Friday, April 30, 2010

Follow The Money

This is an interesting video. The project, by graduate students at Northwestern University, won a prize by the National Science Foundation. Keep track of the relative isolation of New Mexico compared with most places, and notice the boundary between Eastern New Mexico and the rest of the state: seems like the term "Little Texas" is not outmoded. Click on Follow The Money

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Juarez Wednesday Morning on a Bloody Day

I was in Juarez yesterday morning, visiting with an acquaintance. I hadn't been there in over a month, and I could see signs of more deterioration in the city. Traffic, in places normally heavy, was light. Restaurants that used to flourish are now boarded up. Juarez Street, the quintessential built environment Mexican businessmen imagine U.S. tourists want to see as they cross over to the Mexican side of a border town--souvenir shops, mustachioed salesmen with thick accents pitching stuff ("luke-ing for sommting?"), bars, nightclubs, liquor stores, pharmacy shops, and the seemingly chaotic but relaxed and festive lifestyle of the natives--one of my favorite spots in Juarez, is just not the same. Nightclubs, especially, but also many stores are boarded up. There are no tourists--at all! You can jaywalk just about anywhere because there is no traffic. The Kentucky Club was empty. The street is dirty, dusty, no longer in deliberate imitation of a charmingly crumbling avenue, but now more like a shopping center about to close, with broken windows and graffiti. Driving around town the only difference in visible security measures was heavily armed guards at bank entrances--there has been a rash of bank robberies in the past two weeks--and the little security pickups you run into occasionally are no longer manned by army troops but by federal police. To get back to El Paso I crossed the bridge downtown instead of Santa Teresa because traffic seemed so light, and there were only 3 cars in front of me for inspection, normally an hour's wait or more. I saw no hint of the 21 homicides I learned this morning had taken place there yesterday. In a city of 1.3 million your chances of coinciding with an incident are very small.

The Beat: Homicides This Year At Seasonally Adjusted Record Pace

As of last night 823 murders have occurred in Juarez so far this year. This compares with 528 for the same period last year, which was a new record, and 249 in 2008, the first year of the escalated violence. Diario reports this morning (click here) that 32 persons were killed by gunfire in a 27-hour period this week, including eleven minors between the ages of 15 and 19. So the pace of homicides appears to be picking up, as it did last year at this time.

Yesterday, Wednesday, 21 persons were killed by gunfire in Juarez, including the execution of eight persons in the parking lot of the Aristos night club at Vicente Guerrero and Honduras in the early morning hours. At about 2:30 yesterday afternoon four youths, ranging in age from 15-19 were executed in a single incident at the intersection of Juan Pablo Segundo and Arizona, in Col. Fidel Velázquez.

With 246 days left in the year, if the pace set so far continues there will be about 2524 homicides in Juarez by the end of the year. This is less than the 2657 homicides registered last year. However, last year there was a lull in killings for two months after the Army sent in 7500 troops to patrol the streets in February. After that the pace picked up significantly. If seasonal patterns in the homicide rate (killings tend to go up in the summer and fall) continue, Juarez, our neighboring city, will set another global record for homicides this year, right across the river from El Paso, Texas and Sunland Park, New Mexico.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Once again the state government of Arizona has managed to embarrass itself in public. Last time the embarrassment was purely symbolic, hurting only the feelings of those who wanted Arizona to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. After the Super Bowl was moved from Arizona to California in 1991, in a pointed protest against the state's refusal to adopt the holiday, and an effective tourist boycott of the state began, Arizonans decided in 1992 that they would, if it was costing money, sacrifice their anti-King principles and yield to the pressure.

Today the embarrassment, laced again with strong racial overtones, is more than symbolic, since it comes in the form of a legislative action permitting police who have "reasonable suspicion," (not "probable cause," the more common, and more rigorous standard) to demand proof of one's immigration status. A couple of statistics here might serve as useful background.

