The imprisonment of a Mexican woman police commander is increasingly a hot issue between the United States and Mexico. Nine members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter August 29 to Secretary of State John Kerry urging Washington’s intercession on behalf of Nestora Salgado, jailed in Mexico since August 2013 on what supporters contend are trumped-up kidnapping charges.
A native of the southern state of Guerrero, Salgado lived and worked for many years in the United States, eventually becoming a citizen of this country. She later returned home only to encounter rampant insecurity and delinquency.
Determined to do something for her community, Salgado joined the community policing movement and became the coordinator of the Olinala branch of the CRAC, an indigenous-led organization that legally bases its grassroots policing efforts on the Mexican Constitution, Guerrero State Law 701 and the provisions of the International Labor Organization.
In their letter to Kerry, two U.S. senators and seven House representatives urge the Obama administration to work for Salgado’s freedom and safe return to her family currently residing in the state of Washington.
“We have closely monitored Ms. Salgado’s incarceration since her arrest and now call attention to the serious abuse of human rights and due process experienced by Ms. Salgado throughout her detention…” reads the Congress members’ letter to the U.S. Secretary of State. “We urge you to employ the resources of the State Department to continue efforts to secure Ms. Salgado’s release.”
The letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as Representatives Juan Vargas, Suzan DelBene, Jim McDermott, Rick Larsen, Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer, and Adam Smith.
Salgado’s supporters assert that she was unjustly jailed after the Olinala community police cracked down on organized criminal groups. They also accuse authorities of treating Salgado like a dangerous delinquent, evidenced by her swift transfer to a maximum security prison far from Guerrero in the state of Nayarit.
Since her imprisonment, Salgado has been held in isolation, denied medical treatment and even prevented from meeting with family and lawyers, according to supporters and family members.
Supporters Felicitas Martinez and Beatriz Lumbreras accused prison authorities this past week of giving Salgado a “cocktail of medicines” that provoked depression.
Legal irregularities, beginning with Salgado’s imprisonment in one state far from the state where crimes allegedly occurred, have riddled the case against the community police commander. In April a federal judge dismissed the charges against Salgado and ordered her immediately released, but the Guerrero state judicial system did not comply with the order and instead tacked on new charges against the community activist.
The controversy attracted the attention of Mexico’s federal government, which sent representatives to meet with Salgado in prison and prepare a report last June. Nonetheless, subsequent meetings between the Pena Nieto administration and Guerrero State Attorney General Inaky Blanca Carbrera have so far not resulted in a change in Salgado’s status.
Along with Dr. Jose Mireles and other imprisoned members of the self-defense and community police movements in Michoacan and Guerrero, Nestora Salgado’s case has become a prominent issue of political persecution at home and abroad. The story of Nestora Salgado is becoming a familiar one in the U.S. immigrant community, with supporters recently staging demonstrations for her freedom in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and other places.
Sources: La Jornada, September 5, 2014. Article by Rosa Rojas. El Sur, September 4, 2014. Laraza.com, September 5, 2014. Article by Belhu Sanabria. Rentonreporter.com, June 20 and September 2, 2014.
The imprisonment of a Mexican woman police commander is increasingly a hot issue between the United States and Mexico. Nine members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter August 29 to Secretary of State John Kerry urging Washington’s intercession on behalf of Nestora Salgado, jailed in Mexico since August 2013 on what supporters contend are trumped-up kidnapping charges.
Toxic soups seeping into rivers and groundwater. Millions of dead fish stinking up a large lake. A marine mammal on the verge of extinction. Such are the scenes that ravage the waters of the Mexican Republic.
For starters, an August 16 oil spill from a pipeline located about 20 miles east of the northern industrial city of Monterrey contaminated the San Juan River and local acequias, or irrigation ditches, killing aquatic and other species and threatening human health. The disaster fouled about four miles of the San Juan River and seven miles of acequias in the rural municipality of Cadereyta. At least one water well was reported contaminated by oil.
Cadereyta Mayor Emeterio Arizpe estimated that 97 agricultural producers could lose more than three million dollars from the loss of irrigation water because of the contamination. Within the affected zone, more than 2,500 acres of citrus crops are cultivated.
The national oil company Pemex, which operates the pipeline, declared that 90 percent of the pollution from the spill was cleaned up by August 28. But a Nuevo Leon state legislator criticized the clean-up while cautioning about the short-term and long-term health impacts of the spill.
“Some residents have already started to have headaches, abdominal pain and nausea,” said National Action Party lawmaker Blanca Lilia Sandoval de Leon, who visited the area hit by the spill. Sandoval, who also works as a medical doctor for the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, told a session of fellow lawmakers that cancer, lead poisoning, leukemia and other illnesses could result from the environmental calamity.
The legislator charged that hundreds of local residents who were contracted to help clean up the spill were not provided with the proper training or appropriate protective gear.
Paid about $125 per week for their labor, the workers were hired by the private Basa company, which in turn was contracted by Pemex to carry out the clean-up.
Nuevo Leon state lawmaker Francisco Trevino Cabello also criticized Pemex, blasting the company for not publicizing the spill until four days after it occurred.
“They did not want this known so as not to cause alarm, but more people could have been affected,” said Trevino, who formerly headed the Nuevo Leon office of the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection (Profepa).
“If people were not warned on time, it makes one think poorly, that perhaps they are hiding something. Maybe they wanted to hide the magnitude of the spill, the source of the damage.”
The Nuevo Leon state congress has formed a special commission with agricultural producers to defend the interests of the communities affected by the oil spill.
On September 4, Nuevo Leon Governor Rodrigo Medina visited Cadereyta to inspect the extent of environmental damage. Medina urged Pemex to finish cleaning up the pollution within a 10-week period.
Less than two weeks after the San Juan River incident, gasoline from a Pemex pipeline poured into the Hondo River in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. The August 28 spill contaminated a shorter stretch of river than in the Cadereyta disaster but still killed eels, turtles, fish, rabbits and other animals, according to Franco Osorio, public safety director for the municipality of Tierra Blanca.
Though Pemex declared that the pipeline had been quickly repaired and upwards of 60,000 gallons of gasoline removed, the spill spread a big stench, caused a temporary road closure and forced farmers and ranchers to move their animals away from a now- contaminated waterway.
“We are standing on a bomb,” an environmental remediation worker said. “One spark and it goes up.”
The eco-disasters in Veracruz and Nuevo Leon were both blamed on illegal extractions from pipelines. Robberies of Pemex oil and gas have become an important source of revenue for the Zetas and other organized criminal groups.
In Veracruz, local residents and workers for GeoClean, the private company contracted by Pemex to clean up the Hondo River mess, were surprised at the apparent technological sophistication that was employed to extract gasoline from a site with difficult access.
On the other side of the country, in the Pacific coastal state of Jalisco, fishermen, local residents and government officials have recovered more than 112 tons of dead fish from Lake Cajititlan since last weekend. Located in the municipality of Tlajomulco de Zuniga about 25 minutes by highway from Guadalajara, the lake has experienced several previous episodes of massive fish kills.
Tlajomulco Mayor Ismael del Toro Castro explained the latest kill as the outcome of a “natural” cycle in which a lake situated in a closed, fragile basin is sapped of oxygen. State and federal environmental authorities, however, pointed to inadequate wastewater treatment facilities in the municipality as the cause of the dead fish.
“This can’t be natural or cyclical, and it has been said so since last year,” retorted Magdalena Ruiz Mejia, Jalisco state environment secretary.
The Lake Cajititlan affair has become something of a political “fish ball,” with state officials urging the Tlajomulco municipal government to control residential development near the lake and Mayor Toro responding that the administration of Governor Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval has not fulfilled prior commitments to fund the improvement of wastewater treatment plants; state environment officials, meanwhile, have declared an environmental contingency for Lake Cajititlan.
While more dead fish are scooped from the lake’s waters, the National Human Rights Commission, University of Guadalajara and the federal attorney general’s office all proceed with separate probes into the matter.
Back in the north, the consequences of last month’s toxic waste spill at Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista Copper (Cananea) mine near the Mexico-U.S. border, which Mexican Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra termed “the worst environmental disaster of the mining industry in the country,” continue to grow far and wide.
The August 6 spill contaminated about a 140-mile stretch of the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers with a toxic cocktail blend whipped up from 10,000,000 gallons of copper sulfate acid, sulfuric acid and heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium.
