Issue # 17 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

January 1, 2002

Narco News '02

and Legalize

Narco News and Civil Society:

Together Again in 2002


The First of January has, over the past eight years, taken on an added symbolism as a date-of-passage.

Eight years ago today, the indigenous citizens of Mexico's poorest state of Chiapas rose up in arms and planted a proposal that was both new and very old: "a world in which many worlds can co-exist." The Zapatista rebels shined a light onto a path out of the economic and social tyranny that calls itself globalization.

In Mexico, the ensuing chain of events and struggles ended the longest-running government of a one-party state in modern history. At Narco News we have offered continuing eyewitness testimony and translation of this immediate history.

The indigenous model of resistance revealed itself on January 1, 1994. To explain it in the most basic terms: the model is to organize locally and then to internationalize the conflict. This one-two punch of reality has proved to be the most effective antidote to the power of money to rule governments on a global scale.

Fast-forward almost eight years and 3,000 miles from the jungles and mountains of Chiapas to the concrete metropolis that houses the Supreme Court of the State of New York: There, on December 5th, 2001, The Narco News Bulletin won a landmark victory in the Drug War on Trial case against Banamex-Citigroup and its corrupt attempt to silence the facts and the truth. The First Amendment right of Freedom of the Press was restored to all journalists, including citizen-journalists, and specifically, for the first time in legal history, online Authentic Journalism.

The fall of the imposed sameness of a one-party State in Mexico in 2000 and the fall of the imposed sameness of a one-story Media Caste System in North America in 2001 are part of the same historic trend as we walk deeper into the 21st century. Neither of these victories came gift-wrapped by Power: they were taken through popular struggle that adopted and expanded upon the Zapatista model for successful social change. Neither of these battles won are final victories; they merely represent the fall of the first and largest obstacles to true democracy, justice and liberty in two of the worlds among the many that still coexist within a larger world.

Today we renew our ancestors' pledge of our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to topple the next obstacle: The prohibitionist "war on drugs."

As documented extensively on these pages for the past 21 months, U.S.-imposed drug policy in our América is the single most bludgeoning barrier to the desire of peoples and nations to live a democratic dream with liberty and justice for all. Anybody who cares about human rights, about the fate of the environment in general and of the Amazon rainforest - the lungs of the world - in specific, about the democratic right of Civil Society - of workers, of farmers, of students and of young people, of artists and of creative people everywhere, of women and men of all races and creeds, of our individual elders known as senior citizens and of our collective elders known as indigenous peoples - to determine our own destiny can now see how the United States policy of drug prohibition - imposed on all nations - is the dam that imprisons the waters of progress on each of these fronts.

The hour has now arrived to launch a frontal assault upon this lynchpin of so many evils that is drug prohibition.

To win this historic battle against this tired and defeated policy of imposed sameness in drug policy, we, the people, cannot remain wedded to the polite tactics and strategies of the past. Thus, we further adapt the indigenous model:

First: Organize on the local level and within the specific sectors of Civil Society.

Second: Internationalize the conflict.

Third: Legalize the existence of many worlds within our one world.

"Organize, Internationalize, Legalize."

What does this rhyme mean?


By organize, we mean that this struggle, like all battles for social change, can no longer ask for permission from above. We must assert our democratic right from below; from within our networks and communities, creating the spaces and networks that make the dominant institutions less relevant.

As a project in Authentic Journalism, Narco News organizes within our sector, that of journalists. Our primary task has been to translate, report and analyze the news about the drug war from Latin America. We have internationalized that effort via the Internet, and by breaking the language barrier between the frontline reporting done in Spanish and the English-speaking public.

But we have not stopped there. As journalists, we also accept our duty to "organize locally" in our field, that of the media. That effort has involved no small amount of criticism against corrupted and inauthentic journalism. After 21 months, the Pan American Highway is littered with the reputations of disgraced correspondents for major United States media whose unethical activities have been exposed here for all to see. And many authentic journalists, particularly in Latin America, have found safer haven for their courageous activities through the knowledge that their work is translated to English; a process of mutual emboldening has followed and continues in a marvelous and multiplying symbiosis.

