Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Attempted Coup" in Ecuador

Update, 9:30pm Mexico time (10:30pm EST): The military rescued President Rafael Correa from the hospital where police where holding him hostage. There was heavy gunfire, and multiple people are reported injured, including at least one soldier.

The government of Ecuador has announced that an attempted coup against President Rafael Correa is underway.  Correa brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, of which overthrown Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was also a member.

The unrest in Ecuador stems from a police protest over bonuses that they allege were taken away from them.  The Ecuadoran government claims the police were compensated for this loss of bonuses in other ways.

Correa reports that police are holding him hostage in a hospital where he was being treated after police attacked him with teargas. 

Correa enjoys the continued support of civilians, Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the international community.

I am posting updates to Twitter with photos and translations of breaking news as the situation develops in Ecuador.  Follow me here:

Corruption And Deforestation Caused Oaxaca’s Mudslide Disaster

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World

[This article has been updated from the original that appeared in Upside Down World in order to reflect new death tolls.]

On Tuesday morning, the world awoke to the news that a mudslide had buried 80% of Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, a municipality of 10,000 people. Tearful Tlahuitoltepec officials told the press that 300-500 people were feared buried under the mud, while Oaxaca's Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz placed the number of possible deaths at "up to 1,000." The federal government deployed the military and federal police to the zone, and even the United States offered its assistance in digging out Tlahuitoltepec residents.

Now, as more rescue crews are gaining access to the municipality, the government has toned down its assessment of the damage. Five bodies have been pulled from the mud, and another six people are missing. However, rescue crews have still not reached six communities in Tlahuitoltepec. Electricity and phone service are down in the majority of the municipality, and many roads are covered with debris or have washed away.

Regardless of its final death toll, the disaster was foreseeable and highlights the deadly consequences of the state's notorious, rampant corruption in public works.


The 2010 hurricane season has caused record rainfall in southern Mexico, leading to flooding, mudslides, and deaths in several states, including Oaxaca.

The mudslide washed away 4-6 houses.
A report published by the federal government's Mineral Resources Council in 2001 warned that as a result of deforestation, Tlahuitoltepec regularly suffers major landslides during hurricane season. The report, entitled "Natural Dangers," warns that Tlahuitoltepec's mudslides tend to affect both roads and houses. The government has done nothing to address the mudslide problem in Tlahuitoltepec, where many residents live on the slopes of steep hills.

The mudslide that shocked the world on September 28 didn't happen overnight. The mud began to slide on September 13, causing the walls of nearby houses to crack as the earth began to move. At that time, Mexico's Civil Protection (similar to the US government's Federal Emergency Management Agency) told the municipal president to evacuate the town. However, neither the state nor the federal government appear to have helped with the evacuation, nor did they offer Tlahuitoltepec residents a refuge. It was only after local officials apparently exaggerated the magnitude of the September 28 mudslide that state police began to escort residents out of Tlahuitoltepec.

As rescue crews continue to arrive and evaluate the situation in the entire indigenous Mixe region (where Tlahuitoltepec is located), they will decide if they will evacuate up to 30,000 people. "In that zone it rains a lot. The land is unstable and there could be more mudslides," Oaxacan Governor Ulises Ruiz told El Universal. "It's better to act, because something could happen."

Oaxacan Roads Paved With Corruption

Unfortunately, Gov. Ruiz decided to act only when Tlahuitoltepec officials grossly exaggerated the September 28 mudslide. Local officials have been warning the state government that the mudslides could provoke a humanitarian disaster since August, when they complained that 50% of the highways in their region were damaged. "If they aren't repaired, we'll run the risk that various towns will be completely cut off in the coming days," state Congressman Floriberto Vásquez Vásquez told the state government and press. The state government ignored his pleas.

On September 8, Vásquez's warnings became reality. On that day, a Oaxaca state official reported that 80% of the state's 22,000 km of highways were damaged due to both mudslides and shoddy construction, cutting off over thirty communities from the outside world. The Mixe was one of the most affected regions.

Roads and Runways of Oaxaca (CAO), the state agency in charge of building and maintaining Oaxaca's roads, responded to concerns over the highways' dire conditions by saying that it couldn't repair them because it had no money left in its budget. Adiario, a Oaxacan newspaper that openly supports the state's ruling party, wrote in an op-ed (PDF):
"CAO officials' statements that 'there aren't any resources' to fix the 80% of the highways that are currently damaged in Oaxaca are surprising.  One asks why the CAO...has a multi-million peso annual budget that is mismanaged.  That, sirs, is called incompetence.  If there are dozens of communities that are completely cut off by mudslides and collapsed highways, it is a priority to come up with the money to solve the problem....Audits are necessary, because, despite the allocation of resources, the money doesn't reach the victims the majority of the time."  

Claims of corruption in Oaxaca's highway projects and other public works are as old as the highways themselves. The suspicions stem from the projects'high costs and shoddy results. Some highways fall apart within months.

Public officials often award no-bid construction contracts to their friends and fellow party members. Citizens suspect that funds from many of these contracts are used to fund political campaigns. Such is the case in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, where Jesús Hiram Mortera funded his campaign for municipal president with his earnings from public works projects. Two successive municipal presidents awarded him the majority of the public works contracts in the town. The government is now auditing the two former municipal presidents over alleged embezzlement of funds through Mortera's construction projects. Of particular concern is Mortera's "rehabilitation" of a four-lane highway in Salina Cruz. The highway has collapsed three times since Mortera "rehabilitated" it.

