Monday, June 29, 2009

Lynn Ellins on Timetable for Anthony Incorporation Process

County Clerk Lynn Ellins confirmed to me this morning that a group hoping to move toward the incorporation of Anthony, New Mexico, has received petitions from the County Clerk's office. The group has until August 31 to circulate petitions and collect at least 200 signatures calling for a vote on whether or not to move toward incorporation. Signatures received by August 31 will be reviewed by Mr. Ellins and, if everything is in order, the County Commission will order an election on the matter on January 5, 2010 to determine whether citizens living in the proposed incorporated area wish to incorporate.

The issue of incorporation of Anthony promises to be a controversial one. Some argue there isn't a sufficient tax base in the proposed area to fund a municipal government adequately. Others argue they don't want to have to pay increased taxes to support a municipal government. On the other hand, some citizens believe incorporation would improve the delivery of services to the public. We will be watching this issue and commenting on it as appropriate.

Mr. Ellins indicated that, if the election is held on January 5, 2010, there will be early voting and a single polling place in Anthony, to avoid confusion for citizens wishing to vote on the issue. Poll workers will be brought in from the outside to eliminate suspicions about the fairness of the process.

The Clerk's Office appears to be working well under the new administration of Lynn Ellins and Chief Deputy Mario Jimenez. Ellins told me Dona Ana County is now the second county, behind Bernalillo, to institute e-filing of documents. This is especially useful for real estate documents, such as deeds, liens, and mortgages, and eliminates the need for persons involved in real estate transactions from having to travel to Las Cruces from around the county, or, for that matter, anywhere else, for filing. Electronic filing in Dona Ana County thus reduces the carbon footprint released by residents of the county as well as the time taken up with such trips.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coming Up: An Update Report on Violence in Juárez

My wife and I had breakfast in Juárez this morning at Sanborns on 16 de Septiembre. What is different about Sanborns is not so much the lack of people. Although it was only about 35-40 percent filled instead of the usual 60-70 percent, what was different was the kind of people and their demeanor. Even a year ago, business, academic, and political elites of Juárez went, among other places, to Sanborns. People had animated conversations. Politicians went from table to table talking to acquaintances. People looked each other in the eyes and smiled, basking in the cheerful atmosphere of a clean well-lighted place where Important People could be found and you could discuss the events of the day with the confident satisfaction that your views were reaching the Right People. Today the conversations were subdued. The usual sets of politicians and businesspeople were missing. Men sat facing the entrance to the room, some of them alone, reading a newspaper. There were a few families at tables with children. Sanborns on Sunday morning has lost its old identity, without having acquired a new one.

I've been in troubled places before. Juárez doesn't feel like a city under a state of siege, with seemingly random arrests of prominent people, where authorities don't trust citizens with opinions of any kind, and can make life miserable with impunity in a heartbeat. In Juárez, except for a tiny strata, the army presence is still barely visible, at least by daylight. Nor does it feel like cities affected by civil war, with troop convoys coming and going to near or distant combat zones. Nor is it like a city in a country that is about to blow up in civil strife, bombs going off at night and sharply polarized views about the legitimacy of the political party setting off the bombs. Compared to these, Juárez is an oasis of tranquility. But make no mistake about it: Juárez is anything but normal.

Right now the most pressing and visible symptom is the economy, not the violence: One out of five persons has lost a job in the last year, due to the global recession. That is depression-level unemployment, translating to a loss of more than 68,000 jobs, with almost 1500 businesses shutting down. Downtown Juarez is now filled to the gills on Sunday morning with street vendors choking up the streets surrounding the major downtown marketplaces. What is new here is the improvised flea markets on several streets where people display old tools, used appliances, old books and magazines, dolls and toys, like a giant garage sale hundreds of yards long with vendors on both sides of the street. Anapra's main street was choked with street vendors as well. This looks more like the poverty levels of El Alto, Bolivia, or the slums of Lima, than it does the Juarez of Foxconn and Delphi, and the Rio Grande mall, just 5 or 6 miles from the Olive Garden restaurant in the Sunland Park Mall.

Yes, the violence continues. A 30-year old man wearing jeans and a white shirt was shot dead in the driveway of his home at 7 p.m. last night near Feldespato and Alumbre in Villa Hermosa. A 17-year old woman, Katia Ivette Pérez Sánchez, was shot to death early in the morning, bullet wounds to the face, abdomen and left leg, the 41st female victim of homicide in Juarez this year. And a 50-year old man died of gunshot wounds outside a grocery store in Melchor Ocampo. Seven spent shells of undisclosed caliber were found near the scene.

