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No Country for Good Men: Drugs and Repression on Mexican Border

La Prensa-San Diego, Commentary, Victor M. Quintana Posted: May 20, 2008

Editor's Note: The Mexican government's attempt to militarize the war against drug trafficking and organized crime in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua is really an attempt to crack down on social movements taking place there, argues Victor M. Quintana. Quintana is an adviser to the Frente Democrtico Campesino de Chihuahua, researcher at the Universidad Autnoma de Ciudad Jurez, and collaborator with the Americas Program.


Fiction vs. Reality

Fiction: In the film No Country for Old Men (Cohen Brothers, 2007), evil, as represented by Javier Bardems drug trafficker/paid hitman, moves implacably through the Chihuahua deserts dusty Texan towns, injuring, killing, destroying and getting what he wants. Good, personified by Tommy Lee Jones tired old sheriff, is impotent against the triumphant march of evil, which he watches, resigned, on the verge of his retirement.

The reality: Holy Week, 2008. Paloma de Villa, with less than 2,000 inhabitants, set in the Chihuahua desert on the border with Columbus, New Mexico. The police commandant and six officers, between them making up the entire municipal police force, resign. They hand in their notice because of the wave of drug-related killings and kidnappings and they exile themselves on the U.S. side of the border.

In just 81 days, from Jan. 1 to March 21, organized crime has beaten all records for killings in the state of Chihuahua: 175 people murdered plus 40 corpses found in a Ciudad Juarez mass grave ups the macabre homicide figure to 215 for the year. In March alone, 107 people have been killed in this border town.

The law is impotent against the advance of evil.

Operation Chihuahua

Less than a week later, on March 27, the secretaries of governance and national defense, the attorney general of the Republic, and the state governor launched Operation Chihuahua, created to address the terrorized population of Ciudad Juarez. The operatives purpose is localizing, combating, and dismantling the networks of drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering. They made it known that in a matter of hours, more than 2,000 Mexican Army soldiers and more than 400 federal police officers would be arriving at the border town to collaborate with the state and municipal police in a joint action against organized crime.

Ciudad Juarez was practically in a state of siege: joint police and army convoys with armed vehicles and tanks covered and stationed themselves in different parts of the city; seizures of arms, drugs, and traffickers were announced. However, not one of these important gangsters was detained. The townspeople, exhausted by the daily horror, by the explosion in violent crime, robberies, attacks, kidnappings and rapes, welcomed the military with gratitude.

However, the military presence soon provided the first casualtieshuman rights. In less than a week, the army had detained 18 elements of the state police. They were from the police investigation corps, among them four policewomen, including the one in command of the operation. The detainees were driven to the military camp where they were kept for nearly two days as resguardos, a judicially non-existent category. Three of the women were stripped in front of the men, blindfolded, and threatened.

The army claimed that the state police had been found with drugs. The detainees families claimed that the drugs was planted by the military. Social pressure and a lack of officers led the army to free the 18 state police by April 4.

Hunting Down Local Leaders

One of the side effects of the Chihuahua operative has been the persecution of leaders of social organizations. On March 14, shortly before the operation began, the leader of the rural organization Aerodinamica Nacional was assassinated in Nuevo Casas Grandes. A commando intercepted Armando Villarreal Marthas vehicle and shot him with several machine gun loads. Villarreal was a national leader of the agricultural producers struggle for just tariffs on electrical energy for agricultural irrigation.

On Thursday April 3, one week later, it was Cipriana Jurado Herreras turn, a social activist and adviser to families affected by the killings of women in the border area. On the way back from taking a mother to identify her daughters remains in the Medical Forensic Service, she was detained violently and without a warrant by AFI officers at the border. The accusation against her: attacking general communication pathways. The reason: a protest on a bridge on Oct. 12, 2005.

The next day, in Nuevo Casas Grandes, the peasant leader Carlos Chavez Quevedo, co-founder of Agrodinamica Nacional alongside Armando Villareal Martha, was apprehended in the same way and taken to Ciudad Juarez. The accusation is the same, based on the same act.

The federal governments intention behind this wave of criminalization of the Chihuahua social movements can be read in two ways.

Firstly, it is an attempt to threaten the leaders of three movements that have been at the forefront on a national level: the countryside producers movement to get electricity at competitive prices and renegotiate NAFTAs agricultural terms; the womens movement against femicide; and the movement of indebted people against the banks and mortgage companies.

Secondly, the Calderon administrations criminalization of social protest hides the intention of sending a strong warning to the groups that prepare civil resistance actions against law initiatives for any kind of privatization of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The regime will tolerate no protest, even if it is peaceful, even if it is led by women.

Postscript

Operation Chihuahua, begun by the federal government with the collaboration or submission of the Chihuahua State Government, does not constitute an efficient action for combating organized crime or for instituting the rule of law in that part of northern Mexico. Few analysts believe that the army is waging a serious combat against all drug cartels and organized crime. On the contrary, some think that the federal forces have come to reinstall the dominion of a certain cartel in Juarez: either its about displacing the Carrillo Fuentes Cartel and replacing it with Chapo Guzmns or repositioning the leader of Carrillo Fuentes because of a rebellious local manager.

What is known for sure is that the federal and state governments resorting to the army is all they can do after at least 15 years of having tolerated and protected the implantation, growth, and criminal diversification of organized crime along the border of the whole state, having allowed its infiltration and the control of entire police details on the federal, state, and municipal levels.

The criminalization of social protest, persecution of social leaders, and simultaneously, the impossibility of combating drug cartels with an honest, professional, and effective police and having to resort to the army, shows in depth the great weakness of the Mexican state, epitomized by some as too strong with the weak; too weak with the strong.

Translated from: Narcotrfico, violencia y repression. Translated for the Americas Program by Nalina Eggert.


Related Articles:

Upfront-Views: Top Drug Cop Killed in Mexico

The Cockroach Effect: Narco-Violence Spreads in Mexico

Drug Trafficking Violence Targets Mexican Police



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