Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
I once said this song is an "artifact, a witness, an indictment, a prayer." Ten years later, "Dry Drunk Emperor" by the 2000s New York band TV on the Radio remains the most stirring offering in any language of mourning to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
And more potently, ten years after the avoidable disaster, the song is a clear call for revolution. It's references to then-President George W. Bush as a "dry drunk emperor" of "gold cross jock skull and bones" and a "mocking smile" are reminders of the darkest moments of the Bush-era decadence.
In the remembrances this week, where is the acknowledgement of those days' feelings of anger, desperation, disgust? Where is the howling from the bottom of our gut?
I encourage you to listen today to this track and to ponder the power of its lyrics:
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.
Did you believe the lie they told you,
that Christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?
Did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
standing naked for a while!
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.
End their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross-legged god
Gog of Magog
end-times sort of thing.
Oh, unmentionable disgrace
shield the children's faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.
Atta' boy get em with your gun
till Mr. Mega-Ton
tells us when we've won
what we're gonna leave undone.
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
naked for a while.
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.
What if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington.
That would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.
What if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
Organs pumpin' on their sleeves,
paint murals on the White House
feed the leaders L.S.D.
Grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let's meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.
Above, our VICE News documentary produced by the Mexico bureau, regarding the case of Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires.
Our crew spent a week in BA investigating this case, with local producer Gaston Cavanagh. It was one of the more complex stories I've had to cover, because every time we reached what seemed like a reasonable conclusion about something, the next turn, the next interview, completely flipped it.
The assignment was also challenging because it dealt with the thorny themes of anti-Semitism, terrorism, the Kirchners, the opposition in Argentina (the left calls them "the right," but they call themselves "liberal"), and Iran. You decide where you stand on all that.
* Photo by Hans-Máximo Musielik.
Here's a link to my print feature in the January issue of VICE magazine, on the Raul Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School, near Tixtla, Guerrero. Excerpt:
It's said as a slur, but it happens to be somewhat true. The Federation of Campesino Socialist Mexican Students, uniting the student leadership at 16 schools across Mexico, including the one in Ayotzinapa, formed in 1935. One of Ayotzinapa's best-known graduates, Lucio Cabañas, was national president of this group when he studied there. Cabañas would go on to form the Poor People's Party, a militant political organization with an armed wing. The group kidnapped politicians and operated a radio signal over a wide region in the Sierra de Atoyac.
The students believe in direct action today as well. Through their "Struggle Commission," for example, they take over buses and toll booths. Masking their faces, the Ayotzinapa students charge a flat 50-peso toll on any vehicle that passes, be it private, public, or a commercial passenger bus. We watched as they did this for a few hours one day at the Palo Blanco toll booth. Some motorists I approached in line said they supported the Ayotzinapa students, but about just as many said they were nothing but vandals and hooligans.
Photo by Marco Antonio Cruz.
Today marks 20 years since a previously unknown army emerged from the rain forests of the indigenous highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, and declared war on the government. It was a landmark day. Even in early 1994, as a 13-year-old middle-school kid living in Southern California, I knew something huge was happening in my parents’ homeland. And I started to pay attention.
That same day, the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA was going to launch the hemisphere into the age of the globalized economy, inducting Mexico into the club of developed nations. There was what seemed to be an infallible hope of more and better and cheaper goods would pour in from the United States. We were all supposed to be excited about it.
But the armed group that seized parts of Chiapas that New Year’s Day, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), had a much different point of view.
They declared war—specifically on an army dozens of times larger than theirs. The indigenous and poor of Mexico had apparently had enough. Under the autocratic regime of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), or “dinosaurs” as they were more colloquially known, exploitation, inequality, and neglect were the norm. Nothing was changing, and there was no potential for change on the horizon. Peaceful means of protest were no longer an option for the army that called themselves Zapatistas, in honor of the Mexican Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata who took up arms nearly a century before.
The new Zapatistas rightly suspected that NAFTA would do little to better their conditions, or could even worsen them. The guerrillas offered a wake-up call for Mexico, but also, I think, for all of Latin America and for Latino diasporas in the United States.
It was the first armed uprising in Mexico since the country’s “Dirty War” against leftist guerillas in the 60s and 70s (a period that’s been erased from Mexico’s official history, and thus is barely mentioned in the national narrative). It was also considered the first armed uprising in history aided and spread by modern technology and organized through the internet (the EZLN’s first declarations, which were distributed via fax). The guerrillas included men and women, mostly ethnic Maya Indians who spoke Mayan languages. They relied on a charismatic Spanish-speakingmestizo spokesman known as Subcomandante Marcos to send their message around the globe. In short time, Marcos’s pipe, machine gun, and ski mask quickly became iconic.
The armed EZLN rebellion lasted 12 days, costing roughly 100 lives, although that figure remains in dispute. A ceasefire was called, and peace accords began. Those went basically nowhere. A stalemate has hung over the two sides ever since, while political violence and disappearances in Chiapas continue to this day.
On January 1, 1994, no one knew how the Zapatista uprising would play out. But we all knew that Mexico—and a few generations of Mexicans—would never be the same again.
Marco Antonio Cruz, one of Mexico’s most respected photojournalists, managed a photo agency called Imagen Latina at this pivotal time. On the morning after word emerged that the EZLN revolt had begun in the mountains, Marco Antonio and a small group of journalists in Mexico City gathered at the airport and wrangled an airline to fly them to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas state capital, after all routes there had been halted. He covered the earliest and bloodiest days of the EZLN conflict.
Today Marco Antonio is photography editor of Mexico’s storied investigative weekly, Proceso. The magazine has published some of the most memorable shots from the Zapatista movement.Proceso’s Mexico City headquarters is a modest, white-stucco house on a residential street in Colonia Del Valle. I recently visited Marco Antonio there to recall the EZLN revolt through the lens of the photojournalists who were there to document it.
“For many of photographers Chiapas is a state where the injustice, the neglect, has been historic,” Marco Antonio told me. “Much of what occurred after the triumph of the Mexican Revolution [1910-1920] never reached Chiapas. It’s been centuries and centuries of slavery and oppression.
“[Photographer] Antonio Turok had already been living there for 15 or 20 years, and my first trips were in the 80s when the Guatemalan refugees arrived. I also did a project about blindness in Mexico, so I went to communities in Chiapas where people were affected by blindness. I knew the situation. It is a place where people die from curable diseases. Something like this had to happen, and so, when it did, it really wasn’t all that surprising.”
