October 10, 2008

Wars, Elections and Human Rights

Frontera NorteSur

A few lyrics from an old Bob Marley song went like this:

War in the east

War in the west

War up north

War down south

Although Marley’s tune spoke about a different place and different circumstances, it captured the situation in Mexico during the last days of September and the first days of October. Across the country, more bodies piled up, more grenades were tossed and more psychological warfare banners were displayed in a murky battle for public opinion.

The worst carnage was centered in Tijuana where drug cartels are battling for control of the local market bordering the United States. Anywhere from 53 to 61 people were found gruesomely murdered in a period of nine days, according to various press reports. In one case, two victims were hanged from a public overpass, and in another instance a dozen bodies were dumped in front of an elementary school.

Several of the Tijuana murders were accompanied by messages directed against “El Ingeniero,” an individual identified as Fernando Sanchez Arellano, who allegedly is the current head of Arellano Felix family that’s long dominated the Tijuana drug trade.

According to media accounts, a new set of challengers consisting of dissident Arellano Felix members supported by Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel is attempting to wrest control of the Tijuana “plaza” from the old organization, which in turn is supported by an alliance of the Juarez Cartel, the Beltran-Leyva organization and the Zetas.

Closely following two local prison uprisings that left at least 23 people dead last month, the Tijuana violence is another sign that the war between rival cartels which escalated in Ciudad Juarez earlier this year has moved west. In between Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, the border city of Nogales, Sonora, has become another battleground. From January to August of this year, 67 killings blamed on drug trafficking were counted in Nogales.

Cited in the Mexican press, a Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, reported that the the Mexican violence was connected to events in Colombia, where US-supported anti-drug campaigns and cartel restructurings have created power vacuums and competition for control of the international cocaine trade.

As summer turned into fall, violence showed no let-up in Mexico, with Friday, October 3, recorded as the bloodiest day in the year so far. At least 42 people were reported murdered across the country on Bloody Friday alone.

In Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, prominent individuals like Francisco Sagrero Villareal were among the slain. A 43-year-old Ciudad Juarez resident who had been in the public limelight for posting signs asking that bodies not be dumped in his neighborhood, Sagrero was killed as bullets riddled his home on October 3.

In Chihuahua City, Aldo Arenivar Serna, a former deputy state attorney general, was gunned down in a shopping center parking lot. At the time of his murder, Arenivar was a member of a law firm associated with Fernando Rodriguez Moreno, the current head of the PRI political party’s fraction in the Chihuahua state legislature.

To the south, in the state of Durango, three people were reported killed in an October 3 clash between Mexican soldiers and suspected drug traffickers that was punctuated by automatic weapons fire and a grenade explosion.

Meanwhile, six individuals from Durango were arraigned by the PGR for allegedly participating in recent violent attacks in the Juarez Valley bordering the US.

The incidents included the burning of a ranch and several homes, the kidnappings of at least two people and the murder of one. Reports of numerous families fleeing the rural zone continued to appear in the Mexican press.

Violence reared in many other areas including Sinaloa, Puebla and Nuevo Leon, where 9 patrol cars belonging to the Federal Preventive Police were torched. On October 3, the mayor of the town of Ixtapan de la Sal in the state of Mexico, Salvador Vergara, was gunned down.

As the first week of October drew to a close, an estimated 3,000-3,500 people had been killed in narco-related violence in Mexico this year.

Arriving in Mexico City October 6 for meetings with high-ranking Calderon administration officials, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to characterize the overall security situation as a crisis.

“There is no reason to be pessimistic,” Mukasey was quoted in the Mexican press. The Bush administration’s top law enforcement official said anti-narcotics assistance approved by the US Congress as part of the so-called Merida Initiative should begin flowing within the next couple weeks. Mukasey expressed confidence that the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels were losing ground and would “fall over the long-term.”

On the streets, however, unknown individuals claiming the Gulf Cartel showed no intention of giving up anytime soon. So-called narco-banners purportedly signed by the group were displayed in Tamaulipas, Puebla, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Durango, Sonora, and Veracruz states on the same day Mukasey touched down in Mexico.

The messages were similar to banners previously displayed in Reynosa, Cancun, Oaxaca and Mexico City that blamed a rival organization, La Familia, for the September 15 Independence Day celebration grenade attack in Morelia, Michoacan, that killed eight innocent bystanders. The banners offered rewards of millions of dollars for anyone helping to capture the alleged perpetrators of the attack.

In southern Guerrero state, meanwhile, issues of party politics, drugs, insurgency and counterinsurgency came together to create a volatile backdrop for the October 5 state and municipal elections. In the days leading up to the elections, several candidates and representatives from different political parties were killed or attacked, reports of attempted vote-buying circulated and several organizations called on citizens to boycott the political exercise.

On October 1, El Sur reporter Karina Contreras wrote that she and three colleagues from other Acapulco newspapers were briefly detained by the Mexican army at a checkpoint set up on a road leading to land slated for the construction of the planned La Parota dam. Facing the loss of their homes, many rural residents have organized stiff opposition to the project. According to Contreras, the journalists refused soldiers’ requests to erase film.

Three days later, on October 4, Francisco Santos Arriola, a federal deputy from the center-left PRD party, narrowly escaped what was reported as an attempted kidnapping by 15 armed men outside the Holiday Inn in the tourist resort of Ixtapa.

In a communiqué posted on the Internet, the leftist Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), urged citizens to refrain from casting ballots. Born as an offshoot from the Popular Revolutionary Party in 1998, the ERPI accused the state’s major political parties of being in league with drug traffickers and repressors.

“How can (people) vote for candidates for public office when they are representatives of drug-trafficking groups?” the ERPI asked.

A majority of eligible voters, perhaps as many as 60-65 percent, did indeed boycott the October 5 elections.

The preliminary results gave the former ruling PRI, which lost many offices including the governorship and state congress in Guerrero in recent years, a solid victory. If upheld, the vote reconfirms the tendency of the PRI to win elections where voter turnouts are low, and it augurs well for the party in the upcoming 2009 federal congressional elections.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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