Sunday, November 29, 2009

DPS warns parents: Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting in Texas schools

November 17, 2009
DPS warns parents:
Mexican cartels and gangs recruiting in Texas schools

The Texas Department of Public Safety is warning parents across the state to be aware of efforts by Mexican cartels and transnational gangs to recruit Texas youth in our schools and communities. These violent organizations are luring teens with the prospect of cars, money and notoriety, promising them if they get caught, they will receive a minimal sentence.
The Mexican cartels constantly seek new ways to smuggle drugs and humans into Texas are now using state based gangs and our youth to support their operations on both sides of the border.
For example, Laredo natives Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio Reta were recruited in their teens to be hit men for the Zetas. The Zetas, composed primarily of former Mexican military commandos, originally served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, but have since become their own cartel. El Paso teens have been recruited to smuggle drugs across the border, many with the packs taped to their bodies.
While such recruitment is growing across Texas, juveniles along the Texas-Mexico border are particularly susceptible. In 2008, young people from the counties along the Texas-Mexico border accounted for just 9 percent of the population in Texas, but 18 percent of the felony drug charges and gang-related arrests.
“As these dangerous organizations seek to co-opt our children to support their criminal operations, it is more important than ever that parents be aware of these risks, talk to their children and pay attention to any signs that they may have become involved in illegal activities,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
To protect our communities and our children from these powerful and ruthless criminal organizations, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the District Attorneys in Texas border counties are working together to detect, disrupt and deter Mexican cartel-related crime along the Texas-Mexico border.
### (PIO 2009-81)

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By David Bacon
TruthOut, 11/23/09

One winter morning in 1996, Border Patrol agents charged into a Los Angeles street-corner clinic where 40 day laborers had lined up to be tested for AIDS. One worker, Omar Sierra, had just taken his seat, and a nurse had inserted the needle for drawing the blood. As agents of the migra ran across the street and sidewalk, Sierra jumped up, tore off the tourniquet, pulled the needle out of his vein and ran.

Sierra escaped and made it home. Shaken by his experience and determined never to forget his friends who were deported, he wrote a song.

I'm going to sing you a story, friends
that will make you cry,
how one day in front of K-Mart
the Migra came down on us,
sent by the sheriff
of this very same place . . .

We don't understand why,
we don't know the reason,
why there is so much
discrimination against us.
In the end we'll wind up
all the same in the grave.

With this verse I leave you,
I'm tired of singing,
hoping the migra
won't come after us again,
because in the end, we all have to work.

Working - A Criminal Act

Sierra states an obvious truth about people in the U.S. without immigration papers: "We all have to work." Yet work has become a crime for the undocumented. That Hollywood raid took place 13 years ago, but since then immigration enforcement against workers has grown much more widespread, with catastrophic consequences. In the last eight years of the Bush administration in particular, a succession of raids treated undocumented workers as criminals.

A year ago in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents ("the migra") arrived at Micro Solutions, a circuit board assembly plant in the San Fernando Valley. Unsuspecting workers were first herded into the plant's cafeteria. Then immigration agents told those who were citizens to line up on one side of the room. Then they told the workers who had green cards to go over to the same side. Finally, as one worker said, "it just left us." The remaining workers - those who were neither citizens nor visa holders -- were put into vans, and taken off to the migra jail.

Some women were later released to care for their kids, but had to wear ankle bracelets, and couldn't work. How were they supposed to pay rent? Where would they get money to buy food?

On May 12, 2008, ICE agents raided the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. They sent 388 Guatemalan young people to the National Cattle Congress, a livestock showground in Waterloo, two hours away. In a makeshift courtroom workers went in chains before a judge who'd helped prosecutors design plea agreements five months before the raid even took place. The workers had given the company Social Security numbers that were either invented, or belonged to someone else. The judge and prosecutor told workers they'd be charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year prison jolt, and held without bail. If they pleaded guilty to misusing a Social Security number, however, they would serve just five months, and be deported immediately afterwards.

Many of these young people spoke only Mam or Qanjobal, the indigenous language of the region of Guatemala from which they came, so even with Spanish translation they understood little of the skewed process. They had no real options anyway, and agreed to the five months in a federal lockup and were then expelled from the country. One of them was a young worker who'd been beaten with a meat hook by a supervisor. Lacking papers, he was afraid to complain. After the raid, he went to prison with the others. The supervisor stayed working on the line.

As in Los Angeles, women released to care for their children couldn't work, they had no way to pay rent or buy food, their husbands or brothers were in prison or deported, and they were held up to ostracism in this tiny town. Had it not been for St. Brigida's Catholic Church and local activists, the women and children would have been left hungry and homeless as they waited months for their own hearings and deportations.

They say it's just "illegals" - that makes this politically acceptable.

A year ago, ICE agents raided a Howard Industries plant in Laurel, Mississippi, sending 481 workers to a privately-run detention center in Jena, Louisiana, and releasing 106 women in ankle bracelets. Workers were incarcerated with no idea of where they were being held, and weren't charged or provided lawyers for days. they slept on concrete floors, and went on a hunger strike after a week of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Patricia Ice, attorney for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), called the raid political. "They want a mass exodus of immigrants out of the state," she declared. "The political establishment here is threatened by Mississippi's changing demographics, and what the electorate might look like in 20 years."

She means that African-Americans are moving back to Mississippi, and now make up over 35% of the population. In ten years, immigrants will make up another 10%. MIRA and the state's legislative black caucus have a plan - combine those votes with unions and progressive whites, and Mississippi can finally get rid of the power structure that's governed in Jackson since Reconstruction.

The Howard Industries raid was intended to drive a wedge into the heart of that political coalition - to stop any possibility for change.

ICE says these raids protect U.S. citizens and legal residents against employers who hire undocumented workers in order to lower wages and working conditions. But very often immigration raids are used against workers efforts when they organize and protest those same conditions. At the big Smithfield plant in Tarheel, North Carolina, where workers spent 16 years trying to join the union, the company tried to fire 300 people, including the immigrant union leadership, saying it had discovered that their Social Security numbers were no good. Workers stopped the lines for three days, and won temporary reinstatement for those who were fired. But then the migra conducted two raids, and 21 workers went to prison for using numbers that belonged to someone else. The fear the raids created was compared by one organizer to a neutron bomb. It took two years for the union campaign to recover.

Since the end of the Bush administration, immigration authorities say they will follow a softer policy. Instead of raids, they say they'll implement a system for checking the legal status of workers - an electronic database called E-Verify. People working with bad Social Security numbers will be fired. In October, 2000 young women in the Los Angeles garment factory of American Apparel were fired. And in November 1200 janitors were fired in Minneapolis.

The Department of Homeland Security says it's auditing the records of 654 companies nationwide, to find the names of undocumented workers. Will hundreds of thousands more get fired? What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?

Workplace raids, firings and E-verify are all means to enforce employer sanctions - the part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that said, for the first time, that employers had to check the immigration status of workers. The law essentially made it a federal crime for an undocumented person to work. Those who call for stricter enforcement say sanctions were never implemented, and point out that only a handful of employers were ever fined. But tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers. No one keeps track of the number - these people don't count.

ICE says sanctions enforcement targets employers "who are using illegal workers to drive down wages," -- those who pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn't help the workers or change the conditions, however. And that's not who ICE targets anyway. American Apparel pays better than most garment factories, although workers had to work fast and hard to earn that pay. In Minneapolis, the 1200 fired janitors at ABM belong to SEIU Local 26 and get a higher wage than non-union workers - and had to strike and fight to win it.

ICE is still targeting the same set of employers the Bush raids went after - union companies like Howard Industries, or organizing drives like those at Smithfield. The Agriprocessors raid came less than a year after workers there tried to organize. At Howard Industries in Mississippi, the migra conducted the biggest raid of all in the middle of union contract negotiations. ICE is punishing undocumented workers who earn too much, or who become too visible by demanding higher wages and organizing unions. And despite the 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. So this policy really only hurts workers.

What purpose does criminalization serve? In part it serves a huge bureaucracy. With 15,000 agents, ICE has become the second largest enforcement arm of the Federal government. Private detention centers have been built across the country, operated by companies like Geo Corporation, formerly called Wackenhut, and before that, Pinkertons. Janet Napolitano, DHS secretary, recently announced plans to build two new detention supercenter. About 350,000 people were detained for immigration violations last year, and at any one time about 35,000 people were in detention (read: prison).

But the driving force behind enforcement is deeper than contracts and jobs.

Open the Front Door, Close the Back Door

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said "there's an obvious solution to the problem of illegal work, which is you open the front door and you shut the back door." Chertoff means by "opening the front door" that he wants people to come to the U.S. as contract workers, recruited by employers using visas that say a worker can only come to work. This is the logic and requirement for every guest worker program, going back to the braceros. And to make people come only through this employment-based system, he'll "close the back door," by making walking through the desert across the border, or working outside of this contract labor system, a crime punished, not just by deportation, but by detention and prison.

People coming as contract labor never become citizens, vote or hold power. That's very convenient in Mississippi, for instance, where employers need the labor of immigrants, but are afraid of what will happen if they vote. And by no coincidence, the state employs more guest workers per capita than any other. Mississippi recently passed a state employer sanctions law, with a $10,000 fine and five years in jail for working without being "authorized."

E-Verify, the high-tech immigration database endorsed by both the Bush and Obama administrations, is only the latest idea for enforcing this kind of criminalization. The purpose of E-Verify, raids, firings and every other kind of workplace immigration enforcement, is the basic criminalization of work -- if you have no papers, it is a crime to have a job.

