Tuesday, December 25, 2012

WNU #1157: Mexicans Compare Newtown and “Drug War” Deaths

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1157, December 23, 2012

1. Mexico: Analysts Compare Newtown Killings and “Drug War” Deaths
2. Mexico: New Details Emerge on Wal-Mart Bribery Scandal
3. Argentina: Massive Looting Returns After 11 Years
4. Argentina: First Civilian Official Sentenced for “Dirty War” Crimes
5. Puerto Rico: Government and US Agree on Police Reforms
6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/policy, US/immigration

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. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Mexico: Analysts Compare Newtown Killings and “Drug War” Deaths
The Mexican media have closely followed the renewed US interest in gun control after the killing of 20 children and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 15. Laws regulating the sale of firearms in the US have an immediate impact on Mexico, where some 50,000 people have been killed since 2006 in the government’s “war on drugs” and in fighting between rival drug cartels. Statistics that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) submitted to the US Senate in 2011 indicate that some 70% of the illegal firearms seized in Mexico in 2009 and 2010 came from the US; Mexico itself has very strict controls on gun ownership [see Update #1083].

A Dec. 17 editorial in the left-leaning daily La Jornada called proposals for tightening US gun regulations “hopeful,” but said it was “illuminating that the society of the neighboring country, shocked by the nearly 30 murders carried out [in Newtown], isn’t able to react, on the other hand, to the tens of thousands of homicides committed in Mexico in the past six years with arms sold in the US. Washington demands that Mexican authorities monitor and block the passage of illegal drugs to the north of the common border, but until now hasn’t shown the political will to proceed in the same way with the firearms, including high-caliber weapons, that proliferate in the Mexican market.” (LJ 12/17/12)

“It is shocking how the debate over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre has avoided mentioning gun violence south of the border,” National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) professor John M. Ackerman wrote in the Huffington Post on Dec. 19. “The 20 children gunned down at [Newtown’s] Sandy Hook Elementary School can now be added to the excruciating list of at least 1,200 North American children who have been violently killed since the beginning of the US-backed militarized ‘drug war’ in 2006.” Ackerman also criticized the US government’s failure to prosecute the British bank HSBC for allowing money laundering through its Mexican branch [see Update #1156]. “The body count will inevitably rise as banks will be able to continue to help drug cartels transfer money freely to purchase assault weapons in the United States without risk of criminal prosecution,” he wrote. (Huffington Post 12/19/12)

The gun violence in Mexico has in fact gotten some attention in the US media, but mostly from gun control opponents. Some claim Mexico’s experience shows that gun control laws don’t work. In Mexico, a columnist wrote in the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call on Dec. 22, “rigid gun control means only criminals and the police, who often are in cahoots, can legally be armed. Everybody else is at their mercy.” (Allentown Morning Call 12/22/12) Others, like Robert Farago of the online magazine The Truth About Guns, simply deny that the drug cartels get their rifles from US gun shops. His recommendation for Mexico is to eliminate gun controls. “If anything, Mexicans should be copying our gun laws and Second Amendment rights,” Farago told BBC News. “What Mexicans need are more magazines, more guns, more bullets in the hands of law-abiding citizens.” (BBC News 12/22/12)

In reality, “[m]ost law-abiding Mexicans…believe more guns are the last thing the country needs,” according to the BBC. Ironically, the US gun control debate was heating up just as Mexico happened to be tightening its own laws. On Dec. 17 the Mexican Senate passed a law mandating a two-to-six year prison sentence for possession of magazines for automatic weapons. (El Sol de México 12/18/12; BBC News 12/22/12)

*2. Mexico: New Details Emerge on Wal-Mart Bribery Scandal
Following up on an exposé last April of bribery by Wal-Mart de México, the Mexican subsidiary of US retailer Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Dec. 18 edition of the New York Times provided details on how the company used payoffs to get around community opposition and building and environmental regulations that might slow down its campaign to build more stores. Reporters David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab wrote that by reviewing tens of thousands of documents they had identified Wal-Mart 19 stores whose construction was aided by corruption.

According to the Times, the company, Mexico’s largest private employer, paid $341,000 in bribes to build a Sam’s Club near Mexico City’s Basílica de Guadalupe--a Catholic shrine which attracts several million pilgrims each year—“without a construction license, or an environmental permit, or an urban impact assessment, or even a traffic permit.” With $765,000 in bribes Wal-Mart was able to construct “a vast refrigerated distribution center in an environmentally fragile flood basin north of Mexico City, in an area where electricity was so scarce that many smaller developers were turned away.”

The company paid more than $200,000 to get permits for an Aurrerá department store it built in 2004 just outside the ruins at Teotihuacán, one of Mexico’s most important archeological sites, 30 miles northeast of Mexico City in México state. The bribes at Teotihuacán apparently included as much as $81,000 for officials of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and $114,000 for Guillermo Rodríguez, then the mayor of the nearby town of San Juan Teotihuacán. [In April Rodríguez told the Mexican daily La Jornada that Wal-Mart had paid off some local leaders but didn’t mention his own role; see World War 4 Report 8/12/12.]

