NEWS & ANALYSIS: APRIL 25 - MAY 8, 2011

1 - PROTESTS OVER CALDERON’S “WAR ON DRUGS”
2 - AFI HEAD RESIGNS
3 - GUNWALKING SCANDAL GENERATES CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS
4 - AMBASSADOR PASCUAL LEAVING MAY 18
5 - PAN FIELDS SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS
6 - MSN PROGRAMS: Contact us at msn [at] mexicosolidarity [dot] org or (773) 583 7728 

1 - PROTESTS OVER CALDERON’S “WAR ON DRUGS”
Poet and journalist Javier Sicilia carried a Mexican flag as he departed Cuernavaca on Thursday leading a 50 mile “March for Peace with Justice and Dignity” to Mexico City.  Sicilia, whose son was killed on March 28 in Cuernavaca, is leading a national movement against violence that is highly critical of Mexico’s ineffective and corrupt political class.  “We cannot understand a war that is badly planned, that is badly directed,” said Sicilia in pointed reference to President Calderon.  “We cannot understand why he does not understand why the criminals are out there.  If they are out there, it is because the institutions and the State are co-opted.”  The Calderon administration has been badly stung by Sicilia’s growing popularity.  On Wednesday night before the march, Calderon issued a pre-emptive statement: “We must redouble our efforts, because if we stop fighting, they will kidnap, extort and kill all over the country.”  Sicilia responded on Friday with words that cut to the quick: “The State controls nothing.  Felipe Calderon wants to listen, but the country is no longer in his hands.  He has no vision.  He cannot imagine a better world.  He does not see that the cruelty and impunity, the killing, can also be blamed on our failing institutions.”

At a mass rally in Mexico City’s Zocalo on Sunday, march leaders threatened widespread civil disobedience if government authorities don’t meet six demands: truth and justice, the arrest of intellectual as well as material authors of crimes, an end to corruption and impunity, programs to combat the economic problems that drive criminal behavior, attention to youth and reconstruction of the social fabric, and participatory democracy, including democratization of the media.  The movement promised to investigate authorities at all levels to insure compliance.  Commissions of Verification and Sanction formed by honorable members of civil society, ostensibly without links to political parties, will meet on June 10 in Ciudad Juarez to continue work.  So far, it appears that Mexico’s notoriously corrupt political parties, including populist elites, like Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who are accustomed to co-opting popular movements, have been largely absent, though clearly lurking around the wings to gain whatever political advantage may present itself.  The movement made a special call to US civil society to organize in favor of peace and against violence. Part of Calderon’s “war on drugs” is funded by US taxpayers, and even some “progressive” US-based NGOs have supported parts of the so-called Merida Initiative that provides US$1.4 billion over three years.  On Thursday, dozens of demonstrators circled the Mexican Embassy in Chicago with signs declaring “Estamos hasta la madre de corrupcion y violencia.”  Other demonstrations were held in New York City, while one of the largest local demonstrations in Mexico unfolded in San Cristobal de las Casas where Zapatista support bases were included in a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands.  At least two dozen parallel marches filled city centers on Sunday around Mexico.

In related news, on Monday authorities announced the arrest of eight cartel members for the murder of Sicilia’s son and six friends.  One of those detained works in the office of the state Attorney General.  The timing was another indication of Calderon’s growing concern over the popular movement inspired by Sicilia.

2 - AFI HEAD RESIGNS
Admiral Wilfrido Robledo Madrid resigned last Thursday as Director of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI), the latest in a series of high level resignations from federal law enforcement agencies.  Admiral Jose Luis Figueroa, head of the National Center for Planning, Analysis and Information for Combating Crime (Cenapi) resigned the same day.  Robledo submitted a lengthy report on the AFI to newly appointed federal Attorney General Marisela Morales in which he criticized efforts by the Calderon administration to dismantle the AFI in favor of a single federal police force.  The report complained of a demoralized workforce and declining resources - to the point where agents lacked gasoline for official vehicles.  The number of agents declined from 6,635 in 2006 to 4,150 in 2011 as the military assumed increasing responsibility for Calderon’s “war on drugs” and the administration consolidated federal police activities under the Secretary of Public Security (SSP).  SSP head Genaro Garcia Luna, who is close to President Calderon, has long-standing disputes with the Secretaries of Interior, Defense and Marines as well as the federal Attorney General and the AFI - essentially all of the federal agencies involved in organized crime prevention.

3 - GUNWALKING SCANDAL GENERATES CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS
Both the US House and Senate are investigating the “Fast and Furious” scandal, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) allowed thousands of military-style weapons to be exported to Mexico - known in law enforcement circles as gunwalking - in hopes of tracking them to organized crime groups.  During a House hearing last week, Holder claimed neither he nor President Barack Obama authorized the operation, but when asked who did, Holder’s only response was, “I’m not sure.”   A newly released Briefing Paper dated January 8, 2010, four months into the operation, indicates the ATF knew the basic details early on, and that some of the weapons were already surfacing in Mexico.  The paper cites Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke as being “in full agreement with the current investigative strategy.”  Holder seems intent on limiting responsibility to Burke and the ATF Phoenix Field Office, though Holder’s office admits the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) approved the operation at some point.  The OCDETF “combines the resources and expertise of its member federal agencies which include: the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard - in cooperation with the Department of Justice Criminal Division, the Tax Division, and the 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices, as well as with state and local law enforcement,” according to its web site.  This would mean that virtually every federal law enforcement agency was aware of Fast and Furious, yet allowed the criminal export of thousands of military-style weapons to cartels in Mexico.  House and Senate investigations will continue next week.

4 - AMBASSADOR PASCUAL LEAVING MAY 18
Embattled US Ambassador Carlos Pascual will leave Mexico by May 18 after announcing his formal resignation two months ago amid a furor over diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks that were highly critical of the Calderon administration.  Calderon was particularly piqued over Pascual’s discussion of serious divisions among security forces in charge of the “war on drugs.”  John Feeley, the Ambassador’s deputy chief of mission, will take over day to day operations while President Obama seeks a permanent replacement, a process that is expected to take many months. Even Pascual’s personal life reportedly irked Calderon.  Pascual is reportedly dating the daughter of Francisco Rojas, a leader of the opposition PRI, which may account for the time lag between his official announcement and actual exit.

5 - PAN FIELDS SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS
Presidential elections aren’t scheduled until July 2012, but hopeful candidates are already lining up for a shot at the prize.  President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) has no fewer than seven early contenders.  Alonso Lujambio is the current Secretary of Education.  Ernesto Cordero, perhaps the closest to Calderon, is currently Secretary of Finance and recently grabbed headlines by asserting that the average Mexican family could live comfortably on USD515 a month (Cordero currently earns 34 times this much).  Josefina Vazquez Mota, the only female contender, currently heads the PAN Congressional caucus.  Santiago Creel, who was a favorite of former President Vicente Fox and the leading PAN candidate in the 2006 election until he was displaced by Calderon, is currently a Senator.  Javier Lozano is the abrasive Secretary of Labor responsible for the closure of Luz y Fuerza del Centro and the firing of 44,000 workers from the Electrical Workers Union (SME). Heriberto Felix is the Secretary of Social Development.  Emilio Gonzalez is Governor of Jalisco and aligned with the right-wing Catholic organization El Yunque.  All seven are permanent fixtures in Mexico’s political class.  Despite falling popularity and a need for every possible vote, the PAN expelled one of its leading members this week, former party President Manuel Espino, who often publicly criticized the thin-skinned Felipe Calderon.