Monday, July 16, 2012

Attack on Christian Campers Shocks Mexico

In an attack that may further contribute to the public perception that Mexico’s criminal violence is growing out of control, authorities say an armed gang of about 12 people attacked a Christian youth group camping just outside of Mexico City. 

The attack appears to be drawing attention partly because of the amount of sexual violence involved: at least seven girls were reportedly raped during the assault.

The group of 90 campers, the majority of them between 13 and 19 years old, were sponsored by a Church group, and were camping during the weekend as part of a spiritual retreat.

According to the AP, the attack lasted four hours, and the armed group left after stealing two vehicles and several other items from the campers.

Authorities ranging from the governor of Mexico state to the Church to governing party the National Action Party (PAN) have issued strong condemnations of the attack. According to the state attorney general, investigators have already identified those responsible for the sexual attacks.

That the victims formed part of a Christian community may partly explain why the case is generating so much outrage. While President Felipe Calderon’s administration has repeatedly emphasized that most of Mexico’s crime wave involves inter-gang warfare, incidents such as this more recent attack contradict such assertions, and contribute to the perception that Mexico’s insecurity is greatly affecting innocent civilians.

The attack’s proximity to Mexico City may also heighten the sense that delinquency is now affecting city residents’ ability to lead lives relatively untouched by violent crime. Mexico City has so far escaped the levels of violence seen elsewhere in the country, including the second and third-largest cities, Monterrey and Guadalajara. But incidents such as the Christian youth group assault rupture the impression that Mexico City is the exception to violent, shocking crime. Similarly to the shooting in Mexico City’s international airport last month, when violent incidents take place in the capital, they usually generate far more attention and concern than those registered in Mexico’s peripheral areas.

The attacks against the campers also serve as a reminder that while the Calderon administration has emphasized the government’s fight against organized crime, Mexico still has a serious street crime problem. For now, it appears that the primary motive behind the attack was theft. This type of crime -- along with car jackings, home break-ins, and muggings -- may arguably affect ordinary citizen security more on a day-to-day basis than activities related to the drug trafficking cartels.

The attack against the campers also raises the question over where to invest resources as Mexico struggles to improve security. Many Mexico media sources have questioned why the police meant to patrol the park where the assault took place were not on duty at the time. One likely result will be a promise to increase police presence in the campground. But capturing those responsible and giving them an efficient and fair trial will likely be just as much of a deterrent than merely increasing security force presence in a given area.

News Briefs
  • In Guatemala, the former army colonel sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi has been released for good behavior, after serving 11 years of his sentence, reports ElPeriodico. This was the former colonel’s second request for early release from prison. 
  • In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, President Felipe Calderon said that Mexico’s increased drug violence “is not something generated by government action.” He added that violent homicides have decreased between 15 to 20 percent during the first half of 2012, compared to the same period last year. “Now the violence related to criminal rivalry is decreasing,” he asserted.
  • Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer interviews President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who declares that he would prosecute any member of his own party found guilty of electoral fraud. Doing so could help boost Peña Nieto’s credibility as a leader, as well as his democratic credentials, Oppenheimer argues. Mexican prosecutors recently said they raided a warehouse in a PRI-controlled town, filled with farm equipment that may have been used to buy votes. Discontent over the July 1 presidential election results also saw mass protests in Mexico City this Saturday, drawing some 5,000 people, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The AP visits a peasants’ collective in Bajo Aguan valley, the heart of Honduras’ land conflict, where landless farmers have seized thousands of acres from palm tree agribusiness Corporacion Dinant. The AP reports from La Confianza, a city developed by small-scale farmers from the land seized from Dinant. The rustic city is well-organized and has a health center, town hall, a school and store, although it has no electricity or running water. About 63 people, mostly farmers, have died in land-related conflict in the Bajo Aguan over the past three years. The violent conflict has led some farm workers to carry weapons and practice marksmanship in La Confianza.  "We'll defend this land with all the means at our disposal," one community leader told the AP.
  • El Salvador President Mauricio Funes said that murders have dropped 52 percent since March, when street gangs the Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) and Barrio 18 agreed to a truce negotiated by the Church.
  • Federal Police say they have arrested one of the police agents involved in the Mexico City airport shoot-out, reports Proceso. Two other police agents, who reportedly fired on federal forces, killing three police, during an airport raid last month, remain at large. 
  • An outgoing US diplomatic agent from the La Paz embassy told Bolivian news organization Pagina Siete that Bolivia now has fewer coca plantations, but is producing more cocaine because more traffickers are using sophisticated methods, pioneered by Colombian drug producers, to more efficiently extract the cocaine alkaloid from the coca leaf. 
  • The New York Times profiles Mexican priest Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, one of the first to construct shelters for Central American and Mexican migrants in southern Oaxaca state. Solalinde has since emerged as one of the loudest voices demanding government action to protect the migrants from organized crime and corrupt authorities. The article notes that the priest has received frequent death threats for his advocacy work.
  • According to Peru’s national human rights watchdog, the crowd control tactics used by Peru’s riot police are the most aggressive in Latin America. This has resulted in a far higher number of civilian deaths when compared to other countries that face mass protests over social conflicts, such as Chile, Colombia, and Colombia, reports the AP. Since 2006, Peruvian security forces have killed 80 people and wounded more than 800 during violent protests, according to data kept by Peru’s Independent Coordinator for Human Rights.
  • The LA Times reports on the clearing out of many camps built by displaced survivors of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Two and a half years later, many of the camps have been cleared, but the newspaper calls the process “largely cosmetic.” The LA Times: “Although a few camps have benefited from aid programs, a grave underlying housing shortage means that the majority of those who left the camps have disappeared into the overcrowded homes of relatives or constructed precarious shacks in hillside slums.”
  • The New York Times on Venezuela’s approach to its housing shortage: housing give-aways, presented Thursday nights in a TV show  that the Times describes as  “part reality TV, part game show and part full-throated campaign rally.” With a slideshow.