Thursday, April 30, 2009

Still No Confirmed Cases of Swine Flu in Juarez: More Test Results Due Today. Government Offices Will Close From May 1 to May 5

There are still no confirmed cases in Cd. Juarez of the new variety of swine flu. There are, however, 15 cases that are being tested, mainly adults from 20-35 who have flu-like symptoms. Should a case be confirmed, doctors will administer anti-viral medicine and isolate the patient in a quarantined area of a hospital. Health authorities are bracing for the worst, coordinating between hospitals so that, should one hospital fill to maximum capacity with swine flu patients, new patients will be sent to alternative hospitals with quarantined beds.

Yesterday the state secretary of health of Chihuahua announced that municipal, state and federal workers will not report to work between May 1 and May 5. Schools, libraries, universities, sports arenas, theaters, bars, and other public establishments are already closed until May 7.

Diario reports this morning they have found out that health officials have not closed operations of street vendors who sell food, since, they assert, the virus is not transmitted via food. This is true, but if a food worker is infected with the virus, and coughs on the food, the virus can be transmitted, so be careful with food sold by ambulantes (see photo).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teague Reminds Citizens Border is Open; As of this morning, no swine flu yet confirmed in Juarez

In contrast to Congressman Eric Massa, D-NY, who called for closing the U.S.-Mexico border (see below), our own Congressman Harry Teague has issued this statement: "I want to remind all residents of southern New Mexico that the US - Mexico Ports of Entry are open. Our federal agents at the border are taking every precaution to prevent transmission of swine flu and I urge all residents of southern New Mexico to become familiar with the steps necessary to avoid becoming infected with swine flu."

So far in this emergency, Mexican and U.S. officials have acted swiftly and transparently and, it would appear, with effectiveness, in containing the epidemic as much as is possible. Experts have pointed out that closing borders and airports has simply not been very effective in the past. But rapid flow of information to the public does work. As of this morning there are still no confirmations of swine flu in Cd. Juarez, although there are still a few samples being taken for testing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New York Congressman Massa calls for closing the U.S.-Mexico Border

This morning a well-known publicity-seeker, Congressman Eric Massa, DNY, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, announced "we need to close our borders to Mexico immediately and completely until this issue is resolved," referring to the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico.

As of this moment there are no known cases of swine flu in the state of Chihuahua (see below), and a quick look at any of several epidemic maps indicates there are a lot more cases in New York City right now than anywhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. Current reports show 10 confirmed cases on the border in California, and none anywhere else on the border, whereas in New York City there are about 50 confirmed cases, 28 in one school alone.

Perhaps in light of what we know at this moment we should ask Congressman Teague to give a speech calling for the closing of the Holland Tunnel between New York and New Jersey (where there are reported cases of swine flu as well), or perhaps just set up roadblocks for all inbound traffic on all the bridges and roads to make sure none of the passengers are sick, which is what happens if you want to come into the U.S. from Juarez. Or stop all airline traffic to the New York airports and, maybe to make sure we are doing everything to protect the good people of New York, we should close the entire U.S.-Canada border, since there are a number of confirmed cases of swine flu in Canada. Gotta make sure the public is protected, you know.

Seriously, Congressman Massa is trotting out the closing of the U.S.-Mexico border once again, at the first sign of a national emergency, a tired and worn out trick that only reveals his contempt for the people of our region, and for the experts who are doing their best to keep up with the epidemic. Massa has none of the responsibilities of the health care officials whose reputations are on the line. But given his position as a congressman he has a ready-made publicity forum, which he is using now, as in the past to promote himself. The Mexican government has behaved with commendable speed, action, and transparency, cooperating with global health officials and the CDC to alert the world about this outbreak. Thousands of health officials in the U.S. and Mexico have been working around the clock to keep it contained. So far the signs are in hopeful directions. What we don't need is a publicity hound like Congressman Massa exploiting this emergency for egotistical purposes.

No Cases So Far in Chihuahua State; Tamaulipas Appears to be Infected

State authorities in Chihuahua revealed this afternoon they have received the results of 11 samples tested for swine flu. One had flu, but it was a local, seasonal variety, not the new swine flu variety. It is too early to tell whether anyone has contracted swine flu in Juarez or Chihuahua, but with each passing hour it appears there may not have been any early cases that initially went undetected, at least up to Saturday or Sunday. Schools, museums, bars, and other establishments already closed will remain closed until May 7.

In Tamaulipas, however, there are 48 cases of suspected swine flu, 16 of them in Reynosa, a city on the border next to McAllen Texas. Health officials hope in the next few days to distribute one million face masks in that region, especially in areas where there have been confirmed cases. 200,000 face masks have already been handed out in the state of Tamaulipas, and 12,500 vaccinations have been given.

South Valley Residents: The Flu Threat is Real, So Be Careful

From what we know so far, the new strain of swine flu coming from Mexico is not as deadly as avian flu, which had a mortality rate of about 50%, but, at 6%-8% mortality rate, is deadly enough to worry about. There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu in Cd. Juarez yet, but test results are being awaited in four cases under suspicion. Schools and day care centers in Juarez have been closed until May 7, along with major sporting events, museums, libraries, nightclubs, and bars. Universities have been closed as well. Movie theaters have not yet learned if they will be closed. Restaurants will remain open. Many people in Juarez are wearing face masks, which offer some, but not complete, protection, when going out in public.

The Mexican government has shown a high degree of responsibility and quick, effective responsiveness throughout the country in trying to contain the epidemic. Nevertheless, residents in El Paso and Southern Dona Ana County are much more likely to face possible exposure than residents elsewhere, due to the proximity to Juarez.

