08/14/2013

'We won't let these people return'

I don’t normally post Spanish-language videos. But this one is so extraordinary that I’m making an exception. It is of a physician in the town of Tepalcatepec in Michoacan state talking about how organized crime has penetrated all levels of government.

The video of the surgeon, Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde, was made in late June and has caused a stir for several weeks now (while I was out of the country).

In it, Mireles Valverde justifies the emergence of armed self-defense groups in Michoacan, saying that gangsters have strangled the citizenry with demands for cash, ranging from the rancher to the tortilla vendor down to each car owner and parent of each student in public school. From Tecapcatepec alone, he says, they were extracting about $2.5 million a month

Then the rapes began, Mireles Valverde says.

“The problem blew up when they began to come to our home, and tell us things like, 'I like your wife, I'll take her with me for a while ... and while I'm gone, give your daughter a bath because she'll have to spend a few days with me, too," Mireles says, adding that the daughter would always return pregnant.

In December, 14 girls aged 11 or 12 were raped in the township of Tepalcatepec, and six were from a school where Mireles Valverde says he works as an advisor.

Mireles Valverde says the cartels – the Familia Michoacana or the Knights Templar – have taken over all levels of government in the state, from the governor’s office to the lowliest village.

"No authority could perform his function because all municipal, state and federal were part of these cartels or were on the payroll of these cartels," he says.

Complaining about this to the army, or federal police, Mireles Valverde says, does no good.

“We saw how they would site and have lunch or breakfast with them, the big leaders of organized crime. But they would never arrest anyone because supposedly they couldn’t find them,” he says.

From what I could determine on the internet, Mireles Valverde lived for many years in or near Sacramento, California, and was active in groups of Michoacan immigrants in the United States.

He said the armed self-defense groups in Michoacan will not back down in the face or criminal gangs.

“We won’t let these people return,” he says.

The video, by the way, has a closed caption option in Spanish, so if your spoken Spanish is weak and you prefer to read subtitles, there is that option.

Since I’m on the topic of Spanish-language media, two other articles have really caught my eye since my return. One is this lengthy article in sinembargo.mx about the days in which President Enrique Pena Nieto has no public appearances. It broaches the subject of whether Mexicans have a right to know the president’s activities. A second article, much longer, appears in Nexos and is an examination of racism in the nation. While Mexican laws are clear-cut and bar all forms of discrimination, society lags far behind. The article notes how the bulging society sections of Mexican newspapers are virtually devoid of indigenous or people of color.

06/10/2013

Changing money in Michoacan

IMG_5588
A dollar is a dollar, right?

Not in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, a Pueblo Magico that I visited over the weekend in company of some relatives. My wife went into an exchange house so that my niece could change $20 to buy some souvenirs.

“No, ma’am, we don’t change anything but $50 and $100,” she was told.

The teller said that no exchange house in the city would exchange small sums of money, only big bills. My niece looked crestfallen and after further discussion, the teller agreed to change the small quantity.

As soon as my wife told me what happened, it clicked. Michoacan sees a massive quantity of profits from illicit narcotics. Actually transporting U.S. bills is a problem for crime gangs. What better way to minimize the problem than only to deal in $100 bills?

Patzcuaro, by the way, is delightful. I hadn’t been there in 30+ years and my memory was fuzzy. But we found a richer variety of handcrafts than most other places we’ve been. Perhaps not surprisingly, waiters spoke to us constantly in English. Michoacan is the home state to huge numbers of migrants to the U.S. In Chicago alone, there are 250,000 migrants from Michoacan. One man who spoke to us in English said he’d lived for 16 years in Burbank, California.

On another evening, we were with some prominent people from Michoacan, and the conversation naturally turned to security and the dominant crime group, the Knights Templar. Out came several stories the gist of which is that few people believe crime boss Nazario Moreno, known as “El Mas Loco,” was really killed as the government contended in a shootout with federal police in Apatzingan in late 2010. Several years ago, I wrote about Moreno as one of the most colorful of Mexico’s underworld figures.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

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

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