<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Drug War Victims Confront Mexican President

In a Meeting With Felipe Calderón, Citizens Talk About Their Loses, Their Pain, and the Failed Strategy of the War on Drugs


By Carolina Corral
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

June 27, 2011

On June 23, a conversation was held between victims of the drug war and Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who declared the war on drugs that killed the family members of those who met with him. Among the family members was poet Javier Sicilia.

Many people raised questions, doubts and criticism over how fruitful it would be to speak with a president who doesn’t listen and has no mind to rethink the fight against organized crime—a president who has continued with the same failed war strategy for six years, leaving 40,000 people dead.


President Felipe Calderón behind a photo of Miguel Orlando Muñoz, an infantry lieutenant who was disappeared. DR 2011 Carolina Corral
Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, where the meeting took place, is where Mexican “boy” soldiers battled the United States Army in 1847 as part of the Mexican American War. When we go back to 1847 there is the mere desire to remember this as another historic and adored sacrifice when the Mexican State wielded its army, an army which has been inactive throughout most of Mexican history. The battle of the “boy soldiers” failed of course, but they are remembered as heroes and this adds a heroic and nationalistic symbolism to the castle.

Several victims of the war presented their cases before the nation’s president at the castle. Other victims decided to stay outside because they didn’t support talking with a president who is not only deaf but also an accomplice. Young people who wanted the demilitarization of the country prior to having a conversation demonstrated outside.

The fruitfulness of the talks didn’t lie with how much Calderón would do for each of the victim’s demands once the media cameras were turned off. Perhaps the fruitfulness rested with the citizens who, without many political or discursive tools, questioned the government for the murder of their family members. They blamed not only the criminal groups but also the Mexican government’s corruption and complicity with the criminal groups—the structural support that allows the war to continue.

The President Must Ask for Forgiveness

Inside, Sicilia began the conversation with Calderón by reminding attendees that the discussion was taking place due to the ineffectiveness of the authorities, and that he believed the conversation was a step towards a solution:

“We are mobilized here to remind them of their duty to speak poorly of the institutions and the money that we are spending on them. Against the well-founded doubts that this conversation won’t accomplish anything, we have accepted it because we are convinced that discussion is a fundamental practice of democracy in order to build the pathways to peace.

We came here in the first place to recognize the debt that the Mexican state has to all of the victims and their family members, and to society as a whole. That’s why, señor President, in his capacity as representative of the State, is obliged to ask the nation, and especially the victims, for forgiveness. Secondly, we have come here for justice.”

Among other things, Sicilia asked for justice for those whose family members were murdered, protection for journalists, an end to the military strategy of fighting crime, and the legalization of certain drugs.

Calderón’s Tired Speech

The responses from the president were the same ones that have been heard in official speeches and tested for the last six years. They are full of repetitions, justifications, excuses and trite answers. He again repeated that he considered his work against organized crime to be heroic, and he defended his war strategy. Calderón wouldn’t admit that he had a duty to apologize for the “collateral damage” from the war, but insisted that the war’s military strategy was right:

“If anything, in any case, I regret not having sent in federal forces to fight the criminals that nobody else would fight because they were afraid and were bribed by them. In any case, I regret not having sent them in earlier.”

In response to a proposal to create a citizen police force he talked about fighting with weapons:

“It’s possible that a community can have self-managed defense mechanisms and even do so without firearms. That could be very interesting, it may sound good, but the truth is that when we see criminal groups in caravans with twenty cars who are armed to the teeth you have to have a different way of organizing security for people.”

His armed strategy was the main theme of his speech and he avoided attacking corruption and money laundering, the true underpinnings of the narcotics business. We must fight bullets with bullets, as if the only field of battle was in the streets.

Before that, attendees told him to attack the other influences that support the drug business. They questioned him about the complicity of the police and the military in extortion, kidnappings, abuses, and drug trafficking. The presented the obvious issues of money laundering, corruption and complicity in the highest levels of government, issues which have not been frequently brought to light. The government hasn’t attacked money laundering and has awarded protection to drug trafficking groups, while failing to take action against them. Sicilia questioned the inaction from Marco Adame, the governor of the Mexican state of Morelos, when a drug trafficking group in the state imposed terror by means of a curfew in 2009.

Following the Money Trail

Araceli Rodríguez, the mother of Luis Ángel León Rodríguez, a federal police officer disappeared in 2009, also participated in the discussion. Rodríguez questioned why Calderón still hadn’t developed a speech that was as coherent and intricate as his war:

“Why do we insist on a strategy where the balances are completely negative? In other countries the government efforts have centered on following the money trail, which is a product of criminal activities. Why isn’t this done in Mexico?

“It’s not fair, it’s not ethical, and it’s not Christian to spill so much blood, to sow so much desolation throughout the country, in a war that leaves intact the main economic beneficiaries of the narcotics industry.

“Do you know how many politicians and businessmen in this country are in collusion with narco-trafficking? Why are they untouchable?”

Similarly, Sicilia said:

“The problem, señor President, is that you think that the bad guys are outside and the good guys are inside. The problem, señor President, is that you started a war with corrupt institutions, with institutions that don’t offer the nation security, with institutions that have such high levels of impunity.

