Monday, May 7, 2012

Zetas, Rivals Leave 23 Bodies as Warning in Nuevo Laredo

In the latest outbreak of violence in the troubled Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, which sits on the US border, 23 bodies were found on Friday accompanied by notes indicating that they were victims of a war between the Zetas, the Sinaloa and the Gulf Cartel.

Nine bodies with signs of torture were found hanging from a bridge on Friday, reports the Washington Post. They were left with a banner suggesting that they were members of the Gulf, warning “this is how I’m going to finish off every [expletive] you send to heat up the plaza,” reports Borderland Beat (warning - graphic images of the bodies). It referenced someone called “El Metro 4” who “asked Comandante Lazcano for mercy,” in a reference to Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano, also known as “Z-3.” The banner appeared to be a threat from the Zetas to the Gulf Cartel warning the Gulf not to send operatives to cause trouble in Nuevo Laredo. The practice of carrying out killings in a territory -- plaza -- controlled by a rival group in order to draw the federal forces into the area, is known as “heating up the plaza.”

Fourteen decapitated bodies were found hours later in a minivan in the city, and their heads were found in cooler boxes in another van parked outside of city hall. Borderland Beat says that a message left with the bodies was a threat against the mayor from Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” reading;
You want credibility that I am in NL?  What will it take, bringing the heads of Zeta leaders?  Or yours?
It also read:
Keep making Z-40's case to say and deny that we already operate in Nuevo Laredo, just so that Lazcano will not scold this illiterate car washer.
Borderland Beat says that the mayor recently declared in a press conference that the Sinaloa Cartel does not operate in the state of Nuevo Laredo. "Z-40" is the alias ofMiguel Angel Treviño, the Zetas’ second-in-command.

InSight Crime reported in March that the dead bodies of Zetas members had begun appearing around the city, in a sign that the Sinaloa Cartel was moving into the Zetas-controlled territory and making its presence felt. The two have become the most powerful criminal organizations in Mexico, after the Zetas split from the Gulf Cartel in 2010. Since then, the Sinaloa has formed an alliance of convenience with its old enemies in the Gulf to fight against the Zetas.

The LA Times notes that the battle between the Sinaloa and the Zetas is also responsible for the recent violence in Veracruz, where at least four journalists have been found murdered in recent days.

Colombia’s Semana magazine has a report on the violence against journalists in Nuevo Laredo.

