Friday, December 31, 2010

My Last Blog Entry...For a While

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

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

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

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

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

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

WH Auden

Sunday, December 12, 2010

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

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

Restaurants, Bus Companies Express Solidarity With Doctors

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

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

Twenty Four Hour Strike Leaves Only Two Emergency Rooms Open

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

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

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

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

Click here for story in Diario.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Rehab Centers Attacked: Four Dead

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

Governor of Chihuahua Discusses Possible UN Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top Azteca Gang Killer Captured

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

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

From various reports in Diario, El Norte.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Juarez Municipal Budget: Less Money Than Last Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oops! I Was Wrong About the Chihuahua Budget

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Carjackings Up Sharply in Juarez: 13.3 per day on average

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Presumed Assassins of US Consulate Worker Caught

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

For note in Diario, click here

Monday, November 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

See note in El Fronterizo, here.

Five Suspected Extortionists Executed in the Last Week

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

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

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

Mexican Consulate in El Paso Hosts Reception, Altar Contest in El Paso

The Consul General of Mexico in El Paso, Ambassador Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, hosted a reception at the consulate last night in honor of the Day of the Dead, a longstanding tradition in Mexico, in which families put up altars in honor of deceased members, with pictures of them, food (a powerful symbol of the desire for memory of loved ones to persist in our lives by offering them food to keep the flame alive), candles to remind the living to live righteous lives, religious objects, etc. Locally, Mesilla maintains a tradition of local families putting up altars in the plaza.

Once again, I tagged along with my wife, Magistrate Judge Olivia Nevarez Garcia, one of the invited dignitaries. On this occasion, in an empty lot next to the consulate building, altars were set up, with music and skeleton-made-up dancers, and jam-packed with people. One altar was to the late Jose Cisneros, a prominent painter from Durango who settled in El Paso and who died last year (for an excellent rundown on him click here). Another was to the great muralist and political activist David Alfaro Siqueiros, from Chihuahua City (he moved to Cuernavaca), who fought with the communists in the civil war in Spain and participated in an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky (they machine-gunned every room in his house but he survived), in Coyoacán, a suburb of Mexico City (for a quick bio, click here). And a third was to the Aztec ruler Cuauhtémoc, of Tenochtitlan (one of three cities of Aztec domination) who fought against Cortes, trying to prevent the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. He was captured, tortured, and eventually executed by Cortes (click here for bio).

Not surprising for Mexico, a country that has a high respect for artists, two of the three altars were in memory of artists, rather than presidents, generals, or radio talk show hosts. Instead of choosing local famous personages, such as sexy singers, popular politicians, or TV personalities to act as judges for the altars, relatively unknown intellectuals were chosen by the Consulate, among them an acquaintance of mine, Enrique Cortazar, a poet and cultural leader from Juarez. One of the people who helped put together the altar homage to El Paso artist Jose Cisneros on behalf of the El Paso Public Library Association was Maria Elena Vargas, who worked diligently in the past few months on behalf of the Susana Martinez gubernatorial campaign in the South Mesilla Valley. Yes, my wife Olivia puts up an altar in our home each year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Regional EPA Public Meeting held in Anthony Last Night: Dairies Criticized

The El Paso Border Office of the EPA, headed by Dr. Carlos Rincon, held a tri-state public meeting in Anthony, New Mexico, last night to listen to environmental concerns of citizens in the three-state border region. The event, held at the Anthony Women's Cultural Center, drew a crowd of about 80 persons, and was part of the U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 Program. Mayor Ramon S. Gonzalez welcomed citizens of the border to Anthony.

Anthony city councilwoman Betty Gonzalez made a strongly worded presentation about air, water, and land contamination stemming from "Dairy Row," the string of dairy operations in the South Mesilla Valley. She argued that since the November 18, 2005, executive order by Governor Bill Richardson, seeking an all-cabinet examination of environmental problems in the South Mesilla Valley, "nothing has changed," because the state's regulatory agencies "cowtow to the powerful interests" responsible for contamination. Her remarks were echoed by Jerry Nivens, of Caballo, and by others in the audience, including Mesquite Community Action Committee chair Arturo Uribe, who pointedly asked EPA officials what the federal government intended to do to increase enforcement of existing laws regulating the dairy industry and landfills in the region.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry, present at the meeting, replied to these complaints in ways that appeared to validate their concerns. "Sixty three percent of the dairies in New Mexico," he said, have been found to be operating in violation of existing regulations, and his office, he argued has been aggressive in creating a viable set of regulations for the industry, called the "Dairy Rule." These regulations will be issued in December of this year. But, he said, the dairy industry, thwarted in their efforts to write these regulations, went to the governor to try to stop the proceedings and are now engaged in a major effort to seek a repeal of the regulations in the state legislature. He predicted a strong lobby effort in this direction at the next legislative session.