So you stand on the street corner, a truck stops to pick up laborers, and you get in. You work all day in the sun until you're so tired you can hardly go back to your room. This is a crime. You do it to send money home to your family and the people who depend on you. This is a crime too.

How many criminals like this are there? The Pew Hispanic Trust says there are 12 million people without papers here in the U.S.

But it's not just here. Manu Chao wrote a whole CD of songs about this: Clandestino. He sings about people going from Morocco to Spain. Turkey to Germany. Jamaica to London. There are over 200 million people, all over the world, living outside the countries where they were born. If all the world's "illegal workers" got together in one place there would be enough people for ten Mexico Cities or fifteen Los Angeleses.

If working is a crime, then workers are criminals. And if workers become criminals, proponents of this system say, they'll go home. That's the basic justification for all workplace immigration enforcement.

But is anyone going home? No one is leaving, because there's no job to go home to.

Since 1994, six million Mexicans have come to live in the U.S. Millions came without visas, because it wasn't possible for them to get one.

All over the world people are moving, from poor countries to rich ones. The largest Salvadoran city in the world is Los Angeles. More than half the world's sailors come from the Philippines. More migrants go from the country to the city in China than cross borders in all the rest of the world combined.

So many people from Guatemala are living in the U.S. that one neighborhood in Los Angeles is now called Little San Miguel. San Miguel Acatan was the site of the worst massacre of indigenous people by the U.S.-armed Guatemalan Army in that country's civil war, in 1982. Now more San Migueleños live in Los Angeles than in San Miguel.

The economic pressures causing displacement and migration are reaching into the most remote towns and villages in Mexico, where people still speak languages that were old when Columbus arrived in the Americas - Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui, Chatino, Purepecha, Nahuatl. There is no community in Mexico that does not have family members in the U.S.

Why Are So Many People Displaced?

NAFTA is just one element of the changes that have transformed the Mexican economy in the interests of foreign investors and wealthy Mexican partners. The treaty let huge U.S. companies, like Archer Daniels Midland, sell corn in Mexico for a price lower than what it cost small farmers in Oaxaca to grow it. Big U.S.. companies get huge subsidies from Congress -- $2 billion in the last farm bill.. But the World Bank and NAFTA's rules dictated that subsidies for Mexican farmers had to end. This was not the creation of a "level playing field," despite all the propaganda.

In Cananea, a small town in the Sonora mountains and site of one of the world's largest copper mines, miners have been on strike for two years. Grupo Mexico, a multinational corporation that was virtually given the mine in one of the infamous privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas, wants to cut labor costs by eliminating hundreds of jobs, busting the miners' union, and blacklisting its leaders. If miners lose the strike and their jobs, the border is only 50 miles north.

If you were a miner with a busted union and no job to support your family, where would you go? When Cananea miners lost the last strike against job cuts in 1998, over 800 were blacklisted, and many wound up working in Tucson, Phoenix and Los Angeles. No wonder the current strike has been going on for over two years. Miners are fighting to stay home, in Cananea, in Mexico.

The Mexican government just sent in the army to occupy all the power plants in Mexico City, dissolved the state-owned Power and Light Company (Luz y Fuerza), and fired its 44,000 employees. This act threatens to destroy the union there, one of the country's oldest and most democratic. This is a step towards selling off Mexico's electrical grid to foreign, private investors, just as the telephones, airlines, ports, railroads and factories have all been privatized over the last two decades. Where will the fired electrical workers go? If they don't win their current battle with the government, they'll follow many of their predecessors north.

NAFTA, and the economic reforms promoted by the U.S. and Mexican governments, helped big companies get rich by keeping wages low, by giving them subsidies and letting them push farmers into bankruptcy, by privatizing state enterprises and allowing cuts in the workforce and working conditions. But those are the changes that make it hard for families to survive: Low wages. Can't farm any more. Laid off to cut costs. Factory privatized and union busted.

Salinas promised Mexicans cheap food if NAFTA was approved and corn imports flooded the country. Now the price of tortillas is three times what it was when the treaty passed. That's great for Grupo Maseca, Mexico's monopoly tortilla producer (and Archer Daniels Midland sits on its board. And it's great for WalMart, now Mexico's largest retailer. But if you can't afford to buy those tortillas, then you go where you can buy them.

The advocates of economic liberalization said an economy of maquiladoras and low wages would produce jobs on the border. But today, hundreds of thousands of workers there have lost their jobs - when the recession began in the U.S., people stopped buying the products made in border factories. Even while they're working, the wages of maquiladora workers are so low - $4-6/day - that it takes half a day's pay to buy a gallon of milk. Most live in cardboard houses on streets with no pavement or sewer system. When they lose their jobs, and the border is a few blocks away, where do you think will they go? If you had no job or food for your family, what would you do?

And when people protest, the government brings in the police and the army to protect order and investment. People are beaten, as the teachers were in Oaxaca in 2006. After the army filled Oaxaca's jails, how many more people had to leave?

When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya simply raised the minimum wage to give families a better future, not as migrants, but in Honduras, the U.S.-trained military kidnapped him in his pajamas, put him on an airplane and flew him out of the country. How many people will leave Honduras, because the door to a sustainable future at home has been closed?

The lack of human rights itself is a factor contributing to migration, since it makes it more difficult, even impossible, to organize for change. Unequal trade agreements and military intervention don't stop the flow of migrants - they produce it by displacing people - making it impossible for them to survive without leaving home. Immigration laws then regulate this flow of people.

Migration is not an accidental byproduct of free trade. The economies of the U.S. and wealthy countries depend on migration, on the labor provided by a constant flow of migrants. Congress and the administration aren't trying to stop migration. Nothing can, not with trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA and the economic policies they represent. Immigration enforcement does not keep people from crossing the border, or prevent them from working. Instead, immigration policy determines the status of people once they're here. It enforces inequality among workers in rights, and economic and social status. That inequality then produces lower wages and higher profits

U.S. immigration policy has historically been designed to supply labor to employers, at a manageable cost, imposed by employers. And at its most overt, that labor supply policy has made workers vulnerable to employers, who can withdraw the right to stay in the country by firing them.

This is not an extremist view. Recently that gang of revolutionaries, the Council on Foreign Relations, proposed two goals for U.S. immigration policy. "We should reform the legal immigration system," it advocated, "so that it operates more efficiently, responds more accurately to labor market needs, and enhances U.S. competitiveness." This essentially calls for using migration to supply labor at competitive, or low, wages.
"We should restore the integrity of immigration laws," the Council went on to say, "through an enforcement regime that strongly discourages employers and employees from operating outside that legal system." This couples an enforcement regime like the one at present, with its raids and firings, to that labor supply system.

To employers, this system is not broken - it works well.

About 12 million people live in the U.S. without immigration documents. Another 26-28 million were born elsewhere, and are citizens or visa-holders. That's almost 40 million people. If everyone went home tomorrow, would there be fruit and vegetables on the shelves at Safeway? Who would cut up the cows and pigs in meatpacking plants? Who would clean the offices of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago?

Immigrants are not the only workers in our workforce, the only people willing to work, or the only people who need jobs. Our workforce includes African American, Native American, Asian American and Chicano families who have contributed their labor for hundreds of years. The vast majority of white people - the descendents of European immigrants - are workers too. We all work. We all need to work, to put bread on the table for our families. But without the labor of immigrants, the system would stop.

Those companies using that labor, however - the grape growers in Delano or the owners of office buildings in Century City, or the giant Blackstone group that owns hotels across the country - do not pay the actual cost of producing the workforce they rely on. Who pays for the needs of workers' families in the towns and countries from which they come? Who builds the schools in the tiny Oaxacan villages that send their young people into California's fields? Who builds the homes for the families of the meatpacking workers of Nebraska? Who pays for the doctor when the child of a Salvadoran janitor working in Los Angeles gets sick? The growers and the meatpackers and the building owners pay for nothing. They don't even pay taxes in the countries from which their workers come, and some don't pay taxes here either. So who pays the cost of producing and maintaining their workforce?

The workers pay for everything with the money they send home. Structural adjustment policies require countries like Mexico or the Philippines to cut the government budget for social services, so remittances pay for whatever social services those communities now get. For employers, that's a very cheap system.

Here in the U.S. it's cheap too. Workers without papers pay taxes and Social Security, but are barred from the benefits. For them there's no unemployment insurance, no disability pay if they get sick, and no retirement benefits. Workers fought for these social benefits, and won them in the New Deal. For people without papers, the New Deal never happened. Even legal residents with green cards can't get many Social Security benefits. If they take these benefits away from immigrants, it wont be long before they come after people born here.

Why can't everyone get a Social Security number? After all, we want people to be part of the system. All workers, the undocumented included, get old and injured. Should people live on dog food after a lifetime of work? The purpose of Social Security is to assure dignity and income to the old and injured. The system should not be misused to determine immigration status and facilitate witch-hunts, firings and deportations for workers without it.

Wages for most immigrants are so low people can hardly live on them. There's a big difference in wages between a day laborer and a longshoreman -- $8.25/hour minimum wage in San Francisco, where a dockworker gets over $25, plus benefits. If employers had to pay low wage workers, including immigrants, the wages of longshoremen, the lives of working families would improve immeasurably. And it can happen. Before people on the waterfront organized the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, they were like day labors. hired every morning in a humiliating shapeup where each person competed for a job with dozens of others. Dockworkers were considered bums. Now they own apartment houses. It's the union that did it.