News Briefs
  • Colombia’s FARC rebel group has confirmed that they are holding journalist Romeo Langlois as a prisoner of war, and said that they will release him soon. In a video recorded by journalist Karl Penhaul and released Sunday, a rebel speaking directly to the camera repeated much of the information given in phone calls to journalists last week, saying that they had Langlois and that he was in good health. Later on Sunday, a message sent from the FARC’s Twitter account said that "the prisoner of war, French journalist Romeo Langlois, will soon be freed safe and sound," reports the BBC. The Colombian Army has saidit will suspend operations in the area where Langlois is being held if necessary for his release.
    InSight Crime looks at the question of whether Langlois can be considered as a prisoner of war, as the FARC claim. It quotes the Committee to Protect Journalists’ guidelines, which say that
    “A credentialed, uniformed journalist legally becomes a part of the military unit with whom he or she is traveling, according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Embedded journalists may be fired upon legally by opposing forces as part of the unit, and the individual journalist may later be detained legally and held for the duration of hostilities as a prisoner of war.” InSight Crime says that this means Langlois’ situation is ambiguous, reflecting the fact that it is not clear how far traditional terminology can be applied to modern war zones.
  • Mexico’s four leading presidential candidates took part in a debate Sunday ahead of the July 1 election, which the WSJ says is unlikely to derail front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto. The newspaper notes that more significant than the mudslinging may be the fact that three of the candidates said they wanted to open Mexico's energy sector to private investment.
    The WSJ also has a look at the campaign of Josefina Vazquez Mota, presidential candidate of the ruling PAN party. It notes that, like the opposition candidates, she is campaigning on the promise of a change to the status quo, for a public tired of the spiralling drug violence and slow economic growth that have characterized the time in power of President Felipe Calderon. Vasquez is trailing in the polls behind Peña Nieto, candidate of the PRI which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, in what one analyst told the paper is a manifestation of "fatigue of the PAN's last 12 years and a short memory for the PRI's seven decades." She has not rejected Calderon’s assault on the drug cartels, but says that she would focus on going after money launderers, and form a militarized police force.
  • A fire in a drug rehabilitation center in Lima killed 14 people, who could not escape because the doors were locked and the windows barred, reports the BBCLa Republica reports that, according to police, the fire was caused by a brawl between inmates, who set mattresses on fire. Five people survived, including the director of the center and four inmates -- only one of whom was in the building where the fire broke out. He is being held in police custody. This follows a fire at another such center in Lima in January which killed 29. After that fire, media reports said that there were 260 institutions in the country calling themselves treatment centers, only 20 percent of which were licensed. In setting out it drug policy earlier this year, Peru’s government listed improving rehabilitation facilities as a top priority.
  • A woman identified as the sex worker at the center of the scandal over Secret Service agents using prostitutes in Cartagena has given an interview to Colombia’s W Radio, reports the AP. Dania Londoño Suarez made comments that could be highly embarrassing for the service, saying that the men involved in the case were “idiots,” and that she could have easily gone through her client’s wallet and documents while he was asleep. Londoño said that the US authorities had not contacted her, causing US congressman Peter King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, to say that he was concerned that investigators had not been able to locate the women involved when the media had seemingly done so with no trouble. She said she had fled the country, fearing retaliation from the agents, and that she regretted making a fuss, as the events had put her name into the gutter. Londoño has made a deal to pose for Playboy magazine, reports Cartagena’s El Universal.
  • The NYT reports on the US military’s anti-drug operations in Honduras. The force operates under strict rules; they “cannot fire except in self-defense, and they are barred from responding with force even if Honduran or Drug Enforcement Administration agents are in danger.” With the support of the Honduran government, they have constructed three bases in remote areas of the country, allowing them to respond quickly to intercept drug traffickers. The report notes that the US military operations in the country take place in the shadow of the history of US intervention in the region, including using Honduras as a base to support the Contras in Nicaragua.
    With slideshow of the military bases, as well as police operations in Tegucigalpa.
  • The NYT takes a humorous look at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s TV show “Alo Presidente!”, commenting that “the show’s cheap production values and quirky theme music bring to mind nothing so much as an old-school cable-access TV show.” It goes some way towards explaining the president’s popularity and the longevity of the show, however, quoting one historian who says that “Alo Presidente!” allows ordinary Venezuelans, who have spent much of their life being ignored, to have the sensation of contact with power.
  • The NYT reports on Brazil’s rush to build hydroelectric dams in the Amazon to supply the nation’s rapidly growing demand for electricity. These projects are facing problems due to unrest and discontent amongst workers over salaries and living conditions, with one strike last month on the banks of the Madeira River ending with arson, looting and elite troops being sent in. They are also opposed by environmental groups, who cite displacement of local people and the destruction of the rainforest.
  • In Caracas, a severely overcrowded prison which has been the scene of recent reported escape attempts and gunfire is set to be closed down, according to Prison Minister Iris Varela. She told press that half the prison’s inmates had been transferred, and that the institution would be closed as it did not meet required standards. Prison rights activist Carlos Nieto said before the transfers that it had been built for 350 prisoners but housed about 2,600, reports the AP.
  • After Bolivian President Evo Morales nationalized a power company owned by Spain’s REE, the Economist has a piece noting that, unlike Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez expropriating YPF, Morales tried to minimize the fallout from the move. It says that the nationalization offers him a “brief respite” from his domestic troubles. Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ says that Morales is having trouble governing, with his approval rating down to 30 percent, as Bolivians reject what she calls his heavy-handed tactics. She notes the massive protests against his attempt to raise gas prices in December 2010 and against his plans to build a highway through the TIPNIS indigenous reserve. For O’Grady, left-wing defenders of Morales who cite his indigenous heritage as a plus miss the fact that “indigenous Bolivians are no more interested in being tyrannized by someone who looks like them than by someone who doesn't.”
  • The LA Times reports on a migrant shelter north of Mexico City, where mostly Central American migrants are warned of the risks of pressing onward by volunteers.
  • The Economist reports on the “Animal Game,” an illegal gambling racket invented in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century, which has become intertwined with organized crime.
  • Eleven of Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla’s 23 cabinet ministers have lost their jobs in the last two years, the latest being Transport Minister Francisco Jimenez who was asked to resign over corruption allegations last week, reports Inside Costa Rica.