Mexico

Not this again...

One only needs to look at history to see the road that the GOP is heading down will lead us right back to where we are now.

Rewarding illegal behavior in any way is always wrong.  Because the government has been so weak on enforcement of our immigration laws, we have a looming problem.  The government doesn't want to take responsibility for the mess they have created, they want to hand out green cards instead and pretend that will solve the problem.  It will not solve the problem, it will once again, make it worse.

If the government is unable now, to handle who is coming here, where they are working and what they are doing, how on earth can we even imagine how they would manage such a complex and cumbersome plan as the one described in this article and at what cost? 

This is a mess no one wants to clean up for fear of angering the potential Hispanic voter.  That's just dumb.  Do the right thing first and everything else will fall into place.  Enforce our existing immigration laws.

It's time to get control of the problem and stop pussy footing around about it.  Amnesty is not the solution.
 

Zetas cartel occupies Mexico state of Coahuila

SALTILLO, Mexico — Few outside Coahuila state noticed. Headlines were rare. But steadily, inexorably, Mexico's third-largest state slipped under the control of its deadliest drug cartel, the Zetas.

The aggressively expanding Zetas took advantage of three things in this state right across the border from Texas: rampant political corruption, an intimidated and silent public, and, if new statements by the former governor are to be believed, a complicit and profiting segment of the business elite. It took scarcely three years.

What happened to Coahuila has been replicated in several Mexican states — not just the violent ones that get the most attention, but others that have more quietly succumbed to cartel domination. Their tragedies cast Mexico's security situation and democratic strength in a much darker light than is usually acknowledged by government officials who have been waging a war against the drug gangs for six years.

"We are a people under siege, and it is a region-wide problem," said Raul Vera, the Roman Catholic bishop of Coahuila. A violence once limited to a small corner of the state has now spread in ways few imagined, he said.

What sets the Zetas apart from other cartels, in addition to a gruesome brutality designed to terrorize, is their determination to dominate territory by controlling all aspects of local criminal businesses.

Not content to simply smuggle drugs through a region, the Zetas move in, confront every local crime boss in charge of contraband, pirated CDs, prostitution, street drug sales and after-hour clubs, and announce that they are taking over. The locals have to comply or risk death.

And so it was in Coahuila. One common threat from Zeta extortionists, according to Saltillo businessmen: a thousand pesos, or three fingers.

With the Zetas meeting little resistance, wheels greased by a corrupt local government, there was little violence. But the people of Coahuila found themselves under the yoke of a vicious cartel nonetheless.

"It was as if it all fell from the sky to the Earth," said Eduardo Calderon, a psychologist who works with migrants, many of whom have been killed in the conflict. "We all knew it was happening, but it was as if it happened in silence."

The "silence" ended in rapid-fire succession in a few weeks' time starting mid-September. Coahuila saw one of the biggest mass prison breaks in history, staged by Zetas to free Zetas; the killing of the son of one of the country's most prominent political families (a police chief is the top suspect); and, on Oct. 7, the apparent slaying of the Zetas' top leader by federal troops who say they stumbled upon him as he watched a baseball game.

"Apparent" because armed commandos brazenly stole the body from local authorities within hours of the shooting. The military insists that the dead man was Heriberto Lazcano, Mexico's most feared fugitive, acknowledging that he had been living comfortably and freely in Coahuila for some time.

"He was like Pedro in his house," former Gov. Humberto Moreira said, using an expression that means he was totally at home and could go anywhere.

The Zetas had such confident dominion over the state that Lazcano, alias the Executioner, and the other top Zeta leader, Miguel Angel Trevino, regularly used a vast Coahuila game reserve to hunt zebras they imported from Africa.

Since their formation in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a paramilitary bodyguard for the then-dominant Gulf cartel, the Zetas operated primarily in Tamaulipas state on Mexico's northeastern shoulder and down the coast of Veracruz and into Guatemala.

For most of that time, Coahuila, rich in coal mines and with a booming auto industry, was used by cartels as little more than a transit route for drugs across the border. The Zetas maintained a presence limited to Torreon, the southwestern Coahuila city that served as a bulwark against the powerful Sinaloa cartel that reigned in neighboring Durango state.

In 2010, the Zetas broke away from the Gulf cartel, triggering a war that bloodied much of Tamaulipas and spilled over into neighboring states. Coahuila, with its rugged mountains and sparsely populated tracts, became a refuge for the Zetas, and they spread out across the state, including this heretofore calm capital, Saltillo.

Even if the violence hasn't been as ghastly as in other parts of Mexico, nearly 300 people, many of them professionals, have vanished in Coahuila, probably kidnapped by the Zetas for ransom or for their skills.

The man in charge of Coahuila during most of the Zeta takeover was Moreira, the former governor. After five years in office, he left the position a year ahead of schedule, in early 2011, to assume the national leadership of the Institutional Revolutionary Party on the eve of its triumphant return to presidential power after more than a decade.

