by CRISTINA COSTANTINI
‘”Is this person a lawful citizen of my country or an unauthorized immigrant, terrorist, spy, or smuggler?”
This is the primary question you’ll have to ask yourself if you play the new game “Papers Please,” which casts users in the role of border agent.
Lucas Pope, an American video game designer living in Japan, has been making video games of all sorts for 20 years. But his latest game comes at a time when immigration has coincidentally taken center stage in American politics.
Inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 and by the checkpoints separating East and West Berlin during the Cold War, the game is set in an imaginary nation called Aristotzka in 1982. The challenge is to inspect immigrant documents and spot discrepancies.’
‘One in 10 Los Angeles County residents is an immigrant living in the country illegally, according to a study released Tuesday by the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
Many of those immigrants have been in the country for more than a decade and are the parents of children who are American citizens, the study found. One in five children in Los Angeles County has at least one parent who is in the country without proper documentation.
One in four of the estimated 11 million people said to be in the United States without legal authorization lives in California. Statewide, the study estimates that about 7% of residents, or more than 2.6 million people, are in the country illegally.
by Adam Thomson
[...] All over Guerrero state, as well as in other parts of Mexico, self-defense or vigilante groups are springing up in response to the unanswered threat of criminal gangs.
Garibo says that in Tierra Colorada, the small, sun-baked town where he is keeping vigil, at least 250 people have taken up arms. The six surrounding municipalities have dozens of communities. Each community has at least two self-defense groups comprising 12 men each, he says.
That Guerrero should be the focus of the latest phase of Mexico’s drugs-based security problem is hardly surprising. The mountainous state that hugs the country’s Pacific coast has for decades been a center of marijuana and heroin production. More recently, the region has seen mass kidnappings, murders and even beheadings as rival drug gangs fight for control of lucrative international smuggling routes.
But the appearance of the groups is a reminder that for all the investors’ euphoria surrounding the new administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s drug war — and the violence it spawns — is still very much alive.
by John Daly
[...] China’s apparent if unstated strategy to deal with this threat [US-NATO expansion strategy] is very different from the USSR, which sought to match Washington bomber for bomber, missile for missile, submarine for submarine, effectively running the country’s economy into the ground.
No, China has proved a much more cunning enemy, drawing on its vast history and its premier military strategist, Sun Tzu, who wrote in his seminal work, “The Art of War” more than two millennia ago, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
China’s secret weapon?
“You’re not going to get the job if you’ve murdered someone,” said Barry Cushman, president of the American Polygraph Association. It might be an obvious point, but a new report shows more US Border Protection applicants may want to heed the advice.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR)’s investigation, records of more than 200 polygraphs reveal a perplexing and often shocking number of admissions made by candidates vying for a spot with the US Customs and Border Protection. The polygraph exam, which is the last phase of the agency’s hiring process, was instituted in 2008. Since that time over 15,000 individuals have taken it – and 60 per cent have failed.
As the report highlights, it is difficult to know what portion of the more than 60,000 employees of the bureau may have slipped through the polygraph exam, either by somehow beating the test or by avoiding it prior to 2008. Regardless, a recent Government Accountability Office report showed that misconduct among current employees is on the rise, registering a 62 per cent jump from 2006 to 2011.
According to Customs, all border enforcement applicants consent to allowing any admissions made during the polygraph test to be shared with other law enforcement agencies – and that is exactly what has happened during some of the more shocking cases.
Last year, for example 22-year-old applicant Cody Slaughter of Arizona admitted to his examiner that he had sexually assaulted a two-year-old, and engaged in multiple acts of bestiality. Slaughter was subsequently arrested for suspicion of sexual contact with a minor, as well as three counts of bestiality.
Other admissions during the polygraph phase have included everything from flagrant drug smuggling cases, to human smuggling to having been involved in a deadly car crash.
And the confessions only get weirder.
Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States - an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world’s most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.
If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels’ move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering.
Cartel activity in the U.S. is certainly not new. Starting in the 1990s, the ruthless syndicates became the nation’s No. 1 supplier of illegal drugs, using unaffiliated middlemen to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and heroin beyond the border or even to grow pot here.
