Mexican Military and Drug Cops Catching the Little Fish

A new report released last month by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA)has some interesting statistics on Mexican and Central American drug arrests.

The unprecedented one-year comparative study of the drug laws and prison systems in eight Latin American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

The findings show that:

The weight of the law falls on the most vulnerable individuals, overcrowding the prisons, but allowing drug trafficking to flourish.

How so? [More...]

Comparative study on the impact of drug poicies on the prison systems of eight Latin American countries - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay - reveals that drug laws have contributed to the prison crises these countries are experiencing. The drug laws impose penalties disproportionate to many of the drug offenses committed, do not give sufficient consideration to the use of alternative sanctions, and promote the excessive use of preventive detention.

The study, Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America, published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), found that the persons who are incarcerated for drug offenses tend to be individuals caught with small amounts of drugs, often users, as well as street-level dealers.

Specifically, the study finds that most of the persons imprisoned for drugs are not high- or medium-level drug traffickers, but rather occupy the lowest links in the chain. According to the report, these laws have overcrowded the prisons - with a high human cost - but have not curbed the production, trafficking, or use of drugs.

According to the Study;

"Imprisoning minor offenders to restrict drug trafficking is useless, for the next day the bosses at the top replace them. But for the persons locked up, prison can destroy their lives," according to Pien Metaal, coordinator of TNI's drug law reform project. "The criminal law approach to these persons also swamps the systems of administration of justice, thereby negatively impacting society as a whole," adds Metaal. One example is Colombia, where the study concluded that 98 percent of the persons imprisoned for drug offenses from 2007 to 2009 were low-level offenders, or at least that it was not possible to prove otherwise.

What causes these low-level mules to and traffickers to get into the business? Economic despair.

For example, the persons imprisoned for drugs generally come from the most vulnerable sectors of society, those with little formal education, low incomes, and limited opportunities. "Poverty is evident in the prisons in all these countries," says Coletta Youngers, a Senior Fellow with WOLA. "Many of the persons enter the drug ‘business' out of economic desperation, but the reality is that transporting, selling, and producing at that low level doesn't get anyone out of poverty; but it becomes an option despite the risks because it represents a steady income," adds Youngers.

What they encountered in their study was the "feminization of drug offenses"

, Most of those imprisoned for drug offenses are men, yet the percentage of women prisoners who are behind bars for drug offenses is greater than the percentage of male prisoners locked up for the same reason. This is particularly visible in Argentina and Ecuador. "Many of these women are single and poor mothers. The fear they may have of ending up in prison or getting involved in the drug business is trumped by their need to provide for their families," says Coletta Youngers of WOLA. "These single mothers and other similar offenders should be considered for sanctions other than prison, especially because while they are in prison their children are unprotected."

What conclusion is drawn for this?

The study concludes, the persons charged with and convicted of drug offenses are often denied access to penalties that constitute alternatives to imprisonment. Indeed, in most of the countries studied, the severity of the penalties may be grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed. For example in Ecuador a "mule," or low level transporter of drugs, may receive a longer prison sentence than a murderer.

The problem is then compounded:

The study concludes that this disproportionality in sentencing is due in part to these countries' laws not distinguishing clearly among users, small-scale dealers, small-scale transporters, and medium- and large-scale traffickers. "Many drug users end up in jail - even when their country's law does not provide for imprisonment of users - as they are taken for dealers," says Metaal of TNI. "To reestablish proportionality in sentencing, it is important that the authorities introduce clearer guidelines to identify the different levels of trafficking and the different types of drugs, and to keep users from ending up in prison," concludes Metaal.

The report makes some recommendations for more effective and humane policies, including:

  • Establish and expand alternatives to incarceration for those charged with low-level drug offenses, including removing criminal sanctions for possession for personal use.
  • Abolish mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Avoid preventive detention in the case of low-level, non-violent offenders.
  • Stimulate an open debate about the advantages and disadvantages of moving towards a legal, regulated market for cannabis.

The statistics for Mexico are here.

The executive summary of the report is here.

Many of the inmates are imprisoned for small amounts of drugs like marijuana for personal use:

[A] high percentage of persons incarcerated are in prison for simple possession of drugs,consumers detained with relatively small amounts of drugs, including marijuana – even in countries where such possession is not illegal. In most of the countries studied the distinction between drug user and drug trafficker is hardly developed in the laws, and is poorly interpreted by the police and by the courts. Throughout the region, cannabis smokers in particular are stigmatized and harassed by the police, and many people are in prison for growing or simple possession of cannabis.

