Mexico War on Drugs — 06 June 2012


Robert Joe Stout

Assassinations in Mexico are not confined to criminal organizations. Political protesters, union leaders, journalists and human rights advocates are gunned down in their homes, their cars, their offices. Seldom are their slayers prosecuted and even less frequently do these slayings find mention in government reports.

“We are a nation that follows the law,” Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón insists. Follows it where? Into murky clouds of misstatement and regulations? Down blind alleys where archiving denouncements is considered resolving criminal cases? Into the hands of well-organized and well-run drug exporting corporations? Murders are defined as suicides, paramilitaries protected and innocents arrested, tortured and imprisoned. Only 4 percent of criminal charges result in convictions. The police rely on victims and informants to locate offenders and wrest confessions by beating those accused, giving them electrical shocks and threatening to rape or kill their wives and children.

“They put on uniforms to collect bribes and direct traffic but they are just another of the criminal bands that prey on Mexico’s citizenry,” a retired Mexican chemical engineer wrote in FaceBook. Although more than 1,000 feminicides remain uninvestigated and unresolved the police have arrested and Mexican courts sentenced over thirty young women to up to thirty years imprisonment for having abortions. (More than 140 others are being processed for the same charges.)

Human rights representatives in the northern states of Baja California and Chihuahua refused to process abuses by Mexico’s military (including theft, wrongful arrest, rape and torture) because many who file complaints are waylaid and beaten. In the southern state of Oaxaca over 100 murders remain unsolved but federal and state police and soldiers apprehended over 140 peaceful demonstrators in 2006 and a local judge sentenced them to a medium security federal prison for “sedition.” Only Mexican politicians rank lower on national polls about respect and trust than the police.

Throughout the country the police operate on a pyramid scheme. Plazas (positions within the force, such as motorcycle patrol, vice investigation, etc.) are purchased and the purchaser pays a weekly or monthly quota to the higher up from whom he purchased the position. That higher up in turn pays his superior, since he too acquired his position after serving an even higher higher up. As officials are promoted, they take their hijos (“children”) with them, thus perpetrating the flow of money collection.

Often the amounts of the quotas of those on the lower levels of the pyramid exceed their salaries, making it imperative that they extort money through bribes, theft, concealing the activities of criminals and protection services. The hijo’s patrón abandons him if he fails to meet his quotas and he is given la baja (fired) or assigned to bank guard or watchman duties where he has little chance of collecting bribes; consequently, he spends most of his on-duty time extorting payments from motorists, businesses, pickpockets, prostitutes and whoever else he can shake down.

“The law’s like a tree that’s never been watered, that’s wind-blasted, hacked at, struck by lightening,” a mid-level bureaucrat who works for the state of Oaxaca complained. “It’s twisted and disfigured, with knobs where there should be limbs, thorns where there should be leaves. Those in power manipulate it for their own benefit.”

He told me he’s thought about becoming a whistleblower but “I’m not the hero type.” He has a wife, children, house, car—things he cannot afford to lose because whistleblowers wind up jobless, in jail or under a tombstone. “Pegged to the law!” he quotes Oaxaca governor Ulisés Ruiz defining actions of his government and uses as an example the killing of U.S. video cameraman Bradley Will during anti-government protests in 2006. The state failed to investigate any of twenty-three confirmed killings of protesters that year; only after U.S. NGOs and the U.S. Embassy became involved did they arrest one of the men who was with Will when he was shot, ignoring videotapes that showed armed off-duty police attacking the barricade from which Will was filming.

Evidence? Police peritos (crime scene investigators) provided everything needed even though their findings contradicted apparent facts. A “witness” (who it turned out wasn’t at the scene of the crime) testified against Will, then refuted his testimony so the state found another witness who probably wasn’t there either. What did it matter? Evidence is evidence, the trial judge (who was appointed to the judgeship by Governor Ruiz) sentenced the alleged killer to prison.

Throughout Mexico the police are in collusion with criminals, former Mexican army office Oscar Jiménez rapped his forefinger against my chest as he claimed not to advocate vigilante actions but praised the effectiveness by which citizens of the Oaxacan town of San Blas Atempa dealt with the assassination of a much admired doctor in 1993. Police corralled three of the four killers and apegado a la ley (“pegged to the law”) deposited them in jail. But “half the population” of San Blas broke into the jail, yanked the three murderers out of their cells, strung them up in front of the municipal building and carted their corpses to the river where they burned them and dumped the ashes into the water.

No apegado a la ley?” I questioned Jiménez and he laughed and cited an expression he attributed to revered nineteenth century president Benito Juárez: “The power belongs to the people!”

Unfortunately in contemporary Mexico the power belongs to a select few people. The National Action Party (PAN for its initials in Spanish), adhering to its credo “government by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs” has maneuvered the bulk of the country’s economic resources into the hands of the country’s thirty wealthiest families while over 60 percent of the population of nearly 110 million no longer can fulfill their food, housing, transportation, health care and education needs. (Over twenty percent of those 110 million lack adequate nutrition and nearly 7 percent live illegally in the United States.)

