Selection of articles on murders of the normalistas…

Below are Jim’s comments on the pieces attached. Also below is Alma Guillermoprieto’s article in the NYRB, published before the latest announcement from the Mexican AG on the confessions as to the murders and the burning of the bodies of the students.  I would also like to point out that in early October, just a few days after the students disappeared, Borderland Beat reported on OCTOBER 5 in a translation of an article from La Jornada that the normalistas had been killed and their bodies burned with diesel fuel. I posted this piece to Frontera List on October 7. This is essentially what the AG reported to the world yesterday. News that has been known for more than a month…   molly

COMMENTS FROM Jim:

I’ve attached a large PDF file containing 17 different items from late Thursday (the 6th) until early this morning.(the 8th).

I will not analysis the content, but will offer a brief overview and description of why I chose these particular references.
  • First, there are several pieces covering a news conference headed by Jesus Murillo Karam where the PGR presented a statement that the missing students were taken to an area between Iguana and Cocula and executed and incinerated for up to 15 hours before remains were thrown into a river. Murillo reports that the capture of 3 narcos (Guerrero Unidos) led to confessions pointing to this spot, and in the absence of forensic evidence the PGR has accepted this testimony as sufficient proof. The evidence presented (video confessions, pictures) supports this version (narrative) of the days beginning September 26 through the 28th. It points a finger squarely at “narcos” and lays most of the blame there.
  • Murillo Karan also uttered a phrase “Soy cansado” which has been appropriated by protestors and used as the latest hashtag to point out how the government is doing its best to avoid responsibility for any of the events in Guerrero – #YaSoyCansado and #YaEstamosCansado have become the latest protest phrase pointing to disgust with the government.
  • International groups, especially Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have quickly pointed out that “the government of Peña Nieto” has not admitted that it played an active role- and continues to look for a line of explanation that points to narcos.
  • The parents of the Normalistas have flatly rejected the evidence presented by Murillo Karam. A couple of reports describe their reaction (and I also included the Alma Guillermoprieto essay from NY Review of Books). These parents will not allow the PGR and the government to walk away from this mess untouched. Their persistence is amazing, and it is the “glue” holding together the diverse protest movements together. One of the strongest arguments that the parents have made is that Enrique Peña Nieto has put together a hasty narrative so that he can hop in his new presidential airplane and go off to a trade mission in China and Australia.
  • I did not include a specific article from Padre Solalinde, but he has also called out the Catholic Hierarchy and said that they need to do more than pray.
  • One of the articles I included is a column from Raymundo Riva Palacio pointing out that the criminal charges brought against ex-mayor Abarca and his wife are likely to fail. He makes an interesting point that the PGR is following the same strategy (and making the same mistakes) as they did in the Ruiz Massieu – Raul Salinas case from 2 decades ago.
  • Some of the reports in this attachment include “online comments” and observations. The social media world has literally exploded with comments and observations – most of them angry. The anger is literally white-hot. I encourage everyone to go online and pay attention to this anger. It’s also clear that there is an organized attempt to “reconstruct” the narrative in cyberspace: there are comments (repetitive) and signed with strangely patriotic names arguing that the State cannot be blamed and that these killings and disappearances are simply the acts of evil men and narcos. Those “apologias” are always dismissed and shouted down (…especially on Twitter).

Proceso has been one of the leading sources and most detailed in its coverage, and its journalists are regular tweeters. Carmen Aristegui has also been a good source of information.

La Jornada
Translation by Borderland Beat

Paddlefish 2014-2015 issue featuring Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy

The 2014-2015 issue of the Mount Marty College’s national literary journal, PADDLEFISH is now available. The current issue includes stories, letters, essays and poetry from award-winning authors such as Charles Bowden, Molly Molloy, Dante Di Stefano, Lori DeSanti and David Lee, amongst others.

