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.
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:
Suena como una fantasía para cualquier periodista que ama a su comunidad: mudarte a un barrio emblemático, querido, herido de tu ciudad, y luego, empezar un periódico sobre el barrio, en servicio al barrio – sí, en papel.
Esto es lo que ha hecho el periodista regio Diego Enrique Osorno, uno de los más reconocidos actualmente en México y en el extranjero. Además de ganarse el cariño de las personas por hacer un periodismo de servicio y denuncia, Osorno acaba de lanzar un semanario impreso para abrir un espacio a los jóvenes escritores de Monterrey, y a partir del nuevo periodismo, ayudar rehabilitar su ciudad tan golpeada por la violencia de la guerra contra el narco.
Lanzado el 1 de mayo (“Dia del Trabajo,” Diego me recuerda), El Barrio Antiguo se ha convertido en un fenómeno social en Monterrey en poco tiempo. Osorno es el editor en jefe, y con él colabora como editor adjunto el periodista Diego Legrand, además de un buen grupo de jóvenes narradores reporteros. Como admiramos el trabajo de Osorno, también colaborador de VICE, les compartimos esta conversación con él sobre su proyecto.
“Somos pobres, pero honrados,” me comentó Diego sobre la publicación. Con esa gran declaración en mente, me da gusto anunciar que cada semana VICE México publicará una nota deEl Barrio Antiguo para compartir el buen trabajo que el proyecto realiza, y ojalá para apoyar el periódico con más ojos a nivel nacional e internacional. ¡Bienvenidos!
VICE: ¿Cómo y desde cuándo surgió El Barrio Antiguo y con qué apoyo? Hoy en día armar un periódico impreso nuevo en México no es nada fácil.
* End of the line: a concha below the volcanos at the terminus of Line 12, Tlahuac, Dec. 31, 2012.
I've spent three years reporting stories in Mexico, the region, and sometimes on Mexico-related topics north of the border from the Los Angeles Times bureau here in Mexico City. On top of that, I've been contributing steadily to a bunch of magazines and radio, Web, and video outlets, all places I love.
It's been rad. But, man, I needed to make a move! And I think I've made a good one. Vice is expanding, not contracting. It has vision, huevos, and, most importantly for anyone who wants to do good journalism, cash.
Talks started informally months ago, and it's been a fully pro negotiation and transition with Vice Mexico publisher Eduardo Valenzuela and the head of content here, Bernardo Loyola. I've also been contributing pieces to Vice's New York headquarters, so I'm looking forward to working more closely with the editors at the hub.
For more context, check out these highlights from a recent profile on Vice by The New Yorker, including interesting comments from players such as CEO Shane Smith:
Rupert Murdoch, after his visit, tweeted, "Who's heard of Vice Media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."
"Part of the reason Vice is successful is because we have cash to make stuff. Everyone else is just fucking wandering around trying to find budgets to make their dream project."
"[T]he nice thing about Vice is that it's the future and it's already very profitable."
McInnes told me, "My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint. Don't talk about Israel and the borders, 1967, Gaza -- just find a good burger joint. Conversely, if you're gonna do a thing on farts or poo, talk to experts in digestion, find out the history of what we know about farts, why they smell. Be super-scientific and get all the data. Which is what we did with 'The Vice Guide to Shit.'"
Vice is opening bureaus as quickly as traditional-media organizations are closing them.
Smith told me, "It used to be, back in the day, that news was the most profitable of all shows that the networks did. The Gulf War built CNN. There's a lot of conceptions that news doesn't make money, that young people don’t care about news. But young people obviously care about news -- that's why we're successful."
Still, if Vice is the future of media, it might be argued that, for all its faults, it's no worse than what we already have. For anyone accustomed to the current offerings on cable news -- with its twenty-four-hour cycles and blow-dried personalities rehashing wire reports -- it's hard not to be impressed by Vice's vitality and by some of the topics that it covers firsthand.
Pretty G. ...
My top priority is to always challenge myself, challenge my craft. I'll be editing an established publication again more than ten years after my "EIC" days at the college paper. But, hugely, my primary audience for the first time will be hispano-hablantes en México y Latinoamerica. That's a crazy challenge for this die-hard pocho and I'm eager to take it on!
Admittedly, there's a nostalgia factor also at work here. I grew up checking out Vice as a teenager, picking it up once it started appearing at skate-, head-, and record shops in my hometown. When I lived in L.A., I was around when lil Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter started showing up at the Vice store parties at Sunset Junction. Through friends, I met and really fell in love with one of Vice's original muses, lil baby Dash, and I still think fondly of the time we shared in L.A. with K. Garcia and Nina T., the trouble we'd get into. ... Que descanse en paz.
The magazine, the brand, the broader ambitions of Vice Media have morphed so much, it's remarkable. I am honored to get a chance at joining what I suspect will become a long tradition of good, fucked-up reportage. I start on Monday. Got a story idea?
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY — They were tweeting about it, turning it into memes and ogling it in real life along the route that President Obama took from Mexico City's airport to the colonial front gate of the National Palace.
Throughout Obama's visit, which ended Friday, the president's super-armored presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast" when it was unveiled four years ago, almost stole the show from the cool and cordial display of diplomacy between Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Obama stepped off Air Force One and hopped into the customized state Cadillac, one cable newscaster on Mexico's Foro TV called it a "spectacular vehicle." Broadcasters on a variety of channels seemed to mention The Beast — La Bestia in Spanish — as frequently as they could.
And they were also talking about it in Costa Rica, where Obama was headed after his morning forums with Mexican students and businesses.
Maybe it's that famed American engineering stirring up the fascination? Or could it have to do with Mexicans' similar obsession with the popemobile whenever the Holy Father comes to town?
"We came to try to see the car, La Bestia," said tourist Daniel Castillo, a 33-year-old port worker from Tamaulipas state who was standing outside the National Palace with his wife after Obama and Peña Nieto departed Thursday afternoon. "Don't really care for ... that señor," Castillo added, referring to the U.S. president.
News cameramen on motorcycles chased The Beast as it passed some of Mexico City's toughest neighborhoods along its speediest highways. Infographics on La Bestia adorned news sites, with journalists noting the elaborate features, such as a blood supply in case of an attack.
