Pubdate: Mon, 6 Apr 2009
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2009 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Tom Ford
Note: Tom Ford is managing editor of The Issues Network.


YUCATAN, Mexico -- The Canadian guy at the swim-up bar seemed ready to
fall off his stool and float away.

In an effort to help him focus, I asked him about Canada's involvement
in Mexico's brutal drug war.

"What involvement?" he said.

And that's the problem. A lot of Canadians don't know about our stake
in Mexico's war against drug lords, which now has a higher death rate
than the war in Iraq.

The war's statistics are staggering: More than 7,000 people killed
this year and last; 50,000 Mexican troops and federal police battling
five big drug cartels armed with rocket-launchers, machine guns,
grenades and armour-piercing sniper rifles over a drug trade valued at
$50 billion a year.

Canada's involvement in the drug war is centred in British Columbia.
Growing and selling marijuana -- B.C. Bud -- accounts for five per
cent of B.C.'s gross domestic product. Almost 100,000 people are
involved in the propagation of marijuana, about twice the number
involved in the province's manufacturing sector.

Marijuana grown in the province's countless grow-ops is sold in the
United States in exchange for cash and South American cocaine that
comes into America via Mexico.

A recent investigation led to the seizure of B.C. marijuana going
south and cocaine going north with a combined, estimated street value
of US $30 million. About $3.5 million in currency was also seized.

"The size of the organization was staggering," the U.S. District Court
in Seattle was told last month.

Quebec also has big troubles with gangs and drugs. Gerald Gallant, a
Rock Machine hit man, pleaded guilty last week to 27 charges of
first-degree murder and 12 charges of attempted murder. Gallant told
the court he was sorry.

Yet, many Canadians seem to be blase about the situation, blaming
Mexico for the problem. That used to be the position of the former
U.S. drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, who said "Mexico is on the edge of
the abyss" of becoming a narco-state. Former CIA chief Michael Hayden
said drug cartels have made Mexico as much a national security threat
for America as Iran. U.S. Joint Forces Command put Mexico on par with
Pakistan, saying both were at risk of "rapid and sudden collapse."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon replied that "to say Mexico is a
failed state is absolutely false. I have not lost any part -- any
single part -- of Mexican territory."

This spring, the U.S. State Department and some universities around
the country warned college students looking for spring-break parties
of the mayhem in Mexico, a warning that as far as I could tell was not
much heeded.

More recently, though, America's tone has changed. U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton pledged to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with
Mexico in its fight against the cartels. She went further: "Our
insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our
inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the
border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers,
soldiers and civilians."

Mexicans, to whom I spoke, felt it was about time that America's
attitude changed. Calderon, a Harvard-educated conservative, decided
to take on the drug lords when he came to power in 2006, and has been
perusing the fight strenuously.

American authorities have been fighting domestic drug use for decades.
The number of people jailed for drug offences has risen from 50,000 in
1980 to half a million in 2007. But America continues to have some of
the world's highest rates of illegal drug use.

President Obama's new drug czar nominee, Seattle police chief Gil
Kerlikowske, says reducing the demand for drugs is crucial. So is
cutting the flow of weapons into Mexico. Last week, the U.S. sent 500
federal agents and high-tech surveillance gear to the American
Southwest's border area with Mexico. At a later press conference,
President Obama said he is still considering putting more National
Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given all this American interest in Mexico, it's not in our interests
to downplay NAFTA and put all our efforts into improving bilateral
ties with Washington. If we do, we risk becoming as irrelevant as the
guy at the swim-up bar.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake