Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The coyote I once was (Crime and art)

It was early that chilly October night in New York City during the fall season of 2008 and a group of Houstonians were the main attraction for visitors in the facilities in the CUE Foundation Gallery on West 25th Street in Manhattan. It was the first visit to the Big Apple for local artist and poet Juan Salvador Macias as part of an art exhibition put together by fellow artist and bar owner Jim Pirtle.
“I had the opportunity to go to New York with Jim driving a U-Haul truck with all the art for the NotsuoH show piled up in the trailer. I really couldn’t miss that experience,” said the artist, who quit his job at a local warehouse and sold his beat-up ’92 Saturn for $300 to barely cover his expenses for the trip.
30-year-old Sal (as he’s known by friends and acquaintances around town) has medium height and average body build leaning on the slim side. He mostly displays a good-natured, frank attitude, but isn’t shy about expressing his spirit, both irreverent and mischievous. The Texas native is a curious mix of gypsy and Latino with hair that is dark, wavy and kind of shaggy anchored with a goatee that’s pointy at times.
On occasions Sal dresses in black and seems to exude an aura of coolness, perhaps, comparable to the late country singer Johnny Cash.
Paintings, drawings, craft pieces, poetry and prose are shared with his circle of artists, bohemians, and plain partygoers looking to satisfy their inner cravings with art and a mixture of spirits. But Sal has not always been the affable, creative artist that friends know around Houston.
Past life
“I was a thief, I used to steal from people or beg for money, I burglarized homes, including my family’s who didn’t care much for me and I didn’t have any friends left. Nobody wanted to deal with me and I had nothing,” confessed Sal talking about when he lived in Laredo, Texas where he was born in the late 70s.
Around those times he didn’t even use his real name and was known as “Red” by his buddies.
“Laredo, in the words of Kerouac, it’s a no man’s land,” Sal shared. “You can do whatever you want. If you want drugs, if you want whores, if you want to drink, any kind of debauchery, there it is, for the taking.” According to the Laredo native, the border town of Nuevo Laredo, on the Mexican side is the whatever-you-want-zone.
The life Sal led on this border area where he grew up in the 80’s and 90’s was saddled by vice. Just like drugs guided him to heroin to satisfy his craving for a greater high, crime was the channel for him to become a “coyote” as immigrant smugglers are called.
Applying for a job
“I used to shoot up heroin with a neighbor at his place y once he told me he could hook me up with someone that could help me out,” Sal remembered.
Before his neighbor offered him the opportunity to meet a gang leader for a job within the organization, Sal, a Mexican-American,  had sold his birth certificate and social security card a few times.
“I sold it to them for $150 each time but I have no idea what they used the papers for,” explained Sal while acknowledging that he’d spend the money on drugs and partying.
Although those on the border who decide to work as coyotes are motivated by the prospect of getting loads of cash, that was not really the case for Sal.
“I was a loser; I was nobody, a dud, a useless mule. You know what I mean?” asked Sal seemingly asking for redemption from a past state of mind. He began his experience as a coyote in early 2003 y did it for about six months. His contact, associated with an infamous Mexican gang in California, had relocated to Texas recently and one day took him to meet the chief coyote who led the alien smuggling operation in the area.
“This guy didn’t even speak Spanish because he was from north California but he literally looked like a damn Mexican Indian,” Sal chuckled about his neighbor.
The Top Dog
His neighbor took him to a residence that appeared average in a regular middle class neighborhood and once inside, Sal saw a bedroom where several undocumented immigrants were held. He learned that besides several Mexican nationals, there were some Brazilians, a Chinese man and other Hispanics.
“After I was introduced to the man in charge, he told me ‘I hear that you’re surviving with just $10 to $20 a day with your addictions and you wanna get better,’ but I don’t think he realized how bad of an addiction I had,” Sal said.
The redeemed artist claimed that started using heroin back in 1997 and never suspected he’d immerse in that type of environment at 18 years of age.
He quoted the old saying, “Like they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” Sal remembered the day the pleasure of heroin turned into pain when he woke up one day feeling sore all over, very weak and anxious at the same time.
“Unlike pot, pills, or other dope, your body screams for a dose of heroin,” Sal said.
His mother could tell his son was hurting due to his drug use, as Sal’s dad had been addicted to drugs for about 30 years, but he had gone clean by then. There were fights at the Macias home with Sal’s brothers because of the problems stemmed by his drug use.
“I don’t know but I think that there are more heroin, coke and crack addicts on the streets of Laredo than in Houston because there is really nothing to do in that town,” he said. Sal added that it is known that heroin dealers only sell their product during the day.
Many times the police stopped him on the street to question him about drugs or crimes, but the street smart man never carried needles and had usually his drug of choice bagged underneath his tongue. He had to swallow the dope a couple of times to avoid getting caught.
“Back then, I never really came face to face with death, but every day came with some of kind of catastrophe or disgrace for my life,” Sal said.
The business
“They gave me all the heroin, all the coke, all the cervezas I wanted, plus $1000 for just three hours of work at night,” said Sal of the agreement he made with the leader of the smugglers ring.
According to Sal, Aside the coyotes, mostly Hispanics, there were “gringos and blacks” as well in the pack. Besides the ethnic makeup among them, Sal mentioned that there are two kinds of coyotes.
“Everything in life is made for money but there are some good coyotes and the bad coyotes,” he explained.
Like one of Sal’s cousins, the good ones do it mostly for humanitarian reasons and the groups are formed to bring family or friends. There are cash transactions, but it’s mainly to cover the expenses of the trip.
The bad kind are only looking for money and don’t care about anybody or anything, and one example Sal gave was the chief coyote he worked for.
“He was a wretched scoundrel, bad company and just plain bad all over,” the artist said.
However, this bad coyote -also a member of a Mexican gang- was “cool” with Sal, treated him with drugs all the time and got along pretty well.
“I just became a member of one of his three teams that operated in the area. He had drivers, walkers and scrubland guides,” he revealed.
Besides the smuggling activities, Sal also ran everyday errands for his boss, like taking his pit bull to the veterinarian.
First chores
Despite the fact that Sal failed on his first run because he got too high, drunk and paranoid, the main honcho still sympathized with him, and kept him on the crew.
The rookie coyote left a human cargo abandoned out in a dirt field next to some empty warehouse buildings on the outskirts of Laredo. The group of illegals he was guiding had been crawling for about a mile to avoid being caught by the powerful searchlights of the border patrol.
“They gave me a cell phone to keep in touch but I lost it, and we had agreed on picking up the cargo after sneaking through a check point with sensors out of Laredo,” Sal recalled.
After promising the immigrants that he’d be back, Sal left them in an agreed spot, and walked about two miles and called his contacts from a pay phone at a gas station. He made up a story that they had been caught and he had been chased by patrol officers before getting away.
The former coyote remembers he was leading three women and four men that night, but in the following months the ages fluctuated to both younger and older travelers. Sal recalled the leading coyote telling him and his men that they could party all they wanted, but they had to clean up, be prepared and treat the business seriously when the time came up to work.
The company
Sal would meet up with a fellow coyote who’d bring illegal immigrants through Mexico’s soil to arrange their distribution once inside Texas. He asserted that the easy part is to get from the Mexican side to the U.S. The hard part is to pass the patrol areas outside the border towns in this side of the border.
By Sal’s account, his boss moved from the house in the suburbs to a big mansion in historic downtown Laredo back in 2003 which was watched over by body guards and where he held clandestine meetings for gang affairs.
The Hispanic artist was a witness to many things including rampant licentiousness like coke parties he admits being a part of.
As a coyote at night, he was detained and questioned by the Border Patrol on various occasions about his wandering around in the middle of nowhere in the dark. They even suspected Sal to be an illegal alien in the beginning, but after a while they knew who he was and figured what he was up to.
“I continued on a path of self-destruction until the day they caught me red-handed out in the fields,” Sal said.
He remembers border patrol agents arrested him one hot summer night in August, 2003. He was charged with conspiracy to commit alien smuggling, a federal offense, so he was looking at a likely prison sentence.
During the time he was jailed, he went through withdrawal symptoms from his drug addictions and even had to be taken to the hospital. Sal felt that if he had eventually been locked up, he would have ended up being part of a gang; but fate or God had a different route for him.
“I didn’t know, but when I went to court, I found out through my parents that the judge presiding over my case knew our family well,” Sal said.
The Laredoan man was convicted of the charges, but didn't do any jail time through a  plea deal in the  judge's Webb County court.
A condition reached through his family’s agreement was that Sal would leave Laredo to start a new life anywhere else in Texas, but only after finishing a rehab treatment  for several months.
“Getting arrested was the best thing that happened to my life because when I came to Houston, everything changed,” he asserted.
The newly freed man received support from his counselor and other people when he finally left the rehab facilities, including getting a one-way bus fare from Greyhound to come to Houston. All he had was a backpack with clothes and a bit over $100, but he had some family friends to assist him in the beginning.
"It was the best thing for him to leave because he would have gotten into more trouble if he had stayed in town longer," said Roger Macias, one of his brothers who came to Houston to visit him recently.
His family was happy and relieved Salvador was leaving Laredo even if it meant being far away from him and only seeing him occasionally.
“I left the heroin needle and the search for that high and I picked up a pen to write and a brush to paint. Now I have had some stuff published and people are buying my paintings,” added Sal, a former coyote in No Man’s Land who has turned into a popular local artist in the Space City.
Previously published in www.examiner.com and www.newspanmedia.com

