My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
** Originally published at VICE.com and VICE News, on Feb. 24, 2014.
“I’m a farmer.”
So said Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán when the press asked him what he did for a living on June 10, 1993, following his arrest and extradition to Mexico after years on the run. In a way, no truer words have been spoken in the history of the country’s bizarre and bloody drug war.
Guzmán was indeed a kind of “farmer.” The poppy and marijuana crops under his control were the basis of a multibillion-dollar transnational trafficking empire that would eventually make him one of the richest and most wanted men in the world.
He was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security prison, but in 2001 he managed to escape, cartoonishly, in a laundry cart. Guzmán expanded his reach by trafficking marijuana, heroin, and cocaine into the United States, Europe, and Australia. He is said to exert control over most of western Mexico, parts of Guatemala, and trafficking ports in West Africa. While his nickname means “Shorty,” there’s nothing diminutive about El Chapo’s stature in the illicit drug world. Forbeshas regularly named him in its lists of richest and “most powerful” people.
Guzmán’s prosperous stint as a fugitive came to an end again on Saturday morning, following an epic 13-year manhunt that left a trail of blood and tragedy as Sinaloa, his cartel, ruthlessly fought off Mexico's security forces on one front and combated rival cartels for control of the country’s lucrative drug trade on another.
Shortly before 7 AM, Mexican authorities captured Guzmán in a condominium buildingoverlooking the water in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlán, in Sinaloa. No shots were fired in the raid, which was assisted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Marshals Service, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Condo 401 looks plain, almost shabby, in photos taken after the raid that led to Guzmán’s capture.
Mexican authorities addressed the media on February 22.
Guzmán was flown to Mexico City. In the afternoon, after Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam delivered a brief statement on the tarmac of the international airport, uniformed soldiers wearing face masks led the drug lord from a navy hangar to a federal police helicopter.
Guzmán wore dark jeans, a pale long-sleeved shirt, and a formidable mustache. The kingpin was briefly seen hunched over and wearing handcuffs. He didn’t take questions and wasn’t heard speaking before the helicopter swiftly carried him away to the Altiplano federal prison. (The Justice Department announced on Sunday that it will seek Guzmán’s extradition to the US.)
Mexican authorities also took no questions; the dais and flag that were used for their statements were packed up within seconds of the helicopter’s departure.
Mexicans were left to absorb the fall of a mythic figure in the country's recent history. Many wondered what would come next. Despite recent drug-liberalization initiatives within the United States—the leading drug-consuming nation in the world—Mexico’s drug war has shown no signs of abating.
Guzmán’s role in the US-Mexico drug trade is a mystery, colored by allegations that he or his operatives maintain contact with US and Mexican authorities, perhaps as protected informants.
Jesús Vicente Zambada, a major Sinaloa cartel operative who was extradited to Chicago to face trafficking charges, has claimed in court that US agents in Mexico gave him and other cartel members immunity in exchange for information about rival cartels, particularly the bloodthirsty Zetas. US prosecutors insist that he had no such deal with federal agents. (Zambada is still awaiting trial.)
While associates and relatives of Guzmán have been arrested or killed in shoot-outs in recent years—among those killed was Guzmán's 22-year-old son, Édgar, in 2008—others in his inner circle have been known to move about on either side of the border.
In the summer of 2011, Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel, gave birth to twin girls at a hospital in Los Angeles County. Guzmán married the former beauty queen in a extravagant party in 2007, when she was only 18. Federal agents monitored Coronel, a US citizen, while she was in California. Because there were no charges against her, she freely returned to Mexico with her children.
Guzmán was born in 1957 in a village called La Tuna, located in the Sinaloa municipality of Badiraguato—one of the poorest counties in all of Mexico. His father was a gomero, or poppy farmer, but Guzmán grew up mostly poor and neglected, and eager to prove himself.
Badiraguato is considered the gateway to the "Golden Triangle," the rough and remote poppy- and cannabis-growing region of the Sierra Madre mountain range that runs down western Mexico, dominating Sinaloa and neighboring Durango and Chihuahua. Some of the biggest names in Mexico’s narcotics industry were also born in Badiraguato, including Rafael Caro Quintero, an old-school drug lord who was released from prison on a technicality last August, after 28 years behind bars.
According to the book The Last Narco by Malcolm Beith, Guzmán got started in the drug industry as a lieutenant to Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, considered the godfather of Mexico’s cocaine shipping trade, in what was then known as the Guadalajara cartel. After Félix Gallardo’s capture in 1989, Guzmán and his group within the Sinaloa cartel effectively took over and began expanding, killing, or disappearing anyone who stood in their way. By 1993, when Guzmán survived an assassination attempt in Guadalajara that left an archbishop dead, El Chapo’s legend already loomed large in Mexico.
Pressure began mounting on the government to score a victory against the drug traffickers, which led to Guzmán’s capture in the summer of 1993 by Guatemalan authorities and his extradition to Mexico. Guzmán reportedly enjoyed a lavish lifestyle within the maximum-security prison Puente Grande. According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal profile, he was so well-pampered during his stint in the pit that his set-up rivaled the comforts of his beachside condo in Mazatlán. He had a television and a cellphone to direct his drug empire, selected meals from a menu, smuggled plenty of contraband, and received visits from cartel members and prostitutes. He kept a supply of Viagra on hand.
Guzmán’s escape coincided with the transition to a multi-party democracy after the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was interrupted by the election of President Vicente Fox, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). Fox took office in December 2000 as the first non-PRI president in Mexico’s post-Revolutionary history. Guzmán escaped from Puente Grande a month later.
The country’s bitterly contested 2006 presidential election resulted in a second presidential term for PAN under Felipe Calderón. Immediately after taking office, Calderón launched a military campaign against drug cartels in his home state of Michoacán. The new president even made an appearance in public wearing military fatigues.
Troops rolled into cities and towns within cartel territories, sparking warfare in major cities like Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, Morelia, Acapulco, and Culiacán, Sinaloa’s capital.
The six years of Calderón’s presidential term proved to be the bloodiest period in Mexico’s history since its revolution, more than a century before. At least 70,000 people were killed in drug violence during that time, and some 26,000 people went missing. Only a small fraction of these cases will ever be solved. Most of these atrocities occurred because of a government-approved, prohibitionist drug war in which Guzmán was arguably the most symbolic figure.
Sightings of Guzmán abounded for the next several years. He was said to be in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, and even the US. Narcocorridos about his exploits could be heard in nightclubs, on YouTube, and over the airwaves in northern Mexico (until authorities banned their broadcast). When Guzmán dined out, he would pay the tabs of the other diners. It seemed for a while that El Chapo was everywhere except prison.
In 2009, a Catholic archbishop in the state of Durango said that Guzmán was living just up the road from a town called Guanacevi. “Everyone knows it, except the authorities,” he said.
The Sinaloa cartel made strategic decisions to combat its rivals—the Gulf cartel, the Zetas, and the Beltran Leyva gang—across Mexico. Violence erupted in Guerrero, Veracruz, and Michoacán, with Mexico’s security forces killing and capturing various capos.
Ciudad Juárez saw the worst of the warfare by far. An estimated 11,000 people were killed in there between 2007 and 2012. Over the same span, more than 7,000 civilian complaints of military abuses were registered with the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
In the course of the conflict, the US played an unprecedented role in Mexican law enforcement, making it seem almost as though the US agents operating in Mexico were practically in control of the push to find and capture Guzmán and others. Calderón left office in December 2012 and turned over power to Enrique Peña Nieto, returning the PRI to the presidency and introducing uncertainty about the direction of the fight against cartels.
With Guzmán’s capture, there’s no telling what will happen next. History has shown that the capture of top capos in Mexico often precipitates a violent struggle among splintering forces to fill the power vacuum. The leadership of the Sinaloa cartel is said to have shifted to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Jesús Vicente's father, who is believed to be Guzmán’s second-in-command. But reports have also noted that Dámaso López, a young, flashy capo known as “El Mini Lic,” could position himself strongly within the top ranks of the Sinaloa cartel in Guzmán’s absence.
