12/18/19 Jeremy Kryt

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Jeremy Kryt
Daily Beast

Jeremy Kryt story Why the Drug War Can’t Be Won—Cartel Corruption Goes All the Way to the Top + Eric Sterling of Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on birth of drug reform

Audio file



DECEMBER 18, 2019

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars who support the drug war which empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

We have got a great holiday show lined up for you. We have got a great interview with Mr. Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation who you’ll hear in a while. But first we have this report fresh out of Columbia.

Recently I was looking at a story on the Daily Beast entitled, Why the Drug War Can’t be Won: Cartel Corruption Goes All the Way to the Top the little subheading talks about charges brought by U.S. prosecutors against a Mexican cabinet member who designed anti-cartel policy exposed a huge flaw in the drug war in essence the top guys are the bad guys and this was written by Mr. Jeremy Kryt who is with us now. Hello, Jeremy.

JEREMY KRYT: Hello, Dean. Thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Jeremy, I try to expose this fraud, this misdirection, the lies, the liars, the corruption, and the insanity of this drug war on a daily basis and you've done a really great job of that here on the Daily Beast. You’re in Columbia now, correct?

JEREMY KRYT: That’s right. Yes, sir.

DEAN BECKER: I hear things are better and things are worse. They are kind of slipping back in to the same old situation. Is that true?

JEREMY KRYT: Well here in Columbia the situation is delicate. It remains fraught. There are multiple cartels operating here, including a couple from Mexico which have encroached on the market. You imagine Pablo Escobar doing somersaults in his tomb over his empire being dominated by the once lowly Mexican cartels but there also local actors including distant members of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia that are also very powerful. There are a lot of players in that game.

DEAN BECKER: The fact of it is the Drug Enforcement Administration says that each year the commerce in these illegal drugs is somewhere between $400 – 600 billion a year and I pick a half trillion dollars. I think that's a nice number to work with but that corrupts a lot of people, and that influences a lot of politicians. Does it not?

JEREMY KRYT: It does. It is staggering really. The current phraseology often talks about a criminal insurgency as opposed to a more typical political minded insurgency. The cartels are forming a criminal insurgency and it’s very hard to combat that because there motus operandi is to corrupt top officials and they have so much money to work with, as you point out, that they are often able to do that. Here in Columbia for example, the National Anticorruption Minister was taken in a DEA sting being on the dole. So it is remarkable how deep the corruption goes.

DEAN BECKER: We have some bad actors that have been captured here in the U.S. that are now in essence informing on some of the other bad actors in Mexico. They're getting caught and I always thought that that was an instant death sentence to spill the beans on your cohorts but the eye I guess at times that's what happens, but it what it really boils down to is the old phrase, “plata o plomo” or “take the silver or take the lead” and that still holds true across the board, does it not?

JEREMY KRYT: It absolutely does. What has changed a little bit, Dean, is that now the cartels actually finance elections so once a politician gets in to office he is sort of beholden from the get go to those who put him in power.

DEAN BECKER: Right. There is the thought – although I don’t know how well it’s been proven – that the former President of Mexico, Nieto was given $100 million dollars by the Sinaloa cartel by Chapo Guzman’s outfit. What have you heard in that regard?

JEREMY KRYT: Well of course he denied those charges but what is interesting is that the charges were first brought up in Chapo’s trial and that is also where Genara Garcia Luna, the former Defense Minister of Mexico also had charges brought against him and U.S. prosecutor’s followed up on that lead initially mentioned by a witness in Chapo’s trial and they busted him just last Monday in the U.S. in Dallas, Texas. So if there’s smoke that relates to the ex-defense minister could there be fire relating to former President Pena Nieto. Now nobody knows but as a source said to me, the charges seem credible because there is a saying in Mexico which is rather poetic that a politician who is poor is a poor politician. So it is almost like a status thing. If you are going to be that powerful and you know your underlings are taking bribes; you would want an even bigger bribe goes the thinking. This has not been proven but that is the theory.

