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Corruption in Mexico: The impunity of Alberto Reyes Vaca, the Mexican army general who was fond of drug ballads | USA

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Alberto Reyes Vaca on the day of his appointment to the position of Public Safety Secretary for the State of Michoacán in May 2013.
Alberto Reyes Vaca on the day of his appointment to the position of Public Safety Secretary for the State of Michoacán in May 2013.RR. SS.

The traditional ballads that glorify the status and supposed deeds of drug traffickersnarcocorridos – filled the night air on October 30, 2014, in a Mexican army barracks, within the very institution that is on the front line of the country’s war on drugs. The music emanating from the walls of Military Camp 37-B came from a party organized by Alberto Reyes Vaca, who was at the time the commanding officer of the Special Forces Corps based in Temamantla, in the State of Mexico. Among the guests were the singer Gerardo Ortiz and the band Calibre 50, both from Sinaloa. Calibre 50 played several narcocorridos, with lyrics praising the exploits of various leading figures among the cartels.

The party, the performers and the messages that the songs relayed caused a scandal among General Reyes Vaca’s subordinates. Days later, one of his junior officers made a complaint to the Comptroller General of the Army and Air Force – the body that oversees the military’s use of public funds – stating that the musicians hired to play had performed narcocorridos. “I could not comprehend that while we spend months away from our families, our commanders spend their time organizing parties in barracks and inviting civilians, who knows of what kind, getting drunk and having a wild time,” the officer wrote in his complaint, which led to an investigation.

Despite the Comptroller’s office determining that the brigadier-general had organized the party in question and others on previous occasions at military facilities where the food and drink was paid for under false pretenses and charged to the Ministry of Defense (Sedena) budget, the matter was concluded with a mere reprimand. It was not the first time that the army had received complaints about Reyes Vaca’s conduct. On his record were other allegations of corruption and links to organized crime that were also swept under the rug.

One of the most serious accusations against Reyes Vaca is that he disclosed military activities carried out by the Special Forces Corps under his command

The Comptroller’s internal investigation uncovered a series of anomalies during Reyes Vaca’s command of the Special Forces Corps (SF), between October 2014 and mid-2016, according to documents obtained by EL PAÍS. Among the files are details of an order issued to remodel and refurbish a palapa – a thatched-roof structure – located in the SF training area, where he would organize his parties and hold private meetings. Reyes Vaca installed a bar and used soldiers to serve as waiters.

The documents show that the general invested “a considerable amount of resources” on the palapa, which “contained a bar, crystal glasses, disco-type furniture and a mural depicting rural scenes, such a howling wolf and cowboys in the desert,” the report states. Reyes Vaca also bought musical instruments to form a band made up of members of the unit, who would play at private meetings held once a month and which were attended by civilians, some of whom would travel from Michoacán.

In the report compiled by a military committee tasked with investigating the general’s conduct, photographs are included that confirm the attendance of Gerardo Ortiz and Calibre 50 during at least one of the general’s parties. After interviewing brigade commanders, officers and soldiers serving under Reyes Vaca, the committee attempted without success to find contracts for the hiring of Ortiz and Calibre 50. The report states that while Calibre 50 played at the party, Ortiz was merely in attendance and did not perform. The committee could not determine whether the musicians were paid for their appearance of if they agreed to play because of a personal friendship with the general. “An internet search for the price of hiring the band Calibre 50 did not reveal the exact amount but this group is considered to be among the artists who generally charge between 600,000 and 800,000 pesos [€24,700-€33,000] to perform,” the report states.

One of the most serious accusations against Reyes Vaca is that he disclosed military activities carried out by the Special Forces Corps under his command during demonstrations he ordered, including allowing his son and other civilians to drive military vehicles. “This put the secrecy of military training exercises at risk,” the report states. It is also documented that the general organized target practice for civilians with no connection to the military who he had invited to the base. On one occasion between 20 and 30 people arrived at the barracks in “brand new, luxury pick-ups” accompanied by military personnel. During the investigation it was also revealed that slot machines had been installed at the base. Under the general’s command, unauthorized building and remodeling work was carried out and soldiers from the SF were used for tasks including brick-laying, laundry and painting.

