#CApolitics: Third state senator (D) arrested on corruption charges

March 26, 2014
Not smiling now, I bet.

Not smiling now, I bet.

Earth-shaking news in California politics broke this morning with word of the arrest of State Senator Leland Yee (D, SD-8) on charges of public corruption, including soliciting donations beyond the allowed limits in return for legislative services and –ahem!– firearms trafficking. You can read the indictment (PDF) via the NBC BayArea site (1). From their article on the arrest:

California state Sen. Leland Yee was arrested on public corruption charges as part of several arrests made by the FBI Wednesday morning during a massive FBI sting, the FBI told NBC Bay Area.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said that Yee and current Chee Kung Tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow were among 26 defendants charged in a federal criminal complaint.

Yee and Chow were arraigned before Federal Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins in San Francisco this afternoon.

The federal criminal complaint, filed on March 24, was unsealed in San Francisco Wednesday, charging the defendants with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and honest services fraud, announced Haagm FBI special agent David Johnson and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez.

Yee was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

Chow’s charges include money laundering and conspiracy to trafficking contraband cigarettes.

From what I gather from skimming the indictment, Yee stands accused of soliciting bribes both to retire his debt from his failed mayoral run in San Francisco and to fund his current campaign for Secretary of State. He is also accused of offering to facilitate an arms deal through New Jersey between a dealer Yee knew and “UCE 4599,” an unidentified FBI undercover agent… in return for a “donation.”

The connection between Senator Yee and “Shrimp Boy” Chow seems to be Keith Jackson, a well-known Bay Area political consultant and associate of Yee. Chow, who has a long record and has been under investigation for years, introduced UCE 4599 to Jackson, who then apparently started supplying weapons for UCE 4599′s “associates” to guard their (imaginary) marijuana farms in Northern California. Jackson and others also apparently ran their own drug ring and even attempted to solicit murder-for-hire. Jackson was also Yee’s money-maker for the illegal donations.

There is no accusation that Senator Yee had anything to do with drugs or murder-for-hire, but, still, he sure keeps nice company.

Aside from the organized crime drama and political corruption, this has serious implications for the Democrats in California. Yee is the third state senator (2), all Democrats, to be indicted or convicted in the last several months. Senator Roderick Wright was convicted of felony voter fraud in January, while Senator Ron Calderon was indicted for corruption in February.

Since the 2012 election, Democrats have held a supermajority in the California legislature, controlling both chambers with two-thirds majorities. Under the state constitution, that gave them the power to do pretty much whatever they wanted: pass irresponsible budgets, fund wasteful programs to their heart’s content, you name it. The Republicans were bystanders, and it didn’t look like they’d have any power any time soon.

Then the majority started crumbling in the state senate. First came Andy Vidak’s (R-SD26) surprise victory in a 2013 special election, then the conviction of Wright and the indictment of Calderon. That last broke the supermajority in the senate, and now Yee’s troubles (3) deepens the hole they’re in. Now, at least, the Democrats have to actually deal with the Republican senate caucus, if they want to get anything done. This means Proposition 13, the measure that protects homeowners from exorbitant property taxes and mandates a 2/3rds majority to raise taxes, making it a prime Democrat target, is safe for a while. The Democrats are likely to regain those seats, given the districts, but a smart Republican or independent candidate might make some populist hay running on a clean government platform. We’ll see.

From a larger view, this is what happens in a state when a party overwhelmingly dominates for too long: without credible opposition, legislators and other government officials come to feel entitled, become complacent, and think of themselves as rulers, not employees subject to the audit of the people. Corruption sets in. California has long been dominated by the Democrats (in the legislature, for decades), but a conservative friend in a long-time Red state has voiced similar complaints. It shows the problems that can set in when a strong two-party system withers to one.

One hopes that revelations such as Senator Yee’s purported activities will lead to soul-searching among the Democrats (4) and the rise of good conservative candidates in more areas to help redress the balance.

For the sake of California’s political health, we need both.

RELATED: More from the San Jose Mercury News.

PS: Did you know Yee once sponsored a measure to require state buildings to be designed according to Chinese Feng Shui principles? There’s a reason we’re called “Crazyfornia.”

Footnotes:
(1) And kudos to them for linking to a primary source. Too few online MSM outlets do that.
(2) But not the last, I bet.
(3) Because Senate President Steinberg (D) is desperate to keep those seats in Democrat hands, rather than risk a special election, Wright and Calderon have been allowed to go on “paid leave,” rather than being expelled. Yes, they still draw a salary, but at least they can’t vote. I’m sure Yee will be shown the same “courtesy.”
(4) Oh, stop laughing. It could happen. Maybe.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Mexican Marines capture Los Zetas chief

July 15, 2013

Wow. This is huge news:

One of Mexico’s most wanted drug lords has been captured: Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, also known as “Z-40.”

Trevino Morales, leader of the brutal Los Zetas cartel, was caught Sunday by Mexico Marines in his hometown of Nuevo Laredo, just over the U.S. border, CBS News has learned.

The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for Trevino Morales.

The Zetas cartel is among Mexico’s most violent drug organizations, notorious for civilian killings and beheadings. Is leaders ordered the killing of 72 undocumented immigrants in 2010 in what is known as the San Fernando massacre. More recently in May, the Mexican army said their leaders ordered underlings to leave 49 mutilated bodies in a northern Mexico town square.

The Mexican drug cartels are a nasty bunch, but the Zetas are the worst of the worst. Founded by former Mexican Special Forces members who first worked as soldiers for the cartels before striking out on their own, they’ve been called the Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartel. Beheadings, bombings, massacres, terrorism… You name it, they’ve been in on it. “Well done” to the Mexican military; this is quite a take-down, and I hope this leads to information that allows the Mexican and US governments to roll up Los Zetas on both sides of the border.