From farming to moonwalking

Jose Hernandez and his brothers were sitting in the back seat of the car and their bodies and clothes were soiled with dirt and drenched in sweat. His father Salvador Hernandez sat alongside his wife Julia in the front seat and, like their children, they exuded the smell of their efforts as farm workers.
It was the end of the day and in silence they bore the heaviness and pain of manual labor from their head to their feet. At that moment Salvador turned around to stare at his four children for about a minute until he told them to look at their hands.
Everyone including Jose obeyed their father and saw the dirt and scratches caused by harvesting crops with their bare hands.
“If you don’t want to live like this for the rest of your days, stay in school to get a better life, you hear me?” Salvador warned them in a solemn tone.
That was more than 30 years ago in one of the trips the Hernandez family made from Michoacan, Mexico to the U.S. to make a living, but today Jose is one of the first Hispanics to travel much farther, into outer space.
With the 40th Anniversary of the moon landing this month and little progress in space exploration since, Hernandez, a current resident in the Clear Lake area, is scheduled to take a trip literally out of this world in August to continue contributing in that mankind effort.

10, 9, 8...
Jose, an astronaut who works for NASA (Nacional Aeronautics Space Administration) since 2001, hopes to be the first Hispanic astronaut to walk on the moon despite relatively slow progress in space exploration.
“I didn’t learn to speak English until I was 12 years old because my parents only spoke Spanish,” said Jose, the youngest of four children.
Unlike his three siblings, Jose was born in California, but they all went through the same experience as young migrant workers and, apparently, they followed their father’s good advice.
All four of them pursued higher education, currently hold professional occupations and call the United States home.
His sister Leticia is an accountant, his brother Gilbert became a certified mechanic and Salvador, Jr. works as an engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy. His parents are retired now and live in Stockton, California.

