>– WikiLeak Revelations: President Calderon’s Fears Regarding Iranian-Venezuelan-Drug Cartel Nexus Bolster Media Reports of Plans to Launch Missiles against USA
– Organized Crime Launders an Estimated US$40 Billion through Mexican Banks, New Laws to Clamp Down on Illicit Financial Activity Stalled in Mexican Senate
On Sunday, December 19, at least 28 people were reported killed in a Pemex oil pipeline explosion in central Mexico. The blast hit San Martin Texmelucan before dawn, destroying homes and vehicles, and sending streams of flaming crude through the city’s streets (damage shown in photo above). Up to 13 of the fatalities appear to have been children. Authorities suspect a criminal gang was tampering with the 30-inch diameter pipeline in an effort to steal crude when the blast occurred.
The attempt to steal fuel from Pemex in Puebla state is part of a broader crime wave against the state-run oil giant, which in 2008 involved the theft of five million barrels of oil worth US$750 million. “It’s not an isolated incident. It’s part of the constant problem we’re living every day,” remarked David Shields, publisher of the Mexico City-based Energia magazine.
Last week, the lower house of Mexico’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to revoke the political immunity of a federal politician allegedly linked to La Familia drug cartel, paving the way for his prosecution. Julio Cesar Godoy, who is a member of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), faces a federal arrest warrant in his home state of Michoacan. All Mexican legislators are immune from criminal prosecution unless the lower house of congress removes their immunity by vote. Legislators, including his own party, voted 384-2 to withdraw Godoy’s protection.
Alejandro Encinas, who leads the PRD faction in congress’s lower house, hastened to distance the party from Godoy: “I want to make it clear that we are completely disconnected from any criminal activity and organized crime. The country needs transparency and coherence from those who are in public office.” The PRD originated in 1989 through a merger of several leftist parties, including the Mexican Communist Party, as well as left-wing members of the formerly long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which beginning in the 1980s moved to the political center.
The Attorney General’s Office supplied lawmakers with a recording in which a voice, presumed to be Godoy’s, converses with Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez, an alleged boss of La Familia. Godoy was sworn into Congress in September in spite of an arrest warrant against him. He is the stepbrother of Michoacan’s governor. The same month, Godoy insisted upon his innocence during a news conference and denied any ties to drug gangs. Godoy can return as a deputy to Mexico’s congress if exonerated of the charges.
Last week, authorities in Michoacan killed cartel boss Nazario Moreno Gonzalez during a gun battle that also killed five policemen, three civilians, and three gang members. The US government has referred to La Familia as “one of Mexico’s newest and most violent drug cartels.” The cartel specializes in the methamphetamine trade. In true Robin Hood fashion, it also publicly identifies with “the people” vis-à-vis the government, offering consumer loans with low interest rates.
In August, President Felipe Calderon proposed new laws to unify Mexico’s poorly equipped and hopelessly corrupt municipal police forces under state-level commands, as well as hinder the cartels from laundering up to US$40 billion per year through Mexican banks. However, he is encountering opposition from the PRI, PRD, and colleagues in his own National Action Party (PAN). “The president introduced this initiative with a lot of force but it got stuck in the Senate,” Jose Trejo, a PAN senator who heads the body’s finance committee. “If it passes, it will only be with various changes. It will be complicated in this session.”
A US diplomatic cable, published by WikiLeaks, contains a conversation between Calderon and US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, in which the Mexican president alleges that Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, financed the 2006 presidential campaign of his pro-Cuba rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. According to the October 2009 cable, Calderon contends that Chavez uses social programs, including sending medical doctors to Mexico (much as Cuba does worldwide), to gain political influence in the country. Calderon insisted that Latin America “needs a visible US presence” to counter Chavez’s revolutionary influence throughout the hemisphere.
Calderon also fretted about Venezuela’s alliance with Iran, the influence of the “very politically active” Iranian embassy in Mexico City, and a possible covert alliance between Iran, Venezuela, and the drug cartels. Along the same theme, Die Welt recently reported that Iran and Venezuela have negotiated a secret pact to set up a medium-range missile base in the South American country, capable of striking the USA. In November, the China Confidential blog, citing unnamed Western intelligence sources, alleged that Iran and Venezuela intend to use northern Mexico as a platform to launch “ballistic missile attacks,” “Mumbai-style swarming assaults,” and biowarfare against the USA.
The US diplomatic cable also relates Calderon’s attempts to “isolate” Venezuela in the Rio Group and his disappointment with former Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who did virtually nothing to restrain the exportation of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Incidentally, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, is an “ex”-guerrilla who enjoys Chavez’s open endorsement. Since the center-right PAN took power in 2000, diplomatic relations between Mexico and Venezuela have been “tense.”
In a December 2, 2010 Twitter posting, Obrador, who does not recognize the legitimacy of Calderon’s presidency and intends to run for office again in 2012, demanded that Calderon present proof that he is in Chavez’s backpocket. Obrador stepped down from the leadership of the PRD in 2008 and is now running on a smaller center-left ticket.
Over the last three weeks, Mexico’s drug war claimed more lives and terrified more citizens caught in the cross-fire between rival cartels and between the narcistas, in the one camp, and the army troops and federal police opposing them.
On Monday, December 6, two gunmen burst into a kindergarten in Ciudad Juarez, the mafia-controlled city across the border from El Paso, Texas, and set fire to the school. No one was killed or injured. Police say the would-be extortionists left a message saying the school had not paid a protection fee, which they had demanded from teachers at least three weeks ago. Classes in the school have been suspended and parents have said they will pull their children out of school until safety improves. (No kidding.)
On December 5, “armed commandos” attacked two drug rehabilitation centers in Ciudad Juarez, killing four people and wounding five. Three were killed in one center and one was killed in another. Over the last two years, narcistas have killed dozens of patients at rehabs across Mexico, including nine last summer in Durango and 19 in Chihuahua City, capital of the border state in which Ciudad Juarez is located. In October, gunmen mowed down 14 people at a Tijuana rehab. In some cases, cartels actually run rehabs to recruit addicts, exposing patients to attacks from rival gangs.
On the same day, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, nine bodies were found in Acapulco and nearby neighborhoods. Eight of the men, who ranged in age from 25 to 50, were shot, but one victim’s body was burned. On December 4, police found two headless bodies hanging from a freeway overpass in the resort city, a common tactic used by cartels to scare rivals. Authorities say the battle for control of the fractured Beltran Leyva cartel is responsible for the rising violence in the famous tourist destination.
On December 3, the Mexican army announced that it had arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of being a hired killer for the South Pacific cartel. Officials said US-born Edgar Jimenez, nicknamed El Ponchis (“The Cloak”), was apprehended as he boarded a US-bound plane in Cuernavaca with his two sisters. The military alleges that the teen assassin took part in a number of beheadings under the influence of drugs supplied by the cartel. The army source said one of Edgar’s sisters was accused of disposing of the bodies. The Reforma newspaper quoted Jimenez as saying: “I felt bad doing it. I was forced to do it. They said they would kill me if I didn’t do it. I only beheaded them, but never hung [bodies] from bridges, never.”
Lastly, Reuters reports that some 5,000 businesses based in the northern states have fled to the relative safety of the Mexican capital, once known for its high crime rates and kidnappings. “Ten years ago everyone wanted to leave Mexico City because of the crime, no one would have believed it would become one of the safest places in the country,” said Eduardo Gallo, head of the citizens group Mexicans United Against Crime.
Mexico City authorities have staved off the worst cartel violence by installing thousands of surveillance cameras to monitor city streets and subways. Near the city’s central square, at one of several new command centers, more than 100 police scan 24-hour video feeds designed to track criminals. However, report Mica Rosenberg and Anahi Rama, “even as the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people escapes the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts, traffickers are moving into the city’s outskirts and threatening to encroach on the capital’s relative calm.”
Over the past 12 months, the Mexican government has scored a number of victories against the cartels, killing or arresting several powerful crime bosses. To protect their operations, the country’s mafias have branched out internationally.
On December 15, reports the Washington Post, agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police from the District of Columbia’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division arrested eight men with ties to La Familia who had set up shop in America’s capital. Authorities also seized millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine as part of the investigation. In a raid near Atlanta, police confiscated an estimated US$5 million worth of crystal meth. Other, coordinated raids took place in Temple Hills, Maryland, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Mexico’s drug war has also spilled into Guatemala’s border province Alta Verapaz, where Los Zetas–which was founded in the 1990s after a group of Mexican special forces officers joined the Gulf cartel–have reportedly established training camps. On Sunday, President Alvaro Colom declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz, empowering the Guatemalan military to detain suspects without warrants, confiscate weapons, and shut down groups viewed as subversive. The province’s El Petén jungles have a well-established reputation for lawlessness.
The Guatemalan army, which waged a counter-insurgency operation against communist guerrillas in the 1980s, has a documented history of involvement with organized crime. Past corruption, therefore, may be a hurdle as the army tries to combat drug traffickers from Mexico. “Military officers are easily bought off and so are the police. We have a state where impunity is the order of the day,” comments Anita Isaacs, a political scientist who studies Guatemala at Haverford College, near Philadelphia.