But scandal followed Moreira, including a debt of more than $3 million he had saddled Coahuila with, allegedly from fraudulent loans. He was eventually forced to quit the PRI leadership, dashing what many thought to be his presidential aspirations.

Tragedy followed when Moreira's son Jose Eduardo was shot twice in the head execution-style in the Coahuila town of Acuna early last month. Investigators believe that most of the Acuna police department turned Jose Eduardo over to the Zetas as a reprisal for the killing of a nephew of Trevino. The police chief was arrested.

Killing the son of a former governor — and nephew of the current one, Humberto's brother Ruben — was a rare strike by drug traffickers into the heart of Mexico's political elite.

In mourning, Humberto Moreira gave a series of remarkably candid interviews in which he accused entrepreneurs from Coahuila's mining sector of sharing the wealth with top drug traffickers who in turn used the money to buy weapons and pay off their troops. They killed his son, he said.

Mining in Coahuila is huge and notoriously dangerous, with companies routinely flouting safety regulations and workers dying in explosions and accidents. The depth to which drug traffickers have penetrated the industry is being investigated by federal authorities.

The question on the minds of many Mexicans was: If Moreira was so aware of criminal penetration, why didn't he stop it?

Critics suggest that during his tenure, he was happy to turn a blind eye to the growth of the Zetas as long as he could pursue his business and political interests. He denies that now and says fighting organized crime was up to the federal government; the federal government blames state officials, in Coahuila and elsewhere, for coddling the drug lords.

"The northern governors have long cut deals with the cartels that operate in their domains. The pattern in the north is cooperation," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., who has written extensively on the Zetas and Mexican issues.

"The Coahuila police are among the most corrupt in all Mexico."

The extent to which the Zetas' tentacles had penetrated state government became clear this year when federal authorities discovered a protection racket that dated well into Humberto Moreira's administration and was led by none other than the brother of the state attorney general. According to the federal investigation, he and 10 other state officials were being paid roughly $60,000 a month by the Zetas to leak information to the gang.

The nearly 3 million residents of Coahuila, meanwhile, find ways to survive and accommodate.

In rural areas where the Zetas are most commonly seen on the streets, people have learned to be mute and blind. In cities such as Saltillo, they change their habits, don't go out at night, send their children to school in other cities.

A businessman whose family has lived here for generations said, "We are in a state of war, without realizing when or how we got there."

 

Administration’s focus is on what the president can do for illegal aliens, not on securing the border

During the Obama administration, outside of pursuing a direct amnesty policy, ancillary policies have purposefully weakened enforcement mechanisms throughout the entire immigration system.  In a letter to The Washington Times, Janice Kephart, director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies explains what has happened over the past four years and what will happen if Obama is re-elected.

Gang rules 6 years after start of Mexico drug war

APATZINGAN, Mexico (AP) — Forest-camouflaged pickups roared to life as the Mexican soldiers pulled on their black masks and hoisted their Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifles.

The three-truck convoy pulled out of the base to patrol the rugged, mountainous region of the western state of Michoacan, when a raspy voice burst out of an unencrypted radio inside one of the cabs: "Three R's, 53." Three army vehicles, headed your way.

It wasn't a soldier's voice. The radio had picked up a call from the Knights Templar, a quasi-religious drug cartel that controls the area and most of the state. Its web of spies monitors the movements of the military and police around the clock. The gang's members not only live off methamphetamine and marijuana smuggling and extortion, they maintain country roads, control the local economy and act as private debt collectors for citizens frustrated with the courts, soldiers say.

"Because they're vigilant and well-organized they roll around here with a lot of ease," said Lt. Col. Julices Gonzalez Calzada, the leader of the patrol.

Felipe Calderon launched his presidency in December 2006 by sending the army to Michoacan, his home state, to battle organized crime that he said threatened to expand from drug trafficking to controlling civil society. His administration says it has debilitated many of the cartels with a leadership-focused offensive that has killed or captured 25 of the country's 37 most-wanted men.

But he has failed to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias infiltrating society in the sun-seared Tierra Caliente, or Hot Country, a region named for its steamy weather, but now also too hot with gang activity for many to live and work safely. The government annihilated the leadership of one previous cartel, La Familia Michoacana, but a splinter group, the Knights Templar, moved in to take control.

Rank-and-file soldiers say they feel largely powerless in the face of an enemy that hides among the population. They say whenever they make strategic strikes, the gang's professional-grade infrastructure is replaced almost as fast as it's taken down.

Now the two sides largely co-exist.
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To get a soldier's eye view of the conflict, The Associated Press spent two days embedded with the 51st Battalion of the 43rd Military Zone, a vast region that's home to about 3,000 soldiers, a force that's more than doubled since Calderon mounted his offensive. Gen. Miguel Angel Patino, commanding officer, said his troops' work against the gangs has "limited a lot of their activity. They don't have the freedom to act that they used to."