...7, 6, 5...
Life for Jose and her siblings was a continuous challenge especially because they lacked the typical school schedule that most students have since his parents moved around a lot following crops through the country.
“We lived like nomads and I think we moved more than the children of military parents and they tend to move often due to service requirements,” said the 46-year-old astronaut.
The children changed schools districts constantly because Salvador was following the harvesting in the West Coast to pick tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, cucumbers and other crops.
During Christmas time they would come back to Mexico to rest briefly. Then, they would return to the states after the New Year’s break to begin their demanding task of studying and working tirelessly, even during summer break.
“That lasted until I was about 13 years old when a teacher talked to my dad to tell him that it wasn’t good for us to be jumping around from school to school for our academic and emotional stability,” remembered Jose.
...4, 3, 2...
From that moment on Salvador and Julia made the conscious decision to move to the U.S. permanently to give their children a more stable, sedentary life.
After graduating from high school in Stockton, Jose went to University of Pacific to study electronical engineering with a scholarship and furthered his field of study at the University of California in Santa Barbara where he got a master’s degree in computer engineering in 1986.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I had an inclination for the engineering subject, you know, studying ways to build things, but more than that, I’d always had a curiosity about the astronauts,” Jose said, who’s a husband and father of five children.
The following year, the young Latino worked for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) where he dedicated himself to learn about matters on nuclear technology.
Jose also joined the board of his alma mater in 2007 to increase the standard and quality of education of the University of the Pacific.
During his years of work in the DOE, Jose became an expert in other technologies like X-rays, ultra sound, computer tomography, MRI and other types of analysis related to medicine. Thanks to his training at the end of the 80s and the collaboration of a colleague, he developed a medical breakthrough with the mammography imaging system to detect breast cancer in the early 90s.
“What also inspired me to be an astronaut was when in 1981 NASA chose Frank Chang-Diaz, a Costa Rican, to be an astronaut,” recalled Jose, who decided to submit a job application with NASA in the late 90s.

...One and Liftoff!
While working for NASA, Jose worked on projects and tests with a variety of materials including space shuttle structuring, elements effects and toxic, environmental, inflammable reactions testing.
It wasn’t that easy to become an astronaut because chosen applicants pass through a rigorous process and Jose had to do it three times until he was accepted in May 2004.
Another goal he has mapped on his path besides wandering around Earth’s outer layers, is to be the first Hispanic to walk on the moon, an enviable prize for someone who used to pick fruits and vegetables in the fields as a child.
While training for his mission in late August, Jose has been at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida handling last minute preparations including takeoff and landing of shuttles, but outside his work he’s just one more neighbor in the south Houston area near the Johnson Space Center.
Despite his stratospheric achievements, Jose remains very grounded and down to earth (so to speak) and it's something that can be appreciated while having a conversation with him, either in English or Spanish.
“Aside my work in NASA, my wife Adelita and I have a Mexican restaurant in the Clear lake area and you can come and eat any time,” added Jose in an open invitation to the Examiner.
 It's not too shabby for someone who went from being just a migrant worker to becoming a space explorer.
*NASA was created in July, 1958 during President Dwight Eisenhower's administration and began operations on October 1st that same year.
Previously published in www.examiner.com in July, 2009.

The calling of the Bureau

When watching action movies about the agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) like “Silence of the Lambs” or “X Files,” there may be tendency by some to think of them as unreal or even larger than life.
But the job is very real especially for those who are saved by the agents committed to the bureau.
Thirty-five year-old Maritza Conde, a Puerto Rican mother and wife from a working class background, decided to apply to become an FBI agent after working as an attorney for a few years in the commonwealth island. She was accepted into the agency and her current job description with the FBI is fighting against human trafficking, the illegal buying and selling of people. Everyday she tries to protect those who are helpless and vulnerable in the seedy, urban jungle of the Space City.
Conde, a member of the Houston Operations Office, gave us a little bit of her time so we could pick her brain and learn about her experience.

Houston Examiner: What motivated you to become an FBI agent?
Maritza Conde: I’d always wanted to be part of the FBI ever since I was a child and watched them on TV shows or movies. I was also very interested in criminal investigation and, actually, I became a lawyer first.
After I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in political science, I applied to attend law school and to work for the FBI at the same time in 1992.
The FBI called a year later but I told them I wanted to finish working on my law degree. I graduated in 1997 and practiced law for about eight years and I decided to apply with the agency again.

HE: But why become a government agent if you already seemed to have it going as an attorney?
MC: It was in my heart and the idea never left my head. I enjoyed my experience as a lawyer trying cases in criminal and civil courts, but I got to a point where I wanted more than getting completed investigations on my desk; I wanted to be part of the process of investigation of a case. Being part of the FBI was a way to be able to participate and help develop a finished product, so to speak. What’s more, being a lawyer has helped me in my experience as an agent
Law gives you the knowledge of the interaction with people y that’s a great advantage in the FBI, even more if you’re bilingual, since they prefer people that speak more than one language. The physical training was intense, but they also prepare you in many other aspects.

HE: What can you tell people that find it hard or impossible to join the FBI?
MC: I liked that you asked that question. My mother was a working class woman and Ive never been really well-off and she was a widow; my dad died when I was 11 years old. I have two sisters and my mom raised us working many hours to make sure we had what we needed. She taught me -and I advise parents to do the same with their children- to have confidence in myself and the desire to study. My mother did everything possible to get us a good education and gave us love and care, but also instilled discipline to face life. To be educated is the only option in life.

