Chris Arsenault / Al Jazeera & Reporters without Borders, Witness for Peace, et al. – 2010-11-05 00:31:24
Following Mexico’s Drug Money Trail
After a student protester is shot by police on campus, critics demand an end to militarization and money laundering.
Chris Arsenault / Al Jazeera
ACTION: Click here to sign petition.
(November 3, 2010) — A rally and conference against Mexico’s drug war poured fresh blood onto the streets of Ciudad JuÃ¡rez over the weekend, when police shot a 19-year-old student in the back with a high-powered assault rifle.
Laura Carlsen, who spoke at the anti-militarization event which had been billed as a “march against death”, said the shooting of the student on a university campus was “a game changer” in the country’s spiraling violence.
“It was really the first time [during the latest violence] the police had targeted a peace protester and the cartels were not involved at all,” said Carlsen, who directs the Americas program of the International Relations Center from Mexico City. The wounded student, JosÃ© Dario Ãlvarez Orrantia, is expected to recover, although his injuries will likely plague him for the rest of his life.
Activists say the shooting underscores their point that brute force is not the best way to tackle violence that has claimed almost 30,000 lives since 2006.
Climate of Repression
Carlsen said many who attended the forum thought the shooting “had been a planned incident to stop people participating” in events critical of the Mexican government, the cartels and the US, which has pledged about $1.3bn to fight its neighbor’s drug war since 2007.
Some witnesses say students at the march spray painted anti-government graffiti on walls, prior to the shooting at the Autonomous University of Ciudad JuÃ¡rez.
Federal police say that after firing warning shots into the air, a “shot accidentally got away”. But many Ciudad JuÃ¡rez residents say the attack reflects a broader climate of repression at the epicentre of the drug war.
“We denounce this repugnant crime against one of our university students and demand that those responsible be punished with all the force of the law,” the university’s rector and other staff wrote in an open letter to Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president.
About 24 hours after the incident, Carlsen accompanied students back to the site of the shooting, but found that “there was no crime scene investigation [by the police]. The students had to form a commission to pick up the bullet shells themselves,” she said, although police later began to investigate the incident.
Putting out Fires
While feuding drug cartels are responsible for much of the violence in Mexico, abuses by security forces are not uncommon.
An April 2009 Human Rights Watch report identified 17 cases of abuse by the Mexican military, including “killings, torture, rapes and arbitrary detentions”. And, activists say the line between the state and the cartels is often blurred by corrupting infusions of drug money.
In August, the government fired more than 3,200 police officers — almost 10 per cent of the federal force — including the police chief in Cuidad JuÃ¡rez, because of widespread corruption and links to cartels.
But despite this widespread evidence of human rights abuses and corruption, Mexico and the US are moving to increase militarization.
“I think that by sending in force into JuÃ¡rez, you would be providing security to the population in that city,” said Craig Deare, a professor at the US National Defence University who believes Mexico’s murder capital needs more boots on the ground.
“I always use the simple analogy of a house,” explained Deare, the former country director for Mexico at the office of the US secretary of defence. “The house [Mexico] has foundational problems, including poverty, corruption and all sorts of development issues. You need to fix those. But if the house is on fire you need to put out that fire.”
To some Mexico watchers, Joaquin Villalobos is the fire chief. The former leftist rebel leader from El Salvador, who was once described as the “baby faced killer” by US officials, is a key adviser to the Mexican president.
“Villalobos says that what happened in Colombia, and what’s happening now in Mexico, is that when you confront these cartels, it generates a process of self-destruction that, clearly, weakens them,” Calderon told an interviewer earlier this year.
But some analysts bristle when Mexico is compared to Colombia in the early 1990s. “There was an uprising [in Colombia] with the intent of changing the political system,” Carlsen said. “Mexican drug cartels have no interest in becoming the state, they are economic operations above all else.”
Carlsen also insists that the notion that the current surge in violence represents the “darkness before the dawn” is widely rejected in Mexico. “When they [security forces] take out a leader of one cartel, another one comes up and a turf war ensues,” she explained.
The Money Trail
Carlsen’s organisation and dozens of other rights groups recently signed a letter calling for an overhaul of the US-backed drug war. [See the letter below.] “The Merida Initiative supports a reckless strategy that has led to massive bloodshed in Mexico and failed to achieve goals to reduce illicit drug flows, assure public safety or significantly weaken cartels,” the letter stated.
Instead of greater militarization, rights groups want better treatment for drug addicts, a weakening of demand in the US and more resources devoted to following the money trail — where massive drug profits are invested in US and offshore businesses and bank accounts.
Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) and Bank of America, two of the largest banks in the US, admitted that they had not done enough to spot drug money when handling $378.4bn for Mexican currency exchange shops between 2004 and 2007.
