Mexico: Judicial ineffectiveness, attacks on human rights defenders, media still major concerns

This is a weekly roundup of events from 30 March to 5 April 2014

According to the president of Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), the vast majority of violent crimes in Mexico go unreported – upwards of 90% by one estimate.

A study produced by the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE (now the National Election Institute, or INE), found that 66% of Mexican citizens believe the rules of the judicial system are followed rarely or not at all, with nearly a third saying they are not followed at all. 70% of those surveyed think that there is institutional discrimination based on social class, skin color, or ethnicity and the same percentage believe that it is not possible to trust others.

Gun ownership in Mexico grew by more than 50% between 2009 and 2012, from 2 million guns to 3 million, a trend experts say is the result of rising perceptions of insecurity in the country. The average annual rate of growth in civilian gun ownership was 15%, which is higher than the 10% annual increase in crime rates during the same period. Mexican law allows for citizens to keep certain types of firearms in their home for self-defense, but a special license is normally required to carry them in public.

In a statement issued by the Latin American Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, Peace Brigades International and Front Line Defenders, the organizations expressed deep concern with the implementation of Mexico’s Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Citing funding issues, lack of leadership and the general ineffectiveness of the program, the groups joined with Mexican civil society organizations to call for the government to urgently address the crisis with the Protection Mechanism.

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom advocacy group, wrapped up a four-day conference in Mexico by calling on the country to strengthen protections for journalists. Mexico ranks 152nd out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index and by the group’s count 89 journalists have been killed in that country since 2000, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Mexico’s secretary of interior affirmed the government’s “full determination” to carry out a “complete overhaul” of the federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, “the results of which have not been satisfactory.”

Headlines

The chief of Mexican newspaper Noroeste, Adrián López Ortiz, was robbed and shot in Sinaloa. While the paper has reported a series of threats and attacks in the past, Sinaloa Attorney General Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said the attack on López Ortiz was unrelated to his work as a journalist. Five youths were arrested in connection with the incident, but the suspected gunman remains at large.

A Mexican federal policeman was kidnapped and killed in Tláhuac.

US federal agents discovered two drug-smuggling tunnels equipped with rail systems beneath the US-Mexico border, both of which surfaced in San Diego warehouses. A 73-year-old woman accused of running one of the warehouses was arrested in connection with the operation. The discovery brings the number of tunnels discovered in the San Diego area up to seven in less than four years, according to the task force handling the case. Earlier this year, GQ published a worthwhile piece on the use of underground tunnels for transporting drugs across the border. You can read it here.

The killing of an employee at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, Gregorio Serna, sheds light on the extortion of the university’s staff and students by the Zetas cartel. According to an anonymous source who spoke to Proceso newspaper, Serna may have been killed because he refused to get involved with criminal activities associated with the gang. While the Zetas organization is known to control many “above-ground” businesses as well as underground markets in Tamaulipas, incidents like this, which seem to confirm rumors of their infiltration of the university and its staff, show just how insinuated the group is with everyday life.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart criticized the legalization of recreational marijuana in the US states of Colorado and Washington, claiming that Mexican drug cartels are “setting up shop” in those areas in anticipation of a black market. Leonhart suggested during testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee that voters in Washington state and Colorado were duped into legalizing marijuana and implied that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision in August to allow marijuana regulation to proceed largely unchallenged was misguided.

In an interview with El Universal newspaper, former president Vincente Fox explained why he believes Mexico should legalize marijuana and pardon the cartels’ “capos” in order to lessen the power of organized crime in the country.

The mayor of Texistepec, in Veracruz state, and his wife were shot by four unidentified gunmen. Both were taken to the hospital and were reported to be in stable condition. Veracruz, a state coveted by cartels for its strategic location relative to the United States, has been plagued by the violence of a turf war between the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel, as well as the Knights Templar.

