Daily Archives: December 23, 2011

Hezbullah Charged with Laundering Money in the U.S.

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Complaint against Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to Hezbullah over a massive money laundering scheme.

By Elad Benari

Several Lebanese financial institutions with alleged ties to the Hezbullah terror organization were part of a massive scheme that funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal proceeds through the United States, prosecutors charged on Thursday.

AFP reported that a criminal complaint in a New York federal court targeted the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Lebanon-based houses, the Hassan Ayash Exchange Company and Ellissa Holding, in the scheme to launder profits from narcotics dealing and other criminal activities.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is alleging that “funds were wired from Lebanon to the United States to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa,” according to a statement quoted by AFP.

“Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hezbullah-controlled money laundering channels,” said the statement.

AFP noted that all of the financial institutions allegedly involved in the scheme are linked to Hezbullah, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.

The statement added that federal authorities are seeking the assets of the three institutions, some 30 U.S. car dealers and a U.S. shipping company. They are also seeking civil money laundering penalties totaling $483.1 million, which allegedly represents the total of money laundered.

Attorney Preet Bharara told AFP that the scheme “reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism.”

Bharara added, “Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents.”

Thursday’s complaint comes after earlier in the week, U.S. authorities indicted a Lebanese national allegedly tied to Hezbullah on drug and money laundering charges.

The indictment against 47-year-old Ayman Joumaa, who is currently at large, alleges he led a conspiracy that, among other activities, sold nearly 100 tons of Colombian cocaine to the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico between 2005 and 2007 that was ultimately smuggled into the United States.

Earlier this year, the Treasury Department designated Joumaa as a drug trafficker and said Hezbullah profited from his network.

More on this topic

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World Demand for High Value-Added Vessels Increase

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The new orders gained by China shipbuilding industry in 2010 worth USD 36.3 billion, accounted for 38% of the global market exceeding the 37% taken by South Korea. From January to September 2011, the China’s new orders fell by 40% and the new orders obtained by South Korean shipyards valued USD 43.6 billion regaining its first place in the world.

Japanese and South Korean companies are directed towards high value-added ships, especially seismic vessel, drillship, FPSO and LNG Carrier. The long-term instability in the Middle East and the increasing scarcity of oil resources in shallow water are affecting the increase in demand for these vessel types.

90% of the orders for seismic vessels, usually priced at more than USD 600 million, are obtained by South Korean companies, the rest belongs to Japanese companies.

South Korean companies have been dominating the drillship market. Samsung Heavy Industries established Estaleiro Atlantico Sul (EAS) with local construction giants Queiroz Galvao and Camargo Correa. Petrobras recorded an order for seven drillships with EAS in February 2011, with a contract value of approximately USD4.63 billion, what accounts for the largest drillship project ever. Samsung Heavy Industries has more than 60% of drillship orders.

It has been anticipated that in late 2012 or early 2013, China shipbuilding industry will face a severe crisis. The global dry and bulk cargo and container shipping markets will see a downturn and severe excess capacity till 2016.

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IMF Chief Lagarde: Give Me More Money And China More Power

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Ben Walsh

On Thursday, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, urged members to approve an agreement reached last year that would double the funds available to the global organization and give currently under-represented nations like China increased voting power, Reuters reported.

If approved, the plan would make China the international lender’s third-largest member of the IMF:

The IMF said Lagarde “called on members to use their best efforts to make the 2010 reform package effective before the 2012 annual meetings.” The meetings take place in Tokyo in mid-October.

An IMF staff paper said “efforts to meet the 2012 deadline should not be spared.”

As of December 12, just 53 countries, holding 36 percent of total IMF quotas, had approved the increases. Approval by members holding about 70 percent of quotas is needed to implement the changes. Some countries require their legislatures to authorize the changes.

Lagarde’s push for approval of the measures comes as the Euro-zone crisis underscored the shift in global economic power away from traditional post-war leaders and and popular opposition to the government in China appeared to demonstrate the internal challenges faced by the world’s fastest growing large economy.

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New Nexus Of Narcoterrorism: Hezbollah And Venezuela – Analysis

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Written by: FPRI
December 22, 2011
By Vanessa Neumann

Press stories, as well as a television documentary, over the past two months have detailed the growing cooperation between South American drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, proving that the United States continues to ignore the mounting terrorist threat in its own “backyard” of Latin America at its own peril. A greater portion of financing for Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, is coming from Latin America, while they are also setting up training camps and recruiting centers throughout our continent, endangering American lives and interests globally. Some Latin American countries that were traditional allies for the U.S. (including Venezuela) have now forged significant political and economic alliances with regimes whose interests are at odds with those of the U.S., particularly China, Russia and Iran. In fact Iran and Iran’s Lebanese asset, “the Party of God,” Hezbollah, have now become the main terror sponsors in the region and are increasingly funded by South American cocaine.

Venezuela

Venezuela

Venezuela and Iran are strong allies: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly call each other “brothers,” and last year signed 11 memoranda of understanding for, among other initiatives, joint oil and gas exploration, as well as the construction of tanker ships and petrochemical plants. Chávez’s assistance to the Islamic Republic in circumventing U.N. sanctions has got the attention of the new Republican leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, resulting in the May 23rd, 2011 announcement by the US State Department that it was imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan government-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as a punishment for circumventing UN sanctions against Iran and assisting in the development of the Iran’s nuclear program.

Besides its sponsored terrorist groups, Iran also has a growing direct influence in Latin America, spurred by three principal motivations: 1) a quest for uranium, 2) a quest for gasoline, 3) a quest for a base of operations that is close to the US territory, in order to position itself to resist diplomatic and possible military pressure, possibly by setting up a missile base within striking distance of the mainland US, as the Soviets did in the Cuban Missile Crisis. FARC, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda all have training camps, recruiting bases and networks of mutual assistance in Venezuela as well as throughout the continent.

I have long argued that Latin America is an increasing source of funding for Middle Eastern terrorism and to overlook the political changes and security threats in the region with such geographic proximity to the US and its greatest source of immigrants is a huge strategic mistake. It was inevitable that South American cocaine traffickers and narcoterrorists would become of increasing importance to Hezbollah and other groups. While intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah used to receive as much as $200 million annually from its primary patron, Iran, and additional money from Syria, both these sources have largely dried up due to the onerous sanctions imposed on the former and the turmoil in the latter.

A recent New York Times front-page article (December 14, 2011) revealed the extensive and intricate connections between Hezbollah and South American cocaine trafficking. Far from being the passive beneficiaries of drug-trafficking expats and sympathizers, Hezbollah has high-level officials directly involved in the South American cocaine trade and its most violent cartels, including the Mexican gang Los Zetas. The “Party of God’s” increasing foothold in the cocaine trade is facilitated by an enormous Lebanese diaspora. As I wrote in my May 2011 e-note, in 2005, six million Muslims were estimated to inhabit Latin American cities. However, ungoverned areas, primarily in the Amazon regions of Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, present easily exploitable terrain over which to move people and material. The Free Trade Zones of Iquique, Chile; Maicao, Colombia; and Colón, Panama, can generate undetected financial and logistical support for terrorist groups. Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru offer cocaine as a lucrative source of income. In addition, Cuba and Venezuela have cooperative agreements with Syria, Libya, and Iran.

Some shocking revelations into the global interconnectedness of Latin American governments and Middle Eastern terrorist groups have come from Walid Makled, Venezuela’s latter-day Pablo Escobar, who was arrested on August 19, 2010 in Cúcuta, a town on the Venezuelan-Colombian border. A Venezuelan of Syrian descent known variously as “El Turco” (“The Turk”) or “El Arabe” (“The Arab”), he is allegedly responsible for smuggling 10 tons of cocaine a month into the US and Europe—a full 10 percent of the world’s supply and 60 percent of Europe’s supply. His massive infrastructure and distribution network make this entirely plausible, as well as entirely implausible the Venezuelan government did not know. Makled owned Venezuela’s biggest airline, Aeropostal, huge warehouses in Venezuela’s biggest port, Puerto Cabello, and bought enormous quantities of urea (used in cocaine processing) from a government-owned chemical company.

After his arrest and incarceration in the Colombian prison La Picota, Makled gave numerous interviews to various media outlets. When asked on camera by a Univisión television reporter whether he had any relation to the FARC, he answered: “That is what I would say to the American prosecutor.” Asked directly whether he knew of Hezbollah operations in Venezuela, he answered: “In Venezuela? Of course! That which I understand is that they work in Venezuela. [Hezbollah] make money and all of that money they send to the Middle East.” A prime example of the importance of the Lebanese diaspora in triangulating amongst South American cocaine and Middle Eastern terrorists, is Ayman Joumaa, a Sunni Muslim of the Medellín cartel with deep ties with Shiites in the Hezbollah strongholds of southern Lebanon. His indictment made public on Tuesday “charges him with coordinating shipments of Colombian cocaine to Los Zetas in Mexico for sale in the United States, and laundering the proceeds” (NY Times, Dec. 14, 2011).

The growing routes linking South American cocaine to Middle Eastern terrorists are primarily from Colombia through Venezuela. According to an April 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the most prominent country of origin for direct cocaine shipments to Europe, with the cocaine coming mainly from Colombia, primarily the FARC and ELN terrorist groups. Shipments to Africa, mostly West Africa, gained in importance between 2004 and 2007, resulting in the emergence of a new key trans-shipment hub: centered on Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, stretching to Cape Verde, The Gambia and Senegal, thus complementing the already existing trafficking hub of the Bight of Benin, which spans from Ghana to Nigeria. As the cocaine is transported through Africa and into Europe, its safe passage is guaranteed (much as it was in Latin America) by terrorist groups—most prominently, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. The cocaine can also travel from Latin America’s Tri‐Border Area (TBA)—bounded by Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil—to West Africa (particularly Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, with its poor governance and vast archipelagos) and then north into Europe through Portugal and Spain or east via Syria and Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s traditional continental home has been the TBA, where a large, active Arab and Muslim community consisting of a Shi’a majority, a Sunni minority, and a small population of Christians who emigrated from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories about 50 years ago. The TBA, South America’s busiest contraband and smuggling center, has long been an ideal breeding ground for terrorist groups, including Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda—the latter since 1995 when Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad first visited.

Hezbollah is still active in the TBA, according to Argentine officials. They maintain that with Iran’s assistance, Hezbollah carried out a car‐bomb attack on the main building of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, protesting the Israeli‐Jordanian peace agreement that year. Today, one of the masterminds of those attacks, the Iranian citizen and Shia Muslim teacher, Mohsen Rabbani, remains not only at large, but extremely active in recruiting young Brazilians, according to reports in Brazilian magazine Veja. This region, the third in the world for cash transactions (behind Hong Kong and Miami), continues to be an epicenter for the conversion and recruitment of a new generation of terrorists who then train in the Middle East and pursue their activities both there and in the Americas.

According to Lebanon’s drug enforcement chief, Col. Adel Mashmoushi, as cited in The New York Times, a main transportation route for terrorists, cash and drugs was aboard a flight commonly referred to as “Aeroterror,” about which I wrote in my May 2011 e-note for FPRI. According to my own secret sources within the Venezuelan government, the flight had the route Tehran-Damascus-Caracas-Madrid, where it would wait for 15 days, and flew under the direct orders of the Venezuelan Vice-President, according to the captain. The flight would leave Caracas seemingly empty (though now it appears it carried a cargo of cocaine) and returned full of Iranians, who boarded the flight in Damascus, where they arrived by bus from Tehran. The Iranian ambassador in Caracas would then distribute the new arrivals all over Venezuela.

I wrote in my May 2011 e-note that reports that Venezuela has provided Hezbollah operatives with Venezuelan national identity cards are so rife, they were raised in the July 27, 2010, Senate hearing for the recently nominated U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Larry Palmer. When Palmer answered that he believed the reports, Chávez refused to accept him as ambassador in Venezuela. Thousands of foreign terrorists have in fact been given national identity cards that identify them as Venezuelan citizens and give them full access to the benefits of citizenship. In 2003, Gen. Marcos Ferreira, who had been in charge of Venezuela’s Department of Immigration and Foreigners (DIEX) until he decided to support the 2002 coup against Chávez, said that he had been personally asked by Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (who served as both deputy head of DISIP—Venezuela’s intelligence service, now renamed SEBIN—and Interior Minister under Chávez) to allow the illegal entry Colombians into Venezuela thirty-five times and that the DISIP itself regularly fast-tracked insurgents including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. The newly-minted Venezuelan citizens during Ferreira’s tenure include 2,520 Colombians and 279 “Syrians.” And that was only during three of the past twelve years of an increasingly radicalized Chávez regime.

While Chávez has done more than anyone to strengthen these relationships with Middle Eastern terrorists, in an attempt to use what he calls “the International Rebellion” (including Hezbollah, Hamas and ETA) in order to negotiate with the US for power in Latin America, the coziness of the seemingly strange bedfellows dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union, when the USSR abandoned Cuba. At the Sao Paulo Forum of 1990, prominent Venezuelans and international terrorists were all in attendance, including: then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez (against whom Chávez attempted a coup in 1992); Alí Rodríguez, then-President of PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company); Pablo Medina, a left-wing Venezuelan politician who initially supported Chávez, but has now moved to the opposition; as well as Fidel Castro, Moammar Qaddafi and leaders of the FARC, Tupamaros and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The extent to which these alliances have deepened and become institutionalized is exemplified by the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator, the office that coordinates all the Latin American terrorists. According to a well-placed Venezuelan military source of mine, they are headquartered in the Venezuelan state of Barinas—the same state that is effectively a Chávez family fiefdom, with their sprawling family estate, La Chavera, and their total control of local politics. Their extreme anti-Semitism is not ideological, but simply out of convenience: to court and maintain Iranian support.

According to the Congressional Research Service, with enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res. 48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Yet for all this massive spending on fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to them here, on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the United States is under territorial threat through its Mexican border. Hezbollah operatives have already been smuggled, along with drugs and weapons, in tunnels dug under the border with the US by Mexican drug cartels. Only a week after my October 5th interview by KT McFarland on Fox, where I specifically warned of a possibility of this resulting in a terrorist attack carried out inside the US with the complicity of South American drug traffickers, the global press revealed a plot by the elite Iranian Quds Force to utilize the Mexican gang Los Zetas to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a bombing that would have murdered many Americans on their lunch hour.

Second, American assets in Latin America are under threat. Embassies, consulates, corporate headquarters, energy pipelines and American- or Jewish-sponsored community centers and American citizens have already been targeted by terrorist groups all over Latin America for decades: FARC in Colombia, Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru in Peru and Hezbollah in Argentina. Al Qaeda is also rumored to have a strong presence in Brazil.

Third, while American soldiers give their lives trying to defeat terrorists and violent insurgents in the Middle East, these same groups are being supported and strengthened increasingly by Latin America, where they receive training, weapons and cash. This makes American military engagement far more costly by any metric: loss of life and financial cost.

Indeed over the last decade, Latin America is a region spiraling ever more out of American control. It is a region with which the United States has a growing asymmetry of power: it has more importance to the United States, while the United States is losing influence over Latin America, which remains the largest source of oil, drugs and immigrants, both documented and not. Latinos now account for 15 percent of the US population and nearly 50 percent of recent US population growth, as well as a growing portion of the electorate, as seen in the last presidential elections. The discovery of huge new oil reserves in Brazil and Argentina, that might even challenge Saudi Arabia, and the 2012 presidential elections in Venezuela, make Latin America of increasing strategic importance to the U.S., particularly as the future political landscape of the Middle East becomes ever more uncertain, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in previously secular Arab governments. The growth of transnational gangs and the resurgence of previously waning terrorist organizations pose complicated new challenges, as violence and murder cross the U.S. border, costing American lives and taking a huge toll on U.S. law enforcement. The United States needs to develop a smart policy to deal with these challenges.

