Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tax Cuts for the Top 1% is Again Gaining Traction

A few statistics about income distribution in the U.S. since 1979, from a blog by Chuck Marr (click here)

From Marr's blog: As I’ve noted before, over the last three decades a stunning shift in income has taken place in this country, from the middle class to those few at the very top of the income scale. Back in 1979, the middle 20 percent of Americans had more than twice as large a share of the nation’s total after-tax income as the top 1 percent. But by 2007, the top 1 percent’s slice of the economic pie had more than doubled and in fact exceeded the middle class’s slice, which had shrunk.

This great income shift means the average middle-income American family had about $9,000 less after-tax income in 2007, and an average household in the top 1 percent had $741,000 more, than they would have had if the 1979 income distribution had remained. Here’s how this looks in graph and table form:

For an excellent argument about why the tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% should be allowed to expire at the end of this year, written by one of the nation's top economists at the University of Chicago, click here.

Sunland Park: Aguilera Ousted for Ousting Luz Vargas

Jaime Aguilera, city manager of Sunland Park, was fired last night at about midnight, after a lengthy five-hour meeting. He had been convicted of wrongdoing in California several years ago before becoming city manager in Truth or Consequences, where he was hired in spite of his criminal record. The immediate cause of his firing was his dismissal yesterday of Librarian Luz Vargas, who was physically removed from her office by city police after she had complained about irregularities in the management of the city. For many years Vargas has fought the Camino Real landfill, which has long been a point of contention among city residents, most of whom would like the landfill to cease operations. Many of these opponents were angered by Vargas' firing and they showed up last night to protest, indicating they believe Aguilera is in cahoots with landfill managers to silence opponents of the project. Many residents of Sunland Park believe that Camino Real managers have paid off public officials for many years to protect the interests of the unpopular landfill.

Authorities Meetin In Chihuahua City to Define Security Measures for Ascencion

Nearly a week after the incident in Ascencion which resulted in the deaths of two young men engaged in a kidnapping attempt, the mayor of Ascencion, Rafael Camarillo, and the mayor-elect, Jaime Dominguez, met in Chihuahua with officials from Operación Coordinada Chihuahua (once called Joint Operation Chihuahua), to discuss the next steps in safeguarding the security of the people of Ascencion, according to an announcement made yesterday by Governor José Reyes Baeza.

Not only did townspeople beat to death two of the 8 or 9 kidnappers involved in the abduction of a seventeen-year old girl from a restaurant, they also pressured the mayor into firing all twelve municipal police agents and their commander. The town is now being patrolled by interim police agents and by units of the federal police.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who Executed the Two Kidnappers in Ascencion?

Gabriela Minjares writes a note in today's Diario, among other things quoting criminologist Óscar Máynez Grijalva, who is often asked to comment on the crisis of violence and authority in Cd. Juarez. "People who take justice in their own hands," he said, referring to the events in Ascencion last Tuesday, "become criminals because they violate the law, even though frequently there are attenuating circumstances that could be considered self defense."

Aside from the awkwardness of the last part of the sentence (it is just as awkward in Spanish), I find his comment to be profoundly wrong, although, significantly, law enforcement officials in Chihuahua were quick to point out, as if in agreement with him, that townspeople who participated in the beating to death of two kidnappers might be liable for criminal charges.

It so happened I taught a freshman class in politics on Thursday, and the reading for the day was from Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan. In that book, which forms part of the bedrock of the theory of the state in Western civilization, Hobbes argues that in a state of nature; that is, before the formation of a state, or government, there is "continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." He likens this to a continual war: "To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues."

Hobbes goes on to argue that the only justification for the creation of the state, which limits human liberty, is to prevent this continual war of "every man against every man."

I told my class, to the best of my limited ability to reconstruct events, the story of Ascencion. I provided some background about the deteriorating security situation in Northern Chihuahua, where in towns like Ascencion criminal gangs pay off police to protect their illicit activities, which include drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping. According to news reports between 20 and 30 kidnappings have occurred in Ascencion in the past six weeks. As I've said before, I've been to many troubled cities, but never have I seen any resemble the "state of nature," as described by Hobbes, as closely as what I see in Northern Chihuahua.

But--and here is where I disagree with the criminologist--there was a state in Ascencion on Tuesday morning. There was law. There was justice. It was not provided by the government, federal, state, or local, of Mexico. The people of Ascencion, with virtual unanimity according to all accounts, became the state, at least for a moment, because the state associated with the government of Mexico, and the social contract that went with it, had ceased to exist. In the days before the incident the townspeople of Ascencion had, in effect, created a social contract among themselves, to provide law, where law no longer existed. It was created out of muffled conversations, cell phones and coordinated solidarity against the gangs protected by police agents. When a seventeen year old girl was kidnapped, the state acted. The state pursued the kidnappers, rescued the victim, and then meted out justice instead of allowing Mexican authorities to take charge. And they applied the death penalty, which is not permitted under Mexican law. Two days later the death penalty was applied in Virginia against a woman with an IQ of 72, 2 points higher than the legal limit. Was her death more legitimately applied than the death of the two kidnappers because the state of Virginia spent umpteen dollars dotting i's and crossing t's to make the execution procedurally without blemish?

