Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Americans Are Not Safe In Mexico.

Agustin "Bobby" Salcedo was only 33-years-old and a member of the El Monte, California School Board. He and five other men were shot dead execution-style in Dorango, Mexico early Thursday morning, New Years Eve 2009. He did not live to see The Year 2010.

There is no reasonable explanation for this senseless act of violence. Was it a random act of violence in a narco-trafficing drug war, or was Bobby targeted because he was an American in a poor Mexican drug-ridden town? No demand for a ransom was made. Only Bobby and his male dinner guests were taken from the restaurant-bar. Bobby and his wife were having dinner with some of her former medical school classmates in a restaurant.

Armed men burst in and snatched Bobby and the five men. The
bodies of all six were found later Thursday alongside a canal. All
had been shot, execution-style, in the head. There were dozens of spent bullet casings found at the site. Why so many bullets for six men? What kind of message was this intended to send, and to whom?

Bobby Salcedo is believed to be the first U.S. elected official killed in the 4-year-old spasm of carnage in Mexico.

In a statement, Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte, urged authorities in
Durango to find the gunmen.

"The Salcedo family, and indeed the entire El Monte and South El Monte
community, deserve answers, and we will work hard to ensure that they
get those answers and the justice they deserve," Chu said.

"I have directed my staff in the district and in Washington to make
sure the Salcedo family receives the assistance they require at this
difficult time, and to work with our contacts in the Department of
State and U.S. consulate authorities in Mexico to make sure there is appropriate coordination with Mexican law enforcement as the
investigation develops," she said.

"From all accounts right now, it sounds random," Bobby Salcedo's brother,
Carlos, said. "There is no reason for my brother to be targeted."

Bobby who was also the assistant principal of instruction at El
Monte High School, arrived in the Mexican city of Gomez Palacio
earlier this week. The city of 240,000 is in the state of Durango and is the hometown of his wife, Betzy. Bobby was born and raised in the Los Angeles area.

The couple had been married less than two years. Betzy Salcedo was a physician in Mexico. She has been preparing to take the medical board exam so she can practice medicine in the United States.

In November, 2009 Bobby was re-elected to a new term on the school board
of the El Monte City School District. Before becoming a school administrator, he was a teacher. He taught world history, government and economics.

Raging drug violence and rampant corruption have been a major problem
in Durango, which has been described as a tense, rough state. The
local Catholic archbishop, Hector Gonzalez Martinez, recently
described the region as one where gunmen "own the night," They have no respect for law and order or any authority figures. They have even threatening priests.

The U.S. State Department on 5 January 2010 called on Mexico to conduct a thorough investigation into the slaying of Bobby Solcedo. The FBI and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced promises of federal and state assistance.

A spokesman for a U.S. Consulate in Mexico said he expects Mexican authorities to conduct a "strong investigation" into the murder.

"This has created a lot of interest on both sides of the border, and when there is public focus and media interest, that bears down on pressure," said Brian Quigley, spokesman for the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico, which has jurisdiction over the region where the slayings occurred.

"Bobby Salcedo was a true leader who dedicated his life to serving his community," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. "His death is profoundly tragic and we join the El Monte and South El Monte community in expressing our sadness. On behalf of all Californians, Maria and I send our deepest condolences to Bobby's family, friends and to the community he loved so much. California stands ready to assist in the investigation in any way possible."

U.S. authorities do not have the jurisdiction to investigate crimes in other countries. Instead, they can only monitor another country's investigation and provide assistance as requested, according to Adriana Gallegos, a press deputy with the State Department's division of Consular Affairs.

State Department spokeswoman Virginia Staab said U.S. officials have pressed Mexican law enforcement agencies to act swiftly and prevent the contamination of DNA and other evidence.

"We provide a lot of support to the Mexican government," Staab said. "We've let them know we have a close interest in this case and we are taking the matter very seriously."

