Friday, December 31, 2010

My Last Blog Entry...For a While

One hundred years from now, on the eve of the second centennial of New Mexico statehood, New Mexicans will access video images of a woman dancing gracefully with a tall partner, alone on a dance floor in Las Cruces, surrounded by citizens celebrating her forthcoming inauguration as governor of the state. Some will comment on the old fashioned clothing worn by onlookers; others, intrigued by the persuasively elegant dancing, will browse through historical compendiums to find out how well she fared in governing the state.

Historians will record that on that evening, 40 miles to the south, Cd. Juarez was setting a new record in homicides, for the second year in a row, earning a statistical reputation as the most violent city in the world. New Mexico's financial situation was dire, the product of poor national performance and years of increasing corruption and cynical mismanagement. The state's educational system was ranked between 47 and 49 out of 50, in student performance, depending on the agency doing the ranking. Jobs were scarce, poverty was growing, and confidence was sinking. The dancing woman will be judged on how well historians believe she responded to these challenges. There will be room for some debate around the edges but the weight of evidence will be strong enough to render a fairly solid judgment; but on this side of the historical divide we cannot know what it will be.

Decades ago as a young man I found myself in an audience of people my age, listening to a panel of experts discussing the civil rights movement, then one of the two major political upheavals of the era. Young black students demanded faster change; older panelists cautioned them for patience--a classic generational confrontation. At the end of the heated session one of the panelists looked up at us and said something I still remember vividly. Fifty years from now, he said, you will look back on your life and reflect on the historic battles of your lifetime, and you will want to evaluate your own role as a citizen as these battles passed through your life. Most of you, looking back at the civil rights movement will say, "yes, racial relations needed fixing. Brave people traveled to Selma and Birmingham, and other battlegrounds, fighting for the cause of racial justice. I'm glad they did that." Another group, much smaller, will say, "yes, I remember Birmingham and Selma during the civil rights movement. I was there." I have never forgotten those words from the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. They made a difference in some of the decisions I've made, and I've passed this advice on to many of my students. Each of us must make up our minds where "there" is, which side we are on, and what we will do about it.

I've enjoyed working on this blog immensely over the past two years, focusing increasing attention on the wars of Juarez. These are our neighbors and New Mexicans should be aware of what is going on there. I know something about these wars and I've tried, discretely, to pass some of this knowledge on to others. Lately, though, as you may have surmised from my low level of productivity, I've been occupied by other things. So it is my duty to announce to you now this will be my last entry, at least for a while. On Monday morning I will begin a public, official life, in which my opinions about most things, including Juarez, should be kept very private. Indeed, I am probably pushing my luck (I sought no approval for this entry) with about-to-be-constituted authority to slip this last blog in before my official start day. Let me end by saying there was just no way I could turn down the invitation by the dancing woman to join her for a different kind of dance, the dance of governance, and thereby throw my grain of sand into the movement of history in our time. Wish me well.

At the risk of repetition and straining the reader's patience, let me leave you with a poem I copied here two years ago, but which relevant today:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light
Flash out, wherever the Just exchange their messages
May I, composed like them of Eros and of dust
Beleaguered by the same negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame

WH Auden

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Beat: 2964 and Counting, With Twenty Days Left of the Year. Fourteen Killed on Saturday

The score so far in December is 86 executions, with 2964 total for the year so far, a new record for the most violent city in the world. Last year the count was 2657, so the additional executions add up to nearly one more per day in Juarez. In 2008 it was 1653, and in 2007 it was 318.

Restaurants, Bus Companies Express Solidarity With Doctors

Federico Ziga Martínez, president of the local National Chamber of the Restaurant Industry, said his association will support the work stoppage at hospital emergency units tomorrow. Hundreds of restaurant owners and employees will wear black ribbons as an expression of grief.

Manuel Sotelo, president of the Association of Bus Transporters of Juarez, said his organization will not stop bus traffic, since the maquila sector depends in great part on transportation of workers, but he intends to make some gesture of solidarity, even if only symbolic.

