Searching for Mexico’s drug war ‘disappeared’

By Tom Bateman-Today programme

Photos of missing people on a wall outside Acapulco mortuaryPhotos of missing people on a wall outside the mortuary in Acapulco

With thousands of people missing after six years of murderous violence linked to Mexico’s drugs cartels, families say they want more done to find their loved ones.

It was a warm night in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and heavily armed troops were patrolling the streets, at the height of the war on drug cartels here.

Victor Baca, 21, had just dropped his girlfriend at her home and was buying a hot dog with two friends at a fast food stand.

Suddenly, and apparently without reason, troops approached the three young men, arrested them and drove them away.

That was three years ago – and the last time Mr Baca’s family ever saw him.

“We think that part of the reason the military gave him a hard time was because he wasn’t identified,” says his father Gerardo Baca, explaining that his son may have forgotten his ID before going out that night.

“We didn’t know they were arrested until the next day, when one of his arrested friends was sent to the state police,” he added.

“We have no idea of the whereabouts of my son.”

The fate of Victor Baca is one that is shared by many people in Mexico, where fighting between rival drug cartels and the military crackdown in response has seen an estimated 60,000 people killed in six years.

Luis Aredondo, administrator of Palmar Cemetery in AcapulcoLuis Aredondo is the administrator of Palmar Cemetery in Acapulco

According to figures released earlier this year by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission,16,000 bodies remain unidentified and a total of 24,000 people are missing

At the top of a hill in the city, beyond the rows of graves covered in floral tributes, lies an area of wasteland that has to be disturbed regularly by gravediggers.

“Yesterday the mortuary sent 12 bodies to us as they were not identified,” says Luis Arredondo who runs the cemetery.

“They send us 10 to 12 bodies every three months and then they are buried here, in an area of 2,000 sq m.”

These are the unknown victims of Mexico’s drug wars – people who’ll get no funeral, have no gravestone and who will, after a year, be buried in a mass grave. At this site alone the bodies of 600 unidentified people are buried.

For one observer of the crimes carried out in the fight for lucrative drug supply routes into the US, the numbers of those missing may be an underestimate.

Professor Monica Serrano from the Colegio de Mexico, a university in Mexico City, says the cartels’ use of threats and extortion to boost funds is forcing people to leave their homes and in many cases make themselves “disappear”.

Countering corruption

“In (the state of) Guerrero what we’ve seen is partly these movements which are the direct results of threats,” she explains, adding that some figures suggest up to 400,000 people across the country may have been forced to uproot in this way.

“This is not yet being documented – we are just coming to terms with what is likely to become a major feature of the current violence.”

It is difficult to determine the full extent of people going missing because of corruption among police officers and troops, according human rights observers and families of those missing.

Mexico’s ambassador to the UK acknowledges the problem but says the government has invested in “institution building” and is boosting the numbers of police.

Graves in the cemetery in AcapulcoGraves in the cemetery in Acapulco. 24,000 people remain missing in Mexico

“We are looking at this in a very serious manner,” says Eduardo Medina Mora Icaza.

“We have to build up the capabilities of the police to investigate and the justice system to process (the criminals).

He admits that corruption “is a problem, wherever you find it” but says the government has been building up larger federal and state police forces.

“Of course every single case is important and every single case shall be treated as important,” he says.

“You have to build up the capabilities to deal with that.”

For the parents of Victor Baca there is still hope that their son will return – and they have a simple motive to keep urging the authorities to deal with their case, despite the risks.

“It is love,” says Gerardo Baca, “love of father and love of mother for our son.”


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Mexico’s Hot Political Summer


Mexican general election, 2006

Mexican general election, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A little more than a week after Mexicans went to the polls, conflict and controversy swirl around the July 1 elections. Almost everywhere-in the halls of Congress, on the Sunday talk shows, in bars and cafes and on the streets-the results are the hot topic of conversation. And claiming fraud, a growing citizen’s movement is crossing borders and transforming the elections into an international issue. 

The so-called Mexican Spring has now transitioned into the Hot Summer of 2012. 

“We’re protesting how the new president of Mexico has been imposed upon us,” said a woman who would identify herself only as Michele at a weekend protest in the international resort city of Puerto Vallarta.  “They are buying votes and not respecting the votes of the people.”

The young protester held a placard written in English that appealed for international solidarity. 

On Sunday, July 8, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), released a final vote count in the presidential election that gave Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party/Green Party Alliance (PRI-PVEM) the big prize with 38.21 percent of the votes, followed by the Progressive Movement’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with nearly 31.60 percent of the ballots.  