Nobody believes any longer that the added troops will contain the bloodshed. Juarenses are just learning to live with it. And a growing minority are learning to live by selling in the formal and informal marketplaces, after putting their old tools and toys and appliances for sale.

I will do an update on the violence in Juarez soon.

Richardson To Deliver Check to Jardin de Los Niños

At noon on Monday June 29 Governor Richardson will deliver a check for $30,000 to Jardin de los Niños, a non-profit that provides child care for underprivileged parents who need but cannot afford day care. Jardin has been struggling to make ends meet in recent weeks, due in part to the downturn in the economy, which has raised the demand for child care from parents seeking work. Another check for $20,000 will be made to the institution at the same time, from a local donor. The public is invited to attend the function at Jardin de los Niños, 999 West Amador. The governor is also in town in connection with opening of the new cancer radiation treatment center at Memorial General Hospital, where he will speak just before his trip to Jardin de los Niños.

A Chat With Candidate Linda Lopez

Bottom Line for the Valle del Sur: Ella habla perfectamente bien el español y es del Valle del Sur de Albuquerque. The South Valley of Albuquerque is a lot like South Mesilla Valley. I am also told from a solid source she wields a mean gavel in the Senate: Fair but efficient and gets the job done--something important for a Lt. Governor. She is Worth Watching, for sure!

A candidate for Lt. Governor, Sen. Linda Lopez was in town this weekend testing the waters locally. I arranged to sit down with her for a long luncheon at the International Delights. She arrived with her eight-year-old son Lorenzo and Carmie Lynn Toulouse, who introduced herself with a wink as Sen. Lopez's "dueña," which in Spanish means chaperone, or governess. Toulouse is the daughter of the late, great New Mexico attorney James Toulouse, from an old New Mexico family, whose long career--he fought passionately for many good causes, often unpaid--spanned many decades of New Mexico history, enough to warrant putting his papers into an archive for scholarly inspection. Carmie herself is on the governing board of the Central New Mexico Community College. So her presence connected Sen. Lopez and, for a moment, me, to an impressive network of New Mexico history.

I started out with my usual subtle charm, asking Lopez if she thought two women could win the top of the ticket in 2010, since it seems inevitable Diane Denish will get the nomination for the top spot. She replied firmly and with conviction that if Barack Obama could win the presidency this was possible. Only minutes before Lopez arrived I had asked Todd Brazier, a young political junkie (whose judgment is often good) and student of mine I had invited to the the luncheon, the same question and had gotten exactly the same answer. Suddenly I felt out of touch, the way old people sometimes get, and I regretted asking the question.

Lopez is passionate about education, broadly defined, and is clearly outraged by the failures of the system, which consistently gets "F" ratings in national rankings. I had to struggle to keep up with the outrages, one after another, that she rattled off like a jazz player doing riffs: failures to deal with sex education and the consequent social costs, failures in graduation rates and in preparing students for college, failures to tie curricula at all levels to job creation in New Mexico, failures in dealing effectively with parents. Carmie chimed in from time to time with her own outrages. Then Todd Brazier interrupted with his outrages, and I resisted an urge to throw mine in too. Lopez's legislative record reflects this passion: Child Health Care Act, Improved Student Performance Results Act, Professional Development Act for Teachers, School-Based Health Clinics Act, Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Safe Routes to School Program, Child Helmet Safety Act, Fatherhood and Family Strengthening Program.

It was a refreshing to talk for a change to a candidate whose passion for policy trumped the usual game of cautious probings to find where I stood before telling me what I want to hear. I happen to be more into raising average math and reading scores at all levels than I am into safe routes to school or child helmets as policy issues, but I far prefer sincerity in dealing with those issues than the insincerity of someone who will after all is said and done support the status quo of failed schools while talking the good talk to everyone. Bill Richardson was good at posing as the education governor, but school performance has actually declined during his tenure in office, the top two universities have become political nightmares under his mischief, and the mindless education bureaucracy is actually stronger now than it was a decade ago. Make no mistake about it, Lopez cares about these issues.