In a cruel twist, there was another vehicle nicknamed La Bestia making headlines in Mexico this week: The freight train that chugs along the rain forests and backcountry of eastern Mexico, carrying vulnerable migrants from Central America on an often deadly attempt to reach the United States.
On Wednesday, migrants were again attacked by suspected drug gangs, this time near the city of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state. At least nine were seriously injured by men armed with machetes and firearms who tried to extort $100 from each of the travelers, The Times reported.
According to accounts, some migrants were thrown from the train for refusing to pay. In recent years, tens of thousands have gone missing while traveling along La Bestia's tracks.
"Now isn't it curious that Obama's limo is called La Bestia, just like the train that takes thousands of migrants from Chiapas?" a politician wondered on Twitter, referring to Mexico's border state with Guatemala.
Castillo, the tourist, said cartel violence fueled by U.S. demand for drugs has made it too dangerous to travel from Puerto Altamira, where he lives, to the border to visit Texas. He and his wife now prefer vacationing in the "center of the country."
Obama "should stay over there and fix his own country's problems," Castillo huffed.
His wife, Irene Gomez, said the couple hasn't seen some family members in the United States in years. Most of her relatives left Mexico to flee the drug violence, she said.
"Everyone is going to the United States because the insecurity is so bad," said Gomez, 34. "And what are they doing over there? They're deporting people, separating families."
Once Obama's "beast" had departed the National Palace on Thursday, the low fencing placed around the Zocalo square was removed and pedestrians gradually reclaimed the plaza that has been at the heart of national identity here for centuries.
A few passersby hurled curses at the front door of the palace as soldiers emerged for the customary evening flag ceremony. For some, the awe of the La Bestia faded away and reality set in once more.
* Photo by AP via LAT.
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 -- 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.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- A Facebook page in Mexico has notched tens of thousands of followers for posting detailed but unconfirmed updates on security risks in the drug-war hot zone of Tamaulipas state. Now, purported assassins have declared a bounty on the head of the page's anonymous administrator.
In response, the Facebook author said the page would not stop gathering and publishing information on shootouts and highway blockades because the Tamaulipas authorities and local news outlets offer nearly zero updates on so-called "risk situations."
The person behind Valor por Tamaulipas posted a photograph last week of a reward notice that was said to have begun circulating in several Tamaulipas cities calling for information leading to the page's author or relatives.
The flier makes an offer of 600,000 pesos, or about $47,000, for information and includes a cellphone number with a Tamaulipas area code.
"I'm not trying to be a hero," the Facebook page says in response to the bounty claim. "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a citizen and a member of society before the threat that organized crime poses to the stability of our state and country."
The photographs and postings, like other content on the page, could not be independently verified, a fact that partly explains the appeal of Valor Por Tamaulipas and similar social-media platforms that offer intelligence related to incidents in Mexico's ongoing drug war.
Local, state, and federal government authorities release only scant details, if any, on the conflict in Tamaulipas between federal authorities, Mexico's military, and three major crime groups: the Zeta, Sinaloa, and Gulf cartels. As in many other violence-wracked regions of Mexico, local news outlets widely practice self-censorship.
The sharing of such information -- from sites of checkpoints to times and places of grenade or car-bomb attacks -- has generated risks in the past for social-media users.
In September 2011, a woman known as an info-sharing user of an online message board in the Tamaulipas border city of Nuevo Laredo was found decapitated. Though never fully confirmed by local authorities, the woman's death was blamed on cartel hit men who wanted to silence her constant postings on violent incidents there.
The page where the woman posted, Nuevo Laredo En Vivo, maintains a message board where locals apparently keep posting.
Valor Por Tamaulipas has chalked up nearly 158,000 likes on Facebook since its launch on Jan. 1, 2012. On Twitter, the Valor por Tamaulipas account currently has about 24,400 followers.
In contrast, the state government's official Facebook page has about 3,000 likes, and noticeably no steady updates on risky situations on the ground. And, in a sign of the horizontal nature of the drug-war's information battles on the Internet, a page intended to counter the assertions of Valor Por Tamaulipas has already emerged, calling itself Anti Valor por Tamaulipas.
The administrator of the first Tamaulipas Facebook page did not respond to emailed questions Monday.
Antonio Martinez, a spokesman for the Mexico City-based free-speech advocacy group Articulo 19, said his organization was monitoring the purported threat against Valor por Tamaulipas but suggested that the site might not be administered by an ordinary citizen.
"It's a little strange," said Martinez, who noted the Facebook page routinely praises military personnel and their operations, without mentioning any of the allegations of abuses or criminal activity within the army's ranks in the region.
"We are still investigating, but we think this could be some kind of military strategy, and not a case of a direct threat against one person," Martinez said.
In an interview with the daily El Universal, the Facebook page administrator would "neither confirm nor deny" the assertion that Valor por Tamaulipas is a product of Mexican military intelligence.
Tamaulipas' statehouse has remained silent on the Facebook page and its report of a death-threat. But days after the threat was publicized, the state attorney general's office released a statement reminding citizens that it offers rewards of up to 500,000 pesos, or about $39,000, for information leading to the solving of serious crimes.
** 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 in the Feb. 1, 2013 print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- In the Mexican remake of the popular U.S. TV series "Gossip Girl," the privileged teens at the center of the drama still have it all: stylish clothes, great hair, top-of-the-line sports cars.
The types are familiar: Bowtie-wearing Chuck Bass is now known as Max Zaga, and effortlessly chic Serena van der Woodsen is now Sofia Lopez-Haro. The setting is no longer the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but the former "jewel" of the Mexican Riviera, Acapulco.
Wait a minute — Acapulco?
As filming began last week in the port city on the southern Pacific coast, "Gossip Girl Acapulco" immediately sparked passionate reactions among social media users in Mexico.
Many expressed disgust at the idea that a show about Manhattan's teen elites would be translated into a contemporary Mexican setting, where drug-related violence, especially in places such as Acapulco, and class and racial barriers remain entrenched. Others, though, said they were dying to see the finished product this year on media giant Televisa.
It may be little more than a whisper-worthy coincidence, but Acapulco is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, perhaps topped only by Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, the national statistics institute said 1,114 people were reported killed within Acapulco's city limits, which has about 789,000 residents.