So while the US is expending vast resources on the GWOT, the terrorists are being armed and reinforced by America’s southern neighbors, making the GWOT far more costly for the US and directly threatening American security. Even though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez may be removed from the presidency either through an electoral loss in the October 7, 2012 presidential elections or through his battle with cancer, certain sectors of the Venezuelan government will continue to support international terrorism, whose activities, bases and training camps have now spread throughout this region. By understanding the dynamics of the increasingly entrenched narcoterrorist network, the U.S. can develop an effective policy to contend with these, whether or not President Chávez remains in power.

Author:
Vanessa Neumann
is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is co-chair, with FPRI Trustee Devon Cross, of FPRI’s Manhattan Initiative.

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The press silenced, Nuevo Laredo tries to find voice

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Javier Soto plays his accordion as he searches for tourists in a vacant downtown market in Nuevo Laredo on January 26, 2006. (AP/Gregory Bull)

By Mike O’Connor/CPJ Mexico Representative

You don’t notice it at first. Not with the people seemingly moving as normal on the sidewalks and the happy recorded music blaring across the plaza in front of city hall to announce the annual cowboy parade. No, at first Nuevo Laredo looks like a regular border town, until the military armored car goes by a block away and rotates the heavy machine gun toward the plaza. Are the soldiers just curious? Or do they see something they want to shoot? Who will be hit if they do open fire? Then other images come into focus, like the blocks of closed shops, with for sale signs only on the most recently closed because the owners of the older, more dilapidated shops, have given up even that hope.

U.S. tourists who used to be so important to business don’t come because it is too dangerous. A saleswoman in a nearly empty jewelry shop said, “We have learned to live in a war. But it’s like no one is on our side.” She would only give her first name: Amalia. She was scared to be interviewed because the cartel could be watching. It has lookouts everywhere, she said. So when she spoke about something as dangerous as whether she felt safe she looked down at the floor. People said the police used to work for the cartel, but in June the mayor disbanded the police on the grounds that they were hopelessly corrupted by the Zeta cartel. Last month state officials said one quarter of the state police–2,500 officers–had been fired for failing or refusing to take evaluation tests.

The army came into Nuevo Laredo, and the federal police, to replace city officers. But residents said there aren’t many of them and they only do patrols and don’t investigate crimes. “If someone kills my mother or robs my store maybe there will be a report taken, but it will stop there,” Amalia said.

The war is between the federal police and the army on one side and the Zetas on the other. But the armed men that control this town are the Zetas, people told CPJ. The army fights them, with civilians running for cover, but the Zetas, using death threats often carried out, get what they want from the people, residents told me.

Wars are strange. I’ve covered many. A wartime city can look pretty normal at first. The city of Nablus, on the West Bank, while under the guns of the Israeli army, could bustle with apparent unconcern. Israelis in West Jerusalem, while threatened by Palestinian suicide bombers, took crowded buses to work and ate at sidewalk cafes. People in Sarajevo during the bloody siege took pride in pretending not to notice, even when the death toll was very high. And Nuevo Laredo was having a cowboy parade, even if people lived looking at the floor, like Amalia. That’s the kind of war it is, with two armed sides fighting and the civilians hiding and dying along with them, according to reporters in town.

It’s a world under a Zeta dome, residents said. The cartel ships narcotics north across the border–Texas is across four bridges over the Rio Grande, three in the city and one nearby. This city is at the northern end of one of the most important highways in Mexico and the southern end of one of the main U.S. entry points to Mexico. According to the Laredo Development Foundation, a business group on the Texas side, the crossing here is the busiest anywhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, there was an average of about 8,000 trucks going north or south each day on the four bridges, according to the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise development. The drugs go north, the guns and cash come south to the Zetas.

