Mexico stops the Taliban - 'El Taliban,' that is

Mexico arrested 'El Taliban,' one of its most wanted drug traffickers, on the same day that the country's president urged the UN to reassess narcotics prohibition.

Edgard Garrido/Reuters
Ivan Velasquez Caballero (c.), a suspected drug leader of the Zetas drug cartel, is presented to the media together with suspected Zetas members Carlos de Santiago (2nd l.) and Manuel Guerrero alias 'Tony' (r.) in Mexico City September 27.

“El Taliban,” the alias of one of Mexico’s most wanted drug traffickers, was arrested in Mexico this week, paraded before the media today, and will be hailed as yet another coup for the Mexican and United States governments in their joint goal to weaken the power of drug trafficking networks.

But if the US and Mexico see eye-to-eye on their strategy to capture top druglords, they are increasingly at odds over other facets of the so-called "war on drugs."

The same day that "El Taliban" was captured, Mexican President Felipe Calderon spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, as did the presidents of Colombia and Guatemala, each questioning the American-sponsored status quo on global antinarcotics efforts.

“Today, I am proposing formally that [the UN]…carry out a far-reaching assessment of the progress and limits of the current prohibitionist approach to drugs,” said Mexican President Felipe Calderon. 

"It is our duty to determine – on an objective scientific basis – if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a later speech at the General Assembly. 

And Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said in his own talk that "the basic premise of our war against drugs has proved to have serious shortcomings."

These three leaders have been at the forefront of a new push from Latin America to question the decades-old American “war on drugs,” as we detailed in a recent Christian Science Monitor cover story here

Latin America overwhelmingly bears the brunt of the violence around drug production and distribution, and in addition to taking to the international stage at the UN this week, leaders have tried tactics that range from calling for international bodies to change their charters, to urging an opening of debate on legalization, to kicking out American antinarcotics officials. 

Mexico's struggle

In Mexico, Mr. Calderon has struggled for his entire presidency against the historic violence that has left some 60,000 dead in drug-related homicides.

His administration has taken out top cartel leaders. The most recent arrest in San Luis Potosi of "El Taliban," whose real name is Ivan Velazquez Caballero, marks the third arrest of a wanted leader this month.

Mr. Velazquez Caballero allegedly has led a splinter group of the notorious Zetas gang, a divide that officials say is likely behind recent surges in violence in parts of northern Mexico. His arrest could lead to immediate calm, but as has happened in the past, it could also lead to further splintering and further bloodshed.

Both the Calderon administration and the US government have hailed such arrests, and Calderon has reiterated that he will never give in to drug criminals. "We won't cede an inch,” he said Wednesday.

But if those are words the US wants to hear, he is uttering others that they'd rather not acknowledge. Calderon has long criticized, as he did once again this week, lax gun laws in the US that he says have armed criminals in Mexico. And he says that as long as the US remains a consumer country, there will be clear limits on the success of Mexican law enforcement.

What is clear is there is a growing consensus that what has been tried, thus far, is not working.

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