**Dr. Rene Franco, from Cd. Juarez, announced that a treatment plant will be completed by May, 2011, enabling treaty water (delivered to Juarez from Elephant Butte Dam) to be used by the city of Juarez as drinking water.

**Carlos Antonio Ramirez Telles, President of the Technical Committee on Groundwater in Northern Chihuahua, issued a statement about the dangers of over-appropriation in the water basin in that region. The water table has fallen in recent years from 90 ft. to 400 feet in certain areas, after the number of wells increased from 300 to 1750, and he asserted it would take an estimated 100 years of total abstinence in the use of groundwater to restore the aquifer.

**An official of the New Mexico Department of Health reviewed plans for a four-year project to evaluate air quality monitoring in the tri-state region, to evaluate air quality regulations, and to collect data on the incidence of respiratory problems reported by hospitals in the region.

A larger, border-wide meeting of the EPA will be held in December, at which time plans for the successor program to Border 2012 will be more mature. It is not expected that there will be many changes to the "bottom up" character of Border 2012, which implies that local communities should continue to articulate environmental concerns to EPA officials as meetings such as the one held in Anthony last night.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Former Prosecutor's Brother Found Dead in Chihuahua

From Diario: Mario González Rodríguez, brother to former state attorney general Patricia Gonzalez, was found dead yesterday in a shallow grave in a vacant lot in Chihuahua. Mario González was kidnapped on October 21 and appeared on a You Tube video (see below) handcuffed, confessing to a group of armed men pointing guns at him that he and his sister were closely affiliated with La Linea.

The discovery of the body came after an armed confrontation in Chihuahua between police and armed gunmen, in which five persons presumed to be kidnappers were captured. A few hours after the capture three persons who had been kidnapped were rescued, and a rumor went out that among those rescued was Mario Gonzalez, but the rumor was denied by Governor Duarte.

Among those captured during the shoot-em-out was Jorge Gutiérrez Corral, a former operations coordinator for Cipol (the now-defunct intelligence center for the state police) five years ago during the administration of Raúl Grajeda Domínguez, Secretary of Public Security for the state of Chihuahua. Grajeda was Public Security director for a time under the governorship of Jose Reyes Baeza., who left the governorship last month. Grajeda wrote a book called Public Security: Dead End Street, in which he recapitulates a number of experiences he had in that position. An arrest warrant was issued against him in Tamaulipas, earlier this year, for alleged connections to organized crime.

Jorge Gutiérrez Corral, wounded in the armed confrontation in Chihuahua and then transferred to a hospital under heavy guard, was one of five persons believed to have been part of the kidnapping gang that may have kidnapped and executed Mario González Rodríguez.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Elections: Major Findings, My Preliminary Take

Bottom Line: After losing the governorship and six seats in the House, the biggest question mark for Democrats left in the wake of the elections last night is the future of leadership in the NM state house. Will Ben Lujan continue in January as Speaker of the House, or will he step down, or be forced to step down by Democrats or by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans? A lot of conversations among House members will revolve around this question in the next six weeks. The answer to this question will go a long way toward defining the character of the Democratic Party in New Mexico for the next two years. Voters: watch this issue and study the actions of your own legislator carefully, if s/he is a Democrat.

The only good news for Democrats this morning is that Republican gains were not more extensive (I'm thinking especially about the attorney general and land commission races, which were barely won by seasoned Democratic candidates running against young rank amateurs), and that a perfect storm rarely happens twice in a row.

The perfect storm: the national mood hurt Democrats and certainly was decisive in the eleven point margin Pearce held over Teague. It almost cost Heinrich his seat, and helps account for the surprisingly strong showing by Tom Mullins, who fell only 3000 votes shy of the total winning vote for Steve Pearce in a district that heavily favors Hispanic candidates. The statewide mood had also soured on Democrats, given the growing conviction among voters that Richardson is not the only problem within the up-to-now ruling party: well informed Democrats told me in Mora, for example, that many people felt Speaker Ben Lujan's strong support for Richardson's agenda in the past two years (which included a lot of highly questionable expenditures for his personal pet projects) came at their expense. Susana lost Mora county by about ten points, but she ran twenty points ahead of most Republicans in that county. So the statewide scenario was equally unfavorable for the Democratic ticket.