The emboldening process among the sectors of Authentic Journalism has taken root North of the border as well, among many United States journalists. The Drug War on Trial case in the New York Supreme Court merely served as pretext for many to deliver the message far and wide: that the media monopoly of the commercial press, radio and television is crumbling, even as its corporate entities merge and narrow their scope in an attempt to remain as the distorting filter between the people and the news.

Our work, together with that of authentic Mexican journalists, faced a huge threat and challenge when, in the year 2000, the National Bank of Mexico (Banamex), its billionaire owner Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, and, later, its new owner Citigroup, the largest financial institution on earth, launched a full scale legal assault against us in New York court. A Mexico-based website without a bank account, a Mexican journalist and a subsistence-level North American journalist in Mexico could not have withstood or survived this attack on our own. But it was you, our reader, each of you as members of international Civil Society, who rose to the fight and made our defense possible. Together with the other journalists who investigated and published the news about the Drug War on Trial case, something was achieved that was previously thought to be unlikely, if not impossible: The billionaire attack was beaten back.

But something more happened, too, as if to remind that the rewards of struggle cannot be predicted nor counted on in advance, because they appear in unpredictable ways. The Drug War on Trial case established a new legal precedent in the United States. It shouts from every mountain and modem: Online journalists and citizen journalists now enjoy the same rights as the commercial media to protection under the First Amendment.

Let the speed with which the impossible became possible and then became reality be our guide for the immediate present and future.

In other words, if we had told you, in 2000, when the legal battle began, that by the end of 2001 it would result in the most sweeping and significant free speech precedent in decades, would you have believed us?

And if we say, today, that the end of drug prohibition can be brought about with the same lightning speed, through the expansion of unorthodox tactics and strategies, what would you say, kind reader? Are we ready to win? To take back what is rightfully ours? To restore our freedom and autonomy in a world where many worlds can coexist?


By internationalize, we mean something different than what is signified by the word "globalize." The distinction is vital. To "globalize" is a term that is already commonly associated with the effort from above to plant the flag of money over every nation and people. To "internationalize," though, is a process that respects and utilizes the existence of distinct nations and peoples to benefit all sides of all borders.

The main problem with the "war on drugs" is that it follows the illogic of economic globalization imposed from above. The federal government of the United States has imposed a policy of drug prohibition upon its own 50 states and upon its cities and towns. This policy has turned the States into Colonies again. Various of these States have voted, democratically, fair and square, the American way, at the ballot box to reform or repeal certain drug laws. And the federal government seated in Washington DC has repeatedly subverted and repressed the popular will as expressed in voter referenda. Even the giant known as California, with a greater population than most countries on earth, is powerless to assert its autonomy: The people legalized medical marijuana by popular vote and Washington continues to arrest, imprison and target the patients who need that medicine and the Californians who supply it.

From the perspective of Latin America, this dynamic of tyranny imposed from above is nothing new. This is how the drug war has been waged down here from its inception. Here, the boot is more visible: Opposition leaders are rounded up, framed on false drug charges, tortured, disappeared and assassinated, like the latest martyr, Bolivian union leader Casimiro Huanca.

The many movements that coexist within one movement in North America, often called the "drug policy reform" movement, have nothing to lose and everything to gain by studying and learning from our Latin American neighbors. Most particularly, the indigenous movements from Mexico to the Andes have, for more than 500 years, developed and refined techniques of resistance and the creation of counter-power, or "anti-power," that has saved entire peoples, languages and cultures from extinction.

Some of our friends in the North American drug policy reform movement did not easily understand why, in the Spring of 2001, Narco News dedicated an entire season to reporting on the Zapatista indigenous caravan through 13 Mexican States. Although the historic San Andres Accords for Indigenous Autonomy in Mexico contained important solutions to the problems posed by drugs and drug policy, we reported those events for additional reasons: because here, again, the indigenous model has provided all of us, not just the indigenous, with a new way to fight.

