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07/28/2011

A 'sexual fiesta' in the Juarez prison

On that prison riot in Juarez I’ve been blogging about (see below two items), it gets worse.


Turns out that prosecutors say that a day before the riot, 30 to 40 women had been brought into the prison for what the Proceso magazine news report calls a “sexual fiesta.” 


Four of the women were minors, between 15 and 17 years old.


One of the minors spoke to El Diario de Juarez, a local newspaper, and said she and her husband (that’s right, she was married) were invited to a party in the prison on Sunday. They both decided to go at about 11 p.m.


“My husband said he wanted to go and so I said yes, too. Then I invited my friends,” the teenager said. “They told me it was in the CERESO (prison). I thought about it, but then curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know what it was like in there."


She and others quoted in the local media say the party lasted all night. Among those in on the party were prison guards and their bosses, the Proceso story says. The minors were presented to the guards. There was plenty of booze, and apparently guns came in with the women.


What triggered the shootout on Monday night is not clear. The party occurred in the cellblock controlled by Los Aztecas (the Juarez Cartel enforcers) and gang members from Los Mexicles appeared to attack them, El Universal reports. But it gets fuzzy from there.


It’s clearer, though, that just about anything goes in many of Mexico’s prisons. Want booze? Pay up. Women? No problem. Cell phones? Sure. Want to get away from the enemies of your criminal organization? Going to prison might not be a bad idea. Prisons are like what drug rehab centers used to be – seemingly safe areas where criminals can chill out, enjoy a drink or two, take visits from the occasional girlfriend and plot drug deals or vengeance killings. It’s obvious why alleged drug lords don’t want to get extradited to U.S. jails.


I’ve been to all the major prisons in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the famed hellhole known as el Reten de Catia en Venezuela that was so bad it was razed to the ground. Certainly the two major penitentiaries in Bogota, La Picota and La Modelo, had suites and special services for narcos. Back in the late 1990s, I visited one narco in La Modelo and interviewed him in what seemed to be his personal snack bar replete with refrigerator and private cook. Maybe it isn’t so comfy anymore. But who knows.


Seems to me the prison problem is integral to the broader issue of impunity, lack of justice and lawlessness. Certainly there was no law apparent in the Ciudad Juarez prison earlier this week, just licentiousness and bloodshed.

07/27/2011

Footage from Mexican prison riot

The government has released footage from one of the security cameras inside the prison in Ciudad Juarez where a riot late Monday left 17 people dead and dozens wounded.

According to the El Paso Times website, the footage "shows two men talking to prison security officers who gave them a key to one of the locked rooms where several inmates were being detained. As the masked men unlocked the door to the inmates' room, the security guards can be seen leaving the area. As soon as the guards leave, several other armed and masked men enter the area, open the door to the room and begin shooting. The masked men can be seen reloading, before leaving through a side door."

07/26/2011

The free-for-all in Mexico's prisons

Mexico Prison Fight_Nost
Inmates at a state prison in Ciudad Juarez whipped out their guns in a deadly clash Monday night, and when a shootout ended 17 inmates lay dead


The fight was between members of Los Aztecas, a gang aligned with the Juarez cartel, and Los Mexicles, enforcers for the Sinaloa drug cartel in the border city.


I’ve been in the state prison in Juarez and heard the prison director talk about why the walls are so high between cellblocks. It’s to prevent this kind of shootout. Gang members are sequestered, according to their gang affiliation.


Foto-Cereso But what rarely gets addressed is the corruption that allows family members to bring guns, dope, cell phones and all matter of other stuff in to the inmates.


Prison corruption has emerged in numerous ways in the last week or so.  Last week, press reports and photos talked about the “luxury suites” at the state penitentiary in Hermosillo, capital of Sonora state. The 130 suites are air-conditioned and equipped with plush furniture, wooden cabinets, TVs and kitchens. 


The state’s prison director, Ricardo Ornelas, said he’d heard reports the prison also contained illegal barber shops, grocery stores, markets, pawnshops and even a shellfish bar.

