BORDER UNDER SIEGE

US Military Training and Texas Guns Fuel Mexico’s Narco Wars

by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly

The sun is shining on the low rolling hills covered in Texas short grass and dotted with cattle along the southern end of I-35, the road that stretches from Duluth, Minn., to the Texas-Mexico border at Laredo. Little interrupts the bucolic scene for miles in any direction except for electric towers strung together like alien giants on a forced march across the vast plains. Towns that are little more than gas-stops appear and disappear beside the highway. On the other side of the Rio Grande, the countryside looks to be more of the same.

At the border, one way to cross is via a footbridge over the river. Last spring, a banner hung on the Mexican side of the bridge turned out to be a recruiting poster for the Zetas, a murderous drug cartel that had recently taken over much of Nuevo Laredo.

At the end of I-35, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo face each other across that shallow river. It’s a famously porous international border that, given the shared culture of people on the two sides, has always seemed seriously smudged.

And yet few countries could be as different as the United States and Mexico these days. The critical nature of that difference takes hold as soon as a southbound traveler sets a foot—and it had better be a cautious foot—past the border formalities. In Nuevo Laredo, the walls of many homes and government buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. Some have high concrete walls, four inches thick, in front of their property—protection against grenades and assault weapons. Nuevo Laredo hasn’t had a police chief in two years. The last one quit in fear of his life after only three months in office. The one before that was shot and killed in broad daylight after seven hours on the job.

Up the river in Juárez, across from El Paso, about 1,200 people have been murdered thus far this year, and the total could hit 1,500. The brutality of many of the murders is stunning. Newspaper headlines announce decapitations, people being burned alive or tortured to death, mass murders. In early November, a headless body was hung from an overpass over the city’s main road.

The story is the same, with variations, all along the US-Mexico border, as various Mexican drug cartels fight each other and the government: This is no longer the drug war that has chugged along for decades along this border, where there was always violence, to be sure, but where headlines were more likely to be about the size of drug shipments seized or the latest local Customs or Border Patrol agent found to be in cahoots with the smugglers. Nor is US involvement any longer limited simply (and profoundly) to providing the market for drugs that makes the whole narcotrafficking world possible, or to low-level corruption of the occasional border cop.

Interviews with agents in numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies, border residents, and drug-war journalists paint a picture of a war beyond anything anyone has ever seen here before, an epidemic of murder and sadistic violence that’s being waged with US weapons and aided by US government dollars, led by forces trained by the US military. The level of power of the Mexican drug cartels is completely out of control, and nothing the US and Mexican governments are doing seems to be working to slow it down.

Instead, the money generated by the sale of drugs in this country is so impossibly vast that corruption in local Mexican police forces, the Mexican military, and even the federal government is at the saturation point—and many times more lucrative, not to mention healthier, than staying honest. The drug gangs are now recruiting and killing people on the US side of the border, and murders and corruption are on the rise in towns from El Paso to Brownsville. Unless something changes quickly, it looks as though things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Already, the Mexican side of the border has become such a horror show that many Americans will find it difficult to comprehend, no matter how many movies about it they have seen. The transformation of Mexico into a drugocracy is nearly complete, with no institution completely free from its influence, including the US Embassy in Mexico City.

Thousands of Mexicans have paid dearly to have tracking chips embedded under their skin, so that they can be located if they are kidnapped. More Mexican citizens than ever are showing up in hospitals on the US side to be treated for gunshot wounds—because there’s less chance in the United States of their attackers following them to a hospital ward to finish the job. And record numbers of Mexicans are fleeing to Canada to seek political asylum.

The firepower of the cartels is as frightening as their ruthlessness. Where do they get their weapons? From Texas and other border states, where the gun lobbies have kept the gun laws weak. Texas is considered to be the number-one supplier of weapons to the cartels.

But their artillery goes beyond anything found at your local gun shop. The cartels have M-16s, hand grenades, grenade launchers—that is, US military weapons, by the truckload.

Many of the most murderous units of the drug armies know very well how to use those weapons because they were taught by the US military—on the assumption that they were going to fight against the cartels. Now they fight for the cartels—or control them. What’s more, US corporations are getting into the act, working under contract with the Mexican and US governments to train specialized soldiers, including in torture techniques, and to act as private security agents on both sides of the border.

A recent government report said one Mexican cartel, angered at raids in the US that targeted their people (including in North Texas) has threatened retaliation. The cartel is calling on the American gangs that are its business partners to “confront US law enforcement agencies.” One cartel boss allegedly has ordered reinforcements to Reynosa, the report said, “armed with assault rifles, bulletproof vests, and grenades…occupying safe houses throughout the McAllen area.”

What’s more, the sign on the bridge was just one example of the cartel’s new practice of brazenly advertising for foot soldiers. In Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, their fliers were plastered everywhere recently.

The banner on the bridge echoed the words of the old US military recruiting poster, and it specifically targeted members of the military: “The Zetas operations group wants you, soldier or ex-soldier,” it read. “We offer you a good salary, food, and attention for your family. Don’t suffer hunger and abuse any more.” It listed a cell phone number to call to sign up.

In Nuevo Laredo, things are much quieter now than they were two years ago, when gunfights broke out almost daily. But even now, entering Mexico at Laredo is intimidating, because the town is still tense with the memory of those battles. Stores are boarded up, international medical and dental clinics that used to cater to Texans have for-rent signs on their doors, and it’s not a safe place to wander around. The relative peace is not the result of any law enforcement victory over the drug traffickers—far from it. The warring cartels in Nuevo Laredo have simply reached a détente.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón came to power in 2006 vowing to eliminate the drug scourge and its attendant violence. George W. Bush’s administration handed over hundreds of millions to help with that quest. But all that’s happened since Calderón took office, despite his efforts, is that the violence and corruption have increased. It’s not just the death toll that’s up; robberies, extortions, and kidnappings are on the rise as well.

The next-to-last Nuevo Laredo police chief was murdered because he promised to crack down on drug violence, which claimed 170 lives in that city in 2005 alone, not to mention dozens of kidnappings or the assassinations carried out on the US side.

“It’s a war zone,” Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores told ABC News at the time. “We’ve got level-three body armor; they’ve got level-four. We’ve got cell phones; they’ve got satellite cell phones that we can’t tap into… We’re being out-gunned.”

In the fight against drug-based corruption, there has been no détente. In the last five months, 35 agents with the Mexican federal prosecutor’s office were arrested for corruption. According to Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, each was being paid between $150,000 and $450,000 monthly by the cartels. In late October, two high-ranking officials with Mexico’s Office on Organized Crime, part of the attorney general’s office, were arrested for supplying a Sinaloa-based cartel with information on possible drug seizures. Each was being paid $400,000 per month. An Interpol agent working with the US Drug Enforcement Administration at the US embassy in Mexico City, caught supplying the same cartel with inside information last month, was thought to have been earning $30,000 monthly.