In March, the US justice department charged Wachovia with violating the Bank Secrecy Act, legislation which prohibits money laundering, and the bank’s new owner paid $160mn in fines and penalties, Bloomberg News reported.
Drug cartels also used shell companies to open accounts at HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank by assets, according to an investigation by Mexico’s finance ministry.
“In order to weaken organised crime, it is far safer and more effective in the long run to erode its financial base,” Carlsen said. “Rather than sending military equipment and private security contractors like Blackwater [now Xe Services] which have terrible human rights records, they [the US] should fund drug prevention and rehabilitation. These programs have not seen an increase in funding despite added concern.”
Deare, who supports greater US military “co-operation” with Mexico, agrees with some of the recommendations made by rights groups. “If Mexico is looking for a long term solution, I would be willing to bet that there will be demand for drugs in the US over the next 20 years,” he said.
Vincente Fox, Mexico’s former president, recently added his voice to the list of leaders calling for the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs.
And even if the battle is “won” via military means in Mexico, there is concern that the global war against drugs would simply move to a new battlefield, for as Deare explained: “If Mexico is successful, it would no longer be Mexico’s problem, it would be someone else’s problem.”
This is the second piece in a two-part series examining the issues behind Mexico’s drug violence.
Human Rights, Labor, and Religious Groups Call on Obama Administration and Congress to
Uphold Human Rights, Halt Drug War Aid to Mexican Security Forces
ACTION: Click here to sign petition.
(November 3, 2010) — Despite nearly 30,000 drug-related homicides, a huge increase in human rights violations by the armed forces and growing citizen opposition to the bloody “war on drugs,” the US Congress is once again considering the allocation of US public funds to Mexico to support the failed counter-narcotics policy.
President Barack Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget contains $410 million for the Merida Initiative, a security aid package for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. Of that total, $310 million are allocated for Mexico.
We question the Administration’s decision to extend indefinitely and unconditionally Bush’s three-year Merida Initiative in light of the violence and ineffectiveness of the strategy, and mounting calls for a new approach from citizensâ€™ groups on both sides of the border.
Existing US aid to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, amounting to more than $1.3 billion, does not include necessary safeguards to ensure that it does not contribute to systematic human rights violations. Only fifteen percent of the funding may be withheld pending a State Department report on Mexicoâ€™s progress toward meeting the human rights conditions of the bill. Furthermore, the Merida Initiative (also called “Plan Mexico”) includes no benchmarks for effective evaluation.
The Merida Initiative supports a reckless strategy that has led to massive bloodshed in Mexico and failed to achieve goals to reduce illicit drug flows, assure public safety or significantly weaken cartels. With 45,000 troops in the streets as the core feature of this militarization strategy, the Mexican armed forces have been implicated in murders, rapes and violations of human rights — the vast majority of which have never been prosecuted.
We are concerned that the State Department has ignored human rights abuses stemming from the Merida Initiative aid and continued impunity and corruption within Mexico, in favor of supporting a militarized approach in the “war on drugs” that has verifiably increased those abuses.
The so-called human rights conditions included in the Merida Initiative provide no guarantee whatsoever of progress, and have merely served as lip service to serious concerns while permitting support of the overall strategy. There are no indications of a sustained reduction in the availability of illegal narcotics on the US market that can even be used to justify the heightened violence caused by this strategy.
In particular, we would like to call attention to the case around the murder of US citizen Bradley Roland Will as exemplary of the non-cooperation and impunity with which security forces, the government and the judicial system in Mexico have addressed abuses of human rights by the state. Will, an independent journalist, was shot to death in Oaxaca, Mexico on October 27, 2006, while documenting a series of protest demonstrations.
Will was one of at least 26 people allegedly killed by government forces and hired thugs during statewide protests against corruption and impunity. The state has failed to successfully prosecute a single case in the assassinations. Since the drug war was launched in late 2006 Mexico has become a world leader in murders of journalists.
The initial release of Merida Initiative aid was accompanied by a US State Department call for a “thorough, credible and transparent investigation” into Will’s killing. Evidence identifies police and local officials as the assassins in the Will case. However, the Mexican Attorney General’s wrongly imprisoned a protester for the murder.
After Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission and the Will family disputed the Attorney General’s claims, the protestor was freed due to lack of evidence and no one has been prosecuted for his murder or the murder of 25 Oaxacans killed in 2006. The US State Department remained silent regarding the false charges and has since done nothing to ensure that Willâ€™s actual killer(s) face justice.
Documentation exists of killings, torture, beatings and gender-based violence committed by security forces, including the cases of Atenco, Ciudad Juarez and repression of labor unions. The US provision of lethal aid and training to these same security forces violates our principles as a nation, tarnishes our reputation and implicates the US government in serious and widespread human rights abuses.
