Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reflections on sleaze

Since writing my book and basically wrapping up my reporting on the drug war, I've been doing some reflecting on what I witnessed and have tried to understand.

"Democracy cannot endure if the roots of its system have rotted," Alejandro Junco de la Vega, chairman and chief executive of Mexico's Grupo Reforma, said at a summit on violence against journalists today.

Indeed. Over the past three years, I've encountered some of those rotten elements. Sometimes I've sympathized with those involved. After one visit to the prison in Culiacan and talking to low-level narcos, I found myself quite saddened by their plight. One inmate I had talked to was clearly intent on making a better life for himself once outside; but deep inside, he knew he wouldn't have a hope in hell. You could tell by the look on his face, the anguish he expressed as he talked of going straight, of betraying his drug bosses, of the reality of his chances. He knew he wouldn't be able to do the right thing; he had no real choice in the matter.

I witnessed a similar sentiment from a cop in Juarez. We were talking in a near whisper in the police station (which at the time was controlled by the army) and he mentioned how he had worked for the narcos. He would again once the army was gone, he said. He looked at me without expression. He had no choice, his fate was chosen. They know where my family lives and kids go to school, he whispered. He knew on which side he would end up, and he had just as little real choice as the narcos I had talked to in prison.

I've talked to dozens of Mexican officials in the past few years, and most of them accept the reality of the game they're pawns in. Some are really good cops, whose stories I believe. Others are not, but they are controlled by powers far stronger than they. Most often, their choice is money or death. I can sympathize with their plight, even though I can't condone it.

Then there are the officials who act in a blinding state of total hypocrisy. The Noe Ramirez's of this world, who pledge to crack down on drug trafficking and then are found to have taken $450,000 from the narcos themselves. I simply don't understand the level of hypocrisy in the brains of these sorts of people. I'm no saint or preacher myself, but these guys purport to be exactly that, crusaders for justice. And then they work with the narcos? It's beyond wrong. It's not the average guy breaking his own rules in a moment of weakness or temptation, it's the powerful, respected crusader breaking everything he stands for.

And they exist everywhere, not just Mexico.

They range from the small – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Michael Gilliland, for instance, knowingly waved cars full of illegal aliens through his border entry point – to the bigger – customs man Richard Padilla Cramer, who pleaded guilty on trafficking and corruption charges but later cut a deal for obstruction of justice – to the top dogs...

I recently had the opportunity to appear on CNN International in New York, and while getting prepared beforehand, found myself sitting next to Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York and attorney general famous for fighting organized crime. Oh, and he's also the guy who solicited a prostitute from a ring and took her across state lines, breaking a law he had so fervently sought to enforce.

We had a quick chat about Mexico, and organized crime there. I listened to his opinions, because, well, he does know a lot about organized crime and he's an extremely sharp guy. But throughout the chat I felt myself moving away from him, shifting uneasily. I couldn't understand this man. He was a crusader, a good guy, and had a moment of weakness. I get that. We all have moments of weakness. But most of us don't break every rule we stand for when having them. Most of us get drunk, or do something else that is wrong or stupid. People like Eliot Spitzer are not just "the average guy," they're supposed to be the man fighting against the bad things so that the weaknesses of "the guy" are not exploited in life.

Just my irks me sometimes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tijuana's top cop

Well, that didn't take long, did it. Tijuana's tough, no nonsense police chief Julian Leyzaola has been replaced by the mayor-elect. It was to be expected – it's happened with previous cops in Tijuana who have made headway, and Leyzaola said himself he thought he'd be removed. (Story in title of post)
One silver lining in all of this: Leyzaola's deputy will take over, and he was recommended for the job by Leyzaola himself. Whether allegations of brutality, torture and the like continue remains to be seen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The ni-ni's

Time magazine's Ioan Grillo has a very good piece about the drug war's 'lost generation' (link in title of the post). This is a timely and important piece, because it helps explain that the drug war is about much more than just drugs.

Grillo writes: "At the heart of the problem is youth unemployment, which leads many young people to turn to organized crime for career opportunities. Mexican media talk about a new category known as los ni nis or "neither nors" — young people who neither work nor study. There is a heated debate here about how many ni nis there are. Mexico's National University claims there are several million, although the government retorts that there are only a few hundred thousand."

Indeed, ever since I started looking at the drug war I've been increasingly curious about the societal war going on. Forget about the Chapos, the hitmen and the bloodshed, and look at what's going on in society. On one front, you have a generational battle: the older Mexican generation was one which ushered in democracy 10 years ago, which founded the PRD in 1988, which is pushing for education reform, which is part of a struggling-but-growing middle class. They're fighting to better their future, to get their kids in line, to get their kids to believe in their own future and to get those kids to study and stay out of trouble. Generation Y may be a handful in the workplace in the United States, but in Mexico, the concern is that they're turning into the next narco-generation.

Constantly lost in the mix in coverage of the drug war is just how dire the education system in Mexico is. With their teachers constantly on strike (not to mention woefully underqualified, by many counts), these kids are barely getting any education. Add to that the tragic fact that many kids believe they know where an education will get them (it's all about connections, not degrees, after all) and you have the potential for a completely lost, apathetic generation of Mexican kids. A lost generation that unsurprisingly is turning to the drug bosses.

Calderon promised massive job creation, that hasn't really happened in part because of the economic crisis (I understand the government is doing a decent job of creating them this year); his administration really needs to make education a priority for the rest of his term. No more of these teacher's strikes, please. If the teachers won't go to school, how can anyone expect the kids to?


Above is a link to an interview I did with Patrick Corcoran, of ganchoblog fame. I'm increasingly liking the blog video format; there's something about it that allows interviews like this (with a journalist, rather than some celeb or whatnot) to be more informal and therefore, viewer-friendly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

tony tormenta

A US source confirms that tony tormenta, osiel cardenas guillen's brother, has been killed. Next stop: el lazca.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Church and narcos

Sorry it's been a while since I blogged, I've been busy with other projects. AP has an interesting story on the narco-church connections (link in title of post). The recent admissions by the archdiocese spokesman are refreshing; in the past the Church in Mexico has been more prone to saying stupid things like: "The mayor of Mexico City is worse for the country than the narcos."