02/02/14 William Martin

Century of Lies

Professor William Martin of the James A Baker III Institute + Matt Simpson of the Texas NAACP speaking at Texas Drug Conference.

Audio file


Century of Lies February 2, 2014


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. We’re going to reach back to January 18t h where I attended the Texas Drug Policy Conference put together by Joy Strickland and Mothers Against Teen Violence.

The first speaker we have William Martin, the Harion Hazel Chevan Senior Fellow in Public Policy at the James A Baker III Institute, Rice University. Professor William Martin...


WILLIAM MARTIN: Before I begin I should say that I direct the Drug Policy Program at the Baker Institute. I wouldn’t want former Secretary of State, James A. Baker, or Ambassador Djerejian who directs the center to think I’m taking more credit but I appreciate the promotion.

Trafficking in illicit drugs between Mexico and the United States involves tens of billions of dollars, intricate networks of criminals in both countries and cooperative arrangements with government officials from local law enforcement to high levels in both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

On the U.S. side a key factor is an irradical demand for these drugs combined with a long-standing prohibition of their use. That combination drives the retail price of the drugs far higher than the cost of production. That generates enormous profits for those who sell them and help them on both sides of the border.

For decades a symbiotic relationship between the political establishment and criminal organizations in Mexico served as a check on violence and threats to insecurity. In recent years that balance has been upset as criminal factions have fought against each other for control of the drug trade and against government forces that try to stop or at least keep them under control.

The United States has ramped up its anti-drug forces along the border and has sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico to help bolster efforts to control and perhaps defeat the increasingly violent drug cartels. The two countries have been working together with mutual apprehensions to increase collaboration among their several anti-drug agents. The outcome of that remains in doubt and no panaceas<?> are in sight.

Beginning with the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914 (which Suzy mentioned) this country passed federal, state and local laws involving opiates, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs often accompanied by harsh penalties for their violation.

Mexico, which is a major producer of marijuana and a significant source of opium, enacted similar laws thus criminalizing what had previously been legal behavior. Passing those laws did little or nothing to effect the desire for he drug so Mexican farmers and entrepreneurs now operating as outlaws developed ways to smuggle their contraband products across the border into the United States.

The lure of lucre attracted a variety of criminal gangs to the enterprise and, eventually, consolidation occurred and a powerful Guadalajara-based crime figure, Miguel Felix Gallardo, managed to gain control over most of the cross border drug business.

In 1969 President Nixon formally launched or declared a War on Drugs. The successes of that, as we know, have been few and impermanent. Demand varies over time but supply is always sufficient to meet that demand.

Apparent success in one arena often causes devastation in another. In the early 1990s U.S. efforts to thwart the efforts of smuggling cocaine from Colombia via Florida and the Caribbean using airplanes and “go fast” boats caused the Colombians to turn to Felix Gallardo and the large organization under his control. Mexico soon became the primary transshipment rate for a route for approximately 90% of the cocaine that reached the United States.

In 1989 prodded and provided intelligence by the DEA Mexican federal police arrested Felix Gallardo in his home and for a time he was able to oversee his operation from prison but as key men in his organization began to jockey for the top position he brokered an arrangement by which the emerging rivals divided up the major trade routes and associated territories known as the plazas among themselves which gave birth to the four major cartels that dominated the Mexican drug trade for more than 2 decades – the Gulf, the Sinaloa, the Juarez and the Tijuana cartels.

The Gulf cartel was directed from Matamoras directly across from Brownsville and operated in the states along the Gulf of Mexico and under south Texas including the valuable entry port of Nuevo Laredo. The first head of that group had gotten rich and powerful by smuggling whiskey into Texas during prohibition.

He was succeeded by several other men the most notorious of whom was Osseo Cardenas Nisga'a. In the late 1990s Cardenas persuaded a group of elite Mexican army commandos (many of whom had been trained by special forces trainers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina) to desert for a more rewarding life of crime.

Known as Los Zetas and later enlarged by new recruits they became notorious for their extreme brutality and brazen ways but also for operations that reflected strategic planning, technological sophistication and long-term aspiration.

The Sinaloa cartel ensconced in the southwestern region that still produces most of the marijuana and opium grown in Mexico and for some time now the most powerful of the cartels is headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – one of the world’s richest and most wanted criminals.