Twenty Four Hour Strike Leaves Only Two Emergency Rooms Open

Tomorrow and early Tuesday morning will not be good days to be hit by gunfire in Juarez, since the only two emergency rooms available may have long waiting lines. So please try to choose another day to take a bullet wound

Various medical associations, grouped under a new umbrella organization called Médicos Unidos por Juárez, have decided to stage a twenty four-hour suspension of activities in emergency rooms--except for two sites--to protest the kidnapping of 11 doctors and the assassination of three so far this year. The strike, which will begin on Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., is more than just symbolic, inasmuch as the largest hospitals, including the three social security hospitals, the general hospitals of zone 6 and 35, and all private hospitals are joining in. Only the anchor General Hospital (on Paseo Triunfo de la Republica and Fernando Montes de Oca) and and the Hospital for Municipal Workers (on Adolfo Lopez Mateos and Anillo Envolvente del Pronaf) will continue working as usual during the work stoppage.

The doctors, moreover, are asking the three levels of government--state, local, and federal--to take action on a variety of issues. Among these is the clarification of the deaths of doctors Alfonso Rocha and Alberto Betancourt; for police to conduct their work with visible identity badges and without masks; for state funding of medical facilities to be proportional to that generated by the city; and for the state to create a special fund to reactivate the economy of Juarez. Other points include the professionalization of the municipal police force; the assignment of 200 federal agents to investigate the thousands of unresolved crimes; and greater accountability and punishment for corrupt public officials.

Alfredo Lugo Villa, a spokesperson for Médicos Unidos por Juárez told reporters that if the umbrella group has not received a "positive response" to these demands within seven days it will "escalate" measures until authorities begin to pay attention. “This movement comes from the citizenry, it is not political, it has no partisan affiliation, and it does not derive from any labor or contractual issues," he said.

Click here for story in Diario.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Rehab Centers Attacked: Four Dead

Veteran security reporter Felix Gonzalez (click here) reports that two drug rehabilitation centers were attacked yesterday, killing four persons. A preliminary report suggests armed men surrounded the facilities of the Center for the Control of Addictions, breaking down a gate and shooting inside the building. One person was killed. Later, apparently the same men, went to another drug rehabilitation center, killing three persons. At least ten more persons residing at the center were taken to hospitals after the attack. In the past two years various drug rehabilitation centers have come under armed attack, and many residents have been killed.

Governor of Chihuahua Discusses Possible UN Intervention

In a note by Diario (click here)reporter Alejandro Salmón, the author writes the following:

Governor Cesar Duarte suggested that intervention of UN troops in Chihuahua might be studied by his government.

After signing an agreement to collaborate with the United Nations for the promotion of a culture of legality, the governor said he would take advantage of this new relationship to benefit Chihuahua in various ways.

"This is a subject being discussed in the Senate of the federal government, but if given a chance we would consider the possibility (of UN intervention). "

At the same time (click here) El Fronterizo reports that UN representative Antonio Matzitelli, who signed the agreement with the governor, suggested to reporters that UN troops intervene only under conditions of war, which is not the case in Chihuahua. He indicated that lowering the violence in the state requires a pact among mexican federal and state institutions.

Matzitelli said the UN would help analyze the strategy now being implemented, and seek operational solutions in specifice cases, using models and practices that have worked well in other places. the UN will also give training to judges, prosecutors, and investigators, provide software to police forces, and offer advice on preventing crime

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top Azteca Gang Killer Captured

Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, 32, a.k.a. "El Farmero," a top leader of the Azteca Gang in Juarez was captured on Friday night after a lengthy, well publicized gun battle in a residence he was using on Gomez Morin, a major thoroughfare in Juarez.. Also arrested were Carlos Rodriguez Ramirez, 41, ("El 67") suspected of transporting drugs from Juarez into the United States, and Giselle Ornelas Nunez, 32, a.k.a. "La Maestra," accused of transporting drugs and weapons into Cd. Juarez.

