrease in media censorship.

Despite the continued aid, the majority of its inhabitants continue to live in poverty in the new democratic state. Nearly 70% of rural inhabitants live in poverty while an estimated 26% of city dwellers struggle financially. Only 26% of the 59.1 million inhabitants have access to electricity, leaving many to rely on firewood.

But hope is not lost. The government hopes to reach a cease fire agreement between ethnic groups. Officials hope that peace will bring long term stability to the region and cooperation to all groups involved. With the participation of all parties, the administration aims to reach a general consensus on the future of the country and its people.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: New York TimesUNICEFUNDP
Photo: Girl Serves World

Foreign agricultural experts and the United Nations are scrambling to control the growth of a lesser-known tool of the Taliban regime – the poppy.

Production of heroin’s precursor has increased forty-fold since the War on Terror began in 2001. Afghanistan produces an estimated 90% of the world’s opium, largely due to the economic stability it affords poor farmers who cannot cover production costs by cultivating other plants.

The drug trade perpetuates political instability and encourages violence, but also supports the livelihoods of local farmers, posing a curious catch-22 for U.S. and NATO officials for whom the approval and support of the local population is of paramount importance. Since 2002, the United States has spent over $7 billion to control the opium trade, in addition to providing troops to train local counternarcotics teams and sway local officials to eliminate poppy farming from their regions. At present, some 51,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, British and American agricultural advisers who encourage alternative crops do not have economics on their side. Opium production yields ten times the profit of cotton, for example, and represents approximately 15% of Afghanistan’s Gross National Product. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan’s drug-related exports accrue U.S. $2.5 billion annually.  Since 2001, the opium trade has netted over $1 trillion dollars for organized crime (namely, the insurgency).

This “dirty money” is as addictive as the drug itself; the United States’ campaign against opium has failed to curb the market’s growth.  A spokesperson for the Afghanistan Counternarcotic Ministry, Qayum Samir, estimates that 154,000 hectares of poppies will be planted this spring, an increase of 18% from the previous season.  A sluggish economy has increased the income gap in Afghanistan, where the ruling elite has little interest in electing an anti-opium president in the coming election. As money becomes scarcer, cooperation with drug lords becomes a necessity for poor famers, who are further marginalized by the instability that results from increased power of insurgent leaders. What results is a self-perpetuating cycle of poppy production and corruption.

Critics of the West’s counternarcotics policies claim that previous anti-drug efforts have been “too little, too late.” Rampant poverty is the root of the problem; were poppy farmers economically self-sufficient, they could avoid manipulation by insurgents and produce other crops. Though the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” mentality cannot straighten out prior strategic missteps, going forward the U.S. could appropriate funding to fighting poverty in Afghanistan rather than controlling the opium issue from the back end.

The $7 billion doled out to the region by the Untied States in the last decade is nearly triple the entire operating budget of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO emphasizes the necessity of sustainable food systems, public health and education as conduits for societal, economical and developmental change. Similarly, according to the Global Fund, this $7 billion would cover nearly half of the entire additional commitment needed to the reach the Millennium Development Goal to halve global poverty by 2015. Reaching this milestone would not only improve the livelihood of Afghanistan’s rural poor, but also provide them with the tools to resist coercion.

Recognizing the opium trade as a byproduct of deeper sociopolitical issues, namely widespread poverty, would allow the United States and other Western nations to develop targeted campaigns to nip Afghanistan’s poppy problem in the bud.

Casey Ernstes

Sources: BBC, Global Research, FAO, Seattle Times, UN, World Bank, UNICEF USA

Krokodil, a flesh-eating morphine derivative intended to imitate the effects of heroin, has been attracting international intention for its devastating flesh-eating effects.

Krokodil is easily made with common household chemicals. It includes codeine and a combination of iodine, paint thinner, lighter fluid and hydrochloric acid that only need to be cooked for 30 minutes.

Although its short-term effects are pleasant – a heroin-type high sans nausea – repeated exposure causes users’ skin to become scaly, then rots their flesh from the inside out. The average lifespan of a krokodil user is 2-3 years.

The drug, a homemade variant of desomorphine, has sedative and analgesic properties similar to those of morphine. Desomorphine was originally patented in 1932 by Frederick Small Lyndon, after which it was widely distributed in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid.

Although krokodil was developed decades ago, it has only gained notoriety in the past few years – not until this past month has krokodil shown up in the United States. The krokodil trend first took off in Russia, where a stuttering economy has caused widespread clandestine manufacturing of the drug in order to meet demand for a cheap heroin substitute.

Opiate addiction is rampant in Russia, partially because of its proximity to Afghanistan. The Huffington Post reports that Afghanistan provides Russia’s 2.5 million heroin addicts with 70 tons of heroin each year – accounting for more than 20 percent of annual global drug consumption.

Many of the country’s poor, seeking an affordable way to sustain their addiction, have turned to krokodil as a heroin substitute. The drug is especially pervasive among homeless people and prostitution rings. New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services estimates that 1 million Russians now use krokodil, equivalent to 40 percent of the Russian population already addicted to heroin.

Krokodil is deceptively lethal. Many users falsely assume that the cooking process removes impurities from the drug. This is not true. Even after cooking, the drug retains chemicals that almost immediately cause the body to deteriorate. The drug’s use is most prevalent among poor people already addicted to hard drugs.

Because the krokodil trend is relatively new, health professionals do not fully understand the drug’s long-term effects. They continue to investigate as new victims are hospitalized. However, because krokodil is usually homemade and has ingredients that vary by manufacturer, the effects of krokodil will vary case-by-case.

– Matt Berg

Sources: Espacenet, Huffington Post1, Huffington Post2, OASAS, LA Times

Photo: The Parallax Brief