The Times investigation “reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business,” the reporters wrote. “Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de México was an aggressive and creative corrupter,” using bribes “to subvert democratic governance” and to “circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction.” (NYT 12/18/12)

Wal-Mart insists that it is thoroughly investigating the corruption allegations, but Mexico’s daily La Jornada noted that the manager of the Arkansas-based company’s international operations in 2005, when Wal-Mart executives decided not to pursue leads they had already received about the bribery in Mexico, was current Wal-Mart president and CEO Michael Duke. The new revelations in the Times coincided with other bad publicity for Wal-Mart. On Nov. 24 112 workers died in a fire at Bangladesh’s Tazreen garment company, where two Wal-Mart contractors were having apparel made. On Dec. 15 a young man used a Bushmaster AR-15, among other weapons, to kill 28 people at and near an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; the gun model, which was also used in recent massacres in Oregon and Colorado, is sold in 1,700 US Wal-Mart stores. The company removed the weapon from its website shortly after the Newtown killings. (LJ 12/19/12)

Wal-Mart, which strongly opposes unionization, has also been hit recently by an organizing drive among its US employees. On Dec. 14 some 3,000 Wal-Mart employees in Argentina reportedly held brief walkouts as part of a global day of solidarity with the US workers. Rubén Cortina, the president of the Americas division of the global union federation UNI, noted that Wal-Mart’s Argentine workers are unionized. “When Walmart first came,” Cortina told The Nation, “they were terrible.” Early in the struggle, “workers burned tires and broke windows… We had to fight tough in every place and try to convince [Walmart] that they had to talk to us,” Cortina said. (The Nation 12/21/12)

The Times’ revelations about the Wal-Mart store at Teotihuacán have also created problems for INAH officials. INAH general director Sergio Raúl Arroyo, who appears to have been involved in the payoffs, was conspicuously absent from the ceremonies in Mérida, the capital of the eastern state of Yucatán, on Dec. 22 to inaugurate the Mexican government’s new Great Museum of the Maya World (LJ 12/22/12)

*3. Argentina: Massive Looting Returns After 11 Years
A wave of store lootings, the first in Argentina since 2001, started on Dec. 20 when people with covered faces broke into six supermarkets in San Carlos de Bariloche, in the southwestern province of Río Negro. At the request of local authorities, the center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent 400 members of the Gendarmería militarized police to the city, which is best known as an Andean sky resort popular during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. The national government blamed small criminal gangs, while local authorities said anarchist groups were responsible.

The looting spread to other provinces within hours and continued at least through Dec. 22. Two people were killed and 130 were arrested on Dec. 21 in Rosario, a major city in the northeastern province of Santa Fe; at least 25 stores were looted, and some were set on fire. One of the victims was shot, while the other died from injuries suffered when a display window was smashed. There were 117 arrests in Campana and neighboring Zarate in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Later on Dec. 21, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop hundreds of looters in parts of the city of Buenos Aires, including the Virreyes, San Fernando and Lomas de Zamora neighborhoods. There were also incidents in the northeastern province of Chaco. The Argentine Confederation of Medium Businesses (CAME) reported that a total of 292 small and medium businesses were looted in 40 cities during the incidents on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21.

At least four stores were looted on Dec. 22 in San Miguel de Tucumán, capital of the northern province of Tucumán. One person, Ramón Rosario Acosta, was killed when hit by a truck; the driver had turned suddenly to avoid a crowd he thought was planning to rob his truck. It was unclear whether the victim was part of the crowd or a bystander.

The lootings were reminiscent of a “social explosion” that broke out in December 2001, resulting in some 40 deaths and the resignation of the government of then-president Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001). But the looting 11 years earlier followed four years of recession, the collapse of the banking system and the country’s default on $132 billion in public debts, the results of an extreme neoliberal economic program followed by former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) [see Update #621]. Analysts noted that the country has now had a growth rate of about 8% almost every year under the state-interventionist policies of President Fernández and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

Politicians close to President Fernández stressed that the looters had stolen goods like televisions and computers, not staples. “[C]arrying off a plasma [screen television] isn’t about hunger, it’s vandalism,” Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli said. He and others implied that political forces had organized the looting to destabilize the country. Argentina’s largest union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and the more radical Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) had sponsored a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20 [see Update #1153] and another action on Dec. 19 to protest the government’s economic policies. CGT general secretary Hugo Moyano, formerly a Fernández ally in the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), denied responsibility for the looting. “This is probably triggered by the difficult situation the people of Argentina are facing,” he said. “I cannot imagine that this has been organized by someone.”

