The stage is set. The question remains whether the play will be a Greek tragedy based on Homer’s Trojan Horse poem or an adaptation of Sound of Music where the good guys escape their villainous oppressors and live happly ever after.
PRI (PARTIDO REVOLUCIONARIO INSTITUCIONAL) has always been very skilled at PR (pulic relations) staging events that make make their leader look good.
This time the stage was in a cattle barn at the Cattle Association in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán. There was , appropriately , the smell of manure in the air. Preparations were underway for a march to the center of town where the swearing in of the self-defense forces that would convert them into the Fuerza Rural (Rural Forces).
|Commissioner Alfredo Castillo (turquoise shirt), with commanders of the new Rural Police of Michoacán, |
including Estanislao Beltrán (bearded), Papa Smurf
(Photo: Miguel Dimayuga)
"The people rose up to request the presence of the State, and today you are the State." said Alfredo Costillo Cervantes in setting the theme for the day. (I am not sure that is really something to be proud of in Mexico).
To understand what is happening in this play, you have to know more about the lead actor, Alfredo Costillo.
ALFREDO CASTILLO CERVANTES.
|Star of the Show|
Castillo was appointed by President Pena Nieto to head the Safety Commission and the Comprehensive Development of Michoacan. This appointment effectively made Commissioner Castillo the Viceroy or Csar of Michoacan. (The legality and constitutionality of the creation of the Commission and the Appointment of Castillo by Presidential decree has been questioned as it appears he has the same powers as he would under martial law and is usurping powers that traditionally belong to state government.)
He studied law and obtained a degree from the Autonomous Metropolitan University with a major in Criminal Science and Criminology , also obtained two other degrees, one in Political Science and Public Administration at the Universidad Iberoamericana and the other in Financial Economics in Banking and Business School .
His education, in criminology, political science/public administration, and finance evidently caught the attention of a young EPN. Knowledge of those three fields in combination would be useful to advancing EPN’s political ambitions. He became a close personal friend and advisor to Pena Nieto. (To obtain those degrees Castillo must have read a lot of books and that could have been what attracted the attention of Pena Nieto who has a well known unfamiliarity with books).
Castillo has held a number of posts in both state and federal government (state government when EPN was Governor of the state of Mexico) but his real influence derived from his becoming the “go to” guy for EPN’s “dirty work” and keeping scandals from tarnishing the image of Pena Nieto.
One of his successes in this role of protecting EPN from being tarnished by a scandal was the case of the missing girl Paulette that occurred during the tenure of EPN as Governor of Mexico.
In a country so brutalized by violence that bodies hanging from bridges and heads in garbage bags barely merit a headline, the disappearance of 4-year-old Paulette Gebara Farah struck a chord.
Paulette's disappearance became the talk of the town — on the streets, in restaurants, among construction workers and maids, in the comment sections of newspaper Web pages, and on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Both parents and the 2 nannies were placed under a form of house arrest because they were the last people to have seen the girl. The state Attorney General declared it a homicide.
Many expressed cynicism that — even if guilty — the rich parents would never be convicted.
"Sure enough they're going to nab the poor garbage man or the gardener, and they'll screw them over because they're poor, while they let the rich parents off the hook," wrote a reader on the Reforma newspaper's Web site.
The apartment and the high rise luxury apartment building where it was located had been searched thoroughly to no avail when she was reported missing. However eight days after her disappearance the case became even messier.
State investigators returned to the scene to conduct a re-enactment (though having no clue if the culprit was an intruder, one of the parents or one of the 2 nannies of the girl, I don’t know how they could conduct a re-enactment).
During the re-enactment Paulette’s body was discovered at the foot of her bed wedged between the mattress and the foot of the bed frame.
|Paulette's body wrapped in blankets and bed covers at the foot of the bed. (allegedly not discovered in original search)|
The public clamor for answers grew. How could the police and investigators have missed finding her body during their previous searches? Was her body placed there and if so by whom? Were there undisclosed ties between her rich father and/or lawyer mother with the Attorney General?
The Attorney General changed his tune and said there was no evidence of foul play and Paulette had died a accidental death. He said the forensics showed she had become entangled in her bed covers and fell between the mattress and the bed frame and died of asphyxiation.
