Mexico News and Analysis: July 18-24, 2011

1 - PRISON LABOR AND PRIVATE DONATIONS TO BUILD BORDER WALL IN ARIZONA
2 - WTO SUPPORTS MEXICAN TUNA COMPLAINT
3 - THREE HUNDRED PGR OFFICERS CHARGED OR FIRED
4 - LA FAMILIA REORGANIZES AS KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
5 - CHIAPAS POLITICAL PRISONERS RELEASED
6 - GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS RESPONSIBLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

PRISON LABOR AND PRIVATE DONATIONS TO BUILD BORDER WALL IN ARIZONA
An Arizona law that took effect July 20 allows state authorities to build their own border wall using donations from private citizens and prison labor.  Officials must also obtain permission from private landowners to allow construction on their land.  Donations can be made through a web site, and officials hope to raise US$50 million.  Steve Smith, the Republican state senator who sponsored the law, is appealing to donors across the US with racist comments like “those people don’t just stay in Arizona; they infiltrate the rest of the country.”

2 - WTO SUPPORTS MEXICAN TUNA COMPLAINT
The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in favor of Mexico this week in a two-decade long trade dispute over “dolphin safe” tuna from Mexican waters.  The ruling would allow Mexico to export yellow-fin tuna to the US market under the dolphin-safe label.  Since 1991, Mexican tuna exports to the US have been limited because the US Commerce Department won’t allow use of the label, despite Mexico’s compliance with international standards.  Environmentalists doubt the ruling will have much impact.  Mexican tuna boats track dolphins to locate schools of tuna, a practice that is legal under international rules but frowned upon by US companies StarKist and Bumble Bee, who won’t purchase tuna captured using those methods.  More worrying, the Pacific tuna population is severely depleted from over-fishing, leaving tuna at greater risk than dolphins.

3 - THREE HUNDRED PGR OFFICERS CHARGED OR FIRED
The Federal Attorney General (PGR) reports 111 of its officers have been charged with fraud, embezzlement or abuse of power, 192 were fired for botching investigations, and dozens more are under investigation.  The PGR investigates and prosecutes federal crimes, and is key to Calderon’s “war on drugs.”  Recently appointed Attorney General Marisela Morales, lauded by US officials when she assumed the office in April but widely seen as Calderon’s lapdog in Mexico, is cleaning house in the notoriously corrupt and ineffective agency.  President Calderon declared his “war on drugs” upon assuming office in December 2006, but is just now getting around to cleaning up the PGR after virtually abandoning prosecutions in favor of high profile arrests by the Federal Police.  Most arrestees go free, the result of corrupt investigations and/or prosecutions.

4 - LA FAMILIA REORGANIZES AS KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
La Familia, a violent drug cartel operating out of President Felipe Calderon’s home state of Michoacan, has apparently transformed itself into the Knights Templar, complete with a written code of conduct that threatens “a challenging ideological struggle to defend the values of a society based on ethics.”  In recent months, officials arrested most leaders of La Familia, leading the Calderon administration to claim the cartel was “dismantled.”  But La Familia has always had deep roots in Michoacan society, one of Mexico’s poorest states.  An unwritten set of rules allowed cartel members to sell narcotics in the US, but not in Mexico.  Even kidnappings, which are becoming more popular among Mexico’s cartels, had a different character in Michoacan.  Victims lost money, but seldom lost their lives as in other states.  La Familia spent much of its energy protecting turf – and purportedly defending the state - from rival cartels like Los Zetas.  Now, with the leadership of La Familia behind bars, the Knights Templar are apparently reorganizing the criminal enterprise, but with an eye toward winning the propaganda battle with the federal government, never a popular institution in this historically rebellious state.  The 22-page “Code of the Knights Templar of Michoacan” claims members will fight injustice, tyranny and poverty, and must respect women and children.  Membership is “for life.”  Members can’t use drugs and are subject to mandatory drug testing.  The original Knights Templar were medieval Roman Catholic warriors who fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem.  It appears the modern version will be fighting for market share in the narcotics business, as well as the hearts and minds of Michoacan residents.

In related news, US agents arrested 1,985 members of La Familia in a 12-state sting operation that lasted 20 months.  The Department of Justice announced seizures of US$62 million and 12 tons of drugs.  Unlike their Mexican counterparts, US officials did not characterize the arrests as decisive: “cartel operations appear to have built in redundancy and personnel to perform specific duties to limit damage incurred by removal of any one person.”

5 - CHIAPAS POLITICAL PRISONERS RELEASED
The last four of five political prisoners from San Sebastian de Bachajon, Chiapas, were released Saturday after more than five months in prison as virtual hostages of state authorities.  The prisoners, all members of the Other Campaign, were accused of murder and infractions related to protests at Agua Azul in defense of community lands, in particular control of a toll booth leading to the famous waterfalls.  Members of the PRI and the Green Party (PVEM) attacked the toll booth repeatedly, finally taking control in February after a particularly violent assault supported by the Army and local police.  State authorities held the prisoners in an effort to pressure the community to negotiate a resolution that would leave the toll booth under the control of the PRI and PVEM.  International protests initiated by the Movement for Justice in el Barrio in New York City pressured Chiapas officials and were apparently influential in the decision to release the prisoners.

6 - GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS RESPONSIBLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
A coalition of groups defending the rights of immigrants passing through Mexico issued a report this week accusing government officials of attacks against human rights defenders.  During the past year, two human rights activists were assassinated and 46 suffered physical attacks, with government officials the principal aggressors.  “Government officials from all three levels try to intimidate us so that we don’t denounce abuses and human rights violations that are committed against immigrants,” according to the report issued jointly by Amnesty International, immigrant rights centers and the Catholic Church.  Father Alejandro Solalinde, one of Mexico’s most visible immigrant rights activists, accused federal authorities of “systematic” denial of the violence suffered by immigrants from Central and South America as they pass through Mexican territory.

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