Sunday 19 August 2012

WikiLeaks' Assange and Ecuador's Correa – brothers in hypocrisy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is wanted in Sweden on sexual assault charges. But his decision to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy is deeply hypocritical, given that Ecuador is one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America when it comes to press freedom.

Assange is concerned that, should he be extradited from Great Britain, the Swedish will not only prosecute him on trumped up accusations, they may then also shunt him off to the United States. From there he could be charged with leaking sensitive information – just as has happened to Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who passed classified information to WikiLeaks.

Ecuador's president Correa expresses his views on press freedom

The Ecuadorian government and Mr. Assange’s supporters see a vast conspiracy. But they are wrong. The Swedish charges are real, and not part of some honeypot. They involve a “Ms. A” and a “Ms. W”.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Fierce gun battles erupt in Bucerias north of Puerto Vallarta

For the shooting on Feb 6, 2013, go here.

The resort town of Bucerias, Mexico, a few miles north of Puerto Vallarta, was shaken on Tuesday, August 14, when violent gun battles erupted between authorities and gangsters.

Mexican authorities are releasing few details, but it looks like there was a raid on two criminal “safe houses”, which resulted in perhaps one death and three arrests.

The incidents began when a deputy director of the Bahia de Banderas municipal police force came across an armed group. Ricardo Flores Aguayo saw the men in a fenced area behind the Arroyos Verdes (Green Streams) neighbourhood. He called in a request for support, which resulted in a shootout, with armed gangsters fleeing the scene.

This shootout was against approximately ten subjects. When the gangsters saw more police coming, they fled up a hill, drawing municipal agents to near the landfill at Arroyos Verdes. Here the authorities were apparently able to make one arrest.

At about 2:30 pm another call came in reporting that armed men were seen near a farmhouse guarded by patrols around the old road to Valle de Banderas.

The police began to put together a response team, but arrived at the scene after most of the gunmen had fled, though they did manage to make their second arrest here.

At the farm they confiscated rifles, fragmentation grenades, and tactical vests, as well as a late model Ford pickup truck. The farm, according to some reports, was being used as a place to “train assassins”.

One local who was working in the Biblioteca Rey Nayar (link includes map), a library sponsored by the expat community, heard the gunfire. Apparently, the shootout went on for an extended period of time.

Outside the "finca" (farm/ranch) 

It appears both State Police and the State Investigation Agency were unhappy with reporters at the crime scene, telling them to “fuck your bitch somewhere else!" According to the Mexican press, however, the reporters refused to leave the site.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Cynthia Vanier case: Canada sends Diplomatic Note to Mexican officials as delays pile up

After over a week of delays and false starts, in which officials within Mexico’s judicial system were either unable or unwilling to offer an adequate translator for Cynthia Vanier, thus making it virtually impossible for her legal team to cross-examine witnesses and evidence, the Canadian government has sent a Diplomatic Note to Mexican officials expressing its concern.

Ms. Vanier, as readers of this blog are well-aware, is the Canadian mediator accused by the Mexican government of being the ring-leader in a plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, fallen dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s third son, from North Africa to Mexico.

Specific to Ms. Vanier, the main purpose of the hearings is for her defense team to cross examine the prosecution’s evidence. Other defendants in this case are Gabriela de Cueto, who is in the same prison as Ms. Vanier, and two men: Pierre Flensborg and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto, both of whom are in jail in Veracruz.

Friday July 27 was supposed to be the beginning of two weeks of hearings (audiencias) in Chetumal, where Ms. Vanier is imprisoned, with video link-ups to Mexico City.  The Friday July 27 hearing was cancelled, however, due to the fact that the court in Chetumal failed to provide an official translator.

This is an important issue, as Ms. Vanier does not speak Spanish. It is also something that the court in Chetumal is well aware of, given that a ruling in early May by a judge in Mexico City ordered that Ms. Vanier have access to a translator, as per her rights under the Vienna Convention, the Mexican Constitution, and the Mexican Penal Code.

Then on Monday, July 30, when the parties again showed up in court, the same thing happened. Given that the hearings require the participation of a judge in Mexico City, and everyone’s time was being wasted, that judge decided to cancel the entire week’s audiencias until an official translator could be engaged to fulfill the legal requirements.

Hurricane Ernesto also arrived on their doorstep, resulting in further delays. In total, nine hearings were cancelled and had to be rescheduled. The cancellations now mean that this part of the legal process will go on through the first week of September.

