* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 126.96.36.199.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Relatives and supporters of six people detained on suspicion of assaulting and raping a group of Spanish citizens near the port of Acapulco briefly blocked the only road to the city's airport in protest Sunday, reports said.
Families of the men said they had been wrongly accused of the attack, which sent shudders through Mexico's crucial tourism industry and among European tourists and expatriates who frequent the southern Pacific coast where it occurred.
Local, state and military authorities in Guerrero state have scrambled to find those responsible for the rapes of the six women Feb. 4 at a beach south of Acapulco's main tourist center and near its zone of upscale resorts. But confusion clearly reigned over the investigation, with separate authorities giving news outlets contradictory information about the suspects.
Their identities and whereabouts were still unknown Monday. Gov. Angel Aguirre added to the confusion over the weekend when he referred to two arrests tied to sexual assaults in the region but which occurred in October and November.
Spain's El Pais newspaper said the victims of the Acapulco assault were all residents of Mexico, not tourists just arrived from Spain, and were about 30 years old. The women declined a medical examination after the attack, Aguirre also said, further complicating the investigation.
Separately, a report released last week by a citizens public-security council in Mexico said Acapulco was the second-most violent city among 50 surveyed worldwide, after San Pedro Sula in Honduras, an added blow to the port's struggling tourism sector.
* Photo by EPA via LAT.
I did not burn down the Peña sign / I applaud the person who did. That’s more or less an invitation. Fuck the law! Those kinds of heroes are needed so that people can become aware that they need to get with it.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- As rescue efforts were winding down Friday at Mexico's state oil company, where a blast the day before killed at least 33 people, workers gathered nearby, saying they were unafraid of going back to work and eager to do so as soon as they were told it's OK.
There would be no business at the tower complex until further notice. Yet on Friday, employees of Petroleos de Mexico, or Pemex, kept showing up. Some were eager to get inside to help with the rescue effort, while others said they were awaiting news of co-workers and friends who remained unaccounted for.
Armed soldiers were guarding all the entrances and exits of the complex. Rescuers from the army, marines, Mexican Red Cross, and the searchers known as topos were still clearing away rubble.
An estimated 10,000 people work at the Pemex headquarters in Mexico City. The workers described it as a cosmopolitan setting, with employees, contractors and visitors from all over Mexico and the world circulating through the building each day.
Carlos Pineda, 45, an accountant who has worked in the main Pemex tower for 10 years, said he was on the 10th floor when the blast occurred Thursday afternoon. Pineda said workers in the buildings were prepared through previous drills to face an emergency such as an earthquake.
Pineda wouldn't speculate on what caused the blast in the basement of the building called B2, which he described as the human resources department, where there is "a lot of traffic."
"We're all asking ourselves the same thing, what happened?" Pineda said. "I really don't know what could have happened. These are administrative offices, not workshops. There are no solvents or anything like that."
Pineda and others said they wanted to know who was injured and who was killed. No official information has been released on the dead. He said he recognizes coworkers by faces but not necessarily by names.
Like others, Pineda said he's prepared to go back to work as soon as possible because Pemex is "so important to the country."
Marco Antonio Franco, a top search-and-rescue official at the Mexican Red Cross, said teams would keep looking as long as there was a possibility that people were trapped under rubble.
"A young man just came up and said he still can't find his father, he went to the morgue, and to all the hospitals, and well that gives us the possibility that someone could still be under the structure," Franco said.
"Ground zero here looks a lot like an earthquake," said Franco, who was among Mexican rescue workers who traveled to Haiti for search efforts after the 2010 quake there.
Carlos Alberto Hernandez, a 38-year-old cleaner in the tower, stood outside an entrance to the Pemex complex waiting for his chance to get inside to help. Others milled about with worried expressions.
"That's why we're here, to support our coworkers, to help look for anyone who might be trapped or injured," he said. "I don't have any anxiety about going back to work, no. Anxiety maybe so I can get inside."
By the afternoon, the Red Cross was pulling out, and the search was being suspended.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Bodies found dumped in a well in northeastern Mexico may be those of the 18 musicians and staff of a band that went missing after a Thursday night performance, authorities said.
The members of Kombo Kolombia were reported missing Friday by family members who said they lost contact with the group after it performed at a bar along a highway about 30 miles north of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state.
On Monday, Gov. Rodrigo Medina told reporters that early signs indicated the bodies discovered the day before in the community of Mina are probably the missing members of Kombo Kolombia. Medina said four bodies had so far been positively identified as members of the band but that authorities were holding off on confirming that the entire group was found until each victim was accounted for.
Jesus Valencia, a Nuevo Leon state spokesman, told The Times that 18 bodies were found in a well with a water wheel at an abandoned ranch near the group's last known whereabouts, a bar called La Carreta, where the band played Thursday night.
