Missing Mexican students suffered a night of ‘terror,’ investigators say

The New York Times reports: Municipal police officers encircled the bus, detonated tear gas, punctured the tires and forced the college students who were onboard to get off.

“We’re going to kill all of you,” the officers warned, according to the bus driver. A policeman approached the driver and pointed a pistol at his chest. “You, too,” the officer said.

With a military intelligence official looking on and state and federal police officers in the immediate vicinity, witnesses said, the students were put into police vehicles and taken away. They have not been seen since.

They were among the 43 students who vanished in the city of Iguala one night in September 2014 amid violent, chaotic circumstances laid bare by an international panel of investigators who have been examining the matter for more than a year. The reason for the students’ abduction remains a mystery. [Continue reading…]


How Rolling Stone handled Sean Penn’s exclusive interview with El Chapo

The New York Times reports: Several months ago, Jann Wenner, a founder of Rolling Stone magazine, received a call from the actor Sean Penn.

Mr. Penn, Mr. Wenner said in an interview on Sunday, wanted to discuss something important. But he did not want to speak openly over the phone, so the two began to speak elliptically about a potential project.

That vague conversation was the beginning of what eventually became an article, written by Mr. Penn, that rocked both Mexico and the United States when it was published Saturday night. It was an exclusive interview with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the notorious drug kingpin known as El Chapo, that was conducted while Mr. Guzmán was on the run from the authorities after an audacious escape from a Mexican prison last year.

The 10,000-word article includes accusations of cooperation between the military and Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, as well as Mr. Guzmán’s acknowledgment of his status as a drug dealer and his thoughts about the ethical implications of his business. Mr. Guzmán, whose escape from prison — his second — made him one of the most wanted fugitives in the world, was caught on Friday, before the article was published.

But after its publication, questions have been raised about the ethics for the magazine in dealing with Mr. Guzmán, a criminal being sought on charges of drug trafficking and murder, and in allowing him to approve what would ultimately be published about him. The Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, speaking Sunday on “This Week,” on ABC News, acknowledged Mr. Penn’s “constitutional right” to meet with Mr. Guzmán, but called the interview “grotesque.”

Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said he was concerned by the editorial approval offered to Mr. Guzmán. But ultimately, he said, “scoring an exclusive interview with a wanted criminal is legitimate journalism no matter who the reporter is.” [Continue reading…]


U.S. court lets border patrol agents murder Mexicans with impunity

Guinevere E. Moore writes: A United States court has all but declared open season on Mexican nationals along the US-Mexico border. Border patrol agents may shoot foreign nationals in Mexico with impunity – provided that those at whom they aim are standing within feet of US territory.

According to a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week, agents who shoot and kill people in Mexico while standing on US soil will never be held to account, except before their administrative agencies. No court will ever review these actions and the families of the victims will be left with no avenue for justice. An agent’s actions will not be governed or restrained by the constitution nor subject to review by US courts.

This isn’t a hypothetic situtation: all of this has already happened.

On 7 June, 2010, a US border patrol agent shot and killed a 15-year-old Mexican boy, Sergio Hernandez, who was standing on the Mexican side of the border. The border patrol agent who drew his firearm and shot Hernandez twice, including a fatal shot to the head, alleged that the boy had been throwing rocks.

After three days on administrative leave and an administrative review of his actions, the agent returned to his duties. No criminal charges were filed, and the United States has refused to extradite the agent to stand trial for murder in Mexico. [Continue reading…]


Mexico’s missing students draw attention to 20,000 ‘vanished’ others

The Guardian reports: They found the first grave in a thicket of spiny huisache trees clinging to the hillside outside the town of Iguala.

Under a pounding midday sun, about a dozen men and women watched as an older man plunged a pickaxe into the heavy soil. Some offered advice on where and how to dig; mostly they looked on in silence

When he turned up a human femur, Mayra Vergara turned her back and broke into silent tears. She had hoped that today she might find some clue to the fate of her brother Tomás, a taxi driver who was kidnapped in July 2012, never to be seen again. But whoever lay in the shallow grave, she said, they deserved more than this.

“Even if it isn’t my brother in there, it is still a person. A person who deserved a proper burial,” she said, her face contorted in anger and grief. “And the question is when? When are they going to do something for us?”

