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José Luis Ramón Velasco Guillén: The Mexican general who trafficked military weapons and got away with it | USA

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A Mexican soldier stands guard in La Morita, Sonora.
A Mexican soldier stands guard in La Morita, Sonora.Luis Gutierrez / Getty Images

Mexican Army Brigadier-General José Luis Ramón Velasco Guillén, who served as the director general of the Federal Registry of Firearms and Explosives Control during Felipe Calderón’s six-year presidential term (2006-12), trafficked weapons that had been donated to the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), according to an internal investigation.

In 2012, the Inspection and Comptroller General’s Office of the Army and Air Force, which supervises and audits all administrative and operative aspects of armed forces personnel, opened a probe that revealed the official had illicitly obtained at least 86 weapons handed to Sedena by two collectors. These arms were kept in the general’s office instead of being stored at the department in charge of buying and selling weapons and ammunition. Later, Velasco Guillén sold them to other members of Sedena and to a private collector who was subsequently linked by the authorities to organized crime. Despite the Comptroller finding evidence of disorganization, negligence and a lack of discipline during the general’s mandate, he was given only a reprimand. A military tribunal initiated a criminal case on charges of fraud, but in August 2014 it was shelved.

Various anomalies that occurred during Velasco’s administration were belatedly detected by Sedena. In a report compiled by an army inspection and audit commission, which falls under the remit of the Comptroller, it was determined that the officers in charge of the different sections of the Federal Registry had facilitated documentation to permit holders without going through the proper process, in favor of certain people and businesses. In the manufacturing and marketing section, for example, permits were issued for the purchase of weapons, cartridges and accessories without the applicants meeting the necessary requirements. “Some of the applicants claimed to belong to a hunting clubs and presented documents backing this. However, when the reports were checked with the clubs in question it was found they were not members and so it is assumed the permits were issued in exchange for gifts or on orders from a superior,” the report states. The military investigators mention a business that despite being involved in a number of irregularities in its activities had never been fined or had its permits suspended or revoked. “It is presumed that those in charge of verifying their monthly reports did not report the irregularities [the company] committed due to having some agreement with the legal representative or indeed through negligence.”

In the Comptroller’s audit it was found that Velasco’s office failed to carry out pertinent checks on those who had been issued permits as private arms collectors. In some cases, these permits were still valid even thought the renewal fees remained unpaid. “There are permit holders with individual licenses that have not been renewed, suspended or canceled,” the report states. In the case of the hunting clubs, various permits that were suspended or revoked still appeared as being valid in the archives of the Federal Registry. It was also found that some private security firms, who offer bodyguard and protection services for specialist transportation companies, did not hold valid firearms permits. Nonetheless, these companies have not been investigated or required to regularize their situation.

The general’s associates

National Guard officers and members of the National Army during an operation in Guanajuato.
National Guard officers and members of the National Army during an operation in Guanajuato. Monica Gonzalez

In 2012 the Comptroller carried out an audit of the documentation for the issue of a permit for a collection identified as Number 45. During this inspection it was found that General Velasco had given “incorrect” orders to a subordinate to pick up weapons from a private collection that had been donated to Sedena. Following several interviews with Federal Registry personnel, it was determined there had been a series of omissions and acts of negligence orchestrated by the general.

Captain César Abel Batres Ortiz, who served as a section chief at the registry, told military investigators that on July 15, 2011, the executor of a deceased collector arrived at the general’s offices to donate 60 weapons. Velasco ordered Ortiz to arrange a visit to the donor’s house. The following day, the captain arrived at the collector’s residence where he verified and took possession of the donated arms. These were then transported in an official vehicle to the general’s office, instead of being taken for storage at Sedena.

In August 2011, the general asked Ortiz if he knew any private arms collectors. The captain introduced him to Víctor Manuel Ríos López, who had been recommended by Gabriel Ábrego García, a former member of Federal Registry personnel who had helped him with paperwork down the years. Later that month the general hosted Ríos López at his office, where he showed the collector the arms that Ortiz had picked up. “The aforementioned general then said that he wanted 150,000 pesos for the weapons, to which the collector replied he would come back for them,” Ortiz told the investigation. A few days after his meeting with the general, Ríos López returned for the weapons and Ortiz helped load them into his car. Velasco then asked the captain to go with Ríos López and collect the money for the sale of the arms. When he arrived, he was handed an envelope with the 150,000 pesos. “The general told him to take a “ten” of this money, without him knowing what was being referred to, but he didn’t take any amount and gave the envelope to the general,” a court report issued after Ortiz filed an injunction reads.

