Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Forty-two dead in gun battle in Western Mexico - families say it was a police massacre (May 26, 2015)

Mexican security forces killed at least 42 suspected gang members in a three-hour gun battle on Friday, the deadliest incident in a series of recent clashes in Western Mexico.  One policeman died in the confrontation. Though authorities did not identify the gang in question, most media reports say it's the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation, which has gained notoriety after downing a military helicopter earlier this month.

Friday's encounter began when federal police, looking into the reported takover of a ranch large ranch near the town of Tanhuato, exchanged fire with occupants of a vehicle, who then retreated into the property. The police called in reinforcements, including a helicopter, and started a battle that took place in three distinct locations on the 300-acre property, reports the Wall Street Journal. Pictures posted on social media showed numerous vehicles and some buildings on fire, reports the New York Times.

But relatives of the men who were killed say it was not a gunfight at all, but rather a massacre. Many of the dead were photographed as if they fell facedown, suggesting they were running when they were shot, reports the Wall Street Journal in a separate piece. In addition, many of the men were in their underwear, without shirts and shoes, suggesting they'd been in bed. Family members were also made suspicious by wounds sustained by their loved ones, several of whom were beat up which suggest a different type of encounter, according to Animal Político.

An eyewitness account from a neighboring town says the helicopter came in directly bringing the police, catching the ranch's inhabitants unawares reports Animal Político. The Wall Street Journal piece quotes a local farmer who said it sounded as if the shots were coming from only one group, and skeptics question the low mortality on the police side of the fight. 

Mexican National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido replied that forensic examinations show all of the alleged gang members had fired shots, reports Animal Político.

About 25 of the dead were from Ocotlán, in Jalisco, according to Animal Político. A family member reports that they left Octlán about a week ago, saying they had found work at a ranch in Michoacán. 

More than 100,000 people have been killed in eight years of naco gang violence in Mexico, reports the Wall Street Journal. And at least 22,000 people have been disappeared.

Accusations of human rights violations by security forces are widespread. In an incident last year, Army troops killed 22 alleged members of a kidnapping ring near Tlatlaya, but later were forced to admit that some were killed after surrendering.

InSight Crime reports some of the difficulties faced by the Mexican government in combating the New Generation cartel. Federal authorities, with their superior resources, are not acting in coordination with Jalisco state authorities, who have better local knowledge of the gang. However, InSight reports that more than 1,000 Jalisco officials are considered "high risk" for potential links to organized crime. President Enrique Peña Nieto's forces possibly act alone in order to avoid leaks regarding operations. 

There are also accusations linking government officials charged with combating organized crime with human rights abuses.

