How to stop dirty money and open arms - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

How to stop dirty money and open arms

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Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 4:30 am

MEXICO CITY - The Mexican government has retained the services of legal help from abroad in a new initiative to stem gun running and money laundering from the United States.

Reid Collins & Tsai LLP, an Austin, Texas, law firm, will serve as counsel to the Mexican Attorney General's office, reported Reforma, one of this city's leading newspapers, attributing CBS News and Associated Press sources in late April.

A flushed out version of the same story by Bill Conroy in, which reports on drug war intricacies, detailed from Department of Justice public records that Berg Associates of Miami, Florida, will provide expertise on financial crimes. The legal team is researching and investigating potential litigation.

In particular, the firms are looking into how RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, can be used in the fight with the drug cartels. RICO extends criminal penalties and civil action against crime organizations.

Under RICO, people who participate in crime syndicates can be tried for crimes they ordered, had others commit, or assisted in. The act closes loopholes that allowed someone who gave the orders but did not actually do the criminal act to get away with it.

Some criminals who act as accessories may have limited legal protection. Gun handlers and distributors may in some cases not be held responsible for the crimes.

However, there are enough issues about who is an accessory, under what circumstances, and who is part of the syndicate in the first place that the small and big fish may get held responsible through both criminal and civil prosecution.

Mexicans increasingly considered the drug-war policies as failing, after 40,000 murders -- many of innocent civilians -- in the four years since President Felipe Calderon authorized the use of the military to help wage that "war."

Under U.S. pressure to "win" the war and domestic criticism that he picked the bloodiest way to do it, Calderon's party is flagging in popularity going into next year's presidential election. Even though, the Mexican economy has proven especially resilient after the 2009 world financial meltdown when exports suffered, insecurity is now eclipsing concerns about the economy.

In the mix, criticism is growing about low responsiveness by elected officials. Here government is mostly looked to for every type of economic and social improvement. Non-partisan public interest foundations, private initiatives and community organizations have been prominent but not necessarily influential.

The horror of whole towns shot up, gruesome mass executions in some northern states, gang violence and, most of all, the influences of narco culture have incited a growing civic consciousness that politics is not enough.

Street demonstrations in the past, no matter how large, have rarely prompted government action because elected representatives are accountable to their political party (read, embedded interest groups) that get them elected. One radio commentator recently said there is only democracy one day every six years, when the public votes, and not the rest of the time.

It's a long-shot attempt, but the RICO route might help. That U.S. law allows civil recourse to the proceeds of the illicit enrichment by criminals, over there, across the border in the United States. It is not hard to visualize 40,000 families of crime victims filing suits against individuals who have played dumb but have supplied weapons to criminals, and the banks and commercial channels that profited by washing the proceeds for drug gangs and facilitated their commercial transactions.

If not this, plain people are taken out of play, denied rightful claims or even a day in court, if not in their own country, then at least where the enablers live.

It's a long shot. But at least it's a possible recourse. Otherwise, there is only mourning in silence while others profit.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at

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