After the band's performance, 10 armed men entered the bar and ordered Kombo Kolombia and their staff into waiting vehicles, Valencia said. One of the members managed to escape after the kidnapping and told authorities he watched as band mates were beaten and interrogated. The captors then began executing the musicians, the witness told officials.
His identity was not released, but the spokesman said the musician was under state guard and cooperating with the investigation.
News reports said eight bodies had been pulled out by noon Monday, some wearing clothing described as similar to the band's costumes, and showing signs of shooting injuries and torture.
At least one musician in the group was a Colombian national, authorities said, but no other details were provided.
Forensic investigators were on the scene and family members were providing DNA samples to help with identification of the bodies. There were no details on who kidnapped the band or why it might have been targeted.
"We assume their killers are related to some kind of criminal group," Valencia said. "They could have played a song someone did not like or said something someone did not like. We don't know."
Kombo Kolombia was known to play a style of Colombian music called vallenato, which is related to the imported cumbia genre that is widely popular in Monterrey and now considered a staple of the region's culture. The band was young and did not have a national profile in a country where many large musical groups earn a living playing at festivals, dance halls, and parties in the countryside.
According to reports, Kombo Kolombia was a fixture on the nightclub scene in Monterrey, but was not known to play the popular narcocorrido ballads that glorify the exploits of drug lords. Nuevo Leon is one of the most violent states in Mexico, as the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels and their allies fight for dominance of key trafficking routes north to the U.S. border
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Television viewers in Cuba reportedly had the chance to watch U.S. President Obama's inauguration on Monday via a news feed from Venezuela's Telesur network.
A real-time news feed from Telesur was made available to Cuban TV viewers only since Sunday, "for a few hours a day," state media said.
Obama's inauguration speech was aired Monday on Telesur accompanied by a commentator who cast doubt on some of the U.S. president's assertions, reported Mexico's state news agency Notimex from the Cuban capital, Havana.
It was unclear whether viewers in Cuba also watched the recitation of "One Today," the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote that the "biased vision of Telesur" and the Communist state outlets are "not, today, our only choices." An alternative or pirated digital media market has been active in Cuba "for months now," Sanchez wrote.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Noe Hernandez, a Mexican Olympic medalist who was shot at a bar outside Mexico City and later died, was buried Saturday in his hometown of Chimalhuacan in Mexico state.
Hernandez, who won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 20-kilometer walk, died Wednesday at 34 after reportedly suffering a heart attack as he recovered from the shooting.
Hernandez was shot in the head during a Dec. 30 ambush at a bar in La Paz, in Mexico state east of the nation's capital. Two others died in the shooting.
Hernandez was shot through his left eye and underwent cranial reconstruction surgery. He was sent home on Jan. 8. He died Wednesday on his way to a Chimalhuacan hospital after complaining of pain, one report said.
Hernandez had reportedly received threatening phone calls. At the time of the shooting, he served as secretary of sports for the Institutional Revolutionary Party headquarters of his state.
Mexico state, which borders Mexico's Federal District on three sides, has seen increasing drug-related crime in recent years as gangs splinter and battle for control of the local drug market. A surge of homicides in recent weeks has grabbed headlines in the metropolitan region of 20 million people.
Gov. Eruviel Avila said via Twitter that he will propose Hernandez be bestowed the State of Mexico Prize posthumously.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY — Mexico's capital and its sprawling suburbs in neighboring Mexico state notched at least 32 violent homicides over the weekend, in what authorities described as an atypical wave of violence for the urban core of the country.
Authorities and city political leaders said there were no indications so far that the rash of killings were related to Mexico's powerful organized-crime cartels, but investigations were ongoing on Monday.
Suspected narco-related killings have increased in recent weeks in north-central Mexico and in persistent cartel battlegrounds such as Jalisco and Nuevo Leon states, but the capital has mostly avoided the kind of bloody massacres that characterize Mexico's drug war.
By Monday, doubts about the nature of the metropolitan region's weekend homicides were aired on social media and by news accounts that pointed to cartel-like tactics in some of the deaths.
In Mexico state, which rings the Federal District on three sides, at least 10 people were killed during the weekend, including five unidentified men whose dismembered bodies were found in plastic bags near the capital city, Toluca, reports said.
In two other cases in Mexico state municipalities, the remains of at least five other people were also found. There were no official statements on the weekend killings from the statehouse in Toluca.
Within the Federal District, as Mexico City is formally known, 22 people were killed in various incidents between Friday evening and Monday morning, said Atty. Gen. Rodolfo Rios. Most of the deaths were gun-related but at least one person was asphyxiated and one man was beaten to death in a fight outside a downtown bar, officials said.
In two cases in the boroughs of Tlahuac and Iztacalco, authorities were still determining whether all of the six deaths were a result of conflict between drug dealers, Asst. Atty. Gen. Edmundo Garrido said in a radio interview Monday. The victims were still unidentified.
