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11 Oct

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Lamezia Terme, Italy: Pope Denounces ‘ndrangheta mob’ As “Inhuman Mafia”

9 Oct

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he arrives with his popemobile to celebrate …

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he arrives with his popemobile to celebrate a mass in Lamezia Terme, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

LAMEZIA TERME, Italy (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday denounced the “inhuman” mafia that plagues southern Italy and urged residents there to respond to the region‘s suffering by caring for one another and the common good.

Benedict made the comments while celebrating an open-air Mass in Lamezia Terme, in Calabria in the “toe” of boot-shaped Italy.

The region is home to the ‘ndrangheta mob, which is today considered more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia and is one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers. Calabria is also one of the poorest regions in Italy, with a 27 percent unemployment rate.

Benedict noted the region is seismic — “not just geologically but from the structural, behavioral and social point of view” — and said high unemployment and Calabria’s “often inhuman criminality wounds the fabric of society.”

He praised Calabrians for their ability to live with such problems and a near-constant state of emergency and urged them to continue responding to the ills afflicting the region with faith and Christian values.

“Force yourselves to grow in the ability to collaborate with one another, care for one another and all the public good,” he said.

It was Benedict’s first visit to the region and police estimated about 40,000 people had turned out under cold, dark skies for the Mass.

The city’s mayor, Gianni Speranza, welcomed Benedict but didn’t gloss over the region’s ills. “Welcome to Lamezia Terme, your holiness, a land of suffering,” he said.

He said the region’s young people needed a sign of hope that they can live without the mob and fear. “Enough with the mafia!” he added.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he arrives to celebrate a mass in Lamezia Terme, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. At right is Lamezia Bishop, Luigi Cantafora. (AP Photo/Adriana Sapone)

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he arrives to celebrate a mass in Lamezia …

Mexico City: Vicious Drug Gangs Competing For ‘Cartel Cred’

9 Oct

Alfredo Carmona alias “el Capi,” leader of the New Generation gang, right, is escorted …
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Masked gunmen dump the bodies of 35 slaying victims during rush hour as terrified motorists watch and tweet friends to avoid the avenue in a Gulf coast city. A couple of weeks later, 32 more corpses are found nearby in three houses.

A woman’s decapitated body is left at a border city’s monument to Columbus, the head atop a computer keyboard with a sign saying she was killed for blogging about drug traffickers.

The severed heads of five men are dumped outside an elementary school in Acapulco, and two more near a military base in Mexico City days later.

That was just in the last three weeks.

The brutal public killings that began about five years ago have worsened as Mexican drug cartels try to one-up each other in their quest to scare off rivals, authorities and would-be informers — and still stun Mexicans increasingly numbed to the gory spectacles.

“These gangs have to keep escalating because they want the shock value but the shock value wears off,” said Clark McCauley, a psychology professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and an expert on terrorism. “Now, to get a headline you have to get more heads, or more bodies or do something more horrific.”

Latin American drug lords have long turned to grisly killings and torture tactics. At the height of its powers in the 1990s, the Juarez cartel used to cut off the fingers of snitches and shove them down their throats, a practice that other cartels soon followed.

The current show of savagery began in April 2006 when two police officers were decapitated; their heads dripping blood were left in the resort city of Acapulco, where four alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel had been killed in a shootout with police. Along with the heads was a sign that warned, “So that you learn to respect.”

The Zetas are a gang of drug smugglers and hit men led by deserters from an elite Mexican army unit, who for many years were assassins for the Gulf cartel.

Five months later, the La Familia cartel rolled five human heads purportedly belonging to Zetas across a dance floor in the western state of Michoacan. An attached note said La Familia “doesn’t kill for money, doesn’t kill women, doesn’t kill innocents, just those who should die,” an apparent retaliation warning for the particularly violent group.

Since then, drug traffickers have plunged into even more gruesome tactics. They have tied victims to overpasses and shot them to death during rush hour as sickened motorists watched. Some have decapitated people alive and then posted videos of it on the internet.

“In terms of the cruelty, it’s the Zetanisation of the country because the Zetas were the first to introduce these ghastly tactics into Mexico,” said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, who has written several books about the rapidly expanding drug cartel. The Zetas are the game-changers.

