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Guatemala arrests migrant smugglers wanted by the US



HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala (AP) — At dawn, police and federal agents with cover from helicopters flying overhead raided a large ranch nestled among the mountains of northern Guatemala, not far from the border with Mexico.

Unlike the ranch’s impoverished neighbors, inside authorities found horse stables, a swimming pool, late model vehicles, guns and a still drunk Felipe Diego Alonso, the alleged leader of a smuggling ring that moved migrants from Guatemala north to the United States.

The raid was part of several carried out Tuesday in four Guatemalan provinces against a migrant smuggling ring, for which authorities say they’ve documented $2 million in revenue since 2019.

Alonzo and three others arrested Tuesday were targets of U.S. prosecutors, wanted in connection with the death of a Guatemalan migrant in Texas last year. In total, authorities nabbed 19 alleged members of the smuggling ring.

The arrests came a month after 53 migrants, including 21 Guatemalans, died in a failed smuggling attempt when they were abandoned inside a sweltering trailer in San Antonio, Texas. There was no indication those arrested Tuesday were involved in the San Antonio tragedy.

The extradition of alleged migrant smugglers known as “coyotes” has been rare and these would be the first known cases in Guatemala of smugglers allegedly pursued for the death of a migrant in the United States.

Prosecutions of migrant smugglers in Guatemala have proven exceedingly difficult because migrants are almost never willing to identify or testify against their smugglers. In some cases they hope for another chance to migrate to the United States with the smuggler’s help and in others they are afraid of the smugglers or their organized crime connections.

Alonzo, appearing groggy in blue jeans and a white golf shirt, said he was an onion grower who also sometimes sold land and automobiles.

Some of the detainees were flown to Guatemala City for their initial court appearances.

The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions between Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei and Washington.

The Biden administration has been outspoken in its criticism of perceived backsliding on corruption prosecutions. The U.S. government sanctioned Guatemala’s Attorney General Consuelo Porras, alleging she was an obstacle to anti-corruption work and was now pursuing judges and prosecutors who had worked on corruption cases.

It was the Attorney General’s Office backed by National Police that carried out the raids near the northern town of Huehuetenango at dawn Tuesday.

“This was an organized group dedicated to getting migrants with the proposal of transporting them to Mexico and then to the United States,” said Stuardo Campo, Guatemala’s prosecutor for migrant trafficking.

He said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had supported the operation. Guatemalan authorities had documented 11 operations by the smuggling network to move migrants since last October, but Campo did not say how many migrants were smuggled.

The four people arrested at the request of U.S. authorities are allegedly linked to the death of Marta Raymundo Corio who was found dead near Odessa, Texas after being smuggled through Mexico in early 2021.

Campo said the woman had died in a warehouse in Texas due to a lack of food and water and her relatives had requested the help of authorities in determining what had happened.

As Alonzo was led away Tuesday, he told authorities to take care of his animals. Speaking Kanjobal, an Indigenous language, he said “I’d rather they eat than I eat.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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North America

What’s Behind the Rising Conflict in Eastern DRC




Rising violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has refocused attention on the long-running conflict in the region primarily between the Congolese army and the reconstituted rebel group M23. As part of a three-nation Africa visit, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to travel to the country Aug. 9-10 on a mission that includes advancing peace. Blinken also aims to ease smoldering tensions between the DRC and its neighbor Rwanda.

If unchecked, the volatility “risks reigniting interstate conflict in the Great Lakes region,” the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, warned in a June report.

More than 100 armed groups operate in eastern DRC, an unsettled region where conflict has raged for decades but has escalated in recent months. Human Rights Watch accuses M23 of “summarily” killing at least 29 civilians from mid-June through July 25. Nearly 8,000 people have died violently since 2017, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, which monitors conflict and human rights violations. More than 5.5 million people have been displaced — 700,000 this year alone, according to the United Nations. The Norwegian Refugee Council identified the DRC as the world’s most overlooked, under-addressed refugee crisis in 2021, a distinction it also held in 2020 and 2017.

Fueling the insecurity is a complicated brew of geopolitics, ethnic and national rivalries, and competition for control of eastern DRC’s abundant natural resources.