Garrido said the city averages about two killings a day, a rate that he said has remained steady over the last three years. The weekend's deaths, however, mark an average of a little more than 6.5 homicides over three days. "This is not common for the Federal District," Garrido said.
The killings take place in the jittery so-called transition period between administrations. The six-year terms began in early December at the federal and local levels.
The new government of Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera launched a weapons-exchange program aimed at reducing violent crime in the poor boroughs of Iztapalapa and Gustavo A. Madero. More than 1,000 firearms have been turned in since Christmas.
In Mexico state, residents in some of the most crime-stricken municipalities have taken to the streets to protest growing incidents of violence.
This month, confidence-control tests for the state police force found 2,400 agents deemed unfit for duty among 18,900 tested. Of those, 800 were declared unfit for "serious faults" such as leaking information to organized-crime groups, officials said.
In a Monday column in the Mexico City daily El Universal, journalist Ricardo Aleman called the weekend's homicide tally a sobering wake-up call for the city.
"It's clear that the [Mancera administration], the press, and society are being overwhelmed by a reality that no one has wanted to acknowledge for years," Aleman wrote. "Criminal violence, executions, cartel adjustments, revenge and vendettas between criminal mafias are already among the capital's residents."
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- At least 140 people reportedly have been killed in recent weeks in a suspected drug-cartel struggle over the north-central region of Mexico known as La Laguna.
Attacks and counterattacks are suspected between the Sinaloa and Zeta cartels over the region that is centered around metropolitan Torreon, in Coahuila state, and includes portions of Durango state. Local, regional and federal forces are also combatting traffickers as well as suspected corruption within their own ranks.
Some 140 people have been killed in a span of 40 days in fighting between the paramilitary Zetas and the Sinaloa federation under the control of fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, according to the daily El Universal. On Dec. 18 in the Durango city of Gomez Palacio, 23 inmates and guards died during an attempted jail-break and riot at a state prison.
On Friday, state authorities in Coahuila arrested the police director and subdirector of the city of Matamoros on weapons charges and turned the two over to federal investigators. On Tuesday, authorities rounded up 66 Matamoros police officers for surprise confidence-control tests; only 58 returned to work Thursday night, the Torreon daily El Siglo reported.
The other eight officers' whereabouts were unknown, but the Matamoros mayor told reporters the police officers were "not disappeared."
Attacks have also been reported in recent days and weeks in metropolitan Monterrey and in Jalisco state.The increase in violence came during the first month of the new administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who entered office on Dec. 1. The month of December 2012 saw a slight increase in reported homicides in Mexico over November 2012, the daily Milenio said.
Peña's government has said one of its top priorities is reducing the homicide rate that soared under the government of former President Felipe Calderon. The new administration, however, is so far sticking to the same basic strategy, with some adjustments, The Times reported.
At the same time, the national statistics institute known by its Spanish acronym INEGI said its "public security perception index," measuring how safe Mexicans say they feel, rose in December over the same period last year.
* Post updated. ** Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities said Wednesday that they have identified a fifth possible victim in a recent string of suspected dog-maulings at a hilltop park in Mexico City, a crisis that has sparked protests from dog advocates and victims' families.The city's attorney general's office released a statement saying it was investigating a case involving a 15-year-old girl named Gabriela Nataret Ramirez, who was found near Cerro de Estrella national park on Dec. 16, mutilated and bitten.
Gangs of dogs are suspected in the gruesome deaths of four other people -- including an infant -- at the park in southeast Mexico City in attacks on Saturday and Dec. 29.
Police have rounded up 25 dogs at the park, including seven puppies, and promised sweeps at other large green spaces in the city, starting with Chapultepec Park and Aragon Forest.
But dog owners and activists said the canines rounded up and seen in photographs released by authorities showed no signs of being violent or having been involved in an attack against a human. People were arriving at the city's canine-control center in the Iztapalapa borough, where Cerro de Estrella is located, claiming they were owners of one of the detained dogs, news reports said.
Additionally, some families of the victims have told Mexican news outlets they distrust the investigations so far, saying their loved ones might have been attacked by humans and claiming the dog-attack theory is a cover-up.
Atty. Gen. Rodolfo Rios said at a news conference late Tuesday that the city's top forensic investigators had reconfirmed that the four victims identified through Monday were killed by bites, mauling, and "pressure" injuries. They also found dog hair on the victims' clothing. There were no signs of injuries caused by weapons or humans, Rios said.
On Dec. 29, the bodies of Shunashi Elizabeth Mendoza Caamal, 26, and an infant were found in the Cerro de Estrella area.
Mendoza, identified in some reports as a Guatemalan immigrant who had lived in Mexico for three years, was found with her left arm torn off and missing. An infant said to be her child was found by her side with bite injuries, officials said.