Thirty percent of Arizona, almost two million persons, are Hispanic, overwhelmingly of Mexican background. Of these, one in four is undocumented, a population estimated at about 460,000; in other words when a police officer identifies someone correctly as being Hispanic in Arizona, there is a reasonable chance (one in four) that person might lack proper documentation. Logic would suggest that two million Hispanics had better be prepared to "prove" their citizenship, whatever that might come to mean. The law does stipulate that racial or linguistic profiling is not to be used in determining "reasonable suspicion." But what else is there? You trust government officials to find a reasonable way of identifying people as undocumented aside from their looks or language? Or is it more likely police might learn to allege other reasons for stopping someone, after the fact, so as to be able to get away with profiling without saying so?

Given the demonization of migrants in recent years in some areas of the Southwest, given good-old-fashioned racism in significant pockets of the population, this law could easily result in the creation of a class of persons--Hispanics--under permanent social, as well as legal suspicion. That is to say, the law legitimizes the formation of negative attitudes toward Hispanics; particularly encouraging an association between Hispanic appearance and unlawful behavior. Comparisons with Nazi Germany are, for once, not over the top. This is why it will not stand and will almost certainly never become law.

The government of Mexico has suspended all flights from Mexico to Arizona. A traveler's advisory warning has been issued by the foreign ministry of Mexico, warning Mexican tourists they might be vulnerable to abuse by police in Arizona. A boycott of Arizona, once more, is being organized by legitimate groups in several states. Citizens are quite correctly protesting this law in public in many places. In Juarez this morning the man who sold me a newspaper at a street corner was livid about the racismo in Arizona. I agreed with him. "Puro racismo," I replied.

Almost certainly, Arizonans will decide to give up the racial bias embedded in this new law, and find "technical" reasons to decide not to let it stand. But after the Martin Luther King thing, and the racially tinged movement among some Arizonians to take the law into their own hands a few years ago against migrants, this is now becoming a pattern. For a state that prides itself in its patriotism--lots of flags flying in front of houses--the legislature of Arizona should be ashamed of this highly Un-American, anti-patriotic measure, and it might think about making amends by inviting New Mexicans to offer required classes in Arizona schools about the Bill of Rights, and perhaps holocaust survivors to teach school children what can happen to a society when governments begin to encourage racial prejudice in laws they pass subjecting minority groups to identity checks by police on demand.

New Bridge in Fabens Will Be Biggest on U.S.-Mexico Border

The new international bridge connecting Fabens and Caseta in the Valle de Juarez, scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012, will be the longest, and with the most lanes, on the U.S.-Mexico border. For story on this in Diario click here. The bridge will help alleviate traffic, especially for trucks, in the other border crossings of the region, stretching from Santa Teresa to Fabens. It should also do wonders for real estate values in the surrounding areas.

Does this piece of news help readers put into larger context the recent violence in the Valle de Juarez, reported below (see posting April 5, 7)?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The New Arizona Immigration Law: My Modest Proposal

With the new migrant law on the books in Arizona it may take a while, if it survives constitutional scrutiny, to sort out the rules of engagement between police and citizens. But, hey, if the US Army can work out rules of engagement between themselves and Iraqi citizens in order to minimize the wholesale loss of life in collateral damage there, then so can Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County. He seems like a reasonable, even-handed guy, right?

The law does, however, clearly mark a shift in practice away from the concept of equal treatment under the law. And there is a clear danger it will serve as a gateway drug for law enforcement agents to assume far more authority than they now have over citizens. Greater authority of government, we have learned from a slew of Republican Thinkers, inevitably leads to a loss of Liberty, which is a bad thing. In fact this law looks suspiciously to me like one of those (probably Liberal) infringements on the concept of Limited Government (LG) which our founding fathers fought so hard to preserve. So as a card-carrying Conservative, I think this is a bad law, and for Arizona Republicans to pass it suggests they haven't been studying enough of their own doctrines of LG, or else drinking the cool aid of some wicked imposter dressed in Gingrich clothing. Barry Goldwater must be turning over in his grave with sadness.

