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Photo by Melissa del Bosque
Javier Sicilia at a peace rally in Ciudad Juarez June 2011

Javier Sicilia, like many citizens of privilege living in Mexico City, had largely ignored the drug war. Then on March 28, 2011, his 24-year old son, Juan Francisco, a business student, and six of his friends were killed by drug cartel members after a minor scuffle in a bar.

Overnight, Sicilia’s son had become a drug war statistic—one of the estimated 60,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderon launched his military offensive in 2006 against narcotraffickers.

The grief stricken Sicilia, 55, a well-known poet in his country, announced he would never write another poem. Instead, he poured his grief into protest, spearheading the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity. Since his son’s death, Sicilia and the movements other leaders have crisscrossed Mexico in “caravans for peace” protesting the senseless deaths of their loved ones. In many parts of the country, thousands of protesters and victims of the violence have turned out to criticize the government for failing to solve the murders and kidnappings. At least 98 percent of these crimes are never solved, according to the government’s own figures.

Without a functioning judicial system and corrupted law enforcement agencies, Calderon’s military offensive against drug dealers has created chaos. The violence has spiraled into a low intensity civil war engulfing Mexico. Last year 160,000 were displaced from their homes because of the violence and another 220,000 are estimated to have left Ciudad Juarez in the last three years — at least half of them to the United States. Estimates of the dead range anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 since the conflict began in 2006 and at least 10,000 are estimated to have been kidnapped, their bodies never recovered.

“We are at the point of losing the country. It’s not an abstraction but a reality…,” Sicilia wrote recently in Proceso, a national news magazine in Mexico. To raise awareness about the dire circumstances in his country, Sicilia and the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity are now touring the United States and are holding speaking events this week in Texas. The peace caravan arrived in El Paso today and will be in Laredo the 22nd followed by McAllen the 23rd, San Antonio the 24th, Austin the 25th and Houston on Sunday the 26th.

Sicilia will be traveling with at least 40 other protesters who have lost family members to the violence in Mexico. Hundreds more protesters and supporters are expected to turn out for the event in front of the Texas Capitol Saturday beginning at noon. The group wants to raise awareness about U.S. policies that are spurring the violence in Mexico and what both countries can do to stop the killing.

Sicilia’s cousin, Maribel Zardain, who lives near Austin, says that the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity is nonpolitical and comprised of people from “many walks of life.”

“He is a pacifist leader,” she says of her cousin. “He doesn’t want vengeance. He wants peace and justice.”

Ana Yañez-Correa, an organizer of the Austin event Saturday says one goal is to “create a space where the victims can be heard.” She hopes the event will raise awareness about U.S. policies that have negative consequences in Mexico. “The United States is the number one provider of arms to Mexico,” she says. “We need to stop drug consumption here and stop the corruption of officials which makes narcotrafficking so much easier.”

The problems are multifaceted, she says. “We need to use many different approaches to address the war on drugs.”

The Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity began its U.S. tour on August 12 in San Diego, California, and it will end in Washington D.C. on September 12. Along the way the caravan of buses and cars will stop at more than 27 cities to try and raise awareness in a country that has an oversized influence on its neighbor to the south. “The United States is such a big country,” says Zardain, Sicilia’s cousin. “I don’t think people here know very much about what’s happening to us in Mexico. He is just trying to create a dialogue and hopefully a bilateral agreement that we cannot continue this way. We have to find peace.”

The Austin event will take place Saturday, August 25, and start at noon and end at 3:00 p.m. It will be held at the south steps of the Texas Capitol. Austin singer/songwriter Gina Chavez will perform at noon followed by a legislative resolution and multiple speakers from the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity. For more information or to volunteer contact Jane Ehinmoro at [email protected]
Learn more about the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity.

Sponsors of the Austin event include The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, MORENA Austin, St. James’ Episcopal Church, Texas NORML, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, SOA Watch Austin, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the human rights nonprofit Global Exchange.

PHOTO BY ZERESHK. SOURCED FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
UTMB Children's Hospital in Galveston, TX.

For nearly a century, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was proof that the Texas health care system had a heart. UTMB, a state-subsidized nonprofit teaching hospital, treated uninsured, chronically ill Texans who had nowhere else to go.

Those halcyon days are over. In 2011, UTMB denied 91 percent of uninsured Texans seeking medical care, according to a new report from a nonprofit coalition advocating for Galveston County’s uninsured residents. That’s a sharp increase; in 2005, UTMB turned away just 35 percent of uninsured people seeking care.

