A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.


Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011

If you lose Sarmiento,
do you lose the country?

By David Gaddis Smith

The Mexican journalist Sergio Sarmiento, who writes a column in Reforma and conducts interviews Sergio Sarmientofor TV Azteca, wrote today about the gunbattles that took place yesterday in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Zacatecas. He also wrote about the 25 children found in Nuevo Laredo whose parents may have been kidnapped or taken away. He said the situation is so bad that Reforma has a running table, the Executionmeter. He cites statistics indicating that Ciudad Juárez had 239 slayings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, saying Juárez has passed Caracas, Venezuela, as the most violent city in the world.

He concludes: "I understand that the federal government needs to present the best possible face in this avalanche of violence. But before the truth, and the growing collateral damage, there is no good face of any value."

Sarmiento may not have the stature, say, that Walter Cronkite once held in the United States, and is often ridiculed by the left in Mexico. But when the Mexican government has lost Sarmiento on the issue of the war on drug traffickers, it could be like when the U.S. government lost Cronkite on the Vietnam War. As President Lyndon Johnson is said to have remarked: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America."

UPDATE: Sarmiento addresses the issue again on Monday, March 14, 2011.

Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011

Woman reportedly heads group of assassins

A heads a group of assassins in Tijuana, authorities told El Mexicano newspaper. Authorities said the woman, who was not named, heads a local drug ring that killed three people in January. Information about the group apparently came through the arrests of Juan Luis García
Sánchez, "El Chino" or "El Cholo," 38, and of Cristina Ibarra Ramírez,
"La Gorda" o "La Cristy", 25. Story, El Mexicano.


Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

Police officer said to be leader of kidnapping ring

El Mexicano newspaper reported that six alleged members of a kidnapping ring in Tijuana told military authorities that their leader was a police officer. The officer was not identified in the paper's front-page story. Authorities said that the arrests led to the freeing of a kidnapping victim from a house in Tijuana's Colonia Obrera section. They said two children were living in the house but apparently did not know that the victim was being held there.

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011

State legislator who was kidnapped
calls for death penalty in kidnappings

Gregorio Barreto, a Tijuana transportation businessman who was kidnapped Oct. 2, 2008 and released Nov. 9 of that year, has called for the death penalty to be imposed in kidnappings. Story, El Mexicano. Tijuana's El Mexicano newspaper reported on his call but, oddly, did not mention his kidnapping. Barreto now is a state legislator for the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Captors cut off two fingers of Barreto's left hand in an effort to expedite a ransom payment from his family.

From December 2010

Davidow gets response from audience

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, the president of the Institute of the Americas Jeff Davidowwho will be retiring in the spring, asked about 70 people attending a question-and-answer session with him whether they thought President Felipe Calderón is "doing the right thing" with "this very aggressive, antinarcotics policy of his." Nearly everyone raised his or her hand.

Davidow said, "I think if we were in Mexico and asked the same question, we'd get pretty much the same response."

Davidow has had a great eight-year run with the institute after having served as ambassador to Mexico.

from December 2010

Fernández de Cevallos freed

Former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, freed after Diego Fernández de Cevallos on Televisabeing kidnapped in May, granted interviews to the national press, saying that he had forgiven his kidnappers and that his case was just one among many in Mexico that needed to be resolved. He would not reveal details about how he was kidnapped; much is still to be revealed about the case. El Universal had a transcript with his interview with Joaquín López-Doriga on Televisa.



Dec. 2, 2010 (Thursday)

Law professor finds major discrepancy in statistics about Mexico's drug fight;
Second WikiLeaks cable about Mexico released


President Felipe Calderón's annual report to Congress said Mexico had made 113,000 drug trafficking arrests since Jan. 1, 2007 – but the same report said the country's prison population went up only 11,000 during the same period, an Autonomous National University of Mexico law professor said in Tijuana this week.

Miguel Carbonell"Where are those who were arrested?" Miguel Carbonell asked those attending his talk at the Tijuana Cultural Center on Tuesday, the same day Tijuana's new mayor was sworn in.

Carbonell, who works in the university's judicial investigation institute, recently discovered the discrepancy while waiting to give a speech at the Federal Electoral Tribunal and the story made a stir when his column about it was published in El Universal newspaper. Carbonell said he still has not received an explanation from the Calderón administration for the discrepancy.

He is the author of "Oral Trials in Mexico," now in its third edition.
Carbonell also said there are 2,700 WikiLeaks cables about Mexico. "What is coming to come out? Imagine!" he said.

The second cable involving the U.S. Embassy in Mexico — the first dealt mostly with Pakistan — was released today (Dec. 2). The cable notes that Calderón's popularity has been on the decline while the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party is on the upswing. All five mayors sworn in Tuesday in Baja California were members of the PRI.

The cable talks about conflict between Mexican public agencies over security issues and how the military often does not coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to the detriment of the overall goal of reducing violence. It discussed how joint assessment visited Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez to "further guide our bilateral efforts and address … the dysfunctionally low level of collaboration between Mexican military and civilian authorities along the border."

Carbonell's talk was entitled "Security and Justice Without Human Rights?" and addressed four issues facing Mexico — abortion, same-sex marriage, the right to death with dignity and freedom of speech.

November 2010

Mexico murder rate still is well below Colombia's, but Mexico really has its work cut out for it, the U.S border commissioner and a former Costa Rican vice president say

By David Gaddis Smith

The organized-crime violence Mexico is suffering as a result of its war against drug trafficking is horrible, but pales in comparison to that experienced by Colombia. Colombia still has a much worse murder rate by far.