The perfect storm effect of national and statewide thundershowers was felt all the way up and down the ticket. For a party accustomed to governing easily at the mid-and bottom-levels of state government, perhaps the most emblematic outcome last night was the squeaker vote that brought Court of Appeals Judge Robert Robles, the incumbent, barely a 1.6% victory against Ned Fuller; it could have gone either way. It was also felt in countless races at the bottom of the local tickets; for example, in Dona Ana County Olivia Garcia, who normally wins by twenty points or more was forced to stay up until midnight last night to know the outcome, squeezing out a 52.5% victory against a virtually unknown opponent, and only after the South Mesilla Valley votes (heavily Democrat) came in at the end.

For Democrats and Republicans alike in New Mexico, this is an existential moment. Given the nature and severity of the problems confronting the state, who are we? What do we stand for? What do we propose to do to solve our problems? Given the reality that the governor will be a Republican and the legislature will be Democrat, how do we go about trying to make state government work again, after several years of poor leadership? As I said in something I wrote nearly two years ago: the state is begging for leadership and voters, for once, are watching.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October: Record Homicides In Juarez

October beat the guns of August, with a record 352 homicides, compared with 339 in August. This brings the annual total of homicides in Juarez up to 2678, which is higher than the total for 2009, which was 2657. At this pace the year will end with about 3215.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beneath the Sangre de Cristos: Susana's Final Campaign Stop in Mora

The event was set for 3-5 p.m., Saturday at Cowboy Kitchen in Mora. My cousin Nick Cruz, who headed Democrats for Susana in Mora County, drove me there at about 2:30. It was on the main street across the street from a polling place, which was open. Democrats had put up little information tents for candidates next to the polling place, and to the right and to the left of Cowboy Kitchen on the same side of the street. So we were surrounded. That was a smart move, I thought to myself. Under such inspection you have to be pretty committed to show up, given that Democrats control the county. Several people in the Democratic tents glared at us as we parked and strolled to the restaurant. A crowd of maybe 30 persons was standing in front of the restaurant. An eighteen-wheeler pulled up, without sides to the trailer, fixed up with microphones and a dais. Candidates would speak from the platform, down at the audience. People were asked to move back so the truck could park closer to the restaurant. The crowd was growing bigger.

State police then measured the distance between the eighteen wheeler and the entrance to the polling place. It was three feet short of the required 100 ft. Then police measured the distance between the polling place and the Democratic tent next to it. I was told it too fell short of the requirement. Someone was looking for Ernie Olivas, who owns the empty lot on the West side of the Cowboy Kitchen, to see if he would rent it for a couple of hours so the truck could pull in there outside the 100 foot range. Did anyone have his phone number? Nick rang his number but Ernie didn't answer. Nick said he had seen him five minutes earlier. By now there were well over 100 people standing in front of Cowboys Kitchen, waiting for the show to begin. Suddenly a voice (I recognized it as belonging to Agnes Maldonado) from a loudspeaker informed us we had to go inside the restaurant. Change of plans.

After a crowd of perhaps a hundred settled into a room in the restaurant, a mariachi trio began to play; the female singer had a beautiful voice. Perhaps another 30 or so crammed into an adjoining room. The Republican county chairman began the show by introducing the candidates--for probate judge, magistrate, and sheriff. Each received a warm applause. Then statewide candidates spoke. People kept wedging into the small room until about 150 had squeezed in. The room got warmer.

Among the statewide candidates speaking was Ned Fuller, for Court of Appeals. When his turn came he said, simply, "What do you want in a judge? Equal treatment under the law, right? That's not what we've gotten here this afternoon, that's why we had to come into this small space," he said, alluding to the measuring incidences and the change of venue. He got a warm round of applause when he was done. When the statewide candidates were done, only Susana was left, but she hadn't arrived. The audience buzzed with anticipation. People been asked to leave their cardboard Susana signs (about 2 ft. by 18 inches) at the door when coming in so I started passing out a stack of Democrats for Susana bumper stickers I had, which were eagerly snatched out of my hands. "Hey Dwayne," somebody yelled out, "put a Democrats for Susana sticker on your hat!" Dwayne laughed and put one up to his hat for a few seconds, for a round of applause. Obviously a well-known yellow dog Democrat.

When Susana finally walked in, everybody inched forward to get a better view, and she delivered a rousing, energetic speech, sometimes speaking in flawless Spanish, expressing a hope to "win this big." Just as she ended, to thunderous applause, Dwayne raised his hand and quieted the crowd, saying he had a question. "I have a speech disability," he said. "I depend on government to help me through. Why are you going to take away those funds from me and people like me?" "That's not true," she started to say, but he interrupted to say "Yes it is, I heard it on television." The audience then turned on him and booed. Susana raised her hand to silence the crowd. Suddenly there was complete silence: a dramatic moment of truth. "I have a disabled sister," she said. "I've cared for her all my life, and we depend on government funding to keep her well. Why would I take away her funding just because I'm governor? Why would I take away funding for your disability? This is an example of the falsehoods people have been spreading about me!" When she was finished, the crowd broke into even more thunderous applause. The mariachi started playing and the afternoon was hers.

