March 1, 2013

In Mexico, Drug Cartels Fire Weed Into the U.S. Using Makeshift Cannons


Where there's a will, there's a way. Mexican police have apparently captured a "weed cannon" that drug gangs used to fire 30 pound packets of marijuana across American border fences. The makeshift device was placed in the back of a flatbed truck and ferreted around.

It's not clear if there are more such cannons at large.

Mexico's drug cartels are no stranger to DIY engineering. The Zetas, for instance, used kidnapped telecom workers to build their very own communications network to evade the prying ears of Mexican officials.

(AP Photo)

January 28, 2013

Why the U.S. Indifference to Mexico?


Washington's foreign policy loves nothing more than to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, but as Stephen Walt points out, they really don't need to travel all that far:

[T]he drug war in Mexico was never mentioned during the presidential debates, even though over 60,000 Mexicans have been murdered over the past six years and even though this violence has killed several hundred Americans in recent years too. Prominent senators like John McCain keep harping about violence in Syria and the need for greater U.S. involvement; why doesn't violence that is closer to home and that affects Americans more directly get equal or greater attention? To say nothing of the effects that Mexican meth and other drugs have on the United States itself.

It's a serious question: why do some fairly distant and minor threats get lots of play in our discourse and command big-ticket policy responses, while more imminent threats get downplayed?

Walt offers up several plausible explanations in his post but it is a very curious thing.

(AP Photo)

July 11, 2012

PR Firm Sought to 'Rebrand Mexico'


For many outside Mexico, the country is increasingly synonymous with its brutal drug war. But in 2011, the country enjoyed record tourism. How? According to Mark McNeilly, Mexico hired a good PR firm:

The first obstacle to turning around Mexico's brand relative to tourism was facing up to the problem caused by the negative publicity about drug violence. The old approach was to stay silent and hope the news stories would stop. However, as Ogilvy PR's lead for the project, Jennifer Risi, stated, "Unless you are out there talking and putting those stories in context, you are losing the messaging battle." For example, per Risi, prior to implementing the new strategy CNN had run more than fifty stories in a row focused on the drug issue.

While taking the issue head-on was a scary prospect for the Tourism Board, they stepped up to the plate. Gerardo Llanes, the CMO of the Tourism Board, agreed with the strategy, acknowledging that "being quiet was not working, especially for the tourism industry." To overcome the negative image they would need to craft a message to the media and their travel partners to put the issue in context....

The key proof points behind the message were twofold: one, showing that Mexico offers much more than just beaches by showcasing the country's adventure travel, cultural sites, and tours for foodies. Secondly, communicating the fact that, while there is violence in the country, it's limited to a few areas. Per Llanes, out of 2500 municipalities, only 80 are significantly affected.

(AP Photo)

July 2, 2012

Mexico: The PRI's Back


Enrique Peña Nieto will be Mexico's next president and his PRI party notched more gains as well:

In other races, exit polls suggested that the PRI would pick up at least one more governor’s post, giving the party control of 21 of Mexico’s 31 states.

In the megalopolis of Mexico City, Miguel Angel Mancera captured 60 percent of the vote, allowing the left to continue to run one of the largest and most complex cities in the world.

From the Wall Street Journal:
Enrique Peña Nieto, a telegenic former governor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won with about 38% of the vote versus 31% for his closest challenger, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, according to a partial vote count by Mexico's election agency.

Josefina Vázquez Mota, Mexico's first major female presidential candidate and a member of President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party, or PAN, trailed with 26%.

The final official result might vary slightly, election officials said.

Ms. Vázquez Mota conceded defeat, but Mr. López Obrador said he would wait for final results in the coming days to decide what to do. Associates said he would likely contest the results in court, alleging that the PRI broke campaign spending limits and had favorable coverage in the media.
The return of the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years through an extensive patronage system that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa dubbed "the perfect dictatorship," marks a stunning comeback for a party that nearly fell apart after it lost its first presidential election in 2000. After a third-place showing in 2006, the party has united around its new face: Mr. Peña Nieto, a 45-year-old former state governor.

