Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Revenge in Drug War Chills Mexico

Revenge in Drug War Chills Mexico

By ELISABETH MALKIN
Published: December 22, 2009
MEXICO CITY — It had been an elaborate farewell to one of Mexico’s fallen heroes.

Mexican troops on Tuesday surrounded a home in Villahermosa where gunmen killed four relatives of a Mexican sailor who died last week in a special forces assault that killed a drug lord.
Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a special forces sailor killed last week during the government’s most successful raid on a top drug lord in years, received a stirring public tribute in which the secretary of the navy presented his mother with the flag that covered her son’s coffin.

Then, only hours after the grieving family had finished burying him in his hometown the next day, gunmen burst into the family’s house and sprayed the rooms with gunfire, killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.

It was a chilling epilogue to the navy-led operation that killed the drug lord, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, and six of his gunmen. And it appeared to be intended as a clear warning to the military forces on the front line of President Felipe Calderón’s war against Mexico’s drug cartels: not only you, but your family is a target as well.

Prosecutors, police chiefs and thousands of others have been killed in the violence gripping Mexico, with whole families sometimes coming under attack during a cartel’s assassination attempt. But going after the family of a sailor who had already been killed is an exceedingly rare form of intimidation, analysts say, and illustrates how little progress the government has made toward one of its most important goals: reclaiming a sense of peace and order for Mexicans caught in the cross-fire.

“There will be more reprisals, both symbolic ones and strategic ones,” said Guillermo Zepeda, a security expert with the Center of Research for Development, in Mexico City. “They will take revenge against not only the top people, but anybody who participates.”

The military and police forces who have been fighting the drug war typically cover their faces with ski masks to protect their identities. But the government generally releases the names of police officers and soldiers who have been killed in the drug war.

Responding to the killings on Tuesday, Mr. Calderón said, “These contemptible events are proof of how unscrupulously organized crime operates, attacking innocent lives, and they can only strengthen us in our determination to banish this singular cancer.”

The gunmen killed Ensign Angulo’s mother, Irma Córdova Palma, and his sister Yolidabey, 22, just after midnight on Tuesday as they slept, said Tabasco State officials. An aunt, Josefa Angulo Flores, 46, died on her way to the hospital and Ensign Angulo’s brother Benito died shortly after he was admitted to the hospital. Another sister, who was not identified, was injured.

Ensign Angulo, 30, was killed Dec. 16 when military forces surrounded an upscale apartment complex in the city of Cuernavaca, an hour’s drive south of Mexico City, and cornered Mr. Beltrán Leyva, who American and Mexican officials say was one of Mexico’s most violent drug lords.

Although Mr. Calderón called the death of Mr. Beltrán Leyva a significant victory in the drug war, federal officials warned almost immediately that it could spawn more violence.

Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez told reporters the morning after the raid against Mr. Beltrán Leyva that his subordinates would battle among one another to take his place at the head of the cartel that bears his name.

But what officials did not expect was that among the first victims would be the innocent.

Throughout the three-year-old drug war, Mexican officials have argued that only a tiny percentage of the dead are noncombatants. Indeed, the vast majority of the dead are believed to be members of drug gangs settling scores. Half of the bodies are not even claimed by their families, government officials have said.

But the government has also proved to be powerless to protect many of its own forces in the drug war, much less innocent bystanders. In just one case in July, gunmen suspected of being cartel members killed 12 federal police officers in the western state of Michoacán in retaliation for the arrest of one of their leaders.

The killings on Tuesday underscore how vulnerable civilians are. Many local police forces are corrupted by drug money, officials say, and even when they are not, they are no match for the drug gangs’ firepower.

In one of the most frightening attacks directed at civilians, suspected cartel members threw grenades into a crowd celebrating Independence Day in the president’s hometown in 2008, killing eight people. It seemed to crystallize the fear that the cartels could strike wherever and whenever they wanted, despite the deployment of thousands of troops against them.

Analysts said that new levels of narcoterrorism were possible as the drug gangs tried to spread fear among those fighting them.

“Any objective could be vulnerable,” Mr. Zepeda, the security expert, said. “The state should be expecting it.”

Antonio Betancourt contributed reporting.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hugo Chavez has message for Obama

Hugo Chavez has message for Obama

By Eric Verlo

NOT MY TRIBE - 4/18/2009 3:12PM MDT - 1 Comment
Hugo Chavez met Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, and presented this gift to the American president: “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. At the United Nations General Assembly in 2006, Chavez held aloft Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance,” encouraging everyone to read it. Is there a common theme to the dark-skinned Chavez’s book recommendations? Chavez’ critics from the Venezuelan upper middle class think he’s no brighter than a monkey. His message, educate yourselves.


Eduardo Galeano was interviewed by Amy Goodman on the day Barack Obama learned he had won the election. Galeano had this hope for the first US President of color: that he never forget that the White House, his new home, had been built by black slaves.

By the way, Galeano’s classic, with which Hugo Chavez hopes to bring Obama up to speed, was published in 1971.

When Obama won the 2008 election, Eduardo Galeano wrote this essay: I HOPE.

10 November 2008

Will Obama prove, at the helm of government, that his threats of war against Iran and Pakistan were only words, broadcast to seduce difficult ears during the election campaign?

I hope. And I hope he will not fall, even for a moment, for the temptation to repeat the exploits of George W. Bush. After all, Obama had the dignity to vote against the Iraq war, while the Democratic and Republican parties were applauding the announcement of this carnage.

In his campaign, the word most often repeated in his speeches was leadership. In his administration, will he continue to believe that his country has been chosen to save the world, a toxic idea that he shares with almost all his colleagues? Will he insist on the United States’ global leadership and its messianic mission to take command?

I hope the current crisis, which is shaking the imperial foundations, will serve at least to give the new administration a bath of realism and humility.

Will Obama accept that racism is normal when it is used against the countries that his country invades? Isn’t it racism to count the deaths of invaders in Iraq, one by one, and arrogantly ignore the many dead among the invaded population? Isn’t this world racist, where there are first-, second-, and third-class citizens, and the first-. second-, and third-class dead?

Obama’s victory was universally hailed as a battle won against racism. I hope he will assume, in his acts of government, this great responsibility.

Will the Obama government confirm, once again, that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are two names of the same party?

I hope the desire for change, which these elections have established, will be more than a promise and more than a hope. I hope the new government has the courage to break with the tradition of the one and only party, disguised as two parties which at the moment of truth do more or less the same thing while simulating a fight.

Will Obama fulfill his promise to shut down the evil Guantánamo prison?

I hope, and I hope he will end the evil blockade of Cuba.

Will Obama continue to believe that it is great to have a wall that prevents Mexicans from crossing the border, while money moves without anyone asking for its passport?

During the election campaign, Obama never honestly confronted the subject of immigration. I hope, now that he is no longer in danger of scaring voters away, he can and wants to break down this wall, much longer and more embarrassing than the Berlin Wall, and all the walls that violate people’s right to free movement.

Will Obama, who so enthusiastically supported the recent little gift of 750 billion dollars to bankers, govern, as usual, to socialize losses and privatize profits?

I’m afraid so, but I hope not.

Will Obama sign and comply with the Kyoto Protocol, or will he continue to give the privilege of impunity to the nation that is poisoning the planet the most? Will he govern for cars or for people? Can he change the murderous course of the lifestyle of the few who are risking the fate of all?

I’m afraid not, but I hope so.

Will Obama, the first black president in the history of the United States, realize the dream of Martin Luther King or the nightmare of Condoleezza Rice?

The White House, which is now his house, was built by black slaves. I hope he won’t forget it, ever.

US Reaps Trillions While Condemning Africa To Climate Catastrophe

The same disaster capitalism that's hurting Latin America...

Angela


US Reaps Trillions While Condemning Africa To Climate Catastrophe


By Glen Ford
Created 12/22/2009 - 18:57
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford


[1]

With humanity at risk and Africa facing “incineration,” the United States opted for “disaster capitalism” at the global climate conference, last week. “President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Copenhagen to end any possibility of a global agreement on greenhouse gasses that the rich nations would be bound to respect.”
Obama, US Continue To Reap Trillions and Condemn Africa To Climate Catastrophe
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The United States went to Copenhagen intent on imposing a ‘disaster capitalism’ regime on the poor nations of the planet.”
The United States, having reaped more benefits than any other nation from the industrial warming of planet Earth, now seeks to turn the resulting global disaster to its own advantage – or, more precisely, to the advantage of the U.S.-based, amoral, world-annihilating corporate class.
In Copenhagen last week, the Obama administration destroyed any chance of averting catastrophe in Africa and the developing nations of the global South. Temperatures will be allowed to rise 2 degrees Celsius on average, which translates to three and a half degrees in the hotter latitudes. As a consequence, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu [2], Africa is the be condemned “to incineration and no modern development.”
What development does occur would be at the pleasure of the United States and Europe. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Copenhagen to end any possibility of a global agreement on greenhouse gasses that the rich nations would be bound to respect. Obama administered the coup de grace to the Kyoto accords, extinguishing all hope of an international agreement that respects the rights of all nations to develop their economies within a binding framework that protects everyone’s interests. Instead, the United States imposed its own take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum: accept the inevitability of catastrophe in Africa and across the global South. And also accept that the U.S. and its corporations will dictate how the developing world will be allowed to grow its economies. Refuse, and the uppity poor countries will be cut off from the rich man’s “aid.”
“While Africa burns, Washington gives up nothing in terms of binding commitments.”
This is “disaster capitalism” in its most hellish form. The term was coined by political writer Naomi Klein in 2005 [3], to describe how the International Monetary Fund induced or exploited economic disasters in the Third World and then forced poor countries to surrender their national sovereignty in order to be eligible for loans and “aid” from the rich countries. The aim was to make it impossible for poor countries to control their own economic and political destinies.
The United States went to Copenhagen intent on imposing a “disaster capitalism” regime on the poor nations of the planet. While Africa burns, Washington gives up nothing in terms of binding commitments. Instead, the U.S. offers – but does not guarantee, or even promise – to create a special fund, possibly eventually amounting to $100 billion, from which “aid” will be doled out. The rich nations will determine who gets a piece of the global warming aid pie, and under what terms. The Americans insist that some of the money will come from private sources, rich corporations that are answerable to no one but their own greedy selves – which means western businessmen will determine how Africa and the global South will be allowed to develop under conditions of climate change. The U.S. reserves the right to make separate deals with favored nations, that is, countries whose leaders surrender their national destiny to the developmental wishes of the West.
Disaster capitalism holds the most vulnerable of the world’s people hostage to imperial blackmail at the hour of the planet’s greatest peril. It is a crime against humanity, and most grievously, a crime against Africa. How ironic that the chief perpetrator of the crime is himself a son of Africa.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com [4].
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com [5].