This ruling oligarchy competes with drug exporting corporations for economic power. The exporters have amassed enormous wealth and have co-opted law enforcement so thoroughly that as many (if not more) of those hired to uphold the law work against it rather than for it. No longer are the “cartels” mere criminal bands run by rural jefes, they are complexly organized businesses that include accountants, lawyers, chemists, legislators and entire corps of police. (The term “cartel” is erroneous since the drug organizations have nothing to do with Medieval trade unions but function like private corporations.)

The so-called “War Against Drugs” sponsored by the United States has done little to diminish the drug corporations’ success. Forbes magazine recently included drug lord Joaquín (“El Chapo”) Guzmán on its list of the world’s richest individuals. Although supposedly on the country’s “most wanted” list Guzmán reportedly lives comfortably in the western state of Durango “a little past Guanaceví. Everyone knows this except for the authorities,” Archbishop of Durango Héctor González told his parishioners in April 2009. Journalists scoffed when Durango’s governor Ismael Hernández blustered that Archbishop González should “inform the authorities” if he knew El Chapo’s whereabouts.

“That’s like sending {convicted child abuser} Marcial Maciel to supervise a childcare facility,” writer Ugo Codevilla responded.

A columnist for the Mexican daily La Jornada commented that if everyone in Mexico except the authorities knows where El Chapo lives, either the authorities are lying about not knowing his whereabouts or they are stupider than everyone else in the country. While both may be true, custodians of the maximum security prison Puente Grande testified that prison authorities and other high-ranking government officials, including national human rights executives, abetted Guzmán’s escape in 2001.

Informants within the ranks of the police and military alert the drug organizations to everything the authorities plan to do. The corporation capos let soldiers raid, torture and steal from small-time dealers and innocent civilians and occasionally direct police towards members or hideouts of competing criminal groups but the leaders remained untouched.

The Archbishop’s parishioners went to him because they were afraid to go to the police or any other government authorities. Human rights authorities deterred a group of Tijuana wives and mothers from processing accusations against the military for the false arrest, torture and illegal confinement of their husbands and sons because of threats of arrest and death that others had received for denouncing violations by the military. Unable to secure representation in Mexico the group filed charges through the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

Police throughout the country have been linked with bands dedicated to kidnapping and extracting ransom. Dissident members of La Flor, the group that kidnapped and murdered teenaged Fernando Martí in 2008 claimed they were defrauded of their proper share of the ransom money and fingered the leaders of the band which included José Luis Romero, the commander of the Federal District Judicial Police. (His immediate superior, Jesús Jiménez-Granados, former prosecuting attorney of that law enforcement group, was linked with a different band of kidnappers, Los Cobra.) Similarly the kidnappers of Isabel Miranda-Wallace’s son Hugo turned out to be led by former police official César Freyre.

In describing his recruitment into the ranks of Mexico’s City’s police, the narrator of José Luis Trueba-Lara’s biography of a Mexican policeman Los Primeros en Morir explains that like most of his fellow recruits he grew up in the crime-ridden slum of Tepito where extortion, theft and shakedowns were daily occurrences. Although he despised the system in which he’d become involved he saw no way out except to use his badge to gain admittance to more prosperous underworld activities.

State and federal governments have gone underground to create gangs of porros (political henchmen) to intimidate and persecute opponents. Some, like the escuadrones de muerte (death squads) in Oaxaca, waylay, beat and torture dissident political activists; others like the Paz y Justicia and Ejército de Dios in Chiapas openly harass and assault Zapatista communities. Groups of porros regularly infiltrate union activities and university functions to foment conflict and stimulate acts of violence against which the police or military can retaliate.

Police arrest porros and cart them off to jail but they are back on the streets in a day or two, having been released under bail (clandestinely paid by the government), or the cases are dismissed for “lack of evidence.” The latter becomes a sham when more serious crimes are involved and a judge releases the offender, in many cases because the arresting officers or prosecuting attorneys fail to present proper evidence. (Mexico does not utilize a jury system for criminal cases.) A governor or other high-ranking authority merely has to indicate that he or she wants the accused to be released and because of intentionally botched investigations the judge rules against conviction.

Both Mexico’s federal government and various state governments discuss—or even institute—police “reforms” but the changes affect only routine details or are ignored, largely because the system as it exists works to the benefit of those in power. Advancement for a policeman or other government official often depends on covering up for one’s immediate superior who, as he is promoted, promotes those who have covered up for him. Exposure is a threat to power; consequently, exposure is dealt with quickly and often violently. Everyone involved in the pyramid scheme knows this and the corruption grows to the point that it becomes the system. Even those who dislike it continue to play.
During a joint forum conducted by several Mexico City universities, one of the speakers responded to an audience member’s query “So trying to find an honest government official is like trying to find a needle in a haystack?” by pinching his pursed lips and frowning, then replying:

“I’m not sure of that.

“I think it might be possible to find the needle.”

Robert Joe Stout has written about Mexico for a variety of publications, including America, The American Scholar and Notre Dame Magazine. He lives in Oaxaca and was a member of two Rights Action emergency human rights delegations. His most recent book, Why Immigrants Come to America: Braceros, Indocumentados and the Migra was published in 2008 by Praeger.  


About Author

(0) Readers Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 1 = four