Mexico 27/02/12

Police search for 30 convicts who broke out of a Nuevo León prison; Mexico and US sign cross-border pact on deep sea oil deposits, and scientists develop a vaccine which could tackle heroin addiction.

G20 meeting, Los Cabos

Prison murders and break-out raise concern for inmates’ safety

Police are searching for 30 convicts who escaped from a prison in Apodaca, Nuevo León state, after a fight which resulted in the death of 44 other inmates the Sunday before last.

The governor of the northern Mexican state, Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, confirmed that the break-out was aided by some penal authorities, adding that the prison’s director, sub-director, head of security and 18 of its guards had been suspended.

By last Monday, nine of the Apodaca prison guards had confessed their complicity in the prisoners’ escape, admitting that they allowed the group, who are all members of Los Zetas drug gang, to enter another dormitory to kill 44 convicts who belonged to the Golfo cartel. The Golfo cartel members were stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death.

According to the spokesperson for Nuevo León’s Council of Security, Jorge Domene, the 33 Los Zetas prisoners escaped from their cell between 1:00 and 2:00am, following which there was the fight that lasted around an hour and a half. The call for help was not made until 3:00am, and by the time backup arrived all the murders had been carried out.

Domene added that the guards ‘provided all the facilities’ necessary for the 30 prisoners to flee. The guards’ testimonies suggest that they allowed the convicts to enter ‘Tower Six’ of the prison building in order to escape.

The state authorities have offered up to 10m pesos ($780,000) to anyone who could help capture the escaped convicts, who include two leaders of Los Zetas cartel. These are Óscar Manuel Bernal Soriano, also known as ‘Spider’; the Los Zetas Monterrey boss; and Rogelio Chacha Quintanilla, also known as ‘el Yeyo’, head of the Guadalupe municipality branch.

Following the escape, relatives of inmates have been protesting outside the prison as 400 convicts were transferred to different institutions.  This provoked rioting inside the Apodaca prison, with inmates setting fire to mattresses and other furniture.  Security spokesperson Jorge Domene has insisted that the situation inside the prison will soon be completely under control.

This has not been the only incident to afflict a Nuevo León prison last week. On Tuesday morning in the Topo Chico penitentiary, located in the north-east of Monterrey, three inmates were found shot dead.

The circumstances surrounding the deaths still have not been clarified. The victims – two men and a woman – had entered the prison on Monday, after having been accused of kidnapping. The three  individuals were waiting to be assigned a cell.

The situation has resulted in a demand by the United Nations (UN) for Mexico to undertake an exhaustive and independent investigation into the Apocada incident.

Ravina Shamdasi, spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights at the UN, stated: ‘We have also received a call from the Comisión Nacional para los Derechos Humanos [National Commission for Human Rights – NCHR] that the situation must be closely followed’.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) released a statement last Wednesday, which demonstrated its preoccupation over the violent murders of the 44 inmates at Apodaca, highlighting that ‘states, as guarantors of the rights of those deprived of freedom, must adopt all necessary measures to protect the life and integrity of the prison population’.

G20 councillors meet in Los Cabos

Councillors or representatives of the G20 nations met in Los Cabos, Baja California state, last Sunday and Monday to reflect on the important topics of the moment, including peace, security and development.

This informal meeting was held in preparation for the G20 summit that will take place in June with Mexico as chair.

It’s the first time the councillors (often foreign secretaries) of the member nations have re-united without the heads of state and government. The purpose of the event was to highlight the necessity of going beyond economic measures and discuss challenges faced on a global level.

Nevertheless, Mexico was congratulated on its ‘economic leadership’ in the region by Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, who considered that the country had become a good role model, despite the difficult circumstances relating to the current situation in Europe.

Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s foreign relations minister, used the event to highlight the detrimental effects of protectionist economic policies by G20 member nations. At the close of the informal meeting, Espinosa claimed that the G20 community was talking about avoiding protectionism, which could lead to a negative effect in terms of economic growth, in particular with regard to industry. Espinosa added that making consumables more expensive affects the prices of goods and threatens competition.