Josefina Vazquez Mota of  President Calderon’s  National Action Party (PAN) scored 25.41 percent of the votes, while the National Alliance Party’s Gabriel Quadri trailed a distant fourth with 2.29 percent, according to the IFE. The federal electoral authority stressed that more than 50 percent of the votes had been recounted.  

Of the 46,878,451 votes that were officially cast, more than 1,260,000 were tossed out because the ballots were marked for unregistered candidates or declared void due to error or intentional mutilating by voters protesting the political system. 

The IFE reassured the nation: “To give an idea of the speed, transparency and efficiency of the counts, it’s precise to point out the magnitude of the work in which thousands of citizens participate including election councilors, members of the Professional Electoral Service, representatives of political parties, electoral observers and the media.”

But in a preliminary report, the respected elections observation organization Civic Alliance charged that vote-buying, intimidation and infringements on the right to secret voting undermined the July 1 elections. 

“Political campaign money is determinant in the election results,” the group declared. Civic Alliance deployed 500 observers in 21 states but did not witness the voting in 10 other entities, including regions where so-called narco-violence and violence against candidates and political parties was a constant during the election campaign, because of fear for the safety of observers.

Another independent group,, maintains a website with numerous reports of vote-buying, ballot stealing, irregularities in the operation of voting booths and other serious problems.  

Based on accusations of vote-buying, the alleged payment to the PRI of foreign money via a Banamex (Citibank) account and other illegalities, Lopez Obrador is expected to make an important statement July 12 detailing how he will seek to have the presidential contest declared null and void in the election court system.  

“IFE did not do its job of cleaning up the results,” Lopez Obrador said of the partial recount at a July 9 press conference. “We can’t accept the results. We have proof that we can’t go along with these results.” 

The two-time presidential candidate charged that the PRI bought five million votes for Pena Nieto. 

The center-right PAN is also demanding that the appropriate authorities thoroughly investigate campaign expenditures and law-breaking but is stopping short of forming a common front with Lopez Obrador to overturn the presidential election.  

An important segment of Mexican society is taking the matter to the streets.  

Unlike 2006 when Lopez Obrador’s partisans spearheaded post-election protests against alleged fraud, the 2012 movement is attracting a broader segment of the population.  Expanding beyond the university students who launched the anti-Pena Nieto 132 Movement last May, the citizen protest now encompasses professionals, workers, housewives and older people as well as youth. 

On Saturday, July 7, the movement flexed its muscles with mass protests in dozens of cities not only in Mexico, but in Canada, the United States and Europe as well. 
Tens of thousands marched in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Monterrey, Puebla, Aguascalientes, Ciudad Juarez, Acapulco and elsewhere. In Cancun, young people led a march past large hotels in “frank violation” of a local ordinance that prohibits public  demonstrations in the tourist zone, according to a story in the daily El Universal newspaper.  

It should be noted that the Mexican Constitution, the product of the 1910 Revolution, guarantees citizens the right to freely express their views. 

In Mexico’s second most popular foreign tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, a fired-up crowd of hundreds marched through the streets and rallied at the downtown plaza. There speakers with megaphones led chants against Pena Nieto, 
the IFE and the Televisa television network accused of manipulating the election in favor of the PRI’s candidate.  

A cardboard coffin placed on the nearby Malecon proclaimed “R.I.P Mexican Democracy.”

Written in both Spanish and English, colorful signs railed against the political system and denounced fraud. Posters included quotes from Emiliano Zapata, Mark Twain, Malcolm X and the assassinated 1994 PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio speaking from the grave.  A university instructor and architect, Gabriel Perez called the subdued day of July 2, when no large celebrations in favor of Pena were visible anywhere, “a day of national mourning.” 

Puerto Vallarta resident Maria Chuy Villasenor said the IFE should respect its own rules and throw out the election. 

“We aren’t in agreement,” Villasenor told FNS. “The IFE is corrupt. The IFE has an obligation to be straight forward. It works for the people, not the government. They receive big salaries just to let us down.” 

Villasenor added that a proposal by La Jornada Jalisco columnist Salvador Cosio to require a second round of voting between the two top vote-getters in situations in which no candidate wins a 50 percent-plus majority, would probably be a good idea to put into practice. 

Ironically, the PRI reportedly might contest the Puerto Vallarta municipal election, which was also held on July 1. In a big upset win, Ramon “El Mochilas” Guerrero was declared the Pacific resort city’s new mayor when voters officially tossed out the PRI after three successive municipal administrations.  

Once identified with the conservative PAN, Guerrero jumped ship to become the mayoral candidate of the Citizen Movement party, an organization which was part of leftist leader Lopez Obrador’s electoral coalition. 

Feeding the passion of anti-Pena Nieto protesters is the widespread perception, with mounting evidence, that the presidential election was bought and sold. 