 
Clearly the suites are designed so that narcos won’t have to undergo undue hardship when they do “hard” time.

07/22/2011

Stoking up on carbs, Mexican style

Get this: Mexicans consume 412 pounds of breads and tortillas a year. That’s more than a pound a day. It’s part of why Mexico ranks 10th in the world in consumption of processed foods.

That’s according to Euromonitor International, a consulting firm that measures consumption habits around the world.

To wash all those tortillas and rolls down, Mexicans swig 126 quarts (119.6 liters) of soft drinks a year. That puts them as the highest per capita consumers of soft drinks in the world, higher than the U.S. at 125 quarts (118.6 liters). Mexican consumption, by the way, keeps growing fairly rapidly.

So it may come as little surprise that 73 percent of Mexicans over age 15 at overweight or obese, up from 70 percent five years ago.

Mexicans don’t go in much for veggies. They consume 121 pounds (55 kilos) a year on average, placing them at No. 102 among countries of the world in consumption of vegetables.

To see the Spanish-language Mexican news story these tidbits were taken from, click here.

07/21/2011

Mexico's major role in meth production

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Mexico has entered the major leagues of methamphetamine production, a status underscored by the army’s seizure this week of 840 tons of chemicals used in the manufacture of the illegal stimulant.

The army said it found a warehouse containing the chemicals near Queretaro, barely a two-hour drive north of Mexico City. 

As you can see in the army photo, the chemicals were neatly lined up in blue barrels and in white sacks stacked aboard pallets. A forklift is in the background. The photo indicates that the illegal drug organization behind the chemicals is sophisticated.

The army said in a statement that the seizure Monday, included 787 tons of phenylacetamide and 52.5 tons of tartaric acid, chemicals required for meth production. Reuters quotes an expert here saying it may be the largest seizure of chemicals used in meth manufacture ever. No word yet on the likely Asian source country of the chemicals.

Migrants who drive without a license

I was in southern Mexico for a few days earlier this month researching stories on migrants and spoke with numerous Central Americans, some of whom were veterans of the trans-Mexico trip to ‘el norte.’

I was struck by two facts at migrant centers that I visited: One was the frequency with which migrants told me they had been caught driving without a license in the U.S., then deported. The other was how many of the migrants said they had been convicted of U.S. felonies and how lightly they treated their criminal records.

After maybe the third time hearing a migrant tell me about his felony, I turned to the photographer, a Chilean friend who lives in the Bay Area, and shook my head. I wanted to say, “A felony is a serious thing, dude. What got into you?” They talked about their convictions as if they were as mundane as getting the light shut off by the power company. An oversight. Bad luck. Engaging in illegality while residing in the States as an undocumented person had put in peril everything they struggled for.

On the driver license issue, I know how difficult it must be to live in the U.S. without a vehicle. But risking driving also seems foolhardy. Walk, bike, take public transportation. Find a way to live close to the job site. But if you drive without a license, you are likely to get caught and deported. We talked to one Colombian-born young man who'd lived 23 years of his life in Texas, all on the straight and narrow. Then he got busted for driving without a license. He now is in effect a stateless person. He doesn't fit in in Colombia but will live only in the shadows if he makes it back to Texas.  

I thought of this as I read here and here how Washington state and New Mexico are again cracking down on undocumented people getting licenses. I’ve read the arguments both pro and con. Denying licenses to undocumented people jeopardizes public safety and drives up insurance rates, some argue.  Others like Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico say fraud rings operate as far away as Chicago to get illegal migrants driver licenses from her state.

I don’t know the answer but certainly there are many, many migrants who seem more than willing to drive with or without a license. 

07/08/2011

New choppers for the army

 

340950711 Mexico’s army this week showed off two new French-made Cougar EC-725 helicopters it has obtained. The army says they’ll be used for “troop transport and logistic support.” 

