Tuesday, December 14, 2010

USA Bábaro

Fire from Pecos prison riot/Tom Barry

(Second in a series on the death of Jesus Galindo and the Justice Department’s Privatization of Immigrant Imprisonment and Heath Care.)

Jesus Manuel Galindo was on the wrong side of the border and the wrong side of the law when he died.

Galindo came from a small town south of Ciudad Juárez. He was an “illegal alien” and a
“criminal alien.”

Torture and death in Juárez are now so common that new incidents fail to shock. The disregard for human life and official impunity thee are routine, everyday affairs.

The deaths, the mass graves, the massacres in Juárez are reported and tallied each day. New details about the involvement of the police, judicial system, military, politicians, and prison officials further illustrate what most everyone already knows.

What Mexicans are experiencing and suffering is the emergence of a modern “México Bábaro” – a revival of the barbarism and lawlessness of prerevolutionary Mexico.

Alarm and fear are also spreading throughout the U.S. borderlands.

But the narco-violence that has terrified the Mexico borderlands and many other parts of Mexico is largely contained by the border. No beheadings, no massacres at drug rehabilitation centers, no generalized violence.  El Paso is the safest large city in the county, and decreasing criminality and violence characterize the entire U.S. southern border.

Yet there is an untold story of a USA Bárbaro.

Glimpses of this horror on the U.S. side of the border can be seen in the story of Jesus Galindo. Blood isn’t flowing through the streets of the U.S. borderlands. Nor are law enforcement and the political community in the region widely corrupted by organized crime and drug trafficking bands, as is the case in Mexico, although there is certainly are cases of official corruption.

But the vaunted “rule of law,” respect for human life, and much-admired criminal justice institutions on the U.S. side hide a horrific system of imprisonment that is in many ways the more shocking and deploring than what is found across the border. 

When the tale of USA Bárbaro, as seen in the Texas town of Pecos, is told, it terrifies like no other. That’s because, as we listen, we see the horror comes from deep in the heart of America and all that we cherish – our system of “rule of law,” our heartland communities, our love of free enterprise, our caregivers, and our government agencies that protect the homeland and ensure that is justice for all.

Graciela and Jesus Galindo/Photo by Tom Barry
It is a story that is especially shocking because it comes from our legal system – the very system that supposedly separates from the impunity and corruption and injustice of Mexico. We are shocked to find that the safeguards, regulations, and monitoring systems established to prevent the kind of horrors experienced by Jesus Galindo certainly do exist.  Yet they are systematically ignored and manipulated in the interests of government bureaucrats and private companies.

As a new complaint by the Texas ACLU and two El Paso attorneys state so clearly describes, the system of the rule of law can devolve into a bureaucratic morass where life is worth little and profit prevails over justice – even in the Department of Justice.

 Galindo lived in the final years of his life in fear, as did his family members. They knew that death was coming soon if something weren’t done to rescue and protect him.  

Like the many Juarenses, Galindo -- who was 32 when his tortured body was found on Dec. 12, 2008 --  had family roots on both sides of the border. The Galindo family came from Villa Ahumada, a small town located on the highway leading south from Juárez. Like other highway towns in the northern Mexican borderland, Villa Ahumada is a narco community, historically controlled by the Juárez Cartel but since 2008 wracked by violence as the Sinaloa Cartel contests the drug plaza in Chihuahua.

As a young couple, Graciela and Jesus Galindo Sr. left northern Chihuahua, taking young Jesus with them, to seek work in chile-harvesting in southern New Mexico, not far from El Paso. Eventually they received legal residency status, and live today in a single-wide trailer along with their younger son, David, in the border colonia of Anthony, New Mexico.

That’s where I first heard the story of the life and death of Jesus Manuel Galindo. With other family members, including a couple of their son’s U.S.-born children listening, Galindo’s mother told the story of his capture, of the family’s pleas for clemency, the systemic medical neglect by his prison guardians, and of the morning she learned that her son – who suffered from severe epilepsy -- had died alone in an isolation cell after suffering a grand mal seizure the evening before.

Ever since her son was transferred to the immigrant prison in Pecos, Texas – about 220 miles from Anthony, NM – she had been calling and writing the prison receptionist to express concern about the medical condition and treatment of Jesus.