Who executed the kidnappers? Not criminals with "attenuating circumstances:" The state executed those kidnappers; that is to say, the people of Ascencion.

Citizens of Ascencion: Your actions on Tuesday, from all appearances, fell within the boundary lines of legitimate behavior in accordance with the founding documents of the Western theory of the state. We have no quarrel with your actions. We are your neighbors. We salute you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Angry Citizens Kill Kidnappers, Force Policemen Out: The Lessons of Ascencion, Chihuahua

In Ascencion, Chihuahua, a small farming and ranching town of about 10,000 on the road to Casas Grandes, townspeople beat to death two teenage boys participating in a kidnapping of a seventeen year old girl. Yesterday, Wednesday, townspeople pressured the mayor into firing the entire municipal police force, on the grounds that they had enabled a rash of kidnappings in recent weeks. Citizens assert they will patrol their city themselves.

The story began on Tuesday at about 9:00 a.m. when several men tried to kidnap the owner of a restaurant. Not finding him, they took a girl who works at the restaurant. Townspeople had been wary since last Thursday of a suspicious group of men riding in vehicles in the surrounding area, and had organized themselves to react quickly in case of an emergency. In the past few weeks, according to witnesses, about 20 persons in the area have been kidnapped, and on monday suspicious vehicles had come into town, causing townspeople to sound an alert.

The details of exactly what happened next are still fuzzy. Law enforcement officials (some versions say the army, other say the federal police) were contacted about the kidnapping and apparently they organized a search which discovered two vehicles, one containing the girl. After a chase, the vehicle carrying the girl apparently rolled over on the highway. The girl was rescued and at least two men were arrested and later sent to Juarez on suspicion of kidnapping. Some reports asserted townspeople prevented a police helicopter from landing near the site because they feared authorities would take them away only later to release them.

It is still unclear what happened with another vehicle containing some of the suspected kidnappers. The story in El Mexicano asserts the federal police had stopped this vehicle (Adriena Gomez Licon of the El Paso Times reported the vehicle had rolled into a ditch after a chase) to arrest the men, but were impeded from doing so by a mob that arrived at the scene. The mob began beating the men with their fists and with sticks and, according to this version, police finally wrested the men from the mob, but they died shortly thereafter. Andrés Rodríguez (alias R-1), either 16 or 17, and a seventeen-year old with the nickname "Mundo" were dead.

In addition to the dead suspected kidnappers, police arrested Obed Alberto Flores Arellano, "El Nenuco"; Jesús Manuel Ortega Rascón, "El Chumel," and Arturo Matancillas Lozoya, "El Cubano", who are suspected of being members of two kidnapping rings, "Los R" and "Los Caborca". The leader of the Caborca gang, Pedro Ávila Castillo, and two other gang members knows as "Los Paisas", managed to escape.

Yesterday the mayor of Ascencion, pressured by the wrath of citizens, fired all fourteen municipal police officers, and forced them to hand in their weapons and equipment, due to complaints the police had often protected kidnapping gangs. According to Norte Digital the previous chief of police, Salomón Baca Muñoz, resigned due to threats he had received, and citizens asked they mayor to contact his successor, mayor-elect Manuel Granados, to ask who he might appoint to fill the vacant positions of the police. The only police protection the city now has is afforded by army officers, who patrol in humvees.

The Lesson: When legally constituted authorities are unable to provide any degree of security against threats to public safety, it is only to be expected that citizens will take the law into their own hands. Evidence suggests this has happened not only in Ascencion, but also in many other parts of Chihuahua, where dead bodies are left to be discovered with signs nearby identifying them as extortionists or kidnappers. The case of Ascencion is likely to be repeated.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Beat: Seven on Sunday

At about 8:30 p.m. last night witnesses saw two men running down the block until they got to Antimonio and Norzagaray, in Col. Zacatecas. At that point a vehicle caught up to them and fired at least four shots. One man, about 25-30 was dead, and the other was wounded. The assailants then ran over the dead man with their vehicle and fled the scene. The man he was with was taken to a hospital, wounded. (see picture at right)

Early Sunday morning assassins broke into a house with a sledge hammer and hatchet and then attacked a woman, Yolanda Dávila Meraz, 52, and her son, Pedro Pulido Dávila, 14 with these instruments as well as with guns. Both were pronounced dead.

Two men driving a black SUV were shot and killed in Col. Patria by a group of armed men. The men were security guards at a local convenience store.

Compiled by stories in Diario and El Fronterizo.

KRWG radio debate on border issues: Pearce Vs. Teague: Don't Expect Any New Ideas

The radio debate at 9 a.m. this morning was ostensibly about border issues; actually, it was about handling the current public hysteria about the border, and we got little more than platitudes from both sides, reflecting the talking points of each party caucus. Part of the problem was that the moderator, Fred Martino, accepts the operating assumption, shared by the commercial news media, that the border represents various forms of wickedness threatening us and that each wickedness requires a militarized response. The candidates were basically asked to provide policy options based on these assumptions. Since current discourse about the border reflects this hysteria, both candidates were eager to go along.