Lopez is not, however, a one-note samba. She can also talk knowledgeably about the needs of poor communities for infrastructure, and where political resistance to address these needs lies. She supported Tim Jennings, a conservative, for President of the Senate this year when it was not popular to do so, and in spite of dire warnings from liberals about having the votes to beat him and hinting about the punishments that would be meted out should Jennings be defeated. She avoided fawning over the governor, refusing to capitulate to his intimidating tactics, something many of her colleagues in the Senate, (but especially the House) succumbed to. She beat state senator Tom Benavides in the West South Valley, not exactly a place feminists and liberal Democrats from the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque would deign to visit. And she has survived in this seat through four elections. She was also Bernalillo County Democratic Party Chair for a term, an excursion into the strange terrain of party politics in Albuquerque. In short, there is a toughness about this lady that warrants attention. I was personally disappointed with Lopez's cooperation with Majority leader Michael Sanchez's stalling over ethics reform this year (she is Chair of the Rules Committee and froze the legislation), but for all I know there might have been sound public policy reasons for doing so. I did not inquire about this during our conversation, but I will pursue it in the future. Don't underestimate her determination.

I have no idea what will become of her candidacy. Unlike the governorship, which is now all but locked up by Diane Denish long before it should be in this fluid post-Richardson environment, there is no clear favorite for Lt. Governor. It is unclear who will end up filing next March, and even less clear what will sway party insiders to favor one candidate over another in the pre-primary convention process. Very frequently all it takes is a well organized, early campaign, lining up early commitments and then posing as the inevitable winner, which triggers a bandwagon effect. This is the position Denish is in, with lobby groups tripping over themselves to endorse her now (even though they have no clear picture of what she might do for them later) on the mistaken belief that a July '09 endorsement will somehow elicit greater access than a hefty check in July '10. My advice to people is to refrain from supporting any candidate, unless truly committed to that person, until the last minute, after you have heard from all sides.

Clearly, Lopez needs to think more carefully about the role of Lt. Governor for the next few years and hone down her case to occupy that office. She has plenty of time to do so, and I will be watching with interest as she warms up to the campaign. Lopez is worthy of your consideration and you should meet her: unlike many politicians, who want only to become powerful, at least until now Lopez appears also to want to make a difference.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Las Cruces Police: Time for Accountability

The Sun News this morning editorializes in favor of creating a police auditor in charge of reviewing policies and procedures, making recommendations, and following through to see if they have been implemented. This is one of the many recommendations made by a consultant group hired by the city to deal with festering problems in the Las Cruces Police Department. The report of the consultant is available online here. It is brief, to the point, and worth reading.

Complaints against excessive use of force by officers are singled out in the report as being "of particular interest (p. 31)," inasmuch as the rate of complaints per hundred officers in this category (13.9) is more than three times the rate for cities with similar-sized police departments (4.2). Out of 74 complaints, after internal investigation, not a single complaint resulted in disciplinary action, and fully 69% were completely exonerated, compared to national averages for police departments of similar size of 10% disciplinary action and 34% exoneration. This strongly suggests something is wrong with internal investigation procedures, something that the report hints at in several places. For example, out of 177 full time sworn officers from 2006-2008, fully 32 (almost one in five) had received between 3 and 9 complaints. The study could find no evidence anything was done to address officers who had numerous complaints. But the $650,000 in settlements taxpayers had to dole out to victims who sued in the last few years suggests that when a more objective legal system catches up to these complaints, many are found to be valid.

The report cites a number of other police department "deficiencies," including a poor communications structure downwards, an "antiquated use-of-force model," lapses in training, and poor community relations. The report recommends re-instating community-oriented policing, and improving leadership and management which the study found to be inconsistent throughout the police department.

Talking briefly with citizens in a random, non-scientific way in the last couple of days reveals to me a growing frustration with rude behavior, excessive force, and unprofessional conduct on the part of the Las Cruces police. This is particularly true of people in the lower 60% or so of the income scale, but not always so. The city government and police department should take this report seriously and make a sincere effort to address the problems raised by this report before things get worse.