In his dim office, the photographer went on to remember the fear that gripped him the first time he saw uniformed Zapatista casualties following their skirmishes with the Mexican Army, and then how he shared in the thrill that many of us felt years later upon seeing the Zapatistas’ caravan arriving before crowds of supportive civilians in the symbolic core of the nation—the Zocalo central square in Mexico City.
Here are 20 photographs that Cruz shared with VICE that tell us, paired with his commentary, the story of 20 years of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional.
“This is by Antonio Turok, he used to contribute to Imagen Latina, and lived in San Cristobal de las Casas. In the middle of the night on January 1, he came upon the arrival of the Zapatistas and the take-over of the municipal hall in San Cristobal de las Casas. They took the main city halls in the highlands and in the jungle, and the most important one was San Cristobal. And this photo, well, is an icon. It is part of the history of this country, the entrance of the Zapatistas.”
I was in Southern California and Mexico City over the holidays and barely saw any sizable mention of surviellance whistleblower Edward Snowden's Christmas message. It is plain and stirring (and less than 2 minutes).
"A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all," Snowden says. "They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves -- an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought."
Rest in peace, Mike ... journalist, press advocate, warrior.
O'Connor was funny as hell, too, in the face of all the calamity he saw in Mexico. A dry wit that seemed at first to border on the unstable. He used extremely, uh, colorful language whenever warranted. It was fun talking to him on the phone, like we did just a few weeks ago. He'd ring me to shoot the shit for a bit, catch up on deep media-world memes. We'd curse the owners, curse the politicians, make dark jokes about life as a reporter in Mexico.
While working for Tracy Wilkinson at the LA Times bureau in Mexico City, I met Mike and gradually got to know the critical work he did in these years. He'd travel to the most cartel-corrupted regions of the country to investigate the murders and disappearances of local news reporters, and to offer support and guidance for those still keeping up a candle in the darkness. His most recent in-depth report on press security in Mexico for CPJ focused on the state of Zacatecas, which, not surprisingly, is smothered by fear, corruption, and silence.
He did it mostly in secret, to protect his subjects, and to protect himself. He was expert at these topics, shared his advice liberally: no photos of you if you cover corruption and drug war in regional Mexico, all lines should be considered tapped and recorded at all times, BlackBerry BBM (was) the most secure communications method for reporters working on dangerous subjects. In conversations both serious and casual, he made it clear: Never, ever trust the Party.
In short, fue un cabrón de los buenos and he will be missed, sorely. Especially now, as the silencing power of political and mass-media hegemony takes hold in Mexico, as the country returns to official-party rule, and as so many journalists begin falling, whether in intimidation, in selling-out, or in death.
Bad news losing you, Mike. Bad news for all of us.
** Originally published at Thump:
It was 3AM on a Saturday morning by the time we made it to Del Valle, the middle-class mid-section of Mexico City. We inched our way into a tacky, vacant bar where Siete Catorce was scheduled to play a late-night set. Ten Foot, a prominent DJ from London, was playing before a crowd of about eight, and when the Mexicali electronic music producer walked in he went straight for the DJ table. The two hashed it out, and before long, Siete had assumed the position in front of his PC laptop. We were there to watch him make music live on his screen, mixing and manipulating original tracks with nothing but a laptop and a mousepad.
It was a weird, soggy summer night. There were a few strewn about tables, fluorescent lights, people smoking indoors (which is illegal here, but only incidentally), and furtive passages to the restrooms to “powder noses.” The bar wouldn’t have been out of place tucked away in LA’s Koreatown district, and it was a perfect place to dance to Siete Catorce’s mix of tribal, techno, and “emo broken beats.”
A few minutes into his set, I was dancing. A few minutes more and everyone in the bar was dancing.
Dawn approached, and he kept playing. Thin and wily, basked in the glow of his laptop screen, Siete hopped and swayed through his set. Only after every authority figure in the place, from the bartender to the promoter, told him he had to stop, did Siete stop playing. The speakers rested. People were panting, walking around in circles. The young DJ turned to the nearest girl next to him and asked, still bobbing, “Was that good? Did you like that?” But he already knew the answer.
It was good. The girl by his side knew it. I knew it. Even the angry bartender knew it.
Since moving to Mexico City from his native Mexicali—thanks to the release of his EP with local label NAAFI—Siete Catorce has torn through town, playing wherever he can, and frequently winding up crowd-surfing during his sets. From that nameless bar in Del Valle, to the it venue of the moment, Bahía, to Mexico City living rooms dusted with cigarette smoke, he’s been dazzling audiences with a sound that marries Mexican tribal jubilance (à la 3BALL MTY) with an unmistakable feeling of sadness, rage, and foreboding.
It was about time somebody did it.
Life in Mexico is hard right now: traffic is bad, the rainy season was devastating, no one has money, people get paid shit. Encounters with cartel or state violence are basically considered normal. Some economists already think Mexico is slipping into a new recession, even though the cost of food and transportation continues to rise. But night after night, weekend after weekend, the party rolls on. In Mexico City, Siete Catorce (or “7:14”) has been there for us consistently.
“My music is very Mexican but also very tripped-out”—ondeada—Siete Catorce told me. “I like the vibe here. It reminds me of when I lived in Oakland, even in the weather a little bit. I like the vibe of a city that’s always busy.”
Marco Polo Gutierrez was born in Mexicali but was raised mostly in Oakland, CA. He identifies strongly with the Bay Area in his music, tastes, and cultural stance. This got us talking. I went to school in the Bay and spent childhood summer vacations visiting relatives in Northern CA. During one YouTube-scrolling hangout session, we confirmed that we could both rap along with “93 ‘till Infinity.”
“I was born in Mexicali, and when I was two, I went to live in Oakland,” Siete said during a rainstorm in early July. “I lived there till I was 14 or 15. I came over here because they deported my mom, and so, the whole family came back.”
Mexicali is the vast desert sister city to Tijuana. Singer-songwriter Juan Cirerol is from there, and there’s a significant Chinese-Mexican population, but other than that there’s not much going for it. It must have been a tough place to adapt to after feeling the freedom and mobility that comes with life in Oakland.
“Well, over [in Oakland], you’re in the ghetto. It’s dope because there are cultures from everywhere. And you grow up exposed to all that. I just hung out with my cousins. They were stoners and listened to rap and hip-hop. And that’s the environment I grew up in.”
His sound, he explains, is deeply rooted in the all-night birthday and quinceañera parties among relatives that marked his childhood—the hours and hours of cumbia. It’s an experience that almost any Mexican kid can tap into, but in his case, one that is marred by the trauma of a parent’s expulsion from the United States.