There is absolutely no reason for this law to be on the books, anyway, since the most efficient way of stopping illegal migration is to go after the small gang of criminals who have caused the phenomenon to get out of hand: the employers. Every time an illegal alien gets a job, at least two people have broken the law: the employer and the alien. So far the government's entire approach to immigration enforcement has been to go after the migrant, not the employer. But there are millions of migrants, and only a few thousand employers. So once again, Big Government has been doing the least efficient thing going after the migrant and creating a huge, bloated, expensive bureaucracy to boot, which never seems capable of even stemming the tide of illegal migration, much less reducing it significantly. Sound just like the war of drugs to you? In both cases the result is in the Liberal tax and spend direction of creating huge high paying law enforcement armies at taxpayer expense where the uniforms are pretty but the drugs and migrants keep coming in but you can't mention this if your doing your job in Congress because the Liberal-biased media will accuse you of being Un-American and in favor of drugs and Mexicans.

My solution is to criminalize the hiring of aliens and enforce the rules rigorously.

Since migration enforcement is a national security issue, those who hire unauthorized migrants are, essentially, traitors. They have no respect for the laws of the federal government, or the possibility a terrorist might sneak in. They deserve to be treated as serious criminals, not winked at like johns while the girls of the night go to jail. So Congress should enact a law charging those who hire illegal migrants with high treason (which is worse than low treason), sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in jail for the first offense, with no chance of parole. After the first five or six employers are shown on Fox News, shackled in chains and being hustled by guards into the Maricopa County jail, to be fitted out with the pink underwear Joe Arapio makes them wear, and then shown doing jumping jacks in pink panties at 3:30 in the morning before facing a pile of rocks to break down all day, the flow of illegal migrants will slow down to nothing: Where there is no demand, there is no supply, according to the best Conservative economic theory. And even if you don't like theory, illegal migrants aren't stupid, and they tend to go only to places where the jobs are plentiful and when they see their employers in jail with pink underwear washing dishes and picking up litter in chain gangs for the next 20 years they won't even bother to jump the fence.

The first employers that get caught, of course, will whine about not knowing they were hiring illegals. This is nonsense. They know damn well who they are hiring, and, wink, wink, in the interests of national security, we might word the law so that the burden of proof is on the employer to prove he didn't know, a much higher standard; or maybe even send them to Gitmo for the water boarding thing before the pink panties, being as how we're talking national security here. The courts might let this sneak through for a while like a lot of other stuff on the basis of national security. And along with the new criminalization laws we can create a foolproof ID card so that after the criminal employers send their lobbyists to Congress to forgive them we can say, AHA, from now on you can't use the excuse of ignorance anymore.

If all this were to come to pass we would stop illegal migration in its tracks in a matter of weeks, punish the traitors among us who have rewarded illegals with jobs, and then maybe we could begin a sane discussion about what kind of people we want to invite to the U.S. as immigrants, and what kinds of policies we might imagine that are fair to all concerned and make us proud of ourselves as a nation of immigrants once more.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Possible Break in the Juarez US Consulate Murders

A member of the Azteca gang, captured yesterday in Chihuahua with several other members, has confessed to acting as a "hawk" (looking out for police) during the murder of Lesley Ann Enriquez, a worker at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs. Both were killed by gunfire while driving in their RAV 4 vehicle last March 13, near the international bridge in downtown Juárez.

In a story in Diario this morning (click here) Chihuahua Attorney General
Patricia González is quoted as indicating Redelfs, a detention officer in the El Paso Sherriff's downtown facility, had had "run-ins" with members of the Azteca gang being held in the El Paso detention center, suggesting a possible motive, according to the confession. González told reporters the confession contained many more details about the murder, which will be turned over to investigators working on that case.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Beat: 14 Murders Yesterday, including Two in Valle de Juarez

Two brothers, Mario and Sergio Griego Rodríguez, 27 y 28, were murdered yesterday afternoon in Valle de Juarez, and the father was wounded.