It practically paralyzed economic activities in seven municipalities for more than 22,000 people; resulted in severe water restrictions in the impacted zone; impelled the indefinite suspension of classes as the new school year was getting underway; and cut off the state capital of Hermosillo’s use of a water reservoir because of the threats posed by the migration of toxic substances. At least eight people who reportedly had contact with contaminated water have received medical attention.
Owned by German Larrea, one of the richest man in Mexico, Grupo Mexico has recently posted a series of statements detailing its response to the eco-disaster.
According to the mining giant, the company has supplied clean water to residents; set up five water purification plants; allocated about $300,000 to the affected municipalities; and hired experts from universities in Mexico and the United States to test and analyze both river and well water.
The company challenged earlier media reports that it did not notify authorities of the spill until days afterward, arguing that it “followed protocols” by swiftly informing the federal Environment Secretariat and unnamed local authorities.
“We regret this incident occurred and express our willingness to work with the authorities on a swift solution to clean up the rivers and restore the area affected, in strict adherence of the relevant laws and regulations,” Grupo Mexico declared.
But Sonora residents and officials assert that Grupo Mexico is not moving fast enough or meeting all the expenses incurred by its spill.
On September 3, about 50 protesters temporarily blockaded the Bavciacora-Aconchi Highway demanding answers and actions from Grupo Mexico. For its part, the Sonora state government announced this week it would file a lawsuit against Grupo Mexico to recover about $10 million the state had already spent on cleaning up the two polluted rivers. Overall clean-up and compensation costs are expected to top more than $70 million, according to Environment Secretary Guerra.
In addition to civil lawsuits, Grupo Mexico faces legal action and fines from federal environmental authorities.
The company put a positive spin on the first round of water quality testing done last month in the spill zone, stating that National Water Commission (Conagua) reports showed 95 percent of the metals detected were within standards. But Conagua revealed August 21 that test results from the Sonora River reported concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, chromium and mercury above the official norm; consequently, water usage restrictions were continued.
On a recent tour of the spill zone, members of Greenpeace Mexico heard accounts from residents of two previous spills in Grupo Mexico’s mining area earlier this year that allegedly were not reported because of the lesser magnitude of the incidents.
Sinai Guevara, toxics campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Mexico, called for continual monitoring of the zone’s water supplies. According to Guevara, the clean-up work observed by her group appeared to be of a superficial nature. The environmental activist also questioned the fines likely to be assessed on Grupo Mexico.
“It’s not enough to slap fines, because this constitutes a license to pollute,” Guevara said. “The company could pay a maximum of 40 million pesos (less than three million dollars), which is 0.03 percent of its total earnings.”
Guevara’s organization calls for the closure of Buenavista Copper, a demand rejected by both Grupo Mexico, which vows to more than double the mine’s production as a contribution to “job creation and economic growth of the country,” and Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo. The Pena Nieto cabinet official likewise supported the economic importance of Grupo Mexico’s Sonora copper mine, but insisted that “absolute respect” for environmental regulations must be guaranteed.
“The Sonora River spill is only the tip of the iceberg in the toxic contamination of Mexican rivers,” Greenpeace Mexico said in a statement. “According to the National Water Commission, 70 percent of national rivers present some degree of contamination, but little or nothing is being done to revert it, much less prevent it.”
Finally, environmentalists have sounded what is perhaps the final alarm bell for “la vaquita,” or the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, the critically endangered marine mammal that inhabits the upper portion of the Gulf of California.
According to the International Committee for the Recuperation of the Gulf of California Porpoise (Cirva), less than 100 of the small creatures remain alive. The population is about half the number that existed only two years ago, according to a recent Cirva report. Barring firm action by the Mexican government, the species could go extinct by 2018, Mexican environmentalists warn.
“The vaquita is in imminent danger of extinction,” the Cirva report stated. Conservationists and wildlife researchers say the biggest threat to the porpoise’s survival is the commercial fishing industry’s use of gillnets meant for other species but which ensnare the threatened mammals and kill them.
Additional Sources: Proceso/Apro, August 29, 2014; September 2, 3 and 4, 2014. Articles by Luciano Campos Garza, Alberto Osorio Mendez and editorial staff. Notimex, August 31 and September 3, 2014. La Jornada (Monterrey edition), August 21, 2014. Article by Erick Muniz.
La Jornada, August 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 2014; September 3 and 4, 2014. Articles by Ulises Gutierrez Ruelas, Erick Muniz, Ivan Restrepo, Angelica Enciso, Juan Carlos Partida, and Jesus Aranda. El Diario de Juarez/Excelsior, August 14 and 20, 2014.
For Theresa James, the events in Ferguson, Missouri hit home. At a recent Albuquerque solidarity rally for Ferguson residents protesting the police killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown, James spoke to FNS about her own experiences with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
In June 2007 the man James called “my best friend” and the father of her two children, 42-year-old Jay Murphy Sr., was shot and killed at his home in the Kirtland Addition neighborhood of Albuquerque by the APD SWAT team during a confrontation following a dispute with a neighbor. Armed with a knife, Murphy had retreated into his home in an agitated state, according to court documents.
The SWAT team stormed a home Murphy had earlier recovered from the City of Albuquerque, after the administration of then-Mayor Martin Chavez red-tagged it as part of a nuisance abatement campaign.
In James’ remembrance, SWAT bullets “almost hit my daughter” as Murphy was shot and killed. Years later, the accountant retraced Murphy’s long series of run-ins with APD that included previous SWAT incidents and an alleged police beating before culminating in the fatal stand-off.
James acknowledged that Murphy had drug, depression and PTSD problems, but said his positive side included working with and helping students at West Mesa High School. “When he wasn’t on drugs he was a good, decent person,” she said.
Two days after Murphy’s killing, James was pulled over on the freeway by a “sea of police officers”, detained and accused of intimidating a witness, she added. Questioned by then-APD Detective Michael Fox, James was jailed overnight but eventually saw the charges against her dropped. “They should have never arrested me,” she insisted.
According to the longtime Albuquerque resident, she also had to battle state child protection authorities who wanted to take her children away because of the Murphy incident. “It was hell I had to go through,” James said.
James lost a federal lawsuit for the wrongful death of Murphy against the City of Albuquerque when U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit Judge Phillip A. Brimmer ruled against her case early last year.
More recently, the Albuquerque resident spoke to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who were investigating APD for excessive use of force and civil rights violations, only to learn that Washington was not investigating incidents prior to 2009.
With her family still coping with the emotional fallout of Murphy’s violent death, James said she felt an immediate connection when Ferguson grabbed the nation’s attention in August. “I feel those people are getting more traumatized,” she said. “When I saw it, there was fear in my heart for all those folks.”
The scenes from Ferguson-an unarmed man shot by police, protesters on the streets, tear gas, armored vehicles and military-style police squadrons bearing down on demonstrators- recalled the Albuquerque protests against APD’S shooting of homeless camper James Boyd last spring.
Albuquerque and Ferguson have become global news, with media in Great Britain, Mexico and other nations giving the police violence story top coverage while molding impressions and opinions of the United States.
“I have friends in Africa, the Philippines, who are looking at what’s going on here,” James added.
In between Albuquerque and Ferguson, protests erupted against police shootings of Latinos in the California cities of Salinas, Santa Rosa and Half Moon Bay, among other places. In New York City, thousands marched August 23 against the killing of Eric Gardner, who died from a police choke-hold.
Spreading in scope and intensity the mini-uprisings cut far deeper than individual cases of excessive force. In 2014 sharpening contradictions of race, class, domestic and foreign priorities, and democracy- or the real lack of it-are gushing from the trails of the drug war, the War on Terror and multiple cobwebbed corners of U.S. history.
War abroad stands as a historic parallel between contemporary movements against police violence and previous ones of 1960s and 1970s. Back then, the U.S. was waging war in Southeast Asia. Today the nation is at war in Afghanistan, renewing military action in Iraq, poised for military strikes in Syria, and involved in numerous other conflicts across the world.
A big difference between now and then is the bulging pipeline filled with tools of the trade that flows from the Pentagon and other federal agencies to local police departments.
Yet, the ability of the U.S. journalists to cover the protests and their root causes- and inform the body politic of vital issues-is becoming more difficult by the day.
Even President Obama, whose administration is under criticism from media organizations for going after whistleblowers and pursuing a subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen to testify in a court case about a source for a story involving the CIA, recognized the drift after reporters were detained and harassed by police in Ferguson.
The chief executive declared that “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground…”
While the experiences of reporters in Ferguson, who got a taste of what Mexican journalists have endured for years, represent the crude end in the spectrum of contempt for the press by some law enforcement and government officials, more subtle policies are perhaps undermining press freedom even more. For instance, Albuquerque reporters have been increasingly denied access to stories or simply found it more difficult to obtain public records .