HE: What kind of work have you done in the FBI so far?
MC: I work in human trafficking, which is a big problem in the states and internationally. I love what I do because, more than a job, it touches my human fiber and its one of the issues where you can make a real difference. For example, when agents investigate drug cases, theyre dealing with material things like amounts of cocaine or marihuana. When youre talking about human trafficking, youre talking about human lives as merchandise. When you get to rescue just one person, one victim of human trafficking, You feel it deeper and that night I can sleep a little better knowing that person is better than before. Its appealing to working in other divisions of the FBI and climbing positions in the agency, but Im enjoying what Im doing now. Besides, Im relatively new and Im still learning.

HE: How serious is human trafficking in the U.S.?
MC: It’s much graver than I thought or anyone can imagine it because for every case we find, there are thousands we don’t know about. Usually, victims tend to be minorities or foreigners, but we also see Americans that are exploited like runaway teenagers. But there’s confusion between what the community considers trafficking of undocumented aliens and trafficking to enslave people. In the traffic with the purpose to exploit, the criminal keeps a commercial relation with the victim like cases of prostitution. Typically, women are forced into prostitution for an outstanding debt or threatened to kill their families. 
Published in www.examiner.com in September 2009.

Houston continues waiting for US-Colombia FTA

Previously published in www.examiner.com on February 28, 2009

By Don Juan Corzo

Time has shown Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have affected small businesses and working class people adversely, but many leaders of countries involved continue asserting that they have benefited the economy as a whole.
That seems to be Colombia’s International Trade Vice Minister Eduardo
Munoz’s belief who conducted an extensive tour to various U.S. states, including Texas, specifically Houston twice last year while promoting the proposal for the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP).
“I don’t think I have convince those present here because it would be like preaching to the choir,” said Munoz to various Colombian and Houstonian businessmen during a luncheon at a downtown hotel in June 2008.
In fact, the majority of those present were business owners or corporate executive including the local Consul of Colombia, Maria Matilde Londono, who appeared to support the agreement.
However, there were some participants who asked about the delicate issues regarding the approval of the agreement like the security of union members in Colombia, who are victims of violence for representing organizations that advocate workers’ rights.
Selling the deal
However it’s not the first Munoz’s first visit to Houston. The vice-minister was in the Space City in November 2007 at the Baker Institute in Rice University accompanied by Carlos Gutierrez, the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
“To reject the trade agreement with Colombia would not only be a step backward, but also one of the biggest mistakes in foreign policy of our times,” said Gutierrez at the time, a comment taken by some experts as a bit extreme in terms of current global commerce.
Greg Weeks, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte wrote on May 1st that “the Bush administration was bombastic, soaking the country with op-eds spelling out apocalyptic scenarios if the FTA did not pass.”
Many felt that approach helped doom the entire effort to get the deal approved.
In defense of the problem union members face, Munoz affirmed in June 2008 that the Colombian government, with the support of the U.S. has started initiatives to combat such illegal activities to promote the development of a safe environment for Colombian workers.
“We don’t deny that there are problems, but what’s important is that we’re moving ahead and improving the situation,”said Munoz.
No benefit
U.S. labor rights leader Jim Hoffa (Son of the famous Jim Hoffa) declared in December 2007 that the former President George W. Bush, a supporter of said agreement, should have abandoned his efforts to pass free trade agreements with Latin American countries like Peru, Colombia and Panama.
Congress rejected the deal in May 2008, but efforts by business groups and capitalistic lobbyists continue in an attempt to get it approved if sound changes are made in the proposal.
However, the FTA with Peru materialized in January 2008 despite massive opposition and in February there were negative signs of its approval when three people were killed during large protests where farmers and policemen clashed violently in the Andean country.
Through 2008, several Mexican farmers held similar protests in Mexico City to reject the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, United States and Canada, which has been in practice since the 90s.
“The main goal for Colombia FTA is to facilitate the exportation of products from the U.S. given that currently those products carry tariff charges that Colombian exporters don’t have,” said Greater Houston Partnership President Jeff Moseley, who acknowledged in 2008 that Houston would benefit immensely as having one of the busiest ports in the country.
According to Weeks, the Obama administration appears to continue Bush [and Clinton] administration policies in regards of FTAs. Upon completing his first 100 days in office, President Obama and U.S. trade players is supposedly working a deal that might be sent to congress later this year.

Colombia sigue esperando

Del 10 al 16 de agosto del 2008
SEMANA vendiendo
Por Don Juan Corzo
Houston- El tiempo ha mostrado que los tratados de libre comercio (FTAs) han afectado a las compañías pequeñas y la comunidad de la clase trabajadora, pero líderes de los países envueltos continúan insistiendo que ha beneficiado la economía en general.
Esa parece ser la intención de Eduardo Muñoz, el viceministro de Comercio Exterior de Colombia, quien hizo una gira por varios estados del país, incluyendo a Texas y aquí en Houston en junio, promoviendo el acuerdo en un almuerzo formal del Greater Houston Partnership(GHP).
“No creo necesitar convencer a los presentes porque sería como tratar de convencer a los jugadores que jueguen”, dijo Muñoz a varios empresarios locales y Colombianos en el evento.
En efecto, la mayoría de los presentes eran empresarios o representantes corporativos incluyendo la cónsul de Colombia, María Matilde Londoño, quienes parecen simpatizar con el acuerdo.
Sin embargo, hubo participantes que preguntaron sobre asuntos delicados sobre la aprobación del mismo tratado como la seguridad de los sindicalistas en Colombia, quienes son víctimas de violencia por representar grupos que defienden los derechos de los trabajadores.