My cousins stood in line for 20 minutes to get me to take a picture of them with her. When we left there was still a 10-minute line of people who wanted to shake her hand and get a picture. I looked up at the mountains as we drove back to Holman. An early fall snowpack was already beginning to accumulate on the summits of La Jicarita. Winter comes early in the Sangre de Cristos, and I still had work to do to prepare for it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mesquite Group Offers Free Enchiladas, Rides, to Vote

The Mesquite Community Action Committee (MCAC), with help from the SouthWest Organizing Project and Pushback Network is offering a free ride in VIP (Voter In Progress) Style to the Anthony Early voting polling site. According to Arturo Uribe, “We have been offering rides to the polls in Limo’s ever since Kerry and his campaign came into to town and rented vans for the weekend. We could get limo’s to provide the service at almost the same rate. Plus when you roll up in a limo and say let’s go vote, people jump in and say “lets go!” This year folks who live in the communities of Mesquite, Berino, Desert Sands, San Miguel, La Mesa and Chamberino can call or show up and get a plate of enchiladas and a ride to early vote. This Saturday MCAC will be taking folks to early vote at the Anthony Water Sanitation District water office ,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ex-AG Patricia Gonzalez Allowed to Visit Headquarters She Thought Was Site of Filming of Her Kidnapped Brother

From Diario this morning: Patricia Gonzalez, ex-attorney general of Chihuahua, was escorted through the Western Zone headquarters of the Attorney General's office in Cuauhtémoc yesterday, to prove to her that her brother was not filmed there in front of armed masked men, as she had alleged in a press conference the day before. A spokesperson for the Attorney General's office indicated she had confirmed that no cubicle in the building corresponded to the cubicle that appears in the video filmed by her brother's kidnappers (click here for video and here for prior story).

The investigation into the kidnapping is being conducted by the federal government with the collaboration of the state attorney general's office, now being run by a different team since the inauguration of Governor Cesar Duarte last month. As a relative of the victim, Ms. Gonzalez is permitted to assist in the investigation of the federal government.

The Massacre: Two of the Assassins Murdered?

From a report by Felix A. Gonzalez, a veteran security reporter for El Norte Digital: Just after midnight yesterday a Jeep Grand Cherokee with Texas plates was found abandoned at the site of an industrial park for maquilas on Eje Juan Gabriel, with two dead bodies in it. One of the bodies had been decapitated, hands chopped off, and legs lopped off at the knees. Three messages were found inside the vehicle. One message, written on the glove compartment, said, "I'm a doble A and they chopped off my head for killing women and children. On the back window was written, "Come for your people;" and a sign on a piece of cardboard said, "This is what will happen to those who kill women and children, and to all the doblados." Police agents investigating the crime are trying to determine whether there is a connection between these homicides and the massacre of the youths at a party in Horizontes del Sur on October 22.

The massacre apparently was motivated by a desire of the assassins (police believe there were seven, carrying four assault rifles--two R-15 and two AK-47--, and three pistols--9 mm and 40 caliber) to find a man with the nickname, El Raton (The Mouse). Police now say witnesses suggest the man with this nickname was at the party and escaped through the back after being shot in the abdomen. Investigators also assert no evidence has been found to suggest there were any drugs in the house that came under assault.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Pew Survey Confirms Republicans are More Energized This Year: New Mexico? Democrats Beware--I May Have Underestimated Republican Strength

If a Pew Research Center study of U.S. voters is valid for New Mexico (click here), then I may have been wrong in my blog on Saturday (How Far Down the Ballot do Susana's Petticoattails Go?) predicting only a modest gain for Republicans in the state. Here's why.

In a study of likely voters (see below), Pew finds that Republicans have a huge advantage over Democrats among likely voters: 50-40 in October, up from a seven point advantage in September. This strong surge in momentum, if it continues, suggests that a Democratic candidate might have a ten point lead among registered voters, but still be neck-and-neck in the race because of who is likely to vote.

Adding to this is a subtle ethnic factor that might make a marginal difference in some races: Hispanics, who normally provide a healthy margin for Democrats, are cross-pressured in the governor's race, torn between ethnic and partisan loyalties, both strong influences on a person's vote. Cross-pressured voters tend to have a lower voter turnout rate, so if this holds, one might expect Hispanic turnout rates to be below normal for a gubernatorial year, since Susana Martinez is on the ticket for governor as a Republican. So this might raise that 10% turnout differential mentioned above to maybe 12-14 points, overall. This would bode very badly for Democratic candidates downstream on the ballot.