Immigration? Send more troops to the border. My opponent hasn't been as tough as I on this. Drug trafficking? Send more troops to the border. My opponent isn't tough enough. Violence in Juarez? Send more troops, my opponent is weak here, too. You expect this kind of rhetoric from congressional candidates in Kansas City. But in a border congressional district? At no point in the discussion did anyone point out that immigration and drug trafficking have been dealt with for decades by sending more troops to the border, with no tangible results. Today illegal migration and recreational drug supplies are worse than ever, untouched by the billions of dollars spent on border patrol, customs, ICE, and all the other alphabet soup agencies. Perhaps its time for new thinking? Perhaps a little demand reduction? Nope, just send more troops to the border, thank you, vote for me. The candidates might have been asked if the federal government might play a role in helping to develop the Santa Teresa border crossing and related infrastructure--as a border security measure, and if stimulus money might be used.

I'm being too harsh. In a congressional campaign you don't try to change public opinion, you cater to it. But at least I'd like to have had a glimmer of hope that the candidates might end up having something more intelligent to say in Congress about the border than the typical politician from Paducah Kentucky. There is no question, each of the two candidates has been to the border umpteen times, talking to border patrol agents, customs agents, ranchers, and sheriffs. They know what's on the ground. But the answer to our immigration and drug problems will not be solved by asking border patrol agents what to do: they will be solved by creating rational policies in Washington that have widespread public acceptance and the will to follow through, and for too long now we've gone along with the fiction that hotels, meat packers, restaurants, roofers, and other industries don't knowingly hire undocumented migrants, and that we can stop the supply of illegal drugs entering the U.S. with stronger border controls at check points, and that law enforcement corruption exists only in Mexico. And until our political system can deliver rational policies on these issues, expect the bipartisan game of sending more troops to the border to continue, with no tangible results other than the kind of frustration that leads to an angry electorate.

Democratic Pollster Polls Independents: They Lean Strongly Republican This Year

Douglas E. Schoen, author of Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System, released (click here) some findings of a poll of independent voters last month, this morning in the Wall Street Journal. While the results point favorably toward the Republican Party in this year's election, it shows strong dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as well.

Highlights: Independents, who make up 36% of the electorate and outnumber each of the two major parties, lean toward the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by 50% to 25%. In spite of this fully, 54% view the Republicans unfavorably compared to 39% with favorable views. And almost half (48%) are sympathetic toward the tea party movement. Perhaps most important, a huge percentage of independents (40%) are still undecided about their vote in the upcoming congressional races. Interestingly, independents rate President Obama favorably at exactly the same rate as everyone else: 43% favorable and 55% unfavorable.

The message is clear: independents are key to the outcome of the battle to control the House of Representatives. Expect both Democrats and Republicans to cater strongly to these voters for the next six weeks. What, then, do they want?

The poll indicates independents, like their Tea Party counterparts, want to decrease the size of government, cut spending and taxes, balance the budget, reduce the debt, decrease the power of special interest groups, and reduce partisan polarization.

Sounds just like a Republican, right? Then why the unfavorable rating for Republicans? Why the high undecided vote?

Independent voters (and many Tea Party advocates as well) appear to have decided that while Republicans talk about these things, when in power, they maintain the size of government, increase deficits, and cater to their favorite interest groups slurping for federal dollars. Instead of reducing, they shift spending away from social programs toward law enforcement, the military, welfare checks of one kind or another to the Fortune 500. The poster child for all of this is the personage of George W. Bush. Party operatives, using scientific methods, have gleefully diverted attention from these realities by demonizing Democrats, thereby polarizing the electorate even further. Republicans have thus impaled themselves on the sword of their own ideology: they have successfully convinced a majority of the public about the sins of "Big Gummint," but they have failed, when in office, to act as though they believed it. Democrats, on the other hand, beginning with President Clinton, have in practice slurped at the trough of the Fortune 500, eagerly seeking their campaign contributions, sucking up to their lobbyists, and ruling on their behalf, while maintaining the rhetoric, but no longer reality, of "being for the little guy." The richest 1% gobbled up the lion's share of all the new wealth America produced under Clinton, just as they did under Reagan, Bush, and Bush.

Thus, both parties have much in common, having created a system that privileges the salaries and perks of people associated with partisan activity at the Washington level) and each party, in its own way, speaks out of both sides of its mouth. Anger at this deceptive pattern has broken out in ways that currently favor Republicans, but only two years ago the anger was expressed against the disjointed, neurotic, and ostrich-like national Republican campaign, to the advantage of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. In previous periods of American history when both parties got hypocritical and essentially corrupt, it was outside agitation that moved the country forward: reform rarely comes from within a political party; only when a party loses does it wake up, and in a two party system when both parties go bad, third parties threaten the cozy status quo. This appears to be happening today in the ranks of the tea party movement and the independents.

In New Mexico independents do not outnumber Democrats or Republicans, and we usually lag behind national trends for an election cycle or two, except in the Albuquerque area, where John Barela's chances of winning Heinrich's congressional seat may well rest on his ability to activate the anger of the independent voter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Diario Tries to Make Sense Out of Narco-Message

Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. reporters were alerted about the appearance of a "narco-message" written on a banner (see picture on the right), at a major intersection. It said, "Commander Diaz Saavedra, commissioner Pavon, Comander Arias, what happened to the reporters will happen to you if you don't reverse gear and give us the money, you are just like Major Rezendiz. Sincerely, La Linea." Stories reporting this appearance yesterday suggested that La Linea might be taking responsibility for the murder of the Diario photographer, Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, and the critical injury to Diario photographer Carlos Sanchez Colunga, 18, on September 16.