Maybe we’ll even finally see justice for David Hartley, who was murdered at Falcon Lake, and some peace for his widow.

UPDATE: Fixed the headline to give proper credit to the Mexican Marines. Sorry, guys.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Fast and Furious: DoJ-supplied guns used in Mexican lawyer’s murder

May 2, 2012

Well, ain’t that just dandy.

I’ve said before that the number of Mexican soldiers, federal agents, police and civilians killed by weapons allowed to “walk” over the border into Mexico under the Department of Justice’s “sting” operation has amounted to at least 300, per the Mexican Attorney General.

Here are some specifics, courtesy of Borderland Beat:

Firearms connected to Operation Fast and Furious were used in the 2010 slaying of the brother of the former Chihuahua state attorney general, according to a U.S. congressional report.

The report said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced two of the weapons suspected in the murder of lawyer Mario González Rodríguez, but did not report this fact to the Mexican government until eight months after the tracing.

(…)

A video of Mario González Rodríguez’s “interrogation” by armed men was carried on YouTube. The body of the well-known Chihuahua City lawyer was found Nov. 5, 2010, in a shallow grave.

Then, Mexican federal authorities, following a shootout with drug cartel suspects, seized 16 weapons and arrested eight men in connection with Mario González Rodríguez’s murder.

The serial numbers on the seized weapons were run through an ATF database and, sure enough, two AK-pattern weapons were were flagged as “walked guns.” But it took eight months for the US government to tell Mexican authorities of their findings. When Carlos Canino, then the ATF attache in Mexico City, finally did bother to tell the Mexicans that, hey, some of our guns killed one of your citizens –our bad!– he gave the following explanation for the delay:

Canino feared an international incident might break out with Mexico if the information leaked out to the news media instead of being sent through government channels. He told U.S. lawmakers that he did not want to undermine the trust that U.S. law enforcement had developed with their Mexican counterparts in the war against the drug cartels.

Because, Lord knows, nothing builds trust like supplying automatic weapons and grenades to your ally’s enemies. Hate to see that spoiled.

When did I move to Bizarro World?

PS: Note to Mitt Romney, two words: Special. Prosecutor.

RELATED: Earlier entries for Operation Fast and Furious, aka “Gunwalker.”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Things you don’t expect to see on your commute

September 22, 2011

Such as a drug gang dumping 35 bodies on the highway:

Suspected drug traffickers dumped 35 bodies at rush hour beneath a busy overpass in the heart of a major Gulf coast city as gunmen pointed weapons at frightened drivers. Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are examining surveillance video for clues to who committed the crime.

Horrified motorists grabbed cell phones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio, part of the metropolitan area of Veracruz city.

The gruesome gesture marked a sharp escalation in cartel violence in Veracruz state, which sits on an important route for drugs and Central American migrants heading north.

The Zetas drug cartel has been battling other gangs for control of the state.

Prosecutors said it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the surveillance video.

“We’re not going to confirm or deny anything,” Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez told the Televisa network Wednesday. “We’re looking at it in different ways, we’re seeing different numbers, that’s why we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

Escobar said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under the overpass near the statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from Veracruz state. He said some of the victims had their heads covered with blackplastic bags and showed signs of torture.

Authorities said each of the victims (including apparently a cop who had gone missing) had criminal ties, so this looks like one gang, maybe the Zetas, taking out the soldiers of another gang and throwing it in their rivals’ faces.

But it’s also a slap in the face to the Mexican federal and state governments, mocking their authority and denying their sovereignty. Doing this while the city hosts a major judicial conference says, in no uncertain terms, “We rule here, not you. Fear us.” And that’s exactly what the people do, as they lose faith with each atrocity in Mexico’s ability to protect them and render justice.

These aren’t just bodies; these are thirty-five more milestones on the road to a failed state.

RELATED: Was this a message to Los Zetas from a new cartel? (Graphic pic warning.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Gunwalker: “What did he know and when did he know it?” UPDATE: ATF armed Sinaloa cartel?

July 27, 2011

Oh, my. I think the fuse has been lit on blowing this fiasco wide open, and the spark is headed right for the White House:

At a lengthy hearing on ATF’s controversial gunwalking operation today, a key ATF manager told Congress he discussed the case with a White House National Security staffer as early as September 2010. The communications were between ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix office, Bill Newell, and White House National Security Director for North America Kevin O’Reilly. Newell said the two are longtime friends. The content of what Newell shared with O’Reilly is unclear and wasn’t fully explored at the hearing.

It’s the first time anyone has publicly stated that a White House official had any familiarity with ATF’s operation Fast and Furious, which allowed thousands of weapons to fall into the hands of suspected traffickers for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain intelligence. It’s unknown as to whether O’Reilly shared information with anybody else at the White House.

Congressional investigators obtained an email from Newell to O’Reilly in September of last year in which Newell began with the words: “you didn’t get this from me.”

“What does that mean,” one member of Congress asked Newell, ” ‘you didn’t get this from me?’ “

“Obviously he was a friend of mine,” Newell replied, “and I shouldn’t have been sending that to him.”

Newell told Congress that O’Reilly had asked him for information.

So now we are certain that someone senior at the White House knew about Operation Fast and Furious (aka “Gunwalker”) in late 2010, yet as late as this last spring, Holder and Obama were claiming they had learned of it only much later.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Issa that he did not learn about Fast and Furious until this spring. President Obama said that Holder told him he would not have allowed guns to go into Mexico.

