Friday, September 30, 2011

The right to water: ten million Mexicans - almost 10% - suffer from lack of access

We live in an era when all sorts of political and legal rights are continually on the agenda of legislative bodies around the world. The list is almost endless, but who would have thought about a constitutional right to water?
The Mexican Senate approved September 28 a federal constitutional amendment which would guarantee the right to clean water. It would also guarantee a clean environment.
A proponent of the measure said, “It’s imperative that we change our vision, because our survival depends upon our conservation of natural resources.” One senator told the Senate chamber during the debate that 10 million Mexicans – almost 10% of the country’s population – suffer from chronic lack of access to clean drinking water.
The proposal will now be sent to the legislatures of each of the 31 Mexican states, 17 of which must ratify it before it becomes law. Since this is a constitutional amendment only, the details of just how its guarantees of clean water and a clean environment would be implemented await subsequent enforcing legislation.

Five human heads found by a school, but teachers will return to work anyway

The five week old Acapulco teachers' strike has ended. They'll return to their classrooms on Monday. The teachers walked out in late August, after some had received anonymous text or cell phone messages demanding that they turn over 50% of their paychecks to criminal organizations. The government has promised enhanced security patrols around schools and has installed "panic buttons" in many facilities, with a direct connection to the local police station.

Why this motivated the teachers to return to work is beyond me. The extortionists are not going to make a personal appearance in somebody's homeroom to collect their 50% fee. They'll do their work quietly, when and as it's convenient for them. If they have cell phone numbers and email account information, they have home addresses too.

I think the threat to teachers in Guerreo state is still very real. The entire area has become incredibly violent -- one of the three or four worst in Mexico. On September 18 three young teachers, 31, 30 and 20, were ambushed and killed there. Just two days ago, five severed human heads were found near a school in Acapulco, together with the standard narcomensajes -- warnings of "coming attractions" left by the executioners. Authorities say they have no clue who is behind the extortion demands made in August. In other words, nothing has really changed, nothing has really improved and nothing has been solved.
My original story on the Acapulco school closings due to extortion demands received by teachers is here: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/schools-close-in-acapulco-over-narco.html.

Update Saturday, October 1: There are still dozens of schools which will remain closed on Monday. Although the teachers' union in Acapulco reached an accord with the school districts and government officials earlier this week, there were hundreds of dissenters. They said they will not return to their classrooms until the security situation in Guerrero state improves. About 40 schools are expected to remain shut down.

Did Pope Benedict pressure the Mexican Supreme Court on its abortion decision?

Milenio is a major news provider in Mexico. It operates a 24 hour a day television network and publishes a paper as well. Today Milenio carries the following story concerning Wednesday's ruling by the Mexican Supreme Judicial Court, which narrowly upheld anti-abortion laws in this country:

"The bishop of Mexicali, José Isidro Guerrero Macías, has confirmed that a call from Benedict XVI changed the decision of the Supreme Court concerning laws which protect the right to life in the state of Baja, California (on Mexico's Pacific coast)." According to the bishop, "Yesterday (Wednesday) we had almost lost it, but a call from the Pope -- I don't know to whom -- changed everything. That's the Church, the Work of God, where the family is (so important), where the unborn child is awaited with love."

The Supreme Court has flatly denied the bishop's claims.

Update Friday, Sept. 30, 10:00 a.m. The Vatican is also denying the story today. A spokesman for the Holy See said, "The report has no basis. I recommend that you ask [Bishop Guerrero Macías] where he got this information. [In any matter] it would be extremely rare for the Holy Father to apply pressure [to anyone] by a telephone call."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Llegan Los Zetas en Yucatán - Zeta member arrested in Mérida


Los Zetas han llegado en Yucatán. Uno de sus integrantes fue detenido hoy por la policía estatal. Él fue buscado por el delito de secuestro en Quintana Roo. Para más detalles en español: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2011/09/miembro-de-los-zetas-arrestado-en-merida/

A member of the notorious Los Zetas cartel was arrested by the Yucatán State Police today. He's wanted in neighboring Quintana Roo for kidnapping. Q.R. state, on Mexico's famous Gold Coast (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, etc.), has become a violent place in recent days, with the assassination or attempted assassination of several public officials and/or their family members. For more background see my multiple posts below, or visit The Yucatan Times http://www.theyucatantimes.com/, the independent bi-lingual voice of Mexico and the Gulf Region, and your best source for news from this area.
Updates as more information becomes available.

U.S. shows revolting double standard in René González case

How many times do you get to punish a man? How many times are you equitably entitled to whine about the injustices committed upon your own citizens when you inflict the same on others? Somebody should ask those questions of President Barack Obama, who just this week said that he wants to see more political prisoners released from Cuba, and more evidence of a humanitarian attitude on the part of its leaders. Somebody should ask the same questions of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who runs the Justice Department in Washington.

Anybody who reads my posts knows that when I write about Cuba, I tell it like it is. The Castro brothers are thugs and their corrupt banana republic regime is a monument to 50 years of political and economic failure. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. should get a free pass when it demonstrates a similar authoritarian heavy-handedness. Especially when petty political pawns of both countries are the victims.

I have written extensively about the Alan Gross case and the Miami Five, and I won’t repeat myself here. See my many posts below. I’ve also called for the obvious – and just – solution: a prisoner swap. Gross in return for the Five. Read here for my views on that subject: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2011/08/alan-gross-y-los-cinco-de-miami/.

Now to the point of this post. René González is a 50 year old man born in Florida in 1961. He holds dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship. René is one of the Miami Five. He was convicted of various federal crimes in 2001. He has been continuously in custody since his arrest in 1998. Now is neither the time nor place for an extended discussion of the facts of the case, but suffice it to say that Renee was found guilty of being an agent provocateur for the Castro regime in the late 1990s. A spy, in other words. He was sentenced to 13 years – two consecutive sentences, actually – and he has served every day of them. René’s federal prison record is described as “exemplary and spotless.” He is scheduled for release on October 7. Therein lays the problem.

When most prisoners are released from incarceration, they are really not free. They must first serve a term of “supervised release,” or parole as it used to be called. In René’s case that term is three years – until the end of 2014. Earlier this year René’s attorney filed a motion with the federal court in Miami, asking that upon his release he be allowed to return immediately to Cuba (where he is adulated as a national hero). On September 16 the judge tentatively denied the request, saying that it is premature (since René hasn’t actually walked out the prison door yet). The U.S. Government opposes the motion vigorously, and I’m betting the federal judge will deny it again when it is refiled later this year. If it is, René will have to spend three more years in south Florida, alone and still separated from his family.

