Friday 30 December 2011

Acapulco beefs up security

The sight of 1,000 new federales on the streets of Acapulco may or may not make tourists and residents feel any safer, but that’s what they’re going to get.

As part of the “Secure Guerrero” (Guerrero Seguro) initiative, the Mexican Federal police have reinforced the city’s tourist strip with over 1,000 new officers, as well as 173 vehicles and two helicopters.

This comes after recent reports of tourists being shaken down by police, as well as a confrontation between police and student demonstrators on the Acapulco to Mexico City highway (Autopista del Sol), near Chilpancingo, in which two students were shot dead.

The Public Security Secretariat (SSP) reported that the focus would be on tourist areas and “hot spots” where crime has occurred in the past, with increased patrols in areas where there is a high concentration of people, including the coastal areas and the “Zona Diamante” (Diamond Zone).

But will a stronger police presence make Acapulco's Zona Diamante more secure?

Officials said they would also be adding security to the airport area, and that there would now be a permanent presence on access roads and highways leading to and from the city.

The intention is to provide fixed support for tourists and residents, allowing for quicker communication and, hopefully, a reduction of crimes committed while people are in transit.

Officials noted that as a state-wide initiative Guerrero Seguro had already resulted in the arrest of 245 people between October 8 and December 28, all of whom were linked to criminal groups operating in the port of Acapulco.

Among the major arrests were two leaders and founders of the criminal gang known as "La Barredora" (The Sweeper).

Officials are encouraged by the fact that the public has more confidence in making complaints to the police, though those numbers still appear low, given the size of the challenge. Since the beginning of Guerrero Seguro and the implementation of an anonymous citizens’ complaint system, there have been a total of 169 complaints. Of these, 38 were against organized crime, and 36 were for the sale of illegal drugs.

All in all, 127,462 kilos of marijuana have been seized, as well as nearly half a kilogram of cocaine. Officials have also seized 25 rifles, 45 handguns, five grenades and 194 stolen vehicles.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
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Inmates from Puente Grande prison escape in maintenance truck

The three inmates who escaped from the Puente Grande Federal prison near Guadalajara, Mexico, managed to leave aboard a closed, three ton maintenance truck with a double bottom.

The escape was detected after roll call between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 29. The inmates were missing from room 5 in cell 37.

The escapees, convicted of serious crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and murder, had to pass through at least five security levels. As a result, it is deemed virtually impossible to escape from the prison without assistance. Mexican media are reporting that custodians would have been paid about 150,000 pesos (US $10,750) to secure their exit.

José González, director of the Center for Social Rehabilitation of Puente Grande, said security cameras captured images of the van, and that authorities have identified both the plates and the driver. The van was supposedly delivering paint and mirrors to the prison as part of a remodelling job.  

At a press conference following the escape, González claimed that such incidents are caused by flaws in the prison system such as overcrowding and inadequate budgets to improve security and control systems. He said that extensive work is done to vet prison staff.

However, it seems clear that the security problem at Puente Grande is not a matter of poor technology, but, as in other escapes, more a function of human corruption. González emphasized that all areas of the prison were now under review to ensure that they were secure.

At present, nine guards are under investigation, as are three civilian women who have had links with the escapees. If found guilty, the suspects will face both criminal charges and administrative sanctions.

Puente Grande has been in the news in the past. The American Glen Stewart Godwin, a convicted killer, escaped from Folsom Prison, California, in the summer of 1987. Godwin, using the alias Michael Stewart Carrera, was then arrested on November 4, 1987, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for drug trafficking.

Godwin was convicted and sentenced to seven years at Puente Grande. In prison, Godwin allegedly murdered a fellow inmate. And five months later, on September 26, 1991, the FBI says Godwin escaped again.

On December 7, 1996, Glen Godwin was named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. To this day, The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to Godwin's capture.

But the most famous escapee of all is Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman Loera, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel and the most wanted man in the Americas. Guzman escaped from Puente Grande in 2001, by bribing guards to smuggle him outside via a laundry truck. A federal investigation later led to the arrest of 71 prison officials.