But a wide-ranging Associated Press review of federal court cases and government drug-enforcement data, plus interviews with many top law enforcement officials, indicate the groups have begun deploying agents from their inner circles to the U.S. Cartel operatives are suspected of running drug-distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
Hundreds of armed vigilantes have taken control of a town on a major highway in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, arresting local police officers and searching homes after one of their leaders was killed. Several opened fire on a car of Mexican tourists headed to the beach for Easter week.
Members of the area’s self-described “community police” say more than 1,500 members of the force were stopping traffic on Wednesday at improvised checkpoints in the town of Tierra Colorado, which sits on the highway connecting Mexico City to Acapulco. They arrested 12 police and the former director of public security in the town after a leader of the state’s vigilante movement was slain on Monday.
A tourist heading to the beach with relatives was slightly wounded on Tuesday after they refused to stop at a roadblock and vigilantes fired shots at their car, officials said.
The vigilantes accuse the ex-security director of participating in the killing of their leader Guadalupe Quinones Carbajal, 28, on behalf of local organised crime groups and dumping his body in a nearby town on Monday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has granted uniform contracts to VF Imagewear, Inc., an apparel company that relies on manufacturing sites in Mexico for a “significant percentage” of its occupational garments.
The latest contract with the company was awarded on Dec. 20, 2012, to make “uniform and insignia items” for the CBP at an estimated cost of $6,157,997.57, and a ceiling of $8 million.
The CBP, which is responsible for protecting America’s borders, told CNSNews.com that items from VF Imagewear, a subsidiary of VF Corporation, are manufactured in a number of locations, “including Mexico.”
“There are no domestic preference regulations or statutes applicable to DHS/CBP that would prohibit the manufacture of uniform items in Mexico,” the CBP said. “In fact, United States obligations under International Agreements require that the Agency accept items manufactured in Mexico.”
“Consistent with the foregoing, VF is permitted to provide items manufactured in Mexico under the current contract,” the agency said.
According to the company’s 2012 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), “VF operates manufacturing facilities in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.”
“A significant percentage of denim bottoms and occupational apparel are manufactured in these plants, as well as a smaller percentage of footwear,” the report says. Occupational apparel refers to uniforms made by VF Imagewear. The company supplies uniforms for a variety of industries, including transportation, hospitality, food service and for the NFL, MLB and Harley-Davidson.
Manufacturing for Major League Baseball uniforms, however, occurs in the United States, according to the annual report.
by Jonathan Easley
A majority of people believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S., according to a Pew Research survey released on Thursday.
Seventy-one percent said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay, against 27 percent who said they should not be allowed to remain in the country.
However, proponents of allowing illegal immigrants to stay are split on how that should be accomplished. Forty-three percent said they should be eligible for citizenship, 24 percent said they should be limited to permanent residency and 4 percent were unsure how it should be accomplished.
In an interview on Wednesday, President Obama said he was confident lawmakers would agree on immigration legislation by the end of the summer. A bipartisan Senate group is working on a bill that would tighten border security and provide an opportunity for citizenship to illegal immigrants that meet certain criteria.
Police in this northwestern Mexican border city seized a “cannon” used to launch packets of drugs to the U.S. side of the frontier, officials said.
The pneumatic-powered device was found mounted on the back of a pick-up truck with California license plates, Mexicali’s police chief, Marco Antonio Carrillo, said Friday.
According to authorities, the device was capable of shooting two-kilogram (4.4-pound) cans containing the drugs to a distance of 400 meters (1,310 feet) inside U.S. territory.
Municipal police found the abandoned vehicle during an operation in a neighborhood of the Baja California state capital. No arrests have been made.
by Kate Seamons
She’s known as Mexico’s most powerful woman, and she’s currently sitting in prison. Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested on corruption charges last night after landing near Mexico City in a private plane, reports the AP. It’s things like private planes that appear to be the problem: The 68-year-old heads the country’s 1.5 million-member teachers’ union, which the BBC describes as Latin America’s most powerful union, and prosecutors accuse her of embezzling more than $150 million from its funds to fund a lavish lifestyle of planes, $17,000 of plastic surgery, and designer clothing.
The pressure group Human Rights Watch says Mexico has failed to properly investigate human rights abuses committed by the security forces.