On Jan. 5, the bodies of Alejandra Ruiz Garcia, 15, and Samuel Suriel Martinez, 16, were found in the park in a "semi-devoured" state, officials said. In both cases, authorities said, biting and tearing occurred before and after the victims' deaths. Authorities confirmed that Ruiz called a sister pleading for help as the attack occurred, but the relative initially thought Ruiz was joking.
The wooded Cerro de Estrella park is known for its Holy Week festivities and its large-scale reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. It is also known as a magnet for petty crime, as Iztapalapa residents use the park for exercise, walks and picnics.
It was still unclear whether the dogs suspected in the attacks were strays or so-called "wild" dogs. It was also unclear what would happen to the canines sitting in the Iztapalapa pound, or if any humans would be investigated or found at fault for the attacks.
Officials have also been unable to explain what might have caused the bands of dogs to reportedly attack humans. Rios said the investigation was ongoing and that the detained pups were still undergoing tests.
"The dogs will not be sacrificed," Rios said. "They will be treated well."
Antemio Maya, president of the Pro-Street Dog Assn. in Mexico City, said he spent a day trying to gain access to the rounded-up dogs and met people who said one of the dogs seen in photographs belonged to them.
He questioned the official investigation and warned against a wave of "hate" against the estimated 1.2 million stray dogs that roam the city.
"It's very, very strange. Strays don't care about humans, they care about females in heat," Maya said. Authorities "are making a huge error. They're generating a climate of hate against dogs."
* Photo: Hand-out from the PGJ-DF showing some of the dogs captured in Iztapalapa after the suspected dog-maulings.
** Originally published at World Now and re-published today with some modifications in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- Promised that no questions would be asked, they've brought in handguns, pistols, rifles, grenades, ammunition, and dozens of gun replicas that may or may not have been used to spook a robbery victim.
Hundreds of people have turned in nearly a thousand weapons and at least one grenade-launcher in nine days in exchange for gifts and cash, as well as anonymity, in a holiday pilot program that has exceeded government expectations in Mexico's populous capital.
The program, For Your Family, Voluntary Disarming, was launched at the historic Santuario de la Cuevita church in the crime-toughened borough of Iztapalapa on Christmas Eve, with promises of tablet computers and bicycles for handing over any firearms.
By Dec. 31, when the offer was supposed to end, about 900 weapons had been turned in, said Rodolfo Rivera, the Mexico City police official in charge of the program. His team restarted the exchange on Wednesday.
The tablets and bikes have long run out, but steadily men and women of all ages arrived with nervous expressions and a curious-looking bag or two. Because Mexico's strict gun laws are regulated by the military, uniformed soldiers examined each weapon to determine its worth, then tagged it with tape and piled it with others waiting to be destroyed.
Alfonso Trejo, a 63-year-old from a nearby housing project, said he turned in two revolvers for cash and a despensa, a basic food package in a cardboard box. "You know, kids can be curious. You don't want that fear, you want calm," he said.
Asked the cash amount he was given for the revolvers, Trejo responded, "Things being the way they are, it's a bit for the ride, for a soda pop."
In truth, cash awards started at about $195 for a .22-caliber pistol and went up to $590 for a rifle. The borough government and the police department have split a cost of $203,000 in cash and gifts so far. The program has been extended through Saturday and will move to the northern borough of Gustavo A. Madero next week.
The program is similar to -- albeit more generous than -- one held in Los Angeles for one day last week. In exchange for supermarket gift cards, Californians turned in more than 2,000 firearms, including 75 assault weapons and two rocket launchers.
Serious crime has dropped in recent years within the boundaries of the Federal District, Mexico City's formal name, while drug-related violence has soared in other regions of the country. The Citizens Council on Public Safety and Justice said serious crimes in the capital dropped 11% in 2012.
Yet wide regions of the sprawling metropolitan zone remain under the threat of gun crime. Iztapalapa, the city's most populous borough, has in particular drawn the attention of the tabloid news pages in the past year for sharp increases in drug and gang violence.
On Nov. 2, a 10-year-old boy named Hendrik Cuacuas was killed by a stray bullet as he sat in a movie theater in an Iztapalapa mall, a case that brought attention to a growing local practice of firing rounds into the sky during parties and the borough's many prized festivals.
As young men carrying covered handguns and rifles kept arriving on Wednesday afternoon, Carlos Candelaria, the borough's public safety coordinator, said the gun exchange program would help. Authorities netted 43 more small guns, 12 big guns, six grenades, and 15 "war toys" such as tear-gas canisters.
"This is one less weapon on the streets, possibly one less life [lost], possibly one less injury," Candelaria said.
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MERIDA, Mexico -- Contrary to any Hollywood doomsday scenarios or a variety of less-than-optimistic New Age theories, the world will not end Friday, Mexican tourism authorities and Merida residents assure anyone who asks.
Yes, the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the so-called Long Count of the Maya calendar corresponds more or less with Dec. 21, this year's winter solstice.