Thus, if the Pew numbers are accurate and valid for New Mexico, unless Democrats have put together a credible ground game to get out the vote on election day and if the momentum continues, it could affect several races, including the Heinrich-Barela race, the attorney general's race, the land commissioner's race, a PRC race, some state representative races, and, possibly, some court races, where you can kick out an incumbent with only a 43% vote of "no" for retention. Another factor feeding into the equation here is that the Pew study concludes that anti-incumbent sentiment is greater than it has been since 1994, a banner year for Republicans. This factor adds to the marginal advantages, mentioned above, for Republicans in New Mexico House races held by Democrats.

Finally, independent voters, according to the Pew study, favor Republican candidates by 19 points (49% Republican vs. 30% Democrat). In November 2006, Democrats held a seven-point lead among likely independent voters.

Bottom Line: In New Mexico this may add up to a perfect storm for Republicans. So while Susana's petticoattails may not be very long by themselves, other factors might contribute to more than modest gains by the Republican Party in New Mexico. There are, however, a lot of ifs inserted in this story, so we will have to wait until election night to find out what's what.

The Flap Over the Video of Ex-Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez's Kidnapped Brother

Background: Patricia Gonzalez, Attorney General of the State of Chihuahua under the administration of ex-governor Jose Reyes Baeza was more or less universally despised in Cd. Juarez, at least in part because of her arrogant disregard to the feeling of Juarenses asking for more help from the attorney general's office during the upward spike in violence over the past three years. She also seemed frustratingly unable to prosecute cases brought to her by law enforcement agents. La Polaka called her "Paty Gaga," for her non-conservative wardrobe style. She left the office in early October when Governor Duarte took the reins of state government. Her brother was kidnapped last Thursday, October 21.

On Sunday a video appeared on You Tube of Mario Ángel González Rodríguez, her brother, in a scene very much like the one reported here last week of a woman being interrogated before her assassination. Like that video, You Tube pulled this one, but it continues to be seen throughout Mexico. If you want to see it, click here. In it, Mr. González confesses, at gunpoint, to being a bag man for his sister, collecting payoff money the La Linea cartel from different sectors of the state, including $200,000 per month from Juarez, $100,000 from Chihuahua, $50,000 from Parral, and $50,000 from Cuauhtemoc. He also states his sister ordered the assassination of two reporters, including the slaying of Armando Rodriguez, of Diario, in 2008, and Enrique Perea in 2006, and that General Espitia (head of Joint Operation Chihuahua) was paid off $100,000 per month. He readily names names, far more than I have summarized here.

For several months there appears to have been something of a clandestine public relations campaign between the two rival gangs in Juarez, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel, also known as La Linea. Paintings on walls and banners have been left, accusing President Calderon of protecting the Sinaloa Cartel, and others accusing state and local authorities of protecting La Linea. This video fits into this narrative, widely accepted as truth in Cd. Juarez.

Patricia Gonzalez herself appeared yesterday in public for the first time, asserting that the cubicle from which her brother was filmed in this video is located in the office of the attorney general in Chihuahua, constructed under her orders when she was attorney general. She has asked for a federal government investigation into the kidnapping, welcomed an investigation into her activities as attorney general, and denied all allegations. Among other things she said she wanted those responsible to return her brother "dead or alive," a choice of words reminiscent of her somewhat insensitive language when she was attorney general.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kidnapped Man Escapes Encajuelamiento

In the early morning hours, Rubén González Serna knocked on the door of a household in Punta de Oriente, a village in Aquiles Serdan (Central Chihuahua), asking for help. He was badly beaten (see photo) and he said he had been kidnapped. He had been forced into the trunk of a car, presumably to take him to be killed, but he was able to open up the trunk and jump out when the car slowed down. The men in the car saw him running toward a group of houses, and apparently decided to flee. The family reported the incident to police, using the 060 line. The family was told there had indeed been a man reported kidnapped, and forced into the trunk of a white Tsuru (a Japanese care not sold in the U.S. but very popular in Chihuahua). He was taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

The Massacre: Details Emerge from Witnesses

Diario (click here for story) interviewed survivors and parents of children at the party which ended night before last in the deaths of at least 14 youths. From this and other reports, a picture of what happened (not exactly why) is beginning to emerge. The most relevant information comes from just one source, a father whose son was at the party, so the picture should be seen only as tentative. Conflicting versions of the same event, especially if traumatic, is common.

The father said he had heard that the family living in the household under attack had been deported from the United States. They began renting the house about three months ago, and it was said that people were going to the house to buy drugs. Because of this he asked his son not to go to the party. But the son got curious and went with a friend to the party. They were outside the gates when the assassins arrived.

