Monday, March 21, 2011

WNU #1072: US Envoy Canned After Mexican “Drug War” Revelations

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1072, March 20, 2011

1. Mexico: US Ambassador Canned After “Drug War” Revelations
2. Haiti: Aristide Returns, Two Killed in “Calm” Vote
3. Honduras: Striking Teacher Dies in Police Attack
4. Puerto Rico: ACLU Calls on US to Probe Abuses
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Central America, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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. Mexico: US Ambassador Canned After “Drug War” Revelations
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced on Mar. 19 that the US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, had resigned. Pascual, who has only been at the post for a year and five months, will remain in Mexico to organize an “orderly transition,” Clinton said.

Pascual’s resignation came after a number of embarrassing revelations about US-Mexican relations, starting with the WikiLeaks group’s publication of diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Mexico. Some cables showed US diplomats losing confidence in the militarized “war on drugs” that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa ordered shortly after taking office in December 2006 [see Update #1059]. Calderón made it clear during a visit to Washington on Mar. 3 this year that he wanted Pascual replaced, but State Department officials said at the time that they had no plans to remove the ambassador. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/20/11)

In late February US media started reporting that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter Mexico illegally in what appeared to be a bungled effort, codenamed Operation Fast and Furious, to trace the activities of US gun smugglers in the US Southwest [see Update #1070].

The embarrassments continued on Mar. 16 when the New York Times revealed that the US had been flying Global Hawk drones—crewless spy planes—over Mexican airspace for about a month to carry out surveillance of suspected drug traffickers. Two days later, on Mar. 18, the Associated Press wire service reported that the US had been sending Predator B drones over Mexico since early in 2009, when US president Barack Obama took office, apparently at a rate of about one flight a week. The Predator flights involve four drones operated by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Mexico-US border.

The Air Force's $38 million Global Hawk can fly higher than 60,000 feet; the smaller $4 million Predator B drones fly at about 18,000 feet. These are similar to the drones the US uses to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan but are not armed, according to US sources. (NYT 3/16/11; AP 3/18/11 via Sify news service)

Opposition senators grilled Mexican foreign relations secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano about relations with the US for almost four hours in Mexico City on Mar. 17. Espinosa downplayed the importance of the criticism in the leaked cables and said that the drone flights were requested and “controlados”—which in Spanish can mean either “monitored” or “controlled”--by the Mexican government. Senator Pablo Gómez of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) dismissed as “laughable and absolutely incredible” the idea that the US would let a foreign government “have control over” its aircraft. Espinosa said the Mexican government had known about Operation Fast and Furious, but not that illegal weapons had come across the border. Mexican authorities had initially denied knowing anything about the operation. (LJ 3/18/11)

The drone flights violate Article 42 of the Mexican Constitution, according to retired Supreme Court justice Juventino Castro y Castro, who told the left-leaning daily La Jornada that “the US authorities can’t order any administrative or military-type action in Mexico, and in addition, the president of the Republic is the one charged with guarding against this.” (LJ 3/19/11)

Some 35,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related incidents since the start of President Calderón’s drug war. One well-known case involved Josefina Reyes Salazar, an activist living near Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, who was murdered on Jan. 3, 2010; as of this February, five of her relatives have also been murdered [see Update #1071]. According to a diplomatic cable dated Jan. 28, 2010 and released by WikiLeaks, the US embassy shared the view promoted by some Mexican officials that Josefina Reyes Salazar’s murder resulted from connections to drug traffickers, not from her opposition to the drug war policy. In the cable, which isn’t classified but is marked “for official use only,” US embassy deputy chief of mission John Feeley, a former US Marine, wrote that “Reyes was the mother of purported Juárez Cartel hit-man and drug trafficker Miguel Angel ‘El Sapo’ Reyes Salazar” and that “information available to the consulate in Ciudad Juárez suggests that Reyes' murder had more to do with her ties to organized crime than her work with human rights organizations.”

Feeley noted that the Mexican press, the government National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and London-based Amnesty International (IA) had all treated the murder as an attack on human rights activists. On Mar. 15 Alberto Herrera Aragón, executive director of AI in Mexico, said there was no doubt that Reyes Salazar was a human rights activist and that it had not been proven that her son, who is in prison in Tamaulipas, is linked to the Juárez drug cartel. (LJ 3/15/11, 3/16/11)

*2. Haiti: Aristide Returns, Two Killed in “Calm” Vote
Observers said Haiti’s Mar. 20 presidential and legislative runoff elections were relatively calm, at least in comparison to the chaotic first round on Nov. 28 [see Update #1058]. A number of polling places in the capital opened hours late, apparently because the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member military and police occupation force, failed to get voting materials to them on time. In some cases voters held spontaneous protests over the delays. There were also a few armed confrontations: two people were killed and three were wounded in electoral disputes, one at Marre Rouge, Northwest department, and the other at Marchand Dessalines, in the North department’s Artibonite region.

