Nov 18, 2011

Week's Top Articles on Mexico: November, 11-17, 2011

The Drug War and Mexico Politics are inextricably intertwined. How much they are tied together was especially clear this week. Francisco Blake Mora, Secretary of the Interior, was killed, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash near Mexico City. He was considered the number two man in the Calderón administration and the point man in its war on the Mexican cartels. 

While the crash investigation, using U.S. and European air crash experts, points to weather and possible equipment malfunction or pilot error, many Mexicans believe it was a drug cartel attack. We provide three articles on this tragic event and its interpretation, including a moment by moment review of the helicopter's flight path.

The drug war plays a major role in the Mexico presidential campaign as it heats up. Felipe Calderón´s sister, Luisa Maria Calderón, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate for governor in the Calderóns' home state of Michoacán, was defeated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate. This was taken as another sign of growing opposition to the president's drug war and that PRI, which ruled Mexico for 70 years with an iron hand, will re-take the presidency next July. 

As for the drug war itself, a story from Texas details a money laundering case that illustrates how dollars from the drug trade are processed in the bi-national money market and used in apparently legitimate cross-border commercial transactions. Finally, the Stratfor intelligence group provides a detailed analysis of the geographic, economic and strategic factors in the drug war that are turning Central America into a major battle ground. 

Immigration news this week focused on two Obama administration policies: one, the rapid expansion of an initiative, called IMAGE, to enroll businesses in the E-Verify program and two, the problematic implementation of a review of 300,000 deportation cases to separate out convicted criminals from those who have done no harm and the govenment's new attempt to address those problems-

Border news focuses on the increasing use of unmanned drones to patrol the border. One article describes the technology and ostensible benefits of using Predator drones on the border. It also points out, indirectly, some of the politics around their use. U.S. Congressmen want more of them. The Border Patrol agents union wants the money spent instead on "more boots on the ground."  In a second article, the CIP TransBorder Project takes a look at the politics behind this push to use dones on the border.

Drug War and Mexico Politics 

Mexico Helicopter Crash Caused by Foggy Weather, Government Says 
Bloomberg: Nov. 13, "A Mexican helicopter crash that killed the country’s second-highest official and seven other people was caused by foggy weather and not sabotage, the government said. The helicopter, which was carrying Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora from Mexico City to ... the central city of Cuernavaca on Nov. 11, crashed in one piece.

... Radar readings show the pilot didn’t lose control of the chopper, a government spokesman said. The helicopter crashed while flying in a straight line and in clouds, Perez-Jacome said, “There is no evidence of damage from explosion or fire.”" read more

Deadly Mexico Plane Crash Sparks Conspiracy Theories 
InSight Crime: Nov. 14, "The death of ...(Mexico's Interior Minister,) Jose Francisco Blake Mora, ... has triggered a round of feverish speculation about the causes of the crash. Officials, who invited international experts to participate ... said that the pilots never lost control of the aircraft, suggesting that they flew into a hillside as a result of a impromptu change of the flight plan, which, in turn, was due to cloudy conditions.

Such declarations do little to calm the storm of suspicions of foul play that erupted immediately after the news hit the airways. According to the most prominent conspiracy theory, one criminal group or another sought to send a message to Calderon by targeting one of his closes collaborators." read more

Tracing the Last Moments of Mexican Helicopter Crash 
Horizon: Mexico: Nov. 16, "The death of ... (Internal Security Minister Francisco Blake Mora) presents a riddle, as details emerge of the eerie series of events that led to his helicopter flying straight into the mountainside, killing everyone on board.... 

Mexico City lies cupped in a mountainous bowl. The helicopter’s planned route, to Cuernavaca just south, had to climb past a big triple peak called the Three Marias, up in the clouds ... One solution to the Tres Marias problem, with its fog on the heights, would be to navigate along a nearby series of basins ... just east of the planned route.... It was a logical course -- if had it been followed." read more

Ex-ruling party wins violence-scarred Mexican race, defeating president’s sister in Michoacan 
The Washington Post: Nov. 14, "MORELIA, Mexico — Mexico’s former ruling party won a major governor’s race on Monday after a campaign marred by drug-cartel threats and violence, defeating President Felipe Calderon’s sister ... Fausto Vallejo Figueroa of the Institutional Revolutionary Party was nearly 3 percentage points ahead of Luisa Maria Calderon in the western state of Michoacan.

