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A modest suggestion or two (LeBaron massacre)

7 November 2019

With all the speculation (and background “dirt”… including that contributed by MexFiles) on whatever actually happened, a few facts have emerged. Or one obvious one… the shell casings recovered at the scene were from bullets manufactured by Remington Arms, and not legally sold in Mexico, nor meant for weapons available here.

Persons headed north, and cargos headed north are regularly have to go through military checkpoints, and are searched for narcotics. With Mexico about to legalize the trade, and the United States still largely in denial (blaming others is one of the first signs of addiction), legal access to a product like firearms is no excuse not to check, nor to demand proof of ownership, nor of questioning the ultimate point of sale for the product. I know what a pain in the wazoo those internal checkpoints set up by the Border Patrol are now…. but get serious. Time to start X-raying the cargo and autos headed south from the US, and start seizing weapons and weapon parts.

U.S. courts have long expected Mexicans who were never in the United States, but were the “intellectual authors” of the sale and distribution of narcotics to be tried in their courts. Extend the courtesy to our Mexican Fiscals… extradite the gun dealers, bankers, U.S ´weapons buyers to Mexico. The argument, after all, has always been that narcos had to be sent to US prisons because of weaknesses in the Mexican naroctics laws that allow criminals to go free, or with minimal sentences. That, in the US, the laws on gun running are weak, and prosecution is difficult, send the perpetrators here.

The FBI and DEA (and CIA) have been in this country for years, doing (most of us believe) more harm than good. If the FBI really is going to “help” in investigating a crime against dual national US citizens (who, let’s face it… are sympathetic and dominating the US news mostly because of their ties to the US… and because they’re white people), time to bring in Mexican prosecutors and investigators into crimes against Mexicans in the United States.

Mexicans, for the good of the drug dependent United States, is expected to put up with “collateral damage” (i.e., dead peasants, students, housewives) for the greater good of… them. OK, if a few… or a lot… of “innocent bystanders” get killed fighting the illegal firearms trade, so what? Right wing website in the US are always full of “xuggestions” that the US send military units or “wpecial forces” to wipe out narcos, never mind the cost. How about Mexican incursions into the US to wipe out gun runners. Drone attacks on gun shops and banks that launder (and if it hits the nail salon next door… oh well)?

C’mon… get serious… the US isn’t gonna do shit other than blame Mexico, and continue to spin this as a failure for a change to a less confrontational, less US obedient, government. Srcew them!

LeBaron: Cartels… or…

6 November 2019

Naturally, the US media, following the lead of Donald Trump’s “call for a ´war´against the country’s drug cartels, is making the assumption that the women and children from the LeBaron Colony in Chihuahua were victims of “drug related violence”.  However, the history of that colony suggests several other plausible suspects.

The  British, and presumably more international in scope than US based media, headlines their story on the incident “Mexico: up to nine members of US Mormon family killed in ambush”… immediately repeating two misleading, and possibly relevant, facts.  There have been English-speaking Mormon colonies in Mexico since the 1880s, these communities are considered by the “official” Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints) as Mormon and integrated into Mexico, seen as, and legally, Mexicans.  The LeBaron colony only dates back to the 1920s, founded by what the Latterday Saints consider a “heretical” sect (a Mormon friend of Mexfiles once referred to the LeBaron group as the “crazy cousins we don’t talk about”) with a bizarre and violent history of inter.familial and inter.communal murderous dissension. It is, indeed, within the realm of plausibility that this particularly gruesome crime was another chapter in that history.

About that “with an asterisk”:  the major Mormon colonies, while they maintain cordial relations with, and family ties, to, U.S. Mormons (Senator Mitt Romney’s father was born in the colony), never deny their Mexican identity, and are well represented in local, state, and national affairs, both in business and politics.  On the other hand, the LeBaron colonists tend to hold themselves apart from their neighbors, often plan to have their children born in the United States  in order to claim U.S. citizenship, and maintain homes and businesses across the border.  And, holding themselves aloof for the most part, from the local community.

Although it is true that the colony, sitting astride a major drug smuggling route, had become well known for its fight against “cartels” (sympathetically detailed in a “VIce” video) and have been victimized by narcotics gangs, a lesser known (outside of Mexico) threat to the colony comes from their neighbors… ejidos and small independent farmers, who dub the community the “LeBaron Cartel” for their tight control over water resources in the desert.  Allegations by the colony’s neighbors that the community uses its substantial financial resources (from US businesses, as well as their own large scale agricultural production) to “influence” water control boards, have been illegally drilling wells on their property, to the detriment of the region, and to curry favor with Chihuahua’s governor.

