Showing posts with label Sinaloa cartel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sinaloa cartel. Show all posts

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mexican Civil Society Wants President and Drug Traffickers To Face War Crimes Charges In The International Criminal Court

by Kristin Bricker, SSR Centre

The accused (from left): Public Security Secretary
Genaro García Luna, Defense Secretary Guillermo 
Galván Galván, President Felipe Calderón, and Navy 
Secretary Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza. 
A coalition of lawyers, academics, activists, and journalists has announced that it will seek the prosecution of President Felipe Calderón in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from his deployment of the military to battle drug trafficking organizations.  “Our petition is supported by over 20,000 signatures, both handwritten and electronic,” they said in a written statement, “making it the largest citizens’ complaint that the ICC has ever received.”

Netzai Sandoval, the lawyer who is preparing the complaint, argues that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case because Mexico is a signatory to the Rome Statute, and because the country’s drug war constitutes an “armed conflict not of an international nature.” The Rome Statute, which created the court in 2002, defines an “armed conflict not of an international nature” as “armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups.”

Details of the Complaint

In addition to President Calderón, Sandoval has requested that the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor investigate Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna, Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván Galván, Navy Secretary Francisco Saynez Mendoza, drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, and “other authorities, military officials, and drug traffickers who are responsible for war crimes in Mexico.”

The Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for determining admissibility, defendants, and charges.  However, Sandoval has requested that the Prosecutor investigate both government officials and drug trafficking organizations for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He argues that both sides of the conflict have committed murders, rape and sexual slavery, forced disappearances, physical mutilations, inhuman treatment and torture, extensive destruction of property, and attacks against the civilian population, all of which are classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.

Sandoval notes that the Army has murdered and tortured innocent civilians at military checkpoints and during military operations.  “It has attempted to cover up these incidents in order to guarantee impunity,” argues Sandoval.  In 2010, for example, the military killed two students at the elite private university Tec de Monterrey. Soldiers planted weapons on the students’ corpses and removed their backpacks and student IDs to make them appear to be cartel gunmen.

The complaint that Sandoval will present to the ICC also details war crimes committed by criminal organizations.  It specifically mentions the massacres perpetuated by unidentified gunmen at drug rehabilitation clinics that are occurring with alarming frequency in various northern states.  Moreover, he accuses drug trafficking organizations of forcibly recruiting children under fifteen years of age, which has been demonstrated by arrests of children such as 13-year-old Edgar Jiménez Lugo, a cartel hitman who says that a drug trafficking organization kidnapped him when he was eleven and ordered him to kill or be killed.

Sandoval argues that both the government and drug trafficking organizations have committed physical mutilations.  Early in the war, drug trafficking organizations began to terrorize the civilian population by dumping tortured and mutilated bodies in public places such as in dance clubs, alongside highways, hanging from overpasses, or in front of government buildings or schools. In late 2009, the government responded in kind: the Marines killed drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in his home, and then employees from the medical examiner’s office stripped him down to his underwear and covered his bullet-ridden corpse with bloody peso notes and U.S. dollar bills.  They took pictures of his semi-nude body and leaked the pictures to the press, presumably to intimidate Beltran Leyva’s criminal organization.

The complaint also accuses officials from the Mexican government’s National Immigration Institute (INM) of collaborating with drug trafficking organizations to kidnap and traffic Central American migrants who pass through Mexico on their way to the United States.  The government has admitted widespread corruption in the INM, where alarming numbers of immigration agents detain migrants and then hand them over to cartels in exchange for a fee.  The cartels themselves frequently kidnap dozens of migrants in a single raid.  The criminals detain the migrants in “safe houses” while theydemand ransoms from the migrants’ families in the United States, or they enslave the kidnapped migrants to work in fields or—in the case of women—the sex industry as prostitutes or in pornographic movies.

The Gravity Threshold

Due to its limited capacity, the ICC declines to investigate some cases in which it has compelling evidence that war crimes have occurred, but do not reach the ICC’s standard for gravity.  “Even where there is a reasonable basis to believe that a crime has been committed, this is not sufficient for the initiation of an investigation by the International Criminal Court,” wrote ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo when he declined to file charges against coalition forces for war crimes committed in Iraq. “While, in a general sense, any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court is ‘grave,’ the [Rome] Statute requires an additional threshold of gravity even where the subject-matter jurisdiction is satisfied. This assessment is necessary as the Court is faced with multiple situations involving hundreds or thousands of crimes and must select situations” in which the commission of said war crimes are “committed as a part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.”

