Q & A with Sally Meisenhelder of La 72

Sally Meisenhelder is a nurse who regularly volunteers at the La 72 shelter.
Boarding La Bestia

Boarding La Bestia

Can you give us a little background about the shelter?

The shelter began in 1995 as a parochial mission, staffed and funded by the Franciscan order. It moved to its new location in 2011 and was renamed La 72 Hogar – Refugio para personas migrantes in honor of the 72 migrants found in a common grave in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. It is intended to be a home and a refuge where people can receive information and legal services. As the number of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America increased, the shelter has expanded.

It is probably the most comprehensive shelter in Mexico and the only one I know of where people can stay an unlimited amount of time.

Can you describe how the shelter functions on a regular basis? Who is involved?
Two Franciscan friars are the driving force behind the hogar. A few long term residents are also instrumental in its operation. Recently a couple joined and became volunteer coordinators and operations manager, taking some of the burden off Fray Tomas and Fray Aurelio. The migrants themselves do much of the work of cooking, cleaning and security operations. Doctors without Borders offers the services of a psychologist and a social worker, a worker from the UN provides entertainment and education for the children, Volunteers fill the gaps by staffing a First Aid clinic, an area where migrants can speak with their families and use the internet, receive money sent to migrants from their family, an intake area, a kitchen and the operation of two dormitories, one for men and one for women and children. A lawyer provides representation for those who wish to stay in Mexico and those who qualify for refugee status in Mexico.
It’s located in Tenosique, one of the first stops of La Bestia. How does this affect the shelter?
People arrive there because it is the beginning of the train line north from that part of Mexico.  Trains run on an irregular schedule and are several days apart.  The shelter fills up and empties when a train arrives.  Plan Frontera Sur has changed this dynamic.

What is Plan Fronera Sure and has it been effective? Why or why not?
Plan Frontera Sur was announced in July, 2014 by the President of Mexico about a month after Obama declared an “urgent humanitarian situation” due to the apprehension of 38,833 children “on the run” and alone. At that time Peña Nieto claimed it was a program to protect the human rights of migrants.

To those on the ground the plan is obvious, it closely mirrors U.S. immigration enforcement. The goal appears to be to force migrants into more remote areas and to make passage as difficult as possible. The train now moves rapidly through Tenosique.  If it stops so that people can get on, it probably will stop in an isolated area or a train yard for immigration officials to try to arrest as many migrants as they can.
Plan Frontera Sur seems to be part of the “21st century border” funded by the U.S. government through Plan Merida.  The marines now patrol the rivers between Mexico and Guatemala. I have seen new equipment, identical to that used by U.S. Border Patrol at immigration checkpoints near Tenosique, Palenque and San Cristobal. Changes in Mexican immigration law have made it more difficult for people to receive permission to stay in Mexico if they have been victims of a crime in Mexico. This will make it even more difficult to prosecute corrupt officials and criminal who prey on migrants.

From a human rights standpoint, Plan Frontera Sur has been a disaster. This week there has been much discussion on Frontera list about an article by Valerie Espinosa and Donald Rubin  that documents increased homicide rates in areas where military-style interventions took place. Plan Frontera Sur uses the Army, two branches of federal police, and immigration authorities to enforce immigration law. If this article is predictive, murder rates of migrants will increase.

Each of these agencies has separate checkpoints and everyone, including local people are subjected to scrutiny and extortion along the routes.  There are 3 rings of enforcement, reaching to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. People are now walking into more remote areas to avoid these checkpoints. Forcing migration routes into more remote areas will increase the potential that organized crime will be involved and the cost in human lives and the transit cost to migrants will increase.  This happened in the U.S. as enforcement increased, people were forced into more dangerous routes, cost to the migrants increased and people became merchandise to be moved north.

What Plan Frontera Sur does is move the abuse of migrants away from the view of U.S. citizens. It is an attempt to avoid another public relations disaster like the one that occurred last summer.

You say 90% of those coming to La 72 are Honduran and this is in the wake of more than 70,000 minors crossing the border. What has it been like since then? Has the situation improved at all?

My impression is that the number of children on the run has decreased but this is only one point of entry and if children are coming with a coyote, they may stay in a hotel or safe house instead of in a shelter.  La 72 tries to keep out anyone involved in trafficking of human beings. The U.S. Border Patrol website has confusing information about the numbers of minors.  Always on the lookout for more money, they appear to be saying that they will face another “crisis” this summer.  However, the numbers on the charts show overall the numbers are down compared to last year.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, stated “The federal government has engaged in an aggressive, coordinated response to provide humanitarian care,” and that they have “heightening deterrence, enhancing enforcement, strengthening foreign cooperation and increasing border security.

As a result of these efforts, the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the Southwest border has declined precipitously, and the federal government continues to focus its resources prevent a similar situation from developing in the future,” he said.

The large percentage of Hondurans is influenced by the location of Tenosique. Migrants from El Salvador would more likely cross into Tapachula as would most Guatemalans seeking to come north.
Other factors seem to be pushing people out of Honduras.  A fungus, el royo, has decimated the coffee crop, or so many migrants told me.  They had previously been employed on coffee plantations but now there is no work.  I also expect migration out of  the highlands of Chiapas to increase. Lack of rain has ruined the corn crop and there will be no coffee harvest for many due to el royo.  See Christine Eber’s report of a recent trip to Chiapas.

What is the shelter most in need of? Are a majority of the residents families? youths?
It seems to me that donations of money are the most useful and can be used where most needed at the moment. Currently, La 72 is constructing a separate shelter for unaccompanied minors. They now live with the adults in a dormitory setting.  I think money to complete and furnish this is needed.  Also the diet is very unvaried, mostly beans and rice with tortillas.  Some vegetables and fruit are donated by local businesses but not enough.
The majority are men traveling without their families. There are some families and some unaccompanied minors.
What changes need to be made?