On the morning of December 12, Graciela was particularly anxious about her son’s emotional and physical health, having received from him a series of heart-breaking letters (which she has carefully conserved) complaining about not receiving medication or proper attention while locked up in solitary confinement – what the prison calls the Secure Housing Unit – for medical observation.

Crying, she said, “I wanted to talk with Jesus. I needed to know if he was okay.” As the ACLU legal complaint, filed Dec. 7, 2010 in the Western District Court of Texas, reports:
“Graciela Galindo called [the Pecos prison] on December 12 to inquire about her son’s health. Prison officials repeatedly refused to respond to her inquiries and told her that they would have to wait for the doctors to provide her with a response to her questions. Graciela begged prison officials to do something to help her son, unaware that he had died the night before. After about an hour of pleading with prison officials on the phone, someone at RCDC finally informed Graciela that her son was dead, telling her that they were “unable to do anything to help Jesus.”

According to the legal complaint against the DOJ’s Bureau of Prison, the County of Reeves, GEO Group, and Physicians Network Association: “The utter disregard shown by RCDC prison and medical staff to [Jesus’] Galindo’s repeated, beseeching, well-founded expressions of fear for his own personal safety bordered on sadistic.”

Five Factors Leading to Failed State in Mexico

José Antonio Ortega Sánchez,
author of Rumbo al Estado Fallido

There’s a mistaken impression that questions about the degree to which Mexico is a failed, failing, or fragile state are being asked only in the United States – by the U.S. military or intelligence, by right-wing analysts as part of their history of Mexico bashing, or even by those eager to find more justification for the regulation or decriminalization of narcotics and other illegal drugs.

It’s true that in Mexico there is deep concern that any conclusion that the state is failing may precipitate and justify U.S. military intervention.

But the inability of the Mexican government to halt the spread of narco-violence, associated with both international drug trafficking and the expanding domestic market for cocaine and other drugs, is raising concern within Mexico that the criminal forces are gaining increasing control.

One sign of the new thinking in Mexico was a Jan. 22, 2009 editorial in El Milenio titled “Mexico: Failed State?" Yes Indeed.

According the Milenio editorial:

“State authorities are showing themselves to be impotent, disorganized, inefficient, or penetrated by corruption, and total disorder in their actions or their lack of action with respect to the delinquents. What’s more "the Mexican State finds itself a prisoner of depraved circles of action that prevents it from promoting economic development or from reforming itself.”

The Mexican State is no longer defensible…. The only way to overcome this situation is to confront it with political actions – not with the rhetoric outpouring of ignorant and self-styled patriot politicians.”

Other Mexican dailies over the past couple of years have published equally alarmed editorials, raising the acceptance in Mexico, particularly outside Mexico City, that something is seriously rotten in the state of Mexico and that organized crime is taking over while the political classes play politics as usual.

In El Siglo de Torreon, a Jan. 29, 2009 op-ed by René Delgado, observed that outside Mexico it was becoming increasingly common to perceive Mexico as a failed state, but not within Mexico, especially among the political elites. “Within the country,” he asserted, the political elite isn’t paying attention to the danger of instability, the increase in violence, and social discontent – in short, the ungovernability. For the same reason, it is not inclined to change its traditional conduct not even a tiny bit.”

With both the PAN and the PRD discredited as credible opposition and governing parties, Mexico faces the prospects of the return of the yet-more-corrupted PRI taking power in a couple of years.
A broader discussion is needed about how to face down the organized crime organizations, assert the rule of law, and take back the public spaces from armed delinquents.

An important contribution in that regard is the recent release of a new book by José Antonio Ortega Sánchez titled México: ¿Rumbo al Estado Fallido? (Oct. 2010, Planeta). Ortega Sánchez, a human rights lawyer and author, has served as president of the Mexican Human Rights Commission and is currently president of the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice.

The new book notes that the state is losing its control over the ability to impose and prevent violence, to control territory, and to collect fees and axes, as well as the capacity to prosecute and punish those challenging these traditional state roles.

The story of a failing or at least a fragile state is also evident in statistics. The murder rate has increased 100% since 2007, and organized crime, which was responsible for about 10% of crime in 2000, now accounts for two-thirds of all crime.