[6]
Africa drought Africa global warming
Source URL: http://tns1.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/us-reaps-trillions-while-condemning-africa-climate-catastrophe
Links:
[1] http://media.libsyn.com/media/blackagendareport/20091223_gf_ClimateCapitalism.mp3
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/17/copenhagen-no-deal-better-catastrophe
[3] http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050502/klein
[4] http://www.BlackAgendaReport.com/
[5] mailto:Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
[6] http://www.addtoany.com/share_save?linkurl=http://tns1.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/us-reaps-trillions-while-condemning-africa-climate-catastrophe&linkname=US Reaps Trillions While Condemning Africa To Climate Catastrophe

Revenge in Drug War Chills Mexico

By ELISABETH MALKIN | NY Times
Published: December 22, 2009

MEXICO CITY — It had been an elaborate farewell to one of Mexico’s fallen heroes.

Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a special forces sailor killed last week during the government’s most successful raid on a top drug lord in years, received a stirring public tribute in which the secretary of the navy presented his mother with the flag that covered her son’s coffin.

Then, only hours after the grieving family had finished burying him in his hometown the next day, gunmen burst into the family’s house and sprayed the rooms with gunfire, killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.

It was a chilling epilogue to the navy-led operation that killed the drug lord, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, and six of his gunmen. And it appeared to be intended as a clear warning to the military forces on the front line of President Felipe Calderón’s war against Mexico’s drug cartels: not only you, but your family is a target as well.

Prosecutors, police chiefs and thousands of others have been killed in the violence gripping Mexico, with whole families sometimes coming under attack during a cartel’s assassination attempt. But going after the family of a sailor who had already been killed is an exceedingly rare form of intimidation, analysts say, and illustrates how little progress the government has made toward one of its most important goals: reclaiming a sense of peace and order for Mexicans caught in the cross-fire.

“There will be more reprisals, both symbolic ones and strategic ones,” said Guillermo Zepeda, a security expert with the Center of Research for Development, in Mexico City. “They will take revenge against not only the top people, but anybody who participates.”

The military and police forces who have been fighting the drug war typically cover their faces with ski masks to protect their identities. But the government generally releases the names of police officers and soldiers who have been killed in the drug war.

Responding to the killings on Tuesday, Mr. Calderón said, “These contemptible events are proof of how unscrupulously organized crime operates, attacking innocent lives, and they can only strengthen us in our determination to banish this singular cancer.”

The gunmen killed Ensign Angulo’s mother, Irma Córdova Palma, and his sister Yolidabey, 22, just after midnight on Tuesday as they slept, said Tabasco State officials. An aunt, Josefa Angulo Flores, 46, died on her way to the hospital and Ensign Angulo’s brother Benito died shortly after he was admitted to the hospital. Another sister, who was not identified, was injured.

Ensign Angulo, 30, was killed Dec. 16 when military forces surrounded an upscale apartment complex in the city of Cuernavaca, an hour’s drive south of Mexico City, and cornered Mr. Beltrán Leyva, who American and Mexican officials say was one of Mexico’s most violent drug lords.

Although Mr. Calderón called the death of Mr. Beltrán Leyva a significant victory in the drug war, federal officials warned almost immediately that it could spawn more violence.

Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez told reporters the morning after the raid against Mr. Beltrán Leyva that his subordinates would battle among one another to take his place at the head of the cartel that bears his name.

But what officials did not expect was that among the first victims would be the innocent.

Throughout the three-year-old drug war, Mexican officials have argued that only a tiny percentage of the dead are noncombatants. Indeed, the vast majority of the dead are believed to be members of drug gangs settling scores. Half of the bodies are not even claimed by their families, government officials have said.

But the government has also proved to be powerless to protect many of its own forces in the drug war, much less innocent bystanders. In just one case in July, gunmen suspected of being cartel members killed 12 federal police officers in the western state of Michoacán in retaliation for the arrest of one of their leaders.

The killings on Tuesday underscore how vulnerable civilians are. Many local police forces are corrupted by drug money, officials say, and even when they are not, they are no match for the drug gangs’ firepower.

In one of the most frightening attacks directed at civilians, suspected cartel members threw grenades into a crowd celebrating Independence Day in the president’s hometown in 2008, killing eight people. It seemed to crystallize the fear that the cartels could strike wherever and whenever they wanted, despite the deployment of thousands of troops against them.

Analysts said that new levels of narcoterrorism were possible as the drug gangs tried to spread fear among those fighting them.

“Any objective could be vulnerable,” Mr. Zepeda, the security expert, said. “The state should be expecting it.”

Saving Mexico

To weaken the cartels, some argue the U.S. should legalize marijuana, let cocaine pass through the Caribbean and take the profit motive out of the drug trade

By DAVID LUHNOW | Wall Street Journal
December 26, 2009

Mexico City

In the 40 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs," the supply and use of drugs has not changed in any fundamental way. The only difference: a taxpayer bill of more than $1 trillion.

A senior Mexican official who has spent more than two decades helping fight the government's war on drugs summed up recently what he's learned from his long career: "This war is not winnable."

Just last week, Mexican Navy Special Forces swarmed a luxury apartment tower in a central city and gunned down Arturo Beltrán Leyva, a drug trafficker whose organization helped smuggle several billion dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. during the past decade, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Within days of Mr. Beltrán Leyva's death, Mexican officials were already trying to guess which of his lieutenants would take his place. Almost no one expected the death of Mr. Beltrán Leyva to slow down the business of drug trafficking or the horrific drug-related violence in Mexico that has claimed around 15,000 lives in the past three years. On Monday, hit men gunned down several family members of a Mexican naval officer who had been killed in the Beltrán Leyva raid. Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing, though Mexican authorities say the hit men are still at large.

Growing numbers of Mexican and U.S. officials say—at least privately—that the biggest step in hurting the business operations of Mexican cartels would be simply to legalize their main product: marijuana. Long the world's most popular illegal drug, marijuana accounts for more than half the revenues of Mexican cartels.

"Economically, there is no argument or solution other than legalization, at least of marijuana," said the top Mexican official matter-of-factly. The official said such a move would likely shift marijuana production entirely to places like California, where the drug can be grown more efficiently and closer to consumers. "Mexico's objective should be to make the U.S. self-sufficient in marijuana," he added with a grin.

He is not alone in his views. Earlier this year, three former Latin American presidents known for their free-market and conservative credentials—Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil—said governments should seriously consider legalizing marijuana as an effective tool against murderous drug gangs.

If the war on drugs has failed, analysts say it is partly because it has been waged almost entirely as a la w-and-order issue, without understanding of how cartels work as a business.

For instance, U.S. anti-drug policy inadvertently helped Mexican gangs gain power. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government cracked down on the transport of cocaine from Colombia to U.S. shores through the Caribbean, the lowest-cost supply route. But that simply diverted the flow to the next lowest-cost route: through Mexico. In 1991, 50% of the U.S.-bound cocaine came through Mexico. By 2004, 90% did. Mexico became the FedEx of the cocaine business.

That change in the supply chain came as Colombia waged a successful war to break up the country's Cali and Medellin cartels into dozens of smaller suppliers. Both moves helped the Mexican gangs, who gained pricing power in the market. Before, the Colombian cartels told Mexicans what price they would pay for wholesale cocaine. Now, Mexican gangs play smaller Colombian suppliers off of each other to get the best price. Mexican gangs are "price setters" instead of "price takers."

Some Mexican officials say privately that the U.S. should seriously consider allowing cocaine to pass more easily through the Caribbean again in order to squeeze Mexican gangs. "Would you rather destabilize small countries in the Caribbean or Mexico, which shares a 2,000-mile border with the U.S., is your third-biggest trading partner and has 100 million people?" one official said.

Today, the world's most successful drug trafficking organizations are found in Mexico. Unlike Colombian drug gangs in the 1980s, who relied almost entirely on cocaine, Mexican drug gangs are a one-stop shop for four big-time illicit drugs: marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin. Mexico is the world's second biggest producer of marijuana (the U.S. is No. 1), the major supplier of methamphetamines to the U.S., the key transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America and the hemisphere's biggest producer of heroin.

This diversification helps them absorb shocks from the business. Sales of cocaine in the U.S., for instance, slipped slightly from 2006 to 2008. But that decline was more than made up for by growing sales of methamphetamines.