In 2007 Siete's mother was deported. He tells me she had to visit a sick relative in Mexicali and used a sister's passport to cross back to the U.S., and was caught. His entire family followed her to Mexicali. This was around the same time that the Baja drug-smuggling corridor erupted in internal warfare—one site of unrest within a country-wide drug war that was getting increasingly out of control. All across northern Mexico, many young producers and musicians at the time were literally retreating to their bedrooms for safety. They dabbled across genres, from sad-core garage to hard-core club. In the process, they developed the personalities that would later become an Erick Rincon or a Dani Shivers, names now defining music in Mexico today.
Siete Catorce started playing piano at the age of five. Once he settled in Mexicali, he downloaded Ableton Live and started taking his first cracks at house and electro. “Then I started making glitch, glitch-hop, dubstep, stuff like that,” Siete said. “But that was a long time ago, when no one listened to Skrillex or anything.”
He explains his start as a producer in recognizable steps: first came the teenage boredom, then the isolation; followed by an introduction to raves, a few lessons in desktop mixing, and a period of dancing around genres and scenes before finally finding a sound. In this case, it was thanks to a cumbia remix he did for the cura of it—the shits-and-giggles.
“You could say that what changed everything was when I remixed a track by Celso Piña, ‘Cumbia del Poder’,” Siete said.
The remix of the Celso was driven by a dubby boom with some hip to it. A DJ in Canada picked it up, and then the music site Generation Bass posted it, Siete recalls. Then, in April 2011, he was invited to open at a party for experimental electronic music in Tijuana.
** Originally published at VICE México:
El miércoles fue 2 de octubre, fecha oscura en México para la gente que le importa una cosita que es la protección de derechos y de la justicia en nuestro país.
En otros años, he cubierto la marcha de los estudiantes y de los señores y las señoras del Comité del ‘68, los que siguen vivos, los que siguen caminando cada 2 de octubre en memoria de los compañeros de las unis y las prepas que perdieron hace 45 años en la Plaza de las Tres Culturas. (QDEP Carlota Botey, ¡presente!)
Créanme que la convicción personal me guía como periodista en esta fecha.
La primera vez que entendí lo que ocurrió en 1968 en México —porque nunca se sabrá a fondo y con claridad— caí en una depresión de varios días, no lo creía y no lo quería creer. ¿Dónde hubiera estado si a mí me hubiera tocado caminar por estas calles en esas fechas y no en las de hoy? ¿Estuviera en Tlatelolco en esos días tensos, antes del inicio de las Olimpiadas en la Ciudad de México, cuando las clases medias del “Mexican Miracle” salieron a reclamar la apertura de un estado autoritario y corrupto?
Y a la vez, se me ha pasado la fecha impredeciblemente. El año pasado, casi ni me di cuenta cuando se aproximaba el 2 de octubre. Al final, no hubo heridos en los demadres entre encapuchados/anarquistas/infiltrados/porros y las fuerzas de la seguridad pública en su labor de “vigilar” la marcha conmemorativa, el baile de putazos de siempre.
Pero este 2013 no pude ignorar el calendario. Desde el 1 de diciembre han ido incrementando los golpes entre la policía y manifestantes que ven tan mal su situación y sus expectativas para el futuro que deciden joder el tráfico en la ciudad, y hasta el acceso al aeropuerto cuando se les ocurre. Pobres. Los polis les pegan, y los ciudadanos les tiran duro hate. En todo caso, se siente un lento aumento en la tensión en el aire, y me preocupa lo que traerán los próximos cinco años —por lo menos para todos los que no directamente vamos a ganar bajo la gloria de la restauración del viejo régimen.
Pero… fuera con la depre.
Los días en el inicio del otoño han estado lindos, y hoy viernes es luna nueva. ¡Todo nuevo! Y como la mañana, el día, la tarde, la noche y la madrugada para mí gira alrededor de la comida, decidí el miércoles marcar el 2 de octubre tomándome unos buenos pulques, schido’la’banda.
En la calle Aranda, atrás del triste y olvidado mercado setentero de artesanías de la calle Ayuntamiento, entre unos baños públicos y el Molinero Progreso (que huele tan rico siempre), está la pulquería Las Duelistas. Sí, ya todos las conocen y ya ha salido en todos los medios y ahora llegan turistas y cámaras casi diario. Lo hermoso de Las Duelistas es que a pesar de la atención mediática, no ha cambiado: es un lugar para los viejitos de la colonia que conocen los secretos milenarios de este regalo del maguey, y los chavos estudiantes que lo han “descubierto” de nuevo. (¿Podemos ya dejar de hablar del descubrimiento de estas generaciones al pulque? Ya pasó, ¿no? Por su attn., gracias).
Mi amigo El Ponce me trajo a este lugar por primera vez en 2008 cuando llegué a vivir al barrio. Era cuando apenitas el amigo ponk El Xuve estaba elaborando los bellos murales del panteón de dioses mexicas que ahora decoran el lugar y lo hacen (creo yo) uno de los espacios más especiales en el Centro. El dueño Arturo Garrido siempre me ha dado la bienvenida. Sus curados, más.
Este miércoles en Las Duelistas, me atrajo el tuit de diario de la noche antes, anunciando los curados del día próximo:
Miércoles de Mango, Betabel, Avena, Apio y Guayaba y de botana unos Frijoles guisados con chorizo acompañados de una salsa molcajeteada— Las Duelistas (@LaPulqueria) October 2, 2013
Llegué con mi compañero de VICE México, Alejandro Mendoza, y empecé con un curado de betabel, uno de mis favoritos de este lugar. Como me iba a quedar a tomarme por lo menos dos tarros hoy, pedí la botana, esta vez unos frijoles con chorizo, picados con cebolla y cilantro, y unas tortitillas simples.
La pulquería estaba llena ya de jóvenes y grandes. A tres cuadras de aquí, la policía de la ciudad ya tenía sus vallas metálicas cerrando el paso a la Alameda Central, a Bellas Artes y a Madero. Pero eso no se sentía adentro de Las Duelistas.
Le pregunté a mi servidor de siempre que dónde estaba Don Arturo. Ahí anda, me dejó saber, “A ver si va a la marcha”, agregó, y no entendí si hablaba en serio. En pocos minutos llegó Don Arturo, nos saludamos y sólo se quejó de que los policías hubieran tomado el Centro de nuevo.
Me eché p’atrás el de betabel. Pedí luego un curado de apio, sin chile, sólo sal y limón. Para este entonces, ya sentía la peda de los 400 conejos. Me sentía feliz, fuerte y no quería que las madrizas que seguro venían más tarde en la calle me bajaran la buena vibra.