At about 7:20 p.m. two persons, including a high school student, driving in a white Altima were killed when two pickups drove up to the vehicle and shot at it just outside a high school in Infonavit Juárez Nuevo. Two other persons in the car were wounded. All in all fourteen persons were murdered. In a non-fatal incident a family was gathered outside their home in Col Azteca, leaving an eight-year-old girl, Kimberly Alanís, her brother, Héctor Alanís, 20, and Héctor Castro, 52, wounded. Click here for story in Diario.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Mexico Economy Declines again in March

The Federal Reserve Bank's Coincidence Index, which creates a monthly index using data from four economic variables (see below, March 30, "New Mexico Still in Recession") released today, shows New Mexico was the fourth worst performing state during the first quarter of 2010, with only West Virginia, Maryland, and Montana behind it. For data, click here.

The index, which began with all states at 100 in July 1992, hit its highest peak two years ago, in February 2008, at 181.55. In March it was down to 165.80, which represents a decline of 8.7%. The last time the index was this low was in June of 2005. Projections suggest state revenues will not match the 2008 level until about the middle of 2013, and if revenue projections are correct, to the extent they mirror the state economy, the recession will have lasted a full five years.

I made a quick call to Sen. John A. Smith, Chair of Senate Finance, to get his thoughts on the economy and he tells me there is a school of thought that suggests state finances, nationwide, may not recover fully until the end of the decade--that's ten years from now!

So just what do our gubernatorial candidates have to say about all of this? Isn't it time we began to have an open debate about our state economy, and what state government might do to stimulate job creation? What about our tax system? Seems to be badly in need of strong reform away from the volatility of oil and gas.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Pew Polling Shows Record Anti-Incumbent Sentiment: How Does This Affect theTeague-Pearce race?

A study released yesterday by the Pew Research Center (click here for study) shows that only 43% of voters in March wanted to see their U.S. Representative re-elected. This is a record low for the sixteen years the Pew Research Center has been asking the question. The previous record was set in early October 1994, just before a massive shift of historic proportions that changed the composition of the House to Republican: at that point 49% of the voters wanted their Representative re-elected, but then by early November 2004 many voters (58%) had gone back to favoring the re-election of the incumbent. Nevertheless, enough incumbent Democratic legislators lost their jobs to make Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House. The only good news here for Democrats is that the elections are still six months away and popular sentiment may shift back by then.

For newsy video report about this click below

Overall, the respondents split evenly at 44-44 in preference for the Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress.

Last week I did a focus group in one of my classes, using the insights of a highly informed group of local Republicans and Democrats (evenly divided) to see what might happen in that race. One member of the focus group flat-out predicted Pearce would win, the others thought it would be close. Most of the focus group agreed it was too early to tell whether Obama would be a net drag or not on Teague, although there was agreement Teague's vote on cap-and-trade would hurt him. Teague will have an advantage when he argues as a Democrat in a Democratically-controlled Congress, he can get more done--unless polls start to show the House might go Republican, in which case this advantage disappears. Both scored high on likeability, but Pearce, surprisingly, appeared to have a stronger image of having reached out to Hispanic voters while he was in office. Bottom line: this focus group believes the vote will be decided not by any single factor, but by a combination of factors including Obama's popularity in November, Teague's voting record as it is portrayed in the campaign by both sides, and by the quality of the campaign.

One factor the Pew Research Center found important, but which was not present in this focus group, is anger. The members of my focus group are all highly successful and don't depend on the outcome of politics for their success. None of them fit into the "angry" category. The Pew study found fully 21 percent of their respondents (a record) angry at the federal government, particularly among Republicans (30%) and Independents (25%). Only the low (9%) amount of anger among Democrats keeps the anger quotient in check. But anger is certainly a motivator to go out and vote and if this remains this high and shows up in New Mexico, it could certainly make the difference in a close race.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unemployment Edges Up in New Mexico in March

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday released the latest monthly state employment figures. Click here to see full report. More bad news: With statewide unemployment creeping back up to 8.7% in March, New Mexico is among the worst performing of the states for the March 2009-March 2010 period. During that time period New Mexico unemployment rate increased 2.5%, which represents a loss of 16,900 jobs. Only Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and West Virginia had larger percentile declines in the same period, while nine states plus the District of Columbia actually increased employment.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Note from Sinaloa