The threat here: Although I am not an expert, in my opinion there is a strong probability that swine flu has entered Juarez through the airport or bus or rail traffic. We will find out in the next few hours or days whether this has happened. Those persons with flu-like symptoms who have gone to a hospital for treatment, are not the problem, since they will be isolated from possible further contamination. The problem is those persons who came down with flu-like symptoms but had not yet heard the public messages before infecting others. If one or more of these persons crossed into El Paso to shop, they may well have infected people on this side.

Meanwhile, I would avoid going to Juarez unless you have important business there, and I would follow the advice given by authorities at various levels: wash your hands often, avoid casual hugs and kisses, be sure to cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, and, if you have symptoms, such as a fever along with sneezing, coughing or runny nose, stay at home and call your doctor. If you have no doctor, call a hospital, you need to be checked out. There are medicines that can reduce your risk.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Catholic Church in Mexico Issues National Precaution for Masses

The Catholic Church announced in Mexico City yesterday that masses would be altered, foregoing the sign of peace ritual just prior to communion, and asking parishioners to accept communion in their hands. This is a precautionary step to contain the spread of a deadly new strain of swine flu, which began in Mexico City. The Mexican government is cooperating fully with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, to try to contain the spread of the disease, which threatens to become a global pandemic.

Swine Flu in Juarez

It hit like lightning. Only one case of (suspected) swine flu has been reported in Juarez so far, but health officials are taking no chances with this disease which began in Mexico and threatens to expand globally into a pandemic. In Mexico City schools, libraries, museums, and theaters have been closed to try to contain the epidemic, which appears to be far deadlier than most flu viruses. At least 81 persons in Mexico City have died from complications in this new disease, and at least 1300 have come down with flu-like symptoms confirmed as swine flu, a unique variety combining genetic material from humans, birds, and pigs.

Flu vaccines, which were not designed for this new strain, ran out yesterday in drug stores in Juarez. At the airport workers are told to don face masks when flights come in from Mexico City, a major vector for the disease. In the Monterrey airport, workers are questioning passengers about symptoms, escorting those with flu-like symptoms to hospitals to avoid further possible contamination. This has not yet been implemented in Juarez. In the Mexico City airport health officials are questioning each passenger and do not allow those with flu-like symptoms to board planes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another Nightclub Execution in Juarez

Daniel Basilio Calvo Garcia, 33, was sitting at a table in the VZO nightclub on Miguel de Cervantes Street in Juarez on Saturday night when gunmen fired 20 rounds at him inside the club, Chihuahua state police said Sunday. He died at the scene.

The incident was not reported in the online editions of Norte or Diario, but was covered by Daniel Borunda of the El Paso Times. The Times has begun covering the violence in Mexico in some depth each day.

A Disappearance

Gabriela Zavala Cruz was awakened at 3:30 a.m. Saturday when soldiers in two pickups and a small dark car pulled up to her residence. Her husband, Carlos, 23, a bricklayer, was in the car. His face was beaten. A soldier asked her if she had called him on her cell phone. She said no and the soldier went to the car and told her husband, "she says she didn't call you." She then added, "I might have, to find out what had happened." She asked them why they had taken him and a soldier replied "for being a good guy." The soldiers then left, with her husband.

On Tuesday Gabriela Cruz reported this incident to the Special Unit for the Investigation of Missing persons of the Chihuahua Deputy Attorney General's office in Cd. Juarez. She had already checked with the federal attorney general's office and was told they knew nothing. "I want to know where he is, if he's still alive," she told a reporter, sobbing. "Nobody tells me anything, where they picked him up or why," said the mother of a 20-month old child and baby 8 months old.

Reported in Norte, Juarez edition, April 22, 2009.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eight More Executions in Juarez on Thursday and Friday

The first victim was Jesus Humberto Ramirez de la O, in his late 30s, the manager of the Seven&Seven Bar on Avenida Tecnologico. He was killed in a storage room inside the bar, two bullet wounds to his head. Four empty shells of unspecified caliber were found near the body. Witnesses said four armed men entered the bar at around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and forced him to enter the storage room at gunpoint. Four shots were heard and the men then fled the scene. Seven&Seven was one of the several bars that caught fire last year. Before the fire the bar's name was Santini.

Carlos Abraham Perez Nino, 29, was shot to death by gunfire in the Col. 16 de Septiembre. Sergio Porras Pinon, 42, was found at 10:45 p.m. on Floricultores Street, with five 40 mm shells near his body.

Friday was more violent.

Jesus Lopez Avalo, 36, was standing outside his home at 1040 Santa Barbara on Friday afternoon at 5 p.m., with Ernesto Alonso Hernandez Reyes. A group of armed men approached the two and began shooting at them. Lopez, who worked as an automobile body shop specialist, attempted to flee but was shot dead about a block away, falling face down. Eight 40 mm shells were found outside Lopez's home. The second victim, Ernesto Alonso Hernandez Reyes, 31, ran in the same direction and made it to 1209 Joaquin Cortazar, another block away, before he was stopped by gunfire. Five 9 mm shells and 2 40 mm. shells were found near the body.

An unidentified man was shot at 2 p.m. on Friday at the intersection of 16 de Septiembre and Segunda de Ugarte, in front of a hotel. Witnesses saw a man shooting the victim several times, leaving him dead on the street before throwing the gun away. Police are searching for the gun.

A second double murder occurred at 5:05 p.m. on Friday when a white 1999 Grand Marquis carrying the two brothers, was intercepted by and armed commando group. The Marquis was headed North on Libertad, at the intersection with Insurgentes, waiting for the light to change, when the shooting started. The driver, Marco Aurelio Martinez Elizalde, apparently wounded, tried to drive on, but ran into a telephone pole. His brother, Oscar Martinez Elizalde, died at the scene. Marco Aurelio Martinez died in at General Hospital. 11 spent 9mm shells were found at the scene.