But patrols through dry forests, avocado fields and hardscrabble towns show that the cartel operates with few restrictions. Soldiers point out pastel-colored, air-conditioned narco-mansions that stand out from the cluster of humble rural shacks in many of the small towns.

In the deep hills around El Alcalde, a town 12 miles from Apatzingan, is a brand-new sports arena with a cock-fighting pit and a bull-fighting ring that seats hundreds. The stables are filled with dozens of sleek, well-groomed horses. Soldiers say it was built and run by the Knights Templar.

The Calderon government claims its efforts are reducing violence in Mexico, though it stopped reporting the number of drug-related killings more than a year ago, when it reached 47,500 since Calderon started his term. Many private groups now put the number close to 60,000.

Indeed, things are quieter in the Tierra Caliente, where in 2009 La Familia rounded up, tortured and dumped the bodies of 12 federal police officers working the area.

In 2010, police battled with cartel forces for several days as gang members hijacked and torched buses, blocking major highways in the state capital of Morelia. Authorities say it ended with the killing of La Familia founder Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "The Craziest One," though his body was never found.

Soldiers say confrontations are down to about one a month. But even the general agrees it's because the Knights Templar won the war against the rival gang.

"What the Knights Templar is doing is maintaining tight control on organized crime in this area," Patino said. "The dominance allows the area to stay quiet to a certain point."

Most citizens are quiet, too, shaking off questions about the drug gang. Local residents questioned by the AP about extortions or cartel rule declined to talk.

When the then-mayor of Apatzingan was pressed by reporters last year about a string of kidnappings in his town, he practically broke down.

"I want to go away, I want to resign this job, because I wasn't made for this. I can't even ensure the safety of my own children, who are also in danger," Mayor Genaro Guizar said in an emotional interview with the Milenio television station.

Calderon's office declined to comment directly on the situation in the Tierra Caliente, but referred The Associated Press to a speech the president delivered this year in Michoacan emphasizing the importance of purging local, state and federal police forces of corruption in order to produce trustworthy agencies capable of investigating crimes and bringing suspects to trial.
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The cartel's territory begins at the gates of the military base in the center of Apatzingan. Each of the five entrances is watched around the clock by the Knights Templar, as are virtually every highway exit, toll booth and village square, according to the soldiers.

The cartel consists largely of men from the Tierra Caliente, and they promote themselves as a mystic Christian order dedicated to protecting the population from abuse at the hands of the military and police. They have self-published at least two books and a variety of pamphlets collecting the sayings and memoirs of their leaders, most prominently the late Moreno, founder of their predecessor gang, La Familia.

Even the troops acknowledge the cartel has a substantial degree of local support due to its family networks, patronage of local communities and exploitation of citizens' anger at the government.

The cartel runs "training schools," including one in Apatzingan, that teach courses in leadership portraying cartel members as clean-living men of honor, steeped in Asian religion alongside Catholicism, and dedicated to protecting the people of Michoacan from a government they say is manipulated by a ultraconservative religious group known as El Yunque, or the Anvil.

According to cartel leaders, it is their duty to go against the government, saying Calderon used insecurity as a pretext for launching a bloody war.

"It has brought death and pain on thousands of homes," according to one book attributed to Moreno, whose philosophy was adopted by Knights Templar after the downfall of La Familia. "It was my obligation, with my comrades, to mount this fight. It's the only way to guarantee a change in our country."

Under Mexican law, soldiers can't formally investigate crimes and can only stop criminal activity that occurs directly in front of them. So they are limited to patrolling, responding to tips about crimes in progress, searching cars at roadside checkpoints and hunting for meth labs and marijuana fields by helicopter and on foot.

Most officers in the 43rd Military Zone carry two radios, one encrypted for military communications, and the other to listen to the Knights Templar watching their men. They also carry laminated cards confiscated from cartel operatives printed with hundreds of the gang's radio codes. The code "53" refers to the army, "69" to the U.S.-made Humvees and "56" to military intelligence operatives.

One army officer said he had heard Templar operatives checking the status of roads all the way to Mexico City, some six hours drive east.

On Monday, the army said, soldiers with the 43rd Military Zone, raided a ranch named "The Horses" in village outside Apatzingan that is believed to be the property of Enrique "Kiki" Plancarte Solis, co-leader of the Knights Templar along with Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez.

The troops were attacked with gunfire and grenades and returned fire, killing one of the attackers, the army said. Inside the ranch the troops found more than 28 pounds of marijuana, a pound of crystal meth, a smaller amount of cocaine, dozens of grenades, anti-tank rockets, pistols and rifles, including a powerful 50-caliber sniper rifle, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

The soldiers have taken down 90 labs so far this year, but the number of arrests they've made — 95 — does not reflect the amount of criminal activity they're aware of.

