Violence against politicians is increasing ahead of Mexico's election — but some cartel leaders are now promising safety

Guadalajara Mexico crime scene homicide murder

  • Mexico is gearing up for a nationwide election this summer.
  • Politicians and party officials are increasingly finding themselves at risk around the country.
  • The government has promised to provide protection — and so have some narcos.

Mexico saw record violence in 2017, when its 25,339 homicide cases were the most in a year since the government began releasing data in 1997.

The homicide rate also rose to 20.51 per 100,000 people in 2017 from 16.8 per 100,000 in 2016 — higher than the 19.37 per 100,000 in 2011, the drug war’s peak.

Newly released data underscores the growing insecurity in the country, but for politicians, particularly those at the local level, the final months in 2017 and first months of this year were especially deadly.

Those politicians are preparing for general elections in July, when more than 3,400 positions — including the presidency, hundreds of federal legislature seats, and eight state governorships — will be up for grabs.

There are varying estimates of the toll this violence has taken.

Mexico Durango election police

Mexican news site Nacion321 reported last month that between September 2017 and the beginning of March, 58 political figures, including mayors, deputies, and candidates, were killed. Excelsior reported in mid-March that since September, 62 political figures, including candidates, mayors, former mayors, city councilors, and party members, were slain around the country. At the beginning of April, El Universal reported that 42 political figures, including mayors, former mayors, councilors, activists, and party functionaries, had been killed since September.

According to El Universal’s report, the most recent, killings took place in 16 states — the most in Guerrero, which had 12, eight in Oaxaca, and three each in Jalisco and Veracruz. Thirteen members of the governing center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party were slain, 10 from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, and five from the conservative National Action Party. Morena and Movimiento Ciudadano, both leftist parties, had three members killed.

Historically, the trend is a new one.

“In the past, back in the ’80s and early ’90s, that was a rare occasion, but starting the early 2000s, especially when the cartels just became super-size, if you will, and especially when [President Felipe] Calderon went after them with a vengeance starting in 2007, then the cartels wanted protection,” Mike Vigil, former director of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider in March

“At that point in time, there were so many cartels,” Vigil said. “They were all vying for power. They were all vying for territory, and they knew that in order to operate, they needed protection. So they would kill political candidates if they felt that they were not going to protect their interests.”

This year ‘has been bad’

Mexico state election voting voter

The uptick has been attributed to Mexico’s political opening in the 1990s and 2000s, when the devolution of authority from the federal level to municipal authorities gave local officials more resources and a bigger role in dealing with criminal actors. Freer and fairer elections — and the resulting shifts in the balance of political power — also interrupted standing agreements between politicians and criminals.

As a consequence of those fragmented agreements, “drug-trafficking organizations started targeting locally elected authorities to deter unfriendly candidates, blackmail non-cooperative officials, buy-in collaboration, and ultimately show the reach of their power,” according to a report by the University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico program.

The first known case in recent decades of an aspiring, current, or former mayor being killed was in 2002, according to the report. “Since then, at least 150 mayors, mayoral candidates, and former mayors were killed through 2017, with an average of 10 victims per year and a peak of 20 assassinations in 2010,” the report states.

That violence has remained elevated. In 2016, when six of the country’s 2,435 mayors were slain, the likelihood a member of that group would be killed was 12 times higher than for a member of the general population and three times higher than for journalists, who have faced considerable danger in recent years.

“In every election cycle in Mexico, there’s an increase in violence against local politicians,” James Bosworth, founder of Hxagon, a political-risk analysis firm, told Business Insider.

Mexico state election ballot voting voters recount

“It tends not to be happening in Mexico City or Guadalajara or Monterrey … it tends to happen in more rural towns, but there is an increase, and this year it has been bad,” said Bosworth, whose work has focused on Latin America. “I don’t know exact numbers, but a significant number of local politicians have been threatened, have been shot at, [or] have been killed.”

The dynamics of the criminal underworld appear to have increased these dangers. Major criminal groups have weakened and fragmented, in part because of the government’s kingpin strategy, which targets organized-crime leaders. That pressure pushed criminals out of major metro areas into regions with limited government presence, Vigil said, and the remaining factions tend to have smaller territorial reach.

Alejandro Hope, a former official for Mexico’s civilian intelligence agency, said in January that fragmentation has made criminals more concerned about politics. “Organized crime has become more politicized because it’s become more local,” he said.

Smaller groups have also become more assertive, Bosworth told Business Insider.

“It’s not just big groups becoming smaller. There’s a lot of smaller groups that have increased their influence,” he said. “These sort of second- and third-tier criminal groups that are out there in Mexico, at the neighborhood level, they clearly have an interest in affecting local politics.”