The fighting has ramped up tensions between the DRC and neighboring Rwanda, some of which linger from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which ethnic Hutus killed roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Competition for resources and influence in DRC also has sharpened long-standing rivalries between Rwanda and Uganda.

Conflict is escalating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, home to more than 100 armed groups, including M23. Geopolitics, ethnic and national rivalries, and competition over its natural resources fuel the fighting.

Conflict is escalating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, home to more than 100 armed groups, including M23. Geopolitics, ethnic and national rivalries, and competition over its natural resources fuel the fighting.

How does M23 fit in?

The DRC and its president, Felix Tshisekedi, accuse Rwanda of supporting M23, the main rebel group battling the Congolese army in eastern DRC. M23’s leaders include some ethnic Tutsis.

M23, short for the March 23 Movement, takes its name from a failed 2009 peace deal between the Congolese government and a now-defunct rebel group that had split off from the Congolese army and seized control of North Kivu’s provincial capital, Goma, in 2012. The group was pushed back the next year by the Congolese army and special forces of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, accuse the DRC and its army of backing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Congo-based mainly Hutu rebel group that includes some fighters who were involved in the genocide.

What sparked the resurgent crisis?

Last November, M23 rebels struck at several Congolese army positions in North Kivu province near the Uganda and Rwanda borders. The rebels have made advances that include overrunning a Congolese military base in May and taking control of Bunagana, a trading town near the border with Uganda, in June.

Bintou Keita, U.N. special representative to the country and head of MONUSCO, warned in June that M23 posed a growing threat to civilians and soon might overpower the mission’s 12,500 military personnel.

M23’s renewed attacks aim “to pressure the Congolese government to answer their demands,” said Jason Stearns, founder of the Congo Research Group at New York University, in a June briefing with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rebels want implementation of a 2013 pact known as the Nairobi agreement, signed with the DRC government, that would grant them amnesty and reintegrate them into the Congolese army or civilian life.

FILE - Demonstrators face police during a protest against the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Sake, some 24 kilometers west of Goma, July 27, 2022.

FILE – Demonstrators face police during a protest against the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUSCO) deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Sake, some 24 kilometers west of Goma, July 27, 2022.

Are the U.N. peacekeepers free from blame?

MONUSCO itself has been blamed for some of the continuing insecurity. At least 36 people, including four U.N. peacekeepers, have been killed since late July during protests in the region against the mission.

On July 31, two civilians were killed and others wounded when U.N. peacekeepers began shooting at a border post in the northeastern DRC town of Kisindi, near Uganda, an incident that “outraged” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. The Congolese government is investigating. In early August, it also ordered the U.N. to withdraw the mission’s spokesperson, Mathias Gillman, saying his “indelicate and inappropriate remarks” exacerbated tensions between the mission and civilians in North Kivu.

How is Uganda involved?

“The longstanding rivalry between Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC and the Great Lakes region is a key driver of the current crisis,” the Africa Center observed in its report. It cited a “profound level of mistrust at all levels — between the DRC and its neighbors, particularly Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, as well as between all of these neighbors.”

In late November, Uganda and the DRC began a joint military operation in North Kivu to hunt down the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group of Ugandan rebels affiliated with the Islamic State group and designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has blamed ADF for suicide attacks in Kampala in October and November.

Ugandan officials have accused Rwanda of using M23 to thwart its efforts against ADF, the Africa Center report noted, adding that the U.N. also “has implicated Uganda with aiding M23.” U.N. investigators a decade earlier had claimed to have credible evidence of Rwandan involvement.

Stearns, of the Congo Research Group, said the joint Ugandan-DRC military operation created “geopolitical ripple effects in the region,” with Rwanda essentially complaining that Uganda’s intervention “encroaches” on its sphere of interest in eastern Congo.

What economic factors are at play?

Some of the fighting is over control of eastern DRC’s vast natural resources, including diamonds, gold, copper and timber. The country has other minerals — cobalt and coltan — needed for batteries to power cellphones, other electronics and aircraft.

“The DRC produces more than 70% of the world’s cobalt” and “holds 60% of the planet’s coltan reserves,” the industry website Mining Technology reported in February, speculating that the DRC “could become the Saudi Arabia of the electric vehicle age.”

