Monday, May 31, 2010

An Estimated 70% of Restaurants in Juarez Pay Extortion. 200 Restaurants Closed Last Year

Norte is back online again, after a several-week absence. In today's paper Federico Ziga Martínez, President of the Mexican Restaurant Association (CANIRAC) is quoted as saying that in 2009 over 200 restaurants in Juárez closed down rather than pay extortion fees.

Extortion fees have gone up, from about $150-$200 (U.S.) per month last year to around $400-$1000 (U.S) this year. In some cases, however, given the lack of customers going out to restaurants in Juárez, extortion fees have had to be lowered.

One anonymous restaurant owner who closed his business last year told the Norte reporter the extortionists who approached him identified themselves as members of "Los Zetas," formerly an armed branch of the Gulf Cartel. There have been rumors for the past three years that the Zetas were in Juárez and, more recently, that they have made an alliance with the Juárez cartel.

For Norte article click here.

Inflation Outpaces Salaries in Chihuahua: Economy Has Lost Jobs

Although the average salary in the state of Chihuahua is 8.53 percent higher than it was two years ago, inflation has gone up even higher--11.31 percent--so purchasing power is down 2.8 percent. The average salary two years ago was 199.61 pesos; it has gone up to 216.65 pesos today (March 2010) which at the exchange rate is about $16.96 per day in U.S. dollars, but would have to be $17.44 to have the same purchasing power as two years ago.

Overall, jobs in the formal sector in the state of Chihuahua have declined by 11 percent since October of 2007 to a total of 629,195 (April), down from about 706,000 at that time.

Note: In New Mexico, although we have a population that is smaller than Chihuahua (a little over 2 million here, 3.3 million in Chihuahua) our formal work force here in spite of an 8.7 percent unemployment rate is about 959,000. In Chihuahua the informal labor sector is much larger than in New Mexico. The informal sector is neither taxed nor monitored by government and would include most servants, many informal working arrangements for services such as gardening and handiwork. It also includes crime, which has increased dramatically.

For story in Diario click here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Beat: Man Killed in Church Patio This Evening

A 33-year old man, Óscar Soriano Varajas, was shot to death at about 5:30 this evening in the patio of a church in Parajes del Sol after he tried eluding his killers at a market. He jumped over a wall but was stopped by bullets in the church patio. Another man was killed last night at about 8:30 when, according to police reports, he tried to assault an undercover police officer assigned to the store with a knife. The police officer killed him with his pistol.

Whacking the Old Folks | The Nation

Interesting article which appears to have a lot of inside information about President Obama's plans to cut social security benefits. As the article points out, social security is solvent for the next third of a century, so efforts to cut payments have political, not economic, motivations.

Whacking the Old Folks | The Nation

The Beat: May is the Cruellest Month So Far this Year: 240 Executed So Far

With two days to go in May, the four deaths yesterday (Saturday) bring the total up to 242 on the month, and 1075 up to yesterday on the year.

One of the murders yesterday appears to be part of an onging conflict between two street gangs in Col. Plutarco Elias Calles, known as "Bajo 21" and "Los Sureños." At about 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon a young man, 18, known by his alias "El Zombi," was walking through the intersection of Zacatenco and Zihuatanejo when he was attacked by a man who shot his once in the head and twice in the chest. See story in Diario here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Beat: Military Stand By While Five Men Are Executed: Fifteen Executions in Juarez on Friday

The Rio Bravo shopping center is located just 200 yards south of the Zaragoza international bridge. At noon on Friday a white 1998 Ford Expedition with two men in it parked about 10 feet away from a white burrito van called "La Paloma," right next to the shopping center(see picture). The Expedition was apparently being followed by an assassination squad of several persons. When the men in the Expedition saw the assassins, who were carrying assault rifles, they tried getting out of the cabin. One man was hit by gunfire in the cabin, where he died. The other got out of the cabin and ran to the burrito van, but was shot in the back as he entered. Three other men were killed in the fusillade as well. One was inside the van, another was found dead right in front of the van, and another was found dead in the middle of the street.

A group of soldiers guarding the international bridge took note as they heard the barrage of gunfire and could see what had happened, but they took no action. The assassins walked to a pickup and a sedan waiting for them a few meters away and left the scene. Witnesses criticized the inaction of the soldiers.

Nineteen-year old Daniel Nevarez, who was eating in the burrito van, Jaime Hernandez, 58, the owner of the van, and Isauro Ochoa, 35, who was the coordinator of the Union of Ambulatory Salespersons on Zaragoza Bridge, were the innocent victims killed in the assault. The identities of the two men who were the objective of the attack has not yet been released.

Note: The people who sell candy, velvet paintings, statues of the Virgen de Guadalupe, rosaries, chewing gum, ice cream, scapularies, and the like on the international bridges heading to the U.S. are required to register with the municipal government of Juárez, and pay a monthly fee for the right to be ambulatory sales persons. They are assigned locations at markets, popular street locations, tourist spots, and the international bridges, where they are permitted to sell things. I spent a day once in Juárez negotiating with two other persons on behalf of the municipality against a group of ambulatory sales persons who were protesting the assignments they had been given temporarily in unprofitable locations because they had been ousted from more profitable locations on Juárez Avenue (which used to be full of US tourists) when the street was being repaved and fixed up. I felt a little guilty assuming this role, which fell onto me quite unexpectedly and my selection was completely inappropriate, but it was a fascinating experience and I learned a good deal about the political economy of ambulatory sales persons in Juárez.