Los frijolitos me llenaron bien. Me acerqué a la rockola, y, como por instinto, busqué Panteón Rococó. Ahí estaban. Por unos segundos, pensé en pedir “Nada Pasó.”
No, esta vez no. Qué cliché. Qué tristeza. Mejor otra… ¡Salud!
Otras pulquerías donde he chupado, sin fichas directas. (¡Búsquenle, que esto no es Chilango Punto Com, dudes!):
La Ana María, en la Colonia Portales
El Salón Casino, en la Colonia Obrera
La Risa, en Mesones en el Centro
Un puesto en la Merced
La Pirata, por Patriotismo
La Antigua Roma (por si te atreves), sobre Allende, cerca de Garibaldi
No Más No Llores, allá en Xochimilco
La Titina, por Misterios y Calzada de Guadalupe
Un puesto de tacos en la México-Cuernavaca libre, después de Tres Marías
** Originally published at VICE México:
Este texto, originalmente escrito en inglés y con el título de “Reign Over Me” fue publicado en el número especial sobre la Ciudad de México de la revista culinaria neoyokina, Swallow Magazine. Swallow presentó el número en el DF a finales de junio de este año. Esta traducción se publica cortesía de los editores de Swallow.
Me gusta pasar mis tardes de domingo en el centro de la Ciudad de México. Siento una fascinación particular por los barrios repletos de Tepito y la Lagunilla, domingueando por los tianguis que operan desde antes de la llegada de los españoles.
Voy en busca de las últimas películas de acción en formato pirata de alta calidad. O algo de los puestos de “películas de arte”. Discos con 60 mp3s, cada uno a diez pesos, disponibles en cantidades industriales a cada cuadra. Camisetas de calidad. Jeans. Tenis. Porno. El paraíso de los compradores.
Siempre hay jale en el centro. Todos tienen su jale. El chico que trabaja en el puesto reparando teléfonos y el tipo que maneja el camión destartalado. El que reparte tarjetas para el table y la anciana que mira hacia abajo desde su balcón. Los franeleros apropiándose de lugares de estacionamiento que no les pertenecen. Los policías.
Durante mi primera estancia en el centro, recuerdo que me sentía rodeado por el segmento social más honesto de la ciudad.
Tepito es uno de los barrios más antiguos y con más historia del DF. Entre los hijos nativos están Raúl Macías, el boxeador que acuñara la humilde frase “Todo se lo debo a mi manager y a la Virgencita de Guadalupe”. Jugadores de futbol como Cuauhtémoc Blanco. El Tirantes, ese bailarín de calle trajeado con un bigote espeso y tirantes brillantes que sabe bailar swing, mambo y chachachá mejor que cualquiera en la ciudad. Y no olvidemos a Doña Queta, que mantiene el altar local a la Santa Muerte.
Tepito es ilegal, inseguro y prácticamente autónomo. Todos los días de la semana, excepto los martes, funge como un mercadillo al aire libre, repleto de importaciones ilegales de todo tipo, un lugar donde se pierde la línea entre los artículos de marca y sus falsificaciones. Como dice el más querido refrán del barrio: “Todo está a la venta menos la dignidad”.
Los domingos por la mañana reviso mis bolsillos para evaluar cuánto efectivo me queda después de salir de fiesta viernes y sábado por la noche. Me subo al metro, transbordo en Garibaldi, y bajo una parada después hasta la Lagunilla, o dos más hasta Tepito, la estación que porta un guante del boxeador como su glifo oficial. Las escaleras que bajan a la estación están repletas de puestos; el mercado prácticamente se desborda hacia el subsuelo. Corro hacia arriba, un poco de sudor precompras en la frente, para adentrarme en el barrio bravo.
Cuando llega la hora de comer, me pongo mi cara seria y me abro camino a través de las filas de puestos callejeros, rumbo al oeste hasta un puesto en Matamoros, entre dos locales de DVD. El viejo encargado de la parrilla siempre me mira con los ojos entrecerrados y el ceño fruncido, como si emitiera un mal olor que sólo él puede oler. No importa, aquí se prepara un excelente taco. Bistec, suadero, longaniza, chuleta y tortas de obispo. La torta de obispo es un pedazo de carne de cerdo con hierbas y nueces machacadas adentro, es un plato tradicional de Toluca. Hasta donde tengo entendido, este puesto es uno de los pocos lugares en la capital donde se sirve.
El viejo domina el arte del taco y emplea una serie de estrategias impresionantes que sólo puedo describir como taquear al estilo DF. Fríe las papas en la misma grasa donde se cocina la carne, y luego le echa un puñado de ellas en cada taco. Tiene un enorme recipiente con frijoles de la olla en la mesa para que el cliente complemente su taco al gusto. El caldo de los frijoles se escurre por tu taco, empapando la doble tortilla. Por si fuera poco, puedes acompañar tu taco con una de dos salsas: una roja aceitosa y oscura, con abundantes semillas de chile, o una verde que por alguna razón parece amenazante. Pido tacos de todo tipo, pero invariablemente, siempre termino con "una de obispo".
Entre mordidas, mastico una hoja de pápalo cruda de una cubeta sobre la mesa. Sirve para borrar el paladar y separar los sabores. Me siento en silencio a comer, junto a una familia de extraños que salen a pasear en domingo o junto a un vendedor tatuado con una gorra. El viejo simplemente gruñe cuando llega la hora de pasarle mis monedas. No hay problema. Gracias, murmuro. Ya comí.
Las heridas de mi cruda cósmica comienzan a sanar. La cerveza también ayuda.
* Foto vía.
** Originally published at VICE México:
El domingo 7 de julio, los principales partidos políticos de México se pelearon alcaldías, congresos locales y la gobernatura de Baja California, en las primeras elecciones de intermedio durante el gobierno priista de Enrique Peña Nieto. Las elecciones, que se realizaron en 14 estados, estuvieron repletas de acusaciones, ataques, secuestros, levantones, pleitos y hasta muertos; la misma cochinada de siempre.
Lo más visto de esta jornada electoral se presentó en el estado de Veracruz, dominio de impunidad del cacique-rey priista Javier Duarte, y en Baja California, donde el PAN tuvo que unirse con el PRD para intentar defender el primer estado que dio a la alternancia (en 1989) contra una ofensa del “nuevo PRI.”
Allí en la línea, parece que el conteo del PREP brevemente “falló”, igual que en Veracruz. Pero para el lunes, el PAN se quedó con Baja California en las manos. Y en Veracruz, pues lo mismo de siempre, pero dentro de una clima de violencia e impunidad, con mucho más abstencionismo.
Estaba podrido el asunto desde mucho antes.
