Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diario de Juarez Criticises Joint Operation Chihuahua

Diario has a strongly worded editorial this morning, translated by me, which offers a serious criticism of Joint Operation Chihuahua. One of Diario's reporters was murdered last November 13, and in an incident on July 1 military personnel surprised a detachment of state police officers assigned to provide protection to the newspaper. While these incidents may have motivated some of the writing in this editorial, the critique is much broader than a local grievance.

The editorial is in the form of an open letter to Secretary of Public Security (Gobernacion) Fernando Francisco Gomez Mont Urueta, in Mexico City. Some parts were omitted to save space.

"We would like to convey to you, as head of the security agency that supervises Joint Operation Chihuahua, the outcry raised among the general population of juarenses, expressed in multiple ways, against the failure of the strategy to fight organized crime as applied here and throughout the border.

Just one sign of the Operation’s failure is the fact that from January 2008 until this week more than 3500 murders have been recorded, the vast majority of which occurred after the strategy began; rather than slowing down, as border residents hoped for, the violence has multiplied.

This brutality, which has taken the lives of many innocent persons, and which keeps the city under constant attack, when coupled with the sharp increase in other crimes, has aggrieved this community with its worst crisis since the Revolution, causing a decline in most economic activity and the exile of thousands of residents who have the means to flee this daily intimidation.

While it is true that the kidnapping, extortion, and a great proportion of the thefts perpetrated here are not federal crimes, we know, from declarations the governor has made many times, that they are committed by the same persons involved in organized crime as an extension of their criminal activities.

For that reason we hoped that Joint Operation Chihuahua, assisted by 10,000 soldiers and federal agents patrolling our streets, would deal with this complex situation. Nevertheless, the deplorable reality that we juarenses suffer shows us that the approach shared by the army, and the state, local, and federal governments has not been effective as of now, in spite of this massive military presence.

….It is evident that the strategy has failed because local commanders have rendered meaningless the original intentions of President Calderon, generating a strong lack of trust within the population which has led, due to the lack of support from authorities, to self-protection measures that have met with controversial results, such as those in the community of Lebaron, which left one soldier dead and various arrests. (Note: in July Benjamin Lebaron was found beaten and shot to death in Galeana, a mormon community; after his brother’s kidnapping and subsequent release in May, Benjamin returned to Galeana to take a stand in favor of self-protection measures)

The lack of support for from authorities is causing citizens to take extreme measures, while at the same time the armed forces feel impelled to increase their excesses against the population.

It appears that the top authorities are more interested in the public relations with certains sectors, such as happened with General Felipe de Jesus Espitia, coordinator of the Operation, who sent ambivalent signals to the city because in a closed door meeting in the private home of the De la Vaga family he offered all his support to the richest businessman in the region, but has remained deaf to the demands of the society that deplores the daily massacres and the continual deterioration of their community.

In other words, the work of the military commander is selective.

Last July 1, as you must surely have been informed, a squadron of soldiers beat and disarmed two agents of the State Public Security secretariat, assigned to protect personnel of Diario, in spite of their identification as state security agents and presentation of their permission to bear arms, as well as other official documentation recognized by the ministry of defense.

This incident caused General Espitia to open up a disciplinary action against our state Security Secretary, Victor Valencia—who represents the state as a member of Joint Operation Chihuahua—including a fine, and he threatened to cancel the permission given by the federal government to the state to bear arms for state personnel, if he continued to allow personnel of the state police to provide armed security to private parties.

This affair illustrates the arrogant attitude of the military commander toward an official who supposedly is one of his closest collaborators in Joint Operation Chihuahua; he treated him virtually like a criminal for providing security to private parties, security given because the authorities of local, state, and federal governments have not been able to provide adequate security….This incident revealed a deep lack of coordination and lack of trust that exists within a strategy that clearly should be the product of joint cooperation.

The worst part of this incident is that the authorities still have not defined whether state agents who carry arms do so legally or not. Hundreds of armed state police continue to operate as escorts. Were only those who were assigned to protect our newspaper acting illegally? The Ninth Judicial District exonerated one of the guards, while the Fourth Judicial District ordered the other one to resume his duties. This episode is only one of the unfortunate conflicts occurring at the top levels of Joint Operation Chihuahua, and when added to the situation in Cd. Juarez that we described above demonstrated ho poorly the operation is working.

….With all due respect we call on you to put things in order in Joint Operation Chihuahua. An urgent rethinking is needed to achieve an effective coordination between the governments and the security agencies, and with new strategies that not only can weaken organized crime, but which can return to this aggrieved community its lost peace.

Signed: Osvaldo Rodriguez Borunda, President of the Board and General Director of Diario.

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