Fifteen persons were executed Friday in Juárez. La Polaka (click here) reported 15 killed including a man confined to a wheel chair, owner of the “Pollos Richy” chicken restaurant at Puerto de Palos and Puerto Niza in Col. Tierra Nueva.
Diario reported fourteen dead (click here)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Candidates Discuss Issues in Mesquite

Arizona: Sheriff Todd Garrison said he would rather respond to burglaries and other emergencies in the county than spend resources enforcing federal immigration laws, which, he said, is a federal responsibility. On the other hand, Democratic candidate for Sheriff Larry Roybal expressed support for the new Arizona immigration law, saying he didn't mind if he was stopped and asked for papers because of his appearance, and that the law was "one more tool" for law enforcement to use. Democratic candidate Juan R. Stewart said the law is lengthy, with many provisions, including a prohibition of racial profiling. He thinks it is a good law. Ironically, of the three candidates, it was only the Republican candidate, an Anglo, who expressed any serious reservations about the Arizona law which is opposed by 70% of the Hispanic population, according to a recent poll taken by WSJ/NBC. The South Valley is 85% Hispanic.

Spaceport: County Commission Candidate Billy Garrett, commenting on the Spaceport tax, said he wants to see numbers instead of words. Many promises were made to convince voters to tax themselves for this project but, he said, he has yet to see any accounting of just what benefits, if any, the county is reaping. Republican candidate (for the same seat, District 1) Thomas Austin said he had voted against the Spaceport tax and now sees that all the contracts are going to Albuquerque or out of state. Incumbent commissioner Karen Perez said she was resisting a temptation to tell her colleagues "I told you so," since she had been against the tax from the beginning and that if voters wanted to repeal the tax in large enough numbers they could do so. Candidates are beginning to reflect public opinion against the tax, which passed very narrowly three years ago after a major campaign for it by Governor Richardson. The other candidates for County Commission, Gilbert Chavez and John Zimmerman, were similarly skeptical, although they support the Spaceport project.

Karen Perez indicated the county budget is down 8% from two years ago and, with funded and unfunded mandates, there is little room to budge. Mr. Austin said he would fight to cut down on spending and would make sure spending did not exceed revenues. John Zimmerman said his top priority as a commissioner would be to get a master plan for action in place, since the current one is well out of date.

The only controversial moment in the evening occurred when Democratic candidate for Sheriff JR Stewart indicated he could raise morale among deputies which, he said, "was badly needed," a tacit criticism of the leadership of Sheriff Garrison. Asked to respond, Garrison simply said morale was fine, and the matter was dropped.

At one point Commissioner Karen Perez appeared to be on the defensive when she said, "I guess I'm the bad guy" because she voted against a resolution that, in part, criticized the new Arizona immigration law. But no one challenged her on the point in questioning and, if fact, at various points in the forum fellow candidates turned to her to ask for her opinion and for clarifications of factual material, deferring to her expertise. For a poor community in serious need of a slice of the county pie, five days from a primary election, the audience seemed highly deferential to the candidates. The only articulated demand appeared to be for more "recognition" by the county of the good work the firefighters do. The candidates seemed to think this was a reasonable request.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Was Wrong About Republican Support for Civil Rights in the 1960s

In a post (The NM Republican Party: A Moment of Truth) on Saturday May 22, I wrote that the Republican Party had opposed Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. It turns out that Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964--the greatest civil rights action by Congress since the Civil War--by greater margins than the Democrats, giving it 80 and 82 percent support in the House and Senate, respectively. Similarly, Republicans supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 overwhelmingly. It is also true that these landmark civil rights actions were initiated by Democrats, but could not have passed without Republican support.

In the 1970s many Southern Democrats, who opposed the civil rights acts of the 1960s, migrated to the Republican Party in a movement that produced a fairly solid Republican South, which had previously been Democratic. Ever since, the overwhelming majority of blacks in the South are Democrats, and the strong majority of whites are Republicans. The white majority has not been overly concerned with addressing black issues.

There was a backlash in the 1980s and 1990s--not just in the South--against what some felt was a tendency to use the potential threat of an accusation of racism as a weapon by some minority members, reflected primarily within Republican Party circles. Today many of my students are so exhausted with the vapid, insincere (on all sides) rhetoric of race they simply refuse to discuss it, even though race and ethnicity are very much a part of the forces that shape our lives (the see two posts immediately below). It would be nice for leaders of both parties to find a more consensual language to deal with race so that public discussion of it might actually lead somewhere. That I teach politics and still could make a whopper mistake about Republican support for civil rights in the 1960s, is, I think, at least in part a symptom of widespread, and sometimes mistaken, perceptions (not just among Democrats), derived from an inane discourse that nevertheless can skew your thinking about what the facts might be.

I stand by my argument about ethnic politics in New Mexico: Republicans, some notable exceptions notwithstanding, have not been attractive as candidates to the vast majority of Hispanics, who migrated to the Democratic Party in the late 1930s and 1940s. This has made the Democratic Party the default winner, since in most races Hispanics have enough votes to make the difference between winning and losing in a statewide race. If there is a single point I wanted to make in the posting, it was that I don't think this ethnic lop-sidedness is healthy for the state, and this year Republicans have a choice to address this disparity.

Survey USA Poll Shows Martinez With 10 Point Lead on Weh; Beats Denish

A Survey USA poll of 494 likely Republican voters in New Mexico shows Susana Martinez with a 10-point lead over Allen Weh, 43-33. This tends to lend credence to the eleven-point lead indicated by a poll paid for by blogger Joe Monahan, with almost identical numbers, 41-30. Among Republicans who have already voted, Martinez led Weh in the Survey USA poll by 50-33.