PADDLEFISH is edited by Jim Reese and associate editor Dana DeWitt, along with selected Mount Marty College faculty and students. Students play a major role in the publication and gain hands-on editing and publishing experience through the process. Over 2,000 submissions were received for the 2014 issue.

This issue is dedicated to the late Charles “Chuck” Bowden who believed in our journal and mission.

To purchase a copy of the 2014 journal or to subscribe to PADDLEFISH send $14.00 to the following address:

Mount Marty College
c/o PADDLEFISH
1105 W 8th Street
Yankton, SD 57078

Please make checks payable to Mount Marty College.

Previous Issues of interest by Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy:  ($14.00 each)

1)      “That Time in Paris” by Charles Bowden, 2014 Issue

2)      “A Letter to Students from Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden” 2014 Issue

3)      Jericho by Charles Bowden (Illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs), 2013 Issue

4)      “Rhapsody/Dead Man’s Curve and the Wild Blue Yonder by Charles Bowden (Illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs), 2012 Issue

5)      “Give Us This Day Our Daily Massacre…” by Molly Molloy, 2010 Issue

For more information, click here

Jim Reese, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, Mount Marty College

1105 West Eight St.

Yankton, SD 57078
EditorPADDLEFISH
Director: Great Plains Writers’ Tour
National Endowment for the Arts Writer-in-Residence,
Yankton Federal Prison Camp
605-668-1362
jimreese.org

Q & A with Guillermo Jimenez

Guillermo Jimenez is the owner of Brush Fire Media and tracesofreality.com as well as host of Demanufacturing Consent, an exclusive weekly podcast on Boiling Frogs Post. In 2012 he served as a National Delegate for Ron Paul and is involved in grassroots activism. Follow him @tracesofreality

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

In your bio you state that TOR is an “educational tool to inform others of the dangers of the expanding national security state and threats to our civil liberties.” How do you frame your coverage of the violence in Mexico with this in mind?

Young people in the United States, and to some extent throughout the world, should keep in mind that before there was a “war on terror” there was a war on drugs. The expansion of the national security state, and the subsequent loss of liberty, can be directly attributed to government policies associated with the drug war.

My approach to most issues, including the drug war violence in Mexico, usually begins with two questions in mind: how is my (the US) government involved, and how is this a threat to civil liberties?

US involvement in Mexico’s drug war, both directly and indirectly, is well documented, though perhaps not well understood. TOR Contributing Editor Danny Benavides coined the term “narconoia” — the fear of “narco-terrorism,” or more broadly speaking, the fear of the illicit drug market and those who trade within it. We believe this to be the pretense through which civil liberties have been attacked in the United States for generations.

In one article, you mention the capture of El Chapo as a PR stunt. How much of what is written about the Mexican drug war in U.S. media is, in your opinion, accurately representing what’s happening in Mexico?

It’s important to note that we at TOR were not the only ones to describe El Chapo’s capture as a publicity stunt by the Peña Nieto administration. Former DEA agents Hector Berrellez, Phil Jordan, and Cele Castillo have all expressed similar doubts about the Mexican government’s account of Chapo’s arrest. Berrellez, in fact, told Narco News that the whole thing was “arranged,” according to his sources.

As for the US media’s coverage of the Mexican drug war, I think it varies. Most traditional US media outlets make the mistake of framing the issue in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” They do their readers a disservice by not explaining how these “bad guys” came to power, and how a corrupt government and financial system enables them.

 

What do you think is the root of the problems in Mexico? Why? What, if any, are some solutions?

The drug war violence in Mexico results from a combination of state-imposed prohibitions on drugs and migration, government corruption, and US intervention.

Drug prohibition creates the black market. Without it, we would not be having this discussion right now. Wherever there is a black market, there are, of course, huge profits to be made. This is also a breeding ground for violence and corruption. Once the violence reaches a tipping point, as it has in Mexico, limits on migration make it difficult for people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere, namely the United States.