Hmmm… We’ve already established that it’s about as likely as the Sun rising in the West that Holder didn’t know, but what about Obama? If this org chart (PDF) is still accurate (1), then NSC staffers with regional responsibilities report to the Deputy National Security Adviser, who reports to the National Security Adviser, who reports to… the President of the United States.

Very suggestive, but not proof-positive.

As Ed Morrissey asks, why did O’Reilly want to know, and why did Newell feel compelled to say “You didn’t get this from me?”

Either O’Reilly was attending a meeting of peers and wanted to be brought up to speed — it  is in his purview, after all, but then why the “cloak and dagger” stuff? — or was he briefing those above him? And how high did the briefing go?

Let’s keep in mind that this debacle has cost the lives of at least one US federal agent and roughly 150 Mexican civilians, federal agents, and soldiers. Agencies of the US government supplied weapons to criminal cartels that threaten the stability of our large southern neighbor and then lost track of nearly 2,000 of those guns. It is a monument to gross stupidity and incompetence — and very possibly criminal, what Rep. Darrell Issa has called “felony stupid.”

With the revelation that people on the President’s national security staff knew about Gunwalker, it’s about time for subpoenas.

Footnotes:
(1) While O’Reilly’s office doesn’t appear on this org chart, I think it’s reasonable to assume that, whether it’s new or renamed from “Western Hemisphere Affairs,” he too would report to the Deputy NSA.

UPDATE: “The ATF armed the Sinaloa Cartel. It’s disgusting.”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Creative smuggling: We build a fence, they fly over it

April 29, 2011

Cartel smugglers may be walking pustules who profit by selling poison and wreak havoc on their own nation(1), but give hem credit for adaptability: Border-control advocates have been screaming for years about building a fence along the Mexican border? Fine The drug-smugglers will just find another way across — or over:

The visiting British pilots were training near a naval air station one night this month when their helicopter came within about 150 feet of an ultralight plane flying without lights. The ultralight darted away toward Mexico without a trace.

The near-disaster over the Southern California desert was an example of drug smugglers using low-flying aircraft that look like motorized hang gliders to circumvent new fences along the U.S. border with Mexico. The planes, which began appearing in Arizona three years ago, are now turning up in remote parts of California and New Mexico.

And in a new twist, the planes rarely touch the ground. Pilots simply pull levers that drop aluminum bins filled with about 200 pounds of marijuana for drivers who are waiting on the ground with blinking lights or glow-sticks. Within a few minutes, the pilots are back in Mexico.

“It’s like dropping a bomb from an aircraft,” said Jeffrey Calhoon, chief of the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector, which stretches through alfalfa farms, desert scrub and sand dunes in southeast California.

The Border Patrol has erected hundreds of miles of fences and vehicle barriers along the border and added thousands of new agents, so drug smugglers are going over, under and around.

I particularly like the “bombing run” aspect.

While the use of ultra-lights is perhaps the most unusual development in the chess match along the border, it’s not the only one: cartel smugglers also use tunnels under the border and boats on the Pacific coast to go around it.

In one sense, it’s an illustration of markets in action: with demand so high in the US, the cartels are going to do their darnedest to make sure they get their goods to the buyers.

Move and counter, thrust and parry.

AFTERTHOUGHT: If drugs are being passed over the border via ultralight, what –or who– else is making it across?

TANGENT:

(1) In fact, that’s just what they are.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Failing state watch: Mexican soldiers arrested for drug smuggling

March 4, 2011

Thirteen soldiers arrested for smuggling drugs:

The Mexican army has ordered three junior officers and 10 soldiers to stand trial on drug trafficking and organized crime charges after they were allegedly caught with more than a ton of methamphetamines and 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of cocaine.

The military announced earlier that several soldiers were arrested last week with drugs at a military checkpoint south of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. It was not clear whether it was the same group named in the charges announced Thursday.

Like cops, Mexican soldiers are poorly paid, so the temptation must be great to make a little extra on the side by acting as couriers or guards; the cartels have plenty of money to spread around in bribes. The danger of course comes when Mexico City wants these soldiers to do something against the interests of the guys who pay them better: whose soldiers are they, then?

RELATED: Border crossings by Mexican troops.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Bombshell allegation: Mexican presidents colluded in drug trafficking?

March 1, 2011

And the accuser isn’t some minor politico or crime figure, but a former state governor from the long-time ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) . According to Borderland Beat, Mexican presidents from Miguel de la Madrid through Ernesto Zedillo, nearly 20 years, bought social peace by telling the cartels which routes they could use to bring their drugs to the United States and which areas they had to leave alone:

In a conference with students held on Wednesday, February 23, at the Law School of the Autonomous University of Coauhuila in Saltillo, Socrates Rizzo delivered a bombshell that has rocked Mexico as the campaign for the 2012 presidential election approaches.

During an interview session the former PRI Governor admitted that previous PRI presidents held strong control over drug trafficking routes that prevented the attacks on civilians and the violence that Mexico is undergoing today.

Although an open secret in Mexican society and a charge occasionally leveled publicly by the country’s two other major political parties, the National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), this is the first time in recent history that a former or current PRI politician has admitted publicly that this arrangement existed.

“Somehow the problems with drug trafficking were avoided, there was a strong State control and a strong President and a strong Attorney General and a tight control of the Army.”

“Somehow they (drug traffickers) were told: ‘You go through here, you here, you there’, but do not touch these other places,” he said in his speech.

The former Governor added that this strategy allowed the State to ensure the social peace that has been lost in the war on drugs launched by the PAN administration of Felipe Calderon.