Dr. Merle Lenihan, a coordinator with the Galveston County Free Care Monitoring Project, which co-authored the study, says UTMB acts these days more like a corporate for-profit hospital, except that “for-profit hospitals pay taxes.”

UTMB is not a corporate, for-profit hospital. It’s a tax-exempt public hospital that received $204.2 million in taxpayer funds and $8.4 million from the state indigent care fund last year. Yet UTMB spent just 3.3 percent of its revenue in 2010 on charity care, according to the new report co-authored by Dr. Lenihan’s group and Gulf Coast Interfaith, a nonprofit affiliation of faith-based and community organizations. Other public hospitals in Texas on average spent about 14 percent of revenues on charity care, while for-profits spend about 2 percent annually.

UTMB has treated fewer and fewer of Galveston’s uninsured residents since Hurricane Ike ravaged the town in 2008. Now, many ER patients are shunted to Mainland Medical Center in Texas City, a 30-minute drive from the island.

Part of the problem is a stalemate between Galveston’s county commissioners and UTMB officials over the county’s indigent health program. Neither can agree on a contract to cover the uninsured. In 2009, commissioners imposed a tax that locals refer to as the “UTMB tax” to pay for uninsured patients. The tax raised $11 million; $8 million has yet to be spent.

A spokesman for UTMB told a Houston Chronicle reporter that Galveston County officials had asked UTMB to turn Galveston residents away. The county’s health district spokesman said they’d done no such thing.

Meanwhile, uninsured patients are desperate to find any hospital that will take them, says Dr. Lenihan. “It’s a very haphazard system that’s in place,” she said. “The result is a lot of unnecessary suffering.”

Photo by Jen Reel
Members of the HRT from L to R: George Antuna, George P. Bush, Juan Hernandez, Juan Roberto Hernandez

Texas Republican political consultant Juan Hernandez is calling the July 31st runoff a “great moment for the Hispanic Republicans of Texas.”

Hispanic Republicans of Texas, founded by George P. Bush, business man George Antuna and Hernandez poured considerable time and money into several Hispanic Republican candidates in the runoff election. It seems to have paid off with wins by Ted Cruz, and state House candidates J.M. Lozano and Jason Villalba.

“This proves that Hispanics have a future in Republican politics,” Hernandez says.

For years it’s been an accepted wisdom that Hispanic surnames don’t win in Republican primaries in Texas. In 2010, incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo famously lost the Republican primary to an unknown candidate named David Porter. Afterward, Carrillo said his Hispanic surname had been a “serious setback.”

Hernandez sees the wins last night as a sign that the times are changing for the Republican Party in Texas. And it could be that younger Republicans really don’t care what a candidate’s surname is.

Take Cruz for instance. His win in the closely fought, expensive race for the U.S. Senate against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was a shocker for some. But according to an analysis piece today by political consultant Jason Stanford there’s a generation gap when it comes to Republicans supporting Hispanic candidates especially in a run off in which voters are better informed and hyper partisan.

Stanford writes, “Polling showed that Dewhurst did have a solid base among elderly Republicans. Voters above 75 years of age were ‘solidly with Dew’ while Republicans ‘55 and younger are absolutely and outrageously with Cruz,’ said Perkins. ‘There was clearly a generational gap.’”

But Trey Newton, director of HRT,  says he doesn’t think it’s so much a generational division as it is a case for better informed, energized Republican voters who turn out for runoff elections. “Yesterday proves that Republicans vote for the best candidate regardless of the surname,” he says.

Newton pointed to Jason Villalba’s win in the runoff for House district 114 in north Dallas. “The voters there are mostly Anglo and older, yet they supported Villalba,” he says.

Since 2010, HRT has been working to recruit Hispanics to run in Republican races. Last year, I wrote a feature about HRT and one of its principal founders Juan Hernandez and their efforts to recruit, advise and raise funds for Hispanic candidates.

It was HRT that convinced J.M Lozano to switch from a Democrat to Republican last year. They also recruited Jason Villalba to run for State Rep. In 2010, the group also met with Ted Cruz. “George P. Bush goes way back with Ted Cruz,” Newton says. “We connected him with our network of contributors.”

Newton says the hard work is paying off. “J.M. Lozano won in a rural, largely Hispanic district while Villalba won in a mostly Anglo district,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are Republican values are Hispanic values.”

Last month, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar joined Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas for a demonstration of a ShadowHawk drone at a Laredo fire training facility.