According to the new book, three Mexican cities – Juárez, Chihuahua, and Culiacán – rank among the top ten cities in the world in murder rates. Also of great concern for the region is that four Central American cities – San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Guatemala, and Tegucigalpa – also rank in the top ten. The other cities, according to this listing, are Caracas, Kingston, Cali, Kabul, and Baghdad.

Members of the Mexican security forces are being increasingly targeted, either because of their involvement in organized crime or because of their obstruction of the ambitions of the criminal organizations and their lackeys. The number of assassinated agents, according to a table in the book, is 275% greater than in 2004.

It’s not just about narcotics. According to Ortega Sánchez, hundreds of thousands of innocent Mexico regularly pay “cuotas” to organized crime to escape retribution. He estimates that in a couple of years, continuing the current growth rate of extortion, organized crime should be able to obtain as much money from "quotas" as it does today from heroin trafficking – an estimated $1 billion.

The author concludes that five reasons are leading Mexico on the route toward a failed state:

·        * Unlimited corruption at both federal and local levels that has protected the narcos for decade in exchange for payoffs.

·         *  The government’s decision, beginning with the administration of Carlos Salinas, to let the narco organizations wage war among themselves, which has presented the seed of the failed state.

·       *   The government’s willingness to accept rising impunity.
·         Recent strategies that oscillate between indiscriminate massive crackdowns, demagogic political pronouncements and initiatives, and a small number of surgical hits.

·        *  A politics of passiveness in the face of domestic terrorism.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Arizona's Immigration Debate Gets Dirtier

The Arizona backlash story needs to be told.

Arizona is a social and economic cauldron. The state’s unusual demographics, boom-bust conditions, and home-grown right wing have served up a poisonous mix of border-security and immigration-enforcement fanaticism.  

Across the nation anti-immigrant activists and state legislatures consider Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” (SB 1070) as a model for locally initiated immigration crackdowns.

In addition to a spate of state immigration- and border-control initiatives, Arizona has produced a cast of crackdown heroes – Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Paul Babeu, Sheriff Larry Dever, State Senator Russell Pearce, Governor Jan Brewer, among others – that have tapped uninformed fears of immigrants and Mexicans.

But what makes Arizona such a breeding ground for conservatives, backlash populists, and assorted reactionaries? What are the factors that have put Arizona at the leading edge of the country’s anti-immigrant backlash and fear-mongering about border security?

Recently, the Phoenix New Times, which for decades has countered right-wing extremism in Arizona with excellent investigative reporting and commentary, tackled the question of what’s driving the anti-immigrant legislation and organizing in Arizona. And it found the answers -- not in Arizona but in Petoskey, Michigan and in Washington, DC.

In the Dec. 2 issue, veteran New Times journalist Terry Greene Sterling offers a 5,635-word badly jumbled tirade titled “Russell Pearce and Other Illegal-Immigration Populists Rely on Misleading, Right-Wing Reports to Scapegoat Immigrants and to Terrify Penny-Pinched Americans.”

Both the New Times and Terry Greene Sterling (who describes herself as “Journalist, Author, White Woman in the Barrio” on her personal website) should be ashamed.

The Tanton Network Conspiracy

Instead of attempting to tell the untold story of the anti-immigrant backlash in Arizona, the writer and the weekly tabloid recycled oft-reported facts about the key role of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in formulating the SB 1070 legislation. To tell her story of outside powers driving local politics, the author also recycled the legend of “Tanton Network.”

In their attempt to delegitimize the restrictionist institutes – and by extension all those who believe the immigration should be more strictly limited -- leading immigrant rights groups have promoted a conspiracy theory called the Tanton Network. That’s what they call the three leading Washington Beltway restrictionist institutes – FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies – that have past or present ties to John Tanton, the environmental and anti-population growth activist who lives in remote northern Michigan.  

In its willingness to slander and smear, in its facile use of facts, and in its sloppy analysis, the disjointed piece by Greene Sterling has more in common with the anti-immigrant rants found in online comments sections than with the kind of constructive investigative often published by New Times.  It’s wretched journalism that unfortunately undermines the reputation of Greene Sterling, who is the author of a new book titled Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s War Zone.