I have my own excessive use of force story: my wife was stopped by a Las Cruces officer a few years ago, for speeding slightly on Telshor. She was responding to a burglar alarm at our home which prompted a call of alert. She explained to the officer that she was answering a burglar alarm and asked him to accompany her in case someone was robbing the house. No one was there although a door was open. The officer wrote out a ticket and my wife asked him to write down the extenuating circumstances on the ticket. When he refused to do so, she said she would not sign the ticket. He demanded a second time, in a rude manner, for her to sign and when she refused, without warning he banged her against the wall and handcuffed her. My wife is not someone who is defiant of authority, but neither is she someone who will put up with abusive language from authority. While bailing my wife out I spoke to the officer, face to face. He was very uncomfortable, seemed a little fearful, and was hoping I would understand she had refused to sign. I chewed him out for his use of force when she wasn't resisting any arrest. I called up the police chief, who was in a service club with me. He was sympathetic but I could tell from the conversation nothing was going to be done to address this abuse. The charges against her for resisting arrest were dropped. I don't remember whether she had to pay a fine for speeding. I did not file a complaint, knowing nothing would be done. I learned that this officer had already received numerous complaints of excessive use of force, especially toward women. Nothing was ever done. His lack of judgment in an emergency situation, his lack of courtesy, his abusive demeanor, his excessive use of force, ruined my day, my wife's day, and remain with us in memory years later. Abuse of authority with impunity is what we hate in dictatorships and in this country we want authority to be held accountable.

My first public action in Las Cruces, years ago when I first arrived, was to speak in out at a forum in favor of the Las Cruces Police officers right to have union representation, a big issue at the time, and I was pleased to see the police officers fighting for their rights. I was delighted when the police got the right to be represented, and I've considered myself a friend of the LCPD ever since. That incident with the abusive police taught me a lesson, however, and, with the surfacing of this report and other stories I've heard recently and over the years, I think it's time for citizens to insist on some improvements in accountability in the police department.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Comes to the Valle

The summer solstice has passed. The days get shorter and the weather turns hotter.

Corruption: Bernie Madoff, who made off (no pun intended;-) with billions of other peoples' money, will be sentenced on Monday. It will not be a light sentence: you don't hoodwink half of Wall Street, not to mention the thousands of persons and institutions that lost some or much of their holdings, without facing the wrath of a federal judge. For Wall Street, the greatest sin committed by Madoff surely is that he exposed the shoddy, lazy work of many investment bankers, basking in six-and seven-figure incomes, who--full of formulas and computer-driven algorithms designed to convey the impression that each penny of your hard-earned cash is invested only after scrupulous, ivy league graduate-school level mathematical calculation with proprietary software, yes sir, minimizing risk and maximizing long-term return tailored to your specific individualized portfolio profile--invested in good ol' Bernie long after red flags were flying. Turns out a lot of investment bankers put other peoples' money into Bernie with a due diligence that amounted to taking the word of golfing partners and country club buddies that Bernie always turns in 10%, don't know how he does it but he does, just like clockwork, yes sir.

More locally, Attorney General Gary King has indicted Smiley Gallegos and Dennis Kennedy, an accountant for Region III, for their roles in defrauding the public of millions in public funds designed to be used to build affordable housing for needy families. An Albuquerque bond attorney, Robert Strumer, was also indicted, accused of fraud and money laundering, as well as attorney David Hernandez, accused of tampering with evidence. State Auditor Hector Balderas, given $200,000 by the state legislature to investigate the Housing scandal, came out with a report earlier this year in which he suggested the problem was a lack of proper fiscal controls. Frances Williams, who blew the whistle against Smiley's operation three years ago, severely criticized the Balderas report for being misleading. For her full report, click here. This indictment suggests that there might have been more going on than just a lack of control in the use of taxpayer funds.

The Latest Outrage: Thomas J. Cole (Albuquerque Journal) this morning informs us the Bureau of Taxation and Revenue is refusing to reveal where $8.5 million of our taxpayer money went when they wrote out a check to a film production company for some of their New Mexico expenses when they were filming here last year. From July 1 2008 until March 16 of this year, according to Cole, in the middle of a major statewide recession, the state forked out over $86 million to 70 different production companies under a law that enables the state to reimburse up to 25% of what movie makers spend in the state. But taxpayers are not allowed to see what the money was used for? What happened to public accountability? It is particularly shameful for an agency with a name like Taxation and Revenue to be hiding taxpayer expenditures from the public.

Last year a study done for the Legislative Finance Committee by two reputable economists at NMSU, concluded the state recovers only 14 cents for every dollar spent attracting movies to New Mexico, in other words, a huge drain. The widespread criticism of the giveaways to movie producers that resulted from this study prompted the New Mexico State Film Office and the State Investment Council (both controlled by Governor Richardson, who supports the give-aways to movie producers) to commission a for-profit firm, Ernst and Young, to do another study which concluded after presenting a confusing set of data and slippery assumptions, that the film industry was (surprise, surprise!) an asset to the New Mexico economy. Read them yourself and reach your own conclusion about who is right.