US intervention has also played a role in Mexico’s problems, as it has in so many other places around the world. Whether it’s “above board” cooperation through the Merida Initiative, or a history of covert action by the CIA, FBI, DEA, ICE, etc., the United States has in many ways exacerbated —  and even directly caused — Mexico’s drug war related problems.

In other words, the problems are systemic. It does not matter how many drug lords the authorities catch, or how many drug shipments are taken off the street, the problems will continue for as long as the system remains intact.

While long-lasting solutions will be as complex as the problems themselves, part of that solution must be a shift in drug policy. In short, end the drug war, and end prohibition. Of course, this alone does not fix everything that is wrong in either Mexico or the United States, but it is undeniable  that an end to the war on drugs would have a significant, beneficial effect in the daily lives of millions of people living on either side of the Rio Grande.

What would you like the public to know about the drug war in Mexico that is not often talked about, if at all?

As mentioned previously, the public deserves to know about the relationship between drug cartels, big business, the banking system, and high levels of government. It cannot be reduced to simply “bad guys” trying to control turf to make money.

The public deserves to know how the CIA, for example, had a working relationship with the leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel, including the recently freed Rafael Caro Quintero, during the 1980s. The public needs to know that, according to our own DEA and CIA contractor Tosh Plumlee, the agency used Quintero’s ranch land in Veracruz not only to train Guatemalan guerrilla fighters, but as a point of contact to fly plane loads of Colombian cocaine back into the United States.

They should know that when DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena came close to exposing this scheme, CIA-connected narcos captured, tortured, and killed him. The fallout from Camarena’s murder led to the collapse of the Guadalajara Cartel, which then splintered and gave rise to the modern-day Sinaloa, Juarez, and Gulf cartels.

It was this same US government intervention in the 1980s, training Guatemalan death squads to fight its dirty wars in Latin America, that later led to the rise of Los Zetas. Many of the founding members of Los Zetas have their roots in the US-trained Guatemalan “special forces” unit, the Kaibiles.

This is all largely forgotten history, but necessary to understand the modern-day drug war in Mexico in its proper context. The UN believes the drug trade generates roughly US$400 billion on the international market, which in my opinion is a conservative estimate. With so much money involved, it goes well beyond which cartel controls what part of Mexico. Any significant interruption to this market threatens global economies, and the banks that finance those economies. It would be incredibly naive to think there aren’t powerful forces involved who have a  vested interest in maintaining this status quo.

What do you think has been a pivotal turning point in the drug war in Mexico and how does your opinion of this event differ from the mainstream narrative?

Undoubtedly, the Felipe Calderon administration’s escalation and militarization of the Mexican drug war in 2007 was a crucial turning point in recent history. However, at this point, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who does not recognize this for the absolute disaster that it was.

More recently, the rise of the autodefensa movement in Mexico’s southern states has been a remarkable development. The mainstream narrative is, of course, to depict the autodefensas as “vigilantes,” “rebels,” and potentially dangerous — perhaps even as dangerous as the cartels themselves.

However, if it were not for the Mexican government’s ineptness and complicity in its drug war madness, there would have been no reason for small groups of ordinary citizens to band together in an effort to rid their communities of their criminal element. The autodefensas are not without their problems, no doubt, and recent developments show how the Mexican government has tried (and in many ways succeeded) to infiltrate, co-opt, and delegitimize the movement.

But if nothing else, the autodefensas are a powerful symbol of Mexico’s failed institutions, and the failure of US-Mexico drug policy in general.

Looking forward, there are potentially major shifts on the horizon, especially with regard to marijuana legalization and changes in societal/cultural norms with regard to drugs. When the United States eventually legalizes marijuana nationwide — and all signs indicate that it eventually will — it will be interesting to see how this affects Mexico’s drug policy. The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington has already caused tension with the Mexican government. As more US states follow suit, Mexico’s prohibition on marijuana and its  military campaign against those who traffic in it, will become politically untenable.