“What the old guard says is that we had control by the Government and the Army. The big problem is consumption, and while consumption exists in the U.S. there will be drug trafficking in that direction.”

“What control by the PRI governments guaranteed was that drug trafficking did not disturb the social peace.”

Former Governor Rizzo also said Mexico’s current troubles with violence began with the electoral victory of the National Action Party‘s (PAN) presidential candidate, Vicente Fox, in 2000. They knew nothing of the deal with the cartels, didn’t want to know, and indeed tried to crack down, with the bloody results we’ve seen in years since, especially since President Calderón took office in 2006. In fact, the PRI candidate in 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio, may have been assassinated by the cartels because he didn’t want to play along, breaking the deal. Rizzo laughably says the problem with the PAN presidents was a lack of “professionalism.” I guess “professional” in his book means “willing to play along.”

Not that the three PRI presidents, de la Madrid, Salinas de Gortari, and Zedillo were just honest brokers trying to spare their people as much as possible. Concern for their people may have been part of it, but they and those under them were getting their cut, too. In fact, the corruption grew so bad under Salinas that his predecessor, de la Madrid, was shocked at his greed. (Sort of like Louis in “Casablanca?”)

Rizzo retracted his story the next day under heavy criticism, especially from two Mexican senators from the PRI Party, Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Fernando Baeza Melendez, both former governors themselves and both reputedly in tight with the cartels. Fabio Beltrones, in particular, is mentioned as a possible presidential candidate next year, should the party’s golden boy, Enrique Peña Nieto, falter. Wouldn’t that be sweet if he wins? “We’re back in business, boys!”

The trouble with Rizzo’s retraction, however, is that his accusations are just too plausible: not only are his critics rumored to have heavy ties to the cartels, but the problem with violence after Calderón started his crackdown didn’t spring from nowhere. Large cartels were known to exist in the 80s, for example, Rafael Caro Quintero’s Guadalajara Cartel. It’s hard to believe they could do the volume of business they did in the 80s and 90s without some sort of under-the-table official protection.

And corruption in Mexico is known to have crawled up into the federal ranks. With that much money at stake, it’s inevitable  that a lot was spread around to ensure “cooperation.” But it didn’t happen overnight, and Rizzo’s allegations argue that these corrupted cops were just following El Presidente’s lead — at least until the new guys screwed up a sweet deal.

But don’t think that this can be solved by Calderón or his successor cutting another deal with the Devil. As the Borderlands piece points out, Mexico now has its own drug consumption problem, and these guys are fighting over markets inside the country, not just for prime routes north. It will be much harder for Fabio Beltrones, for example, to come to a new understanding with the cartels that allows him to tell them what to do.

Of course, the big question for us is “Isn’t this all history?” In a sense, yes. What those three presidents did years ago has done its damage in the United States, and Mexico is now paying the price of cleaning it up — if it can be cleaned up. The monster de la Madrid and his successors summoned may have grown too big for their successors to defeat without a lot more blood being spilled, which has predictable implications for our own security.

But one also has to ask what happens if PRI wins the next election, particularly if Fabio Beltrones or some other cartel-friendly candidate becomes president. If Rizzo’s accusations are true, then it is a dubious question whether almost any PRI president and his administration can be considered a reliable partner against the cartels — or whether he is their partner.

Do read the whole thing. It’s long and it relies in part on rumor and anonymous sources, but it has a disturbing ring of truth to it, too.

via Business Insider

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Falcon Lake killings: suspects identified

February 28, 2011

Five months ago, David and Tiffany Hartley set out to have a fun day of jet-skiing and sightseeing on Falcon Lake, in Texas on the border with Mexico. Their holiday turned into a nightmare, however, when they were attacked by members of Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels; David was shot dead and Tiffany barely escaped back to the American side after trying to rescue her husband. His body has never been found, and the investigation has largely come to a standstill; Mexican authorities have largely backed off since the lead investigator was beheaded, and US agencies are limited because of a lack of jurisdiction in Mexico. It looked as if the case would sit unsolved in a cold-case file.

But, maybe not. The one police agency still actively investigating David’s murder is the Zapata County Sheriff’s Office, and they claim to have identified four suspects:

[Sheriff Sigi] Gonzalez said the four men identified are Zetas members, but he refused to release any more details at this time.

The four of them, he added, were part of a larger group of seven men that attacked David and Tiffany Hartley as they approached the abandoned town of Guerrero Viejo, in the Mexican side of the bank.

“They were watching her with a rifle to her body and they lowered it and pick it up and lowered,” he said. “They were waiting for word whether to shoot her or not shoot her. “

Tiffany was able to get away and make it to safety, but David Hartley’s body has never been found.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez said the suspects are known to be living in Mexico, but since the attack, they have crossed into the U.S. several times.

He said his office will continue gathering enough information to arrest those responsible.

(There’s a video report at the link, too.)

Sheriff Zapata said any information gathered would be passed to the FBI and, from them, to the State Department, presumably to take up with Mexican authorities. Call me cynical, but, while I’m sure the FBI would like to nail these guys, I have my doubts about how willing State is to rock the boat with Mexico over this. And I’m even more doubtful of serious help from Mexican law enforcement; they’ve already shown themselves to be subject to intimidation, and the Zetas themselves show no restraint. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, however. But, even if they are arrested in Mexico, Texas will have to forgo applying the death penalty, since Mexican law prohibits extradition in cases where execution is an option.

However, the fact that these killers cross regularly into the United States gives hope that Zapata County sheriff’s deputies or other law enforcement will be able to capture on our side of the border. Eventually, they’re bound to make a mistake.