Germán Ceniceros Ibarra (alias “El Tigre”) was killed along with three others in a clash with the Mexican army. “El Tigre” was a former police officer, but authorities allege that he switched sides to work as a lieutenant of the recently-arrested kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.

Enrique “Kike” Plancarte Solis, one of the leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, was killed in an operation carried out by the Mexican Navy. Plancarte’s death comes after Knights Templar founder Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” was killed by troops in Michoacán on March 9.

Mexican authorities arrested autodefensa leader Enrique Hernandez Salcedo over the March 22 killing of Gustavo Garibay, the mayor of Tanhuato in Michoacán state, who opposed the vigilante groups. Hernandez Salcedo was among 19 people detained in connection with the murder of the mayor. More than 50 vigilantes have now been arrested in the state for committing various crimes.

The government launched a website to promote and explain the “Plan Michoacán,” a social development program based on the “Todos Somos Juarez” (“We are all Juarez”) program that many view as having been successful in reducing crime-related violence in the latter area. The program will focus on economic development, education, infrastructure and housing, public health, and social development and sustainability.

Mexican federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against Ferrosur, a Mexican rail line that is a subsidiary of the US-based Kansas City Southern. The complaint alleges that the company’s employees have been complicit in crimes committed against Mexican and Central American migrants headed toward the US, who are frequently beaten, robbed or kidnapped by criminal gangs after they board the trains.

To Watch

Mexican president Enrique Peña Neito announced a regional initiative to combat organized crime during a recent trip to Honduras.

Michoacán federal safety commissioner Alfredo Castillo has given self-defense forces in his state a choice: essentially, they can join the police or disarm. He said that the disarming of unregistered autodefensas in that state will begin within weeks. Castillo also stated that the registration of those who want to register for the bodies of rural defense and the Unified Command will resume.

The U.S. State Department said it is asking Mexico to investigate an incident in which three US citizens were fired upon by Mexican army troops. Mexican military officials reportedly told American law enforcement that the victims were trying to evade a checkpoint, but the young men who were shot dispute this account.

According to documents obtained by the LA Times, on January 26, two Mexican soldiers crossed the US border and drew their guns on US Border Patrol officers, resulting in a tense standoff. The Mexican soldiers claimed to be pursuing drug smugglers, but when the Border Patrol called for backup, the soldiers retreated back across the border.

In a letter to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske cited nearly two dozen other such incidents since 2010, but said his agency “does not have intelligence that directly connects (Mexican military) personnel to criminal activity.” Nevertheless, James Phelps, a border and homeland security professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas who was quoted in the LA Times article said, “Many [Mexican soldiers] are essentially a functional asset of the cartels.” Officials at the Mexican Embassy in Washington have consistently denied that Mexican soldiers were involved in the incident, suggesting instead that the men were smugglers disguised in military uniforms.

After the governor of the State of Mexico declared that a recent crime wave in the area was “rare and temporary,” the Secretariat of Public Security of the Federal District and the Department of Public Safety of the State of Mexico announced that the agencies will work together to combat crime in both areas.

Police arrested Ukrainian national Steven Vladyslav Subkys in Mexico on suspicion that he has ties to a Europen and Asian criminal syndicate known alternatively as “organitzatsja,” “mafiya,” or “bratva.” Two other men identified as members of Subkys’ network were arrested in the same area earlier this month. According to InSight Crime, “[i]t is not known if Subkys was in Mexico to buy drugs, meet associates, or simply escape prosecution by US authorities.”

Extra

Mexico’s consumer protection agency filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against parties who may have helped push the price of limes up 200% since December. According to Latin America Herald Tribune:

The candidatus liberibacter bacteria, which causes “yellow dragon” disease, affected lime trees in some parts of Mexico in 2013, analysts said.

Torrential rains last year, gouging by middlemen and extortion rackets run by drug cartels against growers have also caused lime prices to soar…

Mexico is the world’s largest producer of lemons and limes.

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