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Reporters attacked in Cuilicán… by POLICE

7 May 2008

It’s harsh, I know, but a lot of fortunes have been made in the past by those who profited from human misery or dirty businesses. And, with time, those fortunes were laundered into more legitimate enterprises. Think of all the Carnegie Libraries around the United States. Or the fortunes made in the slave trade or opium trade (where do you think Barbara Bush’s family got their money?). For that matter, think of Duke University (founded by tobacco money).

Mexico does not have a particularly serious drug problem… and if the narcotics money is going to roll in, it could be put to a lot better use here in Sinaloa. In Mazatlán, a lot of our 19th century architecture is thanks to earlier smuggler’s civic generosity, and no one — even hard-care Alcoholics’ Anonymous types — are going to complain that our local brewer left his fortune (and his home) to an orphanage. Maybe an “Biblioteca Arellano Felix” wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

However, we say that narcotics is somehow different, that the narcotics trade corrupts the democratic state, and the people. OK, if that is true, why is it that the fight against it takes the form of attacking those of us who ARE the people, and the institutions on which a democratic state depends?

Border Reporter posts this morning on the police attack on El Debate, the Cuilicán daily:

Three reporters for the Culiacán daily, El Debate, were attacked by federal preventive police yesterday. One of the reporters was forced into a police car and held for ten minutes with a gun to his head. The attack tops off a deadly week of murder in Sinaloa, with six cops killed, gunfights exploding outside the state capital and cops running scared.

“They told me, you don’t know who you’re fucking with; we’re not cops from here. Go complain with whomever you want,” says one of the El Debate reporters, a young man I’ve known for several years, Torivio Bueno Leon.

The incident started when the two reporters and a photographer were taking photos of the federal cops’ checkpoint. The cops didn’t want them shooting the checkpoint, a common wish most of them seem to have, and an argument started. The photographer told his own paper they used a knife to slice the camera strap but he still managed to retain the camera.

The federáles chased them into the newspaper building where a guard shut the steel cage door and the photographer snapped them pounding on the bars outside the building.

What’s interesting is that the PFP commander called the newspaper to apologize, saying his officers were nervous because of the number of cop murders in the past two weeks.

El Debate’s coverage adds that the Federal Police were “locked and loaded” and where threatening to shoot into the newspaper’s offices.

The reporters — Torivio Bueno, Leo Espinoza and Geovanny Elizalde — all say they were physically injured for doing their jobs. Espinoza has 28 years experience as a photojournalist, and the others were clearly identified as members of the press. Putting a guy to someone’s head for ten minutes is considered “psychological torture” in Mexican criminal law.

El Debate and Border Reporter have conflicting information on who offered the “official explanation”. El Debate says Eduardo Cano Camacho, who is “Social Communications Chief” for the Federal Secretaría de Seguridad Pública made the statement. Despite his imposing title, Cano is only a press liaison, not the police chief. A minor matter, but it suggests the SSP is taking this as merely a public relations problem, not as an attack on Mexican civil society.

Border Reporter does a good job explaining why the police are nervous and likely to over-react, and why a lot of us here in Sinaloa are less than enthusiastic about the “War on (some) drugs”. But I would go further. For one thing, I’m not working as a reporter here, and am free to speculate.

Thankfully, it was the police, not the Army involved in this incident. While the Army is better disciplined (in theory), there are too many reasons to go into here (I’ve done that before, again and again) on why military forces should not be involved in civilian law enforcement. And, while the Army has traditionally enjoyed high levels of respect as a state institution, soldiers are trained to protect themselves at all costs. The results could have been a disaster, going far beyond the fallout from the apparent federal crackdown on a free press.

Incidentally, the policeman’s remark that “We’re not from here” is an excellent argument AGAINST using hired guns (aka “security contractors”, aka mercenaries) for things like border control or drug interdiction (as the U.S. does under “Plan Colombia,” and suggests doing under “Plan Merida”).

If there need to be confrontations between suspected narcos and the forces of the state, then the Federal Police are the people who should do the job. But, obviously, they need more training. My strongest objection to using the Army has been that soldiers MUST see all civilians in their “war zone” as potential enemies. The police are supposed to be on the same side as the civilians. Always.

And, police paramilitary operations should be the last resort. The problem with this “War on (some) drugs” has always been that we don’t see the kinds of police work that really destroys criminal enterprises — the old “follow the money” investigative technique that’s always worked since the days of Eliot Ness and Al Capone.

The Sinaloa growers and exporters provide a lot of local employment, and there isn’t the money locally to provide the resources they enjoy. I’m not the least concerned when some gangster gets his head chopped off, or a cop on the take gets a bullet in the back of the head… but I can understand how it happens. People do things they wouldn’t otherwise not just when they feel threatened, but when there is money involved as well. And… I don’t see much effort being expended to find the money source.

Other than some vague promises, I don’t see that expanding Mexican anti-narcotics efforts is at all directed at drying up the narco’s resources. The Mexican military budget increases were supposed to be to give the soldiers and sailors a well deserved raise. But “Plan Merida” funding is all about hardware. And intimidating the populace.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 September 2014 9:23 pm

    Good post. I certainly appreciate this site. Thanks!


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