René González is married. His wife and two daughters, who were residents of Florida for many years, live in Havana. The girls were 14 and four when René was arrested. He has scarcely seen them over the past decade. René’s wife was deported from the United States on immigration charges in 2000, and he has not seen her once since then. In 2008 U.S. immigration officials told her that she was permanently barred from returning, apparently since the government believes she too is a Cuban agent. René’s parents, both 80, have been able to travel from Cuba once a year to visit him in prison, but they won’t be able to do that indefinitely.

René should be allowed to get on the first plane out of Miami when he is released on October 7. But he probably won’t be. And that will be a grave legal and moral injustice by the greatest power on the face of the earth.
[Photo: René González and his young daughters]

Mexico’s new vigilantes: “Los Matazetas” - Zeta Killers

Last weekend a new national security headache suddenly presented itself here: the possibility that the relentless acts of narco-violence in this country have led or will lead to groups of vigilantes determined to take the law into their own hands. In a video clip widely distributed since it first appeared on September 25, five masked and hooded men, dressed in black, are seated at a long table like the judges of a court. They imperiously announce that they are "Los Matazetas" – the Zeta Killers.

The Zetas ("Zs") are arguably Mexico’s most feared drug cartel, known for particularly horrific acts of violence against competitors, security forces and innocent bystanders alike. When they first appeared on the scene several years ago, Los Zetas were alleged to be composed primarily of former Mexican military members, although today that may be less true. In any case Los Zetas control places like Veracruz, where at least 49 bodies were dumped on public streets last week, as well as the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s luxurious Caribbean Gold Coast. They are also a powerful force in Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon state, where a casino was attacked on August 25 killing 52 people. There are multiple posts below on the current security challenges in Monterrey and Quintana Roo.

In their video "press conference" the Zeta Killers announced that they are the "armed force of the people," and that their "sole objective is to finish off the Zetas, so that society will be safe." They added, "We will never commit acts of extortion, we will never kidnap, we fully respect all federal, state and local authority in their struggle against organized crime. If by our acts we offend some, we ask for your understanding; we simply want the people of Veracruz to know that the scourge of violence which they are experiencing is not invincible."

Mexican officials did not return the compliments, and quickly announced that they are launching an investigation into the video, which was posted on the internet. Several emphasized that Mexico has no room for vigilantism, and that the government alone has the right to enforce the law and deal with criminals. Some even suggested that the bodies tossed out in Veracruz last week may be Zetas executed by Los Matazetas.

Survey says 70% of Mexicans want to hang tough in war against drug cartels

Some interesting results in a national Survey of Citizenship, Democracy and Narco Violence were reported this week. According to the survey’s authors, 70% of 7,400 Mexicans questioned nationwide said that the country should continue its war against organized crime. Only 27% said that Mexico’s next president should negotiate or make peace with the drug cartels. Although the results might appear to be ringing applause for president Felipe Calderon, there was a catch: 74% of those interviewed were of the opinion that Mexico currently “is losing the war against crime,” while only 27% said it is winning. It appears that most people give the government high marks for effort, but grade it low for actual results.
Respondents also overwhelmingly rejected the idea of legalizing drugs (76%). Most were decidedly in favor of focusing more resources on combating poverty and unemployment. The survey was conducted by researchers Gonzalez and Gonzalez.

Hugo Chávez suffers renal failure; said to be in grave condition

I've been following Hugo Chávez' health in recent postings, and it appears to have taken a turn for the worse. He was allegedly taken to the Military Hospital in Caracas on Tuesday (Sept. 27), suffering from renal insufficiency. Chávez just returned from Havana a week ago, after undergoing his fourth round of chemotherapy for an undisclosed form of cancer diagnosed in June. He said on arrival in Venezuela that he anticipated no further treatments and that his prognosis was excellent.

But as I reported a week ago, U.S. diplomat Roger Noriega, a former ambassador to the Organization of American States, says that reliable "inside sources" have told him that Chávez, 57, is "in very serious condition and did not react well" to the latest round of treatment. Noriega supposedly told U.S. officials that they should prepare for "a world without Hugo Chávez," or at least one with a greatly reduced Chávez presence. It appears that Noriega may be correct.

I'll post again on Chávez' condition when more details are available. Click here for the article about Roger Noreiga's predictions: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/venezuelan-president-hugo-chavez-in.html.

Update Thursday, Sept. 29, 2:00 a.m. My above post is based upon a story in El Nuevo Herald, a very reliable Spanish language newspaper based in Miami. After the story was published late Wednesday evening, the Venezuelan Minister of Communications issued a Twitter message denying that Chávez had been hospitalized. The Tweet said that "the people who should be hospitalized are those at El Nuevo Herald who circulated these [false] claims -- and in a mental hospital."

Update Thursday, Sept. 29, 8:00 a.m. El Nuevo Herald has not retracted its original story, but is now carrying a follow-up which quotes Chávez himself saying that he is improving each day and that the rumors of an emergency are false. Chávez supposedly made the comments in a telephone call to Venezuelan state television today. The Herald said in its original story that it was relying upon "well-placed sources," but of course did not identify them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Notes from Cuba - Wednesday, Sept. 28

Vehicles: Effective October 1, Cubans will be able to freely buy and sell existing automobiles, just like 99.99% of the rest of the world. I'll confess I did not know that such a prohibition existed, but it did. Prior to the reforms announced today, only vehicles manufactured before 1959 -- the year Fidel Castro pulled into Havana -- could be sold on the open market. The latest rules will also allow some people to buy new automobiles -- imported from other countries, of course. One restriction: only one sale or purchase every five years will be allowed.

Barack Obama: Responding to yesterday's overture by Cuba to open a dialog with the United States (see my post below), the president said that he is always ready to reconsider U.S. policy towards the island -- including the now 50 year old economic blockade. But Obama said he would have to see some real signs of democratization first, including the release of all political prisoners from the island. Presumably this would include U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who is quietly serving the early stages of his 15 year sentence for state security crimes. Since the Cubans reminded us just yesterday that relations cannot improve until the Miami Five are released, it looks like we're all back to Square One. On an official visit to Brazil today, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said that he pays no attention to anything Obama says. Query: If you tell a man on Tuesday that you'd like to open a dialog with him, how does it help to tell him on Wednesday that you pay no attention to anything he says? Who's writing the game plan in Havana these days -- and just what is it?



Mexico's Supreme Judicial Court fails to strike down state anti-abortion laws

In a curious split decision today, Mexico’s highest court failed to strike down laws in 16 states which criminalize abortion. Seven ministers of the 11 member Supreme Judicial Court (SCJN) found that anti-abortion laws in the test states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí are unconstitutional, since they infringe upon a women’s right to make decisions concerning her own body. Four other ministers found that the state laws are valid. However, under Mexican law eight votes are required to nullify state legislation, so the anti-abortion measures narrowly survived judicial review.