In many ways, illegal drugs are the most successful Mexican multinational enterprise, employing some 450,000 Mexicans and generating about $20 billion in sales, second only behind the country's oil industry and automotive industry exports. This year, Forbes magazine put Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman as No. 401 on the world's list of billionaires.

Unlike their rough-hewn parents and uncles, today's young traffickers wear Armani suits, carry BlackBerrys and hit the gym for exercise. One drug lord's accountant who was arrested in 2006 had a mid-level job at Mexico's central bank for 15 years.

Recently, Mexico's deputy agriculture minister, Jeffrey Jones, told some of the country's leading farmers that they could learn a thing or two from Mexican drug traffickers. "It's a sector that has learned to identify markets and create the logistics to reach them," he said. Days later, Mr. Jones was forced to resign. "He may be right," one top Mexican official confided, "but you can't say things like that publicly."

Mr. Jones says he stands by his comments.

Because governments make drugs illegal, the risk associated with transporting them translates to high rewards for those willing to take that risk. The wholesale price of a single kilo of cocaine, for instance, costs $1,200 in Colombia, $2,300 in Panama, $8,300 in Mexico, and between $15,000 and $25,000 in the U.S., depending on how close you are to the Mexican border. At a retail level on the streets of New York, it can run close to $80,000. With markups like that, the business is bound to keep attracting new entrants, no matter what governments do to stop it.

Governments also have a hard time stopping the drugs trade because, like any good business, trafficking organizations innovate and adapt. Mexican customs has stumbled upon a long list of ingenious methods to transport cocaine, including one shipment of liquefied cocaine smuggled in red wine bottles. Another recent bust yielded 800 kilos of cocaine—worth an estimated $40 million—stuffed inside a batch of frozen sharks.

After Mexico restricted the importation of pseudoephedrine to slow the manufacture of methamphetamines, drug gangs found another way to make the drug using different, unrestricted chemicals widely used in the perfume industry. "I've always thought these guys had a good research and development arm," says one exasperated Mexican official.

Advocates for drug legalization say making marijuana legal would cut the economic clout of Mexican cartels by half. Marijuana accounts for anywhere between 50% to 65% of Mexican cartel revenues, say Mexican and U.S. officials. While cocaine has higher profit margins, marijuana is a steady source of income that allows cartels to meet payroll and fund other activities.

Marijuana is also less risky to a drug gang's balance sheet. If a cocaine shipment is seized, the Mexican gang has to write off the expected profits from the shipment and the cost of paying Colombian suppliers, meaning they lose twice. But because gangs here grow their own marijuana, it's easier to absorb the losses from a seizure. Cartels also own the land where the marijuana is grown, meaning they can cheaply grow more supply rather than have to fork over more money to the Colombians for the next shipment of cocaine.

Several U.S. states like California and Oregon have decriminalized marijuana, making possession of small quantities a misdemeanor, like a parking ticket. Decriminalization falls short of legalization because the sale and distribution remain a serious felony. One of the big reasons for the move is to reduce the problem of overcrowded and costly prisons.

While this strategy may make sense domestically for the U.S., Mexican officials say it is the worst possible outcome for Mexico, because it guarantees demand for the drug by eliminating the risk that if you buy you go to jail. But it keeps the supply chain illegal, ensuring that organized crime will be the drug's supplier.

Making pot legal might actually increase violence south of the border even more in the short term, with drug gangs fighting over a smaller economic pie of the remaining illegal drugs. But it would eventually reduce the overall financial clout of cartels.

If more radical options like legalizing prove impossible, then some analysts say Washington and Mexico City should at least refocus the battle against drugs along economic lines.

Until recently, Mexican police almost never looked at a cartel's finances. During a 2006 raid of a drug traffickers Mexico City home, police found a hand-written ledger describing the cartel's cocaine business for a single month: the price paid to Colombian suppliers ($3,500 per kilo), the sale price here in Mexico ($8,200 per kilo) and the cartel's net profit of $18 million. Police didn't bother to keep the piece of paper, according to people who participated in the raid.

"We've been attacking the players rather than attacking the industry. We need to focus on shrinking their markets and raising their operating costs," said Alberto Islas, a 40-year-old with an economics degree from MIT who runs a private security consulting company in Mexico City.

For the first time, Mexico's government is paying more attention to drugs as a business. A new 2% tax on cash deposits greater than $1,250 in bank accounts gives tax authorities a better picture of Mexico's cash economy—the currency of the drugs trade. Just this year, authorities found five people with unexplained cash deposits of more than $4 million, including one from a man who doesn't even have a formal job.

Mexican customs is also trying—for the first time—to disrupt the flow of guns and money that return from the U.S. to Mexico in exchange for the drugs. Disrupting that flow is crucial to cartel finances: Mexican gangs send drugs north, and get cash and guns in return.

For decades, people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico have been subjected to rigorous checks, but Mexico never bothered to check people coming back from the other direction. Now, cars coming from the U.S. will be blocked by a mechanical arm. License-plate photographs will be run against a criminal database in Mexico City, while a scale and vehicle-scanning system will determine if the car may be overloaded with contraband. Dogs trained to locate weapons and money will roam the area.

"Cash is king. Every bit of money we seize hits the cartels directly on the bottom line," says Alfredo Gutierrez Ortiz, the head of Mexico's tax authority.

But Mr. Gutierrez has also been around long enough to know Mexico is not going to stamp out the drugs trade here entirely.

"We must raise the transaction cost, make it too expensive for them to use Mexico as an export platform relative to other countries," he said. "But the demand itself—well, that's not going to go away."

Mexico Deals a Blow to a Cartel but Warns of Continued Drug-Related Violence

By ELISABETH MALKIN | NY Times
Published: December 17, 2009

MEXICO CITY — Even by the gruesome standards of Mexico’s drug lords, Arturo Beltrán Leyva’s capacity for violent revenge was especially brazen, officials in both the United States and Mexico say. His enforcement arm, called the Fuerzas Armadas de Arturo, or the Armed Forces of Arturo, is considered one of Mexico’s most ruthless, according to the State Department.

Since September, he had been carrying out brutal retaliatory attacks against rivals, dumping decapitated heads and tortured bodies across two Mexican states, leaving notes from “el jefe de jefes,” the boss of bosses.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Beltrán Leyva, one of Mexico’s three most wanted drug kingpins, was killed during a battle with about 400 special forces troops from the navy and the army, who surrounded a complex in Cuernavaca, where he had an apartment.

And although President Felipe Calderón on Thursday called the operation “a convincing blow” against the drug cartels, his government also warned that drug-related violence might not abate and could even get worse.

Mr. Beltrán Leyva, 48, who was also wanted in the United States, was the highest-level drug lord to be killed since Mr. Calderón began his offensive against powerful drug gangs in 2006.

Six other people suspected of being drug gunmen, included one who committed suicide, and one sailor died in the firefight, the Mexican authorities said.

Mr. Beltrán Leyva’s death is a public relations victory for Mr. Calderón, who is facing criticism from the opposition over what they say is a lack of progress in his crackdown on drugs. Despite thousands of arrests and the capture of several gang leaders, drug violence keeps increasing.

Speaking from Copenhagen, where he is attending the United Nations climate talks, Mr. Calderón called Mr. Beltrán Leyva’s death “a convincing blow against one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico and on the continent.”

But Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez said that violence would continue. “Getting the leader of a cartel is a very strong blow and this will surely force restructuring,” Mr. Chávez Chávez said. “Violence inside the cartel can’t be ruled out until the chain of command is defined.”

Jorge Chabat, a security expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, in Mexico City, said that Mr. Beltran Leyva’s death was a step in the government’s long-term strategy of fragmenting the cartels’ power to limit their activity.

But not everyone agreed that the strategy was working.

“The truth is that this is a type of thousand-headed hydra,” said José Luis Piñeiro, a researcher at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City. “You cut off one and another one emerges, but the government believes that this tactic of dismembering cartels is effective.”

Still, the swift and effective operation on Wednesday sent a message, said Guillermo Zepeda, a security expert with the Cidac research group. “By getting the most visible leaders, you send the message that you are ending the impunity of the big capos,” he said. “I think that these surgical strikes are the ones that are really worth the trouble.”

Mr. Beltrán Leyva’s organization had expanded its control over states in the central part of the country, including lucrative smuggling through the Mexico City airport, according to Mexican and American officials.

Mexican authorities have said that the gang bribed several senior antidrug agents. Investigators believe that Mr. Beltrán Leyva ordered the murder of an acting federal police chief in May 2008, after the chief fired the police chief at the airport to break up the smuggling operation there, Mr. Zepeda said.

Immigration Enforcement Fuels Rise in U.S. Cases

By JOHN SCHWARTZ | NY Times
Published: December 21, 2009

Federal prosecutions reached a record high in the 2009 fiscal year, with the surge driven by a sharp increase in cases filed against immigration violators.

The 169,612 federal prosecutions were a jump of nearly 9 percent from the previous year, according to Department of Justice data analyzed by a research center at Syracuse University in a new report. Immigration prosecutions were up nearly 16 percent, and made up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government, the report said.

Much of the spike, immigration experts say, arises from Bush administration efforts to increase immigration enforcement and to speed prosecutions. The administration greatly increased the number of Border Patrol agents and prosecutors, and also introduced a program known as Operation Streamline that relied on large-scale processing of plea deals in immigrant cases in some parts of the country.