US–Mexico pact on joint extraction of cross-border oil reserves

One of the biggest developments of the meeting at Los Cabos was the US–Mexico agreement on the exploration and extraction of cross border oil and natural gas deposits. The pact was signed by Patricia Espinosa and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in the presence of President Felipe Calderón.

This historic agreement creates the possibility that both private US-based companies as well as Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), a Mexican state owned oil company, can extract the natural resource from the subterranean deposits that cross the countries’ border in the Gulf of Mexico.

The objective of the pact is to be able to extract crude oil in a regulated manner, from geological formations such as el Cinturón Plegado Perdido, where on the US side there are three deposits (Great White, Trident and Hammer Head) at less than 10km from the border.

Both Clinton and President Calderón vocalised their support for the pact. Clinton stated that the agreement will ‘avoid disputes between Mexico and the US’, since both nations have been looking to reach a deal over the deposits since the government of Ernesto Zediullo (1994 – 2000).

President Calderón declared: ‘The best thing is that any joint deposit can be extracted in collaboration and the earnings will be distributed jointly and equally. In this way everybody wins and we guarantee that our oil will be used to benefit the Mexican people.’ He added, ‘we have proved that national borders do not have to be a divisive factor, or one of dispute, but rather that they can be a factor of union and progress.’

He suggested that it might satisfy Mexicans who were worried about the so called ‘efecto popote’ (‘straw effect’), a term that’s used in the country to refer to the unregulated extraction of crude oil from deposits in the Gulf.

Nevertheless, Leticia Campos, a researcher at the Institute of Economic Investigations (IEI) said that the belief that hydrocarbons are being robbed from the country is ‘absurd’.  Speaking to BBC World, she suggested: ‘the president accepts the risk that they might steal our petroleum in deep waters, but he’s not saying who [he suspects].’

‘There are more serious issues to explain, [such as] the history of Bermeja Island and the quantity of oil that there is in deep waters and why he firmed a moratorium not to touch the oil he won in February last year’.

The case of Bermeja Island, which was clearly visible on maps until the mid-20th century but has subsequently ‘gone missing’, is fundamental, she insists, because whether it exists or not will determine the quantity of reserves that correspond to each country. Its location is strategically important as it could give Mexico a claim to millions of dollars worth of oil deposits.

Campos argued that the agreement was not in Mexico’s favour, since ‘when all is said and done, the nation that benefits from the extraction of oil in deep waters is the one that has the technology, and in this case that’s the US’.

The pact must be approved by senators in both countries to become a law. BBC World suggests that this could be difficult in Mexico’s case.  Opponents of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party – PAN) government have said that they will reject the agreement as it contravenes the laws that limit the participation of private capital in Pemex as well as the international agreements that the the company has signed.

Investigator Barbosa Cano has highlighted two advantages of the deal. One being that it accepts international security rules that should avoid accidents such as that of the Deep Water Horizon platform, which caused a large spill in the Gulf in 2010. The second is that the agreement is entirely voluntary and, as such, ‘if North American companies or Pemex reject its joint extraction scheme then each country, each company, will be able to undertake extraction independently on its own side [of the border].’

Mexican scientists develop drug that could take the high out of heroin

A group of Mexican scientists is working on a vaccine that could reduce addiction to one of the world’s most highly addictive drugs: heroin.

Researchers at the National Institute of Psychiatry claim to have observed the vaccine’s successful effects on mice and hope to test it on humans soon.

The vaccine, which has been patented in the US, makes the body resistant to the effects of heroin, so users would no longer get a rush of pleasure when they smoked or injected it.

Maria Elena Medina, director of the Institute, said: ‘It would be a vaccine for people who are serious addicts, who have not had success with other treatments and decide to use this application to get away from drugs’.

Kim Janda, a scientist working on his own narcotics vaccines at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, said that the Mexican vaccine could function but with some shortcomings.

‘It could be reasonably effective, but may be too general and affect too many different types of opioids as well as heroin,’ Janda claimed.

Mexico has a growing drug addiction problem. Health secretary José Córdoba recently said that the country now has about 450,000 hard drug addicts, particularly along the trafficking corridors of the US-Mexico border.