I have another suggestion, however, one that crosses borders and is, one might say, traditional in the American West: name the men, put bounties on their heads, and make sure the posters are stamped “dead or alive.”

We’re dealing with outlaws, so let’s treat them as outlaws.

RELATED: An update on Tiffany Hartley. The beheading of Police Commander Rolando Armando Flores Villegas. A possible threat by Los Zetas to destroy Falcon Dam.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


ICE agent murdered in Mexico “by mistake”

February 24, 2011

Makes all the difference in the world, you see? They didn’t mean to ambush and gun down two American officials: it was a case of mistaken identity:

Mexican soldiers arrested six men Wednesday who they say carried out last week’s ambush murder of U.S. Special Agent Jaime Zapata.

The suspects told authorities they believed Zapata and his partner Victor Avila — who was wounded in the attack – to be members of a rival gang because of the vehicle they were driving. Those arrested belong to a cell of the Zetas, the violent criminal gang headquartered in the cities bordering south Texas.

Officials identified the group’s leader as Julian Zapata Espinoza, alias “El Piolin,” or “Tweety Bird,” who they said directed a Zeta assassination cell in the state of San Luis Potosi, where Zapata was killed Feb. 15.

(…)

Zapata, 32, an ICE special agent, was fatally shot when at least eight armed men in two vehicles ran his official embassy car off the Pan American highway about 500 miles south of the Texas border at Laredo. Avila was shot but survived the assault.

“They [the alleged shooters] said this was due to a case of misunderstanding because the car they were driving was the type used by a rival band,” Trevilla, the military spokesman, said of the suspects.

The agents’ car had official diplomatic plates, and they had identified themselves as diplomats to their assailants.

I’m sure their families will understand. Nothing personal, you know.

This isn’t the first time Los Zetas have said “Ooops! Our bad!

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Mexico border violence watch: Brownsville, Texas

February 8, 2011

Battles between Los Zetas and their former bosses in the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros prompt increased patrols on the Brownsville side of the border:

Brownsville Police and Border Patrol Units are on increased patrols near the (Brownsville & Matamoros) Bridge after reports of violence inside Mexico.

Mexican soldiers have been called in to restore the peace.

It all started around 5:00pm. Mexican officials say the Gulf Cartel set some Zeta money houses on fire near the B&M Bridge.

Two hours later, sources inside Mexico tell CHANNEL 5 NEWS two grenades were thrown at a hotel near the bridge.

A little later, the Mexican Army showed up to “restore order.”

When you have to send in the soldiers, that’s more than a police problem.

 


Failing State Watch: Nuevo Laredo police chief gunned down

February 4, 2011

Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre came into office on New Year’s Day vowing to fight the corruption and criminal violence tearing his state apart. One of his first acts was to appoint retired general Manuel Farfán as police chief of Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas, and one of Mexico’s most violent cities.

Less than a month into his job, Chief Farfán was shot dead on the streets of his city:

Gunmen killed the recently appointed police chief of Nuevo Laredo late Wednesday in a brazen response to the new governor’s vow to restore order to the violent Mexican state bordering south Texas and the Rio Grande.

Manuel Farfán, 55, a retired army brigadier general, was shot down on a downtown street shortly before midnight. At least one of the general’s police bodyguards and his personal secretary also were killed.

Farfán was one of 11 retired army generals recently named to head municipal police departments across Tamaulipas state. He took office with the change of city and state governments on Jan. 1.

Upon taking office New Year’s Day, Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre had vowed that his government would put an end to the state’s “cruel, unjust and difficult” wave of violence.

“The people of Tamaulipas want to trust again,” said Torre, who was elected following last June’s assassination by gangsters of his brother, the gubernatorial candidate of the state’s long ruling party.

“We are going to diminish violence at its root causes and extinguish impunity,” he said.

Aside from expressing condolences to Farfán’s survivors and dispatching the commander of the state police – also a retired army general – neither Torre nor other senior Tamaulipas officials commented on the assassination Thursday.

The killing is comment enough: one theory is that Chief Farfán refused to be bought or or play along with the Zeta cartel, whose “territory” Nuevo Laredo is, and they decided to show what happens. Another is that he was killed by the Gulf Cartel, which is at “war” with its former vassals and may have considered the Chief a threat to their efforts to take Nuevo Laredo back.

The killing of Chief Farfán is just the latest sign of the breakdown of the rule of law in Mexico, but he, at least, made it almost a month; in 2005, Nuevo Laredo Chief Dominguez was killed just hours after being appointed.  As the article mentions, the entire police force of one small town near Monterrey quit after two of its officers were beheaded, and the police chief of Cancún was tortured and killed in 2009 by one of his own men, who was in the pay of the local cartel. Local and state police officers are either intimidated, corrupted, or assassinated. As I’ve said before, when the State can’t even protect its own, words such as “sovereignty” and “rule of law” are meaningless.

It’s small wonder that some colleges are canceling their study-abroad programs in Mexico.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


What happens when you start a war and lose it?

January 18, 2011

That’s the question Sara Carter asks about Mexico in the Washington Examiner:

The violent deaths of nearly 35,000 in Mexico in the past four years symbolize a growing crisis for the United States as its southern neighbor is increasingly destabilized by competing drug organizations that have infiltrated every level of government, according to numerous U.S. officials.

President Felipe Calderon’s efforts to dismantle the drug gangs since taking office in 2006 has increased the number of grisly killings without diminishing the strength of the various criminal groups so far, experts said. That has placed U.S. security and Mexican security at risk.