At the same time, rival cartels could detect an opening in Guzmán’s arrest and seek to regain ground that they have lost to the Sinaloa cartel in recent years. This would be a very dark turn of events.
** Originally published at VICE México:
La última vez que fui a Nueva York, en 2011, cené una noche yo solito en un bistro precioso en Little Italy. Todos mis amigos y contactos estaban o afuera de la ciudad o “muy ocupados”. (Pues ya qué, es Nueva York). Luego, esa madrugada, mi estómago me despertó y me pidió vomitar cada último pedazo de la pasta de cuatro quesos que cargaba. No fue un pedo de alcohol ni cruda, fue solo un misterio.
Otra noche, cené con una vieja amiga en un restaurante seminuevo en Brooklyn donde cada mesero y bartender tenía tatuajes y lentes de pasta. En el sistema de sonido sólo tocaban hits como del 2002 y 2003, o sea, Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs! y Chromeo, todo con una gran sonrisa que no pude descifrar si era de chiste o de nostalgia. En el aeropuerto de regreso a México, sólo quería algo fresco –algo– entonces me compré una manzana roja como de 1.50 dólares en la terminal. Le di una mordida y noté que algo estaba raro. El corazón de la manzana estaba completamente negro.
Bueno, fueron tiempos raros. Era abril, pero el clima se sentía como de febrero. La ciudad estaba fría, lluviosa y todos se quejaban de que el "invierno no terminaba”. No entendía por qué se oscurecía a las cuatro de la tarde; de pronto el cielo se hundía en un morado deprimente.
Lo frío se extendía a la gente.
En el metro una noche regresando de Manhattan a donde me estaba quedando, vi un mexicano bien mexicano parado en mi vagón, seguro regresando de su chamba a la casa. Tenía piel de color madera, ojos chinos, nariz elegantemente grande, cabello brillantemente negro, un verdaderomexica del continente americano. Yo (ya pedo) me le acerqué y le pregunté con toda la buena onda de mi alma que si era de México. El vato me dio la cara más irritada e indiferente de su vida. Claramente estaba pensando: Sí, pendejo, obvio que soy de México y ando aquí chambeando, ya se sabe que esto es Puebla York, entonces ¿qué me miras?
Como buen neoyorkino, supongo. En la ciudad de Nueva York no hay tiempo para pendejadas.
En fin, no la pase bien en 2011. Pero la semana pasada, cuando regresé al Noreste estadunidense por un par de días, estuve resuelto en mejorar mis impresiones, y la ciudad en este caso me consintió. El clima estaba espectacular. Y aunque Nueva York ha tenido sus días duros —el huracán Sandy, la ley racista de Stop-and-Frisk, y la gentrificación y clasismo brutales generados por la corrupción de los grandes grupos financieros— al final sigue siendo una ciudad de gente fregona y movida y bella como lo ha sido por siglos.
Uno se la puede pasar bien, beber bien y definitivamente comer bien. Pero eso sí, si tienes lana/plata/baro/feria. Esto fue lo que comí en 48 horas en New York City, y lo que me costó.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 10:00 PM, ARRIVAL
Llegando, tomé el metro desde el aeropuerto hasta Williamsburg, donde me quedé con una amiga querida. Después de despertar a la vecina de abajo (perdón), me pasaron llaves y decidí tener una noche para salir y ver Brooklyn un ratito antes de un día de trabajo el miércoles en las oficinas centrales de VICE.
El roomie de mi amiga, Scott, decidió acompañarme, y fuimos al Metropolitan en Williamsburg. Es un bar divey, punky, ghetto, ambisexual, queer, de gays no horribles y todos sus amigos. Una noche aquí en el 2011 conocí y hablé un buen rato con una chica lesbiana criada como judía jasídica, súper fregona. Como lo anticipé, esta noche había gente. Hombres con barbas blancas largas y chamarras de piel, modernas de la moda, vestidas con dudes en cachuchas, niñas lindas; era noche de QUEERAOKE. Me tomé dos chelas locales de Brooklyn, a cinco dólares cada una, y le invité una Diet Coke al amigo Scott. Más propina, gasté 16 dólares.
Saliendo quería cenar, entonces pasamos a un deli, de estos lugares que están abiertos las 24 horas y que a veces se conocen como bodegas. Venden de todo: frutas, carnes, cereales, chupe y sándwiches hechos a la orden, al total estilo New York. Me comí un sandwichito de pavo con queso, unos chips y una chela Newcastle. Fueron 11 dólares.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 10:00 AM, BREAKFAST & LUNCH
Al día siguiente, quería un desayuno cute de Brooklyn, pero me desperté tarde, y quería llegar rápido a la oficina. Entonces paré en otro deli sobre Bedford Avenue y aquí al cocinero mexicano le dije: “Me das una egg and cheese”, a lo que contestó: An egg and cheese, you want it on roll?en inglés perfecto.
Los mexicanos chambeando en el Noreste siempre quieren asegurar a todos los clientes —incluyendo a los mexicanos— que pueden hacer bizness en inglés, que son buenos migrantes. El sándwich de queso y huevo con tocino estaba simple, servible. Con un jugo verde de botella, mi desayuno empezó a $8. Al lado, en un café con demasiado estilo, pedí un latte para acompañar, a4 dolarotes.
No tenían canela, como siempre le agrego a cualquier café, y me vieron con cara de loco por haberla pedido. De la noche a la mañana había gastado casi 40 dólares en alimentos, y todo de bar y bodega, nada de lujo.
A la hora de la comida nos juntamos para comer con compañeros de VICE México que también estaban en esos rumbos. Nuestro director de contenido Bernardo Loyola conocía un buen lugar de ramen japonés, en la calle Grand, aunque dijo que Fette Sau era “el mejor restaurante en Nueva York”. No lo dudé, pero todo el chiste del lugar era la celebración de la carne de puerco, puro puerco, y entre nosotros había una vegetariana.
De hecho, el puerco está bastante in en Nueva York, o por lo menos en Brooklyn. Todos los lugares cool parecen tener algo de pork, casi siempre, es pork belly this o pork belly that, pancita básicamente. Le pregunté al artista y galerista William Dunleavy, un amigo de NY que conocí cuando pasó un rato documentando a un grupo de punks en el DF, por qué el puerco es la carne de moda en Nueva York.
“Creo que es porque los judíos jasídicos no comen puerco, y todo en Nueva York es contradictorio a como era antes de la gentrificación”, me dijo Will. “Son economías dictadas por losyuppies que dicen ‘El puerco puede ser preparado deliciosamente por nueve dólares la orden, y eso lo vamos a adoptar y abrazar’”.
Y luego agregó: I think pork is delicious.
** Originally published at VICE México:
Suena como una fantasía para cualquier periodista que ama a su comunidad: mudarte a un barrio emblemático, querido, herido de tu ciudad, y luego, empezar un periódico sobre el barrio, en servicio al barrio – sí, en papel.
Esto es lo que ha hecho el periodista regio Diego Enrique Osorno, uno de los más reconocidos actualmente en México y en el extranjero. Además de ganarse el cariño de las personas por hacer un periodismo de servicio y denuncia, Osorno acaba de lanzar un semanario impreso para abrir un espacio a los jóvenes escritores de Monterrey, y a partir del nuevo periodismo, ayudar rehabilitar su ciudad tan golpeada por la violencia de la guerra contra el narco.
Lanzado el 1 de mayo (“Dia del Trabajo,” Diego me recuerda), El Barrio Antiguo se ha convertido en un fenómeno social en Monterrey en poco tiempo. Osorno es el editor en jefe, y con él colabora como editor adjunto el periodista Diego Legrand, además de un buen grupo de jóvenes narradores reporteros. Como admiramos el trabajo de Osorno, también colaborador de VICE, les compartimos esta conversación con él sobre su proyecto.
“Somos pobres, pero honrados,” me comentó Diego sobre la publicación. Con esa gran declaración en mente, me da gusto anunciar que cada semana VICE México publicará una nota deEl Barrio Antiguo para compartir el buen trabajo que el proyecto realiza, y ojalá para apoyar el periódico con más ojos a nivel nacional e internacional. ¡Bienvenidos!
