Friday, December 18, 2009

Center Prodh condemns designation of Wilfrido Robledo as new head of the Federal Investigatory Police

by Centro Prodh

- Robledo was involved in planning the police operations that led to grave human rights violations in San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco on May 3 and 4, 2006.

- His designation is a new demonstration of disdain by the federal government toward human rights.

Yesterday, December 17, 2009, Wilfrido Robledo Lamadrid was confirmed as the new head of the recently created Federal Investigatory Police (Policía Federal Ministerial), attached to the Federal Attorney General’s office.

The Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center considers lamentable the decision to promote to such an important post an official with a black history in human rights. Robledo was involved in planning and implementing the police operations that led to grave human rights violations against detainees in San Salvador Atenco and Texcoco May 3 and 4, 2006, while he was head of the State Security Department in Mexico state.

Robledo Lamadrid and other state officials, including governor Peña Nieto, deny the existence of human rights violations in Atenco; however, both the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court confirmed the occurrence of grave violations. These abuses are also under consideration by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In particular, Robledo Lamadrid and Peña Nieto deny completely the sexual torture committed against detained women in Atenco. Eleven of these women, represented by Center Prodh, have persisted in denouncing these crimes, identifying material and intellectual authors, yet as of today there has been no justice in the case. The involvement of Robledo in these events was tacitly confirmed by him when he retired from his post as head of the State Security Department at the initiation of the Supreme Court investigation into the case.

The designation of officials with questionable human rights records, as also occurred in the recent designation of Attorney General Chávez Chávez despite overwhelming opposition from civil society, shows that the theme of human rights does not matter greatly to the federal government: a government committed to human rights does not name to prestigious offices officials who have overseen notorious human rights violations in the past. Far from contributing to purging corruption from the ranks of the police, such designations send a message of renewed support for those who have already proven unworthy of such positions.

In conclusion, Center Prodh regrets the designation of Wilfrido Robledo as the new head of the Federal Investigatory Police. We reiterate that the demonstrated disdain of the current administration for human rights leaves no option – as can be seen in the case of the survivors of sexual torture in Atenco – except to seek justice before international bodies.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chiapas Murder Draws Criticism of Canadian Mining in Mexico

Canadian NGOs Call for Increased Oversight, Accountability; Mexican Communities Want Mines Closed


The recent murder of Chiapan anti-mining organizer Mariano Abarca Roblero has drawn sharp criticism of Canadian mining in Mexico. Abarca was shot to death in front of his home on November 27.  Three men linked to Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd. were arrested for the murder.  Blackfire owns a barite mine in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Abarca, a local resident, was the leader of a campaign to close the mine at the time of his assassination.


In response to the murder, Mexican communities and organizations have mobilized to demand accountability for the murder and permanent closure of the Chicomuselo and other Canadian-owned mines.  Hundreds of people attended Abarca's funeral in Chicomuselo.  The funeral procession stopped at Blackfire's Chicomuselo office to demand justice.
Photos from Abarca's funeral:
Chicomuselo residents and representatives from other mine-affected communities formed a protest caravan to travel to Mexico City to demand justice.  The caravan stopped for rallies and events in Comitan, Chiapas, and the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The two-bus caravan then met up with representatives from other mining-affected communities in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City, where they held a protest.  Representatives from Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Jalisco, and Mexico City joined the delegates from Chiapas for a protest in Mexico City. 


The protesters stopped by the Mexican Ministry of Economics to deliver a letter demanding that Blackfire's mining concession in Chicomuselo be immediately cancelled.  According to a communique issued by Abarca's organization the Mexican Anti-mining Network (REMA), they told a Ministry representative, "If [the Ministry of] Economics doesn't cancel Blackfire's mining concession, the people will do it de facto.  We won't tolerate more deaths, nor more environmental destruction, nor division within the Community."  That isn't an idle threat: the community blockaded the road leading to the mine in July.


After meeting with an official from the Ministry of Economics, the caravan then headed to the Canadian Embassy to protest Abarca's murder.  According to the REMA communique, "We also stressed that they [the Canadian government] need to support laws that would give the government teeth to be able to hold accountable the mining companies that they are currently supporting economically, and which have a general conduct of violating human rights and democracy."


Laws With Teeth


When the mining-affected communities demand "laws that would give the government teeth" to hold mining companies accountable for their actions in foreign countries, they are referring to laws like Bill C-300, An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries, which is currently making its way through the Canadian parliament.  The bill, according to Canadian NGO MiningWatch, would set corporate accountability standards that would determine eligibility for the political and financial support that the Canadian government currently provides to Canadian extractive companies.  These corporate accountability standards would include health, safety, security, and human rights criteria.  The bill would also create a complaints mechanism wherein affected communities could file complaints with the Canadian government.  If a company is found to be out of compliance with the corporate accountability standards, it would be ineligible for Canadian government support.


The Canadian NGO the Council of Canadians admits that the sanctions proposed in Bill C-300 are "modest."  However, they believe that the mining industry's staunch opposition to the bill demonstrates that the industry views the bill as a threat.   


