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.
It's been an honor reporting the news in Latin America. And it's been especially rewarding to cover news in Mexico, on Mexico, and especially for Mexico. Now, after eight years of doing so, I'm relocating to Los Angeles and picking up where I left off.
I've been trying for weeks to come up with something decent to say about this change. I've received anxious reactions from readers asking why I'd leave, and believe me, I've been anxious too.
It's a combination of personal factors and the opportunity for another big challenge.
I needed to invoke binational privilege, and take a little breather on this maddening and infinite place. DF wears on the body and brain. Anyone who's lived there knows this. In my case, the horrors of the daily news cycle in war-weary Mexico began straining me with greater force. Each trip to the field with the VICE News crew in Mexico, to see how someone in my country had something horrific happen to them, with no recourse, no justice, left a little unexpected scar. (I know "tough" reporters aren't supposed to talk about this stuff, but that's that.)
Being away from the beach for so long wasn't good for me either.
I also needed to check back in with my family. Their demands that I be closer to them intensified in 2015 as the news out of Mexico got worse and worse. Yes, the flight to DF is as long as the time it takes to drive between L.A. and San Diego. But it's the cosmic comfort of knowing I'm not across a border and several states away on the bellybutton of the moon that pulled me back.
I also began missing, for reals now, a lot of my old friends.
This is not an act of abandoning Mexico, not abandoning my friends in arms in DF. I'll still be covering the stories that matter to my communities, doing some field reporting in Mexico and anywhere else we gotta check out in Latin America, as long as VICE lets me. I still got my Mexico cell phone. Now I'll also start poking around for stories in Califaztlán and down the border, a fertile land for contradictions to explore.
Not clueless: I know my country the USA is as messed up as Mexico but in different ways. So if you got any leads or tips, drop me a line.
Writing about leaving Mexico has failed me. I can't really wrap my brain around all the issues and implications that this transition stirs up. I love Mexico too jealously — maybe too violently — to attempt to sum up these years with some lines, or even some pages. Maybe a little down the road.
Right now I just wanna wake up on Monday morning and get to work.
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.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
** Originally published at VICE.com and VICE News, on Feb. 24, 2014.
“I’m a farmer.”
So said Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán when the press asked him what he did for a living on June 10, 1993, following his arrest and extradition to Mexico after years on the run. In a way, no truer words have been spoken in the history of the country’s bizarre and bloody drug war.
Guzmán was indeed a kind of “farmer.” The poppy and marijuana crops under his control were the basis of a multibillion-dollar transnational trafficking empire that would eventually make him one of the richest and most wanted men in the world.
He was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security prison, but in 2001 he managed to escape, cartoonishly, in a laundry cart. Guzmán expanded his reach by trafficking marijuana, heroin, and cocaine into the United States, Europe, and Australia. He is said to exert control over most of western Mexico, parts of Guatemala, and trafficking ports in West Africa. While his nickname means “Shorty,” there’s nothing diminutive about El Chapo’s stature in the illicit drug world. Forbeshas regularly named him in its lists of richest and “most powerful” people.
Guzmán’s prosperous stint as a fugitive came to an end again on Saturday morning, following an epic 13-year manhunt that left a trail of blood and tragedy as Sinaloa, his cartel, ruthlessly fought off Mexico's security forces on one front and combated rival cartels for control of the country’s lucrative drug trade on another.
Shortly before 7 AM, Mexican authorities captured Guzmán in a condominium buildingoverlooking the water in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlán, in Sinaloa. No shots were fired in the raid, which was assisted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Marshals Service, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Condo 401 looks plain, almost shabby, in photos taken after the raid that led to Guzmán’s capture.
Mexican authorities addressed the media on February 22.
Guzmán was flown to Mexico City. In the afternoon, after Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam delivered a brief statement on the tarmac of the international airport, uniformed soldiers wearing face masks led the drug lord from a navy hangar to a federal police helicopter.
Guzmán wore dark jeans, a pale long-sleeved shirt, and a formidable mustache. The kingpin was briefly seen hunched over and wearing handcuffs. He didn’t take questions and wasn’t heard speaking before the helicopter swiftly carried him away to the Altiplano federal prison. (The Justice Department announced on Sunday that it will seek Guzmán’s extradition to the US.)
Mexican authorities also took no questions; the dais and flag that were used for their statements were packed up within seconds of the helicopter’s departure.
