Sunday, April 26, 2009

Drug War Repression Hits Zapatistas and the Other Campaign

Military Intelligence Leads to Eight Men Detained, Tortured, Charged with Organized Crime in Disputed Agua Azul Region

In an operation that bears all the marks of drug war-style repression, state and federal police detained six adherents to the Other Campaign, one Zapatista, and one unaffiliated man in Agua Azul, Chiapas. The military was also involved; it shot six warning shots into the air with live ammunition at a protest blockade, and it provided military intelligence that Chiapas state officials say was used to detain the men.

The Agua Azul region is an area that in recent years has been the site of violent attacks against Zapatistas perpetrated by members of the paramilitary Organization For Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC). OPDDIC members allegedly participated in the operation.

The state government reports that it intends to charge the detained men with aggravated robbery, assault, and organized crime. Additionally, the government intends to charge the man without organizational affiliation, Juan Alfredo Gomez Moreno, with the kidnapping of a Guerrero senator. The senator, David Jimenez Rumbo, wrote a letter to the national daily La Jornada explaining that he was never kidnapped and that he never filed any charges to that effect.

Troubles began on April 13 when an Other Campaign adherent from San Sebastian Bachajon in the Agua Azul region, Jerónimo Gómez Saragos, went to the city of Ocosingo with five other residents from his ejido (communally owned land) to run errands. The group agreed to meet up at the Caballo Negro store in Ocosingo to leave for their community together. Jerónimo never arrived. At 4pm fellow edijadatario Carlos Hernández Bilchis informed the group that he saw state police grab Jerónimo.

That night, a commission made up of Antonio Gómez Saragos, Miguel Demeza Jiménez, Sebastián Demeza Deara, Pedro Demeza Deara, and Gerónimo Moreno Deara (also referred to as Jeronimo Deara Junto) set out from the Bachajon ejido to investigate Jerónimo's arrest. According to ejido authorities, state police pulled them over in Temó (Chilón municipality), severely beat the five men, and took them to the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez where some of them were tortured.

Once the men were in Tuxtla, the state government announced that it had detained a gang of robbers that operated along the highway between the Palenque and Agua Azul tourist destinations. The men, the government claims, stopped busses and robbed passengers at gunpoint.

In paid inserts designed to look like newspaper articles, the government printed large pictures of the detained men and the "weapons" it claims it confiscated from them: pliers, balaclavas, machetes, a walkie-talkie (there is no phone service available in many indigenous communities), and car keys. The paid inserts, which appeared in the national daily La Jornada and the Chiapas newspaper Cuarto Poder, were designed to look like newspaper articles announcing the detention of drug barons.

It is worth noting that the government has not announced the decommission of the guns it claims the men used in the robberies: .9mm and .38 caliber pistols.

Torture

In President Felipe Calderon's fight against organized crime, "organized crime" is commonly assumed to refer to Mexico's notorious drug trafficking organizations. However, as documented in the Narco News article "Regime of Exception: Mexico's Two-Track Justice System," Mexico's legal system distinguishes between organized crime and other crimes, ceding significantly fewer rights to the former. Human rights organizations have criticized the system, saying that a two-track justice system that separates suspects into citizens with rights and supercriminals without rights leaves everyone at risk for violations of internationally consensed-upon due process and human rights.

Because the six men have been accused (though not formally charged) with organized crime, the government has put them under arraigo, or pre-charge detention, for a period of 30 days. The Chiapas-based Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) says that it has "repeatedly denounced that the State Attorney General's Office systematically uses arraigo as an instrument of subjugation and torture in order to extract confessions, not only against members of organized crime, but also against social organizations and movements." Under Mexico's recent judicial reform, which has yet to be fully implemented, arraigo is reserved for people accused of organized crime, rape, homicide, kidnapping, violent crimes, and crimes against national security.

Jerónimo Gómez Saragos told Frayba that his torture begin the moment he was detained. He said that when the state police grabbed him, they punched him in the throat and back. They also planted a cell phone and a camera in his pants pocket (presumably to accuse him of having robbed them from a bus). After the police took him to Tuxtla Gutierrez, they blindfolded him. Utilizing a torture method that sounds strikingly similar to waterboarding, they put a wet towel over his nose and put a bag filled with water over his head. When the government finally permitted human rights observers to see Jerónimo, he had difficulty moving his left arm and he walked with a limp. He says government agents forced him to sign a confession that they didn't read to him. Jerónimo's first language is Tseltal, and he doesn't speak Spanish well. The government says that the confession Jerónimo signed says he participated in at least 20 highway robberies.

Antonio Gómez Saragos, Jerónimo's brother who participated in the five-person commission to investigate Jerónimo's detention, told Frayba human rights observers that the State Preventive Police (PEP) beat him while he was detained. Frayba documented obvious signs of a beating on his cheeks, which were bruised and swollen. Antonio complains of pain in his abdomen and ribs, and humming and loss of hearing in his left ear. He also has scrapes on his chest, reportedly from when a cop threw him to the ground and put his foot on Antonio's chest. As a result of the severe beatings he received, Antonio said that he also confessed to participating in the gang of robbers and that he was carrying machetes and knives, charges he denies. Like his brother, it is difficult for him to understand Spanish.

Miguel Demeza Jiménez, another member of the commission, does not speak Spanish and barely understands it when it is spoken to him, reports Frayba. He says he was slapped, beaten in the chest and lower back and kicked in the side. The government offered him an interpreter, but the interpreter spoke Tsotsil, another Mayan language--not Demeza Jiménez's native Tseltal. He says he signed papers he didn't understand with his fingerprint, which is a standard way for illiterate people to sign documents in Mexico. He also says he didn't understand the charges against him.

Frayba reports that Gerónimo Moreno Deara has a bruised forehead and a broken tooth, which Gerónimo says is from when a state police officer pistol-whipped him while placing him under arrest. During the hours-long trip to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Gerónimo says that multiple police officers sat on top of him (it is common for police to transport detainees lying down in the bed of a pick-up truck, making it easy to abuse them en route to jail without being seen). Government authorities also offered Gerónimo a Tsotsil interpreter instead one that spole Tseltal; he also signed a confession without understanding what it said.

Pedro Demeza Deara says state police beat him and stood on his back. Frayba says its observers could tell that he has difficulty speaking Spanish. He signed a confession without having it read to him in his native language, and without a lawyer present.

Sebastián Demeza Deara reports pain all over his body, but Frayba was unable to get specifics because he does not speak or understand Spanish.

Frayba reports that because the men are being held under pre-charge detention, its access to the detainees has been limited. It was not able to see the men in its capacity as human rights observers who wished to investigate allegations of torture. Frayba director Diego Cadenas Gordillo told a press conference that Frayba observers were only able to see the men after filing injunctions with the court.

More Arrests at Protest Blockade

On April 15, approximately 100 members of the San Sebastian Bachajon ejido who are adherents to the Other Campaign decided to blockade the Ocosingo-Palenque highway at the intersection with the Agua Azul tourist attraction. They demanded the release of the six political prisoners. According to ejido authorities, a convoy of three vehicles filled with soldiers arrived at the blockade at approximately 5:00 pm and fired six shots with live ammunition into the air, then left the area. The authorities also report that the soldiers mocked the demonstrators before they left.

The blockade continued until April 17, when participants received word that a convoy of approximately 300 Federal Preventive Police (PFP) and State Preventive Police (PEP) was headed towards the blockade. The government reports that in addition to these police forces, agents from the Federal Attorney General's Office, its Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), the State Attorney General's Office, and the Chiapas Security and Citizen Protection Ministry participated in the operation. Faced with the threat of an overwhelming display of force, demonstrators decided to lift the blockade in order to avoid what was bound to be a nasty confrontation.

Despite the fact that the blockade had been lifted by the time the police convoy arrived on the scene, the headlines of paid government inserts declared, "In a Peaceful Operation, Federal Authorities Free Ocosingo-Agua Azul Highway." Another paid "article" says that the alleged robbers "said they were Zapatistas."

When police arrived on the scene and found the blockade lifted, they entered the San Sebastian Bachajon ejido near the entrance to the Agua Azul park and demolished the booth where local Other Campaign adherents charged an entrance fee to tourists. Ejido authorities claim the police who entered the ejido to destroy the booth were accompanied by OPDDIC members. In addition to the car seized on April 13 during the detention of the five men in Temó, the adherents say police took documents, $115,000 pesos (over eight thousand dollars), a radio, and other personal belongings from the booth before destroying it.

Both Frayba and Narco News have verified that state police have constructed a camp with temporary structures on the ruins of the booth, meaning they intend to occupy the ejido property for the short- to medium-term. The police are using their conveniently located camp to harass Other Campaign adherents and Zapatistas in the ejido.

On April 17, the day of the police operation, OPDDIC member Juan Carlos Jimenez Hernandez allegedly pointed out Juan Alfredo Gomez Moreno from the Xanil community (located in the San Sabastian Bachajon ejido) to state PEP officers, who then detained Gomez Moreno. A local Zapatista said that Jimenez Hernandez told the police that Gomez Moreno was a Zapatista himself, which the Zapatista says "is a lie."