The same survey showed Martinez, alone among Republican candidates, beating Democratic about-to-be-nominated candidate Diane Denish by six points, 49-43. In this portion of the poll 1405 likely voters were interviewed, so the reliability, for this moment in time, should be fairly high. Significantly, among Hispanics, Martinez showed strong support, at 40% very early in the game. Among Anglos Martinez was way ahead, with a margin of 54-38. Only 15% of Republicans are Hispanic, so this very early poll shows a strong cross-over appeal among Hispanic Democrats for Martinez, who is Hispanic and speaks fluent Spanish. Among Democrats, more than half are Hispanic.

Typically, Democrats win statewide elections with extremely high margins among Hispanics, and a strong minority of Anglos. This poll indicates that Martinez's candidacy might change this pattern, appealing to enough Hispanics, who tend to be far more conservative than Anglo Democrats, to win the race.

Click here to see the Survey USA poll.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Martinez Way Ahead of Weh in Poll: Does This O-Pun the Way to a Susana Victory? Does the 'uey Still Have a Chance? Or is it No Weh, Jose?

Today Joe Monahan, the popular blogger from Albuquerque, published the results of a poll (click here) he apparently paid Republican Bruce Donisthorpe to conduct. It shows Susana Martinez opening up an eleven point lead over Allen Weh, 41-30.

From what I could tell this was a reliable poll. The 771 calls were geographically distributed by county in proportion to the population and were representative of the Hispanic-Anglo ratio among likely Republican voters. Even discounting a bit for the fact the calls were robo-calls (since lots of people hang up on these, you can't be sure if this skews the results one way or another), it should be well within a margin of error of 4, which would suggest that, at worst, Susana is 3 points ahead, at best, maybe 18-19 points ahead.

Other information from the poll suggests the double-digit lead is legit. She is leading Weh among Anglos by eight points, and among Hispanics by a whopping 62-20. In Dona Ana County Martinez is leading Weh by 61-16. She is leading Weh statewide among all age groups and in all three congressional districts.

One poll hardly tells the whole story. There are still five days left before Tuesday. Weh has heavily outspent Martinez, and the more popular candidate can still lose if their troops don't get out to vote. But, barring any surprising turns in the campaign, it's beginning to look like Martinez will win the Republican nomination for governor.

Weh has had a nasty two weeks. First, he over-reacted to Martinez's TV ad accusing him of being soft on amnesty for immigrants, accusing Martinez of not paying taxes. Then she interrupted him during a TV interview, showing her tax returns and asking for his (see above). Taken by surprise, Weh said only that he was in the private sector and would produce his tax returns at the appropriate time. Then the Republican Party Chair accused Weh of crossing over the line with this "patently dishonest" allegation. It looked like a three-round boxing match that ended with Weh on the canvas.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mitote in Mesquite: Thursday 6 PM. At Firehouse. Only Tough Questions Expected

Reminder: Candidates for Sheriff of both parties and candidates for county commission seats in Districts 1 and 3 will be in attendance to answer questions at the Mesquite Firehouse on Thursday at 6 p.m. Yours truly will moderate. Questions will be allowed from the audience.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Governor's Race in Chihuahua: PRI Candidate Ahead

Our neighboring state of Chihuahua is also having gubernatorial elections this year, in July, for the six-year term. According to a Diario poll taken last week César Duarte Jáquez, of the PRI party, is ahead of his PAN opponent by a margin of 40-31. The PRD candidate, Luis Adolfo Orozco, received about 2% support from those interviewed.

The PRI entered into an alliance earlier in the year with three left-of-center marginal parties, the Green Party of Mexico (PVEM), the Worker's Party (PT) and the National alliance Party (Panal). The Panal controls the major teacher's union in Mexico, the SNTE, and the PT, in Juarez, controls the taxi driver's association and other labor unions. In comparison to the U.S., the PAN is closer in ideology to the Republican Party of the U.S., while the PRI is closer to the Democratic Party--both are centrist, although the PRI has stronger roots in labor.

Public Security: As one might imagine, public security is something that is fairly high on the list of priorities for citizens in choosing a candidate. One reason Duarte is ahead of Borruel is that voters believe he would be better on public security, by a margin of 34-27. If I have a chance later this month I will flesh this out in more detail, because this relationship is complicated. But Duarte also leads Borruel in ability to manage the economy (remember, there is a recession in Mexico which has a Panista as president) by a margin of 39-31. And he is viewed as more honest--35-28.

The poll was taken by Confirme, for Diario (click here for story) and consisted of interviews of 1000 persons throughout the state, so it should be fairly reliable.

If you would like me to write more about the elections in Chihuahua and Juarez, let me know.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Beat: One Thousand So Far This Year: A Review of the Record Pace

On Friday homicides so far this year in Juarez broke 1000, compared with 616 at the same time last year, which broke the previous record. In 1995, when official monthly recording of homicides began there were 295 homicides in Juarez. This remained a record until 2007, when city officials recorded 320 homicides. In 2008 Juarez recorded 1623 homicides, and in 2009, 2754. So far this year there have been 227 homicides in January, 163 in February, 240 in March, 203 in April, and about 190 so far in May, as of yesterday. For story in Diario by Luz del Carmen Sosa, click here.

Newspapers Endorse Martinez for Governor: What Does This Mean?

The Albuquerque Journal, the Las Cruces Sun News, and the Santa Fe New Mexican--the most important newspapers in the state--endorsed Susana Martinez for Governor today. The Journal emphasized she is the only candidate who has been the top executive in a "high-profile, public agency that is held accountable by voters." Echoing the same theme, the Sun News said, "the skills needed to be a strong political leaders are often different than those needed in private business," something of a rebuke to the business-only credentials of Martinez's closest competitor, Allen Weh. The Santa Fe New Mexican hinted in their endorsement of Martinez they weren't sure Weh was electable: "Do (Republicans) want to make an ideological statement, or do they want the candidate who'll give Denish the toughest race...?"