Still others wrote to us, from North America, with sincere but paternalist solutions offered: "If only the indigenous would accept a free market, there would be economic development, and their problems would be solved!" The ideology of free market solutions to every problem is widespread as the dominant discourse in the North American media. If it would only be expanded to the drug trade - a free market in drugs! - say certain sectors of the drug policy reform movement, then a globalized form of drug legalization would do away with the corruption, the violence, the mafias, the prisons, the armaments, the attack on liberties at home and abroad. This is the position of some colleagues, and we are happy to continue discussing and debating it. But it is not our position, and we will explain why.

The "free market" position on drugs, as with all other industries, does not suffice for constructing the political and social storm necessary to topple prohibition or its underlying ideology of imposed sameness. It feeds off a myth: that drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, is merely just an "error," a "mistake," a blip of folly on the radar screen of history that will be discarded once Power awakens to its misstep.

But it is painfully clear to us, having investigated first-hand how the drug trade operates internationally and in our América, that drug prohibition is no mere error in policy. Because it was never intended to succeed in lessening or eliminating drug trafficking or drug abuse. It is a policy that was and is intended to fail, again and again, and to justify a set of repressive policies purportedly to "combat" the very ills it creates.

We have gone even further at Narco News in defining the enemy. We documented how the banking and financial industries profit off of drug money laundering. We have shown how the tyrants that have ruled in our América - from Montesinos in Peru to Salinas and Zedillo in Mexico to Menem in Argentina to the Colombian paramilitaries - have laundered their illicit narco-profits through United States banks. And how that dirty money has become an addiction for the highest and most inhuman sectors of the United States economy, without which those bankers and brokers would not enjoy the absolute power over Washington that their narco-lobbyists and campaign contributions buy them.

Indeed, this is why the billionaire vested interests in the "war on drugs" sued us and tried to destroy us. And it is also why they failed to do so. Very simply, the truth was our best defense. We told the truth, we tell the truth and we will continue to tell it like it is. As we said on our first day of publication on the 18th of April of 2000, we are conscious that it is our truth, one of many truths that coexist without making lies of the other truths that inhabit our world. We invited the reader to bring his and her truth to this project of authentic citizen-journalism. And your involvement in this publication, kind reader, is one of the key factors that saved us from a long and expensive persecution at the hands of narco-lawyers.

Within the New York Supreme Court ruling, this gem of new law was born:

"A careful review of defendants' submissions on Narco News's website indicates that the Narco defendants' format is similar to a regularly published public news magazine or a newspaper except for the fact that the periodical is published 'on line' or electronically, instead of being printed on paper. The fact that the Narco News website can accept readers' comments, or letters to the editor, via a separate e-mail address only strengthens the need for First Amendment protections for the medium."

-- Decision and Order
New York State Supreme Court
Justice Paula J. Omansky
December 5, 2001

This historic decision ratifies that your participation is a large part of what makes our journalism authentic.

Power felt it had to stop more than one of "the many truths" from becoming widely known and accepted. One of those truths is that the real bosses of the narco trade do not carry arms or wear sombreros or turbans. They carry briefcases and wear suits and ties. They run the giant financial institutions, and the economy of the United States. They launder 80 percent of all illegal drug proceeds in our América and our world. They have used their "free market" accumulation of wealth to control political parties, candidates, and public officials, and to exercise the "veto power" of the Advertising Branch over the commercial media. "Free markets" will not end the threat to true democracy that these forces embody. The ideology of free markets is their invention, and their tool, to maintain control, and to maintain the prohibitionist drug policy that serves them and nobody else.