As a nurse and a fan of Paul Farmer, I join him in advocating pragmatic solidarity. In other words put your money and your body where your mouth is. Join with La 72 and demand an end to Plan Frontera Sur and by extension, Plan Merida.  Demand a right to migrate. Volunteer with local agencies serving migrants.

Donations can be sent to La 72 through this link

Q & A with Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith is a freelance writer and photographer whose work can be found in the Denver Post, Santa Fe New Mexican, Denver Business Journal, New Mexico Business Journal, El Paso Inc., New Mexico Mercury and La Voz Colorado among others.

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By Virginia Isaad

  1. Juarez has a reputation as an impoverished war-torn city and yet you’ve written about and visited places like Vision in Action, El Árbol de Vida, and Reto a la Juventud. What do you think about the fact that such places exist in the midst of such violence and poverty?

What I discovered some five years ago is that there are a handful of very heroic and dedicated people who are committed to helping others, no matter what the danger to them might be. My first encounter was with a Mexican woman named Martina Ontiveros who had lived in Santa Fe but went to Palomas to live in and volunteer at an orphanage named La Casa de Amor Para Ninos. When I asked her if she was afraid – it was very dangerous in Palomas at the time – she simply said that this was her mission. The same is true for people like Elenita Porras at Reto a la Juventud or Pastor Galvan or Dr. Vicente Pantoja or many others I have met. It’s their personal dedication that keeps these programs going.

  1. What stands out to you the most when you visit such places? Why?

The physical conditions of these places is usually not what we would expect in the US but the spirit and the sense of optimism and caring is always extraordinary and I very much enjoy being a part of it and also trying to publicize it.

  1. Through the years, how has the government’s involvement changed, if at all? Has there been an increase in donations and awareness through the media?

I don’t see any additional government presence in the areas I go to. Traveling through poor colonias in Juarez, for example, I just don’t see the presence of whatever social services they might have. Pretty much all I see is the presence of these private, non profit humanitarian groups.

That’s a neutral comment, suggesting, for example, that the government does little for the poor. On the negative side, one on going frustration is the way the Mexican customs officials hinder the work of these organizations by often blocking them from bringing in food or clothing or building materials for housing construction.

  1. Have you ever seen or heard of a place like Vision in Action? What is it about patients caring for one another that seems to work in this case?

I have probably visited Vision in Action 60 or 70 times in the last 4 plus years and am always amazed at how effective many of the patients – some like Elia who can’t even talk coherently – are at calming and consoling others. It’s evidence that even people who are deeply disturbed or have committed serious crimes can and do respond to affection and an environment of caring. This is an important lesson for our US mental facilities where there are very strict rules about patients are allowed to do.

The basis of this is Pastor Galvan and his insistence that his patients be treated with dignity and the many things he does to treat them as we would treat people without illnesses. For example, I was there on February 14 when several patients got married.

  1. Do you think if organizations like Vision in Action had governmental aid that they would sustain the system as is? What you seem to be most in awe of is how the patients help each other but if more money were to come in that would probably change. How do you feel about that?

I was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives many years and Chairman of the budget committee. As a result, I came to know many state programs in the social services area. Although funding was always important, what set the really good ones apart was leadership, not money. Vision in Action would stay the same if it had government support but only if it had the leadership of someone like a Galvan. How do you find that leadership? That’s the tough question.

Last, I would add that these characteristics – providing work which makes people feel productive, organizing the same kinds of events that “normal” people have such as the wedding I mentioned, showing affection, focusing on dignity – seem intangible as compared to, for example, therapy sessions in US facilities but they work. So Galvan is not only responsible for the survival of his patients but he has also given us some new insights on what it takes to change human behavior.

Read Morgan Smith’s previous guest post on Vision in Action here

Work, pray, love…in Ciudad Juárez By Megan Cullip

This week’s guest posting is from Megan Cullip. A chaplain and mental health professional, she wrote this reflection on her time spent at Vision en Accion, the shelter for homeless, mentally disabled people in Juárez, Mexico.

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In 2008, when I was in my junior year of college, I saw a YouTube video about El Pastor, a man in Juárez, Mexico who had built an asylum in the Chihuahuan desert for those who are drug addicted, mentally ill, or developmentally disabled. I had a lump in my throat within three minutes of the video. I always had both an intellectual fascination and a tender-heartedness toward people with atypical brains. El Pastor, in the video, said that people referred to the residents at the asylum as: “human trash.” But what I saw, when I went there, was far from a dump.

Fast-forward about six years, the mental asylum in Juárez had been cemented in the back of my mind for some time. I had a deeply passionate compulsion to go.

I work in a state psychiatric hospital in the United States. We serve a wide variety of individuals with a spectrum of mental health issues: schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, substance abuse, personality disorders. Because we are a state institution, we receive ample government funding. We are a multi-million dollar facility with about 1,200 staff members and, on average, 420 patients. We have professionals with lots of education and specialized experience. We have access to enough meds for everyone to receive whatever dose the doctor deems necessary, daily.

But we have codes daily. We have much conflict, patients fighting patients, patients fighting staff, patients harming themselves. We consider emergency restraints, where a patient has to be restrained in a chair or bed, “a treatment fail.” And it is.
Our patients are scheduled to attend groups throughout the day: psycho-education, medication management, spirituality group, individual counseling, music therapy etc.
But the patients rarely work with their hands, though some do get the opportunity to work in the greenhouse or the copy center.

Vision in Action has done something incredible without having millions of dollars to spend, nor teams of specialized professionals. I remember walking into the kitchen at the asylum. I was immediately handed a spicy dish of pork smothered in sauce and a plate of cheese quesadillas. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, the ladies and gentlemen who worked in the kitchen would offer me food-refried bean burritos with avocado slices, bottles of soda. They delivered their hospitality and quality cooking with broad smiles. They make 360 meals a day, and they don’t work in shifts.

