Sunday, May 30, 2010

US Border Patrol Leaves Mexican Brain Dead

Update: Anastasio Hernández Rojas died on May 31, 2010, of a heart attack.  Family members had complained that US authorities impeded their ability to visit him in the hospital and that they were having troubles getting permission to bring a priest to visit him.

From Revista EMET: "The dead migrant's brother, Pedro Pablo Hernández, said that when they were detained by immigration agents, an officer kicked him in the chest while he was seated on the ground handcuffed.  Anastacio tried to defend him.

35-year-old Anastasio Hernández Rojas resisted deportation through Puerta Mexico, Tijuana, so about twenty Border Patrol officers subdued him with beatings and electrical shock, leaving him unconscious.

by Julieta Martínez, El Universal

US doctors have diagnosed the Mexican migrant who was beaten by twenty Border Patrol agents as brain dead.  The Border Patrol agents beat him on Friday night when he tried to resist being deported through Puerta Mexico.

The man was identified as 35-year-old Anastasio Hernández Rojas.

According to witnesses, the incident occurred a few meters from the entrance to Tijuana, where he was waiting to be repatriated.

A border agent subdued him with a beating and electrical shocks, and later other officers joined in on the "punishment."  They kicked him until he was unconscious, according to witnesses. 

In a press release, the Border Patrol justified the incident, claiming that Hernández Rojas attacked one of its agents and did not obey the order to stop, which is why the again "had" to subdue him in order to control him.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but the man did no respond and was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital.

A woman who was crossing into Tijuana alerted agents from the [Mexican] National Migration Institute that they were "practically killing a person," but the Mexican  officers could not intervene because the incident occurred out of their sight and they could only hear their countryman's cries for help.

The young man managed to crawl to Puerta Mexico, where the immigration agents and other people could witness the attack. 

Desperate, the witnesses screamed that they stop beating him.  The attack continued until the man stopped moving.

Personnel from the Mexican Consulate General in San Diego who went to Scripps Memorial Hospital confirmed Hernández Rojas' identity. 


American Friends Service Committee's national commissioner on migration, Christian Ramírez, condemned the act as "brutal," excessive force, and abuse of authority.

He said that the Mexican government ought to energetically protest so that incidents like these don't continue to happen.

He said that cases of police abuse and attacks are very frequent in San Diego and other parts of the country, and that it doesn't just affect undocumented migrants, but also people who legally reside in the United States.

Many other incidents of this sort that have resulted in someone's death have remained unpunished because the authorities who carried out the attack are the same ones who investigate it.

US Border Patrol Beats, Electrocutes Mexican Migrant, Causing Brain Damage

Anastasio Hernández Rojas suffered electrical shocks at the hands of about 20 US border agents until he lost consciousness and was left with brain damage

by Julieta Martínez, El Universal

Relatives of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, the Mexican who was beaten and suffered electrical shocks at the hands of twenty border agents until he lost consciousness and was left with brain damage, will travel to the United States to assess his situation.

Authorities in the neighboring country detained Hernández Rojas' brother, who was also waiting to be deported through Puerta México.  Both had crossed to the other side of the border without documents on Friday morning.

The aggression occurred during the night that same day, when the 35-year-old man supposedly tried to resist repatriation. 

The Border Patrol justified the incident, stating that Hernández Rojas had started a fight with an agent on the force, which is why he had to be submitted in order to "protect" the officer.

According to witnesses, the beating began in the deportation area, which can't be seen from the Mexican side, but a woman who was crossing into Mexico alerted National Migration Institute agents on the Mexican side that "they were nearly killing a person."

Anastasio crawled to where he could be seen from Mexican territory, and US agents followed him.  In front of dozens of people who were in Mexico, they kicked him and shocked him until he stopped yelling and moving. 

The young man was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista where he remains unconscious and in grave condition.

A complaint will be filed in Washington

The American Friends Service Committee's national commissioner of Immigration Affairs, Christian Ramírez, expressed his indignation at acts he called "barbarous." 

He said that he will file a formal complaint with the United States Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department for alleged police brutality.

He said he is waiting on a report from the San Diego Police Department to add to the complaint he'll bring to Washington.

The the attack against Hernández Rojas is a priority because it demonstrates a violent and hostile climate against the migrant community, he said.

He warned that this could be a result of the recently enacted anti-immigrant laws and that the international community should be concerned because the intent to militarize the border is also moving forward. 

The Mexican Consulate General in San Diego also decried the act and requested witnesses' cooperation in providing testimony and more agents investigating the case.

He confirmed that the Mexican was subdued with violence, "taking into account that this is about what appears to be a case of disproportionate use of force committed by, allegedly, agents from the Border Patrol and US Customs and Border Protection."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dear Government Officials: Today Someone Shot Up a Middle School From a Helicopter, and It's All Your Fault

Update: I had originally said that the attack appeared to be perpetrated by organized crime based on initial reports.  It now appears as though the helicopter in question was actually a Mexican military helicopter.  However, the government is calling the witnesses liars and says the helicopter never opened fire on the school.  It claims that "civilians" firing on each other caught the kids in the crossfire.  But this wouldn't be the first time the government invents narco shoot-outs to cover up for the military when it shoots kids for no good reason.

"Unidentified subjects" in a helicopter reportedly opened fire today on middle school students in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  Thirteen-year-old Daniela Oyervidez was wounded in the attack.  She is in fourth grade.

If this story even makes the international press, pundits and government officials from both Mexico and the United States will use this horrendous crime as an example of why the war on drugs must continue at all costs: because our children's lives are at risk. 