VICE: ¿Cómo y desde cuándo surgió El Barrio Antiguo y con qué apoyo? Hoy en día armar un periódico impreso nuevo en México no es nada fácil.
* End of the line: a concha below the volcanos at the terminus of Line 12, Tlahuac, Dec. 31, 2012.
I've spent three years reporting stories in Mexico, the region, and sometimes on Mexico-related topics north of the border from the Los Angeles Times bureau here in Mexico City. On top of that, I've been contributing steadily to a bunch of magazines and radio, Web, and video outlets, all places I love.
It's been rad. But, man, I needed to make a move! And I think I've made a good one. Vice is expanding, not contracting. It has vision, huevos, and, most importantly for anyone who wants to do good journalism, cash.
Talks started informally months ago, and it's been a fully pro negotiation and transition with Vice Mexico publisher Eduardo Valenzuela and the head of content here, Bernardo Loyola. I've also been contributing pieces to Vice's New York headquarters, so I'm looking forward to working more closely with the editors at the hub.
For more context, check out these highlights from a recent profile on Vice by The New Yorker, including interesting comments from players such as CEO Shane Smith:
Rupert Murdoch, after his visit, tweeted, "Who's heard of Vice Media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."
"Part of the reason Vice is successful is because we have cash to make stuff. Everyone else is just fucking wandering around trying to find budgets to make their dream project."
"[T]he nice thing about Vice is that it's the future and it's already very profitable."
McInnes told me, "My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint. Don't talk about Israel and the borders, 1967, Gaza -- just find a good burger joint. Conversely, if you're gonna do a thing on farts or poo, talk to experts in digestion, find out the history of what we know about farts, why they smell. Be super-scientific and get all the data. Which is what we did with 'The Vice Guide to Shit.'"
Vice is opening bureaus as quickly as traditional-media organizations are closing them.
Smith told me, "It used to be, back in the day, that news was the most profitable of all shows that the networks did. The Gulf War built CNN. There's a lot of conceptions that news doesn't make money, that young people don’t care about news. But young people obviously care about news -- that's why we're successful."
Still, if Vice is the future of media, it might be argued that, for all its faults, it's no worse than what we already have. For anyone accustomed to the current offerings on cable news -- with its twenty-four-hour cycles and blow-dried personalities rehashing wire reports -- it's hard not to be impressed by Vice's vitality and by some of the topics that it covers firsthand.
Pretty G. ...
My top priority is to always challenge myself, challenge my craft. I'll be editing an established publication again more than ten years after my "EIC" days at the college paper. But, hugely, my primary audience for the first time will be hispano-hablantes en México y Latinoamerica. That's a crazy challenge for this die-hard pocho and I'm eager to take it on!
Admittedly, there's a nostalgia factor also at work here. I grew up checking out Vice as a teenager, picking it up once it started appearing at skate-, head-, and record shops in my hometown. When I lived in L.A., I was around when lil Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter started showing up at the Vice store parties at Sunset Junction. Through friends, I met and really fell in love with one of Vice's original muses, lil baby Dash, and I still think fondly of the time we shared in L.A. with K. Garcia and Nina T., the trouble we'd get into. ... Que descanse en paz.
The magazine, the brand, the broader ambitions of Vice Media have morphed so much, it's remarkable. I am honored to get a chance at joining what I suspect will become a long tradition of good, fucked-up reportage. I start on Monday. Got a story idea?
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's economy grew only 1% in real terms in the first quarter of 2013, the Finance Ministry said Thursday, a stark result for government economists who continue to project Mexico will grow by 3.5% for the year overall.
The figure represents a "deceleration," economists at the Finance Ministry said in a news conference. They laid the blame mostly on external factors, such as growth rates in the United States.
The news of a slowdown came as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration hosts President Obama for the first time Thursday and Friday, with the intertwined national economies high on the binational agenda. The two leaders held a news conference Thursday at the National Palace in the heart of the historic center in Mexico City. On Friday, Obama will deliver a speech to students at the capital's Anthropology Museum.
Other financial signals looked grim for Mexico as Obama arrived here, contrasting with an aggressive media campaign meant to boost global confidence in Mexico's economy. Retail sales have dropped and industrial output has slowed in the first months of 2013, financial news reports said.
In another indicator that hits at the wallets of Mexico's workers and consumers, the inflation rate hit 4.25% in March, an almost 68% increase over December 2012, Mexican economists said.
* Photo by AP via LAT.
MEXICO CITY -- Talk about a tough customer.
Indignant that she didn't get a sidewalk table during the busy lunch hour at a swanky Mexico City bistro, the daughter of a chief federal regulator threatened to call her father and have the place shut down.
Two hours later, according to reports, inspectors from Mexico's consumer protection agency, known by its Spanish acronym, Profeco, showed up in the trendy Roma district and attempted to close the cafe for alleged "anomalies" in its reservation system and in its offerings of mezcal.
But at Maximo Bistrot, a sort of "local-fare" corner cafe where a sit-down meal can cost about $25, the customers apparently wouldn't give up their tuna and wine without a fight. Armed with cellphone cameras, diners reportedly accosted and intimidated the inspectors so severely that the government workers fled, unable to halt operations at the cafe.
"All of this due to the dissatisfaction of one girl, to whom I couldn't give the table she wanted, at the hour she wanted, and well, that's how things are in this country: People with influence can call their daddy and ruin your afternoon," Gabriela Lopez, a co-owner of the restaurant, told one news outlet.
The incident was the latest class and corruption scandal to spark up social media in Mexico.
The so-called "Ladies de Polanco" made headlines in 2011 after two women were caught on amateur video berating and assaulting a pair of police officers near one of the fanciest streets in town. Last year, a wealthy businessman was jailed after video emerged of him knocking out the teeth of a valet parking attendant who did not obey him.
The Friday tussle at the Mexico City bistro comes as the public's honeymoon with the return of the former ruling party has shown increasing signs of cracking. Dissident teachers have blocked highways in Guerrero state and a vote-buying scandal unfolding in Veracruz threatens to derail a national reform agenda.
Under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico with a heavy hand for decades and returned to power last year with the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto, connections and privileges related to political appointments were a social norm. Peña Nieto promised "a new PRI," although most of his Cabinet picks came with extensive experience in previous PRI administrations marked by corruption and abuse.
On Sunday, Andrea Benitez Gonzalez, daughter of the Profeco chief, PRI appointee Humberto Benitez Treviño, apologized on Twitter for any "discomfort" caused by the incident she started at Maximo Bistrot. Her father later followed with his own online apology.
"My sincere apology for the inappropriate behavior of my daughter and the overreaction of my Profeco inspectors," wrote Humberto Benitez, who served as an attorney general under former PRI President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Early Monday, it appeared the "Lady Profeco" drama, as it was quickly dubbed on Twitter, had grown political legs. In a terse statement, a separate federal agency announced it would start an investigation over the Profeco inspection at the cafe, on orders, it said, from the president of the republic.
** Originally published in print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- There were fewer riders than normal on driver Octavio Diaz's bus early Wednesday, the first day that a transit fare hike raised costs from about 4 pesos to 5 for a short trip, a difference equivalent to a mere 8 cents.
But many commuters, drivers, and officials in Mexico's capital seemed to more or less agree that increases on fares for taxis and buses were to be expected considering inflation and rising gas prices.
Ridership "does go down, as people get adjusted," the 39-year-old Diaz said, looking back to half-empty rows of seats on his hurtling microbus. "But then they return to their usual routines."
The fare increase was announced by Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera last week during a holiday, when many capital residents were away on vacation.
Mexico City in recent years has aggressively expanded its public transit system, investing millions of dollars in Metrobus, the city's dedicated-lane bus service, and Ecobici, its shared bicycle program. Both systems expanded rapidly under former Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, and Mancera has said he'll push for more growth.
City officials said bus and taxi fares hadn't been adjusted since 2008 and the city's subway fare, which increased in 2010, will remain 3 pesos a trip, or about 25 cents.
"I think people anywhere in the world prefer not having to pay more for services. However, this increase was necessary," Rufino H. Leon Tovar, the city's transit secretary, said in an interview. "People understand."