"All we can do is keep working, keep patrolling, moving through the countryside and the streets, and try to find them from time to time," Patino said.
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The army says it is well-received by people in the Tierra Caliente, though Michoacan's state commission on human rights says complaints against the army and federal police in Apatzingan have risen sharply, from 69 in 2008 to 391 last year.

Riding in groups of six or seven, the riflemen of the 51st Battalion scan the traffic and the roadside from benches mounted in the backs of their pickups. In each truck, one soldier mans a heavy weapon mounted on a pivot behind the roof of the cab.

They pull onto a dirt road and head to a series of little towns that are home to some of the Knights Templar leadership, including the communally owned village of El Alcalde, where they stop at a yellow stucco house filled with new appliances and surrounded by a chain-link fence topped in barbed wire.

The gate is open, and the soldiers walk up to the open windows, pulling aside the shades and peering inside. The house is cleaned every day but rarely occupied. They have no doubt that it's owned by a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar, Gonzalez said.

Each of the little towns in the area has such a house, newly built, assiduously maintained and filled with luxury finishes, thick carved-wood doors, marble floors, faux-Greek concrete columns, and immaculately tended rose bushes. Most sit on high ground at the edge of the towns, offering vistas of the roads and other houses. The money that paid for them didn't come just from avocado trees.

Outside of town, a shrine to La Familia founder Moreno Gonzalez sits atop a steep flight of concrete steps, dominating the road. Dozens of votive candles set on the chapel steps have been smashed to shards, the glass panels of the chapel doors are broken and deep pockmarks, apparently from bullets, mar the doors.

A black "Z' has been spray-painted on the front of the chapel, the trademark of the paramilitary Zetas cartel that battled the Knights Templar and La Familia before being largely driven out by the Knights.

Gonzalez said he believes the Knights Templar left the vandalism unrepaired as a way of inspiring their followers to maintain vigilance against future Zeta incursions.

Soldiers say the Knights Templar extort protection money from nearly every legitimate business in the Tierra Caliente, including at least three taxes on the region's famous avocados — one on the owners of the fields based on the area they own, one charged per ton on the middlemen who buy the crop and a third for exporters based on every kilogram of avocados.

The cartel also taxes Michoacan's lemon farmers as well as urban stores and markets.

"They've come as far as fixing the price of a tortilla or a kilo of meat," Gonzalez said. "They give the order that everyone is going to sell it for 60 pesos and all of butchers adjust their price to 60 pesos a kilo."

The military has found ledgers with budgets for road maintenance in rural areas. Around El Alcalde, in the neighboring towns of Guanajatillo, Moreno's reputed birthplace, and Los Laureles, roads are notably smoother than elsewhere, with well-tended culverts and surrounding fields of freshly planted and rigorously cared-for sorghum.

Gonzalez says local people have reported that the Knights Templar have planted hundreds of acres of the crop, and the equipment in the fields is expensive and new, including a shiny green John Deere combine harvester. Following the trail of funds earned from criminal activity falls to civilian prosecutors and investigators, and the soldiers say they see virtually no evidence that authorities are tracking the Knight Templars' money.

Bust yields big haul of meth

In what may be the largest crystal methamphetamine bust ever in Oregon, narcotics agents seized about 52 pounds of the drug while serving search warrants last weekend at five properties in Lane and Douglas counties.

Authorities have made four arrests in the case, and more are expected. The group allegedly is responsible for distributing multiple pounds of high-grade methamphetamine in Lane and Douglas counties each week for the past several months, and perhaps longer.

The estimated street value of the seized meth is $1 million, said Erik Fisher, a state police sergeant who serves as commander of Lane County’s Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team.

“I’ve never seen this much meth in one place at one time,” Fisher said. “If (the suspects) can move this kind of weight (in drugs), they’re pretty high up” in the alleged trafficking cartel.

Fisher said an investigation of the group’s dealings began “earnestly” in July, although it’s unclear how long it has allegedly operated in Lane and Douglas counties.

Agents on Sunday served warrants at the following addresses: 76919 Mosby Creek Road in Cottage Grove; 2145 31st St., Space 2 in Springfield; 2755 Nova St. in Springfield; 103 Green Lane in Eugene; and 2175 S.W. Jackie Ave. in Roseburg.

In addition to the drugs, agents recovered a stolen handgun, an undisclosed amount of cash and additional evidence of drug trafficking. An investigation is continuing.

The suspects are identified as Martin Bautista-Limon, 30; Miguel Nunez-Villanueva, 29; Ezequiel Gonzales-Jaimes, 42; and Tomas Torres Gonzalez, 27. They are not legal residents of the United States, Fisher said.

The methamphetamine seized in the case was most likely produced outside of Oregon in a so-called “super lab,” Fisher said.