The piece, which poses as investigative journalism, might be better considered as an ammunition dump. Depending,  apparently, on the assumed allegiances of progressive New Times readers, Greene Sterling, serves us page after page of bits of information and misinformation -- designed not to shed light on what’s happening in Arizona but to confirm conclusions that it is all a right-wing conspiracy.

For those on the attack against SB 1070 and its supporters, the Greene Sterling piece is loaded with easily dispensed ammunition about the great right-wing conpsiracy. It’s backlash against backlash. Worse yet, the ammunition she passes out is old and second-hand.

She doesn’t look around her own home state for social, economic, or demographic reasons that may explain why a majority of Arizonans support SB 1070. Instead, she posits that Russell Pearce  (a “populist”, really?) and other Arizona right-wing figures depended on information from a network of “white nationalist hate groups” to make their case for state-directed border security and immigration crackdown initiatives.

She asserts that “Brewer, Pearce, and practically every other Arizona illegal-immigration politico relied” on a FAIR report on the costs of illegal immigration in Arizona to get elected. But where is the evidence that this report was so very influential?

To explain the failure of immigrant-rights activists to advance liberal immigration reform, reform advocates like Greene Sterling tend to blame the so-called “Tanton Network” conspiracy.

Clearly, the three organizations – especially FAIR -- have associated themselves, at times, with white nationalists and other despicable individuals in their coalitions to stop “mass immigration” and “amnesty” over the past three decades.  Just as clearly, when this does happen, it merits strong criticism.

However, Greene Sterling -- following the lead of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as well as Americas Voice, Center for New Community, and the National Council of La Raza -- doesn’t offer thoughtful critiques of the current policies and statements of the Tanton Network organizations. Instead, she slanders, smears, and recklessly labels these organizations – and their members -- as white nationalists, white supremacists, and hate groups. In the process, Greene Sterling and the New Times have thrown aside the basic principles of journalism and the ethics of responsible public speech.  

It’s true that Arizona, as Greene Sterling writes, serves as “an experimental legal laboratory for FAIR, a place to test increasingly harsh laws.” But that is an old story – already told by many other reporters and news outlets. Rather offering a collection of old facts, half-truths, and myths, why didn’t Greene Sterling examine why Arizona has proved such fertile ground for FAIR and for home-grown proponents of immigration crackdowns?

The Population Question

Greene Sterling rightly points to Tanton’s longtime advocacy of zero population growth as having sparked his interest in changing immigration patterns.

“Tanton's Zero Population Growth movement,” notes Greene Sterling, “helped influence a reduction in the size of American families. Even so, the U.S. population soared from about 225 million in 1982 to more than 307 million in 2009, in part because immigrant babies have bolstered the birth rate Tanton has labored so hard to reduce.”

But rather than give credence to any of the anti-population growth arguments, such as resource depletion and environmental sustainability, she sets up the population argument for restrictionism to reflexively knock it down.

Dismissing the population/immigration conclusions of many leading immigration restrictionists, Greene Sterling assures us that these population-explosion arguments shouldn’t worry us. After all, “the U.N. reports that the world population may stabilize by 2300 because fertility rates are trending downward.” Perhaps, but at what unsustainable level?

She contends that “many population experts say this is a good thing, that immigrant babies will become the workers who pay taxes to provide social services for the aging American population.”

True, many economists do agree that immigration growth does contribute positively to economic growth, and there is also widespread agreement that cheap immigrant labor could meet the demand for elderly care. But should immigration policy be determined solely on the market mechanisms and GDP rates?

There’s no acknowledgment that some of the population/immigration arguments of the restrictionist institutes might merit examination, such as their contention that immigration policy must consider the impact on population growth, environmental sustainability, and a society’s capacity for integration –. This is not say, of course, that such concerns are what motivate the activism of Pearce, Brewer, Babeu, Arpaio, and other immigrant-bashing Arizona politicians.

Character Assassination

Greene Sterling characterizes former Arizona Republic reporter Jerry Kammer as an apologist for white-nationalist restrictionists. She claims that Kammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is currently a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, participated in the convening of a CIS panel that aimed to “discredit the SPLC.” According to Greene Sterling, Kammer “bashed the organization” but at the same time “sought to distance himself from Tanton.”