The Juarez cartel, headquartered in El Paso’s sister city, was originally led by another powerful Sinaloan, Amado Carillo Fuentas. After he died in 1997 the leadership fell to his brother Vicente Carillo Fuentas. Felix Gallardo ceded control of northwest territory and particularly Baja, California to his several nephews and nieces of the Arellano-Felix family based in Tijuana with direct access to the California market.

Once enormously powerful and violent the Tijuana cartel was the cartel featured in the 2000 movie “Traffic”. It’s crucial to recognize that these operations occurred with the knowledge, permission, blessing and even encouragement of the Mexican political establishment - from local police and mayors to the highest levels of the ruling party.

In return for being allowed to carry on their business without significant interference or with overt assistance from law enforcement personnel the gang leaders were expected to pay what amounted to a franchise fee or a tax on their earnings. Accounts of these arrangement differ in their details but there is little dispute about the overall pattern of thorough going, institutionalized corruption.

Drug smugglers have proven to be resourceful, adaptable, practical, and persistent. They’ve used airplanes, all sorts of boats, sent people across the border with drugs stuffed into backpacks and luggage strapped under their bodies and swallowed in balloons to be eliminated after they reached their destination. Chapo Guzman even opened a cannery that shipped jalapenos stuffed with cocaine to Mexican-owned grocery stores in California.

In recent years huge quantities have been slipped into the United States using underground tunnels. But by far the most important method of transshipment has been vehicles – cars, vans, busses and, predominantly, trucks outfitted with ingenious secret panels and other measures to disguise the nature of their cargo.

More than 5 million trucks and nearly 63 million cars cross the U.S./Mexico border in 2012 making it impossible for inspectors to check more than a small sample of vehicles. News media periodically report seizures of huge shipments but supply on the streets seldom seems affected for long and the DEA agent speaking at the Baker Institute said, “We know we only catch one to three percent of the drugs coming through.”

Put another way, that is admitting a 96 to 99% failure rate – your tax dollars at work. Because marijuana is bulkier and smellier than other drugs in the trade that has led the cartels to produce more of it in the United States closer to its markets.

Vicente Fox election as president in Mexico in 2000 coincided with new levels of conflict among the cartels as they tried to muscle in on the trafficking routes controlled by other gangs. Under Fox federal police took down several high-profile drug trafficking figures including the Gulf boss, Osiel Cardenas.

That led to a sharp increase in the violence as the gangs fought back and forth and tried to take advantage of perceived weaknesses among rivals. In 2004 with Cardenas out of the way “Chapo” Guzman and the Sinaloans tried to annex some valuable Gulf cartel territory particularly the Nuevo Laredo Plaza but they were beaten back by the better equipped and better trained Zetas.

On December 1st, 2006 on his first day in office President Felipe Calderon declared his determination to fight the cartels with the full force of the government. President Bush promised a large influx of money and help and this later became known as the Meredith Initiative. President Obama signed on to that initiative and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent hundreds of federal agents and other personnel to the border areas to help Calderon crack down on the cartels and to help prevent the violence from slipping over into the United States.

Calderon quickly sent thousands of army troops - eventually nearly 50,000 – to areas known to be centers of cartel activity. He could and did claim impressive results – thousands of people arrested, tons of drugs seized and several high level traffickers extradited to the United States. But these gains were offset by a horrific conflagration of violence disillusioning many Mexicans and sparking talk that Mexico was becoming a failed state.

The worse violence occurred in Ciudad Juarez as the Juarez group tried to repel El Chapo’s attempts to gain control of the cross border smuggling routes that the Juarez cartel had as well as the drug traffic in Juarez itself. Chapo also waged successful war against the Tijuana gang and against former allies in Sinaloa.

In 2010 a split between the Gulf cartel and the Zeta factions led to vicious, spectacular battles that ultimately left the Zetas in control of much of the former Gulf territory. The Zetas then launched an aggressive effort to recruit new members, expand their reach and, eventually, had a controlling or a significant presence in more states than even the Sinaloans although Chapo continued to ship more drugs out.

By 2011 the Sinaloans dominated both the Juarez and the Tijuana Plazas. Given that organization’s size and history that wasn’t a surprise but it also appears that Chapo had help from agents of the both the Mexican and the U.S. governments. His rivals had long charged that Calderon himself, a Sinaloan, didn’t appear terribly interested in taking down Guzman. Arrest records gave some support to that.

In 2012 several reputable publications provided evidence that Chapo had been given information about his rivals to agents of the Customs/Immigration enforcement and to the DEA with tacit understanding that the Sinaloans would get what amounted to immunity from arrest and prosecution.