My concern is that this momentum likely stops with just marijuana legalization, and this would be a mistake.  As I mentioned earlier, this doesn’t end until we put a stop to prohibition entirely. For as long as we allow the black market to exist, criminals will continue to thrive and the body count will keep rising. An end to prohibition is the only way forward.

Remembering Charles Bowden

 To recognize Chuck’s contributions to the literary world one simply has to takeaway all his works and realize the void that remains. He shared his vast knowledge of and passion for the Southwest specifically the violence in Mexico through his works notably Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family, Murder City, and El Sicario, edited with our own, Molly Molloy. He once said*, ““I’m a reporter. I go out and report. I don’t keep a [expletive] journal” and report he did. Much has been written about him as a reporter, friend and all-around unique and sometimes eccentric figure, in the following weeks we will feature pieces commemorating Chuck from Listeros and, of course, Molly.  In the meantime, Molly wanted to share information regarding his memorial along with a private photo of Chuck.
“My great pleasure is to go into the wilderness, get myself lost under the big sky out there, and I’ve written books full of words trying to capture that feeling and describe that landscape.” **

If you are interested in contributing a post about Chuck, please email us at fronteralist@gmail.com

DOWN BY THE RIVER…Rhapsody for Chuck Bowden

Sunday afternoon, September 28, 1-5 at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, near Mesilla, NM
Chuck out in nature, his favorite place to be. Photo courtesy of Molly Molloy

Chuck out in nature, his favorite place to be. Photo courtesy of Molly Molloy

* Quote from the LA Times

**Quote from The Guardian

Charles Bowden…”I have spent my life trying to learn…”

To all of our friends on the frontera list… Jose Luis Benavides sent me this great note, including Chuck’s own words about his life and work… It says things far better now than I can…Thanks to everyone who has written to me.  I hope I can respond personally in time… molly

From Jose Luis:
Yesterday, I checked Chuck’s bio he sent me back when we invited you and him to CSUN for the first time. I liked it because it captures his mood at the time, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of sharing it with you:

I have spent my life trying to learn. I once taught American history at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle Campus but my real education has come from working on newspapers and magazines and from writing books. I started out interested in nature (Killing the Hidden Waters, University of Texas Press, 1977) but got sidetracked by the endless wars of the border–wars against drugs, wars against the migration of the Mexican poor and wars against decent wages (see Juarez: the laboratory of our future, Down by the River, Murder City, El Sicario, Exodus). I have also co-produced a documentary film, “El Sicario/room 164.” I have not controlled my life or work but been controlled by events. I could not stand by in silence as the war on drugs killed tens of thousands, imprisoned millions and squandered over a trillion US dollars. Nor could I ignore the massive flight of the poor unleashed by NAFTA, especially since the Mexicans who come north to survive are often demonized by politicians and portrayed as a national security risk. I constantly try to abandon my work. Recently, I bought a backpack, threw forty pounds into it and returned to walking the hills. I’ll see if this effort at a cure works. It never has before but I am a creature of hope.

Q & A with Frontera List’s Molly Molloy

What are the current stats and how do they compare to previous years?

There are two main sources of official Mexican government statistics on homicides. INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics Institute, tallies numbers of murder victims based on data from medical examiners in morgues across the country. A death is counted as a homicide when a legal medical specialist determines that homicide was the cause of death. These statistics are cumulated and generally reported in July or August for the previous year. The INEGI report for 2013 came out in late July and provided the figure of 22,732 intentional homicides—an average of 1,894 homicides each month. This figure is down from the figure of 25,967 in 2013 and from the highest number of 27,213 in 2012—an average of more than 2,200 murders per month.