The Harper administration has opposed Bill C-300


Another proposed bill, Bill C-354, would allow foreigners to sue Canadian companies in Canadian courts for human rights abuses, regardless of where the abuses take place.  According to the bill's sponsor, Peter Julian, the bill replicates the United States' Alien Tort Claims Act, which survivors of torture in other countries have used to sue their torturers in US courts.


Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow linked Abarca's murder to the Canadian government's inaction when mining companies it supports commit abuses. "A man deeply involved in the protest against the Canadian mining company Blackfire has been murdered outside his home," said Barlow. "This tragic outcome can be traced directly to the Harper government's refusal to end the impunity currently enjoyed by Canadian mining companies." 


Gordon Peeling, president and CEO of the Canadian mining industry's lobbying group, The Mining Association of Canada, told the press, “It is not helpful in terms of the dynamic of the discussion for those that want to link these things. Their thinking is flawed if they try to link it [the murder] to C-300,” he added.


Perhaps Bill C-300 would have been too weak to prevent the assassination of Abarca, who had been the victim of threats and physical attacks since at least August 2008.  But the role of Canadian mining company Blackfire in the murder is unquestionable.


"Abarca Murder: Mission Accomplished"


The three men arrested for Abarca's murder are all current or former Blackfire employees.  


Jorge Carlos Sepúlveda Calvo is accused of shooting Abarca.  He was a driver for Blackfire. 


Chiapan authorities have not revealed the role they believe another detained man, Ricardo Antonio Coutiño Velasco, played in the murder.  Coutiño Velasco was a Blackfire contractor.


Caralampio López Vázquez is an operator and shift supervisor in the mine.  According to witnesses, he drove the motorcycle in which the murders fled.


Blackfire cannot claim the murder was an isolated incident.  REMA reports that in August 2008, three men wearing Blackfire employee vests beat Abarca and his son in their home.  They held Abarca's wife at gunpoint.  REMA says that in response to the attack, Abarca filed charges with the government.  The government did nothing.


In the summer of 2009, Chicomuselo residents entered into negotiations with Blackfire regarding a road the company had illegally built on their communal land.  The residents claim to be in possession of a January 2008 agreement signed by the company that determined where Blackfire should build the road to the mine.  The company ignored the agreement and build the road in a place the Chiapas state government says it shouldn't have.  When negotiations broke down between residents and Blackfire, the residents began to fence off the road in question in order to close it.  According to the complaint anti-mining organizer Gustavo Castro Soto says residents later filed with the government, "Luis Antonio Flores (Blackfire Public Relations Officer), Rene Salvador Cartajena, Caralampio Lopez, and another man, along with Blackfire employees, came out and threatened to kill us and attack us with the sharp weapons and the firearms that they were armed with.  For these reasons we didn't close the road.  We decided to leave so that we wouldn't be led into the violent or deadly confrontation that they were hoping for.  They tried to run over the compañeros with their machinery.  Therefore today we ask that Gov. Juan Sabines Guerrero and his administration cancel [Blackfire's] permission in this ejido [communally held land]."
It should be noted that Caralampio Lopez, mentioned in the complaint as part of this threatening mob, is charged with driving the getaway motorcycle in Abarca's murder.  Caralampio Lopez was reportedly a current Blackfire employee at the time of Abarca's murder.  In other words, residents reportedly filed a formal complaint against Lopez for being part of a mob that threatened Chicomuselo residents with bodily harm when they tried to close an illegally constructed road, and Blackfire appears to have done nothing.


Just days before his murder, Abarca filed charges against two Blackfire employees, Ciro Roblero Perez and Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro, for threatening to shoot him if he didn't stop organizing against Blackfire's barium mine in Chicomuselo.  According to a formal complaint filed by a government employee who works in the Chicomuselo municipal building, Roblero Perez arrived at the municipal building to say that he had gone to look for Abarca to "fuck him up in a hail of bullets."   He also reportedly said that Abarca and other people were on a list of people Blackfire management wants to hurt.  Blackfire public relations manager Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro was mentioned in the government employee's complaint as one of the people responsible for the list.    The government had cited Roblero Perez and Flores Villatoro to testify regarding the charges the day of Abarca's murder, but they failed to appear.  Abarca was murdered later that evening.


On December 7, Chiapas state authorities finally acted.  They temporarily closed Blackfire's mine in Chicomuselo.  Blackfire itself reportedly closed the mine and removed its light machinery soon after Abarca's death.  The Chiapas government only made the act official by hanging a "Closed" sign on the gates.


The government claims the closure has nothing to do with Abarca's murder.  According to the government, "The reason for the closure of said company is due to the creation of new roads without the authorization related to environmental impact, suspended particle emissions, as well as runoff and wastewater and changing the use of soil in an important area." 


Pollution is the principal reason that Abarca and REMA were protesting Blackfire's barite mine.  When he was alive, Abarca told everyone who would listen about the pollution the mine caused in Chicomuselo.  According to Castro Soto, even after the brutal August 2008 beating at the hands of alleged Blackfire employees, "He continued fighting.  He decried the lack of water in the streams and the consequences of the explosions.  He decried the pollution of the rivers; they're full of mud and the fish have all died.  Livestock and other animals have died."