The general’s excesses had repercussions among the troops. One example is that in the cafeterias on the base used by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th SF battalions, products were sold at higher prices than stated on price lists and were more expensive than the same items sold in civilian outlets. “In this order of ideas, it can be seen that conduct contrary to the exercise of public service in detriment to the morale and economy of the personnel at the training base and the members of the special forces units was in evidence,” the report said. The Comptroller’s investigation employed a mole at the SF base in Temamantla, a strategy designed to reveal the scale of the abuses meted out to soldiers first-hand.

n 2020, Reyes Vaca retired from the military with the right to a pension without being held accountable before the military courts over allegations of past misconduct

The investigation concluded that Reyes Vaca made improper use of military facilities and forced military personnel to carry out activities beyond those established for serving soldiers. “This constituted an illegal, dishonest, disloyal, partial and deficient practice in the exercise of public service and in the carrying out of his duties as commander of the Special Forces Corps based at Temamantla, State of Mexico”, the report concluded. The committee also cited the general for improperly involving staff serving under him, including subordinate commanders, officers and enlisted personnel. “This goes against all established normative logic, given his seniority and the position he held.”

Along with Reyes Vaca, four base personnel were disciplined after the committee’s findings: Infantry Second Captain Felipe Mera Nájera; Sapper Second Captain Jorge Antonio López Vázquez; Infantry Lieutenant Juan Pablo López Guzmán and Military Police Corporal Servando Félix Barrera.

The brigadier-general’s defense argues that none of the performers were paid for playing at the party. In a letter sent to the Ministry of Defense, Reyes Vaca’s attorneys explained that when he was serving as state security secretary in Michoacán, he met many businessmen and one of these was the representative and manager for Calibre 50. In October 2014, this individual called Reyes Vaca and said he would like to meet him. “Under the circumstances and out of mere courtesy I decided to receive him, with the intention only of greeting him, taking into account the high regard with which he holds the armed forces.” The general said that the businessman arrived at the barracks in a bus accompanied by Calibre 50, upon which he invited them to lunch. “When they had finished eating they decided to play a few songs, palomazos as they call them, for their own entertainment or pleasure, in the absence of the audience they would have at an official or formal event,” Reyes Vaca said.

In the case of Gerardo Ortiz, the general stated that the singer visited the base separately simply to say hello and that he had not had the pleasure of making his acquaintance before then. EL PAÍS has attempted to contact Reyes Vaca via various means to obtain his version of events without success.

A turbulent past

Sedena has dismissed a series of allegations against Reyes Vaca, starting from his tenure as commanding officer of the 80th infantry battalion based in Tlaxcala. Between 2011 and 2012, he was accused by a group of officers of being among the commanders who ordered subordinates to extract gasoline from pipelines owned by state energy company Pemex to then sell on to gas stations, according to a report published on the news website Estado Mayor, which focuses on military matters. He also set a section of the battalion to work on his personal interests, including a bar, a pulquería (an establishment where pulque, a popular agave-based Mexican drink, is sold) and a pig farm. When he left, he put on a party with live music led by the singer Gerardo Reyes,” one of the officers told Estado Mayor. In another news report the infantry officer Eduardo Navarrete Montes, who had been lodging complaints about irregularities in Reyes Vaca’s conduct for several years, said that before taking up his command in Tlaxcala Reyes Vaca had been accused by junior officers of theft and abuse of authority. “A while beforehand, when he held the rank of lieutenant-colonel, his subordinates accused him of stealing various items seized during operations against drug traffickers,” Montes said in an interview.

Despite these accusations, in 2013 Reyes Vaca was appointed State Security Secretary in Michoacán, a post he held for eight months. He was handed the job in an attempt by the federal government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to placate vigilante groups and reduce the levels of violence in the state. On May 15, 2013, then-Secretary of the Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said that Michoacán would name a member of the armed services to the post, who would have under his control all federal, state and, eventually, municipal forces. The following day, Reyes Vaca was appointed, under the protective wing of Peña Nieto’s Secretary of National Defense, Salvador Cienfuegos.

