Monday 12 November 2012

In Mexico, fourteen federal agents charged with attacking CIA agents

The rule of thumb in Mexico, as in most countries, is that the higher up you go the less compromised, and less corrupt, the police services are.

Mexico’s federal police are supposedly cleaner than the state forces, which in turn shine brighter than the municipal cops. By comparison, in Canada the RCMP sets the national standard, as does the FBI in the United States.

But sometimes even the crème de la crème falter. When that happens, we have examples of corruption, harassment, falsification of evidence, perjury...the usual hanky panky. In Mexico, however, as one commentator so aptly described it to La politica, sometimes “This is next level shit.”

So, as we hear news of a report confirming that the death last year in a helicopter crash of Mexico’s Interior Minister, Blake Mora, was due to pilot error, and that Mexico’s City’s airport is now cleaned up from police corruption after this last summer’s shoot out, so too do we hear that federal law enforcement is, yet again, in renewal mode now that 14 federal police officers have been charged in last August’s attack on CIA officers.

In that daylight attack – near the town of Tres Marias, south of Mexico City – a US embassy SUV with two CIA operatives was riddled with 152 bullets. Presumably, the orders came from a drug cartel. The wounded officers have since returned to the United States.

152 bullets

To the credit of Mexican authorities, they did not hide behind initial suggestions that the attack was a mistake and, perhaps, a case of mistaken identity. It was, significantly, the Mexicans who decided that the use of AK-47s, and the fact that the assailants were not wearing uniforms, pointed to a well-orchestrated hit.

The 14 officers, who come from the southern Mexico City district of Tlalpan, are all now charged with attempted murder. One of the federal officers is also charged with making false statements, with five others being accused of covering up the attack. The 14 were also charged with property damage.

The off-duty officers were in private vehicles when they attacked the agents’ Toyota Land Cruiser, bearing diplomatic license plates.  The agents were travelling with a Mexican navy captain to a military training camp south of the capital.

Of concern is the sheer size of the conspiracy. To have 14 federal officers actively connected to organized crime to such an extent that they open fire on a US embassy vehicle in the heart of the country is mind boggling.

If this is what the federal police are capable of, then what on earth is going on at the state and municipal levels? Of course, La politica, as well as a wide range of Mexican media outlets with an eye on local corruption, know the answer all too well. In Mexico law and order and justice are in play, available to the highest bidder.

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

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

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Saturday 10 November 2012

Mexico, land of Nazis and anti-Semites

Mexico would seem like an unlikely place to harbour Nazi sympathizers. After all, the majority of the population is mestizo – of mixed indigenous and European heritage – with only a small percentage of population being of “pure” European descent.

Outside of these groups, there is modest diversity. About 5% of the population speaks an indigenous language, with double that number identifying as indigenous. There are also descendants of Sephardic Jews who came with the earliest colonists, and “crypto-Jews” who settled in the Northern Gulf region.  These Jews had been hiding their identity since 1492, when Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain during the “re-conquest” of Christianity and the expulsion of the Moors.

As evidence of how close this history remains, the town of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, across from Brownsville, Texas, literally translates as “murder the Moors”.

Over the past centuries Jews were excluded – and, to some extent, excluded themselves – from much of the dominant Mexican culture, finding success as professionals and business people. As well, in Mexico, unlike in Canada and the United States, Jews are not well represented in the political sphere.

Mexicans, however, are aware of their existence, and many hold on to views that can only be described as racist and ignorant. These harsh views are in fact more in evidence among those Mexicans of European descent than among the mestizo population, though there is a subculture of mestizo skinheads that glorifies Nazism, much as we seen  in the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe.

Flag for the  Partido Nacional Socialista de México

Anecdotes can help elucidate some contemporary attitudes in Mexico.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Violence plagues Jalisco’s Pacific coast

Mexico’s Pacific Coast is a huge and varied place. Historically, some areas have been understood to be safe, and some not-so-safe. Specifically, the State of Guerrero and the highway south of Acapulco have had a reputation for lawlessness dating back to the 1960s. You didn’t drive at night, and of you did, you prepared for the possibility of a hold-up – or worse. The reason for this was very simple: Guerrero was run by a bunch of goons, and criminals were allowed to run rampant.

In fact, back in the 1970s stories of bodies washing up on the shores of Acapulco were hushed up as “shark attacks”. Apparently, this was the big secret, denied by all who leaked it, because it would be bad for tourism. Well, cynicism knew no bounds: the bodies were in fact campesinos taken out by government henchmen. But, better a good shark story – far more exotic than a paramilitary war on the poor.