The Chiapas-based Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center is demanding that the government turn the temporary closure of Blackfire's mine into a permanent one.  "This Human Rights Center celebrates that last Monday the barite mine located in Chicomuselo county and operated by Black Fire Exploration has been closed.... However, we consider it necessary that the cancelation not only be temporary; rather, it should be permanent now that the negative effects insistently denounced by residents have cost Mr. Mariano Abarca Roblero his life.  He was assassinated allegedly for his active activism against the Canadian company's exploitation.  It is also urgent that measures are taken so that this is not repeated, to guarantee that in the future these sorts of companies don't set up shop, in order to avoid damages to the environment as happened in the Chicomuselo region with Blackfire Exploration's mining exploitation."


It's a shame Abarca had to give his life so that Chiapas authorities would finally act and close the mine.  Even more tragic is that the Canadian government, which heavily subsidizes its mining industry, has done absolutely nothing about Blackfire's human rights and environmental abuses.  Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and Peter Kent, Canada's junior foreign minister for the Americas, visited Chiapas just two days after the state government closed Blackfire's mine.  They were greeted by about fifty protesters who demanded that Blackfire's mine be closed and that the company pay for its crimes.  REMA requested a meeting with the dignitaries, but Jean and Kent refused the invitation, citing time constraints.
Photos from the Canadian dignitaries' visit:

All photos courtesy of Otros Mundos Chiapas.

Originally published in Narco News on December 14, 2009.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Drug War Sea Change in the US Congress?

Domestic Initiatives Are Cause for Hope; Foreign Drug War Funding Remains Unchanged For Now

The United States Congress set its sights on the drug war this week. Legislators have or will consider several important bills that address the drug war at home and abroad. According to decriminalization advocates, the news is mostly good.

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives unanimously voted to create the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission. This week the House is expected to vote on the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes measures that would repeal a national syringe funding ban and allow Washington, DC, to establish a medical marijuana program. The Appropriations Act, also known as the Omnibus bill, also includes further funding for violent drug wars in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia.

Drug Policy Commission

The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will evaluate US drug policy in the Western Hemisphere and "submit recommendations on future US drug policy to Congress, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)," according to Federal Information & News Dispatch.

The Commission has been created upon the premise that the drug war has failed in the Western Hemisphere. "Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean. In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between. Clearly, the time has come to take a fresh look at our counternarcotics efforts here at home and throughout the Americas, and the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will do just that," said Rep. Eliot Engel, who proposed the bill creating the commission.

Engel says that in examining US drug policy in the region, the Commission will look at domestic prevention and treatment programs. This is an aspect of US drug policy that has, up until now, been sorely neglected. Relative to the vast resources the US government devotes to law enforcement and military solutions to problems associated with drug abuse and trafficking, treatment in particular appears to be merely an afterthought.

Needle Exchange

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) happily reports that the House version of the 2010 Omnibus bill includes language that "would repeal the decades-old policy prohibiting cities and states from using their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs which reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases."

According to Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, “The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use."

However, needle exchange programs are largely critical of the measure. The House version of the Omnibus bill, while explicitly repealing the federal funding ban, prohibits federal funding for needle exchange programs located within 1,000 feet of any place where children might gather, such as arcades, public swimming pools, libraries, colleges, schools, and parks. The New York Times reports that the provision "would apply to a majority of the country's approximately 200 exchanges." In particular, critics argue that it would be nearly impossible to find office space that complies with the provision in large cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington.

“This 1,000-foot rule is simply instituting the ban in a different form,” Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Council, told the New York Times. “Clearly the intent of this rule is to nullify the lifting of the ban.”

Despite its drawback, the repeal would allow existing and new needle exchange programs located outside the 1,000-foot perimeter to receive federal funding.

Because the Omnibus bill provides critical funding for a wide array of government agencies, it is highly likely the bill will pass.

Medical Marijuana

In 1998, 69% of voters in Washington, DC, approved a ballot initiative that would have "legalize[d]--for medical purposes only--the possession, use, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana in the District of Columbia, and maintain the prohibition and criminal sanctions against the use of marijuana for any nonmedical purpose."

US Representative Bob Barr quickly sprung into action to protect DC residents--against their will--from the chronically ill pot smokers amongst them. He added an amendment to the DC budget (which Congress controls despite the fact that not a single voting member of Congress is actually a permanent DC resident) to stop the referendum. His amendment prohibited funding for the ballot initiative, preventing the certification of the referendum results by the Board of Elections and Ethics after the election.

The Barr amendment held for over ten years--until now. The Barr amendment is notably absent from the proposed 2010 Omnibus bill, allowing the DC government to reinitiate the process of enacting the initiative if the bill passes Congress.

Business as Usual in Foreign Drug Wars

Despite its promising and long overdue domestic drug measures, the 2010 Omnibus bill contains even more funding for the Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia. The Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia provide military and law enforcement funding to Mexico, Central America, and Colombia to fight the war on drugs, and, in Colombia's case, insurgents. Both initiatives have failed to reduce drug trafficking and production. On the contrary, drug production and trafficking is on the rise in Mexico and Colombia, where the bulk of military and law enforcement funds are directed.

