JUNE 23-29, 2008

1. PLAN PUEBLA PANAMA BACK ON CALDERON’S AGENDA
2. MERIDA INITIATIVE PASSES BOTH HOUSES
3. MIAMI CUBANS CONTRACT CARTELS TO TRANSPORT IMMIGRANTS
4. BORDER WALL WOULD DIVIDE BI-NATIONAL UNIVERSITY


1. PLAN PUEBLA PANAMA BACK ON CALDERON’S AGENDA
The widely discredited Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) is back on President Calderon’s agenda, albeit in a slimmed down version that reduces infrastructure initiatives by as much as 95% and repackages the plan in terms of social service programs.  Newly named the Mesoamerica Project, President Calderon unveiled the revamped proposal at a meeting of Central American and Caribbean heads of state in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on Friday.  Former President Vicente Fox initiated Plan Puebla Panama early in his administration, only to see it whither under widespread popular opposition and a three year economic recession.  The more modest Mesoamerica Project will focus on building infrastructure, including toll highways and regional electrical grids (both projects were at the heart of the original PPP).  New to the project is a focus on a regional health initiative, distribution of fertilizer to local farmers, and production of bio-fuels, though without using human food sources.  The new additions, all ill-defined ideas more than concrete proposals, are probably designed to overcome popular opposition to the original PPP, which would have displaced hundreds of indigenous and campesino communities for construction of large infrastructure projects.  Highway and electrical grid construction contemplated under the Mesoamerica Project will likely have the same effects - and face the same opposition.


2. MERIDA INITIATIVE PASSES BOTH HOUSES
The Merida Initiative passed both houses of the US Congress this week, and received hearty approval by a wide spectrum of Mexican politicians after Congress weakened human rights language.  The US$400 million program, renewable for three years, will provide Mexican army and police units with advanced radar, heavy weapons, communication equipment, helicopters, speed boats and technical training for use in Calderon’s war on drugs.  The original version of the bill prohibited aid to army and police units engaged in torture or human rights abuses, or who are themselves involved in narco-trafficking, but the approved bill “has no explicit restrictions or any type of limitation on the transfer of resources or military equipment,” according to Mexico’s Ambassador in the US, Arturo Sarhukan.  For the first time in recent memory, US officials assumed partial responsibility for Mexico’s drug cartels.  “The United States recognizes that we share responsibility for the drug trafficking problem,” said US Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza.  President Bush is expected to sign the legislation within 45 days as part of an overall spending bill financing the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Calderon’s project to militarize Mexican society continues apace.  More than 25,000 army troops and Federal Preventative Police (PFP) occupy cities and towns in nine states.  There were at least 4,000 drug-related murders during Calderon’s initial 18 months in office, including at least 500 police officers, soldiers, mayors and other officials.  On Thursday, a commander of the elite PFP, Igor Labastida, was assassinated at an open air lunch counter in Mexico City.  Labastida may be linked to drug cartels, according to officials investigating the murder.  The Federal Attorney General investigated Labastida in 2004 for links with the Sinaloa Cartel.

The flow of narco-dollars from the US to Mexico is estimated at US$12 to 15 billion per year.  This includes only bulk transfers of hard currency, and does not include money sent by wire transfer.  Federal Attorney General Eduardo Medina accuses the US of “already financing this war, it’s just that the financing is on the wrong side…  Most of the weapons, I would say around 95% of the weapons that we have seized come from the US.  If the US would stop the flow of weapons to Mexico, the equation would change very rapidly here.”  Mexican officials are also heavily implicated in narco-trafficking.  At least 20% of police in the central state of Aguascalientes are on the payroll of drug cartels, according to a statement released by Governor Luis Reynosa this week.  And Aguasclaientes is not considered a major center of drug trafficking.


3. MIAMI CUBANS CONTRACT CARTELS TO TRANSPORT IMMIGRANTS
The Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), the leading right wing Cuban organization in Miami, has been contracting Mexican drug cartels for at least the past three years to transport Cuban immigrants across Mexican territory to the US, according to evidence currently in the possession of Mexico’s Federal Attorney General.  The Gulf Cartel and its self-styled group of hired enforcers known at the Zetas were responsible for “rescuing” 33 Cuban immigrants taken into custody by immigration officials in Cancun two weeks ago.  The CANF reportedly charges about US$19,000 per immigrant, and part of the money is used by the Zetas to bribe immigration officials.  Eighteen of the 33 Cubans turned up in Texas last week carrying falsified Mexican immigration documents.  Two Cuban-Americans, both members of the Cuban-American National Foundation, detained by Mexican officials on June 8 gave testimony last week linking the CANF with the Zetas, a notoriously violent group composed mainly of former police and military who now work as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel.  The two witnesses refused release on bail, fearing they would be assassinated if they left prison.  The Cuban government has accused the CANF of links to organized crime since at least 2005.  In addition to human trafficking, the CANF is also involved in drug dealing and money laundering.


4. BORDER WALL WOULD DIVIDE BI-NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
The wall that the Bush administration wants to build along the US-Mexico border would split the University of Texas at Brownsville, cutting off the golf course from the rest of the campus.  School officials condemned the plan, calling it a mockery of the bi-national mission of the university.  The campus currently includes a biological field station on the Mexican side of the border, and about 400 of the 17,000 students are from Mexico.  The proposed wall would run a mile north of the Rio Grande, cutting off about a third of the campus.  University officials prevented Department of Homeland Security surveyors from entering campus property, generating a federal lawsuit that will be heard next Monday.