Oct 18, 2014

Report from Guerrero: The real criminals

Thousands March for Safe Return of Disappeared Youth

Saturday, Oct. 18. Acapulco:  Shops are closed, with metal shutters pulled tight over the storefronts.  Government employees have be18. en given the day off and warned to stay inside. Schools are out for the day, to the delight of the children. The new car agency has even removed the models from the show floor.

Acapulco, the Pearl of the Pacific, looks like it's in hurricane mode. But there was no hurricane Friday. The government ordered the city lockdown to scare people off the march. Despite the campaign to create fear among the local population, close to ten thousand people marched to demand the safe return of 43 education students, forcibly disappeared by local police on Sept. 26 in the nearby city of Iguala .

Acapulco is the most violent city in the nation, and murder and extortion are everyday events. One resident who defied official warnings and joined the march told me,  "You've seen those movies about the gangster days and Al Capone, with shoot-outs in the street and pay-offs to the cops? That's us. I used to think that only happened in movies."

But in a city where violence has become commonplace, for the city government the presence of citizens demonstrating for justice was the main threat to be reckoned with. 

"Due to the protest, municipal authorities decided to suspend work and close offices, to avoid exposing personnel," read the local Novedades Acapulco newspaper Friday. Municipal spokesperson Ricardo Castillo made the rounds of radio and television stations warning residents to remain inside their homes because of the possibility of violence.

"This is a peaceful march. Walk in your contingent, everyone behind the front banner. Men line up on the outside, women inside." March organizers gave specific instructions to the thousands of teachers, students, local residents and regional grassroots organizations, including indigenous community police. The protesters followed them to the letter and despite high emotions at the assassinations and disappearance of the students, the march proceeded without incident. Even the graffiti was reserved for OXXO stores and politicians' propaganda.

Two demands dominated the march: safe return of the missing students, and the resignation of the state governor, Angel Aguirre. Aguirre is blamed for the impunity that characterizes the state, a "cemetery of organized crime", where the surrounding hills hide hundreds of bodies and body parts in mass graves. Members of the criminal gang, Guerreros Unidos, implicated in the disappearances originally led investigators to the supposed grave of the students, but the Attorney General announced this week that the semi-burned bodies are not those of the students. The fact that everyone has forgotten to even ask whose bodies were in the graves gives an idea of how "normal" mass graves and unidentified bodies have become in this part of the country.

The false warnings of violent protest are just the latest in years, if not decades, of government efforts to criminalize the students of the rural teaching college, Ayotzinapa. Casting a permanent image of dangerous youth threatening law-abiding citizens is part of a strategy to isolate the students. 

Now they are the victims of police who opened fire and murdered six people, abducting and disappearing 43 with the participation of Guerreros Unidos, an organized crime gang, But still, the press and government officials continue to paint the young people as the problem. Within local society, residents have grown soused to media and poltiicians'  harangues against the students for commandeering buses and blocking roads, that many will tell you privately that they belive the dead and missing got what they deserved.

But thousands more don't agree. The movement to support the students and hold all levels of government accountable for the crime is growing. As the federal government insists that organized crime is behind the disappearance with just a few corrupt politicians, at the march not one of the chants or slogans or demands was directed at organized crime. All laid responsibility at the feet of the government, primarily the state government.

First, because citizens can't make demands of organized crime. Criminals are criminals. It is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens, which in Guerrero is clearly not happening.  Second, because the protesters view the drug cartels and the state as partners. 

"Sicarios, policia--la misma porquería" read one sign. (Hit men, police--the same trash"). The mayor of Iguala implicated in the attack on the students of Ayotzinapa and currently on the run, allegedly has tied through his wife and friends to the local crime gang. He is accused of knocking off people who cross him, notably grassroots leader, Arturo Hernandez Cardona, two years ago who he is said to have murdered in person.

This also is not the first time that the governments' hostility toward Ayotzinapa has led to violence.  In 2011 police assassinated two students at a roadblock in a crime for which no one was held accountable.

The media and political push to blame the victims is particularly surreal when compared to the attitude of the state towards the real criminals. The state Congress decided yesterday--three weeks after the crime--to withdraw immunity for the mayor, José Luis Abarca. It's not even clear if the federal government has issued an arrest order for him despite his obvious involvement in the crime from the outset.

Now Abarca is long gone,  on the lam and with a 21-day lead on police who apparently have little interest in capturing him. One can't help but doubt that justice will prevail.

Oct 14, 2014

US Signals Shift in International Drug Policy

Insight Crime: In a press conference that received little media attention, US drug czar William Brownfield laid the groundwork for a new US approach to international drug policy, pointing to the changing political landscape on drug regulation in the Americas.

In a meeting with reporters at the United Nations in New York on October 9, Brownfield set out the United States' position on international drug policy, including to "accept flexible interpretation" of the UN Drug Control conventions, which were first drafted in the 1960s. He stated that:

Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies ... to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs.  Read more.