Today a narco-message appeared on a wall (see picture) denying that La Linea shoots newsmen.

Diario staffers began to dig further into the original message, and (click here for story) and have reached the following conclusions, based on information provided by law enforcement officials

The men named in the narco-message were federal police agents assigned to work with the municipal police department. Diaz Saavedra took over the Delicias police station in April, when federal police took over the command of municipal police functions, replacing Lt. Col. Rezendiz, an army officer. Commander Arias was a federal police agent assigned to the Benito Juarez station Pavon was also a federal police agent who,
Diario learned, was transferred to Mexico City. Anonymous informants told Diario Diaz Saavedra, Pavon, and Arias, were all involved in extortion.

First Pearce-Teague Debate Set for Tomorrow (Monday) 9:00 a.m. KRWG Radio 90.7 FM

One of the more interesting races this fall in New Mexico is the one between Steve Pearce and Harry Teague for Congress in New Mexico's conservative-leaning District 02. Here's why.

1. Both candidates have held the job. Pearce won the CD02 job in 2002, after Joe Skeen stepped down, beating state senator John Arthur Smith in what began as a tight race and then ended in kind of a whimper when Smith ran out of money three weeks before the election. A then-popular President Bush campaigned for Pearce at a huge event in Alamogordo and Pearce came in with a 12 point advantage. Pearce held the seat during the Bush years until he stepped down in 2008 to run for the Senate seat vacated by Pete Domenici (he lost to Tom Udall). Joseph Cervantes jumped into the CD02 race and seemed like a shoe-in until he dropped out, for family reasons, in late December. Parenthetically, I announced I would run for Cervantes' New Mexico House seat, since he would have to vacate it to run for the U.S. House, but I dropped out of the running after Cervantes dropped out of the CD02 seat. The decision by Domenici to drop out of the Senate caused a whole chain of droppings in and out.

With Cervantes out of the race Teague, a wealthy man with connections, had no difficulty winning the Democratic Party primary race and was swept into CD02 by the Obama tsunami of 2008.

So Pearce has actually occupied CD02 for a longer time than Teague: the advantage of incumbency, is therefore diminished; both will be perceived as more or less equally experienced. This is a huge factor, when you consider that in most years well over 95% of all incumbent congressmen and women get re-elected. Add to that the widespread feeling that this is an anti-incumbent year, and you can see that the issue of incumbency in this race is complicated.

2. Both are from Hobbs, NM, and grew up with Diane Denish and Richardson buddy Johnny Cope. Teague owns or owned an airplane with Cope, which they loaned out to Richardson during his presidential bid. All are about the same age, early 60s. Teague and Pearce owned oil-related businesses across the street from one another. Both started out in Hobbs with no money and both made out very well in life, financially. Both are conservative in temperament as well as ideology. Both have pretty much the same set of beliefs and values as most businessmen in the district.

Up to here there is little to distinguish one from another, as demonstrated by the Sanderoff poll a couple of weeks ago showing the two to be within the margin of error, with Teague up by 3 points.

3. If the national scene favored Teague in 2008, it would seem to favor Pearce in 2010. The local partisan scene, however, tilts toward Democrats. Disgust with George Bush was reaching record levels two years ago, a factor which helped create a huge swing in both the Senate and House in favor of the Democrats. But today, polls show unhappiness with Obama, whose approval rating is now in the low-to-mid 40's, not nearly as lethal as the 27% Bush had at the end of September, 2008, but still pretty low. Worse, the approval rating for Democrats in Congress last month in a Gallup poll was 33%, and 32% for Republicans. At first glance this might seem to be equally bad for Pearce and Teague, but most observers feel these numbers, combined with the strong success of the Tea Party advocates, suggest voters are in the mood to toss out incumbents. This would be bad for Harry Teague, since evidence suggests voters are clearly aware he is a Democrat. On the other hand, demographic trends in CD02 tend to favor Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by 47% to 35%. Democrats in CD02 tend to be pretty conservative, but this is not as pronounced as it was a decade ago, and the overall ratio of Democrats to Republicans has been moving in the D's direction in recent years, so Pearce is unlikely to be touting a highly Republican partisan identity, although he is likely to be joining in the chorus of Republican policy complaints against the Democrats in Congress.