Mexico Guerrero homicide crime scene

“This is a local gang in charge of this city or even this neighborhood, deciding to go after local politicians, and in many ways that’s a much tougher problem for the Mexican government to solve,” he added.

Trying to guarantee candidates’ safety

Mexico’s Interior Ministry has offered a limited solution, presenting a protection plan for presidential candidates who request it. Candidates for the federal legislature can also request security.

But federal authorities aren’t the only ones making guarantees about candidates’ safety.

The bishop of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa dioceses in Guerrero state, Salvador Rangel Mendoza, said this week that narcos there promised not to kill political candidates or party figures, on the condition that those running for office not try to buy votes and fulfill their promises if elected.

“What they ask for is a free, just, and secret vote, nothing more,” said Rangel, a proponent of dialogue with criminal groups. He made the announcement after visiting a rural area in central Guerrero where two groups were fighting for control. He wouldn’t identify with whom he spoke.

That guarantee is almost certainly geographically limited and likely contingent on the whims of the criminals involved. And the government’s ability to protect candidates and challenge criminal groups remains limited, particularly in remote areas.

“The Mexican government too often just sort of lumps it in as, ‘Hey, that’s just crime. It happens,'” Bosworth said of attacks on political figures.

“When this many local politicians are targeted and killed, there’s clearly some political motivation behind some of these killings, and they need to be more thoroughly investigated,” he added. “The intellectual authors of the murders need to be brought to justice.”

SEE ALSO: An ex-DEA agent describes how he helped hunt down ‘El Chapo’ — and confronted him wearing the cartel kingpin’s own hat

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'Criminal Minds' Recap: Why Is an UnSub Holding a Law Firm … – BuddyTV (blog)

The case is very, very personal for Matt Simmons in this episode of Criminal Minds, as he finds out that the site of a hostage situation is the law firm where his wife, Kristy, just started working. But he can’t just rush over there like he wants to (at least not at first), even when the BAU is put on a clock by the UnSub.

As we see in “Ex Parte,” Kristy doesn’t just sit by and do nothing. In fact, the women are the bravest hostages in that law firm, though that doesn’t end well for one of them. One of the men tries to trick an UnSub (but ultimately fails), while another man’s fear almost leads to a tragic moment.

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Simmons Needs to Be There

At night, two UnSubs, dressed in black and with their faces covered, take two men who work for a security company hostage at their van. They have them hand over their badges, keys and clothes, and one of the UnSubs tells the other he’ll take care of them. We see him fire two shots.

As Simmons gets ready to leave for work, he can’t find his phone, his very old phone as Kristy teases him. She tries to persuade him to upgrade, even bringing up the children, but he’s a creature of habit. Well, it’s a good thing she’s already bought him a new phone then. Still, he’s sticking to his guns (and phone); it’s not about his fear of change, but his commitment to the things he trusts. He leaves without the new phone, she puts it in her bag, and you just know that’s going to come into play later on.

The two UnSubs easily gain access to a law firm with their stolen uniforms. Meanwhile, Cole talks to the receptionist about an appointment he made that’s not on the schedule. Once the men return from the server room, the three of them take out guns and take everyone in the law firm hostage.

Prentiss alerts Rossi and Simmons to the hostage situation downtown, but when she tells them where, Matt freezes because Kristy just started working there a few weeks ago. He’s ready to run down there (and probably find any way inside that he can), but he can’t. He and Kristy have a plan for the kids if something like this happened, he explains, but they thought their roles would be reversed. He can’t be a bystander, and Prentiss agrees to let him stay and help them build the profile.

Cole’s clearly the one in charge of the three UnSubs, and he has everyone hand over their devices. Kristy knocks her bag under a couch. (Nice move, Kristy!) A paralegal, Steven, claims that he left his at home after arguing with his girlfriend, but Cole calls his phone and finds it on the table. He backhands Steven, and one of the other UnSubs has to pull him off him.

J.J., Tara and Luke arrive on scene and find out from Commander Nash that there’s C4 on all the doors into the ALDC offices. The UnSubs have made zero effort to establish any line of communication, and in fact, when the phone rings in the office, Cole picks it up and hangs up. It’s crude psychological warfare, Reid says, which suggests they’re dealing with young men. (They are.)

Kristy begins talking to a coworker about creating a distraction because she knows the FBI has no way of seeing inside, but then Cole takes the other woman to her office. He wants her to choose a representative to speak on his behalf to negotiate with the cops. She refuses, and he kills her.

