Mexico: Year of the Grasshopper

Mexican general election, 2006

Mexican general election, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politics News 

Mexico: Year of the Grasshopper 

As Mexico enters the final weeks of the 2012 election campaign, the grasshoppers are hopping about the land. In Mexican political lingo, a chapulin, or grasshopper, is a person who jumps from one political party to another, even if the two organizations are diametrically opposed in ideology. On June 5, the secretary-general of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the strategic state of Guerrero became the latest politico to switch sides. 

A 15-year PRI veteran,  Flor del Carmen Sotelo resigned from her party and announced she was joining the political coalition that backs Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) for president. The same parties supporting the former Mexico City mayor in the presidential race are also running candidates for local offices in Acapulco and other municipalities under the banner of the Guerrero Unites Us coalition.  

Criticizing the treatment of women in the PRI, Sotelo also said the party had become alienated from popular causes and no longer represented a “democratic option.” 

In a press conference, Sotelo acknowledged to a reporter that her political aspirations to serve in the Mexican Congress had been frustrated within the PRI, and that she might be interested in a future candidacy with one of the pro-AMLO center-left parties. 

“I understood the commitments, the agreements, but I always expected another offer from the inside of my party, which did not happen,” Sotelo said of her frustrations with the PRI. 

For now, Sotelo has accepted a job as state coordinator of strategic alliances for Guerrero Unites Us. The former PRI leader was joined at her Acapulco media briefing by other coalition leaders and supporters, including Luis Walton, Guerrero Unites Us candidate for Acapulco mayor; senatorial candidate Sofio Ramirez Hernandez; Felix Salgado Macedonio, longtime PRD politician and a former mayor of Acapulco; and others. 

Sotelo’s defection came at a moment when some polls show AMLO catching up with long-time, presumed front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI-Green Party coalition. In fact, a poll conducted for Grupo Reforma, a media organization not known in the past for its sympathies with AMLO, showed a virtual dead-heat between the left-leaning candidate and Pena Nieto. 

Released late last month, the poll showed Pena Nieto with 38 percent of the vote, Lopez Obrador with 34 percent, Josefina Vasquez Mota of President Calderon’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) with 23 percent, and the National Alliances’s Gabriel Quadri with 5 percent. 

The same poll showed Lopez Obrador ahead of Pena Nieto in the populous regions of central and southern Mexico, where the majority of the electorate resides. 

The four presidential candidates are scheduled to engage in what is expected to be their second and last nationally-televised debate on Sunday, June 10. 

Meantime, Pena Nieto counts a few grasshoppers of his own. Rosario Robles, a former Mexico City mayor and one-time leftist leader, helped lead a recent march of thousands of women on behalf of Pena Nieto in Chihuahua City.  Robles said Pena Nieto was the best option for curbing the violence that has devastated Chihuahua and other regions of Mexico, and represented the best choice for the “young, our older adults and women.” 

>From the right, Pena Nieto has picked up the support of former PAN President Manuel Espino, who claims to lead an organization of ex-Panistas supporting the PRI’s standard-bearer.  Last weekend, however, Espino was temporarily diverted from the campaign trail after he was arrested and briefly jailed in Mexico City on a drunk driving charge. 

Sources. El Sur, June 6, 2012. Article by Karina Contreras.El Diario de Juarez, June 5, 2012. Milenio.com, June 3, 2012. Article by Juan Jose Garcia Amaro. Proceso/Apro,  June 2, 2012. Article by Jesusa Cervantes. Lapolaka/Notimex, June 2, 2012.Nortedigital.mx, June 1, 2012. 

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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Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa to Keynote Immigration Conference

University of Texas at El Paso

University of Texas at El Paso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again, New Mexico State University (NMSU) will host a timely summer immigration conference. Drawing seasoned scholars from different backgrounds and institutions, the conference plans on delving into many issues that remain unresolved in spite of years of political debate and posturing on both sides of the border.

Keynoting the June 17-22 series of talks and community events will be award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, Public Broadcasting Service veteran and host of the long-running radio show “Latino USA” aired on many National Public Radio-affiliated stations. The daughter of immigrants, Hinojosa’s June 18 speech is entitled “Stories from the Frontlines: Detention, Deportation and the New America.”

In a series of panels, scholars from the United States and Mexico will explore topics including the relationship between security policies and immigration, education and immigration, legacies of the old Bracero Program, human trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border, and enforcement policies. A presentation by Jose Villalobos of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will examine the gap between the Obama administration’s promises and immigrant deportation.

According to conference organizers, the gathering “focuses on the social impacts of border enforcement and discusses the challenges facing community organizations as they seek to promote dialogue and alternative approaches based on respect for human rights…”

The participating scholars and community leaders include Neil Harvey, head of New Mexico State University’s Department of Government;  Susan Tiano, director of the University of New Mexico’s Latin American and Iberian Institute; Alvaro Martinez of the Autonomous University of Chiapas;  Luis Alfonso Herrera of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez;  Diana Bustamante, executive director of the Las Cruces-based Colonias Development Council; and Kathleen Staudt and Lizely Madrigal-Gonzalez of UTEP’s Department of Political Science, among many others.

As part of the organizers’ goal of connecting community with academia, some participants will visit Chaparral, a low-income community with a large immigrant population in southern New Mexico’s Dona Ana County, and meet with staff members and farmworkers at the Border Agricultural Workers Center in neighboring El Paso, Texas.

All the conference panels, which are scheduled to take place at the Corbett Center Auditorium at the heart of the NMSU campus, are free and open to the public. Spanish and English translation will be available.

For conference details, interested readers can go to the following website: http://immigration.nmsu.edu

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DREAM Relief a Game Changer?

President Barack Obama is welcomed by Mexico's...

President Barack Obama is welcomed by Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Obama’s June 15 announcement of temporary deportation stays for eligible undocumented youth under 30 years of age not only immediately changed hundreds of thousands of lives,  but also dropped a new ingredient and possible game changer into the political pot of the 2012 elections.  