Kidnapping and extortion are believed to be rampant, and gory execution scenes are common mere blocks from the major tourist zones. The State Department urges U.S. nationals to "defer nonessential travel to areas further than two blocks inland" of the downtown beach.
("Let's hope this new round of 'Gossip Girl' only sees Blair losing her virginity, and, not, on top of it, her head," said the New York Observer, naming another character from the original series.)
Acapulco also happens to be deeply in debt. This month, Mayor Luis Walton Aburto said the city owed about $33.2 million. The city hopes a fresh push for tourism income can help it climb out of its fiscal hole, but when reached by phone, several municipal officials said they hadn't heard about "Gossip Girl Acapulco" until this week.
There is no clear sign that the Mexican series is part of any larger plan to revitalize the struggling city. But the brain behind the project, producer Pedro Torres, said he hopes people will see the beauty of Acapulco through the show and maybe venture to visit.
Torres, in a hurried telephone interview punctuated with garbled asides to aides, said "Gossip Girl Acapulco" will remain true to the story line and character types that captured viewers in the original. The only difference, he said, will be the setting and the use of "mannerisms of Mexican speech."
"It was I who proposed the idea of placing it in Acapulco," Torres said.
One of the most powerful figures in Mexican television, Torres has remade imports such as the reality TV shows "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor" for Mexican audiences.
"There is no doubt that the city of Acapulco has suffered serious problems of drug trafficking and violence like many other cities in Mexico," Torres said. "But, well, this series is not a portrait of that. This is fiction, a complete fiction."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is the second attempt at farming out the franchise to a foreign market by Warner Bros., the original show's producers. As The Times reported last year, the company announced the launch of "China Girl," a "Gossip Girl" for Chinese audiences.
In previews of "Gossip Girl Acapulco," in addition to their material wealth, the central characters also seem to have inherited the European-looking side of Mexico's racial spectrum, a persistent feature of Mexican television that can either be read as a reflection of the country's stubborn class hierarchies or as a tool that inadvertently promotes them.
A better term for it might be "aspirational," which is how actor Vadhir Derbez described the show's context during the press rollout for "Gossip Girl Acapulco." Derbez, who plays Max, the Mexican Chuck, said the show will have valuable lessons to offer viewers.
"People see these kids who come from lots of money, and it may seem unreachable," the actor told an interviewer. Yet "it has a strong message behind it, that money is not everything. And that's cool."
Torres' Mexico City-based production company, El Mall, said it is in negotiations with U.S. Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision for possible distribution of "Gossip Girl Acapulco" north of the border.
"I've been living in Acapulco for a month with my family and we've had an incredible time, with an incredible climate," Torres said by phone. "The truth is, one should have the normal prudency like in any other city. We do not have any security detail that is out of the ordinary."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is to start airing in July on the Televisa network.
* Photo via Gossip Girl Acapulco FB.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Carlos Slim's telecommunications empire, Telmex, is poised to get a new shot at realizing its long-held goal of entering Mexico's television market after a regulatory board this week approved rules that may allow the world's richest man to launch a for-pay TV channel.
Mexico's television market is almost completely dominated by the duopoly of media giant Televisa and TV Azteca, which together control about 95% of what viewers see and hear on the country's airwaves.
On Wednesday, the congressional regulatory watchdog known by its Spanish acronym, Cofetel, sent rules to its executive-level counterpart that would settle Telmex's dispute with smaller telephone service providers over interconnection fees. Those charges are reflected in the extra pesos that customers pay when calling from one phone network to another.
This week's regulatory move happened largely under the radar in the public eye but was seen by financial news outlets in Mexico as a bargaining chip for Telmex and its ambitions for television (link in Spanish). America Movil, the Telmex telecom branch that hopes to start a for-pay TV cable channel via Internet, now must resubmit its bid after a separate judicial-level ruling came down last week.
Under the government of former President Felipe Calderon, Slim's desires to compete with Televisa and TV Azteca were tied up in dense regulatory appeals and negotiations. Opening up the market was further hindered by Mexico's fractious Congress.
The new government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose party is now the largest parliamentary group in Mexico's legislative branch, has yet to roll out its telecommunications reform package. But Peña Nieto has already indicated that he hopes his government can open concessions for at least two new channels on Mexico's airwaves.
Peña Nieto said the issue is about increasing "competition" at all levels in Mexico.
Televisa's dominance of Mexico's airwaves became a campaign issue in the 2012 presidential election after the grass-roots student movement known as #YoSoy132 held large-scale demonstrations opposing candidate Peña Nieto and Televisa at large. Protesters decried his Institutional Revolutionary Party's cozy relationship with the network, claiming Televisa favored him over his rivals on the left and right.
Peña Nieto is married to a former Televisa telenovela actress. His party has a history of being allied with Televisa and its top tiers of executives and producers.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Television viewers in Cuba reportedly had the chance to watch U.S. President Obama's inauguration on Monday via a news feed from Venezuela's Telesur network.
A real-time news feed from Telesur was made available to Cuban TV viewers only since Sunday, "for a few hours a day," state media said.
Obama's inauguration speech was aired Monday on Telesur accompanied by a commentator who cast doubt on some of the U.S. president's assertions, reported Mexico's state news agency Notimex from the Cuban capital, Havana.
It was unclear whether viewers in Cuba also watched the recitation of "One Today," the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote that the "biased vision of Telesur" and the Communist state outlets are "not, today, our only choices." An alternative or pirated digital media market has been active in Cuba "for months now," Sanchez wrote.
** Originally published at World Now:
"Excuse me, Mr. President. I cannot say you are welcome here, because for me, you are not. No one is."
The woman's voice trembled with bitterness and apprehension. She stood just a few feet away from a low stage where Mexican President Felipe Calderon, his wife, Margarita Zavala, and top members of his Cabinet were seated at a tightly controlled forum in Ciudad Juarez on Feb. 11, 2010.
"No one is doing anything! I want justice, not just for my children, but for all of the children," she went on. "Juarez is in mourning!"
The woman, later identified as Luz Maria Davila, a maquiladora worker, lost her two sons in a massacre that had left 15 young people dead during a house party in Juarez 12 days earlier.
Calderon initially dismissed the victims as "gang members," more cogs in the machine of violence that by then was terrorizing every sector of what was once Mexico's most promising border city. But news reports quickly revealed that the victims of the Villas de Salvarcar massacre were mostly promising students and athletes.
