Friday, February 6, 2015

Today's Headlines: We've been reminded over the last week that Mexico has a major problem with missing persons. It also has a major problem with persons being found — dead in mass graves. It turns out authorities aren't even telling us about all of them.

The Mexico City papers are all over the place with their top heads today. There's not much agreement on which stories to front either. Reforma, resorting to its grating habit of sexing up heads with superfluous bangs, goes with this: “100 bodies found, and nobody investigates!”
    Reforma has an exclusive on this one, since the story is the result of the newspaper’s freedom of information request for a list of the mass graves, and remains therein, found nationwide between January 2013 and January 2015.
    Though the headline implies otherwise, the finding is not new, nor were the remains unearthed from one mass grave. Rather, the figure of 100 is supposedly the sum of corpses unearthed from several common graves in Iguala, Guerrero back in May, 2014.
    The elapsed time between discovery and announcement makes the story, if accurate, no less significant. The remains were found four months before Iguala police killed three teacher training students and delivered 43 more to the local drug-trafficking gang for execution. Yet, according to Reforma, the findings were never made known until now, and never investigated — not by police at any level nor by either the state or federal Attorney General’s Office. Might subsequent events have unfolded differently if this macabre finding had seen the light of day immediately?
    On the other hand, doesn’t 100 seem like too round a number? And too high to be kept a secret for so long? Maybe it is. Toward the end of the news story, we learn that the Federal Police rushed a communication to Reforma claiming the figure of 100 was inaccurate, due to “human error.” There were only 19 bodies found, they said.
    We have here a sterling example of why you need to stay on your toes as you read press reports (even if you read them sitting down). Was the new figure, five times lower, a correction or a strategic retreat? And did Reforma stick with the original number of 100 in the head and the story lead because it believes 100 more than it believes 19? Or because it makes a better story?
    And just to keep the gruesome body count current, it was reported this morning (too late for the printed dailies) that 61 decomposing corpses were discovered in an abandoned crematorium in Acapulco, also in the state of Guerrero. Authorities are investigating (this time), trying to figure out whom the bodies belonged to and how they got there. It’s possible that a crematorium service just left them on the grounds as they abandoned the business.

Excelsior’s lead story updates us on President Peña Nieto’s proposal to clean up municipal police forces by getting rid of them. The reform would put all local law enforcement under state control, thus making it harder, the thinking goes, for cops to throw in their lot with the local gangsters they’re supposed to be busting. This so-called mando único, or single command, is on the calendar for the current session of Congress.
    But there’s a good chance it won’t pass, as Excelsior’s top head makes clear: “Rebellion against single command.” The opposition is coming from the PAN, the conservative party and No. 2 presence in Congress. The PAN started off this century by winning two presidential elections, but now finds itself strongest at the local level, where it governs 23 million constituents in 454 municipios nationwide. That’s 454 mayors unhappy about the prospect of losing local control over their police force, in many cases to a state government run by another party.
    Which might be why PAN Senator Luis Fernando Salazar told a gathering of mayors Thursday that the party will “defend ourselves like cats lying face up.” The expression loses something in translation, needless to say, but the point is that the PAN plans to fight the single command proposal to the bitter end. That leaves Peña Nieto’s PRI needing PRD support to get the bill through, something it doesn’t often get.

Milenio revisits a more traditional expression of corruption that seems almost quaint compared to the bloody travesties in fashion today — crooked customs personnel. “Complaints against customs agents doubles” reads the tabloid’s top head. The reference is to the 40 accusations that customs head Alejandro Chacón left with prosecutors in December before he resigned his post for unexplained reasons. There were 20 such accusations in 2013.
    Of course, those 40 are only the cases that Chacón and his staff had developed and considered prosecutable. Few doubt there is much more going on in the way of graft, embezzlement, collaboration with smugglers and bribery, not to mention the occasional light-fingering. This is no small matter. Some 47% of collected value added tax comes out of the customs houses, of which there are 47 in Mexico — 19 in the north, two at the southern borders, 17 at ports along the Pacific, Gulf and Caribbean coasts, and 11 in the interior.

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