Although Mexico City's economy is considered healthy, many workers make meager wages, earning barely more than Mexico's minimum wage, about $5 a day. City officials said the transportation services are still a good deal, but a peso a day in two directions, on two or three separate buses, five or six days a week, can add up.
"You have less to spend in the house," said Araceli Graniel, 63, a retired nurse who was leaving a station at the Hidalgo transit hub. "That pesito that looks like just one, well, in a big family, that's a lot of pesos."
Taxi driver Arturo, who declined to give his full name, called the latest fare increase "one big joke," starting with the requirement that cabbies go to a City Hall office to get their meters adjusted.
"Listen, they said they lowered the city car tax, but I still pay other fees, permits, whatever you want to call them," the driver said. "Excuse me, but that's a big scam, my friend."
Diaz, the microbus driver, said he has worked on the same central-city route for 25 years. Fare hike or not, he doesn't expect a major increase in his earnings.
"Diesel just goes up and up and up and up," Diaz said. "When they raised [the fare] the last time, diesel cost about 50 pesos per loop on my route, and now it costs 115 pesos per loop.... There's never enough money."
* Photo: Commuters wait to board at a mass transit stop in Mexico City. Credit: Omar Torres / AFP
** First published at ABC/Univision. Go here for full video; introduction below:
A couple years ago I went to a magazine party near the ritzy Polanco district in Mexico City. Polanco isn't a place where I would necessarily hang out on a weekend night, but friends from L.A. were in town to DJ at a party. As we were leaving -- tipsy, hungry, and not exactly flush with cash -- the taco gods smiled. We stumbled upon a true D.F. sidewalk taco spot.
The stand was surrounded with people and crackling with energy at four in the morning. It had all the good meats -- bistec, pollo, chorizo -- a full barrage of salsas, queso, and all the Mexican Coke or Boing de guava that your heart could desire. And it was just steps from Polanco's embassies and trendy antros that cater to people who like $15 martinis. I was in heaven, and left a bit ashamed by my own stereotyping. Time and time again, this megalopolis of 20 million people reminds me that one can never hold on to assumed truths about any neighborhood's profile.
Because at the end of the day, everyone in Mexico is a taco lover. No matter your class or zip code, Polanco happens to be an epicenter of excellent street food. In that spirit, here's a hands-on take, if you will, of some of those offerings. As you will see, street food in Polanco can be as delicious -- and as precarious -- as anywhere else in DF. Brunch at the corner, anyone?
* Previously in Intersections, "A taco's taco in Polanco."
** Gracias, Diana O. Cave!
** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 18.104.22.168.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Just days into his job, the top tourism official in the western state of Jalisco was chased and gunned down in a weekend attack that police promptly blamed on the official's previous business-related activities and not on his government post.Jose de Jesus Gallegos was shot to death in his vehicle on Saturday afternoon after a short car chase near a major intersection in Zapopan, a suburb of the state capital of Guadalajara.
According to early reports, Gallegos' driver attempted to outrun the gunmen shooting from a luxury vehicle before another car cut off the official's path, causing a collision. The assailants then reportedly ordered Gallegos from his vehicle, shot him twice with a 9-millimeter firearm, and fled.
Gallegos, identified as a hotel and construction entrepreneur, had only assumed his position as chief promoter of the state's tourism market on March 1. His killing is the first major attack on a ranking government official in Jalisco in the administration of new Gov. Aristoteles Sandoval, which also started just 11 days ago.
Gallegos was buried Sunday amid calls for justice from the business and political elite in Mexico's second-largest city. Leaders also called for more security in Guadalajara's metropolitan region, which has seen increased patrols by military and federal forces after high-profile incidents of cartel-related violence.
On Saturday, hours after the attack, the state's interior secretary said in a news conference that Gallegos' killing was not related to his post in the government but to "economic and business activities he had before being designated secretary of tourism." After those remarks, though, state authorities said Sunday that all lines of investigation remain open.
Regardless, the killing raised the specter of organized crime.
Opposition political leaders suggested that Sandoval did not properly vet his cabinet picks and that the administration should release new officials' financial holdings, "for the good of the state." A hotel chain linked to the dead tourism official reportedly released a statement disavowing any connection to Gallegos.
In Guadalajara, authorities promised to solve the official's killing, but on Monday, the identities of four possible suspects who were detained after the incident remained unknown.
* Photo: Mexican police inspect the crime scene after Jalisco's secretary of tourism, Jose de Jesus Gallegos, was shot to death in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Saturday. Credit: STR / EPA / March 10, 2013.
The executive skyscraper at the headquarters of Pemex -- Mexico's state-owned oil monopoly, where an explosion this January killed 37 people -- is 51 stories tall, plus an elevated helipad at the top. The entire glass exterior has turned a flat metallic yellow from Mexico City's brutal smog. I’ve lived in Mexico for more than five years, and I always think that at sunset, the helipad looks like it could be a sacrificial platform.
Which is now a terrible thought. The victims of the explosion at the Pemex headquarters on January 31 were mostly regular, everyday office workers. They were secretaries, maintenance guys, accountants. One of the dead was a nine-year-old girl named Dafne Sherlyn Martinez who reportedly went to visit her father that day at work. They both died.
According to official sources, a gas leak caused the explosion. But this official narrative has been called into question and some suspect it was a political attack -- another deadly salvo in the hall of smoke and mirrors that is Mexican politics.
Why would anyone try to blow up Pemex? The company is the eighth largest producer of oil in the world, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It’s also a state-run monopoly, making something like $580 billion dollars a year in oil exports, or about a third of the entire country’s GDP. Mexico expropriated its oil industry from all foreigners in 1938, lionizing forever the president responsible for this, Lazaro Cardenas.
The constitution still strictly forbids foreigners from owning any of the oil here, and the popular leftist leader, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the last presidential election in Mexico, promises to "defend" Pemex from "privatization" with everything he’s got, which basically adds up to street protests if his record on the matter offers any guidance. Critics like to say that Mexico is now more adverse to foreign investment than the state-owned oil company of Cuba, a Communist-governed country that gets most of its oil from Venezuela and does permit some foreign investment in its oil holdings.
Yet under state control, Pemex underproduces, underperforms, and is being ransacked by organized crime. In this scenario, global oil companies are eager to bid for the chance to help Pemex in its deep-sea drilling operations, or to make it more efficient, or at least safer (by one count, 127 people have died at Pemex sites in Mexico since 2011). Current President Enrique Peña Nieto supports this plan, too, and this Sunday, the PRI's whole party membership voted in favor of privatizing Pemex. That opens the floodgates; they command a majority in Congress. And so it’s likely that one day soon, Mexico’s oil industry will be "open for business" -- for the first time in seven decades.
If Pemex goes "public," so to speak, who in the long run will reap the rewards? The last time Mexico opened up a state-owned utility to foreign investment, Carlos Slim nabbed Telefonos de Mexico (also known as Telmex) and became the richest man on Earth. Was the explosion at the Pemex complex part of a plan to hasten some privatization at the oil giant by creating a deadly PR disaster? A gas explosion at the headquarters of a gas company does look pretty terrible. Or was it an attack by one of Mexico’s guerilla groups, or some unnamed leftist force opposed to what is seen as Pemex’s imminent privatization? The explosion destroyed a human-resources department. Could it have been intentionally set off in order to rid the company of some incriminating paperwork before the utility opens up to newcomers?
Here's what we do know happened. At 3:55 PM that afternoon, as some workers were returning from lunch and others were ending a shift, an enormous boom and shake emanated from around the basement of a 13-story tower at the Pemex complex called B2, adjacent to the main skyscraper.
Witnesses would later describe it as an "earthquake," as an "expanding wave," and say that it produced "smoke but no fire." Investigators would later say the explosion was "horizontal," that it seemed to "lift" the bottom of the building when it hit.
I visited the site the day after the explosion and got a view of about 20 feet from the floor-level spot of the blast zone, covered in rubble and dust. A bunch of reporters and news cameras watched rescue workers clear the wreckage. One Cruz Roja rescuer I interviewed said that he thought the blast zone looked like earthquake disasters he had worked, and looked at me blankly when I asked if it looked like a bomb had hit, saying little more than, "The investigators are investigating."