Sentiments of deep personal  relief were detectable in the words of Johana Perez,  a New Mexico high school student who came to the U.S.  when she was only two years old. “This joyful day means that as a high school student,  I now have more options to realize my potential,” Perez said in a statement distributed by Somos un Pueblo Unido, a New Mexico immigrant and labor advocacy organization.  “I have been living with the fear of being separated from my parents and going back to a country I don’t know.”  

Many organizations backing the passage of the long-stalled DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth enrolled in higher education or  serving in the military,  greeted President Obama’s announcement  with emotion,  praising the White House’s new posture while lauding the pivotal role of undocumented youth who  have waged public protests, marches, hunger strikes and Congressional lobbying campaigns for more than a decade.

“Today we have tears of joy,” declared Lorella Praeli, member of the United We Dream National Coordinating Committee.  

Marcela Diaz, Somos un Pueblo Unidos’ executive director, said the White House action built on and validated the “foresight”  of  policy-makers in her state who chose to “integrate immigrants, rather than alientate them”  by permitting undocumented students in higher education to pay in-state tuition and making them eligible for financial aid.    

In addition to delaying deportation proceedings for two years,  the Obama Administration’s administrative action allows eligible undocumented youth to apply for work permits. 

Dr. David Fleming, senior pastor of the Champion Baptist Church in Houston, characterized the decision as a “humane and common-sense decision on behalf of the children who were brought here through no action or fault of their own.” This week, 150 evangelical leaders came together to launch the Evangelical Immigration Table in support of reform.

On the other side of the coin, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio dismissed Obama’s announcement as “pure politicking.”

Indeed, as the 2012 U.S. election season heats up, Obama’s action is likely to have political repercussions and could even influence the outcome of the presidential and other races at both the national and state levels. 

Coming close to the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law,  the DREAM decision could enhance the importance of the immigration question in the U.S. elections and make it a bigger issue than might have  been the case.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful who had earlier pledged to veto the DREAM Act if elected to the presidency,  judged the June 15 announcement as a problematic one for a long-term solution to the immigration controversy. “I would prefer laws,” Romney said. 

But the  DRM Capitol Group said the pressure is now on the Republicans to “come more aggressively to the immigration negotiation table” in order to find a viable, “permanent legislative fix”  to the status of millions of residents in legal and political limbo.  “We will ensure that people go out to vote to keep the executive order alive,” vowed  Caesar Vargas, managing partner of  the DRM Capitol Group.

The Obama Administration’s action quickly rippled across borders,  garnering  international attention and commentary. The news was splashed across the front page of the Mexico City daily La Jornada and the subject of extensive coverage on CNN en Espanol and Mexican television networks. 

Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised the White House for undertaking a “brave” initiative, while Salvadoran Chancellor Hugo Martinez said the new U.S.  policy answered his country’s petition to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano  to show flexibility with certain groups of immigrants. “We are pleased,” Martinez added. According to Human Rights Watch, the DREAM policy shift now brings the U.S. in line with nations that “require consideration of a person’s positive attachments to a country of residence in deportation decisions.” 

While welcoming the news on the DREAM front, some U.S. pro-immigrant activists urged caution. 

Nataly  Ibarra, a 17-year-old high school student in Atlanta who was arrested for protesting the Georgia state immigration law last year, told a CNN interviewer that she was happy about Obama’s move but skeptical of the motives. ” I think (Obama) is saying this so (Latinos)  will trust him and go out to vote for him again, ” Ibarra said, adding that earlier adminsitration pledges to scrutinize deportations had not been fulfilled.  A native of Mexico City who was brought to El Norte when she was four years old,  Ibarra asserted that stronger administrative action was needed in ending  deportations.    

The Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) noted that the June 15 announcement followed recent occupations of Obama campaign offices by DREAM activists. “Make no mistake, DREAMers made this happen,” RITA said in a statement.  The group unites pro-immigrant organizations from El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Brownsville San Juan, and Harlingen.  “Even if this promise is kept, it is not enough,” RITA  insisted. “True immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants is the only solution.”

Additional sources: La Jornada, June 16, 2012. Articles by AFP, DPA and editorial staff. CNN en Espanol, June 15 and 16, 2012.  Milenio Noticias, June 15 and 16, 2012. Televisa, June 15, 2012. 

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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Adding to Unease of a Drug War Alliance

By 

MEXICO CITY — The biggest military corruption case here in recent years has worsened an already frayed relationship between American law enforcement officials and the Mexican Army, the institution most trusted and empowered by officials here to fight the drug war.

The case involves the arrests this month of four formerly high-ranking army officers, including a former under secretary of defense, who are suspected of passing information to the Beltrán Leyva drug gang for money. For some Americans, the arrests confirm a longstanding wariness of the army, and have reawakened concerns about how closely it may be linked to the gang, one of the top traffickers of cocaine to the United States and a particular focus of American drug agents.

American exasperation with the army reached a high point in 2009 when, fed up with what they saw as unusual foot-dragging by the army after it failed to act on American intelligence on the leader of Beltrán Leyva, the Americans turned to the Mexican Navy for help. The ensuing raidturned into a publicity coup for the navy when the gang leader was killed.

A meeting last year between American law enforcement agents and Mexican Army commanders to try to work through their differences ended abruptly. “It was basically 15 minutes, hello and goodbye,” said one official with knowledge of the meeting.

Much of what doomed it were bad feelings over leaked diplomatic cables from the American ambassador at the time, Carlos Pascual, who had vented about the army’s refusal to go after the Beltrán Leyva gang more aggressively. Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderón, were outraged, and Mr. Pascual eventually resigned.

Now, several current and former American officials agreed, the detention of three generals and a lieutenant colonel accused of supplementing their government salaries with drug profits has shaken the officer corps.

“The D.E.A. 99 percent of the time is going to deal with Mexican law enforcement, not the military,” said Michael Braun, a former chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He recited a series of army-related corruption cases, including the 1997 conviction, on organized-crime charges, of a former general who was the country’s drug czar.

Still, American officials professed to be as puzzled as anybody else about why the military officers had been detained now, after three, including Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, the former defense under secretary, left the military; one, a general, was on active duty. It was unclear, the American officials said, if there was some hidden urgency or if the arrests merely reflected turmoil in the army ahead of the July 1 presidential election and the victor’s eventual appointment of new leadership at the Defense Ministry. Prosecutors have not divulged much about the case.

