Category Archives: Organized crime

Mexico update: Murders, NAFTA, and more


We begin with the latest development in the infamous case of the 43 abducted students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Aytozinapa in the blood-soaked state of Guerrero, then move on to yet another murder, followed a a Mexican NAFTA backdown.

U.N. slams Mexico over missing students probe

Nothing has done more to damage the rapidly sinking reputation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto than the 26 September 2014 abduction of the students from Ayotzinapa, a crime apparently ordered by members of his own party.

Successive investigations by his government have come to nothing, and the lastest review has dran fire from the U.N.

From teleSUR English:

On Wednesday the head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Mexico slammed a recently released internal review of irregularities in the more than 2-year-old investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college.

“It is regrettable that it turned out this way,” said Jan Jarab, the representative of the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. “The final results are a missed opportunity to effectively address the serious violations committed in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case.”

Jarab noted that the internal review released on Feb. 9 by Mexico’s attorney general failed to address the serious irregularities documented by an earlier international panel of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

That panel reported that former chief investigator, Tomas Zeron, had planted evidence and tortured potential witnesses and suspects, actions which not only sabotaged the investigation but also called into question its conclusion that the 43 students had been killed by a local drug cartel.

The panel found evidence pointing to high-level political involvement — including by state police and military officials — in the disappearance of the students from the primarily Indigenous teachers’ college known as a hotbed of political organizing and activism.

The internal review released just over two weeks ago was ordered after a previous review — which was left unreleased — reportedly recommended criminal charges against Zeron.

Jarab lamented that this final and official report suggested that at worst Zeron and his team had committed only “administrative” errors in the course of the investigation.

“We feel the government’s priority is no longer finding the truth about what happened to the students, but is much more concerned with hiding the reasons behind a historical cover-up,” said Mario Patrón, a lawyer for the families of the missing students, said when the final review was released earlier last month.

Another Mexican journalist murdered

Mexico, which has become a graveyard for journalists, has claimed another victim.

And the killing was also in Guerrero.

From teleSUR English:

Cecilio Pineda Birto, a 38-year-old Mexican journalist in the state of Guerrero, was shot and killed Thursday night, Mexican authorities have confirmed.

Pineda was lying down in a hammock waiting for his car to be washed when multiple armed men passing by on motorcycle shot him and fled.

The 38-year-old covered local news in Guerrero, one of the most violent states in Mexico known for marijuana production, drug cartels and a recent increase in kidnappings. He often collaborated with national media outlet El Universo and local media outlets such as La Voz de Tierra Caliente.

Just hours before his death, Pineda had published a video about the leader of a local criminal group responsible for kidnappings, in which he indicated that these kidnappings could not be happening without government complicity.

Pineda had previously shared on social media that he received threats in relation to his work. In September 2015, he narrowly escaped an attack outside his home.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists, particularly those working to expose corruption and criminal networks. At least 48 journalists were killed in Mexico in 2016 and 72 in 2015, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mexico signals a shift on NAFTA

Finally, faced with the reality of the current occupant of the White House, Mexico is bowing to the seemingly inevitable.

From Reuters:

Mexico is prepared to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement to modernize the 23-year-old open trade pact grouping the United States, Canada and Mexico, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Friday.

Guajardo said Mexico is prepared to discuss with the Trump administration and Canada revisions to NAFTA, such as including labor and environmental standards. Mexico “is willing to modernize NAFTA,” he said.

However, Guajardo said Mexico will not accept tariffs. U.S. President Donald Trump has called for new border taxes on Mexican-made goods. “It makes no sense to introduce an agreement with border restrictions or tariffs,” he said.

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State Republicans ramp up new anti-protest laws


If there’s one thing Republicans hate, it’s protests.

Unless, of course, they’re run by Republicans, as in the case of that infamous “Brooks Brothers Riot” that disrupted the Florida recount in the 2000 Bush/Gore race a protest organized by Trump lawyer/adviser Roger Stone and using paid protesters.

Because of the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation and the massive anti-Trump protests of recent months, Republican-controlled state legislatures are bust enacting all manner of laws criminalizing protests, even to the point of classifying them as organized crime.

TeleSUR English reports on the of the worst pieces of legislation:

1. Arizona

Arizona lawmakers have approved a bill that could make people who organize or take part in protests that turn violent subject to the same criminal charges used to fight organized crime. The bill also seeks to seize protesters’ assets.