Migrants’ plight in Mexico might be one of the complaint’s more compelling aspects for the ICC because the crimes committed against them are so widespread.  Germán Guillermo Ramírez Garduaza, who runs the “Santa Faustina Kowalska” Migrante Shelter in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, estimates that 80% of the Centeral American women who pass through his shelter have been raped during their journey.  “They consider rape to be part of the price they pay to migrate,” explains Fermina Rodriguez of the Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center in Chiapas.

The Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) documented 214 cases of mass kidnappings of migrants in 2010 alone, with a total of 11,333 victims.  This number does not include unreported mass kidnappings, nor does it include kidnappings of small numbers of migrants, meaning that the total number of Central American migrants kidnapped in Mexico is likely much higher.

Sandoval hopes that the staggering statistics of over 50,000 deadthousands of forced disappearances, at least 230,000 displaced persons, and the appearance of severely mutilated bodies left on public display in various parts of the country on a daily basis will convince the court that high-ranking government officials and drug trafficking organizations are committing war crimes in Mexico “on a massive scale.”

Goals of an ICC Investigation

Unlike the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), which allows victims to sue State parties over a range of human rights violations, the ICC prosecutes individuals—not States—who are allegedly responsible for a very limited range of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.  Whereas the IACtHR has the power to order States to reform laws or policies that prevent victims from obtaining justice, the ICC only seeks punitive damages, such as imprisonment or indemnity for victims.

Nonetheless, Sandoval believes that an ICC investigation could have important political implications in Mexico.  He hopes that the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor will be able to obtain confidential information regarding the military’s role in the drug war because the Mexican military has denied many Transparency Act requests on the basis of national security.  “On May 9, 2007, [Calderón] published an executive order to create an elite force called the Cuerpo de Fuerzas de Apoyo Federal [Federal Support Forces],” explained Sandoval.  “This elite unit is directly controlled by Felipe Calderón and was involved in the drug war… There is no General or other official between Calderón and those soldiers.”  Sandoval hopes that the Office of the Prosecutor will investigate the secretive Federal Support Forces for any possible human rights abuses, because domestic attempts to obtain information about their actions have been futile.  If the ICC finds that the elite unit is responsible for human rights abuses, Sandoval argues that it can hold Calderón directly responsible for their actions.

Due to the corruption and complicity with organized crime that prevails in Mexico’s security institutions, many victims never report crimes for fear of retaliation.  Mexico’s Census Bureau (INEGI) reports that in 2010, 24 percent of the Mexican population reported being the victim of a crime.  However, only 12.3 percent of them reported the crimes to the police. Of those crimes that were reported to the police, the police only investigated eight percent.

“Mexico is a country of impunity,” argues John Ackerman, a legal scholar with the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Legal Investigations Institute.  Ackerman says that bringing a case before the ICC is a way for citizens “to use legal, peaceful means to demand justice and accountability.”

Sandoval hopes that the ICC will open offices in Mexico to carry out a direct and impartial investigation into possible war crimes. “The ICC should open field offices in different parts of the country so that victims can go there and give direct testimony.”

Even though ICC investigations can drag on for years, Sandoval hopes that the complaint will pressure Mexican politicians to reform the country’s security strategy soon.  “The candidates who will compete in the 2012 presidential election should know that if they continue with a militaristic policy that covers up soldiers’ crimes, they will share Calderón’s fate,” said Sandoval.  “One would hope that they would begin to discuss a plan for the military to return to its barracks, and embark on a new strategy for confronting organized crime.”

Kristin Bricker is a Mexico-based freelance journalist who specializes in militarization, human rights, social movements and the drug war in Latin America.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mexican Government's Alleged Complicity with the Sinaloa Cartel Shows that Money Fuels Drug War Corruption

by Kristin Bricker

This is a much more detailed version of an article that is running on the Security Sector Reform Resournce Centre's blog.  It contains a lot more statistics about corruption, and explores more problems and possible solutions to the problem.  The thesis is the same: no one wants to look at the finances of drug trafficking, but all anti-corruption strategies are doomed to fail as long as that is the case.  