But when push comes to shove, these businessmen lack the courage of the common man and woman. When identified as the narcos that they are, they squeal and scream, as Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, the former owner of Banamex, now a director of Citigroup, threw his multi-million dollar tantrum first at the daily Por Esto! newspaper of Mexico and then at The Narco News Bulletin. In Mexico, Hernandez, upon exposure as a "narco-banker," tried to have authentic journalists imprisoned, and he lost his court battles on 16 distinct occasions, in spite of the fact that he is, truly, one of the oligarchs and owners of the government of Mexico.

Why did he fail 16 times in Mexico? Mexican Civil Society suffers no illusion that the drug war is about fighting drugs. The Mexican citizen has seen the narco up close, has watched it purchase its government and police forces, and has watched the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) persecute some Mexican drug traffickers only when doing so it helps other more-favored drug traffickers maintain their monopoly over certain drug routes. Mexican civil society has seen the impunity, for example on February 15, 1999, when the presidents of the United States and Mexico held their "anti-drug summit" on the property of a publicly accused narco-banker.

United States citizens who wish to change the drug policies of their own land must study and seek to learn what it is that has destroyed the underlying ideology of the drug war in Mexico and in other Latin American lands. It is not the view that the drug war is an "error" that can be fixed by free market thinking. What has created a new consensus in Mexico and in Latin America is the understanding that the drug war is an intentional policy to further enrich the rich, to further corrupt the corrupted, and to prevent the explosion of true democracy so desired by the peoples of our hemisphere.

Having failed in Mexico, the man known as a narco-banker launched his most expensive attack in New York. And the poor little billionaire Roberto Hernandez and his mercenary lawyers behaved so poorly with their legal assault on Narco News that they inadvertently called attention to the need for legal protection for online journalists under the First Amendment, and provoked the New York Supreme Court into providing it.

The jig is up. The path is now opened for authentic journalism to expose the white-collar narco-traffickers who talk a prohibitionist game while raking in the narco-proceeds behind the cocaine curtain. The battle to expose these crooks and tyrants with facts and speech now enters a new phase: the internationalization of the struggle.

By crossing the information boundaries of nation-states and languages, Narco News won our New York Supreme Court victory. Again, we didn't invent this strategy: We learned it from the indigenous of Chiapas, who, using the Internet and the direct physical crossing of borders by authentic journalists, human rights observers and other members of international Civil Society, brought down a 70-year-old regime in a nation of 100 million people. What we learned is that the cross-pollination of local political battles with international publicity creates a dynamic that is out of the control of any single government or any single nation's media, even those of the superpower United States.

This dynamic features something akin to the common bond between patriots of different countries: A Mexican can love Mexico, and a United States citizen can love what is best about his and her country, and still see and respect the bond that unites them: love of place, and a willingness to fight for it. This is part of the world where many worlds can coexist that the indigenous of Chiapas first proposed.

Beyond this basic foundational truth, there is political strategy: the energy created when different lands and cultures share common struggles - even in the case of a small website and a couple of journalists in Mexico against Banamex-Citigroup in New York - creates a greater energy in both lands. Nitrogen meets glycerin in an explosion that neither can create by themselves.

This is not a new concept for the drug policy reform movement in the United States. Indeed, the internationalization of the drug war conflict has had great success vis-à-vis the promotion of various European models of drug policy within the United States. Again, we view this in the context of one world that fits many worlds. Frankfort, Germany can have one policy. Liverpool, England can have another. And Amsterdam in the Netherlands can have still another. And these places coexist without threats of drug wars between nations in Europe.

But on this side of the planet, the United States not only engages in a $2 billion dollar military intervention in Colombia, in other multi-million dollar adventures in Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and elsewhere, but it is also, increasingly, is at war with its own states and cities, and with its very own citizens.

Which brings us to review the three planks of our platform for 2002: Organize, Internationalize, and Legalize.

Organize in local areas and in the many sectors of Civil Society. Whether in Anytown, USA or in a particular field of networks such as journalism, we assert "parallel worlds" that insist on their (our) right to exist through the act of existing and fighting to keep from being destroyed.

