Friday, October 30, 2015

NarcoData insight into Mexico's cartels; Human rights orgs criticize gov't (Oct. 30, 2015)

Animal Político and El Daily Post presented a new project this week: NarcoData, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. 

The interactive website that offers an in-depth study of the past four decades of organized crime in Mexico, compiles proven information and presents it in a orderly fashion.

The idea came from documents obtained by Animal Político as a result of a public information request. One document from the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) identified all the criminal cells that operate in Mexico and the cartels they work for. The document also exposed several "myths" spouted by public officials, such as the claim by Mexico City authorities that cartels and organized crime do not operate in the Federal District, explains El Daily Post.

The data is also contributing to journalism pieces. The fascinating first of the series came out earlier this week and explains how two cartels -- the Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation -- have come to prominence under the Peña Nieto administration, overshadowing the other seven active cartels in the country. But this is no sign of coming peace, warns the piece. 

"The seven smaller cartels still boast sufficient power and structure to commit a variety of other high-impact crimes. Their decline and the arrest of some of their principal leaders has birthed smaller gangs that are battling for space in the criminal world." In fact, that's exactly what's going on in Guerrero, where at least six small and bloodthirsty crime cells operate.


Everybody is piling on the Mexican government on human rights issues.

The last Amnesty International report on Mexico said reports of torture rose by 106 percent last year compared to 2013, and up to 737 percent compared with 2012. The organization denounced that the government hasn't "recognized the magnitude of the problem" nor really implemented policies to end torture, reports Animal Político. The Attorney General's office has few resources to deal with the problem, according to the piece: it has only 30 people specialized in the issue to deal with over 2,400 reports on a federal level from last year alone.

And a Human Rights Watch report from this week denounces two episodes in Michoacán state in which at least 50 civilians died this year, which point to unlawful killings by federal police, according to the organization.
At least eight civilians were killed in the city of Apatzingán on January 6 after federal police broke up a demonstration involving citizen self-defense groups, and 42 civilians and one police officer died in Tanhuato on May 22, when federal police raided a compound allegedly occupied by a criminal gang. (See May 26th's post.)

"Based on the available evidence, it appears we’re looking at two more major atrocities byMexican security forces,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch. “While the government insists that police acted appropriately in both cases, what witnesses describe clearly involves extrajudicial killings."

The report backs the version of witnesses and area residents who say the operations against alleged organized crime members -- which left only one officer dead -- were not as clean as officially claimed, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Mexico is experiencing a "serious human rights crisis" and urged the country to investigate the same two incidents.

But the El Daily Post's security expert Alejandro Hope says the case at Tanhuato might not be so clear, and suggests that the "key takeaway from the report is that, months after the incidents, we are nowhere near truth and justice." And he gloomily concludes that a number of factors mean the truth is unlikely to come out in these cases.

The Mexican government must follow up its stated will to resolve outstanding human rights cases -- such as the missing 43 -- with concrete results, said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power speaking in Monterrey yesterday.

"It's impossible to fix the whole system overnight," Power said according to Reuters. "But if progress could be made in the Iguala case, or if progress could be made on the cases you raise ... and resources are dedicated and accountability is achieved, that sends a really important signal."

Her visit comes only two weeks after the U.S. government cut off millions of dollars of aid to Mexico's drug war as a result of the country's failure to reach certain human rights goals. Though the reduction is only a small portion of the annual funds given to Mexico to help fund security initiatives, it's a major sign of State Department frustration. (See Oct. 19th's post.)