The Supreme Court’s multi-day public debate focused on three issues: when does legally protectable life begin – at conception or some subsequent point; is each of Mexico’s 32 states free to make that determination itself; and does Mexico’s federal constitution, either literally or by implication, protect human life from the moment of conception. There was a wide range of opinion on each point, and the 11 justices vigorously disagreed. Interestingly, these issues mirror almost exactly the ones focused upon by the United States Supreme Court when it legalized abortion in the 1973 case of Roe vs. Wade.

Four ministers said that each state of the Mexican Republic may decide for itself when human life begins – at conception or some point thereafter – and may forbid or regulate abortion accordingly. One minister expressed his belief that Mexico’s federal constitution defines life as beginning at the moment of conception. He added that even if it doesn’t clearly so specify, international legal principles which Mexico honors in its judicial decisions stress that a human being is conferred with fundamental rights from the moment of conception. Under either analysis, he said, abortion may be prohibited.

A minister who voted to declare unconstitutional all anti-abortion laws in Mexico said, "To turn a woman into a criminal, especially a poor woman, is not the answer. Condemning a woman to jail, forcing her to seek out [a back room abortion], placing her health at risk, to me seems profoundly unjust, profoundly immoral and profoundly unconstitutional." The same minister said that the states could not define for themselves when human life begins, since that is a matter for federal determination. The court's president argued that it is not possible to make a legal decision on the essentially medical question of when life begins.

Although anti-abortion legislation managed to survive in the 16 Mexican states which expressly prohibit it, abortion remains legal in Mexico’s Federal District.

Apr. 29, 2013 - Mexican Supreme Court ruling expands abortion rights
Apr. 9, 2013 - Criminal charges for abortion soar in Mexico; poor indigenous women often defendants
Aug. 6, 2012 - Abortion prosecutions on the rise in many Mexican states

Dec. 5 - Mexico's Supreme Court takes another step towards nationwide recognition of gay marriage

Death penalty case in Malaysia delayed; Mexicans face hanging


Three men from the Mexican state of Sinaloa have had their Malaysian death penalty case delayed until November 25. They were arrested in 2008, accused of manufacturing and warehousing methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals. Defense attorneys have challenged forensic test results of the chemicals which were seized when the men were detained, and have also alleged that about a third of the materials disappeared while in police custody.

Most drug crimes in Malaysia carry an automatic death penalty. If they're convicted the Sinaloans likely will be hanged.

Update to this story Feb. 2012: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2012/02/mexicans-prepare-to-testify-in-malaysia.html.

Mexico grapples with abortion; First Lady sides with pro-lifers

Just as the United States Supreme Court did 40 years ago, the Supreme Judicial Court of Mexico is poised to rule later today on the constitutionality of anti-abortion statutes which some states here have enacted. The case mirrors abortion litigation north of the border which led to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1971 decision in Roe vs. Wade, a ruling that held a woman's fundamental right to privacy and the right to make decisions concerning her own body take legal precedence over the rights of her unborn fetus. That decision also confirmed that U.S. states may not override a woman's federal constitutional protections by criminalizing abortion.

The abortion debate in Mexico is tracking along almost identical lines. Some of the 32 Mexican states vigorously criminalize the procedure, and the pending question before the Mexican SJCN (Supreme Court) is whether those laws are valid or must be struck down under the nation's federal constitution. The test cases which serve as the backdrop for a much larger social debate on abortion in this very Roman Catholic country come from the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí. There are 11 judges on the SJCN, referred to as ministers, and their majority vote will determine the issue.

Yesterday Margarita Zavala, Mexico's First Lady, weighed in on the side of the pro-life advocates. "My belief is that life should be protected from the moment of conception, and we should respect laws which do so." Zavala added, "This is not to suggest that we must not take into account other rights as well," although she did not elaborate. Zavala and her husband, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, are both practicing Catholics.

Top cop turned in by AOL; Miami ICE chief will appear in federal court today

Update Wednesday Sept. 28: Mangione's detention hearing -- which will determine whether he is freed on bail while awaiting trial -- was postponed today until October 17, so that he can undergo competency and psychological examinations. He remains in custody after entering a not guilty plea. For a copy of the Indictment against him which was unsealed today, click here: http://media.miamiherald.com/smedia/2011/09/28/13/05/fXIeE.So.56.pdf
Original story: It looks like Miami ICE (Immigrations and Customs) chief Anthony Mangione was turned in by his internet service provider, AOL. In April AOL became suspicious over some of Mangione's account activity, and tipped off the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The latter then passed word along to federal and state investigators, who in turn issued criminal subpoenas to AOL, demanding full particulars. Soon afterwards computers in Mangione's home and office were seized, where the child porn was located. Investigators have apparently spent the past several months conducting a painstaking forensic analysis of the machines, as well as Mangione's internet history. The goal was to confirm that it was him personally trafficking in the materials, and that the downloads were not accidental or inadvertent. Investigators recently decided they had enough evidence to prosecute, and Mangione was arrested yesterday (September 27).
The charging documents have not yet been released, but will be after Mangione's formal detention hearing before a U.S. Magistrate later today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Federal ICE chief in Miami arrested on child porn charges

The head of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) in Miami was arrested earlier today for possession of child pornography. Anthony Mangione, 50, had been under investigation since April after internet service provider AOL alerted officials to suspicious activity on his account. Search warrants were executed for computers in his home and office, and at least four pornographic images depicting minors allegedly were found. He was suspended pending further investigation.
Mangione is awaiting a detention hearing tomorrow (September 28) in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. He has 27 years' experience as an immigration and customs agent, and became head of the Miami ICE office in 2007.

July 24, 2012 - U.S. Immigration boss pleads to child porn

Presunto Culpable - Presumed Guilty

Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty) is a must-see documentary by Mexican attorney-turned-film maker Robert Hernandez. It recounts the story of an impoverished young man, Jose Antonio Zúñiga, who is convicted of a street murder although alibi evidence indicates that he was miles away at the time. After it is discovered that Zúñiga’s original attorney did not even have a license to practice law, a retrial is granted and a team of dedicated attorneys works to free him in the second proceeding. They must battle an arrogant, disinterested judge and lying witnesses, but eventually win exoneration for their client in an appellate court. The film graphically displays the inherently unfair trial procedures which have been used by Mexican criminal courts for generations. Some judicial authorities were so upset by the embarrassing light in which the film portrayed them that it was enjoined and removed from cinema screens for a few days in February (including here in Merida). A Mexican federal judge quickly overturned that order and the documentary was shown all over the country.

The film won an Emmy last evening for Best in Investigative Journalism. I recommend it to all. It is available on YouTube.

The good news is that Mexico is just embarking on a massive, nationwide overhaul of its criminal justice system. Read a summary of new legal procedures here: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/major-legal-changes-on-their-way-to.html.

Extortion in Mexico: one way it’s done

Extortion has many faces and follows many avenues. Here’s how it’s done in Monterrey, Mexico, a large commercial center about 100 miles south of the U.S. border.