But the event merely signals the "end of an era" and the start of a new one, locals and scientists say. Or, as some academic Mayanists have explained, the end of the 13th baktun — a date deciphered from totem glyphs and written numerically as 188.8.131.52.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The city that was once considered one of the world's most polluted and crime-ridden now boasts that it is a haven from Mexico's drug violence and has gone so "green" with new mass transit lines and trendy vertical gardens that it is hardly recognizable from its former self.
Miguel Angel Mancera, the newly sworn-in mayor, vowed this week to continue the socially progressive policies of his predecessor and make Mexico's gargantuan capital "safer, freer, more equal, more progressive" during his next six years in office.
"My government shall be humanist, truthful, honorable, transparent, democratic and united with the people," the mayor said in his first speech after taking the oath of office Wednesday.
Mancera, 46, the former attorney general of Mexico City, holds a doctorate in law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a single father and fitness buff who boxes regularly. The society magazine Quien called him "the golden bachelor" in a recent cover story.
Mancera won the July 1 mayoral election by a whopping 63% of the vote, a margin of victory considered partly a referendum on the liberal Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and its uninterrupted run at City Hall since 1997, when the position of mayor was created for the Federal District, the formal name of Mexico City.
Mancera took the reins of the city's government after the largely successful term of outgoing Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a popular figure who is credited with reducing crime in the capital even as violence soared in other parts of the country and who legalized same-sex marriage and abortion on demand in the city.
The position of mayor is considered a launching pad for higher office in Mexico, but it is also a frustrating barrier for the PRD. Its presidential candidates in recent national elections, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have both been mayors of Mexico City but have been unable to capture the presidency in a total of four attempts.
Ebrard, a product of the more centrist wing of the PRD, was sidelined as candidate in the 2012 presidential election by the populist stalwart Lopez Obrador, who finished second after Enrique Peña Nieto, the new president.
After his swearing-in, Mancera said he would install thousands more high-tech surveillance cameras to further reduce crime. He also proposed the creation of a post in his Cabinet, a U.S.-style city manager, to answer citizens' needs.
On Thursday, his first full day on the job, Mancera waded into the capital's current major controversy, the alleged abuse by police and abitrary arrests of dozens of protesters in clashes during last week's swearing-in of Peña Nieto. The city's human rights commission said Thursday that more than 20 people who weren't involved in the violence had been arrested, including a Romanian journalist taking photographs of the events, and that at least four may have been tortured or beaten.
Mancera urged residents to be patient with legal proceedings for 69 people who face charges of vandalism and disturbing the peace on Saturday. "To say that no one disturbed the peace or public order would be out of touch with reality," he said.
However Mancera's term as mayor turns out, it may not be enough to catapult him higher if he harbors aspirations for the presidency in 2018. For that election, his former boss, Marcelo Ebrard, has already indicated he's in the running.
* Photo via Chilango.com.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Questions are dogging police this week after nearly 100 people were detained and at least 100 others injured -- two seriously -- during hours of raucous demonstrations in central Mexico City as Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico.
In scenes captured on video or transmitted live via Internet streams, demonstrators with their faces covered clashed Saturday with federal police officers outside the San Lazaro legislative chamber as Peña Nieto took the presidential oath of office. Later, more clashes erupted around the Palace of Fine Arts downtown between demonstrators and local police.
From there, masked "anarchists" rampaged through the central city, vandalizing hotels, restaurants and banks. The attacks caused more than $1.7 million in damage, authorities said.
"This was an attack on the city," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said of the protesters who damaged businesses. "They had nothing to do with the day's events."
Ebrard and Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said at police headquarters that at least three anarchist groups had planned the attacks on businesses "for weeks."
Two men were still hospitalized Tuesday, one critically, after being hit during the protests by what activists claim were police projectiles.
Juan Francisco Kuy Kendall, a 67-year-old theater director, was in a coma after he was hit in the head with a projectile outside San Lazaro during Saturday's confrontations, reports said. Further details about his condition were not known.
University student Uriel Sandoval Diaz, 22, was also struck with a projectile at San Lazaro and may lose sight in his right eye, doctors said.
Activists and rights groups are now raising questions about the police operations, claiming that dozens of people were arrested without cause.
YouTube videos show what are described as arbitrary detentions in the historic center of Mexico City. Municipal police are seen rounding up a man who was walking near a taco stand and another man in a suit.
The rights group Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of two Romanian freelance journalists who were detained while covering the demonstrations.
At least seven Mexican journalists suffered injuries or some form of aggression while covering the street protests, the free speech group Articulo 19 said in a statement.
The Mexico chapter of Amnesty International also released a statement urging authorities to respect the rights of those detained.
A spokesman for Mexico City's police declined to answer specific questions about the protests or discuss Saturday's operation.
A spokesman for the federal police did not return calls.