The government has publicly accused (though not charged) Gomez Moreno with the kidnapping of Sen. David Jimenez Rumbo. Sen. Jimenez Rumbo denies that he was kidnapped. He says he merely stopped to talk to local residents for a few hours, and that after the discussion he left on good terms--the residents even told him he was always welcome to come back. Mexico's new legal reform, which has not yet taken effect, requires the prosecution to establish that a crime has actually been committed in order to detain someone. This requirement was somehow omitted from the Mexican Constitution up until the reform, meaning that Gomez Moreno may remain imprisoned for kidnapping even though the reported victim has publicly and legally declared that he wasn't kidnapped. It is important to note that the government has only publicly accused Gomez Moreno of kidnapping and blocking traffic. The blocking traffic charge is not serious enough to allow the government to place him under pre-charge detention. However, kidnapping falls under the organized crime rubric, meaning that the accusation and subsequent "investigation" allows the government to keep Gomez Moreno in pre-charge detention for up to 60 days. Because pre-charge detention means that, by definition, Gomez Moreno has not been charged with a crime, prosecution has not had to prove to a judge that the crime actually occurred and that Gomez Moreno is the likely culprit.

A local Zapatista reports that since Gomez Moreno's detention, another Xanil resident who is a Zapatista has been repeatedly harassed by state police, who have showed up at his home and threatened to arrest him twice. The police were reportedly accompanied by an OPDDIC member.

According to local members of the Other Campaign, on April 17 police stationed at the encampment on the ruins of the Other Campaign's booth tried to rape two local women. They also claim that police entered Juana Silvano García's store, threatened to rape her, and stole merchandise and $20,000 pesos ($1,500 dollars) in cash.

On April 18, judicial police from the same encampment detained Zapatista Miguel Vazquez Moreno while he was driving in his car with his brothers-in-law from the Agua Azul park where he works to his house. Vazquez Moreno has been accused of belonging to the alleged gang of robbers.

The government disappeared the last two detainees, Vazquez Moreno and Gomez Moreno, for two days prior to admitting that they were being held in the same arraigo center as the rest of the detained men. During the two days they were disappeared, Frayba's attempts to locate the men in the justice system were futile, leading to their disappeared status. The Zapatista's Good Government Council in Morelia reported that after locating Vazquez Moreno, it determined that he's "doing okay." Further details on his physical condition were not available at the time of publication.

Government Smear Campaign, Paid in Full

Immediately following the first six detentions, the government put its propaganda machine into action.

To reinforce its claims that the men are involved in organized crime, the government placed paid articles in newspapers. One article placed in La Jornada shows the "evidence" allegedly seized from the men--three balaclavas, license plates, a walkie-talkie, pliers, car keys, a pen knife, and three machetes. The "article" also features large mug shots of each detainee. La Jornada journalist Hermann Bellinghausen told the Center for Political and Economic Investigations and Community Action (CIEPAC), "What we're seeing here with this group of peasants who have opposed to the [construction of a] highway [through their territory], at least on the government's terms, and who have demanded their right to, at the very least, free transit within their own territory, they're being treated in all the newspapers as if they were drug traffickers. [From the government-paid newspaper articles] it looks as if they've captured El Chapo Guzman [the country's most notorious drug baron]. Even if it were true that they were petty bus robbers, there's no reason to put them on display like that." Frayba stated that "publicly pre-judging [the detainees in paid newspaper inserts] as 'criminals' constitutes a violation of the principle of presumption of innocence and the detainees' rights to honor and dignity. Moreover, it confirms the the tendency to treat those who exercise or protest in defense of their rights as 'criminals.'"

The government also used the paid newspaper "articles" to conflate the protest blockade with alleged blockades used to rob busses. In an article placed in the Chiapas paper Cuarto Poder entitled "Miguel Vazquez Moreno, Highway Robber, Detained," the government's public relations team writes:

Juan Gomez Moreno is being held under arraigo for blocking transit routes, which was the result of an inter-institutuional operation, which managed to peacefully free a highway that was blocked by about 100 people who were charging 100 pesos per vehicle to pass.

This criminal gang's modus operandi is that one of the robbers places himself in a strategic place to detect vehicles that are susceptible to robbery. He alerts his accomplices via walkie-talkie. His accomplices block the highway with stones and tree trunks...

The article, if not ready closely, can be misinterpreted to mean that the protest blockade mentioned in the first quoted paragraph was part of the alleged "criminal gang's" highway robbery scheme.

If It Looks and Smells Like the Drug War...

Felipe Calderon's war on drugs is largely fought through statewide "joint operations." In joint operations, the federal government deploys soldiers and federal police from various federal police forces to a particular state. The federal troops often work together with state and sometimes local police in anti-drug trafficking operations (although in other instances the federal troops relieve local police from their duties due to suspected corruption). Mexico's National Defense Ministry announced last October that it would expand its anti-drug operations to Chiapas, but it did not provide a specific timeline. It is unknown if said anti-drug operations have officially begun in Chiapas already.

The government has confirmed that seven government agencies participated in the Bachajon operation that resulted in the eight detentions, including the military, federal police, and state police. Some of the operations, particularly the detention of the five-person commission, were obviously targeted, pre-meditated, and well-planned. Between two and six state police cars surrounded the men's vehicle on a mountain highway, stopped the car, broke the windows, and tortured the occupants. Furthermore, when Frayba asked to see the evidence against the detainees, a Chiapas Security and Citizen Protection Ministry official told them that he didn't have access to the case dossier, but that he knew that military intelligence had passed his agency information that identified the Other Campaign members as part of the group of highway robbers that operated in the area.

After arresting the men, the government charged them with organized crime. Organized crime is commonly considered to mean drug trafficking organizations. And this is the justification for a two-track justice system that grants less rights to organized crime suspects and leaves them more vulnerable to torture and other human rights abuses: drug traffickers commit inhuman acts such as torture and unimaginably violent public executions, so they don't deserve to be treated as humans in the justice system. Allowing them the same rights as everyone else may give them the tools they need to avoid punishment, according to this logic. But the detained Zapatista and Zapatista supporters are not drug traffickers. So why is the government charging them with organized crime?

Frayba director Cadenas Gordillo told press, "We wonder if the military intelligence [used to detain the men] was really based in fact, or if in reality it was designed to deal a severe blow to a dissident social movement."

Originally printed in Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/04/drug-war-repression-hits-zapatistas-and-other-campaign

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Government Harassment in Brad Will Murder Case

Federal Police Pressure Imprisoned APPO Defendant Juan Manuel Martinez to Confess; Will Family Lawyer Faces Legal Harassment

The Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) has ratcheted up the pressure in the Brad Will murder case.

The PGR supports the Oaxaca Attorney General's Office's theory that members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) murdered the US Indymedia journalist in Oaxaca on October 27, 2006. On October 16, 2008, the PGR arrested Juan Manuel Martinez, Octavio Perez Perez, and Hugo Colmenares Leyva--all supporters of the APPO during the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca state--and charged them with Will's murder. The PGR made the arrests despite photographic and ballistic evidence and witness testimony that the fatal gunshots came from a distance, from a death squad comprised of the town mayor, police, and other government agents.

Scary Prison Visit

On April 15, a prison guard escorted Juan Manuel Martinez out of his prison cell, informing him that he was to be given an official notice regarding his case. However, the guard did not take Martinez to the place in the prison where prisoners receive official notices. Instead, he led Martinez to the prison's psychology area. There, a Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) agent named Fabian Laredo awaited. The AFI is the PGR's police force.

According to a communique issued by Martinez's legal defense team and family, Laredo told Martinez "in an intimidating manner" that the PGR sent him to interrogate the defendant.

Martinez reports that he informed Laredo that he would not answer any questions without his lawyer present. Laredo allegedly responded "in a vulgar and overbearing manner:" "Don't be an asshole. You're going to answer me. Tell me once and for all that it was you, that you killed him. Tell me where the gun is, what caliber it was. Tell me once and for all where the gun is. Tell me that you killed Brad Will." Martinez told his legal team that the questioning continued for thirty or thirty-five minutes while Laredo "tried to make him answer the questions."

Later, the prison director refused to meet with Martinez's family members regarding the incident. An administrative assistant told the family that Agent Laredo had presented prison officials with an official letter signed by Evangelina Jaimes, the head of the AFI's Department for Attention to Official Orders from Headquarters, authorizing Laredo to carry out "legal proceedings" with Martinez inside the prison. Martinez's legal team insists that said order is "completely irregular. The only person who has the authority to carry out legal proceedings is the Judge, and not the person mentioned in the [AFI] letter."

As a result of this incident, Martinez's legal team has expressed its "concern for Juan Manuel Martinez's physical safety."

This isn't the first time the PGR has intimidated Martinez in an attempt to extract a confession. In an interview with Milenio's Diego Enrique Osorno, Martinez recounted his first encounter with PGR interrogators:

[The PGR agent said,] "Don't be an asshole, tell me what you know." Later he said, "Look, son of a fucking bitch, I'm going to leave for a bit and you think about what you're going to tell me, because when I get back you don't know what's going to happen to you."

I told him, "You can leave for an hour, two hours, a day, and I'm going to tell you the same thing."