The group has documented almost 250 disappearances during the term of former President Felipe Calderon.
It says evidence suggests that in more than half of the cases the security forces participated either directly or indirectly in the disappearances.
HRW has called on the new government to find the missing.
War on Drugs in Latin America Is to Advance US Economic Interests, Not Reduce Drug Trafficking ~ Truthout
by Mark Karlin
Readers of Truthout know that the site ran a ten part series last year: Truthout on the Mexican Border. The last installment of a very complicated journalistic journey into the dark underside of US Latin America policy concluded, “How the Militarized War on Drugs in Latin America Benefits Transnational Corporations and Undermines Democracy.”
The Latin America-watch website “UpsideDownWorld” offers analysis of a recent report with this headline, “US Spends $20 Billion Over 10 Years on Increasingly Bloody Drug ‘War’ in Latin America; Rejects Drug Policy Reform.” “UpsideDownWorld” describes the Associated Press investigation:
The article, authored by Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Martha Mendoza, describes how the U.S. has “spent more than $20 billion [BuzzFlash on Truthout believes $20 billion is on the extreme low end of actual expenditures] in the past decade” and deployed U.S. army, marine and navy troops to support a heavily militarized campaign to fight drug trafficking throughout the region. The fact that the efforts have been accompanied by soaring violence – with, for example, 70,000 Mexican lives lost in the last six years [actually it is likely to have exceeded a death toll of 120,000 under former President Calderon through the end of his term last November, as detailed in a Truthout article, “Fueled by War on Drugs, Mexican Death Toll Could Exceed 120,000 As Calderon Ends Six-Year Reign” – doesn’t seem to trouble the U.S. officials in charge of implementing U.S. drug policy internationally. In fact, they seem to consider spikes in violence to be a sign that the “strategy is working.”
William Brownfield who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told Mendoza that “the bloodshed tends to occur and increase when these trafficking organizations… come under some degree of pressure.”
In the “Truthout on the Mexican Border series,” I described how Brownfield testified before Congress offering a whack-a-mole defense of the failed war on drugs south of the border. He never indicated that the drug war could be won, just that it could be moved around. (After Mexico, Brownfield predicted drugs would come through the Caribbean.) There is no indication that drug trafficking to the United States is decreasing. All the United States facilitates is moving the route around of how the drugs cross into the US.
As “UpsideDownWorld” – which focuses on issues relating to Latin America – also notes:
Particularly worrying is the fact that the administration seems to be unable to account for enormous sums that have been authorized to be spent on military equipment. The article notes that, “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras — although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.”….
Today Central America is increasingly the focus of U.S. militarized counternarcotics programs. As the New York Times revealed in early May of last year, tactics and personnel that were previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan have been transferred to Central America, including the DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) that first operated in Afghanistan.
The word “militarized” in relation to counternarcotics is important, because as the Truthout series reported the goal of the US may not at all relate to reducing the flow of illegal narcotics. The actual aim is more likely to be the US insertion of militarized activity into south of the border nations that are playing an increasingly important role in the expansion of global corporations based in the US, cheap labor markets, and expanded markets for US-based companies such as Walmart. In addition, by creating an excuse for expanded US military and intelligence agency and law enforcement involvement in cooperative Latin American nations, the US is attempting to preserve hemispheric hegemony.
Indeed, were some form of immigration reform to pass, the militarization of relations with Mexico, Latin America, and parts of South America will continue to increase, not decrease. That is because stakeholders who stand to financially and ideologically benefit from a large scale law enforcement, military and intelligence agency build up — in the name of waging the war on drugs — will continue advocating aggressive national security policies.
What the so-called war on drugs enables is the growth of the national security state — including the United States Southern Command, the Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the CIA, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly School of the Americas), and other tactical forces – involved in mission creep in the Americas: to implement the modern Monroe Doctrine of US political and trade dominance.
If the US policy makers in DC were at all serious about a war on drugs, they would begin by seriously trying to reduce consumption on the homefront. Advocates of an idealized free market system on the Republican and Democratic side know that a product in high demand will always find its way to the market place.
After tens of thousands of deaths and billions and billions of dollars spent, the flow of the drugs has not decreased – and there is evidence that some of the proscribed drugs have become less costly on US streets meaning that the supply is actually increasing.