She quotes Kammer as saying that Tanton "has a tin ear for the sensitivities of immigration" and is a “’distraction’ in the immigration movement” because he "sometimes speaks with a freewheeling bluntness that even those who admire him find upsetting."

Nowhere in her own free-wheeling reporting does Greene Sterling mention Kammer’s 27-page report, Immigration and SPLC: How the Southern Poverty Law Center Invented a Smear, Served La Raza, Manipulated the Press, and Duped its Donors. Complete with 147 reference notes, the CIS report is everything that the Greene Sterling report is not – assiduously researched, professionally written, and thoughtful.

Clearly, FAIR and Tanton are deserving of much criticism for their narrow, mean-spirited restrictionism. But criticism and bashing are entirely different, and the New Times article is a good example of the latter – where character assassination, guilt by association, and a disregard for facts and truth prevail.
Greene Sterling accepts the widespread characterization among progressive immigration activists that the three organizations in the “Tanton Network” – FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS – are “hate groups.”

Labeling an organization a “hate group” is a serious matter because it implies they promote “hate crimes.” Blithely implicating a respected reporter as an instrument of a hate group isn’t something one would expect of a respected news organization like the Phoenix New Times.

Greene Sterling asserts – with no attempt to document – that “several human rights organizations have flagged FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS as white-nationalist hate groups.” It is true that SPLC did recklessly label FAIR as a hate group in late 2007.

But NumbersUSA and CIS were not included in that hate-group labeling by SPLC, as the author implies. What “human rights organizations” have charged that FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS are “white nationalist hate groups”?

(SPLC, it bears noting, is not a human rights organization but a self-described defender of “civil rights.”)

The SPLC doesn’t, as Greene Sterling implies, call FAIR a “white nationalist hate group” but rather a “hate group” with ties to white supremacists.

Phoenix New Times readers might be interested in the observations of Carol M. Swain, Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University and author of The New White Nationalism in America, about reckless hate-group labeling. 

In her Oct. 12, 2009 article on Huffington Post, Guilt by Association: The Southern Poverty Law Center Hurls a Punch, Swain observed: 

“The SPLC needs to rethink its mission and the impact that its attacks can have on individuals who are limited in the means available to defend themselves. An organization with the rich history of the Southern Poverty Law Center should be above ad hominem attacks, guilt-by-association smears, and the never-ending search for red herrings."

In the immigration policy debate in Arizona, FAIR is not a red-herring but a very influential player, as Greene Sterling details. By implying, however, that FAIR and all those associated with the Tanton Network are white nationalists and hate groups, Greene Sterling resorts the tactics that she excoriates. 

Readers don’t need a conspiracy theory and guilt-by-association name-calling to understand that the Federation for American Immigration Reform is less than fair, less than reasonable. Simply laying out FAIR’s uncompromising position on all liberally initiated immigration reforms, including most recently the eminently fair and smart DREAM Act, should be enough to explain the narrow-minded, heartless politics of FAIR and other restrictionists.

Russell Pearce and Other Illegal-Immigration Populists Rely on Misleading, Right-Wing Reports to Scapegoat Immigrants and to Terrify Penny-Pinched Americans” is yellow journalism.

Such reporting is not conducive to fostering constructive discussions about the future of immigration reform and immigrants in Arizona. 

See related articles:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

ACLU Tells Horror Story of Immigrant Imprisonment in West Texas

Pecos Prison Burns/Photo by Tom Barry
Last year, a year after the immigrant inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas rioted, the ACLU of Texas and Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, sponsored a protest march and vigil to bring attention to the prison conditions.

The march from the Reeves County Courthouse to the 3,750-bed prison on the outskirts of this remote West Texas town was ignored by all but a few media outlets. At the vigil outside the prison, family members of inmates of the prison operated by the corrections giant GEO recounted stories of medical neglect and abusive treatment suffered by sons and brothers.

The twenty or more protesters were all outsiders – most of whom had traveled a couple hundred miles to express their concern and solidarity. In Pecos, the prison is the main source of jobs. Reeves County, which built the detention facility in 1988, regards the prison as a major source of revenue. Any criticism of the prison in Pecos is considered an existential threat.