It appears the violence that began to spike two years ago in Juarez is now coming to Sinaloa, where homicide rates are rising drastically compared to last year, and public reaction is beginning to set in. This is ironic, because for many decades Sinaloa has led the country in homicides, with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In todays newpaper (Noreste, click here) there is a story about a spokesperson for the local Coparmex (a national business organization commenting on the loss of business due to questions of security, and a local association of businessmen expressed concern because of the spike in crime which has resulted in "up to five assaults on business each day." Of course in Juarez they would be delighted with only five assaults per day. In another newspaper (click here) an editorial comlplains that narco-traffickers never get caught in Sinaloa, but always somewhere else, referring specifically to the capture of an important drug figure in Tepic, in the neighboring state of Nayarit, suggesting complicity between the political sector and the drug dealers.

As in Chihuahua, there will be a governors race this year. One candidate, Jesus Vizcarra, if from the PRI, while the other, Mario Lopez Valdez (who refers to himself as MALOVA) used to be in the PRI but when he was denied the nomination for governor within the PRI party he switched to the PAN party and they made him their candidate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

From Sinaloa

I am posting from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, after spending a couple of days in Culiacan, the capital of the state. I bought a newspaper at the airport when I landed here and the headline was that Mazatlan has just broken the record on homicides so far this year, with 119 so far. Two weeks ago the homicide count in Juarez was 631, for a city three times bigger, so a rough calculation shows that the rate per 100,000 is almost three times as high in Juarez. Sinaloa has traditionally had the highest homicide rates in Mexico, so the count in Juarez today is a strong indicator of how abnormal the current situation is there.

I was at a conference at the university and in between meetings I spent the day yesterday chatting with a local man about the origins of narco-trafficking in this state, which is the home of the Beltran Leyva brothers, Chapo Guzman, el Mayo Zambada, the Carrillo Fuentes family, and many other celebrated drug traffickers. He explained the Carrillo Fuentes family is of fairly humble origins, from Navolato, near Culiacan, and Amado was born probably in Guamuchilito, near by. Others give his birth place as Badiraguato, north of Culiacan. Chalino Sanchez, a famous naro-corrido singer, was from Culiacan and he was shot and killed, probably over a misunderstanding about a girl, probably by drug lords, about twenty years ago. A cross now marks the spot where he was killed after a concert. My friend tells me he can trace many changes in the way drug trafficking works by listening to the narco-corrido songs as they evolved over time, from the use of backpacks to mules to cars to trucks to airplanes, for example in the mountains where marijuana is grown.

On my way to the university traffic was very slow and we were told later there had been a shooting on the street that left a man dead, which had disrupted traffic. On the other hand according to my guide, in Culiacan everyone knows everyone else, unlike Juarez, which has a relatively high migrant population, and if you arent involved in drug dealing you wont be bothered. The atmosphere on the street certainly feels a lot less tense than in Juarez, and I didnt hesitate to go out at night to dinner.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

FBI Asserts Chapo is Winning Fight in Cd. Juarez

In an Associated Press story by Alicia Caldwell and Mark Stevenson (click here) the authors suggest Chapo Guzman has been successful in establishing a beach head in Cd. Juarez after a two-year struggle with the La Linea (Juarez) cartel. They cite Andrea Simmons, an FBI spokesperson in El Paso, as revealing that the majority of drug loads seized in El Paso are transported via Guzman's organization. Conventional wisdom has it the Sinaloa cartel is the largest drug trafficking cartel in the world, and last year Forbes magazine estimated Chapo Guzman to be among the richest persons in the world.

In the past couple of years the Mexican government has eliminated several of Guzman's rivals, through capture or death, giving rise to rumors and speculation the Calderon government has been more lenient toward the Sinaloa cartel. Calderon, at a news conference yesterday, tried to quash these rumors by saying his government "fights all the criminal groups that operate in the country equally."