I just want to point out one small detail: attacks like this didn't happen before Calderon deployed the military to fight the war on drugs, and they didn't happen before the US decided to enable Calderon with the Merida Initiative.  To the pro-war pundits and government officials, I want to tell you this: little Daniela is in the hospital with a bullet wound, and it is your fault.  Your children don't die in the crossfire.  They don't die because poverty drove them to deal drugs on street corners or to enlist in the military because unemployment is at an all-time high.  It's easy for you to wage this war because you don't feel the consequences.  Maybe your children are coke addicts, but we, the journalists, the young, the poor, we die in this war because you have this perverse idea that record-breaking human rights abuses and execution rates means more "security."

Do you really think this war is winnable?  What does "winning" mean to you?  How one "wins" the war on drugs is a mystery to us, because you've never explained how you plan on ridding the world of illegal drugs.  We can't imagine a happy ending to this war.

You won't win this war because you don't want to win this war.  You're having too much fun lining the defense industry's pockets.  You arm both sides (as if there really were "sides" in this war).  And you make a killing selling them weapons and armored vehicles and tanks and helicopters and the latest intelligence equipment. 

And the drugs flow across the border unabated.  And laundered money flows into the banks.  We all know drug money is the only thing propping up the global economy during the economic crisis: the UN has said so two years in a row.   You, Mr. Calderón and Mr. Obama, have no financial incentive to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.  On the contrary, you'd be shooting yourselves in the foot economically.  Even you, Mr. Calderón.  Mexico has lost a lot of tourism dollars because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation, but drugs pump nearly four times as much money into the Mexican economy, and you know it.

But you have all the incentive in the world to perpetuate the war, because both countries' defense industries--the arms manufacturers and dealers, the private contractors--are making a killing (literally), and your economies still profit from laundered drug money. It's a win-win situation for you.

Meanwhile, Mexico is headed down the path to becoming the next Colombia, where narcos become presidents and innocent people have been dying for so long that now it's a normal part of life.  I hope you're happy with the hell on Earth you've created.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Copala Autonomous Leader and His Wife Assassinated

by Kristin Bricker

Timoteo Alejandro Ramirez and his wife Cleriberta Castro were found dead in their home today, according to San Juan Copala's blog.  Contralinea reports that the perpetrators are "hitmen from MULT," the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle.  Neighbors saw an armed commando that they say works for MULT in the area around the time of the killing.

Ramirez was a "natural leader" of the Yosoyuxi neighborhood, which forms part of the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.  According to indigenous customs, "natural leaders" are those who don't propose themselves as leaders; the community chooses them because of their long record of community service.

San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the 2006 peaceful uprising that nearly overthrew Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  It threw out all political parties and organizations and governs itself through traditional indigenous governance, known in Mexico as "uses and customs."  The autonomous project initially enjoyed support amongst the rank-and-file of some of the political organizations that operate in the zone.  However, some organizations' leaders, concerned that they would lose power if the autonomous project moved forward, actively and violently opposed the project.  Those leaders who supported autonomy were quickly replaced by people who were sympathetic to the political parties.

San Juan Copala made international headlines last month when alleged members of the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT) opened fire on an international aid caravan headed to the besieged community.  Mexican social leader Bety Cariño and Finnish observor Jyri Jaakkola died in the attack. The caravan was bring food, clothing, water, and medicine to San Juan Copala, which UBISORT paramilitaries have blockaded since January.  No one can enter or leave the community, and the paramilitaries cut off electricity and running water.

The intense international outrage that followed the caravan attack did nothing to stem the violence.  Two weeks after the attack, UBISORT paramilitaries kidnapped six Triqui women, five children, and a baby when they snuck out of Copala to purchase food in the market of the nearby town of Juxtlahuaca. The Oaxaca state government and the Oaxaca State Human Rights Commission refused to accompany the woman back to San Juan Copala to ensure their safe passage.

San Juan Copala has called for a second, larger international caravan to the autonomous municipality on June 8.

First photo: Courtesy of Contralinea.
Second photo: by Heriberto Rodriguez.  Timoteo Alejandro Ramirez talks to Oaxacan state police.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Politician’s Disappearance Raises Questions About Mexico’s Security Strategy

by Kristin Bricker

A much shorter version of this article appears on the Security Sector Reform Centre's blog.

The presumed kidnapping of Diego “The Boss” Fernández de Cevallos, one of Mexico’s most powerful politicians, has put Mexico’s security crisis in the international spotlight yet again.

The Mexican government hasn’t officially classified de Cevallos’ disappearance as a kidnapping. However, the fact that his car was found abandoned on his ranch with traces of blood and signs of struggle has lead his family to plea that his “captors” make contact in order to negotiate his release. At the time of writing, it is unknown if de Cevallos is alive or dead.

The crime itself isn’t shocking—kidnappings are all-too-common in Mexico. Nor would de Cevallos be the first politician to fall victim to violent crime—several local politicians have been killed or attacked in recent weeks as the country prepares for interim elections. What sets this crime apart from others is that the victim is one of the most powerful men in Mexico.

De Cevallos, a member of the President’s National Action Party (PAN), is rumored to be one of the main leaders of the Yunque, a secret ultraconservative Catholic organization that reportedly took control of the PAN in the 1970s and continues to direct its political agenda. He was the PAN’s presidential candidate in 1994 and has served four terms in Congress: one term in the Senate and three in the Chamber of Deputies. His associates and pupils hold key positions in President Felipe Calderón’s cabinet and the Supreme Court. De Cevallos’ law firm was key in blocking a recount in the hotly contested 2006 presidential election, which President Calderón is widely accused of having stolen from opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Between 1994 and 1997, the Mexican government investigated his law firm for having represented companies linked to the Juarez drug cartel: a private hospital that performed drug kingpins’ plastic surgeries, a funeral home that held burial services for deceased kingpin Amado Carrillo, and a front company that the cartel used to launder money.