Gallegos is believed to be a very bad guy indeed. He is believed to be the one who ordered the murder of the two employees of the U.S. Consulate this Spring; the one who ordered the killing of the high school football team (14 dead in the massacre), the Doble A team, in a case of what appears to be mistaken identity last January; and he is believed to be responsible for the killings of 5 federal police officers. He is also believed to be the one who ordered the murder of the wife of Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo, a.k.a. "el Camello," a member of the gang, captured in July. After "El Camello's wife began to visit Mexico City after his arrest, it is believed that "El Farmero" ordered her killed under suspicion she might be revealing things about the Azteca gang.

From various reports in Diario, El Norte.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gun Laws in Mexico: The Black and Not-So-Black Markets for Guns in Juarez

Diario this morning has a note by Berenice Gaytán (click here) with details about the markets, black and otherwise, for guns in Cd. Juarez these days.

Gun laws: According to the Ministry of Defense, all citizens are entitled to possess weapons to be used for household protection, but they must be in the 22-38 caliber range. More powerful weapons are reserved exclusively for use by the armed forces or law enforcement agents. Weapons are not permitted to be taken outside the household without express permission

However, people who hunt for sport and who belong to an authorized hunting club may possess more powerful weapons.

Gun registration procedures: in order to have legal right to possess a weapon for household protection, a citizen must present the gun, unloaded and in a holster or case, to the ministry of defense, along with an official identification card with a photograph of the owner, and proof of residency such as a light or water bill. As of last year payment of about $3.00 was required in the form of a bank statement that payment was made, using a code (400113) indicating the payment was for gun registration. But since weapons according to Mexican gun law are not allowed to be transported outside the domicile, citizens must first report to a military headquarters, without the weapon but with documentation about it, including serial numbers, to obtain a card permitting transportation of the weapon to the appropriate location to be registered.

Sounds complicated? The registration procedure is even more complicated by the fact that it is illegal to buy and sell weapons: there are no stores you can go to and purchase a gun. This has given rise in Juarez to a black market, where one may purchase guns of all kinds, including automatic weapons and assault rifles. Guess who satisfies the demand for guns in this illegal environment? People in the United States, where it is relatively easy to purchase a gun. In recent years the Mexican government has complained loudly about the lack of cooperation by the U.S. government in controlling the flow of illegal guns into Mexico.

In this article Berenice Gaytán interviews "Jose," (otherwise unidentified), who admits he bought a 38 caliber pistol on the black market and legalized it by going through the procedure outlined above with the ministry of defense. "They don't ask any questions," he said, "about how you obtained the gun, at least that's the impression I got. You just pay the fee, you take the gun and the documents, and you get your permit."

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Juarez Municipal Budget: Less Money Than Last Year

From Diario (click here): Yesterday the city council of Cd. Juarez approved a budget for 2011 of 2.754 billion pesos (around $220 million at the current exchange rate), about $40 million (U.S.) less than the 2010 budget, a reduction of about 18%, a huge hit. The city council also approved a measure to allow the mayor to seek additional funds through increases in the fees charged for city services. About 40% of this budget will come from municipal income; about 31% will come from state-federal funds; and about 29% will come from strictly federal funds.

Xóchitl Contreras Herrera, a city council person, indicated that much of the deficit next year is due to the closing of businesses, which in turn is due both to stagnation in the Mexican, U.S., and global economies, and to the severe security environment in Cd. Juarez. The city also has an outstanding debt of about $32 million (U.S.), for which no funds have been allocated in the projected budget.

By contrast, the El Paso City budget for FY 2011 is $693 million, and for El Paso County it is $247 million. The Municipio de Juarez is more or less the equivalent governing body corresponding to both El Paso City and El Paso County. It should be noted, however, that the cost of living is significantly lower in Mexico, so the disparity between the nearly $1 billion being spent on local government in El Paso county and the $220 million for Juarez is not as dramatic as implied by the numbers.