“I don’t know it it’s a trend, but most states, including the state of New Mexico, have an exception for certain law enforcement documents,” said Susan Boe, executive director of the non-profit New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG). “But what happens, that (security exception) gets broad and virtually everything becomes confidential and informants and we have to fight for documents.”
According to Boe, a “bunker mentality” exists among law enforcement officials that documents and police lapel videos should be kept under wraps. Current New Mexico law provides for a $100.00 per day fine for a government agency violating public records law, but enforcing the statue is another question altogether, she said.
“We don’t have enough private lawsuits,” Boe opined. Would a deluge of legal paper make a difference? “I think it would,” she replied.
A persistent question begs: What are officials hiding and to what ends?
In New Mexico, and especially in Albuquerque, the issues spotlighted by Ferguson have lingered all summer long without clear resolution. In July, the City of Albuquerque and U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement to institute court-enforceable policing reforms centered on eight areas related to a pattern of excessive force identified by DOJ in its findings on APD that were published last spring. But what the reforms-including genuine civilian oversight of law enforcement- will look like and their timeline for implementation are still subject to negotiation.
In August the Albuquerque City Council finally tossed the graveyard dirt on what was essentially the corpse of a previous, criticized police review commission after three members complained it was toothless and resigned earlier this year.
Police militarization, which is now part of the national agenda, was a hot issue in the Duke City even before Ferguson. As a mass protest movement emerged following the police shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd last March, the second change on a list of 39 proposed reforms drafted at an April community forum demanded a halt to militarization.
The third demand read, “We want a police department that investigates crime and makes arrests, not a paramilitary, counter-terrorism force that views the public as a threat.”
But additional controversy was stirred up over the summer when it was announced that APD intended to spend about $350,000 to acquire 350 AR-15 rifles through a third-party vendor.
Stephanie Lopez, Albuquerque Police Officers Association president, told KOB News she supported the new arsenal. Lopez cited an incident last year when a man armed with an assault weapon shot and wounded four officers, leading a good part of the police force on a wild Saturday morning chase that shattered the peace of the North Valley and ended with the suspect, ironically named Christopher Chase, shot and killed by APD.
“There is a need to have these weapons on the street and within the department,” Lopez said.
Sue Schuurman, coordinator of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, had a different view: “We’re trying to demilitarize APD and they’re ordering 350 machine-guns? How is this a trust building measure? I’d rather see that put into training, deescalating our police force.”
At a July meeting in Albuquerque of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, the agency responsible for approving statewide officer training standards and issuing and yanking officers’ certifications, several speakers, including Albuquerque residents Barbara Grothus and Kenneth Ellis II, questioned police militarization but received no immediate response from the board members present.
Chaired by Attorney General Gary King, the board includes representatives from New Mexico State University-Carlsbad, the Las Cruces Police Department, several other law enforcement divisions across the state, and the owner of Kaufman’s West, a store that sells police equipment and supplies uniforms to New Mexico law enforcement agencies.
Recent stories by the Associated Press and other New Mexico media report that not only have the big police departments in Albuquerque and Las Cruces been outfitted with military gear, vehicles and weapons courtesy of the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program of military equipment transfers, but so have small agencies in Luna, Valencia and other rural counties as well.
The emergence of a police industrial complex and a revolving door between law enforcement and private industry is a growing if still largely unexplored issue in New Mexico and elsewhere. Like the relationship between the Defense Department and private military contractors, billions in profits from the public till are for the making in the business of policing. Computers, surveillance equipment, lapel video cameras, stun guns, rifles and much more are all manufactured by private companies and sold by intermediaries with a financial stake in a robust trade.
An ABC-Fusion news investigation published on Labor Day weekend revealed an Iraq War-like corruption surfacing in the military transfers, with scores of police departments in 36 states suspended or permanently cut off from the Pentagon pipeline on account of missing weapons, including assault rifles and machine guns, or failures to comply with inventory requirements.
The controversial Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona was found to have 11 or 12 missing weapons, mostly pistols, according to the report. In another instance, the now deceased chief of a small Texas town was indicted for selling or pawning military equipment that included a machine gun.
Locally, possible improprieties in a $1.95 million contract entered between Taser International and the City of Albuquerque in 2013 are currently under investigation by the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor in conjunction with the Duke city’s inspector general and internal auditor.
In April, Albuquerque City Councilors Ken Sanchez and Klarissa Pena requested the intervention of the state auditor’s office in letter that expressed concerns about the apparent no-bid contract and the role of Ray Schultz, the former APD chief who emerged as a consultant for Taser shortly after leaving his post last year.
In a written reply to Sanchez and Pena, State Auditor Hector Balderas said he was “concerned by the troubling questions surrounding these transactions and potential violations of state law.”
Evan Blackstone, Balderas’ chief of staff, said the joint investigative review is examining whether there were violations of the State of New Mexico Procurement Code and Governmental Conduct Act.
Although months have passed since the so-called Tasergate affair surfaced, Blackstone told FNS that officials were still probing and could not put a specific deadline on a “priority” matter.
“We’re actively engaged in a review of the contract with Taser and some of the concerning questions surrounding the contract and conflicts of interests,” Blackstone assured.
While there has been much talk lately about the transfer of surplus war equipment from the Pentagon to local police departments, especially through the 1033 Program, a recent study by the ACLU found evidence that upwards of one-third of the transferred equipment is of new manufacture.
In June, before police militarization became a prominent national issue, an amendment to the House Defense Department appropriations bill sponsored by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla), House Amendment 918, to prohibit the transfer of equipment like armored vehicles and drones to police departments was soundly defeated by a vote of 62-355. All three representatives from New Mexico, one Republican and two Democrats, voted against Grayson’s amendment.
Maplight, a non-profit watchdog organization that tracks money in politics, discovered that only four of the 59 House members who received more than $100,000 in donations from defense industry interests between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013 supported Grayson’s unsuccessful amendment.
But after Ferguson, the White House, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are all pledging reviews of the use of military equipment by police departments. In the House, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) is going a step farther with his sponsorship of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2014, a measure which proposes to “place restrictions and transparency measures” on the 1033 Program.
“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Congressman Johnson contended in a recent statement.
Talk of curbing the 1033 Program has backers like the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) mobilizing on Capitol Hill, according to The Hill political weekly. In an August 20 op-ed published in USA Today, FOP President Carl Canterbury insisted that military-style equipment was needed for public safety.
“This is especially true for counterdrug, anti-gang or counterterror operations. If police are outgunned and out-armored by gangs or cartels, they are less able to protect the lives of the public,” Canterbury wrote.
The FOP is raising money to defend Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown on August 9.
Similar to the 1960s and 1970s, police spying on citizen groups has also reemerged as an issue in the militarization debate. The ongoing practice was exposed at an Albuquerque anti-police brutality rally in Roosevelt Park last June when several undercover APD officers were spotted video-recording protesters. The ACLU of New Mexico has since attempted to obtain the full body of recordings but with limited success.
The department released a few minutes of tape, which mostly focused on Ken Ellis II, a prominent APD critic whose son, Iraq army vet Kenneth Ellis III, was shot and killed by an APD officer in 2010. Later interviewed at another protest, Ellis voiced outrage when asked about the footage released and his starring role in it.
“A three-hour rally and they have five minutes focused on me?” Ellis said, blasting APD for spying on the June rally. “Why even go there? No one’s breaking the law. There’s no civil disobedience. We had our own security there to defuse things,” he added.
A U.S. Army vet who served from 1983 to 1987, Ellis was perturbed by the government’s snooping . “This spying and putting people under surveillance is a pattern they’ve been practicing for years,” he said. “It’s very disheartening. It sickens me to the extent that they would violate peoples’ rights.”
Micah McCoy, communications director for the ACLU of New Mexico, was also skeptical that all the Roosevelt Park footage had been released by APD, adding that several people had witnessed the APD undercover team panning the crowd and directing the camera at rally speakers, who included activists once associated with organizations targeted by the FBI’s old COINTELPRO program, which was essentially a U.S.-style dirty war aimed at destroying social movements.
“We’re always concerned about the scope and overreach of surveillance,” McCoy said. “We’ve been very vocal about the police militarization issue. The nutshell is that our neighborhood is not a war zone and we shouldn’t be treating civilians as an enemy. The police should not be an occupying force,” McCoy said.