The relatively simple cases have become the low-hanging fruit of the federal legal system: Immigration prosecutions, from inception to court disposal, are lightning quick, according to the report. While white-collar prosecutions take an average of 460 days and narcotics cases take 333, the immigration cases are typically disposed of in 2 days.

And while federal prosecutors decline to prosecute about half of the white-collar cases that are referred to them by law enforcement agencies, they prosecute 97 percent of the immigration cases, according to the Syracuse group.

The speed-up in federal immigration prosecutions, however, has run afoul of the federal courts presiding over Arizona, which processed more than 22,000 immigration cases in the fiscal year, nearly a quarter of those cited in the report. This month, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the process of mass pleadings violates the federal rule that protects the accused from being forced into a guilty plea.

Michael A. Olivas, an immigration expert at the University of Houston Law Center, said he was not surprised to find immigration prosecutions “No. 1 with a bullet” on the Syracuse list. “I would have been astounded if it wasn’t one or two,” Mr. Olivas said. “We’re simply pushing the cattle through the chutes.”

The fact that immigration prosecutions remained high “shows that this administration is serious about enforcement to some degree,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a policy group in Washington that favors restricting immigration. “This administration understands that it needs to appear tough on enforcement if it’s going to make a credible case for legalization,” or amnesty programs, he said.

David Burnham, who is co-director of the Syracuse research group, known as the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, said that for whatever reason, “the policy of Bush appears, from the data, to have continued and maybe accelerated.”

The rise in federal immigration enforcement figures has occurred as crime has dropped over all. According to new statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also released Monday, violent crimes reported to the bureau’s Uniform Crime Program dropped 4.4 percent over the previous year, the third straight decline. Murder was down 10 percent, and property crimes dropped by 6.1 percent, according to the report.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

WAR WITHOUT BORDERS

'Although United States authorities seized $138 million last year, that amount pales in comparison to the $18 billion to $39 billion a year the Drug Enforcement Agency estimates is being smuggled to Mexico every year."

"No one knows precisely how much money is shipped across the border, but Mexican authorities say cash smuggled illegally into their country and then sent back to United States banks through Mexican financial institutions totals at least $10 billion a year."

Still, experts on money laundering are skeptical that the seizures, even on the order of more than $100 million a year, can put a dent in a business that counts its income in tens of billions of dollars.








December 26, 2009
WAR WITHOUT BORDERS
Along U.S.-Mexico Border, a Torrent of Illicit Cash

By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. and MARC LACEY
LAREDO, Tex. — The streets of Laredo are awash in money, stacks of grimy bills tainted with cocaine residue, wrapped in plastic and stowed in secret compartments built into the trucks, buses and cars that flow south over the Mexican border daily like a motorized river.

Customs officials have discovered a host of ingenious hiding places, from $3 million secreted in the floor of a Mexican passenger bus to $1.6 million stuffed in duffel bags and balanced atop the heads of people wading across the Rio Grande to Mexico.

At border crossings and airports alone, American customs officers seized $57.9 million in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up 74 percent from the previous year. And once the money lands in Mexico, it is easily swept into a largely unregulated underground cash economy or laundered through seemingly legitimate businesses.

As the United States has tightened bank regulations and clamped down on sophisticated money-laundering schemes in the past 35 years, more of the money from illicit drug sales is being smuggled across the border to Mexico the old-fashioned way, law enforcement officials say.

American officials say stopping the bulk cash shipments and scuttling money laundering are critical to crippling the cartels in Mexico, which have unleashed a wave of violence that has claimed more than 15,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón began cracking down on their operations in December 2006.

Law enforcement officials and business owners in Mexico say that the assault on the cartels has driven drug traffickers to branch out into an array of other money-making ventures, setting up businesses like spas and day care centers to launder drug proceeds or selling new products like pirated movies or pilfered oil.

“It’s a natural evolution of criminal activity, just as with the mob in the 1950s,” said John Feeley, the deputy chief of mission of the United States Embassy in Mexico City. “They can’t continue to work on one illegal product.”

But Mexican authorities have yet to make much headway against money launderers, and customs officials say the cash they seize is still a trickle of what flows across the border.

Joint operations of customs, border patrol and immigration agents set up checkpoints on southbound lanes every day, fishing for money. Customs officials have assigned 25 more teams of dogs and handlers to the task in the past two years.

Mr. Feeley said that he expected Mexico and the United States to devote even more energy to going after the cartels’ profits.

Although United States authorities seized $138 million last year, that amount pales in comparison to the $18 billion to $39 billion a year the Drug Enforcement Agency estimates is being smuggled to Mexico every year.

“There is an enormous amount of money that is flowing undetected and uninterdicted,” said John T. Morton, the assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement. “We are trying to be a step ahead of the people moving the money. Unfortunately, right now we are a step behind.”

On the border, federal authorities play a constant cat-and-mouse game with the traffickers. The dealers employ spies to spot checkpoints, while informants tip off agents about the movement of cash.

Across the Border

In Mexico, the cash is relatively easy to launder, law enforcement officials say. Though the Mexican government has tightened bank regulations in the last nine months, drug cartels still buy real estate, businesses, automobiles, jewels and other luxuries in cash without any reports of suspicious activity being made to the government. The sellers then make giant but legal cash deposits to the banks, and the money flows into the economy, Mexican government officials and experts on laundering said.

“When the money is already integrated into the economy it’s very difficult to detect and the players there are not obligated to report it,” said Ramón García Gibson, a consultant to Mexican banks on money laundering.

Nor is it a crime in Mexico to buy and sell dollars on the street. Thousands of informal money brokers exchange cash, and while they are not allowed to handle more than $10,000 a day per client, the rule is often ignored.

The money launderers are still outrunning the Mexican authorities. Though the main agency in the finance ministry charged with tracking money laundering has tripled in size in the past two years, it remains weak and overwhelmed with thousands of reports of questionable activity, officials there say. In the past year, they have referred about 600 cases to prosecutors, but only 18 were presented to the courts.

“They just don’t have the capacity yet to do the investigation and make it stick in court,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, a Mexico analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

No one knows precisely how much money is shipped across the border, but Mexican authorities say cash smuggled illegally into their country and then sent back to United States banks through Mexican financial institutions totals at least $10 billion a year.

A good portion of that is pooled by foreign exchange businesses and then shipped back to United States banks in armored trucks, experts on money laundering said. Money is also smuggled out of Mexico to Colombia and other countries to pay cocaine producers.

In September, the Mexican and United States authorities broke up a smuggling ring that had bought a chemical factory and was shipping $41 million from Mexico to Colombia. The cash, in $50 and $100 bills, was hidden in shipping containers holding an industrial chemical.

The cartels are also laundering money through such innocuous-sounding enterprises as a car wash in Guadalajara, the Perfect Silhouette spa in Mexico City, the Happy Child day care center in Culiacán, and the Biosport health club in Hermosillo, according to the Treasury Department, which has designated scores of such Mexican businesses as cartel operations.

In Monterrey, in Mexico’s north, a merchant explained how the Zetas, one of the country’s most feared organized crime groups, turned his small market stall into a wholesaler of pirated products, including movies and CDs. The cartels now produce copies themselves by the hundreds of thousands and sell them under their own label; a unicorn is the Zetas’ symbol.

“They tell you, ‘This store belongs to us now,’ ” said the jittery merchant, who insisted on anonymity to avoid the fury of his new bosses. The Zetas even installed closed-circuit cameras to track his sales.

“The Zetas pay me a wage,” he said. “It’s much less than I used to make when I worked for myself, but these are people you do not say no to.”

In June, Mexican federal authorities in Monterrey arrested 14 suspects accused of illegally copying movies and music and distributing them in Mexico. The ringleader, identified as Leon Ayala Romero, was dubbed the Zetas’ piracy czar and was accused of sending about $20 million in proceeds to Heriberto Lazcano, the top Zeta commander.

The lines between legal and illegal businesses remain fuzzy. Last year, Saulo Reyes Gamboa, 37, a Mexican businessman and police official from Ciudad Juárez, was sentenced to eight years in an American prison for bribing an undercover federal agent in the United States to ship nearly 2,000 pounds of marijuana to El Paso. The American government seized nearly $20,000 in currency and a vehicle from Mr. Reyes but was unable to get access to most of his other Mexican-based businesses, including Subway franchises, a sushi restaurant and a radio station.

Cat and Mouse

Drug cartels pay people to make money transfers through companies like Western Union, or simply deposit money in American bank accounts and withdraw it from ATMs in Mexico. Other schemes involve moving money to shell companies, which then buy durable goods like bicycles in the United States and ship them to South America.

In a new trend, some organized crime groups have taken to smuggling prepaid money cards rather than cash, law enforcement officials say. United States treasury officials are working to require prepaid cards loaded with more than $10,000 to fall under the same reporting requirements as cash. Right now, anybody can walk or drive across the border with the cards filled with more than $10,000, without breaking any laws.

In their continual war of attrition with smugglers, customs officers are using a panoply of new tools: hand-held meters that measure the density of objects, vans with X-ray equipment that scan cars headed to Mexico looking for hidden compartments.

But dogs specially trained to sniff out narcotics make the most discoveries. The dogs and their handlers also find money, since most of it has traces of narcotics embedded in its paper. Drugs and cash are often stored or transported in the same compartments.

There is an entire cottage industry devoted to building secret compartments in vehicles. Often the compartments will not open unless the driver takes a series of actions like pumping the brakes and turning on the dome light and the radio simultaneously.