Bottom Line: Teague is likely to emphasize his hard work (no one doubts the grueling schedule he has maintained) on behalf of constituents, his success in bringing bacon to New Mexico, and his likability, which is high. He is very unlikely to talk about the advantage he now holds as a Democrat in a Democratically-controlled House, since current projections suggest the Democrats might well lose control of the House by a margin of 5-10 seats. Pearce is likely to surf on the strong wave of sentiment against Congress, and against the President and national direction, while emphasizing his previous experience as a congressman. This one is hard to predict.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

350 Bars, Cantinas, Dance Halls, Closed Because of Extortion Threats. Nightlife Gone in Downtown Juarez

In an unsigned story in Norte Digital today (click here) the authors estimate that about 350 bars, beer halls, cantinas, and bars with dance halls have closed down due to the threat of extortion. The article asserts that all of the bars in Juarez are now subject to threats by extortionists, who, they claim, are collecting about $100,000 (U.S.) per week from the owners, who pay between $75 (U.S.) and $750 (U.S.) depending on the volume of trade. About 179 of the establishments that have closed were located downtown, and there is practically no nightlife left in the downtown zone. The number of persons employed in these establishments is down to a mere 20% of what it was just two years ago. Even ambulatory peddlers of flowers, tacos, and the like, as well as taxi drivers, are forced to pay extortion fees of $5.00-$10.00 (U.S.). Bars that are still operating have cut their hours drastically, rarely open except on weekends.

More Violence in Juarez: Another Decapitated Head, Report of Car Bomb Unfounded

Another decapitated head was left on the roof of a car in Col. Arroyo de las Víboras; the body was inside, and law enforcement officials at first feared a car bomb had been planted, but these proved to be unfounded. After further investigation it turned out that a natural gas container inside the car contained nothing but natural gas. Diario carried the story on Sunday, October 19 (click here). La Polaka had earlier reported as fact that a bomb had been found and deactivated, and my initial draft of this note, relied on the veracity of that report. All of Juarez has been spooked about car bombs for a couple of months now, since a real car bomb went off, giving rise to multiple rumors, including this one. News media should be extremely careful not to fuel these fears (Juarenses have enough troubles as it is) and I regret my willingness to accept the Polaka story as fact.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More on the Grito in Juarez: massacre this morning at nightclub

Newspapers this morning are commenting on the bicentennial celebration (of the declaration of independence by Father Hidalgo in Dolores in 1810) in Juarez on Wednesday night and Thursday. Photographs have circulated (see pictures to your right) showing a lonely Mayor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, giving the grito to an empty parking lot in front of city hall. Don Mirone, an outspoken critic of the mayor, who writes commentary in Norte, contrasted the desolate, depressing event in Juarez with the 10,000 juarenses who celebrated the Grito across the river at the main plaza in El Paso (in Juarez it is still known as the Plaza de los Lagartos, a reference to the old days when there was an alligator pit in the main square). Alicia Vásquez commented in Diario that in spite of the lack of security, families, neighborshoods, businesses, schools, and churches were full of people celebrating. She concluded, "we shouldn't continue being puppets capable of unity only when there is a fiesta. This celebration, while sprinkled in some cases and in others drowned in alcohol should remind us to lift up our spirits to work, struggle, and become better Mexicans."

One group of people celebrating last night at the El Vivar nightclub at the Pronaf, stayed a little too long: a group of armed men entered the nightclub, filled with people, at about 3 a.m. this morning, and killed at least seven people. Apparently it was a private party. Nightclubs are legally required to close at 2 a.m.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another Journalist Killed in Juarez This Afternoon

Luis Carlos Santiago, a photographer for Diario, was shot and killed today in an automobile as he and another photographer, Carlos Sanchez, were leaving the Rio Grande Mall. Sanchez was seriously injured and is in a hospital in serious condition tonight.

The Juarez Grito: Quiet, Restrained; Nine Murders Yesterday, One Beheaded

I was at the Mexican Consulate dinner last night, courtesy of an invitation my wife received, in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of the Grito de Hidalgo, equivalent to our own Fourth of July. Among the people from New Mexico who were there were Maria Elena Vargas, from Sunland Park, State Representative Mary Helen Garcia, Judge Fernando Macias and his wife Claudia, Judge Oscar Frietze, Judge Richard Silva and his wife Remy, Public Defender chief Ken Henrie, and Valecia Gavin. The official ceremony was brief, with just a few short remarks from the Mayor of El Paso, the manager of the El Paso Museum of Art, where the event was held, and Consul General Roberto Rodriguez.

Mr. Rodriguez, an up-and-coming diplomat in the Mexican Foreign Service, carries the rank of Ambassador, bestowed on him in 2002, and has served as Consul General in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Nogales, Arizona, prior to his appointment in El Paso. He made it clear in his exceptionally brief remarks that while there is reason to celebrate the bicentennial of the Mexican Revolution, the current moment in Juarez is marred by "violence, corruption, and narco-trafficking." In fact, he went on to say, this is a moment to create a new revolution, to "erradicate" these ills from Mexican society, for the development of Mexico and, for "the future of the society of El Paso and Cd. Juarez." Clearly, the Ambassador had decided not to ignore the obvious poor state of affairs in Cd. Juarez, and to ask Mexicans to rededicate themselves to the tasks at hand.

