Category Archives: Mexico

Beyond the Wall: Why we don’t need Trump’s ‘great, great wall’

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This spring, with Donald Trump’s “build the wall” message resonating so powerfully that he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, I was part of a team of Daily Star reporters that visited the southern border states. Our goal was to go beyond the political rhetoric and talk with people who live and work along the international line.

Check out the project at the Arizona Daily Star

 

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Rare cross-border drug raid leaves 2 dead, 22 in custody

Two people were killed and 22 suspected members of the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested during what is believed to be an unprecedented cross-border law enforcement operation in Sonora, officials say.

Mexican officials had been investigating a stash house that was used for drugs and people in a rural area of the border town of Sonoyta, Sonora. The town is across the border from Lukeville, the popular border crossing used to reach the beach town of Puerto Penasco.

On Friday, Mexican federal officers raided the property, resulting in a shootout with armed men guarding the property.

The names of those killed and those arrested have not been provided, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said over the weekend that those arrested were in the custody of the Mexican government. American officials were to seek extradition of individuals facing criminal charges here.

Mexican law enforcement staged for the operation in Lukeville with the assistance of U.S. law enforcement agencies, which some call a first.

“I’ve been living here for 15 years, and there’s no precedent for a mega-operation, even less so of a binational one,” said Hugo Regalado, Sonoyta’s city manager. He said city officials have been talking with long-time Sonoyta residents and no one remembers seeing anything like it before.

The operation, dubbed Diablo Express, involved about 15 to 20 Mexican federal police vehicles and four or five helicopters, Regalado said.

The city awaits specific information about the operation, he said, noting that local government was not notified before the raid.

While the cross-border cooperation is unusual here, a 2011 report by The New York Times noted that the Obama administration was allowing the Mexican police to stage for drug raids from inside the United States.

During the rare operations, the New York Times said, Mexican commandos assembled in designated areas in the United States and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. That is what has been described in Friday’s raid that launched from Lukeville.

Tony Coulson, who retired as the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tucson office in 2010, said he had never seen anything like it.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this, where armed Mexican police is brought to this side to actually stage an operation into Mexico,” he said.

In Friday’s raid, authorities confiscated 15 assault weapons, three handguns and more than 500 pounds of marijuana. Coulson said the drugs and weapons are far less important than who they arrested.

“You want to get at the highest level of who controls that corridor in order to totally disrupt and dismantle that group,” he said. “Your whole goal of an operation like that is to get key lieutenants who run the command and control the infrastructure of that area or group.”

Sonoyta is strategically important for the trafficking of drugs into Southern California, Coulson said.

“The corridor from Rocky Point to Sonoyta is a critical part of whoever controls the Baja California and Tijuana plaza,” he said.

The Sinaloa Cartel is one of world’s most notorious drug-trafficking rings.

Day of the Dead both solemn, festive in Mexico

NOGALES, Sonora — The city’s cemetery is dotted with blues, reds, pinks and yellows — lots of yellows.

On Nov. 1 and 2, thousands of families descend from throughout the city and across the border to visit their departed loved ones.

People start trickling in early in the morning and stay through the late night. They clean the gravesites and adorn them with fresh flowers, sold for a couple of dollars a bunch by vendors who set up shop along the streets.

When they’re finished, they light a candle before heading back home.

Beatriz Uriol, 59, bought more than 40 pounds of bright marigolds, pink cockscomb bunches and daisies to decorate the graves of her brother, who died 47 years ago, and a grandson who died 14 years ago when he was just four days old.

By midday the ever-growing cemetery, with graves being dug further up the hill, is full of families. The smell of fresh flowers, street tacos and roasted corn fill the air. Echoing over the gravestones are the sounds of children playing, of songs dedicated to the departed, of rakes against the rocky soil as people remove debris.

The festivity is a multi-generational family gathering, where children who are off from school accompany their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. Some seem to fully understand what they are doing there, but for most it’s a fun day where they get to play in the cemetery with their toy trucks, run around and eat candy.

Vendors yell out, their rhythmic cries selling peanuts, candied apples, cotton candy and flowers for five pesos, less than 50 cents.

“Day of the Dead is to celebrate those who we’ve lost,” said Uriol, “and we come here as a way to say thank you. Thank you for being our brother, for being our son.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Distrust rampant a year after Sonora mine spill

After 75 tons of heavy metals spilled into the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers, Lydia Diaz was saving her dishwater for reuse. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star.

A year after a devastating mine spill in Mexico, the United States is facing its own disaster as millions of gallons of mine wastewater were unleashed to a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado.

On Aug. 6, 2014, 11 million gallons of a copper sulfate solution poured out of a containment pond and polluted the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers, affecting the livelihoods of more than 22,000 Sonorans about 25 miles from the Arizona border.

Contaminated water created by the mining company spraying sulfuric acid over piles of crushed ore was sent to a holding pond that breached, said Ann Maest, chief scientist with E-Tech International, a New-Mexico-based nonprofit that provides environmental technical support to communities in less industrialized countries.