The current rash of violence in Mexico, as well as the violence that erupted in Nuevo Laredo a couple of years ago, can be traced to Calderón’s policy of going after cartel leaders. His belief was that the cartels would be destroyed with their capos gone. So he sent 32,000 federal soldiers out across Mexico with orders to bring the peace by eliminating cartel bosses. Dozens were captured or killed, including many who have since been extradited to the US for prosecution. But the push also had two negative side effects: First, the cartels were able to corrupt large segments of those military forces sent out against them; and secondly, the removal of the bosses created a power vacuum that’s led to the current violence among those seeking to become the new cartel leaders.

In many ways, it’s a repeat of what happened in Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Medellín and Cali cartel leaders were eliminated. Violence in that country escalated to brutal heights. But interestingly, the victor in those internecine wars turned out not to be any of the Colombian cartel lieutenants, but the drug bosses in Mexico, who moved up from being middle men to running the cartels themselves.

The campaigns then didn�t stop corruption or even slow it down, and the same has been true of Calderon�s efforts thus far. Much of the violence in Nuevo Laredo was carried out by municipal police, including gun battles between them and federal officers. Eventually more than half of Nuevo Laredo’s 700-man police force was fired for corruption. In June 2007, Calderón purged 284 federal police commanders from all 31 Mexican states and the Mexico City federal district. All that did, one DEA source said, was to raise the cost of monthly payments to corrupt federal agents and prosecutors.

US drug agents estimate that, every day, $10 million worth of drugs cross over the Laredo bridges— not to mention the rest of the 2,000-mile long US-Mexico border—and heads up I-35. It’s enough to pay for a lot of corruption and a lot of weaponry. Unfortunately for their victims, the drug lords don’t have to go far to do their gun-shopping.

The Texas-Mexico frontier has always been a smuggler’s paradise, and through the decades, the trade—in whatever goods were in demand at the moment—has gone both ways. These days, although the drugs traveling north grab most of the headlines, there’s an equally deadly trade: in weapons, going into Mexico, since that country has no arms manufacturing industry. According to US officials, nearly all of Mexico’s drug-war violence is done with US-manufactured weapons. The worst-offending states are Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, all of which permit almost anyone to purchase and own as many pistols, machine pistols, rifles, and assault rifles as they want, with no waiting time and no record of the sale going beyond the gun dealers’ files.

In those states, only an instant background check is done. According to Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, anyone who sells a gun in this country—with a major and troublesome exception—must notify NICS. “The buyer is required to fill out a form, and the dealer then calls an 800 number, enters the buyer’s information, and either gets an OK or a ‘red light.'” If it’s the latter, Fischer said, “the information will get transferred to the FBI, and we’ll make a decision whether the transaction can go through or not.”

A would-be buyer can be turned down for things as simple as not having gotten a new driver’s license after a move or as serious as being in this country illegally or having a felony criminal record. But Fischer noted that the form does not include the number of weapons being purchased. “So in theory a person could buy 100 or more at a time if they want.”

He also said that information on green-lighted purchasers is purged within 24 hours. Red-lighted forms are kept until the FBI determines the cause of the warning flag.

One Texas gun owner, a former NASA engineer who asked not to be identified, said he sees the problem with a system that doesn’t flag purchases of multiple guns. “Maybe something should be in place even in Texas that would call that sale into question,” he said. “I mean, how many AK-47s does a person need to have fun target shooting?”

He himself owns an Uzi, a semi-automatic bought over the counter at a gun store. “But you go to any gun show, and it doesn’t take long to find someone who’ll offer to take your semi-automatic and turn it into a fully automatic weapon,” he said.

Mexican authorities have repeatedly called on the US to pass laws to stop or slow the estimated 2,000-weapon-a-day pace of gun sales into Mexico. But gun restrictions are extremely unpopular in Texas and other border states, an easy way for any politician to get unelected.

“Texas is probably the biggest supplier of guns that make their way into Mexico,” said Tom Crowley, special agent for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. “That’s both because of that long border they share and the number of gun dealers in the state.” BATF’s job is to handle the investigation of illegal gun and arms sales, as well as to trace guns that have been used in criminal activity.

“Now let’s say I’m a Mexican cartel member or illegal gun dealer, and I want to get my hands on some weapons,” Crowley said. “I’ll get a friend to purchase the guns I want and have him deliver them to me in Mexico. That’s called a straw-man purchase, and it’s illegal, but it’s done. And until one of those weapons is recovered at a crime scene, no one is going to know about it. Of course, that’s where BATF comes in: If the Mexican government provides us with that gun—and they’ve been more and more cooperative—we can trace it back to the manufacturer. They’ll tell us to which gun dealer it was shipped, and that gun dealer had better have kept the paperwork… And with that, we’ll be coming after you, to ask what the heck a gun you purchased is doing in Mexico in the hands of someone in a cartel gun battle.”

The system is flawed, Crowley admitted, both because of people obliterating serial numbers and because of the “gun show loophole.” The exception allows individuals to sell their own weapons at a gun show, such as the regular events held in large coliseums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. No NICS check is done, and often no names are exchanged. If the gun later turns up to have been used in a multiple murder in Juárez and gets traced back to the legitimate owner, he can just say he sold it at a gun show to a stranger. And that’s the end of the case.

But Celerino Castillo, the former DEA agent who blew the whistle on the US-backed contras’ arms-for-drugs deals during the Nicaraguan civil war in the mid-1980s, said the problem isn’t limited to weapons being sold legally by individuals and then being resold to the cartels. The author of Powderburns, an account of the cocaine-for-arms scandal, Castillo worked undercover with the DEA for 12 years, mostly in Mexico and Central and South America.

“The majority of the weapons being used by the cartels these days are US military weapons and explosives,” he said. “They’ve got M-16s, hand grenades, grenade launchers. Even in Texas you can’t buy those. Those are US military weapons. Last year an 18-wheeler full of M-16s was stopped headed to Matamoros, a border town controlled by the Gulf Cartel. Our US military is either supplying the Mexican military with that weaponry, and corrupt elements in the Mexican military are selling it to the cartels, or someone in the US military is supplying them. Either way, those are US military guns being used in very violent cartel rivalries.”

“So the responsibility still lies with the US, whether it’s military or gun shop owners,” Castillo said. “Without the guns, there would be less violence.”

Whatever version of corruption or bad policy is responsible for massive amounts of US military weapons ending up in the hands of the cartel, there is little mystery about the more routine forms of drug-money corruption being practiced, another longstanding border tradition. In October, FBI agents arrested a South Texas sheriff and charged him with “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana” among several other offenses. Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra, who faces life imprisonment, follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sheriff Eugenio Falcón, who pleaded guilty to non-drug-related conspiracy charges in 1998. Among many other law enforcement officers caught dealing with the cartels, in 2005 former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was sentenced to 24 years in prison for running a criminal enterprise out of his office.

The corruption extends as far as the drug supply lines themselves. In September, 175 people thought to have ties to the Gulf Cartel were arrested in several US states, including 22 in North Texas. The raids netted $1 million in cash, 400 pounds of methamphetamine, and 300 kilograms of cocaine—and drew the anger of drug bosses.