Like most cities, Monterrey has entertainment districts filled with bars, restaurants, casinos and night clubs. There are almost 7,000 establishments in the city licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. In early 2010 the drug cartel Los Zetas, which security experts say controls organized crime in Monterrey, began demanding that such establishments sell their products right on the premises, principally marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. In return, the businesses were promised "protection." The cartel extortionists weren't interested in the customary derecho de piso, or weekly "floor charge," just that their merchandise be sold on site.

Word of what was happening spread quickly. Some (usually smaller) owners who didn't want to play the role of drug retailers for Los Zetas quietly closed their doors. Customers were scared off by news of the changing complexion of such venues, and by the presence of new, unsavory patrons who were passing through in search of narcotics (rather than a beer or cocktail). The result was a significant loss of business in establishments – up to 90% in some places. Many bars, clubs and cafes closed their doors. Entire sections of town deteriorated within months.

The rapid exit of legitimate businessmen gave Los Zetas an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. They began purchasing or investing in places abandoned by original owners and operators. Most of the latter say it could not have happened without cooperation from local police, who are often in bed with the cartels. Now the joints' new owners offer customers booze and dope. A very different type of clientele hangs out in such places under the new management.

And what happens when a business refuses to comply with an extortion demand? The same thing that happened to Monterrey’s Casino Royale on August 25. Torched by Zeta arsonists in the middle of the afternoon, 52 employees and customers– mainly women, and in the case of the customers, mainly over 60 – burned or suffocated to death in minutes. Monterrey Casino Attack Leaves 52 Dead.

Amnesty International demands action in case of Mexico's latest murdered journalist

Amnesty International and the Inter-American Press Organization have both expressed frustration with the Mexican government’s slow pace in resolving cases of murdered journalists. As I reported in the post immediately below, even the United Nations agreed this week that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists – especially for those trying to cover the narcotics trade and drug cartels. About 80 reporters, writers or editors have been executed here since 2000.

Last weekend the 39 year old lead editor of Primera Hora, María Elizabeth Macías, was found decapitated and mutilated in northern Nuevo Laredo state. A narcomensaje, or executioner’s warning left by her head, said that she was killed in retaliation for using the internet and social media networks to report on organized crime activities. This is the second recent case of a murder victim who had done nothing more than write about such things on blogs. In the previous case the victims were not even reporters, just ordinary people who, like millions, use the internet and social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) as a form of daily communication. Mexican drug cartels have declared war on The World. Here is the other recent case.

United Nations says Mexico is a death zone for journalists - worse than Iraq

In Geneva today the United Nations Commission on Human Rights said that Mexico has become the most dangerous country n the world for journalists. A U.N. subcommittee is spearheading an international effort to adopt a symbol which would call attention to the dangers faced by journalists around the world, and to urge respect for the profession and the important function they serve.

In Mexico 12 journalists have been murdered since the beginning of 2011, nine of them in just the last three months. A United Nations’ official says that 30 journalists have been killed in Latin America this year, which he characterized as "disturbing." Other Latin countries dangerous for reporters include Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Worldwide, 78 journalists have been murdered this year. Pakistan is the second most dangerous country, followed by Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia. The U.N. committee says that "the majority of the murdered journalists were selectively targeted for execution, and very rarely have the parties responsible been held legally accountable."

The independent international organization Reporters Without Borders agrees with the U.N. stats, and estimates that since the year 2000, about 80 Mexican journalists have been murdered in retaliation for their work.

Although the U.N. effort is commendable, one part of its plan – if implemented – would surely prove disastrous. The committee is promoting a special badge which journalists would actually wear while on duty, purportedly to protect them. In Mexico, and no doubt in some Middle Eastern countries, that would be like walking around with a bright red "X" on the back of one’s shirt, together with the words "Aim Here." All journalists carry press badges to display when they’re on duty, but they also know when to tuck those away in a pocket or the camera bag. Sometimes it’s safer just to blend in with the crowd and not call attention to one’s occupation.

Read about this case of a woman journalist in Veracruz who paid with her life last July.

Cuba ready to open dialog with U.S. - provided Miami Five are released

Cuba announced yesterday (September 26) that it’s ready to discuss "pending problems" with the United States in a "respectful dialog." Through its North American Affairs director, the Cuban Chancery in Havana said it was reaffirming its traditional willingness to talk with the U.S.

"Our only precondition is that Cuban-American relations must be based upon equality, reciprocity and conducted with an ‘equitable’ attitude. President Barack Obama has an historic opportunity to change relations between the two countries." The United States and Cuba have had no diplomatic relations for 50 years, since 1961. Tensions have increased rather than diminished since Cuban president Raul Castro assumed control of the island several years ago, and have worsened further as a result of the recent Alan Gross case.

The Castro regime has repeatedly asked Washington to end the Kennedy administration embargo imposed against the island in 1962, which has crippled its economy for half a century. The Cubans have also asked for release of the Miami Five. See my many posts below on Alan Gross and the Miami Five.

Ricardo Alarcon Ismael Francisco, the speaker of Cuba’s Parliament, said again last weekend that "normal relations with the United States are unimaginable without the liberation" of the Five, whom he described as "anti-terrorist" heroes. They have been held in U.S. prisons for the last 13 years.

For strategic and other reasons I agree it's time to release the Miami Five: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2011/08/alan-gross-y-los-cinco-de-miami/

[Photo: Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla addresses the 66th U.N. General Assembly in New York last week]

Wife of Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzmán delivers twin girls in U.S. hospital


Joaquín Guzmán is Mexico's most famous drug lord, as well as the world's most wanted man. El Chapo ("Shorty," as he's called) is 54, and managed to escape from a Mexican prison more than a decade ago. The United States has a standing offer of $5 million for his capture, alleging that he and his Sinaloa cartel are responsible for the majority of marijuana and cocaine smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and Columbia. Mexico has put $2 million on the table.

Guzman once made a Forbe's magazine list of the World's Most Famous People, # 41 out of 67. Forbes described him as "the bggest druglord of all time." After the death of Osama Bin Laden in May, El Chapo moved to the top of the FBI's and Interpol's most wanted persons lists. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has said that Guzmán is "the godfather of the drug world."

Today the Los Angeles Times reports that 22 year old Emma Coronel, El Chapo's third or fourth wife, traveled to L.A. last summer to give birth to twin daughters. The Times says Coronel is a U.S. citizen, and returned to Mexico soon after the girls were born. According to the article, Coronel is a former small town Mexican beauty queen (Miss Coffee, Miss Guava) whom Chapman married in 2007, when she was 18. Coronel did not list a father on the California birth certificate. The children automatically became U.S. citizens at birth.