In Albuquerque, relatives of APD shooting victims and their supporters took to the streets again on August 27, staging a press conference and rally outside City Hall in protest of the upcoming National Police Shooting Championships, hosted by the NRA and set for September 13-18 in Albuquerque. The event features exhibition space for law enforcement equipment vendors.
Demonstrators held pictures of shooting victims Len Fuentes, Jerry Perea and Jonathan Mitchell, among others, while cut-out gravestones for Mary Hawks, James Boyd and others touched the downtown sidewalk. A placard conveyed the new national slogan of the anti-police violence movement that has arisen from Ferguson: “Hands up, Don’t Shoot.” Activists rode the elevator to the 11th floor of City Hall hoping to deliver a letter demanding the cancellation of the NRA’s shooting contest to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. Instead, the entourage encountered a locked office entrance blocked by a security guard and Mark Shepherd, the mayor’s security manager.
Shepherd politely told the group that Berry was not in, but promised, “If you have a letter I’d be happy to deliver it.”
“This is what I get for voting for (Berry), for believing in him,” fumed Sylvia Fuentes.
In comments to Shepherd, a visibly angered Mike Gomez, whose son Alan was shot and killed by APD in 2011, objected to the reports of the participation in the shooting championship of APD’s Sean Wallace, the policeman who shot Alan.
“Isn’t it ironic that Albuquerque has the most police shootings per capita and we have a police shooting competition?” quipped Ken Ellis II. “Why don’t we have a de-escalation competition and a crisis intervention to see who could use best their brains?”
In Albuquerque, Ferguson and other places don’t expect the protests to go away anytime soon. The group ABQ Justice plans a demonstration against the NRA’s annual police shooting contest at the Albuquerque Shooting Range Public Park on Saturday morning, September 13.
For more information on the emerging missing military weapons scandal:
On Monday, September 1, President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico will deliver his second annual report to the Mexican Congress. Popular in foreign business and governmental circles, the Mexican president is likely to emphasize reforms he has promoted in energy production, education, telecommunications, security, and tax policy.
But in the court of public opinion the President’s ratings are tanking, according to the results of three recent polls, all of which show about half or less of Mexicans surveyed giving Pena Nieto a positive grade on his record.
The first poll, conducted by an outside polling firm for the daily El Universal newspaper, reported 46 percent of the respondents approving of Pena Nieto’s performance, while 45 percent disapproved.
The second poll, conducted by another public opinion research outfit for the daily Excelsior, gave Pena Nieto a 43 percent approval rating, with a majority, or 54 percent, giving the President a decisive thumb’s down. Contracted by Excelsior, the Ulises Beltran and Alejandro Cruz firm credited the vote of no confidence to public perceptions of unfulfilled promises, opposition to the energy and other reforms, and an overall lack of economic improvement.
A projected 2.7 percent growth rate for this year is far below earlier predictions of 3.9 percent; in 2013, the first year of Pena Nieto’s presidency, Mexico experienced a sickly 1.1 percent growth rate, according to the World Bank. Violence, which continues at high levels and has claimed the lives of at least 36,718 Mexicans since Pena Nieto took office in December 2012, was another big factor in the public’s assessment of their president.
“Insufficient government control over what is happening in the country is still observed,” Beltran and Cruz stated.
Both El Universal and Excelsior have long been regarded as among the most conservative media in the country.
A third poll, conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, found that 47 percent of the respondents disapproved of Pena Nieto’s record, while 51 percent accorded the leader a positive influence. Compared with a similar survey taken in 2013, the president’s approval ranking dropped by nine points.
Yet the most recent Pew poll also found that about 60 percent of Mexicans considered Pena Nieto’s handling of the economy as poor, with nearly the same number opposed to opening up the national oil company Pemex up to foreign investment. In defining national problems, 79 percent of the people polled said crime was the big problem, with political corruption, environmental contamination, health care, and school quality among the other important issues mentioned.
One third of the Mexicans interviewed by Pew said they would migrate to the United States if an opportunity presented. The poll was based on surveys of 1,000 adults during the months of April and May, with a four-point margin of error.
The findings of all three polls could have political ramifications in next year’s crucial Congressional election, as well as impinge on the energy reform that is the centerpiece of the Pena Nieto administration. Opponents of the reform are gathering signatures to force a national referendum on canceling the reform, which allows foreign investment in gas and oil production as well as electricity generation.
Pena Nieto’s September 1 report will come only days after a joint trip to California this week by the President, several of his cabinet ministers and the governors of Baja California, Chihuahua and nine other Mexican states.
The presidential delegation met with migrant associations, California political leaders and business people and awarded several grants to Mexican students studying in California. Moreover, an agreement was signed between Mexican Tourism Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu and Michael E. Rossi, senior advisor to Governor Jerry Brown, committing Mexico and her big northern neighbor to increased cooperation on the tourism front.
The splashy visit was a follow-up to a three-day tour of Mexico last month by large entourage from California headed by Governor Brown.
The Brown tour climaxed with the signing of unprecedented, bilateral agreements between Mexico and California, two of the world’s largest economies, that envisage expanded economic relationships, increased ties between institutions of higher learning, greater labor protections for Mexican guestworkers and mutual action on climate change and other common environmental challenges.
During Pena Nieto’s visit to the Golden State, Brown again expounded on the cross-border environmental question.
“We can come together in many ways. We can deal with climate change,” Brown affirmed. “There’s no better place for sun and wind and geothermal than Mexico and California.”
The Mexican president used the occasion to review the many relationships between Mexico and California, urging the passage of an immigration reform. He spoke as Texas began deploying National Guard forces on the state’s border with Mexico in response to the Central American refugee children crossing the Mexico-U.S. line in search of asylum.
In an implicit criticism of Texas and Arizona, Pena Nieto said some U.S. states had not “evolved” as much as California in their treatment of migrants, warning that they would fall by the historic wayside.
“I have only one thing to tell them: the future, and the very near future, will show their ethical error. Time will show us right,” Pena Nieto insisted.
Protests greeted Pena Nieto on his California visit. Outside the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, two separate groups protested the Mexican leader’s presence.
One protest, made of a group that had been previously involved in demonstrations against the Central American children, demanded freedom for Andrew Tahmooressi, a former U.S. marine currently jailed in Tijuana for illegally importing three firearms into Mexico. Tahmooressi contends that he accidentally brought the weapons across the border. To get their point across, Tahmooressi’s supporters shouted “Boycott Mexico.”
A second protest, led by Mexican immigrants, articulated grievances analysts cite as explaining Pena Nieto’s unpopularity at home.
Holding placards that read “Traitor” and “Mexico is not for Sale,” the Los Angeles protest group criticized the energy reform and demanded freedom for Michoacan self-defense movement leader Jose Mireles and Guerrero community police commander Nestora Salgado, both of whom are considered political prisoners by a growing number of Mexicans.
“We denounce the sale of our natural resources,” said activist Roberto Moro. “Mexico is for sale.”
A Salvadoran immigrant worker at the Biltmore also had a message for Pena Nieto, telling a reporter that Central Americans passing through Mexico to the United States were horribly mistreated. “I would ask (Pena Nieto) that they don’t treat us badly,” the woman worker said. “Many injustices are committed against Central Americans.”
For an earlier FNS story on Jerry Brown’s Mexico visit check out:
Additional sources: El Semanario de Nuevo Mexico/EFE, August 28, 2014. Laopinion.com, August 26, 2014. Articles by Maria Pena, Isaias Alvarado and Rosa Elvira Vargas. El Sol de Mexico, August 26, 2014. Article by Carlos Lara Moreno. AFP, August 26, 2014. La Jornada, August 25 and 26, 2014. Articles by Rosa Elvira Vargas and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, August 25 and 27, 2014. Articles by Alvaro Delgado and Jose Gil Olmos. El Diario de Juarez, August 23, 2014. Article by Josefina Maritinez. Los Angeles Times, July 10 and August 7, 2014. Articles by Robin Abcarian.
Once again, gender violence is a hot topic of the day in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On Sunday, August 24, hundreds of people marched from the “X” monument near Chamizal Park to the San Lorenzo area in a demonstration against domestic and other forms of violence.
Billed as “The March for Laura, for You and for Me,” the public action was called in response to the brutal beating a week earlier of Laura Guerra, a U.S. citizen and University of Texas at El Paso graduate who resides in Juarez, allegedly by her boyfriend, Fernando Vargas. Bloodied and disoriented, the young woman was reportedly rescued from a park early on the morning of August 17 by a group of young people who were up late partying nearby.
University students, members of civic groups, motorcyclists and concerned citizens of all stripes rallied for Laura Guerra this past weekend. Many of the demonstrators wore white t-shirts and held purple balloons to symbolize their repudiation of violence.