The twin-engine helicopters have been deployed in 10 countries worldwide, including Lebanon, Afghanistan and Brazil.

The two displayed this week are apparently part of an order of six. The army provided the photo above. I don't know where that third helicopter came from. Click here for more and better photos.

A specialized website says the following about the helicopters:

The aircraft is suitable for a wide range of missions: tactical troop transport, special operations, search and rescue, combat search and rescue, maritime surveillance, humanitarian support logistic ground support, medical evacuation and ship-borne operations. The ferry flight range is over 1,200nm.

In the tactical troop transport role the helicopter can carry 19 troops over a 250nm radius of action. In the combat search and rescue role, the EC 725 is able to rescue a downed crew at a radius of action of 280nm.

Item: This will be my last blog post till July 20 when I return from vacation in the western U.S. Please return then.

 

07/07/2011

Check the trunk before crossing border

Even honest people face risks crossing the border from Mexico into El Paso, Texas.

If you don’t believe it, read here and here: Dopers are stashing marijuana in the trunks of autos of unwitting people who regularly cross from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso, an FBI agent says in a sworn affidavit.

A number of Mexicans cross every day. They are students at the University of Texas in El Paso or professionals. Generally, they use the SENTRI express lane, the dedicated express lane for commuters.

Turns out, marijuana dealers have spotters looking for cars that cross every day on a predictable schedule through that lane. 

Here’s what one of them said about Ana Isela Martinez Amaya, 35, a teacher from the private La Fe Preparatory School in El Paso. Martinez is now in jail on marijuana smuggling charges. 

"We have seen that girl (Martinez Amaya) for about a year because she's like a clock, boss," alleged smuggler Carlos Gomez said in a recorded telephone call captured by the FBI. "At 5:00 -- she was there. Boom-boom-boom! Always."

Turns out that Gomez and his smuggling ring would identify drivers and vehicles that cross regularly. Then the smugglers would secretly obtain the car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, and get a Texas locksmith to make spare keys for that car.

According to the El Paso Times: “The keys would be used at night by smugglers to unlock the car, put drugs in it and lock it. The next morning, the drivers would get in their cars and drive to El Paso -- without ever knowing that drugs had been placed in the vehicles overnight.”

Martinez Amaya, a fourth grade teacher, is locked up in a Ciudad Juarez prison, where she is teaching illiterate fellow prisoners to read. She and her family says the 110 pounds of marijuana found in two suitcases in her trunk were planted. Apparently, the FBI has proof that that is the case.

"I'm not a drug dealer. I have been an honest person all my life. I just want authorities to know it's absolutely unfair to have me here because I'm not guilty," Martinez Amaya said in May.

Amaya has a hearing before a Mexican judge on Friday.

07/06/2011

The rights of Texas, Mexico and Americans jailed abroad

Pity the poor American who ends up in jail abroad. 

If Texas gives a lethal injection to Humberto Leal Garcia on Thursday, after failing to notify Mexican consular officers when he was arrested, then certainly foreign countries will feel free to give Americans a dose of their own medicine.

Texas Execution_Nost Some 2,000 Americans are arrested and locked up abroad each year, according to this article, and some of them are given bizarre punishments. Remember Michael P. Fay, the Missouri youth sentenced to caning in 1994 in Singapore for theft and vandalism? Then there are the Americans who have been held in Myanmar, Syria, Iran or North Korea. 

Dozens of Americans are probably in jails in Mexico. Read about two of them here. Many of them are likely guilty. But certainly it helps if U.S. consular officers can be notified when they are arrested, visit them in prison and ascertain facts about their cases.

Mexico has spent a lot of money and time on Leal, 38, accused of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1994. He is one of 57 Mexicans on death row in the United States. El Universal says the Secretariat of Foreign Relations has spent $10.5 million just to one Tucson law firm for the defense of its nationals on death row.