In Mexico,

[A]ccording to the CIDE research center, in the Federal District and in the state of Mexico, 75 percent of the prisoners held on drug charges were detained for possession of small amounts. In addition, one undesired consequence of the incarceration of the small-time offenders is that prisons are in effect schools for crime; many low-level offenders emerge from prison into the world having joined some criminal organization.

On the increase in women imprisoned:

...the study also reveals three relatively new and interrelated phenomena: increases in the numbers of women, couriers and foreigners behind bars for drug offenses. Although they still number far fewer than their male counterparts, the number of women in prison for drug offenses increased considerably in some cases.

The Study's Recommendations:

  • Establish and expand alternatives to incarceration for those charged with low-level drug offenses, including removing criminal sanctions for possession for personal use.
  • Ensure proportionality in sentencing, distinguishing between:
  • drug trafficking and other types of crime;
  • low, medium and high-level drug offenses;
  • rank or position of the accused in drug-trafficking networks;
  • violent and non-violent offenses; and
  • types of drugs.
  • Abolish mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Avoid preventive detention in the case of low-level, non-violent offenders following arrest
    and during the investigative phase to determine whether or not formal charges will be filed.
  • Promote justice sector reforms to eliminate corruption and increase the efficiency of local judiciaries, and increase government funding to improve prison infrastructure and conditions.
  • Establish equal access for drug suspects to procedural benefits and opportunities for alternative sentencing – such as treatment, educational opportunities or community service – that are offered to those involved in other types of offenses.
  • Reorient law enforcement efforts to target high-level drug-trafficking criminal networks, rather than those at the bottom rung of the drug-trafficking ladder, such as consumers, small-scale farmers, low-level dealers and mules.
  • Stimulate an open debate about the advantages and disadvantages of moving towards a legal, regulated market for cannabis.
  • Allow natural coca leaf products to be sold on the market.
  • Consider applying special amnesties, such as pardons, to people already convicted of drug offenses and who received disproportionately severe sentences.

The conclusion:

This study leaves no doubt as to who are the primary victims of the so-called “war on drugs.” The objective of the information, conclusions and recommendations provided in this report is to encourage an urgent debate to achieve a more balanced and humane approach to reduce the harms associated with the illicit production of controlled substances, their distribution and consumption. We hope that Systems Overload helps to sound the alarm for reforms.

WOLA states as its mission: "The TNI/WOLA Drug Law Reform Project promotes more effective and humane drug policies through dialogue and analysis."

< Obama to Resume Guantanamo Military Commission Trials | Obama And Defining The Center >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Nothing new here (none / 0) (#1)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 06:21:40 AM EST
    And it's a mirror for what is happening here vis-a-vis drug prohibition.

    Which should surprise no one, as it is the American Model of Drug Prohibition which these nations have followed, with considerable pressure from the US.

    Garbage in, garbage out. And the only ones who seem shocked are the drug prohibitionists. Like 'developmentally challenged' children, they just keep squeezing a balloon that bulges out the other side without popping, and they wonder why it won't break.

    And we've paid out all this taxpayer's money (a trillion bucks since the late 1960's) for this farce, with nothing to show for it but nation-threatening cartels, shredded civil rights, prisons we can no longer afford, citizens slaughtered by police without due process, etc. when we desperately need the money we still have left for more important things, such as social safety net programs...but are still blowing those badly needed funds on SWAT raids and prisons.

    In these increasingly hard times, how much longer will it be before someone in power realizes that ending drug prohibition and using the money for those social safety nets will equal votes?

    Reality solution: Reform the CIA (none / 0) (#2)
    by Yes2Truth on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 07:30:00 AM EST

    If corporate media would do its job, the public would know that they're the world's largest drug cartel.  They protect their major business allies and could care less about the small fry who get busted.

    Congress should properly fund the CIA so that it would have at least THAT one good reason to get out of the drug smuggling business.

    Does anybody still think... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 07:51:01 AM EST
    the drug war, foreign and domestic, is anything but a tremendous scam?

    No one in power really wants to see the drug trade stopped, or even slowed...no money in that.  Ya lock up the small fish to keep up appearances, justify budgets, and subsidize the prison industrial complex...with a wink and a nod (and a bribe) between the big shots in the trade and in uniform.  

    Both the police and thief sides of the game very livelyhoods depend on grinding the poor and/or unconnected to pieces...and nobody gives a f*ck about the poor slob dealing to feed their kids...expendable collateral damage.