But if employers had to raise the wages of immigrants to the level of longshoremen, it would cost them a lot. Just the difference between the minimum wage received by 12 million undocumented workers and the average U.S. wage might well be over $80 billion a year. No wonder organizing efforts among immigrant workers meet such fierce opposition.

But immigrants are fighters. In 1992 undocumented drywallers stopped Southern California residential construction for a year from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. They've gone on strike at factories, office buildings, laundries, hotels and fields. Those unions today that are growing are often those that have made an alliance with immigrant workers, and know that they will fight for better conditions. In fact, the battles fought by immigrants over the last twenty years made the unions of Los Angeles strong today, and changed the politics of the city. In city after city, a similar transformation is possible or already underway.

So unions should make a commitment too. In 1999 the AFL-CIO held an historic convention in Los Angeles, and there unions said they would fight to get rid of the law that makes work a crime. Unions said they'd fight to protect the right of all workers to organize, immigrants included. Labor should live up to that promise. Today unions are fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act, intended to make it easier and quicker for workers to organize. That would help all workers, immigrants included. But if 12 million people have no right to their jobs at all, and are breaking the law simply by working, how will they use the rights that EFCA is designed to protect? Unions and workers need both labor law reform and immigration reform that decriminalizes work.

Employers and the wealthy love immigrants and hate them. They want and need people's labor, but they don't want to pay. And what better way not to pay than to turn workers into criminals?

Creating Illegality

This is an old story. The use of migration as a supply of criminalized low-paid, or even unpaid labor began when this country began. Who were the first "illegals"? They were Africans displaced by the most brutal means, kidnapped, chained and marched to the coast, put on ships and taken across the middle passage to the Americas. And for what purpose? To provide labor on plantations, but not as equal people - not even as people at all. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted, a slave was counted as three-fifths of a human being, not because planters intended to give them three-fifths of a white person's rights, but so that slave masters could get more representatives in Congress.

Some of the nation's first laws defined who could be enslaved and who couldn't. The "drop of African blood" defined who was legal and who wasn't. When Illinois and Indiana came into the Union, as free states, their first laws said a person of African descent couldn't reside there. Were there no free Black people living in those territories? Did they not therefore become "illegal"?

That concept of illegality was then applied to other people, for the same purpose. Chinese immigrants were brought from Toishan under contract to work on the railroad, and drain the Sacramento/San Joaquin River delta. Then the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act forbade their continued immigration, because under U.S. nationality law, they could never become citizens. At the time the law said the Chinese had no right to be here, there were already thousands of Chinese migrants in California, and even Idaho.

In the early 1900s California's grower-dominated legislature made it a crime for Filipinos to marry women who were not Filipinas. At the same time, immigration of women from the Philippines to the mainland was very difficult. For the Filipino farm workers of the 1930s and 40s and 50s, it was virtually a crime to have a family. Many men stayed single until their 50s or 60s, living in labor camps, moving and working wherever the growers needed their labor.

During the bracero program from 1942 to 1964 growers recruited workers from Mexico, who could only come under contract, and had to leave the country at the end of the harvest. They called the braceros legal, but what kind of legality has people living behind barbed wire in camps, traveling and working only where the growers wanted? If braceros went on strike, they were deported. Part of their wages were withheld, supposedly to guarantee their return to Mexico. Half a century later they're still fighting to recover the lost money.

But everyone fought to stay. The Chinese endured the burning of Chinatowns in Salinas and San Francisco. Filipinos had to fight just for the right to have a family. Many braceros just walked out of the labor camps, and kept living and working underground for thirty years, until they could got legal status from the amnesty of 1986.

Immigration policy based on producing a labor supply for employers always has two consequences. Displacement of communities abroad becomes an unspoken policy, because it produces workers. And inequality becomes an official policy.

Almost two hundred years after the civil war eliminated much of dejure inequality written into law, defacto inequality is still very much with us. But today immigration law, with its category of illegality, is reinstituting inequality under law. Calling someone an "illegal" doesn't refer to an illegal act. It's not the border that makes people illegal any more than the middle passage made people slaves. Slavery was created on the slave block and in the plantation. Today's illegality is also created within the borders, by a legal system that excludes people from normal rights and social benefits.

Illegal status is created here. All the immigration reform bills in congress share the assumption that immigrants, even those with visas, shouldn't be the equals of the people in the community around them, with the same rights. For those without visas, the exclusion and inequality is even fiercer. And this is not a defacto exclusion or denial of rights. It is dejure denial, written into law, that justifies the raid in Laurel, the firings in Los Angeles, or the ankle bracelets in Postville.

Today the U.S. faces a basic choice in direction for its immigration policy. There is a corporate agenda on migration, promoted by powerful voices in Washington DC, like the Council on Foreign Relations and the employers' lobby, the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (think Wal-Mart, Marriott, or Tyson Foods). They propose managing the flow of migration with new guest worker programs, and increased penalties against those who try to migrate and work outside this system. Some of their proposals also contain a truncated legalization for the undocumented, but one that would disqualify most people or have them wait for years for visas, while removing employer liability for the undocumented workers they've already hired.

But, Washington lobbyists ask, wouldn't guest worker programs be preferable to what we have now? The Southern Poverty Law Center's report, Close to Slavery, documents that today's braceros are routinely cheated of wages and overtime. Workers recruited from India to work in a Mississippi shipyard paid $15-20,000 for each visa. The company cut their promised wages, and fired their leader, Joseph Jacobs, when workers protested. If workers do protest, they're put on a blacklist. The Department of Labor under Bush never decertified a guest worker contractor for labor violations, and said the blacklist is legal. When Rafael Santiago was sent by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to Monterrey to monitor hiring by the North Carolina Growers Association, to eliminate the blacklist and end contractor corruption, his office was broken into, and he was tied up, tortured and killed.

No employer hires guest workers in order to pay more. They hire them to keep wages low.

That's one possible direction - away from equality and the expansion of rights..

Undoing Inequality

Our own history tells us that a different direction is not only possible, but was partially achieved by the civil rights movement. In 1964, heroes of the Chicano movement like Bert Corona, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta forced Congress to end the bracero program. The next year, Mexicans and Filipinos went out on strike in the fields of Coachella and Delano, and the United Farm Workers was born.

The following year, in 1965, those leaders, together with many others, went back to Congress. Give us a law, they said, that doesn't make workers into braceros or criminals behind barbed wire, into slaves for growers. Give us a law that says our families are what's important, our communities. That was how we won the family preference system. That's why, once you have a green card, you can petition for your mother and father, or your children, to join you in the U.S. We didn't have that before. The civil rights movement won that law.

That fight is not over. In fact, we have to fight harder now than ever. Native-born workers and settled immigrant communities see the growth of an employment system based on low wages and insecurity as a threat. It fosters competition among workers for jobs, and expands the part of the workforce with the lowest income and the fewest rights. It's not hard for people to see the impact of inequality and growing poverty, even if they get confused about its cause.

But we don't have to assume that fear is hardwired into us, or that we can't overcome it. Mainstream newspapers said people applauded in the Laurel plant when the immigrants were arrested and taken out in handcuffs. But after the arrests, Black workers came out of the gate and embraced the immigrant women sitting outside in their ankle bracelets, demanding their unpaid wages. African American women offered to bring food to Mexican mothers, and supported their demand for back wages.

At Smithfield in North Carolina, two immigration raids and 300 firings scared workers so badly that their union drive stopped. But then Mexicans and African Americans together brought the union in. They found a common cause by saying to each other that they all needed better wages and conditions, that they all had a right to work, and that they union would fight for the job of anyone, immigrant or native-born.

Unions know that immigrants can be fighters, like other workers. In 1992 drywallers stopped home construction for a year with a strike that extended from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Immigrants, including the undocumented, have gone on strike at factories, office buildings, laundries, hotels and fields. Some unions today are growing, and they're often those that know immigrant workers will fight for better wages and conditions. The battles fought by immigrants over the last twenty years are helping to create political power in cities like Los Angeles.

In recognition of that process, and of their own self-interest, unions made a commitment at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles. They said they would fight to get rid of the law that makes work a crime, and to protect the right of all workers to organize. Labor should live up to that promise.

So What Do We Want?

First, we want legalization, giving 12 million people residence rights and green cards, so they can live like normal human beings. We do not want immigration used as a cheap labor supply system, with workers paying off recruiters, and, once here, frightened that they'll be deported if they lose their jobs.

We need to get rid of the laws that make immigrants criminals and working a crime. No more detention centers, no more ankle bracelets, no more firings and no-match letters, and no more raids. We need equality and rights. All people in our communities should have the same rights and status.

We have to make sure that those who say they advocate for immigrants aren't really advocating for low wages. That the decision-makers of Washington DC won't plunge families in Mexico, El Salvador or Colombia into poverty, to force a new generation of workers to leave home and go through the doors of furniture factories and laundries, office buildings and packing plants, onto construction sites, or just into the gardens and nurseries of the rich.

Families in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador or the Philippines deserve a decent life too. They have a right to survive, a right to not migrate. To make that right a reality, they need jobs and productive farms, good schools and healthcare. Our government must stop negotiating trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, and instead prohibit the use of trade and economic policy that causes poverty and displacement.

