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Evidence of more deaths foretold

5 November 2009

Early on in the Calderón Adminstration’s “War on Drugs” the Army was sent into Zapatista controlled communities, allegedly to search for marijuana plantations.  Given that the Zapatistas are many things (many of which I disapprove of) but are certainly not drug dealers (if anything, they’re more like the Taliban when it comes to narcotics) it was a warning that a military/police crusade against one group of social deviants could easily be used to wipe out other opponents of the regime.  While so far, political and social discourse has not been completely destroyed in the name of “security”, another danger — that an over-reliance on violent repression would lead to more violence, has come to pass.

And it isn’t just the mayhem among the organized groups, but — with carte blanche given to repression, the basic rules of justice are in danger of collapse.  I question the wisdom of using the military forces in local police work, or the destitution of local police in favor of a single unified national force for the same reason.  I’m not convinced such a move makes the individual charged with keeping the peace more honest, and — more importantly — it puts local policing in the control of outside, impersonal, forces.  I once wrote in a guide book for would-be Mexico City teachers:

Unlike the U.S. and Canada, you do not call the cops for minor annoyances (barking dogs, loud parties, etc.) or even for minor incidents. Neighbors will reason with the local drunk, threaten the local peeping tom. And sometimes the police are not even called after serious incidents. When an intoxicated suburban bus driver killed a child, the neighbors torched the bus – then took the drivers to jail themselves. In another bus accident, friends of the family injured by a bus didn’t go to court: they stole a few buses and only gave them back when the company agreed to pay medical bills and compensation to the injured family.

The danger is that outsiders won’t know the local peeping tom (or village drunk) and may not deal with it in an appropriate way.  Or, the folks who now might take a bus hostage as collateral on an accident settlement, with a “national police” more concerned with national goals rather than settling local disputes, will turn more and more to extra-legal remedies for settling disputes.

It’s easy to slip into the mindset that permits this.   One can sympathize with people who complain, as Maggie’s Madness did yesterday, about over-sensitivity to police abuses:

… two human rights organizations … will be testifying … before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against high ranking Federal, State and Local law enforcement authorities in Tijuana who these groups claim have abused human rights in the fight against organized crime. I don’t suppose anyone will … testify against human rights abuses and mayhem caused by organized crime? I didn’t think so.

But, that’s why “organized crime” are the bad guys.  The good guys shouldn’t be acting this way, and should be held to a higher standard.  It’s like torturing terrorism suspects.  Once the good guys do the same thing the baddies do, they lose their ethical superiority, and can no longer claim to be upholding the standards of civilized behavior, nor claim legitimacy for civilized people.

Maggie was recently the victim of some vandalism probably in retaliation for her work to force non-conforming builders to stick to local building regulations.  Having worked hard — and endured more threats than necessary — to protect her environment and home, something like tagging makes me think that she probably deserves some twisted form of revenge.  The more gruesome the better.  It’s probably natural to think it, but — despite the claims of “madness” she’s too sane and normal to act on my impulses.

Not that something happening is out of the realm of plausibility.  It’s not like I expect a perfect world, where taggers don’t get their comuppance, or where bus companies don’t get their vehicles irregularly impounded, or where peeping toms aren’t run out of town, but — when we have no control over the justice system, and it answers to outside forces — where does it stop, and what is the price we pay for putting security before justice?

Carolina García, in Wednesday’s El Universal, draws no conclusions in her article Ojo por ojo ¿Comandos blancos o escuadrones de la muerte? (my translation), but marshals evidence that suggests our government’s obsession with one criminal activity is creating not more security, but leading us into barbarism:

Reading the daily headlines, you see death everywhere.  Insecurity is one thing, but more worrisome than the death statistics are signs that people are taking justice into their own hands.

In the State of Chihuahua alone, there were 2,400 murders in 2009, of which 70 percent, or more than a 1,800 occurred in the municipality of Ciudad Juárez.

This year, it took only fifty-one days to reach the first thousand deaths; the toll mounted another thousand fifty-nine days later.  Chihuahua, for the second year in a row, was the state with the most drug-related crimes.

Or were they?

The social decomposition begins to smell when it appears that groups unconnected with organized crime are also committing revenge killings or have used the crime situation as a pretext for launching their own extermination campaign against petty criminals.

Last Thursday, Leonel Aguirre Meza, president of two Sinaloa non-governmental human rights groups, the Comisión de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos and Frente Cívico Sinaloense, expressed his fear that death squads were taking the law into their own hands.  It was, he said, an extremely dangerous situation, and one outside the law.

In the specific case of Sinaloa, a few months ago, warnings surfaced about a campaign against car thieves.  It was no joke.  A massacre last August in Navalato shows that the messages appearing with dead bodies of suspected car thieves are to be taken seriously.