What do these endorsements mean? Normally, not much. In this case, however, the momentum has been moving in Martinez's direction recently, in spite of Weh's outspending her, and these endorsements would seem to be welcome icing on the cake. Since last week's poll indicated the race between Weh and Martinez was too close to call, undecided voters may take the cue from these endorsements and go with Martinez. Just a one or two percent shift might make the difference between winning and losing. The endorsement from all three papers may also trigger a bandwagon effect, energizing her workers to get out their voters, while having the opposite effect on the Weh campaign.

Even as they endorsed Martinez, however, all three newspapers criticized her for going negative on Weh, in a TV ad accusing him of favoring amnesty for undocumented workers. This is hardly a credible attack, and it may even have been designed to get under Weh's skin. From what I've seen it doesn't take much to make him go ballistic. We'll see how this plays out the last week of the campaign.

Most observers I've spoken to, in both parties, believe the ads will make more difficult for Martinez, should she win, to get the enthusiastic support of Weh's supporters in the Fall. The proof, however, is in the pudding, and I wouldn't want to second guess the Martinez campaign: the sparring between Martinez and Weh in the past few days has certainly drawn attention to the race, improved Martinez's momentum, and may well have neutralized the effect of the extra money Weh has been able to spend.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The NM Republican Party: A Moment of Truth

This piece will also appear in NMPolitics by Heath Haussamen.

The political scene in New Mexico this year should be tailor-made for a Republican comeback. After eight years of Richardson mischief people are begging for change. Corruption appears to be rooting itself into state government; no peep about it within ruling circles. The state has been on a huge spending binge; but little to show for it: Mr. "Education Governor" created a huge, expensive education bureaucracy, gobbling up half the state budget, but low achievement scores of students continue to show New Mexico in 48th or 49th place out of 50. Universities, which eat up 15% of the state budget have been highly politicized, especially at UNM where a bloated, incompetent administration has lost the respect of faculty and students. State agencies have become fiefdoms with arrogant bureaucrats drawing fat salaries, unaccountable to the public. Fiscal crisis? After ignoring it for a year the legislature belatedly makes cuts--but hey, don't touch the $90 million giveaway to the governor's Hollywood buddies, this one is "near and dear" to the governor's heart.

If ever a political party was given a shot at power by discredited incumbents, it would be the Republican Party of New Mexico in 2010. Nevertheless, it is far from clear Republicans will convince a skeptical public to allow it to govern the state, no matter how eager it is for change.

After eight years of unprecedented deficit spending under a Republican President, capped off by a trillion dollar welfare check from George Bush to the very biggest banks in the U.S.--remember the bonuses?--and a third of a trillion dollar buyout of "troubled assets" to save the skins of slick, over-exposed investment bankers; after a near-catastrophic experiment in nation building abroad; after massive failures in management of the nation's affairs (Katrina, foreign policy just about everywhere, and a colossal failure to regulate the financial sector which precipitated the biggest recession since the Great Depression) the stereotypical Republican Small Businessman who used to preach fiscal responsibility, restraint in foreign policy, marketplace risk of failure for all businesses, and the efficient management of taxpayer money, must be wondering just how sincere his or her legislators in Washington are as they screech about Obama's stimulus spending after years of breaking the bank themselves on behalf of their corporate lobbyists. Since President Obama, health care aside, is remarkably loyal to the major policy directions of President Bush, the orchestrated campaigns against him from official Republican Washington seem oddly off-base, and, indeed, mistrust of both sides has set off an angry conservative revolt: does anyone really believe a McCain or Romney, health care and rhetoric aside, would be doing anything different?

Here in New Mexico, where Republicans for the most part fit the classic small business-sound management-fiscal conservative- limited government-moderate social policy mold, the last few years must have been tolerable only because, yes, the tax cuts were real, and until recently New Mexicans were making money, often through government contracts. But there is a serious breach between the behavior of Republicans in Washington and the values of most Republicans in New Mexico, a breach that must leave many Republicans--don't even mention Democrats--in New Mexico wondering whether the national party can be trusted to protect their relatively modest interests.

In part because of this breach, the state Republican Party has had a disastrous run of luck. When Gary Johnson left office in 2002 the party boasted one U.S. Senator, two Representatives, and a popular Land Commissioner. Today there are no R's from New Mexico in Washington, and Lyons is termed out. Many Republicans played ostrich when the Richardson administration began to drown itself in pay-to-play corruption. Instead of acting out the role of opposition party, keeping Richardson's excesses in the public eye, and offering alternative proposals, many Republican legislators and lobbyists simply cut side deals with the governor, for marginal benefits. As a result the public, already confused by the breach between the national and local parties, has no clear idea what the New Mexico Republican Party or prominent Republicans think about the state of affairs in New Mexico. One symptom: the party has had difficulty recruiting qualified candidates to run against incumbents.

As if these problems were not enough, a long-term weakness has plagued the party since the 1940's. Hispanics, who now comprise 46% of the state, show a strong preference for the Democratic Party. Only about 15% of Republicans are Hispanic; over half the Democrats are Hispanic. Democrats can usually count on the vast majority of Hispanics, and a healthy minority of Anglos, for a win. Hispanics are aware the GOP opposed civil rights legislation in the 1960's, opposed affirmative action in the 1970's and 1980's without offering alternative policies, and more recently have proposed draconian legislation against unauthorized workers while winking sympathetically at the equally illegal employers who hired them: this, from the party of Lincoln? As long as the equation between the parties is ethnically lop-sided, the Republican Party will remain marginal, unable to govern except when things go wrong among Democrats. This is not healthy. Government works best when there is serious competition. But playing violins about the Blessings of Liberty that will shower us all with just one more tax cut to the wealthy is not likely to appeal to a population that in New Mexico earned $15,513 per capita from 2005-2007, compared to a white, non-Hispanic per capita income in New Mexico of $30,236, and whose children are not graduating from schools with the skills they need for college.

