Category Archives: Latin America

Mexican violence surges; the body count rises

People use drugs for a variety of reasons, many of them a direct result of the alienation inherent in the rapacious finance capitalism that robs people of the livelihoods and their dignity so that a very few can reap huge rewards.

But whatever the reasons, the demand needs a suppliers, and as the example of alcohol prohibition in the earlier 20th Century reveals, the need will be met by armed syndicates engaged in fierce, violent competition in its purest form in order to reap rich rewards.

The criminalization of intoxicants north of the border has resulted in the creation of cartels south of the border, violent gangs engaged in bloody combat to control the huge market in the north.

And 2016 is set to yield a record body count in Mexico.

From El País:

For Mexico, 2016 will be remembered as the country’s most violent in recent years, with 20,858 murders registered between January and November, the highest number so far in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s four years in office, according to figures compiled by the National Public Security System.

The figures are based on investigations undertaken by state-level public prosecutors, and show that November was the bloodiest month so far this year, with 2,018 murders, 25% up from the same month in 2015. The total number of homicides for 2015 was 18,673, up from the 17,324 for 2014.

Mexico’s murder rate spiked this summer, with 2,094 killings reported in July, and never falling below 2,000 a month since then, a trend unseen up to that point during the Peña Nieto administration. The government’s security strategy has failed to halt the killings, which have increased in 24 of the country’s 32 states. August saw an increase, followed by September’s 2,189 homicides. That was the worst month since May 2012, when Mexico was still under Felipe Calderón, who launched a massive crackdown on drug cartels after his election in 2006.

The reasons for this year’s increase lie with renewed turf wars between the country’s drug cartels. Colima, a small state on Mexico’s Pacific coast that had largely escaped the violence, was the setting for bloodletting between the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel and other criminal gangs for control of the port of Manzanillo. This sent the murder rate soaring by almost 300%. Colima, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now has the highest per capita murder rate in the country at 89 per 100,000.

And gangsters aren’t the only victims

Perhaps the most infamous single incident of cartel violence, a crime abetted by police and the military, was the 26 September 2014 abduction and disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa [previously].

But it’s not just students and folks who catch stray bullets during gangland shootouts.

The cartels are also killing priests who dare to speak up against the reign of terror,

From teleSUR English:

While Mexico is one of the most devout Catholic countries in the world, for eight consecutive years it has been the world’s most dangerous country for priests, who are being killed and attacked at record rates, according to a report from the Catholic Media Centre.

In 2016, three Mexican priests were killed and four other Catholic teachers were also killed, according to the report from the Catholic Media Centre, which said that 2016 has been the deadliest year for priests since they started keeping records.

Between 1990 and 2016, the rate of murdered priests increased by a staggering 375 percent, where 38 priests have either been killed or gone missing. According to reports, more than 80 percent of priest murders have gone unsolved.

The report comes amid increased attacks against religious figures including violent threats and extortion, where Mexico has been labeled the most dangerous country in the world for religious officials for eight years running.

Between 1990 and 2016, 61 attacks were reported against Catholic Church members in the country. In 2016, extortions, at least those that were reported, rose by 70 percent.

The Catholic Media Centre said that while the majority of violence against the church was due to a spilling over of violence from organized crime groups, Mexican security forces were also involved in some incidents.

Brazilian gov’t ramps up war on environment

After deposing moderate leftist President Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian legislators installed a neoliberal interim regime, a government already racked by scandals and forced resignations.

With their legal future in doubt, the government is preparing for a free-for-all, with the nation’s magnificent natural resources up for grabs.

The justification? It’s good for business.

From teleSUR English:

The Brazilian government is attempting to scrap two important environmental regulations which environmental and Indigenous activists say will have a disastrous effect on efforts to fight climate change and put Indigenous communities in danger.

The first proposal, backed by a number of figures in Michel Temer’s coup-imposed government, sees that environmental licenses on Indigenous reserves that are now issued by the federal government will be handed over to states and even private companies.

Heavy polluting industries such as farming and forestry would then be exempt from current licensing laws. States would be authorized to choose the terms of the licensing agreements for companies operating under their jurisdiction.

More than 250 representatives including NGOs and individuals signed an open letter opposing the change, arguing that there has been a lack of consultation and the proposal would only increase environmental destruction.

Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer for Socio-Environmental Institute, told The Guardian that the changes are “the most worrying regressions of our recent history,” and would make it near impossible for Brazil to make its climate change target from Paris COP21, which includes ending illegal deforestation by 2030 and significantly cutting greenhouse emissions.

The proposal, which has already been stalled for years has been causing political division. Mauro Pereira, a congressman from Temer’s party pushing for the change, says that the laws need to be overhauled to promote business.

Report: Mexican army aided in Ayotzinapa kidnaps

Soon after the 26 September 2014 abduction and disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero [previously], reports began to emerge indicating that the Mexican army may have taken part in crime.

The Mexican government, needless to say, has denied any involvement.

But now comes a report from one of Mexico’s leading investigative journalists confirms the army’s involvement and lays more blame of the government for the Attorney General’s role in the coverup..

From teleSUR English:

On Friday, famed Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez reported that she read a secret report written by former head of internal affairs for the Mexican Attorney General, Cesar Alejandro Chavez Flores, which says officials from Mexico’s military, federal police, and the attorney general’s office itself “were present for all of the criminal events against” the students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School.

According to Hernandez, the “most important conclusion” of the report, written by Chavez Flores and reportedly signed off on by the former Attorney General, Arely Gomez, before her own October resignation, is that the captain of the 27th Battalion of the Mexican army was directly involved in the disappearances.

On the night of Sept. 26, 2014, a busload of students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, an Indigenous teacher training school renowned for its activism, was pulled over in the southwestern state of Guerrero on its way to a demonstration in support of striking teachers. During a confrontation 6 people were killed, 25 injured, and 43 of the students were disappeared.

While the Mexican government continues to claim that the 43 students were killed by drug lords with the complicity of local police, several independent investigations have raised serious doubts about the story, suggesting national police and military involvement.

Hernandez also said that the yet to be released internal affairs report confirms an earlier leaked report by the Attorney General’s office that the former director of criminal investigations, Tomas Zeron de Lucio, had planted evidence and used brutal torture to help fabricate the government’s version of the events.

The report Hernandez read appears to be the fruits of an investigation into the allegations against Zeron de Lucio which the government ordered after his resignation.

Hernandez also said President Enrique Peña Nieto personally ordered the suppression of the two damning reports.

Mexican senate votes to legalize medical cannabis

While the United States waits to inaugurate a President-elect whose Attorney General-designate opposes any use of marijuana, the upper house of the Mexican legislature has voted to legalize medical pot.

Indeed, Jeff Sessions, who will head the criminal justice system in the U.S., once joked that the only thing wrong with the Ku Klux Klan was that Kluxers were known to toke the occasional doobie.

From Deutsche Welle:

Following a national debate on narcotics policy, the Mexican Senate passed a bill on Tuesday approving the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Senators voted 98-7 for the legislation, moving Mexico closer to joining several US states and other nations in Latin America in allowing cannabis for medical uses.

In a major policy shift, President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed legalizing medical marijuana in April after his government organized forums to discuss changes to the laws.

The bill fails to meet demands from lawmakers and civil groups, however,  who argue that wider legalization can help the country which is mired in brutal drug violence. Nieto opposes a broader legalization of marijuana but has previously proposed increasing the amount of the drug that can legally be possessed for personal consumption from 28 grams (one ounce) from five grams.

Senator Miguel Barbosa, of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), lamented on Tuesday that the legislation was “well below the expectations of society” regarding reforms of marijuana laws.

Mexican general: Stop using army in drug war

In Mexico, the war of drugs has become more than a metaphor, as military troops have been ordered into the field, engaging in armed conflict with troops from the cartels, a policy which has lead to growing body counts on both sides.

In a short, fierce fight Monday, Mexican marines killed at least 14 cartel soldiers who had ambushed a patrol,  and in June 2014, soldiers killed at least 22 people, 12 of them innocent civilians, when they engaged in a killing spree ordered by superiors.

And then there was the involvement of soldiers in the events leading up to the 26 September 2014 abduction of the still missing 23 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa.

The drug war, in short, has tarnished the military’s reputation.

And now, says the country’s top general and defense secretary, it’s time to pull the troops out.

From teleSUR English:

Mexico’s defense secretary has called for all troops fighting the drug cartels across the violence-ravaged country to return to their military headquarters and quit fighting a battle that should be handled by law enforcement.

“We did not ask to be here, we do not feel comfortable here, we did not train to pursue criminals, our role is another and it has been distorted,” said General Salvador Cienfuegos. “We would love the police forces to do their job. . .but they don’t.”