“It is a peaceful march to advocate for everyone who has ever been a victim or survivor of abuse,” Martha Guerra, sister of Laura Guerra, wrote in an e-mail to FNS prior to the demonstration. “The march is to raise awareness against violence. The march also represents our right to speak up against abuse.”
According to the Ciudad Juarez Women’s Roundtable, a non-governmental group, at least 2,500 cases of physical attacks arising from domestic violence have been registered in the city since the beginning of the year.
Laura Guerra is currently at home recuperating with family members and expected to make a full recovery, according to her sister. As a result of the physical attack, the full circumstances of which are still unclear, Guerra required nose surgery and needs follow-up treatment, probably in October, her sister wrote.
The violent attack suffered by Laura Guerra stoked public outrage and made Mexican national media after Vargas was arrested by Ciudad Juarez municipal police but then quickly released by Judge Apolinar Juarez Castro. According to Martha Guerra, Vargas was freed because he was detained without an arrest warrant and her sister’s statement was missing information.
“And the reason it was incomplete was because it was taken minutes after she was released from the hospital and still under the influence of medication,” the sister stated in her e-mail to FNS.
Free for the moment, Fernando Vargas is an employee of the national oil company PEMEX as well as a student at the Autonomous University of Juarez (UACJ). He is a practitioner of boxing.
Dr. Leticia Chavarria, member of the Ciudad Juarez Security Roundtable, a citizen law enforcement oversight panel, was among the numerous voices sharply criticizing the response of the justice system in the Guerra case.
“Things got off on the wrong foot ever since the new criminal justice system was implemented, because they don’t have trained personnel or adequate installations,” Chavarria told the local press. “It’s been four years since the case of Marisela Escobedo and the police still don’t know how to do detentions, and neither do those who are supposed to apply justice.”
Escobedo was a Juarez mother who waged a highly-publicized justice campaign for her murdered 16-year-old daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo. The mother escalated her struggle when the prime suspect in the murder was freed by a Juarez court. In December 2010, Escobedo was murdered near the offices of Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte while demanding the detention of the suspect, who was linked to organized crime.
Ciudad Juarez Public Safety Director Cesar Munoz Morales said he did not know the full reasons for the release of Fernando Vargas, but defended the actions of his officers.
“In regards to the police, we helped out the young woman who was attacked,” Munoz was quoted by the local press. “In terms of the legal issues the judge saw, which he determined as not grave, that is not our question.” The police official said he hoped Vargas would be re-arrested soon.
Munoz’s version of events differed somewhat from other reports in that he credited an off-duty officer for alerting other officials about Laura Guerra’s predicament on the street.
“If this (officer) had not passed by the place and did not have a sense of citizen responsibility, who knows what could have happened?” he added.
Vargas still faces legal problems, but has initially been processed for domestic violence- much to the chagrin of Laura Guerra’s supporters who argue that the woman’s assailant should be charged with attempted murder.
The young man did not show up for a hearing on Saturday, August 23, and might not be back in court until October 31, according to press accounts. Vargas’ lawyer attended the August 23 hearing, contending that his client had not been personally notified of the court date as required.
Relatives, friends and supporters of Laura Guerra worry that her attacker will get off the hook.
Last week, Chihuahua state lawmaker Rogelio Loya got his colleagues to question State Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas about the Guerra case during an appearance at the state congress in Chihuahua City. Gonzalez told the legislators that Fernando Vargas was let go because the local prosecutor could not show that the detainee was dangerous to the public.
Delivering his comments before the legal hearing at which Vargas did not attend, Gonzalez said his office now had the legal elements to jail the accused man while a trial progresses.
State legislator Loya noted a contradiction between political discourses and law enforcement. “It has been said in various speeches that the state of Chihuahua is a state of justice, and we have before us this regrettable situation, in which the citizens and students of the UACJ are taking it up as a matter of justice,” he said.
For now, the attack on Laura Guerra has revived the public conversation on the persistence of gender violence and the measures needed to eradicate it. Activists from the Ciudad Juarez Women’s Roundtable are demanding that Public Safety Secretary Munoz and Special State Prosecutor Ernesto Jauregui publicly disclose how police protocols are applied to serve female victims of violence.
Imelda Marrufo, the organization’s coordinator, called for an “exhaustive revision” of all the government institutions and agencies that had a role in the immediate freeing of Laura Guerra’s aggressor.
According to Martha Guerra, law enforcement officials have assured her family that “justice will be made” for Laura.
A Facebook page in support of Laura Guerra has been set up at:
Additional sources: Proceso/Apro, August 24, 2014. Article by Patricia Mayorga. El Diario de Juarez, August 24, 2014. Article by Josefina Martinez. Arrobajuarez, August 23 and 24, 2014. Norte, August 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 2014. Articles by Miguel Vargas, Herika Martinez Prado, Claudia Sanchez, and Mauricio Rodriguez. La Jornada, August 22, 2014. Article by Ruben Villalpando. Lapolaka.com, August 21 and 24, 2014.
Editor’s Note: The second story in a mini-series on notions and visions of public space in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
On a recent afternoon, dozens of pretty white handkerchiefs fluttered in the breeze from the fence of the Benito Juarez Monument in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Embroidered in beautiful blue, green and red letters, the words spelled out very ugly messages:
October 13, 2013 Juarez, Chihuahua
A man known as Lucky was executed in Lomas de Poleo…
Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua
October 4, 2010
6 years old
Murdered during a robbery
She was a student of Canutillo School, where she was going with her sister..
And on and on the handkerchiefs went. The display was the work of Bordeamos Por la Paz, or We Stitch for Peace, an international movement of people who meticulously sew socially relevant messages for public viewing. In Mexico, the movement’s goal is “to preserve the memory” of victims of “homicides, femicides and forced disappearance,” said local activist Hazel Davalos. Every second Sunday, activists exhibit the handkerchiefs at the Benito Juarez Monument, she added.
Davalos’ colleague, Madga Rojero, elaborated on Bordeamos Por la Paz’s goal. “It is to construct a memory,” she said. “Every dead or disappeared person has a right to be on a handkerchief. It’s a silent protest. It’s an act of love.”
The handkerchiefs selected for display at the monument document the fates of Mexicans, some named and some anonymous, who fell victim to violence during the last few years. They were cops, gang-bangers, hamburger sellers, students fathers, sons, daughters and mothers. Many of the cases are from 2010- an especially violent year among many- and most happened in Ciudad Juarez or elsewhere in the state of Chihuahua.
A few other samples:
October 16, 2010
2 people decapitated…
October 4, 2010
6 men murdered with firearms..2 are minors
January 30, 2010
Victims of Villas de Salvarcar (Ciudad Juarez)
Jaime Rosales Cisneros, 42-contractor-saw hit men blocking off the street and ran toward the party where his son was but was shot in the back.
“He died shot in the back but managed to save his son.”
Rojero considers the handkerchiefs a small contribution in the reconstruction of a shattered social fabric, and a tool for teaching future generations not to repeat the mistakes of previous ones. “Every little grain of sand makes a difference,” she told Frontera NorteSur. “I can’t allow my heart to stop.”
Bordeamos Por la Paz’s handkerchiefs are not the only visual social messages that occupy public space in Ciudad Juarez. In July, women from across Mexico and South America converged on the border city for Feminem 2014, an event dedicated to opposing war and gender violence/oppression through urban art and other creative forms of expression.
As part of the encounter, women painted a block-long mural on Vicente Guerrero Avenue directly across from the Benito Juarez Monument. A striking image of an indigenous woman holding a flower rises from the center of the artwork on a busy street. “From Brazil with Love,” reads one message signed in Portuguese.
Other writings painted on the new mural protest the murder and disappearance of women: The “Not One More” phrase that has become the slogan of the international anti-femicide movement is joined “We Want Them Alive” and the poetic “I miss your breath that turns into a desert.”
In Ciudad Juarez, the artwork and accompanying words are not abstract representations. The mural stands one block down the street from the Allende High School, a private school where several female victims of disappearance and murder once attended.
While Feminem 2014 was in progress, the artist/activists transported their pain and paint to other sections of the city as well.
Very close to the downtown Cathedral on September 16 Avenue, which is nearing re-completion as a pedestrian walkway, the same messages as the ones on the Vicente Guerrero Avenue mural also appear on concrete barriers, one of which is right around the corner from the Hotel Plaza where Dutch tourist Hester van Nierop was murdered in 1998.