Last year, the “water fights” turned ugly, with local farmers “invading” the colony, wells attacked, and shots fired (here, here, here, here, and here).  The issue has not died away since last summer, and, if anything, the local small farmers are even more frustrated and angry with the LeBaron group than ever.  Admittedly, some of those farmers may be marijuana growers, or connected with one or another so-called “cartel” themselves, but there are dark hints floating around (and have been floating around for some time) that the LeBaron community also has its share of “druggies” as well.  The massacre may well have been in retaliation for the water usage (including that for a golf course… in the middle of the desert).

A final, though (one hopes) unlikely possibility has to do with national politics, at its dirtiest.  A few years back, the odd couple of the colony’s acknowledged leader, Julien LeBaron and Catholic poet and journalist, Javier Sicilia — both of whom had near relations murdered by narcotics gangs — co-led a movement for more protection for civilians, including military operations against “cartels”.  LeBaron, as far as one can tell, has never been a supporter of the left, and Sicilia rejected AMLO, and his calls for “hugs not drugs” early on.

The recent “event” in Cuiliacan has been useful to those on the right, and pro-US “liberals” (in the economic sense of the word) who seem to hope for the 4th Transformation government to fail.  Coupled with retired General Carlos Gaytán Ochoa’s speech, and interviews with other generals and officers who — despite having enjoyed the fruits of government largess to the military establishment — express unhappiness with AMLO’s security plans (or, as they say, lack of plans).  Through in recent coordinated attempts to discredit AMLO from what’s left of the corrupt Calderón administration coupled with the widely held suspicion that the cartels, the military and the previous government (anf various state officials in Chihuahua) are “mobbed up” with each other, the conspiracy minded among us are free to speculate that the hit on the LeBarons was meant to force either AMLO to resign, or to drop any attempts to pacify and demilitarize the country, and to return to the (highly profitable for both US arms and military hardware providers and the Mexican military and conservative political elites) war on drugs.  Or, on some disfavored drug exporters, anyway.   By that theory, it would have been simple for a military or political operative to tip off a cartel (which one?) about the LeBaron family outing, and arrange for an incident, whether meant to kill several children or whether they were, as was said in the previous two administrations, “collateral damage”.



Of coups and kooks

3 November 2019

This past week was the first time, in 20 years of writing about, and living in, Mexico, that Mexfiles has heard any serious mention (or, for that matter, any mention outside of far right US and fringe left Mexican media) of a military coup in this country.  There was one… sponsored by the U.S. Ambassador… in 1913, but historically considered one of the all-time worst “blowbacks” in U.S: foreign policy (don’t take my word for it:  here’s the CIA’s historical assesessment).  Huerta’s coup touch off the fratracidal popular uprising of the second phase of the Revolution, and led to the establishment by 1920 of what was generally called, in the United States and Britain, “Bolshevik Mexico”.

Although in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos, I described the resulting government as a “democracy of Generals”, under Alvaro Obregon, civilian control …. backed by military muscle, true… was re-established.  Obregon, who had achieved peace and consolidated the revolution through, among other things, bribery (he was famous, or infamous, for once remarking “No Mexican general can withstand a barrage of gold pesos”), simply buying out his military rivals, for the last 100 years the government had a policy of isolating the generals from political roles.  One of the great heroes of the era, General Joaquin Amaro, As Secretary of War in the Calles Administration, he was unique among bureaucrats in demanding continual cuts to his own budget.  Naturally, having reinvented the country through a Revolution, the Presidents, and presidential candidates, continued to be men with high military rank among their attributes, but the last general to serve, Manuel Avila Camacho, was during the Second World War.. And, the need for a more professional fighting force, was Avila Camacho’s excuse for retiring those officers with political ambitions who might be tempted to turn to the troops to “save” the country from whatever course the civilian administration might pursue.