According to the conventional wisdom in Cd. Juarez much of the violence which in the past two years has made Juarez the most violent city in the world stems from the rivalry between the Juarez (or Carrillo, or La Linea) cartel and the Sinaloa cartel. Each cartel is said to have two sets of armed gangs working for it, the La Linea and Azteca gangs, working for the Juarez cartel, and the Mexicles and Artistas Asesinos (or Doble A, or doblados) gangs, working for the Sinaloa cartel. These gangs are said to be fighting with each other, among other things, for control over retail drug trafficking turf in Juarez.

In recent weeks the arrest of members of the Juarez cartel in Valle de Juarez, the South Valley of Juarez, has led to increased violence in the area as members of the Sinaloa cartel have tried to take control.

Justice? Jury Convicts Whistle Blower

In a jury trial held this week in Las Cruces Arturo Uribe was convicted of defaming Helena Chemical Company. The jury determined that Uribe's statements did not cost the company any money (they set damages at a token $1.00), but they awarded the company $75,000 in punitive damages.

My take: Mr. Uribe has been relentless in the past few years in pointing out the very real, not imagined, sins of Helena Chemical Company, which has been cited over and over again for violations in the way it handles chemicals. Just last September the New Mexico Environment Department settled with Helena, fining it $208,000 for eleven violations of its air quality permit for its Mesquite fertilizer plant. And the very next day after the jury found Mr. Uribe guilty of defamation the NM Environment Department issued Helena a notice of violation in connection to its groundwater cleanup plan for the Mesquite facility and rejected Helena's request to operate without an air quality permit.

Like the case of the Massey coal mine in West Virginia, in which the regulatory agency did not have the authority to shut down the mine (before a mine explosion this week killed two dozen miners) in spite of repeated and serious safety violations, in New Mexico environmental law is not robust enough to allow the state to shut down plants that show a consistent pattern of disregard for complying with regulations. This year state legislators considered a "bad actor" bill which would enable the NMED to close such plants. While there were technical problems that prevented the bill from moving forward, it was no secret in Santa Fe that Helena was one of the plants the proponents of the bill had in mind. Given the relative weakness of New Mexico environmental law and the relative political power of companies like Helena, it is often only through the actions of whistle-blowers like Uribe that repeated violators get caught.

All of this appears to have escaped the attention of the jury, which was asked to focus on narrower questions, such as whether a photograph in a power point presentation by Uribe, depicting a baby with six fingers, and another depicting an explosion, constituted "defamation." Uribe claimed he was raising questions through the photographs about the possible consequences of Helena's carelessness with chemicals. Helena claimed he was lying deliberately to hurt its reputation.

In my humble opinion when you live next door to a chemical plant that has already spilled toxic material and repeatedly violated environmental regulations, in a world that doesn't seem too concerned about the legal compliance of big chemical plants in small villages, the first amendment to the constitution guarantees that you can be pretty dramatic in the way you present your case as you try to get officials to take stronger action, without finding yourself in the dock for defamation.

This lawsuit was designed to intimidate Mr. Uribe and others who might otherwise challenge the state to force Helena to behave more responsibly . Whether the jury's verdict will accomplish this intimidation is another question altogether.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Behind the Violence in Valle de Juarez: Sedena Documents Point to Sinaloa Cartel

Diario (see story here) has reviewed documents released by the Mexican Defense Department (Sedena) and they appear to point to the Sinaloa cartel as the responsible party in much of the violence that has afflicted the Valle de Juarez in the past few weeks and months.

For those who don't follow Juarez closely, it might be useful to begin with the conventional wisdom (CW) that much of the violence in Cd. Juarez in the past two years has been caused by conflict between the Juarez cartel (also known as "La Linea" or the Carrillo Fuentes cartel) and the Sinaloa cartel, headed by "Chapo" Guzman. According to this CW the Sinaloa cartel has been fighting to create its own organization in Juarez, which used to be controlled exclusively by the Juarez cartel, created in the late 1980s. I use the term "conventional wisdom" because it is difficult to know exactly what is happening at any given time in the underground waters of drug trafficking organizations. Is isn't the kind of thing one asks about in Cd. Juarez. It is not infrequent that mis-information or dis-information or rumor or conjecture comes to be known as fact, and agencies that may have good information rarely share this with the public.