The Omnibus bill includes $210.25 million for Mexico under the Merida Initiative. Less than 5% of that aid is for development assistance. $190 million is for law enforcement, and $5.25 million is for military equipment and training.

The Initiative's controversial human rights conditions apply to about 15% of those funds. The final bill chastises the State Department over a report it submitted to Congress on Mexico's compliance with four human rights conditions laid out in the Merida Initiative. Congress notes that the report did not comply with the Merida Initiative conditions because the report did not actually state that Mexico had met the requirements in the law.

The Omnibus bill also includes $83 million to Central America under the Merida Initiative. The bill explicitly includes money for Honduras, which is currently controlled by a coup government and therefore should be ineligible for foreign aid. Given the Merida Initiative's emphasis on law enforcement and military funding, and the de facto Honduran government's propensity to use law enforcement and the military to repress coup opponents, the inclusion of funding for Honduras is troubling.

Colombia will also receive $251.88 million under Plan Colombia. Unlike the Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia includes (in addition to law enforcement and domestic military funding) money for US military presence in Colombia. The funds can be used to target insurgent organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

An End in Sight?

This week's congressional drug war initiatives are promising. On the domestic front, Congress has finally begun to accept scientifically-proven alternatives to prohibition, such as needle exchanges and medical marijuana. On the other hand, Congressional funding for violent drug wars in foreign countries continues unabated. However, the creation of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission has the potential to carry out a long-overdue holistic investigation and analysis of drug control policy both at home and abroad. Hopefully its recommendations will reflect the growing awareness that law enforcement and military solutions to drug-related problems hurt more people than they help.

Drug Policy Alliance executive directory Ethan Nadelmann argues, “It’s too soon to say that America’s long national nightmare – the war on drugs – is really over. But yesterday’s action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy.”

Source: This article originally appeared in Narco News on December 9, 2009.
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Unions Take Over Mexico City to Support Electricians

Thousands of unionists and supporters shut down Mexico City during morning rush hour on Friday. They were protesting President Felipe Calderon's recent decision to unilaterally close the government-owned Luz y Fuerza del Centro electricity company. In the middle of the night this past October 10-11, Calderon sent thousands of soldiers and militarized Federal Police to take over Luz y Fuerza buildings and fire its workers. Thousands of Federal Police continue to occupy the power company buildings.

Specifically, the unionists who took to the streets on Friday turned out to support the Mexican Union of Electric Workers (SME), the union that represents Luz y Fuerza workers, in their demand that the Calderon administration negotiate with the union. They want to negotiate the reinstatement of SME's 44,000 workers and continued pensions for its 22,000 retirees.

Unions, civic associations, peasant organizations, student groups, and neighborhood associations from across the country traveled to Mexico City to support the SME as it took over Mexico City. Some unions, such as those from Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Queretaro, and Zacatecas, arrived in a caravan that snaked through several states over a period of three days, holding rallies and picking up more supporters along the way.

The unionists and their supporters blocked the four main entrances into Mexico City for hours on Friday morning. After holding their blockades for between one and two hours, they marched to the center of the city converging in Revolution Plaza. Along the way, they picked up other contingents of unionists and students who were blockading key intersections within the city.

The SME and its supporters held a rally in Revolution Plaza, but the number of marchers far exceeded the plaza's capacity. By the time the contingent from Oaxaca and Chiapas arrived at Revolution Plaza, for example, they could not enter. Instead, they flooded the streets around the Plaza.

During the marches and rally, some rank-and-file unionists drove off reporters and camera crews from Mexico's corporate media with chants of "Que se ve la fuerza del SME!" ("Here you can see the power of the SME!"). The SME and its supporters have been extremely critical of the corporate media's pro-government/anti-union slant in its coverage of the Luz y Fuerza closure.

After being chased away by unionists, some camera crews returned to the rally without their press credentials in an attempt to slip in unnoticed. Rank-and-file workers recognized them and chased them out of the area. While there was no official rule in place prohibiting the corporate media's coverage of the event (at least one corporate media camera crew managed to film the rally) the incidents do reflect the rage rank-and-file workers feel about how the corporate media has portrayed them.

On the other hand, unionists received independent media with open arms and went out of their way to facilitate interviews with union spokespeople.

National Support

One of the most striking aspects of Friday's mobilization was the broad national support for the SME. Some states, such as Oaxaca, sent thousands of union members to participate in the takeover of the nation's capital.

Unions from other states, however, were unable to send large delegations due to labor disputes in their own regions. Between 50-70 people came from San Luis Potosi, for example. Those 50-70 people, however, represented at least ten different unions.

Guadalupe Cervantes came to the mobilization as part of a two-person delegation from the San Luis Potosi Independent Union of State Government Workers. She explains that her union couldn't spare more members. "We're in planton [round-the-clock picket]. At this moment we're suffering repression at the hands of the state government. However, even though our presence here is small, we had to come support the SME. It is very important to support the SME because this is all part of a plan to do away with unions. If the government can do something like this to the SME, what will it do to the rest of the unions?"