The Times also says that U.S. agents tracked Coronel "even before she traveled to the hospital in mid-August." They couldn't do anything, since there are no charges pending against her. But it surely confirms that DEA personnel operate within Mexico's borders.

© MGRR 2011. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Could this man be the next president of Mexico?

Unlikely, in my opinion, but the leader of Mexico's powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) claims that early surveys and popularity polls conducted by PRI itself indicate just that. "Andrés Manuel López Obrador is our real competition, far above any PAN candidate," PRI's chairman said today in an unusual theme press conference. López Obrador was the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) presidential candidate in 2006. He very narrowly lost to Mexico's current PAN president, Felipe Calderón, in a hard fought election which some claim was fixed. Many López Obrador supporters still refer to him as the "legitimate president of Mexico."

National Action Party (PAN) officials today dismissed PRI's claims, and responded by saying that PRI is merely trying to cherry-pick its opposition by targeting López Obrador as the primary competition. López Obrador is a populist candidate on the political left, but his -- as well as PRD's -- influence are limited to a few regions of the country. PRD holds far fewer federal and state legislative seats than either PRI or PAN.

More on Mexican politics and political parties: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/mexicos-2012-presidential-election-364.html.

Fidel Castro wakes up for a few minutes - unfortunately

The American humorist Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) once said, "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated." The same might apply to the Old Man in Havana.

Fidel Castro regularly pens a "Column" -- I use the term cautiously -- for the official government newspaper in town, Granma (named for a small vessel in which Castro, Che Guevara and fellow travelers sailed from Veracruz to Cuba in 1956, nearly losing their lives in the process). Castro's column is entitled "Reflections," and consists of his personal theories and opinions on just about everything under the sun. When he doesn't write something for awhile, inevitably rumors circulate that he has expired. That happened recently, since his last article was published July 3. But now the man who has managed to survive every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has once again stirred to life.

El Comandante waxes and wanes with minimal eloquence and in all directions in his latest posting -- very much his characteristic style. Or maybe I should say the style of whoever is responsible for drafting these occasional pieces. Fidel looks like his primary focus each day should be on another glass of Ensure, and not forgetting that all important Metamucil.

Castro mainly takes aim at Barack Obama, characterizing his address last week to the U.N. General Assembly (re: Palestine and Middle East affairs) a "monument to cynicism." Hey, wait a minute, aren't those exactly the same words Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez used when he arrived home in Caracas Thursday evening?! What a bizarre coincidence! Castro then segways over to Libya (really, despite his age the man is quite adept at such sidesteps), and calls the deposing of Muammar Gaddafi a "monstrous crime" and "genocide." Shall I continue?

Enough already. Back to bed, Jefe. Sweet dreams.

If you want to treat yourself to an example of the Great Leader's work, read here: http://www.granma.cu/espanol/reflexiones/26septiem-reflexiones.html

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Segun NYT, hoy Twitter se convierte en herramienta de supervivencia para México

Synopsis: Mexicans rely on social networks and the Internet to survive in some of the most violence prone areas. They trust their computers and broadband connections more than any other communication medium, and certainly more than local law enforcement. Children are teaching their grandparents how to Tweet and post messages on the net.
Fascinante: "Muchos mexicanos ahora dicen que confían más en Twitter que en medios de comunicación locales, y en algunas zonas, los padres y los abuelos están siendo enseñados por sus hijos a estar en línea - en concreto, para que puedan estar a salvo." Leer: http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/5b3f6569861bc7b1ebc8edca2e2391a3

Más corrupción policiaca en Lerdo


El director de la policía y 40 agentes de Lerdo, un pueblo en Durango, fueron detenidos el día de hoy, por autoridades estatales. Los familiares de los policías detenidos se manifestaron enfrente de la comandancia y dijeron que algunos fueron sacados de sus casas. Reporte por CNN: http://mexico.cnn.com/nacional/2011/09/24/el-director-de-la-policia-y-40-agentes-de-lerdo-durango-son-detenidos

Se encuentra otra periodista mexicana decapitada en Nuevo Laredo - Más "Twitter Terror" por Los Zetas

Note to English readers: If you think Mexican drug cartels can't track someone down by their internet postings, think again. This female editor was just found executed, with a note by her body warning anyone who might use such means to convey information about the narcos.

Es María Macías, la editora de Primera Hora. El narcomensaje por su cuerpo fue firmado por Los Zetas, y amenaza de lo que les pasará a todos que usen las redes sociales para avisar o advertir de actividades de los narcos. Mas detalles disponibles en ingles acá: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15055458.
Leer estos dos también: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/cuidado-con-tus-tweets-los-sicarios-te.html;http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2011/07/veracruz-press-furious-over-prosecutor%E2%80%99s-comments/

"La gran omisión de Obama" segun columnista Andres Oppenheimer

Les recomiendo a los que leen español: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2011/09/21/1029752/oppenheimer-la-gran-omision-de.html

The United States is "9% stoned," say U.S. senators - the biggest drug consumer in the world

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is doing his best to strike hard at this country's vicious drug cartels, has repeatedly said that his country's geographic proximity to the United States is "like living next door to the biggest drug addict in town." I've said much the same thing on this site (Mexico's Continuing Agony). Drugs move north through Mexico to feed the habit of Americans, while U.S. dollars and machine guns move south.

Now two U.S. Senators agree - even though they're unlikely bedfellows. California's liberal Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Iowa's conservative Charles Grassley have co-authored a bi-partisan report entitled Responding to Violence in Latin America. The document says that in 2010 the United States had 22.6 million drug consumers over the age of 12, representing 8.9% of the country's population.

A direct quote from the U.S. congressional report (translated from a Spanish version): "Despite efforts to increase treatment and prevention programs, the United States remains the largest user of illegal drugs in the world." The study added that due to the huge U.S. drug demand, not only Mexico but all of Central America "has been converted into an operations center" to supply narcotics headed north.

It looks like Felipe Calderon knows exactly what he's talking about. The United States bears moral complicity for Mexico's continuing nightmare by fueling a voracious demand for all kinds of drugs. Plenty of Americans want to get stoned, even if 50,000 Mexicans have to die while they're doing so.

Dec. 6, 2011 - Mérida summit to U.S.: get drug usage under control, stop the flow of weapons
Dec. 29, 2011 - Honduras "invaded by drug traffickers," shipping tons of cocaine to U.S. customers

One reason 50 million U.S. citizens can't afford to buy health insurance


A few days ago I posted some rather dire stats about the economic realities of life in the United States today, as recently reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. It was entitled What impoverished country is this? [http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-impoverished-country-is-this.html], and it attracted more readers than anything I've written to date. One of the saddest -- and most inexcusable -- stats in that posting is that 50 million Americans are too poor to buy health insurance.