Vendiendo el acuerdoPero no fue la primera visita de Muñoz a Houston. El viceministro estuvo en Houston en noviembre del año pasado en el Baker Institute de la Rice University en compañía del secretario de comercio estadounidense, Carlos Gutiérrez.
“Rechazar el tratado con Colombia sería no sólo un paso atrás, sino uno de los errores más grandes de política en el exterior de nuestros tiempos”, dijo Gutiérrez en esa ocasión, un comentario que parece un poco extremo en términos de comercio global.
En defensa del problema en Colombia con los sindicalistas, Muñoz aseguró en junio que el gobierno de su país, con el apoyo del gobierno estadounidense, ha desarrollado iniciativas paro combatir tales actividades ilícitas y procurar el desarrollo de un ambiente más sano para los trabajadores colombianos.
“No negamos que haya problemas, pero lo importante es que estamos moviéndonos
adelante y mejorando la situación”, destacó Muñoz.

No convieneEl conocido sindicalista estadounidense, Jim Hoffa (hijo del famoso Jimmy Hoffa), declaró en diciembre que el presidente estadounidense George W. Bush, un simpatizante del tratado, debería abandonar sus esfuerzos para pasar tratados de libre comercio con países latinoamericanos como Perú, Panamá y Colombia.
El Congreso rechazó la aprobación del tratado en mayo pero esfuerzos de grupos empresariales e intereses capitalistas continúan para aprobarlo si se hacen cambios sólidos a la propuesta.
Sin embargo, el tratado de libre comercio con Perú se aprobó en enero, a pesar de oposición masiva y en febrero ya se han vieron las secuelas negativas de la aprobación cuando tres personas murieron durante protestas donde granjeros y policías se enfrentaron violentamente en el país andino.
En enero varios granjeros mexicanos realizaron protestas similares en el Distrito Federal para repudiar el tratado de NAFTA entre México, Canadá y Estados Unidos, el cual ha estado en vigencia desde los 90’s. “La meta principal del tratado con
Colombia es facilitar la exportación de productos de Estados Unidos, pues actualmente
enfrentan cargos de tarifa que los exportadores de Colombia no enfrentan”, dijo Jeff Moseley, presidente del GHP.

Eliminando obstáculos■ La Corte Constitucional de Colombia declaró el pasado 25 de julio que el Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) firmado hace dos años con Estados Unidos es legal.
■ El Partido Demócrata, que controla el Congreso de Estados Unidos, y poderosos sindicatos como la gremial AFL-CIO piden a Bogotá avances en la protección de sindicalistas antes de dar luz verde al pacto.
■ El mayor sindicato colombiano, la Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), asegura que desde su creación en 1986 han sido asesinados unos dos mil 600 activistas -32 de ellos este año- y el 97 por ciento de los homicidios están impunes.

The Houston Police Chief Interview

H-Town's Police Chief Harold Hurtt and his fight to change the system

As a leader of several police departments in the past, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt has worked in three states that border Mexico, which are constantly accosted by drug trafficking, illegal immigration and violence overflow from the other side. The Virginia native, who's helmed the top police spot in the Houston Police Department (HPD) since 2004, has had a lot of experience working with U.S. communities as diverse as they come in the 21st century, and he seems to possess a true sense of patriotism, given his commitment and career choice. Hurtt gave us a personal interview in 2008 as he nears his term in the Space City despite controversial instances even within the ranks to answer concerns about his purpose, change and dangers he’s confronted first hand.
Houston Examiner: What inspired you to become to become a police officer?

Chief Harold Hurtt: It was during the 60s and the time of the civil rights movement in the states. I was in the military from 1964 to ‘68 when riots were happening and I didn’t see myself as being part of the protesters because I didn’t want to end up in jail. I thought I could make real changes in the system if I became part of it, so I joined the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) as soon as I left the Air Force. In July [2008], I completed 40 years as an officer of the law and it has been difficult to make all the changes I planned (laughs). I had a cousin I grew up with who became a police officer too in Virginia but died of a heart attack recently.
Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo

HE: What would have done for a living if you hadn’t become a police officer?
CHH: I was contemplating something else back then and I was involved in the Vietnam war when I thought about transferring from the Air Force to the Army to be a helicopter pilot and an officer. After a while I determined that it was more important to solve problems we already had right here in our country and for that reason I decided to leave the military and be a policeman.
HE: What has been the most dangerous situation you’ve faced as a police officer?
CHH: Oh, there have been several. A little after first starting working as a police officer, there was a policy in the department that prohibited male officers from patting down detained female suspects. My partner and I had arrested a woman and we had placed her in the patrol unit when she produced a gun. Fortunately, we saw it before we sat in the front and scattered around to protect ourselves and to take cover to avoid getting shot. After a while, we convinced her to come out the back seat and got to disarm her without having to use lethal force. Of course, we had to warn her that if she didn’t obey us, we were going to use a shotgun to get her out of there.
On another occasion, already a captain in the force, I had to go to southeast Arizona without much backup because of a shooting that took place between a black church and the county police. The incident attracted the attention of reverend Jesse Jackson, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the press. It was heavy… but I learned a lot from that experience about culture and race differences. In part, it prepared me to lead three police departments in my law enforcement career (including Police Chief at PPD).
HE: What do you like better, working the streets or to be in charge of a police department?
CHH: I miss the action terribly. When you’re patrolling, working with the people in the community and with other officers on the streets, you’re solving tangible problems. You work a problem out and you face another. One call after another, one investigation after another, one conflict and another. In administration, the problem never really goes away. There are budget issues that won’t be gone tomorrow. There are conflicts for political, financial reasons and labor issues, but it’s part of the job and it’s what we do as police chiefs. I enjoy what I do now, but after people forget I was chief, I always will be a cop first and I want to be remembered that way.
HE: What political party do you identify with and what current leaders impress you the most?
CHH: I learned from a man, Marvin Andrews, who was an administrator for Phoenix City Hall for more than 20 years that to be a good police chief it’s a good idea to be independent; and I’ve been independent since about 1992 (when becoming police chief in Oxnard, California).
I like being independent because I can choose whoever I like as events take place like what happens, say, in Pakistan. I can see how leaders react to things like this because today we face not only challenges in United States, but also problems on a global level. It’s important to address education and health care, but public safety is not clearly discussed given the number of crimes committed.
HE: What impact has the immigration problem had the past few years in HPD?
CHH: I haven’t noticed significant changes among members of the police department due to the immigration issue. Most of the changes in attitudes have come from the people in general. It was caused by misinformation that has to do with fear of terrorism and the growing amount of undocumented aliens in the country.
We did an estimate that showed that we have around eight percent of undocumented inmates in our state prisons and it’s not really a large number. Another thing is people that come to this country to commit acts of terrorism, would not risk being captured while crossing the border illegally. It’s a greater possibility that they enter the country legally to attend college or to set up a proper business and that way be able to go back to the Middle East to get trained and return to the U.S. later. Just look at the terrorists from the attacks on 9/11.
HE: Have you thought about running for public office after leaving your position as HPD chief?
CHH: I have seven grandchildren and I want to make sure that they’re successful and have opportunities in their lives; I also have grown children with careers and jobs and that will be my focus. Maybe I’ll be there to give my support to others with those intentions, but I don’t have plans to run for any kind of candidacy.
HE: Do you have any favorite movies or TV series like police shows?
CHH: Not really. Sometimes I watch golf tournaments on TV at night because I don’t have a lot of time to play. Besides, I’m not the type of person that can sit around for an hour or more to look at the tube while I can do something different. I’m a boring person; but I love what I do for a living. I’d like to socialize more with the community or play more golf, but I have job to do and a responsibility with the citizens of Houston.
Previously published in www.examiner.com on January, 2009.