If the prison were to close, more than four hundreds of jobs would dry up, the county government would be left bankrupt, and the county's 31% poverty rate would climb.

Pecos, the county seat, is already a sad, forlorn place. Since the late 1940s it has suffered from a succession of economic busts, starting with the army's bomber training base closing. As the water table dropped, the cotton farms and mills shut down. In the 1990s, the sulfur mine on the county's western edge closed, and the food processing plant in Pecos moved operations to Mexico.

The oil wells around Pecos stand still. The railroad, which put the town on the map in the late 1880s, still runs through town, and at night you can still hear the whistle blow. But the train doesn't stop in Pecos anymore.

In the mid-1980s the county government invested in prison industry. Using project revenue bonds, it expanded the county jail and began renting bed space to state government and the feds. Since 1988 the detention center has undergone three major expansions, all financed by tax-exempt revenue bonds the county offered to major investment houses.

Vigil outside Pecos Prison/Tom Barry
The county still owns the prison, and it has more than $120 million in outstanding prison debt. While the Reeves County Detention Center – a sprawling complex of three units – is still public property, it is operated through contracts and subcontracts with private partners.

Through what are known as Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) contracts, the Bureau of Prison – an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice -- contracts the county to house and care for immigrants who have been criminally charged and sentenced. The county subcontracts with GEO Group to operate and manage the immigrant prison and with Physicians Network Association (PNA) to provide health care to the immigrant inmates.

Pecos now faces another economic threat.

It's not that the flow of immigrant inmates is drying up. New policies at the Department of Homeland Security that criminalize illegally entry into the United States have flooded federal courts with immigrant prosecutions, and BOP has since 2001 issued CARs to private prison firms and local governments like Reeves County for immigrant imprisonment.

Once completing their sentences, generally under five years, immigrant inmates are transferred from BOP-supervised prisons to detention centers supervised by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a DHS agency that process the immigrants for deportation. These detention centers are generally operated by private prisons firms like GEO. For each of the past seven years, ICE has reported record highs in the number of immigrants detained and removed – with approximately 290,000 in 2009.

The problem, then, is not that Pecos is facing a shrinking market of prisoners to lock up for pay. The problem is a dead immigrant, Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died in isolation from an epileptic seizure at the Pecos prison on December 12, 2008.

His death set off two prison riots – one that erupted the day his body was discovered, and one a month later. The damage caused by the riots obligated the county to issue $40 million in new revenue bonds to pay for the prison renovation to meet BOP standards. At the county meetings following the prison disturbances, the commissioners and county administrators expressed no concern about prison conditions. The concern was how much it was going to cost the county.

Now comes a new threat to the economic stability in Reeves County.

The ACLU of Texas together with an El Paso private law firm has filed a massive law suit on the behalf of Galindo's family against Reeves County. Also named in the wrongful death lawsuit are BOP, GEO, and PNA, as well as individuals at each of these entities. The complaint, filed in West Texas district court in Pecos, states: "All four entities involved in Mr. Galindo's custody and care—PNA, GEO, Reeves County, and BOP—bear legal and moral responsibility for his utterly preventable death."


Recounting the immigrant inmate's final days, the law suit states:

"Galindo had been held in solitary confinement for one month before he died as punishment for complaining that his seizure medication was not working. He suffered at least two seizures while in isolation during that month, and repeatedly asked medical and prison staff to adjust his medication and move him out of solitary so that he would not be alone when he seized. Galindo ultimately suffered a fatal seizure during the night and died alone, unattended and undermedicated—exactly as he feared he would in the anguished days and weeks preceding his death. RCDC prison and medical staff discovered his body the following morning in rigor mortis."

Galindo is survived by four minor children, three of whom are U.S. citizens, and by his parents and two siblings, all legal permanent residents living in Anthony, New Mexico. A Mexican national from Juárez, Galindo was serving a 30-month sentence for illegal reentry -- which, as the law suit notes, is a nonviolent crime that until a few years ago was not aggressively prosecuted."

Media reports, including major investigative pieces published by the Boston Review and the Texas Observer, attacked some public attention to the poor conditions and the related economic underpinnings of immigrant imprisonment.