Six months later, in November 2013, the newspaper Milenio released documents from the payroll of the criminal organization Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar), which had been obtained by the intelligence services. Among the mayors, police officers, commanders and customs officials named on the list there was an army general, whose name was withheld, but who allegedly received two million pesos [€82,000] a month from the organization. In an interview on a Michoacán radio station, Reyes Vaca said he was happy to be investigated. “I am a general on active service and people should rest assured that if I do something I shouldn’t do, my secretary general [Cienfuegos] will call me to set the record straight because there is not impunity in the army.”

After eight months in the post, during which he failed to reduce the crime rate, Reyes Vaca was removed in January 2014. A former local government employee who worked in Michoacán at the time says that there were many people who questioned the general’s actions while in the job, particularly among the police. One of the complaints was that Reyes Vaca assigned police officers to act as bodyguards to whomever he decided needed them. Furthermore, the local government worker says, the general made personal use of the budgetary funds for state security to finance his own whims. “It was said there were days when he would disappear and nobody knew where he was, he would head off with a couple of his close confidants. There were always rumors that he was involved with the Caballeros Templarios, he was even mentioned on one of their lists of expenses,” adds the civil servant, who did not want to give their name for fear of reprisals.

In October 2014, Reyes Vaca’s superiors sent him to the State of Mexico, where complaints about his conduct started anew prompting the Comptroller’s investigation, which failed to deliver the justice the general’s accusers sought: the investigation concluded that the allegations did not constitute serious misconduct. Neither was a criminal investigation beyond the military’s remit opened up. “It is important to highlight that this internal control body is not responsible for investigating crimes; that is to say, it does not have the mission of establishing criminal conduct and imposing the corresponding sanctions,” the committee wrote in its summary. After Reyes Vaca received a reprimand, he was transferred to the 12th Military District in Irapuato, Guanajuato, where he was appointed as chief of regional services. After the change of federal government, he took up the post of commander of the regional training base in the 6th Military District in La Boticaria, Veracruz.

In 2020, Reyes Vaca retired from the military with the right to a pension of 70,000 pesos [€2,890] a month without being held accountable before the military courts over allegations of past misconduct.

English version by Rob Train.

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Teenager who killed dog by kicking it twice is jailed for six months

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A teenager who killed a dog by kicking it so hard it went above the head of its owner has been jailed for six months.

Josh Henney (19) twice kicked the dog in its underbelly while its owner was speaking with his mother.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that the dog, who was a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier, was named Sam and was approximately 10 months old at the time.

Henney of North William Street, Dublin City centre, pleaded guilty to killing a protected animal at his address on March 23rd, 2020. He has 36 previous convictions and is currently serving a sentence of two years with the final six months suspended for an offence of violent disorder.

Garda Adam McGrane told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that on the date in question, the injured party was on North William Street with her dog and was speaking with Henney’s mother.

Gda McGrane said Henney was having an argument with his mother and was shouting from a window. Henney then came out of the flat and told the injured party to “f**k off out of here and mind your own business”.

The garda said Henney told the woman that he would “f**king kill your dog”. Henney then took a run up of around two metres and kicked the dog in their underbelly. The dog was kicked so hard it went above the head their owner.

Henney walked away, then took a second run at the dog and kicked the dog again in their underbelly. The dog’s breathing was laboured following the second kick and saliva with blood was coming from their mouth.

The dog, which could not walk or drink, was carried by their owner to a veterinary practice and was still alive upon arrival. The dog was put under anaesthetic, but died while undergoing treatment.

Multiple fractures and fissures

The court heard that Dr Alan Wolfe, who performed the autopsy on the dog, found multiple fractures and fissures to the dog’s liver. Dr Wolfe found all of the injuries were consistent with the dog dying of blood loss due to acute trauma.

Mr Hayes told the court that the injured party in the case has no children and told gardaí­ that the dog was like family to her and went with her wherever she went.

Gda McGrane agreed with Cathal McGreal BL, defending, that his client told gardaí­ he had lost his temper and did not really remember what happened. He agreed the accused told gardaí­ he had not been able to sleep remembering the dog screaming and wished to apologise for what he did.

