On Thursday (September 17, 2015) night, Miguel Fernandez was arrested under a charge of driving while intoxicated. As I usually do, today I am going to connect some dots for you.
There are two men named Miguel Fernandez in the El Paso-Cd. Juárez region. They are father and son. The father is Miguel A. Fernandez Iturriza. The elder Fernandez has been very prominent in PAN politics for many years. Around 1996, the PAN Party split into two factions and by the time the dust settled, the elder Fernandez was well positioned in the PAN politics of the city. This was the launch pad for the PAN rise that led to Fox being elected president of Mexico four years later, breaking the PRI control of Mexico’s government.
The father is the principal of Sistema Argos, the Coca Cola bottling company with distribution concessions in Juárez, Sonora, Baja California and Sinaloa, home of Chapo Guzman. For those of you who do not stay abreast of drug cartel activity you should note that the Juárez cartel, under Carrillo Fuentes, dominated Juárez starting in the 1980’s. That is until Chapo’s drug cartel organization wrestled significant control of the El Paso-Cd. Juárez plaza away from them during the height of the drug violence that started around 2008. A recent law enforcement analysis shows that the Sinaloa cartel (the Chapo group) has significant control of the local drug plaza. It is important to remember that the Juárez cartel was originally formed in the 1980’s by a group of drug traffickers from Sinaloa. The Juárez cartel gave rise to the Barrio Aztecas gang in El Paso.
Former Mexican president, Vicente Fox Quesada, was the first Mexican president to be elected from the PAN Party. Fox was credited with breaking the 70-plus-year PRI stranglehold in Mexican politics. Prior to politics, Fox was Coca Cola’s supervisor of operations for Mexico and all of Latin America.
Additionally, the elder Fernandez, joined a group of other business owners in Cd. Juárez and created “mesas” or “working groups” to bring back stability to Juárez during the city’s drug wars. These “mesas”, in part, have led to various civic groups that have morphed into groups such as Paso del Norte Group (PdNG) and The Borderplex Alliance. Alejandra de La Vega, Paul Foster’s wife and part owner of the ballpark, has also been involved in these various groups on both sides of the border.
The younger Miguel Fernandez owns Transtelco, a communications company providing Internet and other communications services in El Paso and Cd. Juárez. His father has a financial interest in the company through the Juárez subsidiary. His company also owns the building that houses the El Paso Times. Steve Ortega also had his campaign office in that building as well during his campaign for mayor.
Fernandez is on the board of The Borderplex Alliance. The Borderplex Alliance was formed in 2012 as the result of the merging of RedCo and the El Paso del Norte (PdNG) groups. Miguel Fernandez, the son, was also appointed by Vince Perez to the University Medical Center Board of Managers on April 6, 2015. The younger Fernandez has contributed significantly to the various political campaigns locally, at the state level and at the national levels. At the local level, the younger Fernandez contributed to the candidates aligned with the ballpark. He also contributed to the Beto O’Rourke campaign to unseat Silvestre Reyes.
The Juárez media outlets have suggested that the younger Fernandez, a US citizen, was contributing to US campaigns as a surrogate for his father. The same accusations have been levied against Alejandra de la Vega, also a US citizen. Both contributed significantly to the so-called Super PACs.
The Transtelco Enigma
Both the United States and Mexico heavily regulate the telecommunications industry. Strategically, both countries restrict foreign ownership in the telecommunications industry. Transtelco is owned by Miguel Fernandez, the son, in the United States. The elder Fernandez has significant control over the Mexican counterpart. According to an FCC filing earlier this year, the US version of Transtelco is controlled by Miguel Fernandez, the son and Rodrigo Fernandez, unrelated to Miguel. Both of them own 40%, while the rest is owned by Mexican-owned holding companies.
Transtelco, on both sides of the border, is in the business of telecommunications connectivity via fiber optic cables. Established in 2001, Transtelco won a contract in 2009 from Mexico’s telecommunications commission to run fiber optic cable to Chihuahua City. The company was accused and paid a fine for the loss of millions of liters of water when it damaged an aquafer north of Cd. Juárez. Complaints were also filed against the company for trespassing on private property.