He responded, "Don't be an asshole, son of a fucking bitch, but if you don't tell me, I'm going to fuck you up to get it out of you."

In January, a federal judge declared Martinez's imprisonment "unconstitutional" because of "deficiencies" in the case against him. He remains in prison.

Legal Harassment

On April 7, a week before Martinez's unusual prison visit, the federal district attorney's office (a department within the PGR) summoned Will family lawyer Miguel Angel de los Santos to file an official statement regarding accusations that de los Santos leaked secret information contained in the dossier of the investigation into the murder. The Mexican legal system is currently a written one where judges consider signed statements, depositions, and evidence contained in a case dossier rather than relying on oral testimony during a trial, as is the case in the United States.

De los Santos has not been formally charged with a crime, but the PGR has opened a criminal investigation into whether he "revealed secrets" from the Will dossier to the press. His written statement in response to these accusations will be included in the investigation dossier regarding the leaked secrets.

The accusations against De los Santos stem from two articles, both published on August 9, 2008: "PGR Tries to Blame Brad Will Murder on Four APPO Members" in La Jornada and a similar article that ran in the subscription-only paper Reforma. The articles warned Oaxacans that, based on information contained in the Will dossier, the PGR intended to arrest four APPO organizers for the murder: Miguel Cruz, Édgar Santiago, Hugo Jara, and Arturo Villanueva.

The advance notice may have given Section 22 of the teacher's union, whose strike sparked the uprising in Oaxaca that Will was covering at the time of his death, time to negotiate with the government regarding the APPO suspects. Section 22 reportedly threatened mass mobilizations if the government attempted to arrest the four men or other witnesses who claim government agents murdered Will. The government did arrest APPO supporters in the case on October 16, 2008, though not the ones whose names were announced in the August press conference. Section 22 reportedly negotiated that two of the three men, Perez Perez and Colmenares Leyva, be released on bail. Juan Manuel Martinez, who is accused of pulling the trigger, remains imprisoned.

De los Santos denies that he was behind the leaked information. In an interview with El Porvenir, he said, "Neither of the referenced newspaper articles mention my name as the source of the information. The sources are clearly identified, and are not related in any way to me." The La Jornada article refers to APPO lawyer Gilberto Hernández Santiago as the source of the information; he announced the PGR's intentions in a press conference.

De los Santos argues that the PGR's investigation against him is hypocritical. He told El Porvenir, "It's a shame that the PGR is wasting resources on an investigation against me when the main sources of leaked information have been the PGR's own officials, as in the Brad Will murder case."

The August leak certainly wasn't the only one in the Will case, though it is the only one currently being investigated. In November 2008 someone gave Milenio copies of reports filed by PGR investigators Edilberto Macías Sánchez, Alejandro Carrillo Carrillo, Guillermo Ávila Tapia, and Víctor José Figueroa during their investigation into the Will murder. In their investigations, which were questioned by Mexico's official human rights ombudsman, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), the agents looked into the leftist Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and local drug barons as possible culprits in the Will murder. During their investigation they also spied on De los Santos and Miguel Cruz, a witness to the Will murder.

That same month, Milenio cited PGR officials as the source of leaked information that the PGR had officially determined that Will was shot from a distance of 50 cm, in direct contradiction to witness testimony, Will's own video of his murder, and the conclusions of a Physicians for Human Rights investigation, which determined that will was shot from a distance of at least 30 meters.

In May 2008, pro-government newspapers reported that the PGR had already decided that APPO supporters had murdered Will. The writers cited PGR officials as their sources.

The CNDH, which is theoretically an independent government agency, has been the most blatant about leaking information from the Will dossier. The CNDH and the PGR have had public disputes in the press regarding the Will case. The PGR ignored the CNDH's recommendations in the case, which included the conclusion that Will had been shot from a distance. In the war between the PGR and the CNDH that was waged in the media, the CNDH criticized the Will dossier and released portions of it, evidence of which can be found here (PDF file) and here.

The PGR has not opened a criminal investigation into the "secrets" revealed by the CNDH, nor has it investigated the strategic leaks that have come out of its own office.

De los Santos told El Porvenir that he believes the PGR's criminal investigation is a form of legal harassment designed to punish him for criticizing the government's handling of the Will investigation. "To involve me in what happened and begin a criminal investigation against me can only be explained as an act of intimidation and harassment because I wouldn't validate the official results of the investigation in the Brad Will case.... [The PGR] put together a criminal investigation that doesn't hold water, and that contradicts the results of the National Human Rights Commission's investigation, and the expert studies done by Physicians for Human Rights, which is why the victim's family has not accepted the PGR's results."

From Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/04/government-harassment-brad-will-murder-case

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Judge Declares APPO Adviser David Venegas Innocent of Drug Charges

Innocent Verdict Means Judge Acknowledges that Police Planted Cocaine and Heroine on a Movement Leader

April 21, 2009 - Today Oaxacan judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes absolved APPO adviser David Venegas of charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroine. Venegas' defense team argued that police had planted cocaine and heroine on Venegas after his arrest in order to imprison him and later charge him with sedition, conspiracy, arson, attacks on transit routes, rebellion, crimes against civil servants, dangerous attacks, and resisting arrest.

The government tried Venegas on all charges except for the drug-related ones. The court declared him innocent of all charges and released him on March 5, 2008, after he'd served nearly eleven months in jail. With the drug charges still pending, he was released on bail and forced to report to the court every week for over a year, severely limiting his ability to travel.

Today's innocent verdict means that the judge has accepted Venegas' defense that Oaxacan police planted the drugs on him. The drug charges are the last of a series of false charges that Venegas has had to fight for just over two years.

In a statement released by his collective VOCAL, Venegas stresses that it was grassroots support that led to his freedom. "This innocent verdict, far from demonstrating the health or rectitude of the Mexican legal system, was pulled off thanks to the strength of the popular movement and with the solidarity of compañeros and compañeras from Mexico and various parts of the world. The legal system in Mexico is corrupt to the core and is a despicable tool used by the authorities to subjugate and repress those who struggle for justice and freedom."

The statement goes on to say that VOCAL is committed to fighting for the freedom of Oaxaca's political prisoners. Furthermore, "We aren't satisfied with having won our compañero's unconditional freedom. Having demonstrated the bad government's lie, we will now focus on imprisoning the Oaxacan peoples' repressors, who are responsible for this arbitrary and illegal detention: from the police who carried out the detention and repression up to these thugs' highest bosses."

Previous coverage of Venegas case is available in the following Narco News articles:

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Over 10,000 Dead: Is Mexican Drug War Violence Ebbing?

Statistical Slights-of-Hand and Temporary Lulls Have Obscured the Drug War's Rising Costs

The Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) reports that as of March 13 of this year it had counted 10,475 executions since the beginning of President Felipe Calderon's term on December 1, 2006. Furthermore, almost 10% (997) of the victims were public servants.

According to the PGR's official count for 2008 (released this past February only after an NGO filed a Freedom of Information request), 6,262* people died "violent deaths" in 2008--a 154% increase over 2008's official (according to the PGR) death toll of 2,477. The NGO, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, had requested the year's organized crime death toll broken down by month and by state. In response, the Mexican Attorney General's Office released one sheet of paper (PDF file) breaking down the violent death toll by state, but not by month.

The Mexican government has been quick to manipulate the 2009 numbers to demonstrate some sort of success in the war on drugs. Eduardo Medina Mora, the Federal Attorney General, told press that the approximately 1,600 executions the PGR has recorded during the first three months of 2009 constitutes a 25% decrease over the last three months of 2008. (The AP reported that the drop occurred when the first three months of 2009 are compared to the first three months of 2008, but that is a misinterpretation of government officials' statements).

Milenio, however, notes that the most violent period of the Calderon administration occurred in January 2009: between December 26, 2008, and January 27, 2009--a period of 32 days--one thousand people were executed. It points out that in 2007, it took 115 days to reach the first one thousand executions of the year; in 2008, 120 days. Milenio also notes that the most violent day of Calderon's term was February 12 of this year, when 52 organized crime-related violent deaths were reported. January 2009 was also the most deadly January under Calderon's watch: Milenio counted 480 executions in January 2009, 247 in January 2008, and 204 in January 2007.

Milenio points out that these numbers do not include people who are disappeared and presumed dead: that statistic is a "black hole." The death counts also don't include victims who may never be found: those whose cadavers are hidden in cement at construction sites and in new bridges and roads, buried in mass graves on ranches in backyards, and those that were dissolved in acid. Santiago "El Pozolero" Meza Lopez, for example, admitted that he dissolved about 300 victims in acid for a drug baron linked to the Tijuana cartel. Similarly, Charles Bowden, writing for Harper's Magazine, interviews a former cartel hitman who says he's buried 250 victims, not all of whom have been found. The victims are buried in mass graves all over Juarez, similar to the notorious "House of Death," a Juarez house where a dozen victims' bodies were found buried.

At least some US officials appear to be buying Medina Mora's statistical slight-of-hand. From April 3-5, a delegation from the US House of Representatives visited Mexico. The delegation included: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA), and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL). Upon returning from Mexico, Rep. Blunt told reporters that Medina Mora indicates that violence might have peaked and is beginning to decline (as paraphrased by the Joplin Globe).