On Monday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, who until recently was chief of police in Mexico City and joined the Peña Nieto government as an operational chief at the federal level, said the clashes were "totally directed" by several anarchists groups.
He said 10 or 12 federal officers were injured Saturday.
The confrontations between police and a variety of protesting groups -- including teachers, students and others -- appeared to set a troubling tone for future relations between leftist organizations in Mexico and the first presidency under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since 2000.
As early as 7:30 a.m. Saturday, protesters made the first of several attempts to storm the San Lazaro chamber, but they were repelled by federal officers using tear gas and high-pressure water, videos show.
Afterward, clashes erupted at various sites near the National Palace, where Peña Nieto gave the first speech of his government before foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president of China.
Similar but smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities in Mexico. In Guadalajara, protesters gathered outside the annual International Book Fair to denounce the ascent of Peña Nieto to the presidency. Police arrested 27 people there; they were freed Monday night after paying fines, reports said.
On Monday, more than 2,000 people marched through central Mexico City calling for the release of more than 60 "political prisoners" who remain in custody and are now facing vandalism charges.
* Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
The talk at DePaul was about the processes in which the populist-progressive current leaders of Mexico City, under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, have re-socialized the core of the city into a "user-friendly" urban enthusiast's playden. The process I think at least partly reduces or represses some of the instinctual, genetic cultural ticks of improvisation and negotiation that define the true capitalino or chilango. "Safety first."
I'll have more about these ideas in future pieces. In the meantime, thank you Hugh Bartling and the DePaul community for the invitation. And thank you, Ector Garcia, gifted artist, for showing me around.
Chicago is impressive and I am eager to return.
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.
This was some radical gang graffiti in Chicago, I guess, proclaiming, "Radicals Against Discrimination," like it was a slogan for a political party or a popular movement.
Somewhere along the north end of the city's shore on Lake Michigan, near Lincoln Park and DePaul University, an idealistic and committed Chicagoan, possibly a young person, decided it was necessary to say what she or he stood for.
Apart from the factor of a strong punk scene in Chicago, the gesture made me smile. People here are straight-up.
Chicago is huge. Some 2.7 million within the city limits and about 9.8 million people in the metropolitan region at large. I was more excited for this trip than any in a long while. What is going on down there? Had just a few short days to gather an impression, in for a talk at DePaul.
While landing, the city looked gargantuan and seemed to spread, dilligently and with evident muscularity, to the far-off horizons. Old-school, built-up, tough, efficient Americana. Chicago.
Upon arrival, the cold was significant. But it also felt good on the lungs. Above, your blogger before the Anish Kapoor sculpture "Cloud Gate" at Millenium Park near the Lake Michigan waterfront.
The Tribune Tower.
Pizza at a neighborhood family pizza spot in Brighton Park, a Mexican barrio near the Mexican Chicago epicenter of Pilsen. I was pretty astounded at first sight but now let's just say it flat and move on. "Chicago is a Mexican city," as ethnographer Daniel Makagon put it one night.
So here we were, a family pizza place on a Saturday night in Mexican Chicago. The pizza crust was amazing; rest of pie, so-so, but it didn't matter. The winning factor was the ambience. Almost everyone inside was brown. Others represented the ethnic diversity that is a standard cosmopolitanism of Mexican barrios anywhere in the world.
Anyone who lives in a pocho/paisa hood inevitably becomes somewhat Mexican themselves, right?
ESTADO is a series of electronic music sets taking place each Saturday this month at the Estela de Luz monument in Mexico City, showcasing the most cutting-edge and challenging emerging talents from four eletronic music centers in Mexico: Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, and D.F.
The Estela, a monumentally distastrous project since its inception, is being gradually claimed as everyday-usage public space along Paseo de la Reforma. This was where the #YoSoy132 movement held one of its earliest and most spontaneous demonstrations. Inside, or rather underneath the structure, a Centro de Cultural Digital was established, and from here, musical performances have taken place on the square at the base of the "Suavicrema."
The ESTADO site is well worth a browsing and listen. Here's a compilation of the artists at Soundcloud, with downloadable tracks.
** PREVIOUSLY: See also, Estrella Cercana, "Teen DJ from Ciudad Juarez, Mock the Zuma, reflects a 'bizarro' reality," "More snapshots from Monterrey, NRML fest," "Estrella Cercana: A newspaper's obituary, Part 4."
It's amazing how deeply communities in the United States have embraced the Días de Muertos of Mexico. There are now hundreds if not thousands of Day of the Dead-related events in cities across the U.S. "Average American citizens" know about the holiday and understand its meaning. In a way, it's probably the most successful cross-over act in recent U.S./Mexico binational relations.
I'd say the phenomenon really took off in about 2000. At the time, the Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever cemetery began popularizing, drawing non-Mexican, non-Latino folks' curiosity. (Check out an archival story I did for the L.A. Times in 2002 on the Hollywood event, which started in 1999.)