They arrived in four cars and one pickup. There were about sixteen of them (other witnesses say they were between the ages of 16-21) and they did not have their faces covered. They carried only pistols. Inside the house, they began to ask the youths for "El Raton," (the mouse, or, possibly, the rat) and other persons. When everyone denied knowing them, one of the assassins said, "So, you're not going to talk? Then shoot them all." That created panic and everyone began to run. Then the shooting began. The boy whose father warned him not to go to the party was shot twice in the legs and once in a forearm. His father states that while the shooting was going on he called the police but no one answered.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Another Tragedy: Birthday Party Ends With 13 Killed, 20 Wounded

A birthday party for Francisco Lopez, 14, at his home, ended tragically when gunmen burst into the house and began shooting last night at about 10:55 p.m. in Horizontes del Sur. When it was over his mother was dead, along with 12 other persons, most of them adolescents. Twenty persons were wounded, three of them critically. Witnesses said the gunmen arrived in three or four vehicles and they were described as being young, between the ages of 16 and 21. (For story in Diario click here) The house is in a modest middle class neighborhood.

Governor Duarte promised this afternoon in a statement followed by a press conference to clarify the circumstances of the massacre, he visited the hospital this afternoon where the injured victims were taken. He promised not to pass on his responsibilities to others, a veiled criticism of the previous governor. Governor Duarte also did not discount the possibility that U.S. experts might assist in the investigation.

El Fronterizo reports this afternoon (click here) that one theory about the motive for the massacre is that gunmen were searching for a person nicknamed El Raton (The Rat).

On January 31 of this year a similar massacre of adolescents ocurred in Villas de Salvarcar.

How Far Down the Ballot Do Susana's Petticoattails Go?

My alligator-devouring, West-of-the-Pecos coyotes from near-tejana-land, just across the river from Rosa's Cantina, out in the badlands of New Mexico, are telling me they don't expect the petticoattails of Wicked Susana La Tejana, born on the wrong side of the Rio Grande in the South Mesilla Valley, to extend too far down the ballot. Let's take a look at the scenario.

Democratic Party insiders are tacitly conceding the governor's race will be won by Susana, in spite of her wicked origins. But how deep are the coattails? The more people are inclined to blame the Democratic Party for enabling the past eight years of Richardson's tyrannical rule, it would seem, the more effect this might have downstream on the ballot.

The national mood also plays a role here. There is likely to be a shift of about 50 House seats to the Republican Party. Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly be gone in January. But only one of the three Congressional seats in New Mexico, all held by Democrats, seems to be vulnerable. Pearce appears to be pulling away from Teague down the stretch, almost certainly due to the national mood, since the two candidates are nearly identical twins: both from Hobbs, about the same age, oil-and-gas-related businessmen, conservatives.

The state legislature? I calculate Republicans will pick up only 2-4 seats in the House, statewide. Normally state house members are evaluated by their effectiveness either in getting things done for their district or getting important statewide legislation passed, rather than by the generic mood of voters. Weak legislators in safe districts have been known to survive for decades, but this year, where Republicans were able to recruit adequate candidates, voters seem inclined to be paying attention, especially in districts with independent-minded voters. So I may be wrong about my count. If Republicans pick up more than five legislative seats, this would be a sign of strong coattails.

So where does than leave us?

Just below the governor's race, voters will encounter secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, commissioner of public lands--in that order. The only Democrat among these who appears to be in trouble is Mary Herrera, who has received a good deal of bad publicity about the bureau of elections within her office in recent months. The rest, from polling data, appear to be shoo-ins. After that come some judges races, state rep, and then the local county races.

In the local races in Dona Ana County conventional wisdom (the alligator devouring West-of-the-Pecos coyotes again) has it only Nate Cote and Jeff Steinborn may have serious opposition out of seven state reps; three don't have any opposition. If they lose it will almost certainly be because of the coattails. The same is true all the way at the bottom of the ballot, where two of the five supreme court justices and two of ten Court of Appeals judges are in retention elections. Here it only takes 43% to toss out a judge. So a serious statewide test of the coattails effect will come if one or more of these (all Democrats) is knocked off.

Bottom line: If the Republican Party picks up only a couple of seats in the legislature and perhaps the secretary of state's seat, this will hardly be a rousing coattails election. If, however, they pick up more than five seats and lose one or more of the judges up for retention, it might signal something far more serious to the Democratic Party.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Washington Is Elevating It's Presence in Juarez

Victor Hugo Michel, of Milenio (click here) has obtained a copy of a work plan prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, outlining a number of steps which have already been implemented in the past few weeks in the Juarez-El Paso area, and some which are still to come. Other measures will have border-wide implications. The anti-narcotics section of the U.S. Embassy will be in charge of administering the program.