Even in victory, the party was supported by only four in 10 Mexicans. In his victory speech, Mr. Peña Nieto told cheering supporters that the PRI had been given a second chance at power, and must show voters that it can govern better than in the past, when it was dogged by corruption scandals. "We have to show that we understand Mexico has changed," Mr. Peña Nieto said.

Sr Peña-Nieto will succeed as president if he is willing to "de-PRI" the PRI. The question is, can he? We'll see:
While the 45-year-old presents himself as part of a more-democratic generation of leaders, many PRI governors continue to rule their states like “fiefdoms” and won’t take easily to centralized control, said Enrique Krauze, a historian and author of “Mexico: Biography of Power.” Pena Nieto also faces the threat of protests from an anti-PRI student movement and supporters of second-place finisher Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“Pena Nieto has proved during these months that he has political instincts, that he’s a political animal,” Krauze said in an interview in Mexico City prior to yesterday’s balloting. “But he won’t have an easy ride now in the sense that he’ll have to fight both inside and outside” his party.

While the PRI will control at least one house of Congress, amending the Constitution - a step required to end Pemex’s grip on oil production, as Peña Nieto promised - would require at least a two-thirds majority.

Cross-posted at Fausta's blog.

(AP Photo)

April 27, 2012

How Mexico Handles Dog Poop

With free Wi-Fi:

...Mexican Internet portal Terra is tapping into the online pulse of the modern era and has come up with a truly contemporary way to inspire dog owners to get out their plastics bags....

After pet owners pick up their dog's turds, they can place the bag in a special box that calculates its weight in exchange for a few minutes of free Wi-Fi. Ladies and gentle, welcome to 21st Century.

November 2, 2011

About That Hacker War...

Looks like Anonymous isn't interested in taking on the Zetas after all:

Plans by the hacker collective Anonymous to expose collaborators with Mexico's bloody Zetas drug cartel – a project it dubbed "#OpCartel" – have fallen into disarray, with some retreating from the idea of confronting the killers while others say that the kidnap of an Anonymous hacker, the incident meant to have spawned the scheme, never happened.

The apparent climbdown by the group came as one security company, Stratfor, claimed that the cartel was hiring its own security experts to track the hackers down – which could have resulted in "abduction, injury and death" for anyone it traced.

Two hacker members of "Operation Cartel", which said earlier this week that it would expose members of the murderous cartel, have now indicated that they are stopping their scheme to identify collaborators and members because they don't want anyone to be killed as a result.

November 1, 2011

Hackers vs. Drug Gang in Mexico

The hacker group Anonymous, best known for taking down credit card companies and Sony's PlayStation network, have turned their cyber sights on one of Mexico's most-feared drug gangs, the Zetas.

Apparently, a member of Anonymous was kidnapped by the Zetas and the hackers are demanding his release by November 5th or the group will release the names of taxi drivers, journalists and local police who cooperate with the drug cartel. The Zetas, of course, are not to be trifled with - they are responsible for numerous incidents of hair-raising violence throughout Mexico and apparently some members of Anonymous aren't interested in going toe-to-toe with them. Stay tuned.

January 13, 2011

Drug Trade in Mexico

Via the Economist, an interactive map tracing the Mexican drug trade:

November 1, 2010

Proposition 19


Most American ballot measures don't attract much international attention, but California's Proposition 19, which would allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana consumption, has garnered a good deal of scrutiny. Proponents of Prop 19 have argued that loosening restrictions on marijuana would help de-fang Mexico's violent drug cartels, while opponents maintain it would have little impact.

Given that America's prohibitionist policies have had international ramifications - particularly in Latin America but also in Afghanistan, where curbing the country's opium production became an important priority - it's not unreasonable to assume that relaxing those policies would likewise have consequences beyond America's borders. But there's good reason to believe that cartels, like terrorist networks, are resilient and adaptive and will find other profitable ventures if running marijuana into the U.S. becomes less lucrative. And in any event, that debate seems rather tangential to the basic question at the heart of Proposition 19: what consenting adults in a free society are or aren't allowed to do.

