The War Next Door - México Drug Death Toll Surpasses 1,000 in 2010

The spiraling drug-related violence in México has now claimed 1,015 lives in the first 34 days of 2010. It's the fastest that dubious milestone has been achieved. In 2009, the 1000th death did not occur until February 24th, the 54th day of the year. It took 113 days to top that marker in 2008, 134 days in 2007, 181 days in 2006, and 254 in 2005. At the present rate, one Mexican is being killed every 48 minutes in drug-related violence.

Though the drug-related violence is often depicted as an internecine affair over control of a $10 billion dollar market in the United States, the number of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire is increasing rapidly and in horrific fashion. Last weekend, masked gunmen stormed a party in a working class neighborhood of cinderblock homes and killed 16 teenagers who had gathered to watch a boxing match on television. Some of the victims were shot as they tried to flee and their bodies were found near neighboring homes. The victims' ages ranged from 15 to 20.

Authorities now believe that the attack was carried out by mistake after arresting a suspect who served as the lookout during the attack. The main Juárez-based drug cartel had targeted the party because it had received reports that members of a rival trafficking group were in attendance. The orders were to kill everyone in attendance.

The violence continued on Monday when in another attack also in Ciudad Juárez, armed men burst into a bar around dawn and killed four men and a woman. Elsewhere, gunmen killed 10 people and wounded 15 in a bar in Torreón, a city in the northern state of Coahuila. The death toll continues to rise even as México has scored some victories over the drug cartels with the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the so-called Boss of Bosses, who was killed in a shoot-out along with six bodyguards that also claimed the life of a Mexican marine in mid-December and with the mid-January capture of Teodoro "El Teo" García Simental who gained notoriety for dissolving the bodies of his enemies in lye.

But vacuums at the top of drug cartels leave openings for ever-ambitious and evermore ruthless lieutenants to fill. The surge in violence we seeing is part of the climbing (killing) your way to the top in a drug cartel. El más macho gana. Still this should not be read that México is winning the war of drugs, that war cannot be won given human nature, the size of the market and the depths of poverty that exist on both sides of the Río Grande.

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Does National Geographic's "Border Wars" series sensationalize border enforcement?




From the Restore Fairness blog.

The issue of long-term and comprehensive immigration reform has gained tremendous momentum over the last month. Be it progressive bloggers, faith-based groups, immigration rights activists, the White House or Congress, the buzz is that those in power must deliver a sustainable and humane solution to the immigration problem. But the disconnect between the mainstream media and the issues of immigration continues to remain challenging.

National Geographic Channel’s new reality series, “Border Wars”, is a perfect example of how the popular media tends to misconstrue the issue of immigration through a sensationalist approach to the problem. Launched on January 10th 2010, and co-produced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “Border Wars” follows agents from CBP as they go after drug trafficking, human smuggling, and undocumented migrants trying to cross the border.

The description of the show from the National Geographic website says -

The U.S.-Mexico border stretches for 2,000 miles, over mountains, through deserts and dividing cities. Each year over one million undocumented people cross this border….U.S. dollars are the answer for many poor people struggling in Mexico, Central America, and beyond….From the skilled tracker on foot to the agent able to see in the dark with special night-vision equipment, the U.S. Border Patrol faces the challenge of controlling the desert every day. In “Border Wars”, National Geographic goes inside the world of the U.S. Border Patrol with unprecedented access to the surprising world of the southern border.

On the day that it was launched, the premiere episode received the highest ratings in the history of the channel. This is not surprising considering the conspicuous usage of words such as “war” and “terrorist” in the promos, the sensationalistic imagery, and the battle hardy agents.  A look at the title, the way that the promos for the show have been framed, and the description of the series all work to invoke fear and reinforce stereotypes associated with immigrants. More importantly, while the show frames the agents and the migrants through the simplistic binary of “good” and “bad,” it fails to provide any contextual information about the fact that despite the huge amounts of money that have been pumped into border enforcement, the success of border policies remains questionable. It also fails to address the fact that while drug trafficking remains a huge problem, a majority of those who attempt to cross the border do so in search for a job, and are far from posing a threat to anyone.

In a scathing critique of the show, Huffington Post writer John Carlos Frey, who denounces the ratings-hungry tactics of Border Wars, writes -

What the show fails to mention is that “raising the stakes” has deliberately and inhumanely forced migration over deadly terrain resulting in the death of thousands of migrants on U.S. soil. Conveniently, “Border Wars” also fails to mention that current border policy and security infrastructure is not working…The multi-billion dollar project was supposed to be completed in 2008 and now is scheduled for completion in 2016 if at all…Billions of dollars, tens of thousands of border guards and horribly, thousands of dead migrants later, the National Geographic Channel’s ratings darling, “Border Wars”, forgets to mention the border policy they are glorifying in their program is deliberately forcing people to cross deadly terrain and may not be “halting illegal immigration.”