Por lo menos dos candidatos fueron asesinados durante la campaña (véase abajo), y unos cuatro dirigentes o militantes locales también murieron por violencia. El viernes antes del voto, el líder nacional del PRD, Jesús Zambrano, acusó que líderes de varias campañas locales fueron levantados, atacados o desaparecidos en cuatro lugares: Rosario, Sinaloa; Chalma, Veracruz (donde la caravana de un candidato fue atacada); y en Guadalupe y Jerez, Zacatecas.
* Foto de Cuartoscuro, vía.
Día de sufragio feo
En Tijuana, una bomba molotov fue lanzada a la casa de campaña de la candidata priista a regidora, Leticia Castañeda. En Tantoyuca, Veracruz, el Partido Verde acusó encontrar 24 bombas molotov (según del PAN) en un auto.
En Chihuahua, Chihuahua, el presidente nacional del PAN, Gustavo Madero, no pudo votar en su casilla, conocida como fuertemente panista, porque amaneció el lugar con un candado y un letrero dirigiendo la reubicación de la casilla a una dirección falsa. “Con esta sola acción pueden quitarnos más de 500 votos”, Madero dijo en Twitter.
El instituto electoral de Oaxaca informó que un grupo robó y quemó paquetes electorales en el municipio de Santo Domingo Petapa, del Istmo. En la capital del estado, maestros de la Sección 22 de la SNTE tomaron radiodifusoras como parte de su boicot a los comicios.
Hubo balazos en una casilla en Culiacán. Y luego en Cancún, autoridades de Quintana Roo detuvieron a 45 integrantes de un supuesto “grupo de choque” ligado con el PRI local. Finalmente, el PAN en Durango acusó que 12 operadores fueron detenidos por autoridades a lo largo del día, en diversos lugares.
* Jaime Orozco Madrigal, foto vía.
Los muertos de estas elecciones
El día de domingo amaneció con el reporte de balazos contra una casa de campaña del PRI en Coxquihui, Veracruz, incidente que dejó un muerto. Luego, una dirigente panista dijo que hubo haber sido “fuego amigo”. Y bueno, en ese mismo municipio, el 17 de junio, un pleito entre gente de estos dos partidos ya había dejando un muerto.
En el municipio de Mecayapan, también en Veracruz, un joven perredista de 17 años fue apuñalado mientras grababa afuera de una casa de campaña del PRI, donde supuestamente estaban repartiendo despensas a cambio de votos. El asesino de Feliciano Castillo Martínez fue identificado como Sofía Cruz Hernández, quien posteriormente fue detenida.
Durante esta elección de 2013 fueron asesinados dos candidatos: uno del PRI, en Chihuahua, y uno de Movimiento Ciudadano, en Durango.
El 12 de junio, Jaime Orozco Madrigal, el candidato priista para la alcaldía de Guadalupe y Calvo, fue encontrado al lado de un cerro con impactos de bala después de haber sido levantado un par de día antes.
Seis días antes de las elecciones, el 1 de julio, José Ricardo Zamudio, candidato de MC en San Dimas, Durango, fue asesinado a disparos y hallado por militares. Y no es todo, pues en febrero un precandidato del PRI en Lerdo, Durango, fue secuestrado y encontrado muerto casi un mes después.
¿Quién ganó? ¿Quién perdió? No lo tengo claro. En un ambiente de violencia, valeverguismo y abstencionismo crónico, los únicos que parecen ganar son los demonios y la clase política.
Este lunes, el secretario de Gobernación, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, dijo en su Twitter: “Buenos días, que sea una semana exitosa para todos”. No hubo ninguna reflexión o anuncio respeto a las elecciones o sus tantas víctimas.
Por su parte, el presidente Peña Nieto no tuvo nada importante que anunciar hoy por la mañana. Todo bien.
** Originally published at VICE México, June 28, 2013:
Es un viernes lluvioso de tianguis, los morros están saliendo de sus clases, y la lona sigue colgada entre un comedor y una tienda, con un mensaje muy claro: “SI TE AGARRAMOS ROBANDO, TE LINCHAMOS”.
Se ven por varias calles de este pueblo en la Delegación Cuajimalpa del Distrito Federal, lonas que representan una hartazgo total de los pobladores de San Mateo Tlatenango contra una ola de robos y asaltos que se han incrementado, aseguran, desde que la policía de la Ciudad de México les retiró elementos de vigilancia por esa siempre misteriosa explicación llamada “falta de recursos.”
El pueblo de San Mateo está a menos que un kilómetro de las torres residenciales más lujosas de la zona corporativa de Santa Fe. Para llegar allí desde el suelo urbano del valle, subes a Santa Fe y pasas el CityMarket recién hecho, el Superama enorme, y la vueltita escondida que lleva al túnel de seguridad del Club de Golf Santa Fe. Ahí, subes por un camino de dos carriles que va escalando las montañas del poniente del DF hasta cruzar al Estado de México.
Las lonas se ven por todos lados en el pueblo, y hasta en la antigua parroquia se dice que el padre busca tener la suya también, para colgarla de unos muros que en la lógica religiosa le pertenecen a Dios. Quizá en estados como Michoacán o Guerrero serán conocidos o hasta esperados este tipos de mensajes, ¿pero dentro de la ciudad? ¿Qué pasa?
** Originally published May 17 at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Same-sex marriage is legal in this city. Gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and the government touts tolerance and respect for "sexual diversity" in messages posted on subway platforms and bus billboards.
Yet, according to Jonathan Zamora, a 31-year-old psychologist, the advancement of gay rights in Mexico's capital in recent years conceals an ugly, persistent problem: unchecked discrimination and violence in what is, on paper at least, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
Early on March 15, Zamora alleges, he was detained while walking home by police who beat and jailed him for hours.
Zamora says he was not drinking in public, was fully clothed and only blocks from his door after a night out with friends. When he asked officers why he was stopped, Zamora says one of them told him it was for being gay, using a Mexican slur for homosexuals.
When Zamora reached his home later that afternoon -- bruised and without his belongings, which he said were confiscated -- he posted photos of his injuries online. Thus, a campaign began targeting what gay rights activists call police discrimination in Mexico City, as well as reports of homophobic threats and violence on the streets.
"I thought my case was isolated, but we know it's not," Zamora said in a recent interview at a cafe in Mexico City's refurbished historic center. "There are so many other cases like mine, and they keep coming to me .... Some [people] have even lost their lives."
The spokesman's office for Mexico City's police department declined to answer questions about Zamora's case. But city prosecutors said they were aware of the case and that an investigation was underway.
On Friday, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera was taking part in an event to roll out new protocols for the police that are intended to ensure that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are respected.