Juarez: Martial Law Means It's Still a War Zone

A commonly cited example of the success of Calderon's military strategy (as measured by a peak and subsequent decline in violence) is the case of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. With about 1,600 executions last year, Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. The state of Chihuahua, where Juarez is located, has registered more than twice as many violent deaths as the next most violent state, Sinaloa. In 2008, the PGR counted 2,044 violent deaths in Chihuahua; Sinaloa registered 985 (less executions than in Ciudad Juarez alone). Moreover, a Juarez police blotter leaked to Narco News correspondent Bill Conroy shows that for the first half of 2008 (the only time period for which information was available), homicides rose steadily--almost without exception--every month. The violence had gotten so bad that at one Juarez resident posted a sign outside his office: "Dumping Trash or Cadavers Strictly Prohibited." The man was later murdered himself.

In response to the increasing violence in Mexico's deadliest city and claims from US corporate media and some US government officials that drug war violence is spilling across the border into the US, the Mexican government sent approximately 5,000 more troops to Ciudad Juarez in March of this year as part of "Joint Operation Juarez." When the surge is complete, 8,500 soldiers and 2,300 militarized federal police will occupy the city of 1.4 million people. This means that there will be one soldier or militarized police officer for every 130 residents, and about 92 troops per square mile.

Thousands of soldiers have already arrived in Juarez, creating a situation of de facto martial law. Soldiers have disarmed 380 transit police and will accompany them as they carry out their duties. Thirteen current and retired military officers have taken control of Juarez's police force: Ret. Gen. Julian David Rivera Breton, who made a name for himself in Chiapas when he was one of the military officials in charge of anti-Zapatista operations there, is the new police commissioner. Twelve other past or current military officials join him as chiefs of Juarez's various police forces and as precinct heads. The military will also take control of the Juarez prison.

The media immediately began to trumpet the success of Joint Operation Juarez. One of the more popular stories was that of the Juarez morgue. In a city that is accustomed to multiple murders per day, the Juarez morgue began to report entire days without a single "incident" (murder). Morgue director Héctor Hawley Morelos told Proceso, however, that "Of course, all of the shifts that passed without incident were voided by the prison riot" on March 4 that resulted in 21 dead prisoners.

Government statistics and news reports show that violent crimes do in fact appear to be decreasing following the military build-up, although every government official and newspaper appears to report different death tolls for Chihuahua state and Juarez. The Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office counted 157 murders in January and 232 in February, according to El Economista. In March, the National Public Security Council reported 31 murders in Juarez (this number may be low, as the National Public Security Council only reported 178 Juarez murders in February, much lower than the State Attorney General's count for that month).

The question at hand, then, is: Will the downward trend last?

In "Juarez murders shine light on an emerging 'Military Cartel,'" Narco News correspondent Bill Conroy interprets a leaked police blotter to come to the conclusion that Juarez experienced a one-month lull in April 2008 following a late March military surge in Chihuahua. The lull was short-lived: murders shot up from 30 in April to 115 in May. The AFP reported that the murders continued to climb throughout 2008: the most violent months in Juarez were August and December, with 228 and 200 murders respectively. The AFP reported 1,653 murders, meaning that from July to December 2008, the monthly average was 198--well above the 112 murders Conroy's leaked police blotter reports in June.

2008 Juarez murdersMurders climbed throughout 2008 despite the fact that about 2,500 soldiers and federal police have occupied Chihuahua since March 2008; the number includes 2,026 soldiers and 425 Federal Preventive Police. The majority of the federal troops were concentrated in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City. The media has reported increased numbers of troops since then, eventually bringing the number of federal troops in Juarez alone to 2,500.

One possible explanation for the brief lull and then continuing climb despite the soldiers' presence is drug trafficking organizations' adaptation and evolution. This is the US Department of Justice's explanation for why Plan Colombia has failed to decrease drug cultivation and production in Colombia: growers and criminal organizations adapted to new circumstances and adjusted accordingly.

The question remains: Now that there is a fourfold increase in the number of federal troops occupying Juarez, will the drug trafficking organizations be able to adapt again?

The "Cockroach Effect"

There are already some reports that drug trafficking organizations are adapting to their new working conditions in Juarez.

Chihuahua Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez reported during the Justice, Security, and Combatting Organized Crime conference that the military surge has caused a "cockroach effect." "The fight [between cartels] continues," she told conference attendees. "They're reorganizing themselves in other parts of the state." El Universal reports that while homicides have decreased in Ciudad Juarez, they've increased 50% in the rest of the state.

Furthermore, while Chihuahua experienced an overall decrease in homicides in March (Ciudad Juarez's homicides account for 78% of Chihuahua's homicides, meaning that even though homicides are on the rise in the rest of the state, Juarez's significant decrease in homicides means the state can report an overall decrease), other states have seen increases in the number of executions. Those states are, according to El Universal: Baja California, Campeche, Chiapas, Mexico City, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa. The states that stand out are Baja California (with 9 murders in February and 25 in March), Sinaloa (with 72 murders in March, compared to 43 in February), Durango (70 murders in February, 81 in March), and Michoacan (where, despite an ongoing military campaign there, murders doubled from 11 in February to 22 in March). There is speculation that criminal organizations, feeling the heat in Juarez, are turning their sights on other parts of the country further to the south that are also in dispute.

There are also complaints that human rights abuses have increased in Juarez following the military surge. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a representative in Chihuahua for the official National Human Rights Commission, told a University of Texas forum that the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq "is a kinder game to what the soldiers are doing here (in Juarez)," reports the El Paso Times.

De la Rosa told Reuters, "I saw, at a checkpoint, a federal police officer open a woman's blouse and pop his hand under her bra (to look for drugs) in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, in front of a thousand people, and completely surrounded by armed soldiers."

Reuters also reports that used at least one car dealer is complaining that soldiers are extorting money from his business.

The army is also accused of murdering two men, kidnapping a third, and beating a fourth man at a roadblock, all in one week.

In the first case, witnesses report that soldiers entered 41-year-old Eduardo Gonzalez Ramirez's home at 2:30pm on April 9, threw him into his bathroom where they beat him, and then they took him away. His lifeless body was found the next day dumped at a Juarez intersection; his pelvis had been broken and he'd received heavy blows to the head.

In the second case, Sergio Fernandez and Javier Rosales had gone out in the early hours of April 7 to purchase beer when a military vehicle marked with the numbers 2321370 pulled up. The soldiers, who were under the command of a Captain Molina, grabbed the two young men and threw them in the vehicle. Fernandez reports that the soldiers accused the men of selling drugs and tortured them both, but that Rosales received the worst punishment because of his tattoos. The soldiers allegedly accused Rosales of belonging to the Los Aztecas gang, so they tortured him the worst, says Fernandez. The soldiers then dumped the men behind a hill. Rosales died from his injuries; Fernandez made it to his mother's house. His family left to search for Rosales' body where Fernandez said he left it. The body had disappeared. It showed up the next day in a place that had already been searched.

When Fernandez attempted to file a complaint with local and federal authorities, no one would accept the complaint. The government said it would only investigate if the Mexican Defense Ministry confirmed that the kidnappers were members of the military. The military, of course, denied that its soldiers had participated in the kidnapping and murder, meaning that for now the case is closed.

In the third incident, soldiers stopped electrician Julio Escamilla Torres on April 13 at an intersection to search him. Upon finding the screwdrivers he uses for work, the soldiers accused him of using the tools to mug people. They beat him, breaking several ribs and severely injuring his leg.

Human rights commissioner De la Rosa summed up the climate in occupied Juarez when he told a University of Texas crowd that if they approach an army checkpoint, "I advise you to stop. Because if you run the checkpoint, they will shoot you in the head."


* As with all statistics about drug war death tolls, it is, of course, impossible to know how many of these "violent deaths" are organized crime related and how many are murders completely unrelated to organized crime. Police who investigate, and even reporters who write about, organized crime deaths often receive death threats or are killed. Therefore, many violent deaths are never investigated and never solved. However, it is generally accepted (even by the government) that most violent deaths are organized crime related, and that violent deaths, regardless of whether they are related to organized crime or not, represent a measure of security or lack thereof in a nation at war.
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Merida Initiative: the United States' Bureaucratic Invasion

With the bilateral strategy's implementation, dozens of experts began to arrive in Mexico. They will collaborate with Mexican authorities in the fight against drug trafficking.

by Víctor Hugo Michel, Milenio
translated by Kristin Bricker

The United States government's presence in Mexico is growing. As part of the Merida Initiative, Washington is preparing an unprecedented bureaucratic invasion: it will bring dozens of new agents to carry out administrative work, intelligence, arms interdiction, prison reform, and anti-narcotics operations, amongst others.

In this way, the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) offices in Mexico will receive an all-time high of personnel to confront the cartels not only with more resources, but also with more agents.

According "help wanted" ads issued by the State Department and the US Embassy, Washington has begun the transfer of about thirty officials who will be the backbone of the Merida Initiative.

The majority of the positions will be assigned to the Narcotics Affairs office in the Embassy, which will at the same time form part of the new Bilateral Office for Combatting Drug Trafficking, announced last March by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Administrator

The arrival of officials includes administrators, advisers, numbers experts, security trainers, and aides of various rank, all in charge of administrating and operating the new bilateral programs against organized crime.