The drone, a 50 pound helicopter about seven feet long — operated remotely from a laptop and steered by a joystick — whirred above the elected officials. The unmanned helicopter can fly up to 50 miles per hour and hover at 700 feet taking video or infrared pictures.

This would be the same drone purchased by the Montgomery County sheriff’s office last year. The Conroe-based defense contractor Vanguard Defense Industries is making a push to sell the drones domestically to law enforcement.

The demonstration was at the behest of the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Martin Cuellar is the brother of Congressman Cuellar. And Congressman Cuellar is a big proponent of drones. He’s co-chair of the House Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, formed in 2009 by Republican California Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

The mission of the caucus according to their web site is to “educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical, and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems, and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”

Not surprisingly, the drone industry is a big fan of the caucus. The industry’s trade association the AUVSI worked with the caucus last year to hold a drone fair and it sponsored a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Action Day on Capitol Hill.

The drone industry also generously supports the caucus members. During the 2010 election cycle drone-related PACs donated more than $1.7 million to caucus members. From 2011 to 2012, Congressman Cuellar received more than $30,000 in campaign contributions by defense companies working on drones.

For a cash-strapped law enforcement agency, Vanguard’s drone copter doesn’t come cheap. It costs at least $340,000, according to the company’s CEO. Luckily, the federal government in many cases is willing to pick up the tab through homeland security funding. The feds paid for Montgomery County’s copter drone last year, which cost around $300,000.

Local sheriffs can apply for funding under a program called Operation Stonegarden which has the amorphous purpose of “enhancing coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to secure the borders with Mexico, Canada, and international waters,” according to the DHS web site.

After the drone copter demonstration Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said his city was interested in the technology but the feds would have to pick up the tab. “If they are committing to making the border safer…then show us the money,” Salinas told Laredo’s Pro8 News.

Not to worry Congressman Cuellar said. “I think we can. There is some money called Operation Stonegarden that the sheriff’s office gets and the mayor and I are talking about approaching the sheriff to ask whether maybe the city and county could use this money together jointly.”

PHOTO BY VANGUARD DEFENSE INDUSTRIES
The ShadowHawk Drone Copter.

Last month, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar joined Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas for a demonstration of a ShadowHawk drone at a Laredo firefighters’ training facility.

The drone, a 50-pound helicopter about seven feet long, whirred above the elected officials—operated remotely from a laptop and steered by a joystick. The unmanned helicopter can fly up to 50 miles per hour and hover at 700 feet taking video or infrared pictures.

It’s the same drone the Montgomery County sheriff’s office purchased last year, built by the Conroe-based defense contractor Vanguard Defense Industries, which is making a push to sell the drones to domestic law enforcement.

The meeting in Laredo was put together by the sheriff’s office, where Sheriff Martin Cuellar also happens to be Congressman Henry Cuellar’s brother. Congressman Cuellar is a big proponent of drones, and co-chairs the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, which formed in 2009.

The mission of the “drone caucus,” according to its website, is to “educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical, and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems, and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”

Not surprisingly, the drone industry is a big fan of the caucus. The industry’s trade association, the AUVSI, worked with the caucus last year to hold a drone fair and sponsored an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Action Day on Capitol Hill.

The drone industry also generously supports the caucus members. During the 2010 election cycle drone-related PACs donated more than $1.7 million to caucus members. From 2011 to 2012, Congressman Cuellar received more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from defense companies working on drones.

Vanguard’s drone copter doesn’t come cheap for a cash-strapped law enforcement agency. It costs at least $340,000, according to the company’s CEO. But in many cases, the federal government is willing to pick up the tab through homeland security funding. The feds paid for Montgomery County’s copter drone last year, which cost around $300,00.

Local sheriffs can apply for funding under a program called Operation Stonegarden which has the amorphous purpose of “enhancing coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to secure the borders with Mexico, Canada, and international waters,” according to the DHS website.

After the drone copter demonstration, Mayor Salinas said Laredo was interested in the technology but the feds would have to pick up the tab. “If they are committing to making the border safer…then show us the money,” Salinas told Laredo’s Pro 8 News.

Not to worry, Congressman Cuellar told the station. “I think we can.” It can’t hurt that his brother, the sheriff, is eligible to apply for Operation Stonegarden funding. “The mayor and I are talking about approaching the sheriff to ask whether maybe the city and county could use this money together jointly,” Cuellar said.