Those people who do choose to come here to work deserve the same things that every other worker does. We all have the same rights, and the same needs - jobs, schools, medical care, a decent place to live, and the right to walk the streets or drive our cars without fear.

Major changes in immigration policy are not possible if we don't fight at the same time for these other basic needs: jobs, education, housing, healthcare, justice. But these are things that everyone needs, not just immigrants. And if we fight together, we can stop raids, and at the same time create a more just society for everyone, immigrant and non-immigrant alike

Is this possible?

In 1955, at the height of the cold war, braceros and farm workers didn't think change would ever come. Growers had all the power, and farm workers none. Ten years later we had a new immigration law protecting families, and the bracero program was over. A new union for farm workers was on strike in Delano.

We can have an immigration system that respects human rights. We can stop deportations. We can win security for working families on both sides of our borders.
Yes, it's possible. Si se puede!

For more articles and images, see

Good luck to Obama on immigration reform; he's going to need it

This editorial appears in the Nov. 24, 2009, Yakima Herald-Republic.

Pushing ahead with comprehensive immigration reform next year is laudable given the crowded agenda that President Barack Obama and his administration has embraced. But we wonder if the White House can deliver on this reform next year in the wake of the hotly contested health care legislation it's now dealing with.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said recently that giving legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants will be an integral part of the immigration overhaul. For these illegal immigrants to gain legal status, they would have to register, pay fines and all taxes they owe, pass a criminal background check and learn English.

From our vantage point, any immigration reform is dependent on making sure the border between the U.S. and Mexico is secure. It also requires tougher enforcement laws against illegal immigrants and employers who knowingly hire them.

In the face of rising unemployment, Napolitano said the enhanced enforcement will actually protect American workers from being displaced by lower-paid, easily exploited illegal immigrants and will help the economy "as these immigrants become full-paying taxpayers."

The issue of border security drew immediate criticism from some Republicans, who point to a significant gap in physical impediments to entering the country illegally.

"How can they claim that enforcement is done when there are more than 400 open miles of border with Mexico?" asked Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Napolitano argued that security has improved, with more than 600 miles of border fence now in place and the Border Patrol having been increased to 20,000 officers.

Immigration reform is as important a topic here in Central Washington as is health care reform, perhaps even greater. With Hispanics accounting for more than 40 percent of Yakima County's population, much is at stake. Guest-worker details in any reform initiative will be especially critical for the Yakima Valley's agriculture industry, which estimates that from 50 percent to 70 percent of its farm-worker labor pool is here illegally.

The failure of President George W. Bush and Congress to pass reform in 2007 underscores how difficult it will be for the Democrats under Obama to succeed in navigating the thicket of opposition that comes with any measure offering legalization provisions.

The Bush administration suffered from what the public perceived was a failed policy to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a troubling question: How can the nation offer citizenship to those already here illegally if the U.S. can't stop the flow of undocumented immigrants from crossing our border?

For good reason, if the White House can't satisfy that overriding concern, immigration reform will never be taken seriously.

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Bob Crider, Spencer Hatton and Karen Troianello.


Blindman's Buff #267


MEXICO CITY (Nov. 27th) - Fact: Every 100 years on the tenth year of the century, Mexico explodes in extravagant social upheaval. In 1810, this distant neighbor nation declared its independence from the Spanish Crown, signaling monumental bloodletting - hundreds of thousands died, mostly people the color of the earth, fully 10% of the census.

In 1910, the Mexican revolution, the first massive uprising of the landless in the Americas, detonated in a geyser of blood and before it was done, a million were dead and a million more had been driven into permanent exile north of the border.
The 100-year timeline has triggered intense speculation about what's ahead for Mexico in 2010.

Whether the 100-year cycle is a measure of Mexico's political metabolism or merely an accident of numbers has scholars scurrying back to their history books. Certainly objective conditions for insurrection are rife. Mexico is wracked by the deepest economic contraction since the Great Depression, millions are out of work (one estimate calculates real unemployment as 40%), 72,000,000 out of 107,000,000 Mexicans live in and around the poverty line (three daily minimum wages), and income disparity is comparable to Africa. The parties of the left, right, and center are universally mistrusted and elections are tainted with fraud, canceling out a political solution to the ongoing crisis.

President Felipe Calderon who won high office in the fraud-tarred 2006 election is as unpopular as dictator Porfirio Diaz was a hundred years ago (Diaz himself repeatedly stole elections) and, like Diaz, he is spending billions to stage next year's Bicentennial celebration of the War of Liberation and the 100th birthday of the Mexican Revolution. The Dictator's allocation of the nation's social budget to mark the first hundred years of Independence in 1910 trip-wired his downfall.

Yet memories of the enormous human tragedies that accompanied 1810 and 1910 passed on from one generation to the next tend to make Mexicans cautious about the "R" word and revolution in 2010 is dismissed by many radicals as mere wishful thinking.

The notion that 2010 would usher in a new revolutionary chapter in Mexico's complicated history was first advanced by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation's (EZLN) charismatic mouthpiece Subcomandante Marcos in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle issued in June 2005. The "Sexta" called for the writing of a new revolutionary Mexican constitution in 2010, a process to be accompanied by prolonged social struggle.

To keep the pot boiling, the Zapatistas insisted upon the unity of all revolutionary forces and the creation of a mechanism - the Other Campaign or "La Otra" - that would develop and implement a plan of action. Although "La Otra" was marginated by its own sectarianism and brusque polemics with the electoral left, the Zapatistas' Other Campaign continues to look towards 2010 as a revolutionary watershed.

At a meeting of "Otr@s" from eight states and the federal district this past March in Tampico, Tamaulipas, activists considered the prospects for renewed revolution in the coming year. There was general consensus that 2010 constituted an historical opportunity that could not be passed up but some participants stepped back from proclaiming a new revolution. Carlos Montemayor, the nation's top scholar of guerrilla movements, even declared the 2010 timeline to be a "trap" that the "mal gobierno" ("bad government") will capitalize on to infiltrate provocateurs into social movements and militarize the country. Montemayor reminded the Otras and Otros that the War of Liberation and the Mexican Revolution only broke out in 1810 and 1910 and it was another decade before the killing had run its course with very mixed results for the "pueblo" ("people.")

By design or divine coincidence, Tampico is thought to be the birthplace of Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, born Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente, the son of a president of a local furniture store association. Marcos himself did not put in an appearance at the Other Campaign conference and in fact has been missing in action throughout all of 2009 after showing his ski-masked face briefly last New Year's at the rebels' Festival of "Digna Rabia" ("Rage with Dignity") in Chiapas. His elongated absence has led to suggestions that the pipe-chomping Zapatista Comandante is up to significant mischief.

In no other region of the country has the phantom of 2010 provoked more speculation than in Chiapas where the Zapatistas rose 16 years ago on January 1st, 1994 in the very first hour of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Governor Juan Sabines and his Secretary of Government Noe Castanon never weary of warning of "a social explosion" in the coming year. Many like La Jornada's veteran Chiapas correspondent Hermann Bellinghausen see their dire pronouncements, as paving the path for the increased criminalization of social protest that has marked the Calderon years and a pretext for further militarizing an already militarized state.

Following a wave of scare stories in the Chiapas press, this past November 20th - the 99th anniversary of the declaration of the Mexican revolution and a national holiday- 5000 Chiapas state police backed up by Mexican army troops patrolled roads throughout the Zapatista zone of influence in anticipation of renewed uprising. None occurred.

Several recent hyper-publicized incidents provide a glimpse of the psychosis that grips Chiapas on the eve of 2010:

This September 30th, in the highland Tzotzil Indian hamlet of Yebchalum hard by Acteal where in December 1997 49 members of Las Abejas ("The Bees"), a group aligned with the EZLN, were massacred by paramilitaries trained and financed by the Mexican Army, federal agents arrested local gun seller Mariano Jimenez and recovered a small arsenal that included three AK-47s ("Cuernos de Chivo"), 17 handguns, and 47
fragmentation grenades.

The recent release of 20 paramilitaries convicted of the 1997 killings has ratcheted up tensions in the highlands - Mexico's Supreme Court is preparing to release 30 more of the convicted killers, including four who confessed to perpetrating the massacre, due to judicial irregularities in their trials. Jimenez purportedly confessed to investigators that he was stockpiling weapons for the Abejas to defend themselves from the just-released killers.

The highly publicized "confession" was immediately denounced by the Bees, devout liberationist Catholics commited to non-violence who were created and fomented by San Cristobal de las Casas Bishop emeritus Don Samuel Ruiz. Indeed, Jimenez's "confession" invoked a touch of déjà vu - back in 1994, Bishop Ruiz was the government's favorite villain, condemned as "Comandante Sammy", the real face behind the Zapatistas' ski-masks.

A second incident reflecting a reinvigorated media assault on the San Cristobal diocese which is now under new management (Don Samuel's successor Felipe Arizmendi is much more of a moderate) unfolded October 13th when federal troops raided a ranch near Frontera Comalapa on the Guatemalan border and confiscated 40 long guns, 300 grenades, and what the Federal Prosecutor's Office (PGR) described as a "tank." Three men taken into custody were pictured as "guerrilleros" and claimed that they had been trained by one "Comandante Uerto" of the "Kaibiles", a dread unit of the Guatemalan Army that functions as a death squad - "Comandante Uerto", the suspected "guerilleros" revealed, had been recommended to them by "a catechist in the San Cristobal diocese" (sic.)