This is not to say that the military was not an instrument of control.  Pursuing dissidents, especially on the left, kept the military busy, and active duty generals and admirals continue to hold cabinet positions as Secretaries of the Army and Air Force, and the Navy.  The only mention of a coup during those years came, surprisingly, from the left:  when Cuauhtémoc Cardenas was denied the presidency in 1988 though obvious fraud, one faction in his coalition had been PARM (The Party of the Authentic Mexican Revolution), a small satellite of the then hegemonic PRI, which had split with the ruling party and whose leadership was largely made up of aging retired left wing officers.  Nothing came of that except talk (mostly in foreign media) given that the left had been the target for military action and the governing elites were rapidly turning towards a conservative neo-liberal agenda, and aligning themselves (and their military) towards supporting U.S. interests.

Over the past thirty years, while the political system evolved into a more multi-party state, the “war” on dissidents continued sub-rosa until the Calderón Administration, when… combining the war on dissent with a shift towards supporting U.S. interests turned what had been a minor, or relatively unimportant, role supressing narcotics exporters became the military’s central task.

The mounting reports of military atrocities, together with the casualty rate among soldiers and marines, coupled with the out of control financial excesses of the Calderón and Peña Nieto aministrations turned even the middle class, and much of the elites into dissidents themselves.  Donald Trump’s overt anti-Mexican racism certainly didn’t hurt in convincing even the apolitical citizens that a radical change was needed, both in economics and in security.  AMLO, an an avowed Christian pacifist and leftist, was overwhelmingly elected President.

The new paradigm, the so-called “Fourth Transformation” (from Independence, the LIberal reforms of Juarez, the Revolution), called for a less militant, less violent reaction to criminality and less interdependence with the United States for both economically and in setting policy.

While the changes have been broadly popular, there is dissent, of course.  There are those whose interests are threatened by the return to a more Socialist state, as well as those who reject a more “liberal” sense of personal and communal rights (for minority communities, for GLBT individuals, and relaxing the strict laws against abortion), and those ideologically committed to neo-liberalism.  And, of course, those would-be “progressives” like Enrique Krauze and Denise Dresser (both favorites of the New York Times) who automatically distrust any hugely popular national leader, especially one who doesn’t follow their own prescriptions of how to govern, or what priorities need to be addressed.

The cock-up in Culiacán,, the attempted arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, appears to have been more a set-back in a learnig curve during the transformation of the military and police structure, than … as the new dissenters would have it… a wholesale condemnation of the entire administration.  While more details are still forthcoming, it appears there was a break in the command and control structure, as well as inadequate intelligence before the operation against a figure wanted in the United States (but not, as of yet, facing any major criminal charges in Mexico) led to a wild, hours long shootout between gangsters and a combined police, National Guard, and Army operation that left several dead including one soldier, and more seriously wounded (one soldier lost a leg to a 50 caliber shell).

With plenty of off-the-cuff and irresponsible commentary, the speech by retired general (and former undersecretary of the Army and Air Force), Carlos Gaytán Ochoa (delivered to a breakfast meeting of high military officials, including the sitting Secretary) }. in which he complained about broad opposition to the changes in the security apparatus and how those changes are being implemented, touched off a reaction from the “influencers”, both those who support, and those who oppose, the transformation.

The military has traditionally enjoyed more respect (although you won’t find among the chattering classes anyone willing to serve) among institutions, more than that of the political classes, the Church, or business leaders.  But, as a conservative institution (even if the soldiers and sailors and airmen and women tend to be from the working class and tend to vote the same as their civilian peers), the military establishment has been seen as the scourge of the left. AMLO  shows the due deference to the military expected of the Commander in Chief, but aside from dignifying service men and women as “citizens in uniform”, but given both is pacifism and leftism, is …. as General Ochoa suggested, and other officers have said, faces strong opposition to the changes in progress, even among the rank and file.

The convergence of the General’s remarks, with the increasingly shrill reactions to the transformation including the expected U.S. sponsored support for far right opposition movements, and the equally expected outrage from the left, leads to heated rhetoric suggesting a coup, of the soft sort favored by the Obama administration towards any leftist Latin American government, or of the nontraditional Mexican, but common Latin American, military variety, is in the offing.

Given the tenor of reports in the “mainstream media”, both here and abroad, one suspects that the opposition will continue to glom on any misstep by the present administration to vilify the goals of a more equitable, post-liberal, pacifist state.  But, given the likelihood of a coup?  AMLO was forced to respond to the rumors and rhetoric, putting his trust in Mexican history and in the masses:

The conservatives and their hawks are wrong! They were able to commit the crime of overthrowing and killing Madero because this good man, this Apostle of Democracy, either did not know, or circumstances did not allow ihm to rely on a social base to protect him and back him up. 

