November 7, 2008

The Joy and Sorrow of Election Day

The historic 2008 US election that catapulted Barack Obama to the White House was fast on its way to becoming the top story in Mexican media. As the afternoon of November 4 wore on.

“US citizens of Mexican origin are going out to vote in large numbers, and even when long lines are not observed in their neighborhoods, the precincts register a constant flow,” observed a dispatch from the Notimex news agency carried on La Jornada’s web site.

Then it happened. A small plane went down in the middle of Mexico City, killing at least 13 people and injuring 40 others. Among the victims killed in the still-mysterious crash were Mexican Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino and Jose Luis Santiago Vasconce-los, a high-ranking federal law enforcement official who once headed an elite anti-organized crime fighting unit, SIEDO, now embroiled in a scandal over top officials’ alleged links with drug traffickers.

When he was in charge of SIEDO during the administration of former President Vicen-te Fox, Santiago Vasconcelos oversaw investigations of the Ciudad Juarez femicides and the disappearances of numerous men in the border city. No real progress was made in either of the investigations.

When they were killed on November 4, Mourino, San-tiago Vasconcelos and other officials had just returned from San Luis Potosi after participating in an anti-organized crime meeting.

The Interior Ministry’s web site had just posted what turned out to be Mourino’s last public speech, but quickly yanked the statement and replaced it with a sober message from President Felipe Calderon. A rising young official, Mourino was a key promoter of President Calderon’s controversial Pemex reform and militarized drug war.

“Mexico has lost Mexican patriots who worked at the service of the Mexican state; Mexican men and women, who with their tireless and daily work, were constructing a better country for all,” President Calderon said. “(Mourino’s) death causes me enormous pain, but at the same time it is powerful motive for me to continue struggling without rest and more than ever for the ideals that we shared.”

Although causes of the crash are still under investigation, speculation of foul play is rampant in the Mexican press.

A longtime law enforcement official with experience in the Office of the Federal Attorney General, Santiago Vasconcelos had been involved in extremely sensitive probes involving drug lords, political donors and Pemex, among others. The career lawman reportedly was the target of death threats in recent weeks, and his family was put under military and police protection.

In a news analysis, Mexico’s El Universal daily compared Mourino’s death in the November 4 plane crash to a still-mysterious fatal helicopter crash that claimed the life of federal public security chief Ramon Martin Huerta during the Fox administration.

“The two cases have certain similarities,” El Universal noted. “Both (men) were an important part of the fight against drugs and both were men who were very close to the president.”

In its trademark style of hyperbolic, cutting commentary, Ciudad Juarez’s Lapolaka Internet news site assessed a day that will go down in history on both sides of the border.

“A black President reaches the White House for the first time since the founding of the United States, violence in Ciudad Juarez reaches horrific levels and the Interior Minister of Mexico, Juan Camilo Mourino, dies in an air accident that smells of criminal terrorism,” Lapolaka declared. “It is the end of the world as we know it. The construction of a new, unknown one begins, which rises amid the ruins of a political, economic, social and moral system that’s still not finished falling to pieces.”

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS) an on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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