Mexico News and Analysis: Aug 22 - Sept 4, 2011

1 - MARCOS AND SICILIA EXCHANGE THOUGHTS
2 - UNDOCUMENTED BORDER CROSSINGS DECLINE
3 - CASINO DEATHS REVEAL CORRUPTION SCANDAL
4 - FEMICIDES INCREASE IN CHIHUAHUA STATE
5 - RADIO HOSTS CALLS FOR “FLATTENING” BIKE RIDERS
6 - OBAMA OFFICIALS RESIGN OVER “FAST AND FURIOUS”
7 - PRI LEADER CAUGHT IN SCANDAL

Subcomandante Marcos wrote a letter last week addressed to Mexican sociologist Luis Villoro, with significant comments directed to Javier Sicilia and his national peace movement.  Marcos begins with a powerful critique of Mexico’s entire political class, a group of criminals that “don’t understand - their time is up.”  Politicians simulate governing through media representations while the nation falls apart.  Marcos singles out President Felipe Calderon for, among other things, his “war on drugs” waged from the “cartel of Los Pinos” (a reference to Mexico’s White House), and his tendency to “blame the victim,” whether blaming the poor for economic failure, women’s clothing for rapes, or the victims of violence for being “criminals.”

Then the Sup turns his attention to Javier Sicilia and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.  He characterizes the movement as something new that is bound to have high and low points as it develops, but above all a movement that deserves understanding and patience.  Perhaps Sicilia’s most significant achievement to date is the human aspect – public recognition of the victims of Calderon’s “war on drugs.”  “Thanks to this movement, the victims begin to have names and histories.”  Marcos expresses a bit of confusion over the focus of the movement on dialogue with the political class, but expresses “admiration and respect” for the movement.

Sicilia responded a few days later, explaining his dialogues with the political class: “the effort to make peace includes our adversaries, because we believe that human errors are not innately human, but rather an alienation of one’s consciousness that must be transformed through the patience of love…”  Inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Sicilia offers a starkly different starting point than Marcos – a political class that can be reformed as opposed to a political class without hope or future.  Of course, social movement analysis is not static.  In 1995 the Zapatistas sat down with the federal government for negotiations that lasted over a year before the movement decided it was hopeless.  The Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity may eventually come to the same conclusion, depending on how history plays itself out.  In any case, as Marcos points out, “one can question the methods, but not the causes.”

2 - UNDOCUMENTED BORDER CROSSINGS DECLINE
Arrests of undocumented immigrants trying to enter the US from Mexico have fallen to levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to recent Border Patrol statistics, though deaths associated with the dangerous trip across miles of desert have not decreased.  So far in fiscal year 2011, arrests totaled 305,000, compared to as many as 1.6 million annually in the early 2000s.  A precipitous decline of 60% between 2006 and 2010 has left many Border Patrol agents with little to do, while Washington politicians continue to demand more resources for border enforcement, utilizing undocumented immigrants as convenient scapegoats to explain the dismal US economic performance.  Despite the dramatic decreases in numbers, immigrant deaths increased in 2011 to 144 per 100,000 arrests, compared to three per 100,000 in 1998.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates today’s undocumented population at 11.2 million, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007.  Immigrants face increased dangers from cartel kidnappings and US border security, then confront an unstable US economy with few employment options.  Annual arrests in the range of 300,000 would predict successful border crossings in the range of 600,000, given the traditional two-to-one ratio established by academic research.  However, with a quadrupling of Border Patrol personnel in recent years and changes in legal strategies, this ratio may no longer be valid.  Many arrestees now spend time in jail before deportation, and fewer arrests mean a higher percentage of prosecutions, reaching 19% in 2011 – up from 2% in 2006.  Many immigrants are released hundreds of miles from their point of capture.  And arrests do not offer an accurate calculation of the number of immigrants trying to reach the US, as a single immigrant may be captured three or four times.  In addition, many undocumented immigrants overstay visas rather than crossing the US-Mexico land border surreptitiously.