The Obama administration has asked Texas to stay the execution. Here’s a snippet from the State Department briefing Tuesday where the issue came up:

SPOKESWOMAN VICTORIA NULAND: Let me first say with regard to the case of Humberto Leal Garcia, the United States has filed an amicus brief – we did that on July 1st with the Supreme Court – in support of the application by Mr. Leal, a Mexican national, covered by the International Court of Justice’s judgment in the Avena case for a stay of execution. And this is to allow some consideration of the fact that Mr. Leal was not afforded a visit by Mexican consular officials at an appropriate moment in the trial proceedings, so to allow that to be taken into account. As you know, this is an issue of reciprocity for the United States because we are very concerned about being in compliance ourselves, here from the State Department, with our obligations under the ICJ, because it’s critical to our ability to get consular access and protection for our own citizens when they find themselves in similar circumstances when they are arrested or detained by foreign governments. So it sends a strong signal to the international community about our commitment to respecting these important obligations.

I don’t have any comment for you on the Mexican arrests. Obviously, we support steps by the Mexican Government to enforce the law and see justice done.

QUESTION: Could I --

MS. NULAND: On that same --

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, was there any investigation as to why the consular access was not granted in time? Has there been anybody who had to answer for that failure?

MS. NULAND: I don’t want to get too deeply into the legal issues from this podium. But my understanding is it has to do with states’ rights versus federal policy, and it has to do with current policies of the State of Texas.

QUESTION: On Syria.

QUESTION: Can we stay on that?

MS. NULAND: Could – yeah. Sorry. Let’s just stay on Mexico if people want to.

QUESTION: Mexico.

MS. NULAND: Yeah, Jill.

QUESTION: Could you just elaborate a little bit about that? Because, I mean, you said it could affect the rights of Americans. How would that work, specifically, when Americans are abroad? What conceivably could happen without that type of reciprocity?

MS. NULAND: I think you know that there was an ICJ case that found that we were in insufficient compliance with the rights of consular access, and that case was upheld in U.S. courts. So the concern is that if we don’t set a good example here and allow foreign governments to visit their citizens who are detained or arrested or ongoing – having legal difficulties, that we could face reciprocal denial of access for our consular officials when American citizens find themselves arrested or detained overseas. So our concern is to be in compliance with the ICJ ourselves. That’s why we filed this amicus brief, so that we can ameliorate this situation so that our own citizens don’t face reciprocal denial of access.

QUESTION: And are you able to – I know it’s a legal issue, but are you able to speak to that opinion among some that Texas should be able to do whatever, basically, it wants and not respect the decisions by Washington, D.C. or federal courts?

MS. NULAND: Well, this case is going to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, we believe. That’s why we filed this amicus brief, and it’s up to the Supreme Court to settle issues of states’ rights versus federal responsibility.

07/03/2011

Running into heavy rains

IMG_0256
This time of year, heavy rains can interrupt all plans. A photographer friend and I left Mexico City yesterday morning and it’s been raining off-and-on for the last 36 hours.

By the time we got to the edge of the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico, it had become a real gully washer. But that didn’t stop the makeshift rafts that bring people and merchandise across the river. This southern border has to be one of the most porous populated borders in the world.

The rafts are each made from two tractor inner tubes, and the owners say they can each carry 25 “quintales,” which would be bushels and which I imagine might be equivalent to about 50 pounds. That’s a lot of weight for a raft. The big ones can bring 15 people.

Few countries have a more ambiguous and even schizophrenic policy toward undocumented migrants than Mexico. For example, when we left the town of Arriaga this morning, which is near the Chiapas state border with Oaxaca and is a railhead where migrants hop trains northward, our driver pointed out the state office where investigators ensure that the rights of migrants aren’t violated. Moreover, in Arriaga we conducted interviews at the Casa de Migrante, a Catholic-run migrant center that is crawling with undocumented travelers from Central America.

Yet between Arriaga and Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, we passed no less than seven checkpoints on the highway. Three were operated by migration agents, three were staffed by federal police and one by the army. 

So are migrants welcome or not? I’ll keep you posted.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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