“Why don’t you humbly recognize that you can also do other things besides feeding us this police and military machine? You have difficulty recognizing that you’ve done nothing, or almost nothing, to take down the protective structures the criminals count on, structures made from their own power, that rampant corruption which you occasionally speak of and just repeated.

“Do you have anything to say about the corruption and cover-ups that are in collusion with government officials?

“The crime, señor President, crosses through great financial circuits, through large corporations, where there are no bullets, where there is no blood, no police appearing on Channel 2.”

Calderón’s Evasions and Justifications

Throughout the questioning, the answers were again blurred between justifications and selective responses. Calderón defended himself with the insufficient weapons that he had:

“No, I know that this cancer, this plague, has eaten away at Mexican society, the institutions, the government, the governors, the governed, the churches, and the media. I know this very well.”

However, he avoided offering a final solution to the guilty politicians, criminals, and judges that have not done their jobs, saying that he can not do more than point out the guilty so that someone else can judge them:

“If we have a legal system, and I think it’s good that it’s like that, then that doesn’t depend on me, but it also depends on what a judge decides….

“I know, for example, of judges who have received money or that have spoken with criminals, and who free criminals, but when I don’t have any proof, or when the Attorney General doesn’t have any proof, a judge is a judge, and a citizen is a citizen, and they are, moreover, innocent.”

Judging government officials doesn’t relate to those in high positions of power. According to him, the army has lesser evils, a few abuses that are being looked at, but not great guilt or complicity like with the municipal police, who he admits are corrupt:

“When you come to a city, to a state, to a municipality, you realize that all of the police, all of them, are on the criminal’s payroll…but I know they are on the payroll, I know how much they receive.”

The Scapegoats

Norma Ledesma Ortega also discussed the issue of innocent people who are incarcerated in order to solve crimes without catching the real culprits. As an example she cited the case of a massacre of 13 teenagers in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood in Ciudad Juárez:

“The massacre in Villas de Salvarcar is an unresolved case. It’s certain that there were criminals who committed the massacre, but they took scapegoats who were tortured by the federal police.”

Ledesma Ortega is the founder and coordinator of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters). Her daughter, Paloma Escobar Ledesma, was disappeared and murdered in 2002 at the age of 16. Now Ledesma Ortega is one of the women who give a voice to the more than one thousand murdered women of Ciudad Juárez who are part of a wave of femicides that have happened for more than ten years.

The government’s responses are formal. The president and his wife use such moments as opportunities to pose for photographs. They say that they will follow up on the cases.

Ledesma Ortega responds, saying that “they began 62 administrative procedures” to solve cases that involved a cotton field in Ciudad Juárez. She immediately protested that their work was not helpful:

“The protocols used by the Attorney General’s Office, I’m not an attorney or an expert on this, but they don’t work…the protocols used by the Attorney General’s Office for the sentences of the cotton field case don’t work because they don’t match up with the context or the area.”

Calderón told Chihuahua rancher Julian LeBaron that he was already doing justice for his brother, who was killed in drug war violence. “Don’t offend the memory of my brothers by telling us that you brought the criminals that are against us to justice,” LeBaron demanded.

He reminded Calderón that nobody has been sentenced for the murder of his brother. They have arrested people but they have not proven that they’re guilty:

“The fact remains that not one person has been sentenced for the murder of Benjamín LeBarón or Luis Widmar, or for the kidnapping of Eric LeBarón, or for my uncle, or for my brother-in-law….”

Ending Abuse Against the Indigenous

Salvador Campanu Sánchez, with the P’urhépecha indigenous people in Cherán, Michoacán, spoke to the president and demanded that he recognize the San Andrés accords. Years before, the federal government shut the door on the accords and talks with the Zapatista National Liberation Movement. Campanu Sánchez also demanded an end to abuses against the indigenous by government employees:

“We, as indigenous groups, are not only victims of organized crime, but also of the institutional violence from the Mexican state, which doesn’t recognize our ancestral rights or our ways of organizing…When an indigenous community is confronted with organized crime we are hit with the complicity of the government and there is no protection for our brothers and sisters who bravely denounce them.”

The conversation did little to shake the presidency. What happened doesn’t mean a solution. Perhaps the importance of the meeting was that it gave dignity and exposure to the victim’s cases. It was an exercise the obliged the presidency and representatives of justice in Mexico to pay attention to a group of citizens who have been innocent victims of their war policy.

Calderón was foolish and set in his ideas. The most that he promised was to clarify specific cases of victims who were there and to pay for plaques for the victims. There was never as structural change to the war strategy, but it was questioned by mothers and fathers with few political resources and they forced him to admit the corruption in all levels of government before an international community.

Perhaps the importance was also in the kind of statements that Calderón made, which in the media served to remind him of his promises and the institutional corruption.

Without being politically effective, perhaps the media is continuing to visualize the serious problem of “collateral damage” beyond Mexican borders.

At Chapultepec Castle, mothers, fathers, the indigenous, and victims were successful in the few moments when the president would admit mistakes, corruption, and complicity, making the presidency feel committed and obligated.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America