Regardless of the strict economic impact of our taxpayer dollars on the New Mexico economy, we have a right as taxpayers to know what we've spent our money on. As Cole points out, a few years ago our state paid out $25,000 out of $100,00 that it cost to charter a jet for Richard Gere, who owned the airplane. So he made $25,000 in addition to the profit he made for the flight. In addition to the millions he was paid for acting in the movie. Is this really how we want to spend New Mexico taxpayer money? You wanna take Tax and Revenue's word for it that the $86 million spent in nine months was all legit this go-around? This subsidy to the movie industry should be scrutinized carefully by the legislature. It's beginning to have the familiar smell of other investments controlled by politically appointed bureaucrats who played around with taxpayer money in recent years and took us to the cleaners.

Friday, June 12, 2009

NAFTA Institute Conference: The Border is Still Open for Business

Forty three maquila purchasing managers explained their needs to about two hundred potential suppliers from Canada, Mexico, and all parts of the U.S., in formal and informal meetings during the two-day conference in the Sunshine Showroom at the Sunland Park casino. Among the maquila plants represented were Foxconn, Delphi Automotive, Toro, Sumitomo, ADC Telecommunications, and Electrolux.

I caught up to Jerry Pacheco, one of the principal planners of the conference, near the end of the conference, and asked him for his reaction to the unexpectedly large number of participants at the conference.

"In spite of the recession, the swine flu, and a spike in the violence in Juarez, interest in doing business on the border continues. Smart business people realize that times of crisis are also times of opportunity," he said. As an example, he cited the strong presence of auto parts suppliers at the conference. As GM and Ford become much smaller, auto parts suppliers are looking to diversify. "That's why Foxconn was such a big hit at this conference. Agustin (a Foxconn representative) said he got so many requests for information--240 cards--he's going to have to schedule a special meeting for those who want to follow through," he said.

Foxconn, scheduled to become the largest maquila plant in Mexico, is now operating at its new facility adjacent to the port of entry of San Jeronimo, Mexico, and Santa Teresa, New Mexico. There, it builds Dell computers. "When you build that many computers (about one million per year) that's a lot of screws, latches, plastic parts, buttons, and the like, for suppliers to provide," Pacheco said.

According to Francisco Uranga, Corporate Vice President for Latin American Operations at Foxconn,who spoke at the conference, there are 3900 persons employed there now, gearing up to 7500 jobs by October of this year. The campus at San Jeronimo includes a 40-room hotel for company executives to stay in. Another Foxconn plant operates independently at the Oscar Flores industrial park in Juarez, building Hewlett Packard computers.

Uranga explained that the decision to locate just South of New Mexico was due in part to the proximity of a population of 400,000 in West Juarez (Foxconn will be closer to this population than any other large maquila plants), the commitment by Mexican authorities to build a suitable road from Anapra to San Jeronimo to connect the plant to this source of labor, to the provision of electricity and water to the site, and the the strategic location of the plant in a Free Trade Zone next to a Free Trade Zone on the U.S. side. "Foxconn does not technically lie on Mexican soil," he said. Free Trade Zones provide tax breaks and other incentives for companies locating within them.

Another panel at the conference discussed the implications of large-scale infrastructural projects for trade in the Paso del Norte area. Curtis Spencer, President of IMS Worldwide, Inc., said the expansion of the Panama canal (a $5.25 billion project) will double it's shipping tonnage capacity, which will reduce demand for Mexican ports to transport goods to the U.S. The all-water Gulf and East Coast ports will be the main beneficiaries, not Mexican ports. On the other hand, as Mexican West Coast ports at Lazaro Cardenas and Punta Colonet expand, Mexico will be an attractive alternative--when the global economy recovers--for U.S. markets to re-route there instead of through Los Angeles-Long Beach, ports that have become highly congested. This will stimulate traffic through the Paso del Norte region as well as other U.S.-Mexico border crossings.

The Punta Colonet project to create a deep water port south of Ensenada in Baja California Norte, has been delayed and cut down in scope due to the global recession. This $3.8 billion project will be accompanied by the construction of a railroad connecting the port to the U.S. However, no decision has been made about the place the connection will be made. Farmers in Yuma flatly rejected putting the crossing into the U.S. immediately north of San Juan Rio Colorado. One of the possible options is for the railroad to go through Sonora to Cd. Juarez. Other options would include Calexico and Nogales. If it were to go through Juarez, this would greatly stimulate the growth of traffic through the border crossings in the Paso del Norte.