Zamora's complaint is one of numerous reported incidents of violence or discrimination against the gay community in Mexico City in recent months.
In mid-January, gunmen held up an upscale men's bathhouse near the ritzy Polanco district. Men identifying themselves online as customers of the bathhouse later complained of abuse at the hands of police who responded.
At least three men have been reported killed or found dead after confrontations near gay bars since the start of the year, according to police reports.
Zamora, a native of a middle-class suburb northwest of Mexico City, offered chilling details of his detention. He said the officers who stopped him drove around aimlessly for at least an hour before delivering him to a jail cell. At one point, Zamora alleges, one of the officers said he could be set free if he performed oral sex on them.
Hours later, alone in a cell, Zamora said he began kicking a door to demand his release. He still hadn't been told what crime led to his detention, he said, and hadn't been permitted to make a phone call.
He claimed four officers entered his cell and proceeded to punch and kick him. Zamora said he was then taken to a hospital, examined, returned to a police station and let go, ending an ordeal that lasted about eight hours.
"In my case, it wasn't just about a lack of training, it was a lack of everything," he said. "How can you hire people who are aggressive, violent, who don't behave like community?"
New police protocols published Thursday instruct officers to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people "with respect for human rights" and to respect their "gender identity." They also prohibit the use of insulting language or degrading comments.
"First, the police have to recognize that we're people," said Jaime Lopez Vela, a longtime gay rights activist who helped draft the new rules. "We've been talking about this for years. It's been on the agenda, and sadly, it's been expedited by the recent aggressions."
More than two months after his arrest, Zamora says he is still waiting for justice. The officers who allegedly detained and beat him have been identified, but no charges or disciplinary measures have been announced. Meanwhile, he's turned to Facebook, Twitter and Change.org to keep the public’s eye on his case.
"Any moment that your dignity, your values, your rights are broken, you must raise your voice," Zamora said.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY — They were tweeting about it, turning it into memes and ogling it in real life along the route that President Obama took from Mexico City's airport to the colonial front gate of the National Palace.
Throughout Obama's visit, which ended Friday, the president's super-armored presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast" when it was unveiled four years ago, almost stole the show from the cool and cordial display of diplomacy between Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Obama stepped off Air Force One and hopped into the customized state Cadillac, one cable newscaster on Mexico's Foro TV called it a "spectacular vehicle." Broadcasters on a variety of channels seemed to mention The Beast — La Bestia in Spanish — as frequently as they could.
And they were also talking about it in Costa Rica, where Obama was headed after his morning forums with Mexican students and businesses.
Maybe it's that famed American engineering stirring up the fascination? Or could it have to do with Mexicans' similar obsession with the popemobile whenever the Holy Father comes to town?
"We came to try to see the car, La Bestia," said tourist Daniel Castillo, a 33-year-old port worker from Tamaulipas state who was standing outside the National Palace with his wife after Obama and Peña Nieto departed Thursday afternoon. "Don't really care for ... that señor," Castillo added, referring to the U.S. president.
News cameramen on motorcycles chased The Beast as it passed some of Mexico City's toughest neighborhoods along its speediest highways. Infographics on La Bestia adorned news sites, with journalists noting the elaborate features, such as a blood supply in case of an attack.
In a cruel twist, there was another vehicle nicknamed La Bestia making headlines in Mexico this week: The freight train that chugs along the rain forests and backcountry of eastern Mexico, carrying vulnerable migrants from Central America on an often deadly attempt to reach the United States.
On Wednesday, migrants were again attacked by suspected drug gangs, this time near the city of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state. At least nine were seriously injured by men armed with machetes and firearms who tried to extort $100 from each of the travelers, The Times reported.
According to accounts, some migrants were thrown from the train for refusing to pay. In recent years, tens of thousands have gone missing while traveling along La Bestia's tracks.
"Now isn't it curious that Obama's limo is called La Bestia, just like the train that takes thousands of migrants from Chiapas?" a politician wondered on Twitter, referring to Mexico's border state with Guatemala.
Castillo, the tourist, said cartel violence fueled by U.S. demand for drugs has made it too dangerous to travel from Puerto Altamira, where he lives, to the border to visit Texas. He and his wife now prefer vacationing in the "center of the country."
Obama "should stay over there and fix his own country's problems," Castillo huffed.
His wife, Irene Gomez, said the couple hasn't seen some family members in the United States in years. Most of her relatives left Mexico to flee the drug violence, she said.
"Everyone is going to the United States because the insecurity is so bad," said Gomez, 34. "And what are they doing over there? They're deporting people, separating families."
Once Obama's "beast" had departed the National Palace on Thursday, the low fencing placed around the Zocalo square was removed and pedestrians gradually reclaimed the plaza that has been at the heart of national identity here for centuries.
A few passersby hurled curses at the front door of the palace as soldiers emerged for the customary evening flag ceremony. For some, the awe of the La Bestia faded away and reality set in once more.
* Photo by AP via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's top law enforcement agencies said Tuesday that they were poised to order the removal of a group of masked individuals who have occupied the main administrative building of the national university since Friday.
The occupation of the university's rectory tower is linked to a relatively minor political dispute at one of the campus' public feeder high schools, yet the incident has struck a nerve at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM by its Spanish acronym, which has an enrollment of more than 330,000 students this year.
Students have gathered outside the rectory to vigorously debate the merits of the building's occupation. Some argue in support of those inside; others say their right to an education is being infringed.
UNAM, whose autonomy from the country's political structure is fiercely defended and is seen as a symbol by many in Mexico, has experienced numerous student-led occupations over the years at its facilities in south Mexico City.
The longest started in April 1999, when a general student strike lasted 10 months and shut down the campus after the administration attempted to raise fees for students able to pay them. Hundreds were detained after federal officers raided strike encampments. Ultimately, changes in the university's fee structure were kept, but they were made voluntary.
On Friday night, a group of about 15 people -- most of whom have not been positively identified -- broke into the rectory, demanding that the expulsion of five students at the Naucalpan campus of one of the university's preparatory high schools be retracted.
The five students were involved in violent protests in February at the Naucalpan campus of the College of Sciences and Humanities, or CCH in Spanish, officials said. Students there have been protesting proposed changes to the CCH general curriculum, which would include making English instruction a requirement.
Jose Narro Robles, UNAM's rector, said Monday that he would not negotiate with the occupants of the rectory until they allowed campus employees to resume work there.
Narro said he had asked the federal attorney general's office to investigative the takeover and warned "there shall be no impunity" against those who "violently" took over the administrative headquarters. He said various university functions, including payments to contractors and enrollment for new students, were being affected.