Last month, NPR published new evidence that supports the prevailing theory amongst Mexicans: that the Felipe Calderón administration favors the Sinaloa drug trafficking organization (DTO) in the war on drugs.  NPR's report includes testimony from Mexican law enforcement officials, politicians, crime reporters, and residents, as well as former and current US counterintelligence and DEA agents.  Nearly all of them were in agreement: the powerful Sinaloa DTO is weathering Mexico's war on drugs far better than its competitors.  NPR also analyzed arrest data for over 2,600 suspected members of major DTOs and found that since the war began in 2006, the largest number of defendants (44%) have come from the Sinaloa DTO's arch nemesis, the Gulf-Zetas organization. The Sinaloa DTO, on the other hand, has suffered surprisingly few arrests (12% of the total) given its relative size and power.

In response to the NPR report, the Mexican government claimed that the Sinaloa organization actually comprises 24% of its overall drug arrests, while only 27% are from the Gulf-Zetas.  Unlike NPR, the Mexican government did not release its methodology.  However, the Mexican government is known for using "fuzzy math" when attempting to justify the drug war.  At a recent drug policy reform conference in Mexico City, Luis Astorga from the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute for Social Investigations demonstrated that the Mexican government consistently feeds the press baseless and contradictory drug war statistics.  Astorga's presentation questioned the veracity of any drug war statistics issued by the Mexican government that aren't accompanied by "a study and a methodology for how they arrived at those numbers.”  

The US government, on the other hand, chose to simply ignore the NPR report.  When reporters questioned a senior White House official about NPR's findings, he reaffirmed President Obama's "long-term commitment to Calderon's struggle against the cartels" and side-stepped the question.

The NPR report is particularly disturbing because of the role corruption has played in Mexico's "rigged" drug war.  The Mexican government officials, reporters, and residents that NPR interviewed almost unanimously pointed to the Sinaloa cartel's impressive ability to bring police and soldiers onto its payroll. 

Mexicans and US officials were well-aware of Mexico's problem even before NPR published its findings: Calderon launched "Operation Clean-up" just as public debate over the Merida Initiative was in full-swing. Operation Clean-up purged allegedly corrupt officials from agencies involved in the war on drugs.  At the same time, Calderon launched a Merida Initiative-funded country-wide screening of all police officers.  In some locales, half or all of the police were fired following screenings.

The problem with these anti-corruption measures is that they ignore the systematic nature of corruption.  Sinaloa Congressman Manuel Clouthier told NPR, "It is like we're trimming the branches of a tree, when we should be tearing it out by the roots." 

The massive police purge trims off the corrupt cops without attacking the root of the problem: DTOs have enough money to buy new cops to replace the old ones.  Even when the government fires entire police forces--as it has been known to do--the DTOs will buy new police because they have a seemingly endless source of money.

Operation Clean-up, rather than permanently rooting out corrupt officials and agents, highlighted the fact that drug cartel corruption goes up to the highest levels.  At least three former Mexican drug tsars are currently in prison; all have been accused of collusion with DTOs.  

Operation Clean-up's high-ranking victims didn't surprise many in Mexico, where narcos have infiltrated every part of the government that is relevant to their business--even the President's office.  In 2005, the DEA caught former President Vicente Fox's tour coordinator, Nahum Acosta Lugo, using Los Pinos telephones to communicate with the Beltran Leyva organization, which at the time still formed part of the Sinaloa organization. Despite the DEA's taped called between the presidential aide and known drug traffickers, Acosta Lugo spent six days in prison before being freed "for lack of evidence." 

Even Raúl Salinas, brother of former President Carlos Salinas, was accused of collaborating with drug kingpins during his brother's administration.  

The US government's efforts to establish teams of incorruptible Mexican police that they can trust with sensitive intelligence information have met fierce resistance from DTOs. The US Embassy has recruited meticulously screened Mexican Federal Police to its Sensitive Investigation Units (SIU).  These police receive Special Forces training from the FBI and DEA in Washington to prepare them for key involvement in police and intelligence work.  However, the frequent polygraph tests that these police must undergo discovered that many of them had been bought by the DTOs.  Those who couldn't be bought appear to be prime targets: over a period of a few months in 2008, drug traffickers assassinated at least twelve high-ranking SIU police who worked closely with the US Embassy.  In some cases, most notably that of Federal Police chief Edgar Millán, it was apparent that the drug traffickers had corrupted members of the officers' security teams in order to obtain intelligence on their movements. 

"It's the Economy, Stupid"

The Calderon adminstration's detention-focused anti-corruption strategy is doomed to fail as long as it ignores the source of DTOs' power: money.  The general consensus amongst drug policy experts is that the Mexican government has not done enough to dismantle the DTOs' vast financial networks.  The International Monetary Fund, for example, points out that between 1989 and mid-2009, the Mexican government obtained about 32 money laundering convictions.  