So while many winds are blowing this year in a Republican direction, a GOP victory in the New Mexico gubernatorial election is not a given.

Win or lose, with Senator Domenici gone and Gary Johnson a distant memory, the 2010 gubernatorial nominee will become the new face of the New Mexico Republican Party. It is a moment of truth .

Will the nominee speak to New Mexicans from New Mexico? Or will operatives come in fresh from other states, look at some poll results, and patch together a generic campaign filled with New Mexico-looking photo ops but sounding like something out of Iowa ? Will the nominee really address the current fiscal crisis and level with us about priorities? Or instead will we get another sermon about how bad Washington is? Can the nominee convince us s/he is ready to govern? With integrity and character? Or will the candidate run against Bill Richardson, hoping to be elected as punishment for the past? Lastly, will the nominee be able to look at Hispanic and Native American voters in the eye and make a case why his/her election would be in their best interests? Or will s/he continue to ignore painful ethnic realities, offering only campaign rhetoric carefully calculated not to offend? For two years I've been saying New Mexicans this time are paying attention. We're about to find out if that is so among Republicans.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Beat Goes On: Seven Executed Yesterday

I haven't covered Juarez violence in a few days, but it hasn't stopped. Yesterday seven more persons were executed, including a woman who was shot four times by 40 caliber bullets while she was walking on Tepehuanes and Mayos in Col. Azteca. Persons in the neighborhood identified her as someone known to be a retail drug pusher. Click here for story in Diario.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mesquite Fire House Candidate Forum

Yours truly will be moderating a candidate forum for sheriff and county commission candidates of both parties on May 27 at 6 p.m. at the Mesquite Fire Station at No. 1 Fire House Rd. The event is being sponsored by the Mesquite Community Action Committee.

Traditionally the sheriff's race gets more votes than any other, including President, in Dona Ana County. One of the largest counties in the state, the only law and order in large parts of the county are the sheriff's deputies, and voters have always taken this position very seriously. Many people remember that the legendary Pat Garrett was sheriff of Dona Ana County, and law enforcement issues, while changed from the days of Billie the Kid, are still with us. This year the spillover of violence into the South Mesilla Valley may well become part of the debate in that race, as well as the spillover from the Arizona movement to demonize undocumented migrants and censor Mexican American studies.

The county commission is important since it is through these (there are two that go into the South Mesilla Valley and one that is exclusively in the South Mesilla Valley) that a $150 million piece of pie is divided throughout the county. Since the Southern part of the county is the fastest growing part of the county, voters should be paying close attention, even though they often don't.

Blood Wedding Kidnapping Victims: Three from La Mesa, NM

Three of the kidnapped victims from the wedding last week, found "encajuelados" in the back of a pickup truck, were from La Mesa, New Mexico. The groom was Rafael Morales Valencia, 29. Also executed was his brother Jaime, 25, and Guadalupe Morales Arriola, 51, their uncle.

La Mesa is best known for Severo's bar and Chope's, restaurants renowned for their excellent cuisine and unpretentious decor. The late Chope Benavides, who proudly pointed out he looked like the Indian on the face of the nickel coin, was one of the movers and shakers among precinct chairs in the Mesilla Valley Democratic Party when I was county chairman thirty years ago. Statewide candidates made it a point to stop at his bar and ask for his help.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Four Found Executed: Probably the Groom and Others in the Wedding Party

From Diario this morning: Neighbors reported a fowl smell emanating from a Toyota Tundra pickup and alerted police, who found the bodies of four men dressed in formal clothes similar to those worn by the wedding party that was intercepted last week by eight gunmen who killed one man on the spot and kidnapped four (early reports indicated only three were kidnapped) men including the groom.

The men were found with their hands tied behind their backs, and there were signs of severe beatings. La Polaka reports their heads were taped with grey duct tape, and that all of the men kidnapped were from Namiquipa, a municipality in North-Central Chihuahua.

Nine persons were executed yesterday in Cd. Juarez and Valle de Juarez. Two men were killed in the village of Cedillos, within the municipality of Prexedis, just on the other side of the river from Ft. Hancock.

Chapo Had Access to Intel

Diario this morning (click for report) without citing sources, reports that Chapo Guzman has had access to highly confidential intelligence information, including transfers of military personnel, the names, code names, and cell phones of various federal police inspectors and sub-inspectors.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Are the Feds Lite on Chapo? The Debate Goes On

For months now rumors have spread throughout Mexico that the federal government tends to favor the Sinaloa Cartel, focusing law enforcement efforts on other cartels. Likewise, in Juárez rumor has it the state government of Chihuahua treads lightly on the Juárez cartel while going after the Sinaloa cartel aggressively. Conventional wisdom has it that the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Chapo Guzman, for the past two years has been trying to muscle its way into the Juárez drug trafficking corridor, and local retail drug market, and the ensuing conflict between La Linea and Chapo (common names given to the two cartels) is the cause of much of the homicide activity in Juárez, which has become the number one homicide city in the world. At a function in Juárez this week none other than Jorge Castañeda, former Harvard professor, former Foreign Minister of Mexico (under Fox), and well-known writer, weighed in of the debate. When asked about it he said he did not think the federal government was playing favorites.