The evidence on that is quite strong. Just this past Tuesday, January the 13th, written statements made to the U.S. District Court in Chicago confirmed that DEA agents had met with Sinaloan leaders at least 50 times since 2000. It’s also clear that the Mexican government was aware of these arrangements.

Despite Calderon’s assertions that his plan was working the body count continued to grow. By the end of 2012 reliable estimates placed the number of drug war-related deaths during his administration at over 100,000. Some say probably 120 or 130,000. Further the army which had been one of the most respected institutions in Mexican society came under increased scrutiny and criticism for reported abuses that included illegal searches, arresting and detaining people without cause, beatings, theft, rape, torture and murder.

Corruption remains a pervasive problem. Throughout the country local police (underpaid, undertrained, underequipped) are still clearly on the take. Honest cops run the risk of contempt from their co-workers or of being killed for fear that they have exposed the crooked ones. Even those who have been thoroughly vetted for trustworthiness may succumb to temptation or give in when a gang confronts them with a choice “plato o plumo” – silver or lead, bribe or bullet.

The corruption extends far up the line. At least 35 agents from an elite organized crime unit within the Attorney General’s office including top officials who are ostensibly charged of leading the crackdown against the cartels were arrested and found to be receiving monthly payments ranging from 150,000 to 450,000 dollars each in return for keeping the cartels informed about their rival organizations.

A corruption, of course, is not the special province of Mexicans. It would be naive to imagine that the dispersal of drugs across the United States and beyond doesn’t receive assistance from law enforcement agents, lawyers, judges, bankers, business owners willing to profit from their positions.

Where do we stand today? It is difficult to sketch the situation with any confidence about long-term accuracy. The Zetas still have power in the northeast and gulf regions but they have been seriously weaken by the deaths of key leaders and they are no longer the force that they were just a few years ago. The Gulf cartel is a shadow of its former self but it has been operating a long time and it shouldn’t be dismissed. Overall smaller organizations (the Knights Templar and others) form alliances of convenience with each other and the larger cartels but, at present, the Sinaloa cartel which includes several smaller region outfits is clearly the major operation controlling most of the western part of the country including Baja, California. It is often spoken of as the federation of Sinaloa federation.

According to a New York Time’s report a captured member of the Sinaloa cartel (and some do get captured) said that Chapo specifically instructed his subordinates to keep the Sinaloa territory calm and controlled. He considers extortion, kidnapping and that sort of thing too risky. They want the big business and the big business is in the United States.

Chapo Guzman is a brutal criminal. He is also a brilliant executive overseeing a sprawling transnational enterprise dealing in a global commodity. He is amazingly well protected but he is not superhuman. If his rivals or U.S. forces bring him down that would be heralded as a sign that the War on Drugs is being won but it would almost certainly raise the level of violence as subordinates vive for the top spots or his rivals tried to take territory away from an organization they perceive has been weakened.

The new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, elected in 2012 insists that he would make no deals with drug traffickers but he has turned away from the all-out approach favored by Calderon. Mexicans want a change. As one journalist put it, “Mexicans are asking ‘Why are we going to be fighting this war which has no possibility of being won?!’”

They and other Latin Americans have been urging the United States to give serious consideration to as the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy put it – alternatives to the prohibitionists strategies being tested in different countries focusing on the reduction of individual and social harm.

An observer with deep ties and personal experience in both the United States and in Mexico said to me, “Compare this conflict among the cartels and between the cartels and the government as a sporting event. Spectators in both the governments and the public keep score as individual contests are won or lost and as teams move up and down in the standings but regardless of the treasure expended and the damage done drugs will still be desired, provided and sold. As long as societies and their governments treat drug use as a crime rather than a matter of public health the deadly game will continue season after season.”

[audience applauds]

MATT SIMPSON: Hello, I’m Matt Simpson. I am from the ACLU of Texas. I’m here to talk about a report the ACLU put out in June of 2013 – The War on Marijuana in Black and White.

It’s available online. I urge you to look it up as it has a lot of good background. There’s an appendix section that covers a lot of the data the ACLU got nationally as well as broken out by state.

I’m going to quickly talk about the findings of the study and then talk about some of the why and some of the recommendations because I think that’s the part that’s more interesting to this group.