The Obama Administration is surely aware of the fact that the purported goal of the Merida Initiative to help establish good governance in Mexico cannot be attained in a climate of impunity for human rights violations and a destabilizing drug war.
The US government has the responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used in the violation of human rights.
Instead of providing training and funding to the military, police and civil institutions that have allowed and facilitated impunity in the Will case and other cases of abuse against Mexicans, the US government should focus on attacking the causes and structures of organized crime within the United States — drug addiction and the demand for black-market drugs, international financial transactions and trans-border corruption, arms trafficking — and aid Mexico in eliminating the roots causes of the spread of crime such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and the lack of opportunities for youth.
Organizations and individuals that have signed on:
David SolÃs Aguilar, Secretaria Grito de los Excluidos/as Mesoamericano
Al Rojas and Frente de Mexicanos en El Exterior
Alianza Mexicana por la AutodeterminaciÃ³n de los Pueblos (AMAP)
Amigos de la Tierra AmÃ©rica Latina y el Caribe (ATLAC)
BiaÂ´lii, AsesorÃa e InvestigaciÃ³n, A.C
CampaÃ±a por la DesmilitarizaciÃ³n de las AmÃ©ricas (CADA)
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la MontaÃ±a “Tlachinollan”
Centro de Estudios de la RegiÃ³n Cuicateca (CEREC)
CIP Americas Program
Ciudadana y del Soldado A.C.
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)
Ciudadana y del Soldado A.C.
CoaliciÃ³n de Tendencias Clacistas/Venezuela
CoecoCeiba/Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica
Colectivo “Pensar en Voz Alta”
Common Frontiers, Canada
ComitÃ© Cerezo MÃ©xico
CoordinaciÃ³n Nacional Agraria (CNA)/Colombia
Consejera Consultiva del Inmujeres
Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Iindigenas de Honduras — COPINH
El Consejo Nacional IndÃgena Monexico-Nicaragua
Convergencia de Movimientos de los Pueblos de las AmÃ©ricas (COMPA)
Friends of Brad Will
Environmentalists Against War, Gar Smith
General JosÃ© Francisco Gallardo, â€œDefensorÃa de Derechos Humanos General Gallardo,â€ por la Dignidad
Ma. Lourdes GonzÃ¡lez (mamÃ¡ de PÃ¡vel Gonzalez) Comite Pavel Gonzalez
Gruppe B.A.S.T.A., MÃ¼nster, Alemania
Guatemala Human Rights Commission
Just Foreign Policy
Columba Quintero MartÃnez
Kathy and Hardy Will
Movimiento Mexicano de Afectados por la MinerÃa (REMA)
Movimiento por la Paz, la SoberanÃa y la Solidaridad entre los Pueblos (Mopassol) de Argentina
El Movimiento Popular Oscar Arnulfo Romero, MOPAR, apoya esta PropuestaGrupo Tacuba, A. C.
Mujeres IndÃgenas Nahuatl
Mujeres Sin Miedo, Mexico
Observatorio Latinoamericano de GeopolÃtica
Otros Mundos AC/Amigos de la Tierra MÃ©xico
Sirena Pellarolo, California State University Northridge, Eastside CafÃ©
Red Mexicana de AcciÃ³n frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC)
Red Solidaria DÃ©cada contra la Impunidad Contraimpunidad, Uruguay
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
School of the Americas Watch
SERVICIOS PARA UNA EDUCACIÃ“N ALTERNATIVA EDUCA
SERAPAZ Cindy Sheehan, Peace and Justice Activist, USA
Southwest Workers’ Union (SWU)
Tom Hayden and The Peace and Justice Resource Center
UniÃ³n de Comunicades IndÃgenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo (UCIZONI)/MÃ©xico
Witness for Peace
* Immediately review and re-orient the failed “drug war” strategy for Mexico.
* Suspend military and security aid pending an urgent public review of current and alternative strategy as well as the resolution of the Will case and other human rights cases.
* Establish clear objectives and benchmarks for US taxpayer funded counternarcotics programs to gauge the success (or failure) of these programs.
* Give priority funding to alternative responses to illicit drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, including treatment for addicts, harm reduction and community abuse-prevention programs, and selective decriminalization to reduce the profiteering of criminal gangs, banks, and corrupt politicians from illegal narcotics.
* Step-up financial crimes operations to identify and prosecute those in banks and other economic structures that enable the multi-billion dollar narco-trafficking industry to operate and launder money.
* Publicly denounce and actively push to end impunity in cases of murder, torture, rape and beatings including those in Oaxaca, Atenco, Ciudad Juarez, and civilian deaths at the hands of the armed forces, as well as the use of the army to violently repress labor rights.
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