“Mexico needs to take down the major cartel players or ask for our help to get it done,” said a U.S. official who is familiar with operations in the region. “Mexico is at a crisis point, and the situation is getting worse. We are left with an insecure border controlled by drug cartels, and our ability to limit their operations starts on our side. Unfortunately, that’s not good enough.”

There’s no doubt the situation in Mexico is bad and getting worse; as Carter points out, cartel-war related killings have increased 60% in just a year. The border city of Reynosa actually saw the Mexican Army trapped on its base as rival cartels fought a gun battle in the streets. The State Department has warned Americans to get their children out of Monterrey, because of the danger of kidnapping and being caught in a crossfire. Ciudad Mier is now a ghost town — government control is a sick joke. The discovery of beheaded corpses is now commonplace.

And that anarchy is more and more spilling over the border onto our side, most recently in the murder at Falcon Lake, the killing of a Border Patrol agent, and shots fired at a Hudspeth County, Texas, road crew.

Treating it as a law-enforcement matter looks less viable with each passing day. The corruption of local and state authorities in Mexico is notorious — and often fatal to those seeking redress under the law. It’s even a serious problem at the federal level.

And yet, to ask Lenin’s famous question, what is to be done? President Calderon has already involved the Mexican military, with at best mixed results: Mexican Marines, for example, captured 30 gang members in Reynosa,but then there’s that embarrassing incident with the Army. Should Calderon declare formal state of insurrection, give up any pretense of this being a law-enforcement matter, and go to full-scale war? And, to be blunt, is the Mexican state up to the task?

The anonymous US official cited above hints at more than police cooperation between our two countries, yet US military involvement would be controversial, to say the least. Even if it were limited to intelligence and Special Forces assistance, Mexican pride has been sore ever since that little dust-up between us from 1846-48, and any Mexican president openly acquiescing to US military operations on his country’s soil would pay political Hell for his choice, no matter how logical it may be.

But it may come to that, especially if the violence spills over to our side in ways that even Washington cannot ignore, whether directly or from a flood of refugees.

The risk of Mexico becoming a failed state is a serious problem for us, and it is one that has no good answer.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Shots across the border

January 16, 2011

Mexico’s continuing drug war spilled over into the United States again, when a  road crew in Texas had to flee for their lives as they came under fire from the other side of the border:

Hudspeth County, Texas Sheriff Arvin West confirmed a Hudspeth County road crew came under fire Thursday morning from gunmen in Mexico.

Sheriff West told ABC-7 that around 10:30 a.m, Thursday a road crew was repairing a part of Indian Hot Springs road, just east of Neely’s crossing in Hudspeth County along the US-Mexico border when they came under gunfire from the Mexican side.

The crew was able to escape unharmed and managed to call for help. Units from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Border Patrol and Hudspeth County sheriff’s deputies responded within minutes. They were able to determine the shots came from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande but were unable to spot the actual gunmen.

West added this is the first time county crews have come under direct fire. No one was injured and no equipment was damaged.

This isn’t the first time Americans in the El Paso area have come under fire, whether deliberately or accidentally.

The El Paso Times reports official speculation that this particular incident was caused by cartel gunmen wanting to clear the workers from a smuggling route they were using and notes that the area is a regular trafficking site:

Drug cartels use this busy smuggling corridor in between the Quitman Mountains and mountains in the northwestern part of Chihuahua state to traffic marijuana and sometimes cocaine, Doyle said.

The U.S. government built narrowly spaced steel poles north of the Rio Grande to fence the border in that West Texas area. The slots are not wide enough for people to cross, but small objects can fit between the 15-foot-tall poles.

Perhaps the road crew was in the way of a planned package-passing. Regardless, this will become another bit of evidence for border-security advocates concerned about our porous southern border. But, no fence, barrier, or wall, electronic or physical, is 100% secure. Until Mexico smashes the cartels that have made the rule of law and even Mexican sovereignty in their northern states a joke, there will be more incidents like this.

RELATED: The horrifying must-read story of Ciudad Mier, a Mexican town abandoned because of the drug war. Tell me again that Mexico isn’t a failing state. And 2010 was the bloodiest year in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels, with 15,273 dead. Iraq is safer. (By way of contrast, there were 15,241 murders and nonnegligent manslaughters in 2009 in the United States. This is from all causes, not just an organized crime war.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Mexico: the migrants’ path of peril

December 6, 2010

Mexicans are not the only immigrants trying to enter the United States illegally; many of them are from Central America. Most of those come by land, passing through Mexico on their way to the US. The dangers they face on the way, both from criminal gangs and Mexican authorities, is notorious.

In today’s Houston Chronicle, Dudley Althaus recounts the harrowing experiences of people who, in search of a better life, dare to cross the river of woes:

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala — Juan Bautista Castañeda stepped aboard a makeshift raft to cross the shallow Suchiate River into Mexico from Guatemala, the beginning of a more than 1,100-mile trek he hopes will end on the South Texas border.

And not in abduction, torture or death.

On two earlier tries, he has been attacked by thugs and arrested by Mexican immigration agents, Castañeda said. But nothing good awaits the field hand back in his El Salvador village, so he has girded himself for another, perhaps final, attempt.

Pushed first by war and then by want, Central Americans for three decades have poured through Mexico by the millions on their way to hopeful, if illegal, futures in the U.S. Making their way north by rail and road, many have been robbed and raped, kidnapped and extorted, maimed and murdered.

“You see it every day — how difficult it is, how dangerous,” Castañeda said. “But I’m going again. With the Lord’s help, I’m going to make it.”