Puente Grande, or “Big Bridge” has since been jokingly referred to as the “Puerta Grande" (Big Door) prison. According to Time Magazine, Guzman once bragged that he spends $5 million a month on bribes to law enforcement officers.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

Thursday 29 December 2011

Honduras blames Mexico for “invasion” of drug traffickers

The Honduran Minister of Defence, Marlon Pascua, has said in an interview that Honduras has been invaded by drug traffickers who are using the country’s territory to pass hundreds of tons of cocaine annually from Colombia to the United States.

Officials estimate 25 to 30 tons of cocaine arrives in Honduras each month by air and sea, one-third of the world's total volume.

“Given our geographic situation...Honduras has been invaded by the traffickers and has become a victim of the drug trade,” he said.

He then went further and squarely put the blame on Mexico.

“The invasion of traffickers into Honduras has been provoked by the open war on drugs...And the battle is exacerbated by the government of Mexico’s war on drugs.”

The minister acknowledged that Honduras is a transit point for large amounts of drugs from South American producers to consumers in the United States.

Marlon Pascua, Defence Minister for the most violent country on earth

In fact, Mexico’s success may be Honduras’s failure: Pascua stated that it was Mexico’s increasingly rigid control that was driving the cartels into the Central American country, where institutions are weak and violence is on the rise.

Pascua lamented that the Washington Post has referred to Honduras as a world’s homicide capital, which he called undeserving.

Pascua noted that in 2011 Honduran authorities seized a record of over 21 tons of cocaine. In past years, the average has been about ten or five tons per year. He further complained that the media and international organizations only focus on the bad, without recognizing some good results from Honduras’s efforts to deal with the problem.

Honduras had 6,723 murders between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 15, 2011, an average of 81.5 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, the highest per capita rate in the world (the global rate, as calculated by the United Nations, is 8.8 homicides per 100,000). This is an increase of 881 over 2010.

However, the Honduran government has claimed that murders are down in 2011 compared with last year, crediting “Operation Lightning,” a joint police and military operation launched last month.

Honduran lawmakers have chosen the Mexican solution, having voted overwhelmingly last month to deploy the country's military against drug traffickers.

Political violence has also flared since the 2009 coup that deposed left-of-center President Manuel Zelaya, with journalists, labor activists and gays also apparently being killed with greater frequency.

On Dec. 7, former security minister Alfredo Landaverde, an outspoken critic of growing police corruption tied to organized crime, was gunned down in his car, only a day after radio journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos was assassinated.

The United States has been drawn deep into Honduras' counter-drug fight, spending at least $50 million on security assistance since 2008. Most recently, security concerns prompted the Peace Corps to announce that it would pull all 158 volunteers out of Honduras.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

American tugboat captain beaten in Mexico dies

A resident of Bainbridge Island, Washington State, died Tuesday after being brutally beaten in the Gulf coast city of Tampico, Mexico.

Patrick Warga, a 46-year-old tugboat captain, was in Tampico, Mexico, for his job as a captain with Foss Maritime. After attending a Christmas Eve service at a church in port city with a shipmate, the two decided to spend the night at a hotel fearing it would be too dangerous to return to the shipyard after dark.

But Warga was robbed and attacked when he went out for a cup of tea the next morning. He was then flown to a hospital in San Diego Monday.

A 20-year-old man was arrested Dec. 27 in connection with the attack.

On the same Christmas morning that Warga was attacked, the Tamaulipas Attorney General's Office made a gruesome discovery near Tampico, finding 13 bodies inside an 18-wheeler.

Soldiers with the Mexican army made the discovery while out on patrol on the El Moralillo-Tampico highway on Christmas morning. Officials said the truck had Veracruz license plates prompting a multi-agency investigation.

No suspects have been publicly identified or arrested.

The discovery comes days after deadly passenger bus attacks in Veracruz.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

Corrupt Mexican public servant caught in sting operation

After citizen complaints, a public servant tasked with promoting development programs in Mexico City (Programa de Desarrollo Humano Oportunidades) has been detained after an investigation determined that he was demanding money for inclusion in social programs.