During the day, people are working. They are cleaning, cooking, building, helping other low functioning patients perform their daily living tasks. When I was there, a new patient named Monica was dropped off from the local hospital. The other patients were at the gate waiting to receive her. She was placed in a cell for observation. She was despondent, when I asked her how she was. Monica appeared the same way many of our patients do upon their arrival at the hospital. But, as I looked around at the other patients at Vision in Action, I saw Monica’s potential. Monica would not meet with a treatment team. She would not be scheduled for groups. But I would not be surprised if, as I write this, she is putting her hand to cleaning, or laundry, or any of the other options. I wouldn’t be surprised if another patient is making friends with her and helping her adjust to this strange place of dignity and hospitality in the desert.

I had the privilege to speak at length with the medical doctor who works hard (for free) to try and give the patients the best quality of life possible. He showed me the supply of Haldol and Klonopin and other psychotropic medications that he locks in a tiny room in the asylum, out of reach from patients. If I were to take my own personal medicine cabinet, stuff it with psychotropic meds, and multiply it by three, that would be the maximum amount of medication that I found at the asylum. It was clearly not enough for 120 people, and definitely not enough for a consistent daily medication routine. The doctor told me that sometimes he has to cut one Haldol pill in half to serve two patients. It’s not enough. It’s inconsistent.

There is not a doubt in my mind that medication is helpful. And Vision in Action lacks the appropriate amount.

But there is also no question about the “success” (if you can ever talk about success when you talk about people) of this asylum. I did not see misery there. I saw sickness and poverty, yes. But I saw joy and community. I saw faith. I saw people who poured themselves out for others. I saw an energetic man in black slacks and a black blazer, named El Pastor. I saw him share the story and fundraise and care for his people, everyday crossing the border, praying to Jesus. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, when he marched to Montgomery during the civil rights movement, said: “I felt my feet were praying.” This is what I saw El Pastor, and all of those who help Vision and Action, doing.

Throughout the week I met many people involved in many different things: art dealers, curious givers, and a man with a landscaping business building an irrigation system for the asylum on his own dime. These people came and went, like the wind passing through from different directions. My last afternoon at the asylum, a pastor from Oklahoma came to pick up blankets. The asylum had extra blankets that they wanted to donate. The pastor from Oklahoma was going to take these blankets to natives on a reservation, who lived in caves. The poor were donating to the poor.

At Vision in Action, I saw a lot of my own values at work: faith, community, hard work, preserving human dignity. Many of my coworkers at the hospital feel similarly as I do about patient care and best practices. But the system is very overwhelming, with a lot of red tape and the like. It is frustrating. Change comes slowly. In many ways, it seems, we are slaves to liability. We are under fear of litigation or scrutiny from authorities. It is hard and almost unfair to compare a large state psychiatric hospital in America with a small faith-based asylum in the deserts of Mexico. My hope for state psychiatric hospitals in the US is that they would look a little more like Vision in Action. I hope that patients are allowed to use their hands, to do good work. I hope that everyone treats each other with dignity, treating people as whole people and not diagnoses’ on a page. I hope that programming and schedules would be seen as one of many tools and not a prescription that will magically heal every brain and heart. I hope that staff, at the end of the day, will be able to utter: “I felt my feet were praying.”

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Megan Cullip works as a chaplain at a state psychiatric institution in the United States. She can be reached at megancullip@gmail.com

Q & A with Jason McGahan

Jason McGahan is an investigative reporter who covers organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico and the United States. His special investigative report “Drugs in Chicago” was awarded a 2014 Peter Lisagor Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Chicago Society of Professional Journalists. His work has appeared in Vice, The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Time, Texas Observer, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, The LA Times, and in Spanish in Proceso, M-X, SinEmbargo, and Spleen! Journal. Follow him @JasonMcGahan

By Virginia Isaad
 You recently wrote about anti-clericalism and the murders of priests in Tierra Caliente. Do you see the violence against priests escalating or do you think these are isolated to certain areas? 
Centro Católico Multimedia tabulated eight murders of Catholic priests and two forcible disappearances since the start of the Enrique Pena Nieto presidency in December 2012. I wrote about the Dec 21 murder of Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta. In the course of my reporting, I learned that Father Gregorio was the fourth priest murdered in the region of La Tierra Caliente since 2009, not counting two students at a Catholic seminary who were also murdered. Another priest was wounded, and yet another was kidnapped and managed to escape with his life through a very fortuitous incident that distracted his kidnappers. When my story about the priests of La Tierra Caliente came out, Chivis, the administrator of the news site Borderland Beat, commented that priests have also been murdered in Tamaulipas and Veracruz. So the danger does not appear to be isolated to any one part of Mexico.

The slogan for Ayotzinapa is, as you mentioned, “the cradle of social consciousness.” do you believe the cartels were trying to send a specific message by going after the 43 students?

I think the problem with the Ayotzinapa case is the lack of a verifiable explanation from the PGR as to what happened that night. Even though the massacre is more than 5 months old, the story is still developing, the search for the students continues, and highly qualified professional investigators continue to examine the evidence A major break in the case is liable to happen at any time. Certainly, the Ayotzinapa students are known for their political activism. Part of the reason the abduction of the 43 students resonated so strongly with the Mexican public was that the student victims had no ties to organized crime. The truly mobbed-up elements of the Mexican political class, and here I am thinking of someone like the First Lady of Iguala, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, tend to keep an especially virulent form of disdain for political idealism. They don’t understand it, they don’t speak the same language. At this point, what we can interpret about the “message” of the Ayotzinapa massacre is that three students can be murdered (one of whose corpse was found with the face sliced off and the eyes plucked out) and forty-three forcibly disappeared in the downtown area of a mid-sized Mexican city, without legal consequences for most, if any, of the individuals responsible for the crime.
From priests to young social activists/students, the violence knows no bounds. How do you feel the impassioned protests and heightened attention have affected the war against drugs? 

