Wednesday 14 December 2011

Cynthia Vanier vs. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia

This is an old article. For the latest on Cynthia Vanier from La politica es la politica, go here.

When Canada’s National Post broke the story of an attempt by members of Libya's deposed Gadhafi family to escape to Mexico, they identified Cynthia Vanier, a mediation consultant from Mount Forest, Ontario, as being one of the plotters.

However, Ms. Vanier, who has been in a Mexican detention centre since Nov. 10, may be innocent of any crime. Meanwhile, Mexico’s Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, General Secretary of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Méxicana (National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic – also “Los Mineros”), remains in Canada despite being accused by the Mexican government of misappropriating 55 million dollars in union funds.

Ms. Vanier has yet to be charged (they can do that in Mexico), but her behaviour does look suspicious, given that she was arrested in Mexico City along with two Mexicans and a Danish national who are also implicated in the plot to smuggle Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s playboy son Saadi to Mexico using fraudulent travel documents. In fact, Mexican authorities consider Ms. Vanier to be the “ringleader” of the entire operation.

There does seem to be damming evidence of falsified travel papers, fake bank accounts, and the purchase of a luxury safe house in the Punta Mita resort community near Puerto Vallarta. The complex operation apparently involved assumed identities (Mr. Gaddafi was to be known as “Daniel Bejar Hanan”, and other family members “Amira Sayed Nader”, “Moah Bejar Sayed” and “Sofia Bejar Sayed”), as well as chartering private aircraft in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, Kosovo and the Middle East.

The problem seems to be that Ms. Vanier, a well-respected mediator who has worked with indigenous communities in Canada, doesn’t fit the bill as a major criminal. Her relatives, a biased group to be sure, can’t believe she was involved in something so daring, dastardly and complex.

They suspect she may have been set up, and guilty only of being “too trusting”. This may be reasonable given that she is accused of being in charge of the operation’s finances, which seems to be beyond her role as a consultant in a three-person firm in rural Mount Forest, Ontario.

A Canadian security contractor who had served as a bodyguard for members of the Gadhafi family has said there was a plan, but it was abandoned in June. But, if that is true, what on earth was Ms. Vanier doing in Mexico City in November?

Meanwhile, Canada is reluctant to extradite the Mexican union boss Gomez Urrutia, despite the seriousness of the charges being levelled against him by the Mexican government. To complicate matters, Gomez Urrutia has become something of a hero to the labour movement.

Last month Gómez Urrutia received the AFL-CIO's 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award at a ceremony held at the AFL-CIO's headquarters in Washington, D.C. He now joins the company of the Zimbabwe union activist Wellington Chibebe, and Ela Bhatt, founder of India's Self-Employed Women's Association. Two U.S. Congress members – Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Mike Machaud (D-ME) – spoke at the event.

Gómez Urrutia has lived in exile in Vancouver, Canada, since 2006, when the Mexican government filed numerous criminal charges against him. The AFL-CIO argues that the Mexican government not only went after Gómez Urrutia, they also attacked the “Los Mineros” union itself, freezing its bank accounts and declaring all strikes to be illegal. Things got ugly when federal troops were sent in to break strikes, with mine employers encouraged to replace Los Mineros with company-sponsored unions.

Gómez Urrutia is a larger-than-life character, having accused the former PAN administration of Vincente Fox with “industrial homicide” after a mine explosion that killed 65 miners on February 19, 2006. But given that Gómez Urrutia has strong popular support, and all but one of the eleven criminal charges has been dropped, one wonders why he doesn’t just go home and face the music.

For those who claim to have been defrauded by Gómez Urrutia, he is more fugitive than refugee. The specific accusation is that Gómez Urrutia illegally wound-up a miner’s trust, keeping funds for himself that were intended to be disbursed to miners after a mine was sold. It sounds, however, like the evidence is weak, and that the final charge may also fail, as it is based on similar evidence to previous charges.

It might be fair to ask: How is Gómez Urrutia supporting himself in Canada, and has he repatriated significant funds to this country? One charge coming from Mexico is that he has helped fund the Canadian unions that support him, though no one has presented any evidence to support this.

There is plenty of evidence of legal harassment, however. None of Mexican government's charges have gone anywhere due to lack of evidence. Still, they are now rumoured to be putting together yet another indictment.

As far as Canada is concerned, it’s game over. In May 2011 Gómez Urrutia was awarded permanent residency on the grounds that "there are no credible allegations from the Mexican government."

Now, back to Ms. Vanier and her unfortunate circumstances. Ms. Vanier travelled to Libya as part of a “fact-finding” tour paid by the Canadian engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin, which had active interests in the North African country. This resulted in a report, authored by Ms. Vanier, which was sent to Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, and which apparently showed bias in favour of the Gadhafi regime.

And why was Vanier in Mexico? When she was arrested last month she was in the process of buying a three-bedroom beach house. The plan, apparently, was for Ms. Vanier and her husband to sell their condo in Canada and move to Mexico. The allegedly nefarious role played by Ms. Vanier may have really been a hail-Mary pass to set her up for her golden years. If so, it looks like those plans have been delayed.

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