Make no mistake about it. this report is significant. It clarifies a number of things happening in Juarez in the past few weeks, such as the arrest of significant members of La Linea and threats against the U.S. Consulate, and it suggests a greatly beefed up effort is still in the works to deal with multiple security issues. For example, funds have been allocated by the pentagon to create a network of secure communications between Juarez and El Paso. Once implemented this will provide real-time operational capabilities based on real-time intelligence gathering on both sides of the border. This is completely new in the bilateral relationship. Among the other goodies in this package:

1. For the first time Washington is beginning operational cooperation with the Mexican government in its dealings with drug trafficking organizations. The approach is multi-dimensional. The U.S. government will begin sending intelligence advisors to Juarez; pentagon funds will assist the Mexican government in training, equipment, professional exchanges, and sharing of information. At least one DEA agent will be assigned to live in Juarez full time and train federal agents in intelligence techniques. A team of DEA agents will be on hand in El Paso.

2. Perhaps most important, Washington has given the Mexican federal security department access to its EPIC data base in El Paso on drug traffickers. This data base, owned by DEA, is global in scope, and is comprised of multiple data bases from about two dozen agencies. The data base has been in operation for about two decades now, and has been available for law enforcement officers in the United States, but not in Mexico.

3. U.S. intelligence specialists who work at EPIC and their counterparts in Juarez are in daily contact to exchange information, including methods of operation of cartel and other criminal gang operations. This has led to significant arrests on both sides of the border. The Center for Emergencies and Rapid Reaction (CERI), whose command was transferred earlier this year to the federal police, receives data from U.S. agencies based in EPIC to enable a more effective use of Mexican police.

"The objective is to strengthen the intelligence gathering capacity of the Mexican government and create links between U.S. and Mexican agencies to maximize the use of information in real time and guide Mexican strategic and tactical operations."

4. Kidnapping is also part of the effort. Special training has been given to elite units of the Federal Police and the Police of Chihuahua, with assistance from the National Police of Colombia.

The report indicates that "this pilot program is based on meetings of binational teams held in El Paso and Juarez in January and February 2010.

Mesquite Candidate Forum: Genuine Debate at the Grassroots, Quality Candidates

The Mesquite Forum, sponsored by the Mesquite Community Action Committee, last night featured candidates for county sheriff and county commission. I moderated the event.

Sheriff's candidates: What would candidates cut and not cut, if budget cuts are needed? Both stressed they would not cut the number of deputies in the field, inasmuch as public safety is top priority. Todd Garrison, incumbent sheriff, asserted that 93% of the current budget goes to personnel costs, so if officers in the field are off the table, there aren't many places to cut, but he would start with equipment and training, if necessary. J.R. Stewart, current President of the Police Officer's Association, stressed there are many sources for funds in addition to the county budget. He would rely on his experience as a successful grant writer to seek additional grants to supplement the budget.

Both candidates agreed that the recent fatal shootings of persons with mental health problems were justified under the circumstances. Stewart assured the audience he knew facts about both cases that were not included in news reports that, if the public were aware of, would put to rest questions about the appropriateness of actions taken. Garrison agreed.

Stewart emphasized the need to establish a community relations board that would meet monthly to exchange information and concerns with the community. Garrison emphasized his desire to continue community-based policing. The major disagreement between them appeared to be over a relatively minor issue, the use of GPS systems in patrol cars. Garrison believes GPS, while expensive, has utility in keeping headquarters informed about the exact location of a patrol car when the officer has had to leave it, while Stewart indicated he believes in high quality radio communications systems, which he said work well currently in the municipal police.

Informal comments I heard after the forum indicated many in the audience were extremely impressed with both candidates and have confidence each of them have more than enough of what it takes to do the job well.

County Commission: Billy Garrett emphasized his strong roots in the local community, as a third generation Las Crucen, his experience as a top manager for the National Park Service in dealing with multiple constituencies, and the importance of adding serious community involvement in both management and planning functions for the county. John Zimmerman emphasized his long experience as a missile-test engineer at White Sands Missile Range, and his experience as a Naval Reserve officer, including writing plans in Bosnia for the air war there.

Zimmerman stressed the need for a comprehensive master plan for the county, and indicated he thought the first iteration of the 2040 plan, written by a private firm, was a "total failure." Garrett's approach seems to be more nuanced, taking into account multiple actors, emphasizing the need for local communities to set priorities after a serious examination of options; for these to be embedded in plans and budgets, and for the commission to take its role as an overarching policy implementer seriously.

Informal comments I overheard after the forum indicated that, like the sheriff's race, both county commission candidates were exceptionally well prepared.