Reports in the Chiapas press, one of the most venal and for-sale in the country, suggested that the three were members of either the OCEZ (Emiliano Zapata Campesinos Organization) or the OPEZ (Emiliano Zapata Proletarian Organization) depending on which mendacious journalistic vision the reader swallows.

Chiapas daily newspapers like "Cuarto Poder" and other scandal sheets finger Diocesan priest Juan Hurtado Lopez in Altamirano in the Zapatista zone of influence, for calling for armed revolt in 2010 from his pulpit, an unfounded allegation that has been taken up by Governor Sabines. Other priests and catechists have allegedly encouraged takeovers of public buildings and attacks on banks. Cuarto Poder accuses the priest of Nueva Galicia of preaching revolution and reports that local merchants "are scared" that their stores will be sacked. Ricardo Lagunes, a lawyer for the Diocesan Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center founded by Bishop Ruiz was beaten by thugs in Jotola down in the hot lands, September 18th.

Adding fuel to this combustible ambiance was the September 29th arrest of veteran social activist Juan Manuel Hernandez, universally known as "Chema", a founder of the OCEZ and the House of the People ("Casa del Pueblo") in the central valleys around Venustiano Carranza. Chema, a longtime lightning rod for that community's recovery of 14,000 hectares from local ranchers, is a fiery indigenous leader whose political leanings are said to tilt more to the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) than to the EZLN. Cuarto Poder insinuates that Hernandez was plotting revolution in 2010 but subsequent Chiapas state police arrests of OCEZ militants on guns and drugs charges failed to turn up any guns or drugs.

Nonetheless, officials accuse Chema and his associates of running a criminal enterprise behind the smoke screen of the OCEZ. Repeatedly imprisoned during land struggles in Chiapas, Hernandez was flown out of state to a maximum security federal prison in the north of Mexico "for his own protection" (sic.) After months behind bars, the charges were dismissed and Chema was finally released November 20th.

Despite the hullabaloo in the local "prensa vendida", the EZLN has remained notoriously closemouthed about what it has up its sleeve in 2010. No communiqués have been forthcoming from the missing Marcos and the Zapatista leadership group, the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee (CCRI) has been silent. So are the Juntas de Buen Gobierno or Good Government Commissions that have become civil Zapatismo's voice in recent seasons. Even when the beleaguered Mexican Electricity Workers Union (SME) that once installed turbines and brought light to EZLN villages in the Lacandon jungle appealed for solidarity in its life and death struggle with the Calderon government, the Zapatistas remained mum.

Enmeshed in bitter conflicts with other campesino groups over corn land the rebels recovered from ranchers after their January 1st 1994 uprising, the EZLN is under pressure on several fronts. Governor Sabines's plans to build a super highway that will divide up Zapatista autonomous villages has also increased their vulnerability and the rebels may well consider that a second edition of 1994 in 2010 would be political suicide. Still, Subcomandante Marcos has often characterized the Indians' impossible rebellion 16 years ago as "an act of suicide."

Given the odds, it is highly improbable that Chiapas will be the stage set for insurrection in 2010. A more likely theater for revolution would be Oaxaca and Guerrero, two contiguous, desperately poor and highly indigenous states with rich histories of guerrilla uprisings. The War of Liberation, whose bicentennial will be commemorated in 2010, blossomed in this hothouse geography and as recently as this spring, confrontations between the military and unidentified guerrilleros were reported in the Guerrero sierra where 40 years ago Lucio Cabanas and his Party of the Poor rose against the mal gobierno.

The most prominent guerrilla formations in the region are the Popular Revolutionary Army which made its debut in 1996 with a series of murderous attacks on the military along Guerrero's Costa Grande and whose cadre are thought to be drawn from Cabanas's descendents (the EPR is now based in Oaxaca) and the ERPI or the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People, active in the Sierra and Costa Chica regions of Guerrero. Long incarcerated (ten years) ERPI founders Jacobo Silva and Gloria Arenas were recently released from prison and pledged allegiance to non-violent social struggle, aligning themselves with the Zapatistas' Other Campaign.

The most active public face of the ERPI, "Comandante Ramiro" (Omar Guerrero Solis), was reportedly slain November 4th in the sierra of Guerrero during a dispute between ERPI factions and buried in a clandestine grave.

Other actors in the mix include the Armed Forces of Popular Revolution (FARP), the Villista Army of the Revolutionary People (EVRP), the December 2nd Revolutionary Organization (OR-2nd), The Viva Villa Collective (CVV), the Justice Commando-June 28th (CJ-28), the Democratic Revolutionary Tendency (TDR), and the Triple Guerrilla National Indigenous Alliance (TAGIN.)

All of these groups have claimed at least one-armed attack and their range extends to Veracruz, Puebla, Morelos, Mexico state, and the Federal District. While most of these "focos" express a Marxist-Leninist orientation, a handful of anarchist cells take credit for at least ten bombings at Mexico City banks and auto showrooms in September - one of the cells celebrated the name of Praxides G. Guerrero, the first anarchist to fall in the Mexican Revolution.

Another geography where uprising could be on the agenda in 2010 is the north of Mexico. The 1910 revolution, in fact, germinated in this mineral rich region of deserts and rugged mountains. The "barbarians of the north" - Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco, Venustiano Carranza, and Alvaro Obregon among others - advanced on the center of the country squaring off against each other as much as they waged war against Diaz and his successor Huerta, and taking turns seizing power.

In the 1960s and '70s, urban guerrilla bands thrived in northern cities like Monterrey and Torreon, heisting banks and kidnapping industrialists. Indeed, the roots of the EZLN are firmly planted in those two northern cities - the Zapatista Army of National Liberation grew out of the Monterrey-based Forces of National Liberation (FLN) whose original strategy contemplated the formation of the Zapatista Army in the south and the Villista Army of National Liberation in Chihuahua but the northern branch was not yet consolidated in 1994 when Chiapas grew ripe for rebellion.

The seven northern border states are the bloodiest battlefields in Felipe Calderon's ill-conceived war on Mexican-Colombian drug cartels and narco-commando attacks often resemble guerrilla actions. The coalescence of radical forces and the drug gangs could create a climate propitious for revolutionary violence in 2010.

Mexico's 1910 revolution was not confined to any one region. Simultaneous rebellions sprouted up all over the landscape, the most celebrated of which was Emiliano Zapata's Liberating Army of the Southern Revolution based in tiny Morelos state just outside of Mexico City. Similarly, one scenario for 2010 proposes coordinated risings in the cities and countryside throughout Mexico. Does the Mexican left have the numbers and organization to pull off simultaneous insurrection?

Although Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the most popular left politician in the land, is wedded to the electoral option, his millions of followers all over the country are less so inclined and massive civil disobedience and even armed struggle against the "mal gobierno" could be on the horizon given economic conditions and the level of social frustration.

One subplot for 2010 projects indigenous rebels seizing sacred sites like Palenque and Teotihuacan this January 1st, the 16th anniversary of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas.

Revolutionaries in 2010 will have weapons their forbearers in 1810 and 1910 who fought hand to hand on central Mexican battlefields like Celaya and Las Cruces never dreamed of. The Internet is a great facilitator of logistics that revolutionizes revolution in the new millennium. Obeying this logic, the Zapatistas have become computer savvy both as a tool for internal communication and for broadcasting their word to the outside world.

Mastery of the cybernetic arts could unlock a Pandora's box of sabotage, allowing hackers to access strategic infrastructure, shutting down electro-magnetic communications, paralyzing airports, and threatening the petroleum flow, Mexico's economic lifeblood.

So is a new revolution on Mexico's plate in 2010? The Calderon government seems to be considering the possibility, beefing up its intelligence and armed response capabilities while distributing billions of pesos in "assistencial" aid like the Opportunities program to 26,000,000 Mexicans living in extreme poverty in a ploy to tamp down outbursts of revolutionary violence from "los de abajo" ("those at the bottom.")

The September-October issue of "El Insurgente", the EPR's theoretical journal, reminds readers that revolutions are a "coyuntura" (coming-together) of objective conditions such as economic collapse, repression, natural disaster, and the hunger of the people, and subjective forces - i.e. the revolutionaries themselves. Revolutions only happen when revolutionary forces are ready to carry them out, El Insurgente posits. The EPR's conclusion: although objective conditions in 2010 are overripe for revolutionary upheaval, the objective forces lack cohesion and consolidation. In other words, don’t count on a new Mexican Revolution in 2010.


John Ross's monstrous cult classic, "El Monstruo - Dread & Redemption In Mexico City" ("a lusty corrido to the most betrayed city in the Americas" - Mike Davis, author of "City of Quartz") is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 - readers should direct possible venues to

John Ross will present "El Monstruo" this Monday November 30th at the University of California's Center for Latino Studies Research at 2547 Channing Way in Berkeley at 12 Noon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bloody day for Mexico border city

At least 15 people have been killed in a single day of violence in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city bordering the United Sates, the Mexican authorities have said.

A child, three women and a university professor were among the dead, according to officials on Saturday.

Arturo Sandoval, the state prosecutor's spokesman, said a seven-year-old boy was travelling with his father in a truck when armed men opened fire on Friday killing them both.

Three women were also shot dead in two other separate incidents, he said.

Elsewhere in the city, Professor Jose Alfonso Martinez, a member of the Social Sciences Institute of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, was shot in front of his wife in an attack by at least four men in a residential area.

His wife was unhurt.

Martinez is the third professor at the Autonomous University to be killed this year, with a fourth from the Ciudad Juarez branch of the University of Chihuahua.

