miércoles, 27 de febrero de 2013

Mexicans awed, jubilant as union leader held over fraud

It is not every day a top politician is arrested, and certainly not in Mexico. But millions observed and commented on the Internet as one of Mexico's most powerful women and head of the national teachers' union Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, was stopped at an airport on 26 February after a court ordered her detained on theft-related charges. She was suspected among other offences of deviating the equivalent of some USD 200 million of union funds into private accounts. The Prosecutor-General of Mexico Jesús Murillo Karam explained that evening some of the motives and investigations that led to Gordillo's arrest, Excelsior reported. The newspaper cited among alleged offences the appropriation of union funds from 2008 to 2011, spending union funds on luxury shopping in the United States, laundering money through accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein and possible tax evasion as Gordillo had declared taxable revenues inferior to sums found in accounts being investigated. It is unlikely Mexicans were surprised to find that one of their politicians was involved in financial - or any type of - malfaisance. They already suspect and despise many of them as incompetent or crooked, in one way or another and to a lesser or greater degree. The report may have surprised millions who did not realistically envisage the arrest of such a prominent personage, especially by a government of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), traditionally associated with trade unions and clientelism. Esther Gordillo was since 1989 the president of the SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación), the education-sector workers union said to be Latin America's largest, and was thought capable of mobilising a million votes or more. When acceding to her position, she promised the union would never become anyone's "booty" nor would she seek re-election, Excelsior wrote on 27 February. Her union's relations with the PRI soured over the PRI's pledge to reform education when in power. The reforms approved in 2013 and promulgated on 25 February may be said to have reduced union powers and qualified criteria for the recruitment and promotion of public teachers whose positions had become lifelong, hereditary or negotiable sinecures. The union's 1.4 million members including thousands of teachers - entrenched in jobs many said were often less-than-deserved - became an army of clients whose interests Gordillo ostensibly protected in return for wielding the power of their votes. She was rich; Mexicans would on occasions glimpse or read about her lifestyle and travels. Her face became the unashamed setting for layers of make-up and feats of plastic surgery. Dubbed the "Schoolmistress" - La Maestra - she was also known for grammatical bunglings that must have amused many. The review Proceso noted "euphoria" among users of Internet websites like Twitter and Facebook. Excelsior reported more than 540 million comments about the arrest on Twitter by 27 February. The excess, rancour and satisfaction many of these expressed may give an idea of how Mexicans perceive their politicians.

Over 20 reported killed, dead across Mexico

Twenty three at least were reported killed or found dead around Mexico through 23-27 February, including policemen and a nine-year-old child. Five of these including a nine-year-old girl were shot dead in the northern district of Lerdo on 24 February; four of them were a relatives, Proceso reported. A policewoman died on 23 February of gunshot wounds received in one of the attacks that killed five policemen on 21 February in the northern districts of Gómez Palacio and nearby Lerdo. A Belgian businessman was shot dead in the west-coast resort of Acapulco in Guerrero on 23 February. The next day a spokesman for the state of Guerrero, Arturo Martínez Nuñez, said initial investigations suggested theft or a personal vendetta as possible motives of the murder, Proceso reported. The review reported the discovery of four bodies on 23-24 February in several districts of the northern state of Chihuahua, two or three of them being headless. A restaurant owner and his son were shot dead at their workplace in the city of Morelia west of Mexico City on 23 February, Proceso reported. It counted at least four violent deaths around Mexico on 25 February, including of an infantryman shot while on patrol in the western state of Michoacán. Two died on 26 February when gunmen attacked police on the streets of the north-central city of Zacatecas, although state authorities did not immediately state who the victims were, Milenio reported, citing Notimex. Armed residents or members of the self-styled community police in a part of the state of Guerrero were reported to have found ditches or secret graves that yielded the bones of four individuals on 26 or 27 February, although the site was expected to possibly yield more. Members of the Tecoanapa community police found five ditches in a locality called La Parota in the district of Tototepec, Excelsior reported on 27 February. Locals had earlier claimed gangs tortured and murdered victims in this area, Excelsior wrote. In northern Mexico on 26 February, armed men freed 12 inmates from a prison in the district of Miguel Alemán, Proceso reported, citing declarations by police and the chief prosecutor's office of the state of Tamaulipas.

Police hold suspected gang of 30 in El Salvador

Police detained early on 26 February 28-31 suspected members of one or more gangs in operations in the districts of El Paisnal and Aguilares north of the capital San Salvador, the website elsalvador.com and El Mundo reported. Some 300 policemen and the head of the state prosecution service Luis Martínez participated in the operation, which included raids on 56 buildings and followed three months of investigations, El Mundo reported. Those held were suspected of involvement in crimes including extortion and killings over several years. The Minister of Justice David Munguía Payés separately said on 25 or 26 February that more than 60 mayors had called the ministry and mediators to ask their districts to be included in a list of zones where gangs have agreed to desist from violent crime. The designation of crime havens was part of the second phase of a national pacification process that began with a ceasefire between gangs in 2012. The minister said so far four districts - Ilopango, Apopa, Santa Tecla and Sonsonate - were officially cited as free of violence while 18 such zones were initially envisaged, the website La Página reported on 26 February. More work and private investment were needed now Munguía said, to implement such provisions as gang members' social re-integration, given the plan's increasing scope. It was not immediately clear where the minister was speaking; he said the district of Panchimalco south of the capital was the next area set to become a crime "haven." The process he added was "gradual," while the state had "not stopped persecuting crime amid the ceasefire. The persecution of crime will continue even without a ceasefire. We had homicides reduced by 2,500 last year but we still caught 83,000 delinquents...we are still doing our job."

Colombian troops shoot two guerrillas, mines destroyed

The Colombian army shot dead two presumed fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during fighting in south-central Colombia on 21 February, including a guerrilla captain dubbed Jordán, the Defence Ministry reported on 25 February. Jordán or Berley González Zapata, identified as second-in-command of Front 55 of the FARC and a female guerrilla were killed in fighting in the locality of Río Platanillo on the frontier between the Huila and Meta departments; he was thought to be working in the area to faciliate the FARC's advance toward the department of Cundinamarca that surrounds Bogotá, and planning attacks on unspecified targets in the northern part of Huila, the ministry stated. Jordán was 31 years old and joined the FARC in 2000. On 25 February, a bomb attack in the town of La Dorada de San Miguel in the southern department of Putumayo killed "one civilian" and injured 14 including schoolchildren, El Espectador reported, citing Agence France-Presse. The attack attributed to the FARC was suspected as targetting the police, AFP stated. Troops separately detonated mines thought to belong to the FARC in two districts, the Defence Ministry reported on 26 February. Four mines were found and detonated in the district of Lejanías south of the capital and a "mine-like" explosive destroyed in the district of Miraflores in the southern department of Guaviare, the ministry stated.