There were no official estimates of the turnout, but Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, who temporarily heads United Nations operations in Haiti, said it was higher than in the first round, and some other observers agreed. Turnout in the first round was just 22.87%, according to official figures [see Update #1060].

The presidential runoff was between two conservatives, Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) and popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response). At stake in the legislative runoff were 79 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and seven of the 27 seats in the Senate. Preliminary results aren’t expected until Mar. 31, with the final results to be announced on Apr. 16. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 3/20/11; Radio France Internationale (3/20/11); AlterPresse (Haiti) 3/20/11, ____)

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) returned to Haiti from exile in South Africa two days before the elections, on Mar. 18, ignoring a US request to wait until after the vote. Thousands of supporters greeted him, and many were still gathered around his house in the Tabarre suburb northeast of the capital as of Mar. 19. In a speech he made shortly after arriving, Aristide said he was planning to devote himself to education. He made no direct reference to the elections, although his call for “inclusion” rather than “exclusion” was generally interpreted as a reference to the exclusion of his party, Lavalas Family (FL) from the ballot. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 3/18/11)

Although he remains quite popular, it isn’t clear how much influence Aristide will have on the political situation. He has served two terms as president, although both were cut short, and under the 1987 Constitution he cannot run for a third term. “In the current context, he’s not the same person” as he was before his exile, former Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul told the AlterPresse internet news service. “He can’t have a personal political agenda… and I doubt he can orient things the way he wants,” said Paul, who was once an ally of Aristide and later a bitter opponent. Paul questioned Aristide’s ability to pull together the FL, which has been divided by struggles between factions [see Update #1052]. (AlterPresse 3/19/11)

*3. Honduras: Striking Teacher Dies in Police Attack
Honduran teacher Ilse Ivana Velásquez Rodríguez died around noon on Mar. 18 in a Tegucigalpa hospital from injuries she received that day when riot police and the special Comando Cobra unit attacked a demonstration of thousands of teachers in front of the National Institute of Teachers’ Social Security (Inprema). Protesters initially said Velásquez was hit in the face by a tear gas grenade and was then run over by a police vehicle. The Spanish wire service EFE later reported that she fell in the confusion when the police attacked and was hit by a vehicle belonging to a local television station; EFE said the driver, Carlos Eduardo Zelaya Ríos, turned himself in to the police that evening.

Deputy National Police Director René Maradiaga Panchamé told the media that the police were investigating the death. Maradiaga Panchamé led a unit in the notorious Battalion 3-16, a death squad active in the 1980s [see Update #1046].

Velásquez was the assistant principal at the República de Argentina school and a founding member of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) human rights organization. Her brother, Manfredo Velásquez Rodríguez, was disappeared in the 1980s; her sister, Zenaida Velásquez Rodríguez, is said to have been COFADEH’s first president.

The demonstration come on the third day of a strike by some 60,000 education workers who say 5,000 teachers haven’t been paid in 18 months and that the government of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa hasn’t complied with an agreement Lobo signed on Oct. 1 after a strike over the Inprema pension fund [see Update #1047]. The teachers also oppose a decentralization plan that they say will lead to the privatization of the public schools. Lobo has threatened to replace the strikers with temporary teachers. (National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) website 3/18/11, 3/19/11; Honduras Culture and Politics blog 3/18/11, 3/19/11; EFE 3/19/11 via La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa))

*4. Puerto Rico: ACLU Calls on US to Probe Abuses
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a US civil and human rights organization, wrote the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Mar. 10 asking the agency to conclude an ongoing investigation of alleged abuses by the Puerto Rican police and to publish its findings. The ACLU said that its Puerto Rican branch has been reporting these allegations to the Justice Department since around May 2008. The letter, signed by ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and addressed to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, follows through on the organization’s decision in February to make the situation in Puerto Rico “a high priority” [see Update #1069].

Abuses cited in the letter include “racially motivated beatings of members of minority communities by police officers; the execution of a man lying on the ground following an argument with a police officer over a traffic violation; the unsolved murder of a man of African-Puerto Rican descent, suspected to be an extrajudicial killing by police officers; the fabrication of drug-related charges against over 100 residents of a housing project in the city of Mayagüez; the violent and inhumane eviction of members of the Villas del Sol squatter community [see Update #1006], including the denial of fresh water to the community for eight months; numerous incidents of abuse of the homeless by police officers.”

“[P]olice abuse has escalated” since the conservative Gov. Luis Fortuño took office in January 2009, Romero says, “and now free expression is under great threat.” As examples, Romero cites the Puerto Rico government’s legal actions against the local bar association and “extreme police brutality” used against protesting students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), including “torture techniques on immobilized student protesters” and the targeting of young women, who “have also been sexually harassed, groped and touched by police.” An ACLU press release quoted Romero as saying that “the horrific abuses reported to be taking place in Puerto Rico have flown too far under the radar.” (ACLU press release and letter 3/10/11; El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 3/10/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Central America, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:*1. Mexico: US Ambassador Canned After “Drug War” Revelations

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