PBS Need to Know footage

In April, the PBS show “Need to Know” aired a shocking piece of video footage taken by a woman’s camera. In the grainy footage recorded at night on the San Diego-Tijuana border Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, a Mexican migrant, is repeatedly tased and beaten by a group of as many as 20 U.S. Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border fence. Hernandez is lying face down on the ground his hands tied behind his back screaming in Spanish, “Help me, please, help me.”

“I think I witnessed someone being murdered,” Ashley Young, the woman who shot the video told “Need to Know.” Young had been crossing back into San Diego after sightseeing in Tijuana and heard Hernandez screaming. When the agents didn’t stop beating him, Young took out her camera and began videotaping the assault.  

Hernandez died a few hours later. Afterwards, the San Diego Medical Examiner would label his death a homicide. The coroner’s report said Hernandez suffered a heart attack, had five broken ribs, a damaged spine and bruising all over his body.

Hernandez was killed in May 2010. Afterwards, the Border Patrol said that Hernandez had “become combative” and that batons and the stun gun were used to “subdue the individual and maintain officer safety.” The coroner’s report said Hernandez had amphetamines in his system.

No agents were charged for the assault, and the furor over Hernandez’s death largely subsided. After Hernandez’s death some very dark and grainy footage filmed by another witness was circulated on the Internet. In the footage you could hear Hernandez’s painful cries for help but see little of what was happening.

Frightened, Young never came forward with the footage she’d filmed of that evening. Fortunately, John Carlos Frey, a documentary filmmaker from California was able to locate Young and convince her to come forward with the evidence for the “Need to Know” segment aired in April.

Unlike other dark and grainy footage shot the evening of Hernandez’s death, Young’s footage shows clearly what went down that night. The ensuing public outrage has sparked a nationwide movement for reform and transparency in the U.S. Border Patrol, which in the last decade has become the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. And Hernandez’s case will now be scrutinized by a grand jury.

Since 9/11, Congress doubled the U.S. Border Patrol  from 11,000 agents in 2007 to more than 21,000 by 2012. In the effort to find willing recruits, the Border Patrol deferred background checks and relaxed its recruitment standards. Little has been done by Congress, however, to ensure that agents act with transparency and do not abuse their power.

After the “Need to Know” show was aired in April, John Carlos Frey, along with the Investigative Fund at the Nation and the nonprofit Investigative News Network, of which the Texas Observer is a member, contacted us here at the magazine to ask if we wanted to collaborate with them on expanding the coverage of border patrol shooting deaths along the border. Being the resident border reporter, I quickly signed on. Another investigative news organization, the Investigative Newsource in San Diego, also jumped in.

Most surprising to me was that not even the advocacy organizations knew exactly how many people had been killed by the U.S. Border Patrol. There was no definitive list. U.S. Customs and Border Protection publishes Borderstat Violence Reports that list deaths for each fiscal year, but the agency redacts any identifying information. The reports are difficult to find and are not publicized.

We started with a list of eight known and fairly well publicized cases in the media and I began filing Freedom of Information Act requests. After receiving a FOIA document from the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security, I found a few more cases. From 2010 to present we were able to tally 14 cases in total.

Most of the cases we uncovered were, not surprisingly, in Texas. Other than the highly publicized and tragic shooting of 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez Guereca in 2010 by an El Paso Border Patrol agent, many of these deaths in Texas only received a few words in local newspapers. In some cases the victims didn’t even have names and were simply referred to as “illegal aliens.”

One thing I discovered about Texas is that with the exception of the Border Human Rights Network in El Paso, there are no advocacy organizations looking into these deaths like there are in Arizona or California. With no prosecutions, no lawsuits and very little public scrutiny or oversight we have no idea whether their deaths were justifiable or not.

Also of note is that fatal Border Patrol shootings are now occurring at the northern border, with the expansion of agents along the northern border in the last five years. In rural areas, Border Patrol agents now staff 911 call centers and respond to domestic dispute calls and other incidents along with local police officers. In June, a 75-year-old man, Charles Robinson, was killed in Jackman, Maine, after allegedly shooting a Border Patrol agent responding to the domestic dispute call.

This is unprecedented territory for the agency and certainly something worth the scrutiny of Congress.

On Friday, the Texas Observer and other collaborators in the project will go live with a new web application listing the shootings that have occurred across the country since 2010.  The web application will list their names, details about the incidents and when and where the shooting occurred among other things. Also, the same evening, PBS’ “Need to Know” will air its second episode of the series “Crossing the Line” on alleged abuses by Border Patrol agents. Here in Texas, the Observer will keep pushing on the cases we have identified. Just last week, another death was reported in Matamoros after a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot into Mexico killing 30-year-old Juan Pablo Santillan. The agent reported that someone flashed a gun on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Agents also reported that rocks were thrown at them. Santillan’s family says that he was collecting firewood.