Another nine men were killed in six separate incidents.

Hospital raid

Also on Friday, assailants entered the waiting area of an emergency room, causing panic. The Mexican military surrounded the clinic, but no arrests were made.

Armed men have entered hospitals in the past to try to kill victims who have survived earlier shootings.

Mexico has strict gun-control laws, prohibiting the purchase of assault rifles and requiring gun purchases to be registered with the government.

But gun-control advocates say the US plays a large role in gun violence as 90 per cent of the weapons confiscated in Mexico have been either purchased in the US or smuggled in from there.

Barack Obama, the US president, has promised a crackdown on guns from the US.

Mexican military finds tunnel 100 feet from US

(AP) – Oct 27, 2009

TIJUANA, Mexico — Mexican soldiers have discovered a secret tunnel complete with electricity and an air supply that may have been planned for smuggling migrants or drugs under the U.S. border into San Diego.

Reporters in Tijuana were invited by military officials on Tuesday to a private, industrial property about 100 feet south of San Diego's Otay Mesa border crossing. Law enforcement officials opened the property for the media and then left.

The journalists, including about 20 reporters, photographers and videographers, walked around until they spotted a big hole, the entrance to a 4-foot-wide tunnel behind a tractor-trailer.

Several walked inside but reached a dead end. Inside they saw blueprints, a shovel and maps of the border region.

Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said her agency assisted the Mexican military after the tunnel was discovered. She said it was incomplete, stopping right under the edge of the border fence.

Authorities have discovered dozens of tunnels burrowed under the border in recent years, many of them incomplete. U.S. authorities typically destroy the tunnels.

Can we escape Mexico's drug wars?

Published On Sun Oct 18 2009

Corruption, murders underpinning vastly rich cocaine cartels could cross Canadian border.

They were not the first Canadians to run afoul of Colombian cocaine or Mexican guns, and it's a fair bet they won't be the last.

But the recent deaths of Gordon Kendall and Jeffery Ivans are another sign that what began as a Colombian disease and then morphed into a Mexican malady is now on its way to becoming something of a Canadian condition, too.

Around midnight on Sept. 27, Kendall and Ivans were relaxing in or near the condo they shared not far from the Plaza las Glorias in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta, a tourist haunt made famous when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton conducted a very public romance there while filming The Night of the Iguana in 1963.

Half an hour later, both men were dead – the most recent Canadian casualties in a bloody conflict that has bedevilled the Mexican Republic since late 2006 at least.

That was when the country's new president, Felipe Calderón, declared war on the cocaine cartels that are now doing to his land what their South American counterparts have long inflicted upon Colombia – killing its people, sapping its spirit, and crippling its institutions in an orgy of payola and blood.

Upwards of 15,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-related violence since early 2007, a spiralling death toll that eclipses most of the world's other civil conflicts.

Now Kendall and Ivans are dead, both shot repeatedly in the head by unknown assailants – killed and then "re-killed," as they say in Spanish.

Their fate provides the moral of this tale. Canadians, like Americans, cannot expect to have their cocaine without suffering its pain.

The cross-border spillover of violence and graft from Mexico is already a source of mounting American trauma. The U.S. Department of Justice calls cocaine trafficking that country's "leading drug threat." Canada has not been affected to the same extent, but that could quickly change, especially if the squeeze on drug traffickers in Mexico forces them to change their tactics.

"They're not going to simply evaporate," said Tony Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and an expert on U.S.-Mexico border issues. "The U.S.-Canada border is the next frontier. That's a very open border."

Put aside the spectre of violence for a moment and consider corruption.

"The Mexicans say, `We're not the only ones with a problem,'" said Maureen Meyer, a Mexico expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. "I think we're being idealistic to think that corruption is not a concern in the United States. We'd be fooling ourselves to think that the U.S. and Canada are immune from that."

The lure of substantial bribes – say, $50,000 per transaction – is more than enough to make many a border guard, Canadian or American, at least contemplate looking the other way.

Not long ago most Colombian cocaine travelled to its destination by air. Later the cartels shifted their methods, transporting cocaine mainly by sea to transshipment points in the Caribbean and then on to Florida. Nowadays, about 90 per cent of Colombia's cocaine travels to Mexico, mainly by sea, before proceeding across the Rio Grande to the Western U.S. – nearly $40 billion U.S. worth of cocaine a year. A considerable portion of that cargo continues north to Canada.

If you are a drug trafficker, all you really need to do is corrupt one agent per border.

"The No. 1 way to move drugs is at ports of entry," said Payan. "You just have to break one link in the chain. The drug traffickers prefer that. It's easy for an agent to just wave a vehicle right through."

It seems hardly surprising then that more than 80 U.S. border officers have been convicted of corruption charges in the past two years, according to The Associated Press.

Payan estimates there are 75 new corruption investigations involving U.S. border guards each year.

He's echoing a point the Mexican president has been trying to drive home for some time – it isn't Mexicans who are being corrupted here.

"To get drugs into the United States, the one you need to corrupt is the American authority, the American customs, the American police – not the Mexican," Calderón said recently. "And that's a subject, by the way, which hasn't been addressed with sincerity."

Calderón did not include Canada in his remarks, but he easily could have. In 2004, the Canadian Border Service Agency seized 321 kilograms of cocaine along British Columbia's border with the United States. Two years later, the haul soared to about 585 kilograms of cocaine, as B.C. replaced Toronto's Pearson Airport as the country's main portal for the drug. The seizures haven't abated.

If this much contraband is being seized, then it's fair to assume even more is getting through. How is this possible without at least some complicity at the Canadian border?

Meet Baljinder Kandola, 35, of Surrey, B.C., a Canadian border guard with six years' experience.

Kandola was arrested in October 2007 and now faces half a dozen charges of importing drugs and weapons into Canada.

Another Canadian guard, Jasbir Singh Grewal, was indicted this past June by a U.S. grand jury in Seattle and faces a charge of conspiracy to export cocaine from the United States into Canada.

The U.S. indictment alleges Grewal allowed an RV loaded with cocaine to enter Canada via the Lynden-Aldergrove border crossing on at least 11 occasions during 2007 alone and was paid an average of $50,000 U.S. each time.

So far, drug-related violence is confined mainly to Mexico, but this could well go international as well.

A recent assessment by the National Drug Intelligence Center, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, found Mexican cartels now operate in 230 U.S. cities, up from 50 cities only three years ago.

"Those guys can clash," said Payan. "At some point, they're going to have interests to protect."

U.S. towns on the Mexican border are havens of tranquility compared to their sister communities just across the Rio Grande, but drug-related violence is on the upswing in Southern U.S. cities, such as Tucson (plagued by home invasions) and Phoenix (regarded by many as the kidnap capital of the U.S.).

So far, Toronto Police have seen no sign of Mexican gang activity here. But British Columbia has suffered a spate of killings some refer to as "Mexico-type" gang violence.

Much of the bloodshed has involved members or associates of the so-called United Nations gang, centred in B.C.'s Fraser Valley.

In May 2008, Mike Gordon, a B.C. realtor closely connected to the gang, was shot dead in Chilliwack in what the RCMP calls a targeted killing. A UN gang member, Duane Meyer, was gunned down in Abbotsford only a few days earlier.

Just a month before that, in April 2008, two UN members, Elliott "Taco" Castañeda and Ahmet "Lou" Kaawach, were mowed down at a restaurant in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.

Then, late last month, Kendall and Ivans both met their own sad and bloody end. Neither man was known to have had ties to Canadian gangs, but they were evidently mixed up in drugs. In Mexico these days, that can be a death sentence.

Given the state of the Mexican police, plagued by corruption and incompetence and hugely overworked, it is unlikely anyone will ever be brought to justice for their deaths – just two more grim statistics, after all, in a mounting toll.

Campaign to Make Immigration Reform a Top Issue in 2010

Immigration Matters

New America Media, Commentary, Rich Stolz, Posted: Oct 18, 2009 Review it on NewsTrust

Last Tuesday, October 13, immigrant families from around the country gathered to join in a vigil and rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez and other elected officials launched a new push for comprehensive immigration reform, building to the opening months of 2010. Our banners read “Reform Immigration FOR Families” and “Family Unity Cannot Wait.”

More than 750 people traveled to Washington on buses from up and down the Eastern seaboard and as far away as Texas, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, and Michigan. They spent Tuesday morning meeting with Congressional offices before being joined by thousands of people from the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area, who gathered on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to listen to testimonies from families, veterans, and children who face family disintegration because of immigration laws and deportation.

It was a beautiful warm afternoon for prayers, singing and chanting. Religious leaders from a diverse array of faith traditions around the country, some organized through Familias Unidas, were called by their faith to D.C. to lead the gathered in prayers. Families who traveled for days were joined by families from the area, sharing not only the moment, but also their personal stories that underscore the urgency for real, just, and humane immigration reform.

At the event Congressman Gutierrez outlined a set of principles for progressive immigration reform that needs to include a rational and humane approach to legalize the undocumented population, to protect workers’ rights, to allocate sufficient visas, to establish a smarter and more humane border enforcement policy, to promote integration of immigrant communities, to include the DREAM Act and AgJOBS bills, to protect rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and to keep families together.

The lawmakers who joined Rep. Gutierrez on stage, and addressed the gathering included Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairs Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Congressional Black Caucus Member, Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Delegate Gregorio Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands).