I think the protests have inspired individual Mexicans to risk taking a stand against the impunity of organized crime in Mexico. The parents of the disappeared students from Aytozinapa have played the most decisive role in that respect. Thousands of Mexican parents have walked the proverbial mile in their shoes, have seen their children disappeared in recent years. But other parents were too afraid of reprisals to demand answers, much less to take matters like the search or investigation into their own hands, the way the parents of the Ayotzinapa students have. They carry a tremendous moral authority in Mexico, both for the pain they have endured and the courage they have displayed in demanding justice. The parents have set an example that others are following, to take a crisis into one’s own hands and to challenge the climate of impunity that prevails in the Mexican justice system.

 

In your article about U.S. visas you talk about informants getting sideways: “Get sideways” is cop slang for breaking the law. It is most commonly applied to informants who want to have the thing both ways. They want the benefits of being an informant and the income from doing something illegal” How often would you say this occurs and how has the U.S. dealt with it? 
In my investigations, it seems as though the agencies of the United States Government charged with combating organized crime invariably seek to identify and enlist the help of insiders –criminals or corrupt public servants– as a way to study the architecture of a given criminal organization. Any DEA agent, in a moment of candor, will admit that confidential informants are the bread-and-butter of any investigation. Much more important, in the grand scheme, than things like electronic surveillance or wiretaps. What I found, in the investigation of mine that you reference in your question, is that the higher up in the chain of command that investigators reach for their informants, the better position the agents are in to influence the outcome of a conflict, like the turf war in Ciudad Juarez. I wrote about a situation where high-level traffickers and enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel in Chihuahua were provided with visas to enter the United States and provide sensitive information on their enemies in the Juarez Cartel. But all the while these informants continued to work as active members in mid- to high-level management roles within an international crime syndicate that was the largest supplier of cocaine, meth, and heroin to the United States.

What would you say has been your most challenging story (regarding the violence in Mexico) and why? 

 

 

I recently wrapped up a six-month murder investigation in Mexico. I won’t get into specifics until the article comes out. But gaining the trust of sources who do not know anything about you, who have never met a reporter before, much less a reporter from the United States, and where the decision for them to talk can have immediate life or death consequences, is a challenge that can only be overcome with patience and understanding.

Q & A with Andrew Kennis Part 2

How do you feel about the decriminalization of marijuana and how do you think this will affect Mexico?

Decriminalization of just marijuana, according to drug policy experts, peace activists, victims of drug war violence and even most recently the Global Commission on Drug Policy – which is filled by an array of ex heads of state, many of whom hailing from Latin America where drug war violence and victimization has been at its most intense in the world – is simply not sufficient reform. Portugal has quietly been the drug policy reform example over the course of last decade and running, as leading scholarly research has duly shown. Drug consumption has not risen, and in some ways has actually fallen, since the all-out decriminalization policy was instituted. That’s not insignificant news and something from which many countries, the U.S. and Mexico being the most among them, could and should learn a lot.

Nevertheless, the sweeping nature which characterizes rampant marijuana drug policy reform in the U.S. is definitely a step in the right direction and one that has marijuana reform advocates quite content, as I reported before the mid-term election. At that time, already 26 states had adopted some reform measure or another, decriminalizing, outright legalizing or providing medical provisions for the permitted consumption and cultivation of cannabis. By now, 5 more states can be added to the growing list for a total of 31, with Florida almost becoming the 32nd state to adopt a marijuana reform measure.

It is pretty clear that prohibitionist drug laws are as vulnerable as they have ever been before. At the same time, it is unclear when other drug laws going beyond marijuana will be reformed. Much depends upon the extent that the issue can continue to attract grassroots activism and successful voter referendum initiatives, which overwhelmingly has been the lone means with which marijuana drug reform advocates have been able to realize success. In the meantime, the drug war will most certainly continue, with the most pervasive victimization still falling squarely on the backs of the Mexican people.

In one of our previous interviews one author mentioned that the arrest of a drug kingpin (like El Chapo) really doesn’t change anything since there is always a replacement available to keep the drug trade going. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Just last month, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the drug kingpin of the Juarez cartel was arrested. I was interviewed on a local El Paso newscast and wrote-up a report about the arrest. High-profile arrests like these have been going on for years with indeed, little to no impact being made on the drug trade.

In terms of replacements being available, that’s been a known practice for quite some time now.

Years ago, Mayo Zambada, the still at-large Sinloa cartel kingpin and Vicente’s father, gave a very well-known interview to Proceso’s founding editor, Julio Scherer. [Here is the original Spanish version.] Proceso is Mexico’s most investigative and hard-hitting magazine weekly. In the wake of El Chapo’s arrest, Proceso re-printed the Mayo Zambada interview earlier this year. It was clear as to why it did so: at the end of the interview, Mayo confidently proclaims that any and all cartels are always prepared to fill in any void left behind by their captured or killed kingpins and capos with ready-made replacements. The claim was a bit of an exaggeration, however, as it is well-known that capos being killed or detained sometimes results in power struggles and increased violence.

It is true though that most of the time a new capo steps in and business as usual continues to be conducted. After all, there is no larger drug consumer market in the world than that of the U.S., with 2010 having set all-time records for importation and consumption. Interestingly enough, 2010 was also the height of Calderon’s drug war offensive and also of the turf war for control over the most lucrative drug corridor in the world: that of the El Paso / Ciudad Juarez plaza.

Whether or not the high-profile arrests of drug kingpins as a security strategy has actually made a dent into the drug war on behalf of the officials purportedly fighting it is scarcely in doubt though. In fact, the policy was so criticized, that the Pena Nieto administration pledged to either get rid of it entirely or at the very least to move away from it. The only substantive change that has happened, however, was the decision not to parade around captured drug kingpins after they were arrested, as was the custom during the Calderon administration. It was said that such public displays and spectacles added to the allure and appeal of narco culture, providing a basis for many narco corridos and the like.