The army has played a pivotal, if reluctant, role — commanders have privately complained that they have no police training and that soldiers are too exposed to drug traffickers — in the antidrug offensive that Mr. Calderón began in 2006. Nearly 50,000 soldiers have fanned out across the country, confronting traffickers, seizing drug labs and burning marijuana crops, often replacing local police officers too corrupt or ill prepared to do their jobs.

In turning to the army, Mr. Calderón relied on one of the institutions that the Mexican public trusts most, ranked closely behind the Roman Catholic Church and universities in a survey last year by Consulta Mitofsky, a polling group.

The Americans, too, however warily, have supported the Mexican Army through a $1.4 billion antidrug program, known as the Merida Initiative, providing the army eight helicopters and training while American military officers seek to tighten bonds with their Mexican counterparts, particularly for counterterrorism efforts.

But awkward, tense encounters between American law enforcement agents and the Mexican Army are common, and they tend to themselves as distant cousins who have told ugly family stories about each other.

Few have been uglier than the case against the former officers accused of working for the Beltrán Leyva gang, known for its success in using violence and payments to corrupt and intimidate politicians, the police and, it now appears, members of the army.

The 2009 killing of the gang’s leader “will not solve Mexico’s drug problem,” Mr. Pascual wrote in one cable, “but it will hopefully generate the momentum necessary to make sustained progress against other drug trafficking organizations.”

The sensitivity over that raid by the navy, and Mr. Pascual’s criticism, remains. Reluctant to antagonize a potential partner, no American official wished to be quoted by name commenting on the case of the detained generals or the state of the relationship.

From time to time, army insiders have fed tips to the Americans on generals believed to be dirty, but rarely has the Mexican government acted on them, current and former law enforcement officials said. The Reforma newspaper said 12 generals since 2000 had been accused of ties to organized crime.

American officials said that even though some of the intelligence they had passed on to Mexico about the Beltrán Leyva organization may have figured in the generals’ detention, they were not active participants in it.

“This is a Mexican investigation,” a senior State Department official said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 1, 2012

An article on Wednesday about the worsening relationship between American law-enforcement officials and the Mexican Army because of the biggest military corruption case in Mexico in recent years misstated the type of salaries paid to three generals and a lieutenant colonel accused of supplementing their official incomes with drug profits. They receive government — not civil servant — salaries.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 30, 2012, on page A4 of the New York Times edition with the headline: Adding to Unease of a Drug War Alliance.

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In Bad Company: Mexico Arrests Three Army Generals, U.S. War for Drugs Continues

United States President Barack Obama meets Mex...

United States President Barack Obama meets Mexico President Felipe Calderón. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Tom Burghardt / May 28th, 2012

Earlier this month, the Mexican government arrested three high-ranking Army generals “including a former second in command at the Defense Ministry,” the New York Times reported.

According to multiple press reports, Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, who retired in 2008, was an under secretary at the Defense Ministry during the first two years of President Felipe Calderón’s “war” against some narcotrafficking cartels and had even been mentioned as a “possible choice for the top job.”

The Times disclosed that in the early 1990s Ángeles “served as the defense attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Washington,” a plum position with plenty of perks awarded to someone thought by his Pentagon brethren to have impeccable credentials; that is, if smoothing the way the for drugs to flow can be viewed as a bright spot on one’s résumé.

The other top military men detained in Mexico City were “Brig. Gen. Roberto Dawe González, assigned to a base in Colima State, and Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas, who is retired.”

Reuters reported that “Dawe headed an army division in the Pacific state of Colima, which lies on a key smuggling route for drugs heading to the United States, and had also served in the violent border state of Chihuahua.”

When queried at a May 18 press conference in Washington, “whether and to what extent” these officers participated in the $1.6 billion taxpayer-financed boondoggle known as the Mérida Initiative or had received American training, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Robert L. Ditchey II tersely told reporters, “We are not going to get into those specifics.”

Inquiring minds can’t help but wonder what does the Pentagon, or certain three-lettered secret state agencies, have to hide?

CIA-Pentagon Death Squads

Although little explored by corporate media, the CIA and Defense Department’s role in escalating violence across Mexico is part of a long-standing strategy by American policy planners to deploy what the late Col. L. Fletcher Prouty called The Secret Team, “skilled professionals under the direct control of someone higher up.” According to Prouty, “Team members are like lawyers and agents, they work for someone. They generally do not plan their work. They do what their client tells them to do.”

In the context of the misbegotten “War on Drugs,” that “client” is the U.S. government and the nexus of bent banks, crooked cops, shady airplane brokers, chemical manufacturers, and spooky defense and surveillance firms who all profit from the chaos they help sustain.

As Narco News disclosed last summer, “A small but growing proxy war is underway in Mexico pitting US-assisted assassin teams composed of elite Mexican special operations soldiers against the leadership of an emerging cadre of independent drug organizations that are far more ruthless than the old-guard Mexican ‘cartels’ that gave birth to them.”

“These Mexican assassin teams now in the field for at least half a year, sources tell Narco News, are supported by a sophisticated US intelligence network composed of CIA and civilian US military operatives as well as covert special-forces soldiers under Pentagon command–which are helping to identify targets for the Mexican hit teams.”

“So it should be no surprise,” Bill Conroy wrote, “that information is now surfacing from reliable sources indicating that the US government is once again employing a long-running counter-insurgency strategy that has been pulled off the shelf and deployed in conflicts dating back to Vietnam in the 1960s, in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, and beyond, and in more recent conflicts, such as in Iraq.”

That strategy, as numerous journalists and researchers have reported, provides specialized training and heavy-weapons to neocolonial clients that the imperial Godfather believes will do their bidding. More often than not however, there are serious consequences for doing so.

As the Brownsville Herald revealed nearly a decade ago, the Zetas were the former enforcement arm of Juan García Ábrego’s Gulf Cartel; then Mexico’s richest and most powerful drug trafficking organization.