Mexicans were left to absorb the fall of a mythic figure in the country's recent history. Many wondered what would come next. Despite recent drug-liberalization initiatives within the United States—the leading drug-consuming nation in the world—Mexico’s drug war has shown no signs of abating.
Guzmán’s role in the US-Mexico drug trade is a mystery, colored by allegations that he or his operatives maintain contact with US and Mexican authorities, perhaps as protected informants.
Jesús Vicente Zambada, a major Sinaloa cartel operative who was extradited to Chicago to face trafficking charges, has claimed in court that US agents in Mexico gave him and other cartel members immunity in exchange for information about rival cartels, particularly the bloodthirsty Zetas. US prosecutors insist that he had no such deal with federal agents. (Zambada is still awaiting trial.)
While associates and relatives of Guzmán have been arrested or killed in shoot-outs in recent years—among those killed was Guzmán's 22-year-old son, Édgar, in 2008—others in his inner circle have been known to move about on either side of the border.
In the summer of 2011, Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel, gave birth to twin girls at a hospital in Los Angeles County. Guzmán married the former beauty queen in a extravagant party in 2007, when she was only 18. Federal agents monitored Coronel, a US citizen, while she was in California. Because there were no charges against her, she freely returned to Mexico with her children.
Guzmán was born in 1957 in a village called La Tuna, located in the Sinaloa municipality of Badiraguato—one of the poorest counties in all of Mexico. His father was a gomero, or poppy farmer, but Guzmán grew up mostly poor and neglected, and eager to prove himself.
Badiraguato is considered the gateway to the "Golden Triangle," the rough and remote poppy- and cannabis-growing region of the Sierra Madre mountain range that runs down western Mexico, dominating Sinaloa and neighboring Durango and Chihuahua. Some of the biggest names in Mexico’s narcotics industry were also born in Badiraguato, including Rafael Caro Quintero, an old-school drug lord who was released from prison on a technicality last August, after 28 years behind bars.
According to the book The Last Narco by Malcolm Beith, Guzmán got started in the drug industry as a lieutenant to Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, considered the godfather of Mexico’s cocaine shipping trade, in what was then known as the Guadalajara cartel. After Félix Gallardo’s capture in 1989, Guzmán and his group within the Sinaloa cartel effectively took over and began expanding, killing, or disappearing anyone who stood in their way. By 1993, when Guzmán survived an assassination attempt in Guadalajara that left an archbishop dead, El Chapo’s legend already loomed large in Mexico.
Pressure began mounting on the government to score a victory against the drug traffickers, which led to Guzmán’s capture in the summer of 1993 by Guatemalan authorities and his extradition to Mexico. Guzmán reportedly enjoyed a lavish lifestyle within the maximum-security prison Puente Grande. According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal profile, he was so well-pampered during his stint in the pit that his set-up rivaled the comforts of his beachside condo in Mazatlán. He had a television and a cellphone to direct his drug empire, selected meals from a menu, smuggled plenty of contraband, and received visits from cartel members and prostitutes. He kept a supply of Viagra on hand.
Guzmán’s escape coincided with the transition to a multi-party democracy after the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was interrupted by the election of President Vicente Fox, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). Fox took office in December 2000 as the first non-PRI president in Mexico’s post-Revolutionary history. Guzmán escaped from Puente Grande a month later.
The country’s bitterly contested 2006 presidential election resulted in a second presidential term for PAN under Felipe Calderón. Immediately after taking office, Calderón launched a military campaign against drug cartels in his home state of Michoacán. The new president even made an appearance in public wearing military fatigues.
Troops rolled into cities and towns within cartel territories, sparking warfare in major cities like Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, Morelia, Acapulco, and Culiacán, Sinaloa’s capital.
The six years of Calderón’s presidential term proved to be the bloodiest period in Mexico’s history since its revolution, more than a century before. At least 70,000 people were killed in drug violence during that time, and some 26,000 people went missing. Only a small fraction of these cases will ever be solved. Most of these atrocities occurred because of a government-approved, prohibitionist drug war in which Guzmán was arguably the most symbolic figure.
Sightings of Guzmán abounded for the next several years. He was said to be in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, and even the US. Narcocorridos about his exploits could be heard in nightclubs, on YouTube, and over the airwaves in northern Mexico (until authorities banned their broadcast). When Guzmán dined out, he would pay the tabs of the other diners. It seemed for a while that El Chapo was everywhere except prison.