However, the high-profile arrest strategy is apparently here to stay. Its origins date back to Calderon having drawn inspiration from U.S. military occupation policies in regard to the Hussein regime. Some readers may remember the use of playing cards to identify Iraqi leaders to U.S. soldiers for capture or kill hunts. That’s where this policy first started. During Pena Nieto’s administration, he has arrested not only El Chapo but other prominent cartel leaders too, such as El Viceroy. Curious to many of us drug war journos, however, was the release of Rafael Caro Quintero in August 2013 because of some legal technicality. The legal decision was reversed within a week of his release after some intense DEA pressure, but the kingpin continues to be at-large and may be filling a power vacuum of sorts in the wake of Chapo’s arrest. At the same time, the Sinaloa cartel has long been run by two capos, not just one, and Mayo Zambada continues to also be at-large. Finally, an anti-Sinaloa cartel alliance is also being organized too. That may result in some increased violence and challenges to plazas or it may simply result in different territorial control without increased violence. When cartels can avoid violence, they do, as it is very costly and dents into their profits.

More than anything else though, extreme drug war violence is generated from the instability of government intervention into the illegal drug trade, as was displayed prominently during the start of the Calderon administration, initialized with a huge offensive into Michoacan. Continued impunity also strongly fuels drug war-related violence, as the Iguala massacre has shown us in harrowing ways.

It is probably hard to imagine to most U.S. citizens that a Mayor and his wife would be so embroiled into narco politics and crime, that they would routinely undertake massacres against their political opponents. But this was apparently the case, as mass graves are showing up all around the town in which the student massacre was recently undertaken, for which the Mayor has been accused of masterminding. But that’s the extent to which impunity reigns in Mexico, with strong fuel being drawn from supportive and provocative U.S. policies, including vital arms supplies and training of the same military officials which are often knee-deep involved with narco politics and crime.

As seen by the widespread solidarity actions and political resistance organized and held last week, however, in Mexico and beyond, and even here on the border (in a very rare display of cross-border organizing and simultaneous protests being held on the same issue), there is most definitely a growing opposition and awareness to the impunity and corruption which characterizes the drug war. In Mexico, the issue has been long known and understood, which is why such an explosive increase of activism and resistance happened so quickly and so decisively over the presumed massacre of 43 students in Ayotzinapa. Other places are starting to catch on too, including even here in the States; hence, the global actions in solidarity with the Mexican struggle against the drug war and narco-state repression.

What is a misconception that you find people tend to have regarding the drug war?

I’d say on a few matters. One is about the very deep and extensive involvement which U.S. policy plays in fueling drug war violence in Mexico. In terms of policy, there is a significant lack of familiarity with decriminalization drug reform, such as that of Portugal.

Perhaps there will be a growing awareness of this, however, in light of the sea change that has happened with marijuana reform policies that we just spoke about.

Then again, it could work either way: marijuana reform could be seen as sufficient and thus stultify further efforts to decriminalize other drugs. “This far, but no further,” could be the damaging logic that comes as a result of marijuana reform. The leading marijuana reform organization steers way clear of taking a position on decriminalizing more drugs, or not, for example. Or, if luck will win it, marijuana reform could lead to further decriminalization policies.

While polls are running strong in terms of citizen support for marijuana reform policies, most activists and policy experts I spoke to didn’t credit a shift in the public consciousness as the leading factor for the policy shift. They credited the ongoing recession as one of the strongest motives to decriminalize marijuana and give states a much needed opportunity to balance their budgets, which have long been struggling against decreased tax revenues as a result of the recession. Will additional reform policies also be fueled by a desire for states to gain more public tax revenues? It’s possible. Only time will tell.

What do you propose as a possible solution for the violence in Mexico?

There is a famous saying that pretty much everyone knows in Mexico: “so close to the United States, but so far away from God.” Mexico needs to distance itself from the U.S. in political, economic and diplomatic terms. It needs to stop fighting the U.S.’s “war.” It needs to stop selling its most prized natural asset to multinationals. It needs to scrap the NAFTA agreement, which has had devastating effects on its agriculture sector, resulting in tons of out-of-work campesinos taking on low-paying jobs in the U.S. or dying in attempts to cross the scorching Arizona desert.

Surprising as it may seem, most Mexicans now eat tortillas with corn grown in the U.S. by subsidized agri-business, often sold at less than the cost of production.

All of these policies are nothing short of tragic. So yes, Mexico needs to focus on its own domestic problems in order to carve out a more effective and independent route toward development. Mexico, in spite of half of its territory being taken by force by the U.S., is still a large and resource-plush country. If it began to use and develop its resources for the needs of its own people, it could go far in terms of poverty reduction and could become a leading force in Latin America and beyond. After all, only Brazil has a larger population and a larger territory than Mexico in Latin America. There’s no reason why Mexico can’t be sporting the kind of tremendous growth rates and poverty reduction seen in Brazil during the course of the last decade. Or even the poverty reduction that has been seen in Venezuela.

However, there is something to be said about understanding the significant political and economic pressure which Mexico is subjected to by the U.S. There are consequences to carving out an independent, Latin American route. Cuba knows this all too well. So does Venezuela. So does even Ecuador and Bolivia, to a certain extent. Even Argentina was recently punished by U.S. courts for litigating independent economic policies which protect its own interests.

Because of all of this, under more ideal circumstances, U.S.-based activists and solidarity movements, such as maybe a revitalized Occupy movement, may succeed in pushing for and realizing more Mexico-friendly policies. Decriminalizing all drugs in the U.S. would go far to help Mexico end the drug war once and for all. Drug addiction could finally be treated as a public health issue, as opposed to a militaristic one, which is ironically the very stance that ex-Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo now support and favor. More than just that is needed, however, and in general, more independence from the U.S. would likely in turn serve to lessen the imperialistic pressures to which Mexico has long been and continues to be subjected.