In the middle of the crowd, there was a girl who had come to D.C. with her mother from a community in Ohio, devastated by the deportations tearing families apart. She stood holding a large drawing of her father and her friends’ parents who have been taken away. She came to Washington wanting to give her drawing to the president’s children, to ask them to tell their father, to plead with them, that she wanted her own father back.

This girl’s story demonstrates why so many people came to Washington, D.C., and why on the same day, so many communities held events in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

All of these events, taken together, demonstrate a fierce urgency for change.
In 2006, across the country, immigrant families and communities mobilized and millions of us marched. Yet, we lost the fight in Congress for immigration reform. We demonstrated our numbers, but we didn’t focus our power, and though we pushed a reform bill through the Senate, our efforts ended in stalemate with the likes of Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and HR 4437. In 2007, we made another run at reform, but our energies were sapped by backroom negotiations and we were overwhelmed and out-organized by our opponents’ ability to generate calls to members of Congress by a factor of 100.

Since then, we have been fighting increased immigration raids and the expansion of failed enforcement policies that have forced immigrant communities to live in fear. Since 2006, communities have also been engaging in unprecedented civic participation. With successful voter education and voter registration efforts, immigrant communities across the country demonstrated the power of immigrant voters, accounting for the difference in key states and congressional districts around the country in the elections last year.

In June, we launched the Reform Immigration FOR America campaign. The FOR America campaign brings together a very broad coalition of community and faith organizations, labor unions, civil rights and advocacy organizations from around the country. The FOR America campaign is engaged in actions around the country, encouraging all who care to participate. Using new technological tools, anyone can get connected and participate, simply by signing up for text alerts on a cell phone. By sending the text message, “justice” in English or “justicia” in Spanish to 69866, anyone, anywhere can begin receiving campaign updates and participate in national calls to Congress or the president, to push for immigration reform.

We are building strength, and as more and more families and individuals get involved and more and more communities across the country stand together and act together, united in common purpose for our families, our friends, our communities, we will be able to end the tearing apart of our families. We will not only be able to take advantage of the opportunity to move Congress to pass immigration reform in the spring, but we will also be able to make the United States live up to its own ideals as the land of liberty and opportunity.

Rich Stolz is campaign manager with Reform Immigration FOR America.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Time to Shut Down the School of Americas

Time to Shut Down the School of Americas
by Father Roy Bourgeois and Azadeh Shahshahani / The Huffington Post, NOVEMBER 21, 2009

Thousands will descend upon Fort Benning this weekend to demand the closure of the School of Americas/ WHINSEC. The vigil will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1989 SOA graduate-led Jesuit massacre in San Salvador, and the many other thousands of victims of SOA violence.

Over its 63 years, the SOA/WHINSEC has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counter-insurgency techniques, sniper skills, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. The military coup led by SOA graduates in Honduras on June 28, 2009, has once again exposed the destabilizing and deadly effects that the School of the Americas has had on Latin America.

The June 28th coup in Honduras against the democratically-elected President Zelaya was carried out by SOA graduates General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military, and General Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force. The leadership of SOA graduates in the coup follows a pattern of anti-democratic actions by graduates of the SOA (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC). The Pentagon claim -- that the institute instills respect for democracy and civilian leadership while teaching combat skills to Latin American soldiers -- has once again been disproved by the actions of the institute's graduates.

Vásquez studied in the SOA at least twice: once in 1976 and again in 1984. The head of the Honduran Air Force, General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996. The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran coup and arranged to have President Zelaya flown into exile in Costa Rica.

Vásquez and Suazo are not the only SOA graduate linked to the current coup or employed by the de facto government. Others include: General Nelson Willy Mejía Mejía, Director of Immigration, who is also a former SOA instructor and has faced charges in connection with the notorious death squad, Battalion 3-16, for which he served as an intelligence officer; Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, the Honduran army's top lawyer who has acknowledged that flying Zelaya into exile was a crime; Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz, the army's Director of Public Relations; and Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA graduate, who is the Minister of Security (a post he also held in Zelaya's government).

Four months of military rule have led to massive human rights violations, as documented by a fact-finding delegation led by the National Lawyers Guild and three other organizations in late August 2009. The mission received reports of deaths due to excessive and disproportionate use of force by the National Police, the military, and COBRA special forces against those who expressed opposition to the coup d'état, including the use of live bullets against protesters. These violations were often committed against the most historically vulnerable groups, including women, indigenous people, children, and Afro-Hondurans. The mission received reports of cruel and degrading treatment including sexual assault and rape against women exercising their right to expression and peaceful dissent against the coup, and of the abusive treatment of minors, including arrests, arbitrary detention, and forced military recruitment amongst the poor in both rural and urban areas.

Additionally, the delegation noted cases of persecution, attacks, and intimidation against journalists and independent media, including Radio Globo, Radio Progreso and television channels 11 and 36.

Meanwhile, President Zelaya is still taking refuge in the Brazilian Embassy and a U.S.-brokered deal [the Tegucigalpa/San Jose Accords] to reinstate him by November 5th - in preparation for the Nov. 29th elections - has unraveled, because the Micheletti coup regime has no intentions of fulfilling its end of the bargain. With the quashing of free media, mass tear-gassing, beating and arrest of protesters, and absence of political space for opposition candidates to campaign or express dissenting political opinion, conditions for free, fair, and open elections are non-existent.

The SOA is continuing to train Honduran officers despite claims by the Obama administration that it cut military ties to Honduras. The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act requires that U.S. military aid and training be suspended when a country undergoes a military coup. However, WHINSEC has confirmed that Honduran officers are still being trained at the school.

Despite promising comments from President Obama during his 2008 election campaign, the SOA/ WHINSEC is still in operation. Too many have died and continue to suffer at the hands of the graduates of this notorious institution. It is time for the School of Americas to be shut down.

Father Roy Bourgeois is the Founder of School of Americas Watch; Bourgeois took part in a fact-finding mission to Honduras after the coup. Azadeh Shahshahani is an attorney based in Atlanta and National Lawyers Guild International Committee Co-Chair and Southern Regional Vice President. Shahshahani submits this piece in her personal capacity and not as an ACLU staff member.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Perry: Obama punishes Texas with border program

Border official disputes governor's claims about Presidio immigration program.
By Jason Embry
Friday, November 13, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry has opened up a new front in his yearlong political war against the federal government, accusing the Obama administration this week of dumping thousands of illegal immigrants on a small, unsuspecting Texas border town.

He described the program in far more alarmist terms than those used by immigration officials on the ground who say they have returned immigrants to Mexico through Texas for years.

But the the imprecision of his comments aren't likely to slow Perry down much as he tries to endear himself to the Texans who will vote in the March Republican primary, when Perry will face a challenge from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry has assailed Washington Democrats this year for their efforts to change the health care system and reduce global warming, saying those plans will cripple the state's budget and economic activity. He even expressed a bit of sympathy for those who want Texas to leave the United States, although he said that's not the option he'd choose.

It all appears to be working for him. Several public polls in recent months have shown Perry leading Hutchison, and his comments Wednesday in Midland that the Obama administration is "hell-bent on taking America towards a socialist country" landed him on Fox News and at the center of the Drudge Report Web site Thursday.

That comment came shortly after he assailed the newly launched Alien Transfer and Exit Program as the latest sign that the Obama administration is trying to punish Texas.

Under the program, Mexican men between the ages of 20 and 60 who are unaccompanied by wives or children and whose only offense is coming into the United States illegally are sent from Arizona to Presidio, a border town of about 6,000 west of Big Bend.

Bill Brooks, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the program began about three years ago and was used to transfer immigrants between California and Arizona. The launch of the Presidio effort on Nov. 1 was the first time immigrants have come through Texas under the program, but immigrants have been taken from Arizona to Eagle Pass for years under different programs, Brooks said.

Officials say the efforts help break the cycle of human smuggling.

"If somebody from Mexico hires a smuggler to bring them in through Arizona, and they get apprehended and then they are repatriated through Arizona, they go find the smuggler, and they keep doing it until they get past us," Brooks said. "We will move them to a different place so they're not going to go find the smuggler again."

After arriving from Arizona, the illegal immigrants walk across a bridge to the Mexican town of Ojinaga, where Mexican authorities put them on a bus and send them to the interior of Mexico, Brooks said.

"It's not like we just push them out," Brooks said. "We give them some water, give them some food to take with them. They cross and then go to the Mexican immigration authorities. We're standing there. They're not going to be able to come back."

The immigrants — as many as 94 a day — are in Presidio for about 10 minutes before they go across the bridge, Brooks said.

He said Mexican officials have told U.S. officials that the immigrants immediately get on another bus once they cross the bridge.

But in his Midland speech Wednesday, parts of which were posted online by the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Perry said the immigrants could cause the population of Presidio to double in a couple of months.

"This is a city that does not have the social services, does not have the law enforcement, does not have the ability in any form or fashion to handle that type of influx of people," Perry said. "And I say that about Presidio because you know what's going to happen. They're faced with the Chihuahuan Desert or Texas? They're turning around and going back to Texas.

"Do the math on that. In a year period of time, we're talking 28,000 people that are going to be turned loose on our border."

Brooks said that nobody has tried to come back in through Presidio since the program began less than two weeks ago. He also said that federal officials chose Presidio because it is in a remote area where human smuggling is not known to be a problem, and because the number of border patrol agents there has tripled in recent years.

"We feel like we're quite capable of dealing with anything that might come up," Brooks said. "We've been doing this for years. And I'll point out to you that our agents and their families live in that same area, so we have a vested interest in seeing to it that Presidio remains safe."