During the 1980s, the Gulf group negotiated an alliance with Colombia’s Cali Cartel, amongst the CIA’s staunchest drug-trafficking allies during the Iran-Contra period. By the 1990s, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office estimated that the organization handled as much as “one-third of all cocaine shipments” into the United States from their suppliers and were worth an estimated $10 billion.

But as the Herald disclosed, the Zetas, now considered by the U.S. government to be the “most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico” were “once part of an elite division of the Mexican Army, the Special Air Mobile Force Group. At least one-third of this battalion’s deserters was trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., according to documents from the Mexican secretary of defense.”

By 2010, the Zetas had broken with their former Gulf partners to become one of the most formidable, and brutal, DTOs in the area. According to published reports, the organization’s core operatives include corrupt former federal, state and local police officers, renegade soldiers and ex-Kabiles, the CIA and Pentagon-trained Special Forces of the Guatemalan military, responsible for horrendous atrocities during that country’s U.S.-sponsored “scorched earth” campaign against leftist guerrillas; a war which killed an estimated 250,000 people, largely at the hands of the military and right-wing death squads.

Perhaps this is one reason why the Pentagon “won’t get into” the “specifics” behind the generals’ recent arrests, nor will the Justice Department come clean about the “quid-pro-quo immunity deal with the US government in which they [the Sinaloa Cartel] were guaranteed protection from prosecution in exchange for providing US law enforcers and intelligence agencies with information that could be used to compromise rival Mexican cartels and their operations,” as Narco News reported.

While the implications of these policies may be scandalous to the average citizen, they’re part of a recurring pattern, one might even say a modus operandi reproduced ad nauseam.

More than three decades ago we learned from Danish journalist Henrik Krüger in The Great Heroin Coup, that the CIA was at the center of the “remarkable shift from Marseilles (Corsican) to Southeast Asian and Mexican (Mafia) heroin in the United States,” and that the legendary take-down of the “French Connection” actually represented “a deliberate move to reconstruct and redirect the heroin trade… not to eliminate it.” (emphasis added)

A similar process is underway in Mexico today as drug distribution networks battle it out for control over the multibillion dollar market flooding Europe and North America with processed cocaine from South America’s fabled Crystal Triangle. In fact, the illicit trade would be nigh impossible without official complicity and corruption, on both sides of the border, and at the highest levels of what sociologist C. Wright Mills called the Power Elite.

Without batting an eye however, the Times told us that the arrest of Mexico’s top “drug fighting” generals “is sure to rattle American law enforcement and military officers, who in the best of times often work warily with their Mexican counterparts, typically subjecting them to screening for any criminal ties.”

Really?

Not if a U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Field Manual (FM 3-05.130), titled Unconventional Warfare, serves as a guide for the Pentagon’s current strategic thinking on the conflict in Mexico. Published in 2008 by WikiLeaks, the anonymous authors informed us that:

Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political “undesirables.” (Unconventional Warfare, p. 1-3)

From this perspective such “irregular forces” sound suspiciously like today’s army of professional contract killers or sicarios, who act as mercenaries for the cartels and as political enforcers for local elites.

According to carefully-crafted media fairy tales, we’re to believe that unlike corrupt Federal and local police, the Army, which has deployed nearly 50,000 troops across Mexico are somehow magically immune to the global tide of corruption associated with an illicit trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

However, ubiquitous facts on the ground tell a different tale. Like their U.S. counterparts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Mexican Army stands accused of serious human rights violations. And, like marauding U.S. imperial invaders, Mexico’s Army regularly carry out illegal detentions, extortion, extrajudicial killings, torture along with the “disappearance” of indigenous and left-wing activists.

Indeed, like their American and NATO counterparts in Afghanistan today, some elements within the Mexican Army have forged highly-profitable alliances with drug traffickers, especially among organized crime groups afforded “cover” by the CIA. But unlike the global godfathers in Washington however, Mexican authorities have brought criminal charges against corrupt officials.

In the Times’ report we’re informed that “a retired general, Juan Manuel Barragán Espinosa, was detained in February, accused of having leaked information to a drug gang. Another general, Manuel Moreno Avina, and several soldiers he commanded are on charges of murder, torture and drug trafficking in a border town in northern Mexico.”

The Houston Chronicle disclosed that the “investigation of the generals reportedly was spurred by informants’ testimony linked to the August 2010 arrest of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, the Laredo native known as La Barbie who served as the Beltran Leyva’s top enforcer.”

According to the Chronicle, “accusations of political motivation–by the generals’ wives, lawyers and others–have been raised because of prosecutors’ nearly two-year delay in acting on the informant’s testimony and because the arrests come less than six weeks ahead of Mexico’s presidential elections.”

In fact, just days before being taken into custody, Ángeles “participated in a national security conference organized by supporters of presidential front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.”

But Ángeles’ inconvenient arrest just weeks before contentious national elections isn’t the only problem that PRI front-runner Peña Nieto has to worry about.

The Associated Press reported that Peña Nieto’s one-time ally, the former governor of the violence-plagued state of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba, has been accused in a civil action filed by federal prosecutors in Texas that he “‘acquired millions of dollars in payments’ while in public office from drug cartels ‘and from various extortion or bribery schemes’.”

“Yarrington,” AP disclosed, “then used various front men and businesses ‘to become a major real estate investor through various money laundering mechanisms,’ according to documents filed in Corpus Christi.”

The former governor “was also named earlier this year in the federal indictment of Antonio Peña Arguelles, who was also charged with money laundering in San Antonio. That indictment alleged that leaders of the Gulf and Zetas cartels paid millions to Institutional Revolutionary Party members, including Yarrington,” AP reported.

Curiously enough however, that AP report failed to mention Yarrington’s close political ties to politicians on this side of the border. Indeed, according to Digital Journal writer Lynn Herrmann, “Yarrington was at Texas Governor Rick Perry’s swearing into office for his first full term in 2003. Prior to that, the Tamaulipas governor was a recipient of a Texas Senate resolution honoring him.”

“Even closer was the relationship between Yarrington and President George W. Bush,” Herrmann wrote, “a relationship apparently developed when junior was governor of Texas. In 2000, the Los Angeles Times quoted Bush as saying, ‘Tomás is terrific, worked with him a lot’.”

Now why wouldn’t the AP report that?!

