Drug Smuggling Twist: Innocent Mexicans Allegedly Duped By Mennonite Suspect…Fronteras Desk

It is seldom that we see reports from the rural parts of the border and this one gives a small taste of what things are like and how a lot of drugs get into the US–through the ports of entry. I was also struck by this statement from the young Mexican man who was tricked into driving the drugs across:
“They treated me well in the U.S.,” he said in Spanish. “No one pressured me, no one attacked me. I have nothing against the U.S. prosecutors or police.”
The subtext: Had he been arrested IN Mexico, the police or army would have beaten and tortured a confession from him.  Also, the men caught in this scheme and deported back to Mexico are very fearful to be identified because they would be targeted by the smugglers and their suppliers for failing to deliver their product in the US.  -Molly
Lorne Matalon | Fronteras

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico —Federal prosecutors in Texas and New Mexico are dealing with a series of unusual cases.

Ten drug smuggling crimes have been traced to a man from a Mennonite community in Mexico who is alleged to have duped the victims.

The seduction starts with a classified ad in the paper, one that 23-year-old named Juan was drawn to. He asks that his last name not be revealed; he’s frightened there may be retribution if the man who placed the ad — identified by U.S. attorneys and the victims as David Giesprecht Fehr — finds him.

The ad reads, “Si tienes visa laser recienmente americano, contratación inmediata.” Translated, “If you have a recent U.S. visa known as a laser visa, there’s immediate work available.”

The man who placed the ad is from the Ciudad Cuauhtémoc area, a 40,000-strong Mennonite community of ranchers and farmers in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

They’re members of a conservative Christian church with European roots. Mennonites were invited by Mexico’s post-revolutionary government to settle here in the 1920s in part to populate Mexico’s border twith the United States.

The Mennonites in Chihuahua today trace their ancestry to Canada, and prior to that Germany and the Netherlands.

Juan answered the ad. And a man called back.

“The man said ‘I’ll pay you $500 a week to drive my truck to the U.S. and back,’” Juan was making $70 a week as a security guard.

The would-be employer, David Giesbrecht Fehr, goes by different aliases and imports American farm equipment. It’s now alleged he ran narcotics.

Mennonites enjoy a deserved reputation as prolific farmers and ranchers. This image was taken near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua where Mennonites have made the desert bloom.

He pitches non-Mennonite Mexicans who respond to his ad by saying that he imports farm equipment from the United States.

What he allegedly did not add is that the trucks he gave people to enter the U.S. with were loaded with large quantities of marijuana.

Juan thought the job offer was too good to be true. The caller was offering to quadruple his salary and give Juan steady work with health benefits.

So he told the caller he needed time to consider the offer.

The same offer was made to Juan’s father. They discussed it together. The father declined while Juan accepted, to his enduring dismay.

Liz Rogers was the federal defender in West Texas whose office represented Juan and five other Mexicans. The other three were arrested crossing into New Mexico.

“Whenever the person that is a Mennonite that the government has identified, whenever he showed up he could talk to them very professionally over exporting and importing farm equipment,” Rogers said. “And so it would be no wonder that they’d believe it was a legitimate job.”

It was anything but. When Juan hit the Texas border at Presidio, a customs agent told him to get out of the truck.

“They didn’t tell me what was happening,” he said in Spanish. Then another customs officer approached.

The officer said a DEA agent would explain everything. When that agent arrived, the conversation continued.

A Mennonite father and son at work in a field near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

“Are you carrying drugs?” the agent asked Juan. ‘Absolutely not,’ he replied. He couldn’t digest what he heard next.

“The DEA agent told me I had 57 kilograms (125 pounds) of marijuana in the gas tank,” Juan related. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.”

Rogers says one of the cases showed how sophisticated the operation was.

“The marijuana was hidden very professionally in an I-beam,” she recounted. “It was welded into the I-beam of this big flatbed. And the government found it is because there’s x-ray equipment that can find very well hidden marijuana.”

At least seven of the people allegedly duped by Giesprecht, including Juan, live near a cluster of Mennonite villages near Ciudad Cuauhtémoc located about 60 miles southwest of the state capital, Ciudad de Chihuahua.

One non-Mennonite I spoke with outside Ciudad Cuauhtémoc — a man who says he greatly who respects the Mennonite culture — says his neighbors are hard-working farmers. But he says there are exceptions.

“They plant corn. Sometimes plant some marijuana too,” he said in English.

For Juan, arrested with 125 pounds of drugs, and the others in New Mexico and Texas, the prospect of serious jail time was real. But as evidence tied to David Giesbrecht Fehr mounted, the state of New Mexico dismissed all the cases.