The Africa Center report noted there was “ample evidence to suggest that Ugandan- and Rwandan-backed rebel factions — including M23 — control strategic but informal supply chains running from mines in the Kivus into the two countries.” It said the groups use the proceeds from trafficked goods “to buy weapons, recruit and control artisanal miners, and pay corrupt Congolese customs and border officials as well as soldiers and police.”

Access also has value. In late 2019, a three-way deal was signed to extend Tanzania’s standard gauge railway through Burundi to DRC, giving the latter two countries access to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean seaport at Dar es Salaam.

And in June 2021, DRC’s Tshisekedi and Uganda’s Museveni presided over groundbreaking of the first of three roads linking the countries. The project was expected to increase the two countries’ trade volume and cross-border transparency, and to strengthen relations through “infrastructure diplomacy,” The East African reported. The project includes a road connecting Goma’s port on Lake Kivu with the border town of Bunagana.

“Rwanda, in between Uganda and Burundi, sees all this happening and feels that it’s being sidelined, feels that it’s being marginalized,” Stearns said in the CSIS briefing.

Rwanda has had its own deals with the DRC — including flying RwandAir routes and processing gold mined in Congo — but the Congolese government suspended all trade agreements in mid-June.

What can be done to address the crisis?

The DRC, accepted this spring into the East African Community regional bloc, agreed to the community’s call in June for a Kenya-led regional security force to protect civilians and forcibly disarm combatants who do not willingly put down their weapons.

No date has been set for the force’s deployment.

The 59-year-old Tshisekedi, who is up for reelection in 2023, has said Rwanda cannot be part of the security force.

Rwandan President Kagame, 64, told the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency he has “no problem” with that.

At a July 6 meeting in Angola’s capital, the two leaders agreed to a “de-escalation process” over fighting in the DRC. The diplomatic road map called for ceasing hostilities and for M23’s immediate withdrawal.

But fighting broke out the next day between M23 and the Congolese army in North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory.

Speaking for the M23 rebels, Major Willy Ngoma told VOA’s Swahili Service that his group did not recognize the pact.

“We signed an agreement with President Tshisekedi and Congo government,” Ngoma said, referring to the 2013 pact, “and we are ready to talk with the government. Whatever they are saying — that we stop fighting and we leave eastern DRC — where do you want us to go? We are Congolese. We cannot go into exile again. … We are fighting for our rights as Congolese.”

Paul Nantulya, an Africa Center research associate who contributed to its analysis, predicted it would “take time to resolve the long-running tensions between Rwanda and the DRC.”

In written observations shared with VOA by email, he called for “a verifiable and enforceable conflict reduction initiative between Congo and its neighbors — starting with Rwanda” and “an inclusive democratization process in Congo.”

Rwanda’s ambassador to the DRC, Vincent Karega, warned in a June interview with the VOA’s Central Africa Service that hate speech is fanning the conflict. Citing past genocides, he urged “that the whole world points a finger toward it and makes sure that it is stopped before the worst comes to the worst.”

Etienne Karekezi, Geoffrey Mutagoma, Venuste Nshimiyimana, Austere Malivika and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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New B.C. deputy fire chief stumbles on apartment scam




The new deputy fire chief in Pitt Meadows has a warning out for residents – but it has nothing to do with fire safety.

Since Tracy Warren started his new job two months ago, Warren has been searching for an apartment to rent in the city.

However, instead of finding an apartment to live in, he uncovered a scam and wants others to be aware that scammers are out there.

A few days ago he saw an ad on Craigslist for an apartment for rent at the Origin apartment complex in Pitt Meadows.

He contacted the person through the online platform with his email and cell phone number to say that he was interested in renting the apartment.

Warren said he was already familiar with the building and thought it strange that there was a 900 square foot, one bedroom apartment available in it.

Then the ad for the apartment was removed from Craigslist.

The next morning, Warren received both a text message and an email saying we heard you are interested in renting a place in Pitt Meadows.

The person who sent the message, a “Lane Trust,” said he wanted to sell the apartment in Pitt Meadows, but his wife suggested they rent it out, “to a responsible person”.

“Lane” then explained that rent would be $1,397 per month and would include utilities like hydro, cable, internet access, central air conditioning, laundry, heating, parking, and dry cleaning. The place was fully furnished, he said, and pets were fine.

