* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 18.104.22.168.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's new government is considering relaunching an abandoned rescue effort to reach the bodies of 63 miners in a coal mine in northern Mexico since 2006, one of the worst mining disasters in the country's history.
The Pasta de Conchos tragedy left 65 dead and exposed poor and dangerous working conditions for miners in one of Mexico's largest but also most under-regulated industries. Relatives of the victims have insisted in protests that the recovery operation be resumed and in recent days sought support from members of the new federal Cabinet.
A methane explosion trapped the miners on Feb. 19, 2006. The recovery effort was abandoned in April 2007 after only two bodies had been brought out.
The Pasta de Conchos disaster deepened rifts between representatives of the victims -- their families and unions -- and Grupo Mexico, the mining conglomerate that owns the coal mine in the municipality of San Juan Sabinas, Coahuila state.
This week, after a fresh push by relatives of the victims before the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the attorney general's office indicated it was open to examining the investigation and possibly reopening the recovery effort.
Speaking Wednesday at Mexico's Senate, the deputy attorney general for human rights, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, said the Pasta de Conchos case is a reminder that poorly regulated mines known aspozitos should be closed.
"We should prohibit pozitos, because since Pasta de Conchos they've generated an unjustified number of dead," Garcia said. "They're an avoidable human pain."By one count of victims' relatives, at least 67 more miners have died since Pasta de Conchos in accidents or explosions in Mexico through early 2012.
No dates or guidelines have been been set yet for a reexamination of the case, said Armando Seguro, a spokesman in the attorney general's office.
Juan Rebolledo, vice president for international relations at Grupo Mexico, told The Times that the company has not received any formal petition to reenter the mine and would not comment further.
The explosion occurred during the mine's overnight shift. Some basic figures about the incident, such as at what depth it occurred, remain in dispute. In 2008, widows of the miners and volunteers from other mining regions of northern Mexico converged at Pasta de Conchos and attempted to storm the mine and launch their own effort to reach the bodies.
* Photo by Sharon Steinmann, 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 at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Did the rulers of the ancient city of Teotihuacan dedicate their largest pyramid to the god of fire, the so-called old god with a signature beard and fire atop his head?
Mexican archaeologists announced this week that a figure of the god, called Huehueteotl, was found in a covered pit at the apex of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, a popular archaeological site north of Mexico City.
Excavations are ongoing, but the discovery suggests that a long-disappeared temple at the top of the pyramid was used to perform ritual offerings to the fire god, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, said in a statement Monday.
Huehueteotl is known in the archaeology of various Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmecs and Aztecs, and the Aztecs' predecessors in the Valley of Mexico, the Teotihuacanos. He is commonly represented as a viejo, or old man, sitting in a cross-legged position, often with a beard and a beaked nose, and with a hearth-like source of fire balanced on his head. Huehueteotl is associated with wisdom and rulership.
Archaeologists found the Huehueteotl, along with two stone pillars, in a covered pit about 15 feet deep, at a height of about 214 feet from the ground. The pit is below the remnants of a platform at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun that probably served as the foundation for a temple.
The people of Teotihuacan finished building the pyramid around AD 100 and destroyed its apex temple themselves around the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century, INAH said.
Archaeologists did not know that a pit existed at the top of the stepped pyramid, renowned as one of the largest of its kind in the Americas. It is now thought that Leopoldo Batres, the pioneering archaeologist who restored the pyramid to the basic form seen today, covered the platform a century ago without properly excavating it.
"Once we didn't find the bottom of the platform, upon further digging we figured out it was pit," INAH archaeologist Nelly Nuñez said in a video.
In 2011, INAH archaeologists announced they had found a 400-foot-long tunnel at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun, which is still being studied. Mexico's government has been excavating the structure in earnest since 2005. Only a fraction of the Teotihuacan site has been studied in about 100 years of government archaeological work there.
The Huehueteotl was uncovered between June and December. It weighs 418 pounds and is made of a gray volcanic stone. An INAH spokeswoman said Wednesday that the fire-god figure and other objects found with it were still being examined. It was unclear when they might be exhibited to the public.
** Photo by INAH 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.
If you get a weird jumble of characters in your reader for the headline for this post because of the capitalized ñ in it, it's a minor inconvenience worth swallowing while getting to know the artist and electronica producer known as Ñaka Ñaka.
** 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.
I did not burn down the Peña sign / I applaud the person who did. That’s more or less an invitation. Fuck the law! Those kinds of heroes are needed so that people can become aware that they need to get with it.
** Originally published 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 -- As rescue efforts were winding down Friday at Mexico's state oil company, where a blast the day before killed at least 33 people, workers gathered nearby, saying they were unafraid of going back to work and eager to do so as soon as they were told it's OK.
There would be no business at the tower complex until further notice. Yet on Friday, employees of Petroleos de Mexico, or Pemex, kept showing up. Some were eager to get inside to help with the rescue effort, while others said they were awaiting news of co-workers and friends who remained unaccounted for.
