How an ex-governor accused of corruption nearly returned to power in a Mexican border state

Former Coahuila Governor Humberto Moreira accused of seeking office to obtain immunity on corruption charges.

By the slimmest of margins, the former of governor of Coahuila, which shares a 400-mile border with Texas, lost his bid to return to elected office this week – and, as a result, won’t receive immunity from allegations of massive corruption while he was in power.

Humberto Moreira, who governed the state of Coahuila from 2005 to 2011, was just a couple thousand votes short of winning a seat in the state Legislature, which would have given him access to a “fuero,” a Mexican constitutional perk that allows elected officials to avoid prosecution while in office.

Moreira’s many critics charged that the former governor, who had been arrested on money laundering charges in Spain last year and is reportedly under investigation by U.S. authorities, ran for the sole purpose of obtaining immunity.

Given Coahuila’s re-election rules, Moreira could have enjoyed the immunity for the next 12 years.

During the campaign, Moreira proposed abolishing the fuero in Coahuila, a move that he and his party, the Partido Joven (Youth Party) declared was proof his candidacy wasn’t spurred by darker motives. The proposal, however, never even came up for debate at the Legislature before the election.

A fuero could have come in handy for a politician who has been investigated in three countries.

Soon after he left the Coahuila governor’s office, it emerged that the state was $3 billion in debt, and allegations of corruption during his leadership ran thick.

His former treasury secretary pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in San Antonio in 2014, a scheme that involved washing bribes and fraudulent loans in Texas and Bermuda.

A year ago, he was arrested but later released on money laundering charges in Spain. In February, his mother-in-law’s half-million-dollar home in San Antonio was seized by U.S. Treasury officials.

Cartel-related violence also exploded in Coahuila during his reign. The Coahuila border, which includes the cities of Piedras Negras (across from Eagle Pass) and Ciudad Acuña (across from Del Rio), had once been considered among Mexico’s safest stretches, but devolved into chaos and violence during the Moreira years.

Coahuila Map

Former President Felipe Calderon has gone so far as to accuse Moreira of protecting the murderous Zeta cartel as it waged war against its enemies in the state.

In 2013, Forbes Magazine named him to its list of 10 most corrupt Mexicans.

Coahuila residents didn’t vote directly for him, but rather for his party, in a proportional voting system meant to boost the electoral chances of smaller parties. Moreira would have received his seat had the Youth Party obtained 3 percent of the vote. It received 2.87 percent, according to final vote tallies released Friday.

The so-called “plurinominal” system, instituted in 1977, has come under fire in Mexico for its potential for misuse. While designed to prevent parties with slight majorities in many districts from sweeping to power based on direct voting, it has produced some unsavory electoral winners.

The system is notorious for being used to elect “candidates who have influence within the political party but would not be elected otherwise because of corruption scandals or alleged ties to the organized crime,” according to the Ciudad Juarez news site La Polaka.

Moreira has vigorously denied charges of corruption, pointing to a Mexican Attorney General’s investigation that cleared him in 2012. Last month, after the Reforma newspaper reported that the U.S. Treasury Department had found more than $62 million in offshore accounts held by his wife and sister-and-law, Moreira sued the newspaper.

He has also sued prominent Mexico City journalist Sergio Aguayo after a column related to Moreira’s 2016 arrest on money laundering charges in Spain. Moreira was released in February 2016 after a Spanish judge said prosecutors did not present enough evidence.

Aguayo said he was targeted by Moreira because he is investigating the 2011 massacre in the town of Allende, close to the Texas border city of Eagle Pass, in which the Zetas are accused of killing and abducting more than 300 people and demolishing numerous houses. Critics have long accused Coahuila officials of complicity in the attacks.

 

Ecstasy closer to approval for PTSD treatment?

It’s an exciting time for research into treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, we wrote about a Fort Hood study that found that up to 50 percent of active duty soldiers who went through a 12-session program of talk therapy recovered from their PTSD symptoms, many in a matter of weeks. Now, some researchers are saying a popular — and currently illegal — party drug may improve results for those with chronic, and previously treatment resistant PTSD.

The cognitive processing therapy used in the Fort Hood study has been used to treat civilians for decades, but military PTSD is often more difficult to tame. Combat veterans typically have seen or endured multiple traumatic events, and active duty service members live in a world full of potential triggers, like artillery ranges and motor pools. In the Fort Hood study, combat veterans did not recover at the same high rate as civilians and further studies are planned at Fort Hood in hopes of raising the recovery rate.