There were no flames, witnesses said, and no fire, but walls ripped open, floors collapsed, and windows blew out on at least four floors of building B2. Most crucially, the blast destroyed the building's basement, which is where the Pemex human-resources department was located. Many of the dead were its employees.
It wasn't until a full four days after the blast that an official explanation of what might have happened was made public. Authorities believed that an "accumulation of gas," possibly methane, was ignited unintentionally by a crew of maintenance men working in a tight crevice below the basement. The methane theory was laid out by the government with the use of an architectural model of the Pemex complex, which looked nice on a table but showed us nothing of what is located beneath the buildings. Funnily enough, authorities have still not said with total clarity what the ground beneath the Pemex complex exactly looked like before the explosion.
The investigation was still ongoing, officials assured reporters. But the basic story line -- that four workers for a subcontracting firm that had no history of serious accidents unintentionally lit an apparently odorless and unknown source of methane while performing work on the foundations of B2 -- well, all of it seemed insufficient considering that four days had passed since the explosion killed all those innocent people. That's an epic amount of time when compared to how quickly the dirty details are figured out after any big disaster in the United States.
In four days, all Mexico could come up with was a working theory based on a catastrophic fart.
"My personal reading is that all the hypotheses related to the gases is very weak indeed," David Shields, an experienced energy-sector analyst in Mexico, told me over the phone last week. "There was no methane supply in that building, so where does the methane come from? Where does the gas come from? What I am unhappy about is that they very lightly dismissed the possibility of an intentional explosion, a bomb."
A few days after the government released its official explanation, employees returned to their jobs in the explosion-damaged Pemex complex. I visited at 4 PM that day, right about when the blast hit six days earlier, and stood around the makeshift altar that people had left for the victims near an entrance of guarded gates to the complex.
The place still felt tense, and I was slightly creeped out by my physical proximity to that satanic Pemex skyscraper. Additionally, now there were ghosts involved, and a lot of sad and frightened people, too.
I made attempts at talking to adults I assumed were Pemex workers. Among a gaggle of secretaries, I met a woman who later told me her name was Maria Gallardo. At first, Maria, a chill older lady who wore bangly bracelets but seemed like she'd be good in a fight, looked at me with a mixture of anger and fear as she talked about the entire incident.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim is the world's richest man once more, according to a new Forbes list of billionaires, and Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman was dropped from the list because his estimated drug profit could not be verified.
Guzman, 55, had been a controversial fixture on the list since 2009.
Forbes said this week that Guzman's whereabouts are unknown, and it was unable to verify his estimated wealth as chief of the Sinaloa cartel, which the magazine called the world's largest drug-trafficking network. Last year, Forbes said Guzman controlled about $1 billion.
Guzman's inclusion on the list had been an embarrassment for the white-collar business and political elites in Mexico. The Mexican edition of the magazine reportedly petitioned Forbes' headquarters to have him removed this year.
"Our numbers show that the increased pressure put on the drug trade by the Mexican drug war suggest that he has to spend more of his money on security and bribes to protect his family," a Forbes writer said.
At the top of the list, Slim and his family have a net worth of about $73 billion, based mostly on telecommunications subsidiaries dominated by America Movil, the largest cellphone carrier in Latin America. (America Movil is known to Mexican customers by the names of the Telmex fixed-line and Telcel cellular carriers.)
The 73-year-old widower appeared on the list at $4 billion wealthier than in 2012, thanks in part to amassed wealth in industrial sectors and in retail, such as the Sanborns department stores.
The distinction comes as Mexico's 3-month-old government has sought to take a stance of control over special interests in the country with last week's arrest of the seemingly untouchable chief of the powerful teachers union, Elba Esther Gordillo.
Leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party have made telecommunications reform a top priority early in the term of President Enrique Peña Nieto, stating they plan to boost competition "in all sectors of the economy."
On the billionaire list, Slim is $6 billion wealthier than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose second-place net worth is now estimated by the magazine at about $67 billion.
* Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt for AFP/Getty Images via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Workers at Mexico's state-run oil company have begun returning to the job -- some apprehensively -- amid official declarations of back-to-normal conditions at the headquarters that suffered a deadly work-hours blast last week.
Some workers expressed concern and doubt over the government's initial explanation that the blast was caused by an accumulation of gas ignited possibly by an electrical spark, while others declined to discuss the topic or said evidence pointing to an accidental gas explosion seemed strong.
The workers were interviewed Wednesday, the first full day of operations at the Mexico City headquarters of Petroleros Mexicanos, or Pemex, since the explosion Jan. 31 that killed 37 people and injured more than 120.
Nonetheless, the jitters were visible on the faces of workers who were filtering out of the complex after the 4 p.m. finish to the day's shift.
People in khaki-colored uniforms or office clothing crossed themselves while passing a makeshift memorial to the victims in the shadow of the main executive skyscraper. Signs posted near entrances offered employees psychological services to help cope with any trauma since the blast.
Maria Gallardo, a secretary who has worked for Pemex for 25 years, stood at the memorial and gestured to faces she recognized in a printed photo of the human-resources department that was in the basement.
The government’s explanation of what happened has been met with some skepticism.Pemex has a history of shoddy maintenance, rampant corruption and lax security. Speculation about the cause of the blast has ranged from tragic industrial accident to deliberate sabotage aimed at destroying sensitive documents or derailing efforts of the new government to open the long-protected state monopoly to private and foreign investment.
Luis Alvarez, a 26-year-old plant worker who's been on the job for less than a year, said he participated in rescue efforts in the blast zone. He said he didn't have a reason to believe the explosion was not caused by an accumulation of gas.
"They're saying so many things, you don't even know what to think," Alvarez said. "I wasn't there when it hit. Some said it did smell weird. According to what my coworkers said, those who were there, you could think that what [the government said] is the truth."
Adriana Gutierrez, an office worker of 29 years, stood near a photo she placed in memory of a victim and friend, secretary Laura Gonzalez Sanchez, who worked in a top floor in the main skyscraper and died as she walked past the administrative building when the blast hit.
Gutierrez said the blast might have been intended to destroy records. She said was unafraid to return to work.
The office-worker said she found it "strange" that President Enrique Peña Nieto visited the blast zone hours after the explosion hit, when it was still unclear what had caused the blast or whether any kind of threat persisted.
"It hadn't been clarified what had happened, so why did the president of the republic come? When you look at everything, you say, 'Yes, it's political.' The dumbest person would see it," Gutierrez said.
Authorities have said none of the dead were dismembered or had severe eardrum damage -- typical results of a bomb. The only victims with burns were three workers whose bodies were found in the basement where the explosion occurred, they said.
That is leading investigators to theorize that the workers may have ignited an unseen and apparently odorless gas, possibly with faulty wiring in a lightbulb they connected to illuminate a concrete chamber below the basement.
* Photo: A woman passes the makeshift memorial to victims of the Pemex headquarters explosion, Feb. 6, 2013.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. government's decision this week not to prosecute top executives at the global giant HSBC for the bank's systematic laundering of money tied to violent Mexican drug cartels or to hostile regimes has resulted in an interesting number.
The U.S. fined the bank a record $1.92 billion on Tuesday, saying HSBC is essentially too big to prosecute. With assets, subsidiaries and investments spanning the globe, pressing criminal charges against HSBC could harm the global financial network at large, the Justice Department reasoned.
The fine, coincidentally, is about equal to the amount that the U.S. government has sent to Mexico in security aid in recent years under the Merida Initiative: A little more than $1.93 billion was sent by the Bush and Obama administrations to Mexico since 2007 to help Mexico fight the drug trade.
In other words, the money the U.S. government would collect from the British-based HSBC for laundering cartel cash would match the cost of the six-year security investment that the United States has made in a neighboring country fighting a bloody internal conflict.
The Merida Initiative funds for military hardware, intelligence upgrades and training is meant to help Mexico's government fight a war against drug cartels, which has left at least 60,000 people dead or missing over six years but made no major dent in the trafficking of drugs to the United States.