Times are different.  Although the reality has change, and we should not simply make comparisons, the transformation I am leading has the support of a free and informed majority.  Fair minded people, lovers of the law and peace, which will not allow another coup.

There is not the slightest opportunity for Huertas, Hitlers, or Pinochets. Today’s Mexico is not fertile land for genocide or for scoundrels who bed for it.



Arreola, Federico, La mala: 10 ensayos golpistas. La buena: Andrés Manuel y la 4T ya descubrieron a sus autores y los van a neutralizar, SDPNoticias (2 November 2019)

Benbow, Mark E. Intelligence in Another Era, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (25 June 2008)

EU quiere mayor compromiso de México contra el narco, Jornada (23 October 2019)

Hiriat, Pablo, En el Ejército, agraviados, preocupados, ofendidos por el Presidente, El Fianciero (31 October 2019)

La extrema derecha intenta dar un golpe de Estado suave a AMLO. Jornada (15 July 2019)

Martinéz, Fabiola, Ciudadanía no permitiría golpe de Estado en México: AMLO, Jornada (2 November 2019)

Mayoría no permitiría golpe de Estado: AMLO, Reforma (2 November 2019) (no link)

Militares, “agraviados y ofendidos”: general Carlos Gaytán, Diario de Yucatan (3 November 2029)

National Endowment for Destabilization? CIA Funds for Latin America in 2018, Telesur (4 April 2019)

The usual talking heads on TV


High crimes and misdemeanors

29 October 2019

For all the “can then, or can’t they” talk about impeaching the President of the United States, I don’t know if this is the right time for the Mexican administration to be making it easier to impeach their president, but they are.  With the President’s full support.

It’s a bit strange to people from the US and elsewhere that elected officials in Mexico enjoyed a “fuero” … immunity from prosecution, in nearly all instances.  Most western European and Latin American nations gave immunity to their officials in the mid-19th century for a good reason: it was just too tempting for the powers that be to dispose of “inconvenient” legislators and other officials for the most trivial of offenses.  As the Mexican Constitution stands now. should President Lopéz Obrador, an avowed pacifist,do something so unlikely as shooting someone in broad daylight in the middle of Insurgentes, there would be absolutely nothing anyone could do about it.  A few demonstrations, some blistering editorials in the opposition press and some cruel political cartoons, but that would be the end of it.

It literally took an act of congress to attempt to try Lopéz Obrador for the murky “crime” of using the power of eminent domain to build an access road to a hospital through a patch of land supposedly owned by various Vicente Fox supporters, and he was merely Mexico City’s head of government at the time.  Considering that the whole point of the exercise was to prevent him from running for the Presidency — a candidate cannot be under indictment — it takes some really imoressive mental contortions to claim it was not a political act, rather than a search for justice.

Even so, Lopéz Obrador and his party (which controls both houses of Congress, and more than enough state legislatures to ensure passage) passed a bill today in the Chamber (the lower house of congress) which opens the way not just to “impeachment” but to trying former presidents for misdeeds in office.  Where it took an act of treason for a president to lose his immunity, the new bill allows presidents to be tried for a number of common crimes (rape, murder, house-breaking, abuse of minors, human trafficking, pimping, auto and truck theft) and some that usually require being in a position of power… treason, misuse of public resources for personal enrichment, using social programs for electoral advantage, and just plain old abuse of power.  And the always popular corruption.

Does Trump Tower offer a special rate for Mexican ex-Presidents and governors and representatives?

The future is in our hands

27 October 2019

Photo by Mary Jo McConahay (National Catholic Reporter)

I have never understood Latin Americanist who ignore the largest transnational actor in the region… the Roman Catholic Church. We tend to regard the Church as a holdover from the colonial era, a reactionary force holding back adoption of “western” values (like same-sex marriage, or liberal abortion laws), all of which is true — to some extent — and only paying attention to it when it comes out against this or that “reform”. Or, we look to the Liberation Theologians for allies, although usually it’s just a quote from some local priest when a “social justice worker” is murdered.

But even for those of us who see the Church as the enemy of reform, there is value in “opposition research”… not to mention unless we pay attention, we too often assume a change will or will not occur when he fail to pay attention to what is coming from the Bishops and the clergy.

And, the faithful.