Compiled from news reports in Norte Juarez (Herica Martinez Prado and Carlos Huerta) and Diario de Juarez, Saturday, April 28.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Sunland Park-Santa Teresa Project: An Interview With Jerry Pacheco

The South Mesilla Valley is today, arguably, the biggest economic development project in New Mexico history, driven by two major factors: first, is the $5 billion expansion of El Paso's Ft. Bliss, which is causing West El Paso to spill over into New Mexico between El Paso and Anthony, and, to a lesser extent into the Chaparral area. The second is the growth of Cd. Juarez on the West Side, between Anapra and the Santa Teresa border crossing, which promises to create all kinds of business synergies on the U.S. side. No one is better equipped to explain the cross-border environment in the Sunland-Santa Teresa area than Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a consulting firm for businesses considering locating in the Southern Dona Ana County region.

Pacheco served briefly as Deputy Secretary of Economic Development in 2003 and, before that, as the New Mexico trade representative in Mexico City. He worked for several years with the Santa Teresa Real Estate Development Corporation, purchased a few years ago by the Verde group. Among his other activities he is currently putting together the program for the annual NAFTA Institute Trade Conference, which will bring suppliers and buyers together on June 11 and 12 at the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. He generously agreed to this interview over lunch at the Santa Teresa Country Club today.

I've known Pacheco for perhaps twenty years, since the Charlie Crowder days when the Santa Teresa crossing was a figment of Charlie's imagination, combined with a lot of jackrabbits and dirt and mesquite bushes near the U.S.-Mexico border. And, although I've known Pacheco always to be passionate about economic development in the Paso del Norte region, I have never seen him as excited and animated about the current status of the border region as he was today, leaning toward me literally on the edge of his seat as he spoke.

Pacheco points to three inter-related projects, begun within the past year, that are going to transform the Santa Teresa-Sunland Park region profoundly.

First, Foxconn, the largest manufacturer of electronic and computer equipment in the world, has just completed phase one of its assembly plant, located on the Mexican side of the border just yards away from the border and from the crossing at San Jeronimo-Santa Teresa. Foxconn is assembling desktop computers and servers for Dell at this facility--the largest maquila plant in Mexico--which has two production complexes, one warehouse, one hotel for visiting executives, and one cafeteria for employees. At the present time there are more than a thousand workers, moving in 3 shifts, at the plant. However, last week a Foxconn manufacturing facility at the Juarez airport burned down, and 800 of those workers will shift to the San Jeronimo plant. By the end of the year there should be 5000 workers and depending on the state of the economy, thousands more to come, up to 30,000 workers according to current plans. With that many workers, West Juarez is assuredly going to go through a boom in low-cost housing, commercial development, and urban sprawl. On the U.S. side there will be a reciprocal demand for more upscale housing for managers, trucking facilities for the increased traffic at the port and more businesses serving the Juarez maquila sector, like Expeditors.

A key strategic reason for Foxconn to locate at San Jeronimo was the availability of ample space on both sides, very near the border crossing, and the presence of a user-friendly international border crossing. Expeditors International, a large logistic services company, has constructed a facility on the U.S. side of the fence, across from Foxconn, from which they will supply Foxconn with the inventory of parts needed to assemble Dell computers. Since Dell operates with real-time delivery schedules, it was optimal to locate at a border site where wait times are considerably less than the 20 minutes to 2 hours or more available at the El Paso-Cd. Juarez crossings. As supplies for computer assembly are needed at Foxconn, Expeditors will deliver them from a location just a few hundred yards away, on the U.S. side.

The second project is the recently completed road from downtown Juarez through Anapra to the San Jeronimo crossing. Just seven miles long, this road connects downtown Cd. Juarez directly to the border crossing for the first time. Previously, the only way to get from downtown Juarez to the crossing was a 16-mile run through the Casas Grande highway to the San Jeronimo turnoff, and then another 12 miles to the San Jeronimo crossing, in traffic, a solid hour or more. Now you can make the trip in 20 minutes, as I noted in my blog last week. By the end of the year this road, now gravel from Anapra to the cattle crossing, will be completely paved. The Santa Teresa-San Jeronimo crossing is about to become very busy.

The Foxconn-Expeditor project aside, the new road now links New Mexico directly to the fifth largest city in Mexico, without having to go through downtown El Paso or the cumbersome, circuitous route through the Casas Grande highway. Given the severely crowded urban areas on both sides of the El Paso-Juarez divide, as well as crowded bridges, the open spaces at Santa Teresa, combined with border crossing wait times that are much shorter than those of El Paso, Pacheco indicated he thinks for the first time New Mexico has a geographic advantage over El Paso for the location of complementary plants on the border.

The third project is the railroad spur to be built, linking the railroad in Mexico as it moves north toward Juarez from Samalayuca to the West side of the Santa Teresa crossing, and into the United States (see map). President Calderon has approved this spur in his national infrastructure plan, and Union Pacific has pledged to begin a $300 million project to place a diesel refining station near Santa Teresa as the first step in a long-term project to remove the railroad yards out of El Paso. The second atep will be the building of an inter-modal facility for building trains. Given the logistical difficulties of linking trains from Juarez into El Paso, the completion of the railroad spur will provide New Mexico with the competitive advantage over El Paso of offering rail transportation directly to the central North-South rail routes of Mexico.

Cd. Juarez is growing rapidly, in spite of all its current problems. The area West of downtown Juarez, along the border to San Jeronimo, now lies in the path of development, and one can expect that in the coming decade or two hundreds of thousands of people will move into this largely uninhabited area, which is just South of the New Mexico line. Inevitably, although Juarez cannot spill over into New Mexico like El Paso is doing in the Anthony area, the implications, opportunities and synergies posed by the existence of a city almost as large as all of New Mexico, linked to New Mexico through a border crossing just seven miles from downtown Juarez and a railroad heading toward Central Mexico, are richer than most of our imaginations can absorb.