So far no one has proven that Oaxacan politicians and contractors embezzle money from highway projects by using cheap materials and pocketing the difference. In 2008, state auditors concluded that Carlos Alberto Ramos Aragón used a boulevard construction project to embezzle money when he served as municipal president of Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, but they never discovered exactly how: Ramos Aragón simply didn't hand over receipts to the auditors. Ramos Aragón was never punished for this presumed embezzlement. He currently serves as director of Oaxaca's State Civil Protection Institute, one of the agencies in charge of Tlahuitoltepec rescue efforts.

About 3km of dirt road connect Tlahuitoltepec to the
nearest paved road.
While details on how politicians embezzle money from completed highway projects are vague or unproven, a recent scandal in the federal program "Firm Ground" demonstrates how many Oaxacans suspect contractors and politicians are stealing money from highway projects. The federal government provided funding to states such as Oaxaca through the "Firm Ground" project to install concrete floors in homes that had dirt floors. The federal government calculated the amount of cement it sent to the states based on the quantity and dimensions of the homes that would receive new floors through the program. In Guerrero, another state that received cement through "Firm Ground," a federal audit found that state and local politicians watered down the donated cement with cheaper sand so less cement was needed to install the floors. Beneficiaries were left with low-quality floors, while local politicians turned around and sold the excess cement. Guerrero politicians and contractors embezzled $149 million pesos through the scheme, according to the federal audit.

Some Oaxacan communities are demanding a similar audit of the “Firm Ground” program in their state. Residents claim that local politicians are using the same scheme to deliver less cement to beneficiaries, and that the politicians use the excess cement to buy votes. Angry residents also claim that politicians pay the workers in charge of installing the floors half of what the federal government budgeted for their salaries, and that the politicians pocket the other half.

While audits have yet to uncover embezzlement schemes connected to the materials used to construct Oaxaca's notoriously terrible highways, "phantom" highway projects are common. In phantom projects, the government pays for a roadway to be constructed or paved. The local officials claim that the project was completed and collect the cash, but in reality the project was never even initiated. Just this past August, the federal government fired nine Oaxacan officials for embezzling $930,000 pesos through phantom roadway projects. In April, authorities from sixty towns marched in San Juan Mixtepec to protest the municipal president's alleged embezzlement of $10 million pesos in federal funds through phantom road, bridge, and potable water projects.

This bridge, located about two hours from Tlahuitoltepec,
collapsed, delaying rescue efforts for hours.
The consequences of corruption and embezzlement in public works is costly and deadly, as the disaster in Tlahuitoltepec demonstrates. Exaggerated reports of the mudslide’s magnitude circulated for over ten hours before the first rescue crews could reach the devastated town, which is located only two-and-a-half hours from Oaxaca City. The first rescue crews arrived on foot because the roads were impassable. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers arrived much later. While the world watched in horror as collapsed highways and bridges delayed rescuers and equipment, no one in Oaxaca was surprised—bad road conditions have become a fact of life.

While massive loss of life appears to have been avoided in Tlahuitoltepec, the mudslide should serve as a warning to the state and federal government that more oversight and accountability are needed to avoid a future catastrophe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

All Autonomous Municipality Supporters Are Out of San Juan Copala

by Kristin Bricker

Reyna Martínez Flores speaking in the women's protest
encampment.  Photo: Verónica Villalvazo
Reyna Martinez Flores, spokesperson of the women's protest encampment in Oaxaca City's main plaza, reports that all residents of the autonomous municipality have made it out of San Juan Copala, with no help from the government.  

David García, previously reported as injured and missing, is now being reported as dead, although there is no word on where his body is.

UBISORT has taken over the municipal palace, and sent a press statement in Spanish and a Youtube video in Triqui calling on UBISORT supporters to repopulate San Juan Copala now that the "autónomos" are gone.

The Oaxaca government plans on continuing with its previously announced (but still unexecuted) police operation to restore electricity and school service (that UBISORT cut off in February) to the new UBISORT-run San Juan Copala.

The autonomous municipality has yet to issue a statement regarding its strategy now that it has lost the municipal cabezera (county seat) of its autonomous municipality.  "We no longer have people in Copala," said Martínez Flores, "but the autonomous municipality will not go away because it is in our hearts and minds."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autonomous Authorities Order Total Evacuation of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World
Tuesday, 21 September 2010 19:19
San Juan Copala's town hall, riddled with AK-47 bullets.
Authorities of the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, have ordered the total evacuation of the town, which has been under siege since February of this year. The authorities issued the order when alleged paramilitaries raided San Juan Copala and said that they would massacre all supporters of the autonomous municipality.

Alleged paramilitaries cut off water, electricity, and access to the town in February. They also stationed gunmen in the hills surrounding the town and shot at anyone they saw on the streets. For months, San Juan Copala survived off of the little food that women could carry into town on their backs, using trails through the woods to sneak past the gunmen who patrol the perimeter.

However, on September 13, the situation became unbearable when gunmen took over San Juan Copala's town hall. The gunmen, whom the autonomous municipality claim are from rival Triqui organizations Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT) and the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), have kept San Juan Copala under a constant barrage of bullets since they took over the town hall.