While one cannot dismiss that political motivations may lie behind the arrests, salient facts coloring these latest examples of drug war shenanigans again betray that this phony war is being waged not to stamp-out the grim trade but over who controls it.

Another Day, Another Bent General

The arrests were hardly precedent setting if truth be told. Indeed, the best known case of collaboration between the Army and the Cartels was that of Gen. José de Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo.

After having risen in the ranks to become a Three-Star Divisional Commander in the 1990s, Gutiérrez was appointed by the Attorney General of Mexico during the reign of President Ernesto Zedillo, currently a director of the drug-tainted financial black hole Citigroup, accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug money for Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the brother of Carlos Salinas, the former president of Mexico. With powerful connections, the general became that country’s top-ranking drug interdiction officer as head of the Instituto Nacional para el Combate a las Drogas (INCD).

From his perch, Gutiérrez had access to intelligence provided to the government by Mexican and U.S. secret state agencies. The treasure trove of data available to the general and his patrons included files on antidrug investigations, wiretaps on cartel leaders and informant identities.

There was just one small problem.

After receiving a tip that Gutiérrez had moved into an upscale Mexico City neighborhood in an apartment “whose rent could not be paid for with the wage received by a public servant,” the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation.

It turned out that Gutiérrez had moved into palatial digs owned by a confederate of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the legendary head of the Juárez Cartel and “Lord of the Heavens.” The drug lord earned that moniker because he moved vast quantities of cocaine into the U.S. aboard a fleet of airplanes purchased from bent brokers on the American side of the border. This too is a recurring pattern, as Daniel Hopsicker revealed during his investigation into the secret history of a fleet of fifty drug planes bought with hot money laundered through U.S. banks.

During the course of their investigation, Mexican authorities obtained a recording of Gutiérrez and Carrillo Fuentes which discussed payments to the General; remuneration for his role in leaving the Juárez Cartel alone, then Mexico’s largest drug corporation.

In a 1997 interview with The Boston Globe, Francisco Molina, the former head of the anti-narcotics unit, said that during the change of command, “he personally handed over to Gutiérrez all of Mexico’s ‘most delicate’ drug-fighting information.”

“The files included thousands of documents on open investigations,” the Globereported, “pending operations, wire taps and voluminous material on Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the trafficker to whom Gutiérrez was linked.”

That information, Molina said, “places many people at risk, and it throws into the garbage the huge amount of resources, money, and time that were spent” on operations. “It’s like letting the enemy in to dig around in the files.”

And with the U.S. State Department poised to expand the Mexican secret state’s access to the latest in communications’ intercept technologies asAntifascist Calling recently reported, the Cartels may soon have even more information at their disposal and the wherewithal to strike their adversaries with ruthless efficiency.

‘Dirty Warrior’ and ‘Lord of the Heavens’ United in the Great Beyond

It remains to be seen whether the accused military men will suffer the fate of another narco-linked Army commander, retired Gen. Mario Acosta Chaparro.

The Latin American Herald Tribune reported last month that Acosta, “who was convicted of drug-gang ties a decade ago but subsequently exonerated, has died of wounds suffered in a gunshot attack, sources with the capital’s district attorney’s office said.”

According to McClatchy’s “Mexico Unmasked” blog, the general was killed “as he descended from his chauffeured vehicle to pick up his Mercedes Benz (how many generals can afford to buy MBs?) in a suburban area of Mexico City. A guy in a motorcycle fired 3 rounds from a 9mm handgun into Acosta’s head.”

As Antifascist Calling reported in 2010, this was the same general who was shot and wounded in Mexico City during an alleged “robbery attempt.” At the time, El Universal reported that police claimed a thief wanted to “steal the general’s watch” and shot him several times in the abdomen when he resisted.

It must have been a nice watch.

But with last month’s murder it appears that Acosta’s past caught up with him. “In 2007,” Antifascist Calling reported, “after a six-year imprisonment on charges of providing protection to late drug trafficking kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes … Acosta Chaparro was released from custody after his conviction was overturned on appeal.”

Freed on technicalities despite testimony by witnesses under the protection of the Mexican government, documents published by WikiLeaks revealed that the Swiss Bank Julius Baer’s Cayman Islands unit hid “several million dollars” of funds controlled by Acosta and his wife, Silvia, through a firm known as Symac Investments.

WikiLeaks wondered whether Mexican authorities would “want to know whether the several millions of USD had anything to do with the allegations that Mr Chaparro, a former police chief from the Mexican state of Guerrero, stopped chasing his local drug dealers and joined them in business.”

The secret-spilling web site averred: “With the assistance of Julius Baer, Mr Chaparro was able to invest several millions of USD in Symac with all the secrecy which the Caymans allowed and to draw out some $12,000 a month until he suddenly stopped it in July 1998. The following year, a particularly notorious colleague from the Mexican police became an FBI informer and offered new evidence against him.”

During his 2002 trial on drug trafficking and corruption charges one of the witnesses, Gustavo Tarín Chávez testified that Acosta answered a phone call and a voice on the other end of the line said: “Son! How are you? Son!” Tarín Chávez told the court that the only person who called the general “son” was none other then Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

During that call, the late drug lord told Acosta that he had spoken with Rubén Figueroa Alcocer, the former governor of Guerrero, and that “everything was settled.”

Multiple reports in the Mexican press subsequently revealed that the general had been given orders to pick up fifty AK-47 assault rifles, thirty semiautomatic pistols, twenty two-way radios and a SUV from Carrillo Fuentes and deliver them to the governor.

Talk about a high-priced errand boy!

Tarín Chávez also testified that Acosta did all the technical planning for the Juárez group and made arrangements for the arrival of Colombian aircraft loaded with cocaine and that this logistics work involved the delivery of vehicles, cash and communications’ equipment to other military officers who worked for the drug lord.

Though his case was tossed out by the Mexican Supreme Court due to a “lack of evidence” (perhaps one or all of those witnesses lost their “protection” and “vanished,” into an unmarked grave perhaps?), like other close U.S. allies in the “War on Drugs,” Acosta had been linked to Mexico’s “dirty war” against the left during the 1970s under the administration of President Luis Echeverría.