For the most part I don't blame physicians and other medical professionals for the disastrous mess in the U.S. health care delivery system. Yes, most doctors are still doing pretty well, and they earn quite a satisfactory living compared to the rest of us. But they have decades invested in costly medical school education and post-graduate training. Like other professionals, they must continue studying and learning throughout their lives. The process never ends. And I've talked to plenty of doctors who've told me horrid details about the paperwork hoops and Catch 22s they have to jump through in order to get paid by U.S. health insurance companies. Of course, their fees are always greatly discounted.

Medical insurers and hospitals are far and away the biggest culprits, in my opinion. Have you ever been billed $25, for instance, for a Band-Aid, or perhaps for some skin lotion that an RN-trainee rubbed on your itchy back? Today the U.S. McClatchy news service has a must-read article about the absurd compensation packages enjoyed by many hospital CEOs. Key excerpts:

"Most CEOs at the largest and richest children's hospitals are paid more than $1 million in salary and benefits annually, an analysis of hospital tax records shows. Including retirement payouts and bonuses, three executives of children's hospitals collected $5 million or more in 2009, the most recent year for which compensation figures were available. Three others received $2 million. In all, 22 of 25 CEOs collected at least $1 million. Hospital CEOS, including those at children's hospitals, are among the most lavishly compensated executives in the nonprofit field."

Did you notice those last four words -- in the nonprofit field? Remember, these execs never spent one day in med school. If they're lucky they might have a business degree. But they "networked" with the right people. Every time you go to the hospital, you or your insurance carrier (if you have insurance) picks up part of the tab for their salaries.

If you think those numbers are high, investigate what U.S. health insurance company CEOs earn. And of course, all these CEOs enjoy the finest health insurance available to protect themselves and their families -- gratis, as part of their compensation packages.
Read the McClatchy article for more details: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/09/25/124653/a-glimpse-at-the-high-pay-for.html

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cubans completely ignore a rainy Alan Gross vigil in Washington, D.C.


Earlier this week I posted about today's dual-location prayer vigil for U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who is serving a 15 year prison sentence in Havana for state security crimes. The vigil was simultaneously conducted at the Cuban Interests Sections in Washington and at Cuba´s U.N. Mission in New York. I hope to speak with one of the vigil's primary organizers soon to see what the next plan of action may be, but in the meantime today's Washington Post has a brief article with the basics.

From the Post's photos, it looks looks like a few dozen people -- no more -- showed up to stand in the rain on a soggy day at the Cuban facility in D.C. Of course, it's an utterly hopeless endeavor. I feel for the Gross family, but if neither Jimmy Carter nor Bill Richardson could get the job done, a prayer vigil won't either. Interestingly, Alan's wife Judy told reporters that she'd had no contact with Richardson since he returned from the island earlier this month.

The Post also said that "a telephone number for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington rang unanswered Friday, and an e-mail message was not returned." That pretty much sums up how impressed the Cubans were with today's vigil.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who represents Alan Gross' district, spoke at the vigil. According to the Post Van Hollen said that relations between the U.S. and Cuba would not improve until Gross is released. "The message they're sending to the world is that they fear freedom and they won't do the humanitarian thing."

The United States has been delivering up that kind of pep talk to Cuba for more than 50 years -- since John F. Kennedy was president. They were idle words then and they remain so today, half a century later. U.S. policy towards Cuba, from the very unjust Blockade to the ridiculous travel restrictions which prohibit Americans from hopping on a plane to spend the weekend in Havana, have been and still are politically regressive and highly counterproductive. We're punishing the Cuban people because we don't like two worn out old men wearing green army fatigues. It´s time to change the tune drastically and to do something humanitarian ourselves: lift the failed Cuban Blockade and release the Miami Five. If we don't, I fear that Alan Gross may be in for a very long stay in Havana. And there is absolutely nothing in the world the United States of America can do about it.

The do-nothing prosecutor of Veracruz: Reynaldo Escobar Pérez

In Mexico a district attorney is referred to as a procurador, or sometimes as a fiscal. The person who holds that important office in the body-dumping city of Veracruz is one Reynaldo Escobar Pérez. I could write chapters about El Señor Procurador Pérez, but it wouldn't be good for my blood pressure to do so. A few facts will tell you all you need to know about the man's competency.

Case #1: In late July veteran Veracruz crime reporter Yolanda Ordaz de Cruz vanished. She had spent much of her 25 year journalistic career investigating organized crime, which in this country is just another way of saying the drug cartels. A few days later she "resurfaced" -- in parts. Her body was dumped on a local street and her head was tossed several blocks away.

Within 24 hours prosecutor Pérez called a press conference. He astonished the assembled media by declaring that Yolanda's murder, in his opinion, "had nothing whatever to do with her occupation as a journalist.” He went on to imply that she may have been connected to criminal elements herself, and had paid the price. That, by the way, is an allegation some Mexican prosecutors routinely make: that a certain reporter got "too close" to the story he/she was covering, got "dirty" by taking money from the drug cartels in exchange for not writing about them, and eventually suffered the consequences.

I have never seen any credible evidence proving such in Yolanda's case. The Veracruz newspaper for which she worked went ballistic over his comments, and demanded Pérez' firing. But he's still in office, and of course Yolanda's murder has never been solved. And here's the "rest of the story," as the late Paul Harvey used to say in his magnificent voice. On June 20, just a few weeks before Yolanda's kidnapping and brutal execution, her long-time boss at the paper -- together with his entire family -- was also murdered. A narco execution squad showed up at 6:00 a.m. at the home of Miguel Ángel López, marched right inside and shot him, his wife and their 20 year old son. Those murders, too, remain unsolved. Here is my original news story on Yolanda's case: Veracruz reporter paid with her life: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.mx/2011/11/veracruz-press-furious-over-prosecutors.html.

Case #2: Many of you by now have heard of the recent "Twitter Terror" case. About a month ago two Veracruz residents, a man and a woman, independently learned of an alleged attack against a local school. Fortunately it turned out to be baseless rumor. But before the facts were known they had passed the story along via social networks. The news spread like wildfire through Veracruz -- after all, the city is used to real terror on a regular basis. Many working parents left their jobs and rushed to the school to pick up their children. Supposedly there was such public panic that two dozen car accidents occurred, although both their number and severity probably have been exaggerated. Everyone was relieved when it became clear that it was all a big mistake. But that was not the end of the matter. Veracruz prosecutors charged the pair with the transmission of terroristic communications and “sabotage.” The latter claim was apparently included because the affected school was forced to shut down, and because some local businesses came to a virtual halt as workers left their jobs, rushing to get their kids. The first offense carries up to 30 years in jail, and the second up to 20 years. By the way, the woman defendant is a reporter. As I said before, Veracruz is not a good place to be if you're a dedicated journalist.