    I Don't Buy It (none / 0) (#5)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 09:11:22 AM EST
    Continuing to do what seems logical isn't the same as supporting it.

    Who specifically in power do you think is pro-drug trade ?  

    I hear what your saying, but it's kinda like the comment above about the CIA being mule's or whatever.

    I don't buy for a minute that certain high power people who allow the drug trade to flourish and the other powerful people that want it stopped, are helpless.  

    It implies the problem could stopped if it weren't for those powerful people pulling the strings.  It implies that if those people were gone, there would be no more drug epidemic in the US.


    Drug trade profiteers (none / 0) (#6)
    by Yes2Truth on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 09:36:28 AM EST

    Drug War profiteers, ranging from CIA to LEOs, to
    war material suppliers, bail bondsmen, lawyers,
    politicians (and other indirect beneficiaries such
    as corp. media etc.) all deny they  are "pro-drug
    trade".  To the contrary, like the Mafia, they would
    like you to believe they are patriots who are
    anti-the drug trade.


    Not so much "pro drug trade"... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 10:06:15 AM EST
    as pro status quo drug prohibition...everybody's on the take in one way or another....if not in bribes, in votes.  Or in budgets or contracts.

    I mean I don't think Obama and Calderon do a happy dance when 100 kilos come across the border this way or 100 machine guns that way...but they like the game and what it enables them to do, maybe even subconciously...spending other peoples money on guns and cages instead of creating good jobs outside the tyranny sector, drug abuse treatment, or improving the lives of their respective people in some other way.  And the always useful fear.  In this racket, they can hurt you and call it help, and drug use has been so demonized the sheep go along with the charade, also maybe subconciously.

    And if the CIA needs money for a covert war, they have a way to make fast cash:)  So many pleasant angles to play for police and thieves alike...the common person loses, unless you're crazy enough to think prohibition keeps anybody off drugs.

    Bottom line I think, if all drugs were legalized tomorrow, the heads of the cartels and the board at CCA would cry tears in unison.


    The ones doing the most crying would be (none / 0) (#8)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 10:35:48 AM EST
    the banksters. The dirty money from drug laundering was what kept them afloat during the meltdown they engineered...as anti-drug organization heads ever-so-slightly quipped. You can almost see the wink-wink, nudge-nudge at the bald-faced crassness of it.

    All just a big joke to them.


    Too true... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 10:39:18 AM EST
    the "legit" (using the term loosey goosey) and black markets are heavily intertwined...the bank is the proverbial back alley where they meet.

    The saying "behind every great fortune is a crime" comes to mind.


    Paging Sir Allen Stanford... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Yes2Truth on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 11:06:44 AM EST

    Please call The Company or have your lawyer do so.


    Kdog (none / 0) (#11)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 01:07:41 PM EST
    I'm not getting your point.

    Let's say all you is is true, which is a huge stretch, those people/groups are so far removed from the decision making process that it's hard for me to believe they are anything but a marginal influence on policy.

    Who specifically has the power to end this, yet doesn't ?  Wasn't that your original point ?  And stop with the CIA, please, there influence is negligible on the global scale.  If anything they are the arms of influence.

    My point is that it can't be ended without some sort of legalization, which is ultimately a choice the people make.  I'm not trying to sound idealistic and I understand politics, but America simply isn't ready to say yes to drugs.

    For example, Afghanistan.  I would agree that the powers to be could end it, but for the special interests, the powerful, and politics, it continues.  

    I just don't buy the same for the war on drugs.  Nothing short of legalization is going to have any meaningful impact, and considering that the most toxic, it terms of human suffering, are illegal on every square inch of the earth.  Which if what you say were true, would mean that there isn't one country, of 300+ that isn't somehow influences by these outside groups.  Please.

    The human civilization just isn't ready for legalization of cocaine and opium, and without that, you have what we have, total chaos in respect to drug laws, enforcement, and most importantly, the mindset of the people.

    I won't deny that plenty profit and like the status quo, but that's not the same as making an effort to keep it going.  Drugs have been illegal for almost as long as man has had laws, and yet no one, no group, no country, no civilization has been able to control them.  It's as if these outside influences are so mighty and powerful that they have yet to meet a foe they couldn't defeat.

    The other obvious answer is that is something that is literally uncontrollable.


    Peter Dale Scott (none / 0) (#12)
    by Yes2Truth on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 01:36:44 PM EST

    You obviously aren't up to speed on the CIA's
    long history in drug smuggling.  Peter Dale
    Scott is the foremost expert on that subject.