In respect to the drug war, the price has been quite high for agreeing to fight the U.S.’s war: up to 120,000 Mexican civilians were estimated to have been killed during the Calderon administration alone. And with the recent student massacre, it is now clearer than ever that the Pena Nieto administration too is as embroiled as Mexico has ever been with narco-state politics and corruption. Sad, but true, is that even a century later the revolutionary saying “so close to the United States, but so far away from God” remains relevant to contemporary U.S.-Mexico politics.

Q & A with Andrew Kennis

Andrew Kennis is an international journalist, researcher, and professor at University of Texas, El Paso. Dr. Kennis is currently the border correspondent for teleSUR’s English division and has written for a variety of publications including Al Jazeera English, The Christian Science Monitor, Proceso (Mexico), Time Out, and emeequis (Mexico). Learn more about his work by visiting his profile and follow him @andrew_kennis

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Interviewed by Virginia Isaad

You’ve said that a lot of what you cover isn’t included in mainstream media. What would you say is an important story (or stories) that you feel the general public needs to know about regarding the violence in Mexico?

This is not an easy question, as there are so many stories in Mexico that the U.S. public deserves to know about, with accessible reporting and investigations. Yet, given the close relationship that the U.S. has with Mexico, and its importance as a client state, there is little that most U.S. citizens know about what is actually going on south of the border.

There is a principle about powerful nations which U.S. journalism should especially abide by: one can learn a lot about themselves by taking a close look at how one’s neighbors are treated. Mexico is one of the U.S.’s most important allies and U.S. policy is clearly fueling a lot of the violence in Mexico. A frightening, tremendous amount. Yet, we read little to nothing about these connections … or even just about the violence itself. When and if there is reporting, it depicts the situation as chaotic, anarchic, out-of-control and with little to no responsibility by high-ranking officials.

The most recent and striking example is what is being called the worst student massacre since 1968, which occurred in the drug war-torn and poverty-stricken state of Guerrero. If ever there was a more powerful display of the “narco estado” bearing itself full on, it was this one. UPDATE: Therein, the mayor and chief of police are already fugitives of the law for having fled soon after it was announced that they were leading suspects for masterminding this gruesome tragedy. It is understood that local officials facilitated a leading street gang to do the dirty work of the kidnapping, torture and eventually burning to death of at least 43 student activists and demonstrators.

Mexico is one of the leading recipients of U.S. weapons, training and crucial diplomatic support. The White House has barely breathed a word about this massacre and the rest of the U.S. news media is largely following in step. The outcry in Mexico is tremendous and the official admittances to crimes is also significant, which has resulted in a few op-eds and reports. But the White House reaction has been mum and thus, this has limited what should be far more extensive coverage and leading story investigations, and priorities. It simply has not been. Were it not for the strong reaction in Mexico, coverage would probably be even less significant and probing.

The U.S. itself is even cast off as a victim of Mexican spill-over violence or immigration or whatever nuisance can be conjured up, of course with the sole fault lying with Mexico itself. There’s little to nothing about U.S. culpability for the drug war being fueled by U.S. leading policies, or for too much of the violence that Mexico has to weather and endure.

I don’t want to mislead, Mexican officials indeed have plenty of culpability themselves, but the overwhelming amount of attention (if any) goes to just that … Mexican culpability, as opposed to the U.S. role. Instead, a wayward Mexican state is depicted, a “failed state,” as some U.S. officials have put it. If coverage was more accurate, the term “failed state” wouldn’t be the description … more apt would be, “a failed client state of the U.S.”

You recently wrote an article on the CBP where you mention “Over 8,000 new agents were brought into the ranks of the CBP over a three-year period, from 2006 to 2009. What were the standards they “relaxed” in order to hire so many new agents?

“Relaxed” is actually a conservative description. According to whistle-blowers such as the recently demoted and former Internal Affairs CBP chief, James Tomsheck, screening was all but completely gutted. Previously, a lie-detector test was a standard screening procedure for hiring practices and as many as 50% of applicants were filtered out. The rush to recruitment, to be sure, has been significant.

 Is there any through line with the civilian victims? Are they mainly youths like Jose Antonio?

The only consistency between the victims is that they were mostly accused of rock-throwing. But even U.S. officials have denounced their own allies for the use of fatal force against rock throwers, as was the case with Hillary Clinton in respect to Israel using fatal force against rock-throwing youth in Palestine. In plenty of the cases where video evidence was unearthed, however, it was found that there was no evidence whatsoever of rock-throwing having been involved.

Several other CBP testimonies have also been proven false, including one famous case which involved an unarmed man that was beaten to death and subsequent Congressional action. That case actually wound up being of significant importance, as it led to a snowballing chain of events that finally resulted in some reforms being implemented.

According to the lawyer of many of the families of many Mexican nationals killed by the CBP, whom I actually recently interviewed, significant precedents will be set by what is likely to be a Supreme Court case which will decide whether Mexican nationals have the right to sue the U.S. government when killed in Mexican territory.

Is the corruption directly correlated to the hiring of untrained agents or are there other key factors involved?

It is not just untrained agents, if not, discarded, suspended and literally fired and former policemen. But yes, between the discarded policemen hired and also the lesser trained agents, civil rights advocates, families of the victims and their lawyers all argue that this is very much the root of the problem … relating of course to the more general and long-running trend of the militarization of the border during the post 9-11 era.

What can you tell us about the cameras CBP has promised to start using?

I can’t tell you much at all about them, since a year after the first promises of their implementation by the CBP, they are still not in use. I was recently pulled over by federales in Mexico and was asked for an international travel auto permit when I drove a bit outside of Juarez. Interestingly enough, I noticed that there was a camera affixed to their car. Everything was being recorded. The cops were more nice, courteous, understanding and reasonable than any other Mexican law enforcement authorities with whom I have spoken.