(AP Photo)

August 13, 2010

Mexicans Support Drug War


New figures from Pew Research indicate that while 79 percent of Mexicans are deeply unhappy with the direction of the country, they continue to support using the army to fight drug gangs:

Fully 80% of Mexicans support using the army to fight drug traffickers, essentially unchanged from 83% in 2009. Opposition to using the army has increased only slightly, from 12% to 17%.

Just over half (55%) of Mexicans say the army is making progress against the traffickers, while only 22% think it is losing ground and 21% believe things are about the same as they have been in the past. However, assessments have become somewhat less positive since last year, when 66% felt the army was making progress and only 15% said it was losing ground.

Majorities in Central (60%), North (56%) and South (56%) Mexico believe the army is making progress, while residents of Mexico City (45%) are somewhat less likely to offer a positive assessment.

A survey of Mexico by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, conducted April 14-May 6, also finds continuing support for American involvement in the battle against drug cartels -- at least in terms of training and financial support.1 Fully 78% favor the U.S. providing training to Mexican police and military personnel, unchanged from the 2009 poll.

A smaller majority (57%) favors the U.S. providing money and weapons to Mexican police and military personnel, down slightly from 63% last year. Meanwhile, the share of the public that opposes this idea has grown from 28% to 37%. Opposition to the deployment of U.S. troops in Mexico has also increased, from an already high 59% last year to 67% in the current survey.

(AP Photo)

July 22, 2010

U.S. Views on Mexico, War on Drugs

Via Angus Reid:

Two thirds of respondents (65%) believe the “War on Drugs”—the efforts of the U.S. government to reduce the illegal drug trade—has been a failure, while only eight per cent deem it a success....

A majority of Americans hold favorable views on Mexican food (78%) and the Mexican people (59%), while about a third provide a positive assessment of Mexican beer (34%) and immigrants from Mexico who live in the United States (32%). However, only seven per cent of respondents have a favorable opinion of the Mexican government.

It is important to note that respondents who have travelled to Mexico in their lifetime are more likely to have a favorable opinion of each one of the five entities tested than those who have never been to the Latin American country.

In all, half of Americans (49%) believe Mexico deserves most of the blame for being a major supplier of illegal drugs to the U.S. because it has allowed the drug cartels to grow and flourish. Democrats (45%) are less likely than Republicans (59%) to feel this way.

However, one third of Americans (34%) think the U.S. deserves most of the blame for this situation, for having a population that demands illegal drugs.

Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

June 7, 2010

Immigration and American Decline

Via Gallup a major reason why the U.S. can sustain its power in the coming decades:

Gallup estimates 6.2 million Mexican adults say they would like to move permanently to the United States if given the chance. That's close to half of the 14 million Mexicans -- or 19% of the adult population -- who say they would like to resettle somewhere else; would-be migrants in Mexico choose Canada and Spain as their other top desired destinations...

Keeping in mind that Gallup's numbers reflect desire rather than actual migration rates, Mexico's roughly 6.2 million would-be migrants to the U.S. pale in comparison with the estimated 22.9 million adults who would come from China, 17.1 million from India, and 16.6 million from Nigeria. Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Brazil would also send more migrants than Mexico.

As Gallup goes on to note, if everyone who said they wanted to move to the United States actually did so, the population of the U.S. would grow by 60 percent. The ability to attract immigrants is not all good, of course, but it does speak to the country's capacity to regenerate itself and stave off a decline in population. America's two major great power rivals - China and Russia - can boast of no such attraction.

May 23, 2010

'Go Back to Mexico'

The Washington Times has a suggestion for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, trusted ally:

America doesn't need self-righteous lectures from officials from the developing world. Mexico has its own problems, including pervasive violence, openly armed drug cartels, pollution, widespread institutional corruption and lack of economic opportunity. If Mexicans are flooding north over our border, it is for many very good reasons. Mr. Calderon should stick to trying to fix his own basket-case country, if he can.

Now, these may all be perfectly legitimate complaints, but I'm troubled that a major American newspaper's editorial board would so publicly scold and embarrass a longtime U.S. ally like Mexico - especially at such a critical moment in the War on Drugs.