“I want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes us to leave the apt and also want to give it out for rent and look for a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all time,” read the message.

Then there was a tenant rent application to fill out.

Warren filled it in with his name, address, marital status, number of children, and other general information.

Then Warren got an email a couple of hours later from “Lane” saying he was currently out of town with his family as they work as volunteers with a missionary. He said they had the keys to the apartment with them, but that they would send a courier package with the keys to Warren, if he took the apartment.

“Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the key to you, please we are giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that, we do not see yet and only putting everything into Gods hand, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this,” read the letter from “Lane”.

Warren, again, thought that’s sort of weird. So, he asked for the unit number in the apartment building.

“They never emailed me back the apartment number,” Warren explained, saying he was familiar with the building because another fire chief he knew had lived there.

Warren decided to do a Google search of the photographs that were posted with the listing and discovered that three out of the four pictures were also being used in another ad for an apartment for rent in Puerto Rico.

Warren went to the Ridge Meadows RCMP who told him that since he was still a resident of Delta that he would have to go to the Delta RCMP. And when Warren phoned the Delta office, he was told that since he didn’t lose any money that they couldn’t start a file.

Warren did fill out a form and send the information along with screen shots of all of his email correspondence to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. However, the agency notes that it does not conduction criminal investigations, but is a central repository for fraud data and provides support to law enforcement agencies by analyzing fraud data.

The agency does estimate that less than five per cent of fraud victims report their experiences to law enforcement agencies in Canada.

If someone suspects they have been the target of a fraud, the centre is urging people to gather all the information they have about the incident including: the name of the person; what the person was trying to get you to do; the telephone number or email address they used; take screen shots or print out key web pages; and report the incident to police. Also, keep all notes and documents like receipts, cancelled cheques, emails and texts, chatroom or newsgroup texts; shipping envelopes; facsimiles; pamphlets or brochures; phone bills; printed or electronic copies of web pages.

And make sure the incident is also reported to the financial institution, if money is transferred, and place flags on all financial accounts.

Still on the hunt for a place, Warren wants his experience out there so others will be cautious while trying to find housing in a market where people can be easily victimized.

“Hopefully no one else gets scammed,” he said.

To report a fraud or more information on what to do if you are the victim of a fraud go to

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Fiery Ex-Police Commissioner John Hamasaki Likely Running for DA




District Attorney Brooke Jenkins could have a real race on her hands.

John Hamasaki, a criminal defense attorney best known for his vocal criticisms of the police as a member of the civilian Police Commission, pulled papers with the Department of Elections Thursday, signaling his intent to jump into the November contest against Jenkins.

Hamasaki has until 5 p.m. Friday to submit nomination documents and pay a $5,886 fee to formally become a candidate.

Hamasaki said he has been considering throwing his hat into the ring for a long time but decided to run following recent “public ethics and integrity revelations” about Jenkins. On Tuesday, The Standard first reported that Jenkins earned more than $100,000 from a nonprofit closely tied to the Boudin recall—while publicly casting herself as a volunteer for the effort.

“Every act that we’ve seen with the new DA has only added to the corruption, incompetence and mismanahgement of the District Attorney’s office,” Hamasaki said. “The District Attorney’s Office needs a leader who is experienced in management, who is experienced in policy who is experienced in working with people on the ground of all types.”

His potential entrance into the race sets up what stands to become a fierce contest between Hamasaki, who could secure backing from the progressive faction of City Hall politics, and Jenkins, whom Mayor London Breed appointed July 8 to succeed recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin and who has the endorsements of leading moderates. 

But Hamasaki and Jenkins aren’t the only two potential candidates in the running.

Joe Alioto Veronese—another former police commissioner whose lineage in local politics dates back to his grandfather, former Mayor Joe Alioto—intends to run in the center of Jenkins and Hamasaki, while attorney Maurice Chenier has also filed papers.

Boudin, who opted out of challenging Jenkins in November but could run again in the future, has not yet endorsed a candidate. He told The Standard that Hamasaki has not asked for his endorsement but would consider offering his support if asked.

“I’m happy to see candidates in the race who are truly independent of the mayor and would be accountable to the people of San Francisco if elected,” Boudin said.