While it hasn’t been confirmed that a drug trafficking organization (DTO) kidnapped de Cevallos, his disappearance has provoked questions about the future of Mexico’s war on drugs.

Ardelio Vargas Fosado, president of the Mexican Congress’ National Defense Commission, told the press “This act marks a turning point. Surely the way we are handling public security and domestic security will have to change… There will have to be a very detailed revision of the strategy that deals with the issue of public security and the risk and threat to the country’s domestic security.”

“Change” as defined by the Calderón administration appears to mean more of the same security strategy. Calderón, reacting to the disappearance of his colleague and close personal friend, compared Mexico to Colombia in the 1980’s: “There are phases that were present in organized crime in the 80’s and the early 90’s [in Colombia] which are presenting themselves in Mexico, and fortunately we are combating them. And even though we might have phases that in their essence could appear to be similar [to those in Colombia], we are confronting them and they will probably occur faster and we can resolve them faster. What took Colombia nearly 20 years, should take us maybe five, six, seven years or less, depending on how persistent we are in our action.”

Calderón’s comparison of Mexico with Colombia is telling. While Colombia did dismantle its major DTOs such as the Cali and Medellin cartels by killing or arresting their leadership, many more boutique cartels sprung up in their place. Cocaine continues to flow from Colombia to the United States; the only difference is that now Mexican DTOs dominate the trafficking routes. Coca cultivation increased by 15% and cocaine production increased by 4% over the course of Plan Colombia, leading the US Government Accountability Office to conclude that “drug reduction goals were not fully met” despite significant US military presence and financial and tactical aid to Colombia’s military.

Mexico appears to be headed down a similar path to failure. Like Colombia, Mexico employs a military and law enforcement strategy that aims to dismantle DTOs through arrests, killings, and seizures. The US government encourages this strategy through the Mérida Initiative, an aid package that supports the Mexican military and police in the war on drugs. One of the Mérida Initiative’s two “performance measures” for Mexico is the “number of high profile drug traffickers and criminal kingpins arrested.”

As Colombia’s experience demonstrates, demand drives the drug trade. As long as there is a significant financial incentive to traffic drugs, the industry will adjust and evolve so that the product reaches the consumer. Just as the disappearance and possible murder of one of Mexico’s most powerful politicians does not in any way weaken the federal government, killing or arresting drug kingpins does not weaken the drug trafficking industry. Just like the government, DTOs adjust to new circumstances and new people step up to fill gaps left by deaths, arrests, and disappearances. And the war continues unabated.

Regardless of how many kingpins the Mexican government kills or extradites to the United States, the industry has accommodated. Since Calderón deployed the military in late 2006 to fight the war on drugs, drug seizures have decreased and drug production has increased in Mexico. Meanwhile, the security situation has deteriorated rapidly. Over the same period, human rights violations committed by the military increased six-fold. The murder rate has increased dramatically every year since 2006, with a total of 22,700 drug war-related deaths. Ciudad Juarez is now considered to be the “murder capital of the world,” and Tijuana is deadlier than Baghdad.

The problem with Mexico’s security strategy is that it simply doesn’t have one. Neither Calderón nor the US government have clearly defined the goals that guide the drug war. Is the goal to decrease drug trafficking-related deaths? The opposite is occurring. Is the goal to completely eliminate the flow of drugs into the United States? That is impossible. Is the goal to reduce the flow of drugs into the United States? If so, exactly how much “reduction” is enough to send the military back to its barracks?

In the absence of a clear set of goals and an endgame scenario, the war on drugs appears to be a never-ending crusade. Up until now, the powerful politicians that wage this war have been immune to its effects. But, as one Mexican magazine wrote in response to de Cevallos’ disappearance, “The ruling party is beginning to harvest that which it has so dedicatedly sowed, because ‘they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.’”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Punishment of San Juan Copala

by Zósimo Camacho, Contralinea
photos by Julio César Hernández

The reorganization of paramilitary groups in the Triqui region began after the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) movement.  The construction of the autonomous municipality was seen by the local political bosses and by sectors of the state government as a declaration of war.  The reprimand is directed at the Triquis who thought they could be "autonomous."

Santiago Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca.   Rufino Juárez Hernández, president of the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), walks down the streets of this municipal seat without being bothered.  On the contrary, he decides when to talk to the commanders who come from Huajuapan de León to transfer the bodies and the bullet-ridden and plundered automobiles, which were victims of the ambush this past April 27 in the vicinity of the La Sabana community, one of the few communities that his organization, affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), still controls.

It would seem that Juárez Hernández is a peer or a superior of the commanders of the State Investigation Agency (AEI), Lázaro Hernández Rendón and Rodrigo Peralta Mejía.  Not a single police investigator nor commander nor public prosecutor questions Rufino Juárez about his participation in the ambush against the peace caravan, despite the fact that the victims accuse him of being the intellectual author of the murders, and that he has publicly declared himself to be the leader of the UBISORT, the organization that has put the Triqui culture's most important political and ceremonial community, San Juan Copala, under siege.

Nor did agents from the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN, the federal government's domestic security agency) reproach him, nor did members of the Mexican Army's second section, which is deployed in the zone.  Some pretend not to see him; others watch him pass without questioning him at all.  All this, despite the fact that Rufino is armed, and four of his bodyguards don't even bother to hide their rifles and shotguns under their long leather coats that reach their knees.

The Consequences of Autonomy

No one remembers a shootout in this municipal seat.  The complex agreements between the conflicting sides in the Triqui region have managed to keep this tiny city of less than ten thousand residents in peace.  The municipal seat is located less than 100 kilometers from the heart of the dispute, San Juan Copala, which its residents declared an autonomous municipality in January 2007.