Reports of vote-buying and other irregularities continue trickling into FNS, including accounts of how potential voters in the state of Jalisco cards were shown cards that contained check-offs for social programs dedicated to single mothers, students and other sectors of the population. Interested persons were told they could select a program and cash in once the PRI’s Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval was elected governor. The young, former Guadalajara mayor was indeed declared the victor of the July 1 state election. 

Isabel Colmenares, a young mother and worker in Puerto Vallarta,  was the victim of a crime that could have political implications.  

In an interview, Colmenares described how she was waiting for a bus with her three-year-old daughter in a heavily-transited zone of Puerto Vallarta last June 22, when she reached for the fare only to have the wallet snatched from her hands by a young man who took off running; the theft occurred in broad daylight. 

In addition to losing all the money she had saved, Colmenares realized that her voter identification card was among the items stolen along with the wallet. With the elections approaching, she then attempted to get proof of voter eligibility from the IFE but was told that officials were too busy with other tasks to help at the late date. Subsequently, Colmenares did not vote. 

“It made me angry. I was never interested in politics like I was in the last few months,” she said of her experience. “I had hoped to give my vote to the person I wanted to win.” 

But Colmenares soon discovered that she was not the only person who suffered the sudden loss of a voter credential. In the 15 days prior to the election, Colmenares said three women friends, one in Mexico City and two others in Puerto Vallarta, also experienced the theft of wallets containing voter identification cards.  

The thwarted voter added that the type of robbery she endured in the busy heart of Puerto Vallarta is not common, and that she had not heard of any similar heists since the election. 

In recent weeks, reports of people paying cash for voter identification cards that could be used to fix elections were rife across Mexico.

On another front, stories continue to circulate about people unable to vote and/or observing irregularities at the special precincts set up for tourists and other out-of-towners. 

For instance, a regular reader of FNS, Graciela de la Rosa, wrote that she spent nearly seven hours in line before being able to cast her vote at a special precinct in Mexico City. Characterizing the scene inside the precinct as one of “total disorder and confusion,” de la Rosa said she observed people cutting in line while police from the nearby state of Mexico, the home base of Pena Nieto,  were on hand. “What were (Mexico state police) doing in the Federal District?” she wrote.      

A story which is getting a lot of play is a caper called Sorianagate, in reference to the huge Mexican department store chain. The modernization and digitalization of vote-buying, an electoral crime in Mexico, is the essence of Sorianagate.  

Lopez Obrador’s camp accuses the PRI of distributing more than one million Soriana gift cards to people residing in Mexico state in return for votes for Pena Nieto. 

As proof, the candidate’s staff presented thousands of the gift cards to the media and publicized recorded testimony backing the story, which gained currency after Soriana stores in Mexico state were jammed with thousands of people attempting to spend the cards. FNS also heard a credible account of a similar spending stampede at a Soriana outlet in Guadalajara. 

According to press versions, rumors had floated around that the PRI might cancel the cards after the elections. The air of a double fraud emerged when gift card holders complained that cards delivered as part of a highly dubious electioneering tactic actually contained far less value than they had been promised.  

The PRI denies the veracity of the Sorianagate claims, contending that a sore loser, Lopez Obrador, is puffing up the whole affair. 

Jorge Carlos Nunez, vice-coordinator of the Pena Nieto campaign, was quoted in the Reforma news service calling Lopez Obrador’s post-election posturing “political terrorism of the left” designed to get the candidate something by force that he couldn’t achieve at the ballot box. 

Soriana has also disassociated itself from political uses of the gift cards, though the growing scandal has already reverberated in the Mexican stock market, where company stock plummeted by almost five points last week, according to Reforma. Meanwhile, Soriana has withdrawn from circulation in its stores the current issue of the Proceso newsweekly that has a picture of Pena Nieto with the title “Bought Election” on the front cover. 

Lopez Obrador and company will likely include Sorianagate as one element of an expected election challenge with the Federal Electoral Tribunal. 

Under current election law, the Progressive Movement will have a tough time in overturning the July 1 presidential election. Many people consider Pena Nieto’s victory and eventual inauguration a done deal, and media pressure is growing for Lopez Obrador to bow to the winds of history. 

Columnist Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez wrote that the left should count its blessings and construct a responsible political opposition to help push for “the second generation of democratic reforms in the country.”

A quick glance at the reshuffled political map after the July 1 municipal, state and federal elections shows no party with an absolute majority in Congress, the PRI with a score of governorships and the left with not only its bastion of Mexico City but now the states of Morelos and Tabasco as well. The big loser was President Calderon’s PAN party, which suffered a political debacle of historic proportions. 