Jim Ross, a San Francisco political consultant who led the Boudin campaign against the recall, called Hamasaki a “very viable” option.

“He gives voters a real strong option and will be a strong contrast to Brooke Jenkins,” said Ross, who is not involved in the current race. “I think he has real proven integrity.”

Ross also said that the recent report about Jenkins earning a six-figure salary could burden her campaign and make it harder for her to broaden her base.

Hamasaki, who runs his own law practice and served as president of the Bay Area Asian American Bar Association in 2020, has lived in North Beach for 28 years. He was born in Miami, Florida, to a white mother and Japanese-American father.

Hamasaki served on the Police Commission from June 2018 until stepping down at the end of his term this April. He was frequently the most willing member of the oversight body to question SFPD Chief Bill Scott during meetings.

Tensions between him and the chief notably erupted in February when Hamasaki challenged Scott over his threat to pull out of a reform agreement with Boudin on who investigates police shootings.

Hamasaki is also a controversial figure for making his views known on Twitter, where he writes posts that seemed intended to get a rise out of his ideological opponents.

One of his posts in particular landed him in hot water last year when Hamasaki tweeted an “uncomfortable truth” about teenagers carrying guns in response to New York police posting about seizing a stolen pistol from a 17-year-old suspect. Hamasaki said he was trying to convey that people live in danger of gun violence and at times need to protect themselves.

The tweet led to calls for his resignation from supervisors on the moderate side of the aisle, Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safai, as well as criticism from Supervisor Myrna Melgar. Hamasaki fired back at Melgar by citing a tweet about her sister’s connection to the troubled police department in Vallejo. He ultimately apologized for the response.

Reached by phone Thursday, Melgar said she would not support Hamasaki’s candidacy for district attorney and that he may have faced an uphill battle even securing a second term on the Police Commission following his social media gaffe.

Melgar said there was a double standard for female politicians like Jenkins, who has faced criticism for lacking experience, compared to men like Boudin or Hamasaki.

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“This guy now walks in and he has never been a prosecutor, he has been a criminal defense attorney, he has never worked for the government and yet he feels like he can be the top prosecutor for the city,” Melgar said. “I feel like the misogyny in that is really, really ripe”

In response, Hamasaki acknowledged that men and women are held to a different standard in society and that he would work to address the issue as district attorney.

Hamasaki said he doesn’t think his fiery tweets will cause problems for his campaign.

“We’re in a different world,” Hamasaki said. “My 93-year-old dad has Facebook … Has every tweet of mine been on point? No. But I think that in trying to challenge the failures of the criminal justice system and the failures of city politics in San Francisco, I have definitely not held back.”

Despite his controversial tweets, Hamasaki’s potential candidacy could still throw a wrench in Jenkins’ plan to win in November and serve out the remainder of Boudin’s term through 2023.

The city’s ranked-choice voting system rewards candidates who may not be the first choice of voters but are considered more preferable options in second, third, fourth and so on. Hamasaki could secure many of the progressive votes that would have gone Boudin’s way had the recalled district attorney decided to make a go at winning back his job.

Jenkins, whose campaign declined to comment on Hamasaki’s foray into therace, will likely secure many of the votes that were cast for Boudin’s ouster after she volunteered as the spokesperson for the recall. But she has never run a campaign and was not particularly well known in political circles until the recall started gaining steam earlier this year.

As for Alioto Veronese, he told The Standard on Thursday that he is positioning himself as a middle-ground option for progressives and moderates. He called the reform efforts under Boudin “a failed experiment” and Jenkins’ appointment a “coup” orchestrated by recall supporter and billionaire William Oberndorff.

“When it comes down to it, it’s going to be me versus Jenkins and I’m going to be taking votes from the progressives and taking votes from the moderates,” Alioto Veronese said. “I’m not going to be pigeonholed into one constituency.”

Sam Singer, a San Francisco political consultant who is not involved in any of the campaigns, said Hamasaki’s reputation and actions on the Police Commission should invigorate the race.

“He’s a very divisive figure,” Singer said. “He is such a firebrand and so unreasonable, it makes him unqualified to be a public servant of any kind. That being said, I have respect for his views. He will make for a lively candidate and a very good bullseye for anyone who wants to go after the progressive left.”

Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected]
Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected].

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