A representative from the Glassworkers Union in San Luis Potosi reports that his union is in a similar situation. "Former US Ambassador Tony Garza's wife owns the factory where we bottled beer for Grupo Modelo. We've been locked out for nearly two years." He says that the state government collaborated with Grupo Modelo's union busting and attempted to impose government-controled leadership on the union, which celebrated its first democratic union election in 2006. Despite his union's dire situation, he says they had to send a delegation to take over Mexico City in solidarity with the SME. "The government can't do this to the SME. It has such a long history of struggle."

Countless small delegations such as these added one or two thousand people to the approximately 5,000-person human blockade that shut down the eastern entrance to the city. The blockade at the eastern entrance appears to be one of the smaller ones that occurred on Friday.

One of the largest non-SME delegations that participated in Friday's blockades was the contingent from Mexico City's National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Students and unionized professors and other university workers came out to support the SME. UNAM students remember that the SME supported them in their successful 1999 student strike against tuition increases. "Yesterday it was the UNAM, and today it's the SME" is a commonly heard phrase on the UNAM campus and at SME events.

Women's Hunger Strike

Meanwhile, on Friday ten female SME members entered their twelfth day of hunger strike outside of a Luz y Fuerza administrative building downtown. The women are consuming only water.

Narco News spoke with Monica Jimenez Acosta, the coordinator of Women Electricians in Resistance on her eleventh day of hunger strike. She explains that she is the third generation of electricians in her family. When Felipe Calderon used the Federal Police and the military to fire SME members, they didn't just put Jimenez out of work; her brothers, sisters, cousins, and uncles also lost their jobs on that fateful night. Jimenez, a single mother, used her MX$8,000 (US$630) monthly salary to support herself and her daughter. She worked at Luz y Fuerza for ten years.

Jimenez says that the women decided to hunger strike because they felt that the government has gone too far. "They threw us into the street as if we were criminals." She explains that the Women Electricians in Resistance sought an audience with political parties, federal agencies, and the Calderon administration. The government's response? "They kicked us and beat us with billy clubs. And they told us, 'Why don't you sell junk food at traffic lights? Why don't you set up a stand to sell telephones or quesadillas? If you've got a husband in Luz y Fuerza, why doesn't he take construction classes, and you can cut hair? If you like the night life, why don't you learn to mix drinks and work in a bar?' This is complete and utter cynicism. It's a lack of respect. Why don't they make their mothers work those jobs?"

Jimenez explains that over one hundred female SME members signed up to hunger strike, but that after medical screenings and other considerations, it was decided that eleven women would go without food. However, their round-the-clock picket has the support of hundreds of people at any given time. Those people guard the camp and keep the women's spirits up with visits from clergy who lead prayers for the swift re-opening of Luz y Fuerza and mariachis who serenade the hunger strikers on their birthdays.

Thus far the SME has not announced what its next move will be as it continues to pressure the Calderon administration into negotiations. However, SME's suddenly unemployed members are keeping themselves busy. A commission of SME workers recently returned from Europe where they rallied support in several countries. SME workers have reached out to non-labor organizations, they've traveled the country to tell their story, and they hold regular events in Mexico City such as movie screenings, panel discussions, and speaking engagements in universities.

Source: This article originally appeared in Narco News on December 4, 2009

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Chiapas Anti-Mining Organizer Murdered

Mariano Abarca Led a Growing Movement to Kick Canadian Mining Companies Out of Mexican Communities

Mariano Abarca Roblero, one of Mexico's most prominent anti-mining organizers, was shot to death on the evening of November 27, 2009, in front of his house in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. He left behind a wife and four children. Another man was wounded in the shooting.

The incident comes just days after Abarca filed charges against two Blackfire employees, Ciro Roblero Perez and Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro, for threatening to shoot him if he didn't stop organizing against Canadian mining company Blackfire's barium mine in Chicomuselo. According to a formal complaint filed by a government employee who works in the Chicomuselo municipal building, Roblero Perez arrived at the municipal building to say that he had gone to look for Abarca to "fuck him up in a hail of bullets." He also reportedly said that Abarca and other people were on a list of people Blackfire management wants to hurt. Blackfire public relations manager Luis Antonio Flores Villatoro was mentioned in the government employee's complaint as one of the people responsible for the list.

Ejido* authorities from the Nueva Morelia ejido in Chicomuselo county took the complaint seriously and helped Abarca launch an investigation. The day before the murder, Roblero Perez and Flores Villatoro were summoned to testify regarding the alleged death threats, but they failed to appear.

A History of Harassment

Even though local authorities acted to try to protect Abarca, the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA) blames the Chiapas state government for failing to protect the mining leader. On the contrary, the state government seems to have been complicit in Blackfire's legal harassment of Abarca.

On August 17, 2009, unidentified armed men in unmarked cars kidnapped Abarca as he was leaving an elementary school in Chicomuselo. He had visited the school to request permission on behalf of his organization, REMA, to use the building for an anti-mining meeting scheduled for August 29-30.

The kidnappers turned out to be police. They had arrested Abarca on charges filed by Blackfire regarding a June-July 2009 highway blockade REMA set up to prevent the passage of Blackfire trucks. REMA was protesting the company's failure to comply with promises it allegedly made regarding community development projects and environmental stewardship. According to community leaders, Blackfire's open-pit barium mine uses too much of the area's scarce water resources. They are concerned that the pollution could effect their crop cultivation in the near future.