El jefe de policía de Houston Harold Hurtt y su lucha por cambiar el sistema

Siempre un policía 
Del 13 al 19 de enero del 2008
SEMANA de confesión
Por Don Juan Corzo

Houston- Como un oficial que ha dirigido tres departamentos de policía en tres estados en la frontera con México (California, Arizona, Texas), Harold Hurtt, jefe de la Policía de Houston desde el 2004, ha tenido la experiencia de trabajar con la población hispana y una comunidad diversa. Hurtt nos dio una entrevista especial al final de año para responder inquietudes sobre sus propósitos, los inmigrantes y la violencia de la que fue testigo.
SEMANA NEWS: ¿Qué lo inspiró a llegar a ser policía?
Harold Hurtt: Fue durante la década de los 60’s y esa fue la época del movimiento de los derechos civiles. Yo estuve en el servicio militar del ‘64 al ’68, cuando estaban ocurriendo los motines y no me veía como parte de las protestas porque no que quería terminar en la cárcel. Pensé que podía hacer cambios en el sistema si me volvía parte de él, así que ingresé a la Policía de Phoenix tan pronto salí de la Fuerza Aérea. En julio completaré 40 años como oficial de la policía. Ha sido difícil hacer todos los cambios planeados (risa). Tuve un primo con quien crecí que se hizo policía también en Virginia que falleció de un ataque al corazón.

Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo

SN: ¿Cuál hubiera sido su profesión si no hubiera decidido ser policía?

HH: Yo estaba contemplando algo más y todavía [estaba] envuelto en la guerra de Vietnam
cuando pensé transferirme de la Fuerza Aérea al Ejército para ser piloto de helicóptero y oficial militar. Pensé en ello y determiné que era más importante solucionar problemas que teníamos aquí mismo en el país. Por eso decidí ser policía y dejar el ejército.

SN: ¿Cuál es la situación más peligrosa que ha enfrentado como policía?

HH: Han sido bastantes. Poco después de comenzara trabajar, había una política que prohibía que hombres policías catearan a las detenidas. Mi compañero y yo habíamos arrestado a una mujer y la habíamos puesto en la patrulla cuando ella sacó una pistola. Afortunadamente la vimos antes de sentarnos al frente. Nos escabullimos para proteger nuestras vidas y nos cubrimos para que no nos pudiera pegar un tiro. Después de un rato la convencimos que saliera de la silla trasera y logramos desarmarla sin tener que usar fuerza letal. Por supuesto, la tuvimos que amenazar que si no nos obedecía íbamos a usar una escopeta para sacarla de ahí.
En otra ocasión, ya siendo capitán, tuve que ir sin mucho apoyo a sureste de Arizona por una balacera que hubo una iglesia afromericana y los policías de un condado. El incidente atrajo la atención del reverendo Jesse Jackson, del Departamento de Justicia, el FBI y la prensa internacional. Fue pesado, pero aprendí mucho de esa experiencia, sobre diferencias de culturas y razas; me preparó para dirigir tres departamentos de policía en mi carrera.

SN: ¿Qué le gusta más: estar en la calle, en la acción, o estar a cargo de la Policía de manera administrativa?

HH: Extraño la acción muchísimo. Cuando uno está patrullando, trabajando con la gente en la comunidad y con otros oficiales en las calles, uno está solucionando problemas palpables. Solucionas un asunto y enfrentas otro; una llamada tras otra, una investigación tras otra. Un conflicto y otro. En la administración, el problema nunca se va. Hay problemas de presupuesto que no se van a ir mañana. Hay conflictos por razones políticas, financieras, asuntos laborales. Pero es parte del trabajo y es lo que hacemos los jefes de policía. Disfruto lo que hago ahora, pero después que la gente olvide que fui comandante, siempre seré primero un policía y quiero ser recordado así.

SN: Aparte de ser miembro de la rama ejecutiva como policía, ¿de qué partido político se considera? ¿Simpatiza con algún candidato para presidente para las elecciones del 2008?