Diario has done a study of arrests made in Juárez so far this year to find if there was evidence one way or another of the rumors, and published their findings (click here for story).

According to their research, the Federal Police have made 31 arrests in 11 operations against La Linea, one of the armed commando groups working for the Juárez cartel. On the other hand only four arrests have been made against Artistas Asesinos (or Doble A, or los Doblados) a gang of assassins working for Chapo. (Remember the confusion about the name last February--see my entry on February 5--that led to the deaths of 15 high school students in the "Doble A" football league?)

Moreover, according to press releases from the federal police 500 "doses" of cocaine and 24 "packages" of marijuana, along with 7 AK-47s, 13 other guns, 12 vehicles, and various radios, cell phones and ammunition--all from La Linea. Only one vehicle, 3 AK-47s and four other guns have been confiscated, all during the one action against four members of the Doblados. In addition, arrests have been made by the federal police of the Azteca gang, which also works for the
Juárez cartel.

Of course these number don't really prove very much: They could simply indicate that the Chapo organization is smaller than La Linea and hence less likely to get caught, or else that it is more cautious or better at evading detection. Interestingly enough, Diario did not do a parallel study of arrests made by state police to see if the evidence pointed in the opposite direction, as sometimes is asserted in the popular rumor-mill.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Beat: Blood Wedding

Right after the wedding ceremony at a Catholic church in Juarez, gunmen arrived outside the church, killed one man and kidnapped three others, including the groom, a man from New Mexico. In a scene worthy of a Lorca play the crowd watched in horror as all of this took place, and when it was over, pandemonium. Witnesses stood in shocked disbelief. The mother of the groom was screaming that she wanted her son back. Once more a joyous occasion was interrupted by unspeakable, sudden death. Although I don't know of any statistics being recorded, I have heard several anecdotes around town in recent months about New Mexicans being touched by the violence, a brother here, a nephew there, and even a husband or two.

Eleven persons were executed in Juarez on Thursday. The church scene was only one of many.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso

My wife got invited to the Cinco de Mayo reception at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso last night. I tagged along, running into various acquaintances I haven't seen recently, like Enrique Cortazar, cultural affairs officer at the Consulate (and a published poet); Alfredo Corchado, of the Dallas Morning News, Hector Gonzalez, of the El Paso Water Utilities; and Francisco Silva Moreno, of the Autonomous University of Cd. Juarez. Mayor John Cook was there, but there were a number of politicians I expected to see, but didn't. To my knowledge, my wife and I were the only New Mexicans present.

Ambassador Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, the Consul General, hosted the event, which included charros and music and a buffet of food and drink. The occasion was relatively subdued; lots of private discussion about the Arizona bill, some about the situation in Juarez. Formal ceremonies were brief, referring mainly to the ousting of the French a century and a half ago, not the contemporary scene. The occasion just didn't have the festive aura you associate with Cinco de Mayo, a sad commentary on the complicated state of relations between the U.S. and Mexico and, in particular, between Juarez and El Paso. In spite of everything, old friendships persist, and the tensions reflected in the subdued formal atmosphere have little to do with relationships between the people of El Paso and Juarez.

After the reception we had dinner at Aroma's, a newly opened restaurant on Mesa Street. It has become a hot spot in the El Paso restaurant scene. The old Aroma's was burned down two years ago in Juarez, apparently the victim of an extortion threat and, like many restaurants that were not making in in Juarez, this one has made the move to El Paso. The decor is elegant, the service was impeccable, and the steak was excellent.

Footnote: the old Aroma's, in Juarez, is said to be the restaurant, about three years ago, where Chapo Guzman himself came to eat. He is said to have entered one evening with bodyguards who took everyone's cell phone. He offered the diners a free meal at his expense, and ordered a medium-rare prime rib steak. Urban legend? I heard the story in an earlier version with Chapo going to a restaurant in Nuevo Laredo when that town was in a bloody fight over drug trafficking turf a few years ago. Similar stories have surfaced in other border towns. Could it be Chapo really does this once in a while? Or does he really prefer sea food?

Behind Immigrant-Bashing in Arizona: Good Old Fashioned Voter Intimidation?

Click here for a scary, credible, article raising the possibility immigration concerns could serve as a pretext to intimidate and suppress Hispanic voters in Arizona. Under SB 1070 the law asking local police to force persons with "reasonable suspicion" to produce immigrant documentation, could certainly have been used in thousands of precincts to suppress the Hispanic vote, legally. The recent legal clarification makes it less likely. The article is quite specific about repeated voter suppression efforts in Arizona, beginning with a Republican operative by the name of Rehnquist (a tall man) who was always accused of shoving black and Hispanic voters out of line as a young Republican youth in the 1960s; he always denied it, but the accusation stuck. He later became a highly conservative member of the U.S. Supreme court. I would think ALL Hispanics might want to vote next November in Arizona: Maldef, anyone?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coming Up: A Look at the Republican Gubernatorial Race

Does Lawrence Rael REALLY Want These Endorsements?

Someone suggested I look at Joe Monahan's blog, from Albuquerque, (click here) for a story on Richardson cabinet officers endorsing Lawrence Rael for Lt. Governor. Sure enough, if Monahan got it right, Ron Curry, John Garcia, Jon Goldstein, Rick Homans, Katherine Miller, Ken Ortiz, and Joe Williams--all co-hosted a fundraiser for Lt. Governor candidate Lawrence Rael. This is clearly intended to be some sort of last-minute movida, but what might it be?