Republicans, who pushed for the bill, say it will help curb the kind of protests that have erupted nationwide over the past few years by penalizing those they term “paid” and “professional” demonstrators, a notion they share with President Trump.

Opponents of the Arizona bill say it is unconstitutional and will serve to harm Arizona’s reputation nationally.

“This bill only serves to chill people’s rights to free speech by allowing one bad actor to turn peaceful demonstration organizers into racketeering felons,” state Senator Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip, said last week.

2. Indiana

Republican lawmakers in the state of Indiana introduced a bill in January that initially required police to clear, by “any means necessary,” protesters from blocked roads and highways within 15 minutes.

The bill was changed last week, removing the phrase by “any means necessary” and instead granting police the power to fine protesters for blocking the roads. The Republican lawmaker behind the bill said it was designed to “limit traffic obstructions.”

3. Minnesota

Republicans in Minnesota have introduced two separate anti-protest bills. One seeks to grant cities the power to sue protesters in order to charge them for the cost of policing demonstrations. The second bill could see protesters fined for blocking streets and highways.

4. South Dakota

As they anticipate renewed protests over both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines, Republican lawmakers are introducing a bill that would expand the governor’s emergency response authority to “destructive” protests, create new trespassing penalties and make it a crime to obstruct highways.

If passed, the law would expire in 2020.

5. Tennessee

In order to counter peaceful protesters in the state, Republicans are introducing a bill that would protect drivers from liability if they hit protesters and injure them in streets and highways as long as the hit is not intentional.

Intolerance II: A censored potent white racism talk


You would think the University wouldn’t censor a talk by Tim Wise, an outspoken, articulate, well-informed critique of white racism and its deep cultural and institutional roots in American culture.

On 25 January, the University of California–Santa Barbara Multicultural Center hosted An Evening with Tim Wise, A White Anti-racist Advocate.

It’s a powerfully informative talk, a rant [in the best sense of the term] revealing the Trump campaign’s skillful use of racism to mobilize his voters.

And in making his points, Wise employs the occasional shit, a fuck or two, and what we suspect is one instance of asshole.

The words are used in the best rhetorical tradition, as potent emphases.

But where the words were only a brief silence remains in the version posted online by University of California Television today [24 February].

How stupid.

But that hypocritically ironic flaw aside, do watch a very memorable talk.

From University of California Television:

An Evening with Tim Wise: A White Anti-Racist Advocate

Program notes:

Author and anti-racist activist Tim Wise speaks about the importance of being a white ally to communities of color, and how we can all work together to create a healthier community on campuses and in the world beyond. Wise spoke as part of UCSB’s Resilient Love in a Time of Hate series.

Intolerance I: Who are America’s worst terrorists?


This is the first of two offerings on intolerance.

President Pussygrabbers seized the White House at the end of a campaign designed to rouse racist fears in a masterful act of misdirection, shifting blame for the very real pains of his grass roots base away from the real culprits — people like Trump himself — onto alien Others.

Always at play within his rhetorical was the portrayal of the Other as a violent criminal, a murderer and rapist in the case of folks from south of the border, or as a bombing-and-beheading non-Christian fanatic, in the case of the Muslim.

But who are the real terrorist fanatics in the United States?

[Hint: They don’t pray toward Mecca.]

A wide-ranging, multi-university study looks at the numbers, and the terrorists probably voted the Trump.

The study, Threats of violent Islamist and far-right extremism: What does the research say?, is published in The Conversation, an open source academic journal written in conversational English.

The authors are William Parkin, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Seattle University; Brent Klein, a doctoral student at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice; Jeff Gruenewald, Assistant Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Joshua D. Freilich, Professor of Criminal Justice at City University of New York; and Steven Chermak, Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

From The Conversation:

On a Tuesday morning in September 2001, the American experience with terrorism was fundamentally altered. Two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six people were murdered in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Thousands more, including many first responders, lost their lives to health complications from working at or being near Ground Zero.

The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by Islamist extremists, resulting in nearly 18 times more deaths than America’s second most devastating terrorist attack – the Oklahoma City bombing. More than any other terrorist event in U.S. history, 9/11 drives Americans’ perspectives on who and what ideologies are associated with violent extremism.

But focusing solely on Islamist extremism when investigating, researching and developing counterterrorism policies goes against what the numbers tell us. Far-right extremism also poses a significant threat to the lives and well-being of Americans. This risk is often ignored or underestimated because of the devastating impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

We have spent more than 10 years collecting and analyzing empirical data that show us how these ideologies vary in important ways that can inform policy decisions. Our conclusion is that a “one size fits all” approach to countering violent extremism may not be effective.