The disappearance and probable massacre of 43 student teachers after they were attacked and arrested by Iguala’s municipal police two months ago has focused world attention on the horror of Mexico’s drug violence – and the official corruption that allows much of it to happen.

A wave of protests triggered by the massacre put President Enrique Peña Nieto under acute political pressure.

But the incident has also lifted the lid on the open secret of Mexico’s many other disappeared: amid the drug-fuelled violence of recent years, some 20,000 people have simply vanished. [Continue reading…]


Todd Miller: The creation of a border security state

Sometimes you really do need a map if you want to know where you are.  In 2008, the ACLU issued just such a map of this country and it’s like nothing ever seen before.  Titled “the Constitution-Free Zone of the United States,” it traces our country’s borders.  Maybe you’re already tuning out.  After all, you probably don’t think you live on or near such a border.  Well, think again.  As it happens, in our brave, new, post-9/11 world, as long as we’re talking “homeland security” or “war on terror,” anything can be redefined.  So why not a border?

Our borders have, conveniently enough, long been Constitution-free zones where more or less anything goes, including warrantless searches of various sorts.  In the twenty-first century, however, the border itself, north as well as south, has not only been increasingly up-armored, but redefined as a 100-mile-wide strip around the United States (and Alaska).  In other words — check that map again — our “borders” now cover an expanse in which nearly 200 million Americans, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live.  Included are nine of the 10 largest metropolitan areas.  If you live in Florida, Maine, or Michigan, for example, no matter how far inland you may be, you are “on the border.”

Imagine that.  And then imagine what it means.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as Todd Miller points out today, is not only the largest law enforcement agency in the country you know next to nothing about, but the largest, flat and simple.  Now, its agents can act as if the Constitution has been put to bed up to 100 miles inland anywhere.  This, in turn, means — as the ACLU has written — that at new checkpoints and elsewhere in areas no American would once have considered borderlands, you can be stopped, interrogated, and searched “on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.”

Under the circumstances, it’s startling that, since the ACLU made its case back in 2008, this new American reality has gotten remarkably little attention.  So it’s lucky that TomDispatch regular Miller’s invaluable and gripping book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, has just been published.  It’s an eye opener, and it’s about time that “border” issues stopped being left to those on the old-fashioned version of the border and immigration mavens.  It’s a subject that, by definition, now concerns at least two-thirds of us in a big way. Tom Engelhardt

They are watching you
The national security state and the U.S.-Mexican border
By Todd Miller

With the agility of a seasoned Border Patrol veteran, the woman rushed after the students. She caught up with them just before they entered the exhibition hall of the eighth annual Border Security Expo, reaching out and grabbing the nearest of them by the shoulder. Slightly out of breath, she said, “You can’t go in there, give me back your badges.”

The astonished students had barely caught a glimpse of the dazzling pavilion of science-fiction-style products in that exhibition hall at the Phoenix Convention Center. There, just beyond their view, more than 100 companies, including Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Verizon, were trying to sell the latest in futuristic border policing technology to anyone with the money to buy it.

The students from Northeastern Illinois University didn’t happen to fall into that category. An earnest manager at a nearby registration table insisted that, as they were not studying “border security,” they weren’t to be admitted.  I asked him how he knew just what they were studying.  His only answer was to assure me that next year no students would be allowed in at all.

Among the wonders those students would miss was a fake barrel cactus with a hollow interior (for the southern border) and similarly hollow tree stumps (for the northern border), all capable of being outfitted with surveillance cameras. “Anything that grows or exists in nature,” Kurt Lugwisen of TimberSpy told a local Phoenix television station, “we build it.”

[Read more…]


Laura Gottesdiener: Visiting a revolution that won’t go away

Some people would tell you that a modest-sized group of mostly indigenous people in a poor Mexican state on the Guatemalan border doesn’t matter, but that would be the voice of those who don’t understand how a revolution can work and what victory can mean. The Zapatistas have been a great inspiration to movements globally since they first appeared on the world stage on New Year’s Day 1994. Everything about them was new, except that they were also the voice of the indigenous cultures of the Americas saying, only two years after the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in this hemisphere: we are not gone, we are not defeated, we have not forgotten, and we have a future.