If Congress doesn’t push for more accountability and scrutiny of the U.S. Border Patrol, Santillan’s death will become yet another statistic passed off without the investigation it deserves.

U.S. Senate Report Signals Shift in Drug War Strategy

But Will President Peña Nieto Listen?
Wikicommons
A Mexican Highway Patrol

In April, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations sent a team of staffers to Mexico City and Monterrey to assess the state of Mexico’s police and judicial reform. The staffers spoke with Mexican and U.S. officials, policy analysts and human rights representatives.

The result is a 12-page report released Thursday that sums up President Felipe Calderon’s military deployments to combat organized crime as having “achieved limited success and in some cases led to human rights violations.”

While this may come as no surprise to most readers, it’s a strikingly different tone from the usual U.S. government narrative. Just two years ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Calderon’s military deployment against the cartels. “I’m a fan. I believe [in] and greatly admire what President Calderon is doing,” she told reporters.

Privately, U.S. government officials had grave concerns about Mexico’s deteriorating security strategy but publicly Clinton and other government officials were unflagging supporters of Calderon.  But after 55,000 deaths and as many as 30,000 disappearances it’s tough to keep up the rah rah speeches after so much suffering and bloodshed. Not even the U.S. government has the stomach for it anymore.

Though it was nice of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to release its report after the July 1 presidential election. I’m sure Calderon appreciated the courtesy.

Calderon’s militarization strategy has been partially funded by the U.S. government’s Plan Merida, which has provided $1.9 billion for training, equipment and technical assistance. The plan, devised in 2007 by former President Bush and Calderon, has four goals: disrupt the capacity of organized crime, strengthen the rule of law; create a 21st century border; and build strong and resilient communities.

Calderon’s government has mostly focused on hunting drug capos, while forgetting the other three goals. The judicial system and rule of law have deteriorated. Communities and civic organizations are being destroyed instead of strengthened. With Enrique Peña Nieto taking office in December and a new U.S. presidential term starting in January, the report recommends a different tactic: reform and strengthen the judicial system and reform state and local police forces.

The committee recommends that Congress keep funding Plan Merida at $250 million a year for the next four years and that Mexico spend the majority of it on these reforms. Even $250 million is still a pittance compared to the estimated $39 billion U.S. drug users send annually to Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

The report’s authors warn the judicial and police reforms will be long and costly. “Simply put most Mexicans mistrust the federal and state authorities main tools to fight crime, the police and judicial system, given their record of pervasive corruption and ineffectiveness.”

Then they engage in some finger wagging. “These reforms are long-term, technically difficult, require political cooperation across party lines as well as cooperation between federal and state-level authorities, and therefore do not lend themselves to splashy public relations.”

It’s slightly ironic coming from U.S. Congressional members.

To further the goals of reform the U.S. government opened up a police training center in Puebla in May. U.S. law enforcement trainers are there working to train Mexican police officials. There are approximately 350,000 police officers across Mexico that the report estimates have little training or resources. It is a mind boggling challenge for Peña Nieto. It’s going to be a long, bumpy ride.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won Mexico’s presidential election Sunday as many political experts had predicted for months. Enrique Peña Nieto, a telegenic bureaucrat married to a famous soap opera star won with 37 percent of the vote followed by Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 32 percent. MexicoElection

After six years of a protracted and violent drug war, voters signaled their disdain for the ruling party the National Action Party, or PAN, by giving Josefina Vazquez Mota, the party’s candidate just 25 percent of the vote.

Just 12 years ago, the conservative PAN swept into power signaling a new openess in government and democracy after 71 years of PRI rule, sometimes referred to as the “Perfect Dictatorship.” Reporting on Vicente Fox’s win in 2000 I remember most the sense of hope, especially from the younger generation in Mexico that their country would finally be an open and transparent democracy.

Now 12 years later we have the return of the PRI infamous for its authoritarian rule, cronyism and corruption. Enrique Peña Nieto, 45, promises Mexicans that the party has modernized and abandoned its old methods of government rule. “There is no return to the past,” he told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “You have given our party a second chance and we will deliver results.”