Complaints of Abusive Behavior By Troops in Juarez Can Only Be Resolved By The Secretary of Defense

Norte of Juarez reports Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza Terrazas yesterday revealed that complaints of abuse by troops engaged in Joint Operation Chihuahua (JOCh, OCCh in Spanish abbreviation) can only be resolved at the desk of Secretary of Defense himself, Guillermo Galvan Galvan, in Mexico City.

Citizens have complained that cases of alleged abuse reported locally result in no action because there is no chain of authority to link a citizen's complaint to local commanders at any operational level. A local Juarez psychiatrist, Jose Francisco Rangel, in an interview with Norte, appearing today, asserted that while collective anxiety in Juarez has diminished with the arrival of military troops to guard the city, and people are beginning to go out into the city for recreation again, those affected by abusive behavior of troops find themselves frustrated by the lack of accountability. He mentioned the case of a female patient who complained to him she was sexually fondled by a soldier at a check point at night.

Sparks Fly as Session Ends: Pictures of the Major Players

Mark Bralley, a gifted photographer and fellow blogger (What's wrong with this picture?)from Albuquerque, has sent me these photographs he's taken of Senator John Arthur Smith and House Speaker Ben Lujan. He saw my postings of the end of the session (March 21 and 22, and April 15) and was thoughtful enough to send me some pics to accompany the articles.

His blog site, (you can link to it below in my link section) has outstanding photographs of the legislative session, various portraits of politicians, including a masterpiece portrait of former Senator Manny Aragon, apparently in court for sentencing, that tells it all, in his entry of March 22, 2009. There is also a set of photographs spanning the entire career of outgoing Senator Pete Domenici. If you want to know what New Mexico politics looks like, this is required viewing.

President Calderon Sites Juarez as Example of Success, in Talk With Obama

Mexican President Felipe Calderon told President Obama yesterday that Cd. Juarez was an example of the success of his security policies, given the reduction in crime by 80% after troops arrived in Juarez in February. He reminded President Obama that, although Mexico had a homicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000 last year, this was lower than homicide rates in Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, and Colombia, as well as in several cities in the U.S.

Another Woman Executed in Juarez

A woman was murdered at noon yesterday (Thursday)in Vistas del Valle, near the intersection of Prolongacion Morelia and Jiquilipan. She was driving a gray Alero registered in Texas. Her body was found slumped over the steering wheel of the vehicle and she had two gunshot wounds to the head. Depending on who is counting she was either the 23rd or 24rth female victim this year. In all of 2007 there were 25 homicides of women and in 2008 there were 86. More than 400 men have been executed in Cd. Juarez this year.

Troops Assigned To Municipal Police Duties To Leave Juarez in September

Diario de Juarez reports this morning that the 5000 army troops assigned to patrol streets and handle traffic will begin leaving in September. Another 2000 troops, assigned to deal with organized crime, will be remaining indefinitely. Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz announced the city will step up its recruitment of municipal police between now and then in an effort to hire a total of 3000 officers. As of last year, the city was authorized to hire 1600 municipal police officers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Interview with Jerry Pacheco Coming Up

I am scheduled to have lunch this week with border economic development specialist Jerry Pacheco. I will publish some of the results of that interview, on Friday.

Pacheco was briefly Deputy Secretary for Economic Development in 2003, and was assigned to Mexico City during the 1990s as the New Mexico trade representative to Mexico. He worked for a number of years with the Santa Teresa Real Estate Development Corporation, and is currently executive director of the International Business Accelorator, in Sunland Park. He writes an excellent column about border issues for the Albuquerque Journal. No one is more familiar with the whole gamut of business issues in Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, Cd. Juarez, and San Jeronimo, than Pacheco.

Legislative Wrap Up

The following article, written by me, appears in the current issue of Capitol Report:

The 2009 legislative session ended neither with a bang nor a whimper but with a public outburst by the Speaker of the House, permanently captured and endlessly reproducible, sound by sound, through the miracle of contemporary digital electronic technology. Speaker Ben Lujan is not the first legislative leader to vent frustration at a last-minute tactic that killed a bill in the waning moments of the session. But his indiscretion in doing so in front of reporters and in light of the ironic circumstances of his bill's undoing (in complaining to Sen. Smith he deserved a phone call he implied he would have pulled the amendment had he known it would be scrutinized in public), guaranteed the story would circulate widely, including embarrassing details about the bill in question.

But Sen. Smith's remark to reporters immediately after the incident--"Obviously, the Speaker had not had as good a session as I've had"--suggests a frustration that runs deeper than the loss of a bill. Indeed, a quick review of the session reveals the Speaker's ability to deliver votes failed at key moments, particularly at the end of the session. What happened? My take here, certainly not definitive, is indebted to several persons, players in the arena or close observers, who shared their thoughts.

When it finally became clear the governor was not going to Washington, insiders opted to pretend the same old Big Bill was still in town. No one was more clearly the architect of this strategy than Speaker Ben Lujan, who has ruled the House for years as a kind of rubber stamp for the governor's agenda, and for whom the governor spent considerable political capital last year helping Ben Lujan Jr. become a congressman. Lujan's approach was simple: hold party discipline together for a few key votes, ask for a tax increase to pay for ambitious projects, and let Dr. No (Sen. Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, who indicated he would use his clout to keep expenses within the limits of projected revenues) take the heat for killing spending bills.

This approach ignored two critical new realities in the political landscape. First, it ignored the implications of the fiscal crisis, which eliminated capital outlay funds (normally distributed to each legislator to be used as they please) this year. Some legislators depend heavily on bringing these funds back to their districts. Given the Speaker's loyalty to the governor, he has in the past been able credibly to threaten the governor's use of the line item veto. This year, with no capital outlay funds to get vetoed, the Speaker's leverage was reduced.

