Mexico News and Analysis: December 13-26, 2010

1 - WIKILEAKS CABLE ON MEXICO-VENEZUELA RELATIONS
2 - CONGRESS REVOKES REPRESENTATIVE'S  IMMUNITY
3 - IMMIGRATION DEPORTATIONS DOWN THIS YEAR
4 - US WEAPONS FUEL DRUG VIOLENCE IN MEXICO
5 - ACTIVIST MOTHER SLAIN IN CHIHUAHUA
6 - JEFE DIEGO RELEASED UNDER STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES
7 - MORE IMMIGRANTS KIDNAPPED IN MEXICO
8 - GUATEMALA DECLARES STATE OF SIEGE
9 - MEXICO PURCHASES THREE BOEING SATELLITES
10 - MEXICAN ARMY HIT WITH INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS JUDGMENT



1 - WIKILEAKS CABLE ON MEXICO-VENEZUELA RELATIONS
In an internally contradictory diplomatic cable released this week by Wikileaks, US Embassy personnel downplay the political influence of Venezuela in Mexican society while admitting the Calderon administration spends substantial resources tracking Venezuelan programs.  Surprisingly, Calderon is particularly concerned about "'Miracle Mission,' which offers low-cost eye surgery to Mexicans in Venezuela. El Universal reported on October 20 that some 509 Mexicans have received treatment.."  Calderon wants to "regulate the program and codify it in official bilateral channels, rather than allowing it to be negotiated and executed at the local level," where opposition Governors can reap the political benefits.  Federal authorities are also concerned about the "ideological component to the program, and said that at the very least, Mexican patients were returning to Mexico with the message that the Venezuelan government provided a service to them their own government could or would not. Sensitive collateral reporting suggests that the GOM [government of Mexico] as of September was concerned that Miracle Mission patients received pro-Venezuelan and anti-US briefings as part of their stay in Venezuela. The GOM was reportedly worried that such patients returned to Mexico more sympathetic to pro-Chavez themes and were more likely to participate in associated marches or rallies."  As a result, analysts from the Mexican National Intelligence Center (CISEN) are on the case: "they have identified some 500 serious Bolivarian activists--all Mexican citizens--across the country, which are often in contact with each other and tend to be linked to larger social movements.  CISEN noted that many Bolivarian sympathizers are tied back to the Red de Solidaridad con Cuba...  Other pro-Venezuela activists are linked to the Worker's Party (PT) and different student groups operating out of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)."  CISEN also reports "it has no evidence, for example, that Venezuela currently is providing direct funding to Mexican political candidates..."  The National Action Party (PAN) may regret that this information is now public.  Calderon used television ads linking PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the 2006 presidential campaign, but release of this cable will likely make a similar tactic impossible during the 2012 presidential campaign.  While the cable author is concerned "Venezuela seeks to woo Mexicans via social handouts to impoverished groups and modest financial support to its like-minded Mexican cohorts," he ultimately concludes "Venezuela is conducting outreach activities in Mexico, but to what seems to be little effect."  Nevertheless, the Mexican government appears obsessed with Venezuela, in part because Calderon sees himself as the vital link between the US and Latin America, and he resents any Venezuelan influence that might impede that role.  Perhaps the most interesting element in recent cables released by Wikileaks is the strategic vision of Calderon's foreign policy, based on currying favor with the Obama administration by exercising its influence throughout Latin America on behalf of the US.  So far, Mexico has been unable to compete effectively with Venezuela, Brazil or Cuba, but Calderon's propaganda appears to have the largely clueless US State Department fooled.

2 - CONGRESS REVOKES REPRESENTATIVE'S  IMMUNITY
Mexico's lower house revoked blanket immunity, enjoyed by serving members of Mexico's political class, for Julio Cesar Godoy, a Congressman and step-brother of Michoacan Governor Leonel Godoy.  Julio Godoy is widely suspected of links to La Familia, one of Mexico's most violent and messianic cartels, after recordings surfaced of him talking with Servando "la Tuta" Gomez, a leader of La Familia.  Julio Godoy is unlikely to face immediate arrest, in part because authorities can't find him and in part because he convinced a judge to issue a restraining order preventing the exercise of an arrest warrant.  The Godoy family has been an embarrassment to the already tattered Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), a badly divided opposition party whose hopes for political success in the 2012 presidential elections are in serious decline.

Last week, Michoacan was the site of three days of extensive street battles between federal forces and La Familia that took the life of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, the spiritual head of the cartel.  Moreno was the author of a quasi-religious tract outlining a set of principles for cartel members, including a prohibition against selling drugs in Michoacan and a promise to protect the people of Michoachan from "criminal" elements, particularly Los Zetas, a competing cartel.  La Familia is Mexico's main producer of methamphetamine, but most distribution is in the US.  Immediately after the death of Moreno, several well-attended public marches supported La Familia, though the Archdiocese attributes the actions to pressure from criminals rather than a spontaneous display of public support.