Downtown is the zone where dozens of young women have vanished over the years, many later turning up murdered at mass burial sites; new and old missing posters that plaster the streets testify to an ongoing issue that’s left a searing wound in Juarense society.
One of the most recent posters, or pesquias as they are called in Spanish, is for 23-year-old Iliana Carrillo, a U.S. citizen residing in Ciudad Juarez who was reported missing after she left her home in the Bellavista neighborhood for work early on the afternoon of July 31 of this year.
Alicia Andares, who was a participant in Feminem 2014, penned an essay on the event for the Spanish-language website elbarrioantiguo.com. Andares placed the Ciudad Juarez gathering in a global context:
“The social fabric has been eroded, destroyed and broken by a technology of war that is more powerful and sophisticated all the time. And the erosion, destruction, rupture and war that is provoked in modern society now is not able to be narrated, and it is difficult to admit, to feel, to understand. In the entire country-and the whole world-we are becoming closer witnesses to the degree of stupidity, cruelty and impunity that the rapacious powers are capable of coming to…”
For Andares, art is a collective and non-commercial response to an unjust death and the silencing of peoples. Feminem 2014 she wrote, allowed the flowering of urban art in a city whose “heart wanted to be caressed.”
For examples of Bordeamos por la Paz’s handkerchiefs:
Background on Feminem 2014: https://es-es.facebook.com/FestivalFeminem
Alicia Andares’ Spanish essay on Feminem 2014:
Editor’s Note: The first of two articles on notions and visions of public space in downtown Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Rosa Gutierrez waits patiently as she sells old movie posters from a shaded stand under the gaze of the Benito Juarez Monument in downtown Ciudad Juarez. A young woman asks if the seller has anything bearing the mugs of Mexican silver screen legends Pedro Infante or Cantinflas.
Reluctantly, Gutierrez tells the disappointed customer that she has run out of posters featuring the two stars. The reporter then asks if there happens to be a sample on hand of “Los Olividados,” Luis Bunuel’s classic 1950 film about young delinquents in Mexico City that was recently rescreened up the Camino Real in Albuquerque.
Again, Gutierrez says no. “Everyone wants that. Everyone looks for it,” she says. A petite and older woman, Gutierrez counts five months selling the pictorial relics of Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema at the Juarez Monument, or the Bazar Cultural del “Monu”, as the event is called in Juaritos slang.
For a little less than two bucks, Gutierrez offers posters of Antonio Aguilar, Maria Felix, El Santo, and many other stars from a different age. “A lot of people appreciate the memories,” she muses.
The memory merchant is among dozens of vendors who gather at the Juarez Monument and surrounding park every Sunday. At a glance, the sprawling scene resembles any other Mexican outdoor market. But a first impression could not be more off-base.
Visitors will quickly spot handcrafted jewelry and original paintings, but they also might be surprised to behold offbeat antiques like the old Mobil sign lettered before the energy giant got even bigger with the Exxon merger or a rusty gas pump that looks like it was rescued from a lost desert road. Of special note are the music and sounds for sale: delivered in vinyl, eight track and even reel-to-reel. Mexican musical giants loom large, but so do the luminaries of jazz, rock and blues.
In fact the Juarez Monument Bazaar first began in 1998 as an informal exchange of long-play records, says Pablo Montalvo, Juarez Monument Cultural Bazaar co-founder and coordinator.
“That’s what we initially intended, but we didn’t think it would last so many years,” Montalvo tells Frontera NorteSur. After several years, the expanding bazaar was displaced to nearby side streets when a municipal government decided to remodel the monument and park grounds, Montalvo adds. Then came the so-called narco war, a succession of slaughters like the 2010 Villas de Salvarcar Massacre, citizen protests and rhetoric from then-President Felipe Calderon on reclaiming public space.
Subsequently, and on their own initiative, Montalvo and friends decided to put the president’s words into practice. “We retook the park four years ago. Calderon came and talked about retaking public space, so then we came to the park again,” he recalls. “The downtown is stigmatized by violence, prostitution and disappeared women, and nobody wanted to come. But since we’ve been here, people come. It was the rescue of public space.”
Located astride Vicente Guerrero Avenue, the Benito Juarez Monument Cultural Bazaar is in one of the border city’s nerve centers. Dozens of loud city buses whisk passengers to outlying working class neighborhoods, or colonias, from the site. Only a block of two away, cut-rate intercity buses carry people to and from the interior cities of the Republic.
Nowadays, Sunday at the monument is part artist’s market, part soapbox, part entertainment complex, part musical showcase, and part therapy session. It is also a journey into the pre-digital age, a place where shoppers can find old film cameras and seemingly ancient but still useful home tools from the anthropological past.
Jugglers practice their skills as a class of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art-dance gets underway to drum beats. Massage therapists run their fingers on clients’ backs while a local group, Luna e geo, tunes up. The pop-rock band is among many local combos that entertain the public here each weekend. A trio of lumbering municipal cops, weighted down with sub-machine guns and pistols, looks decidedly from another planet.
Visitors can also learn about bicycle repair, play chess or checkers and engage in a ping pong match. In short, the Juarez Monument Cultural Bazaar is a visit to the historic yet future global village. Families abound, with Montalvo calculating that on good days about a thousand people show up- an estimate that actually might be an undercount judging from the turn-out on a recent Sunday.
According to the bazaar coordinator, the project has the cooperation of the state and municipal governments and all the attendant permits. It also has some basic rules for vendors, who are not charged a fee. For example, multinational corporate and brand name goods are prohibited to sell, as are pirate and second hand products, animals, kitchenware, Chinese-made toys, cellular phones and cables.
On the other hand, music, crafts, films, books and magazines, antiques, recycled and organic materials, and traditional and educational toys are more than encouraged. In between semesters, a local English teacher reportedly tickles the local funny bones in both English and Spanish for five pesos a joke.
On the last Sunday of each month, the bazaar hosts Gratiferia, or the Free Fair, where people are encouraged to give away things. “It’s not like getting the junk out of your home, we tell people, but giving something to somebody,” Montalva says. A man once brought novels and t-shirts to give away and told passerby to take an item in return for a hug, he recalls with a smile.
Gathered around a canopy-covered massage table, a group of health promoters and therapists from Community Health and Well Being (SABIC), a non-profit organization dedicated to alternative medicine and community counseling, offer massages, reiki, essential oils and acupuncture a la Mexicana performed with chile seed. SABIC’S basic treatments at the bazaar costs less than two dollars, but the workers insist no one is turned away for lack of money.
Demand for SABIC’S services is high, as many people in Ciudad Juarez are stressed out from violence, insecurity and unemployment, the promoters say. While officials feverishly promote their city as having left behind the Great Violence of 2008-2012, thousands of orphans, deep and unattended traumas from family disintegration and new episodes of violence grip civil society, they add.
Health professionals like SABIC have even noticed an uptick in heroin addiction, as individuals attempt to dull violent memories, according to promoter Isela Gomez. And conditions in Juarez would be even worse if residents did not have the option of selling stuff on the street or at places like the bazaar. “If it weren’t for informal employment, imagine the state people would be in,” Gomez says.
“We’re an example of it here,” chuckles co-worker Maria de Jesus Cervantes. Recently, about 10 SABIC workers were laid off from their positions providing services to violence-impacted colonias when a grant from the United States Agency for International Development ran out, the women say.
On the other side of the park, Dagoberto Ramos sands his ping pong table back to shape after it was damaged in the monsoon rains. Sporting a graying beard, Ramos conveys a fun-filled but serious mission. In his view, the bazaar has a double benefit of giving the public an alternative pass time while meeting the economic needs of weekend vendors. “Everybody needs a second income,” he says.
Ramos’ goal is to open a game center with a library somewhere in the city, as a means of encouraging healthy recreation and interesting youthful non-readers in books. “I’d like to use it as a hook in order to get young people to come and play ping pong, so they then might say, ‘Oh, by the way, I have problems in school…’”
Ramos and Montalvo agree that the Sunday bazaar has helped create a new atmosphere in a seedy section of town, and has proven to be family-friendly.
“Before, the monument was a place for delinquency, especially at night but sometimes even during the day,” Ramos says. “That doesn’t happen on Sundays at least. The bazaar has contributed to getting more (public) attention on the monument.”
Montalvo and his collaborators have even grander plans for the bazaar. As the winners of a recent ecology contest sponsored by the U.S. Consulate, the promoters plan to plant 80 new trees in the park.