HSBC operators in Mexico are accused of laundering $881 million in drug profits, primarily for the Sinaloa cartel, as well as other Mexican and Colombian traffickers. In doing so, it violated a variety of U.S. laws and bank regulations, including the Trading with the Enemy Act and Bank Secrecy Act.
"These traffickers didn't have to try very hard," U.S. Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny Breuer said in announcing the decision against HSBC.
"They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day in a single account," using deposit boxes "designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers' windows in HSBC's Mexico branches," Breuer said.
Pablo Galvan Tellez, a banking professor at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute, said banks are their own first line of defense against laundering activity.
"At the end of the day, banks must be glass boxes, where we can see all the tubes of where the money is coming from and where it's going," Galvan said.
Academic Edgardo Buscaglia, a world expert on money-laundering and organized crime, said the fine was a "farce," a laughable sum that amounted to "peanuts." He told a radio interviewer Friday that the fine equaled five weeks of HSBC earnings.
HSBC apologized this week for its "mistakes" and promised to set up better safeguards against laundering. The Sinaloa cartel, meanwhile, is believed to still control trafficking routes over much of western and northern Mexico.
* Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga / European Pressphoto Agency / December 14, 2012.
As I'm coming from Mexico City -- home to 13,000 surveillance video cameras -- I'm always on the look out for a digital eye watching the scene. This is a public security camera in Pilsen, Chicago. It's a reality in 21st Century big cities: the security forces are watching you. Here, they call them PODs, and there are a lot of them in designated "safe zones."
Graffiti and gang-related homicides are a problem in Chicago. This saddening story tells how tweens attempt to make social lives under the threat of gang violence. "I want to be able to walk around in a neighborhood and not think about getting shot," said a girl named Samaiya.
Of course, there is much more to any hood than whatever criminal profile might be attached to it. In Pilsen, we checked out the National Museum of Mexican Art and had burritos on a main strip.
** Originally published at World Now and re-published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?
The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.
Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.
Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.
"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."
Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.
"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."
Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.
"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."
But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.
"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.
* Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia on Plaza Garibaldi, Oct. 27, 2012.
** Originally published at World Now:
They rallied and railed against the dominant media duopoly in Mexico during a crucial election campaign, but now former members of the student movement known as #YoSoy132 are set to appear on a new talk show produced by the Televisa network.
The leaderless movement emerged in protest of Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate who went on to win the July 1 election, and against Televisa and TV Azteca. Together, the media conglomerates nearly monopolize the airwaves in Mexico, making them a target of protests by #YoSoy132 for what it called the networks' biased and favorable coverage of the candidate.
"Sin Filtro," or "Without Filters," is slated to be a weekly Sunday night program on ForoTV, an arm of Televisa. The format is a round-table of university students who will discuss, "without censorship," the pressing issues facing Mexico, host Genaro Lozano said in an interview Wednesday.
Lozano, a 36-year-old international relations professor and frequent political commentator on Mexican news outlets, is not a former member of the student movement, but he helped moderate a presidential debate that #YoSoy132 organized. The unprecedented unofficial meeting with three of the four presidential candidates (Peña Nieto declined to attend) was noteworthy for being organized by citizens and not the federal electoral authorities.
The first installment of "Sin Filtro" is expected to feature Antonio Attolini, a former #YoSoy132 campus representative and one of the most prominent and recognizable student voices during the election. Later, however, Attolini was effectively booted out of #YoSoy132 after other students regarded his many media appearances -- including on Televisa -- as detrimental and distracting to the group's agenda.
Lozano said he understood the criticisms of the new program but added that he would make efforts to reach out to students from a range of public and private universities in Mexico for future on-air panels.
"There is a phobia toward the networks, and that's a historical issue in Mexico," Lozano told The Times. "But I think opening a new space of dialogue is always a good thing, and I hope other such spaces open up on other networks."
He added that he previously had taped a pilot for a similar program on another network, but only within the last two weeks did a contact with the Televisa conglomerate lead to "Sin Filtro." Lozano said he expects to sign a contract for the show with Televisa on Thursday.
Online, the official Twitter account of #YoSoy132 distanced itself once more from Attolini, saying: "#YoSoy132 does not have leaders precisely to avoid that the contradictions of one affect us all." Other Twitter users were less generous, with some dubbing the student panelists who appear on a "Sin Filtro" promo on YouTube as "traitors."
The promo itself is a study of what might arguably be called unintended irony.
Lozano identified the participants as all former members of #YoSoy132, now sitting before cameras belonging to the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also currently tied to a trafficking ring investigation in Nicaragua.
"I'm tired of the fact that the old news media class gives us information in the same manner, and with bias," one panelist, a young woman wearing heavy-framed eyeglasses, emphatically declares. "That is bad for freedom of speech in the country and that's why we're here, to discuss what interests you, without filters."
Attolini, meanwhile, broke his silence on Twitter on Wednesday as the virtual booing and hissing rained down on him. By the afternoon, he tweeted: "The struggle will be infinite if we don't start gaining territory. Now we have it inside the wolf's cave. Let's say the things that are concealed."
"Sin Filtro" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Oct. 28. Lozano said the likely topic will be media democratization, a central issue for the student movement during the campaign.
* Photo: Moderator Genaro Lozano appears in a screenshot of a promo for "Sin Filtro." Credit: Via YouTube
RELATED INSIDE INTERSECTIONS:
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
By Daniel Hernandez and Cecilia Sanchez
ISLA HOLBOX, Mexico — Separated from the Yucatan Peninsula by a lagoon, this pristine island has streets of sand, iguanas that roam among humans, and a police presence best described as casual. In the tiny town on its western tip, golf carts are the primary mode of transportation.
"It's like out of movie, isn't it?" said a chuckling Ramon Chan, a 41-year-old vendor who on a recent day was hacking away at fresh coconuts from a cart on the beach.
In recent years, however, Isla Holbox (pronounced "holl-bosch") has sat at the center of a complex legal dispute pitting powerful developers seeking to build a high-end resort against a group of longtime residents who say they were cheated out of their rights as holders of revolutionary-era communal lands, known as ejidos.
The fight illuminates the growing practice of transferring communal ejidos — which make up slightly more than half of the national territory — to private hands, a practice that was authorized in 1992 but remains a legal twilight zone.
In separate cases, nine islanders allege that Peninsula Maya Developments offered to buy their individualized ejido parcels in a 2008 deal to which they agreed. But in the process, theejidatarios allege, the developers also persuaded them to unwittingly sell their permanent, constitutionally guarded titles to the Holbox ejido at large.
Because Mexico's agrarian law refers to "inalienable" titles toejidos, the islanders are asking courts to nullify the dual sale of their parcels and titles.
In response, the company said the sales were legal and clear and suggested in a statement that the ejidatarios are trying to shake them down for more money than the original price of about $388,000.
The developers contend that the ejidatarios are challenging the deal through loopholes in the ejido laws, which established strict codes meant to protect the rural peasant class from abuse by private interests. The suits over the $3.2-billion development plan are working their way through Mexico's agrarian tribunals, with one awaiting a hearing before the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the island simmers with discord, and the eastern end, where La Ensenada resort would be built, remains untouched.
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico's lower house of Congress has passed a major labor-reform law -- the first changes in employment regulations in Mexico since 1970 -- that would alter the way bosses and employees interact before, during and after a job.
For organized workers like Antonieta Torres, a primly dressed 44-year-old government office assistant wearing eyeglasses, the law spells uncertainty.
"It's possible that there could be more jobs, but at miserable wages, with exploitation of workers," Torres said during a large union rally. "It would hurt all of us."
The outgoing administration of President Felipe Calderon, which succeeded in passing the bill with help from the party of incoming President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, said the law would boost job rolls and competition in the labor market.
For union members, the measure -- which is now on its way to Mexico's Senate -- would strip workers of what they called few relative benefits they enjoy under existing regulations, which they argue favor employers and large companies anyway.
The reforms would permit bosses to hire workers for trial periods and to base promotions on productivity, not seniority. The law also would ease the firing process and permits hourly wages, instead of the day-wage of existing law.