In 2009, a Catholic archbishop in the state of Durango said that Guzmán was living just up the road from a town called Guanacevi. “Everyone knows it, except the authorities,” he said.
The Sinaloa cartel made strategic decisions to combat its rivals—the Gulf cartel, the Zetas, and the Beltran Leyva gang—across Mexico. Violence erupted in Guerrero, Veracruz, and Michoacán, with Mexico’s security forces killing and capturing various capos.
Ciudad Juárez saw the worst of the warfare by far. An estimated 11,000 people were killed in there between 2007 and 2012. Over the same span, more than 7,000 civilian complaints of military abuses were registered with the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
In the course of the conflict, the US played an unprecedented role in Mexican law enforcement, making it seem almost as though the US agents operating in Mexico were practically in control of the push to find and capture Guzmán and others. Calderón left office in December 2012 and turned over power to Enrique Peña Nieto, returning the PRI to the presidency and introducing uncertainty about the direction of the fight against cartels.
With Guzmán’s capture, there’s no telling what will happen next. History has shown that the capture of top capos in Mexico often precipitates a violent struggle among splintering forces to fill the power vacuum. The leadership of the Sinaloa cartel is said to have shifted to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Jesús Vicente's father, who is believed to be Guzmán’s second-in-command. But reports have also noted that Dámaso López, a young, flashy capo known as “El Mini Lic,” could position himself strongly within the top ranks of the Sinaloa cartel in Guzmán’s absence.
At the same time, rival cartels could detect an opening in Guzmán’s arrest and seek to regain ground that they have lost to the Sinaloa cartel in recent years. This would be a very dark turn of events.
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 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.
MEXICO CITY -- Talk about a tough customer.
Indignant that she didn't get a sidewalk table during the busy lunch hour at a swanky Mexico City bistro, the daughter of a chief federal regulator threatened to call her father and have the place shut down.
Two hours later, according to reports, inspectors from Mexico's consumer protection agency, known by its Spanish acronym, Profeco, showed up in the trendy Roma district and attempted to close the cafe for alleged "anomalies" in its reservation system and in its offerings of mezcal.
But at Maximo Bistrot, a sort of "local-fare" corner cafe where a sit-down meal can cost about $25, the customers apparently wouldn't give up their tuna and wine without a fight. Armed with cellphone cameras, diners reportedly accosted and intimidated the inspectors so severely that the government workers fled, unable to halt operations at the cafe.
"All of this due to the dissatisfaction of one girl, to whom I couldn't give the table she wanted, at the hour she wanted, and well, that's how things are in this country: People with influence can call their daddy and ruin your afternoon," Gabriela Lopez, a co-owner of the restaurant, told one news outlet.
The incident was the latest class and corruption scandal to spark up social media in Mexico.
The so-called "Ladies de Polanco" made headlines in 2011 after two women were caught on amateur video berating and assaulting a pair of police officers near one of the fanciest streets in town. Last year, a wealthy businessman was jailed after video emerged of him knocking out the teeth of a valet parking attendant who did not obey him.
The Friday tussle at the Mexico City bistro comes as the public's honeymoon with the return of the former ruling party has shown increasing signs of cracking. Dissident teachers have blocked highways in Guerrero state and a vote-buying scandal unfolding in Veracruz threatens to derail a national reform agenda.
Under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico with a heavy hand for decades and returned to power last year with the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto, connections and privileges related to political appointments were a social norm. Peña Nieto promised "a new PRI," although most of his Cabinet picks came with extensive experience in previous PRI administrations marked by corruption and abuse.
On Sunday, Andrea Benitez Gonzalez, daughter of the Profeco chief, PRI appointee Humberto Benitez Treviño, apologized on Twitter for any "discomfort" caused by the incident she started at Maximo Bistrot. Her father later followed with his own online apology.
"My sincere apology for the inappropriate behavior of my daughter and the overreaction of my Profeco inspectors," wrote Humberto Benitez, who served as an attorney general under former PRI President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Early Monday, it appeared the "Lady Profeco" drama, as it was quickly dubbed on Twitter, had grown political legs. In a terse statement, a separate federal agency announced it would start an investigation over the Profeco inspection at the cafe, on orders, it said, from the president of the republic.
** Originally published 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 and in the print edition of the April 19, 2103 Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- On the first day of trial, a witness named Bernardo Bernal recounted how, as a 9-year-old in the spring of 1983, he hid in a stream and watched Guatemalan soldiers kill his parents and two younger brothers.