News Briefs

  • Mexico will have a difficult time meeting a deadline to implement a nation-wide system of oral trials by next year, said Power yesterday. The policy is part of the implementation of a 2008 constitutional reform, which would replace the current system of closed trials based on written testimony, reports Reuters. Human rights groups say the current system is responsible long periods of pre-trial detention, wrongful conviction and, sometimes, confessions extracted by torture.
  • Back to yesterday's post on possibly legalizing pot in Mexico, Catalina Pérez Correa writes in Horizontal on the relevance of the move for the thousands of Mexicans imprisoned drug related charges.
  • Local observer groups and opposition candidates are denouncing "systematic, massive fraud" in last Sunday's elections for president, parliament and local mayors. How widespread the fraud might be and whether electoral technicians will detect is has become the key question as the country waits for provisional results, reports the Miami Herald. A vote count could come anytime after November 3. Vote technicians in Port-au-Prince are receiving tallies in a secure warehouse and quarantining suspicious or fraudulent votes from the country's 13,275 polling stations.
  • A piece in the New York Times revisits the plight of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent, who have been denied DR citizenship and are effectively stateless and locked out of vital public services such as education in the DR. (See June 17th's post.)
  • Speaking for the first time since her party's unexpectedly poor showing in last Sunday's elections, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave a speech yesterday reminding citizens of the accomplishments of her government, including the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas and the YPF oil company, social welfare programs for the poor and expanded access to public universities. She called on voters to stand up for these accomplishments in November 22nd's run-off presidential elections, reports the Associated Press.
  • CELS executive directo Gastón Chillier wrote an op-ed in Perfíl on the human rights gains in Argentina over the past 12 years of Kirchner governments and those issues that remain to be addressed. 
  • Chile's government authorized the biggest medicinal marijuana plantation in South America, reports Los Andes. With 7,000 seeds, the measure will benefit nearly 4,000 oncological patients, people suffering from epilepsy that doesn't respond to anti-convulsive medication and chronic pain patients.
  • Greg Gandin, writing in The Nation, looks at the long history of Colombia's civil war, which might come to an end by the end of the year. (See yesterday's briefs.) He interviews Winifred Tate, who teaches in the anthropology department at Colby College and has been involved with Colombia since the 1980s, about the ongoing Havana peace talks. 
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he will turn to the U.S. legal system to sue the U.S. government in an attempt to combat an executive order from earlier this year declaring the South American country an extraordinary threat to U.S. national security. Maduro called the measure a Sword of Damocles and said the suit would expose its "international illegality," reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An even bigger threat, for the government at least, are dismal approval ratings -- below 25 percent -- which could mean an opposition majority, if not super-majority, in the National Assembly resulting from December's parliamentary elections, according to David Smilde and Michael McCarthy at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. They review the vulnerabilities of the voting system, and how the government is working them in its favor. They note that "it is unlikely that the government would engage in outright fraud as their national and international legitimacy strongly depends on being elected to power." However, that does not mean that they won't attempt "to gain strategic advantages by nibbling around the edges."
  • UNASUR announced earlier this week that Maduro has agreed to allow some 20,000 Colombians who were either deported or fled to return to the country and legalize their immigration status reports the Miami Herald. Many had been living in Venezuela for decades until an August crackdown on border security.
  • Even baseball, previously an affordable and enjoyable pastime, is starting to be out of reach in Venezuela. The price of tickets has quadrupled. The season has kicked off to half-empty stadiums. Average attendance is down 25 percent, reports the Associated Press. Players complain their per diems aren't even enough to buy lunch.
  • It might not rank up there with the violence issues Mexico is facing, but the navy has been called in to battle an invasion of brown algae that is plaguing the Caribbean basin this year, reports the Washington Post. Its not at all funny for the country's tourism industry though, and authorities are concerned about the impact of the smelly seaweed.
  • Mexico's most successful independent satirical show, El Pulso de la Republica, uses public corruption, embarrassing mismanagement and other hot-button issues as material for jokes that established television channels no longer run, reports the Los Angeles Times. "Migration is like smoking weed: If you don't have papers, it's going to be a bitch," joked host Chumel Torres in a recent episode.
  • The New York Times has a piece on Argentine cartoonist Liniers, a well-known artist in South America whose work has been attracting fans in the U.S. over the past few years. He has drawn three covers for The New Yorker since last year and had two books out in the U.S. this month.

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