This was a complex operation, involving three other organizations: the Attorney General’s office (Procuraduría General de la República, or PGR); the office for Internal Control (known as the Órgano Interno de Control, the OIC is tasked with evaluating federal government services); and the federal Ministry for Public Affairs (Secretaría de la Función Pública, or SFP, which is mandated to consolidate a government that is “honest, efficient, and transparent”.

In a press release, the SFP stated that complainant reported that the public servant required her to pay five thousand pesos (US $358). This would allow her and her neighbours to then get access to social services.

Apparently the bureaucrat indicated that similar deals had been in play for other low-income citizens and residents of Iztapalapa, in Mexico City.

The public servant was detained in a restaurant in Mexico City shortly after having received 2,000 pesos (US $143) from the complainant as partial payment of the full bribe. He has since been transferred for criminal proceedings as part of an investigation into the bribery charge, and is under the authority of the Attorney General’s office for the Federal District (Mexico City).

This may seem like very small beer, given the size of the problems presently faced by Mexico. However, petty corruption at the local level is rarely addressed in Mexico, and the fact that citizens successfully reported the incident, with the fair and open co-operation of numerous government bodies, is cause for some cheer.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

Seven alleged Zetas members detained in Nuevo Leon

Only days after seven bodies were found in clandestine graves near Linares, Nuevo Leon, authorities have detained seven alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel.

Working alongside the Mexican Military, State authorities captured five presumed adult members of the Zetas, as well as two minors. The group is accused of participating in at least twelve homicides and kidnappings in the citrus-growing region of the state, which borders with the neighboring state Tamaulipas.

At a press conference the security spokesman for the state, Jorge Domene Zambrano, said that the capture took place in an army checkpoint which had been put in place to support State forces. The checkpoint was near the town of Linares.

Domene Zambrano assumed his post in December, 2010

The subjects were detained initially after two rifles were found in a vehicle. Alongside the rifles, authorities seized 29 magazines, more than 800 cartridges of various calibers, 100 bags of marijuana, 14 bags cocaine (eight with crack cocaine), five cell phones, and three vehicles: a Ford Avenger, a Ford Ranger, and a Dodge Stratus.

"They have been saying that they worked with the criminal group Los Zetas,” said Domene Zambrano. “They are allegedly connected to at least 12 known murders, committed along with other individuals, some of whom are still at large.”

The group of five adults ranged in age from 19 to 41. The two minors were each 14 years of age; one of these was identified as a drug pusher, and the other as a lookout.

The last murder allegedly committed by this group occurred on December 23, when Rolando Gonzalez Rodriguez, aged 40, a “drug dealer for rival groups” was killed in Linares. Other victims of this organized group apparently include police officers in the municipalities of Linares and Hualahuises.

In related news, a few days before these arrests the bodies of seven people were found in three different graves in between Montemorelos and Linares. The information that led to the discovery was given to authorities by a gang of Zetas kidnappers who had been arrested a week before the graves were discovered.

The search for more bodies in the area continues, as authorities are unsure if there are more than seven victims connected to this incident.

The recent finding of the Nuevo León graves is yet another addition to a long list of discoveries. On December 14, ten bodies were found buried in Durango, bringing that state's yearly total to almost 300 victims.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

Acapulco police officers rob Canadian tourist

Two municipal police officers in Acapulco have been removed from duty after having robbed a Canadian tourist, according to the city’s mayor, Manuel Añorve Baños.

The incident occured near the Crowne Plaza, seen here

Local business owners reported that this is not the first time police have robbed a tourist in the Pacific resort, and their frustration has resulted in a demand for action.

At around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 28, a group of municipal officers approached a tourist walking near the Crowne Plaza. They then stole the tourist’s belongings, as well as 300 pesos (about US $21). The incident has outraged both hoteliers and tourists.

Though it might sound a little hollow, the mayor said that he has “no tolerance” for officials who commit abuses against visitors, and urged all municipal security forces to refrain from committing crimes. He then insisted that the events will not be repeated.

City officials claimed that the stolen property and money was returned to the tourist.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com