The autonomous municipality has reported at least five females injured—including a little girl—and one man killed, all by gunfire, since MULT and UBISORT took over the town hall. Gunmen shot a second man, David Garcia, and at this time it is unknown if he is alive or dead. According to Jorge Albino, a spokesman for the autonomous municipality, police handed his body over to the alleged paramilitaries who are occupying the town hall. The autonomous municipality believes that Garcia was alive when police turned him over to the gunmen who shot him.

In addition, two disabled people disappeared as they fled San Juan Copala. One-hundred-year-old Jose Gonzalo Cruz disappeared as he fled with other people through the brush under heavy gunfire. Cruz is blind, and it is believed that he was separated from the group and became lost.

A mentally handicapped woman named Susana López Martínez is also reported disappeared. She attempted to flee San Juan Copala with a group of other women on September 18 under heavy gunfire. When the women re-grouped out of the line of fire, 21-year-old López Martínez was gone. No one saw her disappear, and it is unknown if she was injured in the shooting. If López Martínez has fallen into UBISORT’s hands, she is in extreme danger. This past May, UBISORT leader Rufino Juarez allegedlykidnapped López Martínezand her mother. The two women escaped and denounced the kidnapping to human rights organizations and the international media.

The autonomous municipality reports that the gunmen who raided San Juan Copala went house-to-house and beat people they found inside. The gunmen are also burning the abandoned homes of residents who have fled the violence.

The autonomous municipality reported that fifty families remained in San Juan Copala at the beginning of the raid on September 13. All but two families have managed to escape. Those two families are in two houses that are completely surrounded by gunmen.

Triqui women and children have maintained protest encampment in Oaxaca City’s town square since August to demand an end to the violence and justice for the victims. Those women declared a hunger strike on September 10 to pressure the government to send police into San Juan Copala to evacuate the two families who remain trapped inside. The striking women, who were driven out of San Juan Copala by the violence, want the government to bring the trapped families to Oaxaca City.

The Oaxaca state government said that it is preparing an operation to “restore order” in San Juan Copala. Oaxaca’s Undersecretary of the Interior Joaquín Rodríguez Palacios announced that Oaxaca state police planned to restore electricity and reopen schools in San Juan Copala. The plan seems completely absurd when it is taken into account that at most 25 residents remain in San Juan Copala—and all of them want to leave. Palacios did not mention any plans to evacuate the remaining residents.

It remains to be seen if the government will follow through with the operation. UBISORT leader Rufino Juarez told Noticias de Oaxaca that there would be a “bloodbath” if the government doesn’t “reach an agreement” with his organization regarding the proposed police operation.

Dialogue Failed Again

Lona Reyes, the bishop of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, and Father Wilfrido Mayrén of the Diocese Commission for Peace and Justice in Oaxaca, called upon MULT and the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT-I), a MULT splinter group that co-founded the autonomous municipality, to a dialogue mediated by the church. The goal of the proposed dialogue was to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiations. Past negotiations mediated by the government broke down because the autonomous municipality has refused sit at a negotiating table with MULT and UBISORT while those groups were allegedly murdering its supporters.

MULT-I refused to participate in the church-mediated dialogue because it claims that MULT is one of the groups carrying out the armed attack on San Juan Copala. MULT-I conditioned its participation in the dialogue on a cease-fire in the autonomous municipality and the presentation of the residents who disappeared during the attack.

The Mexican newspaper Milenio interpreted the failed dialogue and the evacuation of the autonomous municipality as a sign that the autonomous project is dead. However, a source close to the autonomous authorities said, “Once we get everyone out [of San Juan Copala] we will continue the project from the outside. Right now we are worried about getting those people out alive.”

The complete evacuation of San Juan Copala does not in and of itself mean that the autonomous project is dead: San Juan Copala is the name of a town and a municipality (a group of towns, like a county). Only the town of San Juan Copala, which is the municipal cabezera (county seat), has been under siege, and only the town is being evacuated.

Representatives from twenty Triqui communities reportedly participated in the founding of the autonomous municipality. In addition to the town of San Juan Copala, ten Triqui communities are officially aligned with the autonomous municipality. Autonomous authorities claim that an additional six communities support the autonomous municipality, but that they fear retaliation if they publicly declare their affiliation. In addition to the sixteen communities that give their full support to the autonomous municipality, the autonomous authorities claim to have supporters in another handful of communities that are controlled by rival organizations.

Of the ten communities that officially belong to the autonomous municipality, San Juan Copala was the only community under siege. The other communities have suffered attacks and assassinations, but they were not affected by the paramilitary blockade nor the recent invasion.

© 2010 Upside Down World

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Human Rights Are Not a U.S. Priority in Mexico's Drug War

by Kristin Bricker, Huffington Post

Presidents Obama and Calderón
Citing human rights concerns, the United States State Department has recommended that a small portion of the Merida Initiative, its drug war aid package to Mexico, be temporarily withheld.

In a report sent to Congress last week, the State Department recommended that $26 million of the Merida Initiative be withheld until Mexico improves human rights. However, in the same report, State recommends that Congress release $36 million in funds that were previously withheld due to human rights concerns.

Fifteen percent of each tranche of Merida Initiative funds are conditioned on the Mexican government eliminating the use of testimony obtained through torture in court, improving transparency in police forces, trying soldiers accused of crimes against civilians in civilian courts, and consulting with civil society regarding how the Merida Initiative is implemented. The $26 million that State wishes to withhold constitute 15% of the latest tranche, for fiscal year 2010. The $36 million that will be released had been withheld from previous tranches.