They died only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: Juarez hitmen had been ordered to kill everyone at the party because it was believed that rival gang members were in attendance.
"I bet if they killed one of your children, you'd lift every stone and you'd find the killer," Davila said to the president as the room fell silent after her interruption. "But since I don't have the resources, I can't find them."
Calderon and Zavala remained silent, frowning.
"Put yourself in my shoes and try to feel what I feel," the mother continued. "I don't have my sons. They were my only sons."
It was a searing, unscripted moment in a presidential term that was abundant with them.
In his six years in office, a term ending Saturday with the swearing-in of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, Calderon's government built bridges and museums, expanded healthcare and led major international meetings on climate change and development. But for the many achievements, the Calderon years will probably be remembered as the bloodiest in Mexico's history since the Revolutionary War a century ago.
Civilians were mowed down by masked gunmen at parties and funerals. Journalists, mayors, human rights activists, lawyers and police commanders from small towns to big cities were shot while sitting in their cars or going on errands. Regular citizens, from small-business owners to oil workers, were snatched from homes or offices and never heard from again.
While drugs continued to flow north and U.S. government weapons and cash laundered by major global banks flowed south, the Calderon security strategy remained basically unchanged over the years. Its effect was a catastrophic expansion of violence and a crime-solving rate of nearly zero.
For average Mexicans, the extreme violence seen during this sexenio -- as a six-year presidential term is called -- was psychologically and emotionally grueling, particularly for children, experts say. In many parts of Mexico, a culture of fear settled over the population.
Overall, more than 100,000 people were violently killed in Mexico during this term, government figures show. The number of those killed directly tied to the drug war may never be known, as the lines blurred between drug-trafficking violence and violence spurred by the general impunity enjoyed by the drug lords.
The national human rights commission says more than 20,000 people are missing in Mexico. Torture is also believed to be widespread nationally.
During this term, Mexican cartels also expanded their control and firepower to Central America, while clandestine anti-trafficking operations led or funded by the United States grew to unprecedented levels, as The Times reported this week. About half of Mexico's territory is believed to be under cartel influence.
Here is a rundown of some significant events and markers of Mexico's drug war from 2006 to 2012 -- the Calderon years.
** Originally published at World Now:
They rallied and railed against the dominant media duopoly in Mexico during a crucial election campaign, but now former members of the student movement known as #YoSoy132 are set to appear on a new talk show produced by the Televisa network.
The leaderless movement emerged in protest of Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate who went on to win the July 1 election, and against Televisa and TV Azteca. Together, the media conglomerates nearly monopolize the airwaves in Mexico, making them a target of protests by #YoSoy132 for what it called the networks' biased and favorable coverage of the candidate.
"Sin Filtro," or "Without Filters," is slated to be a weekly Sunday night program on ForoTV, an arm of Televisa. The format is a round-table of university students who will discuss, "without censorship," the pressing issues facing Mexico, host Genaro Lozano said in an interview Wednesday.
Lozano, a 36-year-old international relations professor and frequent political commentator on Mexican news outlets, is not a former member of the student movement, but he helped moderate a presidential debate that #YoSoy132 organized. The unprecedented unofficial meeting with three of the four presidential candidates (Peña Nieto declined to attend) was noteworthy for being organized by citizens and not the federal electoral authorities.
The first installment of "Sin Filtro" is expected to feature Antonio Attolini, a former #YoSoy132 campus representative and one of the most prominent and recognizable student voices during the election. Later, however, Attolini was effectively booted out of #YoSoy132 after other students regarded his many media appearances -- including on Televisa -- as detrimental and distracting to the group's agenda.
Lozano said he understood the criticisms of the new program but added that he would make efforts to reach out to students from a range of public and private universities in Mexico for future on-air panels.
"There is a phobia toward the networks, and that's a historical issue in Mexico," Lozano told The Times. "But I think opening a new space of dialogue is always a good thing, and I hope other such spaces open up on other networks."
He added that he previously had taped a pilot for a similar program on another network, but only within the last two weeks did a contact with the Televisa conglomerate lead to "Sin Filtro." Lozano said he expects to sign a contract for the show with Televisa on Thursday.
Online, the official Twitter account of #YoSoy132 distanced itself once more from Attolini, saying: "#YoSoy132 does not have leaders precisely to avoid that the contradictions of one affect us all." Other Twitter users were less generous, with some dubbing the student panelists who appear on a "Sin Filtro" promo on YouTube as "traitors."
The promo itself is a study of what might arguably be called unintended irony.
Lozano identified the participants as all former members of #YoSoy132, now sitting before cameras belonging to the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also currently tied to a trafficking ring investigation in Nicaragua.
"I'm tired of the fact that the old news media class gives us information in the same manner, and with bias," one panelist, a young woman wearing heavy-framed eyeglasses, emphatically declares. "That is bad for freedom of speech in the country and that's why we're here, to discuss what interests you, without filters."
Attolini, meanwhile, broke his silence on Twitter on Wednesday as the virtual booing and hissing rained down on him. By the afternoon, he tweeted: "The struggle will be infinite if we don't start gaining territory. Now we have it inside the wolf's cave. Let's say the things that are concealed."
"Sin Filtro" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Oct. 28. Lozano said the likely topic will be media democratization, a central issue for the student movement during the campaign.
* Photo: Moderator Genaro Lozano appears in a screenshot of a promo for "Sin Filtro." Credit: Via YouTube
RELATED INSIDE INTERSECTIONS:
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico's marines on Monday said they detained 35 Veracruz state police officers who were allegedly working for the Zetas drug cartel.
In a short statement, authorities said the police officers were detained Saturday in two groups, 16 at the airport in the city of San Luis Potosi, in a neighboring state of the same name, and 19 in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz.
The marines released the names of the suspected officers but did not offer other details on the arrests or say why they were suspected of working for the Zetas. Four of those arrested were women, the marines said.
Veracruz's government did not have an immediate response to the announcement.
The state has endured intense drug-related violence and crimes as its crucial port on the Gulf of Mexico becomes disputed turf for the Zetas and their rivals, including the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels, and a paramilitary group calling itself the "Zeta-killers." Reporters and photojournalists have been targeted and killed.
The marines are considered a leading elite force against organized crime in Mexico's ongoing drug war.