According to the contracts, the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) has opened up amongst its new positions a "financial management adviser" who will be in charge of managing Merida Initiative funds.

"This position will be assigned to the embassy in Mexico. The incumbent will serve as financial adviser to the director of Narcotics Affairs (NAS) and will administer the 12 projects that the Anti-Narcotics Affairs Office in Mexico currently has," explains contract PSC-09-024-INL.

Here it is revealed that under the Merida Initiative the number of Washington's anti-narcotics projects in the country will triple to 30 in 2009 and 2010.

Other agencies will have a presence in Mexico for the first time ever, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Postal Service's Investigation Service, who will send officials to support the reform of two penitentiary systems.

According to contract PSC-09-018, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will have a "Corrections Reform Program Coordinator," which will be delegated the task of aiding the Mexican Ministry of Public Security in the reform of the national penitentiary system.

"The CRPC-M provides technical corrections expertise on behalf of the NAS and INL in interagency settings, to assist the Government of Mexico reach its stated Goals and Objectives in reforming the corrections/prisons system in Mexico. The CRPC-M offers assistance in a variety of areas, to include technical assistance, contingency planning and development, training and equipment needs. S/he serves as a resource to the NAS Director and the Mexican Sub-Secretariat for Penitentiary Systems on corrections issues bringing together expertise from the United States, as well as other countries having innovative corrections projects and programs that could be considered by the Government of Mexico."

The tasks on his or her agenda include training prison guards, prison security, human rights, and supervision or construction of new jails.

The increase in the concentration of new personnel includes support from private companies that have been contracted by the State Department to bring their own specialists, known as private service contractors.

As of now, the Dyncorp company has contracted three employees to administrate its participation in the Merida Initiative, one of whom will be in Mexico City and will help the Narcotics Affairs Office in the Embassy to "maintain good contact with Mexican security agencies."

Arms and Drugs

Considered to be a vital piece in combatting arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico, the ATF office in Mexico will nearly double its size: it will go from its current five agents to a total of nine, which will turn it into one of the agencies with the largest budget and most personnel after the DEA.

Meanwhile, the DEA, through the Narcotics Affairs office, will be one of the most strengthened agencies in terms of an increase in personnel. It will have nine officials in areas such as drug interdiction and border security.

In reference to drug interdiction, according to contract PSC-09-011-INL, last January the embassy hired an adviser who will help the Mexican government devise its strategy for interdicting drugs sent from South America to Mexico or from Mexico to the United States.

"S/he will provide assistance and support in the implementation of the interdiction projects (...) S/he will help in the implementation of projects designed to improve the Mexican government's interdiction operations and will serve as a link between federal, state, and municipal authorities to counsel in regards to activities that encourage drug interdiction, institution-building, better training, and support to special programs."

Regarding border security, Washington sent out contract PSC-09-021-INL to recruit a Deputy Coordinator for Border Security, whose job will be to work with Cisen [the Mexican intelligence agency], Immigration, the Attorney General's Office, Hacienda [the tax office], the Public Security Ministry, Foreign Relations, and the Navy in projects that will improve border security.

The contracts PSC-09-010-INL and PSC-09-019-INL were offered to two specialists in training Mexican police and military personnel, particularly police, inspectors, judges, and prosecutors.

The consultant will "conduct an analysis of Mexican law enforcement institutions and in consultation with NAS management, the Country Team and the GOM develop a short, medium and long-term training strategy for the Mexican law enforcement and judicial sectors, specifically police recruits, investigators, prosecutors, and judges."


Translator's note: The job descriptions quoted above were translated from English to Spanish in the original Milenio article. Not all of the job descriptions were available to include exact quotations from the English job descriptions. Some of the job descriptions were translated from English to Spanish and back to English again.

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Former Mexican Intelligence Director: "We've Lost Half the Country" to Organized Crime

Ex-Intelligence Directors and Attorney General Medina Mora Contradict Clinton and Calderon on Drug War

In January, a Pentagon study declaring that Mexico is at risk of "rapid and sudden collapse" made waves in the international press. US and Mexican officials, namely Hillary Clinton and Felipe Calderon, came to the Mexican government's defense.

President Calderon was the first to lash out against the report. He told the AP that the Mexican government has not "lost any part--any single part--of the Mexican territory" to organized crime.

During US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Mexico, she told reporters "I don't believe there are any ungovernable territories in Mexico."

Well, Secretary Clinton and President Calderon, former Mexican intelligence directors, including current Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, beg to differ. In a book entitled Cisen: 20 Years of History, former directors of Mexico's intelligence agency, the Investigation and National Security Center (Cisen in its Spanish abbreviation), give frank interviews regarding Mexico's current security situation. The book, whose distribution was restricted to government officials and security experts, was leaked to the press.

La Jornada reports that in the book, Medina Mora, who in addition to being the former Secretary of Public Security* was also the director of Cisen during the Vicente Fox administration, says that drug trafficking and organized crime challenge the State's authority "of exclusive and legitimate use of force and the exclusive right to charge taxes" and the exclusive right to create laws and regulations. This statement likely refers in part to drug trafficking organizations' practice of imposing mafia-style taxes on both legitimate and clandestine businesses, as documented in the earlier Narco News article "Wall of Violence on Mexico's Southern Border."

Medina Mora goes on to say that "in some zones of the country, above all on the northern border" organized crime and drug trafficking "undoubtedly challenges these state authorities."

Gen. Jorge Carrillo Olea, Cisen's first intelligence director, goes one step further: he argues that the Mexican State "is beginning to lose territoriality" to drug trafficking. Directly contradicting Calderon and Clinton's claims that the government is in control of 100% of its territory, Carrillo Olea specifies that the states "where drug trafficking rules are Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, etc.... You have to recognize that the government doesn't govern in these states. If you've stopped governing, if it doesn't govern there, then we've lost half the country.... [T]hey kill people, kidnap them, or rob them. So I say that we are in a scenario of ingovernability."

The Elephant in the Room

Clinton and Calderon's have so vehemently argued that the Mexican government is in complete control of its national territory not simply because they wish to defend the Calderon administration's international reputation. They're also defending a drug war that is increasingly unpopular in the US, but also increasingly worrisome for US officials. As Mexico drug war headlines are splashed across US newspapers with increasing frequency, US officials are finding themselves constantly defending failed drug war policies such as the Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia.

While admitting that "clearly, what we have been doing has not worked," Clinton called Calderon's drug war "courageous" during her recent trip to Mexico, reports the LA Times. Unfortunately, Clinton's admission that US drug policy isn't working is likely referring to the idea that the US hasn't done enough to support the Mexican government in its "war on organized crime." Rather than announcing a new and innovative strategy to quell drug trafficking-related violence, Clinton announced that the US would send $80 million worth of Blackhawk helicopters to the Mexican government.

The former Cisen directors' dire statements, combined with the Pentagon study, should be a wake-up call to lawmakers on both sides of the border that the last thing that Mexico needs is more of the same failed strategy. Attorney General Media Mora's argument that drug trafficking and organized crime challenge the State's authority "of exclusive and legitimate use of force" alludes to the State's roll in drug violence. Drug trafficking organizations police themselves and defend their territory with violence because they lack a viable alternative. The Institute for Policy Studies' Sanho Tree explained to Drug War News: "You can't really go to a judge and say 'Your Honor, I've been dealing drugs in this city for 15 years, and here comes this upstart gang from across town moving in on my turf.' So the way they settle that is with violence or threats of violence, and you can see that on the macro level in Mexico." If the State wants to regain its exclusive authority over the use of force and lawmaking, it must recognize that prohibition encourages lawlessness rather than prevent it.

With over 10,000 dead citizens in just over two years, half of its territory reportedly lost to organized crime, and drug trafficking organizations armed with increasingly sophisticated military weaponry like grenade launchers, armor-peircing bullets, and anti-aircraft machine guns, the burning question remains: is a drug war really in Mexico's best interests?

* Medina Mora isn't a likely critic of his own government. While Medina Mora was head of Public Security, the Ministry of Public Security's Federal Preventive Police carried out brutal repression against social organizations in Atenco and Oaxaca in 2006. Human rights advocate and Mexican senator Rosario Ibarra called his Attorney General appointment "Pinochetism" because he was the "brain" of repression during the Fox administration.

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Mexican Drug War: Soldiers vs. Soldiers

The most severe blows against the military in the war on drugs have come from former soldiers

by Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Proceso
translated from the original Spanish by Kristin Bricker

The most offensive casualties the Mexican Army has suffered in the war on drug trafficking aren't the result of confrontations with hitmen. Rather, they're executions carried out by ex-brothers-in-arms, trained by the Mexican National Defense Ministry, who have joined the ranks of organized crime, or by cells protected by high-ranking officials. In less than four months, 21 soldiers have been murdered by those who at one time were "incorruptible."

The Mexican Army's most lethal enemies have come from amongst their own ranks. Concentrated in Los Zetas, the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, men who at one time were soldiers are responsible for the most severe attacks against the armed forces in their confrontation with drug trafficking cartels.