The AP notes that, "Because Merida spending lags more than a year behind allocations, Friday's decision will have minimal financial impact." Thus far human rights conditions haven't held up Merida Initiative money for much longer than standard bureaucratic red tape has held up the other 85% of unconditioned funds.

Human rights organizations were not particularly impressed by State's decision to withhold the $26 million, which constitutes just 1.7% of the $1.5 billion that Mexico will receive through the Merida Initiative. Human Rights Watch's Nik Steinberg told the Washington Post, "Nothing should have been released, because Mexico is simply not meeting the human rights requirements. There are widespread and systematic abuses by the military, for which they have total impunity."

The Mexican government also seems unimpressed by the State Department's decision to withhold a portion of the funds. It refuses to comply with the condition that soldiers accused of crimes against civilians be prosecuted in civilian courts. Under the current system, the military investigates and tries all soldiers accused of crimes committed in the line of duty, regardless of whether the crime is a violation of military regulations or civilian law.

The military rarely chooses to prosecute its personnel. A 2009 State Department report found that of the over 2,000 human rights complaints filed against the Mexican military since December 2006, only two resulted in civilian prosecution. The Mexican military reports that since 1996, it has convicted only eight soldiers of human rights crimes.

A State Department official, on condition of anonymity, told Mexico's Reforma that the US government had decided to temporarily withhold the $26 million in Merida Initiative funds "until Mexico has demonstrated progress on issues such as civilian oversight of accusations against security forces for human rights violations, as well as legislation that would strengthen the National Human Rights Commission," the Mexican government's office that investigates human rights abuses. Specifically, said a source on Capitol Hill, the United States was holding the funds as it waited to see if the Mexican government would uphold an Inter-American Human Rights Court (CIDH) ruling that would require civilian investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses committed by the military.

The CIDH ruling in question regards the 1974 disappearance of Rosendo Radilla in the state of Guerrero. Witnesses saw soldiers detain Radilla at a military checkpoint and transport him to a military base. From there, he disappeared and his body was never recovered. After winning their case in the CIDH, Radilla's family petitioned Mexico's Supreme Court to carry out the CIDH's sentence, which ordered the Mexican government to pay damages to Radilla's family, publish a book about his disappearance, officially acknowledge its role in the disappearance, continue excavations until it found Radilla's body, and change Mexican law so that soldiers accused of human rights abuses would be tried in civilian courts.

Clearly unfazed by the State Department's decision to delay a small portion of the Merida Initiative funds, on September 7 the Supreme Court voted 8-3 against even hearing the Radilla case.

Despite the Obama administration's rhetoric regarding respect for human rights in Mexico's drug war, its actions have provided little incentive for Mexico to improve its record. In releasing conditioned funds that had been previously withheld, it sends the message that its real priority is providing Mexico with the equipment and training it needs to continue to fight its increasingly violent drug war. To make matters worse, immediately after the State Department sent its Merida Initiative human rights report to Congress, White House officials told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration is "considering a substantial spending increase on the Mexican drug war" because it is "a top administration priority."

Human rights appear to be a secondary concern.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mexicans "Tweeting" for their Lives in Violent Cities

This article was published yesterday on the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre's website. I had a blast writing it. It's the first article I've written where I conducted all of the interviews--including one with the Reynosa municipal government--over Twitter. This is because Twitter is the only "emergency broadcast system" that Reynosa has. When drug violence flares up in Reynosa (as it often does) residents open their Twitter accounts to get the information they need to keep themselves out of the line of fire. When I asked if information about security emergencies like shootouts or "narco-blockades" was available on television or radio, tweeter @uateke told me, "Sure... you use your TV like a computer monitor and you connect it to Twitter and you pull up the hashtag #reynosafollow. Because you can't find any information anywhere else!"

To give you an idea of the sort of guerrilla reporting Reynosa's "tweeteros" ("tweeters") are doing, check out this video of a shootout, recorded on and tweeted from a cell phone during the narco-blockades:

Of course, all of the photos of the August 24 narco-blockades that appear in this article were pulled from Twitter.

Mexicans “Tweeting” for their Lives in Violent Cities 

By: Kristin Bricker, Security Sector Reform Resource Centre 

In some northern Mexican cities, shootouts and dumped cadavers have been relatively common occurrences since President Felipe Calderón declared war on drug trafficking in late 2006.  However, in mid-2009, drug war mayhem took a new twist: narco-blockades. In Monterrey and Reynosa, two northern cities notoriously replete with organized crime, drug traffickers began to organize blockades that paralyzed entire sections of those cities.  The blockades are sometimes in retaliation for the detention of important organized crime figures.  In other cases, they are organized to prevent the police and military from acting against drug traffickers.

Often, during the blockades gunmen order civilians out of their vehicles.  The gunmen then use the vehicles to block key roads or intersections, and sometimes they set the vehicles on fire.  Shootouts with automatic assault rifles are common occurrences at the blockades.

Narcos hijack buses to block an intersection in Reynosa. 
In Reynosa and Monterrey, citizens have begun to use the online social networking service Twitter to alert fellow residents of potentially dangerous situations such as shootouts and blockades. Twitter allows users to send out 140-character messages to their “followers.”  It also allows users to create topics called “hash tags” by preceding words with a hash symbol (#).  The way in which Twitter organizes information allows users to communicate and disseminate very short messages very quickly.