The Gulf Cartel isn’t exactly subtle in its recruitment of the military and others to its ranks. The Gulf Cartel has been plastering signs all over Reynosa and at times in Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere, asking soldiers and police officers to desert their posts and join the Zetas. One sign posted recently in Tampico asked soldiers and ex-soldiers to “Join the ranks of the Gulf Cartel. We offer benefits, life insurance, a house for your family and children. Stop living in the slums and riding the bus. A new car or truck, your choice.”

In Juárez, the war between cartels is still going full bore.

“What we have are factions of the old Juárez Cartel that were followers of Amado Carrillo Fuentes fighting it out with followers of Joaquin Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. And it is hell there,” said Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter with the El Paso Times. Juárez has been the site of some of the most horrific killings along the border.

“Our paper won’t even let us go across into Juárez for stories anymore because they have no way to protect us. The US Army at Fort Bliss here has warned their troops to stay out of Juárez,” Valdez said. According to news reports, one of the 1,200 or so people killed this year in Juárez in the internecine drug war was an American living in Juárez who was assassinated in October after he posted a sign asking the cartels not to leave any dead bodies in front of his house.

“You’ve got to understand that these guys are hitting night clubs, burning tourist clubs, kidnapping people, targeting payroll trucks,” Valdez said. “People who are not involved at all with the cartels are getting caught in the crossfire. That’s what makes it all so dangerous. If you’re in a club they’re going to burn down—well, that’s just that.”

Whoever can flee is doing so, she said. “Here in El Paso we’ve got a lot of people coming over to stay with relatives, but we’ve also got a lot of people just wandering around the bus station with nowhere to go, just to avoid being in Juárez.”

Along the California-Mexico stretch of the border, similar death tolls are being rung up in Tijuana, where the Arellano-Felix Cartel—headed by Fernando Sánchez Arellano, known as “The Engineer”—is being challenged by several other cartels. In all, more than 3,500 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2008. Included in that number are several Mexican journalists who were killed in reprisal for writing about the drug wars or cartel activities. The most recent was Armando Rodríguez, a crime reporter for Juarez’ El Diario, who was shot numerous times while sitting in his car in front of his home three weeks ago. These days, many newspapers, radio shows, and television stations in Mexico won’t cover drug issues at all, for fear of deadly reprisals.

The violence associated with the cartel wars is spreading north of the Rio Grande in different ways than in the past. In April 2007, Gabriel Cardona, then 18, pleaded guilty to five murders carried out in or near Laredo at the behest of then-Gulf Cartel leader Miguel Trevino Morales. Cardona was part of a group of teens who acted as cartel hitmen on the US side of the border. Among Cardona’s hits was the kidnapping and murder of a former Laredo police officer. Rosario Reta, a Cardona associate, was recently convicted of a separate murder committed in Laredo in 2006.

US drug officials have suggested that Cardona and Reta were part of a group known as the Zetitas, or Little Zetas, recruited from street gangs in Laredo and trained by the paramilitary group that calls itself the Zetas. Cardona and Reta both allegedly began working for the Gulf Cartel by delivering weapons from Laredo to Nuevo Laredo, and were subsequently singled out for hitman training.

Javier Sambrano, the El Paso police department’s public information officer, said there is no such spillover happening in his city. “There has been no spillover [of the violence from Juárez] at all,” he said. “Those individuals on the Mexican side of the border committing those atrocities have no incentive to come here and commit those sorts of crimes.” It’s true that some murders in El Paso are linked to drugs, he said, “but we have solved them, which is further discouragement to people imagining they could come here and commit them” without getting caught.

That might be good public relations for El Paso, but it’s also nonsense, said one border-area journalist who asked not to be named—and who pointed out that members of an El Paso gang called the Aztecas have recently been found operating in Juárez as hitmen for the Juárez cartel. The gang started in an El Paso prison, with the idea of protecting prisoners of Mexican descent, but has been suspected of cartel ties for years, particularly in connection with drug distribution and weapons smuggling. “We’ve long suspected the tie between the cartel and the Aztecas from El Paso,” the reporter said, “but now that some of them are on trial, we’ve got it in testimony being given in federal court.”

In November, El Paso children on their way to school found the body of a man tied to window bars, his feet dangling just above the ground. He was wearing a pig’s mask. A sign above his head said: “This is going to happen to all Aztecas.”

Another sign of the spillover, the reporter said, are the number of people who’ve been shot in Mexico but brought to the US for treatment: “The Thomason Hospital here in El Paso has received more than 30 people this year who have been shot in Juárez. They get shot there and brought here, because if those people were targets, the gangs will go into the hospitals [in Mexico] and make sure they’re dead.”

The rumor is that federal agents are allowing Mexican cartel victims to be brought to El Paso for treatment “because they want a chance to interview them,” the reporter said. “On the other hand, a lot of people here in El Paso are worried that they might be followed into Thomason Hospital and killed.”

Two days after the reporter spoke to Fort Worth Weekly, the El Paso Times carried a story about a wounded man whose attackers followed him into a Juárez hospital and finished the job.

If the paramilitaries in the Mexican drug trade are recruiting killers from US streets, one could say they are only returning a favor.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the United States began to train Special Forces for the Mexican government, called the Zetas, to enable them to better confront the emerging Mexican drug cartels. Earlier, in the mid-70s, the US also undertook to train another Special Forces group, in Guatemala, which then was in the midst of a civil war. That group specialized in guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency tactics.

In both cases, the American military training backfired. Many of the specially trained units defected from the Mexican and Guatemalan armies and went to work for the cartels. Then they became the cartels.

“A lot of Zetas broke away from the Mexican military in the 1990s,” said Castillo, the former DEA agent. The Zetas, he said, “began working as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, which controlled Mexico’s Caribbean coast and several inland border cities.” The Zetas were ruthless and fearless. “They were some of the best-trained Special Forces anywhere,” Castillo said. “Well now it’s gotten to the point where they pretty much control the cartels.”

When stories first broke about the Zetas working for the cartels, the Mexican government denied it. But in recent reports, Castillo said, Mexican officials have finally admitted that there is a “paramilitary arm in the Mexican military,” meaning that some members of the military are also active paramilitaries with the cartels.

And, he said, “don’t forget the Kaibiles”—although there are probably a lot of people in the US government and military who would like to. The Kaibiles, named after a Guatemalan indigenous leader who fought the Conquistadors, were the Special Forces unit the US trained in Guatemala, many of whose members also went over to the drug lords, for much higher wages.

“The Kaibiles started working for the cartels, but they are now working for the Zetas, and they’re the ones responsible for the beheadings,” Castillo said. “That’s their trademark.” In one case last year, several human heads were tossed onto a dance floor in Michoacán. In October of this year, four heads in an ice chest were sent to the Juárez police headquarters.

The Zetas, Castillo said, have now realigned with corrupt elements in the Mexican army, a marriage that is spreading the infection in the military, particularly among the 32,000 troops Calderón sent into nine Mexican states specifically to stamp out the cartels. “And so the military is sort of running the whole show down there,” said Castillo. “You’ve got thousands of military put all over the country, a lot of them corrupt, a lot of them also working as paramilitaries. They’re operating under the guise of stamping out drugs when they’re actually moving [the drugs] and stamping out rivals for the drug trade.”

Calderón’s strategy of fanning out the army to try to regain some semblance of control from the cartels in those states has worked about as well as the US Special Forces training. Rather than restoring government control, in many areas the military has wreaked havoc with the citizenry, prompting calls for Calderón to remove them.

Bill Weinberg, an award-winning journalist who specializes in Latin American and drug-war issues, said the situation is incomprehensible for many Americans. “You’ve got to understand that the military and the cartels overlap, so the military isn’t necessarily worse than the cartels; they are the cartels,” he said. “Then you have the police, who in some places, like Reynosa—across the border from McAllen—have been completely co-opted.”

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a report in July about four particularly grave cases of recent military abuse in different Mexican states, Weinberg said. “All of those cases involved torture of civilians, some of it very brutal, [including] electric shock and rape… In Michoacán, soldiers at a roadblock shot up a car and killed some kids.”

The human rights commission called on the Mexican defense secretary to punish those who violate human rights. “Up until now, those recommendations have been ignored,” Weinberg said, “and so the abuses keep occurring.”

Human rights groups fear that another set of new players in the drug war won’t help that situation— companies like Blackwater and DynCorp that carry their own bloody baggage.

Blackwater USA, the private security firm already accused of atrocities in Iraq, is negotiating with Calderón’s government to train specialized soldiers in the Mexican army and to also act as a private security force.

“But you know they’re going to be all over everything, doing a little busting of people, doing a little dirty work for people … It’s what they do,” Castillo said.

Made up primarily of former members of the US Special Forces, Blackwater, like DynCorp and several other private companies, has been used extensively by the US Department of Defense in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to provide security and other services. Blackwater came under intense media scrutiny in September 2007 when several of its contractors opened fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq, killing 17 people. Nonetheless, with former CIA higher-ups in its ranks, the company continues to get lucrative federal contracts.

Blackwater will soon have a large presence on the US-Mexican border: An 824-acre training complex in California, just 45 miles from Mexico, should be open soon. The company already has a contract with the US government to train Border Patrol agents, and there is speculation that once their presence is established there, they will vie for contracts to work border security alongside US government agents.

“Plan Mexico”—formally the Merida Initiative—recently signed by President Bush, may ratchet up the use of mercenaries. It promises an immediate $400 million to Calderón to help fight drugs in Mexico, with an additional $1.1 billion in the next two years.

The plan includes an unspecified amount of money for contracts to US private security companies. A year ago, the Army Times reported that the Defense Department had just given Blackwater a sizable chunk of a grant that, over time, could total $15 billion, “to deploy surveillance techniques, train foreign security forces, and provide logistical and operational support” for drug war initiatives.

That could mean the US government is already funding a mercenary force of former US Special Forces soldiers operating on both sides of the border but not accountable to anyone in Mexico. Blackwater already employs 1,200 Chileans, former members of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military, some of whom are thought to be working in Mexico.

“You have to be very wary of mercenary soldiers in a democracy, which is more fragile than people think,” Rep. Bob Filner told Salon.com last year. “You don’t want armies around who will sell out to the highest bidder.”

At least one other US-based security firm is already operating in Mexico. In July, the day after Bush signed Plan Mexico, two different videos of a torture training session for police in the city of León, Guanajuato, were released by the local paper El Heraldo de León. The tapes showed graphic images of torture techniques (as practiced on police volunteers)—including images of one volunteer having his head forced into a pit of rats and feces, and another being dragged through his own vomit after he was beaten.

Kristin Bricker, an investigative reporter with NarcoNews.com, subsequently uncovered evidence that the trainers in the video were from Risks Incorporated, a Miami-based private security outfit that specializes in, among other things, teaching psychological torture techniques.

“There is no question that the US is involved in every aspect of the drug war in Mexico,” Castillo said. And if you don’t believe the author and former DEA undercover agent, how about the departing US ambassador to Mexico? Tony Garza is now saying that they United States must accept responsibility for the gun trade and for providing the market for Mexican drugs. The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Garza said in a recent speech that Mexico “would not be the center of cartel activity or be experiencing this level of violence, were the United States not the largest consumer of illegal drugs and the main supplier of weapons to the cartels.”

But Castillo has an even darker vision of what sustains the drug war. In essence, he said, the economy of Mexico is addicted to drug money, and no one, not even Calderón, would completely shut off that spigot, even if it were possible. Castillo’s judgment of the United States is similar: The war on drugs provides a huge boost to the economy, via private prisons, the gun industry, and the federal forces arrayed against it.

Calderón “absolutely would not” stop the drug trade if he could, Castillo said. “Mexico’s economy depends too heavily on drug money.”

On a beautiful fall afternoon in Nuevo Laredo, sun sparkles off the pastel-colored walls. The streets are quiet. At an open-air taqueria not far from a border crossing, the staff is smoking meats and vegetables on flat grills, getting ready for a busy night.

The proprietor, Maria (she asked that her last name not be used), said she was lucky: The taqueria came through the violence of a year or two ago unscathed. But she worried when members of one cartel or the other would occasionally come in to eat, for fear that her staff and other customers could get caught in the crossfire.

“It was not good. Gunfights. Dead people. Crying mothers. It was having a war in your own house,” she said. “Wars are cleaner when they happen somewhere else.”

A customer at a nearby grocery store was equally glad the shooting war had quieted down on his stretch of the border for the moment.

“It’s much better that they stopped the gun battles,” he said. “Now everybody can get back to making money with the drugs instead of dying over them.”

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This story first appeared Dec. 3 in the Fort Worth Weekly.

RESOURCES

“Blackwater’s run for the border,” by Eilene Zimmerman
Salon, Oct. 23, 2007

See also:

THE U.S. THREAT TO MEXICAN NATIONAL SECURITY
Narco Gangs Armed by Gringos—Despite Border Militarization
by Bill Weinberg, NACLA Report on the Americas
World War 4 Report, April 2008

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: Zetas planning attacks on US Border Patrol?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 6, 2008

Mexico: gunmen kill reporter, kidnap farmworkers
World War 4 Report, Nov. 15, 2008

Mexico: narco-Satanism in Ciudad Juárez?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 10, 2008

National Human Rights Commission blasts Mexican army
World War 4 Report, July 14, 2008

US Senate approves “Plan Mexico”; narcos keep up pressure
World War 4 Report, June 28, 2008

“Wild West bloodbath” in Ciudad Juárez
World War 4 Report, April 17, 2008

Mexico: presidential guard, beauty queen busted in narco wars
World War 4 Report, Dec. 29, 2008

Mexico: US-UK firm teaches torture?
World War 4 Report, July 14, 2008

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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Neo-Nazis Prepare Pogroms Ten Years After Revolution

by Gwendolyn Albert, World War 4 Report

January 2009 marks a handover of power not only in the United States, but also in the European Union. As part of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, the Czech Republic will step up for its first-ever shot at managing the agenda for the 27 EU member states. Instead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy representing the union on the international stage, the EU will be represented by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the right-wing Civic Democrats. Topolanek will not be alone, as many predict Czech President Vaclav Klaus will do his best to elbow his way into the limelight as well, despite the fact that his position is essentially that of a figurehead. Long an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Klaus is infamous for his opposition to the Lisbon Treaty (a document aiming for greater political union between the EU Member States—and more powers for Brussels—which the Topolanek cabinet supports) as well as for his belief that global warming and climate change are utter nonsense.