Bob Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and Max Boot should be condemning the Times any minute now. . . .


August 27, 2009

Mexico's Crime and Security Problem

The Instituto de Estudios Ciudadanos sobre la Inseguridad (ICESI) has released a new report detailing the security problems that Mexico is currently facing.

* Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Baja California (all states where drug traffickers have a heavy presence) are now more dangerous places than Mexico City.

* The study compares the levels of crime in Chihuahua and Sinaloa as comparable to the levels of crime in Venezuela and South Africa.

* Approximately one in five crimes are reported in Mexico.

* 16% of those that do not report crimes state that a lack of confidence in the public ministry is the chief reason. 39% state that reporting crimes is a waste of time.

* Over half of the Mexicans interviewed stated that they do not go out at night for fear of becoming victims to crime.

* 6 out of every 10 Mexicans interviewed do not let their kids go out by themselves.

President Calderon and Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora have been working overtime trying to reduce fears that the security situation in Mexico is out of control. Medina Mora pointed out last week that Mexico’s crime rate has actually dropped from levels 15 years ago. It’s hard to know, since so much crime is not reported in Mexico. What is clear from this study is that Mexicans are feeling more insecure every day. If Calderon’s PAN party is to rebuild from its losses it suffered in July, it must somehow change public perception about insecurity.

With headless bodies being discovered daily in Mexico, stating crime statistics from 15 years ago may not do the trick.

July 9, 2009

Michael Jackson Ahead in Mexican Protest Vote


Following last Sunday's election, Mexico's Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE, the Federal Electoral Institute), has found that Michael Jackson was the top write-in candidate, according to Mexico's Reforma.

Noticias 24 explains that write-in votes nullify the ballots. Blank ballots, which are considered a protest vote against political parties, are also null.

The IFE estimates that a total 1,839,971 votes were null. In Mexico City, the estimate is close to 10 percent of the total ballots.

Jacko was ahead of Jimmy Neutron, Batman, and Mexican wrestler Rey Misterio, probably because of the news coverage on his demise.

June 28, 2009

Mexico: Florence Cassez to Stay

A follow-up on a story I posted about last March, the Florence Cassez case, which was a top topic of discussion during Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to Mexico:

The big story in both countries [France and Mexico] was the Florence Cassez case: Cassez was sentenced to sixty years in prison after having been arrested at her Mexican boyfriend's house. She claimed not to know that he was the leader of the Zodiacs kidnapping gang and that there were three hostages in the house. During Sarkozy's state visit on Monday the two governments announced that they would create a commission to study the case and make a report and recommendations in three weeks. This is a very sensitive case in Mexico because of increased public pressure to halt what is perceived as impunity by criminals in a country with the highest kidnapping rate in the world.

This week Mexican authorities decided that Cassez will have to serve her entire 60-year sentence in Mexico, as
there are no conditions that would enable it to consent to the transfer of Florence Cassez to her country of origin, France, as mentioned in the Strasbourg Convention.
She was given the choice of remaining at Santa Marta prison or being transferred to Tetepan prison. She opted for the transfer to Tetepan, after describing Santa Marta as the "gates of hell," where she was under suicide watch.

The French government had declared that it reserved the right to suspend or reduce Cassez's sentence if she was transferred to France. Mexican President Felipe Calderón's statement was unequivocal: "The Mexican government has the unavoidable duty to ensure that the sentence passed by a judge should always be served."

May 31, 2009

Mexico: Electoral Purity

What do you do if you are a Mexican politician wanting to get your message out to the public? Well if you are Demetrio Sodi, a PAN candidate for one of the 16 jefes delegacionales that make up Mexico City, you sneak an interview during the semifinals match between two of Mexico’s most popular soccer teams. Of course, Sodi’s interview has not been without a great deal of controversy.

Sodi’s main opponent, Ana Gabriela Guevara (PRD), a retired track star, is claiming that Sodi violated election rules by spending more money than is allowed for the interview. Sodi says that he just happened to be at the game and so the commentators asked him a few questions. He denies paying Televisa (the company broadcasting the game) anything. Guevara and the PRD claim that no broadcasting company gives out free interviews during such an important soccer game and so Sodi must be cheating.