By the numbers

Historically, the U.S. has been home to adherents of many types of extremist ideologies. The two current most prominent threats are motivated by Islamist extremism and far-right extremism.

To help assess these threats, the Department of Homeland Security and recently the Department of Justice have funded the Extremist Crime Database to collect data on crimes committed by ideologically motivated extremists in the United States. The results of our analyses are published in peer-reviewed journals and on the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism & Responses to Terrorism.

The ECDB includes data on ideologically motivated homicides committed by both Islamist extremists and far-right extremists going back more than 25 years.

blog-chart-1

Between 1990 and 2014, the ECDB has identified 38 homicide events motivated by Islamist extremism that killed 62 people. When you include 9/11, those numbers jump dramatically to 39 homicide events and 3,058 killed.

The database also identified 177 homicide events motivated by far-right extremism, with 245 killed. And when you include the Oklahoma City bombing, it rises to 178 homicide events and 413 killed.

Although our data for 2015 through 2017 are still being verified, we counted five homicide events perpetrated by Islamist extremists that resulted in the murders of 74 people. This includes the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which killed 49 people. In the same time period, there were eight homicide events committed by far-right extremists that killed 27 people.

These data reveal that far-right extremists tend to be more active in committing homicides, yet Islamist extremists tend to be more deadly.

Our research has also identified violent Islamist extremist plots against 272 targets that were either foiled or failed between 2001 and 2014. We are in the process of compiling similar data on far-right plots. Although data collection is only about 50 percent complete, we have already identified 213 far-right targets from the same time period.

blog-chart-2

The locations of violent extremist activity also differ by ideology. Our data show that between 1990 and 2014, most Islamist extremist attacks occurred in the South (56.5 percent), and most far-right extremist attacks occurred in the West (34.7 percent). Both forms of violence were least likely to occur in the Midwest, with only three incidents committed by Islamist extremists (4.8 percent) and 33 events committed by far-right extremists (13.5 percent).

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Did Pussygrabber threaten to invade Mexico?


Both the Associated Press and a leading Mexican journalist report that a leaked transcript of a call between Narcissist of Pensylvania Avenue and his Mexican counterpart, Donald Trump threatened to send the army South of the Border to take charge and kick ass.

From the Associated Press:

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpt of the call did not detail who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response. Mexico denies that Trump’s remarks were threatening.

Still, the excerpt offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

>snip<

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

If Trump really said it [Peña’s mouthpiece firmly denies it], it wouldn’t be the first time, or the second, or even the third.

And make no mistake, sending troops into another country to wage war on civilians [even if they are criminals] is the very definition of invasion.

A Mexican journalist adds context

The reporter who reported on the transcript offered a strong affirmation of her report.

From teleSUR English:

Mexican journalist Dolia Estevez has defended the veracity of the claims she made Wednesday about a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the former used a “humiliating” and “threatening” tone.

The information has been strongly rejected by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said Estevez used absolute “falsehoods” and acted with “obvious malice.”

“The ministry is lying and exerting the same tactic used by Peña Nieto against critical Mexican journalists by trying to discredit my information,” Estevez said in an interview with Aristegui Noticias Thursday morning.

>snip<

According to Estevez’s reports, Trump told Peña Nieto that he could be forced to send in troops to deal with the southern neighbor’s “bad hombres.” CNN reports that a White House official also denied this information. “Even the Mexican government is disputing these reports,” the source said.

Estevez said that time is again proving her points to be true. A phone call between President Trump and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also led to a diplomatic rift between two allied countries after the two leaders exchanged harsh words over refugee policy and Trump abruptly ended the call.

“I don’t understand why the Mexican government is trying to hide this issue. I mean Trump has shown a hostile tone against several world leaders like Turnbull. Why would Peña Nieto be the exception? Now they call me a liar, but it is the Mexican government who is lying again,” Estevez said.

The Washington-based award-winning journalist also mentioned that Mexico’s Foreign Ministry is lying when they rejected her report about a meeting held on Jan. 31, between Mexico’s top diplomat Luis Videgaray and the United States Northern and Southern Command chiefs. According to Estevez, the encounter took place in the southern border city of Tapachula, Mexico.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico said the meeting was part of a cooperation plan to reinforce security at Mexico’s border with Guatemala and that it was scheduled a long time ago. However, they did not reveal who attended the meeting.