Marines this month captured suspected Gulf cartel leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," in the city of Tampico. In August, a naval officer was involved in a wild shootout that left two U.S. government employees injured on a road south of Mexico City.
The arrested Veracruz police officers were taken to Mexico City for questioning, authorities said.
** Originally published at World Now:
The student-led movement that emerged in Mexico against president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is planning another round of protests Sunday. The protests are part of a wave of demonstrations that began almost spontaneously during the presidential campaign and appear to still be drawing big crowds since the July 1 election.
The #YoSoy132 movement, or "I Am 132," said it will call demonstrations in "all public plazas" and at the presidential residence Los Pinos in Mexico City, in rejection of Peña Nieto's victory by more than 3 million votes over his nearest rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Each weekend since the July 1 vote, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in dozens of cities in Mexico over the apparent victory of Peña Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled for seven decades until its ouster in 2000. The protests have been largely peaceful and almost entirely generated on social media; in fact, Sunday's planned demonstrations are only the second since election day that the #YoSoy132 movement has formally organized.
In one grassroots demonstration July 7, protesters stormed the live televised wedding of an actor and actress tied to the Televisa network. Televisa is a target of demonstrators who allege that the dominant media conglomerate in Mexico favored Peña Nieto's candidacy.
Protests have been buoyed by a string of reports that suggest the PRI campaign "bought" votes by handing out debit cards and allegations from rivals that it topped campaign spending limits -- including possibly laundered money -- in its effort to return the party to power.
The PRI denounced the allegations but acknowledged before federal investigators that it handed out debit cards to supporters, a practice the party claims is legal.
The second-place finisher, leftist stalwart Lopez Obrador, said he would seek to nullify the election result through Mexico's electoral tribunal system, and promised public "informative assemblies" of his own this month and in August. The leaders of both the main liberal and conservative parties said Thursday they would join forces to challenge the PRI victory over new allegations that some debit cards could be tied to sham companies formed by PRI supporters that served as fronts for laundering illicit money.
The transition of political power is scheduled for December. Lopez Obrador's declared "National Plan in Defense of Democracy and Mexico's Dignity" looks to repeat the movement he started in 2006 after he was defeated in his first presidential bid by less than half a percentage point.
The #YoSoy132 movement is thus left walking a narrow line between maintaining a non-partisan stance but supporting the broader goal of nullifying the election results.
Because of its arduous decision-making process, in which consensus must be reached on major points, the student movement has been unable to articulate a long-term plan in the likelihood that Peña Nieto takes office. More so-called "inter-university assemblies" are planned in the coming weeks.
In two conventions held recently outside Mexico City, one in a town in Morelos state and one in the political flash-point of San Salvador Atenco, participants said the movement resisted some internal pressure to support Lopez Obrador or the youth-oriented wing of his political movement.
"We remain non-partisan," Rodrigo Serrano, a student-movement spokesman at the Ibero-American University, said Friday. "We couldn't ... support [Lopez Obrador] because our original rules don't allow it."
The "I Am 132" movement is named after a Twitter hashtag that emerged in response to a YouTube video by students at the Ibero-American University, after a contentious Peña Nieto appearance there on May 11. On its website, #YoSoy132 has also begun circulating a question-and-answer video on the movement's origins and the claims made against it.
* Photo: Demonstrators gather to protest the results of the July 1 presidential election in the central plaza of Guadalajara, capital of the western state of Jalisco, July 7, 2012. Credit: Ulises Ruiz Basturto / European Pressphoto Agency
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico this week quietly signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, a controversial multinational treaty that sponsors say protects intellectual property but opponents call an assault on privacy and freedom of expression.
Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico signed the agreement Wednesday on behalf of the Mexican government in Japan. The signing immediately set off condemnation among Internet activists in Mexico, who called the government's move a strategic ruse in an election year.
Mexico's Senate must ratify the treaty, but the chamber rejected ACTA in 2010.
By signing it while Congress is not in session -- and just days after the presidential election -- the administration of President Felipe Calderon is in effect forcing the issue to the front of the agenda once the new Congress convenes in September and before Calderon's term expires. The president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, assumes office for a six-year term in December. Peña Nieto has so far not indicated a position on the treaty.
ACTA has been negotiated and debated by world governments since it first emerged in 2008. The agreement would help improve international efforts to prosecute content and intellectual-property piracy, including digital and Internet platforms, but also covering trademarks, brands and pirated pharmaceuticals.
Opponents say governments could abuse ACTA and target private users with criminal charges for downloading copyrighted material, for example, or force Internet service providers to monitor the online activity of users and turn data over to authorities.
The United States is a key signatory as of October 2011 with Australia, Canada, Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan. Last week, the European Parliament rejected ACTA in a crucial vote, a setback for the treaty. ACTA is "too vague, open to misinterpretation, and could therefore jeopardize citizens' liberties," the parliament said in a statement.
Mexico's signing, although contingent on ratification by the new Senate, revives momentum for ACTA supporters.
Rodrigo Roque Diaz, director of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, or IMPI, said in an interview that the government would ask Congress to develop legislation in the fall that would "jointly" protect Internet users concerned about privacy.
"The idea is not to criminalize the independent, private user of the Internet; the idea is to sanction those who are violating author rights on a commercial scale," Roque Diaz told The Times.
Piracy in Mexico, which is commonly associated with outdoor markets where illegally produced DVDs and CDs are sold, "generates great economic and tax losses" estimated at 2.7 million pesos (about $200,000) an hour, he said.
Activists in Mexico promised this week to vigorously oppose ratification of ACTA once the Senate convenes. They've started a Twitter campaign to request that each senator-elect stake out a position now.
So far, leftist legislators are assumed to oppose ACTA, while the ruling conservative party members are assumed to support it. Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party will hold the most seats in the new Senate, but the party's position on ACTA is yet unclear.
Antonio Martinez, a free-speech advocate and one of the forefront voices against the treaty during the Senate's working-group debates on the issue in 2009 and 2010, said the government's signing of ACTA is "trickery."
"It's a very bad signal from the government to the outgoing Senate and to civil society; it's disdainful of all the work done in the legislature," Martinez said Friday. ACTA "is dangerous for what it doesn't say. The IMPI is wrong, and it's almost as though they haven't even read the treaty," he said.