Locally, the decision of the Mexican government to divert rail traffic from downtown Juarez to Santa Teresa by building a spur, combined with the decision of Union Pacific to create an inter-modal facility near Santa Teresa, promises to increase the strategic importance of the port of entry at Santa Teresa-San Jeronimo. Luis Heredia, director of public affairs at Union Pacific Railway, explained that discussions with the BLM and the State Land Office are about to conclude and it is expected that by the end of this month Union Pacific will acquire the land it needs for the facility. The state of New Mexico has exempted locomotive diesel fuel from gross receipts taxes, in the interests of promoting the creation of this intermodal facility.

In a second phase, Union Pacific will build an intermodal ramp, with up to 30 tracks, to allow the building of trains. And in a third phase, Union Pacific will build a facility to simplify train-truck transfers. As these come on line, downtown El Paso will be able to rebuild one of the least distinguished areas in the entire Paso del Norte region.

The conference, now in its 16th year, was sponsored by various entities, including the International Business Accelerator (Jerry Pacheco is executive director); the North American Institute, headed by Dr. Jon Amastae, of UTEP; the City of Juarez; Western New Mexico University; the New Mexico Small Business Development Network; the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance; and the New Mexico Economic Development's Office of Mexican Affairs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NAFTA Institute Conference Starts Today in Sunland Park

The annual Supplier Meet the Buyer Conference hosted by the NAFTA Institute will begin today at the Signature Showroom in the Sunland Park Casino.

This year the program for the conference has been organized in part by Jerry Pacheco, perhaps the most knowledgeable person on New Mexico-Mexico trade issues. Pacheco, you may recall, has a popular weekly column in the Albuquerque Journal dealing with border issues. He is also executive director of the New Mexico Business Accelerator, formed in 2003 to help businesses in New Mexico and Mexico to link up with each other as a stimulus to U.S.-Mexico trade.

And the program reflects this expertise, including updates on the Punta Colonet Port project near Ensenada, the Union Pacific's Santa Teresa rail project, and the Foxconn San Jeronimo project. All three of these projects will have a significant impact on the flow of international trade through Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

Other topics include issues of financing and venture capital in difficult times, talks on issues of security and trade, alternative energy on the border, and a review of trade issues and conditions in the El Paso-Juarez corridor, the Arizona-Sonora corridor, and the Valley corridor in South Texas. A keynote speech will be given by Patty Stecik, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Domestic Operations, U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Beer and Wine: Why You Should Vote No

On Tuesday, June 9, voters in unincorporated areas of the county will vote on a measure that would permit restaurants in those areas to apply for beer and wine licenses.

While this sounds perfectly reasonable at first glance, and I understand the desire for some restaurants to be able to offer beer and wine to their clients, it may not seem so reasonable when placed in a wider context.

Let me spell out why I think voters should turn down this proposal.

Law enforcement--the sheriff's department--as it is now constituted is inadequate to handle the growing load of problems in the South Mesilla Valley. Response times are slow, complaints run high, there is a serious and growing gang problem especially in Anthony, and the area is about to explode with growth from the spillover of the $5 billion expansion of Ft. Bliss. With more liquor being sold these law enforcement problems will inevitably get even worse. Roadblocks will be more prevalent, accidents are likely to increase, and weekends are likely to be more taxing for the sheriff's office, which is already under strain.

As I understand it, one restaurant in the South Valley that has pushed for this measure had a full liquor license. They sold it and now want it back. But public policy should take into consideration not only the benefit to the restaurant and their potential clients, but also to the public costs of this measure, which I believe outweigh the private benefits to the restaurant.

Addiction in Juarez: Compare With Denver

Diario this morning carries a story about drug addiction rates in Juarez. The Chihuahua state Coordinating Office Against Addiction estimates there are 42,000 drug addicts in Juarez, about 3.2% of the population. Out of these persons addicted, approximately 10,000, according to the article, are admitted to drug treatment centers each year.

Compare with the drug stats in Denver. According to a November 2008 report on Denver by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a White House agency, during 2007, "approximately 46,113 Denver residents reported dependence on or Abuse of any illicit drug or alcohol within the past year, representing approximately 3.30% of the population." The same report shows that in 2007 there were 12,027 substance abuse treatment admissions in the Denver/Boulder metropolitan area.

