Category Archives: Mexico Watch

Beyond El Chapo and Sean Penn

kateDelCatiilloAmerican media like those in Mexico focus upon celebrities but there are deeper, more complex currents that create the fame of the celebrities. El Chapo’s wealth comes not from his 2nd Grade education but his skills in supplying the drug market in the United States. The money from drugs can corrupt American efforts as a case reported in the Texas Valley provides. From The Monitor in McAllen:

McALLEN — A former Starr County narcotics officer was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for his role in a scheme that involved stealing drugs from drug cartels.

Noel Peña, 30, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine last April. In the scheme, Peña was tipped off to the location of cocaine and then staged a law enforcement operation, the complaint states.

Peña spent seven years as a Rio Grande City police officer, including four assigned to the Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, where he worked since 2011.

HIDTA was created in 1990 to diminish drug trafficking in the U.S. Southwest border. Fourteen counties across Texas have HIDTA task forces. The one in Starr County reports to 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy website. Hector Salinas-Hinojosa, of Roma, was also charged with conspiring with Peña in the distribution operation, according to court documents. Both men pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine from April 1 to April 17.

In July, Peña and Salinas-Hinojosa agreed to plead guilty to the first count in exchange for a lighter sentence and had the second conspiracy charge dropped by prosecutors, according to court documents. Salinas-Hinojosa was also sentenced Friday and received five years in prison for his role in the conspiracy, according to court records. Federal agents arrested the duo April 18 after they said the two conspired to hand over a falsified police report to an undercover officer they thought was a cocaine trafficker, a criminal complaint states. The undercover officer told them he needed help stealing the bulk of a 22-pound load of cocaine he was holding for a drug cartel, according to the complaint.

Noel Peña

Hector Salinas-Hinojosa Jr.

Driving much of the chaos in Mexico is the extreme differential between incomes in Mexico compared to the United States. Across decades this differential remained largely unnoticed but the movement of world manufacturers to create factories in Mexico to export finished products to the United States highlights this differential. The differential is apparent in twin border cities like El Paso and Juarez.

This story from The Atlantic illustrates:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Women and men, more than 70 of them, were fired on December 9th from the factory on the Mexican side of the Mexico-Texas border where they made printers for the American company Lexmark. They say they were terminated because they were trying to form an independent union. The company says they were fired because they caused a “workplace disruption.”

Now, the workers protest by occupying a makeshift shack outside the factory, still advocating for a raise and for a union, even though they no longer have jobs. Outside, a spray-painted banner reads “Justicia A La Clase Obrera” meaning “Justice for the Working Class.” Inside, a wood stove burns as they make coffee and cook tortillas and wait for someone to hear what they have to say.

“We are hungry. Our children are hungry,” Blanca Estella Moya, one of the fired workers, tells me. “You cannot live on these wages in Juarez.”

In the Lexmark maquiladora, or factory, Moya made 112 pesos, or roughly six U.S. dollars, a day. Her shifts were nine-and-a-half hours long, her lawyer, Susana Prieto Terrazas, says. That’s about 39 cents an hour. That wage is a legal one in Mexico, but Terrazas argues it shouldn’t be.

“It’s not possible to live on these wages. It’s not human,” said Terrazas, who has dark, curly, dyed-red hair, and was wearing a plaid checkered blouse and jeans. “They are creating generations of slaves.”

It’s not just Lexmark: Workers at Mexican subsidiaries of FoxConn, Eaton, and CommScope in Juarez have all protested working conditions and compensation in recent months. Women tell of sexual harassment at the factories and of working multiple shifts to make ends meet. The devaluation of the peso has meant their money buys less than it once did. The protests come at an inopportune moment for Mexico. Many companies, especially automakers, are moving production to Mexico after deciding that the costs and logistical headaches of manufacturing in Asia are too great to bear. Mexico is trying to welcome them with open arms.

Policing and Crime Clearances

Unsolved crimes and police conduct are prominent topics in 2014. Police actions particularly in a St. Louis suburb, Ferguson, and in Staten Island of NYC and then the murders of two NYC officers has dominated much media and public attention during the Fall and Winter months. A different issue occurred in the Mexican State of Guerrero that has ignited Mexican concerns about police, gangs and government.

Austin is determining the number of officers it will need as the City grows rapidly and this article on Houston sheds some light on American and likely Mexican issues with regard to the police.

This story is a contextual item to consider as cities decide the number of officers needed including the percent of uncommitted time. Most larger American communities have subcultures and those subcultures vary in terms of education, income levels, family structure and experiences with crime. African Americans and Hispanics suffer higher crime rates with substantial correlations between victim and perpetrator characteristics. A developing difference to the past in America is the increased rates of unsolved crimes. Today the national rate is about 62 percent, thus about 6 out of 10 cases are solved. However in the 1960’s, the clearance rate (murders solved) was 90 percent. Only the rate among white victims approaches that today with about 85 percent of murders of whites solved. Urban areas and gang and drug-related as well as rates with young males are all important factors in unsolved (no-clearance) murders. Several cities (Washington, D.C., Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix) have the highest rates.