Second, it ignored the implications of the lame-duck status of the governor, deeply aggravated by both his loss of moral authority and the presence of Lt. Governor Diane Denish, whose almost-was-but-still-about-to-be status suggested power was already shifting away from the governor. Sensing this, the governor sharply curtailed his strong-arming of legislators, focusing on a few choice capital projects. But with the governor's presence and authority diminished, the Speaker was forced to expend more of his own political capital. When this capital ran out, the Speaker ran into problems.

One example: the Speaker asked for support to pass a massive $400 million tax increase for education, a 15% increase. Neither the governor nor the Senate seemed disposed to fight for this bill, but the Speaker was able to wrestle 37 out of 45 Democrats to vote for it. Sure enough, it died in the Senate. Among those voting for the tax increase were many legislators who had come to Santa Fe with a fistful of ethics bills and the backing of the public for reform. And yes, many of the ethics bills passed through the House with the Speaker's help. But they too failed in the Senate. When members realized the Speaker had convinced them to vote on record for a massive tax increase that never had a chance of passing through the Senate, and that they would go home without having passed comprehensive ethics reform legislation into law, their confidence in the Speaker's leadership waned.

On the last day of the session, when the Speaker tried to twist arms to pass the Albuquerque TIDDS bill (a SunCal spending project that was heavily lobbied during the session), something he wanted badly, he was unable to do so, getting a tie vote. On a second try, he was able to persuade Rep. Joni Gutierrez (Las Cruces) to vote for the bill (she normally does what he says, but opposition to the bill surfaced in Las Cruces and she refused to vote on the first role call vote), as well as Rep. Rick Miera and Rep. Bobby Gonzalez. But meanwhile other legislators were withdrawing their support for the bill, including Rep. Gloria Vaughan and Rep. Dianne Hamilton, both from Southern New Mexico. Again, the bill failed on a tie vote. It is highly unusual for a Speaker to lose a key vote on the floor of the House and the Speaker's outburst at Sen. John A. Smith should be seen in the context of this embarrassment in front of a packed gallery.

In the Senate John Arthur Smith threw down the gauntlet at the start of the session about spending, backing up his assertions with updates about revenue projections, which show declining revenues until 2013. Given the rudderless nature of the session Smith provided the most consistent leadership in both chambers. Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who told people he was seriously considering a run for governor, provided virtually no evidence he really intended to do so. In a year in which the public was begging for comprehensive ethics reform, and in which a governor lost a cabinet seat over ethical accusations, Sanchez appeared to be leading the charge to kill ethics legislation, saying, "we are good people," ignoring the housing scandal, the two state treasurers now in jail, the sentencing of Manny Aragon to jail for blatant corruption, the Rio Rancho wi-fi scandal, and the growing evidence that the unprecedented flow of money in the political system, virtually unregulated, has multiplied unethical and illegal temptations several-fold. Ironically, one of the few reform bills that passed, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, opening up conference committees, was the catalyst for the chain of events that led to the Speaker's outburst at Sen. Smith.

Bersin A Brilliant Choice for Border Czar

Commentary: While Hispanic groups protested Bersin's appointment as Southwest Border representative for the Attorney General, back in 1995, due to the increased number of desert deaths of migrants from Mexico to the U.S. after Operation Gatekeeper began in San Diego, there is ample reason to believe Mr. Bersin's selection for this job is, from all appearances, a perfect fit.

As U.S. Attorney in San Diego back in the 1990s, Bersin worked closely with the Mexican Consul in San Diego, Luis Herrera Lasso. Together, they broke the mold, cooperating on a surprisingly large agenda of border issues that had never been dealt with on the ground floor, locally, by officials with capabilities on each side of the border. Normally border issues are forwarded to Washington offices and Mexico City, where they languish until an emergency forces someone's hand.

Herrera and Bersin met regularly to create a cross-border agenda dealing with cooperation in fire control, migration issues, law enforcement rules for cross-border hot pursuit, exchanging radio frequencies by law enforcement officials on both sides, interaction of local planning officials with cross-border counterparts, etc. In doing so they were the first local officials to understand the potential power of the Border Liaison Mechanism (BLM) formed in 1992 for consulates in twin cities along the border to deal with border issues. Unfortunately, not all border officials have been as talented as the Bersin-Herrera team, and the record of the BLMs has been spotty.

A caveat: Mexico experimented with the creation of a "border czar" shortly after President Vicente Fox took office in 2001. He made an excellent selection in naming former Baja California Governor Ernesto Ruffo Appel to the post and made it clear Ruffo enjoyed his backing. The experiment turned out disastrously, however, since the legislature refused to appropriate enough funds for the position and Ruffo was in the embarrassing position six months later of having no staff, little funding, and, more fundamentally, no authority to make things happen. Although he made a serious effort to generate a consensus in Mexican border communities about their needs, he was not given the authority to implement the changes he recommended. Instead, cabinet officers, jealous of their turf, often refused to cooperate with him, ignoring his priorities. Finally, Ruffo resigned in disgust.

Bersin has greater chances of success. For one thing, his mandate is not as vague or ambitious as the one Ruffo got stuck with, "economic and social development," dealing with all matters. He is working in one cabinet position, Homeland Security, dealing with border security issues, and to the extent he has the ear of Secretary Napolitano and President Bush, he may well have a considerable amount of authority to deal with these issues.

Hopefully, they will listen to him as he develops a framework to deal with border security problems. If he is anything like the Bersin of old, he will emphasize strong cross-border cooperation of officials at local levels, strong consultation and participation by local populations on both sides to generate trust and confidence in government actions, and transparency in the process.

