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Anti-narcos are the bad guys?

21 May 2009

The strange sage of Rogaciano Alba has taken another twist with the emergence of a guerrilla group’s claim that Alba in part of a larger conspiracy involving — among others — Chapo Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel, President Felipe Calderon AND  his political enemies, the PRD.

Alba, whose two sons were pulled off a bus and gunned down in front of the other passengers and whose daughter was kidnapped, was the caique (rural politcal boss) of Petatlán, Guerrero and a powerful cattle baron.  He had gone into hiding after a cattleman’s association meeting was attacked by masked men who opened fire on the assembly, apparently intending to kill Alba.  The attack didn’t seem to “fit” the profile of a hit by rival narcotics gangs, Alba (from wherever he was hiding out) said he wasn’t involved in narcotics, and the attacks didn’t seem to fit the profile of typical gangster attacks.  As I wrote a year ago, there was much more going on:

Alva’s cattle operations have dislodged a lot of local farmers, and he may be the kingpin of an illegal logging operation. Despite assurances from his successor as Mayor of Petatlán that “everybody knows everyone, and we all get along,” as a politician, and as a cattle baron — and as a timber smuggler — Alva was going to make a lot of enemies. Including environmentalists.

In rich countries like the U.S. and Canada, we think of environmentalists as middle-class people. And, in Mexico, there are the middle-class and urban environmentalist types too. But there are also the dirt farmers, for whom issues like over-logging and over-grazing are life and death issues. Guerrero is in the middle of a prolonged drought, and the small farmers, already threatened by NAFTA rules changes and transgenetic corn (at the same time that corn producers are feeling pressured to adopt a mongenetic strain, cattlemen are welcoming genetic variety), are in a double bind. The big cattlemen are a theat, as are the loggers.

Violent confrontations between Alba’s people and the farmer/environmentalists are nothing new. Alba remains a suspect in the dummied up suicide of Mexico City attorney Digna Ochoa, who represented several Guerrero farmers who were accused of murder. In 2004, several Guerrero farmers were imprisoned in connection with blockades to stop timber harvesting and the alleged murder of timbermen connected to Alba.

Which makes me wonder whether the release this week of Palemón Cabrera González, who was accused of murder, battery and cattle rustling back in May 2000 might be significant. The cattle were owned by, and the murder victims worked for, one of Alva’s “lieutenants,” according to Jornada.

Frontera Nor/Sur (via a translation in El Paso’s Newspaper Tree) reported on the group that could have been behind last year’s attacks on Alba:

Sometime last weekend and somewhere in the mountains of southern Guerrero state, a group of at least 20 armed men presenting themselves as a column of the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI) appeared before Mexican reporters.

Uniformed and armed with AK-47 rifles, the group was led by Comandante Ramiro, or Omar Guerrero Solis, one of the most wanted men in Mexico and an almost folkloric figure who escaped from a prison outside Acapulco more than six years ago and wasn’t publicly seen again until last weekend’s secret press conference.

In comments to reporters, Comandante Ramiro accused the Calderon administration of not only staging the fight against drug trafficking, but of also protecting the interests of alleged drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The masked guerrilla commander charged Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca, who was elected with the backing of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and social sectors sympathetic with the guerrilla movement, with also protecting Chapo Guzman and an alleged associate, Rogaciano Alba.

There are questions about how serious a threat the ERPI is, or whether it really enjoys widespread support, but the group’s core purpose — fighting against the powerful agricultural intersts that threaten local livelihoods — suggests that I was right to speculate on a connection between powerful agri-business interests and the attacks on the Alba family.  After all, the Sinaloa Cartel (and the other narcotics trafficking organizations) are just powerful multinational argicultural interests that use violence to maintain control and access to resources, too.

What gives the ERPI claims credibility is that military power is brought against them, though they too are fighting the cartels.  As Frontera Nor/Sur notes:

… human rights abuses against Mexican soldiers mainly deployed in anti-drug operations soared 600 percent from 2006 to 2008, reaching 1,230 cases filed with the official National Human Rights Commission last year. In both Guerrero and neighboring Michoacan, complaints against soldiers are on the upswing in 2009.

Juan Alarcon, longtime president of the official Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, said his agency saw an unprecedented 85 complaints against soldiers from last December to the first three weeks of April. The majority of accusations, encompassing alleged violations of search and seizure, arrest and other laws, “have nothing to do with drug trafficking or organized crime,” Alarcon insisted.

Even if one accepts the premise of Erit Montufar, director of the Guerrero state ministerial police, that the ERPI are just cattle rustlers masquerading as a political movement, you have to remember that the same thing was said about Pancho Villa. Using the military against farmers’ movements tends to be counter-productive to stability in the long run.

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