Increases in food prices “are seriously affecting the most impoverished sectors,” Néstor Pitrola, director of the Trotskyist Workers’ Party (PO), told the Inter Press Service (IPS). Pitrola endorsed private banks’ estimates that the annual inflation rate is now 30%, against the government’s insistence that the rate is 9%. “The government is accumulating explosive circumstances, and we shouldn’t be surprised if we have more of these social explosions,” Pitrola said. However, he didn’t discount the possibility that dissident Peronist factions might “be taking advantage of the situation of marginality” to stir up discontent. (BBC News 12/21/12, 12/22/12; IPS 12/22/12 via Rebelión (Spain); Terra (Argentina) 12/23/12)

*4. Argentina: First Civilian Official Sentenced for “Dirty War” Crimes
An Argentine federal court handed down life sentences on Dec. 19 to former Buenos Aires province interior minister Jaime Smart (1976-1979), former Buenos Aires province police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz and 14 former police and military personnel for genocide and crimes against humanity in the cases of 280 people detained during the 1976-1983 “dirty war” against suspected leftists. Another seven police agents and civilians were given sentences of two to 25 years.

Smart, the first civilian minister sentenced for crimes committed under Argentina's military dictatorship, was convicted of the murder of Jorge Rubinstein, attorney for the banker David Graiver, and the illegal deprivation of liberty of 43 people. Etchecolatz was convicted of the murders of 12 people and the torture and illegal deprivation of liberty of 101 people; he had already been sentenced to life in prison in September 2006 in another case [see Update #970].

The prosecution held that the two men were responsible for setting up six illegal detention centers at which detainees were tortured and murdered. Among the cases considered during the trial were the presumed murders of six high school students, the subject of the film “La Noche de los Lápices” (“The Night of the Pencils”), and the detention and torture during two and a half years of the popular journalist Jacobo Timerman, who was then the editor of the left-leaning newspaper La Opinion. One of his sons, current foreign minister Héctor Timerman, was present during the sentencing.

Etchecolatz protested his sentence by holding up a sign reading “Judgment and punishment for the corrupt justice system.” He was removed from the courtroom while members of the public shouted “murderer” and accused him of genocide (BBC News 12/19/12; La Nación (Argentina) 12/20/12)

*5. Puerto Rico: Government and US Agree on Police Reforms
The government of Puerto Rico and the US Justice Department signed a 106-page agreement on Dec. 21 for reforming the island’s 17,000-member police department. The reforms are intended to address numerous police abuses detailed in a September 2011 Justice Department report; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued its own report on abuses in June 2012 [see World War 4 Report 9/10/11 and 6/25/12]. The Justice Department also filed a lawsuit requiring the Puerto Rican government and police department to comply with the Justice Department’s earlier directives, but this was considered a legal formality, since the agreement apparently represents the compliance the US was seeking.

The Justice Department negotiated the agreement with Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño and Police Superintendent Héctor Pesquera, but Fortuño will not be implementing it. Alejandro García Padilla, who defeated Fortuño in a Nov. 6 election [see Update #1151], will start his four-year term on Jan. 2, and he has hinted that he may replace Pesquera. The Justice Department gave the Puerto Rican government until Apr. 15 to implement the accord in order to give the new administration time to review its provisions. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 12/21/12, 12/23/12; Associated Press 12/22/12 via Arizona Daily Star)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/policy, US/immigration

Paraguay: Government speeds up arrival of electro-intensive company

Aymara dissident denounces Evo Morales in Geneva

Peru's Congress marks Putis massacre

Peru: Conga mine opponents threatened

Peru: suit launched to stop Camisea expansion

Ecuador: urban guerilla suspects freed

Ecuador: pipeline protests in Guayaquil

The End of the Chávez Era? (Venezuela)

Reading Tea Leaves in Venezuela: How to Interpret the Results of Sunday’s Regional Election (Venezuela)

Venezuela’s 2012 State Election: Lessons for Chavismo and the Opposition

Venezuela's Uncertain Future

The Honduran People under a Permanent Coup d'Etat

Strategies of a New Cold War: US Marines and the Drug War in Guatemala

Big Landowners Block Rural Development Law in Guatemala

Soccer and Sea Turtles: Community Conservation in Guatemala

Guatemala-Canada: Clashing World Views at a Crossroads

Chiapas: Abejas mark 1997 Acteal massacre (Mexico)

Chiapas: Zapatistas mark Maya calendar change (Mexico)

Mexico: prison seized by army after uprising

Peña Nieto Pushes Plan for Education Reform; Workers Wary

A Land of Bootstraps (Mexico)

Peña Nieto Lays Out Plans to Deal with Drug Cartels: More Police

Selling Citizenship in the Caribbean

World Bank "success" undermines Haitian democracy

U.N.'s Cholera Initiative: Underfunded and Unapolagetic (Haiti)

Haiti's New Dictatorship

Haiti-Dominican Republic Trade: Exports or Exploits?

Obama signals four more years of bad relations with Latin America (US/policy)

Students Learn About the Reality of Mexican Agricultural Workers in the United States (US/immigration)

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