Still, experts on money laundering are skeptical that the seizures, even on the order of more than $100 million a year, can put a dent in a business that counts its income in tens of billions of dollars.

“The interdiction program is a waste of all the money we are pouring into it,” said Fletcher N. Baldwin Jr., an expert at the University of Florida. “We have the longest borders in the world with two other countries, and it’s impossible to police those borders.”

Federal officials acknowledge that they are hamstrung by the volume of traffic over the Mexican border, both legal and illegal. About 16,000 vehicles cross each way every day in Laredo alone, and customs officials say they do not have enough personnel to adequately police them.

Spies for smugglers easily locate checkpoints, federal agents say. “We are always cognizant of spotters,” said Gene Garza, the Laredo port director for Customs and Border Protection. “You just have to work around it. It’s actually a game we play.”

The smugglers are adept players, keeping couriers in the dark about what they are carrying or the inner workings of the cartels.

In turn, the agents sometimes choose not to arrest the drivers, turning them loose and following in hopes of ensnaring people further up the chain of command, law enforcement officials said.

A few drivers agree to become informants. If a seizure is not publicized, the drivers find themselves under tremendous pressure from their bosses to prove they did not steal the money, law enforcement officials say, helping sow discord within the cartels.

“When they lose the money, they cannot just call the guys who paid them the money and say ‘Can you pay me again?’ ” said one longtime Laredo detective, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It just creates havoc.”

Agents sometimes have their own troubles proving a driver was smuggling. On Jan. 8, Aristeo Cavelaris Castillo, 32, from the Mexican state of Coahuila, was waved into an inspection station on the Lincoln Juarez Bridge here.

When a drug-sniffing dog became excited, the agents used an X-ray truck to scan his pickup and found $1.3 million in small bills hidden in compartments in the dashboard and the passenger cab.

But Mr. Cavelaris claimed he had borrowed the truck from someone he barely knew, and had just used it to do some shopping. Prosecutors dropped the charges without giving a reason.

Prosecutors and investigators declined to comment on specific cases, but said it was sometimes hard to prove the couriers knew the money was there. On the Southwest border, for instance, officers have arrested 95 people for bulk cash smuggling in the past year but have convicted only a third of those.

“We have to sometimes let these guys go because they didn’t do anything illegal,” said Stefan Cassella, a prosecutor with the Department of Justice.

Smugglers often recruit drivers at truck stops to move cash, and keep them ignorant of the details, defense lawyers in Laredo said. In February, José Eduardo Martínez from Nuevo Laredo, just across the border, was caught with $930,000 in a suitcase thrown in the sleeping area of his tractor trailer.

Christina Flores, a lawyer for Mr. Martínez, said he had been approached at a gas station and had been asked to carry the suitcase, with a payment promised after the trip. The smugglers planned to follow his truck in a separate car, she said.

“He accepted the proposition,” Ms. Flores said of her client, who pleaded guilty to bulk cash smuggling. “He had a big mortgage and credit card debt.”

Yet even when couriers plead guilty, they are usually unable to help investigators learn more about how the money laundering or cartels work.

“A lot of these cases, we find that even with the guys who do cooperate, they don’t know anything,” Mr. Morton said. “These people are fodder in a larger war.”

James C. McKinley Jr. reported from Laredo, and Marc Lacey from Mexico City, Ciudad Juárez and Culiacán, Mexico. Santiago Fourcade contributed reporting from Monterrey, Mexico, Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City and Randal C. Archibold from Los Angeles.


Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border

Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border


By JASON BEAUBIEN
Published December 25, 2009 7:10 PM

Mexico's brutal drug war has played out all across the country. But no place has been as hard hit as Ciudad Juarez, the industrial city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Juarez is a city torn apart by more than just murder. It is a city struggling unsuccessfully to find hope in a place flooded with heavily armed security forces, but where most people say they don't feel secure.

The wave of killings that has grown steadily over the last two years has spawned a secondary crime wave of kidnapping and extortion. The violence has left the city in a state of shock.

In downtown Juarez, Diana Martinez placed a small black cross with the name of her brother on a memorial banner to the thousands of people killed since 2007.

"I think we are now living in a state of paranoia," Martinez says. "All of the inhabitants of Ciudad Juarez, even the children. It's something that's completely upturned our lives. I don't feel secure in the street or even in my house."

Her brother, Rafael, sold used cars. He was gunned down in May in what Martinez believes was a robbery.

"He was a very young man — 24 years old," she says. "He leaves behind a family and three kids. It's a tragedy just like the thousands and thousands of tragedies that are repeating here every day in Juarez."

His twins, who are turning 6 this year, still don't really understand that their father is dead, she says. Even when they go to his grave they seem to think he is away on a business trip.

Unfulfilled Promises

Officials had promised things would get better in Juarez this year. Throughout 2008, two of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels fought for control of smuggling routes into El Paso.

In 2009, the Mexican military took over the Juarez police department. President Felipe Calderon sent in thousands of federal police and soldiers to regain control of the city of 1.5 million people. But the violence has only gotten worse.

Almost 2,600 people have been killed in Juarez this year, making it the murder capital of the hemisphere and giving it a per capita homicide rate more than 17 times greater than that of Los Angeles.

"The last two years have been just unbelievable — the level of violence we are living each day. The level of violence is just incredible," says Nelson Armenta, who runs a small seafood restaurant in downtown Juarez.

After Armenta was held up twice in one month, he hired a security guard to twirl a baton in front of his restaurant.

"These young guys, you know, 17 years old carrying guns. That got us worried. That's why we got the security guard," Armenta says.

Mexican soldiers with automatic weapons also patrol in front of his restaurant. Truckloads of federal police with machine guns mounted on their pickups roll through the streets, but the violence has been increasing.

Every day, Armenta reads in the paper about businesses getting shot up or burned down for not paying bribes demanded of them.

"As a businessman, I used to be afraid. I used to be afraid that something might happen to our families — kidnap, ransoms, extortions," he says. "And we just realized that we cannot be afraid of that. I mean, it's not about religion, but it's about faith. It's about, if that happens, well the least we can do is just move on."

City Of Dreams

To Americans Juarez may look like the ugly, dusty, beat-up stepsister of El Paso. But to poor Mexicans, it's a land of promise.

For decades people have flocked to the low-paying but plentiful jobs in the border factories called maquiladoras. Each day a long-line of job seekers extends outside the state attorney general's office as people apply to undergo mandatory criminal background checks for employment.

Other enterprising souls are hawking burritos, tacos and cold drinks to the people stranded in line.

Yet at the same time that the city's murder rate has skyrocketed, so has unemployment.

Jorge Podrosa, executive director of local association of maquiladoras, says the global economic downturn hit the Juarez factories incredibly hard.

"Since 2008 to 2009, we lost around 125,000 jobs," Podrosa says. That represents an almost 50-percent decline in factory jobs, the city's main source of legal employment.

Tourism is also down, a result of tighter border controls and the bad publicity generated by the deadly drug war. The U.S. military has ordered its personnel not to enter Juarez without special permission. Despite the restriction, a U.S. airman was gunned down along with five other people in a Juarez strip club in November.

The city is trying to confront the situation. The mayor has doubled the size of the local police force. He also has opened subsidized day care centers for the children of factory workers.

'A Trash Can'

But Clara Rojas, who teaches political rhetoric at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, predicts it will take decades for the city to recover.

The violence stems from deep social fissures, she says, and until those are fixed she predicts the killings will continue.

She traces the roots of the current violence to the murders of hundreds of women in the 1990s that are still unsolved. Most of the victims were young women, many of them factory workers or students, murdered and in some cases tortured and sexually abused.

Rojas says that impunity for that wave of killings sent a signal to the drug cartels and other thugs that Juarez is "fertile ground" for criminal activity.

"There is no way you can change anything if everybody thinks this city is a trash can for whatever they want to do," Rojas says.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mexican navy kills top cartel kingpin in shootout