If we take a look at the entire Paso del Norte region, the population is somewhere around 2.4-2.6 million people, counting Juarez, El Paso MSA, and Dona Ana County. Local governments (El Paso County, El Paso City, Cd. Juarez, and Dona Ana County) have budgets adding up to about $1.2 billion.

In contrast, the Albuquerque MSA, with a population of about 730,000 (El Paso has a county-wide population of about 763,000), has a budget of $455 million plus Bernalillo County has a budget of $612 million, in the same ballpark as El Paso alone (almost $1 billion), on a per-capita basis, but, region-wide local government in the MSA of Albuquerque, with a population less than one third the size of the Paso del Norte region, spends just a fraction under the total amount spent on local government in the Paso del Norte.

Don Alejo and the Debate About Gun Laws in Mexico: Juarez Apparently Divided

Don Alejo Garza Tamez, the 77-year old property owner in Tamaulipas who defended his "rancho" near the state capital of Cd. Victoria, has now become a legend in the history of extortion during the latest chapter (2007-20??) in Mexico's war on drugs.

The story: On Saturday, November 13 of this year (2010) "Don Alejo," as he was known, received an extortion threat against his property, "rancho San Jose," a few acres of land 9 miles from Cd.Victoria, just South of South Padre Island. "Leave your property to us or we will kill you. You have 24 hours to vacate." Call the police? (are you kidding?) Give up the ranch? (No way!). Don Alejo told his employees to take Sunday off, don't come over here. He then spent the day organizing a one-man defense of his home, placing a gun and ammunition near each window of the house. On Sunday the bad guys came, firing in the air. Alejo chose his targets well during the gunfight that ensued, killing four and wounding two badly before the survivors fought their way into the house using hand grenades and killed him. Only then did the thieves begin to realize Alejo's noble death would prevent them from ever taking over his property. They fled.

Note to NRA: You might think about raising the funds to place a monumental statue of Don Alejo in front of his house, with a rifle clutched in his clammy dying hands: this one is more authentic than Charlton Heston, who used mere acting skills to rouse his audience with the same image.

This incident has captured the imagination of all of Mexico, but, if you've read this blog for the past couple of years you might expect it would provoke special discussion in Juarez.

Diario (click here) has an interesting note this morning. They interviewed 100 people "at random," (hardly a suitable sample size) to find out how they felt about relaxing gun laws in Mexico to permit households to purchase weapons for household defense.

If ever there were a place to debate gun laws, it is Juarez today, where armed self-defense is not just an abstract concept, given the very real threats your home might be violated by police or by extortionists, or murderers with many kinds of motivation.

From the very limited sample, it looks like a sophisticated debate. On the one hand there are those who argue having a weapon is dangerous, due to accidents, family violence, and because a weapon doesn't guarantee sufficient force to stop an assault, and because police or army troops increasingly invade homes looking for suspects, so there would be a danger of unnecessary violence. On the other hand there are those who claim that, since the emergency call number (066) often doesn't function at all or in an untimely fashion, and since the threats are very tangible for all sectors of society, the state should encourage everyone to have arms. Still others believe guns should be allowed, but registered, and should not be of the same caliber of arms provided to police and army. Several attorneys interviewed expressed the view that the Mexican Constitution guarantees citizens the right to have arms for household protection; in real life, however, it is extremely difficult to get a valid permit to buy a weapon.

Me? I will maintain a discreet personal silence on this issue, but the Mesilla Valley, this part of the Paso del Norte region (the other parts are Juarez and El Paso), is Pat Garrett and Billie the Kid-land, West of the Pecos, with a proud tradition of self-defense. And most folks around here, if they were living in Juarez, would obtain every weapon they could get hold of, plan a household defense just like Don Alejo did, and make sure everyone possible understood they were prepared to shoot to kill and if necessary join Don Alejo in the happy hunting grounds the moment anyone with arms--uniformed or not--burst into their homes unannounced.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oops! I Was Wrong About the Chihuahua Budget

My friend Javier Ortiz informs me that my numbers in my November 15 post were wrong. The budget for Chihuahua, including all expenditures, he says, is about $3 billion per year. Apparently the $565 million figure I used from an El Fronterizo article for my posting refers not to the whole budget, but rather, that portion of the state budget that comes from the federal government. The story was a report on a speech Governor Duarte gave, discussing the success of the federal delegation from Chihuahua in improving the federal budget for Chihuahua by 28% in 2011.