The acting on Blackfire's formal complaint, the state government charged Abarca with attacks against public roadways, criminal association, organized crime, and offenses against the peace. Theoretically, organized crime charges are reserved for drug, arms, and human traffickers, and other members of Mexico's expansive mafia network. However, the Chiapas government has been known to accuse activists and community organizers of organized crime in order to take advantage of restricted due process rights for people accused of organized crime.

That is what happened in Abarca's case. The organized crime charged allowed the Chiapas government to imprison him under the highly controversial and international criticized legal instrument of "arraigo" or pre-charge detention. Under arraigo, the government can arrest a suspect and isolate him or her for months while it pressures and sometimes tortures the person into confessing.

The state government detained Abarca for eight days before it ceded to international public pressure to release him. Abarca was released and the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. His lawyer, Miguel Angel de los Santos, criticized the Chiapas government for ceding to the mining company's pressure to arrest Abarca. "There was no legal justification for his arrest and detention. Preliminary investigation began on June 12th, two days after the blockade, and was only just beginning to come together. The investigation had not advanced," he told Proceso in August following Abarca's release.

Structural Adjustment Strikes Again

Social discontent regarding mines in Mexico has been steadily building over the past ten years, beginning when the effects of a World Bank-mandated mining sector deregulation scheme were first felt. A confidential World Bank document entitled "Implementation Completion Report: Mexico Mining Sector Restructuring Project," which Narco News makes available to the public, outlines exactly how a nine-year loan project drastically transformed Mexico's mining sector.

The project, first proposed by the Word Bank in 1989 and quickly adopted by the Mexican government, aimed to deregulate the mining industry in Mexico. The Bank proposed the project because, as its Implementation Completion Report (ICR) explains,

Past lending of the Bank for mining in Mexico was oriented towards specific investment projects, with direct lines of credit to the sector... The lessons learned from those operations were that the continued development of the mining sector required increased access to land rights, reduced ownership limitations, revision of the tax legislation, a restructuring of existing institutional setups, as well as policies that stimulate private investment in mining by both domestic and foreign firms. The Bank Mining Sector Review identified an inadequate regulatory and institutional framework as the major constraint to increase private investment and further growth of the sector.

One of the Bank's main goals for the project was to open up Mexico's previously protected national mining industry to foreign companies; the Bank listed "open the sector to foreigners" as its first "strategy to restructure the sector." It hoped to do so by privatizing state-owned mining companies, slashing taxes, awarding mineral and land rights to private companies, and facilitating foreign companies' ownership of Mexican land in order to "contribute to the increased exploration and exploitation of the vast mining potential of the country, to take advantage of Mexico's strategic location near the United States and Canada."

The Bank proposed a set of changes to Mexican law in its Mining Sector Report, and the Mexican government--at that point still under one-party rule--rushed to implement them under a plan called the National Mining Modernization Program. In just four years (1990-1994), the legal framework for mining in Mexico underwent a radical change. Before the ink on the new laws was dry, the Bank began to dole out money to private mining companies to "help finance the surge in demand for investment funding that was expected to result from the improved policy and institutional setting for mining operations."

The Bank was thrilled with the results of the National Mining Modernization Program and its subsequent loans. According to the Bank, over the course of the project, which ended in 1998, over 8.7 million hectares of land were released and 17,220 new mining concessions were granted. As a result of the legal changes mandated by the loan, the time required for processing mining concessions went down from 5 years to 5 months, and the Mexican government's backlog of about 14,000 concession requests that were pending since 1989 disappeared virtually overnight. The Bank was so pleased with the results of the Mining Sector Restructuring Project that it wrote, "Future Bank participation in the sector does not seem justified anymore, in view that mining exploration/exploitation is now open to domestic and foreign investors."

The Bank's structural adjustment of Mexico's mining sector has played a key role in the battle for "land and territory" (as the Zapatistas refer to it) in the country. Private ownership, increased economic pressure on small and subsistence farmers, and top-down "development" projects are acutely felt in mineral-rich communities. According to Gustavo Castro Soto of the Chiapas-based non-profit Otros Mundos, "Beginning in 2000, almost 10% of the national territory has been ceded to transnational companies through mining concessions." REMA notes that in Chiapas, 15.21% of the state's total territory has been ceded through mining concessions. Many of those concessions don't expire until the year 2050. If the social unrest that frequently follows mining concessions is any indicator, Mexicans are not willingly handing over their land to foreign mining companies.

Mining Industry Under Fire

Mariono Abarca's murder comes at a time that the mining industry in Mexico is feeling the heat from Mexico's social movements. Inspired by the national movement of communities affected by hydroelectric dam projects, mining-affected communities are joining forces in a unified front against destructive mining practices.

In 2008, representatives from Chicomuselo travelled to the state of Jalisco to found REMA during the First Encounter of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining. Representatives from mining-affected communities in eleven states and the Federal District participated in the historic event: Chihuahua, Sonora, Nayarit, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Mexico City, México State, San Luis Potosí, Coahuila, and Veracruz. REMA agreed at that meeting to raise consciousness about the social and environmental effects of mining. It also pledged that member organizations would support each other in their struggles against destructive mines in their communities.