Meth production in Oregon plummeted after the passage of a 2006 state law that made it illegal to sell medications containing pseudoephedrine — the key ingredient of meth — without a prescription.

In 2005, drug agents in the Portland area confiscated more than 40 pounds of methamphetamine in what was described at the time as the largest amount ever seized in the state.

It was not clear Thursday whether a single investigation in Oregon has ever yielded more than the 52 pounds seized in last weekend’s bust in Lane and Douglas counties.

Throughout 2011, authorities in Oregon seized a total of approximately 242 pounds of methamphetamine, according to statistics compiled by state police.

Trooper Fired From Chopper To Stop Truck, Kills Two

LA JOYA, Texas (AP) -- A Texas state trooper who fired on a pickup truck from a helicopter and killed two illegal immigrants during a chase through the desert was trying to disable the vehicle and suspected it was being used to smuggle drugs, authorities said Friday.

The disclosure came a day after the incident that left two Guatemalan nationals dead on an isolated gravel road near the town of La Joya, just north of the Mexico border.

State game wardens were the first to encounter the truck Thursday. After the driver refused to stop, they radioed for help and state police responded, according to Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Mike Cox.

When the helicopter with a sharpshooter arrived, officers concluded that the truck appeared to be carrying a "typical covered drug load" on its bed and was travelling at reckless speeds, police said.

After the shots were fired and the truck's tires blown out, the driver lost control and crashed into a ditch. State police said a preliminary investigation revealed that the shots fired from the helicopter struck the vehicle's occupants.

Eight people who were in the truck were arrested. At least seven of them were also from Guatemala. No drugs were found.

The Guatemalan consul in McAllen, Alba Caceres, told The Associated Press that the surviving witnesses told her "one died immediately, the other was apparently taken to a hospital and died on the way."

The sharpshooter was placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure after such incidents.

An expert on police chases said the decision to fire on the truck was "a reckless act" that served "no legitimate law enforcement purpose."

"In 25 years following police pursuits, I hadn't seen a situation where an officer shot a speeding vehicle from a helicopter," said Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. Such action would be reasonable only if "you know for sure the person driving the car deserves to die and that there are no other occupants."

In general, he said, law enforcement agencies allow the use of deadly force only when the car is being used as a weapon, not "just on a hunch," Alpert added.

The Texas Department of Public Safety referred questions about its policy governing the use of deadly force to its general manual, which says troopers are allowed to use such force when defending themselves or someone else from serious harm or death. Shooting at vehicles is justified to disable a vehicle or when deadly force is deemed necessary.

Other law enforcement agencies that patrol the border say they have similar limits on the practice.

For instance, federal Customs and Borders Protection agents "are trained to use deadly force in circumstances that pose a threat to their lives, the lives of their fellow law enforcement partners and innocent third parties," agency spokesman Doug Mosier said.

But a report presented Thursday to the United Nations by the American Civil Liberties Union said shootings and excessive force by Customs and Border Protection agents on the border have left at least 20 individuals dead or seriously hurt since January 2010.

Of those, eight cases involved agents responding to reports of people throwing rocks. Six involved people killed while standing on the Mexican side of the border.

In recent years, Texas state police have increased their presence in the border area, deploying more agents, more helicopters and more boats to patrol the Rio Grande.

Troopers are regularly involved in high-speed pursuits, often chasing drug smugglers into the river and back to Mexico.

Agency Director Stephen McCraw has said state police were pushed into that role because the federal government's efforts to secure the border have been insufficient.

Diplomats quickly began their own investigation into the chase.

The head of the Guatemalan Consulate in McAllen said she is demanding federal and state authorities provide an explanation.

"I am baffled. I can't understand how this could happen," Caceres said. "I understand that the agents are doing their job, that they are protecting their border. But if there is someone who is responsible for this, he has to pay."

The Guatemalans started their journey 19 days ago near Guatemala City, with plans to stay with friends and relatives in New York, New Jersey and Houston, she said.

They were covered with a tarp, but as the car sped away from the game warden and the helicopter, the men "were having lots of trouble holding on to that tarp, Caceres said. "They must have seen them."

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Associated Press Writer Romina Ruiz-Goiriena in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

 

What about the National Security risk just across our border?

While President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney were exchanging verbal blows about the biggest threats to our National security and who would do the best job protecting the American people, I was disappointed that neither one of them acknowledged the risk on our own border.  Having traveled, toured and learned from specialists all along Arizona border and parts of the Texas border, I believe one of our greatest threats is the sieve that is our southern border. Those that want to hurt us the most are coming across with little or no detection.  Law enforcement all along the border told us repeatedly they are desperately concerned about who and what is getting over the border.  The fact that the issue was never even addressed in any of the debates is troubling.  Read more here.