Oct 13, 2014

As Mexico cracks down, drug money comes to U.S.

Denver Post: For a company that booked $12 million in annual sales importing snacks such as chile- and lime-flavored chips from Mexico, Baja Distributors Inc.'s offices were oddly quiet.

There were no signs outside. Its small warehouse was almost empty. Phones went unanswered.

Investigators say there was a reason for the anonymity: The business was laundering money from Mexican drug traffickers. Baja Distributors, whose executives denied laundering drug money, brought more than $17 million from Mexico in 18 months.  Read more. 

Oct 10, 2014

Mexico captures Juarez Cartel boss -government source

Reuters: Mexico captured the leader of the once-feared Juarez Cartel in the country's restive north on Thursday, the second drug kingpin to fall in just over a week, a government source said.

Vicente Carrillo, 51, long-time head of the Juarez Cartel, was a fierce rival of Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and the world's most wanted drug boss until his capture in February. Read more. 

Oct 2, 2014

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Compares U.S. Migrant Detention Centers to Guantánamo

La Jornada, Oct. 2.  Washington. The United States is going back to old practices with the practice of keeping children and families of undocumented migrants in detention, reported the vice president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Felipe González, on Thursday. He compared the detention center with "prisons."

"We're very concerned because we see that the United States is returning to policies that appeared to have been left in the past, like having detention centers for children and families," said Gonzalez, who is also the Rapporteur on Migrant Rights.

Gonzalez led a delegation of the Commission this week that visited the U.S. southwest border, where about 66,000  unaccompanied
minors-and a similar number of families-from Mexico and Central America have been apprehended since October 2013, registering record numbers .

Some migrant children have been sent to relatives or shelters to await their appearance before an immigration judge.

But the fact that many remain in detention centers is a "setback" and a quick solution "looks complicated," Gonzalez said.

In a statement, the IACHR--an autonomous organ of the OAS--said the detention of migrants is "undesirable" and must be "only used as an exceptional measure" and for a short period. In that regard, it called on the United States to enact legislation to ensure that children and families are not sent to those centers.

The numbers of children caught at the border has been falling since June, but the government has been cautious in declaring the situation resolved. It is currently expanding capacity for detention of migrants.

The Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plans to open a new facility this year in Dilley, Texas that could accommodate 2,400 beds.

The United States "is returning to policies that existed more than five years ago," Gonzalez said, referring to the center in Hutto, Texas that was forced to cease housing child migrants in response to demands from civil organizations.

The conditions of migrants in the United States is of concern to the Commission, which has already announced a hearing to discuss the issue during the next session later this month.

"Equivalent to prison"

González, accompanied by the Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, and other experts, visited the ICE center for children and families in Karnes, Texas, and interviewed former detainees from the center of the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas since they were denied access to  migrants currently
detained there.

The U.S. government applies "the same standard as Guantánamo" in the migrant centers, the commissioner said.

Migrants reported lack of privacy and recreation, and restrictions on calling relatives from the centers, according to testimony gathered by the Commission. The Commission considered that the human rights situation has been "exacerbated" by the recent wave of migrant children.

It also noted that the detention is arbitrary and that many migrants lack legal representation, which is a major factor in determining the probability that an asylum case be accepted, Gonzalez said.

For the Commission, the facilities "are equivalent to prisons."

Another complaint is that U.S. authorities do not thoroughly investigate the asylum claims of migrants, who flee drug violence, mainly in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

"It's a very serious situation of violence in these countries and therefore each case should be analyzed carefully," Gonzalez said.

"This means that people who face risks in their countries are being deported," he added.

Sep 29, 2014

Armed Border Militia Apprehends Bat-Counting Scientists

Note: Heavily armed militia in Arizona and Texas are threatening people. Here near Sonoita, Arizona scientific researchers were held at gunpoint. Local officials say they don't appreciate the presence of the armed groups. Then why don't they do something? Is this really legal or desirable behavior? You know that if these groups were Latino citizens they'd be behind bars. While it is legal to bear arms, it is not legal to hunt human beings and threaten them at gunpoint. - Laura Carlsen 

Huffington Post: An armed border militia group confronted three researchers in Arizona last month, mistaking them for undocumented immigrants or drug traffickers in an incident that drew criticism from local law enforcement officials.
Border militias, or "untrained, utterly anonymous gunmen with no accountability to anyone" who prowl the border on their own time and look for illegal activity, have become an increasing concern for law enforcement officials, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The recent incident with the researchers is the second time in the last few weeks the militias have caused an issue for U.S. border authorities.  Read more. 

22 police held following southern Mexico violence

AP: Authorities in Mexico say 22 local police have been arrested following the deaths of six people in Guerrero state.

Unidentified gunman and numerous officers were involved in several violent incidents that killed six people late Friday and early Saturday in Iguala, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Mexico City. Read more.