Sparked by the 132 Movement protests, the new citizen movement is the wild card in the emerging political scene.  Whether the mass movement can maintain its momentum and translate spontaneous street protests organized by the social networks into a coherent, lasting force is the transcendental  question at the moment. Proposals floating around the movement range the gamut from a boycotts of Soriana and Televisa advertisers to public intervention in the federal contracting process for two new television channels. Signs held aloof at the July 7 Puerto Vallarta demonstration simply read: “Surrender Prohibited.” 

-Kent Paterson 

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico



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Pena Nieto denies ‘fraudulent’ Mexico vote

The runner-up in Mexico’s presidential election has rejected Enrique Pena Nieto’s “fraudulent” victory, raising the spectre of protests that rocked Mexico City when he lost six years ago.

WHEN Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lost the 2006 presidential election by less than one per cent he claimed fraud and organised mass protests that paralysed Mexico City for more than a month.

The first official results from Sunday’s vote showed Lopez Obrador with 31 per cent of the vote against 38 per cent for Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – a much wider margin than six years ago.

“We cannot accept a fraudulent result, nobody can accept that,” Lopez Obrador, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) said at a press conference, decrying Sunday’s vote as a “filthy … national embarrassment.”

The PRI was synonymous with the Mexican state as it governed for seven decades until 2000 using a mixture of pervasive patronage, selective repression, rigged elections and widespread bribery.

Lopez Obrador claimed the PRI, through its national party and governors, spent millions of pesos buying votes. He also charged that the news media heavily favoured the PRI and that the party shattered campaign spending limits.

“We will provide evidence for these claims and will file appropriate legal action,” said Lopez Obrador, emphasising that he and his supporters will first scrutinise the balloting results with election officials.

He was coy about whether he would call for protests like in 2006, saying: “We’re going to wait.”

Students from the #Yosoy132 movement, however, did not wait. To the cry of “A Mexico without the PRI!” they expressed their anger in a Mexico City march over what they also described as “fraud” in Sunday’s vote.

City police said more than 25,000 protesters took to the streets on Monday in anger in the city’s upscale Polanco neighbourhood.

One of the protesters, 20-year-old Bruno Rebolledo, said the protest movement aimed for “a revolution, but not violent, one of ideas.”

Lopez Obrador said he “respects” the movement’s independence, and refrained from urging them to join his protests.

Pena Nieto earlier said today’s PRI was a party that respected democracy.

“There is no return to the past. This PRI that is coming into office has proven its democratic conviction,” the 45 year-old told foreign reporters.

Pena Nieto vowed to fight poverty and “re-examine” the country’s drug policies, but also called on the United States to enact immigration reform and do more to curtail demand for drugs.

He said he would create a new 40,000-strong National Gendarmerie to patrol the most violent areas and expand the federal police by 35,000 officers.

Pena Nieto has previously vowed to maintain Calderon’s unpopular strategy of using the military to attack the drug cartels and capture crime capos.

The war on the country’s powerful cartels in recent years has left a grisly trail of kidnappings, beheadings and mass graves, with the capture of a number of high-ranking kingpins having little effect on the spiralling death toll.

But the drug war – which has killed over 50,000 people during the presidency of Felipe Calderon – handed the PRI a new chance to prove itself.

The economy grew under Calderon, but so did poverty, with 47 per cent of 112 million Mexicans considered poor, according to official figures.

US President Barack Obama called on Monday to congratulate Pena Nieto, promising to advance “common goals” with Mexico, including “promoting democracy, economic prosperity and security,” according to a White House statement.

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Mexico President-elect Peña Nieto’s win is weaker than expected

A landslide failed to materialize and now Enrique Peña Nieto will have to negotiate with two opposition parties to push through his ambitious program.

By Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles TimesJuly 2, 2012, 7:14 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party is marching back into the presidential palace bolstered by its control of a raft of state governorships and a good standing in Congress.

But its mandate is much shakier than the party had predicted before Sunday’s election, reflecting the nagging suspicions with which many Mexicans regard the PRI and complicating President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s ability to execute an ambitious reform program.

He will have to negotiate with rival parties, including a newly empowered left, and will not have the free hand he might have expected as he pursues initiatives such as opening up the massive state oil company, Pemex, to foreign investment. Resistance from the opposition, as well as the old guard of his party and the unions that backed him, could block reforms and condemn Mexico to status quo and economic malaise.

PHOTOS: Mexico election

“His mandate is clearly weaker than expected,” said Carlos Ramirez, a Mexico analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group.

“He will be in a tough spot. The view inside the party was that they were going to win by a landslide…. Peña will have to choose his battles because he’s likely to encounter resistance from within his coalition.”