In response to concerns expressed by Ms. Vanier’s husband, Pierre, Canadian consular officials raised the translation issue with the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, seeking their assurances that the trial would progress without untimely delays and that an official translator would be provided. To that end, the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City sent a Diplomatic Note to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affair expressing the same in writing. 

For the first time in this entire process, which has now dragged on for almost eight months, a Canadian consular official attended a proceeding. The official attended a video conference in Mexico City, but appears to have left half-way through the cross-examination of the second witness.

Given the international significance of this trial, the slow uptake on the part of the Canadians is hard to understand. It may be that they were shamed by the judge in Mexico City, or that there is internal pressure on the Canadian side. There appeared to be no specific or practical purpose to the presence of the consular official – he was likely there simply to make a point as to the Canadian government’s concern with regard to the procedural delays.

Not the real thing far the case has 21 volumes of at least 500 pages each 

The hearings so far

During the hearings Ms. Vanier identified the female officer who elbowed her in the ribs, which has resulted in ongoing kidney problems. This assault has been a part of Ms. Vanier’s defense since the beginning.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Wag that dog: Cynthia Vanier is ill-served by Stewart Bell, Gary Peters, and police leaks

When the National Post’s Stewart Bell broke the news last December that the Canadian mediator Cynthia Vanier had been arrested the previous month in Mexico City for allegedly conspiring to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi from war-torn Libya to Mexico, the world took notice.

But there was a problem: the lead reporter was heavily reliant on one key witness, Gary Peters, as well as on inside police sources. This problem persists, and has skewed the reporting on the case to such a degree that it must be called out.

We now know that Peters – who had acted as a body guard for the younger Gaddafi when he visited Canada, as well as for Ms. Vanier during her SNC Lavalin-sponsored fact-finding mission to Libya last summer – has some serious credibility issues.

One major concern is that Peters is a known fabricator. Another is that Bell and others (including La politica) are aware of police reports and both physical and mental health issues that call into question the credibility of Peters’ various statements. The truth is, Peters may have been gung-ho about a plot to smuggle Gaddafi, even if only in his mind, but there is little hard evidence to suggest others were.

The second problem is perhaps more serious. It is Bell’s close connections to Canada’s security apparatus. He is not alone here: many so-called investigative journalists defer to power in order to gain access to leaked information. They get the scoop and become heroes to their bosses. Sadly, this approach allows the powers that be to lead and even direct the news.

Sometimes it's on purpose

Consequently, one purpose these practices do not serve is the public good. In fact, they often result in fiascos, in which the media get spun to serve the interests of the state, and in which the civil rights of citizens are then violated.

In Canada, one recent example is a police leak of personal contact information to Bell. The person in question is Barrie Rice, who travelled to Libya and to Mexico with Ms. Vanier. Mr. Rice is a respected security consultant with A-list clients such as the Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow. He is a person of interest in this case because he knows both Cynthia Vanier, whom he believes is innocent, and Gary Peters, whom he knows is unreliable.

Thursday 9 August 2012

No surprise that Bruce Beresford-Redman denied amparo

A few weeks ago Mexico's Fourth District Court in Cancun denied an injunction for Bruce Beresford-Redman, the American television producer charged with murdering his wife.
As a result, Beresford-Redman, who was extradited from the United States last February, will remain in detention.

Beresford-Redman at his hearing

In Mexico, this injunction is known as an "amparo". The amparo’s purpose is to protect an accused’s rights under the Mexican Constitution. At any point during a trial a lawyer may propose filing an amparo.

However, early appeals, which occur during or before a trial, as in this case, rarely result in the release of the prisoner. And even if an amparo is upheld a trial usually proceeds. Mexican judges have significant power, and can effectively rule that though constitutional rights may have been violated the public interest nonetheless dictates that a trial should occur.

Beresford-Redman’s lawyer, Carlos Grajales Betancourt, filed for amparo in March, shortly after his client’s extradition. Beresford-Redman is accused of murdering his wife, Monica Ferreira Burgos, in April 2010, when the couple were visiting Mexico with their two young children.

Beresford-Redman, who worked on such reality TV shows as Survivor and Pimp My Ride, has expressed concern for his safety while in jail. There have been at least a dozen violent outbreaks during his incarceration. Now it looks as though he will have to wait out his entire trial, which is expected to take from eight months to a year.

For more on this see The damning evidence against Bruce Beresford-Redman.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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

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