One of the most high-profile joint actions that REMA carried out was a protest encampment in front of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City this past July. Abarca and representatives from other communities affected by Canadian mining companies participated in the encampment, which demanded the withdraw of Metallic Resources/NewGold, a Canadian company, from Cerro de San Pedro, San Luis Potosi. At the protest, Abarca spoke about Canadian mining companies' contamination of traditional water sources.

Following the protest, mining-affected communities won a temporary victory: just last month, a federal judge ordered that the Cerro de San Pedro mine be closed because the mining company had failed to comply with environmental stipulations. The closure comes after ten years of struggle waged by a broad coalition of San Luis Potosi civil society organizations, which include organizations linked to Mexico's center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and groups affiliated with the Zapatista's Other Campaign. They opposed the gold mining project because, in addition to environmental concerns, the Cerro de San Pedro is an official historic monument. NewGold has promised to appeal the ruling.

In Chiapas, Abarca led a previously mentioned highway blockade that prevented Blackfire trucks from entering and leaving the Chicomuselo mine this past June and July. The community was protesting the company's excessive use of scarce water supplies, its failure to follow through on commitments it reportedly made to the community, and its back-door maneuverings that allowed it to purchase 13.5 hectares of ejido land without the required approval of the ejido assembly. Blackfire claims it lost $120,000 pesos ($9,334 dollars) as a direct result of the blockade.

This past August, REMA held its Second Encounter of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining in Chiapas. Guatemalan communities who are resisting mining projects traveled to Chiapas to participate and share their experienes. Abarca helped organize the Encounter, and as previously mentioned, it was during the Encounter's organizing process that state police kidnapped Abarca and charged him with organized crime at Blackfire's request.

A communique signed by 25 Mexican organizations from six states and Mexico City holds Blackfire's owners responsible for Abarca's shooting and any resulting violence in the region. They call for a protest encampment outside of the Canadian Embassy and the Ministry of Economy headquarters in Mexico City on December 3 in solidarity with the people of Chicomuselo.



*An ejido is commonly-held land traditionally managed by assembly.

Soure: This article originally appeared in Narco News on December 1, 2009.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Numbers Don't Add Up in Mexico's Drug War

Drug Seizures are Down; Drug Production, Executions, Disappearances, and Human Rights Abuses are Up

Just a week before Mexican president Felipe Calderon completes half of his six-year term, La Jornada reports that 16,500 extrajudicial executions have occurred during his administration. 6,500 of those executions have occurred in 2009, according to La Jornada’s sources in Calderon’s cabinet.

These latest numbers mean that 2009 will be another record-breaking year in Calderon’s drug war. In just three years in office, Calderon has surpassed his predecessor Vicente Fox’s narco-murder rate for his entire term in office. It is estimated that there were anywhere between 9,000 and 13,000 drug-related murders during Fox’s six-year term. Calderon has also beaten his own record: with one month left in the year, 2009’s 6,500 executions thus far have already surpassed last year’s 6,262.

The new numbers published by La Jornada suggest that the government had previously underreported drug war deaths. The government had previously reported 2,477 deaths in 2007 and 6,262 deaths in 2008, for a grand total of 8,739 deaths in 2007 and 2008. For the official numbers to have now reached 16,500 over the course of Calderon’s administration as sources within his own cabinet now claim, 7,761 people would have had to die in 2009, not the 6,500 that his cabinet claims. That’s a discrepancy of over 1,000 executions.

The discrepancy wouldn’t lie in mafia-related disappearances (that is, where someone is kidnapped and never reappears); the government counts those separately. 3,160 people have disappeared over the course of Calderon’s administration so far. For reference, it is estimated that 95 people disappeared during Vicente Fox’s entire six-year term.

Drug Seizures Down

The skyrocketing violence in Mexico can’t even be justified by the drug war’s quantitative results. According to the US government’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), drug seizures have decreased since Calderon began his war on drugs, and drug production is on the rise.

The first graph below shows heroin and opium seizures in Mexico from 2006-2008 as reported in the INCSR. Calderon deployed the first soldiers in the war on drugs in December 2006, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the results reported in 2006 occurred under the mandate of his predecessor Vicente Fox. Therefore, 2006 is presented as a base value. 2008 is the most recent year data is available from the INCSR.



The chart shows that heroin seizures have fallen steadily since Calderon declared all-out war on drugs. Opium gum seizures showed a drastic spike in 2007, the first full year of Calderon’s war, but fell by nearly half in 2008. Opium poppy eradication showed a significant dip in 2007, and even though it rose slightly in 2008, it did not recover to its 2006 levels.

As the chart below shows, marijuana seizures and eradication have also fallen. Seizures rose slightly in 2007, but they have since fallen below their 2006 numbers. According to the INCSR, marijuana eradication has experienced a steady decline since 2003; Calderon’s war has done nothing to stem this trend.