HH: Aprendí de un señor llamado Marvin Andrews, que fue administrador de la Alcaldía
de Phoenix por más de 20 años, que para ser jefe de la policía es buena idea ser independiente. He sido independiente desde aproximadamente 1992. Por eso me gusta ser independiente, porque puedo esperar para escoger a quien quiera a medida que pasan eventos como lo que pasó en Pakistán (el asesinato de la exprimera ministra Benazir Bhutto).
Puedes ver cómo los candidatos responden a algo así porque hoy enfrentamos no sólo
retos en Estados Unidos, sino problemas a nivel global. Es importante hablar de
la educación y salud, pero he notado que ninguno de ellos habla claramente sobre la seguridad pública dada la cantidad de delitos que se cometen.

SN: ¿Ha pensado lanzarse como candidato a un puesto político después de ser jefe de policía?

HH: Tengo siete nietos y quiero asegurarme que tengan éxito y oportunidades en sus vidas. También tengo hijos ya crecidos con carreras y trabajos y ese será mi enfoque. Tal vez esté ahí para darle mi apoyo a otros en esas intenciones, pero yo no tengo planes para
lanzarme para cualquier clase de candidatura.

SN: ¿Qué impacto cree que ha tenido el problema de la inmigración los pasados dos años en el Departamento de la Policía?

HH: No he notado cambios significativos en los miembros del Departamento de la Policíapor el asunto de inmigración. El gran cambio de actitud ha sido entre la gente del público en general. Fue causado por desinformación que tiene que ver con el miedo al terrorismo y por la cantidad continua. Hicimos un estimado que mostró tenemos un ocho por ciento de indocumentados en nuestras prisiones estatales y no es una gran cantidad. Otra cosa es que la gente que viene a este país a cometer actos de terrorismo, no tomarían el riesgo de ser capturados al cruzar la frontera ilegalmente.El chance es más grande es que entren legalmente para asistir a universidades o empezar negocios bien y así poder regresar al Medio Oriente a entrenarse y volver a Estados Unidos más tarde. Solamente mira a los terroristas de los ataques del 11 de septiembre.

SN: ¿Tiene programas de televisión favoritos como las series policíacas o películas de cine?

HH: No realmente. A veces veo torneos de golf en televisión en las noches porque ya no me queda mucho tiempo para jugar. Además no soy la clase de persona que pueda sentarse una hora o más a ver la pantalla mientras puedo hacer algo diferente. Soy una persona aburrida, pero amo mi trabajo. Me gustaría socializar más con la comunidad o jugar más golf, pero tengo que un trabajo y una responsabilidad.


Sex clause creates grey area in teacher-student relations

Previously published in www.examiner.com on February 15, 2009.
By Don Juan Corzo

If you look up that word in the dictionary you’ll find four different definitions, but the way Rice University sociology expert Stephen Klineberg used it, was to describe how "lacking of logic" or “absurd” a case was where a local teacher was arrested for having sex with a student in winter of 2008.
Granted, many stories have been heard where teachers have gotten in serious trouble with the law for having sexual relations with their students and it’s understandable when it involves minors, including shocking instances in elementary or middle schools.
But the case of 23 year-old teacher Emily Kate Janes in 2008, who was barely in her first year employed at Deer Park High School, was different. She got involved intimately and sexually with an 18 year-old male student.|
“It can’t be denied that the teacher behaved inappropriately for getting involved with her student, but that doesn’t qualify as a real criminal act,” said Klineberg.
Janes taught English to juniors at the Deer Park Independent School District school  and had met the student during the fall semester of 2007. Reportedly they began their relationship in December and last about a month into the new year.
Someone who found out about the liaison reported it to the authorities and she was consequently accused of sexual misconduct with a student, a serious crime according to a state law enacted in 2003.
Janes was arrested in February and indicted by a grand jury in May 2008 and faced the possibility of spending up to 20 years in prison for her imprudent actions with an adult student five years her junior.
Senseless Law
Previous to 2003 Texas Law considered a criminal act if a teacher, regardless of gender, had sexual relations with a student who was a minor, but House Bill 532 made it also a felony if the student was an adult too.
“Basically, the crime still has the same gravity in the justice system when compared to cases that involve minors, but the only difference is that convicted individuals en these cases don’t have to register as sexual offenders,” said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Denise Oncken, who was in charge of the case.
No matter the circumstances of a case Oncken stated that it was her job to follow the rule of law and not legislate as a prosecutor.
Author of the controversial HB 532 State Representative Helen Giddins wasn’t available to answer questions, but her office said she did not agree with a last minute amendment in the bill. Fellow State Representative Warren Chisum omitted the phrase “younger than 18” in a section of the official document about a month before Texas Governor Rick Perry signed it into law.
“It’s an abuse of power by the teacher towards the student and it’s the same whether the youth is a minor or not,” said Chisum without giving relevance whether the teacher is young too.
Inexplicably no one in the state legislature objected to the passage of the bill with the last minute amendment by Chisum, which paved the way to the Governor’s final approval.
“There are 18, 19 or 20 year-olds who are still in high school because they fell behind for some reason, but they are already adults that already know about things in life,” said one of Chisum’s assistants who didn’t want to be identified.
Professor Klineberg has been a strong critic of State Law HB 532 and considers it an “extreme puritan” measure due to  social tensions and current insecurities.
“Besides criminalizing a person unjustly, is also a waste of taxpayer dollars to conduct a judicial process,” Klineberg said.
Yes and no
In August 2008 Janes received deferred adjudication, four years probation, more than a hundred hours of community service and has to attend sexual offender evaluation and counseling programs.
According to Texas law, if she completes probation satisfactorily, the judge dismisses the charges, but the information will remain in law enforcement records and may effect her ability to get certain jobs with the state or to teach again.
“A 50 year-old teacher who gets involved with an 18 year-old student under duress for good grades might be a more egregious case than a situation where you a 23 year-old, basically, a kid out of college who’s not much older than the kids she’s teaching. It’s different,” said legal expert and Houston lawyer Doug O’Brien.
But it’s not the first time that this scenario has happened at least in Texas. In 2006, 25 year-old teacher Amy McElhenney from the Dallas area was accused of the same crime . However, a Denton County grand jury refused to indict her and she wasn’t prosecuted for having sex with an 18 year-old student.
In other states where a similar law stands, cases have been discarded legally just as well, unlucky defendants have ended in front of a judge‘s bench. Still, other states like Washington are currently trying to model the "Chisum rule."  
Ironically, when a sexual relationship develops between a professor and a freshman at a university, “neither the student or the professor would face criminal charges,” said University of Houston spokesman Richard Bonnin, who agreed that the behavior can be considered inappropriate but not criminal at a college level.
*Several quotes from this story were obtained summer 2008.