This is an important distinction, because with cost of living adjustments, the $3 billion spent by the state is in the same ballpark as the $5-6 billion spent by the government of the state of New Mexico.

I looked up federal expenditures in New Mexico for 2008 and come up with a figure of about $22 billion. I'm not sure whether I can find a similar statistic for Chihuahua.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Carjackings Up Sharply in Juarez: 13.3 per day on average

In a note in Norte Digital, veteran security reporter Feliz A. Gonzalez writes that during the past few months the incidence of "car theft with violence" has spiked up to an average of 13.3 per day during the past two months. In 2009 the average was 9 per day; this shot up to 10 per day in 2010 up to September, and is now spiking up even more. In October there were 397 incidences of car theft with violence, out of a total of 1561 cases of car theft reported to authorities.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are the days one is most likely to lose one's automobile to thieves. Most cars stolen are older models, 1991 to 1995. It should be noted that many middle class families drive cars more than eight years old, since importation of these is much easier, with lower tariffs. Only relatively wealthy people can afford to buy newer models. Although the story doesn't contain information about this, I would guess that carjackings (that is, "car theft with violence," typically in which one is asked at gunpoint to abandon one's vehicle without taking the keys) is far more frequently directed at newer vehicles. I do not drive my newer vehicle to Juarez.

153 Municipal Police in Juarez Will Be Terminated For Failing "Trustworthiness" Test

Laurencio Rodriguez Contreras, Chief of Public Security for Juarez, announced yesterday that 153 municipal police officers will be terminated in the next few days for failing to pass a "trustworthiness" test administered to 875 officers in Juarez during the past few months. He also announced that the rest of the police officer corps, 1863 officers, will submit to the same testing beginning in January 2011. See note in Norte Digital here.

On October 12 of this year Federal Security Chief Genaro Garcia Luna stated in Juarez that only 35% of 1664 municipal police passed the trustworthiness test. He did not stipulate whether these had been fired, but the news yesterday suggests those who failed the test are now being terminated. There has been no explanation for the discrepancy in the figures provided. It is not clear just what kind of testing is used to determine trustworthiness.

The discrepancy in the numbers might possibly be explained by the difference between active officers and inactive officers. The Juarez police force at the moment has 2631 officers on the books, although only about 1500 of these have been placed on active duty. It may be (this is my speculation) that the 153 officers being terminated are among the active duty officers taking and failing the trustworthiness test. Two years ago when the armed forces supplemented the municipal police in Juarez, municipal police officers were systematically fired. The police academy then began training programs to build up a completely new police force.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Presumed Assassins of US Consulate Worker Caught

José Guadalupe Díaz Díaz, alias “El Zorro”, 32, and Reynaldo Díaz Díaz, alias “El Rey," were captured yesterday, and will probably be charged with narcotics distribution, extortion, and homicide. Díaz, or "El Zorro," is said to be one of the top figures in the Azteca gang, in charge of distribution and sale of drugs and extortion rings in the Aldama, Delicias, and Chihuahua sectors of Cd. Juarez. The Azteca gang is believed to be under the command of La Linea, that is, the Juarez cartel. "El Zorro" is also believed to have been one of the assassins of Lesley A. Enriquez and her husband Arthur Redelfs, 34. Enriquez was the daughter of a prominent businessman in Juarez and she worked at the U.S. Consulate. They were murdered in an attack on an SUV they were driving on Sunday afternoon after attending a children's birthday party near city hall in Cd. Juarez on March 13 of this year. Reynaldo Díaz Díaz is also believed to have been involved in that assassination, which left three persons dead, in two different vehicles.