The transition from Sarkozy to Topolanek is nowhere near as dramatic as the psychological shift underway in the US, where the country has elected its first-ever non-white president in an election largely seen as a referendum on the past eight years of the Bush administration’s neoconservative corruption. However, within the Czech Republic itself, a definite shift has occurred recently on the extreme right, where more political parties espousing blatantly racist views are receiving more support than ever before—and this on the eve of the EU presidency, an event which will expose the country to more international scrutiny than it has seen since the days of the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989. The international image of the country, which is still largely identified with the gentle, intellectual demeanor of its first post-communist president, the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, is about to be revised, and the face it is now showing the world is about as far from a philosopher-proponent of nonviolence as it could be. It is also, arguably, a much more accurate representation.

This past fall, the Czech authorities were caught completely off guard by the activities of a small extreme-right political party, active since 2003 and calling itself the Workers’ Party (Delnicka Strana—DS). In recent Senate elections, the party garnered 29 000 votes—not enough to bring them anywhere near parliament, but the most support they had ever received and a number they are fond of quoting. The DS announced that it had received a “plea for help” from what it called the “decent citizens” of Litvinov, a town in North Bohemia not far from the German border, and that the party would therefore be “patrolling” the Janov housing estate in the town due to complaints about the behavior of “inadaptable citizens” there.

Ever since the communist era, the term “inadaptable” has served as a circumlocution for referring to members of the Roma minority (also known as “Gypsies”) without seeming to single them out by ethnicity. As a result of the town privatizing much of its housing stock, developers had attracted low-income residents, many of them Roma, to a particular section of the Janov housing estate, causing property values to fall and social tensions to rise. The DS saw a perfect opportunity to exploit local discontent and profile themselves as the solution ahead of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament next June.

Anti-Roma sentiment in Central Europe has been deep-rooted for centuries—think of it as the “ur-prejudice” in this part of the world—and while it was not clear what the results of the DS vigilante activity would be, the announcement of the “patrols” received a high degree of support from many self-described “decent” citizens. Even now it is not clear how many of these “decent” folk genuinely understood the full extent of what they were supporting. However, even if the neo-Nazi nature of the DS were not completely clear (to any educated reader) from the material on the party’s website, their exploitation of the terminology of “adaptability” should be enough to give any student of the Holocaust pause. Unfortunately, since this term was widespread under communism (which contributed its own particular set of horrors to the history of Czech-Roma relations), this language is still considered part of the “normal” vocabulary for discussing Roma-related matters in the Czech Republic.

After announcing their intention to “patrol” on the web, the DS members came to the housing estate dressed in uniforms of their own design. The event marked a turning point in Czech-Roma relations. The usual response of Roma communities throughout the Czech Republic, when faced with organized right-wing aggression of the sort that has resulted in murder and violence against them and other minorities ever since 1989, is to disappear indoors, if not to flee the country altogether. In Litvinov, however, the local Roma turned out with makeshift weapons and made it very clear that they would not submit to being “patrolled.” Unfortunately, this moment of self-defense produced images of the Roma that racists will be mining for their “scare value” for some time to come.

Undaunted, the DS returned to Litvinov several weeks later. They convened an unannounced “demonstration” on the town square, which was also attended by members of two other neo-Nazi skinhead groups (the Autonomous Nationalists and National Resistance). The “demonstration” then turned into a march on Janov that was clearly a prelude to a pogrom, if the rhetoric of the speakers and their obvious preparations for violence were anything to go by. When the mayor attempted to disperse the gathering, on the grounds that it had not been properly announced to the authorities beforehand, the crowd turned on him, and he would have been injured but for the police presence; one officer and several bystanders were injured as a result of the violence. At the housing estate itself, observers later reported that it was only through sheer luck that the police managed to avert a major clash between the Roma community, ready to defend itself should the police fail them, and the neo-Nazi thugs.

As a result of this event, civic groups around the country began circulating petitions calling for the DS to be banned. Defamation of any group is a crime in the Czech Republic, and the party’s activities were clearly in violation of the law. Police observers were sharply critical of how ill-prepared the police had been to respond to the threat which a gathering of this sort obviously posed to anyone familiar with the neo-Nazi scene. Roma community groups from Janov traveled to Prague to plead with Interior Ministry officials and the Human Rights and Minorities Ministry to do something about the unrelenting attack on their community. Already the DS had properly registered its next demonstration there for Nov. 17, a state holiday honoring what is known to the rest of the world as the “Velvet Revolution,” the transition to democracy in 1989.

By Nov. 17, the authorities seem to have gotten the message that the DS and their hangers-on are not some sort of glorified Dungeons and Dragons group, but a serious organization completely committed to harassing the “inadaptable.” Since the town authorities refused to exercise their prerogative to ban the gathering, the state police were out in force for the “demonstration”—at least a thousand riot squad officers were on the ground, backed up by a helicopter. The marchers were cheered on by local non-Roma residents, who yelled “Let them through!” at the police and hurled racist epithets at the Roma who had gathered for their own demonstration in their part of the estate. At the first opportunity—when the marchers attempted to deviate from their originally announced route and to disperse into the Janov housing estate—the police cracked down.

This marked yet another turning point; instead of standing down, as they usually do when confronted by a superior force, the neo-Nazis seemed eager for the clash and engaged the police long into the evening—ultimately injuring seven officers, including ones on horseback. Thus it was that on the 19th anniversary of the peaceful transition to democracy, Janov was like a war zone, covered with tear gas and echoing with the crackle of the firecracker-like devices used by the police for crowd control. It was the largest police operation in the country since the 2000 demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank in Prague.

Subsequent reporting and video footage taken from the police helicopter showed that at least one segment of the neo-Nazis were extremely organized. Not only did they simultaneously attack different points on the estate (where they were routed by groups of police strategically placed in between the buildings), but police also later confirmed that the neo-Nazis themselves had access to materiel which could only be purchased by members of the armed forces. In other words, people with fairly high-level military and/or police training were involved in the assault on the side of the neo-Nazis.

The Roma of Janov were unarmed this time. In the aftermath of the ordeal their leaders officially thanked the police for protecting them. The town of Litvinov was flooded with announcements by various groups—from a Jewish group to local residents to other neo-Nazi organizations—of various demonstrations there in the days to come. But this time the town hall decided to ban almost all of the other events in the interests of preserving the peace.

The DS is not the only party of its kind in the Czech Republic. However, it is causing trouble as no other extremist group has here for some time. The Topolanek government has asked the Supreme Administrative Court to review whether it should be banned in light of these events, but other voices critical of its methods were and are few and far between. Their fellow racists seem to be emboldened now, especially with regard to confronting the police. In the aftermath of Litvinov, even as racist attacks on the Roma occurred across the country, the police themselves were singled out for attack in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city. A group of 70 armed, drunken and masked neo-Nazis demolished two parked city police cars and the entrance to a hotel there; they also attacked officers in a vehicle responding to the incident. Nine of the rioters were arrested.

The neo-Nazi movement seems to be energetically embracing its “outlaw” profile, and there is relatively little public condemnation of it. On the contrary, recent reporting in the Czech press has revealed that skinheads serving time for violent offenses in Czech prisons are well-served by organizations that send them racist literature and pay their legal fees. Ironically, as the content of their websites is illegal in the Czech Republic, these groups use US-based web servers, an issue the Czech Helsinki Committee has recently raised with US authorities.

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See also:

ROMA DEMAND REMEMBRANCE
Czech Republic Intransigent on Honoring the Forgotten Holocaust
by Gwendolyn Albert, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, March 2008

From our Daily Report:

Czech security forces participated in anti-Roma pogrom?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 24, 2005

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Special to World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingCZECH REPUBLIC FROM VELVET TO VIOLENT 

OPUS DEI: THE VATICAN-PENTAGON CONNECTION

by Frank Morales, The Shadow

While visiting New York City last spring, Pope Benedict surely visited the offices of his “personal prelature”—the Opus Dei organization. Most certainly, he marveled at their spanking new 17-story national headquarters, an imposing red brick building on 34th and Lexington, which the highly secretive Catholic lay organization purchased for a cool $69 million back during all the hoopla over the Da Vinci Code, a timely public relations boon to their efforts. Opening for business during the fateful year of 2001, at the dawn of the new crusades against the oil-rich Islamic infidels of Eurasia, Opus Dei and its elite backers—most prominently Pope Benedict—have since continued to manifest a singular Holy Coincidence of agendas with Bush administration foreign policy…particularly the kind that does not always make the headlines.

Opus Dei, Decoded
Opus Dei is arguably the most powerful and virulent exponent of the fundamentalist religious fervor sweeping the globe; only this time it’s Catholic fundamentalists we’re talking about, hard-liners who trace their origins back to the Holy Inquisition and the bloody Crusades. These guys make Jerry Falwell and his Protestant come-latelies look like Little Leaguers. Now mind you, they have a somewhat different opinion of themselves. According to their website, “Opus Dei is a Catholic institution and adheres to Catholic doctrine, which clearly condemns immoral behavior, including murder, lying, stealing, and generally injuring people.”

It was in 1928 Spain that Catholic priest José María Escriva de Balaguer founded the Opus Dei organization. As spiritual advisor to General Francisco Franco, Balaguer chose and trained the elite members of the dictatorship the general established after the Spanish Civil War in 1939, placing him and his Opus Dei at the center of authoritarian power.

Later, Balaguer was sent to the Vatican, and from there he worked to spread the influence of Opus Dei—especially to Latin America, where it sought to carry out its ongoing campaign to tame those Liberation Theology priests, condemned for appreciating Marxist analyses and opposing right-wing military dictatorships.

Balaguer, who was fast-tracked into sainthood in 2002, concocted a series of axioms for a radically right-wing, anti-women lay movement which has over the years aligned itself with some of the most brutal dictatorships in modern times, including that of Augusto Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970s. Most recently, it supported the 2002 aborted coup in Venezuela. While exceedingly sophisticated in its political and business practice, Opus Dei is profoundly anti-modern in its ideology. Half of Franco’s cabinet, back in the dark ages of World War II, were members of Opus Dei.

These were also formative years for Josef Ratzinger—the future Pope Benedict. Though he was never a member of the Nazi party, as a seminarian Ratzinger, was briefly enrolled in the Hitler Youth in the early 1940s. In 1943 he was conscripted into an anti-aircraft unit guarding a BMW plant outside Munich. Later, he was sent to Austria’s border with Hungary to erect tank traps. After being shipped back to Bavaria, he apparently deserted. When the war ended, he was an American prisoner of war.

In 1982, the Opus Dei organization became a personal prelature of the Vatican—that is, a separate church entity beholden only to the Pope. From that moment on, Opus Dei members escaped the authority of the bishops in the territories in which they reside. Consequently, they function as a sort of instrument of Vatican social control—bringing to mind another Vatican body that ruled with
religious terror in the Spain of the 16th Century before imposing and exporting its fanaticism to the universal Church: the Inquisition.

Although Opus Dei is a part of the church’s structure, it’s not like traditional dioceses, which are defined geographically, but instead by its “worldwide purpose”— to dominate the church and selected governments while promoting extremist policies. With roughly 88,000 members worldwide, including about 2,000 priests, the organization spans some 61 countries, including roughly 3,000 members in the United States.

Estimated to hold assets of about $3 billion, the free-floating personal prelature, which purports to do “the work of God” (“Opus Dei” translated), is beholden to no one but the Pope, whose personal spokesman, Cardinal Joaquin Navarro-Valls, is also an Opus Dei member. Appointing its own priests and bishops to rule over the lay membership, it runs 15 universities, seven hospitals, 11 business schools and a great number of primary, secondary and technical schools, functioning as an underground force for political reaction within the Catholic church.

The organization’s membership includes elite elements who wield influence at the highest levels of government, the Vatican, and the Vatican Bank. The individuals that Opus Dei chooses to recruit for membership are the cream of American, European and Latin American society. They include owners of big multinational companies, the press and finance institutions, as well as figures at the highest levels of the world’s most powerful governments. US Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Scalia have rumored links to Opus Dei, as do Sen. Sam Brownback and former Rep. Rick Santorum.

One current Opus Dei member worth noting is Joseph E Schmitz. A former Pentagon inspector general, he became chief of operations for Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm, back in 2005. While at the Pentagon, he’d been tasked with the job of overseeing all war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His connection to war profiteers became well known. At least $2 trillion went “missing” from the Pentagon during his watch. Shortly after Schmitz exonerated his friends in the war industry, he announced that he was going to work for Blackwater, where he is today.

In a 2004 speech Schmitz said, “No American today should ever doubt that we hold ourselves accountable to the rule of law under God. Here lies the fundamental difference between us and the terrorists.” Aside from his membership in Opus Dei, Schmitz is also a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia formed in the 11th century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Muslims. The Blackwater leadership apparently think they are following in that tradition.

To target our own nation’s brightest students, Opus Dei runs off-campus housing and centers around Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.; Brown University in Providence, RI; Princeton University in New Jersey; and numerous other elite universities and business schools. Situated out front of these institutions, along with military recruiters, they troll for the young and impressionable.

As mentioned, Opus Dei has thus far signed up about 3,000 US members and are on the way to fulfilling their goal, which their founder articulated some years back when he stated, “What is the end? To promote in the world the greatest possible number of souls dedicated to God in Opus Dei.” In her book, People of God, Penny Lernoux notes that Opus Dei “is an efficient machine run to achieve world power.” Their reactionary politics and globalist pretensions just so happen, in a match surely not made in heaven, to coincide with the Bush agenda for world domination.

Vatican meets Pentagon Inc.
Evidence of the hand of Opus Dei within the machinations of US imperialism becomes manifest when one examines the manner by which the Catholic organization secures it financing. According to Charity Navigator, a philanthropic evaluation service, “The Woodlawn Foundation supports activities conducted by the Roman Catholic Prelature Opus Dei [whose] services extend to the broad general public.” Located in New Rochelle, the Woodlawn Foundation is the primary conduit of financing for the Opus Dei organization. According to Guidestar research, Woodlawn provides “grants to over 40 Opus Dei-affiliated foundations,” while maintaining assets of about $15 million. John B. Haley, an Opus Dei member, is the president and director of the foundation.