3 - CASINO DEATHS REVEAL CORRUPTION SCANDAL
At least 52 people, mostly middle-aged women, died on August 25 in a brazen arson attack on the Casino Royale, one of Monterrey’s many newly minted gaming centers.  The arson was almost certainly the work of the Zeta cartel.  Authorities arrested five suspects within days, including one state police officer, and Mexico’s political class immediately came under investigation as well.  Videotapes surfaced last week of Jonas Larrazabal, brother of Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal, receiving bundles of cash on three separate occasions inside a casino.  In one video, Jonas Larrazabal is accompanied by Miguel Angel Garcia, city Secretary of Human Development, who was negotiating the reopening of a casino closed for local violations.  The brother claims to be a cheese and liquor salesman who was receiving payment for a delivery, though further investigation revealed he can’t distinguish cheddar from Merlot.  In one video, at least US$40,000 was exchanged, possibly an extortion payment to a cartel.  The Mayor reacted immediately, “I cannot be responsible for my brother’s acts.”  Police questioned the mayor and are holding his brother in custody.  It is unclear if the fire was set by a rival cartel trying to extort the casino, or if the extortion money already paid was late or insufficient.  Monterrey has become a center of cartel violence over the past two years as the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel battle for control.  Mayor Larrazabal is a member of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) and the casinos operate under licenses issued by the federal government.  After the fire, Larrazabal called for closure of all of Monterrey’s nine casinos for violation of local statutes.  Calderon dispatched more than 1,100 additional soldiers and federal police to Monterrey.  The Governor of Nuevo Leon, PRIista Rodrigo Medina, called for Larrazabal and Calderon to resign.  In his annual State of the Union address on Friday, Calderon condemned the casino massacre, but refused to criticize Mayor Larrazabal.

4 - FEMICIDES INCREASE IN CHIHUAHUA STATE
Of the 2,600 homicides committed in Chihuahua State in 2011, 222 were women, according to state Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas.  Last year the state saw 5,898 murders, of which 370 were women.  The increase “may be due to the increased participation of women in organized crime activities,” speculated Salas.  Most of the women were killed in Ciudad Juarez, site of at least 500 femicides since 1994.  Non-governmental organizations report a 71% increase nationally in cases involving murdered women from 2007 to 2009, with 10% involving girls or teenagers.  

5 - RADIO HOSTS CALLS FOR “FLATTENING” BIKE RIDERS
A controversial radio host, Angel Verdugo, called for Mexico City drivers to “flatten” bicycle riders who brave the city’s streets.  Verdugo, who usually limits himself to economic commentary, was apparently upset when two cyclists nearly crashed into his “modest Peugeot 206.”  An irate Verdugo singled out cyclists who participate in the city-sponsored Ecobici shared bike program, calling them a “plague.”  Mayor Marcelo Ebrard initiated the shard bike program by riding his ten-speed to work, protected by bodyguards in two cars and an overhead helicopter.  Unfortunately, most Mexico City residents don’t enjoy the same protection and have to deal regularly with drivers like Verdugo who live by a code in which your rights to the road are directly proportional to the size and cost of your vehicle.

6 - OBAMA OFFICIALS RESIGN OVER “FAST AND FURIOUS”
The Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Kenneth Melson, resigned this week, to date the most significant political casualty of the “Fast and Furious” undercover operation in which agents allowed military style weapons to “walk” across the border into Mexico.   Melson will transfer to the Justice Department as a senior advisor on forensic science.  US Attorney for Minnesota, Todd Jones, will replace Melson.  US Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, also resigned, making at least six officials who have retired or been reassigned in the wake of Fast and Furious.

7 - PRI LEADER CAUGHT IN SCANDAL
Humberto Moreira, president of the PRI and reportedly one of the country’s most powerful politicians in large part because he “knows where all the skeletons are buried,” is facing his own scandal.  The state of Coahuila, where Moreira governed until January, faces an unexplained US$2.8 billion debt, making the state the most highly indebted in all of Mexico.  His administration reported a US$700 million debt in December, weeks before Moreira stepped down as Governor, and a US$27 million debt in 2005 when he took office.   Moreira and one of his closest aides are under investigation by Treasury Secretary Ernesto Cordero, who is seeking to be the PAN presidential candidate in 2012.  Moreira discounted the investigation as an “evil campaign” to discredit the PRI, which is widely expected to win the presidency in 2012.  Moreira is trying to sell a modern and reformed image of the PRI free of the historic corruption that characterized the party for most of its eight decades.

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