"To those directing this embarrassing incident, I tell you, don't you dare sack the patrimony of the nation once more," Narro said, referring to the CCH clashes in February.
In images shown on news broadcasts, the masked occupants were seen breaking glass windows and doors to set up camp in the rectory.
One of the occupiers has been identified in news reports as Jose Uriel Sandoval, a student demonstrator injured during violent confrontations between federal police and opposition and anarchist groups at the Dec. 1, 2012, inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Sandoval lost his right eye in those clashes.
On Tuesday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, national commissioner for public security, told reporters that he was awaiting word from the attorney general on whether to order the rectory cleared out.
The UNAM's internal tribunal announced Tuesday that it had upheld the expulsion of the five CCH Naucalpan students. The protesting students said they would be willing to "liberate" the rectory tower by 5 p.m. Wednesday if their demands were met.
* Photo: Masked individuals occupy the Rectoría building at UNAM, April 23, 2013. Credit: Alfredo Estrella/AFP
** Originally published in the April 20, 2013 print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- Contradictory court judgments in the war crimes trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt this week set off protests in Guatemala City and prompted rebukes from human rights organizations around the world.
On Friday, Judge Jazmin Barrios, who is presiding over Rios Montt's genocide trial in Guatemala's capital, called court to order despite another judge's ruling a day earlier granting an appeal by the defense to annul the case based on a technicality. The Thursday ruling was "illegal," Barrios said.
Rios Montt's defense did not show up in court Friday, however, leaving the 86-year-old former military ruler alone at the defense table.
Without counsel for the defendants, the trial was suspended, prompting crowds to rally in protest.
The developments came after nearly a month of wrenching courtroom testimony from survivors of a counterinsurgency campaign that brutally targeted members of the Ixil Maya minority in 1982 and 1983, considered the bloodiest period of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
Prosecutors say Rios Montt and his former military intelligence chief, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, ordered a campaign to wipe out the Ixil Maya, including women, children, and elderly adults. Truth commission reports have found that military commanders believed Marxist guerrillas had indoctrinated the community, making them enemies.
As Barrios shut down the trial Friday, cries of "justice!" erupted in the courtroom where Rios Montt still sat. Later, Ixil witnesses and supporters who had traveled to the capital from their region of Quiche marched from one justice building to the other, many chanting "Genocide did happen."
The chants were a direct response to a media campaign launched this week by Guatemala's right-wing, denying that an effort to wipe out an ethnic minority had occurred during Central America's bloodiest war.
Many young Ixil, including those born after the massacres, held up signs that read in Spanish, "We youth have a right to know the truth," American blogger Xeni Jardin wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, prosecutors said they would file appeals, and they were reportedly forming a separate procedural case against Carol Patricia Flores, the judge who annulled the trial Thursday.
The court decisions pushed the legal drama into murky political territory and complicated the Rios Montt trial for Guatemala's judiciary. Guatemala's current president, Otto Perez Molina, was implicated by a witness this month in the executions of Ixil Maya villagers.
"This is a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala's civil war, who have been waiting for more than 30 years for justice to be done and for remedies," United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday in Geneva.
In New York, leading human rights groups also denounced the Thursday ruling and called for Guatemala's highest court to reverse it and allow the Rios Montt trial to resume.
"For years, this case and ones like it have been delayed by dilatory maneuvers and acts of intimidation against victims and justice officials alike," said Reed Brody, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch. "This hyper-technical decision is deeply troubling and should be reversed immediately so that the trial can continue."
Manolo Vela, a Guatemalan academic who served as a government investigator in the successful 2011 prosecution of lower-ranking military officers for the Dos Erres massacre of 1982, said the sudden turn of events suggests other forces might be at play.
"What's clear is that despite certain advancements in the justice system, there are still slits, openings, through which corruption or the interests of the powerful can infiltrate," said Vela, a social sciences professor at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.
Barrios said Guatemala's Constitutional Court has three days to respond to petitions to reverse the annulment or prosecutors will have to restart their case from the beginning.
* Photo: Ixiles demonstrate against the court rulings in Guatemala City, via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Gunmen shot at the offices of El Diario de Juarez newspaper early Wednesday in the latest attack against a news organization in northern Mexico and days after an editor was killed near the U.S. border.
No one was injured when gunmen driving past the paper's Ciudad Juarez offices fired seven rounds from a pistol just after 1 a.m., piercing windows, El Diario reported (link in Spanish). Fifteen minutes later, shots were fired at the city's Canal 44 news station.
Nine people were held for questioning late Wednesday in connection with the attack after local authorities and Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte pledged to find the assailants. It was unclear Thursday if any of those detained were suspects.
Rights groups denounced the shootings as an assault on reporters in Ciudad Juarez, but Duarte later downplayed the possibility that the newspaper might have been targeted for its news-gathering work.
"It's a violent act, but under all the circumstances we can't assume it comes with a larger message," Duarte was quoted as saying Wednesday.
The shootings follow a string of recent attacks against El Siglo de Torreon, a newspaper in the city of Torreon in neighboring Coahuila state.
And on Sunday, an independent online news editor was slain at a taco stand in the border town of Ojinaga in Chihuahua state, across the border from Presidio, Texas. Jaime Gonzalez Dominguez, 38, was founding editor of the online news outlet Ojinaga Noticias.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said his slaying was the first of a journalist in the 3-month-old term of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Gonzalez was the 11th journalist killed in Chihuahua since 2000, said the free-speech advocacy group Articulo 19.
Across Mexico, dozens of reporters and photojournalists have been killed or "disappeared" since the escalation of the drug war in late 2006, with few convictions or even arrests. Most news outlets in areas ravaged by drug trafficking violence practice self-censorship, The Times has reported.
* Photo: A bullet hole is visible in a window of the offices of El Diario de Juarez newspaper in Ciudad Juarez. Credit: Jesus Alcazar / AFP/Getty Images / March 6, 2013, via LAT.
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 -- 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.
** 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 -- 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 -- 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:
TULUM, Mexico – Hold on to your doomsday fever, folks, the Maya calendar date celebrated Friday as the “end of the world” might actually be off by two days – or a full year.
The end of the 13th baktun cycle of the so-called Long Count of the ancient Maya’s intricate, interlocking calendar system might correspond to Sunday, not Friday, said Carmen Rojas, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Rojas stressed that the Maya not only calculated baktun cycles of 144,000 days, but also had systems that measured the marches of Venus and the moon. Other scholars note some Maya glyphs mark dates thousands of years further into the future.
