Mexico News and Analysis: September 20 - 26

1 – U.S. MAY ENFORCE ARMS DEALING AT BORDER
2 – U.S. BORDER INSPECTORS CHARGED
3 – CALDERON ANNOUNCES PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS
4 – MONTERREY FIRES HALF OF POLICE FORCE
5 – MOB KILLS TWO KIDNAPPERS
6 – BORDER DEATHS NEAR RECORD

1 – U.S. MAY ENFORCE ARMS DEALING AT BORDER
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) plans to implement an aggressive, and likely controversial, new strategy to impede the flow of weapons to Mexican drug cartels by targeting cartel networks active in the US and corrupt US firearms dealers, according to an internal Justice Department document.  As much as 90% of high-powered cartel weapons come from arms dealers located in Texas and other border states.  Last month, Mexican officials decommissioned a narco training camp run by the Zetas, perhaps the country’s most violent cartel.  Almost all of the guns originated in the US.  Officials traced 12 assault rifles to a single dealer in Henderson, NV, who works out of his home.  The dealer was not arrested because home gun sale operations are only loosely controlled by federal and state laws.   Recently US based cartels have been procuring explosives for use in IEDs like the car bomb that killed three people in Ciudad Juarez in August.  Mexican officials complain that they are often outgunned by weapons smuggled from the US.  Mexico has very strict gun laws, so cartels purchase high-powered automatic weapons and armour-piercing bullets on the US side, then smuggle them across the border.  The ATF will likely face criticism, and perhaps legal obstacles, from the US gun lobby and Second Amendment in extremists in Congress.  The ATF, currently headed by an interim director with little clout, may not be able to withstand the expected political pressure.  

The ATF and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, recently came under withering criticism for failing to impede the flow of US weapons to Mexico’s drug cartels.  A report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General criticized “Project Gunrunner,” the ATF’s most recent effort, for misfiring due to bureaucratic turf battles, failure to share intelligence among federal agencies, and a misplaced focus on low level gun buyers, known as “straw purchasers,” instead of broader criminal gangs who finance and smuggle the weapons.  ATF agents claim many of the problems stem from lenient US gun laws and lack of federal funding.  Congress is currently considering a bill that would weaken the ability to regulate thousands of firearms dealers who ply their trade along the border, often working from their homes to evade stricter federal controls.


2 – U.S. BORDER INSPECTORS CHARGED
A US Customs and Border Inspection officer was charged on Friday with accepting more than US$50,000 in bribes to wave vehicles bearing drugs through his lane at the Calexico border crossing, about 120 miles east of San Diego.  Oscar Ortiz accepted US$22,000 in June to pass a Jeep Cherokee he believed was loaded with cocaine, then took US$30,000 on Monday to pass a Ford Lobo.  He was arrested Thursday after accepting the second payment from a federal informant in a supermarket parking lot in El Centro.  Another corrupt agent, Victor Silva, introduced Ortiz to the informant.  Silva is also charged with accepting bribes to pass drugs across the border.


3 – CALDERON ANNOUNCES PROTECTION FOR JOURNALISTS
President Felipe Calderon announced a plan on Wednesday to protect journalists from increasingly frequent attacks by drug cartels, but newspaper editors characterized it as insufficient.  Calderon was likely responding to an editorial published in the influential El Diario, part of a conservative national newspaper chain with strong links to the PAN.  After cartel hit men killed a Diario photographer last week, the paper’s second murdered journalist this year, the newspaper published a front page editorial calling for a “truce” and asking cartels to clarify what they want from the newspaper.  The editorial characterized drug gangs as “the de facto authorities in this city,” which is likely why Calderon responded so quickly.  Calderon’s protection plan, modeled after measures taken in Colombia in the 90s, makes killing a reporter a federal crime and provides an early warning system to relocate journalists who receive death threats because of their work.  At least 22 reporters have been killed and seven are missing over the past four years, making Mexico the most dangerous country in the hemisphere for journalists.  Many newspapers along the northern border no longer cover local drug trafficking.  El Diario Director Pedro Torres was unimpressed with the new federal plans: “Why should we believe Calderon?  Why should we think this will work?  The federal government is so messed up that it can’t protect itself.”


4 – MONTERREY FIRES HALF OF POLICE FORCE
At least 352 officers, accounting for half of Monterrey’s police force, have been fired in recent weeks for corruption, as a result of the “usuario simulado” (simulated user) program or failed exams that include blood and lie detector tests.  The mayor invited the public to submit complaints about corrupt police via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  Two transit officials were fired recently after video of them demanding bribes surfaced on the Usuario Simulado web site.  Transit police in Monterrey are notorious for setting up speed traps in obscure places, then shaking down drivers for bribes often totaling US$100 or more.


5 – MOB KILLS TWO KIDNAPPERS
An enraged mob beat to death two youth on Tuesday who had kidnapped a teenage girl in the Chihuahua city of Ascension.  Army troops rescued the victim and took three additional kidnappers into custody.  The following day, the Mayor fired the entire police force after residents complained about lack of security.  Ascension has a large Mormon presence, and the Mormons have had several confrontations with organized crime in the area.


6 – BORDER DEATHS NEAR RECORD
The second highest number of deaths on record was logged along the Arizona border over the past twelve months, according to the Human Rights Coalition.  The organization documented 236 deaths during fiscal year 2010, which ends September 30.  A record 282 bodies were found in 2005.  Increased border security is likely the major cause as potential immigrants try to enter the US in lightly patrolled desert regions.

In related news, governors from six Mexican border states requested that the 720,000 Mexicans who are expected to be deported from the US this year be sent to their home states on commercial flights rather than dumped on the south side of the border.  The governors complained of increasing border violence affecting both urban areas and the immigrants themselves.