Thus, it seems the drug stats for Denver and Juarez are strikingly similar, in drug abuse rates and admissions to treatment centers. So if the recent killings at drug rehabilitation centers has rightly shocked the local population, the evidence suggests that even with the closing of 15 drug rehab centers, this isn't changing the overall picture. There are 70 drug rehabilitation centers left in Juarez, plus the Center for Juvenile Integration, which has 2500 beds.

What the comparison between Denver and Juarez shows, perhaps most strikingly, is that Juarez in the past few years had graduated (or perhaps better said, decayed) to the level of a fairly mature, relatively typical U.S. metropolitan area of similar size, in terms of overall drug abuse and treatment.

What is different in Juarez is the level of violence during this current stage in the drug policy history of Mexico. And this has more to do with the structure of the drug trade as an industry, and its relationship to governments, than it has to do with the characteristics of the drug consuming population or efforts to alleviate the costs of addiction. In a separate article I read that in Denver the "success" rates for drug treatment are estimated at between 2% and 20%. If that is any indicator, Juarenses should not place too much hope in treatment centers for reducing drug addiction in their city.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Information on Drug Rehab Killings

Diario reports this afternoon that one of the persons executed at the drug rehabilitation center on Sunday evening, a man nicknamed "El Cásper," was supplying drugs to several patients at the center. The patients then sold the drugs on the street, posing as candy vendors. According to unofficial sources the drug rehab center was under the "protection" of the Los Azteca gang, which tries to control retail drug sales in various locations of the city.

Fifteen Drug Rehab Centers in Juarez Close Doors

Diario reports this morning that fifteeen drug rehabiliation centers in Juarez have closed in the last few months,due to three separate instances of assassination of drug rehab personnel. Last August 1 two men were killed at a drug rehab center in col. Anáhuac. A week later eight men were killed at a different center. Last Sunday five persons were killed at a center, including the director. All in all, the closings have eliminated about 1000 potential beds for drug addicts. About 1500 persons have enrolled since the beginning of this year in drug rehabiliation programs in Juarez, and about 7000 persons per year complete drug rehab programs of some sort in Juarez.

Juarez has had a growing drug consumption problem since the mid-1990s when traffickers began using cocaine as currency in drug transactions, rather than dollars or pesos. The added presence of large quantities of cocaine circulating in town led to marketing efforts to increase local demand.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rounding Out the Statistics of Death: Juarez

Hérika Martínez Prado, of Norte reports this morning that a review of the violence over the weekend raises the total number of homicides to 34. Eleven of these took place on Friday, twelve on Saturday, and another eleven on Sunday.

Among the dead on Friday were a professor of sociology at UACJ, a female police officer, and an attorney (see below).

On Saturday several young persons were killed, including Alfredo Sapien Alvarado, 15, a U.S. citizen who was celebrating his birthday at a family gathering when the shooting occurred, which also resulted in the death of Jose Luis Banuelos Garcia, 22, and an injury to a female child taken to a hospital. In a separate incident two young men were killed, Edgar Guzman Ortega, 17, and Hector Javier Caballero Zabala, 18, in Caseta. The killers used 7.62 mm. bullets, often used with AK-47 assault rifles. In another incident, at 4:10 p.m. on Saturday Mauricio Herrera Rocha, 18, was executed at Azufre and Begonias in col. Ninos Heroes. Early in the morning, at 5: 40, Luis Chavez Molina, 20, was murdered on Pablo Lopez and Tildio, in col. Granjas de Chapultepec.

On Sunday, aside from the cases described below, five persons were executed at 10:30 p.m. at a drug rehabilitation center, called Vida Sin Adicciones (click here for original Diario Story). Four men presented themselves at the center, forced their way in at gunpoint, and tried to free about 50 inmates who are locked in each night at 9:30 p.m. Not finding the key to the lock, one of the killers shouted at the men, "don't commit yourselves to coming here because this is what's going to happen at all the rehab centers in town." The men took the five persons to an office room and fired about 30 rounds at them. Fearing for their lives, some of the inmates broke down a door and found the bodies of Gerardo Leyva, Felipe Limones, Jesús Ignacio Palma, Adrián Chávez and the director of the center, Víctor Valenzuela, known as “El Borreguito”. All five were former drug addicts. During the day, Sunday, family members had come to visit and the atmosphere was relaxed when the killers entered, many inmates watching television.