If there are adequate numbers of police, appropriately recruited, trained and supervised; if connections are made with all of the neighborhoods, clearance rates will be high as will be trust and respect of the police. Austin has rapidly growing and changing neighborhoods with many persons from countries with low clearance rates and wary of police. Much of the population of Austin is young and the country’s major route of illegal drugs passes from Nuevo Laredo along IH 35 through Austin. In most instances the drugs are moved by gangs and a constant influence in some Austin neighborhoods. Thus several factors exist that can lower the clearance rate.

The article from Houston illustrates this lowered clearance rate. Effective police work starts with community rapport and support and if that is low then these results as Houston’s follow.

A positive note is that these rates of unsolved murders pale as compared to some other countries such as Mexico that often has rates of 98 percent unsolved murders. The murders of 43 plus community college students in the Mexican state of Guerrero in September and the attendant concern of Mexican citizens along with the failure of its governments to address such issues is not a path we want to take in our country and should alert our attention to facts such as these from Houston.

HOUSTON — At least 353 killings in Houston since 2009 remain unsolved, with only about 7 percent of those cases involving white victims, the Houston Chronicle reports.

An analysis of Houston police records by the newspaper published Sunday shows that about 90 percent of Houston homicide victims are minorities.

 Houston Chronicle

December 27, 2014 Updated: December 28, 2014 1:06pm

Vera Thompkins, right, with daughter Quinta'le Ross, still has no answers in the 2009 shooting death of her son Quincy. Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Staff / © 2014 Houston Chronicle

Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Staff

Vera Thompkins, right, with daughter Quinta’le Ross, still has no answers in the 2009 shooting death of her son Quincy.

Vera Thompkins was devastated but not entirely surprised when she received the kind of news that every parent fears above all. Her son had been found dead – more precisely shot to death – his body, with multiple bullet wounds, left face down on the lawn of a vacant west Houston home.


“All I can tell you is that when it comes to homicide victims, the Houston homicide division is colorblind,” Capt. Dwayne Ready, who heads the division, said.

Chief Charles McClelland, who is black, says because of the preponderance of minority victims, it’s no coincidence that most of the unsolved cases also involve minorities.

Houston averages about 200 homicides a year, and officials said the number of closed cases in the city is about equal to the national average of 65 percent.

History shows most of the open cases likely won’t ever be solved.

Of all the Houston cases cleared in any given year, an average of 15 date back more than 12 months, the newspaper found. Like most big-city police departments, the majority are solved within 30 days, illustrating the importance of the first few days of an investigation.

Data show that 60 percent of cases involving black homicide victims over the past 51Ž2 years have been solved, while the rate for Hispanic victims is only 46 percent.

Drug-related slayings account for many of the unsolved homicides, according to Ken Peak, a criminologist who teaches at the University of Nevada-Reno.

“Clearances across the country have dropped considerably because of the gangs and the drug murders,” Peak said. “It used to be you could count on 90 percent clearance because you could trace back and identify a suspect who might have had a motive, and talk to witnesses who are willing to come forward.”

But he said that in some neighborhoods, witnesses are scared to give evidence against heavily armed gang members. Also in play is the immigration status of the witnesses, who may not be as willing to help a non-Latino officer, Peak said.

Ready said his division includes black, Hispanic and a dozen female detectives, but 58 of the 83 investigators are white.

Former Police Chief C.O. Bradford, who is now a city councilman, said that investigators may be colorblind, but that it’s more difficult for a detective who comes from a different background.

“You can’t replace what a person understands about their culture,” Bradford said. “If I don’t understand the culture, I may approach the wrong person first, or approach someone publicly who I should meet with privately.”

Mexico At A Crossroads

Mexico turned a corner in 2000 with the election of Vicente Fox. His party, the PAN, was an abrupt break with the dictatorial rule of the PRI dating back to the 1920’s and the decade after the 1920 Revolution. The election brings Mexico to a crossroads and the path the country takes will be significant not just for Mexico but for the Amerivas.


here are four economic pillars of today’s Mexican state that earn foreign currency critical to the survival of the Mexican economy and society. Today Mexico must import about 40 percent of its food, much of its technology and export earnings are critical. If those pillars fall, then the third largest economy in the Americas fails and that failure is on America’s doorstep with 110 million people, Texas’ largest import customer and the third ranking source of foreign oil for the United States.

Foremost is oil among the pillars with exports providing the most basic source of income to run the Mexican government from the President’s salary to pay of teachers, doctors, police and soldiers. Mexico’s largest fields are declining rapidly and estimates are that by mid-decade Mexico will not have sufficient production to meet internal consumption and provide exports.