The national murder rate in Mexico in 2013 was 19 per 100,000, down from the highest point of about 24 in 2012.  When evaluating murder rates, we also have to consider that many cities, states or regions in Mexico have much higher rates than the national average. The state of Guerrero has a murder rate of 63—the highest in the country—and the city of Acapulco is at the top of the list of violent cities. Chihuahua state had a murder rate in 2013 of 59, about the same as the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez. This is a dramatic decrease from the highest murder rate in the world in 2010 (approaching 300 per 100,000) but still the second highest state murder rate in the country.

The other major source of crime statistics is the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP), part of the Secretariat of Government (SEGOB). SESNSP provides data on homicides from crime scenes as reported on a monthly basis by the Fiscalias (the Attorneys General) in each state. These numbers are generally lower than the cumulative figures reported by INEGI and can probably be explained by the fact that those injured in violent crimes may die later and eventually be categorized as homicides. Also, SESNSP data reports a separate category of homicidios culposos (negligent or unintentional homicides) in an initial crime scene investigation, but some of these may also be determined to be intentional at a later stage of investigation.  A total of 9,303 homicidios dolosos (intentional homicides) are reported for January-July 2014, an average of about 1,300 homicides each month.  In comparison, there were a total of 18,388 intentional homicides in 2013—an average of about 1,500 per month—somewhat lower than the cumulative INEGI total. For more on the SESNSP data, see: http://www.secretariadoejecutivosnsp.gob.mx/es/SecretariadoEjecutivo/Incidencia_Delictiva_Nacional_fuero_comun

Adding the INEGI numbers for 2007-2013, and the SESNSP numbers for January-July 2014, there were a total of 153,648 murder victims in Mexico during the past 7.5 years. That averages to 1,688 homicides per month since the hyper-violence began in Mexico.

And, these numbers do not include the estimated 30,000 people who have been officially reported missing or disappeared.  Mexican government spokespeople have addressed the issue of the disappeared, most recently in a press conference yesterday resulting in a flurry of media coverage trying to explain the “disappearing disappeared.” See: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/08/22/politica/005n1pol

http://www.animalpolitico.com/2014/08/existen-22-mil-322-personas-localizadas-en-mexico-9-mil-790-fueron-reportadas-este-sexenio/#axzz3B8q3D4LM

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/08/21/world/americas/ap-lt-mexico-missing-people.html?ref=americas&_r=1

http://www.thepanamericanpost.com/2014/08/mexico-revises-number-of-disappeared.html

The reality is that there are no accurate or reliable numbers on people who have disappeared. The government never says how many were found alive and how many are confirmed dead. And it is certain than many of the dead are never found. One recent report by Michelle Garcia and Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez for Al Jazeera America concludes:

“People began to disappear in Mexico in large numbers after President Felipe Calderón launched his war against drug traffickers in 2006. By 2013, the Mexican government, under a new administration, pegged the number of disappeared at 26,121, adding that not all were criminally related.

Experts and several human rights groups, however, estimate that reported cases represent roughly 10 percent of the total, as most people are reluctant to appeal to authorities who were either involved in or suspected of having ties to organized crime groups. Based on their calculations, the actual number could be closer to 200,000 people.”

What is the most informative literary work to come out in the last year regarding the violence in Mexico? Why?

 The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, by Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez.

Amnesty International estimates that as many as 70,000 Central American migrants have disappeared in Mexico in the past 10 years. Published in Spanish as Los migrantes que no importan…The Migrants who Don’t Matter, The Beast is by far the best account I have read of how criminal/government networks actually work and how and why the massive death toll in Mexico and in Central America keeps rising. The book not only helps us to understand Mexico, but it also is the skeleton key to understanding the recent crisis in child migration from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. At least 60,000 unaccompanied minors have made it to the United States border in the past year and we do not begin to know how many have been lost on the journey—not to mention the numbers of adult men and women who die in the migration. Here is one paragraph from Oscar Martinez’ interview below with the Texas Observer:

 “TO: What do you hope Americans will learn from your book?