In Cd. Juarez, Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz decided a couple of weeks ago not to have large gatherings of people in celebration of the Grito, for obvious security reasons, and urged citizens to be content with a "virtual" Grito, to be observed on television. He did the honors, however, alone, in city hall last night, accompanied only be a few soldiers and reporters, while a few bystanders who ignored his admonition stood by. (see picture). He allowed a spotlight to be thrown on him for a few seconds while standing on a balcony of city hall, waved a handkerchief and did the traditional "grito" of "Viva Mexico!" A very lonely Grito, particularly on the bicentennial anniversary of the original Grito by Father Hidalgo. Father Hidalgo, it should be remembered, was rewarded for his declaration of independence by being beheaded by Spanish authorities, and his head placed on a pole in front of the main square in Dolores, where the Grito took place. Two hundred years later a man in Cd. Juarez was beheaded for reasons unknown, his body was left wrapped in a red blanket, feet and hands tied, and the head was wrapped in cloth and placed on the trunk of the car. Eight other persons were murdered in Juarez yesterday, the 15th of September, on the eve of the two hundredth anniversary of the first Grito.

But about 5000 juarenses showed up for a Grito parade this morning in the Chamizal area (fairly easy to secure) which was televised to avoid security risks associated with congestion. The parade was accompanied by heavy security, particularly army soldiers, who received warm applauses--apparently the public still has greater respect for the army than for other security agencies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Campaigns As a Form of Reality TV

In the future corporate America will take over electioneering altogether to exploit its entertainment value to sell aspirins, cereals for kids, and promote the corporate image of the Fortune 500. That is to say, the private sector will manage all aspects of public sector campaigns, while leaving the public sector intact in its traditional form. This will create vast efficiencies in the electoral marketplace, which is now pretty messy and poorly packaged.

After a national primary day, all of the surviving candidates will be put on a deserted jungle island with varying survival tools and weapons. The TV host will provide instructions for candidates to go through a series of obstacle courses and opportunities to give speeches, which will be evaluated by semi-well known television personalities for believability, emotional connection with the audience, as well as outed for lying or other scandals, as in American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Viewers will evaluate for themselves the skills of the candidates as they run through the obstacles, and a few segments will be devoted to intimate moments in which candidates, exhausted by the day's activities, will confide to each other in front of TV cameras what they really think of the other candidates and confess, perhaps to their own sins. All of this, of course, will be recorded and edited into weekly hour-long segments.

On the first Tuesday in November all TV viewers who have registered with the network will be entitled to vote by electronic means within a ten-minute window of time, and the winners will be announced on prime time as all candidates sit together in an auditorium waiting for the results. The faces of the losing candidates will be shown as the winners are announced. The winners, of course, will become the stars of subsequent reality programs, such as "The Governor's Office Weekly," "Our Senator in DC This Week," (narrated by George Stepanopulos), "The County Commission Blues," etc., in which the sponsors inform us in an entertaining fashion about the personages running our public affairs, dramatic votes in Congress, and so on, so that we can keep up with things like good citizens. This will eliminate the need for most TV news programs (which have gradually evolved into entertaining snippets, anyway), except insofar as they keep us informed about the latest episodes and prepare us for future dramatic segments.

There are seven weeks left until the elections in New Mexico. Most voters begin paying attention about now to the major campaigns, i.e., the governor's race and maybe a local race or two. Many have already made up their minds (normally they will stay loyal to party) firmly enough to say so in a telephone poll, leaving only a small minority who still fall into the "undecided" camp. These are the real target of the last few weeks of campaigning, and an extraordinary amount of money is spent per undecided vote. If the undecided voters happen to trend toward a specific demographic group, such as white males between the ages of 45-65, both campaigns will begin targeting these in their ads, ignoring everyone else. In the smaller races, where polling is impractical, candidates have few options but to put a smile on their faces and meet as frequently as possible with potential voters.

Those who have already decided how they will vote, however, pay close attention to the race because of its entertainment value, which is often high, with eye-catching attack ads, the very real possibility that a candidate will be caught lying blatantly or exposed by some revelation of mischief in the past, real or imagined. If there are debates people who know exactly who they will vote for will watch anyway because of the chance a candidate will stumble badly enough to show up on You Tube. People also like to be open-minded and like to keep a corner of their mind open to changing their vote in the remote chance that their preferred candidate will make terrible tactical mistakes and drive voters into the other camp.

Although I will continue to give updates on what is happening in Juarez, I will spend more time in the next few weeks looking at elections in New Mexico. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Juarez and New Mexico: Good Neighbors? Do We Even Care?

I have seen troubled cities in Latin America before. Bombs would go off at night in Santiago, Chile as the Allende regime began to collapse. I was downtown the day the tanks of a military unit surrounded the palace of government for several hours and I saw a chunk of the brain of a bystander, killed moments before, splattered on the wall of the second story of the building he was next to when the bullet hit. After that there was a strict curfew in the weeks before President Allende was killed in a military coup. In Bogota bombs went off day and night in Colombia a few years ago and conflicts between the FARC, drug traffickers, paramilitary forces, and the Colombian military affected public security in various other cities near the Venezuelan border. I was in San Salvador when the wealthy were being kidnapped and shopkeepers were being charged "war taxes" by guerrilla forces as part of a fund-raising effort to support the war, and hundreds of suspected communists were killed each week by death squads, and then after the earthquake hit and later when the crime rates escalated as the wars ended and the armies demobilized.