He sends her body down in the elevator with a phone, which he calls as “Bad Guy #1,” a sign he craves attention. Tara refuses to let him intimidate her, and he tells her that he’ll kill a hostage every 15 minutes if they don’t release Leonard Hagland from prison.

Criminal Minds Season 13 Spoilers: Garcia’s Family, an Agent’s Bizarre Story and a Finale Cliffhanger>>>

Things Get Too Real for the Simmons Family

Leonard was the former leader of a hate group, the Horsemen, identified by the ALDC. In 2015, he shot state troopers during a raid on his house, and he’s on death row, scheduled to die on Monday. They hope if they bring him in, he’ll be so arrogant, he’ll brag about his master plan. (He’s no help.)

The security company van is found, and the two men are alive inside. The UnSub shot a seat, not them. He lied to his partner, a sign that he’s having doubts.

Once Cole walks off, Kristy hurries to her bag, takes out the new phone, slips an AirPod (yay wireless earbuds!) into her ear and calls 911. They forward her call to the FBI, and Simmons is able to talk to her. Garcia gets to work activating the phone (Kristy can’t since there’s no service) so she can use the camera to give them eyes inside. “I want you to know how much I love you,” Simmons tells her. “I love you, too,” she replies before hurrying back to her spot right before Cole returns. He takes a hostage and executes him.

Cole sends the body downstairs and calls Tara. Release Leonard and it’s over, he says. Release a hostage, she counters. He hangs up.

Once she has the chance, Kristy retrieves her phone, and with it activated, can switch to a video call. She and Matt can see each other, but they have to focus. Kristy hides the phone on a shelf and shows them her earbud (so she can still hear them).

With the video, they’re able to I.D. the UnSubs: Dalton and Jasper, both dishonorably discharged and ex-cons. Cole visited Leonard in prison, and their body language in the footage suggests father and son. Cole’s his illegitimate son, desperate to be legitimately acknowledged by his absent father.

With this news, Leonard tries to negotiate with Rossi to let him talk to Cole and to get off death row. Rossi’s not there to make deals.

They need to undermine Cole’s belief that he’ll gain his father’s approval. They can start by using his real name (Josh Martin) and information about his mother.

However, they better do something fast, because one of Kristy’s coworkers is a bit too worried about the phone and alerts Cole’s attention to something on a shelf. When he finds the phone, he thinks it was the coworker’s doing, but Kristy stands up and tells him she did it. Cole drags her off, puts her in front of the camera and tells them to watch.

Tara comes to her rescue, telling her to repeat what she says, and uses the information they’ve found about Josh and his mother to get to him. His partners are upset that they’re risking their lives for that, and Josh shoots one of them.

But Simmons has managed to get into the building and the ALDC offices using the vent the UnSubs were going to use to escape, and he draws them away from the hostages. He finds one back at the vent, and when he pulls his gun, shoots him, and then he gets into an all-out fight with Josh, which ends with Matt choking him. It’s Kristy running in and telling him, “it’s not you,” that gets him to release him to be taken into custody.

That night at home, Kristy says she doesn’t know how she feels, and Matt tells her she’s going to want to talk to someone, not just him. But hey, here’s some good news: he’s using the new phone. It is, after all, the phone that saved her life. (So, he’s saying she was right?) 

Alright, Criminal Minds. You’ve put Kristy in danger. You put a gun to her head. Nothing else can happen to her now. Deal?

Do you want to see more of the Simmons family? Were you worried about Kristy?

Criminal Minds season 13 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Criminal Minds Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

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Trump Legal Team Departure Opens Gaps in Mueller Probe Defense – Bloomberg

The shrinking of Donald Trump’s legal team has opened a gap in criminal law expertise that could expose the president to legal risk if he agrees to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The abrupt departure of Trump’s lead attorney John Dowd has left Jay Sekulow — a lawyer specializing in First Amendment and religious freedom cases — in charge of legal strategy and negotiations with Mueller over a possible interview of the president. Sekulow’s constitutional law background could help him wage a fight to block questioning by Mueller or limit its scope, but he has no experience guiding a client through a complex criminal investigation.

Some Trump advisers have long worried about the president sitting with Mueller for an interview, given the risk of criminal charges for lying to a federal agent if the voluble president is caught in a misstatement. Now, he lacks a seasoned criminal lawyer with experience guiding clients through this type of high-pressure encounter.

Sekulow is up against Mueller’s team of 17 veteran prosecutors who collectively have decades of experience handling complex criminal cases, including putting away mobster kingpins.

“It’s a very dangerous situation for the president not to have top-flight white-collar representation,” said Randall Eliason, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School in Washington. “It’s a specialty. You wouldn’t go to your throat doctor for brain surgery.”