Mr McGreal said his client very much regrets what he did. He said his client claims he never told the victim that he would kill the dog.

Counsel said his client’s father was shot in Malaga in front of Henney when he was aged 14. He said that his client told a psychologist that the offence was a “horrible thing to do” and that he wants to get help so he does not do anything like that again.

Mr McGreal said his client’s mother smoked heroin and his client caught her doing so as a child. He said the presence of the injured party was a “triggering factor” and that there was “a heroin taking relationship going on”.

Counsel said there is no gainsaying that what his client did but he is sorry for it and it haunts him.

On Tuesday Judge Melanie Greally Judge Greally imposed a one year prison sentence with the final six months suspended on strict conditions including that Henney engage with the Probation Service for 12 months upon his release from prison. This sentence is to be consecutive to the term he is currently serving for violent disorder.

She said the anger and aggression was carried out on the dog, when it was the dog’s owner that was “the subject of his anger”.

Judge Greally accepted that Henney was “extremely ashamed and remorseful for his actions” and has now expressed himself as young man who wants to live a normal life. “He has a stable relationship and is applying himself well in prison,” she noted.

She acknowledged that the report prepared by the Probation Service concluded that Henney was a vulnerable young man who would benefit from probation supervision upon his release from prison.

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Italy likely to offer Covid booster jabs to all ‘from January’

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“It is most likely that a third dose will be necessary for everybody,” Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio Capital.

His remarks echoed comments from the president of the national health institute ISS, Silvio Brusaferro, who said 24 hours earlier that the need for third doses for all “couldn’t be excluded”.

READ ALSO: Which Italian regions have the highest Covid vaccination rates?

Italy is already administering booster shots to patients with fragile immune systems and serious medical conditions, people aged over 60 and health workers.

“I imagine the rest of the population [will follow] from January,” Sileri said.

To date, almost 44.5 million people in Italy, or 82.3 percent of those over the age of 12, have been fully vaccinated, and 1.1 million have already received booster shots.

EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?

To boost vaccination rates, Italy has brought in some of the world’s strictest measures with health certificates now mandatory for all workers.

The certificate, known as a ‘green pass’, is also a requirement at many cultural and leisure venues and on long-distance public transport.

The pass is available to everyone who is vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19, but can also be obtained by getting a negative test, at the individual’s own expense.



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Halyna Hutchins: Alec Baldwin, an actor dogged by scandal | USA

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Alec Baldwin once borrowed the words of one of the acting colleagues he admires the most – “the incredibly intelligent and wise Warren Beatty” – to explain his ongoing image problems. “Your problem is a very basic one, and it’s very common to actors. And that’s when we step in front of a camera, we feel the need to make it into a moment. This instinct, even unconsciously, is to make the exchange in front of the camera a dramatic one,” Beatty said.

Last Thursday, on the set of the movie Rust, of which Baldwin is the star and a producer, that moment could not have been more dramatic. It was Baldwin who pulled the trigger on a prop firearm that killed the Ukrainian director of photography, 43-year-old Halyna Hutchins, and wounded the movie’s director, 48-year-old Joel Souza. The tragic incident left Baldwin speechless for several hours until he expressed his “shock and sadness,” offering his help and support to Hutchins’ family and stating that he was “fully cooperating” with the police investigation into the accident. A social media post from a few days earlier in which he was kitted out in his cowboy gear and covered in blood in character for Rust was removed from his accounts.

Scandal seems to follow Alec Baldwin around, whether or not he is looking for that drama to which Beatty alluded. The eldest of six siblings of a middle-class Catholic family of Irish descent, the four Baldwin brothers are all involved in show business, although they couldn’t be much different from one another. Daniel has had problems with drugs. Stephen is currently involved with an Evangelical church and his political views are inclined toward conservatism. The second-youngest, William described his brother as someone who always has something “to fucking whine about,” according to The New Yorker. Alec is the eldest and the most disciplined, but also the one who protected the other brothers from bullies as he was the most combative. He went to school with the notion of becoming the president of the United States, but on recognizing he had little chance of achieving that goal he enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, graduating many years later.