Presidio County Judge Jerry Agan, a Democrat, echoed Perry's comments that he was caught off guard by the program.

He said the program hasn't caused problems for Presidio residents, but in an area with high unemployment, he said he worries that a human-smuggling ring to bring the Mexican nationals back into Presidio will develop.

"We do have a very extensive drug-smuggling infrastructure in place in Ojinaga that's run out of Juárez," Agan said. "The terrain plays in our favor because you're going to have to do some work to get up to a road where you can be smuggled out. But it can be done."

Asked about Brooks' comments that the immigrants are in Texas for only a matter of minutes, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger responded: "Turning the Presidio area into a way station for the repatriation of illegal immigrants adds responsibility to local authorities and holds the potential of increasing the strain on local and state infrastructure and resources. This plan will increase the likelihood that these individuals will immediately cross back into Texas."

Inside México talks with Dudley Althaus

I know and trust this guy's reports on Mexico.

International dateline

Inside México talks with Dudley Althaus

By Inside México | Original Print Publication: February, 2009

Dudley Althaus has lived in Mexico since 1987. One of the longest-serving foreign correspondents in Mexico, he has weathered the drug wars, hurricanes, and NAFTA. He parses the coverage of violence, the future of international news, and what it means to be an expat.

Inside México: You were just up on the border, and had a pretty grim story in the Houston Chronicle on Jan. 25. How was that trip?

Dudley Althaus: It was fine. I’ve been in Mexico twenty-one years. Drug violence is nothing new here. The trip was a little bit more “on your guard,” but you don’t walk around paranoid. I think Mexican journalists are in much more danger than US guys.

IM: Do you think violence is covered out of proportion to the rest of the news in Mexico?

DA: I don’t think it’s being covered out of proportion. Look, I wish I was covering other things. Ninety percent of my stories last year were about drug violence. We’re not making this stuff up. This is historic violence.

Juárez had 1,633 murders last year. Of those 1,633, the police had probably solved six. El Paso [Texas] had thirteen through October. Of those, they had solved twelve.

Mexico never had violence like this before. And it’s gotten increasingly violent over the last ten to fifteen years. It’s worrying, and I think people should worry. I think Mexico let this go too long… the Mexican tendency is to ignore this problem. They didn’t deal with this.

IM: Ambassador Garza just left. How would you compare him to previous Ambassadors to Mexico?

DA: Compared to other political appointees… Garza’s been quite effective. I didn’t see any major blowups he might have caused. But that might have been as much about changes in Mexico as Garza’s skills. I think that Mexicans in the past fifteen to twenty years have gotten much more worldly. Back in 1985, it was like, “how dare you criticize us.”

IM: Why did you come to Mexico?

DA: I mixed journalism with Latin American studies at grad school at the University of Texas in Austin. Then I got a job at the Brownsville Herald. That’s where I really learned Mexico, in Matamoros [across the border from Brownsville]. I got there in January, 1984. That was when people started hearing about Juan Garcia Abrego. He was basically the founder of the Gulf Cartel.

In 1984 a [one kilo cocaine seizure] was front page news. Five years later, in 1989, they seized nineteen tons of cocaine in a house. That’s a pretty dramatic difference. That’s how the Gulf Cartel got started.

IM: As a journalist, how has your perspective on Mexico changed in the time you’ve been here?

DA: My perspective has probably stayed about the same. I think I was very happy to see the one-party system fall. The country is moving forward a lot. There’s much more information coming out of the central government now. Having said that, it’s nowhere near where myself and many other people thought it would be after the fall of one-party rule. It’s not paradise.

IM: Many foreign correspondents spend less than five years in a place. What are the pros and cons to having been in Mexico this long?

DA: It used to be three years [for a foreign correspondent’s term] and then you moved on. The idea is that you keep people fresh… and you also don’t go native. I think the freshness is an advantage. I’ve probably gotten stale a couple of times.

On the other hand, a lot of people come in and they don’t speak Spanish very well, or at all. They’re just getting up to speed as they get transferred out again.

IM: What do you consider to be the important stories in Mexico right now?

DA: Violence and governability are extremely important. Water. Urbanization—the tremendous pressure on the city. Mexico’s population growth and jobs. Farmers. The oil industry.

IM: Talking about newspapers in general, where do you see international news coverage headed?

DA: Collapse. There are seven or eight US newspapers that are not here anymore. It’s grim. I think there’s interest in international news, but it’s not being valued as much anymore.

A model will emerge, but I think the golden age of foreign correspondents is over.

That’s Cantina talk. It’s getting to be like going to a wake all the time when you get together with the correspondents.

IM: Do you consider yourself an expat?

DA: Yeah. I don’t know what that means exactly. I’ve lived out of the country for the past twenty-one years. This is my home more than the United States.

I wanted to be in the States for the Inauguration. I’m 100 percent American. But at the same time, I feel comfortable in both places. I see good things in both societies. I guess that’s an expat.

I always thought I’d go home again, back to the States somewhere. [But] this is more my home. I don’t know where I’d go [in the US]. I guess I’m kind of rootless.

IM: Do you have a favorite Mexico moment?

DA: I've been here long enough that I'm kind of past the folkloric thing. My personal relationship and friends are very important to me. But beyond that, I'd say: bodysurfing under a setting sun in Puerto Escondido; the blooming Jacarandas in Mexico City; Day of the Dead ofrendas: talking my way into unknown provincial villages and having the privilege to share people's lives, if only for a while; watching a lightning storm over the distant mountains in the northern desert; eating a good taco on a Mexico City street, preferably late at night with friends and an ice cold beer.

Dudley Althaus is the Mexico correspondent for the Houston Chronicle. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, he served in the Navy and studied at Miami University of Ohio. He holds a Masters from the University of Texas at Austin. He has reported from South America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Althaus lives in Mexico City’s San Ángel neighborhood.

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Mexico's gang wars spawn vigilante justice

Mexico's gang wars spawn vigilante justice
By DUDLEY ALTHAUS Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Nov. 16, 2009, 11:34PM

MEXICO CITY — The bodies of four alleged gangsters, stuffed into a parked car near President Felipe Calderon's compound in this capital city, carried a message of divine retribution:
“The wicked are denied their light, and the upraised arm is broken,” proclaimed the biblical passage, Job 38:15. Scrawled with a marker on the backs of three of the bodies, a single word — “Kidnapper.”
The discovery of the dead men two weeks ago suggests to many Mexicans that despairing private citizens or even local officials may be exacting their own raw justice amid the unbridled crime sweeping the country.
Lynching and extra-judicial killings are far from unknown in Mexico, whose justice system often has proved woefully insufficient. Rural and poor urban communities beat or execute accused rapists and thieves. Local power brokers, known as caciques, employ private gunmen to deal with nettlesome opponents or criminals.
But the escalating drug turf wars, which have claimed most of the 14,000 people killed by gangland violence since December 2006, have also wrought more kidnapping, extortion and theft. And some in Mexico are pushing back.
“There's just incredible frustration and there is no outlet for it,” said U.S. political analyst George Grayson, who has recently finished a book on the Mexican government's inability to end the crime wave. “Average people feel impotent.”
Death squads?
Last Tuesday, thousands of people in a village near Mexico City threatened to lynch four alleged kidnappers. The men, two of whom authorities say may be federal policemen, were rescued by state police who rushed to the town of Juchitepec.
Earlier this month, human rights activists in Sinaloa state, cradle of most of Mexico's narcotics smuggling syndicates, claimed that death squads, possibly composed of police officers, might be behind a string of recent killings targeting suspected car thieves.
And, following the July murders of two American church leaders who had challenged a local kidnapping, a fundamentalist Mormon farm community southwest of Ciudad Juarez requested and temporarily received permission to form a militia.
A group dubbed the “Citizens' Command” early this year announced it would begin killing gangsters in bloody Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso. Several subsequent killings suggested that the victims were targeted by such a group.
U.N. help sought
Frustrated business groups have called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops to the city, where the presence of thousands of federal troops has failed to quell the murders and mayhem.
The bodies discovered in Mexico City were those of an alleged Monterrey gangster, Hector Saldaña, his two brothers and another man.
Their deaths were announced hours earlier by Mauricio Fernandez, the new mayor of the Monterrey suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, even before police identified the bodies.
San Pedro Garza Garcia is one of Mexico's wealthiest communities and allegedly home to members of the Beltran Leyva clan. The mayor had publicly accused Saldaña of orchestrating the kidnappings and extortion there, adding the gangster also was behind death threats he received early last month.
‘Cleaning teams'
Fernandez repeatedly has vowed to crack down on narcotics and other vice in San Pedro through the use of still unspecified “cleaning teams” dedicated to harsh work. But he denied any connection with the men's deaths.
“Sometimes coincidences happen in life. It's better to see it that way,” Fernandez told the Monterrey newspaper El Norte, explaining he knew about the bodies because state officials had provided him early information on the crime.
Fernandez says he had nothing to do with the killings. But, he claims, extortion ended in San Pedro following Saldaña's death.
Fernandez points to the Nov. 4 gangland killings of the police chief and his four bodyguards in a nearby suburb as proof that municipal governments must be aggressive against organized crime. He told reporters in Mexico City Thursday that he was going to do everything within the framework of the law.
“I am consolidating the objectives I laid out,” he said, vowing publicly to act lawfully.
“I warned I was going to grab the bull by the horns.”