Four months after the transaction, in December 2011, Ríos López called Ortiz again to tell him that several pieces from his collection had been stolen. According to the legal documents seen by EL PAÍS, the captain suggested Ríos López report the theft to the Public Prosecutors’ Office to protect himself from any illegal use the arms may be involved in, as they were registered in his name. While he was making his statement to the judicial authorities, Ríos López mentioned that he had purchased part of his collection from a general. This piqued the suspicion of the police, who ordered a search of his house. This uncovered various weapons, some of which were not registered with the Federal authorities. The investigation was expanded and soon reached the upper echelons of the Federal Registry of Firearms. In May 2012, details of the case started to be made public. The Mexican daily Reforma reported that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had arrested Ríos López on charges of carrying unlicensed arms and that the general and Captain Ortiz were also under investigation.

The case took an unexpected turn last month when the Federal Police announced the arrest of Ábrego García, who had been operating as an arms trafficker for La Resistencia, a gang of enforcers working for a criminal consortium including La Familia Michoacana, the Milenio Cartel and the Gulf Cartel, according to a statement. Prosecutors had been tapping Ábrego’s communications for several months and discovered a series of calls to Víctor Manuel Ríos López and one to Captain Batres Ortiz. As part of the investigation the PGR interviewed Ortiz, who told them about the arms the general had sold to Ríos López. The authorities tried to link Velasco to the sale of weapons to criminal organizations but were unable to do so, according to the documents consulted. A federal judge decided that the evidence presented by the PGR was insufficient to demonstrate a crime had been committed.

Sedena also launched its own inquiries. Military prosecutors opened an investigation into General Velasco and Captain Ortiz, but after two years it was shelved in 2014 by the public prosecutor due to a lack of “merit to prosecute,” according to a document provided to this newspaper by Sedena under transparency law. However, the investigation is still open in the administrative sphere. EL PAÍS contacted Sedena for an update on the status of the case against General Velasco Guillén but had not received a reply at time of publication.

Arms sales between military personnel

Military officers from Sedena on patrol in La Paz, Mexico.
Military officers from Sedena on patrol in La Paz, Mexico.Alfredo Martinez / Getty Images

The Ríos López case was not the only instance when General Velasco made improper use of the arms under his protection. On September 22, 2011, another collector asked that his permit be revoked and the weapons in his possession be placed on consignment for public sale. A colonel from the engineer corps was assigned to pick up the 66 guns at the collector’s home. A week later the Federal Registry under Velasco’s command sent 40 weapons to the Directorate of Military Industry to remain on consignment for sale through the authorized channels. What happened to the rest of the collector’s arms was unknown. A while later it was discovered they had been sold illegally with the general’s consent. During interviews carried out by the Comptroller’s investigators, a captain of engineers, a clerical lieutenant and a first sergeant said they had acquired weapons stored in the general’s quarters. “The engineer captain said that he acquired two firearms from the collection through the brigadier-general, paying the aforementioned general for the weapons,” the report states. Another clerk said that Velasco had shown him 30 weapons he had for sale. She told her brother, who in turn alerted a lieutenant who ended up buying four guns from the collection.

In the Comptroller’s ruling against Velasco, it was concluded that he had abused his position as the directorate under his command was not authorized to sell arms, munitions or explosives to private buyers. Sales of weapons arriving at the Federal Registry are only authorized through the Arms and Ammunition Marketing directorate, which reports only to the Directorate of Military Industry, beyond Velasco’s area of influence. “The general authorized the sale of firearms in question, overstepping his powers and responsibilities as a public servant of the Federal Registry of Firearms and Explosives Control, and as such the aforementioned public servant failed to comply with the principles of efficiency, lawfulness, honor and loyalty,” the Comptroller’s report summed up.