Mary Jo McConahay, who has been writing about, and from, Latin America for the last thirty years, reported from the back of the beyond of the Colombia Amazon about the “other” expectation for the Amazonian Synod. I say, “other” given that any press given the recent meeting of Bishops, clerics, experts, indigenous people, men and women from the Amazon and elsewhere, held in Rome the last few weeks, was — if reported at all — focused on the narrow issue of ordaining married men as priests, and considering the possibility of ordaining women deacons.

While these two changes were approved by the Synod (and go to the Pope for his approval, or amending), and they are of interest to the outside world (in reality, does one really fret over who stands in the pulpit of a Church somewhere up the Amazon River?), and although I suppose they signal a in major change in the face of the Catholic Church, they are of little impact to the rest of the world, the six billion of so non.Cathics, and probably 750 million of so not in the pews every week Catholics. For those 250 million or so (and maybe for the other three-quarters of a billion people) For them, more access to the services (in both the ritual and material sense of the word) is more than welcome (John Donaghy’s wonderful blog, Hermano Juanicito, writes of the joys, sorrows, and frustrations of a rural deacon in Honduras).

For the rest of us, though, for whom married priests, or women deacons are an esoteric concern, maybe worth a comment in a news site at most, the Amazonian Synod will have an impact on our lives. The Synod’s officially entitled “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”… and as much attention as paid to the ecology of the region (and the planet) as to expanding access to the clergy and to the sacraments of the Church. In Chapter Four of the submitted 33 page final report (approved paragraph by paragraph by the 185 voting members of the Synod), we read:

Faced with the pressing situation of the planet and the Amazon, integral ecology is not a path that the Church can choose for the future in this territory, it is the only possible way, because there is no other viable path to save the region…

Specifically calling for divestment of all Church funds in the Amazonian region from the extractive industries, and fossil fuel industries, we are not talking about a few pesos or reales or soles or bolivars finding their way to “green industries” but world-wide. The Synod explicitly calls for the rest of the world to join their divestment campaign, and promote active participation with such campaigns. It’s not a question, in the war to save the planet, of how many divisions the Pope has, but how many dividends … the Pope, the Archdiocese of New York, of Hamburg, the Vatican Bank, the Catholic universities and their endowment funds… have. So far, about 150 Catholic institutions have already divested.

And… while we are all sinners… defining “ecological sin” … our actions, or inactions, in protecting our community and environment… in or out of the pews, to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle in this world, not counting on the next.


Additional sources:

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Synod for the Amazon (several articles, various authors), National Catholic Reporter

The usual misreporting by Fox News, Lifesitenews, etc.


A soldier’s story.

21 October 2019

Many, especially those outside Mexico, have been quick to blame the Mexican military from backing down from mounting a bloodbath during Thursday’s shootout in Culiacán.  Apparently, the critics need to be enlightened on exactly what civilians were are risk had they not backed down.

(translation mine, from an open post by “Cocinaro de GN”


Good afternoon.

I am a soldier from Culiacán, currently stationed in Manzanillo,. I think that many people need to understand the value of things and the fear of losing a loved one and the impotence one experiences when one is unable to do anything, we felt when we received the news about the mess that followed the capture of that character.  My wife calls me to tell me what was happening in all the streets of Culiacán saying things were getting ugly. 

My wife and children live in an apartment complex provided by the Sedena [Mexican Department of Defense].  I told my wife not to go out to the street, and that they will be protected, and to wait until there was word from the state authorities that everyone was under control   Imagine what I felt when my wife called me back to tell me that the apartment complex was surrounded by armed people, and they not only could not leave, but that the armed men were shouting that if their boss was not released, they would begin killing the tenants.

At the same time we were asked to not lose our courage, we we filled with impotence and rage.  I do not know now to explain it, but I didn’t care about anything other than knowing my family was safe.  It is is a feeling only those of us who live with it can understand.

I see comments by people who call us cowards or call the government cowardly. I only have to give infinite thanks for having made the decision they did, and seeing my family again.

Nobody wants to live something like this, but, I would like them to put themselves in our shoes and not say that it was a failure for our families to have come though safe and sound.

Thank you very much for allowing my family to be by my side and for not getting carried away looking for another win [in the “drug war”].

A footnote in women’s history

20 October 2019

Do you recognize this woman?



Enriqueta Basilio (born 1948) was a member of the Mexican Olympic team in  1968. Although she never set any track records, she did set one… , the first woman ever to light the Olympic torch.