News and Analysis: April 18 - 24, 2011

1 - NEWS FROM THE OTHER CAMPAIGN
2 - ITALIAN JOURNALIST EXPELLED FROM CHIAPAS
3 - JUDGE ORDERS INVESTIGATION OF POLICE
4 - ARIZONA SENATORS INTRODUCE BORDER SECURITY PLAN
5 - US COMPLAINS OF CUBAN OIL EXPLORATION IN GULF
6 - NEW SECURITY LAW MAY ALLOW MILITARY INTERVENTION IN POLITICAL DISPUTES
7 - MEXICO MAY SUE U.S. BUSINESSES OVER GUN SMUGGLING


1 - NEWS FROM THE OTHER CAMPAIGN
The Consejo Nacional Urbano y Campesino (CNUC), a popular mass-based organization in Tlaxcala and a member of the Other Campaign, led a series of demonstrations this week in opposition to a new law that would legalize genetically modified corn.  Tlaxcala is the home of corn in Mexico, with over 300 local varieties that would be threatened with contamination by genetically modified seeds. The new law would force campesinos to register their seeds, possibly opening the door for lawsuits by Monsanto and other international corporations as local seeds are contaminated by genetically modified varieties. [more]

A similar lawsuit in Canada forced a local farmer to pay Monsanto for the yearly use of seeds that contained genetically modified characteristics as proven by DNA testing.  In 2001, Monsanto sued Percy Schmeiser, a 70-year-old farmer from Saskatchewan, for violating its patent on an herbicide-resistant canola seed.  The suit alleged that Schmeiser knowingly planted some of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" canola seed-so called because it has been genetically modified to withstand the company's Roundup weed killer-without paying for it. Farmers who buy the product sign an agreement with Monsanto, promising to buy new seed each growing season rather than save and replant seeds, and to pay the company an annual fee.  Schmeiser claimed the patented seed had blown onto his fields from a neighboring farm or passing trucks.  Monsanto contended he had knowingly saved and then used the seed without paying for it.  Monsanto won the initial case, as well as two appeals, the last at the Canadian Supreme Court in 2004.  Schmeiser went on to sue Monsanto for the expense of cleaning his fields of the Roundup Ready seed, and in 2008 won an out-of-court settlement in which the company agreed to pay those costs.

The Tlaxcala demonstrations included dozens of ejido authorities from around the state, making them some of the most important public demonstrations in the state in recent years.  Within hours, state police staked out the home of Luz Rivera, the most visible leader of CNUC.  CNUC lawyers suspect the state Attorney General has issued an arrest warrant for Luz in an effort to quell the demonstrations.  Luz is currently on a speaking tour in the US sponsored by the Mexico Solidarity Network.

2 - ITALIAN JOURNALIST EXPELLED FROM CHIAPAS
Italian journalist and academic Giovanni Proiettis, best known as the first person to interview Subcomandante Marcos during the January 1994 Zapatista uprising, was expelled from Mexico on April 15.  The 18-year resident of Mexico was deported after visiting the National Immigration office in San Cristobal de las Casas to renew his residency permit.  Immigration agents took him to the nearest airport and escorted him all the way to Rome.  Proiettis reported for Il Manifesto and taught at the Autonomous University of Chiapas.  "I was given no paper, nothing at all, still less an explanation of the reason for my deportation," said Proiettis.  "Something I said must have upset them."  Mexican authorities expelled more than 300 international journalists and human rights observers from Chiapas in the late 90s, part of the "low intensity warfare" waged against indigenous communities.  In recent months, these same indigenous communities report a dramatic increase in tensions and increased military and paramilitary activities.  Could this expulsion mark part of another government strategy to isolate indigenous communities?

3 - JUDGE ORDERS INVESTIGATION OF POLICE
A federal judge ordered 16 police officers from San Fernando, located in the border state of Tamaulipas, to remain in detention for 40 days while officials investigate their links to the Zeta cartel.  The police are implicated in kidnapping and homicide related to the recent discovery of a series of mass graves around San Fernando.  Many of the victims were bus passengers or undocumented Central Americans traveling to the border city of Reynosa, about an hour north.