As scary as that sounds, most of the coast is known for being just fine. The area south of Puerto Vallarta in the State of Jalisco, for example, is as relaxed as any Caribbean island. However, two murders of Canadians this year in the small fishing village of Melaque, the most recent only this past week, require a major re-evaluation of the area.

Melaque has only 4,000 residents. It is about 200 km south of Puerto Vallarta, directly north of the popular ex-pat resort of Barra de Navidad, and 600 km north of Acapulco.

The first murder occurred in early January.  Robin Wood, originally from Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, stood up to two thieves he encountered after returning home from a concert. He had been robbed before – once on the street, and twice when his place had been broken into. He fought back, and was killed.

Then in on October 21 Ron Lloyd MacKintosh, originally from Parksville on Vancouver Island, BC, went missing after dropping off a friend in Melaque. He had recently moved to Barra de Navidad. Mr. MacKintosh was found two weeks later by a police officer about one kilometre off of coastal highway 200 between Barra de Navidad and Melaque. Mackintosh, 64, was found with a cord around his neck, tied to a tree. Officials are convinced he was murdered.

Ron Lloyd MacKintosh in Mexico

Mexico is largely a safe destination for Canadians. This is due to the fact that, despite all the bad press, most Mexicans are generous, law-abiding citizens. The problem is that Mexico’s institutional flaws are deep. As well, Canada’s consular officials can offer information and support, but little more.

Monday 5 November 2012

One year later, Cynthia Vanier awaits final decision

Now that Vanier has been released and returned to Canada, could she be charged? See: Cynthia Vanier: linking up the emails in the Mexicanevidence and the RCMP search warrant of SNC-Lavalin’s offices 

It has been almost one year since Cynthia Vanier, the Canadian mediator from Mount Forest, Ontario, was arrested in Mexico City and charged with masterminding a plot to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, fallen Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s third son, from North Africa to Mexico.

And that year has not been easy. Upon her arrest, Ms. Vanier alleges that a Mexican officer elbowed her in her kidneys, resulting in excruciating and ongoing pain. After her transfer to a minimum security prison in Chetumal, near Mexico’s southern border with Belize, Ms. Vanier’s medical condition deteriorated, resulting in surgery this past month for the removal of an ovary and two tumours. The surgery also required the repositioning of her intestinal tract, which had shifted to the left side of her body, possibly as a result of the initial assault.

Her legal battles have been arduous, too. The Mexican judicial system is exceedingly complex and difficult to navigate. To date, Ms. Vanier’s legal team is optimistic that they have reduced her charges from four to one: intent to human smuggle.

But the denial of a recent appeal, or amparo, means she now has to wait for a final decision in three to four months.

Ms. Vanier had argued that the assault violated her human rights, and that she had been denied consular access, as per her rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This is because it allegedly took Mexican officials four days to notify the Canadian Embassy.

Ms. Vanier in the medical clinic in Chetumal

In response, the Mexican amparo judge referenced documentation from the Attorney General’s Office, or PGR, saying that no external evidence of blunt force trauma had been found. As well, the recent decision states that the Vienna Convention is not legally binding, and that the court was satisfied every effort had been made by the PGR to contact the Embassy.

The greatest concern for Vanier’s legal team, however, is surely the Mexican court’s view that the larger evidence file can stand. This means that incriminating emails leaked by the Anonymous hacking group, though not certifiable as evidence – their source is unknown, and they were obtained illegally – can nonetheless remain open for consideration.

This is because the court allows them to stand as notitia criminis, essentially as tips to the authorities that a crime might have occurred. As a result, though they are not officially evidence, they nonetheless remain in the file, potentially affecting the decision.

The appeal court also confirmed the validity of circumstantial evidence, and has allowed information with regard to her previous charges, which include document forgery, to stand.

The decision is notable for the window it provides on due process in Mexico. There are many references to the Mexican constitution, specifically with regard to the presumption of innocence.

Ms. Vanier has always argued that she has been denied the right to be thought innocent until proven guilty. In response, the Mexican judge clearly states that Mexico functions under a system of “probability of guilt”, and that the presumption of innocence is not protected in the Constitution.

As it stands, the court appears to have deferred heavily to the PGR, stating clearly that all PGR evidence was collected “without prejudice”.

Now that the entire evidence file has been allowed to stand, the case moves to a Magistrate in Mexico City for the final decision. The sentence for intent to human smuggle, as stated in Mexican law, is eight to sixteen years.

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

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

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