Echeverría was Interior Minister during President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s corrupt, repressive regime. Díaz, with much encouragement from the Pentagon, State Department and the CIA, ordered the murders of hundreds of student protesters in the now-infamous Tlatelolco Plaza massacre a few days before the start of the 1968 Summer Olympics.

In 2006, investigative journalist Jefferson Morley and The National Security Archive obtained previously classified documents which revealed “CIA recruitment of agents within the upper echelons of the Mexican government between 1956 and 1969. The informants used in this secret program included President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and future President Luis Echeverría.”

Those documents detailed “the relationships cultivated between senior CIA officers, such as chief of station Winston Scott, and Mexican government officials through a secret spy network code-named ‘LITEMPO.’ Operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Scott used the LITEMPO project to provide ‘an unofficial channel for the exchange of selected sensitive political information which each government wanted the other to receive but not through public protocol exchanges’.”

Scott, a strident anticommunist who saw Moscow’s “hidden hand” everywhere, suspected that student protests were “a communist controlled rebellion,” and argued that the movement represented “a classic example of the Communists’ ability to divert a peaceful demonstration into a major riot.” Never mind that radical students despised the Stalinist Communist Party of Mexico and viewed them as conservative sell-outs; for Scott and his CIA masters, the fable of an International Communist Conspiracy directed by the Kremlin had to be maintained at all costs.

“As the student protests grew larger,” Morley wrote, “Scott’s information from the LITEMPO agents informed Ambassador Freeman’s increasingly dire cables to Washington, which noted that Díaz Ordaz and the people around him were talking tougher. The government ‘implicitly accepts consequence that this will produce casualties,’ the ambassador wrote. ‘Leaders of student agitation have been and are being taken into custody….In other words, the [government] offensive against student disorder has opened on physical and psychological fronts’.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Army units stationed around the perimeter of Tlatelolco Plaza and in the windows of adjoining buildings began to open fire on the protesters; hundreds were killed and more than fifteen hundred people were arrested, many of whom were subsequently tortured and then “disappeared.”

Heroin Coups and Iran-Contra Connections

Díaz and Echeverría did more than just ignore crimes perpetrated by the drug and CIA-linked intelligence agency, the Direcciòn Federal de Seguridad, or DFS; in the wake of the massacre, they handed DFS and the Army a blank check to carry out an anti-leftist purge which claimed thousands of lives.

Analyzing the CIA’s role in global drug trafficking networks, researcher Peter Dale Scott wrote: “One of the most crime-ridden CIA assets we know of is the Mexican DFS, which the US helped to create. From its foundation in the 1940s, the DFS, like other similar kryptocracies in Latin America, was deeply involved with international drug-traffickers. By the 1980s possession of a DFS card was recognized by DEA agents as a ‘license to traffic’.”

According to Scott, “DFS agents rode security for drug truck convoys, and used their police radios to check of signs of American police surveillance. Eventually the DFS became so identified with the criminal drug-trafficking organizations it managed and protected, that in the 1980s the DFS was (at least officially) closed down.”

Though 90 at the time of this writing, Echeverría, until recently, was considered the éminence grise of Mexican politics. He continued to wield considerable power long after his presidential term ended, mostly through his influence over the “old guard” of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, the special police and army forces stood up under his watch, along with his alleged ties to the drug cartels.

As Scott and Jonathan Marshall disclosed in Cocaine Politics, the “failure” of various anti-trafficking programs such as Operation Condor “were inevitable given the records of the two Mexican presidents” who oversaw the operation.

“Luis Echeverría, under whom the program began,” Scott and Marshall wrote, “appears to have been linked to [drug trafficker and CIA asset Alberto] Sicilia Falcón through his wife, whose family members had suspected ties to the European heroin trade.” And when José López Portillo “took charge in 1976,” Scott and Marshall averred, he “reportedly amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal profits and bought large estates in Spain with the proceeds.”

As Henrik Krüger related in The Great Heroin Coup, when he was arrested in 1975, Sicilia Falcón “claimed to be an agent of the CIA, and that his drug ring had been set up on orders and with the support of the agency.”

“Part of his profits,” Krüger wrote, “were to go towards the purchase of weapons and ammunition for distribution throughout Central America for the destabilization of ‘undesirable’ governments. If true, U.S. heroin addicts were again footing the bill for clandestine paramilitary operations and anti-Communist terror campaigns.”

But the former president’s shady connections didn’t stop there. Indeed, Echeverría’s brother-in-law, Rubén Zuno Arce, was convicted in U.S. Federal District Court in California in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for his role as a top-tier leader of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo’s Guadalajara drug cartel and for the torture-murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.

Camarena had amassed evidence that the CIA and U.S. State Department considered Gallardo “untouchable” because of the “special relationship” forged by the Agency amongst drug traffickers and the Nicaraguan Contras. Scott and Marshall disclosed that “Mexico’s biggest smuggler, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, responsible for moving four tons of cocaine a month into the United States, was also ‘a big supporter’ of the Contras, according to his pilot Werner Lotz. Lotz told the DEA that his boss advanced him more than $150,000 to pass on to the Contras.”

In an 1996 PBS interview with former DEA deep-cover specialist turned whistleblower, Michael Levine, the co-host of The Expert Witness Radio Show, Levine related that “Camarena was a DEA agent working on high level drug investigations. He was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and his investigations were taking him right into the Contra resupply lines, that is, the Contras trafficking in drugs with the support of the Hondurans, the Mexicans, and everybody else and Enrique was down there working this case with an informer and suddenly he’s arrested in broad daylight by Mexican police. He’s taken to a ranch of a top Mexican criminal and slowly tortured to death over a 24 hour period.”

“And later what is… what’s found is Enrique was investigating [Honduran drug lord Juan Ramón] Matta-Ballesteros and Matta-Ballesteros’ partner Gallardo and Matta-Ballesteros, by the way, was on the State Department payroll… in spite of being a documented heavy drug trafficker. His airline that we knew was used to traffic drugs, was used on the US government payroll to fly these Contra resupply mission. So here’s this murderer who was later convicted of murdering… or conspiring to murder Kiki Camarena and he was on the US government payroll in spite of the fact that the DEA called him a drug trafficker, in spite of the fact that Kiki Camarena was investigating him. Now here’s Kiki Camarena investigating the Oliver North supply line and he’s tortured to death.”