The construction of Triqui autonomy set off two simultaneous processes: one the one hand, an ethnic cohesion that hadn't been seen in decades.  In 2007, for the first time in over 30 years, the most important Triqui holiday, known as the "third Friday" or carnival, was held in San Juan Copala by members of all of the organizations that have been at odds: the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT), the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULTI), UBISORT, and members of the National Peasant Federation (CNC).

The other process that was set off was the rearming of the leaders who felt displaced by the new autonomous authorities.

"The Mexican State benefits more than anyone else when the Triqui are fighting amongst themselves.  But the region's political and economic bosses also benefit.  It is about the powerful families in the cities of Putla, Juxtlahuaca, and Tlaxiaco," explains lawyer and Metropolitan Autonomous University postgraduate investigator Francisco López Bárcenas.

According to the author of San Juan Copala: Dominación Política y Resistencia Popular (San Juan Copala: Political Domination and Popular Resistance), the violence that the Triqui people are experiencing has been imposed and exacerbated by outside forces.

"The Triquis' lands and harvests have been coveted: coffee, banana, and corn.  And they've suffered from a very strong distain and racism: everyone knows that they can be killed and nothing will happen.  And they have generated very strong resistance and pride."

The postgraduate investigator explains that the political bosses from nearby cities say that the Triquis are violent and murderers, "but they don't say that they sell them weapons;" they say that they are lazy, "but because they don't work for them;" and they say they are ignorant, but not "that the political bosses have always opposed the entrance of teachers in Triqui communities."

The creation of the autonomous municipality broke up the MULT and UBISORT organizations.  When it became about an ethnicity that groups itself into clans, dozens of families, neighborhoods, and entire communities abandoned the organizations to which they had belonged for decades and joined the autonomous municipality.  The organization that resolutely pushed for autonomy was the MULTI.  As López Bárcenas explains, the autonomous Triquis' inspiration and discourse was Zapatista, but "the example and the practical experience" was the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

The Triqui Organizations

The UBISORT almost disappeared.  It remained in small communities: La Sabana, where the peace caravan was attacked, barely ten kilometers from San Juan Copala, and Unión Los Ángeles.  It also has some sympathizers in Tilapa.  It is estimated that, in total, its members don't add up to more than 300.  The UBISORT is now supported almost exclusively by its weapons.  It isn't a secret that the three main organizations are armed with AK-47s.  The difference is that the UBISORT is trained, has more weapons, and enjoys the alleged complicity of local political bosses and Gov. Ulises Ruiz's state government.  The organization was created in October 1994 in order to contain the influence of the Zapatistas who had taken up arms in Chiapas.

After a scattering that it managed to stop with assemblies, concessions, threats, and confrontations, the MULT preserved itself as the largest organization of the Triqui people.  It is comprised of approximately 22 communities and has about seven thousand members.

The organization that pushed for Triqui autonomy, after having joined the APPO in 2006, was the MULTI.  It is made up of ten communities, one of them being San Juan Copala.  It has about 3,500 members.

Finally, there are those who belong to the PRI, but not through UBISORT, but through the CNC.  It is basically one community, El Carrizal, and minority members in other communities.  They aren't more than 500 people.

The Paramilitary Siege

In the zone, all Triquis belong to an organization.  Affiliation is by clan.  Even though ideological discourse is present, everything is subordinated to family ties.  If a grandfather decides to belong to an organization, he does it along with his children's families.

In Mexico there are 30,000 Triquis.  Only about 15,000 of them are found in their region.  Due to violence and poverty, the other half have moved their residences to Mexico City and Hermosillo, Sonora, and other states in the country.  Others have migrated to the United States.

The paramilitary siege on San Juan Copala was installed on November 28, 2009.  Since then, there is no market, and merchandise is not easily obtained.  UBISORT also cut the telephone and power lines.  The schools are closed.  Even the Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples, a federal agency, closed its offices in the town.  The only ones who didn't abandon the community were the nuns from the Copala diocese, who maintain a boarding school for local children.

"Things are really difficult there.  People can't leave the town because they shoot at them.  There's nothing to eat," explains Victor Castillo, a member of MULTI and sympathizer of the autonomous municipality.

"And how does the community survive?"

"The compas have figured out ways..."

The Echo Chamber

The news about the ambushes, the confrontations, the executions, and the revenge rarely hit the pages of the local and national newspapers.  Even more rarely do they appear in online media.  But Triquis, nu'saavi, and mestizos from Juxtlahuaca always know what's going on in the brush above.

The main plaza, the market, and taxi stands are the great eyes and ears where even the antagonist organizations can exchange messages.  And, like the drug trafficking organizations, they have halcones who inform them of who arrives and who leaves the municipal seat.  Rufino Juárez has an organization of market vendors, two taxi stands, and guards positioned around the town hall and in businesses in the city's outskirts.  When a person or group of people sets out towards San Juan Copala, the UBISORT leader already knows.

Translator's note: the statistics provided in this article regarding membership in various Triqui organizations should be taken with a grain of salt.  Due to the violence that prevails in the region, there are families and even communities who are afraid to publicly declare or change their allegiance, particularly if they sympathize autonomous municipality.

Translated by Kristin Bricker

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oaxaca Caravan Attack: The Militarization And Paramilitarization Of Mexico

A shorter edit of this article is running on NACLA right now.

By Kristin Bricker

On April 27, gunmen opened fire on an international aid caravan that was bringing food, clothing, medicine, and teachers to the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca. The attack left two dead: Oaxacan indigenous leader and media organizer Alberta "Bety" Cariño and a Finnish observer, Jyri Antero Jaakkola. Gunfire injured three other Oaxacans during the attack.

