from Frontera NorteSur

A high-ranking delegation of political, business and legal leaders from Ciudad Juárez and the state of Chihuahua returned to Mexico late last month after completing a May 21 trip to Colombia. The visit netted commitments by the Colombian government to train Chihuahua police and help implement new social welfare programs.

The accords cover Colombian training of a planned Chihuahua state police group of 50 rapid response, anti-kidnapping personnel, assistance in improving police investigative and surveillance techniques and help in establishing four social welfare programs in Ciudad Juárez modeled after similar ones developed in Medellín, Colombia. Colombian trainers for the new Chihuahua anti-kidnapping squad could be in Ciudad Juárez as early as next month.

“It will be a very interesting experience to talk with President Alvaro Uribe to find out his experiences over the course of the years,” said Chihuahua Governor JosĂ© Reyes Baeza in the run-up to the trip.

A major Colombian product—cocaine—has played a tremendous role in shaping the history of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua during the last 30 years.

Led by Reyes Baeza, the 31-person Mexican delegation included State Attorney General Patricia González, federal Congressman Octavio Fuentes, Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez rector Jorge Quintana Silveyra, state lawmaker and Mexican Green Party (PVEM) regional leader Maria Avila Serna, businessman Luis Carlos Baeza, Ciudad Juárez Chamber of Commerce president Daniel Murguia Lardizabal, and the mayors of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City, among numerous others. The invited list read almost like a Who’s Who of Chihuahua society and politics.

Oddly enough, Antonia González Acosta, the coordinator for the state anti-kidnapping unit in Ciudad Juárez, allegedly shot herself to death on the eve of the state delegation’s visit to Colombia. González was reportedly pregnant.

In Colombia, the Mexican visitors met with President Alvaro Uribe, National Police Chief Oscar Naranjo Trujillo, Interior Minister Fabio Valencia, and Attorney General Mario Iguaran. The Chihuahua delegation also met with judges and prosecutors to discuss Colombia’s experience with oral trials, a new legal model that is now in place in Chihuahua.

According to Ciudad Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, Medellín-style social programs will be launched in his city with the twin goal of reducing delinquency and creating social opportunities.

“We are going to apply the programs the Colombians have in Ciudad Juárez,” Reyes said, “since the conditions in the city of MedellĂ­n are similar to this border.”

Split among the municipal, state and federal governments, the programs will cost about $4.5 million, Reyes said, but did not immediately offer other details. The border mayor said he invited his counterpart from Medellin to visit Ciudad Juárez.

Coming at a time of economic depression and an immediate budget deficit ofnearly $7 million for Ciudad Juárez alone, the costs of the Colombia trip were questioned by local reporters and some members of the public.

Writing for the Lapolaka news website, Eduardo SalmerĂłn warned of corruption tainting the new training program.

“It scares me to think they continue importing models that correspond to other realities and try to implement them in our contexts,” SalmerĂłn wrote. “What guarantee are we going to have that this group won’t contaminate a structure which is full of vice?”

Earlier taking exception to the cost issue, Governor Reyes Baeza said the expenses, which were paid by trip participants or their employers, will reap many benefits in greater security. The Colombians, he said, are offering their services for “practically free,” with the Mexicans expected to pay nominal transportation and lodging costs. According to the Chihuahua governor, local members of the new anti-kidnapping group will be carefully selected.

An important issue not raised by the Chihuahua press was the relationship between human rights and security training. The Colombian government’s human rights record has been repeatedly criticized by international rights organizations like Amnesty International.

The Chihuahua-Colombia agreements fit in with a growing synchronicity between the conservative CalderĂłn and Uribe administrations on important economic, political and security issues in a hemisphere that is titling to the left. Together with the Peruvian government of Alan GarcĂ­a, the CalderĂłn and Uribe administrations are vocal defenders of a free trade model that has fallen into disrepute in much of Latin America.

On a geo-political scale, the Chihuahua-Colombia accords complement the anti-drug, US-Mexico MĂ©rida Initiative that will provide hundreds of millions of US dollars in security and military aid to the Calderon administration

Politically, the Mexico City-Bogotá connection was evident last month when the Mexican government expelled a Colombian sociologist, Miguel Angel Beltran, who was accused by Bogotá of being an important member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)

The growing Mexico-Colombia cooperation is viewed with suspicion by the Mexican left. Among the sore points is the Colombian army’s sneak attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador last year that killed guerrilla leader Raul Reyes and 24 others, including four young Mexican visitors who were ostensibly researching the FARC for academic purposes.

A fifth Mexican national, National Autonomous University of Mexico student Lucia Moret, survived the attack and was given temporary asylum in Nicaragua before returning to Mexico. Moret currently faces prosecution in an Ecuadoran court for infringing on the country’s national security.

The March 2008 attack on the FARC encampment led Ecuador and Venezuela to break diplomatic relations with Colombia, and even threatened to erupt into a regional war.

The Chihuahua-Colombia alliance unfolds amid a rise in kidnappings in Ciudad Juárez and other parts of Chihuahua. Kidnappings have sparked multiple political crises for the state government in recent weeks. Earlier last month, hundreds of members of the Mormon and Mennonite communities of northwestern Chihuahua camped out for days in front of the Governor’s office in Chihuahua City to protest the kidnapping-for-ransom of 16-year-old Eric LeBaron, who was later freed unharmed.

On May 19, hundreds of residents of AscensiĂłn, an agricultural municipality located south of the New Mexico border, occupied the town hall to demand the deployment of the army and other actions directed against kidnappers and violent criminals.

“There are not three or five or 20 kidnappings,” said Alfredo Frias Reyes, municipal government secretary. “We are more than 20,000 people who have been sequestered and we cannot continue like this.”

As in Ciudad Juárez, shop owners in Ascensión are putting up their businesses for sale or trying to rent out storefronts. Residents are reportedly fleeing to the United States and other parts of Chihuahua. Following the Ascensión protest, the Mexican army and Chihuahua state police increased patrols in the zone.


This story first appeared May 27 on Frontera NorteSur.

RESOURCES—Periodismo en Caliente!

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: more army troops to Juárez in wake of prison massacre
World War 4 Report, March 7, 2009

Mexico: bomb threats shut Ciudad Juárez airport
World War 4 Report, Feb. 26, 2009

Colombian “farcpolĂ­tica” scandal hits Nicaragua
World War 4 Report, May 23, 2008


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