By OSWALD ALONSO and ALEXANDRA OLSON, Associated Press Writers – Thu Dec 17, 11:16 am ET
CUERNAVACA, Mexico – Two hundred Mexican Navy marines stormed an upscale apartment complex and killed a reputed drug cartel chief in a two-hour gunbattle, one of the biggest victories yet in President Felipe Calderon's drug war.
Arturo Beltran Leyva, the "boss of bosses," and six members of his cartel died in the shootout Wednesday in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City, according to a navy statement Thursday.
The body of one cartel member was found on the ground outside the third-floor apartment, after he apparently committed suicide during the shootout.
Cartel gunmen hurled grenades that killed one marine and wounded two others, one of whom is in serious condition, the navy said. Two women and one man were detained during the raid, and five assault weapons were seized.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene heard at least 10 explosions during the firefight, which residents said lasted at least 90 minutes. Witnesses said the raid began when marines rappelled down ropes onto the roofs of some of the apartment buildings at dusk.
Reporters were briefly allowed inside the apartment where Beltran Leyva's body still lay early Thursday; his skull and one arm were mangled by bullet wounds, and in one hand he clutched a large gold-colored medallion.
"First they were asked to surrender, but they didn't yield and they opened fire," said one of the ski-masked marines who participated in the raid, and who was not authorized to give his name.
President Felipe Calderon, speaking from the Copenhagen climate summit, said "this action represents an important achievement for the government and people of Mexico, and a resounding blow against one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico, and on the continent."
Calderon described Beltran Leyva as "one of the three most-wanted" drug suspects in Mexico. By most estimates, the other two — both still at large — are Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
Residents of the apartment complex said the raid appeared carefully planned. Sailors went door-to-door before the gun battle to quietly evacuate residents to the gym.
Beltran Leyva is the highest-ranking figure taken down under Calderon, who has deployed more than 45,000 troops across Mexico to crush the cartels since taking office in December 2006. Mexico's navy often has been used in the battle as well. The offensive has earned Calderon praise from Washington even as 14,000 people have been killed in a wave of drug-related violence.
Beltran Leyva had narrowly escaped attempts to arrest him in recent months, including a Friday raid on an alleged drug cartel holiday party at mansion in the town of Tepotzlan, near Cuernavaca, where they killed three alleged Beltran Leyva cartel members and detained 11.
They also detained Ramon Ayala, a Texas-based norteno singer whose band was playing at the party, on suspicion of ties to organized crime. His lawyer, Adolfo Vega, denied Ayala had ties to the Beltran Leyva gang, saying the singer didn't know his clients were drug traffickers.
The last time Mexican authorities killed a major drug lord was in 2002, when Ramon Arellano Felix of the Tijuana Cartel was shot by a police officer in the Sinaloa resort of Mazatlan.
Beltran Leyva was one of five brothers from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa who once worked side by side with Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. The brothers split with Guzman several years ago and aligned themselves with Los Zetas, a group of former soldiers hired by the rival Gulf Cartel as hit men. The split is believed to have fueled much of Mexico's bloodshed of recent years.
One of the brothers, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested in January 2008.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says the Beltran Leyva cartel has smuggled tons of cocaine into the United States, as well as large quantities of heroin.
The Mexican government had offered a $2.1 million reward for Beltran Leyva's capture.
U.S. officials say the Beltran Leyva Cartel has carried out heinous killings, including numerous beheadings of rival traffickers or kidnappers invading what the gang considered its turf.
The gang also has had great success in buying off public officials, including employees of the federal police and prosecutors, to protect their business and get tips on planned military raids.
___
Olson reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writer Julie Watson also contributed to this report from Mexico City.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Immigration Crackdown With Firings, Not Raids

[KR: Many immigration advocates have been holding out hope that, even with an economic downturn, immigration reform would proceed under the Obama administration. The President has periodically voiced interest for comprehensive reform. Some even suggested that immigration reform could actually be seen as part of a stimulus package. What is apparent from stories like this in the NYT today is that we are a long way off from such rosy scenarios. Perhaps the only difference is that people are not being deported or taken from their homes and separated from family members. A more humane policy, perhaps, and also a more cost-effective one.]

———

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/us/30factory.html

September 30, 2009
Immigration Crackdown With Firings, Not Raids
By JULIA PRESTON

LOS ANGELES ? A clothing maker with a vast garment factory in downtown Los Angeles is firing about 1,800 immigrant employees in the coming days ? more than a quarter of its work force ? after a federal investigation turned up irregularities in the identity documents the workers presented when they were hired.

The firings at the company, American Apparel, have become a showcase for the Obama administration?s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to dismiss unauthorized workers rather than by using workplace raids. The firings, however, have divided opinion in California over the effects of the new approach, especially at a time of high joblessness in the state and with a major, well-regarded employer as a target.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, called the dismissals ?devastating,? and his office has insisted that the federal government should focus on employers that exploit their workers. American Apparel has been lauded by city officials and business leaders for paying well above the garment industry standard, offering health benefits and not long ago giving $18 million in stock to its workers.

But opponents of illegal immigration, including Representative Brian P. Bilbray, a Republican from San Diego who is chairman of a House caucus that opposes efforts to extend legal status to illegal immigrants, back the enforcement effort. They say American Apparel is typical of many companies that, in Mr. Bilbray?s words, have ?become addicted to illegal labor.?

?Of course it?s a good idea,? Mr. Bilbray said of the crackdown. ?They seem to think that somehow the law doesn?t matter, that crossing the line from legal to illegal is not a big deal.?

In July, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, opened audits of employment records similar to the one at American Apparel at 654 companies around the country. John T. Morton, who, as assistant secretary of homeland security, runs ICE, said the audits covered all types of employers with immigrant workers, including many like American Apparel that were not shadowy sweatshops or serial violators of labor codes.

The investigation at American Apparel was started 17 months ago, under President George W. Bush. Obama administration officials point out that they have not followed the Bush pattern of concluding such investigations with a mass roundup of workers. Those raids drew criticism for damaging businesses and dividing immigrant families.

Immigration officials said they would now focus on employers, primarily wielding the threat of civil complaints and fines, instead of raids and worker deportation.

?Now all manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government, using our basic civil powers, is going to come knocking on the door,? Mr. Morton said.

The goal, he said, is to create ?a truly national deterrent? to hiring unauthorized labor that would ?change the practices of American employers as a class.?

The employees being fired from American Apparel could not resolve discrepancies that investigators discovered in documents they had presented at hiring and in federal Social Security or immigration records ? probably because the documents were fake. Peter Schey, a lawyer for American Apparel, said that ICE had cited deficiencies in the company?s record keeping, but that the authorities had not accused it of knowingly hiring illegal workers. A fine threatened by the agency was withdrawn, Mr. Schey said.

After months of discussions with ICE officials, the company moved on its own to terminate the workers because, Mr. Schey said, federal guidelines for such cases were ?in a shambles.? The Bush administration proposed rules for employers to follow when workers? documents did not match, but a federal court halted the effort and the Obama administration decided to abandon it.

With its bright-pink, seven-story sewing plant in the center of Los Angeles, American Apparel is one of the biggest manufacturing employers in the city, and makes a selling point of the ?Made in U.S.A.? labels in its racy T-shirts and miniskirts. Dov Charney, the company?s chief executive, has campaigned, in T-shirt logos and eye-catching advertisements, to ?legalize L.A.,? by granting legal status to illegal immigrants, a policy President Obama supports.

Since the audit began, Mr. Charney has treaded carefully, eager to show that his publicly traded company is obeying the law, and to reassure investors that the loss of so many workers will not damage the business, since production has slowed already with the recession.

But Mr. Charney is also questioning why federal authorities made a target of his company. Over the summer he joined his workers in a street protest against the firings. Because the immigration investigation is still under way, Mr. Charney declined to be interviewed for this article but did respond in an e-mail message.

The firings ?will not help the economy, will not make us safer,? he said.

?No matter how we choose to define or label them,? he said, illegal immigrants ?are hard-working, taxpaying workers.?

On a recent visit to American Apparel?s factory floors here, amid the whirring of sewing machines and the whooshing of cooling fans, a murmur of many languages rose: mostly Spanish, but also Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Portuguese. Masseurs were offering 20-minute massages for sewers in need of a break.

But there was also a mood of mourning, as work was interrupted with farewell parties. The majority of workers losing their jobs are women, most of whom are working to support families. Many departing workers have been with the company for a decade or more.

Executives said many workers had learned skills specific to a proprietary production system that allows American Apparel to make 250,000 garments a week in Los Angeles, while keeping prices competitive with imports from places like China.

Some workers who are leaving said the company had been a close-knit community for them. Jesús, 30, originally from Puebla, Mexico, said he was hired 10 years ago as a sewing machine operator, then worked and studied his way up to an office job as coordinating manager.

?I learned how to think here,? said Jesús, who would not reveal his last name because of his illegal status.

The company provides health and life insurance, he said, and he earns about $900 a week, with taxes deducted from his paycheck.

Like many others, Jesús said his next move was to hunt for work in Los Angeles. He will not return to Mexico, he said, because he is gay and fears discrimination.

?There they treat you and judge you without even knowing you,? Jesús said.

He said several job offers from mainstream garment makers in this country had been withdrawn once he was asked for documents.

?Being realistic,? he said, ?I guess I?m going to have to go to one of those sweatshop companies where I?m going to get paid under the table.?

ICE has made no arrests so far at the factory. But Mr. Morton of ICE said the agency would not rule out pursuing workers proven to be illegal immigrants.

Mr. Schey said company human resources managers had added new scrutiny to hiring procedures. But workers facing dismissal pointed to the line of job applicants outside the factory one recent day, who, like many of them, were almost all Spanish-speaking immigrants.

?I think the Americans think that garment sewing is demeaning work,? said Francisco, 38, a Guatemalan with nine years at the plant who is being forced to leave.

A top supervisor, he is training new employees to replace him.