* Photo: A vendor shows pirated DVDs on a sidewalk in central Mexico City in 2006. Credit: Sarah Meghan Lee / For The Times
Watch the video above, I implore you. Support, ponder, and bear witness. A democracy in Mexico cannot survive without the women and men you see here.
** Originally published at World Now:
They were images that could not have been scripted with any more dramatic irony. Come to think it, it looked quite a bit like a network-produced telenovela. Just gone painfully wrong.
During the latest wave of demonstrations against the results of the July 1 elections in Mexico, protesters in Mexico City on Saturday converged on a colonial church downtown and began chanting and shouting from the outside while an actor's wedding took place inside.
The wedding of comedian Eugenio Derbez and actress and singer Alessandra Rosaldo was being aired live on the Canal de las Estrellas, the entertainment channel belonging the dominant media conglomerate Televisa. Televised weddings are a customary practice for a channel that tends to employ Televisa personalities' real lives as fodder for programming.
Protesters who had gathered by the tens of thousands in central Mexico City apparently got word of the televised event and dozens marched to the church from the Zocalo main square, reports said.
"Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!" the protesters shouted.
The chanting was audible over the Televisa live feed, making for excruciating footage as the bride and groom attempted to stick to their vows while the ruckus was heard loudly and clearly. See unofficial video here and a longer clip here.
There were no reports of arrests or injuries. But the incident stood out as an uncontrollable and spontaneous hijacking of air time in a tense period for Mexico's political and media establishment. Demonstrations have continued in several cities in rejection of apparent president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Activists have rejected the election results due in part to widespread reports of vote-buying by the PRI. They are also targeting Televisa, which controls nearly all of Mexico's television channels in a duopoly formed with second network TV Azteca, and which they accuse of giving favorable coverage to Peña Nieto and the PRI for years.
Derbez, known for his role on the slapstick program "La Familia Peluche," is presumably enjoying his honeymoon and has not made public comments since the wedding. But on his Twitter account, the actor retweeted a message from a supporter claiming Derbez did not support Peña Nieto in the election and the demonstrators were "sheep."
Televisa's breezy newscast report on the Derbez-Rosaldo wedding does make a mention of the protesters, perhaps in acknowledgment that their shouting could not be ignored or edited out.
Separately, in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a man identified as a member of the PRI was arrested and jailed after he pointed a pistol at election protesters from a restaurant balcony in the capital city of Xalapa during Saturday demonstrations.
Juan Pablo Franzoni Martinez, a PRI activist and restaurant investor, was detained and dragged away by police as his pants were coming down, creating embarrassing images that were then promptly ridiculed on Twitter. Authorities in Veracruz said Franzoni was booked on charges of threatening the protesters and for illegally carrying a firearm.
There's plenty of video circulating of that incident, too.
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico is recounting votes cast at more than half its polling places during Sunday's presidential election, the electoral body said Wednesday, as reports of vote-buying marred the apparent win of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Ballots from more than 54% of polling places will be recounted within 72 hours, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) said. The figure marks a huge increase over the 9% of ballots that were recounted in the long and contentious aftermath of the disputed 2006 election.
The recount began early Wednesday as part of the IFE's normal procedure of validating results gathered from the institute's 300 electoral districts. By law, ballots are recounted when a polling place shows irregularities, such as more votes cast than there are registered voters, a complete sweep by a single candidate or party, or a 1-percentage-point or smaller margin between first and second place.
Separately, the PRI is facing growing accusations that campaigns gave potential voters supermarket debit cards in exchange for their votes, among other allegations.
"They gave us the cards in the name of the PRI and Rep. Hector Pedroza [a PRI congressional candidate], and they said they were counting on our vote," a 20-year-old university student told the Associated Press at a Soriana supermarket in eastern Mexico City.
The PRI and Soriana chain said in statements that they had no such agreement.
Leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has yet to concede defeat after the initial "fast count" that began Sunday night had him about 6 points behind presumed winner Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI.
The recount is not expected to significantly alter the preliminary results. Such a prospect places pressure on Mexico's progressive factions to decide whether they will follow Lopez Obrador on another possible wave of protests and mobilizations like those that shut down the center of Mexico City for weeks after the 2006 vote.
In that race, the final official tally had Lopez Obrador lose the election to current conservative President Felipe Calderon by less than half a percentage point. The leftist leader never accepted those results.
As in 2006, the Lopez Obrador campaign is claiming widespread fraud in the 2012 vote. He reiterated his call for a vote-by-vote recount at every polling place. His campaign also said it would send scores of complaints of vote-tampering and vote-buying to Mexico's electoral tribunal.
"What we are demanding is that the electoral authorities ... assume their responsibility," Lopez Obrador said.
Meanwhile, the emergent national student movement known as #YoSoy132 held an all-day assembly at the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to determine how it would proceed after the apparent Peña Nieto victory.
Due in large part to huge demonstrations led by #YoSoy132 movement, the results of the election have cast a harsh light on the relationship between the PRI; Peña Nieto; and the two leading media networks in Mexico, which control 95% of the airwaves.
Throughout the campaign, most polls showed Peña Nieto with a lead of 12 to 18 points over Lopez Obrador, but the initial results of the actual vote showed the spread to be half that.
The Times noted this week that the PRI's win is weaker than initially expected. And for Calderon's ruling National Action Party, or PAN, the 2012 results are an "unmitigated wreck," as a former party president put it.
* Photo: An official with the Federal Electoral Institute in Mexico City checks one of the ballots cast in Sunday's national election. Credit: Alex Cruz / European Pressphoto Agency
** Originally published at Vice.com:
We’re now less than two weeks away from Mexico’s presidential election, and at this point, few people would have expected that the otherwise unsurprising democratic process of voting would be accompanied by scenes of rabble-rousing students chanting and singing along with mariachi bands outside the studios of Mexico’s leading television network.
These scenes, part of a nascent student movement known as #YoSoy132, are now becoming regular features on the nightly news in Mexico. Imagine that, young people protesting media bias and media manipulation by the thousands in a country with little precedent for such collective grievances against corporate big media.
A lot of people here are pretty excited with this development.
It all started on May 11, when candidate Enrique Peña Nieto visited the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City for what was supposed to be a friendly meet-and-greet with the student and academic community. Instead, over the course of his visit, Peña Nieto suffered a humiliating and disastrous few hours of abuse from what looked like a spontaneous student protest. It got messy.
Peña Nieto came for a normal campaign stop, to deliver a speech and answer questions before an auditorium. The thing was going nominally well until students who had managed to slip in protest signs past a security check could no longer contain themselves. According to video, photos, and accounts of the event, the shouting started after one lone guy with a poofy haircut and a lot of attitude stood up silently holding a hand-drawn sign that read simply, TE ODIO. “I hate you.”
The shouting and chanting grew. Peña Nieto sought an escape. More protesters were waiting for him outside.
The candidate with the movie-star looks and soap-opera star wife was chased through the halls and courtyards of “the Ibero” by choruses of “Murderer!” and “Coward!” as students protested his handling of a 2006 dispute with campesinos in the town of San Salvador Atenco during his term as a state governor. The shouting and chasing grew overwhelming. Peña Nieto hid briefly in a restroom with his team, trying to find a good way out. Video of the moment shows Peña’s eyes wide and hollow, his forehead tense, lips curled up with fear.
By the time it was all over, Peña Nieto was literally run off the Ibero campus. As he ducked into a dark SUV, one reporter managed to ask him what he thought of the protests against him. “It’s not genuine,” he responded with a meager smile, and took off. And with that, the 2012 Mexican presidential race—the race that Peña Nieto was supposed to win without breaking a sweat—took a major shift.
The Ibero incident put the Peña Nieto campaign in damage-control mode. The next day, suggestions that the demonstration was staged by outsiders was repeated by his campaign chief, a few sympathetic Ibero faculty, and just about every provincial and vaguely corrupt newspaper that implicitly supports Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
This turned out to be an enormously foolish move. The students responded by uploading a video of 131 of them staring into their MacBook video cameras and repeating their names and their student ID numbers while flashing their Ibero ID cards. The PRI has spent many millions of dollars on its campaign to win Mexico’s presidency, but what followed was a media coup that no amount of cash or army of consultants could have stopped. Among Mexico’s active Twitter-verse, the hashtag soon appeared: #YoSoy132. “I am 132.”
It’s worth noting that this kind of brouhaha was very unexpected for Ibero. It is one of the swankiest schools in the country, the kind of place where a slick, media-savvy politician like Peña Nieto should normally be made to be feel right at home. Hell, the Ibero produces Peña Nietos. I know, because a lot of my friends are recent graduates. Even they were surprised by what happened on May 11, but not entirely. Any decent school always has room for progressive thought and action, and while the Ibero probably costs more per year than what millions of Mexicans make in an adult life, there was an undercurrent of “enough is enough” in the anti-Peña protest that seemed blind to class or social boundaries. By the following weekend, a classic grassroots social-media movement had taken off.
#YoSoy132 demonstrations broke first in Mexico City. Tens of thousands streamed through the central corridor and gathered at the Angel of Independence monument to make it known that they, too, were opposed to the PRI regaining power.
The party ruled the country for much of the 20th Century until 2000 with a potent mix of strategies that ultimately boils down to power-by-any-means necessary. It has a widely documented history of vote-buying, fraud, collusion with drug traffickers, censorship, intimidation, election-stealing, and often fatal repression against dissidents—from the assassination of top party figures such as Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994 to the outright massacres of student protesters in 1968 and 1971. Peña Nieto says the PRI under his candidacy is a new party, and that his campaign should not be faulted for the party’s “errors” of the past.
In 2012, as the July 1 election day nears and the PRI remains ahead in the polls, the students aren’t having it.
#YoSoy132 demonstrations were also held in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Durango, Zacatecas, Tlaxcala, Aguascalientes, Veracruz, and many other cities in Mexico. Smaller protests in show of support of #YoSoy132 have also been reported among the wide Mexican diaspora in places like Chicago, Barcelona, Madrid, San Francisco, and before the White House in Washington, DC. Students at more than 35 universities and colleges across Mexico have joined the movement. What’s significant is that they’re forming a private- and public-university horizontal coalition that hasn’t been seen in Mexico with such force since the late 1960s. As thousands join their demonstrations, there’s a sense of collective dissent against the return of the so-called “dinosaurs” of the PRI, and collective disgust at the arguably biased role that the major media companies are playing in the process.
Now, this is not the Mexican Spring. It’s not a movement meant to topple the government. It’s actually stated a sort of incongruent political position: Against a presidential candidate but not in support of any other. For all we know, Peña Nieto has already won the 2012 election in Mexico. He’s about 15 points up; heart-on-his-sleeve leftie Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and incumbent party conservative Josefina Vazquez Mota, who’s all about keeping military on the streets against drug cartels, are so far splitting the anti-PRI vote.
Even if Lopez Obrador or Vazquez Mota pull off a wild upset in the end, #YoSoy132 will seek to keep the movement up, asking for media reform against the duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca, which evidently represent an extension of the greater status quo in Mexico—all neatly symbolized by Peña and the PRI. Therefore, the natural questions are: Can it? Will it? Could it?
** Originally published at World Now:
Tens of thousands of protesters streamed through Mexico's capital and rallied at the Angel of Independence monument Sunday in another large demonstration against the country's mainstream media and the former ruling political party.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose rule over Mexico for much of the 20th century was marked by corruption and authoritarianism, is poised to return to power in the July 1 presidential election.
"All the people have just had it up to here that the government manipulates us," said Misael Nava, 28, a native of the state of former Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto of PRI, the leading candidate.
Nava stood among crowds that rallied for up to eight hours against Peña Nieto.
The student-led # YoSoy132 movement, or I Am 132, organized concurrent protests in at least 17 other cities in Mexico as the four presidential candidates prepared to meet for their last official debate Sunday night in Guadalajara. In the race, Peña Nieto is leading by double digits.
Protesters claim the PRI is favored by the media duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca, which they suspect organized a propaganda campaign against the leftist candidate in the 2006 election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The former Mexico City mayor is running again and moving into second place behind Peña Nieto after demonstrations against the possible return of the PRI began one month ago.
Sunday's demonstrations spread to other sites in the city, including the Televisa studios near downtown. Students in the I Am 132 movement, roused by a contentious appearance by Peña Nieto at a private university, said they were also marking the anniversary of a 1971 student massacre blamed on the then-ruling PRI government.