Edgardo Buscaglia, a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and an expert in the economics of crime, argues that Mexico hasn't done as much as it could to attack organized crime's financial networks.  "I would recommend to the Federal Secretary of Public Security that instead of worrying about having more helicopters that he get to work strengthening investigations in order to dismantle the underworld's finances," Buscaglia told the Mexican daily El Universal.  Buscaglia recommends that Mexico fully implement the Palermo Convention, a United Nations convention that includes best practices and legislative guides that aim to enhance international cooperation against transnational organized crime.    

Through the Merida Initiative, the United States is providing Mexico with updated technology and training to investigate money laundering, and the two countries will increase intelligence-sharing.    However, the US has not taken any noticeable steps to remedy the shortcomings in its own system for identifying and sanctioning organized crime's front businesses.  The US' notorious black list, which identifies drug kingpins and their assets, includes over two hundred Mexican businesses that the Treasury Department claims are fronts for drug traffickers.  The black list includes business names and locations, but no proof to back up the Treasury Department's claims that they are connected to drug trafficking.  As a result, the Mexican government has taken legal action in very few black list cases.

Mexico and the United States' focus on arrests and their relative lack of action against organized crime's financial structures could reflect the governments' own financial interests.  Estimates of exactly how much money drugs pump into the Mexican and US economies vary widely, and the methodology for how experts arrived at those numbers is almost never explained. However, one thing is clear: drug trafficking is one of Mexico's most important industries, and through money laundering, it comprises a significant percentage of Mexico's gross domestic product (GDP).  This is not just the case in Mexico: the United Nations argues that drug money kept the global banking system afloat during the worst of the financial crisis.  As banks lost over a trillion dollars in toxic assets and bad loans, "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities," claims Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "There were signs that some banks were rescued that way." 

The drug war's financial contradictions have led some governments to re-evaluate their prohibitionist policies. Just as in the 1920s when the United States government decided that the prohibition of alcohol contributed to the creation of wealthy mafias, some local governments are asking themselves if they would have more success regulating and taxing marijuana rather than outright prohibiting it.

In January 2009, in the midst of speculation that Mexico's drug war violence would spill over into the US, the El Paso, Texas, City Council unanimously voted to initiate a debate over the decriminalization of some drugs. 

In 2009, four former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil called for legalizing marijuana.  "The focus on prohibition has generated serious human and social problems as violence and corruption increase in the region,” said former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. “A realistic evaluation of these policies shows that there has been no reduction in production nor in the consumption of drugs. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating illicit drugs.”  Calderon's two immediate predecessors, Ernesto Zedillo and fellow party member Vicente Fox, joined the call for legalization.  

California might put the former presidents' advice into practice: this coming November, voters will decide on a referendum that, if passed, will legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use.  The chairwoman of California's State Board of Equity, Betty Yee, estimates that taxing marijuana consumption could bring in an additional $1.3 billion per year in taxes for her state.  With his state facing critical budget shortfalls, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the press, "I think it's time for a debate.  I think of all those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always open for a debate on it."  Legalizing marijuana would reduce the burden on California's overflowing prison system, and at the same time would bring in extra revenue in taxes.

California's legalization move would arguably shift production for that state's consumers almost entirely into California. This would cut into Mexican DTOs' profits, who reportedly derive between 50-65% of their profits from marijuana. 
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Monday, March 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Your Average Protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winners and Losers in the "Narco Protests"

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

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

The Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Losers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally from Narco News:

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are All 755 Operation Xcellerator Suspects Really Sinaloa Cartel Members?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Narco News:
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mariano Herran Salvatti, Former Mexican Drug Tsar and Chiapas Attorney General, Arrested

Herran Salvatti boasts a public service career allegedly filled with embezzlement, drug money, human rights violations, and impunity

On January 24, the Chiapas state government arrested former federal drug tsar Mariano Herran Salvatti for embezzlement. Additional charges and accusations--ranging from links to drug cartels to torture of political prisoners--continue to pile up.

Another Drug Tsar on the Sinaloa Cartel Payroll?

When the Mexican federal government arrested drug tsar Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo in 1997 for his ties to the Juarez cartel, it needed a trustworthy, incorruptible man to take his place. It chose Mariano Herran Salvatti. Then-Attorney General Jorge Madrazo told the press that Herran Salvatti had been rigorously vetted, passing drug, character, and lie detector tests, as well as a review of his finances. The US Embassy, the DEA, and then-drug tsar for the US, Barry McCaffrey, reportedly blessed the nomination.