The attack was the latest in a series of assassinations in a region where shootouts are a frequent occurrence. While the attack on the caravan attracted international media attention, the other murders (at least 23 since 2007) were lost in the wave of violence that has gripped Mexico. Ever since President Felipe Calderon deployed 40,000 soldiers to fight the US-funded war on drugs, all violent murders in Mexico are automatically chalked up to the drug war in the media and in the government's official numbers. Drug war violence provides a too-convenient cover for the political violence that also pervades Mexico.

The violence in the Triqui region is the direct result of government machinations aimed at dividing the indigenous people who live there. “The political organizations are dividing us,” says San Juan Copala spokesman Jorge Albino. “When we form organizations, the political parties come and they offer to make one of us a leader, or they offer us a position. And some of us wind up identifying with a political party and we kill each other as a result.”

The government has good reason to want to weaken the Triquis through division: the Triquis have historically put up some of the fiercest resistance to the colonial (and later neo-colonial) project in Mexico. For this reason, their territory is particularly rich in natural resources. John Gibler writes in his book Mexico Unconquered: "As a result of their armed defense, the Triqui region today is a green oasis in the midst of the eroded Mixteca region where centuries of clear-cutting and goat herding have decimated the land."

Following the 2006 peaceful uprising that nearly threw the Oaxaca governor out of office, Triquis in San Juan Copala declared their municipality autonomous. Their autonomist project attempts to heal the divisions created by decades of interference by outsiders from political parties by removing the political parties altogether and replacing them with "uses and customs" or traditional governance. They took their inspiration from the Zapatistas in the neighboring state of Chiapas and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) in their own state. Regarding the creation of the autonomous municipality, Albino said, "We know that the government will not recognize it. But we will recognize it as or own government, and we're going to push ahead with it. Now we're going to govern ourselves because they (the municipal governments) are not indigenous, are not Triqui, and they don't know how to govern. We know there will be repression and that there will be paramilitaries sooner or later. We are anticipating it, we don't have any other choice, but we know that we're not doing anything wrong. We're doing the best for peace for Triquis."

Members of Oaxaca's ruling party, the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), created the organization Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT) in 1994, shortly after the Zapatista uprising. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees classifies UBISORT as a paramilitary organization. San Juan Copala authorities blame UBISORT for much of the violence its residents have experienced since declaring the municipality autonomous. This past January, UBISORT put up a blockade that has prevented food, supplies, and teachers from entering San Juan Copala. No one can enter or leave the community, and the paramiltiaries have cut running water and electricity to the community.

Survivors of the April 27 caravan attack say the gunmen identified themselves as UBISORT members. The attack occurred at the UBISORT blockade, which is located near the community of La Sabana. UBISORT controls La Sabana. Gunmen briefly detained caravan participant Gabriela Jimenez along with a reporter as they fled into the brush during the attack. Jimenez recounts that the reporter offered to interview the armed, masked men that were holding them hostage. "And they [the gunmen] responded that they would have to interview their leaders, Heriberto Pasos and Rufino Juarez Hernandez." Juarez Hernandez is the leader of UBISORT. Pasos is the leader of the Movement for Triqui Unity and Struggle (MULT), an organization that has also allied itself against the autonomous municipality

The Oaxacan government has denied all responsibility for the attack. Instead, it is attempting to blame the caravan organizers. "Whoever organized this caravan will have to answer for it, whoever invited these people ... without taking precautions, because I think these people did not know what the situation and problems in the area were," Oaxaca state Interior Secretary Evencio Martinez told the AP. "They (the caravan members) will have to answer, too, for having accepted the invitation."

However, sociologist Victor Raul Martinez Vasquez argues, "I believe that it was a deliberate act on the part of the government, with the idea to teach them a lesson and to dissuade those foreigners who want to help this town that is under siege, where they've closed the road to the community, they've cut the electricity. [The town] is running out of food."

The caravan attack may benefit the government in another way: human rights organizations fear that the government will use the attack to militarize the region. The UBISORT has already called for the military to enter the area "in order to put an end to the violence that has spilled our brothers' blood." The military are not likely to drive the government-friendly UBISORT out of La Sabana. Rather, militarization is a direct threat against the autonomous government in San Juan Copala. If the rest of Mexico is any indication, the military's presence would increase, not decrease, violence and human rights abuses.

The people of San Juan Copala, who have borne the brunt of the violence in this conflict, say that they don't want the government to send in the police or the military to resolve the conflict--not even to break the blockade. Instead, they want the government to guarantee the safety of civil society organizations so that they can enter San Juan Copala and begin to attend to residents' needs.

The sudden international media attention on San Juan Copala could leave the impression that the attack was an isolated incident or, at worst, yet another deplorable act linked to Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz's administration. However, paramilitaries have a long history in Mexico. They were a fixture of the dirty war in the 1960s and 70s. After a brief lull in activity, they experienced a resurgence during the Ernesto Zedillo administration. When Zedillo took office, he began a campaign of low-intensity warfare against the Zapatistas, which involved the creation and maintenance of paramilitary organizations.

Following the 1997 Acteal massacre, many traditional paramilitary organizations in Chiapas folded under increased international scrutiny. However, paramilitary leaders reorganized themselves and formed a registered non-profit to provide a cover for their new paramilitary organization, the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (OPDDIC). The non-profit status and civilian membership give legitimacy to the organization's paramilitary nucleus. Leaked government documents prove the the government conspires with the OPDDIC to bring Zapatista lands back under government control. OPDDIC members often cruise Zapatista territory in government vehicles driven by police officers. The openly armed organization receives financial aid from the government through its NGO, and a federal government official has acted as the organization’s lawyer.

Violence and human rights abuses have drastically increased as the war on drugs has progressed. It appears as though paramilitarism is also on the rise. Mexico, a laboratory of paramilitary innovation, has seen another strain of paramilitary organization arise: the narco-paramilitary. The most famous are Los Zetas, who received US training when they formed part of an elite Mexican military unit. They later deserted--taking their training, uniforms, weapons, and government contacts with them--and became the Gulf cartel's private army.