Is this a ploy by a few warmed-over Richardson loyalists to jump on the bandwagon of who they think might be the likely winner, hoping for some sort of back door entree to the Denishistas? Or is it an effort to clean up their Richardsonista image, which grows more negative every day, by associating with someone with an upstanding reputation? Or could it be Rael's way of signaling to other soon-to-be-former Richardsonistas that he will not shun them should he get the nod? Or is it a Richardsonista message aimed at Denish, signaling that "realists" in the Richardson camp believe Rael is the best candidate, rather than Brian Colon who, like them, has been tarnished by his close association with the governor? Or all of the above? Whatever it is, it does remind us that Rael did, after all, work for Richardson on the Rail Runner, and makes us wonder what his motives might be in associating himself so closely with the Richardson camp. Is this really going to help push Rael over the top, and if so, is it worth it?

State Intel Police Officer Murdered Yesterday in Juarez: Why this Murder Will Lead to Joint State-Federal Patrols

Yesterday there was a lull in the recent wave of executions. Only one man, Erasto Cano Carrasco, 37, married, with three children, was killed, an agent with the intelligence unit of the state police (Cipol). He was gunned down on his day off as he was driving his Nissan Sentra in Col. Infonavit Casas Grandes shortly after 8 a.m. Nineteen spent 9 mm. cartridges were found nearby. Cipol agents are routinely escorted to and from their residences, but not on their days off. Police immediately announced that federal agents will now accompany Cipol patrol units in groups of eight, most of them federal police agents. Reasons for this change require a little background. Readers of Spanish can see the original Diario story, written by Luz del Carmen Sosa, by clicking here.

Drug trafficking organizations often communicate to the public or to targeted entities by painting messages on walls, or hanging banners from bridges, or leaving messages on cardboard signs. Sometimes these are signed or otherwise identified, as coming from a specific group. In recent weeks in Juarez some signs have threatened the lives of Cipol agents, ostensibly for "protecting La Linea," that is, the Juárez cartel. On March 17 narco-messages appeared in various places in Juárez demanding that state police secretary Gustavo Zabre Ochoa fire 12 Cipol agents assigned in Chihuahua, Parral, Casas Grandes, and Cd. Juárez, for "protecting" members of La Linea. Presumably the sign was authorized or written by members of the Sinaloa cartel who, according to conventional wisdom, are in a bloody feud with the Juárez cartel for control of the drug trafficking infrastructure in the area. This caused state police to reassign the officers mentioned, but also to launch an internal investigation about each one.

On the other hand, some narco-messages have identified federal government agents as favoring or protecting the Sinaloa cartel (often simply referred to as "Chapo Guzman," the almost mythical reputed leader of the cartel). Shortly after a highly publicized and brazen ambush on April 23 of a patrol vehicle (unit 10627) on the streets of Juárez, which left seven federal police officers dead, a narco-message left on a fence on Colombia Ave. attributed the killings to La Linea as retaliation for the supposed protection by federal police of Chapo Guzman. The sign said, "PF (Federal Police) Inspector Raymundo Mendosa Basques the same will happen to you that happened to those in unit 10627 for supporting ("andar con") chapo...and to all the filthy people who help him...Sincerely, La Linea."

Last year, shortly before Mario Gonzalez, a major operator for the Sinaloa cartel, was captured in Teocaltiche, Jalisco, in May 2009, a narco-sign asserted that General Felipe de Jesus Espitia, commander of the Fifth Military Zone in Chihuahua, was "the right arm of the Pacific (Sinaloa) cartel, Sincerely, Mario Gonzalez, protector of the Pacific Cartel."

Perhaps in part because of these and other similar narco-signs, many rumors have circulated in Juárez to the effect that, in fact, federal government agents do not go after the Sinaloa cartel with the same vigor they use against La Linea, and that state police pursue the Sinaloa cartel with more vigor than they do La Linea. President Calderon felt compelled to deny these rumors on a recent visit to Cd. Juárez.

In part in order to dispel these rumors of bias, and in part to beef up protection against proven threats against state intelligence police, the federal government has decided state and federal police will patrol together and cooperate in joint operations against the cartels and other forms of organized crime.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Immigration on ABC's This Week

I just finished watching This Week, where the discussion was about the Arizona law. A couple of observations: first, there was no Hispanic or South Westerner on the panel; there was a black (Rev. Al Sharpton), a comedian (Bill Mahr); an editor (Katrina Vanden Heuvel), along with the more usual Washington insiders, Matt Dowd, George Will, and Jake Tapper, the host. It would have been interesting to have an articulate Arizona news reporter or expert commentator on the program, to talk about the situation on ground zero. Another example of the arrogance of Big Media and Washington.

Second, as usual, there was not a peep about cracking down on employers, kind of a taboo topic on national television; neither Democrats nor Republicans (lobbied heavily by those who gain by hiring undocumented workers) like to discuss this except to pay lip service about it and get onto something else. Biometric card? This is one way to deal with employers, but Democrats and Liberals tend to reject this as somehow compromising civil rights, so along with not openly discussing the huge infrastructure that accommodates corporations who hire illegals, they reject the single most effective tool to enforce the law on both the supply and demand sides.

Finally, Sharpton nailed George Will, who likened the Arizona law to the regulations that require everyone entering Congressional offices to identify themselves, making it constitutionally valid: Sharpton pointed out that in Arizona, given the "reasonable suspicion" standard for making a stop, only Hispanic-looking people were in fact subject to the law, violating equal protection under the law. Will doesn't often get get a well-deserved lesson in constitutional law on national television, but it happened today.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arizona Blinks, "Clarifies" SB 1070 with New Legislation Removing the Most Racist Elements; Is Everything OK Now?