Peña Nieto will be handcuffed to some degree by the wariness with which voters viewed handing power back to his party, whose 70-year rule was characterized by rampant corruption and authoritarian practices. Despite his victory, 3 in 5 voters cast ballots for other parties.

“It would be in the PRI’s interest to read this victory with humility, that they won despite their limitations,” said Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a columnist with the newspaper Reforma. “The PRI is obliged now to show it can govern democratically. It must admit that the sources of this deep, stubborn lack of confidence are, in the end, healthy and necessary.”

Peña Nieto, who does not take office until December, appears to understand the pressure he is under to prove that the PRI has changed. Claiming victory shortly before midnight Sunday, and repeating it Monday in a meeting with reporters, he declared his future government “willing to listen, open to criticism.” What he will not do, he said, is “return to the past.”

In the Monday remarks, Peña Nieto also said he had received congratulatory messages from various heads of state, including a telephone call from President ObamaThe White House said the president “reiterated his commitment to working in partnership with Mexico and looks forward to advancing common goals, including promoting democracy, economic prosperity and security in the region and around the globe, in the coming years.”

Peña Nieto repeated his plans to reform Pemex, a potential political minefield. Nationalized in the 1930s, the oil giant occupies a special place in the Mexican psyche, but needs expensive investments to maintain the production that is a principal source of state revenue.

Some Mexicans regard adding foreign capital as an affront to national pride, and the oil company’s powerful unions also will object to any loss of jobs or control.

Peña Nieto also repeated his pledge to work to reduce the violence sweeping the country while continuing the fight against drug cartels. His proposed policies do not differ radically from those of the current president, Felipe Calderon.

“There will be no truce, no pact,” Peña Nieto said of the fight against drug cartels, alluding to suggestions that the PRI of the past made deals with traffickers in exchange for peace.

According to a nearly complete vote count, Peña Nieto won 38% of the vote, more than 6 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Even as voting booths were closing, PRI officials had predicted a double-digit margin, a forecast that many opinion polls bolstered.

The PRI did chalk up a couple of additional governorships, which is important for major reforms that require constitutional changes because states have to sign off on them. The legislative picture is less clear.

The complex machinery for dividing up the upper and lower houses of Congress was just getting started. It appeared that the PRI will have the most seats, but not the outright majority it had craved. That means the PRI will have to negotiate any new initiatives with Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party, which has emerged as the second political force in the nation, and Calderon’s badly trounced National Action Party.

Peña Nieto’s mandate is also undermined by his opponent’s refusal to accept defeat. Lopez Obrador, who finished in a stronger second place than expected, has said he will wait for final results and a legal review before conceding. In the 2006 presidential election, Lopez Obrador lost by less than a percentage point, and his refusal then to recognize the results unleashed a series of protests that paralyzed Mexico City.

On Monday, Lopez Obrador again stood firm, alleging that PRI supporters were guilty of massive fraud and vote-buying. Regardless, the left picked up two state governorships, will gain in Congress and appears newly energized.

Although not the margin it predicted, the PRI did appear to have won by a healthy enough difference to give it the kind of democratic legitimacy that PRI presidents in the days of rigged elections did not always enjoy, and more of a mandate than Calderon could claim after his razor-thin defeat of Lopez Obrador.

“He arrives with plenty of political capital,” Alfonso Zarate, a Mexico City political analyst, said of Peña Nieto. But “he has to consider that there are two significant opposition forces. The ballot boxes are saying that you won by a generous margin but there is an important group: Mexicans who voted for the other choices. You can’t ignore those choices.”

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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State Department: U.S. Needs To Better Track Human Trafficking Trends

Sec. of State Clinton released annual human trafficking report and signals that more work still to do.


The State Department released a report Tuesday that estimates 27 million people worldwide are victims of slavery, be it sex trafficking, indentured servitude, bonded labor or forced military service.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the 2012 Trafficking In Persons Report Tuesday, which sheds light on international human trafficking worldwide from the United States to North Korea.

While the report ranks countries like North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as some of the most egregious offenders of human rights, it also offers a unique perspective into the United States’ own problems regarding the problem.

“This report gives a clear and honest assessment of where all of us stand,” Clinton said Tuesday. “It takes a hard look at every government in our world including our own…It is important that we hold ourselves to the same standard as everyone else.”

The U.S. ranked as one of the most active in combating human trafficking, however, the report reveals the need for the U.S. to improve local, state and federal data collection techniques in order to monitor human trafficking trends.

Overall, the efforts of human trafficking advocates across the U.S. are helping combat the problem.

The Polaris Project, a non-profit focused on stopping human trafficking, reported last week that they received more than 19,000 phone calls in 2011 from people reporting instances of trafficking, wanting to learn more about the issue or requesting services for themselves.