The Mesquite Forum has matured a great deal in just a few years, reflecting greater public awareness, a stronger willingness to engage with candidates and public officials, and a greater social cohesion all around. Community leaders are to be commended, especially the strong, sustained efforts of Arturo Uribe to mobilize community involvement. The South Mesilla Valley is in the path of rapid, possibly massive, economic growth as El Paso spills into the Valley and as developments in the Santa Teresa area portend stronger interaction with Mexico. The Mesquite model is one other small communities in the Valley might look at to protect their interests.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

July Juarez Car Bombing Suspects Caught: La Linea Takes More Blows: Mission Accomplished? We'll See

Yesterday six more persons were accused of complicity in the July 15 car bombing on Ave. 16 de Septiembre in Juarez, which caused widespread fear throughout Juarez, severely dampening commercial activity in the area. If you are not familiar with the case see my posting on it here, and you might look at several follow-up postings I made in the days that followed.

They arrests were made during an operation in which 14 alleged members of La Linea were apprehended while packaging cocaine. Noé Fuentes Chavira, also accused of involvement in the bombing, was captured on August 13.

Among those captured yesterday was Fernando Contreras Meraz, (see photo at right) accused of being the intellectual author of the bombing. He is alleged to have coordinated and supervised the attack, aimed at federal police agents, and is alleged to have made the cell phone call that detonated the bomb. on July 15.

Luis Cárdenas Palomino, Regional Security Coordinator of the Federal Police, speaking at a press conference at a command center in a suburb of Mexico City, asserted that La Linea, the armed force of the Juarez Cartel, has for all practical purposes been dismantled. This is the first time, he said, that a cartel has been "dismantled from bottom to top." It might be worth noting that Diario, the flagship newspaper in Cd. Juarez, did not include these remarks in its coverage today of the arrest (click here), although most newspapers throughout Mexico did (see, for example El Universal story here). Diario included photographs of the fourteen persons arrested, and it named each one by name, role within the organization, and sometimes nickname and age.

Narco Pinta Left Last Night Alludes to Rash of Executions of Women Accused by Killers of Extortion

La Polaka has a photo (click here) of a narcopinta (narco-graffiti?) that appeared on a residential wall last night in Col. Melchor Ocampo at about 7:30 p.m. The painting was signed "El 51," attributable by its content to La Linea, although in the past messages apparently from La Linea were signed "La Linea" or "El Diego." It is directed to Chapo Guzman and others specifically mentioned. It chides them for killing women, referring apparently to be a series of recent executions of women whom the killers accuse of involvement in extortion, and invites them to come out into the streets and fight them there. On Tuesday a video appeared on You Tube (see below), reproduced in Diario and other newspapers, placed there by a source identified by Diario as being connected to the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Chapo Guzman. Thus, there is the suggestion the woman, and others, allegedly involved in extortion, have been executed at the hands of a death squad under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel (also known as La Linea) have been engaged in bloody conflict for several years now in a turf battle to control narco trafficking in Cd. Juarez. The narcopinta, and the widely viewed video of the woman being interrogated, as well as news stories of women being executed with messages left behind accusing them of being extortionists, all suggest the Sinaloa Cartel has been executing female extortionists working for La Linea in Juarez, not only to disrupt some of the activities of La Linea but perhaps also to gain public sympathy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Confession of Juarez Female Extortionist (Later Executed) is Revealing

Diario today runs a story with a link to a video in which a woman, flanked by two hooded men with assault rifles, confesses to having been an extortionist for La Linea, on the payroll for $160 per week. A list on notepad paper with the names of businesses she was extorting is shown during the interview. The video appears to have been taken by a vigilante group that captured her. The woman, who identifies herself as Sanjuana Gabriela Enríquez Galván, was later executed and her body was discovered in Col. Melchor Ocampo, face down, with a message on her tee shirt saying "I'm an Extortion(ist) for La Linea." A red rose was placed on her back.

Diario points out that from the answers she gives in the interview one gathers that the same group interrogating her was responsible for the execution of Gabriela Enríquez Galván, also on October 11, who was kidnapped in the presence of her two small children, outside an auto repair shop, and later found "encajuelada" in the trunk of a white Nissan.

According to Diario the video was placed on You Tube by "elplumaoriginal," who has been identified as a member of the criminal gang "Gente Nueva," associated with El Chapo Guzman. It was added to the link for “quitapuercosenchihuahua,” (getsridofpigsinchihuahua), a set of You Tube videos dealing with narco-violence in Chihuahua. Using the link provided by Diario I originally posted the video here, but it was blocked by You Tube because the contents "violated the terms of service." The video is still playing on various mainstream news sites, including Diario. If you want to see it click on this site here from Norte Digital. I would caution readers that much of it is not pleasant, and it gets graphic at the end.