Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mexican Police Raid Battered Women's Shelters in Monterrey, Cancun, and Ciudad Juarez

by Frontera NorteSur

In Mexico, not even shelters for victims of domestic violence are safe from trouble. Recently, refuges for battered women and children have been the object of police raids in Monterrey, Cancun and Ciudad Juarez.

In the tourist resort of Cancun, municipal police searching for a woman attempted to enter the Center for the Integral Attention of Women, a shelter directed by well-known women’s rights advocate and journalist Lydia Cacho, late last month. Center staff, however, successfully blocked the armed men from entering the building.

A shelter in Ciudad Juarez wasn’t so lucky. On June 9, a group of 14 men, several of whom were armed with high-powered weapons, showed up at the “Without Violence” safe house founded by the late activist Esther Chavez Cano.

Led by Roman Garcia, the men claimed to be enforcing a legal order by Juarez Valley Judge Guadalupe Manuel de Santiago Aguayo to find and turn over a minor child, Lesly Itzel Munoz Gonzalez, who was involved in a family dispute.

Shelter staff initially refused to allow the men inside, but relented after being verbally threatened and shown a gun. Once inside the building, the men reportedly hit furniture and looked underneath a bed, to the alarm of the women and children present.  Not finding Munoz on the premises, the men left.

The incident elicited a sharp protest from women’s rights groups in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City. Signed by the Women’s Human Rights Center and the Women’s Roundtable of Ciudad Juarez, a statement demanded that Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza and Chihuahua Supreme Court President Rodolfo Acosta Munoz guarantee the safety of shelter clients, staff and activists.

According to the two groups, the police intrusion left clients- who are already exposed to violence in their lives- in a state of fear. Under the center’s rules, men and guns are not allowed on the property. The activists also demanded the immediate relocation of the shelter to a new site, and the firing of justice system officials responsible for violating the victims’ sanctuary.

Writing about the raids, Cacho contended that the presence of armed men in places where women and children fleeing violence are supposed to be safe and secure was linked to an overall situation of lawlessness and impunity.

“In the three cases the state and municipal police knew there was no authority, and that they could utilize the force of the state for personal vengeance and warn the victims they are not safe anywhere,” Cacho wrote.

Sources: Cimacnoticias, June 14, 2010. Gladis Torres Ruiz. El Universal,
June 14, 2010. Article by Lydia Cacho.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

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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. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

San Juan Copala Aid Caravan Enters the Danger Zone

Update 5:52pm: The caravan did not make it to Copala because of the danger.  It has turned around and is heading back to Huajuapan.

A second international aid caravan is on its way to San Juan Copala in the Triqui region of Oaxaca, Mexico.  The caravan has entered an area without telephone service, severely limiting communication.  The lack of communication puts the caravan in grave danger of a paramilitary attack.

Paramilitaries ambushed the first aid caravan on April 27, killing Mexican Bety Cariño and Finnish international observer Jyri Jaakkola.  As a result, the aid caravan could not reach its destination.

The new caravan, which is currently en route to San Juan Copala, is comprised of eight buses.  The caravan is reportedly carrying 40 tons of aid for the municipality, which has been under constant paramilitary siege for the past seven months.  Caravan participants report that people in communities along the route to Copala are lining the streets to cheer on the caravan.

Overt Government Collaboration With Paramilitaries?

The Oaxacan state government attempted to physically impede the caravan on two occasions today.  Once, in Juxtlahuaca, state police physically blocked the entrance to the town so that the caravan could not pass.  Caravan members began to get off the buses and continue on foot, leading the police to move their vehicles and let the buses pass.

While police blocked the entrance to Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca state Attorney General Candelaria Chiñas reportedly approached the caravan and demanded to negotiate with Alejandro Encinas, the leader of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).  Encinas is accompanying the caravan as a participant and is not in a position to negotiate on behalf of the caravan nor the autonomous municipality.  The caravan participants' determination to reach San Juan Copala, even if it had to be on foot, successfully pressured the government to lift the police blockade and allow the community to proceed on to Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa, the state government once again attempted to stop the caravan.  There, Chiñas demanded that the paramilitary organization UBISORT be permitted to join the caravan. Chiñas' party, the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), founded the UBISORT and reportedly maintains close ties with the armed organization.  Authorities from the autonomous municipality refused to allow the paramilitaries to join the caravan.

The caravan is now headed for Agua Fría.  From this point on, the caravan is out of telephone range.  This puts the caravan in considerable danger.