DEAN BECKER: There are strong indications, we can say that much I am sure. Once again folks we are speaking with Mr. Jeremy Kryt, he is down in Colombia and has a great piece in the Daily Beast just from a couple of days ago it's titled Why the Drug War Can’t Be Won – Cartel Corruption Goes All the Way to the Top. I urge you to give it a read, give it your eyeballs because it says a heck of a lot. I to thank you for being such a brave reporter Jeremy. After 20 years of doing this I can’t even go into Mexico, I am just too paranoid to be honest with you. The heck of it is we have in the United States been fooled, if you will, for quite some time it depends on where you want to begin but it’s 50 or a 100 years of this drug war that drugs are cheaper, they are more available, and they are deadlier than ever before; yet it just keeps on going and it’s just an insane policy. We have a situation in the U.S. where you quote this gentleman here, a Emmanuel Gallardo who covers the cartels and he said something in effect that drug war is a farce waged against peasants while wealthy businessmen and politicians prophet on the side. The same can be said here in the U.S. where the average user winds up going to jail doing prison time whereas the people who make the money selling the drugs are normally left alone. It’s an upside down situation. What is your thought there, Jeremy?

JEREMY KRYT: Well you are absolutely right and going back to your comment of a moment ago, it is often that at the very top echelon of government that do profit. For example, the current President of Honduras has been mentioned as a co-conspirator in a major drug case in the U.S. involving his brother and a former President of Honduras. There is a school of thought Dean that looks at the drug war as a follow up to the cold war. There needs to be a bogey man that we can rally against. When the Soviet Union fell the replacement according to those who subscribe to this school of thought was the cartels under Nixon’s original benefit drug mandate they were able to ramp things up and now all of the sudden we have that bogey man that we can use to flex our muscles within the hemisphere or even outside of it to in many instances repress the Left, forming right wing militia’s under the auspices of fighting narcotics and then when you look in to it you find that the right wing militias are actually trafficking narcotics and what they are really up to is killing social leaders. You are right that it is often a guise – the drug war. It isn’t about what it is supposed to be.

DEAN BECKER: What is overlooked or not given the attention it deserves is that we have these supposed caravans that are coming north from Mexico. They are actually coming out of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador mostly I think but they are headed up through Mexico and they are calling them caravans and that they are going to take over America, etc., etc. Those people are fleeing violence, murder, and rape and all kinds of pillaging going on by these cartels. Am I right?

JEREMY KRYT: That is very true. What is so ironic is that those gangs in Central America that are causing those people to flee were born in the U.S. prison system and only came to Central America when they were deported and brought their gang culture with them.

DEAN BECKER: There is a great quote that is in your article there on the Daily Beast, “The width of Narco gangrene isn’t limited to Mexico”, and by God that is certainly true these days. You are in Columbia during the Christmas season. I heard that weed is kind of legal down there now. Is that true?

JEREMY KRYT: It has not been decriminalized like in Colorado or Alaska but possession is legal I believe up to a kilogram but the production is still technically illegal.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Well okay. We have in the U.S. a president who has said he wants to declare the Narco gangs to be terrorists, which I guess he would think gives him carte blanche to drop bombs on their fortresses or something. Has word of that gotten down there and is it making any kind of a splash?

JEREMY KRYT: Yes. It has made quite a lot of headlines and the overwhelming reaction is that that should not be the case; that cartels are not terrorists specifically because they are not motivated by any kind or ideology. It is not like a group such as ISIS that wants to take over schools and tell people what to think or who to worship. The cartels aren’t interested in anything like that. They just want to make money. So it is fundamentally different in that way but then another problem is that if you were to list the cartels as terrorists, all of these other difficulties arise. For example, the U.S. would no longer be able to give foreign aid to the nations that harbor terrorists and that has already happened in Afghanistan. You can also imagine a scenario where because anyone who aids and abets any terrorists under those anti-terror regulations would be subjected to tremendous prison time or financial sanctions, so a small drug trafficker who gets his weed in the Midwest from the Sinaloa cartel could be indicted as an accomplice to terrorism. Perhaps the most dangerous problem is that it would subtract funds and energy from real terrorists if you were to try to go after the cartels that way so it is a bad idea across the board. I did a story on it a couple of weeks ago for the Daily Beast and I spoke with a number of experts. I tried to get somebody who would make the case that it was a good idea but I couldn’t find anyone, even on the Right that thought that was a good idea.

DEAN BECKER: Well thank you for your reporting. Once again friends, we have been speaking with Mr. Jeremy Kryt who writes for the Daily Beast and others. Jeremy, is there a website where folks can learn more and tune in to your work?

JEREMY KRYT: Sure. www.jeremykryt.com, or you can just go to the Daily Beast and you can find the column I write there called Cartel Watch.