A study from 2001 to 2010 it looked at arrests for marijuana possession so it’s a specific offense. There were about 7.3 million marijuana possession arrests in the decade. In that time....just to give you kind of a breakdown of how the marijuana possession arrests played along with all other arrests for drug possession and everything else....In 2010 784,000 of the 1.7 million drug arrests total were marijuana possession so it makes a big chunk – a big chunk is marijuana possession – 46% of all arrests. In 1995 they were 34% so we’re seeing a rise with time.

That’s actually the theme with this report – marijuana possession arrests are strangely on the rise particularly at a time when we’re learning more and more about how that’s a failed policy.

Here in Texas in 2010 there were 20,681 marijuana possession arrests. 53% of all drug arrests were marijuana possession arrests in 2010. The most notable part of the report as indicated by the titles is the racial disparities are pretty outrageous for marijuana possession arrests.

African Americans in the United States are somewhere between 2 and 4 times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterparts. Here in Texas the number was 2.3 but in Texas we actually have 2 of the 10 worst counties as the numbers go. Van Zandt County in East Texas African Americans were 33% more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. In Cooke County 27%. We’re seeing dramatic, dramatic disparities in very specific geographic regions in Texas.

Not only are there dramatic racial disparities but along with the rate of possession arrests going up the disparities are also going up. Prior to 2001 the disparity was about 2 to 1 African American arrests to Anglo. It is now 2.5 so between 2001 and 2010 we went to 2.5 times more likely to be arrested.

This is all in the context of use rates being virtually identical across all races. That’s something that this report does a pretty good job of laying out. I feel like this crowd is familiar with those numbers. Needless to say there is not a disproportionate use but there is disproportionate enforcement.

The final almond of this opening section of the report talks about the money wasted.
The national number is 251 million in 2010 so you can extrapolate that out over the years. I think it’s a low estimate frankly and I think we’ve all seen the impact that the drug arrests can have on individuals and the way that it undermines individual success.

We’ve heard two incredibly articulate discussions already of how we got here but, quickly, this country decided to make marijuana a “boogie man” of sorts and it really continued through today. Along with that there is theory of law enforcement that I’m sure you all are familiar with. It’s called the “broken windows” theory. The broken windows theory was actually created by academics decades ago but to some degree it’s been kind of perverted as it’s been implemented.

The original idea was that by fixing broken windows in high crime areas of town law enforcement would be able to head off more serious crime. The original academic paper that suggested the windows approach in my opinion was actually more a community policing proposal. The idea was that law enforcement get out in the community and help assist with these minor issues as well as being a part of public safety.

The way that broken windows has unfolded is a lot more like “stop and frisk” type programs. I want to talk really quickly about New York City’s “stop and frisk” program as an example of kind of a perversion of the broken windows theory.

Basically “stop and frisk” in New York City which I’m sure many of you have heard of since it’s been in the newspaper quite a bit over the past few years...that version of the broken windows theory basically is we’re just going to harass everybody that we see in the street. We’re able to shake everybody down and then as we shake people down we find people that are doing something illegal.

Not only is it kind of a ...there’s no nice way to say it. In a way the broken windows theory allows poverty to be a replacement for criminality. Often the broken windows theory leads law enforcement officers to focus on symbols of visual cues of social and economic justice and use those as an indicator of actual criminality. We see this not just in a one to one way. It’s actually where law enforcement places its resources can be dictated by these visual cures. That’s where you get into the mistakes happening upon mistakes.

To illustrate that more law enforcement goes into an area. There are a lot of broken windows. Whatever visual cues you want to use to replace actual criminality with and so more officers are sent to that area and minor crimes are being very fully punished, prosecuted. At that point there’s more arrests there. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – more law enforcement resources are directed to that area because there were so many arrests.

What you have is a viscous cycle. The broken windows theory when it is applied is fortified with this over-enforcement of drug possession and a lot of other things.


DEAN BECKER: Once again that was Matt Simpson of the ACLU of Texas. Prior to that we heard from Professor Bill Martin of the James A. Baker, III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University.

I got a question for you...Who’s in charge of the drug war? Is it the President? Is it the congress? Is it the cartels? Is it the gangs? Is it you? Is it me? Turns out it’s all of the above.

We, citizens, must speak a little louder. We must educate and embolden ourselves to do this work so necessary to save democracy, liberty, freedom itself. It makes me wonder just how long you can sit and watch this abomination unfold.

I’m getting excited. My book is nearing completion. I’m sending it to the printers in about a week which reminds me, once again, there is no truth, justice, logic, no reason for this drug war to exist.

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org