In the past three-and-a-half months, the Army's most significant and offensive casualties have occurred in Cancun, Quintana Roo; Chilpancingo, Guerrero; and Monterrey and the surrounding area in Nuevo Leon at the hands of drug traffickers who used to be members of the military or that, according to groups dedicated to drug trafficking, have formed alliances with active military personnel.

Contrary to President Felipe Calderon's discourse about the incorruptibility of Mexican soldiers, the most severe blows against the military have been planned and executed by those who were prepared and specialized, in Mexico as well as abroad, by the National Defense Ministry (Sedena in its Spanish abbreviation).

From October 3, 2008, to February 3, 2009, a total of 21 soldiers, including a retired brigadier general, were executed by Los Zetas cells that arose from the military, and by Beltran Leyva brothers' cells that are linked with military officials.

Of those 21 deaths, eleven were stabbed, eight were decapitated, and two were tortured to death. In contrast to the casualties that occur during confrontations with hitmen, these victims were kidnapped or rounded up and subjugated in front of numerous witnesses.

According to data published by Sedena, prior to Tuesday, February 3, the military had suffered 68 casualties, both active duty and retired military personnel, since operations against drug trafficking began in December 2006. The highest number of victims have been reported in Guerrero, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.

The military's two most recent casualties occurred in Cancun on February 3. Brigadier General Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñones and his assistant, infantry Lt. Getulio Cesar Roman Zuñiga, were tortured and murdered by a group Sedana identified as Zetas, with the participation of ex-members of the army.

Retired this past January 1, Gen. Tello Quiñones was in charge of the creation of a special anti-narcotics group made up of 100 soldiers which was going to be under the direction of the mayor of Benito Juarez in Cancun, Gregorio Sanchez Martinez.

A native of Coacolman in the mountainous zone of southwest Michoacan, which is dominated by drug trafficking, the mayor who in Cancun is known as "Greg" says that National Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan Galvan appointed Tellez [sic: Tello] Quiñones.

Civilian Juan Ramirez Sanchez, Greg's nephew, was murdered along with the general and his assistant. [Greg] was questioned regarding his family's alleged ties to organized crime (Proceso 1684).

The Executioner

Tello Quiñones' death was a severe blow to the military. Not only because organized crime murdered a high-ranking soldier, but because between 2007 and 2008 the general was commander of the 21st Military Zone, headquartered in Morelia, where he participated in the anti-drug trafficking Operation Michoacan.

The intellectual author of these crimes was Octavio Almanza Morales, aka "El Gori 4," an ex-soldier who, until his capture on Monday, February 9, was the boss of the Gulf cartel's cell in Cancun.

Upon announcing his detention on February 11, Sedena's second-in-command of operations, Brigadier General Luis Arturo Oliver Cen, confirmed that El Gori 4 belonged to the military, which he joined on May 20, 1997, and was discharged on July 1, 2004.

El Gori 4's brothers Raymundo and Eduardo Almanza Morales, who were also members of the military, were Zetas with him in Cancun. According to Oliver Cen, both managed to escape the operation in which the Gulf cartel cell was detained.

According to the head of the Assistant Attorney General's Office for the Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO), a department of the Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR), Marisela Morales Ibañez, the two ex-soldiers fled to Belize. Neither Sedena nor the PGR indicated what military rank the Almanza Morales brothers earned in the military. El Gori 4 didn't appear in the list of most wanted criminals the PGR has on its website.

The murder of Gen. Tello Quiñones was the first execution undertaken by Almanza Morales, who recently arrived in Cancun to substitute Javier Diaz Ramon, aka "El Java Diaz," as leader of the Zetas. Diaz Ramon was detained by the military this past December 22 in the port of Veracruz.

Octavio Almanza Morales was Sigifredo "El Canicon" Najera Talamantes' deputy in the state of Nuevo Leon. His capture, which resulted from a tip, was important for the military. Sedena identifies him as a co-conspirator in the execution of nine of the eleven soldiers murdered in Monterrey last October.

The casualties occurred between October 17-22, 2008, in acts of extreme cruelty. The military agents were attacked with sharp, pointed objects and wounded in the neck and thorax. Some of the remains were dumped in vacant lots and others stayed at the scene of the crime (Proceso 1669).

The first attack against soldiers in Monterrey, where Operation Safe Nuevo Leon began in December 2007, occurred the night of Tuesday, October 14, in a downtown bar. Three soldiers were stabbed: Eder Missael Diaz Garcia, Roberto Hernandez Santiago, and David Hernandez Martinez.

Four days later, on Saturday, February 18, the cadavers of another three soldiers and an ex-soldier appeared in different places, also stabbed.

The bodies of David Hernandez Aquino and Jose Perez Bautista in a Country La Silla park in the neighboring municipality of Guadalupe. Another one, that of Gerardo Santiago Santiago, was left next to the cantina Los Generales in the Juarez municipality. The fourth victim was Eligio Hernandez Hernandez, an ex-soldier who worked for a private security company. He was stabbed while his hands were handcuffed behind his back.

The next day, Sunday the 19th, another three soldiers turned up dead in the Las Margaritas ejido[1] in the Santiago municipality. Anastasio Hernandez, Claudio Abad Hernandez, and Hector Miguel Melchor Hernandez--who was also a private security company employee--were found with slit throats.

The violent attacks on the military in Monterrey reached a climax on October 22 with three more murders. One of the executed was the Second Sergeant of the 7th Military Zone, German Cruz Lara. According to the autopsy, his body had stab wounds in the thorax and abdomen; blows to the head, chest, shoulders, and knees; and second-degree burns on the arms and forearms, back, and abdomen.

All of these deaths occurred when the commander of the 7th Military Zone, based in Escobedo, Nuevo Leon, was Division General Javier del Real Madallanes. As of December 4, 2008, the general is the Undersecretary of Police Intelligence and Strategy in the Ministry of Public Security, responsible for the federal police's operations against organized crime.

According to Sedena, El Gori 4 participated in all of these executions. El Gori 4 was detained along with six other people as suspects in the murder of the two soldiers in Cancun.

The Decapitated

The viciousness of the murders in Monterrey was just a warning of what would occur later in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, where eight soldiers were decapitated, seven of them while they were still alive, according to the investigation dossier obtained by Proceso.

The first case occurred on December 9, when Sergeant Carlos Alberto Navarrete Moreno was murdered. His head was deposited in a bucket on the monument to the Flags, along one of the busiest streets in the city, with the message: "According to the soldiers, they are combatting organized crime. They are kidnappers. This is going to happen to them because they're whores."

The other victims were soldiers between 21 and 38 years of age assigned to the 35th Military Zone based in Chilpancingo, who were intercepted in different areas of the city--some in front of numerous witnesses--by one or more armed commandos between 8pm on the 20th and the first minutes of December 21.

In total, seven off-duty soldiers were kidnapped: Captain Ervin Hernandez Umaña, Sergeants Juan Humberto Tapia Romero and Ricardo Marcos Chino, Corporals Jose Gonzalez Mentado and Juan Muñoz Morales, as well as soldiers Julian Teresa Cruz and Catarino Martinez Morales.

The following people were murdered along with them: Simon Vences Martinez, who was assistant director of the Judicial Police during the Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu administration[2], and 22-year-old indigenous man Oligario Vazquez Quiroz, native of the Tlacopa municipality, who worked cleaning in the 41st Infantry Battalion in Chilpancingo and was about to be promoted to soldier.

The dossier of the investigation into the murder AP/BRA/SC/02/2725/2008, compiled by the Guerrero Attorney General's Office and obtained by Proceso, establishes the soldiers' cause of death: "hypovolemic shock by external hemorrhaging, produced by the detachment of the cephalic extremity consistent with a wound produced by decapitation."

The forensic report, numbered 352/2008, states that the perpetrators used a "Giggy" saw, a very thin flexible serrated metal cable used by orthopedic surgeons to cut bones during surgery. It notes that, despite being gagged, they didn't die from asphyxia due to the fact that they decapitated them ante mortem.

Their heads were dumped in a mall parking lot near the 35th Military Zone in the south of the city. Their bodies were dropped in two places in the north.

Even though Sedena has not officially blamed these crimes on any particular organization, the military repression after the incident (which the military publicly declared "an offense that that would not go unpunished") has been focused on a Beltran Leyva organization cell in the Costa Grande region, which includes the Zihuatanejo port.

Groups who oppose the [Beltran Leyva] organization have hung "narco-banners"[3] accusing Colonel Victor Manuel Gonzalez Trejo, commander of the 19th Infantry Battalion based in Petatlan, of protecting Petatlan's ex-mayor Rogaciano Alva Alvarez and Reynaldo "El Rey" Zambada, detained this past October.

It was unofficially stated at the end of January that Gonzalez Trejo was replaced by Infantry Colonel Marco Antonio Hernandez Chavez, a soldier promoted last November by Calderon. According to the same source, Gonzalez Trejo is being investigated for the accusations against him.

Colonel Gonzalez Trejo isn't the only soldier in the zone that has been accused of protecting drug traffickers. Lt. Colonel Jose Alfaro Zepeda Soto was mentioned in narco-banners hung on pedestrian bridges and public buildings in the La Union and Petatlan municipalities, also in the Costa Grande and Acapulco, Guerrero; as well as Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan.