And now for some comic relief. . .

For your amusement a report on Trump’s call and other events of the second week of his presidency from Late Night with Seth Meyers:

Trump’s Second Week Is as Chaotic as His First: A Closer Look

Program notes:

Seth takes a closer look at the confusion surrounding President Trump’s controversial travel ban and his bizarre calls with foreign leaders.

Gasolinazo protests continue to rage in Mexico


The gasolinazo, the name Mexicans have given the the government-mandated 20 percent hike in gas prices as a result of the partial privatization of Mexico’s national oil monopoly, continues to inspire massive discontent.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration mandated the price hike. Has watched his poll numbers plummet, with only one in four Mexicans approving of his handling of the office.

And now he’s trying to cool things down.

From the Associated Press:

Mexico’s president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

In his latest speech, the deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto outlined measures that he said would help families mitigate the impact of the price hike. Yet steps like notifying more than 3 million Mexicans older than 65 that they have money in government retirement accounts seemed unlikely to dissipate the outrage that led to widespread looting in parts of the country and marches calling for his resignation.

Earlier this week, Pena Nieto promised to police price increases for staple goods and invest in modernizing public transportation. But it was difficult to see how any of that could make up for the overnight 20 percent increase in the price of gasoline when the government ended price controls.

After days of seeking ways to strike a calming chord, Pena Nieto tried taking a more relaxed posture Thursday, leaning casually on the podium, cracking jokes — and telling Mexicans to suck it up.

Protests lead to State Department warning

Just how tense the situation in Mexico has become can be judged by this travel advisory from the State Department:

The U.S. Consulate General Nogales informs U.S. citizens that large demonstrations are expected at Port of Entry DeConcini January 14-15, 2017 to protest the increase in gasoline prices.  U.S. citizens are urged to use the Mariposa Port of Entry until further notice. As always, avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

Demonstrations in Nogales last Sunday turned violent, with police firing numerous warning shots in an attempt to turn back protesters.

Protests continue, on a reduced scale

A report from Business Insider:

Protests against the gas price hike imposed by the Mexican government at the start of this year have spread across the country, appearing in at least 28 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Many of the protests have been peaceful, but in some areas demonstrators have shut down gas stations and facilities belonging to the state oil company, Pemex.

Elsewhere, protests against the gasolinazo, as the price increase has come to be called, have boiled over into looting and violence.

In Mexico City, one police officer was killed while trying to stop looting at a department store, and elsewhere police officers joined in to ransack stores. At least six people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

Looting seen during the first week of the year largely subsided this week, but in Tijuana, which shares the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land-border crossing with San Diego, protesters continue to block traffic and confront authorities. Since the price increase — designed to let prices float in response to supply and demand — Tijuana and Baja California state have seen some of the country’s highest prices.

One protest, a blockade in the city of Rosarita, turned violent earlier this week, with at least seven people hurt when a truck rammed the barricade.

A video via the San Diego Informer:

U.S. gas stations on the border do a booming business

While the gasolinazo had been bad for Mexican businesses, it’s proving a real boon for one kind of business on this side of the border.

From Bloomberg Markets:

Mexico’s fuel market liberalization has done something rarely seen before: make California’s pump prices look cheap.

Drivers are flooding across the border to southern California to fill up on gasoline, after protesters blocking distribution centers near the Baja California capital of Mexicali caused stations to run dry. Antunez’s Shell gas station in Calexico is just five blocks away from the Mexican border and rarely has business been as busy as now. Mexicali drivers wait four to five hours to cross into the U.S. just to fill their fuel tanks and then wait two more hours to cross back into Mexico.

>snip<

Unleaded gasoline in Mexicali was increased in January to 16.17 pesos a liter, or $2.815 a gallon. Seventeen miles north across the border in El Centro, California, pump prices jumped 5.3 cents a gallon to average $2.718 as of 5 p.m. New York time Wednesday, according to GasBuddy, a price tracking company.

“There is a very important commercial exchange happening in the border region,” said Jose Angel Garcia, the president of Mexico gasoline retailer association Onexpo. “There are trucks with large tanks being used to bring fuel into Mexico from the U.S.”