A furor over the case and the absurdity of the charges erupted within and without Mexico. Several attorneys and prominent legal organizations came to the defense, gratis. Amnesty International condemned the prosecution. But for almost a month Reynaldo Escobar Pérez and Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte (see my post on him below) stubbornly hung on, refusing to abandon the malicious -- and silly -- case. Earlier this week they finally threw in the towel, aware that the winds of public opinion had turned against them and that they were going to lose in court. Upon their release, both of the accused persons said they had been abused and roughed up by local police when arrested. Here is my recent editorial on the Twitter Terror case: Mexico Should Proceed With Caution In “Twitter Terror” Cases: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.mx/2011/11/mexico-should-proceed-with-caution-in.html.

Case #3: Over the past 48 hours, 49 semi-naked cadavers have been casually dumped on Veracruz streets, 35 of them downtown during the 5:00 p.m. rush hour. The execution squad members had utterly no fear of stopping in front of hundreds of motorists and passersby, casually getting out of their luxury SUVs and discarding the corpses (from two cattle trucks which followed closely behind), all of which bore signs of torture followed by strangulation, asphyxiation or death from gunshot wounds. We call that impunity.
I rest my case. Would you want Reynaldo Escobar Pérez to be your local D.A.?


P.S.: Another reporter, a young man, has gone missing this week in Veracruz. His father has not seen him since last weekend and reported his disappearance two days ago. This is unlikely to have a happy outcome.

Hugo Chávez returns home after latest chemotherapy - and he's full of big news

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez returned to Caracas last night (September 22), after spending five days in Havana for what he says will likely be his last round of chemotherapy for an undisclosed form of cancer. He met with Cuban President Raul Castro and with Fidel Castro for five hours before departing the island. The events were reported today in Cuba's government controlled newspapers, Granma and Juventud Rebelde (Young Rebel). Chávez' self-prognosis was glowing: "Everybody is agreed that my test results are very positive. We can say that the chemotherapy phase is over, that chapter is closed, and now I can get on with making a full recovery." His remarks were at odds with claims by a former U.S. diplomatic official reported yesterday (see my post below). The official claims that he was told by reliable sources that Chávez condition is quite guarded, and that he had not responded well to the latest round of treatment.

In any case Chávez was full of news yesterday on arrival in Caracas. He condemned Barack Obama's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly concerning the pending Palestinian application for statehood as a "monument to cynicism." More surprisingly, Chávez' Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Temir Porras, told the AP in a telephone interview that Chávez deserved partial credit for this week's release of two Americans who had been detained in Iran since 2009. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were each released on $500,000 USD "bail" several days ago, although there is no expectation that they will ever return to the country for further legal proceedings. They were arrested after straying across the border between Iran and Iraq while hiking. Bauer and Fattal have repeatedly said it was an inadvertent crossing, but Iraqi officials accused them of various crimes, including spying. Several governments helped negotiate the release, particularly Omán's. However, Porras said that Chávez decided to get involved in the case because he believes Bauer's and Fattal's account of what happened. According to Porras, Chávez "asked his Iranian counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, to undertake a 'benevolent review' of the case, and if he saw fit, to release the young men to their families as a humanitarian gesture."

Chávez indeed fancies himself an international player. Several weeks ago he called upon "independent nations" to come to the aid of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Hugo Chávez' condition in dispute after his latest cancer treatment in Cuba: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2012/03/hugo-chavez-condition-in-dispute-after.html.

Veracruz now an armed camp; prosecutors confirm that drug turf war led to massacre

Veracruz this Friday morning is an armed camp. A thousand or more soldiers are patrolling the city where the 11th Mexican National Conference of Judicial Officers and Prosecutors is meeting in a downtown hotel, not far from Tuesday's mass dumping of bodies. Authorities say that the latest outbreak of violence is the result of fierce competition between competing cartels for control of all drug sales within the city. A government official, addressing the Conference, said that "the illicit drug activity here poisons society, and is the primary cause of the violence we are seeing." A nice political sound bite to be sure, but it tells us absolutely nothing about what authorities plan to do.

Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte: a man out of touch with reality

Javier Duarte is the Governor of Veracruz state, where bodies coincidentally keep turning up on street corners. This week the 11th Mexican National Conference of Judicial Officers and Prosecutors happens to be meeting in the capital city of Veracruz, so there are a lot of powerful people in town. On Tuesday narco criminals drove up in a convoy of vehicles about 5:00 p.m. and nonchalantly dumped 35 corpses on a busy street, while hundreds of horrified rush hour commuters looked on. The convention site is in a hotel just a stone's throw away. Yesterday 14 more bodies were casually tossed out in other neighborhoods. And what does Governor Duarte have to say about all of this?

"In Veracruz, we don't minimize crime. Here we confront it and we fight it." How, Governor?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Veracruz "en la bolsa de los narcos" - Veracruz, a city out of control

It´s true. Today, while prosecutors and judicial authorities from all over Mexico convened for a special "security summit" in the city, more cadavers were dumped from vehicles in prominent locations around town -- almost right under their collective noses. There were seven new bodies (at least the numbers are going down). They had been bound, tortured and shot before being tossed out on the public right of way. Call it a welcome note from Los Zetas to the assembled prosecutors and judges.

So who's running Veracruz? Certainly not anyone remotely connected with the Mexican government. A primary problem in Veracruz is its utterly incompetent local prosecutor. Watch for a follow-up report on him soon.

Update Thursday, Sept. 22, 9:00 p.m. The latest report this evening from Veracruz is that 14 additional bodies were dumped today -- not seven as I reported earlier. That makes 49 since Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. It puts a staggering work load on forensic experts and mortuary workers. Many/most of these bodies will never be claimed. Some may not even be identified.

Presumed narco murder on Mexico's famed Riviera Maya

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo - The 28 year old son of the Director of Urban Development in this Gold Coast state was kidnapped and murdered today, says a spokesperson for the prosecutor´s office. Police say Amer Abisai Montalvo Pool was shot at least twice with a .38 caliber weapon. His body was found near the vehicle which he had been driving. Evidence indicates he may have been chased by his assailants.

The events occurred in Felipe Carrillo Puerto municipality. Although one media report called the homicide the presumed work of drug traffickers, officials have not yet so characterized it. Family members said that in recent days Pool had received telephone threats from unknown persons. His body showed signs of beating and other physical abuse, presumably inflicted just before or just after he was shot. Pool’s throat was cut.

In recent months Quintana Roo state has experienced increasing levels of drug related violence. On September 9, Playa del Carmen’s Chief of Tourist Police Mario Gómez Frías was executed at close range while on patrol. A second officer with him was shot four times but survived. On September 14 the mayor of Solidaridad, Filiberto Martínez Méndez, survived an attack while he was traveling from Playa del Carmen to Cancun. That event occurred on the main road from Cancun International Airport to the city proper.