A Mexican Federal Police officer displays a newspaper with the headline 'Ex-Police!' over pictures from a recent murder in Nuevo Laredo, January 25, 2006. (AP/Gregory Bull)

A Mexican Federal Police officer displays a newspaper with the headline ‘Ex-Police!’ over pictures from a recent murder in Nuevo Laredo, January 25, 2006. (AP/Gregory Bull)

The Zetas are the only group that sells drugs in this city of about 360,000. And the only one that openly robs, extorts, and kidnaps. All to great profit, journalists said, since the victims are so afraid and the operations belong to the Zetas alone. Kidnappings and extortion are a big part of the reason the stores are closed, residents said, because businesses can’t afford to make the payoffs anymore.

It seems that all information about the war against them belongs to the Zetas also. Journalists said they cannot report a thing that might upset the Zetas without the serious risk of being killed. And, they say, since the Zetas don’t want anything reported, nothing about them is reported. Not in the papers, or on TV or radio.

So, for the most part, there are no stories about what most affects the people in Nuevo Laredo. There are no stories about the war or the Zetas or the army or the police. There are also no stories about the Zetas’ businesses of retail drug sales in town or their kidnapping and extortion of residents, according to journalists.

In other areas in Mexico where organized crime has its hands around the throat of the press, reporters can often rely on something, perhaps something not accurate, but something from the police or local government or the army. They can usually get some statement with a detail or obfuscation. An official statement allows them to publish at least what the government says. And usually, the criminals don’t complain too much about that. (Often they control the police or the government body issuing the statement in the first place.) But in Nuevo Laredo, reporters said, they normally don’t even get a government press release, not even a return phone call. So having no official statement, and fearful of offending the Zetas if they say something wrong, they say nothing.

At 10:41 on a recent Saturday morning, Jaime Orozco came up to the short step at the door of a restaurant in downtown Nuevo Laredo and stopped his wheelchair. A friend helped him over and he rolled to a table where reporters gather and ordered eggs a la Mexicana, with chopped onions and tomatoes. Asked about the pressures on journalists in the city to hide the truth, he said, “Anyone who dares publish or broadcast the truth about the cartel or the fight against the cartel is a condemned person.” As if the judgment of a man who was paralyzed in a grenade and assault-rifle attack against the city’s main newspaper five years ago needed further emphasis, two other reporters, in unison, ran their fingers across their throats. As a measure of the fear among people here, none of the 12 journalists and six of the seven others I spoke with wanted me to use their names, except Orozco. Even in the jewelry store, when Amalia gave me a name, I doubted it was true.

The motive for the attack on Orozco’s newspaper, El Mañana, was never clear, he said. That left the matter all the more sinister and the impact greater because one ever knew how to guard against another attack. He said, “If you don’t know what you can’t do then you don’t do anything.”

Jaime Orozco is carried away on a stretcher after the attack on El Mañana on February 6, 2006. (AP/Sandra Jasso - El Mañana)

Jaime Orozco is carried away on a stretcher after the attack on El Mañana on February 6, 2006. (AP/Sandra Jasso – El Mañana)

Orozco was shot in February of 2006. Two months later, Dolores García Escamilla, who was a radio reporter covering the crime beat, was murdered in the parking lot of her station as she left work. Reporters in Nuevo Laredo said none of the attacks have been solved. Orozco said that the city’s press was cowed before the attacks but that afterwards even less crime news was covered. Nowadays, those journalists who remain on the crime beat confine themselves to reporting bar fights, stabbings, car accidents or other minor incidents that produce good pictures, but nothing that threatens to go beyond the street.

When Garcia Escamilla was murdered, the Gulf cartel was in charge of Nuevo Laredo and the Zetas were their loyal gunmen. But the Zetas pulled away, first by running their own smuggling and crime networks, according to a senior U.S. official, and then trying to take over all of this state, Tamaulipas, as well as large areas in the rest of Mexico. By early 2010 there were large, sometimes daily gunfights in Tamaulipas, often in the main cities. But the press almost always was forced by the two cartels to not report the battles, reporters have told me. There’s a lull now, or maybe the fight’s over. Nuevo Laredo is under Zeta control, and the Zetas always had a reputation for more violence and less tolerance for the press than the Gulf cartel, according to reporters here. That meant that as bad as it had been, things got much worse, journalists said. Now there’s no room for movement or mistakes.