OM: I believe the worst tragedies along the path—the rapes, the mass kidnappings, the torturing done by Los Zetas, the fee to cross the border—are things that the migrants who have suffered them, in my experience, dont even tell their own families. Im convinced that its something they dont tell their employers or their friends if they have any friends in the United States. I think people in the U.S. know that migrants have a long and hard journey. But Im convinced that the country in which they work—where they cut tomatoes and clean houses—has no idea at all that what the migrants are going through is actually a humanitarian crisis. In other words, its a humanitarian crisis where organized crime takes care of extracting the very last drop it can from people who are already leaving their country with practically nothing.”

What has been one of the most surprising news story you’ve read this year? why?

The rise of ISIS, or the Islamic State terrorist military force and its lightning take-over of much of Iraq and Syria. I know, it has nothing to do with Latin America. Or does it?  I think of the several trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost since our invasion of that country in 2003 and even more deaths caused by massive destabilization in the region, in part sparked by our interventions. And for what? The result seems to be the creation of one of the most violent and dangerous threats the U.S. has faced, ever.

Then I look at the media storm in response to the massive numbers of children fleeing from intolerable violence in the small Central American countries. And I think about the illegal U.S. proxy wars against “the Communist threat” in those countries resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans in the 1970s and 1980s. Our policies and actions 30+ years ago sowed the seeds for the destruction of these societies and now we are reaping the crops.

What do you see happening with immigration in the U.S. and how will it affect Latin America?

I am appalled by the inhumane reaction of our government to the recent Central American migration. Instead of seeing the migration as a human rights crisis, our government is determined to detain and deport people as quickly as possible with not even lip-service to human rights, international law, or due process in our own courts.

http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/08/22/70696.htm

http://www.legalactioncenter.org/litigation/artesia-resource-page

The American immigration gulag is expanding and becoming more repressive at every turn. And the loudest protests call for more repression, not less.

While the administration and activists continue to talk about the president bypassing the stonewalled Congress to mandate immigration reform through executive action, I fear such action will result in more draconian border security measures and provide little if any benefit to the immigrants most in need of relief.

I hope my sad predictions are all wrong.

Absent States, Stolen Lives: Forced Migration in the Americas

Sonja Wolf is a researcher at the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde).  Visit her website and follow her @scwolf5

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Absent States, Stolen Lives: Forced Migration in the Americas

The Spanish Cultural Center in Mexico City is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Childhood” and put together by UNICEF in collaboration with the renowned Spanish photographer Isabel Muñoz. The display, organized on occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, comprises 20 photos of children from five continents. The simple yet beautiful images are meant to convey situations of abuse that youth around the world continue to endure, including violence, malnutrition, sexual exploitation, and slave labor.

The children are portrayed with their most cherished belongings; sometimes these are a collection of stuffed animals, at other times music instruments. Featuring in the show is Belize, a country on the northeastern coast of Central America with a 340,000-strong population that boasts lush scenery, yet has dramatic human development needs and is wrecked by drug and gang violence. One of the photos shows Tyrel Arzu, a 13-year-old Garifuna who stands barefoot on a pier, dressed in knee-long denim shorts, a pair of sandals in his left hand, and a white tank top lying to his right on the ground. With a serious look on his face, the youth had stated for the record that he dreams of one day going to the place “called California.”

The recently publicized exodus of undocumented migrant children from Central America –mostly the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras– to the U.S.-Mexico border, has triggered all kinds of reactions. Expressions of solidarity aside, their arrival prompted a deplorable outburst of hate messages, the launch of futile government campaigns warning of the dangers of undocumented migration, and renewed calls within the United States for greater border security. Sorely missing, however, are signs of rational policy debates about the factors for the current migration dynamics and how to tackle them.