Trump has struggled to find an experienced criminal defense lawyer willing or able to defend him in Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference, whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it and whether the president sought to obstruct the investigation. That leaves Sekulow at the helm for the time being. The president’s legal team continues to look for a lawyer who has dealt in large-scale investigations before but his advisers don’t feel a sense of urgency to add somebody, said two people familiar with the process.

Freedom of Speech

Until his addition to Trump’s legal team, Sekulow, 61, was best known as an evangelist for pro-Israeli, freedom of speech, and religious causes. He has argued before the Supreme Court a dozen times on issues concerning freedom of speech, often on behalf of religious organizations. He also hosts a syndicated radio show that reaches an average of 1.5 million daily listeners and was a frequent television news guest.

A QuickTake: Can Trump Dismiss the Special Counsel? Not Exactly

When he was recruited to join Trump’s legal team last summer it was mostly because of his background in constitutional law, which could come into play over issues of executive privilege and presidential powers. It was Dowd — with his experience in high-profile criminal investigations and rapport with Mueller — who was expected to help Trump weather the deep probing into his campaign, business and presidency.

Even so, Sekulow’s staff has been doing much of the legwork behind the scenes in researching case law and helping formulate a defense, said a person familiar with the legal team. He has brought on several outside attorneys to help and has one attorney, Ben Sisney, who works for him at the nonprofit American Center for Law and Justice working on the case full-time. All of the attorneys working on the case are paid by Trump and not the ACLJ, said spokesman Gene Kapp.

Sekulow said last week that he was elevating one of the attorneys who has been helping on the case for months, Andrew Ekonomou, to a more prominent role with Dowd’s departure. Ekonomou is a former federal prosecutor and acting U.S. attorney from Atlanta who’s well-versed in criminal cases but has no experience with a major Washington investigation.

Ekonomou is “an exceptional attorney who brings decades of experience to this important role,” Sekulow said in a statement. “He is a valuable member of the president’s legal team.”

A Peer

Longtime Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who recruited Dowd, felt strongly that Trump needed a lawyer like Dowd who was not only experienced in complex white-collar investigations but would be respected by Mueller and viewed as a peer, said a person familiar with the process. While Dowd and Mueller didn’t know each other personally, they were of a similar age and shared a common bond over their time as prosecutors and as Marines who served in Vietnam.

Sekulow has operated in a different legal universe from Mueller, but the two have become more familiar with each other over the course of the investigation, with Sekulow attending meetings with Mueller and his team alongside Dowd, said a person close to Sekulow. Sekulow has kept up direct talks about an interview since Dowd’s departure, said another person.

Trump’s Lawyer Uses Radio Show to Chip Away at Mueller Probe

The turmoil on Trump’s legal team started on March 19 with Trump’s abrupt decision to add lawyer Joseph diGenova after little consultation with advisers. The addition created friction with Dowd, who quit three days later. By the end of the week, Sekulow said diGenova wouldn’t be able to take on the case because his firm also represented several witnesses in the probe. The other remaining key player on Trump’s legal team is Ty Cobb, who represents the office of the presidency, not Trump personally, in the Mueller probe.

Trump has struggled to find another lawyer because many firms already represent clients involved in the Mueller investigation, creating potential conflicts. Former Solicitor General Ted Olson and former federal prosecutors Tom Buchanan and Dan Webb also turned down offers because of conflicts.

Risk to Reputation

Lawyers also have been concerned about damage to their reputation that could come from representing Trump, said a person familiar with the search. Not only could they and their firm be tainted by Trump’s controversial politics, but they fear they could be publicly humiliated by Trump the way he has taken to Twitter to belittle Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and his wife.

One key skill an experienced defense lawyer could bring to Trump is preparing him for an interview to make sure he has an answer ready for any likely question. That type of preparation could take dozens of hours, a challenge for a president with a short attention span, and require Trump to internalize and buy into the message his lawyers craft for him. Trump and Sekulow have a good rapport, but it’s unclear whether Sekulow has the influence over Trump to persuade him to stay on message during an interview, said one person familiar with the pair.

“There has to be recognition that there is skill and artistry that goes into adequate preparation,” said Jacob Frenkel, chairman of government investigations and securities enforcement at Dickinson Wright. “These are skills that aren’t developed merely by going to law school or by being a member of the profession. You can teach art, but that doesn’t make you are great artist.”

A criminal defense lawyer would be able to help Trump navigate the parameters of an interview and field unexpected questions or downright curve balls, Eliason said.

“The difficulty for the witness is that you have no idea what the prosecutors know,” Eliason said. “It’s not something you want to walk into with somebody who’s doing this for the first time.”

— With assistance by Greg Farrell

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