Wishing to turn over a new leaf, the Mexican government closed the anti-drug agency Guiterrez Rebollo led, the National Institute for Combating Drugs (INCD), and opened a new agency under Herran Salvatti: the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Health (FEADS). During the three short years Herran Salvatti ran FEADS, it too became mired in corruption scandals.

Shortly after Herran Salvatti left his post at FEADS in 2000, Mexico’s daily El Universal reported[1] that officials from the German Embassy in Mexico accused Herran Salvatti, the late Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos[2], and Jorge Espejel Contreras, of embezzling USD$750,000. The German Embassy gave FEADS the money while Herran Salvatti was at its helm in order to purchase “interception equipment” to combat drug trafficking. Embassy officials Federic Koch and Stephan Koop told El Universal that the piece of equipment the FEADS officials claimed they purchased with the money was worn out and obviously used.

Herran Salvatti’s name has also come up in Operation Clean-Up, the Mexican government’s latest purge of officials allegedly on cartels’ payrolls. Mexico’s weekly national magazine Proceso reports that Roberto Garcia Garcia, a former soldier from the Mexican military's High Command Special Forces Airmobile Group who was also caught in Operation Clean-Up but turned state’s witness, has testified that Beltran Leyva operative Jose Antonio Cueto Lopez[3] told him that high-ranking Sinaloa cartel operative Rey Zambada Garcia[4] gave FEADS administrative coordinator Hiram Gonzalez money, part of which was to be used to pay Herran Salvatti.

Proceso also reports that Herran Salvatti and then-Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar were the first to incorporate the military into the war on drugs. In 1997, the two requested that soldiers from the military’s High Command Special Forces Airmobile Group be assigned to FEADS to help the agency in its fight against drug trafficking. Famously, a significant number of these elite US-trained soldiers deserted their FEADS assignments and formed Los Zetas to become the Gulf cartel’s private military. Seemingly concerned about possible connections between Los Zetas and Herran Salvatti, the Chiapas government installed police checkpoints around the state following the arrest “as a preventative action, because an attack by Los Zetas is feared,” reports Excelsior.

FEADS closed in January 2003 when the military raided its offices in response to widespread corruption; the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO) took its place in August of that year and continues to be the nation’s main anti-drug agency.

While the accuracy of some of Operation Clean-Up’s depositions are in question, Chiapas District Attorney Luis Alberto Martínez Medina says he’s found hard evidence of Herran Salvatti’s relationship with organized crime. On January 31, the district attorney obtained and verified the authenticity of a 22-page document hand-written by Herran Salvatti from his Chiapas prison cell and sent to his brother, Oscar Herran Salvatti. The document reportedly solicits help from government officials, ex-officials, businessmen, journalists, ex-governors, religious leaders, and family members to negotiate his release and help him economically.

The document also has a message for people whom the Chiapas Attorney General’s Office refers to as “suspected members of organized crime.” In the document, Herran Salvatti sends a message to ex-commissioner of the Federal Judicial Police (the federal police department that was shut down in 2002 due to pervasive corruption related to organized crime) to “tell your friends that I am selling them my soul, knowledge, wisdom, and contacts in exchange for being out [of jail]; they are familiar with how.” The attorney general’s office says the document was found during a raid on one of Herran Salvatti’s properties. It says that it will open another investigation into “the suspected crime of attempted escape from prison, criminal association, and whatever else arises” from the information gleaned from the document.

Embezzlement in Chiapas

Despite Herran Salvatti’s appearance in Operation Clean-Up depositions, the federal government has thus far not made any moves to arrest him. It was the Chiapas state government who put Herran Salvatti behind bars last week and began raids on his estimated forty properties.

Herran Salvatti, a Chiapas native, stands accused of illegal exercise of public service, embezzlement, malfeasance, misuse of funds, and conspiracy against the state patrimony. The conspiracy charge makes Herran Salvatti ineligible for bail. The accusations stem from multiple incidents that occurred while Herran Salvatti served as Chiapas State Attorney General and later as the state’s Minister of Economy.

The Chiapas government originally arrested Herran Salvatti for embezzling six million pesos (approximately USD$408,000) from a local business development fund during his seven-month stint as Minister of Economy in late 2007 and 2008. Herran Salvatti allegedly wrote himself 2 million peso checks.