One of the factors that have for years been driving people out of their communities of origin is that of poverty and social exclusion, affecting both rural and urban residents. In Honduras, for example, where the 2009 coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya ushered in a steady decline of the social and human rights situation, UNDP data indicate that 66.5 percent of the population lives in poverty. Unemployment, affecting –along with underemployment– particularly younger sectors of society, stands at whopping 54.1 percent. Experts often counsel those who stay behind to create micro-enterprises for a living. Pervasive extortion, however, stifles most business activity and requires those unable to meet the demands to run for their life.

Generalized violence, another driver of irregular migration, has been raging especially in the countries of the Northern Triangle. In 2013, the per capita murder rate reached 34/100,000 in Guatemala, 43/100,000 in El Salvador and a staggering 79/100,000 in Honduras. Much of the social and criminal violence is perpetrated by members of Barrio Dieciocho and Mara Salvatrucha. These Los Angeles-born street gangs were formed by Latino youth, including many civil war refugees who banded together in the face of discrimination and exclusion in their new homeland. Mass deportations imported both groups into Central America where repressive gang policies helped make them increasingly sophisticated and brutal. Today, they are associated chiefly with homicides, extortion and drug sales. Youth who prefer to stay out of gangs often have no choice but to flee abroad in order to escape forced recruitment or rape. A similar fate has befallen entire families who, intimidated by gangs, had to abandon their homes. More recently, members of the LGBTI community have been forced to escape threats to their life because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

People are at the mercy of violent non-state actors, because those who are meant to protect them fail to do so or prey on the vulnerable. After years of U.S.-sponsored civil wars and repression in the region, police and justice reforms stalled as stronger institutions were not in the interest of the governing elites. Today, these institutions remain weakened by corruption, politicized, and infiltrated by organized crime and street gangs. U.S. security assistance has responded to that situation, but has done so mostly by stepping up law enforcement cooperation in the hope of preventing perceived security threats from reaching the United States. Largely absent are efforts to root out sleaze, address the structural factors of crime and violence or improve prison management and offender rehabilitation.

In the “Childhood” exhibition, 17-year-old Marie Claire from Rwanda pleads: “You, as members of mankind, why have you allowed this to happen?” Her remarks, recalling the atrocities that her country experienced 20 years ago, are apt also in the context of the contemporary exodus from Central America. Calls encouraging people to refrain from making a perilous journey will fall on deaf ears, because “home” offers neither security nor opportunities for a bright and rewarding future. It is time for governments in the region to muster the political will and pool resources in order to genuinely address a shared problem, instead of continuing to shun their responsibility. Too many lives are at stake.

 

 

 

Q & A with author Michael Deibert

Michael Deibert‘s writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Miami Herald, Le Monde
diplomatique, Folha de Sao Paulo and the World Policy Journal, among other venues. He has been a featured commentator on international affairs on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Channel 4, National Public Radio, WNYC New York Public Radio and KPFK Pacifica Radio. In 2012, he was awarded a grant from the International Peace Research Association and, in 2008, he was selected as a finalist for the Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, sponsored by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, both in recognition of his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America’s Drug War in Mexico  is his third book.

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

Frontera List focuses on the number of deaths in Juarez which is higher than what’s often published. After writing this book, how do you feel about how the war and the casualties are portrayed in mainstream media?

I feel that the generally accepted figures of those who have died in the war in Mexico since 2006, which, if one takes into account the 2012 Propuesta Cívica report of around 21,000 people who have had disappeared in addition to more than 70,000 killed, are actually quite conservative. As I mention in the book, after the Tamaulipas massacres in 2010/2011, one Zetas lieutenant said they he thought up to that point the Zetas had buried up to 600 bodies around Tamaulipas alone. I think the full number of those killed in Mexico may be many, many more.  And people also like to forget, because of the drug trade and US drug policies, there are also bodies dropping in places like Miami, Chicago and New Orleans in the United States every single day.

You put yourself in some precarious situations while researching this book. What is one incident that stands out and why?