As investigative journalist Robert Parry revealed two years later on theConsortium News web site, Matta-Ballesteros’ airline, SETCO, “emerged as the principal company for ferrying supplies to the contras in Honduras.”

“During congressional Iran-contra hearings, FDN political leader Adolfo Calero testified that SETCO was paid from bank accounts controlled by Oliver North. SETCO also received $185,924 from the State Department for ferrying supplies to the contras in 1986.”

Let’s get this straight: Ollie North, a convicted felon who turned a blind eye todrug trafficking Contra networks he helped stand up runs for the U.S. Senate, hosts a “national defense” program on Fox News and earns millions of dollars. “Kiki” Camarena, who’s investigating North’s criminal assets is brutally murdered by those same “resistance” fighters.

Curiously enough, when Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped in 2001 from a maximum-security prison during the “reform” administration of Vicente Fox, then the leader of the neoliberal Partido Acción Nacional, or PAN, and whose Federal Police chief was recommended by Luis Echeverría, it emerged that Guzmán once worked for Matta-Ballesteros, Gallardo and Zuno Acre’s Guadalajara Cartel.

Small world.

But then again, with the CIA suppressing evidence that they negotiated aquid-pro-quo with the Sinaloa Cartel and can’t talk about it because of “national security,” or that an FBI drug-trafficking informant was at the center of the Justice Department’s gun-walking “Fast and Furious” fiasco and can’t be prosecuted, perhaps controlled chaos is just what the Global Godfather wants.

A bent general or two is the least of our problems.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor ofPolice State America: U.S. Military “Civil Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK PressRead other articles by Tom, or visit Tom’s website.

This article was posted on Monday, May 28th, 2012 at 2:39pm and is filed under BlowbackCIACorruptionCrimeDrug WarsMexico,Military/Militarism.

Source: Dissident Voice

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God, Gays, Ganja and Mexican Politics

English: josefina vazquez mota

English: josefina vazquez mota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, evangelical leaders have been at the forefront of pushing prayer in public schools. But in Mexico, they are in the vanguard in opposing it.  While the so-called narco war and economic distress are generally regarded as the top two issues in this year’s electoral races, fundamental issues of church, the state and religion are also swirling around the political scene. A flash point is the Mexican Congress’ recent approval of changes to Article 24 of the Mexican Constitution. 

Seemingly innocuous, the reform guarantees the right to practice religion in “public as well as private” places. Supported by President Felipe Calderon, the reform was passed last December by Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies just as the country was shutting down for the long winter holiday break. In March, as Mexico was gearing up for another extended holiday season, the Senate followed suit. 

According to La Jornada daily, National Action Party (PAN) Senator Sergio Perez Mota  justified the reform as a necessary one to prevent Mexico from sinking into a “lay state” that curtails “essential freedoms.” 

Although the reform also contains language that defends the secular character of the Mexican State, opponents contend it could open the door to religious instruction in public schools. 

On a recent day in Ciudad Juarez, members of the Lay Mexico Civic Forum gathered on the downtown plaza to pass out leaflets and collect signatures on letters calling on the Chihuahua State Legislature to reject the constitutional reform. 

“If a person wants to teach his or her child a Christian education, then let him or her go to a  Christian church,” said Lay Mexico Civic Forum member Sal Coronado. Introducing religion into the public schools, Coronado insisted, could lead to discrimination, religious bullying and academic complications. 

“What are they going to teach?” Coronado asked. “The Catholic, the Mormon or the Christian (Protestant) religion?” Holding aloof banners, Coronado and fellow activists greeted a steady stream of people stopping by their table to ask questions and sign the letters to Chihuahua lawmakers.  

Backed by Protestant churches, the Lay Mexico Civic Forum has shown an impressive capacity to mobilize supporters, turning out thousands of people in street demonstrations across the country in recent months. For the congressional reform to become part of the Mexican Constitution, a majority of Mexican states still have to approve it. In May, the state legislatures of Baja California and Michoacan joined the state of Morelos in shooting down the reform. 

Critics charged that the Congressional action was undertaken without adequate public discussion, and unneeded in a country that already guarantees religious freedom. Victor Silva, president of the Michoacan State Legislature and a representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said public forums and consultations should have preceded the federal legislative action. 

“For this reason we are not going along with it,” Silva was quoted in La Jornada. 

Earlier writing on Catholic.net, Guillermo Gazanni Espinoza contended that Article 24 reform opponents from center-left political parties were mistaken in declaring that the change was done to benefit the Catholic hierarchy or lay the groundwork for the Pope’s Mexico visit last March. 

According to the Council of Catholic Analysts of Mexico, the reform, as proposed in the Chamber of Deputies by the PRI’s Jose Ricardo Rodriguez Pescador late last year, was merely meant to bring the language of the Mexican Constitution in line with Article 12 of the American Convention of Human Rights, a section of the hemispheric agreement upholding religious liberty. 

Particular details of language and political intent aside, the Article 24 controversy cuts much deeper than the polemic over constitutional reform. The issue spotlights shifting political tendencies, deep changes in Mexican society and culture, rekindled church-state flirtations and the hard imperatives of the 2012 elections. 

At stake is the lay character of the Mexican state, which arose from historic 19th century showdowns between liberals and conservatives that curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, regarded by liberal forces as an institution tied in with the system of domination and exploitation dating to the Spanish colonial period. 

Mexican clergy have long been banned from political involvement, but rapprochements between successive presidential administrations from both the PRI and PAN parties and the Vatican have revived controversies over the Catholic Church’s role in politics in recent years.  

The Pope’s March visit to Guanajuato, an event attended by all the presidential candidates, only further solidified this trend in the view of many analysts. 

Likewise fanning church-state controversies are conflicts over gay marriage, sex and abortion. The legalization of early term abortions and gay marriages in Mexico City during the past few years under center-left PRD administrations produced a political backlash in other Mexican states- still referred to as “La Provincia” by some capital city residents. In historically conservative states like Aguascalientes, women have even faced  criminal prosecutions for having abortions.    