Current border policy is broken, at many levels. At the conceptual and strategic level, it is wrong to put non-security issues like migration on a tight security agenda, imbuing what is essentially an immigration and labor policy issue with top-security status, and then placing the burden of legal responsibility on the migrant, and the burden of enforcement on the supply side, at the U.S.-Mexico border itself, which is not where laborers and employers meet to violate immigration law. This is especially true when those who hire unauthorized migrants--the demand side--are not treated as top security threats, a blatant hypocrisy which has resulted in the permanent introduction of a quarter million unauthorized workers into the U.S. each year, mostly poorly educated workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Courted by employers throughout the U.S., demonized by other sectors of society, pursued relentlessly by law enforcement agencies and treated shabbily when caught, the presence of 11 million unauthorized workers, fully 5 percent of the entire U.S. labor force and one in four lower-skilled workers in the U.S., stands as a monument to a colossal failure of government policy--and not just border enforcement or security policy.

Just as bad, it is wrong to relegate gun trafficking to Mexico as a local issue to be dealt with largely through state law; saying, sorry, Mexico, there is little we can do, is not adequate. It should be placed firmly on the security agenda in our dealings with Mexico. It is also wrong to allow the security label to be an excuse to perpetuate taboos against public discussion of such matters as decriminalization, after decades of failure to reduce the supply of drugs on our streets. Open, transparent discussion is essential to really solving a problem. What is and what is not a border security issue needs a thorough reexamination, and changes in priority would undoubtedly require changes in strategy and operations.

At the operational level, the creation of the Homeland Security Department went a long ways toward centralizing dozens of agencies under one umbrella. It is a significant improvement, although there is still a long way to got before the agencies actually begin interacting seamlessly. Border Patrol, for example, still does not report directly to the Port Director, violating the concept of unity of command. Equally important, operational managers need to be aware of the need for local participation, not just on the U.S. side, but also on the Mexican side. Border security will be an oxymoron unless both sides of a twin city feel the border security apparatus on each side is working to protect them. The only way to achieve this is to make a serious effort to consult, and offer meaningful participation in the design of both border policy and policy enforcement practice.

Bersin has his work cut out, and we wish him the best. If anyone can bring the kind of fresh, optimistic, can-do attitude that is sorely needed in the Department of Homeland Security it is Alan Bersin. Now if only President Calderon would appoint Luis Herrera Lasso to be Mexico's border czar....

Buena Suerte, Mr. Bersin!

Bersin Chosen for Border Czar

Alan Bersin, former U.S. Attorney in San Diego, will be named, probably today in El Paso, by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to a newly created post dealing with security problems on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bersin was U.S. Attorney in San Diego during the Clinton years, then moved to become Superintendent of Schools in San Diego. Governor Schwarznegger then appointed him Education Secretary, and most recently he has been the Chairman of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. While he was U.S. Attorney he was named the U.S. Attorney General's Southwest Border representative.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kidnapping and Death in Cd. Juarez Appears to Implicate Armed Forces: Armed Forces Deny Official Participation

Norte of Juarez reports this morning that, after being kidnapped from his home on Thursday, apparently by elements of the armed forces, the body of Eduardo Gonzalez Ramirez, 40, was found beaten to death at 1:10 a.m. on Friday at the intersection of Damian Carmona and Rodolfo Fierro, in the colonia Jose Marti. He died of a severe injury to the pelvis. Witnesses reported two official military vehicles appeared at the victim's home between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., military personnel entered the home without a warrant and began beating the victim, who screamed at his mother not to let them carry him away. Mr. Gonzalez, a mechanic, was then taken by the men. Maria del Refugio Ramirez, the victim's mother told Norte, "If my son did something wrong, that's what authorities are for, to judge what happened, but not to have soldiers torture them, kill them, and throw the body away."

The victim's family is expected to turn the case over to the Chihuahua State Commission on Human Rights for investigation. Diario de Juarez reports that in a separate incident Mr. Julio Escamilla Torres, an electrician, was treated for several fractured ribs and a severe injury to his leg at the General Hospital. Family members assert that persons dressed as soldiers stopped his vehicle at the corner of Zihuatanejo and Privada de Cobre and, finding him in possession of various screwdrivers, which they took to be possible weapons, began beating him with rifle butts.

Diario de Juarez, covering this story, quotes a spokesman for the armed forces who asserts that "in relation to the presumed participation of the armed forces in acts which ended the life of Eduardo Gonzalez Ramirez...and resulted in an injury to a person by the name of Julio Escamilla, the Command of the Joint Chihuahua Operation denies that military personnel, acting as such within the scope of this Operation, participated in any way in these acts."

Meanwhile, in the case of Javier Eduardo Rosales Rosales, 21, (Reported here below) a spokesperson for the State Justice Department's North Zone said an investigation was underway to determine whether military personnel were involved in the kidnapping that resulted in his death. Rosales was a radiologist at the Los Angeles Hospital. He and another man, Sergio Fernandez, were kidnapped by men in uniform on Tuesday April 7. According to Fernandez, after two days of being tortured, the two were left alone in the early morning hours on Thursday, April 9. They left the scene but Mr. Rosales died of his injuries shortly thereafter. Mr. Fernandez left the scene to look for help and made it home by himself. Rosales' body was discovered on Friday.

On Sunday night two more men were murdered in Cd. Juarez. One body was found at 9:18 p.m. on the corner of Costa Rica and Ninos Heroes. He appeared to be between 35 and 40 years old and had gunshot wounds in his back. Another man was found dead at 9:20 on Sunday on the corner of Anahuac and 2 de abril, with gunshot wounds to the head. Five spent 9mm. cartridges were found near the body.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jaime Campos Resigns from Border Authority

Jaime Campos, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority, has apparently resigned as of last Tuesday, April 7. Campos headed the agency from early 2003 until now. It is not clear why he resigned, and no replacement has been named.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Deaths in Cd. Juarez

Norte of Juarez reports four more murders in the past three days.