When commandos sprayed party goes with machine gun fire, killing eight, including several minors, the local prosecutor admitted that one likely motive was the execution of suspected car thieves.

Over the next several months, more bodies have appeared, with messages excusing the crime on the pretext that the victim was a suspected thief.  Toy cars are placed with the bodies.

The curious case of the prescient alcalde

Tuesday, the mayor of the nation’s wealthiest community, San Pedro Garza Garcia, Neuvo Leon, Mauricio Fernández, fueled more speculation when he publically spoke of the alleged killings of some Beltran Leyva crime family members in Mexico City… befote the authorities in the Capital had even known of the crime.

Elected as a PAN candidate to govern San Pedro Garza García for the next three years, Fernández Garza vowed  during his inaugural address last Saturday  to launch a frontal war against organized crime, even if it means going beyond the scope of his powers as mayor to end kidnapping and drug trafficking in the region.

In presenting his security plan — which includes special teams of “cleansers” who will work to eliminate organized crime, underground clubs and three hundred sales outlets for drugs within the municipality – the mayor-elect announced the death of the Beltran operative, while at the same time mentioning the victim had made death threats against him.

And just the previous Monday Fernández Garza had said his administration would not be an idle spectator to organized crime.


In Veracruz, someone uploaded a video to YouTube showing suspected “Zetas” – including a former Tiberones futbol professional – being interrogated.  Several of these suspects were late found killed by a group calling themselves “Matazetas” (Zeta-killers).

The videos include a message addressed to President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, in which the  self-described  Matazetas praise the president for his administration of the fight against organized crime.

“Here [in the “Matazeta” group] you have the children, siblings and parents of entrepreneurs, farmers and businessmen who lost their lives for refusing to pay “protection money”, the  message accompanying the tapes went on to explain.  It added that each of the two tapes recorded the “interrogation” of three suspected Zetas.

The interrogators in the tape (and suspects in the murder of those being interrogated) have the appearance of military personnel, but this has not been followed up on.

¿Patria y justicia?

Starting in early 2009, a group calling itself Comando Ciudadano por Juárez (CCJ, or Citizens for Juarez Commandos) sent a statement to the media, announcing their existence, and claiming they stood for a “righteous society”.  Their motto: “Patria y justicia” (Fatherland and justice).

Their goal, according to the news release, was to  “terminate the life of one criminal every twenty-four hours … (because) the death of a bad person is better than letting that evil person continue to pollute our community.”

The statement went on to note that the CCJ had written a “manifesto for those interested in joining us to clean our city of these criminals under a united command.”  It invited interested citizen to join in their campaign, adding “If  criminals have found (sic) soon you will be able to send  (the data) to an email address to end his life.”

Comandos blancos

According to a published article in the Proceso’s special El México Narco edition, employers are sponsoring armed groups dedicated to eliminating suspected criminals in Tijuana and Mexico City.

These groups are a sort of “commandos blancos” (white guerrillas), similar to the so- Pepes of Colombia in the 1990s: the “ Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar (PPE), who, as it turned out, were neither citizens, nor simple vigilantes.

In the early 1990s, when narco-terrorism in Colombia was taking a heavy toll, the Pepes murdered some fifty lieutenants of Cali cartel leader Pablo Escobar, under the pretext that they were victims of Escobar, or the innocent survivors of his victims, reluctantly forced to take drastic action.

However, as it turned out, the “vigilantes” included employees of the CIA, the DEA and various Colombian paramilitary groups.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maggie permalink
    13 July 2010 2:58 pm

    Hi, I just had a chance to read this (07/13/10). Well actually I sort of read it a couple of nights ago when I was being pounded by an anti-Leyzaola person. You may not have to worry about Chief Leyzaola – since the election in which only 30% of the people voted in TJ, looks like the Chief is out.

    But for the record, nothing was ever proven re the claims of “torture” against the Chief. And I know Richard you will just laugh and say …”right.” But it is true that my Mexican neighbors are worried about what will happen next, that if in fact we are going back to square one with the old alliances…similar to when the CAF basically ran everything from here to Ensenada. Well, maybe this time it will be different? No one knows.

    You are correct – the good guys should be held to higher standards, but that is in a perfect world. Or even in a not so perfect world. But the conditions here in this place unfortunately demanded strong arm tactics. I’m sorry, but it is true.

    Still, it seems we all root for the Inglorius Basterds, and wish them luck and good hunting for those nazi scalps, don’t we?


    Also I read somewhere that not only was “Dr. Watson” born in Ensenada, but so was his elder brother, I’ll find the link for you. What were those Brits doing here then?


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