Reynosa’s “tweeters” began to use the hashtag #reynosafollow to communicate with each other about organized crime in their city.  Users “tweet” about violence, and, because violence has become so normalized in their lives, they tweet to let others know about the absence of violence.  On a normal day in Reynosa, it is common to see tweets such as “All calm downtown from heb Morelos to Tiburcio Garza Zamora and in the park #reynosafollow” or “#reynosafollow traffic stopped in front of military base, soldiers running everywhere.”  Tweeters often report the locations of possible shootouts so that others can avoid the area: “#reynosafollow shooting heard near Las Fuentes, Lomas Section, 2nd Rotonda… explosions.  Can someone else confirm?”

Smoke from hijacked vehicles set ablaze in narco-blockades.
During narco-blockades, Twitter becomes an indispensable tool.  Users tweet on their mobile phones using text messages or a data connection to report the locations of blockades and possible exit routes.  They even tweet photos and videos of the blockades that they record with their cell phone cameras.

Such was the case on August 24, when narco-blockades paralyzed major highways in Reynosa. Shootouts ensued, and an explosive devise set a factory on fire.  Tweeters began to report the movements of drug traffickers, police, and the military over Twitter:

“Siempre Natural in the park, people armed #reynosafollow 10 minutes ago.”

“They burned the Jabil warehouse with a grenade blast. #reynosafollow”

“The highway is still blocked. I had to double back because the soldiers ran us off #reynosafollow”

An explosive device set this warehouse on fire during the blockades
One tweeter even created a map of all of the reported blockades.  However, many of the reported blockades listed on the map were actually traffic jams that motorists mistook for narco-blockades, demonstrating one of Twitter’s biggest disadvantages: there are no official fact checkers, and false or unconfirmed information spreads just as rapidly as the truth.

During the August 24 narco-blockades, motorists used Twitter to help each other maneuver around the blockades, and alerted each other when blockades were lifted.  Family members tweeted questions about certain areas of the city, and then relayed that information to stranded loved ones via cell phone.  Students tweeted questions about the area surrounding their schools to see if it was safe to go home.  When stores all around Reynosa closed due to the chaos, citizens tweeted the names of stores that were allowing civilians to take cover inside.

Narco-blockade, as seen from a Tweeter's car.
So many residents turn to Twitter during narco-blockades and shootouts that even the Reynosa municipal government has created its own account.  When the city is calm, it tweets traffic reports and waiting times at the international bridges that connect the city to the United States.  During emergency situations, it tweets alerts and rumor control.  After last Wednesday’s narco-blockades began, it tweeted, “Dangerous situation in Granjas Económicas neigborhood and Villa Florida.  Blockades in various parts of the city.  Avoid travel in the area.”  It tweeted at least once every 15 minutes during the narco-blockades, providing updates on the situation.  It even responded to citizens’ and reporters’ questions via Twitter, and sent emergency response crews when residents tweeted that they needed help.  When the blockades were lifted, it reported traffic conditions as traffic patterns returned to normal.

Following the blockades, tweeter “melenanl” wrote, “Thanks to all of you who take #reynosafollow seriously and who use it responsibly.  Thanks to you my daughter and I made it home safely.”

Despite the shootouts, blockades, and explosions that rocked Reynosa last Wednesday, amazingly, only one civilian was killed. Twitter’s impact on that relatively minor death toll is debatable.  Despite its potential as a tool to rapidly communicate messages, photos, and videos that could keep citizens away from dangerous situations, its reach is limited.  In Mexico, where home internet service costs twice as much as comparable packages available in the United States, only 13.5% of Mexicans have internet in their homes. And only the wealthy can afford data (internet) service on their cell phones, which is necessary to receive Tweets on a cell phone.

When asked if an alternative emergency broadcast system via radio or television exists so that citizens who can’t afford internet can also stay informed of developments during dangerous situations, the Reynosa municipal government replied via Twitter, “At the moment we don’t have that sort of alert [system] for citizens.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Triqui Women Attacked

by Patricia Castellanos, Oaxaca Red Capital

Two Triqui women from the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala were attacked and raped on Tuesday in the afternoon.

42-year-old Natalia Cruz Bautista was tied up and raped by members of the Union for the Social Well- being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), while 45-year-old Francisca de Jesús García was shot as she attempted to escape her attackers.

In a press conference, Mariana Flores, spokesperson for the Independent Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT-I), stated that the victims accused Julio César Martínez Morales, Antonio Cruz García aka "El Pájaro," Ramiro Domínguez García, and Mauro Vásquez of having raped them.

The incident, she said, occurred when the women passed by the community of La Sabana, Santiago Juxtlahuaca, on their way to look for food.  There, they were intercepted by UBISORT members.  When they resisted, one was shot and the other was raped and beaten.

The Triqui representative said that the women had already filed a complaint with the Oaxaca State Attorney General's Office (PGJE).

Mariana Flores said that since the humanitarian caravan in which human rights activist Jyri Jaakkola and Oaxacan Bety Cariño were attacked and murdered, representatives of MULT-I have been threatened constantly.  Therefore, they decided to organize actions.  They have the Federal Attorney General's Office in Huajuapan blockaded, and they set up protest encampments in the Oaxacan capital and in Mexico City.