MASS FIRINGS - THE NEW FACE OF IMMIGRATION RAIDS

MASS FIRINGS - THE NEW FACE OF IMMIGRATION RAIDS
By David Bacon
The Progressive, December 2009/January 2010
http://www.progressive.org/full/archive

LOS ANGELES, CA (12/10/09) -- Ana Contreras would have been a competitor for the national tai kwon do championship team this year. She's 14. For six years she's gone to practice instead of birthday parties, giving up the friendships most teenagers live for. Then two months ago disaster struck. Her mother Dolores lost her job. The money for classes was gone, and not just that.
"I only bought clothes for her once a year, when my tax refund check came," Dolores Contreras explains. "Now she needs shoes, and I had to tell her we didn't have any money. I stopped the cable and the internet she needs for school. When my cell phone contract is up next month, I'll stop that too. I've never had enough money for a car, and now we've gone three months without paying the light bill."
Contreras shares her misery with eighteen hundred other families. All lost their jobs when their employer, American Apparel, fired them for lacking immigration status. {Her name was changed for this article.] She still has her letter from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), handed her two months ago by the company lawyer. It says the documents she provided when she was hired are no good, and without work authorization, her work life is over.
Of course, it's not really over. Contreras still has to keep working if she and her daughter are to eat and pay rent. So instead of a job that barely paid her bills, she had to find another one that won't even do that.
Contreras is a skilled sewing machine operator. She came to the U.S. thirteen years ago, after working many years in the garment factories of Tehuacan, Puebla. There companies like Levis make so many pairs of stonewashed jeans that the town's water has turned blue. In Los Angeles, Contreras hoped to find the money to send home for her sister's weekly dialysis treatments, and to pay the living and school expenses for four other siblings. For five years she moved from shop to shop. Like most garment workers, she didn't get paid for overtime, her paychecks were often short, and sometimes her employer disappeared overnight, owing weeks in back pay.
Finally Contreras got a job at American Apparel, famous for its sexy clothing, made in Los Angeles instead of overseas. She still had to work like a demon. Her team of ten experienced seamstresses turned out 30 dozen tee shirts an hour. After dividing the piece rate evenly among them, she'd come home with $400 for a 4-day week, after taxes. She paid Social Security too, although she'll never see a dime in benefits because her contributions were credited to an invented number.
Now Contreras's working again in a sweatshop at half what she earned before. Meanwhile, American Apparel is replacing those who were fired. Contreras says they're mostly older women with documents, who can't work as fast. "Maybe they sew 10 dozen a day apiece," she claims. "The only operators with papers are the older ones. Younger, faster workers either have no papers, or if they have them, they find better-paying jobs doing something easier.
"President Obama is responsible for putting us in this situation," she charges angrily. "This is worse than an immigration raid. They want to keep us from working at all."

Contreras may be angry, but she's not wrong. The White House website says "President Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers and enforcing the law." On June 24 he told Congress members that the government was "cracking down on employers who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages -- and oftentimes mistreat those workers."
The law Obama is enforcing is the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which requires employers to keep records of workers' immigration status, and prohibits them from hiring those who have no legal documents, or "work authorization." In effect, the law made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to work. This provision, employer sanctions, is the legal basis for all the workplace immigration raids and enforcement of the last 23 years. "Sanctions pretend to punish employers," says Bill Ong Hing, law professor at the University of California at Davis. "In reality, they punish workers."
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of DHS said early this year that it was auditing the records of 654 companies nationwide. The audit at American Apparel actually began in 2007, under President Bush. In Minneapolis, another Bush-era audit examined the records of janitors employed by American Building Maintenance. In May, the company and ICE told 1200 workers that if they didn't provide new documents that showed that they could legally work, they'd be fired. Weekly firings in groups of 300 began in October. The janitors belong to Service Employees Local 26, and work at union wages. The terminations took place as the union was negotiating a new contract.
In Los Angeles 254 workers at Overhill Farms were fired in May. The company, with over 800 employees, was audited by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year. According to John Grant, packinghouse division director for Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents production employees at the food processing plant, "they found discrepancies in the Social Security numbers of many workers. Overhill then sent a letter on April 6 to 254 people-- all members of our union - giving them 30 days to reconcile their numbers."
On May 2 the company stopped the production lines and sent everyone home, saying, according to worker Isela Hernandez, "there would be no work until they called us to come back." For 254 people that call never came. According to Alex Auerbach, spokesperson for Overhill Farms, "the company was required by federal law to terminate these employees because they had invalid Social Security numbers. To do otherwise would have exposed both the employees and the company to criminal and civil prosecution."
"We asked to see the IRS letter or any other documents related to this," Grant responds. "We've never heard of the IRS demanding the termination of a worker. They never showed us any letter. The company doesn't have to terminate these people. No document we know of says they do." Some of the terminated workers actually had valid Social Security numbers, and were fired anyway.
Workers accuse the company of hiring replacements, classified as "part timers," who don't receive the benefits in the union contract. "By getting rid of the regular workers, to whom they have to pay benefits, they're saving a lot of money," worker Lucia Vasquez charges. Auerbach says the replacements are paid at the same rate, although he acknowledges they lack benefits.
The history of workplace immigration enforcement is filled with examples of employers who use audits and discrepancies as pretexts to discharge union militants or discourage worker organization. The 16-year union drive at the Smithfield pork plant in North Carolina, for instance, saw two raids, and the firing of 300 workers for bad Social Security numbers.
Nevertheless, whether or not they're motivated by economic gain or anti-union animus, the current firings highlight larger questions of immigration enforcement policy. "These workers have not only done nothing wrong, they've spent years making the company rich. No one ever called company profits illegal, or says they should give them back to the workers. So why are the workers called illegal?" asks Nativo Lopez, director of the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. The Hermandad, with roots in Los Angeles' immigrant rights movement going back to legendary activist Bert Corona, has organized protests against the firings at Overhill Farms and American Apparel. "Any immigration policy that says these workers have no right to work and feed their families is wrong and needs to be changed," he declares.

President Obama says sanctions enforcement targets employers "who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages -- and oftentimes mistreat those workers." This restates a common Bush administration rationale for workplace raids. Former ICE Director Julie Meyers asserted that she was targeting "unscrupulous criminals who use illegal workers to cut costs and gain a competitive advantage." An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claims "unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions."
Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting the workers who endure them doesn't help the workers or change the conditions, however. But that's not who ICE targets anyway. Workers at Smithfield were trying to organize a union to improve conditions. Overhill Farms has a union. American Apparel pays better than most garment factories. In Minneapolis, the 1200 fired janitors at ABM get a higher wage than non-union workers - and they had to strike to win it.
ICE's campaign of audits and firings, which SEIU Local 26 president Javier Murillo calls "the Obama enforcement policy," targets the same set of employers the Bush raids went after - union companies or those with organizing drives. If anything, ICE seems intent on punishing undocumented workers who earn too much, or who become too visible by demanding higher wages and organizing unions.
And despite Obama's notion that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, at American Apparel and ABM the employers were rewarded for cooperation by being immunized from prosecution. ICE threatened to fine Dov Charney, American Apparel's owner, but then withdrew the threat, according to attorney Peter Schey. Murillo says, "the promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won't be fined. So this policy really only hurts workers."
And the justification for hurting workers is also implicit in the policy announced on the White House site: "remove incentives to enter the country illegally." This was the original justification for employer sanctions in 1986 - if migrants can't work, they won't come. Of course, people did come, because at the same time Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, it also began debate on the North American Free Trade Agreement. That virtually guaranteed future migration. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, over six million Mexicans, like Dolores Contreras, have been driven by poverty across the border. "The real questions we need to ask are what uproots people in Mexico," Hing says, "and why U.S. employers rely so heavily on low-wage workers."
No one in the Obama or Bush administrations, or the Clinton administration before them, wants to stop migration to the U.S. or imagines that this could be done without catastrophic consequences. The very industries they target for enforcement are so dependent on the labor of migrants they would collapse without it. Instead, immigration policy and enforcement consigns those migrants to an "illegal" status, and undermines the price of their labor. Enforcement is a means for managing the flow of migrants, and making their labor available to employers at a price they want to pay.
In 1998, the Clinton administration mounted the largest sanctions enforcement action to date, in which agents sifted through the names of 24,310 workers in 40 Nebraska meatpacking plants. They then sent letters to 4,762 people, saying their documents were bad, and over 3500 were forced from their jobs. Mark Reed, who directed "Operation Vanguard," claimed it was really intended to pressure Congress and employer groups to support guest worker legislation. "We depend on foreign labor," he declared. "If we don't have illegal immigration anymore, we'll have the political support for guest workers."
Bush's DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said the same thing. "There's an obvious solution to the problem of illegal work, which is you open the front door and you shut the back door." "Opening the front door" allows employers to recruit workers to come to the U.S., giving them visas that tie their ability to stay to their employment. And to force workers to come through this system, "closing the back door" criminalizes migrants who work without "work authorization." As Arizona governor, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano supported this arrangement, signing the state's own draconian employer sanctions bill, while supporting guest worker programs.