Una maestra de 23 es acusada de tener sexo con joven de 18

¿Hasta qué grado es realmente un delito?
Del 1 al 7 de junio del 2008
SEMANA de Inquisición
Por Don Juan Corzo

Houston- Ridículo. Si busca esa palabra en el diccionario de la lengua española encontrará cinco diferentes significados, pero la manera como el experto de sociología de la Universidad de Rice Stephen Klineberg la usó fue para destacar lo “absurdo” y “falta de lógica” cuando le preguntamos sobre el caso de la maestra arrestada por las autoridades por tener sexo un estudiante.
Por supuesto usted ha escuchado el caso de maestros o maestras que se han metido en problemas con la ley por tener sexo con sus estudiantes y es entendible cuando se trata de un menor de edad, incluyendo aquellos todavía en primaria.
Pero qué en el caso de Emily Kate Janes, una joven de 23 años que solo llevaba su primer año enseñando en Deer Park High School, se envolvió íntimamente y sexualmente con un estudiante de 18 años.
Janes enseñaba inglés a “juniors” (grado 11) en el “campus” de Deer Park ISD y había conocido al estudiante durante sus clases en el otoño. En diciembre iniciaron la relación y duró por alrededor de un mes.
Alguien que se enteró de la relación los reportó a las autoridades y fue acusada por tener una relación sexual inapropiada con un estudiante, un delito serio según una ley estatal aprobada en el 2003.
“No se puede negar que la maestra se comportó de una manera inapropiada o errónea al envolverse con su estudiante, pero eso realmente califica como un acto criminal”, dijo Klineberg.
Ahora la maestra enfrenta hasta 20 años en prisión por envolverse con un estudiante.

Ley sin sentido
Previamente en Texas se consideraba como un acto criminal el que un maestro o
maestra se envolviera con un estudiante que fuera menor de edad, pero la ley llamada
HB 532 incluyó también como delito grave si el estudiante es mayor de edad.
“Básicamente el delito tiene la misma gravedad en el sistema judicial cuando se compara con casos que envuelven menores de edad, pero la única diferencia es que personas convictas en estos casos similares no tienen que registrarse como ofensores sexuales”, dijo Dense Oncken, la fiscal a cargo del caso en el condado de Harris.
Aunque la legisladora estatal Helen Giddins, autora de la ley, no estuvo disponible para responder preguntas, su oficina dijo que ella no estuvo de acuerdo con la enmienda que Warren Chisum, otro legislador estatal hizo respecto al proyecto legislativo. Chisum omitió la frase “menor de 18” de una sección del documento oficial más de un mes antes de que el gobernador
Rick Perry la aprobara.
“Es un abuso de poder de un maestro hacia el estudiante y es lo mismo si el joven es un menor de edad o no”, dijo Chisum sin darle relevancia que el maestro o maestra sea joven también.
El profesor Klineberg es un fuerte crítico de la ley estatal y la considera una medida puritana extremista debido a tensiones e inseguridades sociales.
“Aparte de ser criminalizar a una persona injustamente, también es un desperdicio de los impuestos de los ciudadanos en procesar el caso judicialmente”, señaló.
Curiosamente nadie en el Senado estatal objetó tampoco a la ley, el gobernador Rick Perry la aprobó.
“Hay jóvenes de 18, 19 o 20 años que todavía cursan en ‘high school’ porque se han atrasado por alguna razón, pero ya son gente adulta que ya saben de las cosas de la vida”, dijo un asistente de Chisum que no quiso ser identificado.

No, pero sí
Pero no es la primera vez que ha pasado, pues en el 2006 Amy McElhenney, una maestra de 25 años de edad del área al norte de Dallas fue acusada con el mismo delito por tener una relación sexual con una estudiante de 18 años. Sin embargo, un gran jurado del Condado de Denton rehusó formalizar la acusación.
Casos similares han sido desechados legalmente.
Pero cuando una relación sexual se desarrolla entre un profesor y un estudiante en una universidad, “ni el maestro ni el estudiante enfrentarían cargos criminales”, dijo Richard Bonnin, vocero de la Universidad de Houston quien confirmó que el comportamiento se considera tal vez inapropiado, pero no es criminal.

Qué dice la ley
◗ La Ley HB 532 hace ilegal que un maestro o maestra de una escuela pública o privada tenga relaciones sexuales con un o una estudiante, sin importar si el alumno es mayor de edad.
◗ La ofensa es un delito grave de segundo grado y la pena es un máximo es de 20 años en prisión y hasta diez mil dólares de multa.
◗ La ley tiene la misma gravedad que el cargo de asalto sexual de un o una menor.
◗ La Ley HB 532 se aprobó en junio del 2003 y entró en vigencia en septiembre del mismo año.