In Texas, three defendants were allowed to plead guilty to time served and immediately deported. The defendants’ visas were revoked, and that revocation lasts for three years.

A man drives a cotton harvester on a Mennonite farm near Lopez Mateos, Chihuahua.

As a practical matter, however, none of the now-former defendants will find it easy to return to the United States, even for a visit with family. Juan, for example has aunts and cousins in Denver and Los Angleles.

If Juan to present himself at a border crossing, a computer check of his documents would show that he faced serious drug charges and accepted a plea deal which included immediate deportation.

But Juan’s just happy to be home.

“They treated me well in the U.S.,” he said in Spanish. “No one pressured me, no one attacked me. I have nothing against the U.S. prosecutors or police.”

The alleged drug trafficker, David Giesprecht Fehr, remains at-large. (Lorne Matalon / FRONTERAS)

Planners Network 2014 Conference: Jun 5 – Jun 7

Via Planners Network 2014 Conference: Jun 5 – Jun 7.

For the first time in its history, the Planners Network conference will take place in Mexico, in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, in the State of Chihuahua, from June 5th to June 7th, 2014 at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ). Ciudad Juárez is an international crossroad of free trade, and social change in the Americas. It is also part of the Borderplex, a transbordermetropolitan area consisting of three cities (Ciudad Juárez, El Paso, and Las Cruces), located in three different states (Chihuahua, Texas, and Nuevo Mexico), and in two different countries (México and the United States).”

45 murder victims in Juarez in March; 1,025 in Mexico…reports from El Diario and Milenio

El Diario reports that 45 people were victims of homicide in March.  This is the highest number in the past 5 months. Two of these victims were women, 2 were minors and 2 were Federal policemen shot in an ambush on March 19.  The report says that another body was discovered in a clandestine grave in the Valle de Juarez and this case is being investigated by the special prosecutor for crimes against women, but this one is not included in the count–apparently because it cannot be said for certain when she was murdered. In all since the beginning of the year, 97 people have been victims of homicide. In January, there were 26 murders, the majority related to gang fights and not “organized crime.” In February, the state Fiscalia reported 26 murders, and in addition, the discovery of 3 bodies in hidden graves and one decapitated person. I would count this as a total of 30, since it is unlikely these other dead will show up in another tally.

The problem of how the deaths are classified by the different government agencies is illustrated in the other article  from MILENIO. This national report says that there were 1,025 murders “related to organized crime” in March–an increase from January and February.  There are no criteria provided as to how these murders are classified as “organized crime related” as opposed to other homicides.  The article reports that the state of Chihuahua is still at the top of the list for murders with 186 homicides. [The article doesn't give a figure for the city of Juarez, but if we take the number from the Fiscalia of 45, that would mean there were 141 homicides elsewhere in Chihuahua state in March]. The other most violent states are: Sinaloa with 108 homicides in March; Estado de Mexico — 86; Guerrero — 68.

It is worth noting that the article does not report anything for Tamualipas–a state where numerous very violent incidents were reported during March, but no official tallies of the number of victims seems to exist. The Milenio article does not give a source for its data.

Federal and state police destroy house in Mexico of mother of missing girl…

In Juarez, Federal and state officials are said to have bulldozed the house of Karla Jocabeth Castaneda, mother of 13 yr old Cinthia Jocabeth Castañeda who has been missing since 2008. Karla participated in the recent march of mothers of missing women from Juarez to Chihuahua, calling on the government to do more to solve the cases of their disappeared children. This latest action by the police is seen as an attempt to intimidate the mother and activist. Here is an article about the march to Chihuahua featuring statements by Karla Castaneda… At El Diario is a photograph of the destruction of Karla’s house. molly

 

Mexican Soldiers Face Civilian Trials

An article found on the Washington Post website talks about Mexico straying away from corruption in the case of Mexican soldiers facing civilian trials.

OJINAGA, Mexico — This rough little border town in the middle of nowhere has seen its share of lawless men, the cocaine cowboys whose wild rides end out in the desert with a shovel of dirt tossed into their shallow graves.

Then the General came to town, and the place went to hell.

Brig. Gen. Manuel de Jesus Moreno Avina, commander of the Third Infantry Company, arrived in the spring of 2008 in Ojinaga, across the Rio Grande from tiny Presidio in Texas’s Big Bend country.

The General, as he is known by all here, quickly began what his own officers described in court testimony as a “reign of terror.”

Instead of confronting organized crime, the Mexican soldiers here quickly became outlaws themselves. Then people began to disappear, according to the charges filed against them.