"I have a son of 11 and a daughter of 9, and I'm here to show them to not be indifferent to what happens in their country," said Regina Soto, who held up home-made signs with her two children.
"They don't want the PRI to win. We want clean elections where we decide who gets to govern us," she said.
Most demonstrators stood by an early pledge in the movement to remain nonpartisan, but the demonstrations have led to slight gains for Lopez Obrador in some polls. The other main candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota, has dipped to third.
Protesters said they would work to keep the movement past the July 1 election, regardless of who wins.
* Photo: A view of the Paseo de Reforma avenue in central Mexico CIty during Sunday's large demonstration against the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and the major news media in Mexico.
From Latino USA:
Writer Daniel Hernandez was already disappointed in US politics when he moved to his parents’ home country of Mexico almost five years ago. Now that he is registered to vote in Mexico for the first time he has found old problems in the political system of his new home.
Go here for the audio file and program of my radio essay for Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa on National Public Radio. Here's Latino USA's news report on the #YoSoy132 movement, with guest journalist Luisa Ortiz Perez. Good stuff.
* Previously, "Mexico students plan protests as second presidential debate nears."
** Originally published at World Now:
It's looking more and more like a two-way race in Mexico's July 1 presidential election. That is, a contest between Mexico's former ruling party and everyone opposing its return.
Four candidates gather Sunday night in Guadalajara for the second and last officially scheduled debate of the campaign. The session offers another chance for one of the trailing contenders to alter the shape of the race.
Polls show the once-reigning Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, comfortably in the lead with its fresh-faced candidate, former Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto. Student demonstrations are planned nationwide to coincide with the debate, potentially raising the stakes. The grass-roots social media movement known as I Am 132 is gaining reach and influence as it has gone after the PRI and big Mexican media companies, especially Televisa, the nation's biggest TV network and the target of accusations that it has sought to manipulate public opinion in Peña Nieto's favor.
Here's an update on the campaign leading into Sunday's debate.
Enrique Peña Nieto
The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Spanish, and pronounced "pree") ruled Mexico for much of the 20th century until it was ousted by voters in 2000 after decades of corruption, scandal and economic crises. This year, it is poised to return to power.
Peña Nieto, former governor of the central state of Mexico, faces two main rivals: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, representing a leftist coalition, and Josefina Vazquez Mota, a conservative. The parties are poles apart ideologically but united in their disdain for the PRI, with histories of struggle against its authoritarian leanings.
The Peña Nieto campaign has been forced to confront corruption allegations against former PRI state governors and accusations that the party shells out cash for favorable polls and media coverage. The party and Peña Nieto's campaign on Friday were denying a newly published report that his office appeared to have paid millions to Televisa after taking the governor's office in 2005, for favorable coverage on TV and in Televisa publications.
Nevertheless, the PRI's campaign has been run smoothly and holds a double-digit lead in most polls.
Its main opponents -- Lopez Obrador's leftist coalition led by the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and Vazquez Mota's National Action Party, or PAN -- have long ruled out forming a broader alliance to challenge the PRI in the presidential vote. But a grass-roots student-led movement opposed to the PRI has provided a jolt to the race and is a likely factor in Peña Nieto's slight dip in support in several polls.
Though his lead remains strong, analysts note that as many as a quarter of voters say they remain undecided.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Lopez Obrador, who barely lost in the 2006 race and never accepted the results, is running again and has moved into second place in most polls.
On Wednesday night, during a tense conversation with panelists of Televisa's "Third Degree" program, Lopez Obrador said calmly that he was sure to "win again" and that his campaign's tracking polls showed he had moved two points ahead of Peña Nieto.
Even if that proves to be a bluff, recent developments are a reminder that Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City, commands a formidable base and that he has been boosted by the I Am 132 movement.
Lopez Obrador's opponents are eager to remind voters of his less than flattering image as a polarizing figure. Attack ads against him were rolled out this week, including one by the PAN that doctors a fragment of a recent Lopez Obrador speech to make it seem as if he supports armed revolutions.
Lopez Obrador called the new ads the start of a "dirty war."
Josefina Vazquez Mota
The PAN also has some supporters in the I Am 132 movement. But Vazquez Mota, a former Cabinet member under the two PAN presidencies since 2000, has lost traction overall, slipping to third in the polls.
The first woman to bid for Mexico's presidency from a major party, Vazquez Mota has sought to convince voters she would be a "different" president, but she has so far been unable to connect broadly with female voters.
Perhaps worse, she's taken hits from senior figures in her own party, some of whom appear to be breaking for Peña Nieto.
On Sunday, former PAN President Vicente Fox suggested he would support Peña Nieto and that other party members should do the same. Vazquez Mota's campaign denounced Fox vehemently for the apparent betrayal. Fox, after all, is the man whose victory removed the PRI from power.
A former PAN president also said he would be supporting Peña Nieto.
The Student Factor
The presidential campaign took on a new player May 11, when Peña Nieto was surprised by a tempest of jeers from students during an appearance at the private Ibero-American University in Mexico City. He and PRI leaders then came under fire when they suggested initially that the protest was staged or orchestrated by a rival party.
In reply, 131 Ibero students who participated in the protest recorded themselves holding up their university ID cards or repeating their student ID numbers. The video went viral on social networks and spawned a movement taking its name from a Twitter hashtag, #YoSoy132, or "I am 132."
Counterparts at some 35 universities across Mexico have joined. The students have held demonstrations calling for more transparency in the news media and protesting the PRI's history of corruption and repression. They have also taken aim at the soaring drug-related violence during the PAN's tenure.
The I Am 132 phenomenon has already had an impact on the race. Under pressure, the two dominant networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, agreed to show Sunday's debate on their main channels, after relegating the first debate, on May 6, to secondary channels.
Last week, the students held a "general assembly" on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and, after hours of debate, agreed on a 15-point platform, declaring the movement officially nonpartisan.
Students have called for a third debate between the presidential candidates, to be organized and moderated by the I Am 132 movement. Lopez Obrador, Vazquez Mota and a fourth candidate, Gabriel Quadri, of the fringe New Alliance Party, have agreed to attend. Peña Nieto has not.
Photo: A Mexican university student member of the I Am 132 movement holds a banner in Mexico City on May 31. Credit: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images