by David E. Robles
The Mexican federal police captured Texas-born drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a.k.a. “the Barbie,” on Monday. Valdez, who was fluent in both English and Spanish, earned his nickname because of his fair complexion and blue eyes. NPR reports that Valdez is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S. and is alleged to have either ordered or personally carried out hundreds of killings as the head of an assassination group for the Beltran Leyva cartel. He is expected to be extradited to the United States to prevent him from continuing to run the gang from within the Mexican penal system. (For a good laugh, check out this “photo” of his arrest.)
The arrest of Valdez — the third major suspected drug lord to be captured in the past 10 months — comes at a crucial time for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who has been attempting to rally a beleaguered nation behind the increasingly bloody drug war. Many Mexicans, especially those nearest the violence, believe the Mexican government is losing control. (Recent incidents include the mass killing of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas state about 100 miles south of Brownsville, Texas; the assassination of Hidalgo mayor Marco Antonio Leal Garcia; and a shootout between the Mexican army and suspected drug cartel members in Tamaulipas that left 27 dead). Calderon insists that it is a price worth paying for victory in the drug war: “If we want a safe Mexico for the Mexicans of the future, we must take on the cost of achieving it today,” Calderon said in his state-of-the-nation address, according to the Associated Press.
Efforts are being made to weed out dirty cops in Mexico’s notoriously corrupt federal police agency. Nearly 10 percent of the federal police force has been fired over the last year after failing checks put in place to detect possible corruption. According to the Associated Press, “Mexico’s approximately 35,000 federal police are required to undergo periodic lie detector, psychological and drug examinations, and the government routinely investigates their finances and personal life.” * (See update below on state department’s human rights concerns.)
Whether you believe Mexico is winning or losing the drug war that rages within it, the cruel consequences of the violence are undeniably taking a toll on innocent residents as well. On September 15, the bicentennial anniversary of Mexico’s independence, there will be no traditional gathering and celebrating in the main plaza of Ciudad Juarez. Mayor Jose Reyes announced the cancellation Monday, saying that although no direct threats have been received, it would be too dangerous for such large crowds to gather in what has become the most dangerous city in war-torn Mexico.
In Arizona, Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Carlos Molinares-Nunez, a.k.a. “El Caliche,” was sentenced yesterday in federal court in Tucson to 27 years in prison and fined $4 million for smuggling tons of marijuana into the United States. Arizona’s U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke called his sentencing a crippling blow to his organization.
Meanwhile, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer admitted Friday what everyone has known for weeks: that she misspoke when she talked about beheadings in Arizona by drug cartels. The concession comes after Brewer’s dismal performance in a debate against Democratic challenger and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard in which Goddard tried to call her out on the statement. (See that part of the debate and how Brewer evades reporters’ questions about it afterward here.)
According to a new study conducted by University of New Hampshire associate professors of sociology Karen Van Gundy and Cesar Rebellon, the “gateway” effect of marijuana has been vastly overblown. According to the study, “the strongest predictor of whether someone will use other illicit drugs is their race/ethnicity, not whether they ever used marijuana.” (And, despite higher rates of imprisonment for drugs among minorities, the researchers found non-Hispanic whites are more likely to use illicit substances other than marijuana.) Van Gundy and Rebellon say: “In light of these findings, we urge U.S. drug control policymakers to consider stress and life-course approaches in their pursuit of solutions to the ‘drug problem.’”
Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, this week outlined what he sees as the next steps in the fight for drug policy reform: to make the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity reform retroactive so that those already serving prison terms will be treated the same as those sentenced in the future, a broader reform of mandatory minimum drug sentences, and a national reform of marijuana prohibition laws. What do you think?
UPDATE 9/4: The U.S. State Department is withholding 15 percent of newly authorized Merida initiative funding to Mexico, urging the nation to make more progress in curbing human rights abuses. The agency authorized payment of $36 million in previously withheld funding on Friday, saying the Mexican government has met human rights requirements to receive that portion of the funding.
According to the AP: “We believe there has been progress, very significant progress, on human rights in Mexico, but as a policy decision — not a legal decision — we are going to wait on a portion of new funding because we think additional progress can be made,” said Roberta Jacobson, a deputy assistant secretary for Mexico and Canada at the State Department. Read the AP story here.