Second is income from tourism. Mexican resorts on the south side of the Yucatan and north from Acapulco to Tijuana feature some of the finest beaches in the world and are readily accessible in a few hours from North America. Oil riches in the last two decades have provided the infrastructure of roads, utilities and airports to substantially increase the likelihood of tourism. Since 2005 tourism is down sharply because of fear of violence.

Third is export earnings from maquila manufacturing. Visible in this area are the large numbers of light manufacturing and assembly plants particularly in the north of Mexico that feed the American market. The advantage of Mexico is its cheaper labor perhaps as low as ten dollars a day as compared fifty dollars in the United States. The globalization of labor has meant that the Mexican workers must compete with others such as China and India where daily rates may be as low as two dollars.

Fourth is “loaned workers” that reside in the United States and send remittances back to families in Mexico. The American recession and the bust in home building and financing have sharply curtailed the availability of jobs in the States for Mexican workers.

Juarez-El Paso: The Canary in the Mine

No community in North America provides a better warning of the potential chaos that can come from a failed nation state and the market for drugs, trafficked persons and dirty money than this twin city of 1.5 million on the Mexican side and 700,000 on the American side. Since 1950 Juarez has doubled in size each decade and was one of the early innovators in the maqila concept of duty-free assembly work. The promise of jobs and the hope of a Mexico more like America drew tens of thousands for work in these factories. But with the collapse of real estate and the decline of the American economy much of the promise has vanished. Added to that misery is an open war between two cartels, La Linea-the Juarez Cartel and the Sinaloa for the control of the plaza that moves drugs and other contraband back and forth between Mexico and the United States.

In an effort to control the cartels and with recognition of a highly corrupt municipal and state police, President Calderon in 2008 sent 7,000 Federal troops to patrol the town. That did not succeed and in the last 2 years 4, 200 people have been killed with 500 in January and February. While many those killed were cartel members others were soldiers, police and importantly civilians. The war against civilians took a more ominous turn on Saturday, March 13 when three civilian employees of the American consulate were killed in the afternoon in Juarez in two events in what some saw as coordinated. Mexican authorities joined by the FBI and the DEA suspect that a home grown street and prison gang, the Aztecas may have done the contract killing for one of the cartels. On the El Paso side this group is known as the Barrio Aztecas and formed in the Texas prison system two decades ago. This alliance represents a new front in the war with the cartels where American gangs work in contract relations with the Mexican cartels. High unemployment on both sides of the border assures a steady supply of foot soldiers

The impact of this violence has recently been estimated to have forced 400,000 residents of Juarez to flee the city. Since 2005, 10,600 businesses—roughly 40% of Juárez’s businesses—have closed their doors and maybe 10,000 homes abandoned. People with means have fled to El Paso and the Juarez mayor keeps a home there. With the average household income in Juarez about one fourth of that in El Paso, there is likely a huge increase in the poverty population of the city with an attendant demand on services such as education, health and public housing. The El Paso Police Chief has grown so concerned about being outgunned by the cartels that he got support from the El Paso City Council to provide over 1,000 combat rifles to his police force.

In Juarez people have lost faith in the government and are fleeing to the United States and in some cases calling for an American takeover to protect them from the cartels. There are between ten and twenty million people in northern Mexican states that border on Texas and if Juarez-El Paso is a pattern that repeats then the waves of refugees coming in the days ahead to Texas will far exceed the experiences with any Gulf hurricane.

Four alternative scenarios are possible for Mexico.

Mexico has arrived at a crisis point. Events are deteriorating rapidly At this point all have about equal probabilities.


World economy rebounds. Oil prices rise to $200 a barrel, Mexico permits foreign investments and spins off PEMEX which modernizes engineering, refining and exploration. Corruption is curtailed and profits soar. Situation stabilizes to a significant degree.

Collapse in progress

Oil plays out in Mexico’s top producing fields, Mexico cedes control over the south and north of the country and 20 million refugees head to the northern cities and the United States. Millions will come to Texas alone. Mexico is a failed state with guerilla bands controlling much of the countryside and several of the larger low income neighborhoods in Mexico City. Staged attacks on American border cities occur with regular frequency and local police are overwhelmed facing cartels that are better organized, funded and equipped. American border cities are overwhelmed with refugees and violent gangs.

American Protectorate

Cartels use hit squads to attack American law enforcement in border cities on both sides. The United States intervenes with military forces as it has done in Haiti and creates a protectorate for the Mexican Federal government south to Monterrey, Saltillo and Durango. The traditional northern antipathy toward the “chilangos” of Mexico City grows and a process of tying the northern Mexican states closely to the American Southwest accelerates. Leftist and nationalistic mobs burn and sack the American Embassy in Mexico City.

Revival of Pax Americana

American economy revives and joint American and Mexican efforts suppress cartel activity with attendant boosts in tourism, maquilas and domestic growth. America sharply reduces illegal drug consumption. Mexico increases its historical ties with Central America and opens the region to the south to economic growth and channels American technological knowhow through all of Latin America.

Papers Relating to Mexico's Challenges from Cartel Violence