3 - IMMIGRATION DEPORTATIONS DOWN THIS YEAR
The number of Mexicans deported or repatriated from the US dropped 23% in the first ten months of this year, according to Mexico's Interior Secretary.  A total of 410,442 people were returned to Mexico, with 23,359 opting for direct flights to Mexico City rather than being expelled across the border.  Presumably, the vast majority of those remaining at the border eventually crossed into the US successfully.  Studies conducted earlier in the decade indicate a two-in-three chance of successfully crossing the border on the first attempt, though the figure may be lower in recent years as border security has been increased.  The number of women repatriated dropped even more, by 34% to 44,356.  The figures indicate that women accounted for about 12% of undocumented immigrants from Mexico last year.

4 - US WEAPONS FUEL DRUG VIOLENCE IN MEXICO
Since 2006, Mexican authorities seized more than 60,000 illegal firearms sold by US gun dealers to Mexican cartels.  Texas, with some of the most lax gun laws in the US, is home to eight of the 12 largest dealers involved in the illicit international trade, according to a study conducted by the Washington Post.  Four of the most widely used outlets are owned by Bill Carter, former president of the local gun dealers' association who has lobbied heavily against firearms restrictions.  More than 3,800 gun dealers are registered in Texas, often selling military weapons, including armor-piercing machine guns.  Washington Post reporters uncovered extensive information on gun dealing in the Southwest by reviewing court records, thereby circumventing a 2003 law that prevents US officials from publishing the names of dealers whose guns are found in Mexico.  The Post uncovered one case in which a cartel member purchased fourteen AK-47s in one day from a single dealer.  Hamstrung by lax gun laws, US officials rarely bring charges against firearms dealers.   Since 2006, only two dealers have lost their license.  In large part, the lack of enforcement is a result of the Obama administration's fear of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Rahm Emmanuel, former White House chief of staff and current candidate for Mayor of Chicago, shelved a proposal earlier this year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to require gun dealers to report bulk sales of high-powered semiautomatic weapons.  Apparently Emmanuel was concerned about the impact on midterm elections.  Emmanuel is well-known for his patronizing attitudes toward the extreme right.  He also derailed a Treasury Department proposal earlier this year that would have loosened travel restrictions for Cuba, fearing its electoral impact in Florida and New Jersey.

5 - ACTIVIST MOTHER SLAIN IN CHIHUAHUA
Marisela Escobedo, well-known for her activism around femicides, was assassinated Thursday evening in front of the Presidential Palace in Chihuahua City where she was in the eighth day of a hunger strike demanding justice for her murdered daughter.  State security officials were assigned to protect Escobedo because of repeated death threats, but were inexplicably not in the area at the time of the assassination.  The entire assassination was recorded by the Palace's video cameras and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwktps1tNLY.  Police recovered a 9mm bullet and a cigarette butt at the crime scene, and claim they can identify the perpetrator from DNA left on the cigarette.   Escobedo was protesting the April release from jail of Sergio Rafael, who was convicted of murdering her 16-year-old daughter Rubi two years ago.  He was originally convicted based on his own confession and after leading police to the girl's body, but a three judge panel released Rafael without comment.  The following day, Escobedo's brother-in-law was kidnapped and her husband's lumber company in Ciudad Juarez was set on fire.  On Saturday, police found the burned and tortured body of the brother-in-law on a Juarez street.  Governor Cesar Duarte claimed it would be difficult to capture Rafael, the principle suspect in both incidents, because he reportedly enjoys the protection of a drug cartel.  The Sinaloa cartel, battling the rival Juarez cartel for control of Ciudad Juarez, hung two banners early Tuesday claiming solidarity with Escobedo's family and offering to find her killer.  According to police records, last year there were 2,600 murders in Ciudad Juarez, but prosecutors filed only 96 homicide cases and got 19 convictions.  The assassins of Escobedo, her daughter and her brother-in-law remain at large as of this writing.