But with an estimated 60,000 dead and 30,000 disappeared in Mexico’s burgeoning civil war, spurred by the drug war many Mexicans see the vote for the PRI as an act of desperation. They hope that the PRI will be able to once again co-opt organized crime and bring the level of violence down to a tolerable level as they did before. But many think it’s too late for that and the old power structures have changed too much for the PRI to rein in organized crime. In his speech, Sunday evening Peña Nieto assured Mexicans that the PRI would not concede to the criminals. “There will be no pact nor truce with organized crime,” he said.

In El Paso, Martin Hueremo and his family watched the election results with rapt attention. Last year, they were forced to flee Mexico because of the violence and are now seeking asylum in the United States. Peña Nieto’s win was a disappointment for him, Hueremo told me. “I am extremely sad and scared for my country right now,” he said.

photo: A polling location in Mexico City. photo courtesy Wikicommons.

PHOTO SOURCE: WIKICOMMONS
A polling station in Mexico City.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won Mexico’s presidential election Sunday as many political experts had predicted for months. Enrique Peña Nieto, a telegenic bureaucrat married to a famous soap opera star won with 37 percent of the vote followed by Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 32 percent.

After six years of a protracted and violent drug war, voters signaled their disdain for the ruling party the National Action Party, or PAN, by giving Josefina Vazquez Mota, the party’s candidate just 25 percent of the vote.

Just 12 years ago, the conservative PAN swept into power signaling a new openess in government and democracy after 71 years of PRI rule, sometimes referred to as the “Perfect Dictatorship.” Reporting on Vicente Fox’s win in 2000 I remember most the sense of hope, especially from the younger generation in Mexico that their country would finally be an open and transparent democracy.

Now 12 years later we have the return of the PRI infamous for its authoritarian rule, cronyism and corruption. Enrique Peña Nieto, 45, promises Mexicans that the party has modernized and abandoned its old methods of government rule. “There is no return to the past,” he told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “You have given our party a second chance and we will deliver results.”

But with an estimated 60,000 dead and 30,000 disappeared in Mexico’s burgeoning civil war, spurred by the drug war many Mexicans see the vote for the PRI as an act of desperation. They hope that the PRI will be able to once again co-opt organized crime and bring the level of violence down to a tolerable level as they did before. But many think it’s too late for that and the old power structures have changed too much for the PRI to rein in organized crime. In his speech, Sunday evening Peña Nieto assured Mexicans that the PRI would not concede to the criminals. “There will be no pact nor truce with organized crime,” he said.

In El Paso, Martin Hueremo and his family watched the election results with rapt attention. Last year, they were forced to flee Mexico because of the violence and are now seeking asylum in the United States. Peña Nieto’s win was a disappointment for him, Hueremo told me. “I am extremely sad and scared for my country right now,” he said.

photo by Joanna Wojtkowiak

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 as unconstitutional Monday, but upheld one contentious section of the bill that allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of “any individual, as long as they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ the person is unauthorized.”

Opponents of the bill refer to it as the “show me the papers” provision. And it has spurred racial discrimination lawsuits and created headaches for law enforcement. Back in 2010, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Arizona’s Pima County, told a local TV station that SB 1070 was “the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen in 50 years,” pointing out that the law forces his deputies to adopt racial profiling.

Analysts at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court might make such a ruling after U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli said the federal government would base its case on the question of federal versus state power in immigration enforcement, and not on the basis that the law spurs racial profiling.

So expect the harassment and the lawsuits to continue.

On Friday, I spoke with Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson, who has long been a vocal opponent of SB 1070 and the “show me the papers” provision. “If the justices rule that the ‘show me the papers’ part is still valid and constitutional then we have a fight ahead of us both politically and in terms of lawsuits going before the Supreme Court,” he said. Grijalva said he expect more lawsuits based on discrimination, racial profiling and unequal application of the law. “Those are still going to come to the Supreme Court,” he said. “The judicial fight will come and when the law comes into effect more litigation will be generated.”

After the announcement Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, decided to overlook the fact that a majority of the bill was struck down and celebrate the “show me the papers” provision as a victory for “all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”

“Today’s ruling does not mark the end of our journey,” she said in a statement. “It can be expected that legal challenges to SB 1070 and the State of Arizona will continue.”

Brewer can count on that.

As a whole, SB 1070 has already been ruinous for Arizona and the bitter battle will continue with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Grijalva said SB 1070 has damaged his state both economically and socially. “The state now has a reputation of being politically a backwater state and petri dish for bills like SB 1070 and the elimination of ethnic studies, et cetera,” he said. “It’s driven this wedge along racial lines that will be damaging for us for generations.”

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