The hourly-wage portion of the new law seemed to crystallize the complaints for Torres and throngs of organized workers and professionals who were rallying on Thursday outside the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, ahead of the vote. If anything, it reminded union members how little workers make in Mexico's economy.
Minimum wage in Mexico was raised 4.2% this year to 62.33 pesos per day, in the highest of three region-based brackets. For an eight-hour day, that comes to a grim-looking 7.79 pesos per hour -- or about 60 cents.
The measure would not alter the daily minimum wage, which is set by Mexico's Labor Ministry. But opponents fear that employers will use some workers for only a few hours a day and pay them at the hourly rate.
"They pay us so low, and they would pay us even lower by the hour," said Torres, a member of the telephone workers union.
Torres stood among members of unions actively opposed to the bill before it passed early Saturday --telephone workers, jobless electrical workers, and former pilots and flight attendants of the defunct Mexicana airline.
"What do you mean we want competition?" asked Juan Jose Reyes, 52, an unemployed electrical worker since 2009, when the Calderon administration disbanded and replaced the Luz y Fuerza utility.
"If there is no education, no work, and thus no money, so what are we competing with?" Reyes said. "It's like going to war without a weapon."
These union members' impassioned opposition to the law pitted them against other larger unions more beholden to political deals tied to elections.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is set to return to Mexico's executive branch under Peña Nieto and racked up seats in Congress in the July 1 election, was opposed to the provisions of the Calderon reform that would seek transparency in unions' internal elections.
The major unions, such as the national teachers union led by the feared leader Elba Esther Gordillo, are widely regarded as corrupt, wasteful, and often in electoral alliances with the PRI.
In the revision process for the reform bill last week, those union-transparency portions were in effect removed. The law passed just before 4 a.m. Saturday after a divisive and often dramatic debate in the chamber. It must still pass the Senate before being enacted.
Leftist-coalition legislators called the bill "treason" and "occupied" the chamber's dais, forcing the president of the lower house to conduct some of the debate from a tiered balcony.
But for all their protesting, the left could do little against the majority posed by the PRI and Calderon's right-leaning National Action Party. The bill passed with 346 votes in favor and 60 against, plus one abstention.
* Photo: A sign against the proposed labor-reform measure is raised outside the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico City on Thursday.
** Originally published at World Now:
A cousin of the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, has become a part owner of the San Diego Padres, and a married couple who are Mexican millionaires have taken control of Chivas USA, a Major League Soccer team.
The deals, announced in separate reports Wednesday, widen the reach of Mexico's hyper-wealthy in the high-stakes world of professional sports in Southern California.
The sale was reported to be worth $800 million during negotiations, but details on the final purchase price paid by members of the team's new minority group of owners were not revealed. Harp's wealth is estimated at $1 billion.
From its Carson-based clubhouse, meanwhile, Chivas USA announced that Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, the founder and chief executive, respectively, of the Omnilife nutritional supplements company have acquired the second half of the squad's ownership from partners, becoming full owners.
Vergara and Fuentes are already owners of the original Chivas in Guadalajara, the popular First Division team in Mexico's second largest city. The details of the Chivas USA deal were not released.
It's been a good week for Fuentes, one of Mexico's wealthiest women. On Tuesday she was named a chief patron of the newly renovated Rufino Tamayo Museum, which accompanied a minor controversy in Mexico's art world.
Fuentes' name appears prominently in a renovated gallery inside the museum, along with a gallery named in honor of billionaire Carlos Hank Rhon, brother of the scandal-ridden former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon. Critics bemoaned the presence of the Hank Rhon name inside the museum as a symbol of the increasing privatization of public art institutions in Mexico.
* Photo: Chivas USA fans gather for opening day at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in 2005. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
** Originally published at World Now:
For travelers who've never been to the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza, a virtual window into the site's pyramids and plazas is available online, among 30 archaeological zones in Mexico now mapped by history's greatest peeping Tom: Google Street View.
From the comfort of a computer, any Internet user anywhere can now zoom in and examine the perfect form of Chichen Itza's Kukulkan pyramid, known also El Castillo, or the Castle.
On Google Street View, a viewer can almost feel like they might tumble into the Sacred Cenote, or natural sinkhole, where Maya priests practiced ritual sacrifice. Or imagine cavorting on the Plaza of the Thousand Columns. Or maybe do some souvenir browsing, up close and in intensely high resolution.
Google and Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, announced the new maps last week. Using a 360-degree camera mounted on a bicycle, Google captured "street views" of other major archaeological sites in Mexico, such as Monte Alban in Oaxaca and Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.
The Internet search engine has focused its publicity campaign for the new maps on images captured at Chichen Itza, one of Mexico's most storied tourist destinations. But for travelers who have been there, could Google Street View now be better than the real thing?
Consider: A recent (physical) visit to Chichen Itza confirmed that tourists are no longer allowed to climb the Castillo pyramid, no more tackling its famous 91 steps that President Felipe Calderon recently climbed in a widely mocked tourism video.
Visitors can no longer actually, physically cavort among the plaza of the columns. In fact, most of the structures at Chichen Itza these days are off-limits to tourists, who must settle on snapping photos behind wire barriers. Worse, the archaeological zone is also overrun with vendors from the neighboring communities, making a non-virtual visit a somewhat disappointing experience overall.
Since Chichen Itza was declared a new Seven Wonders of the World site in 2007, access has been limited due to concerns over deterioration and also because the site's restoration process is ongoing, said an INAH spokesman.
The same is true at the Palenque zone in Chiapas, the spokesman said, where a visitor like you and me may no longer be able to climb that site's spectacular structures. But on Google, at least, there's a decent shot of a man in an orange polo with a sweat towel on his head.
* Photo: A view of the Kukulkan pyramid, or El Castillo, at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatan. Credit: Google, via INAH
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico this week quietly signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, a controversial multinational treaty that sponsors say protects intellectual property but opponents call an assault on privacy and freedom of expression.
Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico signed the agreement Wednesday on behalf of the Mexican government in Japan. The signing immediately set off condemnation among Internet activists in Mexico, who called the government's move a strategic ruse in an election year.
Mexico's Senate must ratify the treaty, but the chamber rejected ACTA in 2010.
By signing it while Congress is not in session -- and just days after the presidential election -- the administration of President Felipe Calderon is in effect forcing the issue to the front of the agenda once the new Congress convenes in September and before Calderon's term expires. The president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, assumes office for a six-year term in December. Peña Nieto has so far not indicated a position on the treaty.
ACTA has been negotiated and debated by world governments since it first emerged in 2008. The agreement would help improve international efforts to prosecute content and intellectual-property piracy, including digital and Internet platforms, but also covering trademarks, brands and pirated pharmaceuticals.
Opponents say governments could abuse ACTA and target private users with criminal charges for downloading copyrighted material, for example, or force Internet service providers to monitor the online activity of users and turn data over to authorities.
The United States is a key signatory as of October 2011 with Australia, Canada, Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan. Last week, the European Parliament rejected ACTA in a crucial vote, a setback for the treaty. ACTA is "too vague, open to misinterpretation, and could therefore jeopardize citizens' liberties," the parliament said in a statement.
Mexico's signing, although contingent on ratification by the new Senate, revives momentum for ACTA supporters.
Rodrigo Roque Diaz, director of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, or IMPI, said in an interview that the government would ask Congress to develop legislation in the fall that would "jointly" protect Internet users concerned about privacy.
"The idea is not to criminalize the independent, private user of the Internet; the idea is to sanction those who are violating author rights on a commercial scale," Roque Diaz told The Times.
Piracy in Mexico, which is commonly associated with outdoor markets where illegally produced DVDs and CDs are sold, "generates great economic and tax losses" estimated at 2.7 million pesos (about $200,000) an hour, he said.
Activists in Mexico promised this week to vigorously oppose ratification of ACTA once the Senate convenes. They've started a Twitter campaign to request that each senator-elect stake out a position now.
So far, leftist legislators are assumed to oppose ACTA, while the ruling conservative party members are assumed to support it. Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party will hold the most seats in the new Senate, but the party's position on ACTA is yet unclear.