The US State Department’s Merida Initiative spending plan, published last year, suggested that if drug seizures were to decline, as is occurring now, it could signal that Calderon is winning the war on drugs. According to the spending plan:

With additional resources devoted to interdiction efforts across Mexico, it is natural to expect an initial increase in the amounts of illicit materials (drugs, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband) seized. However, it is important to note that should these efforts prove successful, it is likely that seizures will - at some undetermined point - decrease as criminal organizations weaken and trafficking routes are disrupted.

So could reduced seizure levels mean that Calderon's strategy has weakened drug trafficking organizations to the point that their industry has been significantly disrupted as the Merida Initiative spending plan suggests? Absolutely not. As the chart below shows, the INCSR reports that drug production levels in Mexico have increased across the board since Calderon began his war on drugs. (Drug production data for 2007 is not available.)

In other words, according to the US State Department, which prepares the INCSR and is responsible for overseeing the Merida Initiative, drug seizure and eradication is on the decline in Mexico, and drug production is on the rise. This means that since Calderon began his war on drugs, more Mexican drugs are on the market, not less.

Human Rights Abuses Increase

While executions are on the rise, drug seizures are down, and drug production is up, Mexico is also experiencing an alarming increase in human rights abuses perpetrated by government agents—particularly the army—in Calderon’s war on drugs. As Mexican human rights organizations have noted, human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces have increased six-fold over the past two years. This statistic is based on complaints received by the Mexican government’s official National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).

No Mas Abusos (No More Abuses), a joint project of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, the Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation, and Amnesty International’s Mexico Section, monitors human rights abuses committed by soldiers, police, and other government agents. No Mas Abusos tracked human rights complaints received by the CNDH over the past few years. Its results are as follows:

Year, Number of Complaints, and Percentage


No Mas Abusos notes that human rights complaints filed with the CNDH “doubled from 2006 to 2007, and increased by over 330% in 2008 in relation to the previous year. The pattern that the complaints received in the first six months of 2009 demonstrate, which allows us to estimate the tendency for the entire year, indicate that [in 2009] we will see another significant increase in human rights complaints.” No Mas Abusos notes that, “It should be pointed out that the data presented in this edition of the No Mas Abusos bulletin only represents a partial percentage of the total number of victims of military abuses in the whole country.” This is because the data is based on complaints received by the CNDH, a government agency, and not all abuses result in formal complaints, either due to fear of retaliation of a lack of faith in the efficacy of filing complaints with the CNDH.

Is the Drug War Worth It?

The drug war in Mexico is a failure by all measures: security, human rights, and drug interdiction.

The Mexican government, on some level, seems to be realizing this. It announced in July that it would scale back the military’s involvement in day-to-day policing activities in Ciudad Juarez. Up until that point, Ciudad Juarez was “the Calderon-style laboratory for combating criminal organizations,” with soldiers taking over the majority of policing activities from local police. It was an experiment that went terribly wrong.

In July, the Chihuahua state Secretary of Public Security, Víctor Valencia de los Santos, and federal Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna made the decision to scale back the military’s role in Ciudad Juarez because “the thousands of soldiers and municipal police have not done anything other than march through the whole city daily, and that surveillance strategy has not produced results other than ‘it winds up being too expensive in terms of gasoline and diesel consumption alone.’ All that in addition to the costs of feeding and housing the troops that come from other parts of the country.”

But now the military’s role in Ciudad Juarez won’t just be scaled back: Juarez’s Board of Regents has decided to remove the military entirely from the city. La Jornada reports: “Leopoldo Canizales of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) said that a study of the Military’s cost-effectiveness in no way favors the soldiers. The expected results have not been delivered because crime, murders, kidnappings, extortion, car thievery, and other crimes continue to increase.” According to local officials, in just eight months the city government has spent well over $14.5 million pesos ($1.3 million dollars) to sustain the military occupation. Furthermore, over a thousand complaints have been filed against soldiers and federal police in Juarez alone since January 2008; the majority of the complaints are for property damage and bodily harm. Faced with these facts, the Board of Regents decided to not renew the city’s contract with the defense department.

The drug war’s utter failure has led Mexico’s former Secretary of Foreign Relations, Jorge G. Castañeda, to call on the government “to reestablish the tacit modus vivendi agreement [a truce based on an agreement to disagree] that it had with the drug cartels because the policy of total confrontation with those organizations has not succeeded in stopping the violence,” reports El Universal.

Nonetheless, the drug war wages full-force in other parts of Mexico, and the United States government has not taken concrete actions to change the course of its involvement in Mexico’s drug war. The Obama administration will fully fund the military-heavy Merida Initiative, a plan conceived by Calderon and former US president George W. Bush to wage war on organized crime in Mexico. US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual announced that the US plans to continue funding the Initiative past its 2010 expiration date, but without its controversial name.

Chihuahua state congressman Victor Quintana argues that the US continues to wage and fund a failed war because it doesn’t have to suffer the consequences like Mexico does: "The United States doesn't feel the effects, because it has a hypocritical position. It is one of the biggest drug markets and at the same time one of the biggest sources of drug traffickers' weapons, and it doesn't pay the costs of that. It only enjoys the benefits of money laundering and drug trafficking."


Originally published in Narco News on November 29, 2009.

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