After a search begun on Thursday, the body of Javier Eduardo Rosales Rosales, 21, was found on Friday near the bottom of the hill known as "Cerro Bolas," on the corner of Caliche and Feldespato in the colonia Vista Hermosa. According to friends he was kidnapped by persons dressed in military clothing. He was found with contusions on his left and right cheeks, nose, both feet, and a scrape on the right side of his abdomen, suggesting he was tortured.

The body of Pedro Galvan Hernandez, 32, was found at 8:10 a.m. on Friday at the intersection of Valentin Gomez Farias and Fidel Avila, in the colonia Monterrey. He suffered gunshot wounds to his chest and to his right hand. Seven 9 mm. and one .25 caliber cartridges were found near the body. Another man at the scene was wounded and is in serious condition. No details about the other two murders were presented by the newspaper.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Governor Vetoes Hispanic Affairs Cabinet Office

Governor Bill Richardson vetoed the bill to create a cabinet-level Office of Hispanic Affairs. The bill initially raised $700,000 to get the office going, but the funding was eliminated before the bill was passed. "The legislation...outlines steps that must be taken should I sign the bill into law. Without funding, there is no practical way to comply with the provisions in the bill," the Governor said in a letter addressed to Sen. Tim Jennings and the New Mexico Senate, explaining his veto.

Ralph Arellanes, district director of LULAC for northern New Mexico, had earlier threatened to make a national issue out of the veto, should it occur. Perhaps to mollify him and others who supported the bill, sponsored by Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, Richardson offered to appoint a special advisor of Hispanic Affairs for the Governor’s Office.

More murders in Juarez

From El Norte, April 10:

Although the arrival of nearly 10,000 troops and federal police last month in Cd. Juarez has brought the homicide and crime rate down, gunfire is still taking the lives of a few citizens. In the first 9 days of April 15 persons have been the victims of homicide attacks, including 3 women.

On Wednesday April 8 at 9 p.m. Miguel Angel Elizalde Vazquez, 35, was found dead from a gunshot wound to his right side in the colonia Emiliano Zapata. Half an hour later Luis Humberto Ramirez Garcia, 19, died at the Hospital de la Familia, from gunshot wounds he suffered in the same neighborhood, colonia Emiliano Zapata. A third victim, Yolanda Valtierrez Gardea, 37, was assassinated inside the Chapulin Colorado bar, which she owned, on the corner of Lopez Mateos and Posada Pompa. 15 empty cartridges of 9 mm ammunition were found near the body.

From January until now 422 persons have been murdered in Juarez, 23 of them women. In addition, 24 persons were killed during two confrontations between groups of armed men and military units.

Diario de Juarez reports that four persons were assassinated in various parts of Chihuahua (city) yesterday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Governor Undecided About Cabinet Office for Hispanics

The Albuquerque Journal this morning reports the governor is undecided about, but leaning against, signing a bill to create a cabinet office of Hispanic Affairs, sponsored by Sen. Michael Sanchez and passed through the legislature this past session. The legislature did not appropriate any funds for the cabinet position, and the governor expressed concerns about the way the bill is written, guaranteeing officers in the new cabinet access to documents about hiring procedures and histories in other state government offices, and requiring the governor to choose a ten-member commission from lists provided by specific Hispanic groups.

Hispanics comprise about 45% of the state's population. Hispanic workers in New Mexico, in 2007, earned about 71% of the income earned by White, non-Hispanic workers. Black workers in New Mexico actually did slightly better that year than Hispanic workers in New Mexico, according to Census Department figures. Unemployment rates for Hispanics are consistently higher than for all other workers put together. There are state government offices specifically targeting black and Native American citizens in New Mexico, but none for Hispanics.

This is a no-win decision for the Governor. Should he sign the bill he will almost certainly face opposition from non-Hispanic citizens who feel we have entered into a post-ethnic period in which discrimination is not serious enough to warrant official redress, and if he fails to sign it he will face strong opposition from Hispanic lobby groups who argue that Richardson, a Hispanic himself, should sign the bill.

Dona Ana County might well be affected by the creation of a cabinet-level position, inasmuch as the county is 65% Hispanic, one of the highest proportions in the State. And the South Mesilla Valley is 84% Hispanic. On the other hand, Hispanic politicians and non-Hispanic politicians from other parts of the state have neglected the needs of the county for as long as one can remember, and it is possible the new cabinet position would be monopolized by Hispanic politicians from the North, largely for the benefit of nortenos . That is, there does not appear to be a strong geographic kinship among Hispanics between those in the North and those in the South.

Monday, April 6, 2009

HB 185 Signed Into Law. "Historic Occasion," Says Marty Nieto

Governor Richardson signed HB 185 into law this afternoon, enabling the mutual domestic water associations of Mesquite, Vado, Desert Sands, Berino, and La Mesa to merge together, forming a single Water Authority. According to Marty Nieto, president of the Lower Rio Grande Mutual Demestic Water Association and president of the Mesquite mutual domestic water association, who lobbied for the bill, this was a "historic occasion," inasmuch as it marks the first time anywhere in the state a group of mutual domestic water associations have acted to merge together. "It will benefit all members," he said, and, unlike the merger of Sunland Park and Dona Ana County into an Authority a few years ago, this merger "will remain a membership-owned Authority."

Martin Lopez, general manager of the Mesquite Mutual Domestic Water Association, who also lobbied for the bill, said this was "the first step. Now we have to pull together the community to make this new association transparent, sustainable, and cost-efficient." He said a top priority for the next few months will be to work with the members to produce "a governance document that will provide the ground rules to assure a smooth transition."