In this broader context, the Article 24 fight erupted on the political landscape. “The parties want votes, and there are issues they won’t touch because they might lose votes, including issues of abortion, school prayer and drug legalization,” said Armide Valverde, principal of Ciudad Juarez’s Alta Vista High School. A career public educator, Valverde endorsed secularism as one of the pillars of the Mexican education system. “There’s no reason for (religion) to be part of education,” Valverde said. “That’s why the Church exists.” 

Whether the candidates like it or not, hot-button social issues are popping up on the campaign trail this year. Speaking at Mexico City’s private La Salle University last week,  conservative PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota fielded touchy questions from students about gay marriage, abortion and drug legalization.  The questioners hailed from an age demographic that could be the decisive vote in the 2012 elections. 

Mexico’s only female presidential candidate in a contest with three men, Vazquez Mota appeared to have attempted to stake out a middle ground response by not directly answering the specific question about gay marriage, saying instead that she was “absolutely respectful” of individual sexual orientations, according to report  of the encounter in Proceso’s  Apro news service.  

On the abortion question, the former Calderon administration official defined her position as “pro-life,” but quickly added that she was against criminalizing women who got abortions. As for marijuana and other illegal drugs, Vazquez Mota affirmed that she was open to a debate but worried about going down the road to legalization before strengthening government, law enforcement and justice institutions.  

Finally, Protestant/Catholic divergences are evident on matters like Article 24. While Mexico is still a majority Catholic country, more and more Mexicans, like other Latin Americans, are joining different Protestant sects. The Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists and followers of the Jalisco mega-church Luz del Mundo, among others, have a firm and growing base across the country. For many Protestants, the Article 24 reform threatens a return to Catholic domination and discrimination against their own faith. 

At the Lay Mexico Civic Forum event in Ciudad Juarez, a shoeshine man sat in front of the activists’ table. Taking time to chat with a reporter, the man declined to give his name, not because he was “afraid,” he insisted, but because divulging his identity would  be a vain act that takes away attention from God.  Summing up the posture of many  Article 24 opponents, the man pulled out an old phrase from his linguistic hat: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”  

-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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Anti-Austerity Fight Crosses Borders

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement...

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Logo. Español: Logotipo del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (TLCAN). Français : Logo de Accord de libre-échange nord-américain (ALENA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the three member nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), austerity is the buzzword in public education. But in Canada, Mexico and the United States, popular mobilizations continue in support of the right to a quality public education. 

On a visit to Mexico this past week, a Los Angeles teachers’ union leader criticized California classroom conditions many Mexicans are long familiar with in their own country. Due to recent budget cuts, the average classroom size in the United States’ second largest school district has increased from 22 to 30 students, said Juan Ramirez, vice-president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). 

“We accepted (higher class sizes) because there had to be an effort made so the students did not go without attention,” Ramirez said, “but it goes against the quality of education.”  Ramirez maintained that budget cuts and bulging classrooms are disproportionately impacting immigrant and Latino students. At least 70 percent of the students in the L.A. district are of Mexican origin, he said. 

In the ongoing fiscal crisis that is gripping California, Ramirez said teachers have sacrificed not only their working conditions but their wages as well, accepting salary reductions equivalent to four to ten days of pay.  Millionaires, meanwhile, have seen their taxes go down during the last 30 years while 1,500 Los Angeles teachers are on the verge of losing their jobs, he added. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is currently running a budget deficit of $390 million, and plans on closing early education centers beginning next school year.  Adult English instruction and art in elementary schools could also fall under the budget axe. According to the LAUSD’s website, the huge district counted 919,930 students in October 2011. 

The LAUSD is far from alone in its financial woes. On May 22, the San Diego School Board voted to lay-off 1,500 teachers. School Board President John Evans called on the local teachers’ union to accept concessions in order to help the district dig out of a projected $122 million deficit for the coming year. 

This week, Tom Torlakson, California’s superintendent of education, said one-third of his state’s pupils, or 2.6 million students, attend schools swimming in financial crisis. 

“This is the type of precedent that nobody likes to impose,” Torlakson was quoted. “All across California, parents, teachers and administrators ask themselves more and more how to maintain schools with the lights turned on, how to pay the bills and how to keep the doors open.” The Golden State’s education chief appealed for more resources so schools could return to “financial stability.” 

In the current set of circumstances, the teaching profession is under a wide-ranging assault, L.A. union leader Ramirez contended. Many young, inexperienced teachers consider their employment to be “temporary” in nature and move on after a couple of years on the job, before any real bond with students and the broader community can be established, the activist said. 

Originally from the Mexican state of Jalisco, Ramirez is a 30-year resident of the United States. He has been active with the UTLA on bilingual education and many other issues. 

Ramirez’s made his comments while he was in Mexico City to attend the 10th Trinational Conference for the Defense of Public Education in Mexico, the United States and Canada. The gathering was sponsored by unions and education activists from the three NAFTA countries. 

Since 2009, pro-public education struggles by teachers, students and parents have intensified as the budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession shows no signs of relenting.  On May 10, hundreds of students walked out of Los Angeles’ Huntington Park High School to protest budget cuts. 

In Canada, a long protest by Quebec university students against austerity and tuition hikes turned into a massive public demonstration May 22, when as many as a quarter-million protesters jammed Montreal in repudiation of a new law, Bill 78, that criminalizes unannounced protests and bans demonstrations within 150 feet of school campuses. Solidarity actions were held in New York, Paris, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. 

On May 23, police arrested 518 people in Montreal and 170 in Quebec City on different charges, including failure to give advance notice of a public protest. In response to Bill 78, Montreal residents have staged nightly pot-banging demonstrations from their homes during the past week. 

Sources: Montreal Gazette, May 24, 2012, Article by Max Harrold. Laopinion.com (Los Angeles), May 22 and 23, 2012. Articles by Esmeralda Fabian and the Associated Press. Commondreams.org/Montreal Gazette/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, May 23, 2012. La Jornada, May 22, 2012. Article by Ciro Perez Silva. Ktlanews.com, May 10, 2012.  

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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