On the second day of testimony in Guatemala City, a man named Pedro Chavez Brito described how soldiers found him and his siblings hiding in a traditional sauna in their village on Nov. 4, 1982. His sister was carrying a newborn.
"'You are a guerrilla, you gave food to the guerrillas,' they said to my sister," the witness said, according to an unofficial transcript of the genocide case in Guatemala. Soldiers tied his sister to the stairs of the house and set fire to it, killing her, her children and perhaps six other relatives, Chavez Brito testified.
Another witness said soldiers used an old woman's severed head as a soccer ball.
The litany of terrors recalled in the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President Gen. Efrain Rios Montt has been relentless. The proceedings have been widely hailed by human rights groups as an important reckoning with the past, a rare prosecution of a former Latin American military dictator for war crimes in his own country.
But on Thursday, nearly a month into the trial, the case suffered a potentially devastating setback. In a stunning turn, a judge from a different court granted an appeal from Rios Montt's defense to annul the entire case based on a technicality. That ruling in effect shut down the genocide trial and may force it to start all over. Prosecutors said they would appeal the decision.
"This is an absolute abuse of power, it is illegal, and of course we are going to appeal," Arturo Aguilar, an aide to the attorney general, said shortly after the ruling.
The uncertainty angered survivors, families and human rights advocates who had been attending day after day of wrenching testimony. Witnesses, often through interpreters, have described how indigenous Maya women, children and elderly adults were raped, dismembered, burned and buried in mass graves during counterinsurgency operations that prosecutors say amounted to genocide.
The case against the former Guatemalan president and his military intelligence chief, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, was not the first time that the world has heard about the atrocities committed by the country's army during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. They have been documented in international truth commission reports, books and films and in the stories that Guatemalans carry with them anywhere they live.
But the trial has given survivors their first opportunity to testify in the same room as the high-ranking officers accused of ordering the burning of villages, the rapes and the executions of more than 1,770 Ixil Maya Indians in 1982 and 1983.
This week, the prosecution finished making its case against Rios Montt, 86, and Rodriguez Sanchez. The defense, seemingly in disarray early in the proceedings, launched its campaign to have the case dismissed, or at least discredited in the public eye.
On Tuesday, coalitions of Guatemalan army veterans, conservatives and Catholic groups placed ads or inserts in Guatemala City newspapers declaring that "genocide never occurred" in the country and that prosecutors are undermining the 1996 peace accords between the military and Marxist guerrillas.
In all, about 200,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed during decades of fighting that started in 1960 after a U.S.-backed military coup, the United Nations has found.
"There is still little consensus in Guatemala over what happened during the armed conflict or why," Mary Speck, a Guatemala-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said by email.
"These attacks on prosecutors — including Atty. Gen. Claudia Paz y Paz — as well as on human rights groups and their international supporters are likely to increase," she said.
If the trial resumes and a verdict is handed down by a special three-judge panel, it could have far-reaching implications for high-ranking army veterans and other members of Guatemala's right-wing elite.
During testimony April 4, an ex-soldier testified via videoconference from an undisclosed location that an army officer named Otto Perez Molina —now Guatemala's president — directly ordered the executions of villagers in 1982.
The implication reportedly rocked the courtroom, producing gasps among witnesses and observers. Perez Molina later labeled the soldier's testimony as "falsehoods," but the implication raised a troubling question.
Could Perez Molina, a retired general protected by immunity as Rios Montt was by virtue of holding a public office, be next in the defendant's chair?
The Rios Montt trial "is going to open doors for prosecutions against other military murderers," said Guatemalan American journalist Francisco Goldman, author of a book about the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Gerardi. "It's also a way to clean up the murk of all these sorts of hidden powers rooted in military intelligence. And not just in Guatemala."
Here are resources to learn more about the trial and its players.
The Times recently profiled Claudia Paz y Paz, the Guatemalan attorney general described as brave and tireless by the international human rights community but harshly criticized by Guatemala's right. Read the story by Richard Fausset here. And a 1995 Times interview with Rios Montt by Tracy Wilkinson, before the end of the war and when he served as president of Congree, is here.
* Photo: Rios Montt seated right at the Supreme Court 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 -- Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim is the world's richest man once more, according to a new Forbes list of billionaires, and Mexican drug lord Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman was dropped from the list because his estimated drug profit could not be verified.