According to Hoover On-Line, a business database and information resource, the Woodlawn Foundation, as of June 2001, controlled some 10,000 shares, with estimated proceeds of $415,000, of the AES Corporation, or the Advanced Energy Systems Corporation. Who are they? Well, only the largest producer of energy in the world, with nearly $12 billion in revenue!

Again, according to Hoover: “The right place at the right time—is it kismet? No, it’s AES, one of the world’s leading independent power producers. The company has interests in 120 generation facilities in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean that give it a combined net generating capacity of more than 44 gigawatts of power (primarily fossil-fueled); it also has power plants under construction. AES sells electricity to utilities and other energy marketers through wholesale contracts or on the spot market. AES also sells power directly to customers worldwide through its interests in distribution utilities, mainly in Latin America.”

A Nov. 17, 2002 Associated Press piece entitled “Evidence of Price Gouging During California Energy Crisis,” reported that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which was looking into corruption in the California energy industry, focused on “discussions between employees of Williams and AES Corporation about prolonging an outage at a power plant to take advantage of higher prices the state was paying at the height of the crisis.” Corp Watch, meanwhile, pointed out in August 2003 that “Virginia-based AES, the world’s largest independent energy producer, is currently under investigation by the Ugandan Inspectorate of Government and the US Justice Department for alleged bribery, in violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

Dennis Bakke, a co-founder of AES in the mid-80s, is a devotee of Opus Dei and their way of doing business. In 2005, Bakke, CEO of AES, preached a sermon in Falls Church, Va., during which he intoned that, “labor and opus are two Latin words for work. Labor…conjures up work as hard, something I have to do but would rather not… Our Catholic friends use the word opus in their Opus Dei, or “God’s work,” that celebrates our calling to secular work in a profoundly Biblical way. On Monday when we go back to God’s work, Opus Dei, secular work to which we are called, let us do it with passion, with joy, and with love, befitting God’s call on our life. It is our primary mission, done for the glory of God. Do it and enter into the Master’s joy.”

The former master chairman of AES, recently deceased, was Richard G. Darman, former director of the US Office of Management and Budget; former deputy secretary of the US Treasury; former Assistant US Secretary of Commerce; and member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. A director of AES from July 2002; he was elected chairman of the board on May 1, 2003. Strikingly, in addition to his service as chairman of AES, he was a partner and managing director of the Carlyle Group, joining the company in February 1993, after serving in the cabinet of the first Bush administration.

The Carlyle Group is, according to the Washington Post, “the largest private equity manager in the world,” which “buys and sells whole companies the way some firms trade shares of stock.” It specializes in defense contractors. Other Carlyle Group members include Secretary of State James Baker, former UK Prime Minister John Major, and former president and CIA chief George Bush Sr. In short, Carlyle is the high-flying financier of the military-industrial complex—a complex blessed, apparently, by the likes of Opus Dei.

Holy Counterinsurgency
Over the years, Pope Benedict has served Balaguer’s vision and the Opus Dei brand of fascist social policy with zeal. According to Thierry Meyssan’s article, “Opus Dei Sets Out to Conquer the World,” as president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—formerly the Office of the Holy Inquisition—the former Josef Ratzinger oversaw, during the Reagan era, the setting up of a “surveillance center in Bogotá, Colombia, with a powerful computer of strategic capacity that was connected to the Vatican.” Its purpose: to record all data and political activities of designated leftist Latin American priests and religious people dedicated to the vision and practice of Liberation Theology, a movement that sees justice for the poor as synonymous with God’s will.

As a consequence of the intelligence data that was gathered, and its dissemination to US trained so-called counterinsurgency experts, the death squads were able to identify and assassinate many people—as was the case in El Salvador, with the murder of scores of religious workers, including the outspoken “voice of the poor,” Archbishop Oscar Romero. According to a 2000 article by Marianne Johnson entitled, “The Hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador,” “under Archbishop Sáenz Lacalle, an Opus Dei man,” who in 1997 accepted the title of brigadier general from the US-backed Salvadoran military, “the strategy has not been to reform liberation theology, but to undo and remove all traces of it.” The ground for this strategy had been prepared by Cardinal Ratzinger, who in 1996
made the nakedly fraudulent claim, during a Mexico City press conference, that liberation theology is an “ideological stream which is the source of many violent actions on the Continent.”

The Coup in Venezuela
Interestingly, the Popes’ April 2008 visit to New York just about coincided with the sixth anniversary of the abortive US-backed Venezuelan coup attempt, which was in no small measure aided and abetted by Opus Dei. According to the Los Angeles Times of April 22, 2002, following the April 11 coup attempt, newly appointed president Pedro Carmona “had named a government that included several members of the ultraconservative Roman Catholic group Opus Dei.” The Guardian reported that same day that after “the military appeared in full uniform on national television to announce that [legitimate President Hugo] Chávez had resigned, Carmona was installed and almost immediately issued a decree dissolving the national assembly and the supreme court, and announced a far-right government including, as foreign minister, José Rodríguez Iturbe, a member of the right-wing Catholic organization Opus Dei.”

And though the coup was relatively bloodless, the London Observer (April 21, 2002) reported that “more than 100 people died in events before and after the coup.” It’s probable that it was worse than that. According to eye-witness reports, the newly installed Opus Dei cabinet under Carmona went about some frenzied house-cleaning. Luis Duno Gottberg, reporting from Venezuela, told Left Turn magazine that immediately following the coup, “a cabinet composed of high bourgeois elements and members of Opus Dei, a conspiratorial right wing Catholic organization, suspended the National Assembly and began the removal of various democratically elected state governors.”

According to Gottberg, “brutal repression was not long in coming. There were house-to-house searches, lynchings and executions of community leaders and Chávez partisans that took place with the utmost impunity. The television stations and the national press supported the new de facto government and silenced dissident voices.” Well, as we know, what came to pass was that a few days later—by April 13—Chávez was back in the driver’s seat, heading a victorious counter-coup, sparked by an uprising of the poor and workers of Venezuela.

Since that time, further information has surfaced pointing to the fact that elements of the Bush regime were also involved in the attempted removal of Hugo Chávez from power in Venezuela. The Observer pointed this out in a bold headline, “Venezuela Coup Linked to Bush Team,” making reference to certain American “specialists in the ‘dirty wars‚ of the eighties,” who “encouraged the plotters who tried to topple President Chávez.” These officials were named: Otto Reich, John Negroponte (our former intelligence czar, currently envoy to Iraq), and Elliot Abrams—all veterans of the Reagan administration’s illegal and bloody wars throughout Central America.

According to an Associated Press (Dec. 3, 2004) report entitled “Documents Show CIA Knew of Venezuelan Coup,” the CIA was on board nearly a week before the doomed putsch. According to the AP story, “an April 6 senior intelligence executive brief—just five days before a coup that briefly ousted Chávez—said ‘disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month.” This “executive brief,” along with others, are available at www.venezuelafoia.info, albeit in a somewhat censored form.