Armed soldiers were guarding all the entrances and exits of the complex. Rescuers from the army, marines, Mexican Red Cross, and the searchers known as topos were still clearing away rubble.
An estimated 10,000 people work at the Pemex headquarters in Mexico City. The workers described it as a cosmopolitan setting, with employees, contractors and visitors from all over Mexico and the world circulating through the building each day.
Carlos Pineda, 45, an accountant who has worked in the main Pemex tower for 10 years, said he was on the 10th floor when the blast occurred Thursday afternoon. Pineda said workers in the buildings were prepared through previous drills to face an emergency such as an earthquake.
Pineda wouldn't speculate on what caused the blast in the basement of the building called B2, which he described as the human resources department, where there is "a lot of traffic."
"We're all asking ourselves the same thing, what happened?" Pineda said. "I really don't know what could have happened. These are administrative offices, not workshops. There are no solvents or anything like that."
Pineda and others said they wanted to know who was injured and who was killed. No official information has been released on the dead. He said he recognizes coworkers by faces but not necessarily by names.
Like others, Pineda said he's prepared to go back to work as soon as possible because Pemex is "so important to the country."
Marco Antonio Franco, a top search-and-rescue official at the Mexican Red Cross, said teams would keep looking as long as there was a possibility that people were trapped under rubble.
"A young man just came up and said he still can't find his father, he went to the morgue, and to all the hospitals, and well that gives us the possibility that someone could still be under the structure," Franco said.
"Ground zero here looks a lot like an earthquake," said Franco, who was among Mexican rescue workers who traveled to Haiti for search efforts after the 2010 quake there.
Carlos Alberto Hernandez, a 38-year-old cleaner in the tower, stood outside an entrance to the Pemex complex waiting for his chance to get inside to help. Others milled about with worried expressions.
"That's why we're here, to support our coworkers, to help look for anyone who might be trapped or injured," he said. "I don't have any anxiety about going back to work, no. Anxiety maybe so I can get inside."
By the afternoon, the Red Cross was pulling out, and the search was being suspended.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Bodies found dumped in a well in northeastern Mexico may be those of the 18 musicians and staff of a band that went missing after a Thursday night performance, authorities said.
The members of Kombo Kolombia were reported missing Friday by family members who said they lost contact with the group after it performed at a bar along a highway about 30 miles north of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state.
On Monday, Gov. Rodrigo Medina told reporters that early signs indicated the bodies discovered the day before in the community of Mina are probably the missing members of Kombo Kolombia. Medina said four bodies had so far been positively identified as members of the band but that authorities were holding off on confirming that the entire group was found until each victim was accounted for.
Jesus Valencia, a Nuevo Leon state spokesman, told The Times that 18 bodies were found in a well with a water wheel at an abandoned ranch near the group's last known whereabouts, a bar called La Carreta, where the band played Thursday night.
After the band's performance, 10 armed men entered the bar and ordered Kombo Kolombia and their staff into waiting vehicles, Valencia said. One of the members managed to escape after the kidnapping and told authorities he watched as band mates were beaten and interrogated. The captors then began executing the musicians, the witness told officials.
His identity was not released, but the spokesman said the musician was under state guard and cooperating with the investigation.
News reports said eight bodies had been pulled out by noon Monday, some wearing clothing described as similar to the band's costumes, and showing signs of shooting injuries and torture.
At least one musician in the group was a Colombian national, authorities said, but no other details were provided.
Forensic investigators were on the scene and family members were providing DNA samples to help with identification of the bodies. There were no details on who kidnapped the band or why it might have been targeted.
"We assume their killers are related to some kind of criminal group," Valencia said. "They could have played a song someone did not like or said something someone did not like. We don't know."
Kombo Kolombia was known to play a style of Colombian music called vallenato, which is related to the imported cumbia genre that is widely popular in Monterrey and now considered a staple of the region's culture. The band was young and did not have a national profile in a country where many large musical groups earn a living playing at festivals, dance halls, and parties in the countryside.
According to reports, Kombo Kolombia was a fixture on the nightclub scene in Monterrey, but was not known to play the popular narcocorrido ballads that glorify the exploits of drug lords. Nuevo Leon is one of the most violent states in Mexico, as the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels and their allies fight for dominance of key trafficking routes north to the U.S. border
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- 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:
MEXICO CITY -- Noe Hernandez, a Mexican Olympic medalist who was shot at a bar outside Mexico City and later died, was buried Saturday in his hometown of Chimalhuacan in Mexico state.
Hernandez, who won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 20-kilometer walk, died Wednesday at 34 after reportedly suffering a heart attack as he recovered from the shooting.
Hernandez was shot in the head during a Dec. 30 ambush at a bar in La Paz, in Mexico state east of the nation's capital. Two others died in the shooting.
Hernandez was shot through his left eye and underwent cranial reconstruction surgery. He was sent home on Jan. 8. He died Wednesday on his way to a Chimalhuacan hospital after complaining of pain, one report said.
Hernandez had reportedly received threatening phone calls. At the time of the shooting, he served as secretary of sports for the Institutional Revolutionary Party headquarters of his state.
