News and Analysis: April 4 - 10, 2011

1 - OTHER CAMPAIGN RECOVERS DISPUTED TOLL BOOTH
2 - PRI-PAN ALLIANCE PUSHING FAST TRACK LABOR REFORM
3 - PRD BURIES ELECTORAL ALLIANCE WITH PAN
4 - NEW JUAREZ POLICE CHIEF ALREADY SUSPECT IN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
5 - SICILIA MURDER SPARKS NATIONAL CAMPAIGN
6 - MONEY LAUNDERING TRACED TO US BANKS
7 - US CONSULATES ISSUE TRAVEL WARNING FOR BORDER STATES
1 - OTHER CAMPAIGN RECOVERS DISPUTED TOLL BOOTH

Indigenous members of the Other Campaign in San Sebastian Bachajon, Chiapas, recovered a toll booth on Friday established by the community two years ago but occupied three months ago by pro-government residents affiliated with the PRI and the Green Party.  The toll booth is at the entrance to Agua Azul, a major tourist attraction. The following day, 800 police and state officials invaded the toll booth, and three members of the Other Campaign are reported disappeared.  Toll proceeds were used for local development projects.  State officials have been holding five members of the Other Campaign for months, essentially as hostages in an effort to force members of the Other Campaign to give up the toll booth in exchange for the prisoners.  The New York-based Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio is calling for five days of international action in support of San Sebastian Bachajon.

2 - PRI-PAN ALLIANCE PUSHING FAST TRACK LABOR REFORM

A PRI-PAN alliance is promoting a fast track labor reform that could be introduced in Congress by the end of April.  Labor reform is a long-held goal of the PAN, but recently the PRI leadership decided to support a closely aligned version.  The reform would weaken collective bargaining and make it nearly impossible to form independent democratic unions, allow probationary employment without fringe benefits or job guarantees, and permit hourly rather than daily pay, which would in effect lower the minimum wage, currently set at US$4.90 per day.

3 - PRD BURIES ELECTORAL ALLIANCE WITH PAN

The National Council of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) rejected a proposed alliance with President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) to field a unified candidate in the July 3 gubernatorial election in the state of Mexico.  Alejandro Encinas, former mayor of Mexico City, will represent the PRD in alliance with the Labor Party and Convergencia, while the PAN will run Luis Felipe Bravo Mena.  Calderon, anxious for an alliance in strategically important MexicoStatein anticipation of 2012 presidential elections, reportedly offered to dump Bravo Mena and support Encinas.  Newly elected PRD president Jesus Zambrano, an early supporter of the alliance, was left with little choice and bowed in the face of an overwhelming rejection (129 to 1, with 44 abstentions), calling instead for “party unity.”

4 - NEW JUAREZ POLICE CHIEF ALREADY SUSPECT IN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Retired army officer Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola, who was appointed last month to head the Ciudad Juarez police department, was accused this week of “enforced disappearance” in the case of four civilians arrested on March 26.  Witnesses told human rights investigators they saw police, dressed in camouflage uniforms belonging to an elite unit that provides body guards for Leyzaola, arrest the four men outside a convenience store.  The men have not been heard from since, and police deny they are in custody.  Later in the week, federal investigators arrested three of the officers, though little is known about the politically sensitive investigation.  The hard-nosed Leyzaola formerly served as police chief in Tijuana where he confronted similar accusations of human rights abuses after reducing murder rates and drug-related violence while reportedly decreasing corruption among police officers.  A secret diplomatic cable recently published by Wikileaks accuses Leyaola of destroying one violent drug gang by cutting deals with rivals.  He was also accused of participating in and supporting the use of torture, including beating and near-asphyxiation of arrestees and police suspected of being on cartel payrolls.

5 - SICILIA MURDER SPARKS NATIONAL CAMPAIGN

The murder last week of the son of poet and journalist Javier Sicilia in Cuernavaca has sparked a national outpouring of demands for an end to the violence that grips parts of Mexican society.  Juan Francisco Sicilia and five friends were found dead on March 28 after an encounter in a local restaurant with gunmen, possibly off duty police or military associated with the Gulf Cartel.  The elder Sicilia, a well-known and beloved figure, penned a now famous letter directed at Mexico’s political class, criminal cartels, and Felipe Calderon’s “war on drugs,” saying that Mexico is “hasta la madre” (the closest translation might be fed up, though the phrase is much stronger) with the President’s insistence on the use of violence and military-led law enforcement.  More than 35,000 have been killed since Calderon assumed the presidency in 2006.  Marches on Wednesday drew tens of thousands of people in at least two dozen cities.

6 - MONEY LAUNDERING TRACED TO US BANKS

In March 2010, Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo, paid US$160 million in fines for laundering US$378.4 billion, a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico’s GNP.  Not a single bank official was prosecuted, and the case never went to court after federal officials agreed to “deferred prosecution” that essentially leaves the bank in the clear.  “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” said Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor in charge of the case.   The fine amounted to less than 2% of Wells Fargo’s profits for 2009, and significantly less than the bank probably realized in profits on the illicit transactions.  HSBC, a London-based financial institution with the largest banking network in Mexico, is also reportedly under investigation for money laundering.  Yet these types of investigations may be largely for show, given the increasing influence of drug money in the international financial system.  Antonio Maria Costa, former head of the UN office on drugs and crime, claims proceeds from drugs and other criminal activities were “the only liquid capital” available to banks during the 2008 financial crisis.  According to Costa, banks have been increasingly reliant on illegally generated funds to guarantee liquidity since that late 1970s, which coincides with the beginning of the neoliberal era.

7 - US CONSULATES ISSUE TRAVEL WARNING FOR BORDER STATES

US Consulates in northeastern border states issued a new travel warning this week, citing uncorroborated information that Mexican cartels “may intend to attack US law enforcement officers or US citizens in the near future in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi.”  The consulates provided no further information.  Northeast Mexico, hard along the Texas border, has recently been the center of an increasingly deadly battle between competing cartels for control of lucrative drug and arms transportation corridors offering access to the US market.