Officials blame a group calling itself the “Zeta Killers” for dumping 35 bodies on a busy boulevard in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz on Sept. 20. They say the group also killed 32 people whose bodies were found at three houses in the area on Thursday.

On Monday, police in Mexico City found two severed heads on a street near a major military base accompanied by a note referring to the “Mano con Ojos,” or “Hand with Eyes,” drug gang. Motorists called the police after spotting one of the heads on the hood of an SUV.

“If you want to have cartel cred,” said Grayson, “you have to show you can carry off any act at any time and go as far as your enemy.”

Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna has said Mexican drug traffickers copied the terror tactic from the al-Qaida in Iraq after it posted videos on the internet of the decapitations of Americans. He said the cartels are using al-Qaida’s methods to pressure the government to halt its crackdown against drug traffickers, which has fractured many of the gangs.

Authorities have also said that in 2005, the Zetas began enlisting “Kaibiles,” former members of an elite Guatemalan counterinsurgency unit, to train newly recruited foot soldiers. The Kaibiles were known for massacres during the Guatemalan civil war that ended in the mid-1990s.

Very few of the killings result in arrests or convictions, so the only deterrent is revenge by another cartel.

In the five years since the beheading of the two Acapulco police officers, decapitations have become almost weekly occurrences and a prime terror tactic.

The practice dates back at least 2,000 years, said Dr. Michelle Bonogofsky, an bioarchaeologist who edited two books on the significance of of the human head in different cultures, from skull collection to decapitations.

“One of the worst things you can do to the body, in some instances, is to desecrate or dismember it and historically, this has been used by kings and various other groups to establish control,” Bonogofsky said. “This could be tied to the religious belief that you need your body intact to be resurrected.”

Residents in some cities caught in the bloody turf battles are already adapting to living with violence, said Dr. Oscar Galicia, a psychology professor who specializes in violent behavior at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.

In the northern city of Monterrey, where the Zetas are fighting the Gulf drug cartel, many people don’t go out at night in certain neighborhoods, they avoid night clubs and bars and have added extra locks to their doors at home.

“What people are doing in Monterrey is adapting,” he said.

More worrisome is that the prolonged violence is creating a sense of helplessness among Mexicans, who are becoming increasingly numb to what’s happening, Galicia said.

“Now if it’s not 20 bodies, it doesn’t get our attention and that’s terrible and really dangerous for our society because we’re becoming as desensitized as the criminals,” he said.

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2011 file photo, relatives weep after gunmen opened fire on a taxi killing the driver and the passenger in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico. The brutal public killings that began about five years ago have worsened as Mexican drug cartels try to one-up each other in their quest to scare off rivals, authorities and would-be informers _ and still shock Mexicans increasingly accustomed to the gory spectacles. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez, File)

FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2011 file photo, relatives weep after gunmen opened fire on …

Nepal: Unpaid Charity Workers ‘Turn To Prostitution’ For Survival

9 Oct

Desperate AIDS charity workers in Nepal are turning to prostitution to pay bills and buy food because government bureaucracy has denied them their wages, campaigners said Friday.

Gay rights and AIDS charity the Blue Diamond Society said it had been unable to pay its outreach workers, who receive as little as 3,000 rupees ($38) a month, for 12 weeks because of a lack of funding.

The group’s leader, Nepalese lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, said he employed about 400 “educators” in Nepal, some with HIV, who worked to raise awareness about safe sex, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We don’t have exact details, but many have turned to sex work to survive,” he explained.

Nepalese youth volunteers take part in a rally to mark World AIDS Day in Kathmandu in 2009

Pant said some of his employees working in border areas might even be failing to use condoms because of the lack of free contraception there.

The World Policy Institute think-tank highlighted this week that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) battling HIV/AIDS in Nepal were being denied $10 million in aid currently being held by the government.

The money has been in limbo since 2009, when Nepal announced it would stop funding HIV/AIDS education programmes, saying that infection rates were slowing down.

After pressure from the World Bank, the deeply impoverished Himalayan country agreed to reverse its decision, but problems with contract negotiations and other bureaucratic delays have meant the money has still not been released.

“While stories of stagnant bureaucracy in Nepal?s fledgling democratic government are not new, the consequences this time will put those increasingly dependent on NGO support at great risk,” said Kyle Knight, author of the World Policy Institute blog post.