That was the message delivered recently at the University of California San Diego by border czar Alan Bersin and by former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Casas-Zamora, who now is with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

Alan Bersin at UCSD on Nov 16, 2010Bersin (left) said that despite the heat Mexican President Felipe Calderón has been taking from the Mexican public over his war with drug traffickers, in future years he "will look better in retrospect."

Casas-Zamora wondered, however, whether Calderón has taken the right approach.

Around 30,000 people have been killed in what Bersin called a civil war among Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican government's battle with the cartels.

Colombia's get-tough stance on organized crime and on leftist rebels has been strongly lauded by U.S. officials and has brought down the level of violence in the South American nation. The actions in Colombia also are credited with helping create the rise of stronger crime organizations in Mexico, as Mexican cartels took over duties once performed by Colombian ones."As terrible as the violence we see in Mexico, the violence in Colombia was significantly greater. You had car bombs exploding regularly — 100,000 people or more were killed during the struggle between the Medellín Cartel and the Cali Cartel and the government," Bersin told the Institute of the Americas on Friday.

podcast of Bersin's talk

In a talk earlier in the month to the Center for Pacific Economies at Kevin Casas-ZamoraUCSD, Casas-Zamora (left) cited statistics showing the murder rate in Mexico is 30 percent below what it was two decades ago, although it has gone up dramatically since Calderón began the drug war. Casas-Zamora said Mexico actually was a "lightweight" when its murder rate was compared with much of the rest of Latin America. Mexico's murder rate around 2008 was below that of the Latin American nations of El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Venezuela, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Belize, Panama, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador.

Many Mexicans say Calderón has overreached in his battle with drug traffickers, unleashing a Pandora's box of unnecessary violence and disturbing a longstanding accommodation between organized crime and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, during its 71-year grip on the presidency. The PRI lost to Vicente Fox of Calderón's National Action Party, or PAN, in 2000. Many think Mexico's next president — who many believe will come from the PRI — will curtail the drug war.

But Bersin said he thought that whoever is elected president in 2012 will continue the fight against organized crime.

"Even if there were those who imagine the good old days, the good old days weren't so good," Bersin said. "In fact, I believe that whoever is governing Mexico in 2012 is going to continue to confront, albeit tactics might differ, … the influence of organized crime on Mexican politics."
He said, "I believe we have reached the point of no return."

Casas-Zamora said Calderón's short-term strategy is to maintain or re-establish territorial control in Mexico. The long-term strategy is the reconstruction of law enforcement and judicial agencies and other Mexican institutions. Casas-Zamora said 98 percent of crimes in Mexico go unpunished and that country needs to create increased opportunities for youth, the cannon fodder in the drug war.
"Calderon's short-term strategy of territorial control has had enormous costs and limited achievements," Casas-Zamora said.

He cited the question posed by Mexican analyst Sergio Aguayo in 2008: "Did Calderón diagnose correctly the disease or did he provoke its metastasis?"

While Bersin said opinion polls generally give Calderón good marks, Casas-Zamora said that may be the case in part because "the bulk of the population in Mexico has been more or less isolated from the violence. And that's kept the support for the approach of the president relatively high. But that can change very easily."

Casas-Zamora said that while the metastasis has been regional, violence has been spreading to other parts of Mexico. This year, there has been a very sharp increase in violence in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon "as a result of a split between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas." He said it is crucial to prevent the violence from spreading.

He said a number of massacres have recently taken place in locations that had previously been spared. "That doesn't bode well," he said.

Casas-Zamora said Calderón's goals appear to be working at cross-purposes. "Mexico's problem is not about territorial control. It is corruption," he said.

He also said, "At this point, nobody knows how to measure progress. It's much like Afghanistan in a way."

Casas-Zamora said part of solution is political rather than one to be confronted by the army. "The big weakness of the strategy of the Calderón administration in the short term has been that the federal strategy is not backed, and in actual fact in many cases is actually boycotted by the state governments and by the local governments…. There has to be some kind of political compact whereby state governments in particular and local governments get to understand that this cannot be just be Calderón's war -- that their skin is on the line as well. Unless Calderón negotiates this kind of political compact, there is no hope," he said.

He said, "There are no pretty options here."

Casas-Zamora said drug trafficking also is having a tremendous negative effect on Central America, which he called "more vulnerable than Mexico."

He said, "If Mexico is in a very serious struggle against the cartels, Central America is arguably in much worse shape. Yet it is getting much less attention from the rest of the world, in particular from the United States."

He said some estimates put 40 percent of Guatemala under control of organized crime syndicates.
That was one reason he took issue with a recent statement by Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly that Mexican "drug cartels kill at will and create terror on a scale not seen anywhere else on Earth at this time…. Manuel Noriega turned his country, Panama, into a narco-state, and in 1989, President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. forces in to remove him. President Barack Obama might study that campaign. Something needs to be done in Mexico."

Casas-Zamora was a fellow this month at the Center for Pacific Economies at UCSD and spoke there and to the Institute of the Americas; Bersin spoke to the Institute of the Americas.


Oct. 13, 2010: El Mexicano newspaper's Mexicali edition reports that the public prosecutor freed two men who had been arrested in the act of robbing an Oxxo store on a technicality, even though there was video of the men assaulting the store.

Luis Rubio discusses violence in Mexico

Drug violence in Mexico, including beheadings, the dissolving of bodies and other gruesome acts are political actions that have nothing to do with Mexican culture, Mexican analyst Luis Rubio said at a recent workshop on democracy in the Americas at the Institute of the Americas in San Diego. Rubio is the president of CIDAC, the Center of Research for Development, in Mexico City. Violence in Tijuana continued this week, including two bodies that were decapitated and left hanging from a bridge near Rosarito Beach. Story from the San Diego U-T.