To draw more people to the site, Montalvo is discussing the possibility of bringing in big-name, out-of-town acts with local musical promoters, as well as mapping out the logistics of getting small farmers from rural areas outside the city to offer fresh produce directly to consumers, in the same vein as farmers’ markets in neighboring New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
“It’s a good concept,” he says, “but there is very little cultivation in Juarez.” According to the old school music lover, the bazaar is starting to get international notice, with magazine and television stories in El Paso under its belt and a planned presentation of the project at an upcoming October event in Berlin.
“This park is for everyone,” Montalvo underscores.
Ciudad Juarez’s Bazar Cultural del Monu is located at the Benito Juarez Monument, Vicente Guerrero and Constitucion, in the city’s downtown. It takes place every Sunday from approximately 11 am to 5:00 pm.
For more information:
Largely overlooked by the U.S. media, California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent mission to Mexico may have recast the future of U.S.-Mexico relationships in a bigger way than any other U.S. leader has achieved in contemporary times.
In an agenda-packed tour of three days at the end of July, Brown not only parlayed with President Enrique Pena Nieto and other Mexican government leaders, but dialogued with Mexican and Central American bishops on immigration, signed bilateral agreements ranging from new high-tech business initiatives to curbing climate change and overall set a far different tone on border affairs than is pronounced in the crisis-ridden rhetoric dominating elite U.S. discourse.
“It’s historic. It’s extremely important that it’s coming from our governor,” said California State University (CSU) Professor Armando Vazquez Ramos. “This is what should have been in place decades ago.”
Organized by the California Chamber of Commerce, with support from the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, the delegation of an estimated 150 people that accompanied Brown gave the Mexican visit a definite economic accent. A glance at the roster of travelers reveals the interests seeking to cash in on Peña Nieto’s economic reforms. It also gives a glimpse of the direction of foreign capital investment in the Aztec Republic in the coming years. Among the companies represented on Brown’s tour de force were British Petroleum America, NRG Energy, Northrup Grumman Aerospace and Sempra Energy, the firm that’s embroiled in controversy over an alleged fraudulent land transaction in Baja California and its cozy ties with officials in Mexico and the United States.
“For California businesses, Mexico represents incredible opportunity,” Brown insisted.
According to the California Chamber of Commerce, Mexico was California’s number one trading partner in 2013, purchasing 14.2 percent of the state’s exports for a sum of $23.9 billion. Computer and electronic goods excelled as the products of choice headed across the Golden State’s border.
While the economic accords reached with Mexico- including one that allows Mexican companies access to California’s network of public-private high tech research hubs- conform with the NAFTA model, Brown’s Mexican visit went beyond a narrow business focus to create new openings for addressing outstanding, cross-border environmental, labor, immigration and education concerns.
For instance, in a letter of intent signed between Brown and the Mexican Ministry of Labor, the two parties pledged to safeguard the rights of H-2 guestworkers by making the recruitment and assignment system more transparent and accountable. A downsized successor of the old Bracero Program of Mexican guest labor, the H-2 program has been criticized by labor advocates for abusive and exploitative practices.
Notably, the H-2 agreement came at a moment when any sort of immigration reform is stuck in the Washington morass.
On the environmental front, the Brown administration and Mexican federal environmental officials agreed to develop joint action plans aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, strengthening vehicle fuel standards, promoting renewable energy and stepping up wildfire suppression efforts along the 136-mile Mexico-California border.
“Climate change increases the vulnerability of Mexico and California to extreme weather events including drought, floods, wildfires, and extreme weather temperatures, particularly at our common border, with wildfires becoming more frequent,” states the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Brown and senior officials from Mexico’s Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment and the National Forestry Commission.
Moreover, the agreement envisages better air quality monitoring, improving waste management in the Baja California-California corridor and allows California to enter into other agreements with individual Mexican states. Inviting cross-border public comment on policy design and rule making processes, it also provides for personnel exchanges, training, information sharing and resource allocation. To put the potential of the new California-Mexico environmental policy framework in perspective, the agreement was consummated between a U.S. state of nearly 40 million people with an annual $2 trillion gross state product that, if independent would be the top ten economies in the world, and a nation-state approaching 120 million people which was ranked last year as the world’s 15th biggest economy ($1.26 trillion gross domestic product), according to the World Bank.
CSU Professor Vazquez, who also directs the non-profit California Mexico Studies Center in Long Beach, praised another agreement that laid the groundwork for increased academic cooperation between California and Mexican institutions of higher learning.
A longtime advocate of closer ties in academia north and south of the border, Vazquez said fostering student and faculty exchanges is at the core of futures in Mexico and the United States, as both nations increasingly demand better-educated populations in a globally competitive environment.
The exchanges that existed were disrupted in recent years when U.S. universities’ banned their students and faculty from traveling to Mexico due to concerns over violence, the researcher said. Vazquez said his own institution finally lifted such a ban last year, and small groups of CSU students and professors are just beginning to revisit Mexico again. For the California-Mexico higher education agreement to succeed, he insisted that advocates need “to hold (Brown’s) feet to the fire” so adequate resources are allocated to fund “thousands” and not hundreds of fellowships.
While he was in Mexico, Brown made statements that grabbed Mexican media attention. In a joint appearance with Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Meade, Brown distinguished himself from his indicted Texan counterpart by declaring that his administration would not militarize the border.
In a separate encounter with religious leaders, the California leader reiterated the need for a U.S. immigration reform as well as humanitarian support for children crossing the border. Besides reflecting a deepened commitment to resolving the dire circumstances of the children, the meeting with Catholic Church leaders and other officials “underscored the unique relationship between California and Mexico and Central America,” said Professor Harley Shaiken, a professor of education and geography at the University of California-Berkeley who was present for the encounter. “The state wants to ensure that the interests of the children were addressed,” Shaiken added.
According to Shaiken, a lot of advance work went into Brown’s Mexico mission, with four bilateral Memorandums of Understanding prepared ahead of time. Another outcome, he said, was a “significant amount of interaction” on the trip among business sector representatives, non-governmental activists and legislators.
CSU’s Armando Vazquez noted that Brown has signed into law about a dozen immigrant-friendly measures like driver’s licenses for undocumented persons. In comments to the Mexican Senate, Brown touched on the contentious energy reform approved by the Mexican Congress, issuing a warning to lawmakers as global energy giants prepare to conquer a newly-opened, deregulated market.
The Democratic governor urged the Mexican government to pursue “an iron hand” in regulating foreign energy corporations or risk seeing the country devoured. If appropriate regulatory measures were not put in place, Brown warned, the big energy players “will eat you alive!” As California state Senator Lou Correa, who accompanied Brown on the trip, later told Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, the Democratic governor spoke from bitter experience.
“This is a lesson that could serve Mexico,” Correa was quoted. “With pleasure, we will share with you all the lessons that we have painfully learned.”
Correa recalled the 2000 California “energy crisis” in which Enron and other energy companies, emboldened with new power in the wake of market deregulation, concocted power shortages that caused blackouts, sent electricity rates soaring and, almost as if following a Shock Doctrine script authored by writer and analyst Naomi Klein, resulted in the recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis and his replacement by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The 2000 energy crisis set the stage for what could be considered California’s “Lost Decade” of economic decline, housing foreclosures, out-migration and public policy austerity that saw budgets slashed and the cost of higher education soar into the galaxies. According to Vazquez, the state is barely pulling back from the edge of the abyss.
Brown’s Mexican trip tightens the bonds between neighbors with a long, common history. Conquered in a war the U.S. waged against Mexico, the native Californios were dispossessed of their lands. But more than 150 years later, the Latino population, and especially Mexican presence, has reshaped California in ever-surprising ways.
Latinos, mostly of Mexican descent but also with a sizable representation of Central and South Americans and other nationalities, now comprise 39 percent of the state’s population and are expected to surpass whites as the largest state ethnic group this year, the Pew Research Center projects.
Different regions of California are characterized by the transplanting of virtually entire communities from Mexican states like Oaxaca or Michoacan. At least eight California cities now host annual celebrations of Guelaguetza, the indigenous Oaxacan festival.
Conversely, a significant population of California and U.S. expatriates has settled on Mexico’s West Coast, where Thanksgiving Day celebrations are now held, their dinners even prepared many times by Mexican cooks who learned the menu while working in the United States.
Culturally, the California- Mexico connection has fostered a dynamic fusion in cuisine, the plastic arts, cinema, literature, language and music. While the U.S. Silver Screen attracted Mexican actors and actresses like Antonio Aguilar and Dolores del Rio, the so-called “Hollywood Gang” of John Wayne, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and friends made frequent visits to Acapulco. Johnny Weismuller, the iconic Tarzan of Hollywood, is buried in Acapulco, where he lived out his last years.