“We received 64 percent more calls in 2011 than we did in 2010,” says Mary Ellison, the director of policy for the Polaris project. “We are seeing the scope is still there.”

All but one state in the U.S. has a statute against human trafficking and all 50 states have laws prohibiting underage prostitution.

In 2011, the Department of Justice and the FBI reached out to train more than 27,000 individuals on how to recognize and fight against trafficking in their communities.

The report also notes that last year, the government and advocacy groups helped more foreign victims attain T-visas, a non-immigrant status that allows victims to stay in the U.S. as they heal and access services than ever before.

In 2011, 557 foreigners and 722 family members took advantage of the visas, compared to the previous year’s numbers of 447 and 349.

The report also offered insight into the growing need for more support victim funding, which has remained stagnant.

Clinton said that since her time as secretary of state, she has had a chance to meet with victims who are “living, breathing reminders that the work to eradicate slavery [has not ended.]”

Earlier this year Clinton traveled to Kolkata, India where she stopped at a trafficking shelter and had a chance to meet a 10-year-old victim, who performed a self-defense routine for her.

“As she performed her routine, I was impressed with the skills she had learned; but more than that, I was moved by the pride in her eyes – her sense of accomplishment and strength,” Clinton said in the report.

Lauren Fox is a political reporter at U.S. News and Wold Report. Follow her on twitter  @foxreports or e-mail her at

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Tricks, Treats and Titillations: Mexico’s Elections in an Era of Climate and Culture Change

El Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador en confere...

El Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador en conferencia diaria celebrada en el Palacio del Ayuntamiento del Distrito Federal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Mexico’s political campaigns wind down in preparation for the big election day on July 1, mixed moods of doubt, anger, tension, confusion, excitement, exhaustion, resignation and hope grip the body politic. For the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the recapture of the presidency is within reach. At a June 24 campaign rally in the southern state of Guerrero, former Governor Rene Juarez Cisneros declared that his party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, was the virtual winner.

“It can’t be that millions of compatriots across the country are mistaken or that the polls are wrong,” Juarez said to thousands of people in the Pacific coast town of Zihuatanjeo. “Pena Nieto’s triumph is irreversible.”

Although the national discussion has largely focused on the upcoming federal, state and local elections, other significant developments have grabbed public attention in recent days.

Major stories include teacher strikes, the militarized Summit of the G-20 leaders in the posh resort of Los Cabos, the June 25 shoot-out at the Mexico City airport and the earlier arrest of the supposed son of fugitive crime boss Chapo Guzman, an event that proved to be false and left egg on the face of the Calderon administration, its Washington allies and presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Calderon’s center-right National Action Party (PAN). Informed of the arrest of a young man who later turned out to have no relation to Guzman, Vazquez vowed to press ahead with President Calderon’s campaign against organized crime if elected to replace him.

Extreme weather has been a big story this month. While drought continues sucking life out of the north of the country, heavy rains pound the south in places like Oaxaca and Guerrero, where Hurricane Carlotta reaped a path of destruction.

The 2012 elections occur at a time when Mexico is increasingly hard-pressed by climate change. The country could be roughly divided into the ¨brown zone¨ of north-central states, where a parched landscape prevails, and a “green zone” farther south, where lush hillsides and green mountain tops exude a bonanza of rain.

The transition zone is visible in the Guanajuato-Michoacan borderlands, where dry specks of earth give way to the last surviving small corn farms of the NAFTA era, plowed by old tractors, and bursts of greenery sparkle a land nourished by the sprinklings of rolling clouds. Although farmers in the north might be on their knees praying for rain, some producers in the south say the rain can bring serious headaches.

On a recent day, fishermen in Zihuatanejo, laid out their daily catch at the bayside market. A lone octopus sat motionless alongside piles of small red snapper, rock fish and other species. A 30-year veteran of the sea, Jorge Oregon told Frontera NorteSur that the rain is a double-edged sword. Last week, he said, fishermen were confined to land for several days because of Carlotta, and unable make money. “We slept all day and watched television,” Oregon said.

Oregon said weather and climate patterns have changed recently, contributing to economic problems connected to rising fuel costs and competition from new fishermen who took up the trade as other job opportunities dwindled. “The cyclones have come closer to the coast. Carlotta hit the land very quickly,” Oregon added.

One thing in common the landscape of both the north and the south share these days is the swath of large candidate billboards that line the main thoroughfares and highways, temporarily replacing the typical marketing symbols of tequila, perfume and cell phones.

To snag the vote, the campaigns are employing many innovative strategies and tactics.