    Allen Stanford's banks are alleged to have laundered drug money without much fear, due to his
    CIA connections.

    When you say "Drugs have been illegal for almost as long as man has had laws..." - that tells me you
    don't have a clue about history.

    You've got some catching-up to do.


    Yes2 (none / 0) (#14)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 02:15:22 PM EST
    I am aware of the conspiracy non-sense and some of the real deal, but unless you are suggesting the CIA has the power to stop the drug trade and doesn't, it's adds nothing to the conversation.

    Alleged means a lot of things, and in this case it means rumors and theories, which again, have nothing to do with what I am discussing.

    So exactly when were drugs made illegal in each country and when were laws enacted, and please don't tell me '70's for the US.  They were illegal except for medicinal use, just like they are today.  The only difference was access.


    To answer your questions... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 01:41:03 PM EST
    since my comment was all over the place:)

    Who has the power to make it stop?  Congress and the pres can make it stop with a stroke of a few pens. The world would follow suit quickly if we repealed all drug prohibition, at least the western world...Thailand might still roll like lunatics, and other full-on authoritarian/religous fanatic regimes...but Europe, Mexico, and S. America would follow our lead, imo.  Once we dried up the black market profit all but the most draconian states would want in on the legal action.

    100 years or so ago you could buy cocaine, opiates, reefer at your local druggist...opium dens open for business in Chinatown San Fran and the Bowery.  I don't follow where you say drug prohibition has been the norm for as long as we had laws...I think it's a fairly new phenomenon, with some exceptions. Today's world might not be ready for legal cocaine, but only because the way they got it prohibited was a massive propaganda campaign full of racist lies.  Repeat the lie, repeat the lie, repeat the lie and people will buy it.

    Maybe there is no concerted effort to "keep it going"...thats what I was trying to get at with "subconciously"...its all anyone alive today has ever known, prohibition, and it just rolls along unquestioned by those in power...because it serves them and their maintaining power, whether they know it or not.  

    To paraphrase Ayn Rand, governments can't control innocent men, criminals are easy to control...and when you don't have enough criminals, you create them out of thin air through drug or other lifestyle laws.

    We're in agreement I think that the violence and over-incarceration could be greatly reduced through prohibition repeal...were we differ, I think, is you think those in power simply disagree and think prohibition is necessary, while I think they are being willfully obtuse....my mind can't wrap itself around any reasonably intelligent person thinking we're on the right track in regards to drug policy....and I think Obama and most of Congress are at least reasonably intelligent.


    Agreed (none / 0) (#15)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 03:02:53 PM EST
    I agree with what should happen.

    Not to belabor the point, but it's important, you made a sweeping comment about the powers willfully keeping the drug trade running.

    Now it's Congress having the power to make them legal, that's not the same thing as having the power to stop it and not using it, and it's completely different than knowingly allowing something to happen.  If anything Congress has overextended, we can agree the methods are misplaced, but they aren't in any meaningful way continuing the drug trade on purpose.  I would add that their methods, eradication & punishment have increased the trade, but again, that isn't their intended purpose.  I don't think you believe for a moment that Congress want it to continue.

    Back to the cocaine and opium.  Opium was illegal except for medicinal purposes for a long time, since the opium dens of San Fran I believe, and that is hardly recent, and I suspect many states, or in that time, territories had laws concerning all kinds of drugs, including alcohol.

    And cocaine, are you talking about the extract of the coca plant or modern day cocaine, chemically different.  I only mention this because I remember when X was new and legal, ditto for meth, but like all the above as soon as their recreational use became known, they were shut down.  

    This arguement is silly because your isolating the US, and since cocaine and opium are global, we need to discuss the evolution from legal to illegal for all nations which is probably a 500 page book when condensed.  I would imagine what you would find is that as soon as it became recreational it was shut down.  But that really didn't have much to do with anything, more of an observation.

    Anyways, all that is noise, my original point stands, no one with the power to stop it, is knowingly enabling it.

    Slow day at work.


    Either This is an Old Study, or... (none / 0) (#4)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Jan 20, 2011 at 08:58:47 AM EST
    ... Mexico's 2 year old law that decriminalized possession of small amounts isn't working.

    This report reads like any report on drugs, always the same conclusion, the laws aren't providing the results they were intended to.

    How many times are we going to read that the current policies are failing on a grand level, yet continue dumping money and our people down the toilet in hopes that some day those failed policies just might work ?