Lt. Colonel Zepeda Soto, who is commander of mortar platoon in Zacatula in the La Union municipality, is accused of protecting Jose Angel Pineda Sanchez, aka "El Calentano."

The narco-messages, addressed to the head of Sedena, claim that Zepeda Soto and El Calentano received money from Jaime "El Hummer" Gonzalez Duran, one of the founders and leaders of Los Zetas detained in early November 2008 in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The payment, they alleged, was in exchange for protection of the activities of the Gulf cartel's armed wing in Guerrero (Proceso 1678).

El Hummer also belonged to the military. He enlisted on November 15, 1991, and deserted on February 24, 1999, to join fellow ex-soldier Arturo Guzman Decenas and ex-cop Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano, other Zetas founders working for the Gulf cartel.

The Incorruptibles

Despite the fact that the deaths of soldiers in recent months are allegedly linked to the illegal activities of fellow members or ex-members in the military, Felipe Calderon stated on Tuesday, February 10, that Mexico's soldiers are incorruptible.

During the Mexican Air Force Day ceremony held in Tecamac, Mexico State, after requesting a minute of silence for the murder of Gen. Tello Quiñones in Cancun, he ventured: "General Vicente Riva Palacio rightfully said that society guards in its breast an incorruptible seed of morality and a core of men whom neither seduction nor fear can corrupt. That's how I view Mexico's soldiers." He added: "Mexico sees in the members of our institutions a reserve of those values that are the real security of our nation."

Beyond the soldiers murdered by ex-members of the military, there are various cases where soldiers have been murdered for their relationships with organized crime. The most recent occurred on Monday, February 9, when an armed commando group entered the prison in Torreon, Coahuila, to kill and then burn with gasoline three kidnappers who just hours prior had been imprisoned.

One of them was Ubaldo Gomez Fuentes, aka "El Uba," a second lieutenant who belonged to the 33rd Infantry Battalion's Military Intelligence Group. He was detained in early January in Coahuila for the kidnapping and murder of Monterrey businessman Rodolfo Alanis.

Ezequiel Flores contributed to this report from Chilpancingo.

Translator's notes:

[1] Ejido is a commonly held piece of land.

[2] Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu was governor of Guerrero from 1987-1993. He was former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari's brother-in-law. He was assassinated on September 28, 1994, amid rumors that he had had various confrontations with Salinas' brother Raul, who allegedly had links to the Colombian Medellin cartel. Raul was convicted and imprisoned for bring the intellectual author of Ruiz Massieu's murder, but was exonerated ten years later.

[3] Narco-banners are banners hung by alleged members of drug trafficking organizations. They tend to criticize police, the military, or government officials of protecting or working with rival criminal organizations.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Oaxaca: David Venegas Verdict Delayed... Again

No Day in Court; Judge Will Call Venegas' Lawyer with Verdict

For the second week in a row, Oaxacan judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes delayed Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) adviser David Venegas' verdict in what Oaxaca commentator Nancy Davies referred to as "harassment by delay." In a statement issued after the first postponement, Venegas' collective VOCAL wrote, "It is clear to us that the reason for the delay is to keep David Venegas tied up in the proceedings, thereby putting constraints on his full participation in the social movement. This is not the first case in which the tactic has been used. In fact, the practice of delays in sentencing and the eventual pronouncement of adverse sentences after such delays has been a common practice against social activists by these prosecutors disguised as judges. Moreover, the delay could also mean that the government is trying to test the waters of movement response to an adverse sentence."

Venegas is charged with possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs, specifically cocaine and heroine. Venegas, who at the time of his arrest was a leader in the Oaxacan social movement that kicked the state government out of office for months in 2006, maintains that police kidnapped him off the street and then planted the drugs on him hours after they had brought him into custody. The government's case against Venegas is riddled with inconsistencies, to the point where at least half of the police who participated in his arrest refuse to testify against him.

A more thorough explanation of the case against Venegas is available in the earlier Narco News article "APPO Adviser David Venegas Faces Trial on April 6 for Fabricated Drug Charges."

The drug charges have been hanging over Venegas' head for two years. Police arrested Venegas on April 13, 2007, and charged him with possession with intent to distribute, sedition, conspiracy, arson, attacks on transit routes, rebellion, crimes against civil servants, dangerous attacks, and resisting arrest. Venegas beat all but the drug charge and was released on bail eleven months later on March 5, 2008.

Venegas' original hearing where his verdict and, if necessary, sentence were to be read was scheduled for April 6, 2009. After attending a morning rally that called for his charges to be dropped once and for all, Venegas entered the courtroom at 11am, the time his hearing was scheduled to begin. The court informed him that the hearing had to be postponed because he failed to arrive fifteen minutes prior to his hearing for a process called "identification." During identification, the court takes the defendant's personal data to confirm his or her identification. Venegas told Narco News that this was "a lie" used as en excuse to postpone his trial. He says that he could have failed to show at the hearing and the verdict still could have been read and considered valid, and that "moreover, I was never told about that part of the process."

The hearing was rescheduled for today, April 13, exactly two years to the day after his arrest. When Venegas arrived today, this time fifteen minutes prior to his scheduled hearing, the judge informed him that he would, yet again, postpone his verdict. This time, the judge didn't give Venegas a new hearing date. The judge declared that the dossier in the Venegas case was so large that he would need more time to read it. He told Venegas that he would call his defense attorney "within the next ten days" and inform her of the verdict.

It's worth noting that until Mexico's legal reform is fully implemented (a process that could take eight years), the legal system here is based on written, not oral, trials. This means that evidence, depositions, and signed declarations are compiled in a dossier that the judge reviews before delivering a verdict. Defendants and witnesses don't generally "take the stand," and any verbal testimony given during the trial process does not hold the same weight as the written testimony contained in the dossier.

When asked why the judge would prefer to deliver his verdict over the phone rather than during a hearing, Venegas told Narco News, "I don't know. I'd like to ask you the same question. All I know is that the judge says it's legal."

Venegas and Sosa at courthouse rallyThe answer could lie in the judge's desire to avoid further public spectacle in the case. Witnesses report that anywhere between 50-150 people showed up at a rally today in support of Venegas. During the rally, protesters blocked the street in front of the courthouse and did a street theater performance that featured clowns as politicians.

Venegas' collective, VOCAL, has also issued several statements calling for national and international supporters to flood the Oaxaca courthouse's phone lines with calls and faxes demanding that the charges against Venegas be dropped. Venegas says that the call is still in effect, and that now more than ever support is needed in his case. "I could get a decision any day now. It could be tomorrow; it could be in ten days. That's why it's important that people call or fax the judge every day until I get a verdict." According to a VOCAL communique, the number for the court building is 011 52 (951) 515-6600. The communique also states that supporters who wish to send faxes addressed to Judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes can call that number during business hours and request a fax tone ("Me da un tono de fax por favor?"). VOCAL requests that supporters also send statements of solidarity to vocal@riseup.net.

Photo: Venegas and fellow APPO organizer Orlando Sosa at a rally in support of Venegas on April 6.
Photo credit: George Salzman

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Help Juarez Femicides Mothers Take their Case to Inter-American Human Rights Court

From Amigos de las Mujeres de Juarez:

Three of the cotton field murder cases are going in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights April 26, 28 and 29th. The lawyers that are arguing this case have been able to raise airfare for two of the mothers, who will travel to Santiago, Chile, to testify. However, both Irma Monreal and Josefina Gonzalez will need money for expenses.

Below is a request from Cecilia Balli. cecilia_balli[at]yahoo.com . We request, due to the short time left, that if you can help, you communicate directly with her. Also below is a message from Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa who have been assisting with this case.
I'm writing you because I received a call from Irma Monreal on Thursday. As you may know, she, Josefina Gonzalez, and Benita Monarrez will be taking their daughters' cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights at the end of this month. Josefina and Irma will be able to attend the hearing in Santiago, Chile, with the help of the human rights attorneys in Mexico City who are pressing their case. The attorneys have found the funds to pay for the two mothers' plane tickets, but they have asked the women to bring their own money for meals and other daily expenses. I saw Irma and her family in January, and I know they are hurting financially because her daughter, son, and daughter-and-law have all been laid off in recent months. She has asked for help in raising a bit of funds; I think she would probably need a few hundred dollars.

If you can help directly or can think of any potential donors, please let me know.
From Malu of Nuestras Hijas (partial translation from Amigos de las Mujeres de Juarez):
The lawyers for Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, Lic. David Peña and Lic. Karla Micheel Salas, members of the National Association for Democratic Lawyers, have coordinated a litigation team in the case known as the cotton field case. This case will be argued in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (this is part of the UN system and Mexico is a signatory to the treaty) over the lack of investigations and the absence of response by the Mexican government according to their obligations since the case was submitted to the court in 2007. Oral arguments will take place in front of the court on April 26, 28 and 29 in Santiago Chile.
This case is a key case in the femicides in Juarez since 8 bodies were found in the cotton field with marks of torture and rape. This is the first case to come [before the court] from Juarez and is the first case of femicide in all of Latin America. (the previous case is from Chihuahua and the Mexican government lost at every stage of the process, which continues).
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

APPO Adviser David Venegas Faces Trial for Fabricated Drug Charges

Note: This article came out before David's April 6 trial. That trial was postponed to April 13 at 10:45am, meaning that there is still time to fax or call the judge who will give the verdict.

