Sunday, June 29, 2008

WNU #952: Is CANF Smuggling Cuban Migrants?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #952, June 29, 2008

1. Cuba: Is CANF Smuggling Migrants?
2. Mexico: Congress OKs "Plan Mexico"
3. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

ISSN#: 1084-922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Cuba: Is CANF Smuggling Migrants?
On June 23 the Mexican daily La Jornada reported that according to "judicial sources" the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) has information that the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) has maintained ties for at least three years with the "Gulf Cartel" drug trafficking operation and "Los Zetas"--a gang of hired assassins working for the cartels--to help in the smuggling of Cuban and Central American immigrants through Mexican territory to the US. CANF, an influential organization of rightwing Cuban Americans in Florida, has friendly relations with US politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Reporter Alfredo Méndez wrote that the allegations came from an ongoing investigation of two Cuban Americans, Nairobi Claro and Noriel Veloz, who were arrested in the eastern state of Quintana Roo on June 8 for allegedly transporting 33 Cubans to Mexico illegally. The 33 Cubans were later "snatched" from Mexican authorities by armed men, along with four Central Americans; at least 18 of the immigrants were later found in Texas [see Update #951]. Claro and Veloz reportedly told investigators in Cancún, Quintana Roo, that they were CANF members and that they used payments from the immigrants to bribe Mexican officials, get forged immigration documents and contract Zetas for the immigrant smuggling operation. According to the sources, Claro and Veloz turned down an offer for release on bail, saying they would be executed if they went out on the streets. (LJ 6/23/08)

CANF president Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez strongly denied the allegations on June 24 and told The Miami Herald that the story was probably "disinformation" planted by the Cuban government to discredit his organization. He said Claro and Veloz had never had any connection with CANF. The two men are both listed in public records as living in Miami's Little Havana area. (Trading Markets 6/25/08 from the Miami Herald) The PGR also denied the story in a letter to La Jornada published on June 26. Reporter Méndez responded that his sources had access to the proceedings in the Fourth District Court in Cancún, adding that Cuban ambassador Manuel Aguilera had confirmed to him in an interview in Mexico City on June 24 that the Cuban government possessed intelligence indicating that CANF is "who's behind all this." Aguilera said Cuba had shared this information with the Mexican government. (LJ 6/26/08)

The smuggling of Cubans through Mexico has grown dramatically since 2002, when just 195 Cuban immigrants were detained in Quintana Roo; by 2005 the number had jumped to 2,504, although it has fallen since then. The smugglers frequently dress the Cubans as tourists, in Bermuda shorts, and transport them in yachts. The US has a "wet foot, dry foot" policy for Cubans; if they are apprehended at sea, they are returned to Cuba, but if they manage to enter the US, they are allowed to stay. (Univision 6/24/08 from AFP)

*2. Mexico: Congress OKs "Plan Mexico"
On June 26 the US Senate passed a supplemental appropriations bill which included funding for President George W. Bush's Mérida Initiative, a project ostensibly aiding the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The House of Representatives passed the same bill on June 19, and President Bush is expected to sign it, completing the legislative process.

The legislation provides $65 million for Central American countries and $400 million for Mexico in the first year of the project; Mexico's share includes $215.5 million for Mexico's anti-trafficking programs, $116.5 million for "military cooperation" between Mexico and the US, and $20 million for building institutions and supporting human rights organizations. The Senate and the House passed different versions of the Mérida Initiative in May, but Mexican officials objected to conditions the Senate imposed requiring the monitoring of human rights violations by Mexican security forces. The two houses then worked out a compromise that reduces these conditions to a consultative process between Mexico and the US.

Under pressure from US human rights and labor activists--who called the initiative "Plan Mexico" in reference to a similar package that has funded military operations in Colombia--Congress expressed concern about specific allegations of human rights abuses in San Salvador Atenco, México state, and in Oaxaca in 2006. The legislation also notes the Mexican government's failure to resolve the shooting death of independent US journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca in October 2006 [see Updates #849, 872].

The Mérida Initiative is a small part of the overall appropriations bill, which provides $162 billion for the occupation of Iraq, enough to pay for the war until Bush's term ends in January 2009. (La Jornada 6/27/08)

Clarification: In Update #950 we reported on an authorization that the House of Representatives passed on June 10 for the Mérida Initiative. We said the authorization would go to the Senate for approval. In fact, Congressional authorizations are not necessary for the allocation of funds, and Congress decided to bypass the authorization and simply fund the initiative through the supplemental appropriations bill. (Center for International Policy "Plan Colombia and Beyond" blog, 6/13/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Amazon Tribes Fight to Keep the Xingu Alive

Bolivia: Uncertain Political Future in Wake of Autonomy Votes

Colombia: Indigenous Self Defense in Times of War

U.S. Military Looks to Colombia to Replace Base in Ecuador

Colombia's Sen. Piedad Córdoba interrogated by US immigration

Colombia: Uribe seeks to consolidate "dictatorship"

Iran, Venezuela to launch joint development bank

Venezuelan charges "mud-slinging" over Hezbollah accusations

Nicaragua: cyber-savvy youth protest Ortega

Goldcorp: Occupation and Resistance in Guatemala (and Beyond)

US Senate approves "Plan Mexico"; narcos keep up pressure

Mexico compensates indigenous men for forced sterilizations

NAFTA and the Elephant in the Room

Bush Administration Accused of Withholding "Lifesaving" Aid to Haiti

Obama and the School of the Americas

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

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