With 60,000 dead, Mexicans wonder why drug war doesn't rate in presidential debate

Mexico City

Mitt Romney’s single mention of Latin America last night, calling it a “huge opportunity" for the United States, generated immediate glee from Latin Americanists across Twitter – but the hemisphere got no nod from President Obama, and then both went silent on the topic.

Given that the final presidential debate Monday evening was dominated by the Middle East and terrorism, most of the world was left out by President Obama and Mr. Romney. That includes the whole of Europe and its debt crisis. India. South Africa. And not a single mention of any country in Latin America or the Caribbean: neither Cuba specifically, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, nor Peru. (Read a transcript here.)

That means no candidate talked about the drug trade, despite historic violence playing out in Mexico, much of it along the 2,000-mile border that the US shares. They did not talk about energy policy in the Americas. Or the economies of Brazil and Mexico.

Think you know Latin America? Take our geography quiz.

The debate opened with promise for Latin America – with moderator Bob Schieffer referring to the 50th anniversary of the disclosure that the Soviet Union had missiles in Cuba. But he did not pose a question about it or anything else in the region, which observers say was a clear missed opportunity – even if hardly surprising.

“In a broader foreign policy context, we have to begin to mainstream the Americas,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a consultancy based in New York. “Brazil is an important international player, not just a Latin American player.… Latin America is of rising importance in the world, [we should have been hearing how the candidates] would work with Brazils, and Mexicos, and Colombias.”

Romney mentioned Latin America in the context of how to boost employment at home. “Trade grows about 12 percent year. It doubles about every – every five or so years. We can do better than that, particularly in Latin America,” he said. “The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully. As a matter of fact, Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We're all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us – time zone, language opportunities.”

But Obama did not respond. And the only other mention of the region came once again from Romney, who mentioned Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro as part of a list of the world’s “worst actors” whom Obama has failed to meet with, he said, despite promises to do so.

Obama has remained popular across Latin America and is favored among Hispanic voters in the US. But some of that support abroad has slipped. In a Pew poll released in June, 39 percent of Mexicans said they approved of Obama’s international policies. That fell from 56 percent in 2009. (Here is the poll.)

Much of that slide could be pegged to record deportations of undocumented immigrants under Obama, although in a huge move this year he gave a reprieve to many undocumented migrants who were brought to the US as children.

While immigration is the topic that Latin America perhaps cares most about, few expected the politically charged issue to feature at the presidential debate. Still, there was hope that the growing role that places such as Brazil and Colombia play in the energy sector would be mentioned. And if nothing else, the drug-fueled violence plaguing Mexico and Central America right now.

Mexican journalist Leon Krauze wrote in a widely shared Tweet: “Mexico, a country facing 100,000 deaths, neighbor to the United States, didn't deserve one single mention tonight. A disgrace.”

Mexican academic Sergio Aguayo added, using a more commonly cited figure for Mexican deaths: “They talk about a humanitarian tragedy in Syria (30,000 deaths) and still don’t say anything about Mex (some 60,000). Will they?

They did not. When asked what the greatest future security threat was to the US, no one mentioned Mexico. Obama cited “terrorist networks,” while Romney mentioned a “nuclear Iran.”

Latin American observers were just as befuddled as those in Latin America. “As George W. Bush rightly said, Mexico is the US's most important bilateral relationship. A presidential debate should focus on whether the United States is doing enough – and doing the right things – to assist Mexico [and Central America] deal with its drug-fueled crime and violence,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “If the US is not prepared to do everything possible to stand up for its closest neighbors and allies, then how could it have a credible foreign policy more broadly?”
 

Babeu: Docs prove Obama officials treated bounties on agents as acceptable risks

As the investigation into the Oct. 4 shooting of two border patrol agents continues, an Arizona borderlands sheriff condemned President Barack Obama for treating turmoil and danger caused by his policies as acceptable risk.

“We now have further evidence that the Obama administration at every level thinks the border situation is entirely acceptable,” said Pinal County Sheriff Paul R. Babeu, whose jurisdiction is nearby Cochise County, where the agents were shot and one, Nicolas Ivie, was killed, although the shooting was actually on federal lands designated by the Interior Department as environmental sanctuaries, and thus off-limits to both federal and local law enforcement officers.

Babeu said he has read documents that contained exchanges where Obama officials acknowledge that creating environment areas will create zones of lawlessness.

“They lack full border enforcement security within designated wilderness areas that risks our border patrol agents and law enforcement deputies’ safety,” said the native of North Adams, Mass.

“The responsibility for securing this international border is the core primary responsibility of the United States government and I believe the federal government has failed to do that,” said Babeu, whose county lies outside of Phoenix, 70 miles north of the border.

“They have failed to adequately protect the citizens of my county and my state. That threat to our country is not just the volumes of illegals and drug cartels, but more importantly, the threat that is posed when people of countries of interest cross our borders,” he said.

These people harbor or sponsor terrorism and are not friendly to the United States,” the sheriff said, who as an Arizona National Guardsman, deployed to Iraq and commanded a battalion-sized border task force.

“Leadership failed and everything I’ve learned as a rank-and-file police officer, Army private and field grade officer; whoever’s in charge is responsible in the end,” he said.

Babeu said Atty. Gen Eric H. Holder Jr., must be held responsible for Justice Department failures on his watch, including the failed Fast and Furious scandal.

“Whether he knew it or whether he should have known, Eric Holder created an environment and a dynamic that resulted in the murder of not only one agent that we can prove, but also hundreds of Mexicans have been killed with Fast and Furious weapons,” he said.

“This guy was not held accountable; he has not resigned so he should be fired. I believe he, and others in the government, should be held accountable even criminally,” he said.

Documents cited by the sheriff and made available to this reporter buttress Babeu’s charges and depict administration officials as determined to leverage federal environmental regulatory authority to open up the Mexican borderlands regardless of warnings from border patrol agents assigned to the region, local law enforcement, activist groups and border region ranchers.

These warnings by personnel with ties to the borderland, made through emails, meetings and videotapes, specifically cited threat to national security breaches and homicidal violence.

The documents prove that Obama officials were aware of national security issues, agent safety issues, bounties placed on Border Patrol agents by drug cartels, and the trafficking of drugs and humans.

Heavily redacted emails acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Association of Former Border Patrol Agents, confirm that before the Dec. 14. 2010 death of Brian A. Terry, a member of the elite Border Patrol Tactical Unit, parties to the inter-agency planning for the wilderness sanctuaries, including officials from Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Interior, congressional representatives were warned about national security and law enforcement concerns regarding the sanctuaries.

Some of the personnel taking part in exchanges captured in the documents: David Aguilar, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection; Michael J. Fisher, chief of Border Patrol, Sen. Jesse F. “Jeff” Bingaman (D.-N.M); Alan D. Bersin, then-CBP commissioner and previously dubbed the “border czar” because of his international affairs portfolio at Interior and then-Rep. Mark E. Udall (D.-Colo.), who is now a senator and is a native of Arizona.

In one email, a border patrol agent said it was ridiculous to suggest that the human traffickers, or coyotes, would not use the wilderness areas as safe passage for their crimes.

“Do you really think that the coyotes or drug cartels are going to read a little sign in English/Spanish declaring it is unlawful to enter a federal preserve?” he said. “No. That means one thing to these banditos, Border Patrol will not be patrolling.”

Federal officials were also told that the creation of wilderness reserves in the Mexican borderlands would facilitate the “bounty program,” where Mexican crime organizations incentivized smugglers to kill agents and other law enforcement officers.

Babeu said the bounties should have been a top priority for the Obama administration.

“The primary concern for agents is, of course, the bounties placed on their lives for patrolling the border. Justice for murdered agents is extraordinarily slow; the Terry family is still waiting for his murder to reach a trial and government officials to be held accountable,” he said.

“When it was discovered that the New Orleans Saints football team coaches put bounties on the heads of opposing players, the league held the coaches responsible and they were rightly disciplined,” he said.

Babeu said in his dealings with Bersin, it was clear he favored environmental considerations over national security and public safety.

In a July 2010 video watched by this reporter, Bersin said to a questioner that he was aware of the bounty program, including a $250,000 prize for a law enforcement officer kidnapped or killed along the southern border.

The sheriff said Bersin, who left office when the Senate refused to confirm his recess appointment to his post, should have done more.

“Bersin and other high level cabinet members acknowledged that there are bounties placed on federal and even local law enforcement members by the drug cartels and what we have seen in Pinal County, which is 70 miles north of the border,” he said.

“This continuation is proof of the threat that illegal immigration and drug smuggling have not subsided,” he said.

“It should not be a surprise that that we have had four Arizona border patrol agents murdered in the last two years and the Obama administration, even some members of the media, do not want us to talk about this and say we make this political,” Babeu said. “These are deaths of our heroes!”

The sheriff said he rejects claims by administration officials, such as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, that the border is more secure and he thinks Washington meddling has made the borderlands more dangerous.

“The four border states risk their lives to a more significant degree than we need to because of the failures of this administration and bureaucrats who make decisions thousands of miles away without our safety and security in mind,” he said.

“Contrary to Janet Napolitano’s proclamations that the border is more secure than ever, last year in October we had the largest drug bust in Arizona history with “operation pipeline express” that netted nearly $3 billion in product, money and weapons that we seized from the Sinaloa drug traffickers,” he said.

Officers’ recovered 108 weapons, including two came tagged as from the Operation Fast and Furious program, he said.