The Equal Justice Society has taken a stand against the show, claiming that it works foster false impressions that are extremely dangerous in their potential to engender racism against immigrants and detract from the reality of the situation. In their critique of the show they say -

The promotions for this new show, as well as the show itself, have managed to recklessly imply that the U.S. and Mexico are at war, that the U.S.-Mexico border is a terrorism hot spot, that undocumented immigrants are the terrorists attempting to infiltrate this country, and that U.S. border agents are our soldiers ensuring national security and justice. These implications are false and dangerous. What “Border Wars” will not show you are fleeing immigrants being shot, immigrant children being separated from their families, and immigrants being forced to return to lives that include poverty, violence, and despair. That is the reality of the U.S.- Mexico border.

Worse still, the website allows viewers to participate in a simulated version of the show in which they can “play” at being a Border Patrol agent. For years, The National Geographic Channel has remained committed to intelligent and sensitive programming of shows that celebrate the beauty of our planet and the diversity of its cultures. When a channel such as this one gives up its integrity in favor of ratings and in the process, compromises the access to knowledge around an extremely sensitive topic, it is difficult not to be despondent about the future of television.

If you would like to contact National Geographic about “Border Wars” to express your disappointment and outrage, you can do so by clicking here.

Linking Up with the World

Here is the Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 edition of what's making news and interesting reads from around the world.  

Mexico's Year of Living Dangerously
It's the quiet war right next door. Drug violence claimed the lives of an estimated 7,600 people in Mexico in 2009 surpassing the record set in 2008 of 6,500 drug-related victims. Since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, over 15,000 have died in the spiraling violence. The violence was most acute in Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande border from El Paso, with an estimated 2,575 slayings in the city in 2009 versus an estimated 1,600 homicides in 2008.

A week before Christmas, Mexican Navy special forces killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, one of the country's most wanted drug lords, in a shootout in the well-to-do resort of Cuernavaca , notching an important victory in President Calderón's three-year-old battle against the drug cartels. Four other suspected drug traffickers died, including one who apparently killed himself rather than be arrested. One Mexican Navy officer, Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova was killed. The day after his funeral, masked gunmen broke into his mother's home of and gunned down his mother, brother, sister, and an aunt in a reprisal killing that shocked the country. 

More on Mexico's year of living dangerously at CNN and from The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

US Intelligence Believes Peter Moore Was Held in Iran
General David Petraeus, the head of US central command, confirmed the US intelligence assessment that Peter Moore, a British citizen had been working for US management consultancy Bearingpoint in Iraq when he was kidnapped in 2007 along with four bodyguards, spent at least part of his 31 months in confinement in Iran.

The British newspaper The Guardian had reported on Wednesday that evidence suggested that the five British men kidnapped in Iraq were taken in an operation led and masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The British Foreign Office has repeatedly said that there is no evidence that Peter Moore was ever held inside Iran, dismissing the report in The Guardian as "speculation". But General Petraeus flatly contradicted the official British view at a Baghdad press conference. US intelligence believes that the Britons were incarcerated in prisons run by the al-Quds force, a unit that specializes in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.

An Oil Tanker Glut Stretches 26-Miles
Bloomberg reports that "a 26-mile-long line of idled oil tankers, enough to blockade the English Channel, may signal a 25 percent slump in freight rates next year."

The ships will unload 26 percent of the crude and oil products they are storing in six months, adding to vessel supply and pushing rates for supertankers down to an average of $30,000 a day next year, compared with $40,212 now, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 15 analysts, traders and shipbrokers. That’s below what Frontline Ltd., the biggest operator of the ships, says it needs to break even.

Traders booked a record number of ships for storage this year, seeking to profit from longer-dated energy futures trading at a premium to contracts for immediate delivery, according to SSY Consultancy & Research Ltd., a unit of the world’s second- largest shipbroker. Ships taken out of that trade would return to compete for cargoes just as deliveries from shipyards’ largest-ever order book swell the global fleet.

“The tanker market has been defying gravity,” said Martin Stopford, a London-based director at Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. Stopford has covered shipping since 1971. More than half of the ships are in European waters, with the rest spread out across Asia, the U.S. and West Africa. Lined up end to end, they would stretch for about 26 miles

More beneath the fold by clicking on comments.

Esmeralda: A transgender asylum seeker speaks out against immigration detention

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. But her story is also one of hope for change. Watch the video now.

While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.

Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.

Listen to Esmeralda's voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.

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Mexico Attempts to Stem the Tide

Mexico is quietly and valiantly attempting to stem the growing influence of the drug trade. Today in the rugged state of Michoacan, federal authorities in an unprecedented anti-corruption sweep detained 10 mayors and 18 other officials for allegedly protecting one of Mexico's most violent drug cartels, the La Familia Michoacana cartel, one of three Mexican organizations that the White House recently included on its list of suspected international drug trafficking outfits. In this, the sweep suggests a close cooperation with the American authorities.

According to the New York Times, the mayors who were detained largely hailed from towns in a mountainous region where there have been numerous beheadings. Among those detained was the mayor of Uruapan, where La Familia gunmen dumped five human heads on a bar dance floor in 2006, the Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

In the past decade, Michoacan has become a haven for the production methamphetamine with federal agents recently discovering 22 methamphetamine laboratories. Mexican traffickers have become the main suppliers of methamphetamine to the United States with production largely in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Michoacan. Eighty percent of the methamphetamine consumed in the United States comes from Mexico.

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