At the same time, research into the use of MDMA, commonly known as the party drug Ecstasy, is also showing promise when used in conjunction with PTSD talk therapy. In November, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ MDMA trial to move to Phase 3 research, the final step before the illegal drug’s potential approval as a prescription drug.

In a just-completed stage of the trial, two-thirds of patients recovered from PTSD based on screenings after using the drug. About one-quarter of the study’s 107 trial participants were combat veterans, who told reporters of life transforming changes.

One Army veteran told Stars and Stripes that after taking MDMA and undergoing eight hours of “difficult psychotherapy…the deepest traumas of his deployment rose to the surface.”

According to the article, “MDMA accesses parts of the brain altered by PTSD and floods them with serotonin —  a natural chemical associated with feelings of trust, bonding and well-being. That allows patients to think about their experiences in a more positive way.”

Leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs have cast a jaundiced look at the MDMA trials. Dr. John H. Krystal, the clinical neuroscience division director at VA’s National Center for PTSD, told Stars and Stripes: “We are quite concerned that clinically prescribed MDMA might contribute to the risk for MDMA addiction.”

In addition to MDMA, recent PTSD studies have looked how marijuana, nerve blockers, high blood pressure medicine and even a form of shock therapy may aid recovery.

Alan Peterson, the co-director of the Fort Hood study and head of the STRONG STAR Consortium, a multi-institutional research group funded by the Defense Department and based at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said that it’s unlikely research will uncover a single “silver bullet” that will solve PTSD for all people.

Peterson said it’s possible that drugs or medicine can set the stage for talk therapies like cognitive processing therapy, relaxing patients and putting them in a favorable mindset.

But drugs alone won’t fix the problem. “Somehow you have to figure out a way to work through that memory,” he said.

 

When will glass stop falling from Austin sky-rises?

Glass panels have plummeted from the tops of two of Austin’s most iconic high-rises on five occasions since 2011, tumbling through the air and crashing onto downtown streets and sidewalks.

Luckily, the falling glass has not caused any fatalities. And while the city has quietly moved to make glass balconies safer, most buildings still feature balcony guardrails made of glass that has a history of shattering onto the ground below.

The most recent event occurred last week when a balcony panel fell from the city’s tallest building, the Austonian, raining shards onto Congress Avenue.

rbb Glass 1
Austin fire fighters clean up glass along Congress Ave. on Thursday, August 11, 2016 where glass fell into the street and sidewalk from the 48th floor of the Austonian, Austin’ tallest building. No reported injuries from the broken glass. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

At least four of the five incidents involved what is called tempered glass — panes that have been heated and quickly cooled in an effort to strengthen them. Such glass, which “pebbles” up when it breaks as opposed to falling in in sharp shards, makes up the vast majority of balcony railings throughout the country.

But tempered glass has another, more unwelcome property: in rare, but often highly publicized cases, it can spontaneously shatter, raining the cube-shaped shards onto the ground below. Tempered glass also weakens at its edges. At least one glass failure at the W Hotel was blamed on something — possibly a chunk of falling grout striking the exposed edge of a glass railing.

Safety reforms were made in the aftermath of the W Hotel’s incidents. The building’s free-floating guardrail design was replaced with sturdier rail coverings. In 2013, the City of Austin also amended its building code to require the stronger, and more expensive, laminated glass in railings above streets, pools and courtyards.

Laminated glass, traditionally used in windshields, is made of glass panes sandwiched around a film of polyvinyl resin that make spontaneous shattering highly unlikely (After the W Hotel incidents, the China-built tempered glass in the hotel’s balconies was replaced with laminated panels.).

Last year, a similar requirement was included in the latest version of the International Building Code, which provides the basis for many municipal building codes.

Industry experts say the change is driving increased interest nationally in laminated glass. “We do see more who are moving toward laminated glass in anticipation of adoption of this code,” industry official Valerie Block told the USGlass News Network last month.

Austin’s amendment won’t affect the Austonian and other buildings constructed or permitted before the 2013 change. But as Austin’s skyline continues to transform with sleek downtown high-rises, many of them condominiums with balconies, officials hope it will reduce the amount of glass spilling onto the ground.