Herran Salvatti was fired from the Ministry of Economy on June 5, 2008, over another embezzlement scandal. $170 million pesos (about eleven million dollars) from Chiapas’ “Fund Against Organized Crime” went unaccounted for under his watch as State Attorney General during 2000-2007. The state reports that its investigation revealed a lack of documentation proving and justifying expenditures, inappropriate expenses, and failure to comply with acquisitions regulations. Herran Salvatti’s finance coordinator in the attorney general’s office, Gabriel Salcedo Torres, was detained after the state congress discovered the discrepancy during an audit. Herran Salvatti had managed to stay out of prison up until now thanks to a court injunction.

Luxury and Guns

The Chiapas government says that Herran Salvatti owns forty properties around the country—so many, in fact, that it still hasn’t raided all of them. The government has not explained how it can protect and guarantee the integrity of any evidence that might be found in the remaining properties.

The properties the government has raided thus far have painted a picture of extreme wealth. In just one of Herran Salvatti’s ranches, investigators found twenty thoroughbred horses valued between thirty and forty thousand dollars apiece. In his other properties they recovered receipts for 23 automobiles and diamond-encrusted jewelry. Herran Salvatti also owns a rodeo arena, a private zoo with endangered species, a shooting range with moving targets.

The police also found nineteen firearms in multiple Herran Salvatti properties, including unregistered weapons and weapons that are designated under Mexican law as exclusively for military use. The illegal weapons are: a 9mm Intratek submachine gun, a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber pistol, and an FMJ .45 caliber pistol. Possession of these weapons is a federal crime. The Chiapas Attorney General’s Office says that a federal prosecutor will likely charge Herran Salvatti with the crimes of arms dealing and possession of weapons and explosives.

Political Prisoners

The long list of Herran Salvatti’s alleged misdeeds doesn’t end at embezzlement, supporting drug cartels, and unlawful firearms possession. In 2008, the Chiapas state government released over 140 political prisoners after reviewing their cases.[5] Many of them were imprisoned while Herran Salvatti was attorney general. Herran Salvatti is not currently facing charges related to the many human rights abuses that occurred in Chiapas under his watch, but the accusations and evidence against him are overwhelming.

While Herran Salvatti did not directly intervene in many of these cases, Frayba director Diego Cadenas Gordillo points out that the former attorney general can be held legally responsible for the injustices if they are due to his “action or omission [failure to act].” In some cases, Herran Salvatti is accused of actively participating in the violation of the suspects’ human rights. In other cases, Herran Salvatti did not directly oversee the miscarriages of justice, but he did nothing to intervene when his office violated citizens’ human rights. Either way, Cadenas Gordillo says, Herran Salvatti is responsible under criminal law.

Some of the many accusations against Herran Salvatti accuse him in directly and actively participating in human rights abuses. Former political prisoner Julio César Pérez Ruiz, who was accused of murdering former Chiapas governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia’s godmother, says Herran Salvatti was present while authorities tortured him. Pérez Ruiz was released for lack of evidence after serving six years of his sentence. Jose Pérez Pérez, another political prisoner who is serving a 32-year sentence for homicide, makes the same claim.

Herran Salvatti also allegedly fabricated evidence to repress social movements. In 2003, normalistas (students training to teach in rural schools) from the Normal Teneria in Mexico State traveled to Chiapas in solidarity with the Normal Mactumactza to protest the lack of available teaching positions for the Chiapan normalistas after graduation. The driver of the bus transporting the Teneria normalistas was shot and killed during the protest. The students say a Dodge Ram stopped alongside the bus and shot the driver. While ballistics tests determined the gunshot entered the bus from outside, Herran Salvatti held a press conference saying the driver had been shot from inside the bus, and that the students had shot him. “He did this with the goal of criminalizing protest,” Cadenas Gordillo says.

Herran Salvatti also implemented policies that led to human rights abuses. Frayba, for example, has long criticized the practice of arraigo, or a form of administrative detention that places a detainee who has not yet been convicted of a crime under travel restrictions or house arrest, or the detainee is held in what is known as a “security house” while the case is investigated.[6] Cadenas Gordillo points out that Herran Salvatti abused arraigo, preferring to keep detainees in security houses rather than under house arrest. There, detainees were “isolated from their families, isolated from their lawyers, surrounded by police. We have testimony from people who say they were physically and psychologically tortured during arraigo,” says Cadenas Gordillo. “They’re under constant pressure in order to break their spirit. Many confessions have came out after long periods of detention under arraigo. Cadenas Gordillo says the practice of abusing arraigo is something Herran Salvatti was known for during his term as federal drug tsar, and that he brought it with him to Chiapas when he became the state’s attorney general.