Under existing law mutual domestic water associations may merge together without acquiring the power of a "Water Authority," and in this case the five mutual associations had created the Lower Rio Grande Mutual Domestic Water Association, consisting of the five water systems, to begin a merger. However, they decided to try to acquire the status of Water Authority during this legislative session, and HB 185 was introduced by Rep. Joseph Cervantes in the House and sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen in the Senate. The bill passed through the House on February 25 and through the Senate on March 16. A Water Authority has greater powers than a mutual domestic water association, enabling it to issue bonds for system improvements.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

State Police Seize Records in Sunland City Hall

Diana Alba of the Las Cruces Sun News reports in the paper this morning that state police confiscated records yesterday afternoon from City Hall in Sunland Park. Alba quotes state police spokesperson Peter Olson as saying the action was taken in response to "a complaint made by the city council..." However, City Councilor Elizabeth Martinez, who belongs to the faction that opposes Mayor Resendiz, is quoted in the same article as saying she was unaware of the reasons for the police intervention.

Governor Signs Email Bill

Governor Richardson signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes that would clarify the status of emails under the Public Records Act of the state. In 2007 New Mexico State University refused to consider valid an email request by Cervantes to provide documentation, on the grounds that emails were neither "oral" nor "written." So they stalled in providing Cervantes with the information he requested. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion that since the law did not stipulate emails to be written forms of communication, they were not covered by the Public Records Act requirement that requests for information should be either "oral" or "written." This Orwellian logic (other terms come to mind as well) provided state agencies with a nice loophole for covering up and stalling. It has now been closed, but the attorney general could have saved taxpayers and Cervantes and the legislature and the governor a good deal of time and effort by simply stating the obvious: of course email requests are a form of written expression. Kudos to Heath Haussamen for covering this story widely, to Cervantes for following through on this, and shame on the attorney general for making them spend so much time on an issue that could have been resolved with a simple formal opinion.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Morning in Juarez

I spent the morning in Cd. Juarez. In spite of the arrival nearly three weeks ago of nearly 10,000 troops or federal police agents, There was today only a slight increase in the visible presence of military troops or police in the city compared to two weeks ago (see my blog for March 22). I suspect this presence increases dramatically at night. I only saw three military patrols (they work in pairs of humvees, with about 6-8 persons in each) and one of these was at Sam's (On Avenida del Ejercito, just off of Paseo del Triunfo) where the unit was purchasing provisions. There was an increase in the visibility of federal police, who patrol in pickups with personnel standing in the back. I went by the Aldama police station, where it is clear the federal police have taken over, and there appeared to be quite a bit of activity.

The wait line two weeks ago today was only about 20 minutes; today it looked like a wait-time of about an hour and a half at the Santa Fe bridge, so I decided to cross at Santa Teresa going through the newly opened road to San Jeronimo from downtown Juarez next to the recently constructed fence along the border. Although this is a gravel road most of the way until you get to the cattle crossing, it took me less than 20 minutes to get from the Santa Fe bridge to the Santa Teresa crossing, where I found only 5 cars in front of me. The road from downtown to Anapra(it used to be called the "road to nowhere" as I understand it because construction to Anapra was stopped after Governor Garrey Carruthers of New Mexico failed to convince officials in Mexico City to build a crossing in the late 1980s at Anapra after convincing local authorities to do so)is being improved, and development is booming along it. There is even a brand-new Rio convenience store near Anapra. Within a year this will be an extremely valuable place to have a business, and the energy and bustle along the road now is a welcome contrast to the quiet and fairly empty commercial establishments in downtown Juarez.

Juarez in Early April

A man was executed last night in the Anahuac neighborhood. He was taken by two men from small vehicle, with his hands tied behind his back, and shot three times in the head. He was left in a pool of his own blood on the side of the street. According to authorities there were indications he had been tortured severely before being executed. This is the fourth homicide this week that bears the markings of narco-related crime. On Tuesday, March 31, two men were chased down and killed by a group of armed men on Noruega Street, in San Antonio, between Roma and Atenas, at approximately 4 p.m. Another man was murdered yesterday, but the details of his death were not revealed by authorities.

Authorities did reveal they were concerned that the arrest yesterday in Mexico City of Vicente Carrillo Leyva, a major operator in the Juarez cartel, might trigger more violence in Juarez. Carrillo is the son of the late drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes (El Senor de los Cielos), at one point during the mid-1990s the most powerful cartel leader in Mexico. He is said to work closely with his uncle, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (nicknamed "El Viceroy"), the brother of Amado, suspected of leading the Juarez cartel. When Amado Carrillo Fuentes died in 1997, apparently from complications that developed during plastic surgery on his face to change his appearance, a lengthy period of violence ensued throughout Juarez and in other parts of the country, as various leaders in the cartel or in rival cartels tried to take over portions of his drug empire.

On other parts of Mexico drug-related violence continued. In Michoacan a dead body wrapped in a plastic bag, dangling on a rope from an overpass on the Morelia-Lazaro Cardenas freeway, fell when the rope gave way, and was dragged about a hundred meters by a passing automobile that ran over it. A second body remained hanging from the overpass before it was recovered by police. A "narco-message" was found on a notepad next to his body. In Navolato, Sinaloa (birthplace of Amado Carrillo Fuentes)Benito Juarez Lopez, 73, a former PRD candidate (in 1993) for mayor was executed next to his wife Rosario Arellanes Rodriguez, 70 by a group of armed men. When the men began firing at the car the two were in, the couple managed to get out of the car but were chased down and shot. Dozens of bullet holes had penetrated their vehicle. Two men were found dead in an automobile in the Anzures neighborhood in Mexico City, and two others were found dead on an ejido estate in the State of Mexico. In Yecora, Sonora, federal police arrested 16 men found with AK-47 assault weapons, a .45 caliber pistol, fourteen magazines for AK-47 ammunition, a bullet proof vest, six radio transmitters, and 11 cell phones.