In addition, as reported in the UK Guardian (April 29, 2002), the “American Navy Helped Venezuelan Coup,” Venezuelan congressman Roger Rondón “claimed that the [US] military officers, whom he named as [James] Rogers and [Ronald] MacCammon, had been at the Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters with the coup leaders during the night of April 11-12. The congressman went on, accusing the US ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, and two US embassy military attachés of involvement in the coup. Rondón said, “we saw [Shapiro] leaving Miraflores palace [the presidential residence], all smiles and embraces, with the dictator Pedro Carmona Estanga… [His] satisfaction was obvious. Shapiro’s participation in the coup d’état in Venezuela is evident.”

The Bushes and the Pope
Finally, according to the Israeli journalist Zvi Ba’rel, writing in Haaretz (July 7, 2004), the “British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a Washington, DC think tank, revealed that a Carlyle consultant, Richard Burt, former US Ambassador to Germany, also heads another company, Diligence, a firm that provides private security services in Iraq.” Set up in 2003, “Diligence was founded by William Webster, a former director of the CIA and the FBI. Former senior CIA officials are now at its helm, among them Whitley Bruner, formerly head of the agency’s Baghdad station, now director of the Iraq branch of Diligence. The deputy chairman of Diligence, Joe Allbaugh, was the current President Bush’s campaign manager in 2000. Diligence is a member of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq.

According to Ba’rel, in 2004, “Diligence signed a contract with New Bridge Strategies, a firm headed by Allbaugh, to supply business information about postwar Iraq.” New Bridge Strategies provides “security services and intelligence information to private companies seeking to do business in Iraq. According to one US diplomat recently back from Iraq, these companies are a kind of private army. They have their own security personnel and their own intelligence corps. They even make agreements with heads of local tribes to supply defense and information, a major source of their income, according to the diplomat.”

New Bridge has a presence in Baghdad, Beirut, Geneva, Houston, Kuwait, and Washington, DC. According to their former website, www.newbridgestrategies.com, “the opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington, DC, and on the ground in Iraq.” And the opportunities involve more than contracting for “private security,” which we already know is big business. According to Douglas Jehl, writing in the New York Times (Sept. 30, 2003), in an article entitled, “Washington Insiders’ New Firm Consults on Contracts in Iraq,” “a group of businessmen linked by their close ties to President Bush, his family and his administration have set up a consulting firm to advise companies that want to do business in Iraq, including those seeking pieces of taxpayer-financed reconstruction projects.” With praise from the likes of former Iraqi golden boy Ahmed Chalabi—who stated that, “New Bridge Strategies has done a stellar job of recommending to me the best contractors for the jobs to be done”—they can’t go wrong, especially when they have the Bushes around. And they do.

According to the Financial Times of Dec. 11, 2003, in a piece entitled, “Middle East: Bush’s Brother Helped New Bridge Strategies Businessmen,” “two businessmen instrumental in setting up New Bridge Strategies, a well-connected Washington firm designed to help clients win contracts in Iraq, have previously used an association with the younger brother of President George W. Bush to seek business in the Middle East… John Howland, the company president, and Jamal Daniel, a principal, have maintained an important business relationship with Neil Bush stretching back several years.”

Ah yes, the young Neilster, an embarrassment to not one, but two presidents. According to the Washington Post (Dec. 28, 2003), in a piece entitled “The Relatively Charmed Life Of Neil Bush,” “in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Bush embarrassed his father, George HW Bush, with his shady dealings as a board member of the infamous Silverado Savings and Loan, whose collapse cost taxpayers $1 billion… Now, Bush has embarrassed his brother George W. Bush with a made-for-the-tabloids divorce that featured paternity rumors, a defamation suit and, believe it or not, allegations of voodoo.” Apparently, “during Bush’s very nasty divorce battle” when asked by his wife’s attorney whether he’d had any extramarital affairs, Bush told the story of his Asian hotel room escapades. “Mr. Bush,” said the attorney, Marshall Davis Brown, “you have to admit that it’s a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her.” “It was very unusual,” Bush replied. Actually, it wasn’t that unusual. It happened at least three or four times during Bush’s business trips to Asia. “I don’t remember the exact number,” Neil admitted.

Neil‚s womanizing, divorcing and dabbling in voodoo, though, wasn’t sufficient to alienate one very important business co-partner—namely the future Pope Benedict XVI, Josef Ratzinger. According to New York Newsday (April 21, 2005), “Neil Bush, the president’s controversial younger brother, six years ago joined the cardinal who this week became Pope Benedict XVI as a founding board member of a little known Swiss ecumenical foundation. The charter members of the board were all well-known international religious figures, except for Bush and his close friend and business partner, Jamal Daniel, whose family has extensive holdings in the United States and Switzerland, public records show. The Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1999 to promote ecumenical understanding and publish original religious texts, said a foundation official.”

In conclusion, the cozy relationship between the Woodlawn Foundation, financiers of Opus Dei, and the AES Corp/Carlyle Group signal a tangible connection between the machinations of the Vatican and the Pentagon, and US intelligence intrigues such as the coup attempt in Venezuela. This marriage, surely made in hell, is not surprising when we consider the ideological requirements of a so-called “war on terror” which trumpets an Islamic “axis of evil”—a throwback to the days of the bloody Crusades. Exposing these connections helps to undermine the deeply reactionary basis for the war-making.

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A different version of this story appeared in the summer 2008 edition of the lower Manhattan sporadical The Shadow.

RESOURCES

Opus Dei
http://www.opusdei.org/

Josemaria Escriva: Founder of Opus Dei
http://www.josemariaescriva.info//

VENEZUELAFOIA.info
http://www.venezuelafoia.info

“Breaking The Opus Dei Code” by Rob Boston
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, May 2006

“The Opus Dei Sets Out to Conquer the World” by Thierry Meyssan
Voltaire.net, January 1996

“The Hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador,” by Marianne Johnson
The Tablet, Nov. 18, 2000

“Bush’s Brother Helped New Bridge Strategies Businessmen”
by Stephen Fidler and Thomas Catn, Financial Times, Dec. 11, 2003 via CorpWatch

See also:

JOHN NEGROPONTE & THE DEATH-SQUAD CONNECTION
Bush Nominates Terrorist for National Intelligence Director
by Frank Morales, The Shadow
World War 4 Report, April 2005

THE DA VINCI CODE: DECODING THE HYPE
The Paradoxes of Mainstreaming Esoterica
by Mark Sanborne, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, June 2006

From our Daily Report:

Opus Dei in the news
World War 4 Report, April 16, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI: The empire strikes back
World War 4 Report, April 19, 2005

Benedict backs Pius XII beatification, bestirring Judeo-backlash
World War 4 Report, June 2, 2005

NYC activists get $2 million settlement in Carlyle Group case
World War 4 Report, Aug. 22, 2008

Blackwater mercs indicted in Baghdad atrocity
World War 4 Report, Dec. 9, 2008

Anti-Semitism at Gitmo?
World War 4 Report, June 2, 2005

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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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