In the central city of Aguascalientes, for example, Vazquez Mota’s campaign recently advertised an event that promised raffle prizes and examinations of the old pooch by veterinarians. The Mexican Green Party, which supports Pena Nieto for president, is distributing a glossy brochure that promises four free songs in exchange for texting a number with the simple word “yes.” Texters who send in an environmental policy proposal along with the names of five friends then have a chance to enter the coveted “Green Circle” and win a 2012 Toyota Prius Hybrid.

On a more risque note, some political forces are reaching out to what was once considered the margins of proper society.

In Aguascalientes, a pair of tight-bodied male dancers scantily dressed in bikins and headdresses moved their hips to an enthralled crowd on a weekend evening, shaking a stage thumping with electronic music in front of a big rainbow banner and under the big stone statue of the Mexican eagle with a snake in its mouth. The 12th annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender March and Fiesta was sponsored by Pena Nieto.

Next evening, in the same spot, the rival Citizen Movement party sponsored a hard and metal rock concert geared to the head-banging crowd. The event included a photographic show displaying works with strong suggestions of bestiality and sadomasochistic sex, complete with pieces portraying gagged women, grotesque dolls and ghostly faces.

A last-minute media barrage on the airwaves, on the Internet and on the streets is climaxing the different races.

Frontera NorteSur received an e-mail that slammed the Progressive Movement’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a dangerous threat to the Catholic religion. According to the message, Lopez Obrador vowed to close church parishes in comments made in Silao, Guanajuato.

“This attack joins a series of actions that assault our beliefs, our families and our values,” read the e-mail. “Remember that in the Federal District (Mexico City) the left represents the legalization of abortion, an abomination that goes against our defense of life, and approved marriage between persons of the same sex and the possibility that they could adopt children.”

Frontera NorteSur sent a reply to the author(s) of the e-mail requesting clarification of sources of information and the origins of the person or persons behind the message, but received no answer. To the best of this reporter’s knowledge, Lopez Obrador has never made statements like the ones attributed to him by the mysterious e-mail.

In Zihuatanejo, meanwhile, cars and trucks with loud sound systems blaring support for rival mayoral candidates Eric Fernandez (son of a previous mayor) and Gustavo Garcia constantly prowl the streets, adding to an audio ambience usually punctuated by yelping dogs, chatty parrots, Colombian salsa and newspaper vendors hawking the gore of the latest narco execution.

Virtually uncovered in the U.S. press and given secondary treatment in the Mexican national media, the local and state elections will have important consequences for the distribution of power during the next several years, especially considering the enhanced autonomy of municipal and state governments in relation to federal authority.

Early on the morning of June 24, workmen busily assembled a sound system and draped giant banners in the town’s beachside basketball court in anticipation of the arrival of a “mega march” promoting Pena Nieto, Eric Fernandez, city council candidates and local PRI hopefuls for the federal Congress, most of whom reflect an upward  recycling of the political class.

As the event unfolded later in the day, hundreds of people mobbed two parked trucks for free cup covers, t-shirts, student notebooks and the bingo-like lottery game, all containing messages and symbols for Pena Nieto and the PRI. Free soft drinks and bottled water complemented the hand-outs.

Appearing on a stage of politicians with his daughter, Fernandez said he was grateful for a successful campaign that drew support from sectors of nominally rival political parties. “This isn’t only a project of the PRI,” Fernandez pledged. “We’ve agreed that together we will build a better Zihuatanejo.”

Former Governor Rene Juarez assumed a more combative stance, laying into opponents he did not name for raising the specter of an imminent election fraud and attempting to buy votes with construction materials, refrigerators and stoves. The goods are purchased in Mexico City, Juarez charged without offering specific proof. “If they have to do it, they should buy them here so the money stays in the municipality instead of going to Mexico,” he added.

in 1999 Juarez’s own gubernatorial victory was marred by widespread charges of vote-buying engineered by his own campaign,  prompting a large protest march to Mexico City by followers of losing candidate Felix Salgado of the PRD.

Juarez’s discourse shifted to a more conciliatory tone when he expressed “solidarity” with the families of the 28 people killed and 30 injured when their bus plunged off a Guerrero cliff while headed to a rival campaign event on June 24.

The Zihuatenajo PRI event was light on political talk and heavy on cheering, applauding and dancing to the music of a large, brass-based band that belted out norteña and corrido music. The principal candidates made no mention of the precarious public safety situation locals complain about in conversations.

A Fernandez-Pena Nieto information sheet included a 2012 calendar, quotes from Winston Churchill and Octavio Paz and a recipe for a fruity, nutty dish called capirotada.