The CBP has claimed that implementation of what would still be a pilot program has been “complicated” and “expensive.” That sounds like mere excuses to me. In any case, even with cameras, given the CBP’s proclivity to redact and/or simply not release important information to the public, the cameras may only be of limited, internal use. Again, the lawyer I spoke to today said that the clearest video showing that Sergio Adrián Hernández did indeed not throw any rocks, contrary to CBP testimony, is still under wraps and unreleased by the Department of Justice. We only know what the video’s footage reveals from the DOJ telling the family, verbally, that this was the case, when it met with them to deliver the sordid news that it would not prosecute the CBP agent that killed their unarmed son on Mexican soil.

What cameras should be utilized for is for publicly accessible and transparent access by at least the human rights community, if not the public at-large. As of now, it does not seem that there are any indications that this will be the case and as incredible as it may seem, even cameras may not be enough to eliminate a long-running problem of CBP impunity.

Considering that it seems no CBP agent has been punished for civilian deaths, what reforms needs to be made in order to rectify this?

For a while, we had to write “it seems” in respect to no CBP agent being punished for civilian deaths. But just last month, Tomsheck’s replacement to head up the Internal Affairs department confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that no prosecutions or even punitive measures of any type have been undertaken toward any agent. As anonymous sources both inside the CBP and the State Department confirmed to me … there is most certainly an air of impunity within CBP … an embattled agency these days given increased attention and criticism of its often trigger-happy agents.

First things first then, impunity must be stopped. But eventually, the militarization of the border, as well as the public health problem of drug addiction, both need to end. No solutions for border-based issues, immigration and the illicit drug issues will ever be realized through militarization. Drugs need to be treated as a public health problem, not as an issue of war. Immigration needs to brought out of the shadows and guest-worker / path-to-citizenship programs must be established. Finally, and as important as anything else, NAFTA must be ended so that Mexico can develop its own economy and not be at the behest of multinational capital and investment which continues to flee toward China, anyhow. As Chuck Bowden would often say, Juarez is a laboratory of the future and the future is now. The results are in: NAFTA doesn’t work, as Laura Carlsen elegantly explained in a rare granted entry into the New York Times.

You’ve covered the trial of Vicente Zambada which isn’t covered extensively in mainstream media. What do people need to know about Zambada and how has his trial affected the drug trade?

Most U.S. people don’t even know who Vicente Zambada is, much less his more well-known father, Mayo Zambada (while the opposite is nearly the case with Mexico-based citizenry). Some people recognize the name El Chapo, but on the tip of everyone’s tongues should also be Vicente Zambada too. Given the paltry amount of news coverage on the trial, however, I am not surprised that this is not the case.

That notwithstanding, the Zambada trial was still dubbed as the drug trial of the century by leading U.S. officials, the most important mafioso trial in Chicago since Al Capone himself was tried. Why was this the case?

One measure which shows the importance of the trial to the government is the simple fact that the trial never actually happened. The government’s worst fear was that this case would actually go to trial. For years, the trial was stuck in “pre-trial” phase and went through endless motions to stay the actual trial, the prosecution and defense finally came to a plea agreement which is still in effect to this day. After having attended several of these pre-trial hearings myself, I was struck by how much the court room was controlled by the prosecution and how Judge Castillo, a Clinton appointee and recently promoted, seemed to follow their lead more than anything else. This was a DEA-controlled legal case, it clearly seemed to me.

The plea agreement conditions Zambada’s eventual release on how useful he is as a DEA-informant. This is ironic because Zambada’s whole pre-trial defense rested on being a protected informant. Curiously enough, shortly after the plea agreement was finally announced, which was in actuality a year after the agreement had actually been brokered, El Chapo himself was arrested. Was there a connection between the two? Most of us narco-journos presume that there was.

More than just presume, however, there is some compelling evidence behind Zambada’s claims. One of the most interesting claims is that one of the benefits of his agreement and service to the DEA as an informant was to receive “Fast and Furious” weapons in exchange for his intel on rival cartels. There is sworn testimony under oath, which supports these claims. An investigation I’m in the midst of finalizing will be published next month with some more details about this. Finally, during pre-trial discovery, the prosecution admitted that the Sinaloa cartel’s leading lawyer was a DEA-informant for no less than ten years (from 2001 to 2011). Interestingly enough, this lawyer was present with Vicente Zambada the night both of them met with DEA agents. Later that same night, Zambada was arrested in an apparent DEA double-cross.

Provided Vicente continues to prove useful as a behind-bars DEA-informant, he will be out of prison within a handful of years and will be a free man again. Perhaps at that point, he will be a high-ranking deputy again in the Sinaloa cartel, running it along with his father. It will be interesting to see what happens there.

Q & A With Courthouse News Service Editor, Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn’s book, “Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade” (Westview Press/HarperCollins) 1996, was the first attempt at a history of U.S. immigration prisons. He is news editor for Courthouse News Service, a national legal news service.

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Interviewed By: Belen Chacon

Your book, Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade, covers the abusive treatment of Central American refugees in U.S. detention centers in the 1980s. We seem to be back here again, especially with the Artesia detention center in New Mexico. Why is this happening again?

It’s not happening again, it’s been happening all the time. It’s happening because very few people in the U.S. Congress, or the people who buy them their offices, or you or I, ever give a thought or give a good goddamn about the people who clean our bathrooms and cook and serve our food and harvest the food we eat. Why should we? Immigrants can’t give us money. They can’t even vote.

Last week the ACLU in Los Angeles announced a big settlement with the Border Patrol, which now calls itself ICE, and involves both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. The Border Patrol agreed not to trick people into agreeing to be “repatriated,” by handing them a list of “rights” with the right “voluntary repatriation” already checked off. Well, we settled that lawsuit 30 years ago, in Laredo, thanks to Patrick Hughes, an attorney who saw that women and children would need legal representation, so he moved there and set up a law office with nothing, except a little help from the Catholic Church – something that, for instance, Xarelto lawsuit lawyers should maybe do too, as the public pressure only grows bigger and only real specialists can help. I went to work for him as a paralegal and we documented a nightmare of abuses inflicted by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first private U.S. prison company to be paid for locking up immigrant women and children. CCA strip-searched mothers and babies at Laredo for asking to see a lawyer. They strip-searched them each time before and after they saw a lawyer, but they didn’t strip-search them unless they asked to see a lawyer. Well, all that stuff was “enjoined” 30 years ago by a federal judge, right? But it was never enforced. How can you enforce it, when you’re “privatizing” the immigration detention system in the United States to God knows who — to whoever says, “Sure, I’ll put those women and kids up in my house.”