It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effect. Dizziness, nausea, chest pain, numbness, tingling, ringing in your ears, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath with pain spreading to arm and shoulder, loss of vision, painful penis. Time’s Up! The answer: from Pfizer, Inc., Viagra for erectile dysfunction.

DEAN BECKER: All right. We are talking with Mr. Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation based in Silver Springs, MD., he does a lot of work in our nation’s Capital in Washington, D.C. How are you doing, Eric?

ERIC STERLING: Dean, it is so good to see you here at this Drug Policy Reform Conference again.

DEAN BECKER: Now this is not our first day at the rodeo is it? We have both been doing this a while, but you have been at it a lot longer than I have. I just got done with a great interview with Mr. Ira Glasser talking about the very beginning of this drug policy movement here in the United States and you have been here for much of that as well. He was talking about the Linda Smith Center, and the Drug Policy Foundation. You were around back in those days were you not?

ERIC STERLING: I was involved in the very, very beginning of this organization when it was the Drug Policy Foundation, started by Arnold Trebach, a professor at American University and Kevin Zeese who had been with NORML for a long time first as their general counsel and then as executive director. Arnold regularly taught about narcotics policy at AU and he had a summer program in London, England where he would bring AU students for three weeks or so and get the semester of credit studying drug policy reform in Europe in the early stages of harm reduction. You would meet people who were legal users of heroin in England in the early 1980s. I got to know Arnold because of his work when I was still working for the House Judiciary Committee. He helped me get a job teaching international narcotics policy as an adjunct professor in 1984.

In 1985 or so as he was putting together his next conference he decided he was going to actually create an organization and was going to have these conferences and become what he liked to call the loyal opposition in the war on drugs. He was then going to expand the conference so it was not simply students for credit but a whole bunch of activists and academics to work on designing principals for ending drug prohibition at a conference at the Imperial College in London in the summer of 1986. My first wife, Cindy, didn’t have a job at that point and became sort of the de facto first executive director of the Drug Policy Foundation. We starting meeting in Arnold’s basement. We had a meeting once in a snow storm on Veteran’s Day which is highly unusual in Washington. So I went to this conference and I got the House Judiciary Committee to pay for me and my mind was totally blown to meet with the Italians, the Dutch, the Germans, the English, the Australians, and many of the Americans who I had never met before. Then there was a conference in ’87, and then there was a conference in ’88 and the idea at these conferences were there were going to be these grand affairs, they are going to have these great black-tie optional dinners. He had the idea of how do we make drug legalization respectable because that was a great concern of his. Richard Dennis, the financier from Chicago was an important early donor and gave money to give out a $100 thousand dollar Richard Dennis prize for Drug Peace. This year, Marsha Rosenbaum is getting that prize but long ago the hundred thousand dollar award disappeared. Now it is mostly the honor. It was first given to Mayor Kurt Shmoke of Baltimore who in the spring of 1988 at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, called for the decriminalization or the medicalization of drugs as a way to stop the problem of HIV. He was sort of the fitting first award winner. What happened was these conferences very quickly became the grand central station for drug legalization and so you had people from all over the United States and all over the world. I don’t know if there were 200 or 300 attendees but they grew and were constantly growing. People would submit papers at the conferences that were bound – it was very much this poteen of academia that was involved.

In 1989 when I left the Judiciary Committee I started what was first called Citizen’s for an Effective Law Enforcement for Counsel for Effective Law Enforcement and I discovered I didn’t do a trademark search. There was a group called American’s for Effective Law Enforcement and I quickly figured out I didn’t want to be confused with them so my trustee said that they would like a name more generic like Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Arnold immediately thought we were trying to create confusion by using his name of Drug Policy Foundation. He was very indignant and Arnold and Kevin were upset because I heard about my funders from Arnold and Kevin. My funders were interested in drug legalization and they had begun some conversations with Arnold Trebach and Kevin Zeese and I had approached Arnold offering to ghost write for them. I explained that I write Op Ed’s and I do this kind of thing for Members of Congress. I was still working on The Hill for the Judiciary Committee and the Customs Commissioner had written some Op Ed about why we needed to crack down more. I immediately wrote a draft reply for Arnold to sign to send to the Washington Post and I mailed it to him because in those days that is how you had to do it.

DEAN BECKER: You needed a stamp back then.