Oaxaca City-based Radio Plantón has speculated that the state government's stall tactics are playing into the paramilitaries' hands.  The government stalled the caravan for hours, meaning that if the caravan does reach San Juan Copala, it would have to spend the night there or run the risk of returning after nightfall.

There are reports that UBISORT has sent women and children to re-enforce its physical blockade of the highway into San Juan Copala.  Over the weekend, someone re-enforced the blockade with much heavier rocks that can only be removed with heavy machinery.

As the caravan travels in the telephone dead zone, there are protests in Mexico and around the world demanding that the government guarantee the caravan's safe passage to San Juan Copala so that it can deliver its aid.  In Oaxaca City, supporters have blocked Cinco Señores, a key intersection, in support of the caravan.  A march in Mexico City was attacked by riot police, reportedly leaving several protesters injured.  In Buenos Aires, protesters have set up a protest encampment outside the Mexican Embassy.  They are dialoguing with embassy officials. 


San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the peaceful uprising in 2006 that nearly overthrew Oaxaca's governor.  The paramilitary organization UBISORT, which the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) created in 1994 to counter potential Zapatista influence in the indigenous Triqui region, has violently opposed the autonomous project.  In January, UBISORT blocked the road into San Juan Copala, preventing supplies and teachers from entering the municipality.  UBISORT also cut the running water and electricity to San Juan Copala.  The months-long siege means that San Juan Copala is running out of food.

At least 18 Triquis have been assassinated in the region this year.

All Eyes on San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, As Second Aid Caravan Begins

June 8, 2010 - The world will be closely watching the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, as a second international aid caravan attempts to break the paramilitary blockade that has kept that community cut off from the outside world since January.

The Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), an armed organization that was founded by and maintains close ties with the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI, the party that has ruled the state of Oaxaca with an iron fist for the past eighty years) blocked the road into San Juan Copala in January.  The group also cut running water and electricity to the community.  The presence of sharpshooters in the surrounding hillsides and mountains makes it virtually impossible for San Juan Copala residents to leave their homes during the day.

This past April 27, self-identified members of UBISORT opened fire on an international aid caravan headed for San Juan Copala, according to survivors.  Two people died in the ambush.

Even though the ambush on that caravan attracted international attention and condemnation, the security situation in San Juan Copala appears to be steadily deteriorating.  On May 16, twelve indigenous Triqui women and children were kidnapped by people whom they identify as UBISORT leaders and members.  Their captors released them a day later after destroying all of their belongings.

Then, on May 20, mestizo hitmen murdered Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez and Cleriberta Castro in their home in the Yosoyuxi community, which is part of the autonomous municipality.  Ramírez was one of the founders of the autonomous municipality and one of its most important leaders.

On June 4, just days before the caravan is scheduled to take place, the blockade outside San Juan Copala was reinforced with "large rocks" which the Oaxaca-based Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center says it presumes "were placed there with heavy machinery."

On June 5 and 6, an armed group opened fire on San Juan Copala, injuring 20-year-old Melitón Rodríguez Martínez, reportedly as he left his home in an attempt to reach his bathroom, which is not connected to his house.  He received 3-4 gunshots in the leg, according to Father Wilfrido Mayén Peláez.  The Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño Human Rights Center reports that Rodríguez Martínez has not yet received medical attention because residents have been unable to transport him out of the community to a medical center.

The new caravan, scheduled to arrive in San Juan Copala the morning of June 8, is considerably larger and higher-profile than the April 27 caravan, which only had about 30 participants.  The June 8 caravan is comprised of two contingents: seven buses and trucks that left Mexico City the night of June 7, and one bus from Oaxaca City.  In all, over 200 people are expected to participate in the caravan, and they are bringing a three-ton truck full of aid for San Juan Copala residents.  Over a dozen federal members of Congress are expected to accompany the caravan.

The Oaxaca state government has provided no guarantees for the caravan.  It has reportedly deployed between 150-350 state police along the route to San Juan Copala.  It demanded that caravan organizers provide the government with the names and personal information of all of the caravan organizers and participants, along with the immigration statuses of foreigners.  It also requested a complete itinerary for the caravan.  Caravan organizers say they will not turn that information over to the government for security reasons.

For its part, UBISORT has warned the caravan to cancel the June 8 trip, because it says "the conditions don't exist."  It said the same thing just prior to the first caravan, which its members allegedly ambushed.

The municipality of San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the nonviolent uprising that nearly overthrew the Oaxacan governor in 2006.  Since then, it has suffered violence at the hands political organizations in the area, such as UBISORT, which are allied with the government.  The crisis intensified seven months ago, when UBISORT paramilitaries blockaded the community.  Shootouts and murders are now a common occurrence in the Triqui region.