Tag Archives: Mexico Organized Crime

From Rhinos to Orangutans, Criminal Activity is So Depressing

24 Oct

Photo Credit: Marboed

Whether it’s been about palm oil or rhino horn, recent news items I’ve seen about the dire effects of criminal activity on our planet’s forests and wildlife are truly depressing. From the photo of a Vietnamese woman gleefully grinding rhino horn that she believes will cure her gall stones (honestly, someone there ought to do a television news segment on the chemical make-ups of endangered animal parts and how they don’t cure anything) to the map of Sumatra’s shrinking forests, I’m wondering when if ever criminals will be stopped from helping destroy the natural world.

And there’s the article I saw on organized crime gangs’ increasing destruction of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve and surrounding Selva Maya. Salvadoran drug dealers are slashing and burning tens of thousands of officially protected hectares to establish ranches to launder their narcotics cash, Chinese gangs are plundering the region for rare hardwoods — before moving on to the jaguars, which they’ll kill for body parts — and Mexican cartels are razoring the forest to land their illicit cargo, one three-strip airport alone accounting for the loss of 40,000 hectares of pristine jungle.

It almost makes me want to applaud the folks who simply go out and rob a bank or liquor store (not that I will: As Jockin Arputham (of the National Slum Dwellers Federation, who I write about in my book, Broke But Unbroken) would say, you guys need to get some value change.)

The Sumatra problem was recently highlighted in an NBC news program that focused on the impact of shrinking habitat on orangutans, and an Australian man who has been trying to move them to places where there is still some forest left. The illegally cleared land gets turned into palm oil plantations, already a billion dollar industry in Indonesia, thanks to the fact that we now find palm oil in everything from chocolate to ice cream, as good a reason as any to boycott these products, quite frankly.

There was no word on how these well-armed gangs given a blind eye by local authorities are affecting the forest dwellers in this area. No doubt my friends at the Serikat Petani Indonesia would have something interesting to say about that.

But the article on Guatemala did tell some pretty sad tales about how local forest community groups, given concession rights and financial assistance to protect the forest from these ignorant, money-hungry marauders, are fighting a losing battle in keeping them out. In one case, an ethical community leader was even killed, and the local management project fell apart.

So while it’s hard to use arguments get crooks to stop with the environmental mayhem, it should be possible to find the financial means to do so. Companies using palm oil can and should stop buying the stuff if they can’t triple check its provenance. And if they don’t, we should know who they are and what they’re selling us. Bi-lateral and multi-lateral lending institutions, being arguably useless at encouraging effective development, should at least demand that Vietnam uphold its own laws on sales of endangered animal parts there. And countries like Guatemala that are trying to safeguard their natural resources with nowhere near enough money ought to be given more help.

But, sadly, I think it unlikely that people with power will actually do much to stem the tide of environmental destruction. Here in Canada, we were recently treated to a news story about conservative Member of Parliament Alice Wong enjoying some shark fin soup at a news conference for Asian media in Richmond, B.C. Ms. Wong was apparently supporting local restaurateurs’ opposition to a municipal ban on the so-called delicacy — a ban her host labels as “culturally insensitive.” (As if culture and cultural sensitivities do not evolve — or does he also support a return to foot binding?)

And with more than a third of all shark species threatened with extinction because of finning, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, isn’t this cruel practice ‘environmentally insensitive?’

A New Democrat MP is now tabling a private member’s bill to make it illegal to import of shark fins to Canada, but with the Tories holding a majority in parliament, and their own environmental insensitivity a point of pride for them, I’m afraid it stands little chance of passing. “It’s part of the culture and (the government) has no intention of banning the soup,” Ms. Wong told the Richmond News.

So I guess that means there are two things that couldn’t be more depressing: criminal activity’s destruction of the environment — and Tory politicians.

Average People and the Impact of Mexico’s Drug War

9 Dec

Today I have to bring some attention to a very interesting interactive posting on the website of The Guardian. It gives some well-deserved space to different people suffering in different ways the impact of organized crime in Mexico — and by the government’s poorly thought out and executed attempts to reign in the murderous mayhem.