In its final proposal to "shut the back door," the Bush administration announced a regulation requiring employers to fire any worker whose Social Security number didn't match SSA's database. Social Security no-match letters don't currently require employers to fire workers with mismatched numbers, although employers have nevertheless used them to terminate thousands of people. Bush would have made such terminations mandatory.
Unions, the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center got an injunction to stop the rule's implementation in the summer of 2008, arguing it would harm citizens and legal residents who might be victims of clerical mistakes. In October 2009, the Obama administration decided not to contest the injunction. But while dropping Bush's regulation, DHS announced it would beef up the use of the E-Verify electronic database, arguing that it's more efficient in targeting the undocumented.
Social Security, however, continues to send no-match letters to employers, and the E-Verify database is compiled, in part, by sifting through Social Security numbers, looking for mismatches. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano called on employers to screen new hires using E-Verify, and said those who do so will be entitled to put a special logo on their products stating "I E-Verify."
John T. Morton, DHS assistant secretary for ICE, told the New York Times in November that the 654 companies audited in 2008 and early 2009 were just a beginning, and that audits would be expanded to an additional 1000 companies. "All manner of companies face the very real possibility that the government ... is going to come knocking on the door," he warned. The original 654 audits, Morton said, had already led to action at 328 employers, which presumably will include a demand to fire workers identified as undocumented.
This growing wave of firings is provoking sharp debate in unions, especially those with large immigrant memberships. Many of the food processing workers at Overhill Farms and ABM's janitors have been dues-paying members for years. They expect the union to defend them when the company fires them for lack of status. "The union should try to stop people from losing their jobs," demanded Erlinda Silerio, an Overhill Farms worker. "It should try to get the company to hire us back, and pay compensation for the time we've been out."
At American Apparel, although there was no union, some workers had actively tried to form one in past years. Jose Covarrubias got a job as a cleaner when the garment union was helping them organize. "I'd worked with the International Ladies' Garment Workers and the Garment Workers Center before," he recalls, "in sweatshops where we sued the owners when they disappeared without paying us. When I got to American Apparel I joined right away. I debated with the non-union workers, trying to convince them the union would defend us."
The twelve million undocumented people in the U.S., spread in factories, fields and construction sites throughout the country, encompass lots of workers like Covarrubias. Many are aware of their rights and anxious to improve their lives. National union organizing campaigns, like Justice for Janitors and Hotel Workers Rising, depend on the determination and activism of these immigrants, documented and undocumented alike.
That reality finally convinced the AFL-CIO in 1999 to reject the federation's former support for employer sanctions, and call for repeal. Unions recognized that sanctions enforcement makes it much more difficult for workers to defend their rights, organize unions, and raise wages.
Opposing sanctions, however, puts labor in opposition to the current administration, which it helped elect. Some Washington DC lobbying groups have decided to support the administration policy of sanctions enforcement instead. One of them, Reform Immigration for America, says, "any employment verification system should determine employment authorization accurately and efficiently." Verification of authorization is exactly what happened at American Apparel and ABM, and inevitably leads to firings. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win labor federation this spring also agreed on a new immigration position that supports a "secure and effective worker authorization mechanism ...one that determines employment authorization accurately while providing maximum protection for workers."
Covarrubias is left defenseless by such protection, however. Instead, he says, "we need the unity of workers. There are 15 million people in the AFL-CIO. They have a lot of economic and political power. Why don't they oppose these firings and defend us?" he asks. "We've contributed to this movement for 20 years, and we're not leaving. We're going to stay and fight for a more just immigration reform."
Nativo Lopez says he'll organize the workers being fired if unions won't, although recently he also expressed a desire for greater cooperation with the UFCW in the defense of fired workers. Last year the Hermandad began setting up workers' councils in southern California neighborhoods, to oppose employer sanctions and help workers resist them. "If companies start firing people as they have here, this place will look like a war zone," he warns, "but if we fight to defend people, we can organize them."

Obama: Renegotiate NAFTA as You Promised

We need to start reading Manuel Perez Rocha's articles on Mexico. He is very critical toward NAFTA and is urging the U.S. to be more diplomatic.

Angela



Foreign Policy In Focus on July 27, 2009
Article / Commentary
Obama: Renegotiate NAFTA as You Promised
July 27, 2009 · By Manuel Pérez-Rocha and Stuar
t Trew

Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. leaders should scrap their failed "Security and Prosperity Partnership" and begin overhauling the North American Free Trade agreement at an upcoming Guadalajara meeting.

Starting my first year in office, I will convene annual meetings with Mr. Calderón and the prime minister of Canada. Unlike similar summits under President Bush, these will be conducted with a level of transparency that represents the close ties among our three countries. We will seek the active and open involvement of citizens, labor, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in setting the agenda and making progress.

- Barack Obama, in a February 20, 2008 Dallas Morning News op-ed

Though Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have done everything to maintain the status quo on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), President Barack Obama has promised to "push the restart button" on several trade deals. While it's debatable how much his administration actually differs from its predecessor in these areas, trade activists remain hopeful that Obama will stick to his promises to renegotiate NAFTA and reconsider its expansion through the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP).

Those promises include the above comment, which Obama made when he was still vying to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Obama wrote those words shortly before the fourth annual SPP summit took place in New Orleans. By that time, the annual gathering of North American government officials and private-sector executives had become a lightning rod for criticism across the political spectrum and across borders. Indeed, the summits have been closed-door venues for pursuing a private sector-led agenda of deregulation and militarization, an agenda that calls for lowering environmental and consumer safety standards and curbing civil liberties, under the guise of making North America more "secure and prosperous."

Once Obama took office we became hopeful, despite the unwillingness of our countries' own leaders, Calderón and Harper, to widen the North American dialogue. However, more than six months into this administration, with the next North American leaders' summit coming up on August 9 and 10 in Guadalajara, trade activists like us are more in the dark than ever about what the United States would like to accomplish during the next phase of these trinational talks.

Will opening up the summits to greater civil society participation become just another forgotten campaign pledge? Will the Obama administration continue to ignore calls from concerned citizens in Canada, Mexico, and the United States to renegotiate a free trade agreement that increasingly serves only the slimmest of elite interests and needs a complete overhaul?

Security for Whom?

The Guadalajara meeting will be the fifth such gathering since the current three North American leaders' predecessors — former presidents Vicente Fox and George W. Bush and former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin — committed, in Waco, Texas in 2005 to deepen the NAFTA relationship and expand it into areas not covered by that agreement. The three leaders, nicknamed the "three amigos," called this new trilateral arrangement the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It included different attempts to merge policies in the three countries on a number of areas: border security and anti-terrorism measures, energy sector integration, environmental protection, emergency preparedness, safety standards and more.

While regional cooperation in many of these areas is desirable, it became clear early on in the SPP process that the ultimate policy objectives were less so, at least for the public interest.

The SPP has meant the escalation of U.S.-led militarization in Mexico via the Mérida Initiative and other mechanisms that haven't stopped Mexico's growing human rights violations or the unstoppable violence in a failed "war on drugs." In Canada, new Homeland Security-RCMP policing operations (such as the Shiprider project on the Great Lakes and shared Pacific waters) blur traditional state borders, allowing armed U.S. Homeland Security officers to operate on Canadian soil.

Prosperity for Whom?

The SPP's economic agenda has included efforts to "harmonize" how and what all three governments regulate with the stated aim of "reducing the cost of doing business across borders."

Effectively, this business-driven demand has meant deregulation in areas as important as food safety — moving to industry self-regulation — and environmental protection, including increased pesticide residue limitson hundreds of fruits and vegetables.

Other corporate demands have resulted in plans to cut the "transaction costs of exports" — like NAFTA's rules of origin — by $100 billion, according to the leaders' latest joint statement (although a report from governments of how much has actually been cut is pending). Rules of origin can guarantee the inclusion of local and national content in goods traded across borders, and their elimination affects small producers who could use them, with the help of development agencies, to provide input in trinational trade. In practice, eliminating these rules means renegotiating NAFTA in closed-door ministerial meetings.

The SPP's "energy integration" provisions have meant churning out five times more dirty oil from Canada's tar sands and pressure on Mexico to privatize its state-owned oil and gas industry, which does nothing to help the North American region to transition away from fossil fuels, while further tying Canadian and Mexican resources to insatiable U.S. energy needs, and deepening U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.

And finally, whose partnership are we talking about here? Our leaders have pursued these goals without any public oversight. Legislators haven't been consulted, and working groups often were dominated by big business. The North American Competitiveness Council, comprised of 30 of the continent's largest corporations, has been the SPP's only advisory body and the only group invited to the annual summits like the one coming up in Guadalajara. Business groups are currently waiting in the wings, ready to "offer strategic advice and support to the leaders," in the words of the Canadian and U.S. Chambers of Commerce, "either through the NACC or its successor mechanism."

Failed Model

The abject failure of NAFTA and its SPP offshoot to bring "security and prosperity" to North America is clear with the economic, environmental, and social crises now affecting this region and much of the world. Unemployment is high, global warming is escalating, and the need to transition away from carbon-intensive energy sources is irrefutable. Multiple food and consumer product safety scandals, notably the recent swine flu epidemic that has been linked to poorly regulated meat processing plants that have spread throughout Mexico since NAFTA came into effect, have called the bluff of business lobbies seeking further deregulation. So has the financial crisis — which resulted from unregulated trade in novel financial products totally detached from the real economy.

Mexico in particular is sinking into an unprecedented social and economic crisis. The drug war, perpetrated by Calderón with U.S. military help, has only exacerbated the nation's plague of violence. Since 2006, an estimated 12,000 people have died because of this war — the body count in 2009 so far is 3,363. There are also reports of a six-fold increase in human rights abuses also since 2006.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has just announced that while most of the world is seeing signs of recovery, the contraction of the Mexican economy this year will be double what was predicted just three months ago: a 7.3% rate. The fact that Mexico has become so vulnerable makes it crucial to critically analyze why NAFTA has not helped the country, even when trade and investment has increased.

New Model

The "free-market" ideology at the heart of NAFTA and its expansion to the realms of security through the SPP must be replaced with a people-focused model of sustainable economic growth that puts human rights, environmental protection, and job creation ahead of profits. These were Obama's promises as a candidate, when his refreshing new ideas tore through the language of "security" and "prosperity" to reveal the divisive policies these euphemisms hide.

Will the U.S. president turn back on his promise by simply reviving, even if it's under a new name, the failed Security and Prosperity Partnership dialogue? Or will he heed, for example, the advice of over 100 U.S. members of congress and civil society networks who want to revisit NAFTA, to strengthen environmental and labor standards and promote just investment rules and fair trade among other changes?

Maybe Obama hasn't made his mind up yet. In that case, we offer a simple piece of advice: In Guadalajara, make it clear that you will reverse the corporate coup d'etat that took over North American relations; announce that you're closing down the SPP and push the reset button. Agree with Calderón and Harper to start renegotiating NAFTA. Give us hope that another North America is possible.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha
Associate Fellow
Global Economy
Stuart Trew
IPS associate fellow Manuel Pérez-Rocha directs the NAFTA Plus and the SPP Advocacy project, which is part of the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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