Guevara and Sodi are running for the delegation of Miguel Hidalgo, one of the most important jefes delegacionales in Mexico City. Some of the ritzy neighborhoods and famous landmarks of Mexico City lie in Miguel Hidalgo. Furthermore, Miguel Hidalgo is the only jefe delegacional that is currently controlled by the PAN. The importance of the race means that the IEDF (Electoral Institute of the Federal District) has had to intervene. It will be until at least October before the IEDF reaches a decision on the case.

The IFE (the federal version of the IEDF) has also been busy with complaints about other illegal political practices. The General Counsel of the IFE has recently agreed to more than double a fine against the PAN for distributing ads with the headline, “PRImitivo.” This is a word that combines the PRI party with the Spanish word for primitive. The PAN were originally fined 465,800 pesos on the 20th of April. This past week, the IFE unanimously agreed to increase the fine to 931,600 pesos. On the other hand, the IFE refused this week to stop pro-Pan advertisements by a wrestler, Místico, and a taekwondo medalist, Iridia Salazar. The report by the IFE determined that “the promotional statements are not susceptible to producing irreparable damage to the complaining party, neither does it violate the governing rules of the electoral process, and so it does not encompass a constitutional violation (my translation).”

This has all occurred in a week when government officials have been forced to deny claims that a recent crackdown on mayors in the state of Michoacán was politically motivated. The government believes that the mayors and local officials that were arrested all had ties with La Familia, a drug organization that operates in Michoacán. La Familia has recently been designated by Mexico’s Attorney General as being the most dangerous gang in Mexico because of its ability to influence politicians through bribes and intimidation. The debate over the purity of the government’s motives will more than likely continue for the coming weeks while the mayors are tried in court.

May 24, 2009

Mexico: Dirty Politics

The head of the left-wing PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), Jesús Ortega Martínez, has asked the heads of the other two major political parties (PRI and PAN) in Mexico to refrain from a “campaign of disqualifications” that have caused political apathy among Mexicans. Ortega noted that this “politics of the alleyway” only hurts democracy in Mexico. Ortega cited three recent instances that have contributed to the perception among Mexicans that politicians are self-serving and corrupt.

First, two books released this year have cited alleged corruption with previous presidents. Carlos Ahumada, a businessman convicted of corruption related crimes in Mexico City in 2004, has released Derecho De Replica (Right of Reply) which tells a story of a corrupt former PRI President Carlos Salinas. Starting in 2004, Ahumada had videotaped himself (his face covered) offering bribes to different associates of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate running for president. Salinas then orchestrated the release of the videos in an effort to discredit Lopez Obrador. He also used the videos to negotiate with PAN president Vicente Fox for the release of his brother, Raul Salinas, who had been convicted of homicide charges. Ahumada’s book made public suspicions that had already existed among many Mexicans; that Salinas contributed to Lopez Obrador’s .56% marginal defeat in 2006.

The other book released this year that has caused a political stir was former PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo’s book, El Despojo (The Plundering). Madrazo has accused former presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox of protecting certain drug cartels. He also accused President Calderon’s administration of being the head of a system that is opposed to true democratization.

The second reference that Ortega made was to the brutal fight between PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal of Zacatecas and Zacatecas Governor Amalia Garcia. This past week, allegations were made that 14 and ½ tons of marijuana were found at a chili-drying facility owned by Monreal’s brother, Cándido Monreal. Ricardo Monreal has stated that the marijuana was planted at Cándido’s property by the Monreal family’s rivals, Zacatecas Governor Amalia Garcia and her daughter, Senator Claudia Corichi. The Monreal and Garcia families are competing for Mexico’s fractured leftist party in Zacatecas. The allegations have caused Senator Monreal to take a leave of absence from his Senate seat until the allegations are cleared up. For Garcia, she has been forced to deal with a 53 man prison break in Zacatecas which included known members of the Zetas.

