JUNE 30 – JULY 6, 2008

1. LOMAS DE POLEO EXECUTION
2. ENVIRONMENTAL FRAUD?
3. LEON POLICE RECEIVE COURSES IN TORTURE TECHNIQUES
4. MCCAIN VISITS MEXICO
5. GOVERNMENT SPIES ON POLITICIANS


1. LOMAS DE POLEO EXECUTION
Carlos Lopez Avitia, an attorney representing about thirty families in a land dispute in Lomas de Poleo, a barrio on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, was assassinated on June 20 as he left the Agrarian Reform offices in Ciudad Juarez.  Lopez Avitia was a controversial figure.  A former employee of the Agrarian Reform, he spent four months in prison and lost his job after accusations surfaced of negligence in his work and illegal use of government properties.  Lopez Avitia claimed the legal consequences were payback for his defense of residents in Lomas de Poleo who are fighting efforts by the Zaragozas, one of Ciudad Juarez’s richest and most powerful families, to take over their lands.  But some residents claimed he was secretly on the payroll of the Zaragozas and was misrepresenting the families. 

In 2004, US and Mexican officials announced construction of a new international bridge that would connect Lomas de Poleo with an El Paso suburb.  Lomas de Poleo was founded more than three decades ago on abandoned desert land.  Until the bridge announcement, there was no dispute over ownership.  Mexican law awards ownership to anyone who has lived at least seven years on a piece of land without legal challenges, and the residents of Lomas de Poleo have a strong legal case.  Nevertheless, the Zaragozas fenced in the land and posted armed guards at the only entrance.  They burned down dozens of houses and killed at least three people, including two small children who died in a house fire set by Zaragoza henchmen.  The Zaragoza family owns beer and bottled gas distribution centers, and has used its political clout to convince local officials and police to stay out of the dispute.  To date, no one has been charged with the murder of Lopez Avitia, and there is no indication that local police are actively pursuing the investigation. 


2. ENVIRONMENTAL FRAUD?
Capitalizing on worldwide environmental concerns over deforestation, the Calderon administration enrolled half a million citizen volunteers to plant more than eight million trees on Saturday.  The “First National Reforestation Day” featured high profile media events with cabinet members and federal officials planting trees on 490 different communal properties and smallholdings throughout the country.  Greenpeace criticized the program as a waste of federal funds, since studies predict that only ten percent of the trees will survive the first year.  Federal officials predicted a survival rate of 60 to 80 percent, but could not site studies backing their figures.


3. LEON POLICE RECEIVE COURSES IN TORTURE TECHNIQUES
Police in the city of Leon, Guanajuato, took extensive courses in torture offered by an unidentified US company.  Videos of the course surfaced this week demonstrating the “tehuacanazo” (forcing mineral water up the nose) and the “pocito” (submerging the head in a tank full of excrement and rats).  Members of the Special Tactical Group (GET) who participated in the training were subjected to the torture techniques.  Early in the week, Municipal President Vicente Guerrero from the PAN defended the use of torture and promised to continue the courses.  Initially he was upset with the press for distributing the videos, calling journalists “unethical and irresponsible.”  He defended torture as a necessary tool in establishing law and order, and claimed that previous PAN administrations in the city have used torture techniques.  But on Friday, in the face of overwhelming criticism, including from members of his own party, Guerrero canceled the training program.  According to state legal codes, torture is illegal in Guanajuato.  Article 264 of the state Penal Code prohibits public servants from “intentionally exercising violence against a person, whether to obtain information or for any other form of investigation.”  Violators can spend up to ten years in prison.


4. MCCAIN VISITS MEXICO
Republican presidential candidate John McCain visited Mexico this week.  If he was trolling for Latino votes in the November election, he failed miserably by defending the construction of a widely unpopular border wall between the two countries.  McCain called for building “walls, fences and virtual high tech partitions” before considering “an immigration reform that would address two important points: a temporary worker program and a resolution for those immigrants who arrived illegally.” 


5. GOVERNMENT SPIES ON POLITICIANS
An unnamed government agency prepared a series of potentially damaging reports on some of Mexico’s leading politicians, including PRI Senate leader and potential presidential candidate Manlio Beltrones.  Eight PRI and PAN governors, six from states with elections scheduled next year, were also part of the espionage operation.  Beltrones claims to possess a three-part report that covers vulnerabilities, recommendations, and an action plan.  The secretive Center for Investigation and National Security (Cisen), probably the only government agency with the capacity to produce such a report, denied responsibility.  Interior Secretary Juan Mouriño also denied responsibility.