News Briefs

  • Despite the hype U.S. and Cuban negotiators failed to reach an agreement at high-level talks last week to reestablish diplomatic ties after a fifty year break. However, Roberta Jacobson, the top State Department official for Latin America, said the remaining differences between the two countries could likely be resolved through diplomatic missions, without the need for another high-level meeting, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombia's FARC suspended its unilateral cease-fire after an attack by government forces killed 26 guerrilla fighters. Tensions are running high after a FARC attack last month killed 10 soldiers and one rebel fighter. After that, President Juan Manuel Santos renewed previously suspended aerial bombing of FARC encampments. Both sides say they will continue discussions at the ongoing peace negotiations in Havana -- which have been going since 2012 and aim to bring an end to fifty years of war in Colombia, reports the New York Times. But it will be difficult to continue peace talks in Cuba while conflict is flaring in Colombia, argues Héctor Riveros in Silla Vacía. Though most Colombians favor the peace process, support is waning as the negotiations flounder and deaths continue, he says. The Wall Street Journal reports that the April FARC attack led to reduced optimism regarding the peace talks and made Santos' approval rating drop drastically. But Silla Vacía's Juanita León finds a ray of hope in the end of the unilateral cease-fire. It isn't convenient for either side to stop the peace process, she says, so this outbreak of hostilities provides an opportunity for a well done cease-fire (be it unilateral or bilateral).
  • Venezuelan authorities transferred jailed political opponent Daniel Ceballos to a notoriously violent prison, reports the Wall Street Journal. The former mayor of San Cristobal had been housed in a military prison -- along with opposition leader Leopoldo López -- since being detained last year, when he was accused of defying an order to dismantle protesters' barricades. It is not clear what occasioned the move to a new jail. A video message released Lopez's supporters says the two politicians were embarking on a hunger strike, presumably before the transfer. López also called for a march against the government this weekend. While the government did not comment on the hunger strike, but did say López had been disciplined for possessing a mobile phone in prison, reports The Guardian.
  • Peruvian president Ollanta Humala started a two month state of emergency in Arequipa state, where residents have been protesting a $1.4 billion copper mining project. Demonstrations have been ongoing for two months, and have resulted in several deaths already. Under martial law authorities will be able to enter homes without search warrants and break up meetings and marches, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • In a separate region of southern Peru, a man supporting a week-long strike at Shougang Group Co Ltd's iron deposit was killed in clashes with police on Monday, reports Reuters.
  • Police in Argentina's Santa Fe province detained the leader of Los Monos, Rosario's most important drug gang. Máximo Ariel Cantero was caught disguised as a cartonero, the people who comb through trash in search of recyclable material. He had been in hiding for two years, since his son -- the former leader of Los Monos -- was killed in a turf war and his death was avenged with three other deaths, reports Spain's El País. Last year 36 members of the gang were detained, half of them cops, reports La Nación, which goes into detail regarding some of their more bizarre property holdings, including a Mickey Mouse shaped pool and a family obsession with imported porcelain tile.
  • Brazil's government announced $22.64 billion worth of budget cuts to the 2015 budget, aimed at meeting fiscal austerity goals, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A prison riot in Brazil left 8 dead, including one prisoner who was decapitated, reports EFE. A group of inmates was holding about 70 people hostage -- family members of prisoners who were visiting. The jail was designed to hold 644 inmates, but currently houses 1,467. Overcrowding in Brazilian jails is a factor in the frequent riots which occur, according to the piece.
  • Christopher Sabatini, on the newly launched Latin America Goes Global, has an interesting piece on the mainstream media's coverage of Latin America. Specifically its "bipolar" coverage of Mexico and Brazil, which are portrayed as alternately booming and mired in economic recession and violence. 
  • Activists hope a legal challenge to Belize's anti-sodomy laws will create a domino effect in the Caribbean, where most former British colonies still have such laws on the books. A New York Times Magazine feature profiles the activist Caleb Orozco, who is fighting for gay rights in Belize, where the gay community operates largely on a "don't ask don't tell" basis.
  • The gentrification of the Casco Viejo in Panama City has been carried out with a policy of inclusion of former gang members that has been successful in slashing the crime rate in a formerly dangerous neighborhood, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo has been charged with conspiring to import cocaine to the U.S. Fabio Porfirio Lobo was arrested in Haiti and pled "not guilty," reports the New York Times.
  • Rosario Murillo, the first lady of Nicaragua, wields considerable political power and is a potential replacement to President Daniel Ortega, according to a Los Angeles Times piece. The article portrays Murillo as a kooky, mystic character, with important impact on the administration's management.
  • A tornado that hit the northern Mexico border town of Ciudad Acuna killed at least 13 people and injured another 150, reports the BBC. Hundreds of of homes and cars were damaged, while flooding in the U.S. has left three dead and 10 missing.
  • Venezuela's Globovisión basically achieved its goal of providing unbiased coverage of the most critically important social and political events in the country, but there were differences between the periods and issues covered as well as across particular measurements of bias, found a study by the American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS). Opposition voices received more total coverage than pro-government voices during the periods surrounding the municipal elections and the street demonstrations, and this coverage tended to be unfavorable to the government, according to the study. However, pro-government perspectives received slightly more coverage when the international dimensions of the crisis or the shortages of basic goods were the topics of discussion. The study also shows that news stories that appeared earlier in a broadcast tended to be relatively more pro-government, whereas those appearing toward the end of a broadcast were more favorable to the opposition.

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