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Pan American Games preparations

October 11, 2011

Backtracking politicians, federal police roadblocks & alleged ‘Social cleansing’ – the preparations for the Pan American Games are well on track then:

Governor does u-turn on exclusive lane fines

The state government has been forced to abandon its plans to implement heavy fines for those who use exclusive Pan American Games traffic lanes without authorization.

Jalisco Governor Emilio Gonzalez admitted defeat this week by accepting there will be no financial penalty for drivers who invade the exclusive and preferential lanes, which are set to take effect on Monday, October 10 and run until October 31.

The governor announced he would withdraw the proposal sent to the Jalisco State Congress due to concern among citizens, although opposition from Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) legislators, who managed to stall the bill, was probably the more decisive factor.

If approved, the proposal would have established fines from 200 to 400 days of minimum wages (between 11,620 and 23,250 pesos) for those who invaded the exclusive traffic lanes.

In a written statement, Gonzalez called on citizens’ goodwill to “work with us in leaving the reserved lanes free for those participating in the games.” In order to ease traffic congestion, the governor asked “all public servants of state government to reduce private vehicle use when commuting to work” from October 10 to 31.

Jalisco Transportation Secretary Diego Monraz later suggested that while traffic cops could not fine motorists for invading the exclusive lanes, they might issue tickets under state transportation law for “disobeying a transit officer” (Article 163: a 116-peso fine) or “not giving way to an emergency or police vehicle” (Article 167: a 580-peso fine).

He added: “Officers will not be going out onto the streets during the games with the purpose of issuing fines but helping with the flow of traffic.”

Federal police officers closed off one lane along a stretch of Avenida Lazaro Cardenas on two days this week in a trial run of the exclusive lane measure.  The results were not positive.  Congestion set in almost immediately and the tail back of vehicles stretched for several miles.

Gonzalez made light of the potential problem, suggesting that if Tapatios have to get up ten minutes earlier while the games were on, it was hardly a high price to pay given the benefits the event will bring.

As a result of the seemingly unavoidable traffic delays, business owners should be tolerant of workers who arrive late during the games, noted Manuel Herrera Vega, a spokesman for the Jalisco Industrial Chamber.

Earlier this week, Gonzalez suggested that after the games the lanes might be kept for some form of alternative transport, and used exclusively carpooling, public transport or cycling.

Federal police checkpoints spring up across city

Federal police officers have installed mobile checkpoints in different parts of Guadalajara and its environs as security tightens ahead of the Pan American Games.

Roadblocks (retenes) will be in operation until the games are over at the end of October, and situated at points considered most vulnerable. These include the athletes’ village, entrances to the stadiums and sports venues, as well as the main highways leading into Guadalajara and in the games’ sub-sites, including the Lake Chapala area.

So far checkpoints in the metro area have been installed on the city beltway (periferico) intersection with Avenida Guadalupe, on Avenida Mariano Otero, between Plaza del Sol and the Expo Guadalajara (the media center for the games), and on Avenida Vallarta, by the Ciudad Granja neighborhood.  Outside city limits, checkpoint have been installed on the inbound lanes of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway just past the Ocotlan intersection and on the highway to Colima near the Outlet Plazas. Several foreign residents from the lakeside area have reported being stopped and asked by officers to show vehicle documents, as well as having their cars searched.

The installation of the checkpoints on Monday caused anger and alarm among many local residents, some of whom complained the measures would further disrupt traffic.

Coordinated by federal police, the security operation also involves state and municipal elements. At each checkpoint there will be between ten and 20 personnel equipped with trucks containing gamma rays. These allow officers to detect weapons or drugs in vehicles that are reviewed.

In total, 11,000 police and armed forces will be deployed across the city, 5,000 of whom are federal agents. There will also be five helicopters (three Black Hawks and two MIs) and even unmanned drones patrolling the skies above the metropolitan area.

Visiting Guadalajara to supervise the security operation, the federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said earlier this week that so far they have received no threats to the games to be held from October 14-30.

A threat assessment report published last week by U.S. organization Stratfor Global Intelligence seemed to corroborate this statement, concluding that “the most dangerous organizations in Mexico have very little motivation or intent to hit the Pan American Games.”

However, the report also warned that “with the attention of the press turned toward Guadalajara, it would not be surprising if one or more cartel groups attempted some sort of body dump or other spectacle in Guadalajara during the games,” given the cartels’ fondness for “macabre theater in order to grab media attention.”

Moreover, despite the many security personnel on duty throughout the games, Stratfor noted that “when one considers that the Guadalajara metropolitan area contains some 4.4 million residents, and that there will be thousands of athletes and perhaps in excess of 100,000 spectators, the number of security personnel assigned to work the games is not as large as it might appear at first glance.”

During his visit, Garcia toured the command center of the Ministry of Public Security, housed in the Expo Guadalajara to monitor safety during the games. The center receives real-time video, audio and data from 650 cameras monitoring different parts of the city, Puerto Vallarta and Lagos de Moreno. The local and federal security agencies will also maintain direct communication with participating countries and even international security agencies such as Interpol.

Mayor denies ‘social cleansing’ ahead of games

Guadalajara authorities have denied accusations of “social cleansing” after removing prostitutes, homeless people and street vendors from certain central areas of Guadalajara ahead of the Pan American Games, which begin on October 14.

Keen for tourists not to see the seedier side of the city, officials have been relocating “undesirable” persons, particularly from the Parque Morelos — a few blocks from the San Juan de Dios Market — which is currently getting a minor makeover.

Both Guadalajara Mayor Aristoteles Sandoval Diaz and Secretary General Roberto Lopez Lara have denied that any form of social cleansing is taking place.

“From the outset, I reject that term. I think there should be support, opportunities and alternatives for people living on the streets,” said Sandoval.

He said the Family Development Agency (DIF), the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Public Safety are working on an “integral” project to bring dignity to the lives of those who live on the streets. However, this did not seem to extend to sex workers.

Despite Sandoval promising in May that “nobody will be hidden during the games,” police began telling sex workers to leave the area more than a week ago. Lupe, a Parque Morelos prostitute, told Spanish-language daily Milenio that she was told  to move out “because many children will be coming past here” when the games begin.

Others were allegedly intimidated. Jennifer, a local transexual,  told the paper that the police “threatened me … and even threw drink at me.”

Lopez stated that the withdrawal of sex workers in the park is due to the facelift program taking place, stressing that city police officers had not acted violently against the prostitutes:

He suggested the sex workers  are only being invited to withdraw, as are the mostly indigenous street vendors, who have “alternatives where they can go.” Regarding the homeless, Lopez promised they could be housed in a special shelter, tentatively at Avenida Hidalgo and Chapultepec.

Lopez said the intention was to “beautify” Guadalajara ahead of the Pan American Games, to present tourists with a better impression of the city.

Local authorities have invested 4.5 million pesos in the Parque Morelos face-lift, installing 15 benches, eight sculptures, a skate park, an outdoor gym and a park for the elderly, as well as reforestation and free wifi internet.

“What people are asking for is infrastructure and security in the park. The problem of prostitutes in the area is very old, not a problem created during this administration,” said the city’s Director of Administration Francisco Ayon. “One would have to ask the locals what they think about the issue,”

The Pan American Village was originally planned to be built beside the Parque Morelos in an urban regeneration project, but the plans went unrealized due to substantial political opposition and the unwillingness of a few local residents to sell their properties to the city government.

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