In addition, calendar dates that Maya leaders recorded on pillars that survive to this day might have been modified over time to suit certain cultural or political interests of the day, Rojas said during a walk-through Thursday of the ruins of Tulum, a pre-Hispanic port city situated on a spectacular bluff overlooking coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
One such inconsistency leads some Maya scholars to believe the 13th baktun cycle ends on Sunday, while others say it might be off by a full year or more.
Dec. 21 "is not a relevant date for us. It is an accident that someone would take and pull it out,” said Rojas, a specialist in the archaeology of cenotes, a type of sinkhole. “If you look at a book of Maya epigraphy, there are so many dates that could be commemorated. The glyphs are also not so easily interpreted. It depends on the correlation that you use.”
Nonetheless, in recent days, tourists from around the world have flocked to the so-called Maya Riviera on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, leading to higher-than-normal occupancy at hotels and on flights arriving at Cancun’s international airport, local reports said. Many visitors say they are using the supposed end of the 13th baktun as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and cleansing.
In Guatemala, people are gathering at the Maya site of Tikal for ceremonies marking the end of the baktun cycle and the winter solstice, which does correspond to sunset on Friday. Separately, highland Maya tied to the indigenous rebel army known as EZLN in Mexico’s state of Chiapas have mobilized and occupied at least five towns, reports said.
As tourists arriving on packed buses swarmed the Tulum site on Thursday, one visitor said she came to the region to get married at a nearby resort -- just in case.
"The end of a cycle is the end of a cycle, there are obviously translation issues," said Rhonda Church, a visitor to Tulum from San Marcos, Texas. "I find it interesting."
* Photo: People pray at Chichen Itza, on Dec. 21, 2012. Credit: Jacinto Kanek / EPA
** 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 18.104.22.168.0. — 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 -- 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.
** Originally published at World Now:
"Excuse me, Mr. President. I cannot say you are welcome here, because for me, you are not. No one is."
The woman's voice trembled with bitterness and apprehension. She stood just a few feet away from a low stage where Mexican President Felipe Calderon, his wife, Margarita Zavala, and top members of his Cabinet were seated at a tightly controlled forum in Ciudad Juarez on Feb. 11, 2010.
"No one is doing anything! I want justice, not just for my children, but for all of the children," she went on. "Juarez is in mourning!"
The woman, later identified as Luz Maria Davila, a maquiladora worker, lost her two sons in a massacre that had left 15 young people dead during a house party in Juarez 12 days earlier.
Calderon initially dismissed the victims as "gang members," more cogs in the machine of violence that by then was terrorizing every sector of what was once Mexico's most promising border city. But news reports quickly revealed that the victims of the Villas de Salvarcar massacre were mostly promising students and athletes.
They died only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: Juarez hitmen had been ordered to kill everyone at the party because it was believed that rival gang members were in attendance.
"I bet if they killed one of your children, you'd lift every stone and you'd find the killer," Davila said to the president as the room fell silent after her interruption. "But since I don't have the resources, I can't find them."
Calderon and Zavala remained silent, frowning.
"Put yourself in my shoes and try to feel what I feel," the mother continued. "I don't have my sons. They were my only sons."
It was a searing, unscripted moment in a presidential term that was abundant with them.
In his six years in office, a term ending Saturday with the swearing-in of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, Calderon's government built bridges and museums, expanded healthcare and led major international meetings on climate change and development. But for the many achievements, the Calderon years will probably be remembered as the bloodiest in Mexico's history since the Revolutionary War a century ago.
Civilians were mowed down by masked gunmen at parties and funerals. Journalists, mayors, human rights activists, lawyers and police commanders from small towns to big cities were shot while sitting in their cars or going on errands. Regular citizens, from small-business owners to oil workers, were snatched from homes or offices and never heard from again.
While drugs continued to flow north and U.S. government weapons and cash laundered by major global banks flowed south, the Calderon security strategy remained basically unchanged over the years. Its effect was a catastrophic expansion of violence and a crime-solving rate of nearly zero.
For average Mexicans, the extreme violence seen during this sexenio -- as a six-year presidential term is called -- was psychologically and emotionally grueling, particularly for children, experts say. In many parts of Mexico, a culture of fear settled over the population.
Overall, more than 100,000 people were violently killed in Mexico during this term, government figures show. The number of those killed directly tied to the drug war may never be known, as the lines blurred between drug-trafficking violence and violence spurred by the general impunity enjoyed by the drug lords.
The national human rights commission says more than 20,000 people are missing in Mexico. Torture is also believed to be widespread nationally.
During this term, Mexican cartels also expanded their control and firepower to Central America, while clandestine anti-trafficking operations led or funded by the United States grew to unprecedented levels, as The Times reported this week. About half of Mexico's territory is believed to be under cartel influence.
Here is a rundown of some significant events and markers of Mexico's drug war from 2006 to 2012 -- the Calderon years.
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.
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."
** Originally published at World Now:
Nearly a third of households in Mexico suffered a crime in 2011 and only in 8% of those cases was a preliminary investigation opened, according to new figures from the national statistics institute.
The numbers demonstrate that crimes with victims, including robbery, assault, car theft, extortion, identity theft, and kidnappings, are widely under-reported to authorities in Mexico and that the true scope is probably unknown.
The National Institute of Statistics and Geography, or Inegi by its Spanish acronym, polled 95,903 homes this spring and asked respondents to list instances of crime victimization in 2011, not including homicides.
In 30.6% of households polled, at least one adult resident was victimized in 2011. When the victim was present, "physical aggression" occurred in 26.6% of the cases.
The most common crimes were robberies or muggings, car thefts and burglaries. In 91.6% of the cases, preliminary investigations were not started, as victims widely distrust the police or see reporting crimes as a "waste of time," Inegi said in an analysis released Sept. 27.
The government of President Felipe Calderon, who is leaving office late this year, says that violence tied to the drug war is diminishing. Inegi's Public Safety Perception Index, a figure calculated on a monthly basis, shows that Mexicans' sense of personal safety is steadily rising.
However, a separate poll conducted in Mexico by the U.S. firm Gallup showed that Mexicans felt less safe walking alone at night in 2011 compared with 2007, the first full year of Calderon's campaign against the cartels.
In that struggle, more than 55,000 people have been killed, media estimates say, though independent analysts and activists say that figure is under-counted.
Inegi's new analysis also estimates that Mexicans lost $16.6 billion to crimes in 2011, or about 1.38% of the country's gross domestic product. Most of that amount was in stolen money or valuables, Inegi said, while 24.8% of that was money spent on preventive measures such as new locks, windows, and doors on homes.
* Photo: Armed police officers patrol in Mexico City in 2004. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
** 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.