Internationalize the conflicts so that these struggles - in geographic regions and in networks not fixed to one place - gain a resonance in other lands and create pressures from within and without upon the corrupted prohibitionist institutions of government and finance.

To organize and to internationalize are words that each define a process that is obvious and accessible to all. But, what do we mean by legalize?

We wish to be very precise.


By legalize, we mean no more or less than legalizing democracy. By legalize, we do not mean an imposed sameness of identical drug legalization policies in every corner of the earth. We reject this illusion held by "free marketeers" that an imposed drug legalization from above would be any more successful or humane than a proposed drug prohibition from above.

We wish to place the horse ahead of the cart: to simply legalize democracy first. To obtain a world that does not prevent communities, states and nations from adopting their own drug policies (and, indeed, their own policies on every other social and economic issue), so that this world can have many different drug policies that peacefully coexist.

For example, in Texas there are towns that have "dry laws." One cannot sell alcohol in these towns. We have no problem at all with that local option. It occurs on a local level, and not from an imposed sameness of policy from above. Most towns don't have dry laws, though, and we feel confident that most locales on earth would not decide to adopt the prohibitionist policies on drugs that are currently imposed by Washington, if the right of peoples to decide such questions is restored. The existence of many places, like Amsterdam, that would democratically decide against prohibiting drugs would destroy the prohibitionist problem: the high price, the dangers of unregulated product, the mafias, the enrichment of dirty money launderers at the expense of honest businessmen, the corruption of entire governments, the overpopulation of prisons, and all the other ills associated with prohibition.

"Legalize" is a policy that embraces many distinct drug policies, and that has democracy and autonomy as its watchwords. What must be legalized is home rule and local control.

At the heart of our truth is this reality: We wish to redefine a movement so that it is seen for what it truly is: A pro-democracy movement.

Narco News 2002

In the coming year, Narco News will be paying even more attention to the social movements throughout Latin America that touch upon, or are touched by, drug policy. We consider our América to be grand laboratory of resistance to the sameness that Power imposes upon our world. We will start, this month, with translations of detailed interviews we recently conducted with key social and indigenous leaders in Bolivia.

We also announce, today, the opening of our Andean News Bureau, with its offices in the capital of that country, La Paz, with more direct reporting from Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and the other South American nations. (Feliz Año, Señor Viceroy!) This, as we maintain and expand our primary presence in Mexico, too.

The peoples of our América are already organizing. In this year of 2002, we are going to internationalize their struggles, and yours, as never before.

And we are not done, not by a longshot, with the white-collar drug traffickers and money launderers, the vested interests behind the United States imposed policy of drug prohibition. The day is fast approaching when a narco will be called a narco, no matter what high caste he thinks he inhabits.

Specifically, we will soon announce the details of our counter-suit against Banamex-Citigroup, who must now pay for their abuse of the court system and effort to silence free speech. That counter-suit, if successful, may lead to the inauguration of a Fund for Authentic Journalism, both to expand the Narco News project to other regions in our América, and to assist similar projects in this renaissance of Authentic Journalism.

In sum, the first weeks of 2002 will be occupied by many behind-the-scenes tasks as we reorganize and regroup for the battles ahead. We will continue publishing, of course, the important news from Latin America. And we will continue to count on the participation of you, the readers, in this fight.

The one thing we will not do is rest upon the laurels of our victories of 2000 and 2001. Not until the "war on drugs" is repealed and dismantled.

We continue as we began: with a mission of Authentic Journalism about the "war on drugs" from Latin America. Our reporting involves a specific nexus of issues, but also serves as a laboratory of what journalism can and should be; an art that takes orders from nobody except Civil Society.

We affirm our opening statement of April 18th, 2000, and our absolute commitment to the mission we expressed on that date. With your continued participation as citizen-journalists, correspondents, sources, letter-writers, organizers, internationalizers and legalizers, we are very excited about 2002. With your collaboration, this will be the year when it becomes no longer necessary to play defense: 2002 will be remembered as the year that We, The People, take the offensive.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin

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