Sometimes the line between narco-paramilitaries and paramilitaries blur. This is the case in Guerrero, where a paramiltary organization lead by local political boss Rogaciano Alva Alvarez and linked to the Sinaloa cartel fights both rival drug gangs and the Insurgent People's Revolutionary Army (ERPI). The conflict between peasant insurgents and narco-paramilitaries is logical: both fight for control of territory. The ERPI claims that it has driven drug traffickers out of the territory that it controls.

As drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) corrupt more government officials, it is only natural that those government officials' paramilitary and military soldiers begin to carry out the DTOs orders. The ERPI's Comandante Ramiro, in an interview with Contralinea magazine explained, "The counterinsurgency campaign is currently increasing. Organized crime cannot sustain itself without the complicity of corrupt networks that are tolerated and privileged by the State. Numerous soldiers, both retired and active, with the government's approval, sponsor paramilitary groups and participate in them. They employ counterinsurgency tactics learned in imperialist military programs, with the objective of reducing enemy cartels and terrorizing popular movements that provide alternatives to capitalism."

Last November, Comandante Ramiro was assassinated. The ERPI says that a local political boss hired seven narco-paramilitaries to murder him with AK-47s.

Paramilitary organizations don't just target armed leftist organizations. Even non-violent organizations, if they mount successful campaigns for control of land and territory, present a threat to the government and/or drug traffickers who also have vested interests in that territory. Such is the case of the Zapatistas, who haven't fired a shot since they declared a ceasefire on January 15, 1994, but are constantly threatened by paramilitary organizations.

This is also true in the case of the international aid caravan in Oaxaca. While the caravan was comprised of several organizations, many of whom do not work actively in the Triqui region, it had a specific goal: break the siege on the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala. San Juan Copala, in declaring itself autonomous and driving out all political parties and political organizations, took control of its territory out of the state's hands and put it under indigenous control. Because the caravan aimed to bring food and other basic necessities despite a paramilitary blockade that aims to starve San Juan Copala into submission to the state, the caravan presented a serious threat to paramilitaries and the government.

Ambush survivor Jimenez says the gunmen made their goal very clear when they detained her following the attack: "They told us that they were going to take back Copala. They said they were going to drive people from their homes. They said, 'Wherever you walk, this is all UBISORT territory.'"

Photo: one of the caravan members managed to snap the above picture during the paramilitary attack.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Merida Initiative Under Scrutiny Following Clinton’s Visit to Mexico

A shorter version of this article ran in NACLA last month.  This version contains more detailed information about US military involvement in Mexico, since the dirty war up to today.  The idea that the US military isn't allowed on Mexican soil is bogus--they've been here for years, and here are the numbers.

by Kristin Bricker

A cabinet-level US delegation to Mexico that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several military, security, and intelligence officials has lead to unprecedented debate and criticism of the Merida Initiative in Mexican media. The US officials were in Mexico to discuss phase two of the Merida Initiative, a US military and police aid package that is set to expire in 2011.

Clinton and her Mexican counterpart, Exterior Minister Patricia Espinosa, held a joint press conference where they released a vaguely worded statement in which both countries renewed their pledge to arrest drug traffickers and combat illegal arms flows, corruption, and money laundering. During the press conference, a reporter asked if US and Mexican officials discussed decriminalization as a possible alternative to the drug war, which has claimed almost 23,000 lives in Mexico since the end of 2006 when President Felipe Calderon deployed the military to combat drug cartels. Clinton's response: "No."

In its coverage of the meeting, US press claimed that the Obama administration is changing the Merida Initiative's priorities. The Clinton-Espinosa statement mentions "building strong and resilient communities" as a priority for the Merida Initative's next phase. Moreover, President Obama's 2011 budget request for Mexico's drug war says that "support will shift from providing aircraft, equipment, and other high-cost items to institutional development, training, and technical assistance."

However, the Americas Program's Laura Carlsen questions the Obama administration's Merida Initiative rhetoric: "The meeting was attended by high-level security and defense officials, without the presence of a single USAID official or of drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, who presumably would be charged with carrying out U.S. commitments to reduce demand for illegal drugs. There is no mention of serious, funded efforts to reduce corruption and trafficking in the United States, and statements on reducing demand and increasing aid to anti-poverty programs in Mexico remains vague and unsubstantiated."

In Mexico, the reaction to Obama's version of the Merida Initiative was largely critical, namely because Janet Napolitano gave a controversial interview to NPR in which she stated that "there are discussions about the proper role for our the request of and with the consultation and cooperation [of] the Mexicans."

"Are you saying that (Mexican President Felipe) Calderon has expressed an openness toward a uniformed, U.S. military presence within Mexico?" asked NPR's Robert Siegel. Napolitano responded, "Yes. Let me be very, very clear [because] this is a very delicate subject. ... Our military in certain limited ways has been working with the Mexican military in their efforts against the drug cartels. But, it is at the request of the Mexican government, in consultation with the Mexican government. And it is only one part of our overall efforts with Mexico, which are primarily civilian in nature."

That statement set off a scandal in the Mexican press. Proceso, one of Mexico's most respected political magazines, reported that Napolitano "revealed that President Felipe Calderon requested that the Obama administration send soldiers to carry out anti-drug operations together with the Mexican military...Calderon administration officials have denied time and time again that the doors to Mexican territory have been opened to US troops."

That's not true--Napolitano never said that Calderon requested that US soldiers participate in Mexican anti-drug operations, and Mexican authorities never said that the US military wouldn't set foot on Mexican soil. However, the article and the outrage it provoked throughout the country demonstrates Mexicans' near-consensus that the US military is not welcome in Mexico under any circumstances. It also demonstrates the Mexican media's collective amnesia regarding the US military’s presence in Mexico.