But the new legal complaint, which includes a detailed chronology of Galindo's mistreatment and suffering at the hands of the four-way prison partnership, must have Galindo's jailors frantically consulting with their respective lawyers about how much this will cost them.

It seems certain that the lawsuit will result in either a massive settlement or court award. The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial on ten claims for action. As the legal complaint, which was filed in Pecos on December 7, makes clear, the responsibility for Galindo's horrible death rests not only with the four prison partners – Reeves County, GEO, PNA, and BOP – but also with the system of immigrant prison outsourcing.

The 92-page complaint is modern American horror story. According to the plaintiffs, "The utter disregard shown by RCDC, prison and medical staff to Galindo's repeated, beseeching, well-founded expressions of fear for his own personal safety bordered on sadistic."

No one person killed Jesus Manuel Galindo.

He was tortured to death by the bureaucracy of immigration enforcement, by the drive for profits, by a criminal justice system that criminalizes and victimizes immigrants -- and by a small West Texas town trying to survive.

(Next: The Chronology of a Death in Texas)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mexico's Failed State: Yes, No, or Maybe Soon

Recruiting billboard for police in Juárez

The traits of a failing state – loss of control over national territory, inability to provide public services, loss of monopoly on legitimate use of violence or physical force, and widespread corruption and criminality – are increasingly recognizable in many areas in Mexico. This is the case not just along the northern border – from Baja California to Tamaulipas – but also in such states as Guerrero, Durango, and Sinaloa.

It would certainly be inaccurate, at this point, to describe Mexico a failed state. Yet a serious discussion about the degree to which the Mexican state controls national territory, protects its citizens, and ensures governance is not premature.

The questionable legitimacy of the 2006 election that put him in Los Pinos may have been a factor in the decision by President Felipe Calderón to launch the war on drugs. His launching of the war on drugs burnished Calderón’s credentials as a strong leader and tough national security chief, much like Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe.

But political opportunism alone doesn’t adequately explain Calderón’s decision to launch the war on drugs and join a security alliance with the United States. On becoming president in 2006, it is likely that Calderón understood that Mexico was for the first time facing an existential threat in the form of narco-violence and the penetration of organized crime organizations.

As the date for the 2012 presidential election presses closer and as the failure of the Mexico’s drug war deepens, Mexico’s future is on the line.

But the options for stabilizing and securing the Mexican state are limited.

Political Parties on the Sidelines

On both the left and the right, Mexico’s political parties have little to offer in the way of a serious reform agenda.

The conservative National Action Party (PAN)’s traditional vision of a rule-of-law, citizen rights, free enterprise, corruption-fighting, and morality-centered government no longer inspires as it once did. After nearly two-decades in various positions of municipal, state, and federal power, PAN’s identity as a white knight coming to rescue the state from PRI domination and a corrupt, increasingly dysfunctional system no longer resonates.

Similarly, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and other left parties suffer from their collective history of infighting, their practice of spouting of tired leftist dogma, and their lack of achievements.

Poised for a major political comeback in the 2012 presidential election, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has been out of power since 2000, seeks to tap anti-incumbent voter sentiment and nostalgia for a PRI-dominated era remembered by many as being more stable and secure, and even more prosperous.

When compared with the political and governing practices of the last century, Mexico’s political scene may seem refreshing dynamic and transparent. There are now multi-party elections and unprecedented electoral transparency.

Nonetheless, there is a deepening sense that Mexico is stagnating politically, and even seems to be moving backward.

The PRI, which holds 19 of the country’s governor seats, is also the dominant force in Congress, holding 237 seats, with PAN occupying 146 and PRD having just 71. Not only is PRI forwarding a presidential candidate who is nationally well-known and well-regarded – Mexico state governor Enrique Peña Nieto – but it will also embark on its presidential campaign with an appealing anti-incumbent message.

What is more, the PAN-PRD coalition (which obstructed PRI’s plan to make a clean sweep of the 2010 gubernatorial races) will not be an obstacle in the presidential election, since neither the PAN nor PRD is likely to agree on a common candidate given their sharply different political views and party platforms.

Although PRI will take full advantage of anti-incumbent voter sentiment, the party holds out little hope that it will champion a reform agenda to tackle the country’s severe problems.

