Mexico News and Analysis: March 9-15, 2009

1. Attack on Community Radio Stations
2. House Cuts Funding for Plan Merida
3. Richest Men in Mexico

The Calderon administration continued its attack on community radio stations this week, closing a popular indigenous station in the state of Veracruz, presumably for operating without federal permits.  The Federal Attorney General closed the Malinche Estereo on Friday, arresting the owner and an announcer.  Last Wednesday, the Federal Investigate Agency (AFI) closed Tu Voz en el Radio, located in central Veracruz.  In both cases, agents confiscated equipment.  The closures continue a policy initiated by President Calderon to attack community radio stations functioning without federal permits.  Many of the stations applied for the necessary permits, but federal authorities often take years to answer the petitions.  In perhaps the most dramatic case to date, authorities closed the Tierra y Libertad station, in Monterrey which had been functioning for at least seven years broadcasting from a popular barrio.  The actions are selectively directed at radio stations with political messages, while federal authorities generally leave untouched the hundreds of religious stations and those affiliated with local PAN or PRI governments that broadcast throughout the country without formal permission.

The US House of Representatives cut funding for the Merida Initiative this week by US$150 million, leaving US$300 million for fiscal 2009.  The Merida Initiative, approved initially under the Bush administration, provides advanced training, weapons and intelligence gathering equipment to Mexican security forces for their battle against narcotics cartels and for counterinsurgency measures.  In addition, the Obama administration slowed the delivery of Bell and Blackhawk helicopters that were part of last year’s commitment.  During hearings on the legislation, Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson said that Mexican cartels earned between US$13 and $25 billion per year mainly from the illegal sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.

The Obama administration is sending mixed messages to Mexico concerning drug enforcement measures.  Last week, William Perry, the highest ranking US military official, visited counterparts in Mexico to increase cooperation between armed forces, possibly paving the way for the presence of US security personnel in Mexican territory.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Mexico next week with a similar message.  And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is also expected to visit Mexico in coming weeks with a large delegation to discuss increased cooperation on border security.

Forbes Magazine sited Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman as one of the world’s wealthiest men on its annual list.  Guzman is head of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of three organized crime organizations currently battling for control of Mexico’s lucrative drug markets.  While the Gulf Cartel, centered in Ciudad Juarez, and La Familia, centered in Michoacan, have been weakened by federal enforcement measures, Guzman’s operation appears largely untouched.  Guzman was number 701 on the Forbes list with an estimated wealth of US$1 billion.  The 51-year-old capo was arrested in 1993 and imprisoned on drug and murder charges, but escaped from Mexico’s highest security federal prison in 2001 under the Fox administration.  Editors at Forbes said that Guzman was not available for interviews.  Mexican telecom giant Carlos Slim Helu remained third on the list, though he reportedly lost US$25 billion during last year’s economic crisis.