Do their statements help us better understand the nature of what seems like an inexplicable and obscure phenomenon? To a certain extent, they do, I think because they illustrate both the immensity of the business — the vast sums of money, the ability to buy off major power brokers — and the picayune, quotidian aspect. And by that, I mean, the gangs of small-timers linked to bigger cartels or acting independently, carrying out kidnappings and extortions, and of course, retailing drugs.

Who are not, to my knowledge ever investigated, are the legitimate companies involved in the cartels’ support network. Edgardo Buscaglia talked about it when I was working on an article in THIS magazine last year but for which there wasn’t space.

“The main link between political corruption and organized crime goes through legal businesses in Mexico,” he told me. “They provide the logistical structure for (it) to operate. Some provide the transportation infrastructure for organized crime to move weapons, people and drugs, and storage infrastructure. They provide the distribution infrastructure, so drugs from here can reach Canada. Or people — they provide the production infrastructure.”

Today, another legal expert I interviewed for that article, John Mills Ackerman, has an interesting Op Ed piece in The Daily Beast. As he says in the piece, “There are no signs that organized crime actually has been weakened since the present Mexican president came to power in 2006. To the contrary, the cultivation and use of drugs in Mexico has risen dramatically, organized crime groups now have more firepower than ever before, money is freely laundered in the country and the impunity rate has reached an historic high, with, at most, 5 percent of all crimes receiving punishment.”

The situation is so out-of -control that, guess who is now seeking to move to Mexico? Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saadi. Having escaped trial and punishment for his various crimes in Libya, it looks like he thinks he will be right at home in Mexico.

OpCartel Update

4 Nov

Well the person kidnapped by the Zetas cartel in Veracruz has been released — apparently at about the time I was posting last night.
But with that person came a chilling message for Anonymous — something along the lines of of ‘we will kill 10 people for every person you name.’ So the group has decided not to reveal any of the information they have.
Now some people are calling the hackers everything from cowards to ‘accomplices’ of the Zetas.
But please — let’s get real. It is the job of the Mexican government to deal with this dangerous criminal gang – not a bunch of computer geeks. They say they got the information from a Mexican government website in the first place. And that means authorities already know exactly what it contains — but have decided not to do anything about it. So — who are the cowards and accomplices now?

A Wiki-Solution to Mexico’s Narco-Nightmare?

3 Nov

(Photo courtesy of gato-gato-gato)

The hacker collective Anonymous had me all agog earlier this week after I watched a video one of their members — wearing one of the eerily smiling V is for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks – had posted on YouTube. In it he threatened to expose a vast collection of covert information concerning the evil drug cartel, the Zetas, who had, he said, kidnapped one of the group’s members in Veracruz.

“You have made a great mistake by taking one of us,” said the masked man. “Free him.”

The information Anonymous said it would leak in what it is calling OpCartel includes the addresses of properties and businesses the Zetas own, along with the names and personal details of every policeman, journalist and politician on their payroll, even those of cab drivers who work for them.

I wondered if such a thing could possibly happen. The story has been vox populi in Mexico all week, according to a source. The idea that a flood of incriminating facts finally exposing all those enriching themselves through organized crime while pretending to fight it was too tempting to believe. Since the Mexican government began its blitz against the cartels, an estimated 50,000 people have died – many of them innocent civilians. Indeed, apparently Anonymous’s source is 25,000 emails stolen from the Mexican government.

But in the days following the revelation of the video, however, new articles have suggested that other Anonymous ‘hacktivists’ are saying ”Whoa.” They admitted that a) it could get them killed and b) with no real way of verifying all that data, it could allow rival cartel members to attack yet more innocent people.

Now, it seems that OpCartel is still on. At least, that is according to a form Anonymous guy named Barrett Brown, who left the group but is still in contact with them. He said that Anonymous had discussed and voted on the matter and decided, in the end, to press on.

So tomorrow, the day before Guy Fawkes Day, we will find out if the threat to blow up the Zetas (could other cartels be exposed in the future?) is real. And of course, if so, what happens next. I’m curious, but sceptical. Barrett Brown also told SecurityNews Daily that a secondary goal of the operation is “to see the Mexican people arm themselves and rise up against the cartels and their government.” It’s a great idea but I’m skeptical of that too. But at least someone is trying to attack the problem at its roots – the nexus between organized crime and the powers-that-be.