... The win for Vallejo’s party,... the PRI, is a major step toward regaining the presidency it lost in 2000 after governing Mexico for 71 years. Most polls show the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto, former governor of Mexico State, leading the presidential race." read more

Money-Laundering Case Illustrates Cross-border Money Flow Nov. 13, "... when federal agents raided the stately home of a (Laredo, Texas) perfume salesman in January, (it revealed how the drug trade) is cloaked in the seemingly routine business transactions of the border economy. ... Vikram Datta, a perfume salesman, ... was accused (of being) a major player in the Black Market Peso Exchange, a decades-old system of laundering drug money and reinvesting it back into the economy.

...When drugs are sold in the United States, the proceeds, in American dollars, are smuggled back into Mexico ..., where they are exchanged for pesos at a discounted rate. The peso-exchange businesses then use the dollars to buy products in the United States — in Mr. Datta’s case, millions of dollars worth of perfume — and have them shipped to purchasers in Mexico or Colombia." read more

The Mexican Drug Cartel Threat in Central America
STRATFOR: Nov. 17, "Central America ...  is experiencing increasing levels of crime and the prospect of heightened competition from Mexican drug cartels in its territory. The institutional weakness and security vulnerabilities of Guatemala and other Central American states mean that combating these trends will require significant help, most likely from the United States.

... direct (U.S.) involvement would be costly both in money and political capital. Absent significant U.S. help, the current trend of increased Mexican cartel influence and violence in Central America will only worsen." read more


Immigration authorities push compliance program for businesses as enforcement actions rise 
The Washington Post: Nov. 13, "In the past few months, the roster of companies in a revamped, voluntary immigration enforcement program has expanded by nearly one-fifth as the Obama administration steps up employer audits.

... The acronym, IMAGE, stands for ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. Officials say it can reduce the employment of illegal immigrants and the use of fake identification documents. ... To participate, employers must meet several requirements, (including) enrolling in the federal E-Verify program" read more

President Obama’s Policy on Deportation Is Unevenly Applied Nov. 13, "A new Obama administration policy to avoid deportations of illegal immigrants who are not criminals has been applied very unevenly across the country and has led to vast confusion both in immigrant communities and among agents charged with carrying it out.

Since June, when the policy was unveiled, frustrated lawyers and advocates have seen a steady march of deportations of immigrants with no criminal record and with extensive roots in the United States, who seemed to fit the administration’s profile of those who should be allowed to remain.”" read more

Deportation Cases of Illegal Immigrants to Be Reviewed Nov. 17, "The Department of Homeland Security will begin a review on Thursday of all deportation cases before the immigration courts and start a nationwide training program for enforcement agents and prosecuting lawyers, with the goal of speeding deportations of convicted criminals and halting those of many illegal immigrants with no criminal record.

... Taken together, the review and the training, which will instruct immigration agents on closing deportations that fall outside the department’s priorities, are designed to bring sweeping changes to the immigration courts and to enforcement strategies of field agents nationwide." read more


US Employs More Drones To Watch Border 
AP/Fox News Latino: Nov. 13, "The Predator program ... is playing a larger role in the nation's border security as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection adds to its force of unmanned aircraft. The agency received its second Predator B aircraft in Texas last month and will add its sixth overall on the Southwest border when another is based in Arizona by the end of the year.

... A Predator system — the plane, sensors, control consoles and antennas — costs $18.5 million. ... U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who pushed to add the second unmanned aircraft in Texas and eventually hopes to have six based here, called them an "extremely important" part of the border enforcement mix of agents and technology." read more

Congressional Drones 
Border Lines: Nov. 17, "Drones play an increasing role in foreign wars, on the border, and in Congress. At the Unmanned Systems Fair on Sept. 21 the latest drone technology was on display. The drone fair, which took place in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building, also displayed the easy mix of government and business. Also on exhibit was the kind of bipartisan unity often seen when Democrats and Republicans rally around security and federal pork."  read more

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