In this vacuum, ordinary people began to provide their own kind of news, beginning about two years ago, according to reporters. It started as telephone trees where friends and family members warned one another about rumors of gunfights near schools. Usually, reporters said, the rumors were wrong and people panicked and rushed to take their children out of school because of false alarms. But because there were often real gunfights in the city between the army and the Zetas that were never reported in the press, people were ready for the worst. The “news” soon transferred to social media like Twitter and Facebook, but did not improve in reliability, according to the reporters. However, they said, people learned not to react so quickly. Then, a little over a year ago, according to journalists, a website appeared to which residents began posting their warnings. It is Nuevo Laredo en Vivo (Nuevo Laredo Live). At some point — when is a matter of discussion, but probably in the last few months — its content evolved from the usual warnings to also being the place where residents would anonymously post complaints about criminal activity. That’s when everything changed, because, journalists told me, it became a threat to the Zeta cartel. For instance, people were afraid to reveal themselves by telling the authorities about suspected Zeta safe houses–where they might be holding kidnapping victims– or places where Zeta gunmen were living or where Zetas were selling drugs, but an anonymous post on the Nuevo Laredo Live website seemed safe. In a city where the police had all been fired, and where the press could not do its job, the website became the way citizens could report the Zetas to the Army and the federal police, which, however ineptly, may be trying to replace the local police.

In fact, the website has the feel of belonging to the federal government, and many reporters said they believe it does. There are logos and phone numbers of the army and navy and the federal police all over the site, with pleas to anonymously report suspicions either through text messages, phone calls, or emails. Still, no one I spoke with could point with certainty to who is behind the website. The Mexican Ministry of Defense would not comment on whether the military was involved with the website.

Nuevo Laredo en vivo (CPJ)

Nuevo Laredo en vivo (CPJ)

But it does seem to be really angering the Zetas. On September 13,the mutilated bodies of a man and a woman hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo were found with a note apparently signed by the cartel that warned against reporting on social media, according to news reports. The victims have not been identified publicly and there is no known connection between them and Nuevo Laredo Live, but that may be beside the point. The Zetas may have been only trying to terrorize, using victims they killed for other reasons.

But then there was the next step. For the first time, CPJ found that someone was murdered directly for posting on social media. On September 25, the decapitated body of a woman was left in the city with what seemed to be another note from the cartel. Gruesomely, her head was left nearby with headphones, close to a computer keyboard. The message read in part, “O.K Nuevo Laredo Live and social media, I am the Girl from Laredo and I am here because of my reports and yours.”

Local journalists told me the victim was María Elizabeth Macías Castro, 39, who they said helped moderate the Nuevo Laredo Live site using the nickname La NenaDLaredo (The Girl from Laredo). They said her family has now fled to Texas. I couldn’t find the family to corroborate her association with the website, nor could I find anyone associated with the site. But as if to substantiate what the journalists said, the site ran a eulogy for her and now has a forum in her name. Several years ago, Macías worked at El Mañana, the paper where Jaime Orozco was paralyzed in an attack, journalists said. And, they said, when she was murdered she was working for another local paper, Primera Hora. At both papers she may have very occasionally written stories, but her main jobs were on the administrative side, they said. Neither paper would comment about her.

There was a fourth murder. An unidentified man was left, decapitated, on November 9 at the same place Macías´ body was left. Journalists said there was another message apparently from the Zetas near the body saying the man had been killed for posting on social networks. Nuevo Laredo Live, however, denied that the victim was a contributor, according to a story in the on-line newspaper Animal Politico. In other words, once again, the Zetas could have used a victim killed for some other reason to scare people away from Nuevo Laredo Live.