Translated by Kristin Bricker.  In the original article, the author identified Mariana Flores and the victims as being from the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT), which is incorrect and was changed in the translation.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Triqui Leader Executed in San Juan Copala

by Pedro Matias, Proceso

Heriberto Pazos Ortiz of the MULT, alleged
intellectual author of Santos Castro's murder.
Photo: Dimoru
Oaxaca, Oax., September 5 (apro)- Four armed men who are linked to the Movement for Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT) and the Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT) murdered the municipal agent of Agua Fría, Copala, Pedro Santos Castro, this past Sunday. [A municipal agent is similar to a mayor and is one of the highest elected positions in a town.]

The murder was denounced by Mariana Flores, the representative of the [Triqui] women and children who are in a protest encampment in Oaxaca City's main plaza.  Flores accused Heriberto Pazos Ortiz and Rufino Merino Zaragoza, leaders of MULT and MULT's Popular Unity Party respectively, as well as Pablo Guzmán Ramírez from UBISORT, of being the intellectual authors of the murder.

Including this new murder, there have been a total of 25 murders of members of the self-proclaimed autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.

Mariana Flores said that the leader of Agua Fría was murdered in the presence of his wife Lucila Celestino de Jesús and his sister Angela Santos Castro, both of whom identified the men who killed Santos Castro.

The man's family members recognized the assailants of this murder as Emiliano Martínez Santos, Francisco Moreno Flores, Camilo Ramírez de Jesús, and Antonio Cruz García, aka "Toño Pájaro."

However, they believe that the intellectual authors are ex-congressman Rufino Merino Zaragoza and Heriberto Pazos Ortiz, from MULT, as well as Pablo Guzmán Ramírez from the UBISORT.

Flores, the representative of the 20 women and 25 children who are in self-imposed exile in Oaxaca City's town square in order to save their lives, insisted that it is obvious that Gov. Ulises Ruiz seeks to use his gunmen to do away with the autonomous municipality.

Translated by Kristin Bricker.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Truth About the Immigrant Massacre in Tamaulipas

by Gennaro Carotenuto
translated from Italian to Spanish by S. Seguí for Rebelión
translated from Spanish to English by Kristin Bricker

Coffins containing the remains of 72 immigrants massacred
in Tamaulipas. (AP)
Regarding the massacre of 72 immigrants in the [Mexican state of] Tamaulipas, where the judge in charge of the investigation and the mayor of the town of Hidalgo were also murdered shortly thereafter, the global disinformation complex has wanted to have us believe that the victims were being recruited by drug traffickers or that they were trying to sell themselves to the cartels, or that maybe they had refused to be hired as hit-men.

This interpretation lacks basis.  It is slanderous and racist, and it seeks to hide the truth about the exploitation--down to the last cent their lives are worth--of the 600,000 Central and South American immigrants who attempt to cross Mexico every year.  The reality is that these immigrants are the constant victims of extortion, harassment, rape, and threats even before they begin to cross the desert--the wall constructed by George Bush--to be victims of the Minutemen patrols--those armed "anglo" patrols in the US--, of racist state laws such as Arizona's, and of so many other vicissitudes in their quest for work in the United States.  According to Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, from the moment the "cachucos" (a slur that means "dirty Central Americans") leave their country, "they stop being people and they turn into merchandise, into a gold mine for both the mafias and the authorities."

Mainstream media portrays them as low-cost criminal labor for drug traffickers, society's trash, undesirables, accomplices or even members of the mafia, and therefore without rights nor human dignity.  Now pilot-less aircraft or "drones" will be used against them.  Those drones won't manage to stop the entrance of even one gram of cocaine, but they will help to throw the immigrants into organized crime's open arms.  In reality, these immigrants are victims of a true humanitarian emergency that the Obama and Calderón administrations should deal with.

Immigrants are a business worth $3 billion dollars per year, which is divided up amongst the criminal cartels and corrupt police forces, both in the US and in Mexico.  To cross to the other side they pay between $4,000 and $15,000 dollars.  Often, it is only the principle of martyrdom that drives the "American dream," which has already been achieved by (in addition to tens of millions of Mexicans) a million Hondurans, two million Salvadorans, and three million Guatemalans who send about $10 billion dollars in cash remittances to their families in their countries of origin every year.

According to Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, the bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, at least two-thirds of immigrants suffer extortion or robbery once they are in Mexico, and one out of every ten is raped during the trip. About one-fifth is detained and sent home.  This is a shrinking number, because [the authorities] who intercept the immigrants prefer to get money out of them rather than send them home.  The situation has gotten much worse over the past decade with the violent campaign against immigrants that George Bush led when he constructed the wall between the US and Mexico, which will soon be complemented by a double wall on the border between Mexico and Guatemala.  The measures that have been adopted to detain immigration, just like those along other borders between the South and the North, do not impede human trafficking; they do no more than raise the price, making the business more lucrative and putting immigrants lives even more at risk.

Every year, according to official statistics, at least 20,000 immigrants are kidnapped by criminal cartels and forced to pay, in addition to the cost of their passage across the border, ransoms of between $1,000 and $5,000 dollars each.  They become trade items between the cartels, as if they were packages, or they are murdered has hostages in order to convince others to pay.

According to Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Immigration, Mexico is undoubtedly the country where the worst human rights abuses on the continent are committed, enabled by the media's shameful silence.  The media is always ready to write pages of condemnation about integrationist governments, but they are always silent about the Mexican hell. 

In 2009, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) published a volume entitled "Welcome to the Kidnappers' Hell," in which it denounced the mistreatment of Central American immigrants and collected numerous testimonies regarding the involvement of Mexican authorities in the kidnappings.