But I have never seen anything as bad as Juarez for the past two years, a colossal failure of public policy to deliver public safety to the people of a major city. There are many aspects to this failure and writers will be debating the causes and consequences of Juarez 2008-2010 for the rest of the century; the story is rich, and well worth telling.

Given the lack of even the most elementary coverage in New Mexico of events in Juarez over the past two years, and with only limited time and resources available, I have tried to present snippets of stories that have appeared in the major news outlets of Juarez, without much editorializing on my part. My goal in doing so has been simply to inform readers about some of the atmosphere in Juarez, to convey something of the flavor of events as they unfold. From the feedback I've received it appears there is some desire in New Mexico to follow what is happening in Juarez more closely than the occasional story that breaks nation-wide or in an occasional Sunday supplement. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of how events in Juarez have affected some of their neighbors in Southern Dona Ana County, in some of the lowest-income communities in the United States. New Mexicans don't only ignore Juarez; they also ignore that part of New Mexico living in the shadows of El Paso and Juarez. We brag about our multicultural heritage but sometimes act as though Mexico exists only in the past tense.

The people of Juarez are my neighbors. I live within 40-50 miles of the heart of a vibrant, endlessly fascinating city. The late Ricardo Aguilar, prize winning novelist and a colleague and friend of mine, wrote passionately about its people and its foibles. The city has been likened to the Alexandria depicted in the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durell, one of the great novels of the 1950s. Countless corridos mention its name. Along with its sister city of El Paso, it remains the cultural capital city of the U.S.-Mexico border region. And for the past couple of years the city has been in serious trouble.

I have heard severe criticisms from New Mexicans angry at the Clinton administration for its failure to act in Rwanda in 1993, when a million Tutsis and Hutus were being slaughtered by official acts of genocide. I have heard neighbors in Las Cruces agonize over poverty they witnessed on visits to exotic places in South America, and contribute to orphanages in Africa publicized by movie stars. I've known dentists who travel far and wide to fix teeth in remote villages of Central America. Twenty years ago many churches in New Mexico proudly served as "sanctuaries" for refugees from the Central American civil wars, and there was a good deal of piety about having the courage to violate the spirit and sometimes letter of our migration laws to protect these migrants. I remember a celebrated trial of a journalist who actually assisted migrants to come in from Central America, in part so she could write about it. But I have yet to hear much of a peep or debate in New Mexico about what our responsibilities to our neighbors In Juarez might be in their time of agony, what kinds of things we might do to express our sympathy, or somehow alleviate some of the pain.

Last February, after 15 high school students were killed by accident in Juarez, the mayor of El Paso's reaction was to advise El Pasoans to avoid going to Juarez. I was proud that the legislature in New Mexico passed a memorial expressing condolences to the families, but I don't believe any newspaper or TV station in New Mexico recorded this fact, nor the gratitude toward us expressed by Diario contrasting the mayor of El Paso's reaction to that of New Mexico's, something that, had it been publicized, we could all be proud of, and which might have served as a springboard of sorts to begin a statewide discussion about Juarez. And I have noticed that my own university, aside from stern admonitions about going to Juarez, has had no official reaction to any of the events of the past two years, no sponsoring of academic conferences, no expressions of sympathy, no reaching out. The university of New Mexico, which just received a grant of $2 million to support its Latin American studies program, has shown a similar lack of interest in Juarez. Not enough grant money available right now to make it worthwhile, leave it to others, never mind they are our neighbors. Shouldn't at least a small sliver of our tax dollars to higher education in New Mexico go to try to understand better what is happening at our doorstep? Doesn't our economic development in Southern New Mexico depend in part of our relationship to Chihuahua?

Can we be good Samaritans? Good neighbors? What might this mean? Yes, sticking our nose in their business without knowing what we are doing could be a very costly mistake. But to do nothing, no discussion, no expressions of sympathy? Is that the right thing to do?

As I reflect on the deep tragedy that is Juarez I don't feel a lot of pride as a New Mexican. Much as we brag about our Hispanic cultural heritage and appropriate money for museums, Juarez might as well be in a country with a name ending in "stan." It isn't our affair. We don't do Juarez. I don't pretend to have all the answers about what, exactly we might have done or might still do, but as a minimum we might exhibit more caring, more concern, more expressions of affection and good will. The pictures you see to your right? These are our neighbors.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Three Bodies Found Behind Shopping Center (see pictures)

Three dead bodies were found in the early morning hours before dawn behind the shopping center near Tecnologico and Ejercito Nacional. There were indications they had been tortured before being executed. A sign painted on the chest of one of the bodies said "For being extortionists." The men had duct tape wrapped around their heads and plastic neckties. About 500 yards away another dead body, this one wrapped in black garbage bags, was found with a message, "For kidnapping," See story by Juan Salazar García, El Mexicano here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

La Barbie Confesses: See Here

On August 31 Mexican authorities arrested Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a.k.a. La Barbie. His nickname (he was said to resemble Ken the Barbie doll, with light skin and green eyes) was given by his football coach at United High School in Laredo, Texas, where he was born. At the time of his arrest there was a $2.4 million reward offered by the Mexican government for information leading to his arrest, and a $2 million reward offered by the U.S. for information leading to his capture. He was indicted in the U.S. in June of 2010 for cocaine trafficking, and was indicted by the federal government of Mexico in 2002 for conspiring to distribute marijuana. Mexican authorities claimed they had been hot on his tail for about a year, barely missing him on some occasions, while sometimes capturing some of his accomplices.