After studying the evidence and witness statements compiled by the investigation it was concluded that the general held clear administrative responsibility. “Existence of this conduct was accredited in the sense of carrying out acts that constitute abuse of his position and the use of the powers attributed to him for the performance of his duties for a different purpose,” the report stated. On September 3, 2014, the Comptroller issued a reprimand as it considered that Velasco’s actions did not constitute serious offenses. The general is now retired, with a monthly pension of 77,106 pesos ($3,725 or €3,140). His subordinate, Captain Ortiz, faced no punishment after the conclusion of the investigation.

English version by Rob Train.

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Malaria kills 180,000 more people annually than previously thought, says WHO | Global development

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The World Health Organization has called for a “massive, urgent” effort to get the new malaria vaccine into the arms of African children, as it warned that about 180,000 more people were dying annually from the disease than had previously been thought.

Dr Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, said the RTS,S vaccine, recommended for widespread rollout in October, represented a historic opportunity to save tens of thousands of lives, mostly those of under-fives in sub-Saharan Africa.

But he warned that the global community risked “massive failure” if funding commitments aimed at boosting production and helping deployment of the vaccine were not rapidly made.

“What I think is the real barrier [is] international solidarity,” he said. “Is the world going to allow that there is a first malaria vaccine that can save the lives of tens of thousands of African children every year and they’re going to let it sit on a shelf? Or are they going to step up?”

The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKlein, which developed the RTS,S vaccine, has committed to donate up to 10m doses for use in the pilot programmes already under way, and to supply up to 15m doses annually.

However, with more than 240m cases globally last year, the potential demand could reach 80 to 100m doses annually, Alonso warned. “Therefore, this is a prime example of where international mechanisms will need to come into play,” he said.

“A vaccine that could save somewhere between 40 and 70-80,000 lives every year, of African children, is something that needs to be treated with the utmost ambition and sense of urgency. And therefore, a slow, gradual scale-up, if you ask me, would not be acceptable. This needs to be a massive, urgent operation to ensure that we can reach as many children as possible and as soon as possible.”

He added: “If the global health community does not respond to this challenge, it will represent a massive failure. I cannot imagine how different leaders, leaders of philanthropy or of financing institutions, are going to go to Africa and advocate for efforts to prevent childhood deaths if they don’t, first and foremost, support the deployment of this vaccine.”

Last week, the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, said its board had approved an initial $155.7m (£117m) for the rollout of RTS,S. The funding would help the introduction, procurement and delivery of the vaccine for eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa from 2022 until 2025, it said.

Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said the announcement would give the private sector “a crucial motive to scale up” the rollout.

“We now call on leaders to step up investment to accelerate the development and delivery of more effective, transformative tools to combat the ever-evolving malaria parasite,” he said.

New figures released by the WHO on Monday underlined the scale of the problem, with a new, “more precise” method of counting estimating that 627,000 people died of malaria last year, 180,000 more than the total would have been according to the old methodology.

The vast majority of all malaria deaths – 96% – were in sub-Saharan Africa.

In its annual malaria report, the WHO said the “doomsday scenario” some had predicted at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – that deaths from malaria would double as a result of disruption to treatment and services – had not materialised.

Nonetheless, it said, deaths had risen by nearly 70,000 last year, an increase of 12%, of which nearly 50,000 were attributable to disruptions during the pandemic. One main cause of disruption was that more than a quarter of insecticide-treated bed nets – the backbone of WHO efforts to combat malaria – were not distributed in 2020.

Faced with a slowing of progress in the fight against malaria, the WHO believes the vaccine could be a crucial new weapon, even though questions have been raised over its limited efficacy. Over four years of trials, RTS,S was found to prevent 39% of malaria cases and 29% of severe malaria cases.

But Alonso rejected concerns. “A reduction of 30% [in] severe cases of malaria means a massive public health impact, larger probably than any other vaccine against any other disease being used right now,” he said.

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Fresh violence at anti-vax protests in Brussels

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Belgian police fired water cannon at violent anti-vaccination protesters outside EU buildings in Brussels for the second weekend in a row on Sunday. More than 40,000 people also protested against lockdowns in Vienna Saturday. Several thousand people also protested in Utrecht, in The Netherlands, as well as in Berlin and Frankfurt, where German police used batons and pepper spray after being attacked by a radical minority in the demonstration.

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‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography

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Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.

In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.

Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children

“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.

“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”

She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.

“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.

“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.

“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”

Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years

“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.

Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.

Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.

“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.

“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.

“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.

“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.

“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”

* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities

In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International

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