The report describes kidnapping's characteristics.  The immigrant is usually detained by the police and sold to criminal organizations, who sent him to isolated places like the San Fernando ranch where the Tamaulipas massacre occurred.  There, the beatings, the harassment, the rapes, and the torture begin.  The goal is to obtain family members' telephone numbers so that [the criminals] can obtain exorbitant ransoms from the immigrants, almost all of them very poor.  In general, those who cannot pay are murdered.

The Tamaulipas massacre fits within this atrocious context of 20,000 kidnappings per year.  Seventy-two immigrants who probably couldn't pay were shot just like in the Nazi massacres.  We know about it only because Freddy Lala, an 18-year-old Ecuadoran, managed to survive and alert others after walking over 20 kilometers with a bullet in his neck.  Or maybe it was that, just like in the times of Plan Condor or the genocide in Guatemala, they allowed him to survive so that he  would tell the story and cause more terror.

Immigrants are victims, not accomplices.

Gennaro Carotenuto, a lawyer with a doctorate in History, teaches the History of Journalism in the University of Macerata (Italy).  Scholar of international politics, dictatorial regimes, and the Contemporary History of Latin America, he also teachers Geopolitics and Oral History at the same university, and has been a visiting professor in the University of Montevideo (Uruguay).  In 2005 he published Franco e Mussolini, la guerra vista dal Mediterraneo (Milan) and in 2007 he edited the fourth volume of "Storia e Comunicazione. Un Rapporto in Evoluzione" (EUM).

S. Seguí is a member of the Rebelión collective and Tlaxcala, a network of translators for linguistic diversity.  The [Spanish] translation can be freely reproduced under the condition that its integrity is respected and that it mentions the names of the author, the translator, and the source.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mexican Military Kills US Citizen Joseph Proctor Under Questionable Circumstances

by Erich Moncada, El Sendero del Peje

"Come to a complete stop, jerks."
On Sunday, August 19, Guerrero State Police found the cadaver of a United States citizen inside a vehicle at kilometer 14 of the Acapulco-Zijuatanejo federal highway, near the town of El Cerrito de Oro.

32-year-old Joseph Steven Proctor, originally from Georgia, was found dead with two shots in his arm and forearm.  Next to his body was a AR-15 [assault] rifle with 34 bullets and two spent .233 caliber casings.  Domingo Olea, an agent with the public prosecutor's office in Coyuca de Benítez, stated that according to military authorities, Proctor opened fire against a military vehicle that had signaled for him to stop as it was patrolling the zone.  The soldiers were forced to defend themselves and return fire, causing the vehicle to flip over.

William Proctor, Joseph's father, said that he had no knowledge of his son being involved in any illicit activities, nor that he owned a gun, and he was skeptical about the alleged attack on the soldiers.  He asserted that his son was a gardener when he lived in the United States and was in the process of divorcing his wife.  For the past six years he had resided in Mexico with his girlfriend, Liliana Gil Vargas and a son.  In an interview, Gil Vargas said that her boyfriend left at 10pm to make some purchases in an auto parts store.  She questioned the official version: "I heard that six soldiers shot him and they planted an AK-47 on him, when he never uses weapons.  We don't have weapons.  He could have never done such a thing."

Proctor's father had reservations about the official version of events: "I doubt it.  Joseph had a temper but he never used weapons... He always got mad when the police detained him looking for a bribe."

His mother said the same: "I heard about that.  I don't believe it... I need more information... I want to know what happened."

However, the incident could become yet another case of human rights violations committed by the military.  It is unsettling that the soldiers didn't report the confrontation, and that it was instead an anonymous call to 066 [Mexico's emergency telephone number] at 2am that reported the truck's location.

Even though Barack Obama's government has been silent on the issue, El Universal reported that the United States consulate was pressuring the military to have the soldiers testify before the public prosecutor.

According to the Associated Press, "an official with the Natonal Defense Ministry who requested to remain anonymous said... that the military is investigating the incident and that it appeared as though the US citizen's body was found in the front passenger seat, meaning that there could have been another person involved, even though no one else was found in the area."

CNN reveals more inconsistencies: "US officials have received contradictory reports regarding if 32-year-old Joseph Steven Proctor shot first at the Mexican soldiers... Proctor died, according to the US State Department, either because he tried to drive through a checkpoint [without stopping], causing the soldiers to shoot, or because he opened fire as he was passing by the checkpoint, causing the soldiers to shoot at him."

It is also difficult to believe that Proctor was able to drive the Windstar and fire the gun at the same time.

 Translated by Kristin Bricker

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mexico Military Abuses Are Systematic

by Jesús Cantú, Proceso
A memorial on Monterrey Tech's campus to two students
killed by soldiers who were engaged in a shoot-out with criminals.
Soldiers later planted guns on the students' bodies to make
it appear as though they were members of organized crime.

Mexico City, August 25- An analysis of recommendations 36 and 45, issued this year by the [Mexican government's] National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in reference to the death of the two Almanza Salazar children and of the two Monterrey Tech students, makes it clear that in both cases the soldiers who participated committed the same offenses: altering the scene of the crime, apparently to cover up their responsibility in the incidents; planting evidence to try to implicate the victims as members of criminal organizations or, at least, to modify the course of the investigations; and to hinder the national human rights ombudsman's investigations.

The existence of similar conduct in the two distinct cases, which were carried out by soldiers from two different military zones, arouses the suspicion that this is a general policy and not the anomalous personal behavior of those involved.

In particular, recommendation 45, regarding the murder of the two students, is damning [proof of] the military's evidence-planting: utilizing the Defense Ministry's very own documents, [the recommendation] demonstrates that the soldiers planted weapons they had previously seized from criminals on the students.

In this respect, the recommendation points out: "in the e-mail of images annexed in the report from the responsible authority, AR13, commander of the VII Military Zone in Nuevo Leon, said that once the confrontation against members of organized crime had ended, a grey Yukon was inspected, and inside the following was found: (...) an automatic rifle, .308 caliber, Century Arms brand, Cetme Sporter model, serial numbers erased; as well as a carbine, .223-5-56 mm, Bushmaster brand, model XM15-E2S, serial number L262834."

And further on [the recommendation] indicates: "...the public prosecutor's cadaver inspection report compiled by the Forensic Medical Service of the Nuevo Leon State Attorney General's Office states that Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo had in his right arm a rifle-style firearm, color black with green and a black strap, with a metallic magazine that did not have any bullets.  The serial number and brand was not observed.  Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso, on the other hand, had in his left arm ... a black metallic firearm, 223 caliber, model XM15-E2S, Bushmaster brand, serial number L262834."

The recommendation concludes: "...from the report produce by the commander of the VII Military Zone it is deduced that the two weapons found inside the truck when it was searched by soldiers are the same weapons that appeared in the arms of both students at the moment the public prosecutor's office inspected the cadaver, even when a video demonstrated that they [the students] were not traveling in the truck.  [Rather], they were leaving campus and they were unarmed, which leads to the conclusion that these [weapons] were planted with the goal of altering the crime scene."

Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar's funeral.
In the case of the Almanza Salazar family, the evidence comes from contradictory testimony.  The two most relevant pieces of evidence are the location of the Tahoe truck in which the two dead boys, Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar, were traveling--it was found between two trucks occupied by members of organized crime--and the bullet holes that were shot in the front part [of the vehicle] to make it appear as though the [family's] truck was caught in the crossfire.

Regarding the truck's location, the CNDH document states: " the e-mail of images number 13018, sent on May 5, 2010, by AR3, which appears as an annex to the National Defense Ministry's report provided... to the National [Human Rights] Commission, the following is written:

"...5. At the end of the attack, the scene was searched and three vehicles were found in the order listed below, with the following items inside them:

"a) A dead, unidentified male assailant with military-style clothing in a blue truck; b) a male with injuries in his legs in a black Tahoe truck, who is identified as V6, indicating that he was coming from Nuevo Laredo and heading towards Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and that his family was accompanying him; also inside the vehicle, in the back, was the lifeless body of young Martin Almanza Salazar, who died at the scene, and c) a dead unidentified male assailant with military-style dress in a red vehicle."

The Almanza Salazar family's truck.  The family says
soldiers shot the boys in their parents' arms as they fled
the soldiers' unprovoked attack.

Regarding this detail, the recommendation states: "...the National [Human Rights] Commission observes that work was done to alter the course of the investigations, which is demonstrated by the May 9, 2010 testimony of T2 and T3 (as the witnesses are referred to in order to protect their identities), who state that when they received the call over radio from V1 (identified as Martín Almanza Rodríguez, the boys' father, who was driving the vehicle) that the truck in which they were traveling had been shot by soldiers, they went to the scene of the crime, arriving at approximately 21:30 hours on April 3, 2010, and observed in said place that there was only the black Tahoe truck with its hazard lights blinking, which they clearly identified as V1's vehicle, and, upon questioning the soldiers regarding the passengers, the soldiers told them that the injured had already been transported to Miguel Alemán for medical treatment.  [T2 and T3] went to the hospital in Miguel Alemán... As they were returning to Nuevo Laredo and crossed the bridge [near the crime scene] at about 23:30 hours on April 3, 2010, the say that V1's truck was [parked] between a blue pick up truck and a red vehicle."

(In other military documents that refer to the trucks it is observed that they took exactly the same measures as in the previous case: they used the goods that they seized from the criminals to alter the crime scene and modify the course of the investigation.)

Also, to make it appear as though the family had been caught in the crossfire, once the injured and the bodies had been taken away, the soldiers fired at the truck's windshield and hood.  The CNDH recommendation states: " relation to the bullet holes that appear in the front of the truck, they do not coincide with the victim's testimony.  Moreover, the National [Human Rights] Commission's forensic report indicates that, in relation to the bullet holes described in the right front passenger seat, it can be established that the shooter was located outside and in front of the vehicle in question; likewise, that the seat was not occupied by any person due to the absence of biological fluids (blood stains or tissue), meaning that it is very probable that they [the bullet holes] were made once the truck was unoccupied."

In both cases, at the beginning of the recommendations, the CNDH makes a nearly identical observation.  In the students' case, it notes: "[The CNDH] considers it necessary to make evident that during the investigation for this recommendation, there were obstacles and a lack of collaboration on the part of the National Defense Ministry, which denied [access to] some of the information that was requested in order to discover the truth of what happened."

According to the CNDH's recommendations, the behaviors and cover-ups are very similar, despite the fact that the cases, soldiers, and military zones are different, which makes it more difficult to attribute the human rights violations to human error or individual abuses.

Translated by Kristin Bricker.