ERIC STERLING: You needed a stamp. So a week and a half goes by and I call up Arnold and I asked him what he thought of it and he apologized and told me that he hadn’t opened it up yet. I haven’t looked at it yet and I thought ‘geeze, this is not gonna work if he is not going to even open mail from me. This is not going to be a collaboration. I decided to do this myself. I heard about this funder and I wrote a proposal and sent it to these guys at the Linell Foundation. They asked me to meet with them and we spent many months talking about what we would do and they agreed to fund me. We had a handshake deal. When Arnold found out that these folks had been talking to me were willing to fund me he thought I had stolen his money. He was very upset. Then he thought I was using his name to try to create confusion. Well then I put together an effort called The National Drug Strategy Network. This was an effort to bring in both NORML, the Cannabis Action Network, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National Governors Association. This was an idea that I had because I had access to all of these organizations from my contacts working on Capitol Hill.

In 1989 there was a new Drug Czar, William Bennett under the first President Bush and he was going to announce a big antidrug strategy. My contact leaked to me the drug strategy that he was going to announce and so I put out a summary to reporters embargoed for a press conference that I organized with NORML, the criminal defense lawyers, the ACLU – Ira Glasser was there and a clergy group. I served as the moderator and hired the press person. We actually filled the room with T.V. cameras to attack the strategy as wrongheaded. This was the first time that we were able to have the national news media cover a national drug strategy from a critical perspective that it’s not tough enough because the democrats say Ronald Reagan’s strategy isn’t tough enough. It was that kind of thing. So these were the kinds of things that were going on. One of the other things that we did in ’92 at the Drug Policy Foundation conference, I organized a panel with former candidates for President to talk about putting drugs on the agenda. We had former congressman Pete McClauskey who ran for President and George McGovern. I arranged for them to speak at the DPF conference but under the umbrella of the National Drug Strategy Network and Arnold and Kevin were just furious at me for doing these kinds of things. I felt like there was an election coming up and where is your relevance? The academics is fine but Arnold and Kevin really built and drove this movement and this effort and it was at that point that a merger with the Linda Smith Center and the Drug Policy Foundation developed.

DEAN BECKER: All right. That brings us to a couple of years before I got involved. I think it was 2002 in New Jersey I attended my first conference.

ERIC STERLING: Was that in the Meadowlands? That is right, in the Meadowlands.

DEAN BECKER: And that is where I met Jack Cole. I interviewed him and in the middle of the interview I became a LEAP speaker and learned so much from that and my band of brothers in LEAP but we have lots of good folks with so many different perspectives that I want to learn from while I am here. That is what makes me a very knowledgeable individual – I have learned from good folks like you, the doctors, the scientists, the cops, the wardens you name it. I think what we – and by that I mean the good folks who have this knowledge need to show that it is not an encumbrance. It is a bonus to life, it’s a help to our fellow man, and it is something pretty cool.

ERIC STERLING: Yes. Responsible drug use is a blessing but I just wanted to commend Dean Becker and your extensive effort to interview everybody on both sides of these issues regularly. You are the most remarkable citizen journalist doing this on a shoestring and getting this out on to over 60 affiliates syndicated on the Pacifica Network is remarkable. The #2 biggest syndication of the whole Pacifica Network from an unfunded citizen journalist is a remarkable achievement.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Eric, I thank you. It is from good folks like you that I have learned perspective to calm down a little. When I first began this I was radical and mad as hell. I am still mad as hell, just less radical.

ERIC STERLING: You are not any less radical. I think that you have mellowed in your interviewing technique to recognize that you don’t need to convey your own sense of outrage because the outrageousness of what is going on reveals itself.

DEAN BECKER: It emanates from each interviewee. You are exactly right. Well friends once again we are speaking with Mr. Eric Sterling my longtime friend here in drug reform and in general as a friend and a man I greatly respect. His website: www.cjpf.org.

ERIC STERLING: I remember a conference in Seattle on marijuana that was sponsored by the City of Seattle and you had come up and we were sharing a room and you came down with a terrible cold or flu or something and you could barely get out of bed.

DEAN BECKER: I had just returned from Bolivia. I had Montezuma’s Revenge. It got me on the day I arrived in Seattle. I left directly from Bolivia and came straight there and it just got me.

ERIC STERLING: I just remember we were sharing a room and trying to care for you when you were sick and also trying to go to this conference I had flown across the country to attend.

What will it take to motivate you to speak of what is before your eyes?
DEAN BECKER: That’s all we could squeeze in. Once again I want to thank Jeremy Kryt of the Daily Beast, I want to thank Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and I want to thank you for listening.
Again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.