Lastly, Ortega made reference to former PRI President Miguel de la Madrid’s comments concerning his hand-picked successor, Carlos Salinas. De la Madrid stated that he regretted choosing Salinas as his successor because he thought that Salinas was corrupt and that his brother, Raul, was involved in the drug trade. In 1995, Raul was sent to prison on homicide charges. The charges were dropped a decade later, possibly because of the influence of Ahumada’s videotapes. A few hours after de la Madrid made the comments, he renounced them stating that he had misspoken because he was old and infirm. Nevertheless, Raul has become of symbol of the corruption that existed within the PRI party when they dominated Mexican politics for 71 years (until President Fox and the PAN came to power in 2000).

Politics in Mexico has always been rough. With congressional elections due in July, one can expect that it will only get rougher.

May 17, 2009

Mexico: Looking to 2012 Election

Marcelo Ebrard has announced his intention to run for president in 2012. Ebrard is a member of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and is currently the Head of Government of the Federal District (sometimes referred to as the mayor of Mexico City). His presidential aspirations have not been without some controversy.

First, there is the matter of PRD unity. Ebrard, for the most part, got his start by aligning himself with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the unsuccessful candidate for president in 2006. Lopez Obrador made Ebrard the chief of police in Mexico City while Lopez Obrador served as the mayor of Mexico City. Lopez Obrador and Ebrard had worked together to implement recommendations by Rudy Giuliani, when he came to Mexico City in 2003 to look for ways to improve security. When President Fox directly fired Ebrard in 2004 after an angry mob lynched some undercover cops, Lopez Obrador later reinstated Ebrard as Secretary of Social Development. Lopez Obrador lost a very close presidential election (an election that he still believes was rigged) in 2006 to President Calderon. Now, Ebrard’s emergence is creating a rift within the PRD that may have already existed for sometime.

Jesus Ortega Martinez, the leader of the PRD, has made it clear that Ebrard has every right to position himself for the presidency. While he rejected that Ebrard’s declaration closes the path of Lopez Obrador to become the nominee of the party, he admitted that any candidate within the party wishing to run for president lacks a lot time. Ebrard has already gained the support of many of the left-wing groups that encompass the PRD. The Izquierda Democratica Nacional has declared that it would support Ebrard. Jesus Zambrano, head of the Nueva Izquierda (the New Left) stated that he applauds Ebrard’s entrance into the race, but he also cautioned that this does not mean that the PRD already has a candidate.

If the Ebrard-Lopez Obrador split has the potential of breaking apart the PRD, then one would not know from watching the responses from the PAN (President Calderon’s party). At the very least, the PAN is not taking a chance that the PRD will be irrelevant in future elections. This past week the head of the PAN, Cesar Nava, stated that while it is okay that Ebrard has presidential aspirations, it is not okay for him to use public resources as the mayor of Mexico City to build on those aspirations. Nava’s comments are more than likely an indication of how political opponents of Ebrard will criticize him in the future.

Meanwhile the coalition that President Calderon built in order to come to power in 2006 has been slowly crumbling in the past year. This past week, Elba Esther Gordillo, a former member of the PRI party and the current head of Mexico’s largest teacher's union, emphasized the costs that Calderon’s war against crime has created. Her comments were made in front of the president, when the two were celebrating the Day of the Teacher. Elba is arguably the most powerful woman in Mexico and her support in 2006 was essential for Calderon to sneak by Lopez Obrador. In Mexico, presidents serve only one term and it is not yet certain who will emerge to run in President Calderon’s party.

April 26, 2009

Mexico: National Security and Human Rights

In a week that has been dominated in the United States by talk of CIA interrogations and declassified photos of torture, much of the same conversations have been circulating in Mexico (that is, until the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico City in the last couple of days which now is the leading story). Except in Mexico, the debate has been focused on the military which is increasingly being used to try bring security back to Mexico.

A report issued in March by Mexico’s National Audit Office declared that more than half of Mexico’s municipal police officers are not qualified to effectively carry out their duties. Furthermore, the police are seen by the general public as highly corrupt in contrast to the more respected military. As a result, President Calderon’s fight against the drug cartels has been led by the military, which are deployed in various hot spots around Mexico.