The Mexican army has been fighting a war with drug traffickers since December 2006 when then President Felipe Calderon declared a “war on drugs.” This period accounts for some of the bloodiest years that has left close to 200,000 people dead, at least 28,000 disappeared, and at least 8,000 cases of torture documented since 2007.

This militarized drug war policy has been continued by current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Ten years ago it was decided that the police should be rebuilt, and we still haven’t seen that reconstruction,” Cienfuegos said. “To sum it up, there are a large number of deaths that shouldn’t be happening. . .This isn’t something that can be solved with bullets; it takes other measures and there hasn’t been decisive action on budgets to make that happen.”

Within the framework of international law, human rights organizations have accused the Mexican government of committing crimes against humanity due to the number of documented cases of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture. These crimes have been committed repeatedly since the Mexican government began its war with drug cartels.

The general is right.

Using the military against a country’s own citizens, even citizens who are criminals, is a really bad idea.

Using the military is like using a hammer to perform brain surgery when a scalpel is called for, and soldiers are trained to annihilate an enemy, not arrest them.

State Department sternly warns on travel to Mexico

As the holidays draw near, if you’re thinking of heading south across the border to catch a little fun and sun in Mexico, you might want to think again: the U.S. State Department has issued a strong warning advising against it.

Or at least to some parts of a nation wracked by unprecedented levels of violence.

From Spain’s El País:

The US travel warning comes against a backdrop of rising violence in Mexico, with 29,000 murders registered in the country in the year to the end of September. Of those murders, 16,749 were assassinations. If that trend continues for the rest of the year, 2016 will be the most violent 12 months since Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto came to office in 2016.

A UCLA study published in January said the rise in the number of homicides in Mexico from 2000 to 2010 has reduced the average life expectancy of its citizens.

According to the study, life expectancy among men who live in the north, the most violent part of the country, had fallen by three years over the period.

Mexico continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Recently, police in Mexico’s Gulf Coast state of Veracruz said 14 criminal suspects had been killed in a gun battle with a patrol of Mexican marines.

Spelled out in dire terms

Singled out in the warning are some of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

From the advisory:

U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas to which the Department recommends “defer non-essential travel” in this Travel Warning. As a result of security precautions that U.S. government personnel must take while traveling to parts of Mexico, our response time to emergencies involving U.S. citizens may be hampered or delayed.

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place on streets and in public places during broad daylight. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations and has engaged in an extensive effort to counter criminal organizations that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.

U.S. government personnel are prohibited from patronizing casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.

Kidnappings in Mexico take the following forms:

  • Traditional: victim is physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.
  • Express: victim is abducted for a short time and commonly forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
  • Virtual: an extortion-by-deception scheme where a victim is contacted by phone and coerced by threats of violence to provide phone numbers of family and friends, and then isolated until the ransom is paid. Recently, hotel guests have been targets of such “virtual” kidnapping schemes.

U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjacking and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads. Carjackers use a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, but drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States are also targeted. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens should use toll roads (cuotas) whenever possible. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.

The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints.

One region singled out is the of Guerrero, where 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College on 26 September 2014 are still missing [previously].

The report warns:

Personal travel to the state of Guerrero, including Acapulco, is prohibited for U.S. government personnel with the exception of travel to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo by air. In Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, U.S. government personnel must remain in tourist areas. The state of Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2015 for the third year in a row, and self-defense groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Armed members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and, although not considered hostile to foreigners or tourists, are suspicious of outsiders and should be considered volatile and unpredictable.

More corruption woes for Brazilian government

The day after throngs of Brazilians took to the streets to efforts to rein in judges investigating corruption in the government that took power in a legislative coup [earlier], a judge has ordered a key member to that government removed from office.

From BBC News:

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has ordered one of the country’s most senior politicians, Renan Calheiros, to stand down as president of the Senate.

Judge Marco Aurelio Mello issued an injunction saying Mr Calheiros’s position was untenable after the court ruled last week that he must face trial for alleged embezzlement.

Mr Calheiros has been accused of taking bribes from a construction company. He is a close ally of centre-right President Michel Temer.

Judge Marco Aurelio Mello approved the injunction requested by the left-wing Rede party arguing that a politician facing criminal charges cannot be in the presidential line of succession.

As head of the Senate, Mr Calheiros is second in line after the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia.