Ventana de 30 días

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Publicado en EL NORTE, 20:54 hrs. [comentarios personales entre corchetes]

Monterrey,  México (6 septiembre 2011).-  El Alcalde de Monterrey, Fernando Larrazabal, aceptó solicitar licencia a su cargo por un periodo de 30 días para que se investigue el caso de la entrega de dinero de representantes de centros de apuestas a su hermano Jonás Larrazabal.  [Es sólo un mes… ojalá se aproveche para esclarecer muchas dudas que tiene la ciudadanía. Si no se logra nada en este periodo, el Edil volverá diciendo “ya ven, no había nada” cuando todo apunta a lo contrario]

Luego de una reunión sostenida esta tarde con el líder nacional del PAN, Gustavo Madero, se tomó esta decisión que también incluye a Miguel Ángel García Domínguez, Secretario de Desarrollo Humano del Municipio de Monterrey. [La verdad es que debería de abarcar a su equipo directo. La decisión del PAN de sacar del reflector sólo a los que ya han pescado primera plana, demuestra que más que buscar la verdad se está trabajando en apaciguar al cuarto poder] 

De acuerdo a un comunicado del partido, la solicitud de licencia se hizo extensiva también al Gobernador de Nuevo León, Rodrigo Medina, de extracción priista para que al igual que lo hará Acción Nacional coadyuve de esta forma a darle mayor transparencia y combate a la impunidad en el caso del incendio del Casino Royale. [Por más se pudiera abogar que Medina ha sido ineficiente e inefectivo en la lucha al crímen organizado, a él no lo han pescado en videos recibiendo cajitas de NEXTEL con lana o saliendo de reuniones con los implicados… todavía (o si lo pescaron ha podido hacer que no se ventile en los medios. La solicitud de licencia por parte de AN a Medina es politiquilla y un intento de tratar de repartir la mierda con la que se siente manchado ahorita el PAN. El PRI y el PRD  han hecho lo mismo en otras instancias… iluso pensaba que Acción Nacional no se bajaría a ese nivel]

“Se le pide al Gobernador del Estado que también solicite licencia para que se aclaren las eventuales responsabilidades de sus subordinados, en acciones de posible corrupción e ineficiencia de los órganos de seguridad pública y protección de su Administración”, establece el comunicado.

La decisión de Larrazabal se da luego que el Comité Ejecutivo del blanquiazul votara de forma secreta para que Gustavo Madero, líder nacional de ese partido, pidiera al Alcalde regio la separación de su cargo y evitar un golpeteo político en contra de la institución. [Entonces no es tanto que Larrazabal esté pidiendo licencia, sino que su Partido se la dicta. Seamos claros al respecto]

De acuerdo a fuentes consultadas, que estuvieron en la reunión, se solicitó que Gustavo Madero tuviera un encuentro con Larrazabal en el que le planteara esta decisión que fue propuesta principalmente por el diputado Javier Corral, el senador Javier Camarillo y ex legislador Juan José Rodríguez Prats.

La decisión de Larrazabal y García Domínguez se da luego que esta mañana el Presidente Municipal dijera, después de una reunión de Cabildo, que se mantendría en su cargo pues las acusaciones son simplemente un chantaje del empresario Sergio Gil, propietario del Casino Red, ya que la autoridad municipal le ha aplicado la ley a su establecimiento por no cumplir con todos los requisitos. [¿En serio? ¿les han aplicado la ley? Estaría bien hacer inspecciones de dichos establecimientos para ver si es cierto… Estoy seguro que nos toparíamos con varias sorpresas como las del Casino Royale].

La renuncia de funcionarios de gobierno NO es la solución. Tal vez sea un mal necesario para aplicar la justicia y procurar un espacio en que la legalidad vuelva a tener el lugar que debería en cualquier país que presume gozar de estado de derecho, pero si Larrazabal vuelve o no, si lograr sacar a Rodrigo Medina… no hará nada en torno a sanear los procesos y el sistema social que hoy está roto.  Por lo pronto, está a prueba durante 30 días… en ese inter, busquemos soluciones REALES a los problemas de verdad, a los que están mucho más enrraizados que un gobernante en turno.

Mexico mourns after Casino Royale massacre

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Dear readers,

Though originally the plan was to wait for AQBlog to publish this piece, I suspect they are dealing with Hurricane Irene in the NYC offices and might have already evacuated. For that reason and that reason alone, I am publishing this article on my personal blog (here) first. I’ll let you know when it goes online at AQBlog.

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“Mexico mourns after Casino Royale massacre”

Yesterday Mexico suffered the criminal attack with most civilian casualties in its recent history, as a group of 10-12 armed men entered the two-story ‘Casino Royale’ in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. Details are still sketchy as I write these words and the death toll has not yet been established but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point towards non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for ‘protection.’

Gruesome as the attack itself was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.

Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the Administrative Board of the company that owns Casino Royale.

The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks and during neither of the follow-up investigations was the fact that the venue was obviously not up to code, enough to shut it down permanently.

Today, a city and a whole country mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. Others called for the two local soccer teams to hold a friendly match in the name of peace and/or for people to wear white in the next match on Saturday. Peace rallies are the current talk of the town and surely at least one march will take place in the near future.

Well-intentioned as these efforts may be, the sad truth is that they will do little to solve the problem. And going after the criminals with guns is a must, but that is fighting the manifestations of the ailment and not the root causes. Calderon’s war on organized crime is palliative at best. The worst criminals behind massacres like Casino Royale do not carry an AK-47. They wear suits, sit behind desks at government buildings and are a part of institutionalized corruption. And we keep them there.

While I can certainly understand the plight for Medina to leave office, the person is only part of a larger system-level problem and changing a system does not occur with one single action, and it does not occur overnight.

The prescription for a real cure seems like a utopian list we’ve heard over and over again: better education, more viable job opportunities, strengthened law enforcement, rule of law, actively combating impunity and corruption, etc. But if we really want to act on our current frustration, I believe there are individual actions that each of us can take in order to start moving in the right direction. I for one, plan to do my part.

On January 5th, I wrote “A New Year’s Resolution for Mexico” for Americas Quarterly. Back then I called for our new year’s resolution as Mexicans to be not exercising any form of corruption. I proposed that we no longer bribe public officials to avoid a speeding ticket. No more tax evasion, no more purchasing pirate products which we now know are part of organized crime’s value chain. No more negligence in our duty to monitor and demand effectiveness from our elected officials and government bureaucrats and no more questionable practices in the companies we work for.

Little by little, with each permissible act of corruption, we have collectively allowed for this tragedy to happen. My new year’s resolution is even more relevant today than it was when it was originally published and I firmly believe it is a small but decisive step toward the system change we need to instil.

My heartfelt condolences for the victims of the Casino Royale tragedy and their families.

Quick note on ‘Casino Royale’

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Dear readers,

As most of you already know, today is a very sad day for the city of Monterrey and the whole of Mexico. Since yesterday, some of you have asked me whether or not I was going to write about the Casino Royale massacre for Americas Quarterly.

While at first it was hard to do so, given a state of numbness I believe I had to go through in order to process it, I have written a piece on this subject and sent it to AQBlog’s editing director (just a couple of minutes ago).

I will let you know via Facebook and Twitter when it goes online.

Thank you for your interest. Other www.arjanshahani.wordpress.com content will go on as planned.

Keep you head up.

Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military” , published on Jul 21st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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Last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruled that military personnel accused of human rights abuses will no longer be court-martialed and will now face a civil trial. Though the decision might seem like a triumph for human rights activists, a much larger problem looms behind this smoke screen.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels has increasingly involved the use of Mexico’s military. In hot spots like Nuevo Laredo, the military police has virtually assumed all of the law enforcement responsibilities, after 900 local transit and police officers were suspended pending toxicology exams and criminal investigations. And it doesn’t end there. Soldiers are posted in virtually all conflict-ridden areas in the country, cracking down on drug cartels in order to pursue a safer country where local law enforcement has proven ineffective.

This is all the more intriguing because in Mexico, ensuring domestic civil security is not part of the military’s responsibility. They have filled this gap due to their sworn allegiance to the President—one that they have not threatened to overrun since they committed to Mexico’s first post-revolution civilian government under Miguel Alemán in 1946.

The legislature and the SCJ have argued that since the military has essentially taken over control of policing local conflict areas in Mexico, military personnel should not be exempt from civil law and “protected” by military proceedings. It is unfortunate, however, that those in the lawmaking and justice system apparently have no knowledge of regional history or applied comparative politics.

Mexico’s armed forces have become, by default, the only trustworthy entity to which civil society has given the authorized monopoly to use violence. State and municipal law enforcement police bodies are plagued with cases of coercion, corruption, involvement in illicit activity, and ties to organized crime. While the military should be applauded for combating the war on organized crime, the very need for its involvement evinces the precarious state of civilian rule. This brings a possibility of a military coup into the picture—a fatalist option, of course, but the end result of analysis that has explained virtually all military seizures of power in Latin America for the last 100 years.

Comparative politics expert Martin C. Needler developed a framework comprised of five variables which if present, heighten the possibility of a military coup: (1) loss of military hierarchy; (2) loss of military prestige/status; (3) imposition of military budget restrictions; (4) internal order disrupted; and (5) national stability endangered. Needler has successfully applied his analysis to explain Pinochet’s Chile, the military junta in Ecuador, the unwillingness of the armed forces to protect Árbenz’ Guatemala from Honduras’ invasion, the removal of Villeda Morales in Honduras, the overthrowing of Arnulfo Arias in Panama and Víctor Paz in Bolivia—just to name some examples.

Few people would argue against the fact that Mexico faces unstable circumstances and that the ongoing conflict with drug cartels has spun into internal order disruption. We can already check two of Needler’s boxes.

Further, the Supreme Court’s decision second-guesses court-martial proceedings and undermines the very military legal system that military personnel honors and swears by every day. The SCJ ruling places Mexico’s soldiers at risk of becoming victims of the same failed justice system. The verdict hangs the military out to dry by placing them in the hands of easily corruptible judges and magistrates, some of which are on the payroll of the drug cartels. Clearly, this move affects the military’s position with regards to both hierarchy and status.

At least President Calderón is pouring funds into the military budget, so that excludes one of the variables in Needler’s model (Mexico’s current defense expenditures account for 0.5 percent of its GDP, third place in all of Latin America behind Brazil and Chile). Still, we end up having four out of five motivators for seizure of power. The least this should do is raise a few eyebrows in the highest levels of the three branches in Mexico’s government.

This is not just a question of who is in power. I firmly believe that the SCJ decision puts Mexicans at risk by placing hurdles in front of the forces asked to protect the citizenry. When a soldier pulls a trigger, the only thing going through his or her head should be the objective at hand—not the possibility of being considered a civil criminal. Mexico’s soldiers are trained to make those judgment calls, and if this needs improving then the system should work on training them better instead of tying their hands down.

Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution.

Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2560 , published on May 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

Such a qualification would also send a clear message to the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development on where to focus assistance funding and contract projects. Equally important, it would show that the U.S. is as serious about eliminating this threat as they were when they decided to add Colombia’s FARC to their terrorist list. It also would set the record straight that providing weapons to these organized crime groups is punishable in the same way that it  is to establish business transactions with terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management—who introduced legislation to Congress on March 30 calling for the government to label six Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations—stated that the decision to keep the cartels off the list is a sign of shortsightedness. His response: “The drug cartels are here. The Department of Homeland Security reports that they operate in 276 cities inside the U.S. Only after the murder of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent Jaime Zapata were 450 cartel members arrested in this country.” The cartel’s transactions are simple: they sell the drugs to U.S. users and buy the weapons to bring back into Mexico and service their bloody exchanges with Mexican federal and state police/military forces.

A reliable source from the intelligence community in Mexico, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, volunteered that even after Calderón’s attempts to strengthen military presence at the border, more than 10,000 artillery pieces (automatic weapons and grenades mostly) make their way into Mexico from the U.S. every day. The result? Our forces keep trading bullets with the cartels but the U.S. consumers continue to provide them cash flow and the gun sellers operating in the United States continue to arm them.

Nearly a year ago, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed President Calderón, who then said we needed joint, committed efforts to deal with the drug trafficking issue. Mexico has shown it is ready today but with elections coming in 2012, the resolve shown by Calderón might not remain after the dust has settled.

The window of opportunity could be closing and it’s time for our partner to the north to act, for both our sakes.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Drone flights over Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Drone flights over Mexico”

http://americasquarterly.org/node/2356 , published on March 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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The recent news published by The New York Times on unmanned drone planes doing reconnaissance flights over Mexican territory has already spurred aggressive reactions by the legislative opposition to Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). Practically in unison, civil society is responding to these reactions and sending a message to Congress: get your head out of the gutter and do something for our country.

The Times article stated that Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed earlier this month to continue allowing surveillance flights over Mexico, collecting information and turning it over to Mexican law enforcement authorities. The report also discusses a “counternarcotics fusion center” already operational in Mexico City and the possibility of a second one being established in the near future.

Gearing up for federal elections, political parties like Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD), Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) and Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party, or PT) jumped at the opportunity to accuse Calderón of violating Mexican law by allowing drone flights.

Former Foreign Minister—and current PRI Senator—Rosario Green was one of the more vocal: “I find it barbaric… What else is Calderón going to do in order to hand over the reins of the country to foreign interests?” PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal added: “This violates the Constitution, our national sovereignty and quite simply submits the country to a state of indignation, a subordinate and defeatist attitude.”

What is most interesting about this story is not the questionable legality of the secret agreement, but the public’s reaction to the opposition’s accusations. Rather than further taint Calderón’s image, readers of online newspapers like El Norte and Reforma have responded to these types of remarks with disgust. Civil society has demanded that politicians stop wasting the country’s time and resources in party politics and start instituting viable solutions to the widespread gang violence and narcotics problems.

Select reader comments of these online dailies include: “I would rather have Calderón hand over Mexico to the U.S. than PRI hand it over to the drug lords”; “National sovereignty being violated? What do you think the drug cartels have been doing for the past two years? The enemy is inside our home. You should worry about that”; and “Calderón’s is a brave decision aiming to weaken the filth that hurts real citizens and not the thieves that hide behind a Congress seat.”

Although Senator Green may ask why the Mexican Congress was not consulted on the Calderón-Obama agreement, I suggest she look into the way that she and her colleagues vote—not any way in representing their constituencies but rather moved by political objectives. And when Senator Monreal talks about “a state of indignation,” he conveniently forgets the ongoing investigations of his alleged money laundering scheme in 2006 and alleged ties to mafia groups.

The message is clear. Civil society is tired of the political discussions. They are tired of excuses and debates on whether or not a bold solution to an even bolder problem is constitutional. Instead of facing accusations, the action of Calderón and Obama—if proven to be true—should be hailed as a symbol of bilateral cooperation toward combating a common foe which has tarnished the Mexican way of life.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Mexican President Targets Corruption

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican President Targets Corruption” http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2315 and published on March 15th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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Felipe Calderón is changing the rules of the game for fighting corruption. Earlier this month, Calderón announced a series of initiatives targeting corrupt practices in public service and for the first time, providing rewards to whistleblowers and citizens who provide information leading to identification of these practices.

Mexico’s President recognized that “the depth at which corruption has penetrated our society is a problem we can no longer permit.”  These types of declarations, which candidly and honestly recognize our fragile state, are unbecoming of what we are accustomed to hear from him.

Possibly wanting to shift public discourse away from the violence and crime dialogue (which is obviously linked to corruption), Calderón talked about this new legal framework and what it looks to achieve in more economic terms: “we must not allow corruption to continue hurting Mexicans, reducing our competitiveness or blocking our country’s ability to grow.”

Calderón praised the effectiveness of a process called Denuncia Ciudadana through which citizens denounce public officials for illegal practices such as corruption. However, actual follow through on these claims is the real problem in Mexico. Enforcement and the capability to prosecute is a definite must if we are to see a successful outcome of these initiatives. Reforma newspaper recently ran a story on the fact that out of 1,779 public officials who have been denounced for corrupt practices only one has been prosecuted and was set free on bail. The rest of the cases continue piling up on the docket.

What is new and sends out a powerful message to all of our citizenry is the fact that the federal government is actively seeking and promoting more civil participation in this battle by offering economic stimuli to individuals denouncing offenders.  He did not mention amounts of money, but if implemented correctly, this change in the game could prove to be most successful in a country where people do not denounce crimes, partly because of lack of trust in the system.

Another part of the initiative, the Ley Federal Anticorrupción en Contrataciones Públicas (Federal Anticorruption Law on Public Contracts), targets the private sector by setting sanctions against companies that offer public officials any type of gifts (usually money or some type of benefit) in favor of winning public contracts. These sanctions include removing the company’s eligibility to obtain contracts for up to eight years and a fine of up to 30 percent of the contract in question.

It seems Felipe Calderón was holding off on some of the most important and popular governmental initiatives until they became relevant toward the next presidential elections. Recently, we’ve seen a more publicly active President being the spokesperson for transformational efforts that could give the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) a better shot at retaining power. With the PRI swinging back, the PRD falling apart from within and PAN-PRD alliance talks still up in the air, the 2012 process could prove to be one of the most interesting elections we’ve seen in recent history.

We can only hope that pre-election jitters become the catalysts for many more of these very needed reforms and that they are actually and successfully implemented. It’s unfortunate that we always have to wait until election times to get the ball rolling but for now, let’s enjoy a step forward.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.