News and Analysis: May 7 - 13, 2012

1 - POLITICAL PRISONER FROM CHIAPAS HIGHLANDS DEMANDS FREEDOM
2 - WHO WON THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE?
3 - BORDER PATROL UNVEILS NATIONAL STRATEGY
4 - JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO

Alberto Patishtan, a Tzotzil professor from the highlands of Chiapas, has been in prison for 12 years, unjustly convicted for the murder of seven police traveling in a convoy, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. This week La Jornada, one of Mexico's largest daily newspapers, characterized Patishtan as "the most important prisoner of conscience in Mexico." His judicial alternatives exhausted, the case in now in the hands of President Felipe Calderon who has the option of offering amnesty. Patishtan is currently serving time at the dangerous high security prison in Guasave, Sinaloa. The sixty-year-old professor and human rights activist was sentenced to life in prison in a highly politicized trial under former Chiapas Governor Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia, himself in prison for corruption. Governor Juan Sabines, who followed Salazar in office, promised to free Patishtan, but then failed to follow through. 
Only one witness implicated Patishtan in the multiple homicide, but his testimony was thrown out in the trial of another indigenous Zapatista, Salvador Lopez Gonzalez, who was accused of the same crime. Years later the eyewitness, son of a local PRI powerbroker, admitted lying at the encouragement of his father and in exchange for a pickup truck. The EZLN conducted its own investigation and concluded the murders were carried out by professional sharpshooters with access to internal information on the movement of the police convoy. Ten eyewitnesses placed Patishtan in a different place at the time of the murders, yet he remains in prison. The Movement for Justice in El Barrio is calling for worldwide actions in support of Patishtan the week of May 15-22.  Contact movementforjusticeinelbarrio [at] yahoo [dot] com for more information.
 
2 - WHO WON THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE?
 
Mexico held this election cycle's first presidential debate last Sunday evening, and the winner by unanimous acclaim - Julia Orayen. Never heard of candidate Orayen? That's because she's not running for president, though after Sunday night's performance she might have a chance in an otherwise lackluster field. Ms. Orayen appeared on camera for under thirty seconds, distributing slips of paper to determine the order of presentation. But the former Playboy playmate, decked out in a tight-fitting low cut dress, stole the show, with the mainstream media devoting most of their post-debate analysis to her cleavage, and/or the poor judgment of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) that sponsored the debate. The IFE initially blamed the whole affair on a "production error," later placing the blame directly on Orayen herself. Pre-debate criticism focused on the simultaneous broadcast of a quarterfinal soccer match, so perhaps Ms. Orayen was strategically placed at the beginning of the debate to draw viewership from Mexico's national pastime. If so, the IFE succeeded, with a slightly higher audience share than the soccer game (Tigres swamped Morelia 4-1), though ultimately the children's show Pequenos Gigantes (Little Giants) won the ratings game with nearly double the viewership of the debate. With little else to write about, it seems that Ms. Orayen was a godsend for journalists. The candidates received a list of questions before the debate, ensuring a rigidly controlled format full of canned statements and carefully planned theatrics. PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto came under attack, including allegations of corruption, financial mismanagement and police abuse while he was governor of Mexico State. The campaigns are prohibited by law from airing negative ads, so the debate was their only chance to experiment with US-style strategies. The next debate is set for June 10 in Guadalajara.
 
3 - BORDER PATROL UNVEILS NATIONAL STRATEGY
 
After eight years of unprecedented growth in personnel and uncontrolled spending on technology and border walls, the US Border Patrol on Tuesday announced a national strategy for controlling undocumented migration. The announcement coincides with a 40-year low in undocumented border crossings from Mexico. The previous strategy relied on brute force in urban areas that pushed migration into remote desert regions where harsh conditions assured that only the hardiest workers would survive. The strategy produced a death toll of more than one person per day in a deplorable "natural selection" process benefiting US employers.  
 
The new strategy, outlined in a 32-page document, relies heavily on improved intelligence to single out repeat crossers for jail terms, but replicates in many ways the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality that still emphasizes enforcement in urban areas. The Border Patrol doubled its workforce since 2004, to 21,000 agents, but many have little to do as apprehensions decreased by 80% since 2000. Much of the decrease is due to a jobless US economy combined with increasing control of the border by human traffickers aligned with cartels that charge up to US$4,000 for Mexicans and US$12,000 for Central Americans to cross. If migrants don't pay the fee, cartels turn them over to US or Mexican officials. In a belated, if implicit, recognition of the problem, the strategy focuses on identifying corrupt US agents who coordinate with cartels, a major problem that was ignored for many years. The new strategy divides border crossers into seven categories, part of the "Consequence Delivery System" that targets repeat offenders or people with criminal records for special treatment. In light of a billion dollar failure to place cameras and sensors along the entire 2,000 mile border, the new strategy focuses instead on drones and helicopters.
 
4 - JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO
 
The Justice Department (DOJ) sued Joe Arpaio on Thursday for racial profiling and punishing Latino inmates for speaking Spanish, part of the Maricopa County Sheriff's anti-immigrant campaign in the Phoenix area. After months of negotiations, the DOJ was unable to reach an agreement with Arpaio that would have imposed a court-appointed monitor to oversee the sheriff's office. The Department has only sued one other police department during its 18-year history of police reform efforts. The DOJ accused Arpaio of wanton violation of constitutional rights under a federal law passed after the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles. The DOJ characterized "Arpaio's conduct [as] neither constitutional nor effective law enforcement." Arpaio is no stranger to controversy. A separate federal case accusing his deputies of racial profiling is scheduled for a July 19 trial and a federal grand jury has been investigating the sheriff's office since at least December 2009.
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