Drug trafficking organizations did once find a profitable place within PRI’s corporatist structures. However, the old structure of a few geographically based and tightly controlled drug-trafficking organizations has given way to array of new organizations that are all over the map.

No longer do the narcotics trafficking organizations seek control only of the trafficking routes into the U.S. market. They and their subsidiaries also ferociously compete for control of the rapidly expanding domestic drug markets, mainly for crack cocaine and methamphetamines.

The most ominous difference, however, is that the old drug trafficking organizations are now diversified operations. They have become mafias or organized crime organizations, whose interests include a wide array of illegal and legal businesses.

Politicians and parties are no longer the overlords that establish the terms of the deals under which drug cartels operate in Mexico. Instead, they are regarded as the pawns, puppets, and instruments of the new crime organizations.

Rethinking Mexico

It is no wonder, then, that the United States is reevaluating its security threat assessment of Mexico.  

In a September 2010 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Secretary Hillary Clinton shocked many with her frank assessment of the gravity of Mexico’s security crisis and her consideration of a more ambitious plan to contest the power of organized crime.

"We face an increasing threat from a well-organized network, drug-trafficking threat that is, in some cases, morphing into, or making common cause with, what we would consider an insurgency," Clinton said. While both the Bush and Obama administrations endeavored to sharply differentiate the Merida Initiative from Plan Colombia, Secretary Clinton explicitly compared the present crisis in Mexico to Colombia’s campaign in the 1990s against that country’s narcos and its narco-financed leftist guerrilla insurgency.
Clinton raised the possibility that the United States, Mexico, and the Central America nations may all need to cooperate in an “equivalent” to Plan Colombia, the multibillion dollar campaign of military aid and counternarcotics assistance launched during the Clinton Administration.
It is widely accepted that Plan Colombia did help eliminate the dominant drug cartels and significantly weaken the leftist insurgencies, albeit with a less successful records in obstructing cocaine flows or diminishing human rights abuses by the military and right-wing militias. Plan Colombia, which gradually merged the fight against narcotrafficking and the leftist guerilla army FARC, has been widely criticized for sparking increased human rights violations and for bolstering military impunity.
According to Clinton, "[I]t's going to take a combination of improved institutional capacity and better law enforcement and, where appropriate, military support for that law enforcement... to prevent this from spreading and beat it back." Clinton maintained that Plan Colombia “worked” and added, “We need to figure out what are the equivalents for Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Clinton’s statement signaled that Washington was increasingly considering the power and violence of Mexico’s crime organizations not simply as a drug war concern but as an existential threat to Mexico.
The problem is that there is no apparent plan – either coming from Mexico or Washington, or jointly – about how to best confront the power of the Mexican-based organized crime organizations.
The United States has no apparent interest or appetite for direct intervention, even if requested by Mexico – as improbable as that may be. It’s highly unlikely that the U.S. Congress, especially one where the House is controlled by Mexican-bashing Republicans, would accede to any administration request for vastly increased military and other spending in Mexico, along the lines of another multi-billion dollar Plan Colombia.
 As the State Department cables indicate, there is deepening concern among U.S. officials that its Mexican partners are not sufficiently modernized, united, or committed to waging an effective campaign against the country’s organized crime forces – a fight that would necessarily also entail a frontal assault on official corruption and impunity.
It does appear – in the evolving official assessments of drug war, op-eds in Mexico City papers, and elsewhere – that the Mexican government, business community, and citizenry are slowly beginning to acknowledge that this crisis is about much more than widespread delinquency and inter-cartel violence.  Territory is being lost, politicians are being killed and kidnapped, and the power balance between the state and organized crime may be shifting in favor of the syndicates.
The country’s political parties, however, are narrowly focused on short-term political gains. In the country’s center of power and population – Mexico City – the crisis is still largely regarded as one limited to distant regions deemed of only marginal relationship to the economic and political course of the country.  
The reflexive blaming among many Mexican sectors of the United States for the spread of narco-violence and organized crime also militates against any honest evaluation of the stability and viability of the Mexican state.
The debate over whether Mexico is deteriorating into a failed state is a fascinating one. But it may distract from the pressing challenge of formulating new social and political options for staunching the rise and the territorial ambitions of organized crime in Mexico.