All of this is the work of the drug cartel Los Zetas. The entire Gold Coast tourist trade -- Cancun, Playa del Carmen and similar resorts -- could collapse, just as did Acapulco's on Mexico's Pacific coast, if local authorities don't get the situation under control. The drugs are moving north from Belize, and that's why Q.R. has become such a battleground.

Yucatan Times story, with photo.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in serious condition

Several months ago Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez -- the United States' two aspirin headache in this region -- announced that he had an undisclosed form of cancer. The official version is that the illness was discovered when he was in Havana for an unrelated surgical procedure in June. After receiving several rounds of chemotherapy Chávez returned home to much fanfare in Caracas, announcing that by all means he would be a candidate in the country's 2012 presidential election. Now the question is whether he'll make it that long.

U.S. diplomat Roger Noriega, a former ambassador to the Organization of American States, says that reliable "inside sources" have told him that Chávez is "in very serious condition and is not reacting well" to the latest round of treatment. Chávez flew to Havana last weekend in the company of Bolivian president Evo Morales, and predicted that this week's chemotherapy would be his final. Apparently it's not working out that way. Noriega has allegedly told U.S. officials that they should prepare for "a world without Hugo Chávez," or at least one with a greatly reduced Chávez presence.

Noriega says that Chávez is concealing the truth about his condition because he believes he can be reelected only if the Venezuelan people are confident that he is recovering, and that he'll actually be able to serve as president for a few more years. The plan, according to Noriega, is just to get Chávez' name on the ballot, assuming that he is marginally well enough to make a few campaign appearances. Noriega says that Chávez' still wide-spread popularity in the country is not transferable to other political candidates he might endorse.

In Havana today Chávez' brimmed with confidence as he told Venezuelan television, "God willing, this last treatment will be enough."

Felipe Calderón acknowledges Mexican police corruption: "We need to get our house in order"

Winding up his trip to the United States after addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York, President Calderon stopped in Los Angeles and delivered his remarks to the Mexican community there. "It's going to take time, but we don´t have any option, we have to clean up the police in our country." He also urged his audience, "Write your families back home, tell them to go to their governor, go to their mayor, and ask, 'When are you going to clean up these police departments?'" The president added, "Help us, because if society as a whole does not get involved and make some demands on our officials, this job is never going to get done."

Calderon condemned again the now defunct DEA "Fast and Furious" arms sales program, which resulted in the transfer of over 2,000 military grade firearms directly to Mexican drug cartels or their purchasing agents in the United States. He told his L.A. audience that after Mexico captured the high ranking narco criminal Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, Aguilar testified that U.S. DEA agents had even showed him how to remove a tracking device from an AK-47 they had sold him. While some heads rolled as a result of "Fast and Furious" (http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/two-us-officials-quit-over-fast-and.html), others involved actually got promotions. As the saying goes, government work is great if you can get it.

Dollar hammers Peso in early trading; Greek economic woes continue; U.S. markets nosedive

Update Friday, Sept. 23, 9:00 a.m. The U.S. dollar is still on a roll this morning. In most institutions a dollar will return at least 13 pesos, and those wising to buy dollars will have to fork over 14+ pesos -- both yearly highs.
Original Report: The U.S. dollar hit another high as world markets opened this morning. A dollar cost 14.05 Mexican pesos, and brought 13.25 pesos in return. Some experts predict that by day's end the dollar will return 13.65 to 13.95 pesos. Continuing global economic difficulties coupled with the European sovereign debt crisis, the latter of which has its epicenter in Greece, are vigorously boosting the U.S. currency. For the same reasons the dollar also advanced against the Euro. Greece announced today that it will continue with austerity measures in order to avoid default on its public debt. Pensions were cut again and civil service jobs were suspended or terminated, which brought demonstrators onto the streets once more. Transportation workers and air traffic controllers are staging work stoppages, which will disrupt travel. The situation is really heating up in Athens, just as it did in May and June, and there is the potential for violent uprisings. Further evidence that both Europe and the United States stand at The Edge of the Precipice. See my post below.
Update from the Associated Press Thursday, Sept. 22, 4:00 p.m. "Stocks have closed sharply lower after investors sold stocks with abandon, convinced that the U.S. and the world are headed for a new recession. The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 527 points. At the close of trading, the Dow was down 391.01 points, or 3.5 percent, at 10,733.83. Nineteen stocks fell for every one that rose."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alan Gross supporters in the U.S. pursue the same old useless "strategy"

Two days ago I got an e-mail from Ron Halber, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, D.C. It was a mass mailing announcing a prayer vigil in the Alan Gross case (see my many posts below), to be held this Friday, September 23. In fact, two vigils will simultaneously take place: one in front of the Cuban Interests Sections in Washington, and the other at Cuba´s U.N. Mission in New York. Halber says that petitions signed by more than 10,000 people will be presented to Cuban diplomatic officials, seeking Gross' release on humanitarian grounds. As those following the case already know, Alan Gross has been in custody in Havana since December 2009. In March he was convicted of state security offenses and sentenced to 15 years. Gross, as well as two of his family members in the U.S., are said to be in poor health.
This is a worthy cause and Alan Gross certainly deserves his freedom immediately. So do Cuba's Miami Five, who have been incarcerated in the States for over 13 years. Now would be a perfect time to swap them. The problem is, a rabid community of Cuban Castro-haters lives in south Florida -- literally hundreds of thousands of them. I don´t blame them one bit for detesting the Castro brothers, but they´re living in fairy-tale land. They think that one of these days the ancien regime is going to topple, and when it does, they'll just cruise on back to the island and recover homes, businesses and real estate seized by the Cuban government 50 years ago. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. But politicians -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- are terrified of that very vocal Cuban voting block in Florida, which is always a critical state in presidential elections (remember the "hanging 'chads'" horror from a decade ago?) Barack Obama began his administration as a potential breath of fresh air on Cuban matters, but he faded quickly, proving at heart he too is far more pragmatic than principled.
Friday's prayer vigil for Alan Gross will accomplish nothing. Jimmy Carter couldn't get anything done when he traveled to Havana in March. Bill Richardson's visit last week was also a spectacular failure; if anything he irritated the Cubans, and they gave him a bit of a public tongue lashing as his plane departed José Martí airport. The Cuban leadership wants dinner, not more appetizers and drinks. The U.S. offer to remove the island from its State Sponsored Terror list was not enough. Nor was its pledge to release one of the Miami Five, who was just paroled and is now on conditional release. The Cubans want all of their men back in exchange for Alan Gross' freedom. Here's why they should get them: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2011/08/alan-gross-y-los-cinco-de-miami/.
In the meantime, Alan Gross' supporters would be wiser to hold their vigils on Capitol Hill and at the White House. It is long past time for the United States to bury the 50 year old Cold War hatchet and get on with the important business of normalizing relations with our neighbor 100 miles to the south.