The heightened war on drugs – and a growing DC propaganda linking of the war on drugs with the threat of terrorism to ratchet up the fear among Americans – coincides with the increasing dominance of “free trade agreements” and financial firms and global corporations in creating a new international economic structure.
It is safe to say that this is no coincidence.
As Mexico’s military staged its annual Independence Day parade in September, spectators filled the main square of Mexico City to cheer on the armed forces. Nearly 2,000 miles away in Washington, American officials were also paying attention.
But it was not the helicopters hovering overhead or the antiaircraft weapons or the soldiers in camouflage that caught their attention. It was the man chosen to march at the head of the parade, Gen. Moisés García Ochoa, who by tradition typically becomes the country’s next minister of defense.
The Obama administration had many concerns about the general, including the Drug Enforcement Administration’s suspicion that he had links to drug traffickers and the Pentagon’s anxiety that he had misused military supplies and skimmed money from multimillion-dollar defense contracts.
In the days leading up to Mexico’s presidential inauguration on Dec. 1, the United States ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, met with senior aides to President Enrique Peña Nieto to express alarm at the general’s possible promotion.
That back-channel communication provides a rare glimpse into the United States government’s deep involvement in Mexican security affairs — especially as Washington sizes up Mr. Peña Nieto, who is just two months into a six-year term. The American role in a Mexican cabinet pick also highlights the tensions and mistrust between the governments despite proclamations of cooperation and friendship.
“When it comes to Mexico, you have to accept that you’re going to dance with the devil,” said a former senior D.E.A. official, who requested anonymity because he works in the private sector in Mexico. “You can’t just fold your cards and go home because you can’t find people you completely trust. You play with the cards you’re dealt.”
US trade Representative Ron Kirk has announced he’ll be stepping down. During his time in the office he has overseen one of the most significant trade negotiations in recent history – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Now his office has made an assurance that despite his departure the TPP talks will continue. Celeste Drake, trade and globalization policy specialist for the ALF CIO.
For Latin Americans seeking work abroad, traditional magnets like the United States and Spain are losing their appeal because of weak economies, said a report released Thursday.
Instead, more and more are looking to countries such as Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia, according to the study by the Organization of American States.
In the case of Spain, just 550,000 Latin Americans emigrated there between 2008 and 2010, down 38 percent from 2005 to 2007. Spain is mired in recession, drowning in debt and saddled with an unemployment rate exceeding 25 percent.
In the US, the number of legal immigrants slipped by four percent over the same stretch, and the decrease was even more pronounced among those who lack proper residency papers, the study said.
But over the same period, the number of Latin Americans heading to European countries other than Spain rose 14 percent, and to non-European members of the OECD, such as Canada, Japan, South Korea an
A civic organization released a database on Thursday that it says contains official information on more than 20,000 people who disappeared in Mexico over the past six years, a period that also saw thousands of people killed after the government launched a crackdown against drug cartels.
Propuesta Civica, or Civic Proposal, said the database it posted on its website contains details on 20,851 missing people that it says were collected by the federal Attorney General’s Office during the just-ended administration of President Felipe Calderon.
The missing include police officers, bricklayers, housewives, lawyers, students, businessmen and more than 1,200 children under age 11. They are listed one by one with such details as name, age, gender and the date and place where the person disappeared.
The database also includes chilling details of kidnappings, including the case of a man who was taken by a group of gunmen who stormed into his workplace in the city of Gomez Palacio, in the northern state of Durango, and took him away while his co-workers watched.
CBS News has learned that two guns found in the area of a recent Mexican drug cartel shootout have been linked to Fast and Furious: One trafficked by a suspect in the case, and the other purchased by a federal agent.
Mexican beauty queen Susana Flores Maria Gamez and four others died in the brutal gun battle between Sinaloa cartel members and the Mexican military in November. CBS News has learned that an FN Herstal pistol recovered near the crime scene in November was originally purchased by an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) manager who was faulted by the Inspector General in Operation Fast and Furious: George Gillett. Gillett was the Asst. Special Agent in Charge of ATF Phoenix when Fast and Furious began.
