Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ciudad Juárez - history and lessons of a notorious case study (May 27, 2015)

El Daily Post has a two-part in-depth feature (Part 1Part 2) on Ciudad Juárez -- the former murder capital of México. 

The myth of the miracle is well-known, they say.

"Between 2008 and 2012, a battle between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels and the co-option of police forces as fighters for their criminal causes, turned this city’s streets red with blood. In 2010, when the death rate reached 300 a month, a coalition of city and civic leaders, an effective but controversial police chief imported from Tijuana, 5 billion pesos ($300 million dollars)  in Mexican federal government funds and Drug Enforcement Administration informants, quashed the violence and cleaned up the two police forces in Juárez — the municipal police and the state ministerial police."

But the authors note that while Juárez is a case study in Mexico, it cannot be considered a victory. The recent resurgence of La Línea, the Juárez Cartel's enforcement unit, might mean that the well known drop in violence was "merely a hiatus and the recent killings a return to business as usual."

The two pieces are based on a six-month investigation by Carlos Huerta, Herika Martínez and Beatriz Corral. 

The problem, according to experts they cite, is that the city's public policies have targeted violence, but not drug trafficking organizations.

Long-time observers of the Juárez case say part of the problem is that the city focused on targeting violence and not drug trafficking organizations. The enormous reduction in homicides could be passing because the judicial system has been lax with criminals, they say.

El Daily Post's investigation goes into the history of the gang wars between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels -- and the violent characters -- that made Juárez such a bloody place.

They follow the case of José Antonio Acosta Hernández, alias “El Diego,” a former police commander who became the head of operations for the Juárez Cartel.

A mistaken Juárez Cartel operation to massacre a group aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel ended in the deaths of 15 youths in 2010, an outrage that drew attention to the Juárez bloodbath.

Later that year, the mayor brought in Ret. Lt. Colonel Julián Leyzaola Pérez, who was ending his term as chief of police of Tijuana, another troubled border city. Leyzaola came down hard on on officers, ridding the force of anybody suspected of narco connections.

However, accusations of human rights violations -- already a problem during his Tijuana tenure -- caused problems. A paramilitary unit he strengthened was found responsible for the forced disappearance of four youths in 2011. Another 100 municipal agents are serving jail terms for human rights violations under Leyzaola’s leadership.

His efforts were aided by Raúl Ávila Ibarra, who headed the Chihuahua state police. Experts say the two commissioners kept each other clean, avoiding narco infiltration of their forces.

But a DEA informant was key in providing data that ultimately brought down "El Diego," and left the cartel in tatters. “EQ,” was the engineer who created the encrypted radio network La Linea and Barrio Azteca used to coordinate their bloody assaults. He became a DEA informant in 2010, taping murder orders, drug trafficking messages and more. 

News Briefs

  • Mexico's National Human Rights Commission has opened an investigation into the deaths of 42 alleged gang members in a shootout with police last week, reports the New York Times. (Seeyesterday's post.) Family members and local witnesses have cast doubt on the official version of the battle: only one police officer died in the three-hour shootout, there were no wounded survivors and only three arrests. 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.
  • A hunger strike by two jailed political opposition leaders in Venezuela has stirred calls for the revival of protests like those which shook the country last year (and landed the pols in jail in the first place). Leopoldo López announced the hunger strike in a video smuggled out of the military prison where he's been held on charges of inciting violences for over a year. He also called for a nationwide protest on Saturday, reports the Wall Street Journal. The piece notes that López's popularity has increased as a result of his detention. After the announcement of the hunger strike, authorities moved Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of San Cristobal who is detained on similar charges to a common prison, a move that was criticized by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch.
  • New York Times editorial notes a sea-change in U.S. relations with Latin American governments, specifically in attitudes towards drug policy. The 80s and 90s were characterized by Washington-led punitive drug policies that largely failed to stem the flow of narcotics in the region (to put it lightly). The editorial notes that now many Latin American governments are taking the lead in new policies that focus on health and harm reduction. Examples include Uruguay's legalization of marijuana and Bolivia's embrace of small-scale coca cultivation for traditional uses. Other countries in the region are emphasizing alternatives to incarceration and decriminalization of consumption in the lead up to a special U.N. General Assembly dedicated to drugs next year. And, Washington is actually listening as well as lecturing ...

  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff sealed a deal expand bilateral trade and foment investment with a toast of tequila and caipirinha, according to AFP. Rousseff is visiting Mexico in official capacity for the first time, as both countries are facing economic difficulties that have led to budget cuts.

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales fired his interior minister and chief of police yesterday after a former advisor to the Peruvian president escaped house arrest following an extradition order by Bolivia's Supreme Court, reports the Wall Street Journal. Martín Belaunde fled to Bolivia last year after a Peruvian court ordered preventive custody on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy to commit crime. Bolivia however refused to grant him refugee status. Morales accuses the police of letting Belaunde slip through their hands. However, Belaunde called the press this morning from an undisclosed location, saying he did not escape, but rather was kidnapped. Reuters reports that he said he was kidnapped on Sunday, but managed to escape. He told a Peruvian television station that he is now in hiding.
  • The U.S. increased its military presence in Central America yesterday, sending the first group of a total contingent of 280 Marines to Honduras. They will carry out operations to combat drug trafficking in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize.
  • The governing National Democratic Party in Suriname seems to have won a slim majority in Monday's parliamentary elections, which would give President Desi Bouterse a second term. Bouterse was convicted in 1999 in the Netherlands on charges of drug trafficking, but remained free as Suriname does not have an extradition treaty with its former colonial power, reportsReuters.
  • The Miami Herald has an interview with the State Department's outgoing Haiti special coordinator. Thomas Adams highlights Haiti's progress since the devastating 2010 earthquake, noting that "the tent camps that used to fill every available space are gone."
  • Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras’ former director of international operations, was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years in prison and fined 543,000 reais, the most severe punishment yet in a widespread corruption investigation that has implicated high-ranking politicians and businesspeople, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a separate piece thenewspaper says the government is advancing leniency deals for several of the private firms implicated in the graft scandal. The deals are viewed as a way to invigorate the national oil and gas industry. Suppliers to Petrobras are accused of inflating contracts and paying kickbacks to politicians and the Workers' Party.
  • The Brazilian Senate approved an austerity bill yesterday that makes it tougher for workers to qualify for unemployment benefits, a move that is expected to save several billion reais, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An Italian mob boss, convicted of killing more than 20 people in the 1980s was arrested in Recife, in an operation that involved Brazilian police and Interpol. Pasquale Scotti has been on the run for 30 years, since being arrested in 1983 in a shootout in Naples, where he was a boss with the Camorra, according to Reuters. Scotti married a local woman 18 years ago, with whom he had two children, and started several businesses, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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