In related news, the US State Department Friday issued a new travel advisory covering parts of five additional states - Jalisco, Nayarit, San Luis Potosi, Sonora and Zacatecas.  Citing a recent uptick in violence in the border region and along major drug transportation routes, the advisory encourages US citizens to avoid desolate roads, use toll highways whenever possible and only travel during daytime.  In 2010, 111 US nationals were killed in Mexico, the vast majority linked to cartel activities.  More than a million US citizens live in Mexico and about 150,000 cross the border daily.

4 - ARIZONA SENATORS INTRODUCE BORDER SECURITY (JOBS?) PLAN
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyle introduced a new border security plan this week that includes 6,000 National Guard troops, 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents and 500 new Customs inspectors, along with new detection technologies aimed at apprehending undocumented migrants and more double layer border walls.  The initiative would cost about US$1.5 billion the first year.

In related news, the Los Angeles Times published an article this week documenting sleeping Border Patrol agents with little to keep them occupied as undocumented border crossings slowed to a trickle in recent years.  Apprehensions along the Southwest border dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to 448,000 in 2010, a decline of more than two-thirds.  In the San Diego sector, apprehensions are at their lowest rates since the early 1970s, the Tucson sector dropped from 700,000 to 100,000 this year, while the Yuma sector, covering 126 miles along the California/Arizona border, fell by 95%, from 138,460 in 2005 to 7,116 last year.  Some Border Patrol agents now describe their job responsibilities as "watching the fence rust."  Experts attribute the reduction to a poor US economy offering few employment prospects and increased border security measures.  Perhaps the McCain/Kyle bill is more of a federal employment initiative acceptable to Republicans rather than a border security measure?

5 - US COMPLAINS OF CUBAN OIL EXPLORATION IN GULF
US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained this week of Cuban plans to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  "Obviously, because it's located 60 miles off the coast of Florida," said Salazar, "it's an issue that we're monitoring carefully."  Observers read this as strange commentary coming from the same institution whose lack of effective oversight was responsible for last year's BP oil disaster in the Gulf.  Salazar made the comments during an international conference sponsored by the Interior Department on best safety practices for drilling in deep water - a conference from which Cuba was notably excluded.  Cuba recently signed contracts with Norway's Statoil, Spain's Repsol and India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to explore coastal waters with an estimated 20 billion barrels of reserves.  Mexico is disputing ownership of the fields.  Mexico's Secretary of Energy is calling for trilateral negotiations to resolve the dispute and establish safety standards.

6 - NEW SECURITY LAW MAY ALLOW MILITARY INTERVENTION IN POLITICAL DISPUTES
A federal law supported by the PRI and PAN would allow the armed forces to intervene in political and electoral disputes, labor strikes and social movements.  The reform of the National Security Law would allow the President to order army intervention in a broad range of social disputes if they threaten internal security.  The measure would allow the Army, the Marines and the Center for Investigation and National Security (Cisen) to tap telephones without warrants, conduct domestic spying operations, search vehicles and pedestrians, and use any method necessary to extract information from suspects.  The measure is currently under consideration in committee in the House of Deputies

7 - MEXICO MAY SUE U.S. BUSINESSES OVER GUN SMUGGLING
The Mexican government has retained a US law firm to explore filing RICO charges against US gun manufacturers and distributors for the uncontrolled export of military style weapons south across the border.  More than 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006, and almost 90% of the murder weapons were traced back to the US.  Mexico has some of the world's strictest gun laws, while over 6,000 border gun dealers, mainly in Texas, provide cartels with easy access to military-style weapons.

Meanwhile, Mexico's Attorney General is quietly negotiating with US counterparts to charge agents from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) with illegal weapons trafficking under Operation Fast and Furious.  ATF agents allowed at least two thousand military-style weapons to be smuggled into Mexico over the past several years, reportedly in hopes of tracking the weapons to drug cartels.  Supposedly, Mexican authorities and US Attorney General Eric Holder were unaware of the operation until a disgruntled ATF agent appeared in a CBS interview.  In at least two cases, weapons were used to assassinate US agents - Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010 and ICE agent Jaime Zapata in February of this year.