In other cases, Herran Salvatti did nothing to intervene when human rights organizations and the media brought travesties of justice to his attention. Under Herran Sarvatti, the district attorney’s office, which is part of the attorney general’s office and answers to the attorney general, often put indigenous defendants on trial without interpreters or lawyers. Frayba has documented numerous cases of indigenous detainees being tortured or mistreated while in the district attorney’s custody. “Detainees would state to judges that they were tortured by the district attorney, and neither the judge nor the district attorney would carry out an investigation,” Cadenas Gordillo says.

Herran Salvatti’s office’s eventually imprisoned so many political dissidents that it sparked a statewide movement for the freedom of political prisoners—a movement initiated and organized from within the prisons and led by prisoners themselves. On January 28, 2003, the Attorney General’s Office issued arrest warrants falsely accusing Paraje Tres Cruces residents Candelario Heredia Hernández, Pascual Heredia y Enrique Hernández Hernández of murdering two people. Cadenas Gordillo says they were political dissidents from the community. The local government—run by the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), of which Herran Salvatti was also a member—accused the men of homicide, and Herran Salvatti’s office issued the warrants without further investigation.

In order to execute the arrest warrants, the Attorney General’s Office carried out a poorly planned operation that included agents from the State Investigation Agency (the AEI which is the Attorney General’s police force), local police, and civilians from the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Indigenous Justice. The local PRI members told the Attorney General’s Office that Zapatistas were present in the community, leading the officials planning the operation to utilize a disproportionate number of agents who were heavily armed, and excessive force.

Witnesses say that the police surrounded a house in Tres Cruces. One nervous police officer’s gun went off, causing the other police to open fire. Because they had formed a circle around the house, their bullets struck other officers who were positioned on the other side of the house.

Five people died in the operation: Gregorio Heredia Hernández, a young town resident, and four police officers who were killed by their colleagues’ crossfire. Residents Candelario Heredia Hernández, Pascual Heredia Hernández, Mariano Heredia Gómez, Enrique Hernández Hernández, and Zacario Hernández were blamed for the deaths. During the subsequent investigation, officials excluded some evidence, including a re-enactment of the incident. Frayba requested permission to visit the scene of the crime to investigate, but local officials denied the request, and the state district attorney’s office upheld that decision. All of the defendants except Candelario were imprisoned.

In a statement released on the sixth anniversary of the massacre, Frayba states: “The Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Indigenous Justice, which at that time was headed by Isidro Gomez Entzin and answered to Herran Salvatti’s State Attorney General’s Office, was who ordered the operation and altered the evidence against the indigenous Tsotsiles in order to cover up these crimes with the cover of impunity.” Cadenas Gordillo elaborates: “From the decision to plan the operation to when the district attorney concluded the investigation, Mariano Herran Salvatti had to know about it. And he had to have said how things would be done.”

On February 12, 2008, Zacario Hernandez declared a hunger strike to demand his freedom. Almost forty other prisoners from jails around the state joined him, declaring, “Dead or alive, they will release us from prison because we don’t belong here.” Others fasted and set up protest encampments inside the prisons. As a result of the protests both within and outside of the prisons, over 140 prisoners were released, including Hernandez and his co-defendants. Herran Salvatti had imprisoned many of them.

Following the prisoners’ release, the Chiapas state congress called upon Herran Salvatti to testify during an investigation of systemic “irregularities” that resulted in their unjust imprisonment. At the time, Chiapas Minister of Justice Amador Rodríguez Lozano told the press that “sooner or later” the law would catch up with those who sent many innocent people to jail by fabricating evidence. Nothing came of the investigation.

Many of the political prisoners Herran Salvatti jailed are still being held in El Amate, the Chiapas prison where Herran Salvatti currently resides. El Amate is where the successful prisoner hunger strike began, and it is the home of the strongest political prisoner movement in the state. Prison officials are holding Herran Salvatti in a special area of the prison away from general population for fear that the people he falsely imprisoned (and who have endured severe beatings during their prison terms, both at the hands of prison guards as well as prisoners who work for prison authorities) might exact revenge.