From there, the gospel of Muertos spread, helped likely by factors such as increased Mexican migration northward and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which undoubtedly had the effect of reminding Americans' about the fragility of life.
This year, I went to the Day of the Dead festival in Old Town San Diego with my family. The setting is great. Old Town is the city's original Mexican core, settled after the 1769 founding of a Spanish imperial fort on a nearby hillside. On Friday night, Nov. 2, the crowds were only dotted with mexicanos. The rest of the skeletons were everyday coastal Californians.
Here are some photos.
** Originally published at World Now:
Maria Guadalupe Garcia usually spends two hours traveling from her home in southeast Mexico City's Tlahuac borough on bus and microbus to reach the city's west side.
On Tuesday, Garcia, 60, was one of the first riders of a new subway line inaugurated by the mayor and Mexico's president. She said she expects that those two hours of commuting will be reduced to 45 minutes.
"It's going to benefit us so much," Garcia said, standing with her husband, Angel Hernandez, on the platform of the Mixcoac station. "Now, we'll go with calm."
The 12th line of this city's moving hive of a subway system -- the loved and loathed el metro -- opened to the public in what leaders called the most significant and complex public-works project in recent Mexican history.
The new Line 12, or Gold Line, cost about $1.8 billion and is a capstone for the administration of outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The line also represented an unprecedented test for engineers, planners and politicians who had to fend off vigorous protests and legal challenges from some residents.
For riders, the line makes a crucial alteration to the transit landscape of Mexico City: It adds a lateral connection across the southern end of the metro map, crisscrossing four lines and creating transfer points where previously none existed.
The line also connects Tlahuac, a large, semirural expanse on the southeastern end of the metropolis, to the subway grid. End to end, Mixcoac to Tlahuac, the line stops at 20 stations across 15.5 miles of tunnels and elevated tracks.
More than 380,000 people are initially expected to use Line 12 daily. Overall, nearly 4 million passengers ride Mexico City's subway every day, making it one of the largest such systems in the world.
"This is an immense project for Mexico City," Ebrard said. "It is the longest line and turned out to be most complex. We are very proud of our engineers, our workers."
President Felipe Calderon said he was proud the federal government supplied funds for Line 12, meant to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence.
"It was worth it," Calderon said. "This ... is a sustainable solution to the problems of mobility and transport in Mexico City. Moreover, it minimizes the impact of pollution on the city, and that's fundamental."
By noon, smiling, cheering riders were joining the inaugural train on which Calderon and Ebrard briefly rode. An hour later, at Mixcoac station, commuters were already moving about the transfer point as hardy residents of this city do: earphones in, bags held close, eyes alert to the journey ahead.
* Photo: Juana Cisneros, 59, and Jose Hernandez, 52, were among the first riders of the new Mexico City subway line, Line 12, on Tuesday.
** 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:
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:
Mexico's marines on Monday said they detained 35 Veracruz state police officers who were allegedly working for the Zetas drug cartel.
In a short statement, authorities said the police officers were detained Saturday in two groups, 16 at the airport in the city of San Luis Potosi, in a neighboring state of the same name, and 19 in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz.
The marines released the names of the suspected officers but did not offer other details on the arrests or say why they were suspected of working for the Zetas. Four of those arrested were women, the marines said.
Veracruz's government did not have an immediate response to the announcement.
The state has endured intense drug-related violence and crimes as its crucial port on the Gulf of Mexico becomes disputed turf for the Zetas and their rivals, including the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels, and a paramilitary group calling itself the "Zeta-killers." Reporters and photojournalists have been targeted and killed.
The marines are considered a leading elite force against organized crime in Mexico's ongoing drug war.
Marines this month captured suspected Gulf cartel leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," in the city of Tampico. In August, a naval officer was involved in a wild shootout that left two U.S. government employees injured on a road south of Mexico City.
The arrested Veracruz police officers were taken to Mexico City for questioning, authorities said.
** Originally published at World Now:
Five people are under arrest for allegedly driving through low-income neighborhoods in eastern Mexico City warning residents of pending attacks, part of what police called a string of false rumors that have sown fear across the city's east side since Wednesday.
Authorities said five people, four men and a woman, were arrested Thursday evening in the Agricola Oriental neighborhood of the Iztacalco borough.
They allegedly were warning residents through a megaphone to close their shops and stay indoors because a political group known as Antorcha Campesina was heading there to commit crimes, authorities said.
At least one of the people detained told authorities that they were being paid 400 pesos each, or about $31, to spread the warnings, Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said in a radio interview, but the source of the payments was not yet known.
"The cyber branch of this agency is searching for the origin" of the rumors, Rodriguez said.
The incident recalled the 2011 case of the so-called Twitter Terrorists in the state of Veracruz. In that case, two people were arrested and faced charges of terrorism for spreading rumors of attacks on a school in the Veracruz port, but those charges were later dropped.