One of these hot spots is Ciudad Juarez. The location of Ciudad Juarez near the United States ensures that ninety percent of cocaine entering the United States passes through this city. This has made Ciudad Juarez a battleground for drug gangs in the past few years. In March, President Calderon ordered the military to take over Ciudad Juarez. The police department is being run by a retired general. The citizens of Ciudad Juarez now see soldiers just about everywhere they go.

The results of the crackdown have been amazing. In the first two months of 2009, there were 434 murders in Ciudad Juarez. In March, when the military took over, there were 51. In April so far, there has been 22 murders. Jorge Alberto Berecochea, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel now running one of the police districts, says, “Ciudad Juarez, right now, I’d say it’s the safest city in Mexico.”

However, with an increased military presence often comes increased complaints of human rights violations. Last week a 21-year old man, Javier Eduardo Rosales, was found beaten to death on a motorcycle trail outside of the city. Rosales and another man were (according to the other man) allegedly detained by the military and taken to an undisclosed location where they were beaten. Rosales was allegedly beaten more extensively because he had serpent tatoos which led the military to believe that he was a member of Los Aztecas, an enforcer group for the Juarez cartel.

Mauricio Ibarra of the National Human Rights Commission has noted that human rights complaints have increased since Mr. Calderon has militarized the drug war. Among the complaints against the military, which Mr. Ibarra says have been corroborated through the comparison of medical exams, are the use of electrical shocks, detaining suspects for longer than 12 hours without charging them, beating suspects wrapped in blankets so that bruises do not show, and putting splinters underneath the toenails of suspects.

Human rights groups are most upset with President Calderon’s proposal to modify the Law of National Security. Mr. Calderon is seeking tougher sanctions on violent crimes. He wants stiffer penalties for military deserters and an enhanced security role for Mexico’s domestic intelligence agency. Under Mr. Calderon’s proposal, groups of suspects would be charged individually for weapons found in a vehicle or house that all of the suspects occupied. There would also be special punishments for possession of more than 50 rounds of ammunition or for altered guns. Human rights groups say that some of Mr. Calderon’s proposals violate international law because they contradict agreements Mexico has made in the past. They also say that his proposals will further lead to impunity for soldiers conducting anti-narcotics operations.

The debate in Mexico over national security and human rights will more than likely continue in the near future. For Americans, this debate should sound familiar.

April 19, 2009

Mexico: Reactions from Obama's Visit

Cautious optimism describes the Mexican reaction to President Obama’s first official visit to Mexico on Thursday. The U.S. president met with his counterpart, Felipe Calderon, to discuss how each country could solve shared problems in a new era of a growing partnership. Of course, at the top of the agenda is the drug war that has claimed more than 10,000 lives since Mr. Calderon took office in 2006.

The differences in the two leaders' approaches have to do less with substance and more with time. Mr. Calderon needs for the United States to take concrete steps to lower American demand for drugs and to limit the flow of guns into Mexico. Furthermore, he needs this to happen now. His PAN party faces congressional elections in June. If Mr. Calderon cannot convince Mexico that his tactics for fighting the drug cartels are working, then his party will lose its majority in both houses of Congress and Mr. Calderon will find it ever the more difficult to execute his policies.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama must lower expectations. Former Ambassador to Mexico, Jeffery Davidlow, explains that President Obama is a pragmatist and that he will not promise anything to Mexico unless he is sure that it can be accomplished politically. For example, this past week Mr. Obama rebuffed the Mexican request for the United States to pass a renewal on a ban on assault weapons that Mr. Bush had allowed to expire during his term. Mr. Obama stated that while he thought a renewal is a good idea, he proposed instead to encourage the U.S. Congress to ratify an arms trafficking treaty President Bill Clinton signed in 1997. The treaty calls for countries to crack down on the illegal export of weapons, share gun-tracing information and extradite gun-smuggling suspects to other countries.

What criticisms have been levied at Mr. Obama this past week have usually come in the form of accusing the President of not providing enough plans for action. Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of co-responsibility for the drug problem a couple of weeks ago was a home run diplomatically. Now, Mexican leaders and journalists want to know how the United States is going to take responsibility for arms trafficking and drug consumption. An editorial in the left-leaning La Jornada sounded a pessimistic note at the promises that Mr. Obama has made. It stated that Mr. Obama’s promises have not been signed into law and that American foreign policy is still as “neo-colonial, predatory, and unilateral as it always has been.”

