While appealing to President Trump’s penchant for drama and a year-long Republican drumbeat, designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) as terrorist groups will not bring any benefits or tools to U.S. policy. The designation of DTOs under the U.S. Kingpin Act already provides the United States with the same and complete tool box—including wiretapping, steep penalties, financial intelligence, asset seizures and money laundering charges—against any individuals associated with the groups. The United States can already deny visas to individuals collaborating with DTOs and can cut off their access to the U.S. financial system. Designating them terrorist organizations will counterproductively constrict and limit U.S. policy options. It would mandate that U.S. officials and other entities operating in Mexico guarantee that none of their money and resources reach terrorist groups. So, if the designation goes through, the United States may, for example, be self-deterred from delivering alternative livelihood programs in Guerrero if a terrorist-designated DTO could usurp some of the money. In Colombia, even after the peace deal, the United States cannot provide any assistance to any program in which ex-FARC members participate. In Nigeria, the United States needs to go through extraordinary legal contrivances to deliver assistance to a program for low-level Boko Haram defectors, even children who have been dragged into Boko Haram slavery. Worse yet, the United States can impose severe sanctions against countries and NGOs that deliver aid that could trickle to a terrorist group. This threat gravely increased the deaths of Somalis during the 2011 famine as international NGOs were scared off. In fact, U.S. and international sanctions against material support to terrorist groups have criminalized humanitarian aid. The Obama administration contemplated designating the Zetas as a terrorist group and wisely backed away from doing so. President Trump’s policy guideline does the opposite of what President Obama intended. Hopefully, U.S. professional foreign service officers and civil servants will manage to persuade Trump to refrain from applying the designation despite his inclinations.
President-elect Bolsonaro has embraced tough-on-crime measures that egregiously violate basic human rights and eviscerate the rule of law. Responding to Brazil’s 63,880 homicides in 2017, Bolsonaro calls for increasing protection for police officers who kill alleged criminals and arming citizens. He calls for further militarizing urban policing, reducing the age of criminal liability from 18 to 16, reinstating the death penalty, authorizing torture in interrogations and imprisoning more people... Brazil’s police are already notorious for being one of the world’s deadliest in the use of force. In many favelas, Brazil’s retired and current police officers operate illegal militias that extort and control local communities, murdering those who oppose them and engaging in warfare with Brazil’s highly-violent gangs and in social cleansing. Bolsonaro is simply threatening to turn the rest of the police into state-sanctioned thugs.
The Duque government’s drug policy in Colombia is taking on a progressively ominous and counterproductive direction. It threatens to undermine the incomplete and struggling peace process, misdirect law enforcement resources, augment the alienation of coca farmers from the state and undermine human rights and drug users’ access to health services in Colombia. With their emphasis on criminalization of even drug possession for personal use and forced eradication, the announced policies clearly cater to the Trump administration’s doctrinaire and discredited drug policy preferences that harken back to the 1980s. But without sustainable livelihoods already in place, forced eradication will not sustainably reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production. The dominance of zero-coca thinking in Colombia whereby a community has to eradicate all coca first before it starts receiving even meager assistance from the state never produced positive results in Colombia.
At 12pm on February 8, 2017 at San Diego State University, Vanda Felbab-Brown will provide remarks on her new book, “The Extinction Market: Wildlife Trafficking and How to Counter It.” The event will be held at the university’s Bioscience Gold Auditorium.
Already the [Mexican] government is taking flak for letting less violent and ostentatious criminal groups off the hook. It will be an even more sensitive issue for Pena Nieto because he has all the PRI baggage of negotiated deals.