State Department officials said they have been in contact with authorities in Durango. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton has not been briefed on the incident, Staab said.

Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman in the FBI's Los Angeles office, said the FBI would assist "with whatever investigation needs to take place in this country."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-El Monte, is urging action on the part of both the U.S. and Mexican governments, writing letters to the State Department and Mexican Embassy.

Chu said the United States shares some of the responsibility for addressing the drug-related crime wave that has devastated Mexico in recent years.

"Ninety percent of the cocaine, heroin and meth that is used in the United States comes from Mexico," she said.

Next week Chu will introduce a congressional resolution honoring Salcedo's work that will likely urge her colleagues in Congress to do more to address the Mexican crime wave, her spokesman Fred Ortega said.

She plans to deliver a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to Salcedo's family before the educator's funeral Thursday, 7 January.

"He was such an important person in our community. He gave so much. I talked to him only two weeks ago and I said, `how can you be campaigning, serve on the board of education, be an assistant principal, and be finishing your PhD all at the same time?' He said to me, `I do it for education, I want to give people the same chance I got through education,"' Chu said.

Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-El Monte, both honored Salcedo in the state Senate and Assembly, respectively, Monday, 3 January.

As others have, they praised him as a rising star who did much to improve the lives of students and residents in the community.

"Many influential people want justice for Bobby Salcedo and his family and this community," Eng said at a vigil for Bobby.

A spokesman for Sen. Barbara Boxer said the senator sends condolences to Salcedo's family.

"Senator Boxer sends her deepest condolences to the Salcedo family," Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile said in a written statement. "This senseless act of violence is a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers posed by the drug cartels."

Neither Boxer nor Sen. Dianne Feinstein have publicly commented on the case.

Betzy Salcedo cited an old Mexican saying: He who doesn't owe anything has nothing to fear. She always figured that people who had nothing to do with drug trafficking would not be targets in the country they loved.

One can follow the gruesome news out of Mexico, much of it involving the government's ongoing war against powerful drug cartels, yet still feel a sense of immunity -- that "it can't happen to me," that the dangers are remote. It is a common thought among many Mexicans, a defense mechanism, perhaps.

But now Betzy Salcedo and her family are bitter. Mexico has become a poison to them.

The Salcedos and their companions had ended up at the Iguanas Ranas bar on Miguel Aleman Boulevard in Gomez Palacio on Wednesday night.

By day and to the uninitiated, the strip may seem harmless enough. There are dives with names like Mens Club-Boomerang, but also taco stands and convenience stores. The Iguanas Ranas is painted almost whimsically with, as its name suggests, bright yellow and green frogs and iguanas.

At night, however, the environment shifts. "We don't even go out at night anymore. We are exposed to everything," said Gerardo Gonzalez, the bar's accountant.

Routinely, he said, gunmen commandeer cars from passing motorists, demand bribes, enter bars to lord over the patrons. "We are living in times of terrible, daily crime," said the lifelong Gomez Palacio resident, whose nephew was kidnapped and shot to death on Christmas Eve.

It didn't used to be like this. Until about two years ago, the Iguanas Ranas admitted families -- parents with their children. But then the violence started. About that time, several men were kidnapped from the place and killed.

This year the bar has endured a bomb threat, an extortion threat and robbery. Things have gotten so rough that the owner is considering shutting it down, Gonzalez said.

Betzy Salcedo, 26, remembers the days of her youth, when she and friends could go out at any time of day or night without thinking twice. "That's all completely gone," she said.

Bobby Salcedo's brother Juan, a banker in the Los Angeles area, added: "I've read all the stories. Sixteen bodies found here, bodies there. But I always thought it was [happening to] bad people. You mind your own business and you'll be fine."

Gomez Palacio is an industrial city in the northern part of Durango, one of the deadliest states in Mexico last year as two drug gangs battled for territory. That battle is part of the nationwide fight involving drug traffickers and the government that has claimed more than 15,000 lives in three years.

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