The United States military has had a relatively small but constant presence in Mexico since at least 1999, the earliest year for which data on the number of active-duty US military personnel stationed in Mexico is available. In 1999, there were 33 US soldiers stationed in Mexico; there are now approximately 26. The US Department of Defense has sent military personnel to Mexico to train the Mexican military every year since at least 2001, the first year the Pentagon began to break down foreign military training by location. The US has trained Mexican soldiers in security, intelligence gathering and analysis, counter-terrorism, English, special operations, interdiction planning, civilian-military relations, tactical law enforcement, anti-smuggling, and aviation--all on Mexican soil.

The presence of US military trainers in Mexico isn't secret: the Defense Department publishes the information online. In 2007, Mexico's daily newspaper La Jornada stumbled upon documents that outlined US military training in Mexican territory in 2006. La Jornada's article barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but it contained enough information that the Mexican media should be aware that US military trainers are already in Mexico and have been for quite some time.

Merida Initiative-funded US military trainers are already operating in Mexico. USA Today reports:
About 20 teams, ranging in size from one to five people, travel to Mexico each year for short visits to assist in training, Renuart said. Most are veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq. Northern Command started sending advisory teams there about two years ago.

Mexican officers have also traveled to the U.S. to observe operations or receive training.
Both US and Mexican media dismiss Mexicans' strong negative reactions to Napolitano's comments as "neuralgic" responses that stem from an event that some might consider ancient history: the 1846-1848 US-Mexican war, during which the US military invaded Mexico. However, much more recent history suggests that Mexicans' concerns about close US-Mexican military relations are entirely rational.

It seems as though whenever the Mexican government is on its worst behavior, the US military is there to lend a helping hand. Two of the most infamous examples are the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre in which paramilitaries beat 25 students to death and injured dozens more, and the bloody crackdown that followed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation's 1994 uprising.

According to Mexican military documents and photographs a US military plane loaded with explosives entered a Mexican military hangar in 1969. US military officials then used those explosives to train members of the Mexican Presidential Guard as part of an "urban terrorism" course. According to Mexico's Secretary of Defense at the time, Gen. Marcelino García Barragán, the soldiers who received the training then placed bombs in a federal government building and three newspaper offices. The operation, according to Mexican investigator Carlos Montemayor, was part of a dirty war campaign of terror that culminated in the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre.

More recently, US military training for Mexican soldiers skyrocketed following the 1994 Zapatista uprising. According to the Center for Public Integrity,
From 1984 to 1992, a total of 512 Mexican troops were trained by the United States, an average of 57 students per year. Since 1996, the United States has trained more than 4,000 Mexican military personnel, an average exceeding 800 a year, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman said. Some of the courses took place in Mexico, in the states of Guerrero, Chiapas, Veracruz and Mexico City. The increased cooperation made Mexico the top recipient in Latin America of International Military Education and Training program funds in 1996 through 1999 and second after Colombia in 2000.... And Mexico ranked number one among nations in the number of soldiers trained at the School of the Americas in 1997 and 1998.
This training occurred despite the fact that a Mexican military unit lead by a School of the Americas graduate massacred summarily executed five tied-up people in a Chiapas market during the 1994 uprising. The training continued even when the Pentagon had reliable intelligence that the Mexican military was organizing paramilitary groups to attack Zapatista support bases, even after the Zapatistas declared a ceasefire.

Close Military-to Military Relations

While on the surface it may seem as though Obama's new Merida Initiative places less emphasis on the military's role in the drug war, the absence of new aircraft does not mean that the Mexican military's role in the drug war will diminish. Rather, the new Merida Initiative aims to prepare the Mexican military for a long, drawn-out war.

Obama's 2011 budget proposal includes $8 million in foreign military financing in order to "further cooperation between the United States and Mexican militaries." This cooperation will come in the form of more military-to-military training.

Senior US military officials say that the Merida Initiative will focus on preparing Mexico's military for a war much like the ones the US is waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. "They need intelligence support, capabilities and tactics that have evolved for us in our fight against networks in the terrorist world," according to Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. "There are an awful lot of similarities." Mullen traveled with Clinton to participate in the High-Level Merida Initiative Consultation Group meetings in Mexico.

Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of Northern Command, concurs with his colleague. "We've learned and grown a great deal as we've conducted operations against networks of terrorists and insurgent fighters," Renuart told USA Today. "Many of the skills that you use to go after a network like those apply ... to drug-trafficking organizations."

According to USA Today, the US military is helping its Mexican counterpart acquire the "skills needed to help transform Mexico's army from a conventional force designed to counter external threats to a military waging an irregular war where the enemy lives among civilians."

The problem, as Iraqis and Afghans have discovered, is that in a war where “the enemy lives among civilians,” anybody can be mistaken for the enemy. In Mexico, the line between civilians and “the enemy” is becoming increasingly blurry. This point was illustrated this past Easter, when soldiers opened fire on a truck full of beach-bound children at a military checkpoint. Two young children died. The government immediately issued a press release claiming that two “offenders” died in the shooting, and it seized an impressive arsenal of weapons and armored vehicles during the firefight. The government later revised its story to say that the children were caught in “crossfire” between soldiers and drug traffickers. The parents, speaking to press from their hospital room, say that only soldiers were present at the scene and that they aimed their weapons directly at the family.

The military has repeatedly used the pretext of “looking for marijuana” to raid Zapatista strongholds, even though it has never found any drugs in Zapatista territory.