At the Gold King Mine in Colorado, an Environmental Protection Agency crew accidentally triggered a blowout in an inactive mine that released about 3 million gallons of contaminated water created by rain and snowmelt contacting mine walls and wastes, she said.

But both were highly acidic — the Sonora spill more so — and carried high concentrations of toxic metals such as cadmium, copper and zinc, which in high concentrations can be harmful to humans and aquatic life. The predominant metals in both cases were the relatively less toxic aluminum and iron.

After both spills, fear and confusion reigned. People wanted to know if it was safe to drink the water, whether the sediment settled in the river was dangerous, and what the long-term effects would be.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Escape’s impact on Sonora is uncertain

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison might lead to more instability within the Sinaloa Cartel, but its effect on Sonora, is still unknown, officials said.

“Some of the up-and-comers may have maneuvered themselves into better positions while he was away,” said Erica Curry, a Phoenix spokeswoman with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We are anticipating that El Chapo with his people may reassert his influence,” she said. That might lead to resistance from those who had positioned themselves in leadership roles.

The Sinaloa Cartel has decentralized over the past few years, leading to sporadic, violent power struggles between plaza bosses in northern Sonora.

So far this year, dozens of people, mostly believed to be associated with organized crime, have been killed in the Sonoyta and Caborca regions, across the border from Lukeville, Ariz., due to fighting between cells of the Sinaloa cartel known as Los Memos and Los Salazar.

“It will be interesting to see if that (violence) increases as different factions of the cartels, the lower level members are fighting out there and how they aligned themselves with El Chapo’s return,” Curry said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Police commander in violence-plagued Sonoyta killed

During the first two weeks of December 2014, the Mexico’s attorney office in Sonora burned about 44,000 tons of marijuana, 156 pounds of methamphetamine, 12 pounds of heroin, about 26 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of marijuana seeds and and about one gallon of meth in liquid form. The drugs had been previously seized in the municipalities of Cajeme, Hermosillo, Sonoyta, Nogales, Agua Prieta and San Luis Río Colorado. Photo courtesy of Procuraduría General de la República, the Mexican federal police.

A Sonoyta police official was killed Sunday, the Sonora investigative police reported.

Saúl Fernando Félix del Castillo, deputy chief of the Plutarco Elías Calles municipal police, was found dead at about 8:20 a.m. in a vacant lot of the Burócrata neighborhood in the border town across from Lukeville.

A gunshot wound was visible, the news release said, and officials found handgun bullet casings at the scene.

Sonoyta and the rural communities to the east, all part of the municipality of Plutarco Elias Calles, have been the battleground for rival cartel factions vying to control valuable territory for moving people and drugs into the United States.

So far this year, the Sonora state police have reported nearly 40 homicides just in the Sonoyta area — with a population of about 18,000 — and another five wounded.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Fear grips Sonoyta: Shootouts plague Sonora border town

Juan Ortega in the snack stand outside his home in Desierto de Sonora. During one shootout, he and his wife hid under their bed. Photo by Kelly Prenel/Arizona Daily Star.

SONOYTA, Sonora — Anabel Cortez is afraid to leave her children home alone anymore.

After deadly gunbattles between rival organized crime groups started on April 30, Cortez took her children and fled her rural community outside this border town.

She is back home now that the violence has subsided, but not by choice.

“Where else am I going to go?” asks the mom of three elementary- and middle-school students.

Sonoyta and the rural communities to the east, all part of the municipality of Plutarco Elias Calles, have been the battleground for rival cartel factions vying to control valuable territory for moving people and drugs into the United States.

Sonoyta borders Lukeville, a crossing frequently used by Arizona travelers on their way to the beach town of Puerto Peñasco, commonly known as Rocky Point.

Cortez, 34, was among hundreds of people who fled Desierto de Sonora, less than 10 miles east of Sonoyta, after violence erupted last month. By some accounts, 28 gunmen and two innocent civilians were killed in the Sonoyta area from April 30 to May 5. The Sonora investigative state police reported six people killed on May 1 and another five on May 4. Residents said the criminals themselves started to warn people of upcoming shootouts and asked them to leave.

The fighting nearly paralyzed the town. Many parents stopped sending their kids to school. The city canceled all cultural and sports activities, including the traditional Fiesta de las Flores, an annual fair that is one of Sonoyta’s main events.

“We didn’t want to put citizens in danger in case of a violent incident, that we would be caught in the crossfire,” said Carlos Arvizu, Sonoyta’s city manager. “It was a preventive measure.”

The mayor, Julio Cesar Ramírez Vásquez, is no longer giving interviews, his office said, after one of the groups threatened him for speaking out.

So far this year, the Sonora state police have reported 38 homicides just in the Sonoyta area — with a population of about 18,000 — and another five wounded. May was the deadliest month, with 15 dead and another one injured, Sonora police data analyzed by the Arizona Daily Star show.

And those are just the officially reported numbers. By other accounts, it was 22 dead — including six burned bodies — and at least a handful of others injured that month. There also have been gunbattles between Sonora state police and gunmen that resulted in at least another 14 dead.

Local residents talk of many others who are missing and unaccounted for.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.