Guzman, 55, had been a controversial fixture on the list since 2009.
Forbes said this week that Guzman's whereabouts are unknown, and it was unable to verify his estimated wealth as chief of the Sinaloa cartel, which the magazine called the world's largest drug-trafficking network. Last year, Forbes said Guzman controlled about $1 billion.
Guzman's inclusion on the list had been an embarrassment for the white-collar business and political elites in Mexico. The Mexican edition of the magazine reportedly petitioned Forbes' headquarters to have him removed this year.
"Our numbers show that the increased pressure put on the drug trade by the Mexican drug war suggest that he has to spend more of his money on security and bribes to protect his family," a Forbes writer said.
At the top of the list, Slim and his family have a net worth of about $73 billion, based mostly on telecommunications subsidiaries dominated by America Movil, the largest cellphone carrier in Latin America. (America Movil is known to Mexican customers by the names of the Telmex fixed-line and Telcel cellular carriers.)
The 73-year-old widower appeared on the list at $4 billion wealthier than in 2012, thanks in part to amassed wealth in industrial sectors and in retail, such as the Sanborns department stores.
The distinction comes as Mexico's 3-month-old government has sought to take a stance of control over special interests in the country with last week's arrest of the seemingly untouchable chief of the powerful teachers union, Elba Esther Gordillo.
Leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party have made telecommunications reform a top priority early in the term of President Enrique Peña Nieto, stating they plan to boost competition "in all sectors of the economy."
On the billionaire list, Slim is $6 billion wealthier than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose second-place net worth is now estimated by the magazine at about $67 billion.
* Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt for AFP/Getty Images via LAT.
A major reportaje on the afromestizo musical profile of Mexico, by producer Marlon Bishop, via Afropop on Public Radio International. Bishop travels to Guerrero to check out the chilena tradition, to Mexico City for the danzón, and to Veracruz and Los Angeles to examine the new-generation son jarocho craze.
It's an involving, rich podcast. See more here for blog posts with clips related to self-declared criollo musical culture.
I've held a long-running discussion on race in Mexico in recent years on Intersections, highlighting previous documentary projects, easy but telling race-tricks in contemporary social science in Mexico, and bringing some pop-media attention on pop Mexican blackness.
I remain ambivalent about the application of U.S.-style racial goggles on the reality of race as it's lived in Mexico today.
I was struck, for example, by an academic voice in the Afropop audio who says "naming the beast" is needed to "fund the beast," suggesting that afromestizo people in Mexico need more "resources" that have been denied to them because of their race or color.
That is totally an American racial-politics thing to say, and would register as flat-line discourse to many Mexican thinkers, of many classes and colors, I can assure you. All kinds of poor people in Mexico have been neglected by the state, in a complicated long-running saga of injustice in Mexico that is simply more complicated than a black-and-white vision.
Additionally, I remain unsure who gets to be Afro-Mexican. Or even, who wants to be? Mexicans call themselves mexicanos first, and many find little use in sub-categorizing ourselves in the U.S. manner. Yes, there are some serious race conundrums at play here, and racism in the mass media is still so prevalent. But U.S. race relators don't necessarily have the smarter hand, or the better model.
So what is? Let's keep discussing, and in the meantime, enjoy the podcast and the dope music! * Gracias por el tip, Nati! * Post edited.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Elba Esther Gordillo, Mexico's powerful teachers union leader, appeared behind bars Wednesday in an unusual public display as authorities read the charges against her.
Gordillo, 68, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of using more than $200 million in union funds for personal gain.
Gordillo stood in a plain white turtleneck with her hair pulled back, behind a grid of black metal bars, a standard court setup in Mexico. But its live airing on cable TV was unusual because such proceedings in Mexico are rarely accessible to the public. When they have been aired, judicial reform activists have criticized them as unfairly incriminating a suspect.
Gordillo lifted her eyes toward the ceiling and sighed briefly as the charges were read. She is accused of misusing funds belonging to the National Syndicate of Education Workers, or SNTE, for real estate, designer goods, artwork and plastic surgery.
Gordillo, who is considered "president for life" of the teachers union, was arrested Tuesday as she arrived at the airport in Toluca, west of Mexico City, along with three aides.
The move shocked Mexico's political world and came as the union's general council was meeting in Guadalajara, which kept the union leadership far from Mexico City. The council was meeting to discuss a tougher opposition to proposed education reforms aiming to break the union's stifling hold on public schooling in Mexico.