He was arrested under unclear circumstances in the city of Lerma, or possibly Santa Fe (reports were contradictory), in the State of Mexico, near the border with Morelos. La Jornada newspaper in Mexico City reported that rumors were circulating among persons close to the government that Valdes had become an informant for the DEA at least eight months ago, and that he turned himself in and will become part of a witness protection program when extradited to the U.S.

After leaving Laredo he is said to have gone to Mexico City and then back to Laredo, working for the Gulf Cartel. After the arrest of Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas in 2003 he went to work for the Sinaloa cartel, at one point being a bodyguard for Chapo Guzman himself. He joined the Beltran Leyva Organization after the 2008 arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva in January 2008, an act the Beltran brothers attributed to betrayal by Chapo. This caused the two organizations to split and become rivals. Now headed by Arturo Beltran Leyva, the Beltran Organization allied itself with the Juarez Cartel. After Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed by Mexican marines in December 2009, Valdez is said to have begun to dispute the leadership of the organization now headed after Arturo's death, by Hector Beltran. In alliance now with Los Zeta, parts of the Beltran Leyva organization, led by Valdez, have in much of 2010 fought their rivals, the Gulf cartel allied with the Sinaloa cartel and the La Familia cartel in the Reynosa region across from McAllen, Texas.

In his confession he claims the violence in Juarez is caused by a rivalry between the Vicente Carrillo organization and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva cartels. He asserts that Chapo's people refused to respect a pact that had been established and began killing rivals; Chapo himself did not want to fight, but his people refused to obey him and the violence got worse.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Juarez Guns of August: New Monthly Record Set, 18 Yesterday

The Official Count: 336 for August, surpassing the previous record of 313 set last June. Just five years ago (2005) the homicide in Juarez for the entire year was just 207. In recent times the first August record was set in 1995, with a total of 34 deaths, a record which held until 2007 when 38 persons were killed in August, and 320 for the year. The spike in homicides in the past two years has been dramatic. In 2008 there were 911 homicides from January through August, and last year there were 1496 in the same time period. This year the total for the first eight months is 2035. For monthly totals click here.

The Dead:
The first person to be murdered on the last day of the month has not yet been identified. He was gunned down on a street in Col. Centro Industrial. Then
Jesús Félix Nevares, in his 40's and Luis Aurelio Hernández Félix, 21, were gunned down in Col. Lucio Blanco II, in an incident in which another man was wounded. At about 1:30 p.m. the body of an as-yet unidentified man was found floating in an open sewage ditch near Blvd. Cuatro Siglos and Ave. Fco. Villareal Torres.

More: Then just before 3 p.m. a group of armed men burst into a home in Col. Mariano Escobedo and murdered four persons,
Leticia Corral Nevares, 17, Julio and Arturo Corral Nevares, in their 20's, and Jesús Juárez López, 36. Leticia Corra's twin sister was saved when her brother Julio protected her body with his as he was killed. Witnesses remarked that the Corral Nevares family has been wiped out now, as another member of the family was killed in a bar a few months ago.

At 3:15 the murder of a municipal police officer,
Raúl Aguirre Palacios, late 30's, was reported on Manuel Gómez Morín and Venus in Col. Satélite. Later in the afternoon two men on bicycles who had stopped to rest under a tree at the intersection of Juan Gabriel and the Casas Grandes highway, were killed in a volley of at least 25 rounds of 9 mm. ammunition. Then in Col. Azteca a man was killed on the street by a death squad, and in a separate incident two men were found dead of gunshot wounds near the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional on Ejército Nacional.

An Eye for an Eye? Later three persons were killed by a death squad in Col. Aldama.
Socorrito and Beto Barraza, an elderly couple, were gunned down along with an unidentified man of about 25 years of age, outside their home. Witnesses said the couple were the parents of Sergio Rafael Barraza Bocanegra, who was released by authorities last April after confessing to the murder of his wife, Rubi Marisol Frayre, 17. She disappeared in September 2008 and her body was found on June 18, 2009. Her husband fled Juarez and was captured in the state of Zacatecas. He confessed to the crime and asked for forgiveness of her parents during the hearing in April. The authorities released Mr. Barraza after the prosecutor turned down at 20-year sentence Barraza had accepted (the prosecutor wanted the judges to impose a 60-year penalty for the crime). The three judges declared Mr. Barraza not guilty and released him altogether, explaining that the cause of death of the woman could not be established, and Mr. Barraza's confession might have been elicited through torture. The case was widely covered in the news media of Juarez.

The scene at the movies was all too real: Finally, a man was murdered in a movie theater at about 9 p.m. as a film was being shown in the Cinepolis at Oscar Flores and Zaragoza. The incident caused some panic as members of the audience rushed to the exits and the theater was shut down. Reporters did not ascertain the name of the movie.

Compiled from stories by Luz del Carmen Sosa, Diario (click here) and
Felix A. Gonzalez. Norte Digital (click here) and Juan Salazar García, El Mexicano (click here)