Now, four years after Moreno’s 18-month tenure in Ojinaga, the landmark case against Moreno and his men may finally change the way Mexico prosecutes soldiers tied to the alleged abusesduring the country’s bloody drug war.

The Mexican Supreme Court recently ruled that Moreno, his officers and two dozen of his soldiers should be tried for human rights crimes in a civilian court — and not as the constitution currently mandates, before a secret military tribunal whose proceedings can take years to go nowhere.

If it happens, such a trial would mark an unprecedented shift of power that could end a century of impunity for Mexico’s armed forces, whose top generals have fought hard to protect themselves from scrutiny.

“What the people want to see after all these years is a real trial,” said Ariel Garcia, a physician in Ojinaga. “It is not right that someone who was sent to protect the people did the exact opposite.”

The doctor said he knows what is he talking about. While he was at the hospital performing surgery in 2008, his house, like many others here, was ransacked by troops in a fruitless search for weapons and drugs.

“When we saw these soldiers, we were not only afraid,” Garcia said. “We were ashamed at what they had become.”….

You can read the rest of the article on the Washington Post website here. 

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GOOGLE TRANSLATION:

Ojinaga, México – Esta ciudad fronteriza poco áspero en el medio de la nada ha tenido su parte de los inicuos, los vaqueros cocaína cuyo fin paseos salvaje en el desierto con una pala de tierra arrojó en sus tumbas poco profundas.

Entonces el general llegó a la ciudad, y el lugar se fue al infierno.

Brig. El general Manuel de Jesús Moreno Avina, comandante de la Tercera Compañía de Infantería, llegó en la primavera de 2008 en Ojinaga, al otro lado del Río Grande desde Presidio diminuto país en Big Bend de Texas.

El general, como es conocido por todos aquí, rápidamente comenzó lo que sus propios oficiales se describe en el testimonio de la corte como un “reino del terror”.

En lugar de enfrentar el crimen organizado, los soldados mexicanos aquí se convirtió rápidamente fuera de la ley a sí mismos. Entonces la gente empezó a desaparecer, según los cargos presentados en su contra.

Ahora, cuatro años después de 18 meses de Moreno en la tenencia de Ojinaga, el caso histórico contra Moreno y sus hombres finalmente pueden cambiar la forma en que México persigue a los soldados vinculados a la supuesta guerra sangrienta abusesduring droga del país.

La Suprema Corte de Justicia dictaminó recientemente que Moreno, sus oficiales y dos docenas de sus soldados deben ser juzgados por crímenes contra los derechos humanos en un tribunal civil – y no como la Constitución actualmente mandatos, ante un tribunal militar secreto cuyo proceso puede tomar años para ir a ninguna parte .

Si esto sucede, tal ensayo marcaría un cambio sin precedentes de poder que podría poner fin a un siglo de impunidad para las fuerzas armadas de México, cuyas principales generales han luchado duro para protegerse del escrutinio.

“Lo que la gente quiere ver después de tantos años es una prueba real”, dijo Ariel Garcia, médico en Ojinaga. “No es justo que alguien que fue enviado para proteger a la gente lo hizo exactamente lo contrario.”

El doctor dijo que él sabe lo que está hablando. Mientras estaba en el hospital realiza la cirugía en 2008, su casa, como muchos otros aquí, fue saqueada por las tropas en una búsqueda infructuosa de armas y drogas.

“Cuando vimos a los soldados, que eran no sólo miedo”, dijo García. “Estábamos avergonzados de lo que se había convertido.” ….

Puedes leer el resto del artículo en el sitio web del Washington Post aquí.

36 homicide victims so far in September; massacre in Baborigame, Chihuahua- 5 killed

I looked back at all of the stories I have so far in September. Though there has been only one tally posted in the newspaper (2 as of Sept 9) I also include the 4 people killed and found in the back of the tractor-trailer on the road between Juarez and Chihuahua for 28 as of Sept 9.  On September 10, a body was found inside of a motel and it was reported as a murder victim. On September 11, two decomposed bodies were found at different locations in the city; on September 12 another body was found and 2 other murders were reported; on September 13, two men were killed in a home invasion attack that also injured a 3-yr-old child. These added to the previous 28 for a total of about 36 people so far in September.