The media went into a feeding frenzy that lasted about 2 weeks. Some commentators were speculating that the scandal could affect EPN”s aspirations to run for President of the Republic.
The Attorney General, Alberto Bazbaz then “resigned” and EPN appointed Assistant General Castillo Attorney General. He gave some logical answers to the questions about the case and evidently he was more believable than Bazbaz because the case quietly slipped from the news.
Castillo had done his job and kept the scandal from reaching EPN.
He accomplished the same thing following the scandal involving the prevention by state police of a group of 60 flower vendors from selling at the Texcoco local market in the State of México.
The flower vendors appealed to the residents of San Salvador Atenco, which is about 30 km (19 mi) from Mexico City. The residents of Aetnco were accustomed to protests against the Government, having done so successfully when the authorities wanted to run a major highway connecting to a proposed new airport through the middle of their town in 2002.
They put up barricades and organized demonstrations in protest of the treatment of the flower vendors. Police used violence and arrest against resisters.
The confrontations were very violent, causing the deaths of two protesters and dozens of people (mostly women) were sexually assaulted by the police forces.
In a seemingly retaliation, over 1,000 police officers raided the town and conducted house-to-house searches arresting over 200 people. Images of police officers beating residents were broadcast on national TV in Mexico. At least seven women have said they were raped while another 16 said they were sexually abused.
The Mexico Human Rights Commission launched an investigation and several police were arrested but none were convicted or punished. Three of the protestors received prison sentences of 112 years total. Governor EPN was absolved from any involvement. (thanks to Castillo handling of the scandal).
In contrast to his success in controlling scandals, his record as an administrator does not fare so well.
The result of his two years of public administration as head of the Attorney General of the State of Mexico (PGJEM) was disastrous. During this period the state had the third highest number of missing persons, according to the official list of the Ministry of the Interior (Interior Ministry) and the Attorney General's Office (PGR). Intentional homicides increased 32%; extortion, a thousand 225%; vehicle theft with violence, 17% and vehicle theft without violence, 8%, according to the National Public Security System (NPSS).
In parallel, during the time that Castillo was procurator the state, it was invaded by various criminal groups and drug cartels, including La Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templar and the Zetas, said intelligence reports from the National Center for Planning, Analysis and Information (Cenapi).
So keep in mind during this play that the primary purpose of Castillo being in Michoacan is to protect EPN (PRI) from scandal, not providing security to the people or “restoring the rule of law”. The spiraling creation of self-defense groups in Michoacan had gotten out of control and it's continued growth and expansion to other states and groups posed a real threat to the government (PRI and EPN)..
BACK TO ACT ONE OF THE PLAY (when the curtain comes up, it looks more like a Keystone Cops episode)
It takes 15 minutes for the Commissioner of Security for Public Safety, Alfredo Costillo, to walk from the Cattle Association to El Centro where the speeches would be made. He does not wear one of the new uniforms of the Fuerza Rurales, but does wear one of their caps.
The limited enthusiasm awakened by the stroll contrasts with the batons and applause that crowned the self-defense movement's anniversary parade last February 24. Only in a couple of places does a "Viva the Commissioner" and some scattered loose applause break out.
The Commissioner walks with General Miguel Ángel Patiño, head of Military Zone 43, both surrounded by a score of troops: soldiers, agents of the Federal Police and the PGR that are his personal guard. (Patiño is not well liked in this land, where he has been booed at public events, and they have shouted accusations at him being a protector of The Templars.)
Five Federal Police pickup trucks with agents armed to the teeth go in front of the group. Five Army pickup trucks follow behind. Above, two Federal Police Black Hawk helicopters make pirouettes and fly almost over the heads of those attending the ceremony.
The police and military deployment for the occasion amazes even Tepeque's [nickname for Tepalcatepec] residents, who are used to operations and blockades.
When they arrive at the plaza, a great banner proclaims “Rural Forces Sworn In” greets them.