6 - JEFE DIEGO RELEASED UNDER STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES
"Jefe" Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, one of Mexico's most powerful politicians and a former PAN presidential candidate, was released this week after spending seven months kidnapped by the Ex Misteriosos Desaparecedores (Ex Mysterious Disappearers).  Fernandez was kidnapped in May from his ranch where he traveled without bodyguards, certainly an oddity in a country full of high profile kidnappings.  Within days the family requested that authorities back down from investigating the case while they negotiated a ransom.  Jefe Diego reportedly spent his first week of freedom receiving medical checkups and recovering from his ordeal.   The normally impeccably coifed attorney appeared in public for the first time Monday on Televisa, the largest national TV channel, looking a bit like a heavily bearded Santa Claus.  Some journalists speculate that Jefe Diego may use the kidnapping to launch a run for the presidency in 2012.  One editorial even referred to a "pre-electoral kidnapping" that was "fabricated to favor Mr. Fernandez de Cevallos as well as the PAN, and to distract us from the true national disasters."  Fernandez certainly sounded like he was on the campaign trail, expressing uncharacteristic concern for the poor and oppressed while outlining a law and order theme: "I feel enormous pain to hear of the disgraces being done in this country, like the poor woman who was assassinated in Chihuahua." [see article above on Marisela Escobedo]  "We can only have peace and tranquility in this country when the life of a former presidential candidate, a cardinal, a priest, has the same value as that of a farm worker or a soldier."

His kidnappers released a 12-page communiqué entitled "Epilogue to a disappearance" and signed by the Network for Global Transformation, in which they criticized Mexico's political class for aligning with drug cartels, fomenting a climate of fear, and leaving most Mexicans mired in poverty.  They accused Jefe Diego, a well known attorney who defended drug dealers and made millions suing the government, of a long career full of illicit enrichment and legal impunity.  The impeccably written diatribe was released after Jefe Diego allegedly paid US$30 million for his freedom, gathered from family members and political associates.  If the money goes untracked, it would certainly make a nice petty cash fund for a presidential campaign.

7 - MORE IMMIGRANTS KIDNAPPED IN MEXICO
Fifty immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were kidnapped last week when gunmen stopped a train traveling through Oaxaca.  Mexican authorities initially denied the incident, generating harsh criticism from El Salvador's Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez: "We believe you can't deal with these problems by ignoring them."  Only minutes earlier, the immigrants escaped a raid on the same train by Mexican police and military in which they arrested 92 people.  The close proximity of the incidents led many experts to suspect collusion between officials and the kidnappers.  The Zetas, one of Mexico's most violent criminal gangs composed mainly of renegade army special forces, many trained in the US, is widely  believed responsible for the most recent incident.  In August, the Zetas massacred 72 mostly Central American immigrants in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, forcing the resignation of Mexico's top immigration official.  The National Human Rights Commission estimated more than 10,000 immigrants were kidnapped in Mexico from September 2008 to February 2009 by gangs.

8 - GUATEMALA DECLARES STATE OF SIEGE
The Guatemalan government declared a state of siege this Sunday in a province along the Mexican border that has been overrun by the Zetas cartel.  The operation in Alta Verapaz will last at least a month and gives the military virtual carte blanche to detain suspects and search homes.  The state of siege is normally reserved for national emergencies or foreign invasions.  Apparently Mexican cartels are moving to Guatemala to escape stepped up enforcement in Mexico - what is known in Mexico as the "cucaracha effect."  By Tuesday, Guatemalan security forces had seized a small plane, 150 AK-47 assault rifles, nine vehicles, and cash, and arrested ten suspected members of the Zetas.  The Zetas reportedly work closely with former members of Guatemala's military and have enjoyed virtual control of Alta Verapaz province since last year.

9 - MEXICO PURCHASES THREE BOEING SATELLITES
Mexico signed a billion dollar contract with Boeing Corporation to produce three satellites.  Tight-lipped officials commented only that the satellites will provide police and military with communication coverage throughout the country.

10 - MEXICAN ARMY HIT WITH INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS JUDGMENT
The Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled against Mexico and in favor of two campesino environmentalists, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera , who were illegally detained and tortured by soldiers at the behest of  international logging companies and local politicians in Guererro.  The campesinos were sentenced in 2000 to six and ten years in prison, respectively, on fabricated charges of weapons possession and growing marijuana.  President Vicente Fox pardoned both men in 2001 after an international outcry by human rights organizations. The Inter-American Court ruled that Mexican officials violated their rights to personal integrity, freedom, due process and judicial protection.  The Court ordered the Mexican state to investigate the cases and prosecute those responsible for mistreatment of the victims.  The court was particularly concerned with allegations of torture and impunity enjoyed by the military.  Although torture is formally illegal in Mexico, courts at all levels routinely accept testimony elicited through torture.  Members of the military cannot be tried in civilian courts, even when troops commit human rights abuses against civilians.   Montiel and Cabrera are internationally known members of the Organization of Campesino Ecologists of the Sierra of Petatlan and Coyuca de Catalan (OCESP), which struggled for years against illegal logging in the mountains of Guererro.  This is the fifth consecutive international human rights ruling against Mexico over the past two years.