Antonio Martinez, a free-speech advocate and one of the forefront voices against the treaty during the Senate's working-group debates on the issue in 2009 and 2010, said the government's signing of ACTA is "trickery."
"It's a very bad signal from the government to the outgoing Senate and to civil society; it's disdainful of all the work done in the legislature," Martinez said Friday. ACTA "is dangerous for what it doesn't say. The IMPI is wrong, and it's almost as though they haven't even read the treaty," he said.
* Photo: A vendor shows pirated DVDs on a sidewalk in central Mexico City in 2006. Credit: Sarah Meghan Lee / For The Times
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico is recounting votes cast at more than half its polling places during Sunday's presidential election, the electoral body said Wednesday, as reports of vote-buying marred the apparent win of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Ballots from more than 54% of polling places will be recounted within 72 hours, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) said. The figure marks a huge increase over the 9% of ballots that were recounted in the long and contentious aftermath of the disputed 2006 election.
The recount began early Wednesday as part of the IFE's normal procedure of validating results gathered from the institute's 300 electoral districts. By law, ballots are recounted when a polling place shows irregularities, such as more votes cast than there are registered voters, a complete sweep by a single candidate or party, or a 1-percentage-point or smaller margin between first and second place.
Separately, the PRI is facing growing accusations that campaigns gave potential voters supermarket debit cards in exchange for their votes, among other allegations.
"They gave us the cards in the name of the PRI and Rep. Hector Pedroza [a PRI congressional candidate], and they said they were counting on our vote," a 20-year-old university student told the Associated Press at a Soriana supermarket in eastern Mexico City.
The PRI and Soriana chain said in statements that they had no such agreement.
Leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has yet to concede defeat after the initial "fast count" that began Sunday night had him about 6 points behind presumed winner Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI.
The recount is not expected to significantly alter the preliminary results. Such a prospect places pressure on Mexico's progressive factions to decide whether they will follow Lopez Obrador on another possible wave of protests and mobilizations like those that shut down the center of Mexico City for weeks after the 2006 vote.
In that race, the final official tally had Lopez Obrador lose the election to current conservative President Felipe Calderon by less than half a percentage point. The leftist leader never accepted those results.
As in 2006, the Lopez Obrador campaign is claiming widespread fraud in the 2012 vote. He reiterated his call for a vote-by-vote recount at every polling place. His campaign also said it would send scores of complaints of vote-tampering and vote-buying to Mexico's electoral tribunal.
"What we are demanding is that the electoral authorities ... assume their responsibility," Lopez Obrador said.
Meanwhile, the emergent national student movement known as #YoSoy132 held an all-day assembly at the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to determine how it would proceed after the apparent Peña Nieto victory.
Due in large part to huge demonstrations led by #YoSoy132 movement, the results of the election have cast a harsh light on the relationship between the PRI; Peña Nieto; and the two leading media networks in Mexico, which control 95% of the airwaves.
Throughout the campaign, most polls showed Peña Nieto with a lead of 12 to 18 points over Lopez Obrador, but the initial results of the actual vote showed the spread to be half that.
The Times noted this week that the PRI's win is weaker than initially expected. And for Calderon's ruling National Action Party, or PAN, the 2012 results are an "unmitigated wreck," as a former party president put it.
* Photo: An official with the Federal Electoral Institute in Mexico City checks one of the ballots cast in Sunday's national election. Credit: Alex Cruz / European Pressphoto Agency
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government on Friday halted a controversial mega-resort development in Baja California Sur after environmentalists said it would have threatened a large coral reef in the Sea of Cortes that has rebounded dramatically from years of damage.
The government canceled the proposed Cabo Cortes project by withdrawing provisional permits first granted in 2008 to the Madrid-based company Hansa Baja Investments. President Felipe Calderon said at the presidential residence Los Pinos that the company failed to provide enough proof that the project would not harm the rich biodiversity of the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Park.
The protected marine reserve of more than 17,550 acres -- most of it at sea near Cabo San Lucas -- has become a symbol of environmental renewal after years of overfishing in the area.
"Due to [the project's] magnitude, we needed absolute certainty that no irreversible damage would be generated, and that absolutely certainty, simply and plainly, was not generated," Calderon said.
The Spanish company did not immediately react to the cancellation of the project. Hansa Baja Investments reportedly has been hard-hit by the Eurozone financial crisis.
Nonprofit groups, environmental advocates and researchers in Mexico campaigned heavily to stop the Cancun-size Cabo Cortes development, arguing that the proposed marina and 30,000-room hotel would be built too close to the reserve, one of the largest and most important in the country.
Since the Cabo Pulmo reserve was established in 1995, the total amount of fish rose by more than 460% over a 10-year period, according to a 2011 study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Greenpeace Mexico said in a statement that more than 220,000 citizen signatures opposing the project were delivered to the federal government last week. The group hailed Calderon's decision as a victory but said that it would still press for investigations of authorities in Mexico's environmental agency over the Cabo Cortes development's permit process.
"The Cabo Cortes project was not only unsustainable, it was also illegal," said Greenpeace Mexico Executive Director Patricia Arendar. "Mexico needs accountability, transparency in the authorization of projects of this kind, and guarantees that environmental rights will be respected."
* Photo: An undated photograph of a humpback whale at the Cabo Pulmo National Park marine reserve. Credit: Prometeo Lucero / Greenpeace
** Originally published at World Now:
In 2006, when he came within a hair of winning Mexico's presidency, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was called a "danger to Mexico" by his opponents on the right, a would-be Hugo Chavez who would plunge the country into an economic crisis.
Six years later, Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, is back and in a second run for the country's top office.
This time around, he has sought to soften his image, and the traditionally conservative business elites now appear open to at least listening to the man bidding to become Mexico's first leftist president in modern times.
On Thursday, Lopez Obrador addressed a group of leading private-sector finance chiefs for the first time in his political career. He was greeted with smirks and chuckles at some points, but drew applause when he said he'd basically "maintain macroeconomic policies" currently in place in Mexico.
"We have no plans to expropriate, we will respect concessions, contracts [to foreign companies]," Lopez Obrador said.
He also told the Institute of Mexican Finance Executives during a freewheeling two-hour breakfast session that he'd aggressively seek to reduce poverty and "combat corruption" and waste through austerity measures.
He said his team believes it can make Mexico's economy grow 6% annually while creating 1.2 million new jobs a year, through a mix of public and private investments, including roads and refineries. His overall model, he said, is rising economic powerhouse Brazil under leftist leader and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
With austerity cuts, the government could save billions of pesos a year, Lopez Obrador added; he'd start by halving the presidential salary and flying in commercial jets if elected.
"If we don't combat poverty and inequality, we will keep seeing frustration, insecurity, and violence," he said.
Lopez Obrador, 59, has been running third for most of this election season heading to the July 1 vote. Yet in recent days, as conservative opponent Josefina Vazquez Mota has made a series of stumbles, he appears to be moving up in some polls.
Still, even a dramatic surge in support for either candidate might be too little, too late, to top the candidate for the resurgent formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, Enrique Peña Nieto, who maintains a comfortable double-digit lead over both.
It was unclear how strongly Lopez Obrador's message resonated with the business group. One attendee, Beatriz Zarur, said that in 2006 she supported Felipe Calderon, the current president. This year, she said she was still unsure whom to support.
"I think he has some interesting proposals, but at the same time, he's got things that I don't agree with," said Zarur, who works for a law firm in Boston and whose mother is an IMEF member.
"I am not a partisan," Zarur added. "I don't care if she's a woman or he's handsome. I'm interested in proposals and in candidates."
Photo: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate of the leftist coalition of Mexico, speaks at his campaign launch March 30. Credit: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
In this report in the Christian Science Monitor, the workers followed by reporter Sarah Miller Llana all appear to be wearing recent U.S. military surplus, clothes concievably manufactured for the United States's war campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Here are more:
So, Mexican workers pushed north to the United States by the economic realities in both countries, returning home to Guanajuato after the U.S. downturn, and starting up new farms wearing soldier gear? No idea.