The Herstal pistol is nicknamed a “cop-killer” because of its designation as a “weapon of choice” for Mexican drug cartels. CBS News has learned the Inspector General planned to question Gillett today after a hastily-opened inquiry to determine how this agent’s personal weapon got into the hands of suspected cartel members.
CBS News spoke to Gillett, who is still employed at ATF. Gillett acknowledged he once owned the weapon in question, but says he sold it in Phoenix sometime last year after advertising it on the Internet. He declined to provide the name of the man who bought it, but says he went “above and beyond” what was required by law to complete the firearms transaction. That included asking the purchaser to fill out a form giving personal information and stating that he was in the U.S. legally; and checking his driver’s license, which Gillett said was issued in the U.S.
“I didn’t do anything criminal,” said Gillett, who calls himself a gun enthusiast. “I’ve been a gun collector all my life.”
He told CBS News that he ran into financial difficulties in recent years and sold some of his firearms. Gillett says the Herstal pistol may have sold for approximately $1,100.
[...] The secret [of an altered zoning map] held even after a former Wal-Mart de Mexico lawyer contacted Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Ark., and told them how Wal-Mart de Mexico routinely resorted to bribery, citing the altered map as but one example. His detailed account — he had been in charge of getting building permits throughout Mexico — raised alarms at the highest levels of Wal-Mart and prompted an internal investigation.
But as The New York Times revealed in April, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut down the investigation in 2006. They did so even though their investigators had found a wealth of evidence supporting the lawyer’s allegations. The decision meant authorities were not notified. It also meant basic questions about the nature, extent and impact of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s conduct were never asked, much less answered.
The Times has now picked up where Wal-Mart’s internal investigation was cut off, traveling to dozens of towns and cities in Mexico, gathering tens of thousands of documents related to Wal-Mart de Mexico permits, and interviewing scores of government officials and Wal-Mart employees, including 15 hours of interviews with the former lawyer, Sergio Cicero Zapata.
The Times’s examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced the creation of a national police force to crack down on crime and battle the country’s powerful drug cartels.
The force — a gendarmerie based on the model of Spain’s Guardia Civil — would be 10,000 strong. Currently Mexico has a patchwork of city and state police, along with some national police.
“Mexicans want peace,” said the new president, addressing a gathering of cabinet members, the country’s state governors, top lawmakers and judges, as well as human rights observers.
by Matt Taibbi
If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me.
Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.
The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.”
This bears repeating: in order to more efficiently move as much illegal money as possible into the “legitimate” banking institution HSBC, drug dealers specifically designed boxes to fit through the bank’s teller windows. Tony Montana’s henchmen marching dufflebags of cash into the fictional “American City Bank” in Miami was actually more subtle than what the cartels were doing when they washed their cash through one of Britain’s most storied financial institutions.
Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system.
by NIKHIL KUMAR
HSBC prides itself on being the “world’s local bank”. Yet it could have done without the kind of international exposure that upset United States senators this summer and the one that today resulted in it paying $1.9bn (£1.2bn) to settle a money-laundering probe.
As the senators tell it, and as the prosecutors allege, HSBC was used by a diverse customer base including Mexican drug gangs looking to funnel cash into the US and Iranians seeking to skirt US sanctions.
Yesterday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said that, starting in the early 1990s, the bank had “moved hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system on behalf of Iranian, Burmese, Sudanese, Libyan and other clients”. In the process, it had flouted US sanctions by “concealing the illegal nature of these transactions and deceiving US banks into processing illegal wire payments”.
Separately, in a deferred prosecution agreement with the US department of justice, HSBC admitted to breaches of anti-money-laundering norms as it moved “hundreds of millions” through the US on behalf of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.
In the wake of widespread reports pointing at central banks rushing to restock their coffers ever since the German government submitted gold demands to London and New York bankers, Latin American countries seem to also be catching the gold bug.
Mexico leads the way, buying close to 100 tonnes in a couple of months last year. Now Brazil has increased its gold reserves for the second straight month, reaching the highest level in 11 years, as data from the International Monetary Fund shows.
Brazil, home Latin America’s largest economy, seems to have much further to go, as gold still accounts for a mere 0.8% of its reserves.
In addition to Brazil, others nations including Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay have recently been adding to their bullion holdings. And this might be only the beginning.