For note in Diario, click here

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Mexico Budget Tanks Another $450 million; Chihuahua Budget up 28%. But Put This in Perspective

While Governor-elect Susana Martinez tries to figure out how to manage a $450 million shortfall, discovered after the 2010 elections, after two years of deteriorating revenues in New Mexico, Governor Cesar Duarte announced today the Chihuahua state budget in 2011 will be 28% higher than the budget for 2010.

But wait: before going green with envy, consider this: The Chihuahua budget for 2011 will be $7.068 billion pesos ($565 million U.S.) The New Mexico budget for 2011, which ends on June 30 next year, will be about $5 billion, after going above $6 billion two years ago, about nine times the budget for Chihuahua in spite of the exceptionally hard times. Even admitting that the peso goes a lot farther in Mexico than the U.S. dollar does in the U.S., the difference between the two budgets is staggering, especially considering that Chihuahua state has about 3.2 million compared to New Mexico's 2 million.

In a press communique delivered yesterday Duarte noted that federal congresspersons from Chihuahua had done an excellent job of securing about $1 billion pesos from the federal government for providing increased security for Cd. Juarez. In Mexico state government relies much more heavily than in the U.S. for its government budget. States have no completely independent source of revenue funding in Mexico, in contrast to the U.S.

See note in El Fronterizo, here.

Five Suspected Extortionists Executed in the Last Week

Report by Felix A. Gonzalez, El Norte Digital (click here):

Yesterday at about 7:35 a.m. a man about 35-40, driving a Ford F-150 was shot to death while driving on Independencia and Avenida de la Torres. Inside the vehicle police found a note that said, "don't forget the $15000 peso ($1200 U.S.) quota due next Thursday."

Earlier in the week two young men, ages between 20-25 were killed while driving a Honda Civic on Independencia and Zaragoza. Police received tips that the two were extortionists. Seventeen spent cartridges of 9 mm and 60 caliber were found near the scene.

Two men, ages between 20-25 were found killed in the Doña Victoria laundromat after a confrontation with federal police. Police found in their possession a notebook with the names and addresses of businesses they were apparently extorting from. Police found 37 spent 9 mm. cartridges near the scene and found an AK-47 in a vehicle nearby.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Tell Me a Story," She Said to the Nurse. And Then She Died. It was Her Sixth Birthday

Hérika Martínez Prado, in today's Norte (click here), reports the death of a six-year old girl in a hospital on Thursday, November 4, after being shot in an armed attack that left her mother dead in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Her mother, Eva Ordaz de Leon, 23, the mother of four, took her daughter Erika, six, to a clothing store to buy her some pants. After making the purchase at Guilly's, she put her daughter into her 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe, but when she started opening the door to the driver's seat, the gunmen began shooting. As one assassin, who witnesses said could not have been more than 20 years of age, approached the vehicle, he was heard to shout, "it isn't her," and the gunmen fled into about four vehicles that were waiting for them. Eva, who sold used clothing to help make ends meet for her family, was dead on the spot and Erika died later in the hospital. Erika seemed tired and sleepy, nurses say, and she asked one of the nurses to tell her a story. She had received three gunshot wounds, one of them to her heart. It was her sixth birthday.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Police Clarify: Jorge Gutiérrez Corral, ex-police officer, was not one of the kidnappers; he was just about to be videotaped when rescued

From Diario: The unofficial version of events, as told by news media outlets the other day, was incorrect (see November 4 posting below): not only was Jorge Gutiérrez Corral not one of the kidnappers captured after an armed confrontation in Chihuahua, but he was actually one of two kidnapped persons who were freed that night. In fact, it is believed that Gutiérrez was freed just before he was to be videotaped, just as Mario González Rodríguez, brother of former Chihuahua prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez, was videotaped, confessing to a number of crimes, prior to his execution. Gutiérrez, however, was wanted by police and is said to have slipped away two years ago on November 10, 2008 during a joint operation by AFI (Federal Investigation Agency) and the Army designed to arrest him for ties to organized crime.