Despite his boast to have "ended" the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico's new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug "National Guard" drawing from the military and police forces. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
Two months into his term, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an end to his country's "war on drugs," announcing that the army would no longer prioritize capturing cartel bosses. The new populist president made his declaration Jan. 30, at the end of his second month in office. He told gathered reporters at a press conference that the "guerra contra el narcotráfico," launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón, has come to and end. "Officially now, there is no war; we are going to prusue peace," he said.
A 16-state coalition filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump's administration on Feb. 18, requesting the court to issue a judicial determination that Trump's national emergency declaration over the southern border wall is unconstitutional. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit, stating: "Unlawful southern border entries are at their lowest point in 20 years, immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes, and illegal drugs are more likely to come through official ports of entry. There is no credible evidence to suggest that a border wall would decrease crime rates."
Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque Jan. 30 for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." (Espectador, Jan. 30)
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, warned President Iván Duque about the human rights situation in the country when they met at the Casa de Nariño presidential palace in Bogotá last week. Ruiz said he especially expressed convern about "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 15) Duque had days earlier announced a new plan of action to address the ongoing targeted assassinations, pledging: "We are going to strengthen all the instruments that the Public Force has at its disposition so that the leaders of armed groups, which are behind a large part of these homicides, are brought to justice." He spoke at Riohacha, La Guajira department, one of the areas hard hit by the ongoing killings. (Nuevo Siglo, Jan. 10)
In Episode 24 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the historic strides toward liberation of the cannabis plant in 2018, from the fabled four corners of the Earth. Yet under capitalism, every advance also opens new contradictions. With the rise of "corporate cannabis," traditional small growers in places like California's Emerald Triangle stand to be pushed off the market as Central Valley agribusiness gets in on the act. Burdensome regulations and heavy taxation have kept some growers on the black market—and big police raids in the Emerald Triangle have continued even after "legalization." High taxes on cannabis have also actually closed the legal space for California's "compassionate care" providers—those who make free or discounted medical marijuana available to the ailing. There are concerns about corporate privatization of ancient cannabis landraces long grown by small cultivators around the world. Meanwhile, even as overall cannabis arrests have dropped under more tolerant laws and enforcement policies in many states and localities, the racial disparity in those arrests that continue (e.g. for public use) is unabated. In a positive development, California has passed a "cannabis equity" law to address such concerns. But even the federal Farm Bill that just legalized industrial hemp and cannabinoids derived from it irrationally keeps cannabinoids derived from "marijuana" (high-THC strains) illegal. Weinberg calls for challenging the "marijuana" stigma, recognizing that cannabis liberation is an urgent question of human rights and racial justice, and adopting a stance of permanent struggle in fighting for it. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.