Surrounded by 100 armed men safeguarding the events security, one of Castillo’s (and the people with Juan José Farías, El Abuelo, who attends the event), favorite spokesperson, Juana Reyes, (Juanita) tells the crowd;
“Tepalcatepec, is the "the safest municipality in Michoacán," where the government has restored peace, tranquility and the rule of law,” (her statement was probably true on that day, if somewhat ironic, considering all the Army soldiers, Federal Police, Blackhawk helicopters circling overhead, and the 250 armed new recruits).
Juanita's accolades know no bounds: "The word, gracias, falls short." So the agronomist engineer and PRI leader, recognizes
"the guidance of our leader," (Castillo) who, "with total coordination and discipline, we succeed in destabilizing organized crime and thus recovering the dignity, freedom, security and rule of law in Tepalcatepec."
When it is Castillo’s turn to talk, he tells the assembled new Rurales that;
"The people rose up to request the presence of the State, and today you are the State."
He further stated “"You are the ones who, from this moment on, have the responsibility to defend your brothers, your families, your neighbors and anyone who may be aggrieved by common or organized crime."
Remember what I said about the primary reason for Castillo being in Michoacan – to protect EPN . With those 2 statements he has put up the shield to provide protection for EPN in the event there is continued conflict and violence in Michoacan. It will be the fault of the people, not the government.
Continued conflict and violence seems inevitable considering that a large part of the new recruits are “ex” Templaros. As stated earlier Juan Jose Farias, aka el Abuelo was in attendance at the swearing in but did not get close to Castillo to avoid potentially embarrassing photos.
El Abuelo was once identified by authorities as a prominent member of the Milenio cartel. He went to jail and got out so that, in a jump not very unusual in Michoacán, he could become undisputed leader of the self-defense group that rules in Tepalcatepec.
Their presence in presumably private meetings with the Commissioner caused a small--and now forgotten--national controversy. Costillo said after the photos and a video showing him in a meeting with Abuelo in Jan. became public said he did not know Farias had any cartel connections (even though the Army and the Federal Police both have files documenting his involvement in cartel activities).
|el Abuelo and Costillo meeting|
El Abuelo is not in the new police force, but its leaders definitely recognize him as the boss.
THE NEW RECRUITS
For the self-defense forces, the transition to a new body of state police is like going from the lineup of a powerful first division team to the reserves of a third division team, without possibilities of promotion. So say the faces and complaints of men who today barely squeezed into the blue uniforms (sleeves that are too long, betrayed by pants that do not close), received new weapons, marched in front of the Federal Commissioner (the Secretary of Government Relations [SEGOB] did not come, as local media had announced) and, after the parade and swearing in, they returned to the place of the Livestock Association to make clear, before the cameras and microphones, that "institutionalization" is not synonymous with professionalism.
The reason is simple: the major part of the self-defense forces used to carry the all-terrain rifles invented by Mr. Kalashnikov. Now, uniformed, the new state police (who will definitely come under the government of Fausto Vallejo, whom no one invited to this ceremony and who has consistently been anti-self defense forces) carry R-15's on their shoulders and they are given 45 bullets. They also say that they [government] is going to pay them, but they say they still don't know how much.
Despite being public officials, they have no salary, benefits, insurance, and supplies.
“We have a bit of a mess. We have nowhere to refer people, no facilities or barracks, no one has trained us in how we should treat people as public servants. We have nowhere to take prisoners. We do not have radios, and if we buy one they complain.”
In response to a comment that they had not received any training, one recruit said “that is not true, they taught us how to march double time”.
In addition to lack of training, the new Rural forces have not undergone any vetting of police officers that the new criminal reforms require of applicants of police forces. (which a large percentage fail to pass).
Accustomed to vans, the Nissan pickup trucks for the new forces makes them laugh. One complains:
"Who are we going to catch with that?"
Comandante Cinco says that it will be like in an old cartoon in which the roadrunners pass one and another and another turtle without being able to do anything to them.
As of now 120 members of the new force will be responsible for the security of Tepalcatepec. Castillo has successfully painted a heavy coat of Teflon on EPN.
Before the emergence of the self-defense groups, this municipality had only 36 policemen. Juanita sums it up:
"It's a magic moment."
Sources; Here are a few links from about a hundred stories I read before writing this story.
http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/22/world/la-fg-mexico-paulette-20100522 (Photo: Miguel Dimayuga)