"They wanted people in the movement to believe that my arrest wasn't politically motivated."

At midday on April 13, 2007, 24-year-old David Venegas, an advisor to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), was walking with human rights lawyer Isaac Torres Carmona through El Llano park in downtown Oaxaca City. Without warning, a group of men dressed head-to-toe in black clothing jumped out of a red pick-up truck without license plates and, as Venegas recounted to Narco News, "jumped on top of me."

The black-clad men were police. Torres Carmona demanded to see an arrest warrant, but he says the police told him to shut up or he'd be the next one they beat up. "Within a matter of minutes," says Torres Carmona, police threw Venegas in the pick-up truck and put a bag over his head. Torres attempted to identify which police force was carrying out the action; one of the police yelled at him, "Write down the license plate number, asshole."

Over the course of the next six hours, the police transferred Venegas to several different unknown locations--Venegas couldn't see where they took him because his head remained covered with the bag. During that time they beat and kicked Venegas and threatened to disappear him if he didn't cooperate. In questioning Venegas, the police made it very clear that they'd been watching him for some time. They showed him a file full of pictures they'd taken of him, including at protest rallies.

According to Venegas, after several hours of beatings and threats, his captors took him to the State Preventive Police headquarters in Santa María Coyotepec, Oaxaca. There, the police photographed him with heroine and cocaine that they claim to have found on him when they arrested him. They then transferred him, the drugs, and prepared statements from the arresting officers to the Street Sales Drug Unit (UMAN in its Spanish initials) of the Federal Attorney General's Office.

After two days in the UMAN, the Attorney General's Office transferred Venegas to the Santa Maria Ixcotel Prison in Oaxaca City, where he discovered that the government had filed further charges against him for sedition, conspiracy, and arson. The government accused him of burning down eight government buildings on November 25, 2006, the same day federal police invaded Oaxaca to violently put down the uprising. It is widely believed within the movement that Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz ordered the government buildings to be burnt down in order to destroy evidence of corruption in the Ruiz administration, including injustices committed in the judicial system and embezzlement of public funds.

After 11 months in prison, Venegas beat the sedition, conspiracy, and arson charges. All of the eight witnesses who testified to seeing Venegas burn down the government buildings were either police or government employees. According to Venegas, the witnesses contradicted their own testimony, saying that the people who burned down the buildings had covered their faces with ski masks and bandanas, but that they were able to positively identify Venegas as one of the culprits because they saw his whole face.

Despite the evidence being in his favor, the win didn't come easy. While he was imprisoned, Venegas won an appeal that threw out those charges. Instead of releasing Venegas, however, the government filed new charges against him for attacks on transit routes, rebellion, crimes against civil servants, dangerous attacks, and resisting arrest. Venegas beat those charges in a second appeal, but still had the drug charges pending. He was released on bail on March 5, 2008.

Politically Motivated Arrest

At the time of his arrest for possession with intent to distribute, Venegas had at least two other outstanding warrants against him for the crimes the government accused him of committing on November 25, 2006--the crimes the government officially charged him with after the drug arrest. In Mexico, the government issues arrest warrants against activists but waits for a politically opportune moment to act on them. The warrants related to the November 25 charges were issued in December 2006. Venegas believes that police planted drugs on him in order to discredit him so that the government could advance its other cases against him more easily and with less public resistance. "They wanted people in the movement to believe that my arrest wasn't politically motivated."

David golpeadoIn what be the most obvious clue that Venegas' arrest was politically motivated, the police released a post-arrest photograph to the media showing Venegas standing behind a bag of white powder (allegedly drugs) that is sitting on top of an issue of La Barrikada, a magazine published by people involved in the APPO. In the photo, Venegas' face is obviously swollen from the beatings he says he received from police.

Venegas' current legal troubles have resurfaced during a tense moment in Oaxaca. In January, an unknown assailant attacked APPO adviser and fellow VOCAL member Ruben Valencia Nuñez with a knife. In March, an unknown group of assailants kidnapped APPO adviser and former political prisoner Marcelino Coache Verano. They tortured him, including burning him on his chest and genitals. Venegas attributes increasing repression against the movement to a convergence of political factors: "Two years after the brutal repression we lived through as a movement, there's hope now that we can organize ourselves and move forward. The Second APPO Congress just happened, and there have been important changes. The government knows that this year there's been a lot of movement in Oaxaca. Add that to the global and national economic crisis. In the coming days they're going to try to separate as many of the possible dissidents that they can."

At the same time, Venegas stresses that the current wave of repression against organizers in Oaxaca is not a new occurrence. "Since the beginning of the movement there have been daily brutal injustices and human rights violations. Impunity is the law here in Oaxaca. There are unresolved forced disappearances, there are kidnappings, murders, jailing of the opposition, torture..."

Inconsistencies

The only evidence the government has against Venegas are the drugs the police claim they found on him and the word of the police who arrested him. "They don't have any civilian witnesses, they don't have anyone to corroborate their version of the events," says Venegas. In fact, half of the police who participated in the operation refuse to testify against him. "Halfway through the [judicial] process, one of the three police [who testified against Venegas], for reasons that are unknown to us, decided to stop participating in the lie and quit his job. Furthermore, when the three police were asked who was driving the vehicle during the operation, the police gave the name of a fourth officer. That officer denies that he participated in the operation that day."

The two police who are testifying against Venegas have given contradictory testimony in the case, despite the fact that during the ten hours Venegas was disappeared in their custody they had plenty of time to get their stories straight. Venegas and his witnesses, on the other hand, all gave their official declarations separately, without having the chance to discuss their stories beforehand. Torres Carmona, being a lawyer, filed charges against the police who arrested Venegas immediately following his arrest, even before Venegas first appeared in police custody later that night. Therefore, he officially filed his declaration before Venegas was able to file his. The official declarations of Venegas, Torres Carmona, and the third witness all give the same version of events.

The police claim that they arrested Venegas five blocks from El Llano Park, rather than in the actual park as Venegas and defense witnesses have stated. Whereas Venegas has witnesses who have testified that Venegas was detained in the park, the police have no civilian witnesses who claim he was detained five blocks from the park.

Likewise, the police also deny that they ever took Venegas to the State Preventive Police headquarters in Santa María Coyotepec. Venegas, however, says that it was the first place where police removed the bag from his head so that he could see where he was. It was there that the police planted the drugs on him, he says, and where they questioned him about other APPO members.

The police claim that they searched Venegas without a warrant because Venegas, Torres, and a third person shouted insults at the police as they passed. The police claim that they stopped and, during a standard search, found the drugs on Venegas. Venegas states that the police attacked him and threw him into the back of the pick-up so fast that they didn't even have time to ask his name or request identification, let alone search him for drugs. None of the witnesses saw the police find drugs on Venegas before the pick-up drove off.

Even the definition of "possession with intent to distribute" is in question in Venegas' case. In the early stages of Venegas' criminal proceedings, Venegas' lawyer attempted to argue that the small amount of drugs allegedly found on Venegas (see photo above) is not enough to justify the charge of "intent to distribute."

Despite the contradictions in the police officers' testimony and their lack of witnesses, Venegas knows he'll have a difficult time in court in Monday. "Here in Mexico, a police officer's word is sacred. Judges value a cop's word much more than a citizen's. This is the impunity we have to live with in Mexico.... Here in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca, it's not reason or strong arguments that win cases. It's political interests, repression, and economic interests that decide cases. The only thing the people have is mobilizations and protest. It's the only way things get resolved more or less correctly."

No Justice in Mexico--Just Impunity

Despite the numerous inconsistencies in the government's case against him, Venegas knows that he won't win his case based on justice. "In Mexico, there's a state of total impunity," Venegas tells Narco News. "Laws are meaningless if there isn't a willingness [to uphold them].... This is about politics. There are people who have been found with a lot of drugs in Mexico have been freed due because of who they know or the influence they have."

For this reason, Venegas' organization VOCAL is relying on local, national, and international solidarity to keep him out of jail. According to Venegas, "We've issued an urgent international action alert because in other criminal proceedings against other APPO members, they have been released on bail, just like in my case. But at the end of the whole [judicial] process, when it comes time for the verdict, when the movement is no longer paying a lot of attention to the case, they're found guilty." VOCAL doesn't want this to happen in Venegas' case, so they're requesting that supporters call or fax the judge who will decide his case, Judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes, before the verdict is delivered at 12:45 pm EST (9:45 am) on Monday, April 6. According to a VOCAL communique, the number for the court building is 011 52 (951) 515-6600. The communique also states that supporters who wish to send faxes can call that number during business hours and request a fax tone ("Me da un tono de fax por favor?"). VOCAL also requests that supporters send statements of solidarity to vocal@riseup.net.

VOCAL has also called for local supporters to attend a protest on Monday, April 6, at 10:30am in front of the Moises Saenz Garza Secondary School in El Llano, in Oaxaca City.

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