The future they dreamed of and realized in bits and pieces is one that opens up possibilities for us all. Since they rose up, so much has changed. So much else has risen up, including the indigenous activists of the Idle No More movement in Canada, facing down the tar-sands pipeline and fracking, and the astonishing triumph of the Bolivian majority in electing an indigenous leader and defeating so many neoliberal schemes to privatize and control their country’s resources. The Zapatista revolution has helped inspire many voices in this hemisphere telling other stories and demanding other futures than the one that Wall Street and greed laid down as inevitable.

Most of all, it’s the Zapatistas who taught us that revolutions are first of all ideas and not violence.  It’s no mistake that the great anthology of the writings of their principal scribe and spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, is titled Our Word Is Our Weapon. The Zapatistas never sought to take state power or overthrow the Mexican government, but to take a stand against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and be free of the brutal domination of the local authorities and military in Chiapas. In that latter goal they have been imperfectly but astonishingly successful for these 20 years since they briefly occupied that state’s cultural capital, San Cristobal de Las Casas, and set afire the imaginations of countless watchers in Mexico and all over the world.

They made feminism central to their revolt. They questioned neoliberalism and the nation-state. They made humor and political theater part of their toolkit, while Marcos’s proclamations, manifestos, and other writings opened up a new political language that was poetic, playful, and a genuine step beyond the stale rhetoric of much of the left. I always thought Marcos deserved the Nobel Prize in literature, but at least Lannan Foundation supported him.

Most of the uprisings in North America and many in Europe over the past 20 years, from Reclaim the Streets in the mid-1990s to Occupy Wall Street in 2011, turned to the Zapatistas for inspiration and ideas. There is another history of the last 20 years, in which the devastating NAFTA goes into effect on January 1, 1994, but at almost the same moment resistance to corporate globalization rises, enough to derail the planned Free Trade Area of the Americas altogether and, starting in 1999, to throw some very large rocks under the tank treads of the World Trade Organization.

We — the we who want an egalitarian and ecologically sound future — have lost much in the past two decades, but we have won much, too.  Without the struggles and voices and victories of the Zapatistas and other groups often seen as “marginal,” the present would be that much uglier, that much more destructive. And around the world, these forces are growing, not shrinking. They are hardly the dominant media’s dominant story, but they represent a genuine counterforce to that story and the power it serves.  They are underground, in the streets, and in the mountains — and as Laura Gottesdiener reports so beautifully today, in the Lacandon jungle, too. TomDispatch regular Gottesdiener, who was part of Occupy Wall Street and last year published a powerful book on the foreclosure crisis’s impact on African-Americans, is in some sense a daughter of that revolution and in another is exactly the right voice to see why, 20 years on, the Zapatistas matter to all of us.

This week I have been looking at the viciousness of many anonymous trolls, petty bullies, and liars in the online world, which is easy to mistake for the whole world. There are other worlds in our world, the worlds of Desmond Tutu standing up for the rights of gays and lesbians, of the quiet toil of organizations like the Catholic Worker, of the Zapatista’s emphasis on “dignidad,” or dignity, of the human rights activists and caregivers and heroes who do the work that matters, of the great climate activists and the scientists to whom accuracy and truth matter deeply, of the current generation of fierce, funny feminists moving us all forward.

The Zapatistas have often spoken of a “world of many worlds” or said, “the world we want is one where many worlds fit.” Even to remember that they are out there, great experimentalists and improvisationalists in social and political possibility, is to feel better about this world.  They remind us just how large and varied our planet still is, how many worlds it contains. The Zapatistas have given our world so much, and in her report from the Lacandon jungle, Laura Gottesdiener gives us the exhilarating pleasure of being inside their world by being inside her beautiful words. Rebecca Solnit

Now you see me
A glimpse into the Zapatista movement, two decades later
By Laura Gottesdiener

Growing up in a well-heeled suburban community, I absorbed our society’s distaste for dissent long before I was old enough to grasp just what was being dismissed. My understanding of so many people and concepts was tainted by this environment and the education that went with it: Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and Oscar Wilde and Noam Chomsky and Venezuela and Malcolm X and the Service Employees International Union and so, so many more. All of this is why, until recently, I knew almost nothing about the Mexican Zapatista movement except that the excessive number of “a”s looked vaguely suspicious to me. It’s also why I felt compelled to travel thousands of miles to a Zapatista “organizing school” in the heart of the Lacandon jungle in southeastern Mexico to try to sort out just what I’d been missing all these years.

[Read more…]


NSA hacked Mexican president’s email

Der Spiegel reports: The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president’s public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system. The news is likely to hurt ties between the US and Mexico.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions. Called “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.

That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished. A report classified as “top secret” said: “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”

According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.” The president’s office, the NSA reported, was now “a lucrative source.” [Continue reading…]


Video: The Mexican media scandal


Four Mexican journalists murdered in last week

The Guardian reports: Two press photographers have been found dead in a canal in the Mexican port city of Veracruz alongside a former cameraman and a fourth body, less than a week after another journalist based in the city was killed in her home.

The state attorney general’s office issued an initial statement identifying photographers Guillermo Luna and Gabriel Huge as among the victims. Both were reportedly working for a local website called Veracruz News and had been missing since the day before.

State authorities later said Esteban Rodríguez, a former cameraman, was also among the dead as well as a woman named as Irasema Becerra, said to be Luna’s girlfriend.

It followed the discovery of Regina Martinez, the Veracruz correspondent of the weekly national news magazine Proceso strangled to death in her home last weekend.

The latest murders underline Veracruz’s current status as the most extreme focal point for attacks against journalists which have become commonplace in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 and extreme violence exploded across the country.

Of the nine Mexican journalists killed last year probably because of their work, four were from Veracruz.

Ricardo Gonzalez, of the press freedom activist group Article 19, said journalists in Veracruz are being targeted because of their position “as witnesses to the decomposition of the state.”


The drug war’s impact on Mexico


Bloggers vow to continue fight against organized crime in Mexico after fourth person killed for online comments

“Remember the bloggers vs. journalists debate?” tweets Jay Rosen “The journalists had to give up and now the bloggers are getting murdered.”

Journalism in the Americas: For the fourth time in two months in the city of Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, a body has been found with a message threatening users of social networks, reported GlobalPost and La Jornada.

The decapitated man was found Wednesday, Nov. 9, with a sign identifying him as “El Rascatripas” (or “Belly Scratcher”), the administrator for the Nuevo Laredo en Vivo website, which allows residents to denounce organized crime in the border city, according to the Associated Press. Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, however, said the body in fact did not belong to any of the site’s moderators.

The decapitated man showed signs of torture, reported Voz de América. His body was found at the Monumento a Colón, the same place where the body of journalist María Elizabeth Macías, alias “La Nena de Laredo” (or Laredo Girl), was found in September after denouncing drug crimes on the Nuevo Laredo En Vivo site.

At the beginning of September the bodies of two youths hanging from a bridge in the same city also were found with similar warnings against using online sites to report on organized crime and drug trafficking. The deaths of the youths and of Macías were attributed to the Mexican cartel of Los Zetas.

The Nuevo Laredo en Vivo website remains online, highlighting a comment Laredo Girl made just days before she was killed: “Yesterday the SEDENA (Secretary of National Defense) rescued six hostages, arresting one of the criminals. We continue denouncing, thanks to your reports.”

The website, created more than a year ago, warns visitors to change their user names but to continue reporting on and denouncing crime in the area.

Ovemex, who writes the blog Borderland Beat, said he was working to create a Twitter manifesto calling for people to unite against crime, and offering tips on how to report safely and anonymously. Ovemex told MSNBC, “These deaths will not be in vain…They cannot kill us all!”

News media in this border city have stopped reporting on the actions and atrocities of organized crime because of the threats against journalists. As such, citizens have turned to social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to inform themselves and to denounce crimes. “For Zetas, and the other cartels, the less people talk about them, the better,” columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Don’t be afraid to report,” Nuevo Laredo en Vivo user Anon4024 wrote Nov 9. “This is how we make a difference in this city.”

See this Knight Center map for more information about attacks on journalists in Mexico.