Editor’s Note: Today’s inauguration of Mexico’s new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, has Mexicans wondering how the new government will confront the crisis of narcoviolence. In the last weeks of the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderón, Mexican authorities recovered the remains of scores of murder victims.
As outgoing Mexican president Felipe Calderon prepares to enter the Ivory Tower of Harvard, skeletons are rattling the walls of Mexico during the last few days of his administration.
Within the past week, Mexican authorities have recovered the remains of scores of murder victims from mass grave sites situated in different regions of the country. At the same time, relatives of victims of gender, state and other forms of violence have been staging demonstrations in Mexico City, Chihuahua City, Acapulco and other places in demand of justice for murder victims and thousands of disappeared persons, some missing for decades.
To top it all off, the media is riveted by a new scandal involving accused, U.S.-born drug lord Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal.
In the rural Juarez Valley south of the large Mexican border city, personnel from the Chihuahua state government spend last weekend excavating the desert and pulling out the remains of 20 men said to have been killed during the peak of regional violence in 2009-2010. The so-called narco-fosas were reportedly found due to a tip from the U.S. government based on information divulged by Jose Antonio Hernandez Acosta, or “El Diego, an imprisoned leader of La Linea, the Juarez Cartel’s enforcement branch.
During the war between the Juarez Cartel and rival Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa-based group, the Juarez Valley was subjected to a scorched earth campaign that unfolded under the noses of the Mexican military and Federal Police. The once-vibrant farming area has also been repeatedly used as a dumping ground for female murder victims since the 1990s, including many young women who vanished from the streets of Ciudad Juarez.
In Tijuana, Baja California, federal law enforcement began probing the ground this week for the remains of an estimated 75-80 murder victims disposed of on a property utilized by the infamous “Pozole Maker,” Santiago Lopez Mera, who was employed by organized crime several years ago as a body disposal specialist. Lopez was known for dissolving murder victims in acid. Pozole is a stew-like dish popular in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, especially during the winter holiday season.
“This confirms what we have denounced so many times, but have not been taken seriously,” said Fernando Ocegueda Flores, president of the United Association for the Disappeared of Baja California. “We are almost sure there are 80 bodies here and we are going to wait until the operation is over to give tranquility to the families.”
In Acapulco, Guerrero, meanwhile, Mexican marines recovered at least eight murder victims of both sexes in clandestine graves situated on the edge of the El Veladero National Park and near a high school in the hills just above the Pacific coast resort. The discovery was made after the arrests of five individuals suspected of involvement in the recent kidnapping of a university professor.
The El Veladero discovery followed a similar but bigger find in Acapulco earlier this year. First excavated in September, the so-called Piedra del Chivo narcofosa, also located in hilly terrain but closer to the middle-class Costa Azul district popular with tourists, yielded 31 victims by the first week of November. Of the 25 remains examined at the time, two belonged to women.
Even as skeletons were dug from the earth a jailed crime boss, Edgar Valdez Villareal, caused a stir in the national media this week with explosive accusations that President Calderon had attempted to forge a pact among warring narco bands, and that top federal law enforcement officials had been on the take.
In a letter delivered to the Mexican daily Reforma and the El Paso Times, Valdez claimed he was arrested and targeted for murder because he refused to go along with a pact that was under negotiation in 2010. Valdez said the Calderon administration’s liaison in the grand scheme was Mexican General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro, a leading executioner of the Mexican government’s dirty war against leftist guerrillas and dissidents in the 1970s.
Acosta Chaparro later spent several years in an army lock-up accused of involvement with the Juarez Cartel but was later absolved of charges and given military honors. He was shot to death in broad daylight on a Mexico City street in April of this year. The legendary general had survived an earlier assassination attempt in 2010.
Valdez implicated the late Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino, who was killed along with federal anti-organized crime police official Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos in a strange 2008 plane accident, in the narco-pact deal-making.
“La Barbie” further claimed that Mexican federal security chief Genaro Garcia Luna, a key U.S. drug war ally, received payments from drug traffickers. A former enforcer for the late drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva who went on to form his own organization, the 38-year-old Texan named a bevy of other federal law enforcement officials allegedly on the narco payroll, including the Federal Police’s Facundo Rosas, who served as the Calderon administration’s point man in Ciudad Juarez during Joint Operation Chihuahua.
“The public functionaries that I mention are also part of the criminal structure of this country,” Valdez charged.
The Calderon administration quickly refuted Valdez’ statements, contending that the prisoner’s accusations were designed to smear officials and win favorable prison treatment.
At a Mexico City press conference in which no questions were allowed, Federal Police spokesman Jose Ramon Salinas read a statement countering Valdez. The inmate, Salinas said, had the objective of “inhibiting official action against criminal organizations through the public discrediting of those who have combated (criminal) acts.”
Valdez faces extradition to the U.S. on drug-related charges.
In the final days of the Calderon government, renewed attention has focused on the human cost of the so-called drug war that escalated sharply after Calderon took office in December 2006. The Tijuana newspaper Zeta published an analysis by its reporters that was based on homicide statistics drawn from the National Institute for Statistics, Geography and Informatics, state prosecutors’ offices and non-governmental organizations.
After analyzing different sources of data, Zeta concluded that 72 percent of 114,158 murder victims, or 83,000 people, were killed in a manner consistent with organized crime methods from December 1, 2006 to October 31, 2012.
Separate pieces underscored how Ciudad Juarez suffered a grossly disproportionate share of the carnage. A story in El Diario de Juarez reported 10,500 murder victims from December 1, 2006 to November 25, 2012, while New Mexico State University librarian Molly Molloy counted 11,179 victims during the same period of time. Ciudad Juarez accounts for roughly one percent of Mexico’s total population.
Tijuana’s Zeta also contended that the identities of 36,413 murder victims nationwide remain unknown.
As if the violence of the past six years wasn’t enough, killings rolled along at a brisk pace this week.
For example, on Wednesday, November 28, at least two dozen new murder victims of suspected criminal violence were reported across the country. The crime scenes were predictable: Gomez Palacio, Durango, Torreon, Coahuila, Acapulco, the Jalisco-Zacatecas borderlands, Chihuahua….
Among this week’s victims were Juventina Villa Mojica and her young son Reynaldo Santana Villa.
Villa was the highly visible media spokesperson for La Laguna and two other adjoining communities in the Guerrero mountains that have long been embroiled in violent conflicts involving drug traffickers, illegal loggers, paramilitary groups, soldiers and guerrillas.
Last year, residents fled the zone and were in the process of a second, highly-publicized evacuation when the daytime attack against Villa and Santana occurred, despite the presence of 25 state police officers who were assigned to guard and escort Villa and her neighbors to safety. Reportedly, nine members of the Santana-Villa family have now been murdered.
“This is the macabre message added to the criminalization, indolence and collusion of some authorities with radical groups of so-called organized crime,” said Javier Monroy Hernandez, coordinator of the Chilpancingo-based Community Development Workshop. “Protecting the people of the communities and natural resources, and delivering security and justice, is not in the plans of bad rulers who are committed with delinquency.”
Such is the panorama overhanging the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto, fresh back from Washington visits with President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials, as Mexico’s new chief executive on Saturday, December 1.