Also, yesterday a massacre was reported in Baborigame, a rural town in southern Chihuahua, that left 5 people dead. Apparently, this incident took place on Monday near midnight—two of the victims were children aged 13 and 11. Police were notified about the killings by an 8 yr old who was wounded in the head, but lived and walked to a clinic and was then taken to police. The child told police that he was with 5 other people in the vehicle when it was approached by men in a Jeep Cherokee that shot at them. He was wounded. He said that the sicarios told him to leave the scene, that they would not kill him, but that they were going to kill the others. After the child told this story to the police, they went to the scene and found the bodies of the other 5 people—three men and the two other children.  These dead should eventually be reported in the statistics for Chihuahua state, though it seems likely that some of the killings in rural areas continue to go unreported in the cumulative crime statistics. molly

Murders rebound…17 victims in first 4 days of September; 4 bodies found today in tractor-trailer

In the first 4 days of September, there were 17 murders–the Diario story says this rebound in murders has caused alarm amongst federal public security commanders, who met yesterday at the military garrison… These 17 deaths equal nearly half of all the murders that occurred in August (38).  Also, 4 bodies were discovered in a tractor-trailer on the road between Juarez and Chihuahua. The trailer is reported to have originated in Juarez and it was hijacked at some point Tuesday night at Km 95 on the highway.  This morning it was found abandoned with the bodies of 3 men and a woman in the vehicle.

Human rights and the Mexican military…Council on Foreign Relations

For those who care to look back at the record, the reports of severe human rights abuses in the current Mexican context first came to light just a few DAYS after the Mexican Army troops came to Juarez in March 2008. Municipal police walked out in protest; citizens protested home invasions and abductions, notably in the Valle de Juarez. One of the most vocal protesters was Josefina Reyes–she was later murdered by the Mexican Army… Here are her words from early summer, 2008:
“Now you see all these big billboards, ‘We [the army] have come to help you’ — but it isn’t true. They have come to pillage us, to ransack our homes. They take the food in the refrigerator, jewelry, anything . . . and they destroy property. It is not a secret who they are.”
There are many Mexicans who have documented the abuses carried out by the Mexican military against the Mexican people.  It is about time that the international community take note…  molly

Commentary Magazine on Juarez; homicides increase in central Chihuahua while decreasing in the north

Here is another comment on the Washington Post article,  this one from conservative magazine, Commentary.

I don’t agree with the “failed state” conclusion of this article either, but it at least points out the contradictions in the Post article that were stated by sources and then essentially ignored… I’m especially struck by this (it is a quote from the WaPo article cited by Commentary:
The criminal organizations that brought Juarez to the brink have not disappeared. “What we have seen,” said Peniche, the prosecutor, “is these groups have moved to other parts of the state.”

Click here for an article from El Diario today that addresses this very point: while murder and other serious crime is down in Juarez and the rest of the “northern zone” of Chihuahua, it is on the rise in other parts of the state.

Denise Dresser on Guadalajara plaza … POLICE arrested in the rape/robberies near Mexico City..

For those who may have objected to my comments about the ludicrous Google tour of Juarez with the Federal Police, see this translation from Borderland Beat of a Proceso article by Denise Dresser… and also, Several POLICE are among the perpetrators in the rape and robbery attack on the church camp outside of Mexico City. I received a complaint yesterday from a person on the list [I asked permission to post the complaint but got no reply] saying that I was wrong to place all responsibility for the Juarez violence on the federal police…something I did not do. However, since the google piece opens with a breathless description of their fearless and skilled escorts–policia federal–I mentioned the PF in my commentary.  I never said, nor do I believe, that the PF are the only killers…nor do I blame them for anything more than their share of the violence. As I’ve said in numerous postings on the list:

“…though the military sits at the pinnacle of the impunity pyramid in Mexico, it is one of many powerful groups that abduct, torture and kill Mexicans. Drug trafficking gangs kill. Street gangs kill. Municipal, state and federal police kill. And drug cartel operatives often kill from the inside of these security forces. As former Chihuahua governor, Jose Reyes Baeza, declared in March 2008,

“”All of the public security agencies are infiltrated—all of them, pure and simple…” The governor predicted a “return to normalcy” as soon as these agencies could be cleaned up. Five years on, more than 10,000 people in the city of Juárez alone are dead and so far this year, another 3.4 people are added to the tally each day.”

Note that it is the former Chihuahua governor stating that ALL of the agencies are corrupt…I’ve talked to so many people, both in Juarez and now living in exile in the US who have experienced or been witnesses to corruption and killing by the federal police, the army, the municipal and state police, that I find it the height of gullibility to assume that the federal police are the good guys–as the piece about the Google visit does. I think that the Google execs were probably invited to Juarez by powerful people who think it will give them some cachet… The Juarez press did not cover the Google visit hat happened two months ago, but Diario de El Paso did have an article about the Washington Post piece on their front page today: Surgió en Juárez sistema de denuncia vs narco de Google