At any rate, according to Sedena documents, Gabino Salas Valenciano, a.k.a "El Ingeniero" ("The Engineer") acts on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel in the Valle de Juarez. He was arrested in February 2008 by the Mexican Army, in possession of drugs, guns, and ammunition. He was subsequently sentenced to nine years of jail, but was released by the Third Federal Judicial Tribunal in October of 2008, according to Diario, for "inconsistencies in the circumstances" related to his arrest in the army's account. From the time of his release newspaper stories began to associate Salas with violent activity in the Valle de Juarez, such as the burning of various properties in the village of Barreales in October of 2008.

At the time of his arrest Salas was believed to be the head of a cell of assassins working for the Juarez cartel. In November 2009, however, a year after he was released from jail, Sedena identified him as head of a cell of assassins working for the Sinaloa cartel. The Diario story suggests his switch may have been motivated by a desire to avenge his brother's death. His brother, Valente Salas Valenciano, was found murdered in May 2008 on a main thoroughfare in Cd. Juarez (Ave. Vicente Guerrero) with a sign attached to him , apparently written by assassins for La Linea, suggesting Valente was killed because he worked for the Sinaloa cartel.

The Diario story also suggests the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in an effort to take full control over the Valle de Juarez ever since the arrest of Rodolfo Escajeda, a.k.a. "Rikin," in September 2009 by the Mexican army in Casas Grandes. Diario cites DEA sources to the effect that Escajeda was known to control drug trafficking in the Valle de Juarez from 2000-2006. Sedena documents report that shortly after Escajeda's arrest a sign was found hanging in the Valle saying, "Now that your daddy Rikin is gone, you 'hijos de puta,' you'd bettter get lost. This is your last chance or we'll come in and bust you up....Sincerely, Sinaloa Cartel."

Coming Up: What's Behind the Violence in El Valle

I'm trying to sandwich a post on the background to the violence in the Valle de Juarez, in between listening to closing arguments in a trial (I will cover this, too, later) and a Government Department meeting at the university. I should be able to post later today, so stay tuned.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Beat: Deadline Passes in Valle de Juarez: About Half the Valley Has Fled. Church Set on Fire

Easter Sunday was the deadline given by narco-gangs to the inhabitants of Valle de Juarez. The Valle is something like the area South of Albuquerque down to Belen, or the South Mesilla Valley, small farms and an occasional community. Most of the Valle de Juarez lies within the municipality of Praxedis G. Gerrerro, composed of twelve communities. The largest are Praxedis, which had about 3500 inhabitants, El Porvenir, which had about 2800, and Colonia Esperanza, with about 1200. Guadalupe Bravo is slightly smaller. Ft. Hancock is a small community on the U.S. side right on the other side of El Porvenir.

Signs made out of cardboard have been left in prominent places warning villagers they must leave or be subject to execution or to have their home burned down. In recent weeks violence has spread throughout the South Valley all the way down to El Porvenir, with numerous assassinations, house-burnings, threats, and shoot-em-ups by gang members. On Friday night (Good Friday) gang members set fire to a Catholic Church in El Porvenir, as though to warn villagers to leave. Local parishioners put the fire out. On Saturday two young men were murdered as they attended a funeral in San Agustin.

In a story this morning in Diario reporters Francisco Alarcón and Araly Castañón estimate that about half of the inhabitants the Valley have fled to Ft. Hancock, across the river, or to Juárez. Some villagers without legal papers for the U.S. have opted to stay in spite of the threats, fearing deportation or a long stay in a detention center if they ask for asylum in the U.S. Yesterday, according to the story, the streets of El Porvenir were abandoned except for a lonely ice cream vendor.