“These were not handguns that our police and sheriffs carry, these were scoped rifles and AK-47s, semi automatic weapons. These are all prohibited processors for violent criminals from a foreign country and they think they own the place,” he said.
 

Crime at the US-Mexico border goes corporate

When a regional manager for the Mexican Gulf cartel moved his operation to a more lucrative territory on the border, he took along not only his armored trucks and personal army, but also his department heads and a team of accountants.

In the grotesque violence that has enveloped Mexico it's easy to lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, these criminal organizations are complex businesses that rely on careful accounting as much as assault rifles. The structures underlying the most successful criminal organizations are stable in a way that means capturing or killing the man at the top may only be a temporary setback and pinching one revenue stream will only drive a search for others.

Rafael Cardenas Vela, a Gulf cartel member who ran three important "plazas," or territories, testified this week about the organization's structure and operations in such detail that it could compose a short course _ Narco 101, perhaps.

When prosecutors asked Cardenas to walk jurors through a decade of moves in the cartel's command and control structure, he turned to a giant organizational chart that would be recognizable to anyone in the corporate world except for spaces at the bottom for those "arrested" and "deceased."

Cardenas explained that in his plaza he had managers in charge of each revenue stream, including marijuana, cocaine and "cuota," or extortion payments demanded of legal and illegal businesses. Each department had an accountant. An additional accountant tracked the "piso," or tax that was charged on any drug loads moving through his territory. Another accountant supervised them all.

"I can't do everything myself," Cardenas said. "That's why we have someone in charge of every department."

That structure means simply removing the head is often not enough.

"You have to keep attacking the command and control elements again and again," said Will Glaspy, who oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration's operations in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, across the border from Gulf cartel territory.

Since Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Rafael Cardenas' uncle, was extradited to the U.S. in 2007, the cases have been building on themselves.

The man who took over for Osiel Cardenas was captured this month. Osiel Cardenas' brother was killed by Mexican marines in 2010. Most recently, a third brother was arrested in Mexico this month. Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon, the plaza boss convicted Friday in Brownsville, is one of three Gulf cartel plaza bosses arrested in the U.S. last year. And Mexican authorities captured another alleged boss this week.

"It's the government of Mexico that has had such tremendous success targeting the Gulf cartel over the last five or six years," Glaspy said. "They're the ones who have continued to attack and focus on the command and control of the Gulf cartel."

"(The Gulf cartel's) corporate structure doesn't exactly look like a Fortune 500 company, but it's probably not far off," he said.

The structure reflects diversified interests. The cartel is still known primarily as a drug-trafficking organization, but it receives important revenue from smuggling immigrants and its extortion rackets.

The U.S. Border Patrol sector that covers much of the Gulf cartel's territory seized just over 1 million pounds of marijuana in 2011 and apprehended nearly 60,000 illegal immigrants. The cartel receives a cut for every kilogram of drugs and every illegal immigrant that passes through its territory.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, chairwoman of the government department at the University of Texas-Brownsville, credits Osiel Cardenas with leading the cartel's structural evolution. She said his nephew's testimony revealed the similarities between today's drug-trafficking organization and a legitimate corporation with transnational networks and diversified interests.

Osiel Cardenas' biggest move was creating the Zetas, former special forces troops, as a new department to handle the cartel's security and enforcement, she said.

"When (Osiel Cardenas) introduced the Zetas he changed the whole panorama of drug trafficking and organized crime in the hemisphere," she said. Their expansion into other criminal enterprises beyond drug trafficking served as a lesson for their longtime patrons and other criminal organizations. The Zetas split from the cartel in 2010 and became an independent criminal organization.

Without the critical smuggling corridors controlled by the Gulf cartel or its supply lines, the Zetas initially couldn't count on drug-trafficking revenue so they diversified to piracy and extortion, Glaspy said.

"It's all about the money, and if they're not making the money from drugs they will seek out other criminal activity to reinforce or find other revenue streams," he said.

The younger Cardenas testified that it cost him about $1 million a month when he ran the Rio Bravo plaza to cover payroll, rent, vehicles and bribes. He had to recruit, train and equip his own gunmen. When they were killed, he continued paying their salaries to their families.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and marijuana and is cooperating with U.S. authorities in other cartel cases with the hope of receiving a shorter sentence.

Bribes went to every level of law enforcement, the press, members of the military and corrupted U.S. officials, he said.

"In order to have your plaza well, all organized, you have to pay all the police agencies," Cardenas said. Paying off the local police in Rio Bravo alone cost $20,000 per week, he said.

And when the Gulf cartel began going head to head with the Zetas in early 2010, he said, costs rose to the point where they were just breaking even.

Cardenas worked for nearly a decade as a plaza boss. Each of his plazas was within an hour's drive of the Texas border.

"All of the plazas that have river on the border are better," he said. More drugs and immigrants crossing, as well as border businesses such as pharmacies popular with American tourists. "More money."

 

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