About one percent of the adult population of Nepal is estimated to be HIV positive, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

But female sex workers are said to be a particularly high-risk group.

Since Nepal?s first cases were reported in 1988, the disease has primarily been transmitted by intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, UNAIDS said.

“About 70,000 people are estimated to be infected with HIV in Nepal, most of whom are not aware of their infection,” the United States Agency for International Development‘s 2010 Nepal HIV/AIDS profile said.

“As of the end of 2009, only 14,320 HIV-positive persons were officially reported.”

Nepal’s National Centre for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC) reports HIV infections to be more common in the far western region of the country, where migrant labour is more common, and in urban areas.

Poverty, low levels of education, illiteracy, gender inequalities, marginalisation of at-risk groups and stigma and discrimination compound the epidemic?s effects, the organisation said.

No one was available for comment from the health ministry.

Desperate AIDS charity workers in Nepal are turning to prostitution to pay bills …

Nepalese transgender performer Swecha Lama dances on World AIDS Day in Kathmandu in 2008

Killarney, Co Kerry: Drug Culture Can Be Changed By Tackling Social Issues

8 Oct

THE prohibition system favoured in this country in the fight against drugs has failed miserably and should be abandoned to facilitate a more practical and workable policy, a leading criminologist has insisted.

Dr Paul O’Mahony, associate professor of psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, said the traditional “cops and docs” method, combining the criminal justice system with the health service, is totally inadequate and new legislation is urgently needed if matters are to improve.

He said medics and law enforcers obviously have significant roles to play but to totally rely on them is a farce that provides an excuse for the Government to do nothing.

“We need to tackle the whole issue of social justice, culture and our love of mood-altering substances through education and prevention.

“We have an almost universal and irresistible urge to indulge in mood-altering substances and problems have been created by doctor-caused epidemics through the supply of tranquillisers and drugs such as Prozac,” he remarked.

Speaking at the annual Getting A Grip conference in Killarney — organised by Kerry Life Education and the Southern Regional Drugs Task Force — he said the whole drug culture takes on a glamour that is appealing to rebellious young people.

“They resist attempts at control and need to establish independence and autonomy as they grow. It’s as if drug use proves maturity.

“Prohibition has created a criminal monopoly that enriches those willing to defy the law who are ruthless enough to use violence and intimidation to turn a profit.”

Dr O’Mahony said that while there was a flow of “showcase successes” highlighting major drugs seizures made by gardaí, prohibition has been a massive failure as situations where there is huge profit are being created and spread through the prison system.

“We are spending huge amounts of money on law enforcement that’s simply not working.”

The respected criminologist said triggers for drug abuse include the stresses of attempting to maintain materialistic lifestyles, more competition in education and in the workplace, and the increased pace and intensity of life.

“We had a mad situation where people were buying houses 50 or 60 miles away and commuting for two hours to work while their children were in care for 10 or 12 hours a day.”

He said that another major problem is what he termed “the X-Factor scenario” in which expectations of success are limitless but there was not much to go around.

“All of these interacting changes have impacted dramatically on our way of life and on the quality of life and people have become more susceptible to the allure of drugs,” he said.

He said the way to succeed was through legislation and not medicalisation and with ubiquitous and energetic educational programmes highlighting the destructive use of drugs.

www.drugsfreeworld.org  & www.drugs.ie

Amsterdam: Cofee Shops Ponder Compliance On New Cannabis Sales Law

8 Oct

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Coffee shops in the Netherlands were left wondering on Saturday how to comply with restrictions announced by the Dutch government on the sale of “strong” cannabis, saying enforcement would be difficult given the laws on production.

The Netherlands is famous for its liberal soft drugs policies. A Dutch citizen can grow a maximum of five cannabis plants at home for personal use but large-scale production and transport is a crime.

On Friday, the coalition government said it would seek to ban what it considered to be highly potent forms of cannabis — known as “skunk” — placing them in the same category as hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

But the industry said the guidelines were not clear enough.

“Commercial cannabis growers are already breaking the law so how can testing be legal? It’s not clear what coffee shops need to do,” said Maurice Veldman, a lawyer from the Dutch cannabis retailers association who represents coffee shops in court.

A pioneer of liberal drug policies, the Netherlands has backtracked on its tolerance in the last few years, announcing plans in May to ban tourists from coffee shops, which are popular attractions in cities such as Amsterdam.

The government said it would now outlaw the sale of cannabis whose concentration of THC, seen as the main psychoactive substance, exceeds 15 percent.

The average THC concentration in cannabis sold by Dutch coffee shops is between 16 and 18 percent, according to the Trimbos Institute.

“All this will do is lead to people smoking more joints and me selling more grams. But as it’s used with tobacco it will damage their health more,” said Marc Josemans, who owns a coffee shop in the city of Maastricht.

The Dutch government says high THC content is detrimental to mental health, particularly when used at a young age, and that it wants to send a clear signal that strong cannabis poses an unacceptable risk to users.

(Reporting By Greg Roumeliotis Editing by Maria Golovnina)

Veracrus, Mexico: Two Murderous Cartels Dominate In Drugs War

3 Oct

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Five years after President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against Mexico’s five main drug cartels, the nation is now dominated by two powerful organizations that appear poised for a one-on-one battle to control drug markets and trafficking routes.

The government’s success in killing or arresting some cartel leaders has fractured most of the other gangs to such an extent that they have devolved into quarreling bands, or been forced to operate as subsidiaries of the two main cartels. That has often meant expanded territory and business opportunities for the hyper-violent Zetas and drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman‘s Sinaloa cartel.

“They are the two most successful cartels, or at least they have been able to expand in recent years,” said drug trade and security expert Jorge Chabat.

Mexican federal authorities, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told The Associated Press that the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels are now the nation’s two dominant drug traffickers. One or the other is present almost everywhere in Mexico, but officials are braced to see what happens next in a drug war that has already claimed an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 lives. So far, the signs are not hopeful.

GRAPHIC CONTENT - In this Sept. 26, 2011 photo, Mexican Army soldiers look at two bodies lying next to a charred vehicle in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico. Acapulco has seen a surge of cr

In the Gulf coast seaport of Veracruz, 35 bound, tortured bodies were dumped onto a main thoroughfare during the height of rush hour on Sept. 20. The killers are presumed to be aligned with the Sinaloa cartel, while the victims were apparently linked to the Zetas, who took hold of the important seaport in 2010. In a clash in May, more than two dozen people — most of them Zetas — were killed when they tried to infiltrate the Sinaloa‘s territory in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit.

When Calderon took office in December 2006, he said the drug cartels were trying to take over the country. He launched the government’s first broad attempt to fight the gangs, deploying thousands of soldiers to capture cartel members and dismantle the organizations.

At the time, the Zetas were not even a separate cartel, but rather an armed enforcement wing of the Gulf cartel, a role created in the late 1990s when they were recruited from an elite army unit. Sometime around 2010, after a falling-out between Gulf and Zeta gunmen, the Zetas split off, ushering in what is possibly the bloodiest chapter of Mexico’s narco wars. Within less than two years, the Zetas had taken control of the seaport and most of the Gulf’s former territory.

According to Chabat, the two have survived the government crackdown because they have been more skilled than their weaker counterparts. He said the new alignment may make it easier for government forces to target the two big cartels, as opposed to fighting half a dozen of them.

“The question is whether the Sinaloa cartel and Zetas are going to break at some point or not,” said Chabat.

“Right now they are very strong, but if in two or three years these cartels are pulverized, they may say that (the drug war) was a success.”

Both the “mega” cartels want to control seaports for shipping drugs from South and Central America, and border towns, for getting the drugs into the United States.

Sinaloa has long been based on the country’s northwest Pacific coast, with occasional incursions farther east along the border. In recent years, it has spread both east and south, reaching into Central America.

In this Thursday Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, a plastic sheet covers the body of a pirated DVD vendor at the central market in Acapulco, Mexico. The Pacific resort city of Acapulco has been hit by increnext

The Zetas, once confined to a stretch of the northern Gulf coast, have grown the most, pushing into central Mexico, and as far south as Guatemala.

Strategies differ. While the Sinaloa cartel is known for forging temporary alliances, officials have said the Zetas are believed to scorn them, preferring direct control of territory. There appears little chance the two groups will ever agree to split their turf; instead, Mexico may be headed into a battle between the two cartels, with each seeking to exterminate the other.

“I see the Sinaloa Federation and the Zetas as being the two polarizing forces in the Mexican criminal system … and between the two, an array of other smaller groups aligned with one or the other, ” said Samuel Logan, director of Southern Pulse, a security consulting firm.

Their operations differ too. The Zetas are involved in human trafficking and other illegal businesses, as well as the drug trade. They have committed some of the worst massacres in the Mexican drug wars and engage in a violence so brutal authorities have called the cartel “irrational.” The Sinaloan hit men, on the other hand, appear to be more focused on the drug business and are less randomly violent.

Zetas often dress in fake military gear, and have erected military-style training camps. Sinaloa gunmen, like other narcotics gangs, are more discreet, favoring ski masks and black clothing.

“Sinaloa has done well by flying under the radar. They’re comparatively less violent, though they’re no saints,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. “The Zetas have certainly gotten bigger since they split with the Gulf, but whether that will amount to a long-term ability to control and defend the territories where they have a presence is a little less clear.

“In reality, they’re much thinner, where Sinaloa is hierarchical and compact.”

Both the big cartels have also been known to launch “spoiler” attacks, aimed at making trouble on an opponent’s turf, even though they have little chance of truly encroaching on it. They have sometimes even launched “poison” attacks on civilians on an opponent’s turf, hoping the rival will be blamed.

In between the two giants, smaller, fragmented remains of vanquished cartels fight their own bloody battles.

On the outskirts of Mexico City, the Knights Templar cartel appears to be fighting Beltran-Leyva remnants, and the same two forces — plus the Zetas — have been battling for Acapulco, terrorizing the Pacific coast resort.

Battles among various cartels proliferate in Mexico’s most violent cities, including Monterrey, where the Gulf cartel is fighting the Zetas.

But Selee notes that the Veracruz fighting may represent a new stage in which the two big gangs take each other head-on as they move deeper into each other’s territory. The battle may have opened in May, when the Zetas apparently sent a convoy of fighters into Sinaloa territory in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit.

For all of the Zetas’ bloody reputation — they have been known to massacre the families of police or soldiers who had already died fighting them — the incursion didn’t go well: 28 presumed Zetas were found slaughtered by the side of a highway.

Soon after, in July, a group of two dozen armed men posted a video on the Internet, identifying themselves as “Mata Zetas” — literally, Zeta Killers — and said they were from a group allied with Sinaloa to hunt Zetas.

A Mexican military official who could not be quoted by name for security reasons said that besides the tit-for-tat aspect of the Veracruz killings, Sinaloa may also want control of the port as a link in the shipping route from Central America.

But Logan sees another reason for a group aligned with Sinaloa to attack deep into Zeta territory in Veracruz — to distract the Zetas from their next target: Guadalajara.

Mexico’s second-largest city also has seen a rise in drug violence in the last year. It was long the home of Sinaloa’s methamphetamine-trafficking arm run by Guzman lieutenant Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who was killed in a shootout with federal police in July 2010. Since then, factions of Coronel’s operation have been fighting for control, including the New Generation and another group known as the Resistance.

The Zetas have taken over neighboring Zacatecas state in their push west, and are eyeing Guadalajara both for the meth trade and for extortion potential.

“The Zetas aren’t good for business. They do what they have to because they don’t have the distribution networks of the Gulf or Sinaloa. So they have to diversify into kidnapping and extortion,” said a U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico, who couldn’t be identified for security reasons.

Logan said there are rumors that some factions fighting the New Generation are ready to join with the Zetas.

“That’s got to concern El Chapo,” he said, of the Sinaloan leader. “Guadalajara has been a huge part of the meth trade for years, El Chapo’s bread and butter. If the Zetas take that, it won’t be good for El Chapo.”

Both big cartels are trying to cover their actions with public relations campaigns, as is now customary. The Zetas hung banners in several Veracruz towns, accusing the military of rights abuses and favoring Sinaloa.

The Mata Zetas have come out with another video, in which they claim to have moved into Veracruz to protect the public from Zeta kidnappings and extortions. The men’s demeanor and language evoked a military style more than that of a gang foot soldier, raising a specter of a paramilitary response.

“We are the armed wing of the people, and for the people,” says a man with a ski mask, who is seen in the video sitting at a table reading from a prepared statement. He is flanked by four other masked associates, each with a full water bottle placed on the tablecloth. “We are anonymous warriors, faceless, but proudly Mexican.”

www.drugfreeworld.org & www.drugs.ie