The Zapatistas aren’t the only ones feeling the drug war repression. In 2009, federal and state police kidnapped three peasant leaders from the Chiapas-based Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization (OCEZ). The government told the press that the OCEZ was a front for drug traffickers. The smear campaign justified increased militarization of the region, where Zapatista supporters also live. After two months in prison and hours of torture, the OCEZ leaders were released without being charged. Nonetheless, the region remains militarized.

Last October, in perhaps the most frightening show of drug war militarization , federal police fired 44,000 unionized electrical workers at gunpoint,Calderon ordered the police to raid the government-owned Luz y Fuerza del Centro power company; only after the raid did he both to issue a legal degree dissolving the company and, in effect, the union. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which is still fighting for its members’ jobs, is one of the oldest and most radical unions in the nation. The Federal Police who carried out the order to fire the workers receive military training, ostensibly to provide them with the skills they need to fight the war on drugs. They are among the main beneficiaries of the Merida Initiative.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Letter from the family of Bety Cariño, murdered by paramilitaries in Oaxaca aid caravan

To our friends and brothers and sisters
To those who share the pain and anguish 
To the public opinion, saddened and full of rage
The the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the world
To those whose solidarity envelops us with their deepest condolences

To all of you who, with you warmth, solidarity, presence, denouncements, you tell us and dictate the path that we have to and need to follow.  To those whose hearts have suffered the pain of having a loved one taken from you, we want to tell you that the words don't exist to be able to express to you the rage that we feel, the impotence, the anguish, and the desperation of not being able to be with the person who was the compañera, the mother of two children, the leader, the friend, the sister, THE LOVE OF OUR LIFE when hate, brutality, and anger took her life because of the struggle that we undertook for fourteen years.  To all of you and in the name of my children, thank you.

Once again, just like in 2006, [Governor] Ulises Ruiz Ortiz's terrorist, murderous, repressive State seeks to demonstrate its strength, impose its policies, and demonstrate its hatred of that which doesn't agree with it, that which can't be subordinated, that which doesn't give in, and that which is incorruptible, because it is born from below and full of life, because it is built with the brotherhood of those of us who have decided to work towards the construction of a different world, a more human world, where the Earth and the dreams we sow flower every day.  Bety, or Beto as her father called her, or, as she was really called, Alberta Cariño Trujillo, has not died!  Her word grows and gives voice to those who did not have one, and in being a sister to the women of Copala, of the Mixteca, and of the world, in being a woman, your determination as a sister in this autonomist struggle resists against the hatred, anger, and distain of the UBISORT paramilitaries who are lead by Rufino Juarez and Antonio Cruz.

Now it is more difficult to destroy you.  You are alive and burning in the hears of dignified men and women.  You represent the voice of a new path that is called hope for true peace for the Triqui people, for the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.  Those who deny you and judge your path are accomplices of the footmen and mercenaries who do politics giving and taking in exchange for the pain of the Triqui people, negotiating little benefits to submit and exploit the people's condition of poverty.  Those of you who think you are the lords of the revolutionary vanguards, I hope you will save your rhetoric and your empty words.  Even though they say that it was a "tactical error," a questionable and erroneous provocation," isn't it true that when human life is in danger, it is dignified to run the same risks that you did?  TO DEFEND LIFE WITH YOUR OWN LIFE IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE HISTORY THAT WE LIVED TOGETHER...

To all of you who keep striving for justice, we want to express our heartfelt thanks.  It is obvious to us who is responsible, he has a name and a face; it is obvious who are his agents.  Our enemies are named Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Evencio Martinez, and the UBISORT paramilitaries.  Where is the government that strives for change?  Where is the respect for life?  For this reason I call upon Section 22 of the teachers union and social and democratic organizations who struggle and resist, that their role be decisive.  I also call upon the Oaxacan community to use all possible means to seize power from the political class and this murderous government.

Brech, like I always told you!  I will not abandon my commitment to do something for someone every day of my life, as we always discussed, and for that which you committed yourself with everything you had.  We will never forget!  God give us the opportunity to help those in need, and that he accompany our two children, Omar and Ita, who are now children of the movement that demands justice.  The brotherhood that we feel is immense.  Your children will surely be disciples of your struggle and commitment to fight injustice and give your life for others because it is necessary and urgent to keep moving forward.  To be taken aback by the pain, the misery, and the injustices that are committed every day and to take a stand for the poorest is a human obligation.  In the name of everyone, we tell you that we love you, that we will always love you, and you will always be in our hearts and minds.  In these days when at times the feet tremble and the soul feels weak, your example lifts us up to say Enough!

Enough silence, with heads lowered, watching as everything plays out.  But there remains the hate, the rage, the fury of not being able to change the false destiny that the corrupt politicians, the police forces, the military and parapolice and paramilitaries, the lords of money, and the putrid political class have forced us to live.  And they make themselves heard through the dialogue of weapons.  The people can change their destiny and construct other paths to autonomy and self-determination, as we have always dreamt and shared in the networks, with the Other Campaign, the Southeast Mexican Radio Network, AMAP, REMA, RMALC, in the indigenous movement, with national and international organizations, with the people wherever we find ourselves, and with our brothers and sisters in the struggle who resist and seek the world for which you decided to give your life.  You took a part of us with you, and we remain here, shaken, outraged, and saddened.

Because you are the flower, and your seed is the fruit of the dignified path we must follow.  We won't forget you.  Omar, Ita, and I say to you, "Until the victory."

Prison for Ulises Ruiz, Evencio Martinez, Rufino Juarez, Anastasio Juarez, Antonio Cruz, and the authorities in La Sabana!
Death to Ulises' bad repressive murderous government!
We must break the siege in San Juan Copala!
Bety will never be silenced, not in death, nor with machine guns!

Land, Freedom, or Death!

With all our love,

Omarcito, Itandewi, and Omar Esparza