In the case of the abuse of Central American refugees in immigration prisons in the 1980s, attorneys and other advocates were not able to stop the abuse until 10 years later. Do you see justice taking that long for current Central American refugees in abusive detention centers?

 

Refugees will never get justice in the United States; only their children will, because our policies and wars have driven them here, and the Congress will never admit that, nor will the people who vote, or the people who want to replace whoever’s in Congress now. It’s not until the refugees’ kids can vote, and do, that anything can change. The North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed small business and peasant farming in Mexico, and blessed the Mexican government’s war against independent unions. We’ve sent billions of dollars to the Mexican army and police forces, which slaughter their own people, in part because the cartels pay more than the government, because what cartels have to offer is more valuable, and the cartel leaders probably don’t steal as much as the government does. But we won’t admit Mexicans as refugees — even Mexican reporters, though dozens of them have been murdered by government police forces and the cartels — because Uncle Sam won’t admit our role in the slaughter. And even if, let’s assume, the United States government has absolutely no role in it, still, we don’t want to admit it — that the Mexican army and police forces are just as dirty as the cartels. So if your own government’s soldiers want to kill you, to steal what little you have, because the government is stealing so fast with both hands that it can’t match the cartels’ offers, well, what do you expect? People will flee a situation like that.

For those that haven’t read your book, Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade, what do you feel is the biggest takeaway? Why should Americans play close attention to the treatment of individuals in immigration prisons?

 

The tortures and abuses in U.S. immigration prisons have continued for more than 30 years, despite federal court orders, and U.S. Supreme Court orders, because very few of us give a damn about these people. Congress certainly does not. Nor, so far as I can tell, has any president of the United States, since Jimmy Carter. As a paralegal working for nothing in U.S. immigration prisons, I’ve represented people whose U.S. prison guards walked over them with high heels while other guards held them down. I’ve seen a U.S. immigration judge tell a Guatemalan refugee whose back was covered with scars, driven into him with whips and salt water: “I don’t think you were ever in the Guatemalan army at all,” though the judge held in his hand photos of the man, in uniform, holding an automatic weapon, in front of his army barracks in Guatemala. The U.S. government would have deported him to be tortured and killed had Canada not accepted him as a political refugee.

In the 1980s, what details did the mainstream media fail to cover when it came to the treatment of Central American refugees? What is mainstream media failing to cover now when it comes to this issue?

 

I won’t say anything about “the mainstream media.” That’s a lash that can be used to whip anyone. I spent my life’s savings to work for nothing for 3 years as a paralegal in U.S. immigration prisons. I got a lot of information doing that. You can’t expect anyone, including “mainstream media,” to do that. So far as I can tell, the situation is the same today as it was 30 years ago. There’s no money to be made from representing refugees. Everything you hear in the media is about an immigration “crisis.” There is no crisis. Undocumented immigration has been on the decline for decades. Border Patrol figures show that. All that’s changed recently is the shape of the amoeba. Now we’re seeing more mothers and children fleeing from Honduras, whose government is as brutal and corrupt, and always has been, as the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador. But what do you or your neighbor know about Honduras? Nothing. Why should you? Now that the Republicans are making a big deal out of it, Obama is doing the same thing Reagan did: Set up a deportation factory as far away as possible from legal help, to deport refugees as fast as we can. Today they call it the Artesia Family Residential Center in New Mexico. Back then, in 1986, it was the new prison in Oakdale, La., run by the Bureau of Prisons. They tortured people there. The Marielitos tore the place down the next year, and I can see why. These people are not burdens to the United States. They are sources of information.

The immigration reform debate has had high and low moments, but for the most part has remained stagnant. What can/shouldAmericans do to help push the debate?

 

Immigration reform has never had a high moment. The late, great Charles Bowden told me: “Americans are willing to do anything about immigration except read about it.” I’m a half-critic half-fan of Sigmund Freud, who warned us about stirring up our primal impulses. I don’t know if we want to push the immigration debate — whatever that is — right now. Right now it’s all based on hate, fear and ignorance. When kids get educated, and grow up and vote, things will change, but it will take a generation. That’s why Republicans are pressing so hard to keep young people from registering to vote. When it happens, it’ll look like a sudden change, like the nation’s acceptance of gay people. But that struggle took a generation of open conflict, and gay people had money, and could vote. Not that I want to compare gay people and immigrants, but I think that pretty soon we’re going to see an acceptance of immigrants. It’ll look like it happens fast, but it’s already happening. It will be the result of a generation of struggle.

The debate over illegal immigration is being carried on with little awareness of the government policies that contributed to this country’s immigration problems. How can more Americans educate themselves? Where can they start?

 

Well, like Chuck Bowden said, nobody wants to read about immigration. The best summary of U.S. immigration policy was written by Kitty Calavita, decades ago. She’s a criminology professor at the University of California at Irvine.

Calavita wrote, correctly, that the United States has no immigration policy — that we change our policy according to the mood of the times, and that our policy is always out of synch with the times.

Calavita’s three basic conclusions will be true forever:

– The United States invites poor Mexicans when we need labor, then deports them when the next recession hits;

– Because of this, U.S. immigration policy will always be “out of phase” — because it takes years to pass legislation in Congress, when an immigration law does pass, it will be a response to what happened years before, at a different point in the economic cycle;

– And that “securing the border” and respecting the Constitution, both, may not be possible; in fact, it’s probably not — but no one wants to talk about this because, well, isn’t that why these people are fleeing here, to be protected by our Constitution?

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.