In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, in late 2013, while finishing up some interviews with people who had been deported from the United States, a contact and I were driving though a cartel-dominated part of the city to another interview across town. As we began to leave the first neighborhood we ran headlong into a Gulf Cartel roadblock of half a dozen guys with automatic rifles stopping cars and deciding who could pass and who couldn’t. They let some go, and stopped some others. To me it looked as if they were scanning the cars for someone in particular, though my contact said that he thought they were actually coming out as a show of force to recruit young people in the neighborhood, something they do from time to time.

You quote an interviewee who says “a new culture and belief are taking hold.” How would you characterize the war now versus five years ago?

Unfortunately, I think now, certainly among border communities in Tamaulipas but also in other parts of Mexico, there is a kind of collective PTSD among many people who live there, and a fatalism verging on despair. You send your kids out for school in the morning and don’t know whether they wil be trapped there by a gunattle later in the day. You open up a business and someone shows up claiming they work for this or that criminal group and that you must pay la mordida or else there will be consequences. You get on the highway to drive from Reynosa to Matamoros and God only knows if you will get there alive or not.

America plays a large role not only as drug consumers but also gun suppliers. What needs to change in America in order to bring about changes in Mexico?

I think there needs to be a general decriminalization and regulation of narcotics in the United States similar to what what we saw with alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition.  Since Richard Nixon’s famous speech in 1971, which many view as the beginning of what came to be known as the war on drugs, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion fighting it, and yet we have seen violence related to the drug trade cut a bloody swathe through Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and elsewhere. All these year later, I could still step out the door of my apartment in Miami and cop any drug I wanted in about 20 minutes. Over half of sentenced prisoners under federal jurisdiction in the United States are serving time for drug offenses, for which African-Americans are sent to prison at 10 times the rate of caucasians. Does that sound like a successful, equitable system of justice to you? It doesn’t to me.

In terms of the gun industry, I have a story in the book about a guy from Houston who helped facilitate the purchase of more than 100 military-style firearms, many of which ended up in the hands of Mexico’s cartels, including at such locales as a February 2007 assault on the Guerrero  state attorney general’s office in Acapulco that left seven people dead. It is not an unrepresentative case and, as I’m sure you, know, for many years, at gun shows in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, unlicensed dealers were not even obligated to record the buyer’s name, and in Arizona, no licensing or permit requirements whatsoever were imposed for purchasing  firearms, including limiting the firearms a person could purchase by quantity or time period. The US is a great one-stop shop for the cartels.

My hope is, building on the example we’ve seen shown by states like Colorado and Washington, US drug policy will go the way of Portugal, which in November 2000 decriminalized “personal” drug possession and use up to amounts generally thought of to be able to be consumed by one person over a 10-day period, including for drugs  such as cocaine and heroin. With an emphasis on dissuasion and prevention of drug addiction as well as treatment, in the 14 years since the law was passed, Portugal didn’t see a significant increases in drug use among the population and rather drug consumption among 15 to 19 years olds, a particularly at-risk group, actually went down. Portuguese police are making fewer arrests but are seizing larger quantities of drugs because now, rather than low level drug use and dealing, they are free to combat organized crime.

A lot of media coverage focuses on  capturing drug kingpins like El Chapo however you say it does very little to truly impact the drug trade. What needs to happen in order to cause the foundations of these cartels to unravel?

As I said, I think there needs to be a general decriminalization of narcotics, and we need to realize that it’s not productive to put people – the users – in jail, for basically beings sick. As Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel says at one point in the book, even if authorities might feel a momentary elation at the killing or capture of this or that drug lord, their replacements are already out there.

If there’s one thing you wish readers would take from this book, what would it be?

The the policies of the United States with regard to the drug trade – from the prohibition of narcotics to the free flow of firearms to the private prison industry that jails so much of our population to the US banks that launder billions of dollars of drug money – have corrupted not only drug producing and distributing counties like Colombia and Mexico, but the United States itself. And it is time that these policies change.