Normally homicides are investigated by the state, but the spokesman for the Tamauplipas state Attorney General’s office, Rubén Darío Ríos López, said he had no information on these four cases because they had been taken over by the regional office of the federal attorney general. López said he didn’t know why. A spokesman for the regional attorney general’s office, who would not give his name, said there was never federal involvement in the investigations. So, it seems there is no investigation at all.

The test now is whether the killings have scared away anonymous posts. Will people in Nuevo Laredo once again be without any voice at all? For the moment it doesn’t seem so. Several journalists said they thought the army might be beginning to do better against the Zetas and that tips from Nuevo Laredo Live could be helping. But then since reporters don’t dare investigate even something as basic as whether a tip led to an arrest, they can’t be sure – it’s only an opinion. Today, there are still reports of crimes or suspicious events going up on Nuevo Laredo Live. We’ll never know if there are fewer reports than there would have been without the deaths.

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Fairstar FJELL to Carry Hercules 185 Jack-up Back to West Africa

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Fairstar Heavy Transport N.V. (FAIR) has been awarded a contract by Hercules Offshore to transport the jack-up drilling rig Hercules 185 from Pascagoula, Mississippi to West Africa in the First Quarter of 2012 on board Fairstar’s open stern, semi-submersible vessel FJELL.

The contract value is USD 2.6 million. The FJELL is currently underway to Malta where it will load the Northern Offshore rig ENERGY EXERTER in the Grand Harbour in January. After discharging the ENERGY EXERTER in Northern Europe, FJELL will sail to the Gulf of Mexico to load the Hercules 185.

Chris Muilwijk, Team Leader of Fairstar’s Client Services Group stated: “Fairstar is looking forward to work again with Jim Stevens of High Seas Maritime Services and the operations team at Hercules Offshore. The Hercules 185 was safely transported by the FJELL to Pascagoula earlier this year and our crew on board the FJELL is committed to returning the rig to West Africa in 2012 safely and securely.”

Philip Adkins, Fairstar’s CEO has updated Fairstar’s fleet utilization for 2012, stating: “Fleet utilization for 2012 continues to improve. FJORD will discharge the Oando rig RESPECT, sail to Angola to load the CLOV FPSO components for DSME and then commence its multi-voyage contract for Gorgon. FJELL is now fully booked for the First Quarter of 2012. The FJELL will still be available for work in Alaska in April through September under the terms of our agreement to transport the Agrium fertilizer plant modules to Nigeria. However, in the event we do not receive the first contract installment for FJELL in February, we intend to pursue other transportation options for the FJELL in that period. In October, FJELL will commence its multi-voyage contract for Gorgon, joining FJORD and FORTE on a series of voyages from Northern Asia to Barrow Island, Australia.”

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Repsol Buys Oil and Gas Assets in USA

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Repsol and US oil company SandRidge Energy have reached an agreement for Repsol to buy approximately 1,500 km2 (363,636 net acres) of the Mississippi Lime play, an area rich in gas and light oil. Repsol will invest $1 billion and will incorporate reserves and production from 2012.

Repsol will participate with a 16% and 25% stake respectively in two areas within the Mississippian Lime deposit, which spans the states of Oklahoma and Kansas in the USA. Repsol’s share of production is expected to reach a peak of 90,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2019.

According to the agreement, Repsol anticipates drilling more than 200 horizontal wells during 2012 and exceed 1,000 wells by 2014, in a fractured carbonate-rich area of 6,900 km². Repsol will pay $250 million in cash at closing and the remainder in the form of a drilling carry, expected to be completed in three years, according to current development expectations.

Mississippian Lime has a long production history and proven resources, rich in light oil and gas produced from fractured carbonates. The area, that has been in operation for more than 30 years, has extensive infrastructure which will accelerate the start-up of production and marketing of these hydrocarbons.

The deal is part of Repsol’s strategy to diversify its portfolio into OECD countries. The company is developing in the United States various key projects contained in its Horizon 2014 strategic plan, including exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Repsol also has activities in Alaska, and an LNG import terminal on the Canadian-US border.

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