A poll taken by local barber Rigo Perez, whose hair-cutting political surveys have repeatedly exhibited an uncanny accuracy in previous elections, shows Fernandez burying rival Garcia by a landslide, and also hands the local seat of the federal Chamber of Deputies to former Zihuatanejo Mayor Alejandro Bravo of the PRI who is up against the PRD’S Silvano Blanco, another ex-mayor of the international tourist town.

Back on the boob tube, a last-minute saturation of candidate spots includes Pena Nieto jumping from scene-to-scene with superimposed pictures of polls that show him ahead, though none of the surveys surpasses a 50 percent majority.

On Corona beer’s Saturday night boxing spectacular in which upstart Josesito Lopez scored a technical knock-out against Victor Ortiz for a welterweight championship after a long and sometimes dirty slugfest, fans were treated to new ads that proclaimed Vazquez Mota as simply “the best”  in between low-angle shots of chicas Corona.

With each passing day, talk of possible electoral fraud grows. A grab-bag of election tricks distilled during the 1929-2000 rule of the PRI has given birth to a colorful political vocabulary that describes fraudulent techniques of voter suppression, voter invention, vote-buying, ballot box stuffing and more.

Operation Tamale refers to the practice of gathering a large group of people together for breakfast and then transporting them en masse to the polls to vote in return for payments. A bit more complicated, Operation Carousel consists of having a voter deposit a blank piece of paper in the voting booth while exiting with a real ballot that is then ferried off site to be marked then dropped off in time for the count.

Last week, Lopez Obrador demanded that the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) prohibit cell phones in voting booths. In the 2006 presidential race that Lopez Obrador claims he was robbed of winning, the use of cell phones in vote buying was partially exposed. In this scheme, voters are asked to take a picture of their ballot and return it to a political operator in exchange for money.

In response to Lopez Obrador’s demand, the IFE determined that it did not have the power to ban cell phones from the polling stations or “search” voters, according to an official quoted in Proceso magazine.

In a June 21 communique, the IFE said it will “realize necessary actions to guarantee the free and secret suffrage of citizens.” The federal agency added that it will post the locations of public prosecutors on its website, as well as publicize a 1-800 number citizens can call to denounce election crimes.

There is little doubt among political observers that fraudulent practices already have or will happen in the 2012 elections. The big question is whether the illegalities will be widespread and numerous enough to affect outcomes.

Sergio Aguayo, longtime activist with the pioneering election observation organization Civic Alliance, contended on a Mexican television talk show that the special elections crime division of the federal attorney general’s office does not have the will or capacity to effectively combat fraud. In  Aguayo’s view, the political parties in charge of the Mexican Congress, which all benefit to one degree or another from election trickery, likewise do not have the necessary commitment to clean up the political dust from the past and the present.

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Holder retracts claim Bush team knew about Fast and Furious

In a second major retraction over its version of the the gun-walking scandal, the Justice Department has retracted Attorney General Eric Holder’s charge in a hearing last week that his Bush administration predecessor had been briefed on the affair.

In a memo just released by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa senator reveals that Holder also didn’t apologize to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey for dragging him into the Fast & Furious scandal that is headed for a major legal clash and likely contempt of Congress charge against Holder.

According to Grassley’s memo, Justice said that Holder “inadvertently” made the charge against Mukasey in a hearing.

Here is the full text of the Grassley memo:

To: Reporters and Editors

Re: Second retraction of Fast and Furious Assertions

Da: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder “inadvertently” made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation. This is the second major retraction the Justice Department has made in the last seven months. In December 2011, the Department retracted its claim that the ATF had not allowed illegally purchased guns to be trafficked to Mexico. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s letter and the Department’s response can be viewed here-1.

In addition, the Justice Department released only one page of additional material prior to the Attorney General’s meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. It is a page of handwritten notes by a public affairs specialist for the Deputy Attorney General, which the Department says it “just recently discovered.” The notes indicate that when Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein met with senior ATF officials on April 28, 2010, regarding the problem of gunwalking in Wide Receiver, the Deputy Attorney General’s public affairs specialist also attended the meeting. These notes can be viewed here-2.

The notes indicate that Fast and Furious was also a topic discussed at the meeting, in addition to Wide Receiver. These notes further corroborate contemporaneous emails in 2010 that show Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer and Weinstein seemed to have been more concerned about the press implications of gunwalking than they were about making sure ATF ended the practice. (These emails can be viewed here-3.) The notes also undermine the claim that senior DOJ officials failed to “make the connection” between the gunwalking in Wide Receiver–which Breuer admitted to knowing about–and gunwalking in Fast and Furious. In fact, both cases were discussed by senior Department leadership and senior ATF leadership.

Grassley made the following comment on these developments.

“This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

“In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own Department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.”

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