The El Amate political prisoners, however, don’t appear to be interested in revenge. They want justice and freedom. In an open letter following Herran Salvatti’s arrest, the prisoners state: “We declare that not only should he [Herran Salvatti] be investigated and tried for the crimes he committed in the Ministry of Economy such as illicit enrichment and embezzlement; he should also be investigated and tried for all of the acts of humiliation and arbitrary detentions he committed when he was the state’s attorney general. The way we see it, the most important thing is that justice be done for all of us who were imprisoned and who have been charged with made-up crimes, and where his prosecutors and district attorneys who, under his orders, invented our crimes and put together the dossiers which are now the basis for keeping us here kidnapped, and many already sentenced.”

Not Just Another Bad Apple: It’s a “Vicious Cycle”

Despite the numerous accusations of human rights violations (Proceso writes “hundreds”) Cadenas Gordillo stresses that Herran Salvatti was not the worst attorney general Chiapas has ever seen; he unfortunately wasn’t even out of the ordinary by Chiapas standards. “There have always been human rights violations, the attorney generals have always used the law to punish dissidence.”

Current governor Juan Sabines, who imprisoned Herran Salvatti on January 24 and freed over 140 political prisoners in 2008, is not extraordinary either. “[Former governor] Pablo Salazar[7], for example, freed over one hundred political prisoners at the beginning of his term. Many of them were self-identified as members of the EZLN. Herran Salvatti was present when they were released and almost certainly helped find the legal instruments necessary to free them. It appeared to be an act of good will. [But] it’s part of a vicious cycle. There are laws…that exist in order to free the previous administration’s political prisoners. Freeing political prisoners gives the administration the opportunity to negotiate with the prisoners’ organizations, and in many cases to subjugate them. The government uses this to maintain its power.”

Cadenas Gordillo argues that under the human rights rubric, former governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia and Chiapas state legislators can be held “objectively responsible” for having nominated and ratified Herran Salvatti as attorney general. “If Pablo Salazar and the [state] congress were aware of criminal human rights violations committed by Herran Salvatti, and if they had done something to stop those violations or crimes when they were being committed or in a timely manner, they wouldn’t have been responsible for those crimes and all of the others that he committed afterwards.” Cadenas Gordillo says Salazar and the state legislators can’t claim they weren’t aware of Herran Salvatti’s alleged crimes: “Many of the human rights violations and crimes that Herran Salvatti committed were made public…in the media. The Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center has always publicly decried the human rights violations and abuse of authority that have occurred over the course of various administrations—not just those committed under Pablo Salazar and Herran Salvatti.”

While Herran Salvatti’s crimes are not extraordinary by Chiapas standards, an investigation into the human rights abuses he committed are not likely to go beyond his former boss, Gov. Salazar—and it may not even reach that far. Cadenas Gordillo points to a legal loophole that may shield other politicians from going down with Herran Salvatti for “objective responsibility” for his actions.

In Mexico, re-elections and multiple terms are extremely rare and almost always prohibited by law. In Chiapas, Salazar attempted to maintain his power even after he was out of office. Before leaving office, Salazar changed the laws governing the Attorney General’s Office in order to allow multiple terms for Attorney Generals and to give the Attorney General’s Office autonomy from the governor—meaning that the governor was no longer legally responsible for Herran Salvatti’s policies and actions. Salazar’s successor, current governor Juan Sabines, inherited both Herran Salvatti and indemnity for his actions.


[1] Miguel Badillo, El Universal, November 25, 2000. Cited in Ricardo Revalo, Proceso #1683.

[2] Vasconcelos died along with Minister of the Interior Juan Camilo Mouriño in an airplane crash in Mexico City’s financial district on November 4, 2008. The government has ruled the crash an accident due to pilot error.

[3] Cueto is a former federal police officer who later allegedly became the Beltran Leyva organization’s recruiter of and link to officials in the Federal Attorney General’s Office

[4] Rey Zambada Garcia is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada’s brother. “El Mayo” is one of the leading drug barons in the Sinaloa cartel.

[5] While the government says the reviews found irregularities, injustices, and insufficient or fabricated evidence that were substantial enough to overrule the prisoners’ convictions, the government released the prisoners on parole rather than exonerating them outright. This obligated the indigenous prisoners to travel from their communities to the Chiapas capital every week to fulfill parole requirements.

[6] Arraigo has long been criticized by national and international human rights organizations as an instrument that violates due process. A Mexican court declared arraigo unconstitutional. However, while the recent judicial reform that intensified Mexico’s two-track legal system technically did away with arraigo for most crimes, it maintains the practice in cases that involve organized crime. Mexico’s broad definition of organized crime and its pervasive drug war have kept arraigo a fairly common practice despite the reform.

[7] Salazar appointed Herran Salvatti to the Attorney General’s Office.

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