Alec Baldwin during a scuffle with a photographer in New York, 2014.
Alec Baldwin during a scuffle with a photographer in New York, 2014. freddie baez (cordon)

His career could have panned out like Al Pacino’s or Jack Nicholson’s, actors who he looked up to, but Baldwin’s generation was not the same. Perhaps neither was his talent, and certainly, the world of movies had changed. In 1992, Baldwin ensured that he would be associated with his idols when he starred with Jessica Lange in a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, which three years later would be turned into a television movie with Baldwin and Lange reprising their roles for the small screen. Not only did Baldwin receive a Tony nomination for his Broadway performance, he also drew favorable comparisons to legendary actor Marlon Brando, who starred in the stage production and the 1951 movie version. Around this time Baldwin was also landing meaty screen roles, including that of Jack Ryan opposite Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October.

But as time progressed, Baldwin’s name was more frequently heard in connection to his social life and scandals than for his stage or screen performances. His marriage to actor Kim Basinger, who he met in 1991 while filming The Marrying Man, ended acrimoniously, and Baldwin’s relationship with the couple’s daughter, Ireland, has often been fractious. In 2007, a voicemail message the actor left for Ireland, who was 11 at the time, caused a sensation due to Baldwin’s use of not very fatherly language, during an ongoing spat with Basinger following their 2002 divorce.

Alec Baldwin after receiving one of his three Golden Globes for ‘30 Rock.’
Alec Baldwin after receiving one of his three Golden Globes for ‘30 Rock.’

Then there is the other Alec Baldwin, described by the actor himself as “bitter, defensive, and more misanthropic than I care to admit,” in an open letter to Vulture magazine in 2014 titled Good-bye, Public Life. At that time Baldwin had forged a reputation as a violent, homophobic egocentric following several incidents aired in the media. And, of course, from his own mouth. Even so, he managed to resurrect his career in the most surprising way imaginable: by making fun of himself.

Baldwin’s portrayal of the absurd and conceited television executive Jack Donaghy across seven seasons of 30 Rock (2006-13), a character inspired by Baldwin himself, earned back his public popularity and landed the actor back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards in 2007 and 2008 and three Golden Globes. In 2011, he started a new chapter in his personal life with his current wife, Hilaria Baldwin, with whom he has six children. But as one of his closest friends, Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live where Baldwin has received plaudits for his impersonations of former US president Donald Trump, once said: “Everything would be better if you were able to enjoy what you have.”

Baldwin’s altercations – mostly verbal, occasionally physical – with the paparazzi or anyone who in the actor’s opinion has violated his privacy have been frequent, including on productions on which he has worked. In 2013, the actor Shia LaBeouf was fired from the Broadway theatre production of Orphans when Baldwin said: “Either he goes or I do.” Years earlier an actress left another play Baldwin was working on by leaving a written note stating that she feared for her “physical, mental and artistic” safety.

Alec Baldwin impersonating former US president Donald Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live.’
Alec Baldwin impersonating former US president Donald Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live.’EL PAÍS

Every one of Baldwin’s reinventions seems inexorably to be followed by another fall from grace. On the one hand, there is the Baldwin who has stated on several occasions that he intends to withdraw from public life, and on the other the Baldwin who is obsessed with social media, writing a tweet for every occasion. Many of these posts have cost the actor, such as in 2017 when he commented on a video of a suspect being fatally shot by police: “I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone…”

There are still unanswered questions surrounding the death of Halyna Hutchins. The investigation has not disclosed whether the firearm was discharged accidentally or if Baldwin was aiming it at the time, although the transcript of a call to the emergency services appears to indicate it happened during a rehearsal. As of yet, no charges have been filed against Baldwin but it is unknown if this may yet occur at a later date. A statement taken from the assistant director states that Baldwin was told by crew members that the gun was not loaded. Many observers are wondering if Rust will be completed, if the project will be abandoned. And many more are asking the same about Baldwin: will he be able to find a way back from this latest dramatic moment?



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