Praxedis G. Guerrero, also in the Valle, is about 30 miles downstream. In recent months police officers have been killed, multiple homicides have traumatized the local population, and few people venture out at night.

On Thursday federal police spread throughout the Valle to offer protection. In Praxedis they headquartered in a social club behind the municipal building. Caravan-style patrols wander through the streets of communities and roads in-between and a helicopter has been assigned to fly over the valley. Roadblocks have been set up to check vehicle identities.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

NM Senate Expresses Condolences; Governor Mobilizes National Guard

I was interviewed on KFOX TV on Friday about the governor's sending National Guard troops to the boothill area in Southern New Mexico in response to the death of an Arizona rancher killed under as-yet unclarified circumstances near the New Mexico and Mexico borders last week.

While I emphasized that the governor has every right to mobilize the national guard to protect New Mexico citizens in the border region, especially under current circumstances, I also contrasted his approach with that of the New Mexico Senate, which during the legislative session passed a memorial resolution expressing "our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims of this recent tragedy (referring to the massacre of the high school football players apparently in a case of mistaken identity), to the families of other victims of violence in Cd. Juarez, and to express our most heartfelt hope for a speedy end to this lengthening parenthesis of sorrow in our sister city...We feel solidarity with the people of Cd. Juarez and the thoughts and prayers of all New Mexicans are with you." This part of my remarks was not included in the edition that aired Friday night.

The memorial by the New Mexico State Senate, introduced by Sen. Mary Kay Papen and supported by President Pro Tem Timothy Jennings, did not go unnoticed, since both the Diaro de Juarez and the Periodico Norte published the memorial in its entirety, and there were several comments contrasting the sympathy of New Mexicans with the stern advice of the Mayor of El Paso to stay away from Juarez.

The people of Juarez are our neighbors. While it is perfectly appropriate for our authorities to take steps to try to prevent violence from spilling over into New Mexico, it is also appropriate for our authorities to express official sympathy with the families of the victims of the violence, on behalf of the New Mexican citizens they represent. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot we can do on this side of the border to help stop the wave of violence. But in times of grief just being a good neighbor and expressing sympathy for those in pain is the right thing to do.

The Beat: Good Friday Three New Crosses; Saturday Eleven. And a Correction

Holy week had a death toll in Juarez of 44, not counting Easter Sunday. I had estimated the homicides through March to be 608 through March. Official statistics place the figure at 631, with 240 killed in March, not 216.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Major Story: Federal Police Take Over Juarez

The Secretary of Government (Gobernacion) issued a communique yesterday, announcing that as of today the Federal Police will be the agency in charge of public security in Cd. Juarez. This marks a major departure from the norm, inasmuch as public security at the local level throughout Mexico has been the responsibility of municipal police, who exercise only preventive, not investigative, powers. The army will remain in Cd. Juarez, "assisting civilian recruiting, training, and vetting the municipal police force..." Further, the presence of the army in Juarez will not be at the expense of the municipality, as it has been for the past two years, but at the expense of the federal government.

In practical terms this means there will be 4500 federal police throughout Juarez, divided into nine sections and 155 quadrants. Two thousand eight hundred municipal police and 200 state police will act under the coordination of the federal police. The shift in authority between the armed forces and federal police will be gradual. "Joint Operation Chihuahua" thus changed a few weeks ago into "Coordinated Operation Chihuahua," and now this gives way to "We Are All Juarez: Let's Take Back Our City."

The Emergency and Rapid Response Center (CERI) will gradually be placed under the command of federal police.

As I understand it, this is the first time in Mexican history that federal police have been deployed to exercise the functions of municipal police, not quite replacing them, but clearly designated as the responsible agent for municipal public security. The idea was floated by President Calderon earlier in the year. It seems likely constitutional issues may arise from this change, inasmuch as the Mexican Constitution clearly places municipal police forces in charge of local public security, and limits their powers to that of a "preventive" force, which means it serves as a deterrent to crime, without investigative powers.