In 2006 and in 2009, the El Paso version of Transtelco was awarded a contract by the City of El Paso to install underground conduits in downtown El Paso as part of the city’s Internet initiative to bring free Internet to El Paso. This was in addition to connecting the various government entities with fiber optic cable.
As part of that project, Transtelco laid fiber optic cable on City of El Paso owned conduits on the Stanton Street Bridge connecting fiber optic cable between El Paso and Cd. Juárez. This fiber optic was not authorized by the City of El Paso.
Additionally, Transtelco also received further city contracts for the maintenance of the city’s fiber optic cable infrastructure. In 2011, city council voted to allow Transtelco to use the city-owned conduit on the bridge allowing it to keep the fiber it had previously installed, although the city had not previously authorized it.
It is important to note that there has been little information released about how the city found out about the unauthorized fiber optic cable and the subsequent settlement it entered into with Transtelco five years later, although I have filed numerous requests for information. Obviously you can see how lucrative it would be for a company to own fiber optic cable connecting El Paso, Cd. Juárez and Chihuahua. It is extremely difficult to acquire the necessary permits from multiple government agencies in Mexico and the United States to run cable across the international border.
It is also important to remember that during the time that it was discovered that Transtelco had run cable through El Paso owned conduits, the city was moving forth with the highly controversial ballpark where city hall was previously located. It was during this time, that the El Paso Times sold its building to the City of El Paso and the newspaper moved into the building owned by the younger Miguel Fernandez.
Today, Transtelco provides connectivity services in California, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico, primarily clustered around the maquiladoras.
The city’s former director of technology, Miguel Gamiño, abruptly left the city in June 2013. He now heads the San Francisco city IT department. In 2012, Peter Cooper, the County’s technology chief, also abruptly left the County. Both were heavily involved in the fiber optic project connecting various government entities and attempting to consolidate technology services between the city and the county. Both would have been asked by their respective government entities to identify and explain Transtelco’s unauthorized fiber optical cables on El Paso city-owned conduits.
Although we now know, through city action, that the fiber optic cables installed on city property was not authorized, we do not know how it was discovered, who knew about it and why Transtelco was not only allowed to keep its cables there, but was subsequently issued a license by the City of El Paso for them as well as new contracts to maintain the city’s fiber.
I shared the most relevant pieces of information in order to keep this post readable to you. However, there are many more interconnected pieces between various controversies in Cd. Juárez and El Paso that invariable lead to connections including the Juárez violence that has claimed many lives, including the infamous women murders. To cover all of them would require a book to give you a bird’s eye view.
Many individuals tend to view Juárez as a small backwards city ignoring the many things that Juárez has led in the history of Mexico, especially the rise in power of the PAN party that ended the PRI stranglehold. The elder Fernandez, along with other prominent Juárez families like the De la Vega’s have amassed enormous fortunes but more importantly significant control over infrastructure vital to the growing interconnected global economy, of which NAFTA has played a significant part in.
Although easily dismissed, these familial interconnections, when combined with the controversies of downtown redevelopment that included eminent domain, significant political investment on both sides of the border and the controversies of fiber optic should give anyone pause to consider how they all relate to the politics that ousted Silvestre Reyes from office and used taxpayer monies to build a ballpark under the same failed model that created the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
As you can see, Fernandez is well connected on both sides of the border. The question now, is whether his connections will allow him to disappear into the criminal bureaucracy that keeps connected people out of trouble, or will he be prosecuted and treated like all other individuals in the city. So far, his arrest seems to indicate that he will be treated like everyone else. I’ll keep an eye on this case and update you as the process moves along. Regardless, his arrest gave me an opportunity to superficially touch on some political back current that is generally ignored by El Pasoans who continue to live in the belief that El Paso and Cd. Juárez not interdependent on each other.