The article goes on to give examples of the horrific things that have happened to migrants making their way to the US, such as the massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants that made worldwide headlines. Kidnapping and hostage-taking to extort money from relatives of migrants “back home” or already in the US is also common, with over 10,000 incidents in 2009.

This is a good article, worth one’s time to read, and there are a few points to take away from it:

While we are legitimately concerned about illegal immigration and our poorly secured southern border, and while we shouldn’t reward people who break our laws (other than to reelect them to Congress), we must never forget that behind the statistics are human beings seeking the same thing for their families we want for ours: a better life. Yes, hidden among them are criminals and agents of our jihadist enemies, but to treat all illegals as potential thieves is just as dumb as ignoring the problem, as the open borders crowd would do.

Once again, the Mexican government’s whining about the treatment their illegals receive in the US is shown to be a sick, twisted joke when compared to what happens to illegals in their own country.

And, finally, that people would attempt these journeys again and again, knowing the dangers involved and even after experiencing them first-hand, is an amazing testimonial both to human determination and to how bleak life must be where they come from, that they are motivated to risk everything to get here.

h/t Frank Smyth via Melissa del Bosque

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Ooops! Drug kingpin to finger Chavez in cocaine smuggling?

November 10, 2010

We already know the Hugo likes to chew on coca leaves supplied by his socialist buddy, Bolivian narco-trafficker President Evo Morales, but now it looks like he may finally get revealed as a major drug lord, too:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling U.S. federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations. Makled-Garcia’s devastating testimony comes on the heels of fresh evidence of Chávez’s support for terrorist groups from Spain, Colombia, and the Middle East and his apparent illegal support for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Slowly but surely, Chávez is being unmasked as a mastermind of a criminal regime.

According to a federal indictment unsealed in New York last Thursday, from 2006 through August 2010, Makled-Garcia conspired with Venezuelan officials to ship tons of cocaine from airstrips in that country to Central America, Mexico, and, ultimately, the United States. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Makled-Garcia “a king among kingpins.” Indeed, the Justice Department has designated him a “priority target,” as one of the most dangerous and prolific narcotics traffickers.

Makled-Garcia was once known as one of Venezuela’s most wealthy entrepreneurs. He came on to the radar screen of U.S. antidrug authorities years ago, when he was suspected of using his family business operations in the Venezuelan port of Puerto Cabello and his close ties to the Venezuelan military and Colombian narcotraffickers to smuggle cocaine. With the active complicity of dozens of senior Venezuelan authorities, Makled-Garcia allegedly operated a drug smuggling network using airstrips in Venezuelan territory. The family also is suspected of being involved in more than a dozen murders, including those of a respected Venezuelan journalist and a Colombian narcotrafficker.

Based on the U.S. indictment, Colombian authorities arrested Makled-Garcia on August 18, and are currently considering a U.S. extradition request for the notorious suspect. In the meantime, in a jailhouse interview with Colombia’s RCN TV last week, Makled-Garcia said he has enough evidence of high-level drug corruption, including videos and bank records, “for the U.S. to intervene and invade Venezuela, as with [Manuel Antonio] Noriega in Panama.”

Read the whole thing. Makled-Garcia claims to have names and bank account numbers showing the involvement of Chavez’s inner circle and their relatives, and he’s making it very clear he will not play the fall-guy. As the article points out, it’s possible* that Chavez isn’t involved, himself, but then why was he desperately begging new Colombian President Santos to return Makled-Garcia back to Caracas for “investigation?”

No doubt because he has evidence implicating Chavez either directly or indirectly-but-uncomfortably-close, and, should he be sent back to Venezuela, Makled-Garcia would (regrettably, of course) be shot while trying to escape.

But Colombia isn’t playing along. They have several longstanding beefs with Hugo, plus they want to keep their American allies happy. It’s almost certain Makled-Garcia is heading for the United States, and, when he gets here, the tale he has to tell should be very interesting. Not that it would surprise anyone that Hugo Chavez was into drug smuggling, but having hard evidence on him would be sweet, indeed.

Via The Jawa Report.

*As in, it’s possible the sun could rise in the West, too.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Tijuana: “No, it really is a great success!”

October 14, 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited Tijuana last week to proclaim a great victory in cleaning the city of drug cartel-related violence as brutal as that seen in any northern Mexican city.

Less than a week later, the hanged corpses and severed heads have returned:

A rash of decapitations and other gruesome killings have hit Tijuana since Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited the border city last week and called it a success in his drug war.

The most recent killing occurred just before midnight Tuesday when motorists found a decapitated body underneath a bridge on a road leading to the beachside neighborhood of Playas de Tijuana, according to a police report Wednesday.

Reporters at the scene saw a rope hanging from the bridge, suggesting the man had been hung from his feet but was too heavy and plunged into oncoming traffic.

The discovery came a day after two other beheaded bodies were found hanging from their feet in Tijuana.

Police said they were still conducting forensic tests on the body found Tuesday and had no immediate comment on the identity of the man or the circumstances of his death.

Earlier Tuesday, police found a human head inside a bag in another Tijuana neighborhood, but it did not belong to the body found underneath the bridge.

According to police reports, at least 16 people have been killed in the city since Sunday — a surge from the normal rate of about two homicides a day.

Calderon had come to Tijuana as part of a promotion for a two-week convention promoting the city as a place to do business. So, as part of their convention fun, the guests get to play “guess where the next corpse will be found.”

Helluva success story, there, Felipe.

To be fair, the Mexicans have made some progress in TJ, and the current round may be remnants of a smashed cartel striking back, or a new group moving in. Either way, the message to the Mexican government is clear: “We rule here. Not you.”

This is only going to get worse before it gets better.