After passing a law vastly broadening local police authority, permitting police to demand identification papers from virtually all Hispanic-looking people in the state, a law that with justification has been compared to Nazi Germany, and in the face of growing and intense repudiation, the state legislature of Arizona yesterday hurriedly passed, and the governor signed, a bill "clarifying" SB 1070's intent, removing the most racist elements.

In what can hardly have been an unintentional mistake, SB 1070 permitted any local police officer to demand identification papers if s/he had "reasonable cause for suspicion" that person might be illegally in the state. Since the Arizona business community, with arrogant impunity, has been growing increasingly dependent on illegal migration to maintain low wage rates in several sectors of the economy, it is now estimated that one out of four Hispanic residents in Arizona is undocumented.

The new law, in effect, was an open invitation for police, with complete legal authority, to stop any Hispanic-looking person at will and demand papers. Although the law stipulated race and language could not be the the only reasons to stop someone, it is hard to imagine any other factor, except a sign on the back announcing illegal status, that might trigger a reasonable suspicion, so the law virtually guaranteed racial profiling combined with denial that racial profiling was taking place. It could not have been better designed to intimidate the 30 percent of Arizona who happen to be Hispanic; in other words it was fundamentally unconstitutional. And to add insult to injury, it does very little to punish the greedy employers who offer the jobs to migrants, so it blatantly plays favoritism to one half of the partnership in crime that occurs whenever an undocumented worker gets a job.

The new clarification backtracks considerably by stipulating that police can only question people about their immigration status if they have already made a legal stop of a person for a non-migration infraction. This is far more consistent with an intent to enforce migration law, rather than to intimidate Hispanics. The new clarification, however, does not alter the half-hearted effort to go after employers. This part of the original bill, left untouched, simply puts firms on probation for three years when convicted of "knowingly" hiring undocumented migrants, and then goes on to explain under what circumstances an employer can claim s/he was "entrapped" into hiring an undocumented worker.

Of course, no one "knowingly" hires undocumented workers, wink, wink. But there is a vast infrastructure of false document production, transportation, contracting, temporary housing, and so on, which serves the interests of those firms--especially the meatpacking industry, hotel services, roofing, construction, restaurants, day laborers, etc.--that rely most on unauthorized workers. But the people running this infrastructure are not demonized, indeed, hardly ever mentioned. Just this year in Tucson ICE officials discovered 5 transportation systems, with ties into Mexico, that serve as shuttle services for migrants to get to labor markets. But there is a long history of politically motivated sabotage of efforts to punish employers and their associates, and it is significant that ICE broke up transportation systems in smaller Tucson, not Phoenix, where the volume of illegal migration is much higher.

When immigration officials raided Vidalia onion farms in 1998, the state's senators and three congressmen, Republicans and Democrats alike, sent an outraged letter complaining the government "does not understand the needs of America's farmers." It worked. When immigration officials tried to audit personnel records at meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Governor Mike Johanns organized a task force to oppose the operation. Meatpackers and ranchers hired former governor Ben Nelson (now US Senator) to lobby on their behalf. Sen. Chuck Hagel pressured the Justice Department. The immigration officer who thought up the operation was forced to retire and illegal hiring continued. For documentation of these cases, read here.

Government enforcement of immigration law, given these political realities, has focused mainly on nabbing unauthorized workers, not their enablers. The news media understands this and goes along. Knowing public sentiment against illegal migration is high, the message is clear: the bad guys are the migrants, and there are 11-12.5 million of them. The employers never hire them "knowingly" and don't you forget it. It is this hypocrisy and, yes, racism, fueled by good old fashioned greed, that has led to the kind of public frustration we see in Arizona.

As long as this imbalance and hypocrisy in enforcement continues among politicians, law enforcement officials, and the news media, demonization of unauthorized workers will continue, and undocumented migrants will continue find jobs.

Arizona state government just tried to slip in an unconstitutional, racially biased law that would have perpetuated the deep unfairness in the way politicians, news media, and others portray the issue of migration; it would have done so at the expense of constitutional rights of 30 percent of the Arizona's population, and in a way that does little to address the demand for illegal migrants, without which there is no cure. Ultimately, the protesting voices of millions of good people willing to make Arizona pay economically, made the legislature back down on the most outrageous element in this bill.

But enforcement of immigration law at the national as well as state level continues to be unbalanced, and as long as it remains that way the flow of undocumented migration will continue. I don't think the country is one bit closer to an honest debate about what kind of a nation of immigrants we want to be. But at least protesters have made it less likely we will be heading in an Arizona direction.

Governor of Chihuahua Sends Letter to Governor of Arizona: 1070 is bad

Mr. Javier Ortiz sent me the following information from Chihuahua:

Governor Jose Reyes Baeza yesterday sent a letter to Governor Brewer of Arizona expressing his views on SB 1070. The letter is strongly worded, highly unusual for a Mexican governor in a neighboring state. Some excerpts:

The discriminatory, racist and in violation the International Agreement on Civil Rights in effect since 1976, as well as the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of Migrant Workers. It also violates (universal principles of) human rights by authorizing arbitrary arrests via racial profiling," as has been pointed out by Amnesty International.
It establishes a negative precedent that violate commitments made at the Border Governors Conference to join forces to assure a secure and prosperous border.
For these reasons, the Government of Chihuahua has decided not to attend the XXVIII Meeting of Border Governors scheduled for Sept 8,9 and 10 in Phoenix and it has also decided to call on the rest of the Mexico border governors to reconsider their participation.
We ask citizens of Chihuahua, except in cases of extreme urgency, to avoid visiting Arizona as part of our demand for SB 1070 to be repealed.