On Friday, news video showed closed shops, schools and markets across the eastern region of Mexico City encompassing the boroughs of Iztacalco and Iztapalapa, and the suburb of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl in the state of Mexico, where the rumors started.
Authorities said the source of the panic might have been a confrontation between groups of rival bicycle taxi drivers that left one person dead Wednesday in the neighboring suburb of Chicoloapan.
Law enforcement agencies repeatedly affirmed Thursday and Friday that no systematic attacks were occurring in the area. And yet, on social-networking sites, rumors continued to flow of violence at the hands of the Antorcha group or the cartel known as La Familia Michoacana, which operates in the area.
The void of verified information led conspiracy-minded Mexicans to speculate about possible local political interests at play after Mexico's July 1 general election.
Antorcha Campesina is a known arm of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. In Chicoloapan, one report said, the group might be seeking to muscle away business from bicycle cabbies backed by the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, which also governs Iztacalco and Iztapalapa.
Again, confirmation was elusive. A representative of Antorcha Campesina denied the allegations to the newspaper El Economista, calling the group "serious" and not "a criminal organization."
The rumors rattled Mexico City, which has been largely spared of the violence and fear attributed to organized crime in many other regions of the country. The five arrested Thursday were held for "disturbing the peace," as defined by Mexico City's civil code.
"The delicate part is, who was paying them, why and with what interests," said Pablo Fuentes, a spokesman at the legal counsel ministry of City Hall. "There must be more at play, and we have to corroborate that."
** 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 and re-published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times, with added material from the Mexico City bureau:
Fourteen bodies were found in a truck Thursday in the state of San Luis Potosi, at least 17 people have been killed since Sunday in the port of Acapulco, and 12 others were reported killed in 24 hours in metropolitan Mexico City.
The string of bloody reports grabbed headlines in Mexico, reminding the public that drug-related violence continues unabated as the six-year mark approaches in the federal government's declared war on drug cartels.
The bodies were found Thursday in a truck left near a gasoline station on the highway between the city of San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas state. Authorities said in initial statements that all the victims were male and had come from the neighboring border state of Coahuila.
Body dumps along highways are a fixture of the conflict between Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, Sinaloa and the Zetas. San Luis Potosi, however, until recently had not seen the same level of violence as other parts of the country.
In Acapulco, where smaller rival drug-trafficking groups are still locked in a struggle for control, the victims of an attack on a family included a pregnant woman and a 3-year-old boy, El Sol de Acapulco reported, accompanied by graphic images.
They were killed along with a man and two other women in an early Wednesday morning attack on a "humble house" in a low-income neighborhood called Colonia Ampliacion 5 de Mayo, the newspaper said. At least 12 other people have been killed in Acapulco since Sunday.
In Mexico City, seen as a relative haven from the drug-related violence that besets many other regions of the country, 12 people were killed in the metropolitan zone on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Four men were shot to death during a neighborhood street festival in the populous borough of Iztapalapa on Tuesday afternoon.
In Colonia Country Club, an upper-class neighborhood in the Coyoacan district, one suspected criminal was killed in a gunfight when federal authorities served a search warrant on a house. The federal prosecutor's office said two Colombians and one Israeli were arrested, but they were not identified.
Early Wednesday, the owner and five employees of a bar in the suburb of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl were slain by armed men, reports said.
The Mexico City tabloid La Prensa reported that a local crime group that calls itself "The Business" killed the six victims because the bar, La Pachangona, would not pay an extortion fee.
Later, a real estate businessman was gunned down as he left his offices in the middle-class central district of the capital. Jaime Quiroz Gutierrez, 59, was shot three times on New York Street in Colonia Napoles as his two bodyguards watched, some reports said.
With a population of 20 million spread over the Valley of Mexico, the capital's enormous size often means multiple violent attacks can have little effect on daily life, yet the drug war has not been absent from the urban zone.
Scores have been killed in Mexico City and the neighboring state of Mexico since the government's offensive against cartels began in December 2006, official figures show. Violence against women has surged in the state recently governed by President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, The Times reported.
President Felipe Calderon told the National Security Council on Aug. 2 that drug-related homicides had dropped nationally in the first half of the year over the same period last year by 15%. Homicides overall have dropped 7%, Calderon said.
The federal government's drug war death toll remains tallied only until September 2011, at 47,515. Peace activists and some independent analysts say the toll now surpasses 60,000, with at least 10,000 missing.
Other grim stories were circulating in Mexico on Thursday. Four women were found tortured and strangled to death in the northern city of Torreon. In the western state of Sinaloa, armed men killed seven ranchers on Wednesday.
* Photo: A handout photograph made available by Pulso newspaper shows authorities investigating a vehicle that was found to contain 14 dead bodies in the state of San Luis Potosi on Thursday. Credit: Teodoro Blanco Vazquez / Periodico Pulso / European Pressphoto Agency