Falcon Lake killing: Ooops! Our bad!

October 14, 2010

David Hartley and his wife Tiffany were sightseeing on Falcon Lake on the Mexican Border near McAllen, Texas, taking photos of the abandoned, flooded town of Old Guerrero. The young couple was enjoying a happy day on the lake, as allowed under Article 18 of the Water Treaty of 1944.

Then the happy day turned into a nightmare.

David and Tiffany were ambushed at Old Guerrero by members of the Zeta cartel. They fled on their jet skis, pursued by “pirates” firing automatic weapons at them. David was hit in the head and killed. Tiffany tried to recover his body, but the Zetas kept shooting and she had to leave him to save her own life. To this day, David’s body has not been recovered, the killers have not been arrested, and the lead Mexican investigator into the case was beheaded.

But, let’s not get too upset. You see, the head of the Zetas, Miguel Treviño, feels really bad about what happened, because it was all a case of mistaken identity:

A global intelligence company Wednesday said the death of U.S. citizen David Michael Hartley on Falcon Lake was a case of mistaken identity in a turf war between rival drug cartels.

Hartley, who was shot during a Sept. 30 sightseeing trip to the Mexican side of the binational reservoir, was shot by Zeta cartel enforcers because he was mistaken for a spy of the rival Gulf Cartel, according to the report by STRATFOR, and Austin-based think tank specializing in intelligence and international issues.

The report goes on to say Hartley’s body likely was destroyed as Los Zetas went into “damage control” mode and that the lower-level operatives responsible for the unauthorized strike against him now are on the Zetas’ hit list.

“The cartel boss — Miguel Treviño — is highly upset over the fact that these individuals shot and killed Mr. Hartley and it’s our understanding that the cartel boss is hunting for the killers of Mr. Hartley so he can take care of them himself,” said Fred Burton, STRATFOR’s vice president of intelligence.

Oh, well, that makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? It was just a couple of mooks who screwed up the Zeta’s criminal and terrorist business; the Hartley’s were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Miguel himself will put things right. Don’t worry, he’ll handle it.

Except David Hartley is still dead and his wife has no body to bury.

Screw you, Treviño. Screw you and all the Zetas. If it weren’t for you and your evil, this would never have happened; you are just as responsible as the idiots you hired. You are ruining lives on both sides of the border and you are no better than the barbarians we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And just like them, you deserve to die.

Addendum: An Open Letter To President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Under Article 18 of the Water Treaty of 1944 between Mexico and the United States, American citizens have the right to use both shores of the lake freely:

Public use of the water surface of lakes formed by international dams shall, when not harmful to the services rendered by such dams, be free and common to both countries, subject to the police regulations of each country in its territory, to such general regulations as may appropriately be prescribed and enforced by the Commission with the approval of the two Governments for the purpose of the application of the provisions of this Treaty, and to such regulations as may appropriately be prescribed and enforced for the same purpose by each Section of the Commission with respect to the areas and borders of such parts of those lakes as lie within its territory.  Neither Government shall use for military purposes such water surface situated within the territory of the other country except by express agreement between the two Governments.

I submit to you, sir, that, either through complicity or impotence, the Mexican government is unable or unwilling guarantee “free and common” use of its side of Falcon Lake, as it is obliged to do under the cited article. It is therefore your obligation as President of the United States to guarantee the safety of American citizens enjoying lawful use of the lake. This is not Texas’ responsibility; this is an international treaty entered into by the United States as a whole, and it your responsibility to see that its terms are met.

With respect, I request that you take steps to establish a Coast Guard station on Falcon Lake with sufficient personnel and arms to patrol the American side of the lake and come to the aid of anyone in distress who is enjoying its lawful use.

Thank you.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


When crooks no longer fear the cops

October 12, 2010

I’ve used that subject line before, about Chicago. But it’s just as fitting for Mexico, where cartel gunmen ambushed a police convoy in the state of Sinaloa, killing eight officers:

The gunmen, travelling in three or four vehicles, “began shooting with automatic weapons”, an official said.

The state is home to one of the country’s most powerful drug gangs, the Sinaloa cartel run by Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman.

(…)

The police officers were patrolling a road 80km (50 miles) form the state capital, Culiacan, when they were attacked on Monday.

The killings highlight the challenges for Mexico’s police as they and other security forces seek to take on the drug gangs.

Yeah, challenges such as “just staying alive.” Of course, when the cartels can trap even the Mexican Army in one of its bases, what a mere patrolmen supposed to do?

I think I’ll postpone that trip to Mazatlan for a while…

RELATED: President Calderon aims to deal with the serious problem of corruption in the local police forces by eliminating local departments and having the states provide local policing. Given the well-known problems of corruption at the state police-level (example), I can’t see how this is much more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Still, one can hope that it’s a start to purging corrupt cops from the local ranks.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Mexico: four bodies found hanging from bridge

October 2, 2010

The nightmare continues in Mexico, this time in Tampico, the main city of violence -wracked state of Tamaulipas:

The bodies of three men and a woman were found Thursday hanging off a bridge in the Mexican Gulf coast city of Tampico, officials said.

The bodies were discovered around 5:30 a.m. in one of the city’s most important business and financial districts.

Soldiers and marines cordoned off the area and removed the bodies from the bridge.

Scenes like this have become common in recent years in Mexico, where drug cartels have used decapitations, massacres and other acts of violence in an attempt to strike fear into rivals and the government.

The northern border state of Tamaulipas, where Tampico is located, has become one of Mexico’s most violent states due to the war between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas for control of turf and smuggling routes into the United States.

Imagine seeing that on your morning commute to work.


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