Deadly Statistics:

Depending on who is counting there have been either 655 homicides from January 1 through May (Norte data compiled by Hérika Martínez Prado today) or 671 homicides during the same period (Diario data compiled by Luz del Carmen Sosa today)

Hérika Martínez Prado cites 136 homicides in January, 240 in February, 73 in March, 90 in April, and 116 in May, for a total of 655. During the same time period in 2008 there were 391 homicides.

According to statistics provided by the state prosecutor's office, 165 homicides from January to April were associated with organized crime; 13 were attributed to gang-related violence, 9 were caused by brawls or disputes, and 5 were associated with retail trafficking in drugs. Three more cases occurred during a theft, one during a quarrel, two were acts of vengeance, one during an attempted kidnapping, one was in self defense, one for "economic benefit," and another was a case of child abuse.

Most deaths were caused by firearms, followed by beatings. There were also cases of decapitations and burning bodies.

Mexican Economy Slips. Remittances are Down

Although there is agreement among economists that the Mexican economy will shrink this year, there is disagreement about how much. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has recently indicated it expects Mexico’s economy to shrink 8.5 percent this year. This would make it the biggest economic decline since 1932. This figure is higher than the projections of the Mexican central bank (Banco de Mexico), which has recently raised their forecast from a 4% decline to a 5.8% decline. In January it projected a decline of only 0.8% to 1.8%.

The Banco de Mexico surveys economists every month for projections about the future of the Mexican economy. Every single month for the past 17 months, the forecast for gdp in 2009 has been progressively lower.

New data has come in on remittances to Mexico from Mexicans living abroad, mainly from the U.S. There are an estimated 12 million Mexicans residing in the U.S. Each month they send dollars back home, usually to family members. The value of these dollars is higher than the dollar volume generated by tourism, and contributes significantly to the Mexican economy. Only sales of oil bring in more foreign exchange. The value of these dollars declined nearly 19% in April, from $2.19 billion in April 2008 to $1.78 billion in April 2009. During the first four months of 2009 remittances were $7.26 billion, a drop of 8.7% compared to the first four months of the previous year.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bloody Weekend: 29 executions in Juarez, 111 for the month of May

Diario reports this morning that May ended with 111 homicide victims in Juarez, in comparison with 81 in April. May 2008 closed with 136 homicides in Juarez. Five of the victims this month were women.

Among the victims on Friday were a mechanic, Eduardo Delgado Rodriguez, who was killed by a hit squad of 4 men who shot him at 1 p.m. inside an electric shop where he was working. He died in a hospital of gunshot wounds to the head and back.

Another victim, a lawyer, was killed in his automobile at 1:30 p.m. as he left his home moments after dropping off his children. He suffered gunshot wounds to the chin, collarbone, and the left side of his neck. The killers fled in a green car.

At 5 p.m. a college professor, Manuel Arroyo Galvan, a sociologist from the Autonomous University of Cd. Juarez (UACJ)driving a gray 1989 New Yorker was shot and killed at an intersection by men in a black pickup who pulled up next to him and began shooting. He slumped down on the steering wheel, still stepping on the brakes, dead.

A female police officer assigned to a walking beat, Marcela Yaneth Ramírez Soto, 37, was killed at 7:30 p.m. as she was leaving her workplace in her green Suburban. She was at a stoplight when a group of men pumped about 13 9mm. bullets into her car.

A man was killed at 8 p.m. by a commando group who left him dead on the street. Another man was killed in the Bar Anhuars, on La Paz and Globo, in downtown Juarez at 8:30 p.m. A woman was injured in the attack. Three men were killed outside the home of one of them by a group of men driving by.

On Sunday a man was killed at 10 p.m. as he was talking with two other men in col. Arroyo Colorado. Suddenly, according to witnesses, one of the men shot him.

Another man, Ernesto Duran, was killed at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday in front of a residence in col. Fidel Velázquez

Norte reports that a man nicknamed "El Chago" was killed at noon yesterday when he was shot in front of his home on Chiapas and Porfirio Diaz de Salvarcar. Apparently an innocent bystander who was walking by was killed as well. A 24-year old man was killed at Durazno and Arrollo de las Vívoras with two gunshot wounds to the head.

A 25-year old man, Gilberto Medina, was killed at 4:30 p.m. from about 12 shots of 9 mm and 45 mm bullets outside a Church's chicken restaurant at Mitla and De las Torres. Apparently two men entered the establishment and demanded money from the cash register. Medina resisted and the men started shooting. Another man was killed at Jaime Bermudez and Alberto Almeida in col. Granjas Alcaldes. The killers forced him out of his car and shot him.