Monday links 3/2/09
**Soldiers in Sierra Leone; photo courtesy of Reuters.
• The “biggest drugs trial in West African history” starts in Sierra Leone after the seizure of more than $40 million of cocaine. According to the UK-based Telegraph,
The twin-engined Cessna 441, carrying Venezuela’s national flag beneath fake Red Cross insignia, landed at Lungi airport last July with 703kg of cocaine. To extend its range, 34 containers filled with aviation fuel were in the rear of the plane. By pumping the vital liquid into the engines, the crew had kept the Cessna airborne for the trans-Atlantic flight…
Senior politicians have been mentioned during the trial, notably Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay, the transport minister. His brother, Ahmed, is among the accused.
• California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano presents legislation to legalize and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana in the state, with the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act (text here). The plan would prohibit the sale of marijuana to anyone under 21, while bringing the state an estimated $1.3 billion a year (in tax revenue and a $50 fee to be imposed on registered retail outlets per ounce). According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an analysis from California’s tax collecting agency found that “legalizing marijuana would drop its street value by 50 percent and increase consumption of the substance by 40 percent.” As for the federal prohibition on marijuana, Ammiano said recently, “It’s not my nature and it’s not in California’s history to wait around for the feds.”
• The Department of Justice claims success against the Sinaloa cartel upon completion of “Operation Xcellerator.” See DOJ press release here. The DOJ will also end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, Attorney General Eric Holder says.
• In the coming weeks, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold hearings on Mexico’s drug violence, reports Reuter. According to Committee Chair Sen. Joseph Lieberman, “The recent escalation of violence along the southern border demands our immediate attention… We must assess border security programs and plans in place and we must review the readiness of federal, state, and local law enforcement.” The first hearing will occur in Washington DC on March 25; the second will be in Arizona in April.
• The LA Times reports that 5,000 more Mexican troops will be sent to Ciudad Juárez, to support the 1,600 local police, 2,000 soldiers and 425 federal police officers already there. This just a few days after Roberto Orduña Cruz, the city’s police chief, quit “after several officers were slain and someone posted threats saying more would be killed unless he stepped down.”
• In Foreign Policy, Robert Haddick from Small Wars Journal asks if Mexico is dealing with a crime problem, or war. Using the US Defense Department’s definition of irregular warfare (“a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations”), Haddick argues that “Mexico’s struggle against the drug cartels seems more like a counterinsurgency campaign than a fight against crime.”
• Ex-president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, one of the co-chairs of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, answers questions about the Commission’s recommendations in Foreign Policy.
• Quote of the week: “I confess I feel somewhat frustrated.”–Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime