Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dirty War Against Indigenous Peoples

The Mexican Military Uses the Cover of the Drug War to Repress Indigenous Movements in Guerrero

by Gloria Leticia Diaz, Proceso
translated from the original Spanish by Kristin Bricker

Guerrero's recent history is full of violence against its indigenous communities at the hands of the successive local governments and, especially, the military. [Center-left] Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) member Zeferino Torreblanca's rise to power in 2005 didn't stop the attacks; instead, they got worse. Within this context, the murder of social activists Raul Lucas and Manuel Ponce sparked international organizations' demand that the Mexican State end this escalation of repression.

Considered a "State crime against humanity" by Mexican and international civil organizations, the murder of Raul Lucas Lucia and Manuel Ponce Rosas has been added to the list of offenses against social organizers in Guerrero during Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo's administration.

The elimination of the indigenous leaders is part of "a counterinsurgency strategy and low-intensity warfare against all social organizations that resort to protests and public demonstrations," says Abel Barrera Hernandez, director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center.

In a resolution unanimously passed on Wednesday, March 11, the [Guerrero] State Congress rejected Gov. Torreblana's February 27 request to create a special prosecutor's office. The resolution would have requested the intervention of the Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) to investigate the homicides.

Likewise, a group of PRD representatives and another of senators made arguments for why the PGR should take over the case. The victims' families do not trust the local authorities, who refused to intervene when the forced disappearance of Lucas Lucia and Ponce Rosas during a public event was first reported on February 13.

After the bodies of the president and secretary of the Organization for the Future of the Mixtec People (OFPM)--Lucas and Ponce, respectively--were located, the Tlachinollan Center, as the families' legal representative, criticized the the State Attorney General's Office's actions. In response, the state attorney general, Eduardo Murueta Urruitia, declared that the OFPM was mounting a "little campaign" against the Torreblanca Galindo administration and accused the OFPM of blocking the investigations, including the one carried out by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which took up the case after the international condemnation, according to the newspaper El Sur in its Thursday, March 5 edition.

"Those declarations leave us in a high state of vulnerability and fit in with the pattern of stigmatization that has been pinned on human rights defenders. We're seen as destabilizing forces whose purpose is to damage the Mexican State's image," says Barrera Hernandez.

He adds that Lucas Lucia and Ponce Rosas stood out for having filed complaints against members of the Mexican military in Ayutla, and that their deaths "are the drop that spilled the cup of impunity, of the series of cases of human rights violations against social organizers that have been documented at the international level."

In October 2006, while Lucas Lucia was already president of the OFPM, he was unjustly detained and interrogated in a military checkpoint. In 2007 he was ambushed at a gate and shot; he almost lost his life. He filed formal complaints about these two incidents in the CNDH and the PGR.

With this record, in Abel Barrera's opinion "there's no doubt that his and Manuel's deaths fit within this strategy of low-intensity warfare against indigenous peoples, whose only crime is to live in ravines, raise their voices, and independently organize themselves."

Commotion

This past February 13, during the grand opening of a school in Ayutla, the director of municipal Public Security, retired military officer Luis Jose Sanchez, received a call on his cell phone and left the event. Minutes later, three individuals with military-style haircuts entered the place and detained Raul Lucas and Manuel Ponce, whom they violently threw into a white Jeep Liberty and left.

Lucas' wife, PRD regent Guadalupe Castro Morales, immediately went to the District Attorney's office to file a complaint regarding the forced disappearance, but it wasn't accepted; the office only opened the file ALLE /SC /O3 /AM /015 /2009, without the power to begin an investigation.

Guadalupe Castro states that moments after her husband's illegal detention she received a threatening call from Ponce's cell phone telling her to stop filing complaints in the case. On February 18 her sister-in-law, Carmen Lucas Lucia, was similarly threatened and was warned that her daughter would be the next victim.

On February 20, two decaying bodies wrapped in plastic bags were found alongside the Ayutla-Tecoanapa highway. The following day they were identified: they were the remains of Raul and Manuel.

According to the forensic report, the leaders were murdered 3-5 days prior. The bodies had signs of torture. Raul died from two gunshots to the head, and Manual was murdered by blows to the head and throat (El Sur, February 23).

The murders shook the town and hundreds of national and international human rights organizations demanded that the Mexican government punish those responsible. One declaration stands out: that of the UN's High Commissioner of Human Rights in Mexico, who visited Ayutla February 18-20 to document the leaders' forced disappearance.

"This office expresses its concern regarding the condition of vulnerability in which human rights defenders carry out their work of promoting and protecting human rights, particularly in the Costa Chica, Costa Grande, and la Montaña regions in Guerrero," stated the United Nations office's communique dated February 24.

The Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Peace Brigades, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), the Due Process Foundation, and Front Line (headquartered in Dublin, Ireland) joined in.

The CNDH didn't react until February 26, and in the communique CGCP/027/09 it announced that it would take up the case and begin an investigation. By then, Raul and Manuel's bodies had already been buried.

Repression

Ever since the massacre of 11 Mixtecs in the El Charco community in June 1998 at the hands of members of the Mexican military, the indigenous region of Ayutla has been permanently militarized. The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center says that a counterinsurgency strategy disguised as federal action against drug cultivation is being developed there.

The massacred Mixtecs belonged to the Independent Organization of Mixtec and Tlapaneco Peoples (OIPMT), created in 1994. After the massacre, the Organization of Me'phaa Indigenous Peoples (OPIM) and the Organization for the Future of the Mixtec people (OFPM) arose and took up the defense of indigenous peoples faced with military or governmental aggressions.

Both organizations fight for compensation for at least 30 indigenous Tlapenecos who were tricked into being sterilized in 1998. They also denounce the rape of indigenous women as well as arbitrary detentions and abuses committed by soldiers in that region of Guerrero.

Abel Barrera points out that "raising their voices against injustice is what put them [the indigenous leaders] in the sights of those dark sectors of the State and automatically, without reason, subjected members of those organizations to monitoring, threats, and direct military actions against them."

Amongst the aggressions against members of these organizations, the raping of the Me'phaa indigenous women Valentina Rosendo Cantu and Ines Ortega Fernandez in 2002 stand out. Currently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is analyzing their cases in order to determine if it will send them to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, considering the Mexican State's serious failures.

Here, these cases were referred to Military Jurisdiction, which is why those responsible for the crimes enjoy impunity. On the other hand, the victims and their legal counsel, including OPIM leader Obtilia Eugenio Manuel, suffer harassment and threats (Proceso 1589 and 1616).

Since at least 2002, international bodies such as the IACHR, the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have conveyed to the Mexican State their concern for the serious human rights violations in the state of Guerrero.

Not withstanding, the intimidation has not ceased because indigenous organizations are "independent organizations' weakest link," says Barrera Hernandez.

The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center's 2008 annual report is revealing in this sense: it says that in 2007 only one complaint was filed with the CNDH for military abuses committed in the Ayutla region, but between April and May 2008 there were eight, three of them in communities where OPIM has a presence, and the others where the OFPM operates.

Barrera Hernandez points out that [the OFPM] "has had to bear the stigma of El Charco, and for defending the victims [the government] has tried to link it to guerrillas, and [as for] its leaders Raul and Manuel, it's known that they were on the military's black list."

The 2008 formal complaints are signed by 20 direct victims, as well as inhabitants of the La Fatima, El Camalote, La Cortina, and Barranca de Guadalupe communities. The abuses they suffered are raids on their homes, torture, robbery, threats, detentions in military camps, illegal interrogations, harassment, and intimidation.

In a military action that was coordinated with federal and state police, various members of the OPIM were detained on April 17, 2008: Manuel Cruz Victoriano, Orlando Manzanares Lorenzo, Natalio Ortega Cruz, Raul Hernandez Abundio, and Romualdo Santiago Hernandez. There were accused of murdering Alejandro Feliciano Garcia, an informant for the military, who was killed on January 1, 2008.

The following October 15, four of those five indigenous people obtained a permanent injunction against their imprisonment pending trial, but on October 30, an agent from the federal District Attorney's office challenged the release of the activists, who in November 2008 were declared "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International. Finally, this past Thursday, March 19, four were freed, and only Hernandez Abundio remains imprisoned.

In the same case, another 10 arrest warrants were issued against OPIM members, including Cuauhtemoc Ramirez, the husband of Obtilia Eugenio Manuel.

The detentions have repressive undercurrents: Orlando Manzanares and Manuel Cruz were key in the formal complaints regarding 14 forced sterilizations in El Camalodo. Meanwhile, Natalio Ortega and Romualdo Santiago Enedina are nephews of Ines Fernandez Ortega [the woman raped by soldiers who took her case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights] and Lorenzo Fernandez Orgeta, an OPIM member who was tortured and murdered on February 9, 2008 in Ayutla, a crime that continues unpunished.

In the communique that condemns the murder of Raul Lucas Lucia and Manuel Ponce Rosas, Amnesty International Deputy Director Kerrie Howard considers the Ayutla region to be "a constant danger for those who defend the human rights of the more marginalized indigenous communities." But it isn't an exception in the state of Guerrero.

The Crime of Protesting

During the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' 133rd session on October 15-31, 2008, Tlachinollan produced a report about the 201 criminal proceedings brought against social leaders during PRD member Zeferino Torreblanca's administration. At the close of 2008 the number had risen to 215, and even more criminal proceedings have been brought in 2009.

The human rights center details how, as a consequence of protests in which the activists took part, they were accused of crimes such as illegal privation of freedom, attacks against means of communication and transportation, rioting, damaging public facilities, sedition, sabotage, and robbery.

Tlachinollan documented that the Regional Council for the Development of the Me'paa-Bathaa Indigenous People has been subject to four criminal proceedings against nine of its leaders, and five of them are imprisoned. The Xochistlahuaca traditional authorities and the community radio station "ñmndaa, The Word of Water" have criminal proceedings against eleven leaders; two of them are already detained. The Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities and Community Police has 16 criminal proceedings against 39 members, and eleven of them are imprisoned.

Likewise, the Organization of Me'phaa Indigenous Peoples has criminal proceedings against 15 of its members, and five of them are imprisoned. The Council of Communities and Ejidos* Against the La Parota Dam has two criminal proceedings against seven members, and three of them are detained. And the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Guerrero has three criminal proceedings against three leaders; one of them is detained.

In terms of people detained during protest gatherings and later charged, Tlachinollan mentions 28 students and graduates of the Ayotzinapa Normal School; 70 members of the Carrizalillo Ejido Assembly; 42 members of the Chilapa Citizen Council; and the director of the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Regional Center for the Defense of Human Rights, Manuel Olivares Hernandez.

For demanding respect for their labor rights, four ex-employees of the National Institute for Statistics and Geography (Inegi) were also detained in the state; in this case 25 arrest warrants were issued.

This grave situation, notes Abel Barrera, "makes it so that there is a legitimate concern amongst bodies such as the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) over what is happening in Guerrero. [It has to do with] a lot of cases that are related to militarization and the counterinsurgency strategy, and with a State's inability to respond to demands for justice."

Translator's note:

* Ejido is piece of communally-held land and is incorporated into Mexican law.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Gangs: New Target in the War on Drugs?

Government Reports Link US Gangs to Mexican Drug War, But Fail to Address Causes of Gang Violence

Mexico's record-breaking year of violence in 2008 put the drug war in the headlines in the US. In June, former President Bush signed the Merida Initiative into law, officially supporting (morally, financially, and logistically) Mexican President Felipe Calderon's military-heavy strategy in combatting organized crime. In July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would draw up plans for a DHS "surge" on the Mexico-US border to prepare for the possibility that Mexico's drug war would "spill over" into the US. Phoenix has since been ranked "second in the world" in kidnappings behind Mexico City (thanks to fuzzy math), and Phoenix officials blame their kidnapping problems on Mexican criminal organizations that participate in human smuggling.

The Americas Program's Laura Carlsen separated the truth from the hype in her recent article "Drug War Doublespeak." Even without the hype, the truth is scary enough: with over 5,000 drug-related murders in Mexico in 2008, the drug war has become deadlier than the drugs themselves.

With the drug war in the news weekly, if not daily, government officials have faced increasing pressure to resolve the problem. Despite increasing public support for drug decriminalization, officials have refused opportunities to analyze drug decriminalization as a possible way to reduce (but not eliminate completely) drug-related death and violence. El Paso's City Council passed a resolution urging the US and Mexican governments to study and debate the possibility of decriminalizing drugs, but El Paso's mayor vetoed the resolution. This past week, Congress held a series of hearings on violence in Mexico and on the border. All of the hearings were in some way related to drug trafficking, but none of them included a single witness to discuss drug policy reform.

Rather than stepping back and carrying out serious analysis and debate over the drug policies that have driven Mexico into a crisis, US officials are playing the blame game. Since the US is the world's biggest drug market and Mexican drug trafficking organizations' primary source of weapons, US officials can't blame Latin America for all of its drug woes. So they're turning to gangs.

The US government recently released three major drug-related reports: the National Drug Threat Assessment, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, and the National Gang Threat Assessment. In all reports, gangs figure prominently in drug trafficking. The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report is broken down by country, and gangs feature prominently in almost every country report.

The National Gang Threat Assessment alleges "close associations" between US street gangs and Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). According to the report, "gang members provide Mexican DTOs with support, such as smuggling, transportation, and security." In addition to smuggling drugs and migrants into the US, the report argues that "gangs are increasingly smuggling weapons from the United States into Mexico as payment for drugs or to sell for a significant profit."

The National Drug Threat Assessment places the most emphasis on US street and prison gangs' alleged relationships with Mexican DTOs. While Mexico's increasing violence places increasing pressure on government officials, the National Drug Threat Assessment has found that US "gangs are becoming increasingly involved in wholesale-level drug trafficking, aided by their connections with drug trafficking organizations, particularly Mexican and Asian ones." Some highlights from the report:

  • Gangs are active in drug distribution, particularly at the retail level, throughout the United States, and their involvement in drug distribution at the wholesale level is increasing.
  • Gangs have developed or strengthened relationships with transnational criminal organizations and DTOs, gaining access to international sources of supply for larger shipments of illicit drugs that they then distribute.
  • Mexican drug traffickers affiliated with the Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana Cartels maintain working relationships with at least 20 street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs [outlaw motorcycle gangs].
  • These affiliations have significantly increased the availability of illicit drugs in many of these areas.
  • Gangs smuggle drugs, firearms, and aliens across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.
  • Some of these gangs have established associate gangs or chapters in border cities in Mexico, according to law enforcement reporting.

And, in the ultimate passing of the buck, the National Drug Threat Assessment states: "Gangs promote drug use through street-level trafficking."

It's important to note that while the National Drug Threat Assessment focuses almost exclusively on Latino, Black, and Asian-American gangs, the Department of Justice acknowledges that white gangs, even white supremacist ones like the Aryan Brotherhood, have "business relationships" with Mexican DTOs.

As government officials and the media look to more law enforcement-heavy solutions to drug-related violence, sooner or later their wrath is bound to fall on US gangs. But a law enforcement response to gangs will only exacerbate the situation because, as Jose Luis Pavon of the San Francisco-based organization HOMEY explains in the interview below, "prisons create gang members." As with drug violence, law enforcement responses to gang violence fail because they do not address the root causes of the problem.

Narco News: Please explain the work that HOMEY (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) does.

Jose Luis Pavon: HOMEY is an organization that works primarily with Latino youth and recently immigrated youth in San Francisco, California. We work to prevent gang violence in the community here. We offer a number of different services--we do case management, counseling, street outreach, we have a social enterprise, a silkscreening business. We sell shirts which helps fund our work, we also have a youth organizing group called Kalpulli ["council" in the Nahuatl language], where young people work on political campaigns to fight for the rights of youth and they receive political education and skills training.

Narco News: US government reports are presenting gangs as the foot soldiers of Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Are gangs principally drug trafficking organizations, or they driven by other factors?

Jose Luis Pavon: Gangs aren't an isolated phenomenon. They are the result of not only a systemic failure in terms of society's or government's failure to meet the basic needs of its people and of its youth, but I also believe that it is a result of racist and very oppressive institutions that create the conditions and lead to the development of gang violence both within the United States as well as outside the United States.

The major contributing factor is poverty. There's really no justification for why, in a first world country like the United States of America, the richest country in the world, should have people in poverty. It's definitely not the same sort of poverty that people in third world countries live through, but there is a large portion of the population that doesn't make enough money to cover their basic needs in terms of food, rent, clothing, etc. First and foremost, the conditions of poverty drive people to join gangs or mafias.

So we have to talk about what contributes to poverty. In the United States, we have a failed public school system. We have a below base-line education within American public schools. What that means is that young people, particularly a large percentage of Black and Latino youth, are not graduating high school. 50% of youth drop out of high school before finishing.[1]

Secondly, kids are graduating school without having learned basic skills. We have a huge illiteracy problem. Kids don't know how to do math when they're done with school. These kids are not being prepared to enter the workforce. They're being pushed into low-wage jobs or into joining the military, or, again, creating the economic pressure for young people to join gangs or to engage in illegal activities in the drug trade.

Another contributing factor is that the jobs that are out there in the private sector discriminate against young people of color.

The other big driving factor is the huge concentration of jails. The state of California has one of the largest prison populations in the world. It is a huge industry. This combination of factors, the economic, the lack of education, and hundreds of thousands of people going in and out of prisons is what I believe is creating the gang violence within the United States.

Narco News: Government reports say that gangs, including those with connections to Mexican DTOs, use prisons to recruit members, and that they often run their distribution operations from US prisons.

Jose Luis Pavon: It's not necessarily that the Mexican cartels are using prisons to recruit gangs, it's the prisons create gang members. Prisons teach people to become murderers and criminals.[2] We have a gross over-investment in prisons in the United States, particularly in California, New York, and Texas. Prisons are extremely hostile. You don't go there to get rehabilitated, to receive therapy or job training in order to go through some sort of healing process. When you go there, bring imprisoned is like being in a constant state of warfare. People come out heavily emotionally traumatized when they're incarcerated. Many people come out of prison suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to what war veterans suffer. So what's happening is folks are coming out of prison more violent than when they went in to prison. So it's the other way around, the prisons are creating the conditions for people to participate in the drug trade.

Narco News: How are government spending priorities contributing to the gang problem?

Jose Luis Pavon: The state of California has been cutting money for schools. At this point some areas of the state, including San Francisco, are shutting down schools because they don't have enough money to operate. Well, let me rephrase that. The state isn't spending enough money to continue to operate the number of schools we have.[3]

Since the Reagan administration, there has been a consistent slashing of workforce development dollars, which used to be used for job training such as in the construction trade, or mechanics--giving youth access to different industries where they can find employment. That money has been cut. If these were the government systems in place to prepare the population to enter the workforce, they have been consistently cutting it and concurrently increasing the amount of money that goes into prisons and law enforcement and the military.

One of the strongest lobbying forces in Sacramento and Washington DC is the prison guards' union. They purposely lobby the government to create policies that shift more young people into jail. They don't go to Sacramento or Washington to advocate for more after-school funding. They go to advocate for increases in law enforcement funding and policies that make it easier to incarcerate more youth. They ultimately go to advocate for their job security. So they prefer to lock young people up to maintain job security for prison guards and police officers than to actually work towards a solution.

HOMEY recently lost more than half of the city funding that we used to receive, and city funding made up the majority of our budget. So we've been laying off staff.

Organizations like HOMEY all across the US right now are [experiencing budget] cuts. We are the front line in terms of a proactive solution to the violence. We do have a considerable impact in being able to slow down the violence. If we didn't exist, a lot of the kids that we work with now would be directly engaged in the violence. So we feel like these cuts are both the result of the economy--they're not talking about bailing us out--but they're also a form of political retaliation against our organization because of the positions we've taken. We've been a very vocal organization. We've mobilized campaigns against public officials around issues involving the criminalization of youth and racial profiling and demanding that they address the root causes of violence.

This is happening to social programs across the board--everything from childcare centers to recreation, sports, and arts programs, violence prevention, academic programs--everything is getting cut--the schools, the universities, the junior colleges. It's going to increase poverty and it's going to increase violence, so eventually we have to spend the money anyways on the jails and the police. It's a reallocation of funding for militarization of these poor and working class communities. That's generally what happens during economic downturns--law enforcement gets an increase in funding.[4]

The economic downturn is having a direct impact on increasing the violence. Young people that we had success with, young people that we had convinced to leave the gang life, that had secured good jobs and were trying to go to school, they're going right back to the streets because they're unemployed now. Young people are coming to us saying, "If I can't find a job then I'm going to have to go back to selling drugs."

Narco News: How could government policy be more effective in reducing gang violence?

Jose Luis Pavon:
The models for the solution exist. If you look at the wealthy areas of the United States, like Manhattan or Beverly Hills, the children of wealthy people aren't shooting each other. They have access to quality education, their basic needs in terms of housing and healthcare are secured. They have access to the resources necessary for developing into an adult.

When you look at other countries such as Britain or France or Spain or even Cuba, these are countries that have invested and prioritized spending in education. They've also created programs to secure access to higher education as well as universal healthcare and stronger labor regulations to secure access to living wage jobs and quality employment. These countries don't have a gang violence problem like you see in the United States or in other countries around the world.

It's simple cause and effect: if you invest in young people's development, they become healthy productive citizens and members of society. If you fail to invest in young people, and instead of investing them you process them and institutionalize them through dysfunctional and racist and oppressive institutions, what you will get is dysfunctional adults.

The solution is out there, but ultimately the big resistance to it is that it requires a reallocation of wealth. If you're going to fund education, the money has to come from somewhere. If you're going to increase wages, the money has to come from somewhere. Ultimately it means increasing taxes for the middle class and the rich. Within the United States, that's something that the powers that be are extremely resistant to. But in Europe they pay really heavy taxes. All of the western European countries have much stronger policies in terms of securing the development of youth. And it works there, so I think it could work in other places, too.

Narco News: You mention Cuba as an example of a country that prioritizes education. Since Cuba is so close to countries with serious gang problems and because it's such a poor country, can you elaborate on the Cuba example?

Jose Luis Pavon: What's really interesting about Cuba is that Cuba has a tiny economy, is a very poor country, and even with the small amount of financing it has, it has some of the best education and some of the highest literacy rates in the world--it has a higher literacy rate than the United States.[5] It has universal healthcare, it has affordable housing, and Cuba does not have a gang violence problem. It does not have a massive amount of youth (or adults) killing each other like we've seen in neighboring countries like Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or Central American countries. Again, it's cause and effect. If you invest in young people, they grow up healthy. If you don't invest in them, they don't grow up healthy and you have problems.


Footnotes:

[1] Approximately 50% of Black, American Indian, and Hispanic youth complete high school with a diploma. Approximately one-third of all US youth drop out of high school. The drop-out rate in southern states is higher: about 50%. For more statistics on youth graduation rates, see Silent Crisis: Large Numbers of Youth Are Not Completing High School.

[2] Most prisoners aren't murderers or violent criminals when they enter prison. In 2004, the last time the Department of Justice analyzed non-violent offenders in the state prisons, 75% of incarcerated individuals were non-violent offenders. According to the Justice Department, "The single largest offense category of nonviolent offenders discharged from prisons was drug trafficking, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 nonviolent releasees." The Justice Department's statistics also confirm Pavon's assertion that failings in the US education system also play a role in driving youth to criminal activities: 40% of non-violent offenders had less than a high school education, and an additional 25% had received a GED. This means that 65% of non-violent offenders did not complete high school with a diploma. For more information, see Profile of Nonviolent Offenders Exiting State Prisons (PDF file).

[3] The LA Times reports that California spends "far less than the national average for each of its students.... Even before the budget cuts, the state planned to spend $5,900 a student in California's higher-education system this year (including community college students) but almost 10 times that amount ($58,000) per inmate in our bloated prison system, which absorbs as much money from the state budget as Cal State and UC combined."

[4] The President's stimulus package includes $2 billion for law enforcement agencies across the country.

[5] Cuba's literacy rate is 99.8%. The United States' literacy rate is 99.0%


From Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/03/gangs-new-target-war-drugs
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In Two Years the Number of Gang Members Doubles in Monterrey, Mexico

In 2006 there were eleven thousand youths involved in gangs; in 2008 the number rose to 26 thousand. A military report confirms that Los Zetas financed the tapados protests.

by Diego E. Osorno, Milenio

Monterrey - Organized crime groups have beaten the state for control of Monterrey's poorest neighborhoods, as indicated by military reports, official surveys of state police, and sociological studies.

Recent statistics from the state Ministry of Public Security show that in the past two years the number of youths who enter gangs has doubled in Mexico's richest city. According to official numbers--considered to be conservative by independent investigators--, in 2006 the authorities had counted 11,319 gang members, but last year the number rose to 26,023.

The majority of these young people (between 12 and 22 years old) reside in neighborhoods where organized crime recruited gangs to carry out various activities, according to a military document in which the current situation in Nuevo Leon is also analyzed.

Tomorrow [March 16] will mark one month after the most recent blockade carried out in this city's streets by tapados ["masked ones"] who were demanding that military operations in the zone cease. The military puts forward in this report--shared with some state and federal officials--that "the criminal group Los Zetas has high and dangerous influence" in the Monterrey metropolitan area's colonias populares (poor neighborhoods) and that the protests that occurred this past February 9-17 were financed by this group as part of its strategy to destabilize the city before a presidential visit.

Cheap Labor

Of the Monterrey metropolitan area's* 747 neighborhoods, 206 are considered problematic and sixy-six are in critical situation, warns a study by Patricia Cerda, coordinator of the Nuevo Leon Autonomous University's Communication Department's Investigation Center.

The investigator states that 1,917 gangs currently exist in the metropolitan municipalities. The Escobedo conurbation reports the highest increase in gang membership. In 2006 there were 149 gangs in this city; the number tripled in 2008 to 492.

"The analysis of conflict zones draws the conclusion that in areas with high rates of domestic violence, the proliferation of gangs and social violence gets worse. With that comes the possibility that the gang members turn to micro-criminal groups, which the macro-criminal or organized crime can utilize as cheap labor," explains Cerda in an interview.

In another study the investigator demonstrates that the current violence situation has generated a considerable increase in the number of young people who commit suicide. "I don't think that there is a failed state in those neighborhoods, but if we don't attend to them as a society, as a government, other groups are going to do it," she says.

Waiting on the Corner

However, due to the current economic crisis, others think that the near future isn't very encouraging for Monterrey's poor neighborhoods. Sociological studies from the Nuevo Leon Autonomous University reveal that in 1984 and 1995, after economic crises that were comparable to the current one, the number of gangs rose in these zones.

David Gonzalez, who has been a social promoter in the city's marginalized zones since the 80s, believes that the situation in these neighborhoods is alarming. "From the street generation we move on to the dead end streets--the generation of those born in saturated houses, saturated streets, and saturated cities. In these new generations, the young are immersed in skepticism: they don't believe in the country. These kids make their parents happy when they're in the streets, and the kids are also happier."

About the tapados, a member of The Shot Collective says: "What's happening is that the kids get together in the streets; if someone comes with a ball and says 'We're going to play soccer,' they go; if someone comes with a forty (beer) and says 'We're going to go get drunk,' they go to get drunk; if someone shows up with rocks and says 'We're going to throw stones,' they go."

It's no secret here that the people who went out to protest against the military a month ago are the same clientele that the political parties mobilize for big events, including elections. [Translator's note: Political parties are known to recruit people for rallies and to buy votes in exchange for tortillas, preferable utility rates, and public works like paved roads.]

The mother of a tapado from the Sierra Ventana neighborhood says: "One day we woke up and there were backpacks with a $200 peso bills on our doorsteps with a message: 'This is yours if you participate in today's protest; if you're not interested, leave everything where you found it.'"

Hell

  • According to ecologist Guillermo Martinez Berlanga, organized crime's penetration in Monterrey's poor neighborhoods is explained by a lack of public spaces.
  • "A major city that abandons its youth and leaves them in misery without opportunities is a society that sooner or later will fail."
  • "I warned about these changes when they privatized the Santa Catarina River and the Fundidora Park. We lack seven thousand hectares of free public spaces in the Monterrey metropolitan zone. So you really think these kids aren't living in hell?"


*The Monterrey metropolitan area consists of nine municipalities.

Translated for Narco News from the original Spanish by Kristin Bricker.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rampant Corruption Leaves Major Chiapan City Without Running Water

The Federal Government Cut Power to San Cristobal's Water Pumps Because the City Owed Money


On March 11, most of San Cristobal de las Casas' 200,000 residents bathed themselves out of buckets and left the dishes to pile up in the sink as they have all week. For most of them, it was their sixth day without running water. For some, it's been over a month.

At first, friends complained that water had stopped running to their houses. But we didn't think anything of it, because a few hours or days without water are common, especially during the tourist season.

But then the lady who washes our laundry stopped accepting our clothes; she didn't have any water to wash them with. So we tried to wash them by hand at home, but our sink didn't have water. We looked for a laundromat, but there were none open in our neighborhood. We had to walk a half a mile to find one that was open; we'd passed three closed laundromats on the way.

Then the bars and restaurants started closing. Many of those that remained open did so without functioning bathrooms or sinks.

Then the students began to complain that the toilets in their schools had been overflowing with excrement for days. The students were already uncomfortable--they had to sit in classrooms all day even though none of them had properly bathed in a week or more.

Then the hospitals said they were running out of water and wouldn't be able to perform sanitary surgeries if the water didn't come back on soon.

The government is aware of the problem, but refuses to fix it. In fact, it was the government that intentionally shut off the water to spite San Cristobal residents. San Cristobal's government-owned and -operated Municipal Potable Water and Sewage System (Sapam in its Spanish abbreviation) owes $1,380,000 pesos to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), also a government company. So, last week the CFE shut off electric power to all of the pumps that supply San Cristobal with water.

Lots of Circus, but No Bread

When angry and dirty San Cristobal residents attended a city council meeting to demand action from their elected representatives, Mayor Mariano Diaz Ochoa left the meeting early without hearing all the citizen complaints. Before he did so, he told his constituents that the water would stay off until everyone paid their water bill. Diaz Ochoa claims that 90% of San Cristobal's water customers have not paid their bills. This may or may not be the case--no one knows for sure because Sapam's operations and books are not readily available to the public. But one thing residents are sure of is that state companies don't suddenly go bankrupt without warning. Something happened.

Regardless of what happened to Sapam, it's not as though the city government doesn't have the money to pay Sapam's electric bill: the city recently began a significant tourist development initiative. In a city where outlying neighborhoods don't have paved roads, the government is tearing up the pavement on one of San Cristobal's main drags to turn it into a hand-laid cobblestone tourist walkway. The City Council also recently announced that it will pay the famous "narco corrido" band (bands that sing ballads about drug trafficking) Los Tigres del Norte $2 million pesos to perform in next months' Spring and Peace Fair. The city government's has dismissed criticisms of its bizarre spending priorities with the excuse that Sapam is a "de-centralized" company that pays for its own costs with the money it collects from water bills. Therefore, the government will never, under any circumstance, bail out Sapam--even during a water crisis that threatens the entire city's health and livelihood.

It's worth noting that Mayor Diaz Ochoa, the government officials who ran Sapam into the ground, and the CFE officials responsible for the cut-off all almost certainly have water in their own homes. Even though the government demands that residents pay their un-metered water bills, water shut-offs are commonplace. That's why San Cristobal's more privileged residents and business owners construct massive underground water storage tanks under their houses and businesses: when the water inevitably goes out for a few hours or days, life goes on as normal. If the water goes out for a week, as it often does during the Holy Week around Easter, residents can pay a tanker to fill up the storage tank with water.

Corruption and Class Lines


San Cristobal's poorer residents who don't have water storage tanks haven't had water for a week. However, not everyone is equally affected by the water crisis. San Cristobal's big hotels have larger water storage tanks than surrounding businesses and residences. Even though they use more water than their neighbors, their water storage tanks mean that they don't ever run out of water--even if they filled those massive tanks with water that was meant to be shared by the whole neighborhood.

San Cristobal's youth hostel owners, however, are suffering. One hostel owner told Narco News that his hostel ran out of water even though they have an underground tank. Half of his guests left immediately. They headed for the pricier hotels that still had water. The owner hired a tanker to pump water out of a nearby lake and bring it to fill his hostel's storage tank. It didn't even fill the tank completely. So now he's telling his guests to use less dishes and bathe faster--something that doesn't go over well with tourists. "And I pay more for water than the hotels do. I pay $800 pesos every two months while they pay residential rates."

The hostel owner's complaint points to exactly how the same San Cristobal politicians that blame residents for the water shortage are the people who sowed the seeds of Sapam's demise.

Water bills aren't metered in San Cristobal. The hostel owner says that the water company recently installed a meter on his building, "But I don't even know if it works." He, like the rest of San Cristobal's water customers, pays a flat rate. But not everyone pays the same flat rate.

Water bills are not even based on estimated consumption--for example, a residence pays one flat fee, a restaurant or bar pays another, and a hotel pays another. Rather, water bills are based entirely on political clout. Business owners, hotels, and neighborhood associations promise politicians support and votes in return for locked-in lower water rates. No one knows for sure exactly how much the hotels pay because the state-owned and -operated Sapam's books are secret. Likewise, the city's North Zone has locked in the lowest residential water rates in the city because it bartered its votes for lower water bills. Being the city's most highly organized zone, it is the most politically powerful zone, because it promises votes and delivers.

The neighborhood associations agitate for lower rates for a good reason--many outlying neighborhoods in San Cristobal don't have running water every day. Villa Real, for example, only receives water every other day. But since water consumption isn't metered, if Villa Real's neigborhood association doesn't negotiate lower rates with the government in exchange for political support, it will be expected to pay the same rate as the downtown neighborhoods that receive water every day. The Tlaxcala and Anexacion Paraiso neighborhoods in the North Zone are even worse off--residents there have gone almost two months without water. Sapam told them that it's because the pump that supplies the neighborhoods water broke. Even though the government has now turned the water back on to most San Cristobal neighborhoods, Tlaxcala and Anexacion Paraiso remain dry--even though some residents there have pre-paid their unmetered water bill for the whole year.

Sapam's billing methodology--selling lower water bills for votes and campaign support--is a legacy of the Institutional Revolution Party's (PRI's) 70-year rule, and it remains prevalent throughout the country. The PRI maintained its rule with the perfect balance of iron-fist policies and vote purchasing. San Cristobal's Mayor Diaz Ochoa is a PRI member.

Mayor Diaz Ochoa, recognizing citizen complaints that widespread political corruption has led to Sapam's bankruptcy, now says he'll order an audit of the municipal water company's finances. But a government audit isn't enough, according to San Cristobal's residents. They don't want corrupt politicians to audit their own wrongdoings. Neighborhood and business associations are meeting all over the city to formulate their strategies, and one of the common demands is that the audit take place with citizen oversight. San Cristobal residents recognize running water as a human right, and they want to see exactly how they've been cheated out of it.

A genuine citizen audit of Sapam is not likely to occur, because its findings would be embarrassing to the city government. Based solely on statements from Sapam director Juan Carlos Flores, Sapam's billing methodology (or lack thereof) is exactly what is to blame for the water company's financial crisis. Sapam owes CFE $1.3 million pesos. Flores told Cuarto Poder that nearly half of Sapam's water customers enjoyed preferential rates in 2008, meaning that Sapam brought in $8 million pesos less than if those customers had paid the regular rate of $420 pesos. The real crisis, however, came in 2009, when the government doubled the residential rate to $849 pesos per year and attempted to renege on the preferential rates, forcing everyone to pay the new, higher price. Mayor Diaz Ochoa says that in 2008, half of all customers paid their bills. This year 10% of customers paid. The rest, the mayor says, are holding out for the preferential rates that were promised to them. Sapam director Flores says that if the government would just charge all residences the preferential rate of $350 pesos so that people would be willing and able to pay their bills, that alone would bring in almost $12 million pesos--more than enough to cover the CFE electric bill.

Terrorist Attack on the Economy

CFE's decision to cut the power to Sapam, and the city government's acquiescence to that decision, amount to a terrorist attack on the local economy during what is already a severe economic crisis. In October of last year, investment games set off a peso crisis. As a result, the peso has lost 50% of its value against the dollar. Mexico's Treasury Department has revised Mexico's projected growth in 2009 to 0%. The crisis has already translated into higher prices for staple foods--even those that are produced domestically. A few months ago a market vendor told this reporter that before the peso crash a crate of limes cost her $35 pesos; now the same crate costs $120.

San Cristobal, which has a significant tourist economy, is already suffering due to the increased cost of imports and basic necessities. Rather than supporting the local economy during the crisis, the government has decided to kick it while it's down by forcing businesses without water to close their doors just before one of the biggest tourists weeks of the year--Holy Week.

Despite the Municipal Potable Water and Sewage System's misleading name, San Cristobal's running water is not potable and hasn't been for as long as this reporter can remember. Yet the government still demands that citizens pay un-metered and unequal bills for water the government doesn't even treat to make it drinkable. And it cuts off water to the entire city--even those who have pre-paid their bills--when it has financial problems.

The San Cristobal City Council's rampant corruption and inability to meet the basic needs of its citizens is not an isolated case by far. Yes, it is an extreme case, but one that should be expected when corruption and misplaced priorities collide during an economic crisis.

CFE, the federal company that cut the pumps' power, has long been criticized by Chiapas residents for the unjust manner in which it charges for electricity. Chiapas provides CFE with 50% of the country's hydroelectric power--and that's not counting the hydroelectric power that gets sold to Guatemala. This power comes at a major expense to Chiapan residents and the environment. Hydroelectric dams are notoriously destructive, flooding villages and farmland and disrupting regional ecosystems. Chiapan municipalities, rather than paying preferential rates in exchange for CFE's dams putting some of Chiapas' most fertile lands under water, pay some of the highest electric rates in the country according to the local paper Cuarto Poder. For the CFE to take advantage of Chiapas' abundance of natural resources and then cut off water to a major Chiapan city's water supply isn't merely unconscionable--it's criminal.

The inability of two government agencies--one federal and one municipal--to work together to provide its citizens, schools, and hospitals with the most basic of necessities--running water, even if it is full of parasites and bacteria--should enrage anyone who's been following Mexican affairs. Mexico is the second-largest economy in Latin America, yet one of its major cities went without running water for almost a week, and sections of it have been without water for over a month.

San Cristobol's water crisis should also raise the eyebrows of US lawmakers, who approved $300 million dollars in funding for the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico, on March 10 while we were still bathing ourselves with carefully rationed water from buckets. US lawmakers have already approved $700 million dollars in Merida Initiative funding, and they and President Obama have promised more. The Merida Initiative is an aid package that provides armament and training for Mexico's military and police, as well as a variety of federal and local government agencies. The Merida Initiative, by its own estimates, hinges in part on collaboration between government agencies at all levels. If the federal and local government can't collaborate to provide a city of 200,000 people with basic utilities that are considered to be a human right under international treaties, how do US lawmakers expect government agencies to collaborate under the Merida Initiative?

The Merida Initiative and the war on drugs it supports are part of the problem. Through the Merida Initiative, the US encourages participating governments to increase their "public security" (law enforcement and military) budgets at the expense of their social budgets. Mexico needed no encouragement--Calderon's 2009 budget decreased social spending and increased public security spending without any explicit encouragement from former President George W. Bush. However, the Central American portion of the Merida Initiative spending plan includes as a "performance benchmark" the following statement: “we look for increased host country law enforcement personnel and budget commitments.” During a global economic crisis where most countries are reducing their growth estimates, there's only one place those "increased budget commitments" can come from: social spending.

US government officials need to wake up and realize that cuts in social spending that are undertaken as part of the war on drugs exacerbate poverty and drive more people into the drug trafficking industry. Even though the government cut the power to all of San Cristobal's water pumps, the water crisis only severely affected small business owners and poor people--those without massive underground water storage tanks and money to rent tanker trucks to keep those tanks full. And those same poor people and small business owners are the ones who pay more than their fair share in water bills thanks to local government corruption. If these poor people and small business owners get the impression that being honest and playing by the rules leaves them without water for a week or a month while the rich take long, hot showers with water from their massive storage tanks, what is to prevent them from joining the lucrative drug trafficking industry? Los Tucanes de Tijuana, a popular band that is famous for its stunningly accurate insight into Mexico's drug trafficking industry, sings:

Si eres pobre te humilla la gente (If you're poor, people humiliate you)
Si eres rico te tratan muy bien (If you're rich, they treat you very well)
Un amigo se metió a la mafia (A friend joined the mafia)
Porque pobre ya no quiso ser (Because he didn't want to be poor anymore)
Ahora tiene dinero de sobra (Now he has more than enough money)

It's worth noting that one of Mexico's most notorious drug kingpins, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, started out as a humble mechanic. After entering the drug trafficking industry, he has risen to one of Forbes' richest men in the world.

From Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/03/rampant-corruption-leaves-major-chiapan-city-without-running-water

See the original story in Narco News for citizen comments on San Cristobal's water.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Who Won and Who Lost in Mexico's "Narco Protests"

Calderon and the Military Become Heroes; Social Organizers and the Poor are Demonized


On February 9, 2009, several hundred young people with their faces covered blocked major highways in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in a series of highly coordinated actions, paralyzing the city of 1.1 million people. The protesters returned almost every day for over a week, their actions allegedly coordinated by young men on Nextel cell phones. Each time the protesters came back to block the highways, more women with young children in their arms accompanied them.

At first, the protesters' motives were unclear. Then the protesters made it known that they were protesting the use of the military in the war on drugs. Specifically, they called for the withdrawal of the military from civilian policing functions and the resignation of the commander of the 7th Military Zone, Cuauhtémoc Antúnez Pérez.

Within days of the first protest, the Mexican military--which was deployed to Nuevo Leon by President Felipe Calderon in February 2007 to combat organized crime--arrested six alleged members of Los Zetas, the organization founded by Mexican military deserters who work for drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). The government accuses the six men of leading the protests that shut down Monterrey. Among those arrested is Juan Antonio Beltrán Cruz. The military says it found illegal firearms and 71 backpacks filled with school supplies in his pick-up truck. Beltrán Cruz allegedly went to poor neighborhoods with the backpacks to entice parents and young people into participating in the protests.

Some protesters also admitted to the government and the media that they were paid to participate--anywhere from $200 to $1000 pesos (USD $13-$70), with women receiving more money, and women with small children in their arms receiving the most.

On February 17, the day of the most intense protests in Monterrey, anti-military protest blockades occurred in Reynosa and Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas; various cities in Veracruz; and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

On February 18, the military began to patrol the streets of Monterrey. The protesters vanished.

On February 19, President Felipe Calderon gave a speech commemorating Mexican Military Day on the 7th Military Zone base in Monterrey. In his speech, he called the drug cartels "cowards" for paying women, children, and the elderly to protest, and he declared that the military would not return to its barracks until civilian police had the ability to carry on the fight.

Not Your Average Protests

Narco News spoke to an adherent to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign in Ciudad Juarez about the February 17 protests that shut down three international bridges in that city. She actively participates in multiple city-wide organizing networks and says she knows most social organizations and hears about protests before they happen. She wishes to remain anonymous for her own security. The adherent tells Narco News that two of the three blockades were publicized before they happened and known organizations--taxi drivers and families of disappeared people--participated in them. Their singular focus on the military was new--the taxi drivers generally protest the Secretary of Public Transportation's policies regarding licensing, a lack of taxi stands, and other work-related issues. Likewise, the families of the disappeared generally protest violence, insecurity, and militarization, but they never focus solely on the military.

The third protest, however, was "very strange," she says. It was not advertised before it occurred. The adherent says she knows most organizers in the city, but when she watched the protest on the news, she "didn't see a single familiar face." While the adherent says that the February 17 protests were out of character for Ciudad Juarez, she says they weren't nearly as bizarre as the protests that occurred in Monterrey.

In Monterrey, local organizers knew immediately that the anti-military protest was not your average protest. A Monterrey-based collective that is an adherent to the Other Campaign told Narco News that it is in touch with most social organizations in the city that hold protests, and none of them knew any activists or organizations who participated in the protests. They didn't even know the protests were going to occur until they happened--there were no e-mail announcements and no fliers in the streets calling people to protest.

Don Hector Camero of the Monterrey-based NGO Land and Liberty also knew right away that this protest was different. He told Radio Bemba that groups who participate in protests usually make themselves, their, organizations, and their demands known. This was not the case with the anti-military protests. The people who were protesting remained anonymous, even covering their faces. They didn't make their demands immediately known, and they didn't express how they themselves have suffered since the military hit the streets in their city.

Camero knows at least some of the participants were paid. He recounted to Radio Bemba how a family member of a friend accepted $500 pesos to participate in the protests. The man of the house had just lost his job, and someone offered his wife $500 pesos to go particpate in a blockade. She accepted the offer.

The Monterrey Other Campaign adherents also became suspicious when they saw the police reaction to the protest. While this protest was one of the more aggressive protests Monterrey has seen in recent history, the police were more light-handed than they've ever been during previous protests. Burning barricades don't happen on the streets of Monterrey durign normal protests, says Narco News' source. But when 80 or 90 young people set a barricade ablaze on Fidel Velasquez Ave. during the anti-military protests, the police chose dialogue over repression. "If social organziations did that there would have been very strong repression," says one Other Campaign adherent who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.

Camero agrees. "Young people gather in the Civil College Plaza in Monterrey. As soon as the young people start to congregate, the police are on top of them. They don't let the young people meet. They [the young people] show educational, political, and civic movies there--which isn't a sin--and they [the police] don't let them carry out their cultural activities. They run them out of the place. But in this case [the "narco protests"], the police acted very prudently."

The police and military's "prudent" response to the protests is widely documented in Mexican media. Approximately fifty people were detained during one of the protests. They were freed hours later after paying a $500 peso bail. Thanks to Mexico's draconian organized crime laws, these people, whom the government accuses of working for drug cartels, could have been held without bail--but they weren't. Reforma reports that one young woman was detained on Constitution Ave, but was freed minutes later. Soon thereafter she was seen blocking Gonzalitos Ave.

It is unknown why the police behaved so prudently. The local government's official reason is that so many women, elderly people, and children participated in the protests. Narco News' Monterrey source reports rumors that the police had received threats. That is a likely scenario: the day after police arrested alleged Zeta Beltrán Cruz with a 9mm submachine gun and 71 backpacks in his possession, a police commander involved in his apprehension was murdered in broad daylight. The attackers shot him so many times that his face was unrecognizable. The shells recovered from the scene of the crime show that at least some of the weapons used--a 9mm submachine gun and an assault rifle--are limited under Mexican law as exclusively for military use (though law has not prevented these weapons from winding up in the hands of drug cartel members).

The Winners and Losers in the "Narco Protests"

During the "narco protests," the world's attention was focused on one question: Who was behind the protests? The government says the Gulf cartel and its armed associates Los Zetas organized the Monterrey protests. Some have quietly speculated that the government itself set up the protests to boost the military's popularity. The truth is that no one except the protest organizers themselves will ever really know who was behind these protests. Therefore, the real question isn't "Who did it?" but "Why did they do it?"

The reasoning behind the careful planning and masterful execution of the Monterrey protests is best understood by evaluating who gained and who lost when the "narco protests" finally ended.

The Winners

President Felipe Calderon: Calderon ran on a "get tough on crime" platform. Within days of taking office, he made the highly controversial decision to deploy soldiers to states where he felt territory had been lost to drug traffickers. Since then, drug violence has skyrocketed: in 2008, the number of organized crime-related murders more than doubled the 2007 total, making the drug war more deadly than the drugs themselves. However, the day he arrived at a Monterrey military base to give his Military Day address was the first day in over a week that no "narco protests" occurred in Monterrey. Whereas before Calderon was associated with surging homicide rates, chaos, and violence, he is now associated with peace and tranquility. As the anonymous Monterrey Other Campaign adherent put it, "Everyone was talking about a 'failed state,' and then Calderon arrives and he brings order."

The National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI): 2009 is an election year in Nuevo Leon. Both the Monterrey mayor position and the governorship are up for grabs on July 5. Monterrey is currently controlled by the PAN, while Nuevo Leon's governor is a PRIista. Both contests have turned into races to see which politician can repress dissent better than the rest of the candidates. The PAN, being the party behind the deployment of the military to combat organized crime, already has a proven "iron fist" (mano dura) track record when it comes to organized crime. However, the PRI, which ran Mexico with an iron fist for over seven decades, won't be outdone so easily. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, the PRI's gubernatorial candidate, proposed that the Nuevo Leon state congress pass a law making blocking a road "in a violent manner" punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of $7,500-$25,000 pesos (USD$492-$1,639). Monterrey's PAN mayor, Adalberto Madero Quiroga, delivered his own proposal to the state congress: street blockades should be punishable by six years in prison, but if someone dies during the protest, the sentence is doubled to 12 years. Quiroga's proposal does not specify if the 12-year sentence applies only if protesters kill the person, or if it applies when police or the military kill someone, too. In Mexico, the police, the military, and pro-government paramilitaries are generally responsible for protester deaths, not the protesters themselves.

The Military: The Monterrey protests have turned the military into heroes. Press and eyewitness reports say that Monterrey citizens literally welcomed the soldiers with open arms when they began to patrol the city's streets just one day prior to Calderon's arrival. People on the streets reportedly cheered and clapped when they saw the soldiers. Narco News' Monterrey contact says that "the city is completely militarized"--and people seem to like it.

If someone wanted to stage protests to boost the military's popularity, Monterrey is the perfect place to do it. The Monterrey collective told Narco News that there was never significant anti-military sentiment in Monterrey, despite the military's presence in Nuevo Leon for over a year. Camero explains why: "In Monterrey there haven't been the sorts of violations committed by soldiers that there have been in other places. I'm not saying they don't exist; we've had 150 or 200 PFP agents on top of us [the Federal Preventive Police, or PFP, are federal police that have also been deployed in the war on drugs and participate in joint operations with the military]. But in general, soldiers' patrols are carried out with caution. There have been some complaints due to mistaken house searches or the military checkpoints. But in general there haven't been a lot of complaints regarding their treatment of the population. So these protests, where the young people have not only covered their faces, but they're also walking around with sticks threatening drivers or young ladies, have created a situation where the population is standing behind the military. They're saying, 'We're with the military.' So the protests are actually provoking the opposite" of their stated goal, which is the withdrawal of the military.

Indeed. Just two weeks after the protest ended, the federal government announced that it was sending an additional 5,000 soldiers to Ciudad Juarez, which is Mexico's most violent city and also the site of a protest the media linked to the "narco protests." One thousand federal police and two thousand soldiers have already arrived. Prior to the recent build-up, 2,000 soldiers were stationed in Ciudad Juarez, meaning that when all of the reinforcements arrive, 7,000 soldiers will patrol the city of 1.4 million people. That's one soldier for every 200 civilians in a city with a population density of over twelve thousand people per square mile, or sixty soldiers per square mile. While the federal government's announcement is probably not a direct result of the "narco protests," the protests surely didn't hurt military public relations prior to one of the more intense military surges in the country.

Any DTO that Collaborates with Sectors of the Military: In December 2008, Narco News correspondent Bill Conroy laid out the evidence that corruption within the Mexican military may not be limited to a few isolated incidents of (albeit high-ranking) officers on the cartel payroll in his story "Juarez Murders Shine Light on an Emerging 'Military Cartel.'" One source, former DEA agent Celerino “Cele” Castillo III, told Conroy:

During the presidential elections, El Chapo [Joaquin Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa drug trafficking organization, or DTO] supported [Mexican President] Calderon. Calderon then rented the military to El Chapo to take out Osiel [Cardenas Guillen, leader of the Gulf DTO, which controlled the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo]. Keep in the back of your mind, why has Chapo not been arrested?

Calderon took back the military and is now working hand in hand with El Chapo. … [U.S.] Iraq [War] veterans were acting as mercs for the Mexican military. Right now, as we speak, there are U.S. Iraq veterans work ing for this organization. They are doing the enforcement work on this side [of the U.S. border] for the Mexican military. They are collecting the … profits of drug sales in the U.S. They [targets who owe money to the drug organization] are grabbed and given 24 hours to wire some of the money into Mexico bank accounts. If not, they are executed. ...

The old M-79 grenade launcher uses the 40 mm round. The ones that were laying on the table in the picture [of weapons confiscated by Mexican authories] of today’s paper. What the story is not telling is these 40mm [rounds] are U.S. military issued. How about them apples?

Conroy goes on to write, "Castillo adds that he recently was provided information that indicates another group made quite famous by the media, the Zetas (a U.S.-trained Mexican special operations group that defected from the Mexican military) is now assisting the Mexican military in its narco-trafficking operations along the border."

In the same story, Conroy quotes Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, a former high-ranking member of the Juarez DTO who is an informant in the House of Death case, as he describes how the Mexican Navy ran drugs for his DTO from Colombia.

Conroy's story does not point to one DTO that has control over the Mexican military. He mentions three or four separate DTOs who are allegedly in cahoots with the military: El Chapo Guzman's organization, Los Zetas (who allegedly work for the Gulf DTO or anyone else who pays well), and the Juarez DTO. Rather, Conroy's evidence and sources show that in a clandestine industry where to survive one has to keep his friends close and his enemies closer; where alliances and rivalries change with the wind; and where politicians, police, and military officers go to the highest bidder, the military has emerged as another player in the game. Just like other cartels, the "military cartel's" alliances shift as conditions change, and it finds new allies if the price is right. Different military officers may choose to ally themselves and the troops under their command with different DTOs. And even if rumors that President Calderon has a preferred DTO and is using his military campaign to take out that DTO's enemies are true, Calderon can't keep all of his troops in line any more than El Chapo can keep all the cells of the Sinaloa "Federation" in line.

So, while it is possible that one DTO or an alliance between a DTO and a sector of the military masterminded the "narco protests," no one knows which military officer and his troops are working with which DTO until someone snitches on the officer. Even then, it's not certain that the snitch is telling the truth. So the official and clear-cut winner in the "narco protests" was the military as a whole. Whichever DTOs are currently aligned with sectors of the military just saw their ally's power, and therefore their own, increase. And because the military, which has been fighting a constant public relations battle over its involvement in the war on drugs, just increased its power and popularity, it may have also just increased the going rate for its loyalty.

The Losers

In addition to any drug cartel that is not aligned with the military, particularly in regions where the "narco protests" occurred, civil society suffered a significant blow thanks to the protests.

Social Organizers and Organizations: The "anti-military" protests in Monterrey succeeded in neutralizing very legitimate demands (that the military withdraw from civilian policing duties) and complaints (that soldiers performing civilian policing functions without an official declaration of war is unconstitutional).

When anti-military protests broke out in areas that do have a history of legitimate protests against militarization, such as Veracruz and Ciudad Juarez, there was immediate speculation in the press that they were also linked to drug traffickers. However, unlike Monterrey, no concrete proof has emerged that these protests were organized by anyone other than the protesters themselves. While an Other Campaign adherent in Ciudad Juarez told Narco News that one of the anti-military blockades of an international bridge in that city was "very strange" when compared to other similar protests, she did say that legitimate social organizations were definitely involved in the other protests and blockades that occurred in other parts of Ciudad Juarez that day. Even though the government verified that legitimate family members of persons allegedly disappeared by the military participated, the press reported--without citing further evidence--that unidentified "security agents" said people were hired to protest. While the government has not presented any proof or made any official statements that at least some protesters in Ciudad Juarez received compensation for their participation, if someone did pay people to protest while legitimate organizations were also protesting, they have succeeded in ripping away all credibility that legitimate social organizations had in that city. And even if not a single protester in Juarez participated because they were paid, the specter remains--the media discussed the protests in all four states as if they were the same, without a shred of proof that participants outside of Monterrey received any compensation.

Organizers are thorns in the side of undemocratic power. As such, organizers can be as much of a liability for narcos as they are for the government. In locales where the narcos own or are the government, or in regions where narcos are the caciques (local political bosses), organizers threaten DTOs' power. Whoever was behind the protests--be it the government or a DTO or a mix of both--has further consolidated its power by stripping organizers of theirs.

The "narco protests" didn't just serve to damage organizers' credibility; the government is also using them to push measures to repress protests and gain some control over them, much like the US government does. As previously mentioned, Nuevo Leon officials have proposed 6-12 year prison sentences and high fines for blocking a road during a project, which is currently a traffic violation. The one proposed exception to the law is if a legitimate protest group advises the government prior to its action that it wishes to block a road during a protest. This will effectively introduce a protest permit system to Mexico, in which protesters who wish to protest the government must first ask permission of the government to do so. The system is widely in place in the United States and gives the government significant control over protests. The government tells organizers where they may protest and when. When the government does not want protests to occur, it outright denies permits to protesters, as was the case during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Philadelphia in 2000. The city government granted protest permits to the RNC for the entire city for the duration of the convention, leaving none for social organizations (the RNC, of course, did not use the permits to protest itself--it simply wanted to lock out activists). The only permit given to protest organizers was in a "free speech zone" (implicating that "free speech" was only a right in that area, but not in the rest of the city) which was a fenced-off area in a corner of a parking lot so far away from the Convention Center that no one even noticed the few protesters who decided to use the zone. If protest serves to raise the costs of a government policy or decision such as a war, permitted protests reduce the costs to the government to a minor and temporary headache.

Thanks to the "narco protests," public opinion in Monterrey has given the government and pro-government civilians the green light to kill demonstrators. Narco News' Monterrey contact sent comments posted on online forums that he says are accurate representations of how many Monterrey citizens feel about the protests. In a forum on the Monterrey newspaper El Norte's website, one poster says, "If you're in your car and one of them [the protesters] crosses your path, run them over and don't stop even if you leave them lying on the ground. Don't even turn around, as if you'd run over a toad..." Another poster says that after running over a protester, motorists should put the car in reverse "to see if they still want to act like clowns for a couple of backpacks." Yet another says that if a citizen runs across protesters on a bridge, s/he should throw the protesters off the bridge. No one on the forum criticizes comments that encourage murder.

Being an organizer in Mexico is already dangerous, even without public support for their murder. This past February, the Mexican Supreme Court refused to hold accountable the police who killed Alexis Benhumea and Francisco Javier Cortes in the 2006 San Salvador Atenco protests. In its decision, it didn't even acknowledge that police were responsible for the murders, even though a tear gas canister killed Benhumea and the gun that killed Cortes is of the caliber that is issued to state police commanders but is illegal for civilians to carry. Also in February, armed men "who appeared to be soldiers" abducted two indigenous human rights activists in Guerrero and tortured and murdered them.

Colonias Populares: Colonias populares are poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of cities. They have to fight for basic municipal services such as paved roads, running water, and sewer and drainage systems.

Narco News has documented how the joint federal police-military operation in Michoacan is being used to repress colonias populares, particularly those who belong to social organizations. Given that there is proof that residents of colonias populares were paid to block roads during the "narco protests," it can be expected that government repression will increase in Monterrey's colonias populares--even in those that did not participate.

If the blockades provoked rage against protesters in general, it provoked a particularly fierce rage against Monterrey's poorest residents because it is known that some of them participated in exchange for school supplies and money. One poster on El Norte's forum wrote that the military should be deployed against the protesters (it was deployed six days after the post) and that "if they [the soldiers] kill those people no one will miss them, they stream out of every trash dump or piece of poop...a couple of dead ones won't hurt anyone, it's better that way because we'd be doing society a favor by not keeping fucking people who are dying of hunger alive, because these idiots cost us in an indirect way."

The anger towards Monterrey's poor residents is misdirected, says Camero, because it ignores the conditions, created by the government itself, that led to people blocking roads in exchange for school supplies and cash. "There is a crisis of unemployment and of abandonment of young people. There's no guarantee [of employment for young people]. I'm not even talking about school or sports here--I'm talking about employment. With this abandonment it's easy to make these sorts of offers [to get paid to protest]. This is a very strange, unimaginable scenerio, but it can easily happen because of the situation."

Camero blames the government for spending millions of pesos in public money on maintaining political parties when it doesn't adequately supply schools with basic necessities. "How is it possible that the narcos are offering people school supplies? We have a long-term campaign to get school supplies in [Nuevo Leon] schools. These are conditions that the government has allowed to develop, and organized crime can take advantage of them."

Originally from Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/03/who-won-and-who-lost-mexicos-narco-protests

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Call Your Senators - Tell Them NOT to Double the Merida Initiative

from Witness for Peace

On February 25, the House of Representatives decided to expand the failed "war on drugs" model by committing $410 million more taxpayer dollars to the notorious Merida Initiative. (For background, click here.) The money was buried in a catch-all $410 billion spending bill for fiscal year 2009, representing just 0.1% of the total amount. Defying standard assumptions of democracy, the House's vote on 09's largest spending bill came within mere days of having publicly released the bill's text.

The bill now goes on to the Senate. If the hundreds of millions for Merida are not removed from the Senate version before passage, the U.S. will take another bullheaded leap down the militaristic path of the widely discredited "war on drugs."

Call your Senators today! Ask them to propose an amendment to the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act that would extract Merida Initiative funding from the bill. Use the talking points below. To reach your Senators' offices, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask to be connected to your Senator (give your state if you're not sure who it is).


Talking Points

Merida Initiative supporters assert that the U.S. security assistance is desperately needed given that drug-related violence in Mexico is skyrocketing. There is no doubt that the crisis is real: execution-style murders in Mexico in 2008 totaled 5,630--more than twice that of 2007. The U.S. certainly needs to do something. But the crisis demands a new approach, not simply dusting off the tired "war on drugs" policies of the past. Merida, as a continuation of these policies, would prove tragically ineffective in diminishing the violence. Here's why:
  • Drugs are a demand-driven business. After spending 7 years and over $5 billion in striving to curtail Colombia's coca production through Plan Colombia, the U.S. admitted last year that Colombians planted twice as much coca in 2007 as in 2000. This spectacular failure shows that attempts to stamp out drug supply abroad are doomed so long as drug demand remains high at home. The same would prove true for Merida's attempts to stamp out drug flow in Mexico. The RAND Corporation estimates that domestic drug treatment programs are 10 times more cost effective than drug interdiction efforts (i.e. Merida). Rather than wasting $410 million more taxpayer dollars on a solution that won't curb Mexico's drug-related violence, the U.S. should bolster drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts at home.
  • A militarized interdiction approach could even exacerbate the violence. If military or police personnel, aided through the Merida Initiative, are successful in weakening one drug cartel, other cartels will inevitably compete to fill its place so long as U.S. demand keeps the business lucrative. Such competition often means a violent struggle for control in which many innocent civilians are killed in the crossfire.
  • Merida does little to address another root cause of Mexico's violent drug trade: poverty. Mexico's economy is in shambles. Facing increasingly desperate socioeconomic realities, many of Mexico's unemployed are left with few options, including migration to the U.S. and employment in the illicit drug trade. A significant number inevitably opt for the latter, more profitable choice. The U.S. also needs to recognize that its own free trade policies have contributed to such crime-feeding poverty by displacing small-scale producers and forcing reliance on fickle export industries.

Beyond failing to curb Mexico's escalating violence, nearly doubling Merida Initiative funding would constitute a sincere threat to human rights and freedom of expression in Mexico.
  • Merida would dangerously blur the line between military and police duties. The security assistance package finances increased military involvement in domestic efforts typically handled by police. In so doing, Merida dangerously puts the civilian populace at the discretion of military personnel who have been trained to eliminate foreign threats.
  • Counter-narcotics operations in Mexico have a documented history of human rights abuses. As one example, in the past year Mexican soldiers in an anti-narcotics operation in the state of Michoacan beat, tortured, and sexually abused villagers who merely shared the same last name as a wanted drug-trafficker.
  • U.S. training and equipment could be used to repress civil society's freedom of expression. Such repression has occurred as recently as Fall 2006 and Summer 2007, when federal and state security forces utilized arbitrary detention, torture, and the killing of civilians to suppress peaceful demonstrations in the state of Oaxaca.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

DEA's Operation Xcellerator is Another Justice Department Dog and Pony Show

Despite the "Largest and Hardest Hitting Operation to Ever Target" the Sinaloa Cartel, the DEA is Merely Treading Water in the War on Drugs

On February 25, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) held a press conference celebrating the culmination of Operation Xcellerator, which it says resulted in the arrests of 755 Sinaloa cartel members in the United States and Mexico. Law enforcement agencies arrested the last 52 suspects the day of the press conference, which the DoJ held on the same day the House of Representatives voted on 2009 funding for Plan Mexico. Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative, is the US government's estimated $1.6 billion military and law enforcement aid package to support the Mexican government's increasingly violent war on drugs.

With Plan Mexico, the United States government wedded itself to Mexican president Felipe Calderon's stated strategy of attacking the big drug trafficking organizations in Mexico head-on. Calderon didn't invent this strategy; it is the same strategy the United States and Colombia used in Colombia under Plan Colombia.

Since the strategy in Mexico has not decreased the levels of illicit drug flows into the United States, and because it has not decreased drug-related violence (drug-related murders more than doubled in Mexico last year), pressure is on both the Mexican and US governments to prove some quantifiable successes in the war on drugs. They're doing this by making (or creating) high-profile arrests of suspected members of Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).

DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart stated that Operation Xcellorator resulted in the arrests of "US cell heads" who worked for the Sinaloa cartel. She went on to say, "We disrupted this cartel's operations." However, unlike previous busts, the DEA did not state the name of a single high-priority target that was arrested or even indicted in Operation Xcellerator.

In fact, the only Consolidarity Priority Organizational Target mentioned in the press release announcing the culmination of Operation Xcellerator was Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar, aka Victor Emilio Cazares Gastelum, an alleged Sinaloa cartel "command and control leader" who is still at large. The US government indicted Cazares-Salazar in absentia under Operation Xcellerator's predecessor, Operation Imperial Emperor. The DEA says Operation Imperial Emperor resulted in the arrests of over 400 members of the "Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar drug trafficking organization."

The DEA's mention of Cazares-Salazar in the Operation Xcellerator press release lead to confusion amongst the corporate media as to who he is and what he did or does within the Sinaloa cartel. The DoJ press release says, "The 21-month [Operation Xcellerator] investigation began shortly after the culmination of Operation Imperial Emperor, an investigation which resulted in the indictment of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF)-designated Consolidated Priority Organizational Target (CPOT) Victor Emilio Cazarez-Salazar, believed to be a command and control leader within the Sinaloa Cartel. CPOT Victor Cazarez-Salazar remains a fugitive." Both the Washington Times and the Financial Times incorrectly stated that Cazares-Salazar is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

This isn't the first time there's been DEA-related confusion regarding Cazares-Salazar. In its press release announcing his indictment under Operation Imperial Emperor, the DEA didn't even mention the Sinaloa cartel. Rather, it claimed that Cazares-Salazar is the leader of his very own drug cartel, the "Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar drug trafficking organization," a "drug empire that rose to such heights of power in only two years." Such a statement is suspicious because it is very unlikely that the extremely powerful Mexican DTOs, most of whom have existed in some form or another for decades, would allow a newcomer to create his own DTO and turn it into a "sprawling drug domain, headquartered in Mexico, [that] penetrated deep into all corners of this country" without a fight.

Who is Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar?

To understand who Cazares-Salazar is, it's important to understand how the Sinaloa cartel is allegedly structured. Hierarchical cartel structures have proven to be prone to decapitation--if the leader or leaders are taken out, the organization lies in shambles. The Sinaloa cartel, on the other hand, allegedly has various DTO leaders (often entire families) who work together in an alliance known as "the Federation." Sometimes some leaders fall out of favor with each other (such as in the case of the alleged feud between Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Beltran Leyva brothers), but the Federation continues to control large swaths of territory in western Mexico.

Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar is the brother of Blanca Margarita Cazares Salazar, who is allegedly head of the Sinaloa cartel's money laundering operations. The Cazares-Salazars are allegedly allied with the Zambada family DTO, another Sinaloa cartel associate.

It was allegedly Victor Cazares' alliance with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada that allowed him to take over the territory he allegedly controls. The Tijuana magazine Zeta writes, "One theory says that after the capture of Arellano Felix Organization [aka the Tijuana cartel] deputy Gilberto Higuera Guerrero on August 5, 2004, in Mexicali, his enemy, deputy Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada from the Sinaloa cartel, gained more territory in the capital [Mexicali, the capital of Baja California] and then cleared the way for Victor Emilio Cazares Gastelum. Coincidentally, around that time the DEA began to detect Victor Emilio Cazares Gastelum's cell's drug activity operations."

Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, for his part, gained control of Mexicali when the Arellano Felix Organization chose him to replace his brother, Ismael Higuera Guerrero, after the latter was arrested in 2000.

A pattern begins to emerge: government authorities can arrest or kill as many cartel lackeys or even king pins as they want, but as long as there is a lucrative market, there will always be more to step up and take their place. Cazares-Salazar is at least the third consecutive alleged Mexicali deputy that the US government has indicted since 2000. With the arrest of Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, the Arellano Felix Organization reportedly lost control of Mexicali. But El Mayo's organization moved in to fill the vacuum, and the drugs flow north unabated.

Furthermore, every two years the US government announces hundreds of arrests of alleged Sinaloa cartel members, but the Sinaloa federation adapts, fills in the holes created by the arrests, and remains one of the strongest drug trafficking organizations in the country. And if someday the US and Mexican governments manage to significantly weaken the Sinaloa cartel, as they did with the Arellano Felix cartel, there will be someone else to fill that vacuum as well.

Are All 755 Operation Xcellerator Suspects Really Sinaloa Cartel Members?

Like most operations of this size, Operation Xcellerator was a joint effort between the DEA, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service, attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies, according to the DoJ press release. The press release also notes the that the defendants are "entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The Department of Justice's past behavior in operations of this magnitude raise questions about how many of the 755 suspects arrested in Operation Xcellerator will actually be convicted, and how many are really Sinaloa cartel operatives or "associates"--and how many aren't.

That very question came into focus in an FBI dragnet called “Sudden Impact,” an 18-month operation that targeted false medical claims in connection with staged or fictitious accidents, according to the FBI. Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in his "A Report to the American People on the Work of the FBI, 1993 - 1998" that Operation Sudden Impact resulted in the arrest or indictment of 723 people. Like Operation Xcellerator, it was an almost two-year investigation that resulted in arrests throughout the operation. In both operations, a significant number of arrests were made on the day of the press conference to add to the excitement and media show.

The FBI mechanizations behind Sudden Impact have been detailed in prior media reports, including a past story published by Narco News.

Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] documents made public as a result of those news reports show that Operation Sudden Impact was designed to coordinate media coverage with raids and arrests made during a planned “national takedown” day on May 24, 1995. The goal of this coordination was to maximize positive public exposure for the FBI.

Included in the FOIA records released by the FBI about Sudden Impact is a Dec. 1, 1993, memo from FBI headquarters to some 40 field offices, which states the following:

It is recognized that (FBI) field offices will be at various stages of their investigation at the takedown date. It is believed that each office will most likely still be in a position to contribute significantly to the takedown event. At the culmination of this initiative, field offices may choose to participate by executing arrests or search warrants, announcing indictments, or announcing recorded convictions. Prior to this event, the media packages will be prepared by (FBI headquarters) and distributed to field office media representatives.

A fill-in-the-blanks press release was even drafted at FBI headquarters and provided to the local field offices to assist with maximizing the press coverage of the “takedown” day.

"Field offices are encouraged to prepare their own media release and as a guide, the FBI National Press Office has prepared the following draft copy of a media release for the May 24 takedown," states a May 19, 1995, memo included in the FOIA documents.

The pre-packaged press release from FBI headquarters included a narrative about Sudden Impact, information about the number of people to be arrested and even canned comments from then-FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The pressure exerted by FBI headquarters to get all of the field offices to “contribute significantly to the takedown event" even if some were "at various stages of their investigation at the takedown date” poses a risk, however. That pressure to “contribute” — when it comes from superiors who hold the keys to career advancement — can foster a bandwagon effect that results in bad police work.

In fact, according to the media reports, that is precisely what seems to have played out in the case of the FBI's Sudden Impact.

In one case, a San Antonio lawyer who was a target of Sudden Impact—his office raided and name splashed all over the media—was never even charged with a crime. In addition, according to FOIA documents, FBI headquarters later claimed it had no record of the attorney ever being of "investigatory interest" to the bureau.

A similar miscarriage of justice also seems to have played out for a Houston attorney whose law office also was raided (and his name released to the media) as part of Sudden Impact. In that case, the attorney was charged initially with insurance fraud, but the charges were later dismissed, according to the media reports.

Even though they were never found guilty, both men were included in Operation Sudden Impact's "723 arrests or indictments" [emphasis added].

Press manipulation was not the only strategy employed by the FBI, the FOIA documents reveal. Operation Sudden Impact also was intended to impress Congress and affect pending legislation:

This initiative [Sudden Impact] through the diligent efforts of the participating field offices has served to further establish the FBI as a law enforcement agency actively involved in combating health care fraud," states the May 4, 1995, FBI memo surfaced through the FOIA documents. "Congressional leadership also recognizes the bureau's capabilities in investigating complex health care fraud cases and legislation has been introduced that would provide the FBI and all law enforcement with improved investigative tools, better criminal statutes and investigative resources.

The DEA's Operation Xcellerator was also conveniently timed to coincide with Congressional legislation important to that agency: Plan Mexico. The House of Representatives voted on legislation that included Plan Mexico on the same day the Department of Justice held its press conference announcing the Operation Xcellerator arrests.

Plan Mexico has received sharp criticism from both the left and the right. Activist organizations such as Witness for Peace and Friends of Brad Will have pressured the US Congress to make the Merida Initiative a stand-alone bill to be considered on its own merits. Some Republican congressmembers supported this effort in 2008. They don't believe Plan Mexico funding would pass so easily if it weren't tucked into broad hundred billion dollar spending bills.

They may be right. The "war on drugs" approach to addressing drug problems is becoming increasingly unpopular. As Senator John Kerry noted during Hillary Clinton's Secretary of State confirmation hearing, "An October 2008 report by the GAO [Government Accountability Office] concluded that, although Plan Colombia improved security conditions in Colombia, it has not significantly reduced the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States." What Kerry didn't mention is that the GAO report said that cocaine production in Colombia had actually increased under Plan Colombia.

The reason for Plan Colombia's failure is simple: drug traffickers evolve to adapt to changing market conditions. When US funds paid for aerial detection and fumigation programs, Colombian growers moved away from large-scale cultivation in open fields in favor of smaller plots hidden under trees or in tall weeds or amongst other crops. When the military brought down the Medellin and Cali cartels, who once dominated the Central American-Mexican corridor to the United States, Colombian traffickers formed smaller boutique cartels. These cartels no longer control the Central American-Mexican corridor; their Mexican colleagues do. The case of Mexicali and how it has changed hands over the years as the US imprisons the deputies who control it is reproduced at the international level: the players change, but the game continues.

As the failures of the war on drugs become more obvious, the DEA finds itself relying on one of the only tools it has left to shore up support for pro-drug war legislation: media spectacle.

However, in its efforts to shore up support for the drug war, the DEA may actually be playing into the Mexican DTO's hands. If a significant number of the Operation Xcellerator arrests are not associated with the Sinaloa cartel as the DEA claims, the arrests may have benefited major DTOs.

DTOs have been known to propose truces to the Mexican government that include taking out "unorganized crime," that is, the small-time drug runners in exchange for the government leaving the large DTOs alone. Proceso reporter Ricardo Ravelo obtained a Mexican Secretary of Defense report dated January 14, 1997, that illustrates such proposals. The proposal was from the late Juarez cartel leader Amado Carrillo Fuentes to then-Secretary of Defense Enrique Cervantes Aguirre. Ravelo sums up the document in his book, "Los Capos":

"He [Carrillo Fuentes] didn't want to turn himself in. He was interested in negotiating and coming to an agreement with the government. He also asked that his family be left in peace and that they let him work without being bothered. In turn, he would grant the State 50% of his possessions; he would collaborate to do away with unorganized crime; he would act like a businessman, not a criminal; he wouldn't sell drugs in national territory, but rather in the United States and European countries; he would bring in dollars to help the national economy; and he wouldn't act violently nor in rebellion."

General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, Mexico's former drug tsar who was arrested for his alleged ties to the Juarez cartel, gave testimony that one of Carrillo Fuentes' agents had three meetings with Secretary Cervantes Aguirre regarding the proposal.

The proposal was never finalized. Both Amado Carrillo Fuentes and a lawyer involved in the negotiations who claimed to represent the Secretary of Defense died in 1997. Carrillo Fuentes reportedly died of a fatal overdose of Dormicum during plastic surgery to change his appearance. The overdose was foreseeable and preventable, leading to speculation that he was murdered*. The lawyer, Rafael Perez Ayala, was found stuffed in the truck of his car.


* There are also reports that Carrillo Fuentes staged his death, and that he is not actually dead.

From Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/02/deas-operation-xcellerator-another-justice-department-dog-and-pony-
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