In popular music the surrealistic guitar leads of Mexican immigrant Carlos Santana added a Latin flavor to the San Francisco rock of the 1960s, while the sounds of the East Los Angeles Chicano combo Los Lobos blended rock, blues, folk, polka and traditional Mexican ballads in a street gritty but stunningly stellar creation that might be called “Mex-Americana.” For a younger generation, 2014 Grammy Award winners La Santa Cecilia, formed by young Mexican-Americans from Los Angeles, synthesize the California-Mexico musical/cultural scene with bilingual lyrics and influences ranging from rock to cumbia to norteno, evident in tunes like the group’s accordion-laced cover of the Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which forms the sound-track of a psychedelic-like cartoon video starring farmworkers harvesting one of California’s major crops.
La Santa Cecilila’s acclaimed song “Ice El Hielo” is an anthem of the times. Capturing the realities of millions of California and U.S. immigrants, the tune can be heard on YouTube accompanied by video that portrays a young female restaurant worker confronted by a militarized raiding party from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of La Santa Cecilia’s members recently “outed” himself as undocumented.
For Vazquez, the California-Mexico accords are a catch-up to demographic and economic realities that transformed two important places on the planet while Washington and Mexico City were preoccupied with other matters. Now, it remains to be seen if the 2014 agreements could represent far-reaching shifts in the politics of U.S.-Mexico relations on both sides of the border.
“Ironically, I think under this (Mexican) PRI government there are better conditions for collaboration,” Vazquez said. “Neither (former presidents) Fox nor Calderon had any moxy, or expertise, to grow the relationship with California.”
On the other side of the diplomatic coin, the July 2014 agreements differ from the main thrusts of Washington’s Mexican and Latin American policies of recent administrations which, according to Vazquez, have centered on the “policing policies” of Plan Colombia or Plan Merida (Mexico), the U.S. anti-drug strategy first implemented during the Bush administration and continued under the Obama White House.
For more information on some of the issues discussed in this article:
California Mexico Studies Center
La Santa Cecilia “Ice El Hielo”
La Santa Cecilia “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Video Documentary on La Santa Cecilia
A Mexican federal official has accused the mining giant Grupo Mexico with concealing an August 5 toxic spill that contaminated two rivers in the northern border state of Sonora.
Cesar Lagarda Lagarda, northwestern division chief for the National Water Commission (Conagua), said in a press conference this week that Grupo Mexico “deliberately hid the failure” of a waste storage facility that held a mixture of sulfuric acid and heavy metals from its Cananea copper mine, which is located south of the Arizona-Sonora border.
The toxic soup first spilled into the Bacanuchi River before entering the Sonora River and threatening water supplies for downstream communities and the state capital of Hermosillo. The pollution was first noticed by local residents last week who were surprised to see the Sonora River transformed into a odd, orange color. Residents also feared contamination of their groundwater.
Lagarda reported that authorities have detected excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, iron, manganese, nickel, and copper near the municipality of Baviacora, as well as dead fish. The official warned of long-term, fatal effects to cattle. An estimated 10 million gallons of toxic material spilled from Grupo Mexico’s property.
Belatedly informed of the incident, Conagua restricted water usage in the municipalities of Arizpe, San Felipe de Jesus, Aconchi, Ures, Banamichi, and Baviacora. Subsequently, authorities distributed bottled and trucked-in water. To stem the pollution, lime was released in the Sonora River.
The Sonora River ecosystem provides habitat and water for white-tailed deer, bobcats, coyotes, birds, javelinas, and other creatures.
According to the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection, state and local authorities are in charge of the environmental emergency response per protocol, with federal back-up support.
Conagua sources said Grupo Mexico could be fined about one million dollars for the spill, though under Mexican law any fine could be appealed. In addition, Lagarda stressed that Grupo Mexico will be responsible for paying for the environmental containment and clean-up costs.
On another front, the Sonora State Human Rights Commission confirmed that it had accepted a citizen complaint regarding the spill. It wasn’t immediately clear from Mexican press reports if any government agency had conducted recent inspections of the Cananea waste storage unit that ruptured.
On an August 13 visit to Sonora, Environment Secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud said Grupo Mexico did not inform officials of the spill until 24 hours after it happened, further charging that Grupo Mexico has not subsequently provided accurate information to authorities about the origin or consequences of the spill.
Guerra reiterated federal support to the Sonora state government for resolving the toxic waste problem “as soon as possible.” Until now, Grupo Mexico has not released a public statement on the matter.
The spill raised concerns about damage to Sonoran agriculture, livestock raising and the cattle export business to the United States. Luis Sierra Maldonado, president of the Sonora Regional Livestock Union, said there had been no reports so far of cattle affected by the contamination.
But Sierra warned that no animals or humans should drink from wells within 1,500 feet of the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers. He also had other strong recommendations: “First of all, retire livestock from the margins of the river. Secondly, suspend the consumption of milk and the making of cheese. Third, be very aware of any alternative sources of water that can be counted on.”
Occurring in an arid region that has been doubly-slammed with drought, the August 5 spill could aggravate another environmental problem. Quoted in the local press, Sonora Governor Guillermo Padres Elias said the disaster did not impact the water supply of the state capital.
“I don’t have information right now about the (contamination) level, but Conagua’s recommendation was not to use the water from (El Molinito Reservoir), and I agree,” Padres said. “Thankfully, we have the Independence Aqueduct that is going to supply the city of Hermosillo with water.”
The object of continued legal battles, the aqueduct Padres spoke of is fiercely opposed by Sonora’s Yaqui people, who are engaged in a national protest caravan this week against the project. Yaqui leaders contend the aqueduct siphons away water vital for the tribe’s agriculture and cultural survival in order to support urban and export-oriented industrial growth in Hermosillo.
Sources: El Diario de Sonora, August 13 and 14, 2014. Articles by Jesus Esquer. Milenio.com, August 12, 2014. Article by Felipe Larios and editorial staff. La Jornada, August 12, 2014. Article by Ulises Gutierrez Ruelas. Proceso, August 10, 2014.
An incalculable casualty of border violence and security polices in recent years has been the cultural exchanges between Mexican and U.S. citizens. Yet as insecurity dominated the discourse about places like Ciudad Juarez and an existing cultural gap got even wider the border literary scene endured and even excelled amid the hard times.
In the spirit of reopening cultural windows, Frontera NorteSur would like to inform readers of a new Spanish-language literary portal on the website of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies of New Mexico State University (NMSU).
Launched by Dr. Jose Manuel Garcia, writer and NMSU professor of Spanish, the Cultura en la Frontera (Border Culture) section features works by authors from the Paso del Norte region, especially showcasing Ciudad Juarez writers who frequently do not get the recognition they deserve on this side of the border.
The page contains contributions by Dr. Garcia, NMSU Spanish instructor Adriana Candia, Ciudad Juarez writer Margarita Salazar Mendoza and many others. The pieces encompass literary reviews, essays, short stories, interviews, and poetry. Subjects such as Pancho Villa, jazz and life in Ciudad Juarez are treated with flair and style. A tribute is posted for Chihuahua cultural activist and writer Juan Holguin Rodriguez who sadly passed away on July 25 of this year.
La Cultura en la Frontera also has links to the must-see Spanish-language Ombligo/Umbigo magazine, a production that showcases Mexican and Latin American writers, artists and musicians, as well as the appropriately named Arenas Blancas, or White Sands, another NMSU literary journal produced by Garcia, Candia and others.
Giving voice to writers from both sides of the Paso del Norte border line, Arenas Blancas is published mainly in Spanish but includes English-language contributions and, as befits the region, literary works in both languages.
The magazine’s name denotes the shared geography of the borderland, where rolling expanses of white sand dunes rise from the desert floor in both the Las Cruces-Alamogordo area and Samalayuca near Ciudad Juarez.
Edited by Rodrigo Figueroa and translated into English as “Border, Eroticism and the Third Dimension,” Arenas Blanca’s last issue bounces with poetry, short stories, photography, and an interview with iconic New Mexican writer Denise Chavez.
A story by Juan Carlos Esquivel, “The Border of the Living Dead,” depicts a mysterious zombie invasion of Ciudad Juarez, while an Uberto Stabile poem, the title translated as “Jack Kerouac, Pocahontas and I,” chronicles the journey of an interesting trio.
Translated, the poem begins:
“Jack Kerouac, Pocahontas and I
were going down the south road in my van
listening to John Lee Hooker on the radio…”
Readers can access NMSU’s new Spanish-language culture page at the link below. Feel more than free to spread the word!