AUGUST 10-17, 2008

AUGUST 10-17, 2008

1. CRIME WAVE ON THE NATIONAL AGENDA
2. OFFICIALS ATTACK LEGAL ABORTIONS
3. NEW BORDER WALL NEAR SAN DIEGO 


1. CRIME WAVE ON THE NATIONAL AGENDA
Mexico’s increasing problems with crime were on the national agenda this week after the fourteen-year-old son of a major industrialist was kidnapped and murdered, even though the family twice paid ransom demands.  The tragedy captured the nation’s attention, in large part because the media provided weeks of spectacular headlines.  President Felipe Calderon jumped on board by calling for life in prison for kidnappers and joining the organization of a march against crime in Mexico City scheduled for August 30.  As one astute political cartoonist questioned, Against who exactly is this march?

Kidnappings are on the rise, in part because Calderon’s war on drugs appears to be forcing organized crime into other lucrative niches and in part because the economy is tanking, leaving increasing numbers of Mexicans with few options outside of crime.  Perhaps even more importantly, corrupt police are often involved in kidnapping schemes, leaving victims with little recourse but to pay the criminals.  Mexico is the worldwide leader in kidnappings, surpassing both Iraq and Colombia, according to a recent report by IKV Pax Christi.  But kidnapping still affects only a very small number of people each year.  There were less than 500 reported cases this past year, with perhaps two or three times as many cases going unreported.  Yet kidnapping has recently moved to the top of the Calderon agenda, at least rhetorically, in large part because the victims are generally wealthy and politically connected. 

Far more widespread are common crimes and plain vanilla government corruption, everything from murders that go uninvestigated because they might have political ramifications to police extorting small bribes to cover traffic violations.  The problem begins at the top, with government officials perpetrating a culture of corruption in which anything goes.  “A poor politician is a lousy politician” goes the cynical refrain, as neoliberal capitalism combined with one of the most corrupt governments in the world devastates working class barrios and rural areas.  Organized crime rules large parts of the country and controls important elements of the political class.  According to the US State Department, cartels repatriated at least US$22 billion to Mexico from US drug sales since 2003 – and the number is likely much larger.  A significant percentage of drug sales ends up in the pockets of politicians, with some estimates ranging as high as one-third.  PAN Senator Santiago Creel reminded us this week “that we shouldn’t be fooled.  Money from narco-trafficking is not traveling in suitcases around the country.  It is deposited in banks.”  Creel’s comments were taken as a public swipe at Calderon’s failing anti-narcotics strategy, which has focused almost exclusively on interrupting transportation routs and production facilities rather than money laundering.  The results are present every day in the mainstream media.  Monday was in many ways a typical day, with 17 executions reported in the state of Chihuahua, including the second most important official in the office of the state Attorney General.  Thirteen additional victims were reported in Durango, Michoacan, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Quintana Roo, Sonora and the state of Mexico. 

The army recently invaded Chihuahua with several thousand troops, initially to the delight of a population overwhelmed by delinquents.  But the honeymoon was short, as the army conducted hundreds of unwarranted home searches, beat homeowners and pedestrians at will, and killed several innocent citizens.  In Chihuahua, the army is caught up in a war in which most of the local police are aligned with the Juarez cartel, while the army’s allies are less clear.  The Juarez and Gulf cartels have been involved in open warfare over lucrative territories, and the army may be looking for a way to return to the status quo antes, where murders were done in isolated rural areas rather than during highly public gun battles in city centers.  This would account, in part, for the lack of government action on money laundering, which is the heart of drug trafficking and should be its most vulnerable point.  But politicians don’t want to interrupt the flow of illicit money, which greases the political system while also providing one of the most important sources of foreign exchange in a country on the verge of an economic crisis.  With the Mexican economy suffering its worst performance in the second trimester of this year since the depression of 2003, politicians don’t want to stop the money flow.  With a GNP that declined 1.7% during the second trimester, about the only growth industry is illegal drugs and kidnappings.


2. OFFICIALS ATTACK LEGAL ABORTIONS
While organized crime dominated the media, federal officials were busy preparing attacks against a more vulnerable population – women who want abortions.  Last year, Mexico City decriminalized abortion, but Supreme Court Justice Sergio Aguirre this week prepared a legal ruling that would invalidate the new law and send women to prison for up to six months for an abortion.  The 600-page document enjoys the support of the National Human Rights Commission and the Federal Attorney General, who appear more interested in intervening in the private affairs of Mexican women than in protecting the country from kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking.


3. NEW BORDER WALL NEAR SAN DIEGO
Contractors began work on a 3 ½ mile border wall that will separate the US and Mexico in an environmentally fragile area south of San Diego.  The construction is expected to cost US$57 million, in large part because it requires filling a deep canyon that carries water runoff from the region.  Construction began after 12 years of legal challenges by environmental groups.  The project threatens the Tijuana River estuary, home to more than 370 migratory and native birds.