"We trust in 'La Maestra' Elba Esther Gordillo and we await justice," Juan Diaz de la Torre, the union's secretary-general, said in Guadalajara, using Gordillo's nickname, which means "the Teacher."
According to sources cited by the newspaper El Universal, Gordillo had no dinner on her first night behind bars at the Santa Martha Acatitla women's prison in Mexico City. Rene Fujiwara, a grandson who is a legislator in the lower house of Congress, reportedly brought her a bag with some personal items and a toothbrush during the night.
Gordillo was nervous during her medical examination and could not remember the phone numbers of her daughters, one of whom is a senator, the report said.
Thanks to Gordillo's well-known taste for top-of-the-line goods, her arrest rippled into unexpected territory when the Neiman Marcus department store chain reportedly said it would fully cooperate with any investigation in Mexico. According to statements by the Mexican government, a woman linked to Gordillo allegedly bought more than $2 million worth of items at Neiman Marcus stores with illicit funds in 22 transactions from 2009 to 2012.
Mexico's attorney general's office added an "organized crime" charge against the union boss, in effect removing the possibility that she could post bail. With that, Gordillo, who was considered politically untouchable in Mexico only a week ago, remained in custody.
* Photo via LAT.
** 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 in Domus México No. 4. No direct link. This is the original draft submitted to the magazine for translation to Spanish.
MEXICO CITY – In the photograph, Enrique Flores Magon is seated at a table facing a bank of angled mirrors. His white, wavy hair is tousled upwards wildly, as if he had been submitted to a rain of static. His expression is morose. Flores Magon is reflected in the mirrors four times, and so at the top of the print, a winking caption is written in cursive ink, in Spanish: "Mis cinco cuates."
And below, in English: "Who said that a haircut was needed?"
When I first saw this photo – in the personal archive of Enrique Flores Magon, which is being revived by his great-grandson – it filled me with wonder and amusement.
For anyone familiar with Mexican Revolutionary history, the dominant image of those called its "intellectual authors," brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon, is that of stalwart, driven journalists who challenged the regime of Gen. Porfirio Díaz and sought justice for the working classes through the power of the printed press. Of course, the lives of any historical figures are in truth far more complex than the heroic legacies that they leave behind.
How did the Flores Magons interact with the world around them on a day-to-day basis? What were their domestic concerns and challenges? In their interior lives, how did they respond to the growing pressures and persecutions of the Mexican and United States governments that led to their repeated imprisonments?
The photograph of Enrique and his "cinco cuates" – modeled on a 1917 Duchamp self-portrait photograph using the same effect – is among one thousand photographs that exist in his personal archive. As an image, it offers a window in the dissident writer's sense of humor and sense of self. It is undated. The exact location of where it was taken is not known either, although Enrique’s great-grandson, historian and writer Diego Flores Magon Bustamante, believes that it was probably taken in Los Angeles around 1923, when the brothers were in exile north of the border and raising revolutionary trouble there as well.
Diego is spearheading an ambitious project that will permit all of his great-grandfather’s materials, including some 15,000 documents, to be available for viewing to the general public in the form of a digital archive. It is perhaps one of the most significant archival projects undertaken in Mexico in recent years.
The digital archive will be housed at the restored building at Calle Républica de Colombia 42 in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City where the Flores Magon brothers and a committed group of lawyers, artists, and writers – including Daniel Cabrera, Jesús Martínez Carrión, and Juan Sarabia – published an opposition newspaper to the Dáiz regime, El Hijo del Ahuizote.
The project is being funded by a mix of support from the Fidecomiso del Centro Histórico, CONACULTA, and private foundation grants. Diego, now 32, explains he is a fervent believer that the archive that his father passed to his care should be available to a viewing public that is as wide as possible. The idea is that with new readings of the materials that Flores Magon left behind, fresh interpretations and applications of the brothers' ideas could emerge.
The historical value of the archive is immense. Ricardo Flores Magon, the more historically prominent of the two, died at a U.S. prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1922, facing espionage charges for publishing pacifist materials in the U.S. version of Regeneración, the brothers' second newspaper. Any known archive belonging to him, Diego believes, was lost in Ensenada, Baja California, in the 1940s.
"Ricardo no tuvo una vida que le permitiera coleccionar nada," Diego says. "Llevo una vida de martir y de perseguido y de fugitivo. No tenía nada."
** 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 -- 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 — 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 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.