Mexico News and Analysis: January 17-23, 2011

1 - UN DEMANDS INVESTIGATION IN DISAPPEARANCE OF MIGRANT WORKERS
2 - FIRST COLOMBIA, NOW MEXICO
3 - RURAL CRISIS BLAMED ON CAMPESINOS
4 - TEACHERS UNION PROMOTES POLITICAL PARTY IN SCHOOL
5 - NAVY SECRETARY REJECTS HUMAN RIGHTS RECOMMENDATIONS
6 - SINALOA CARTEL ENJOYS OFFICIAL PROTECTION?


1 - UN DEMANDS INVESTIGATION IN DISAPPEARANCE OF MIGRANT WORKERS
On Friday, Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called on Mexico to investigate the disappearance of 40 Central American migrants last month, and determine if the military or police were involved.   The migrants were abducted on December 16 by gunmen from a train in Oaxaca shortly after immigration officials and military troops had detained them.  The cargo train, with at least 250 migrants on board, was traveling through Oaxaca on a route that often attracts Central  Americans traveling to the US border.  The kidnappers were linked to Los Zetas, one of Mexico's most powerful cartels founded by former special forces troops, many of whom received training at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Initially, Mexican authorities denied the abduction even happened, and officials have been slow in mounting a serious investigation despite dozens of eyewitnesses willing to testify.

2 - FIRST COLOMBIA, NOW MEXICO
Increasing numbers of Mexican police and military are trained by Colombians and often in Colombia, learning the same commando and intelligence techniques taught by the US military a decade ago.  The Obama administration pays for part of the training and US forces are involved without having to set foot on Mexican territory, which would be politically difficult.  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos boasted, "Mexico has what we had some years ago, which are very powerful cartels.  What we can provide is the experience that we have had dismantling those cartels, training intelligence officers, training judicial police."  He didn't mention arming and training paramilitary groups, presumably also part of the program, nor the fact that Colombia is still the world's major producer of cocaine, though now the drug trade appears to be firmly under the control of national political figures.  Santos also failed to mention that Colombian paramilitary groups (which are indistinguishable from drug cartels) continue to flourish, even after the high-profile demobilization of tens of thousands of paramilitaries in 2003.  Since much of Colombia's drug war was waged against the FARC, counter-insurgency training is also a major element of training.  So far, 7,000 Mexicans have participated in the training.

3 - RURAL CRISIS BLAMED ON CAMPESINOS
World corn inventories declined to the lowest level in 15 years this week, and soy reached the lowest level in 30 years, according to the IMF, resulting in inflationary food prices and perhaps shortages of staples in some regions.  Corn prices increased by 64% over the past six months as the market addresses growing demand for ethanol.   Futures prices are also on the rise as markets anticipate more regional climate problems due to global warming.  More than 40% of US corn production next year will be dedicated to ethanol.  Despite increased demand, the USDA predicts a 2.2% decrease in world production of basic grains next year, the worst production levels in 15 years.  Inflationary pressures resulting from rising food prices could cause banks to increase interest rates in coming months, making it even more difficult for farmers to raise grain production and meet growing demand.

Fortunately, the National Action Party (PAN) is on the case, providing poignant analysis of the real causes behind the crisis.  On Thursday, PAN Senator Eduardo Nava Bolanos blamed lazy campesinos who spend most of their time gossiping.  Nava claimed nearly a third of Mexico's campesinos don't even plant their land, and politicians should stop blaming the federal government.

4 - TEACHERS UNION PROMOTES POLITICAL PARTY IN SCHOOL
The New Alliance Party (Panal), an invention of teacher's union (SNTE) "president for life" Elba Esther Gordillo, maintains a regular presence in Mexico's public schools, including distribution of fliers to students offering their parents subsidized food baskets and encouraging parents to vote for Panal.  Teachers recently distributed lunch boxes, backpacks and notebooks with the cover reading "Mama earn an A ... vote for New Alliance."  In Baja California Sur, teachers distributed coloring books with a Panal theme, including the names of local candidates, then asked students to fill out coupons with confidential information about their parents that could be used to mobilize voters in upcoming elections.  In some cases students use class time to fold fliers and are encouraged to invite their parents to political rallies.  In one school, teachers aligned with the SNTE used the daily presentation of the flag to invite parents to party meetings, and provided a bus to transport parents after classes.  Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio had no comment on the use of public schools by Panal, and refused to investigate despite the presentation of videos, photos and firsthand testimonies at his office.  Use of public schools for political ends is prohibited under Mexican law and could result in jail terms of up to nine years and loss of national party registration.

Elba Esther Gordillo is widely believed responsible for orchestrating President Felipe Calderon's election victory in 2006 by manipulating the vote count.  Calderon repaid her by awarding the SNTE control of the teacher's retirement fund during a three year transition to privatization, and appointing SNTE loyalists, including a member of Gordillo's family, to high positions in the Secretary of Education.   A former leader in the PRI, she formed Panal and aligned herself with Calderon in 2006 after the PRI selected a rival candidate for president.   Gordillo controls the 1.3 million members SNTE, the largest union in Latin America, with an iron fist.

5 - NAVY SECRETARY REJECTS HUMAN RIGHTS RECOMMENDATIONS
The Navy Secretary has rejected two recommendations concerning gross violations of human rights issued in December by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency.  The cases involved troops killing two civilians driving cars in the state of Morelos.  In the first incident, investigators found 53 bullet holes in the car, and 60 holes in the second car.  In both cases, troops were involved in gun battles with cartel members, but didn't take adequate measures to protect the lives of innocent bystanders.  The CNDH called for reparations for the families and collaboration by the Navy in bringing the cases to military and civilian courts.  This is the third formal human rights recommendation rejected by the Navy.  In 2010, the CNDH reported 198 complaints filed against the Navy for violations, including arbitrary detentions, illegal home searches, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and murder.

6 - SINALOA CARTEL ENJOYS OFFICIAL PROTECTION?
A decade after Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman escaped from a high security prison, his Sinaloa Cartel is the most powerful crime organization in the Americas with operations in 52 countries, and Guzman regularly appears on the Forbes 500 list.  Many suspect his dramatic success is due to official collaboration at the highest levels of government, possibly extending even to the President's office.  Guzman's escape was the first, and only, from one of Mexico's high security prisons.  The ease with which he set the precedent left many experts speculating that politicians at the highest levels reached an agreement with Guzman to bring the increasingly violent narcotics business under political control as it had been for much of the 20th century. 

Arrested in 1993, Guzman spent most of the following seven years at Puente Grande prison, where he bought influence by distributing millions of pesos a month to prison officials with the full approval of Director Leonardo Beltran Santana.  Guzman organized his own group of enforcers who used baseball bats to coerce unwilling prison employees.  He occupied a luxury suite complete with private dinners selected from a special  menu, cell phones and women visitors.  Two agents from the Center for Investigation and National Security (Cisen), Mexico's domestic intelligence agency, infiltrated the prison population and issued regular reports on Guzman's activities, but they were ignored.  Eduardo Medina, who served as Public Security Secretary under Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, was one of the officials at Cisen who buried the information on Guzman's activities.  Guzman escaped from prison in a laundry truck on January 19, 2001, less than two months after PANista Vicente Fox assumed the presidency.  Of the 71 prison employees accused of collaborating with Guzman, 59 were sentenced, but only five remain in prison.  The Director of the prison was released in June 2010.  Eduardo Medina currently serves as Mexico's ambassador to England.  Alejandro Gertz Manero, a former Secretary of Public Security, admits, with a certain irony, "no one knows why he is free or why he hasn't been arrested."