More from CSP News, a trade publication for gasoline retailers in the U.S.:

In Calexico, Calif., gas stations reported a tripling in fuel sales and waits of an hour or more for fill-ups, according to The Desert Sun. The town of 40,000 sits across the border from Mexicali, where protesters had earlier blocked the road into the central fuel distribution center, causing local gas stations to run out of fuel. Federal police cleared the blockade, but waits for fuel in Mexicali were still more than an hour that same day.

“It’s great for us,” Juan Arce, the manager of two SoCo Express gas stations in Calexico, told the newspaper. “I do feel bad for the people to the south.”

Several retailers in Calexico reported similar spikes in business. “It’s been more than double,” said Carlos Vera, manager of a Shell-branded site. On a high-volume day, the gas station typically sells 5,000 gallons of gas; the weekend of Jan. 7, it sold nearly 10,000. Its supplier has had to refill its underground storage tanks each day, Vera said.

Motorists were filling up gallon gasoline containers, empty laundry soap containers and even metal barrels to bring back into Mexico for family and friends.

Cartels add gas to their drug business

And in Mexico, there’s one organization already doing business in a highly valued commodity where the demand is great and the market is eager to buy.

So it should come as no surprise that they, too, are getting into the gasolinazo.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

The black market is booming. Several states experienced gasoline shortages at the end of last year as more thieves tapped into state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipelines. The pilfered fuel was sold to drivers hoping to save money. Pipeline theft in 2015 increased sevenfold, to more than 5,500 taps, from just 710 in 2010. Pemex attributes the company’s 12-year slide in crude production in part to the growth in illegal taps.

The drug cartels have turned to fuel theft as a side business worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and crime groups focused solely on gasoline robbery have sprung up, says Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Empra, a political-risk consulting firm in Mexico City. “You only need to invest $5,000 or $8,000 to buy some specific equipment, and the outcome of that is huge earnings.”

Fuel theft creates a vicious cycle: The theft increases costs for Pemex and makes the official gasoline supply more scarce, contributing to higher prices for legal consumers. Theft amounts to about $1 billion a year, says Luis Miguel Labardini, an energy consultant at Marcos y Asociados and senior adviser to Pemex’s chief financial officer in the 1990s. “If Pemex were a public company, they would be in financial trouble just because of the theft of fuel,” he says. “It’s that bad.”

And while on the subject of funny business. . .

Consider this from teleSUR English:

An anti-corruption group in Mexico revealed Tuesday that the energy minister, as well as relatives of President Enrique Peña Nieto, had financial interests in the recent gas hikes that have sparked protests across the country for the second week in a row.

Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell is a shareholder of four of the five gas stations on the Caribbean island of Cozumel in partnership with his sister and two sons.

One of the gas stations was closed down in April 2016 over alleged manipulations of prices, as the station was not providing the amount of diesel customers were paying for, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity exposed in the official reports by Profeco, the oil watchdog in Mexico. The ruling was appealed.

The investigative paper Aristegui Noticias denounced a conflict of interests even more problematic in the context of the contested gas price hike. “Coldwell is the head of the energy sector in Mexico. As the energy minister, he could access privileged information on the oil business,” said the article.

Coldwell denied any interference in the administration of the four gas stations in an interview with the anti-corruption group, adding he will pass over his shares to a trustee in order to avoid conflicts of interests.

Map of the day: A deadly year for journalists


From the International Federation of Journalists, a map showing nations where journalists were killed in 2015.

From the International Federation of Journalists, a map showing nations where journalists were killed in 2015.

The year just ended proved a bloody one for the world’s dwindling population of journalists, and Mexico proved one of the most dangerous of nations for members of the Fourth Estate, with 11 journalists slain, trailing only Iraq [15 killed] and Afghanistan [13 killed].

From the International Federation of Journalists:

93 journalists and media professionals were killed in 2016 according to new statistics published by the world’s largest journalists’ organisation.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents 600.000 members in 140 countries, today published a list of 93 journalists and media staff who were killed in 2016 in work-related incidents. A further 29 died in two plane crashes.

The killings, including targeted murders, bomb attacks and crossfire incidents span 23 countries in Africa, Asia Pacific, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East and Arab World regions.

Although the figures for 2016 are down on previous years the IFJ has warned against complacency citing reports of rising threats, intimidation and self-censorship as evidence that attacks on freedom of expression remain at critical levels.

In addition to the 93 targeted killings, 20 Brazilian sports reporters perished in a plane crash over the city of Medellin in Colombia, a country where for the first time in many years no killing was recorded this year, against three listed in 2015. 9 Russian journalists were killed in a military plane crash.