Nevertheless, most thinkers in Mexico are cautiously optimistic. They understand fully the severe obstacles that must be overcome, yet they are confident that both the United States and Mexico will work as partners in the future. A columnist for Excelsior observes that promises made in the past at meetings between Mexico and the United States have failed. Yet this meeting was different because of the shared nature of drug violence. He continues:

Everyone knows that the violence that lives in Mexico derives from narcotrafficking and insecurity, but much less is said of the kidnappings that occur in Phoenix and Houston, of the bodies, including decapitated bodies, that appear also on the other side of the border, or of the criminal networks that begin in South America and have a powerful presence in Mexico, but grow and develop in San Diego, Seattle, or New York. (My translation)

His point is very poignant. Mexico and the United States need each other and it seems that President Obama understands this.

April 12, 2009

Mexico: Drug Armies vs. Calderon's Army

When Felipe Calderon became President in December 2006, he immediately declared war on the drug lords. He has staked his presidency (as well as the congressional elections coming up in June) on the government’s ability to return a sense of security to Mexico. Presently, there are over 45,000 troops and 5,000 federal police deployed to hot spots around Mexico. This past week Calderon’s army was hard at work, taking down some tough characters.

The problem is that Calderon is not the only commander-in-chief of an army in Mexico. All of the major drug trafficking organizations have at their disposal sicarios, or enforcers. This trend started when Osiel Cardenas, the former head of the Gulf cartel (presently sitting in a Houston prison), convinced several members of Mexico’s special forces to quit the army and help the Gulf cartel solidify territory. When Cardenas was arrested and subsequently extradited to the United States in 2007, the Zetas started flying solo. Their expertise of special operations has made them a formidable foe of the Army regulars.

This past week the military was able to kill a Zeta boss in Zacatecas. Israel Nava Cortes was responsible for establishing Zeta control in several states in Central Mexico. It was rumored that Nava Cortes was Guatemalan. However, representatives from the federal police dispelled this rumor, stating that Nava Cortes was Mexican.

The confusion over Nava Cortes’ nationality comes after reports suggest that the Zetas have been working closely with the Guatemalan special forces (known as kaibiles). The reports suggest that the Zetas, as well as the Sinaloa cartel, have been trying to establish alternate routes from Colombia through Central America. Mexican and U.S. maritime operations have put intense pressure on the drug cartels at Mexico’s coasts.

The Zetas are not the only sicarios in Mexico. This past week also saw the arrest of 21 enforcers for drug trafficker “El Teo” Garcia. They were arrested while trying to pull off murders of two federal police agents in Baja California. Reports indicate that the weapons confiscated during the arrest had been used in no less than eight other homicides in Mexico.

Garcia used to be a lieutenant in the Tijuana cartel. However, in early 2008 he had a falling out with one of the heads of the Tijuana cartel, Fernando Sanchez Arellano (“the Engineer”). Sanchez believed that Garcia had caused too much attention to be drawn to the Tijuana cartel due to Garcia’s penchant for kidnapping physicians. Garcia supposedly fled the city in April, but is rumored to have returned in August, since the high violence levels have returned this fall. He is now unofficially aligned with the Sinaloa cartel in an effort to destroy his former comrades.

Despite the successes in Baja California, the bloodshed continued in Chihuahua. There was at least eight “narco-executions” this past week. The tortured body of a man was found in a center for drug rehabilitation in Ciudad Juarez. There was also between 15 and 20 federal agents that were accused of abuse of power and complicity in the drug trade. Chihuahua continues to lead the country in drug deaths with 590 in 2009 alone.

Meanwhile, in Congress the Chamber of Deputies will begin discussion Monday on whether to decriminalize small time marijuana use. The forum will bring together experts from around the government and private sector. The forum is being called mainly because of the belief of many experts in Mexico that the prohibitionist policies have not produced the desired effects.