Mexico state, which borders Mexico's Federal District on three sides, has seen increasing drug-related crime in recent years as gangs splinter and battle for control of the local drug market. A surge of homicides in recent weeks has grabbed headlines in the metropolitan region of 20 million people.
Gov. Eruviel Avila said via Twitter that he will propose Hernandez be bestowed the State of Mexico Prize posthumously.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY — Mexico's capital and its sprawling suburbs in neighboring Mexico state notched at least 32 violent homicides over the weekend, in what authorities described as an atypical wave of violence for the urban core of the country.
Authorities and city political leaders said there were no indications so far that the rash of killings were related to Mexico's powerful organized-crime cartels, but investigations were ongoing on Monday.
Suspected narco-related killings have increased in recent weeks in north-central Mexico and in persistent cartel battlegrounds such as Jalisco and Nuevo Leon states, but the capital has mostly avoided the kind of bloody massacres that characterize Mexico's drug war.
By Monday, doubts about the nature of the metropolitan region's weekend homicides were aired on social media and by news accounts that pointed to cartel-like tactics in some of the deaths.
In Mexico state, which rings the Federal District on three sides, at least 10 people were killed during the weekend, including five unidentified men whose dismembered bodies were found in plastic bags near the capital city, Toluca, reports said.
In two other cases in Mexico state municipalities, the remains of at least five other people were also found. There were no official statements on the weekend killings from the statehouse in Toluca.
Within the Federal District, as Mexico City is formally known, 22 people were killed in various incidents between Friday evening and Monday morning, said Atty. Gen. Rodolfo Rios. Most of the deaths were gun-related but at least one person was asphyxiated and one man was beaten to death in a fight outside a downtown bar, officials said.
In two cases in the boroughs of Tlahuac and Iztacalco, authorities were still determining whether all of the six deaths were a result of conflict between drug dealers, Asst. Atty. Gen. Edmundo Garrido said in a radio interview Monday. The victims were still unidentified.
Garrido said the city averages about two killings a day, a rate that he said has remained steady over the last three years. The weekend's deaths, however, mark an average of a little more than 6.5 homicides over three days. "This is not common for the Federal District," Garrido said.
The killings take place in the jittery so-called transition period between administrations. The six-year terms began in early December at the federal and local levels.
The new government of Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera launched a weapons-exchange program aimed at reducing violent crime in the poor boroughs of Iztapalapa and Gustavo A. Madero. More than 1,000 firearms have been turned in since Christmas.
In Mexico state, residents in some of the most crime-stricken municipalities have taken to the streets to protest growing incidents of violence.
This month, confidence-control tests for the state police force found 2,400 agents deemed unfit for duty among 18,900 tested. Of those, 800 were declared unfit for "serious faults" such as leaking information to organized-crime groups, officials said.
In a Monday column in the Mexico City daily El Universal, journalist Ricardo Aleman called the weekend's homicide tally a sobering wake-up call for the city.
"It's clear that the [Mancera administration], the press, and society are being overwhelmed by a reality that no one has wanted to acknowledge for years," Aleman wrote. "Criminal violence, executions, cartel adjustments, revenge and vendettas between criminal mafias are already among the capital's residents."
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- At least 140 people reportedly have been killed in recent weeks in a suspected drug-cartel struggle over the north-central region of Mexico known as La Laguna.
Attacks and counterattacks are suspected between the Sinaloa and Zeta cartels over the region that is centered around metropolitan Torreon, in Coahuila state, and includes portions of Durango state. Local, regional and federal forces are also combatting traffickers as well as suspected corruption within their own ranks.
Some 140 people have been killed in a span of 40 days in fighting between the paramilitary Zetas and the Sinaloa federation under the control of fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, according to the daily El Universal. On Dec. 18 in the Durango city of Gomez Palacio, 23 inmates and guards died during an attempted jail-break and riot at a state prison.
On Friday, state authorities in Coahuila arrested the police director and subdirector of the city of Matamoros on weapons charges and turned the two over to federal investigators. On Tuesday, authorities rounded up 66 Matamoros police officers for surprise confidence-control tests; only 58 returned to work Thursday night, the Torreon daily El Siglo reported.
The other eight officers' whereabouts were unknown, but the Matamoros mayor told reporters the police officers were "not disappeared."
Attacks have also been reported in recent days and weeks in metropolitan Monterrey and in Jalisco state.The increase in violence came during the first month of the new administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who entered office on Dec. 1. The month of December 2012 saw a slight increase in reported homicides in Mexico over November 2012, the daily Milenio said.
Peña's government has said one of its top priorities is reducing the homicide rate that soared under the government of former President Felipe Calderon. The new administration, however, is so far sticking to the same basic strategy, with some adjustments, The Times reported.
At the same time, the national statistics institute known by its Spanish acronym INEGI said its "public security perception index," measuring how safe Mexicans say they feel, rose in December over the same period last year.
* Post updated. ** Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities said Wednesday that they have identified a fifth possible victim in a recent string of suspected dog-maulings at a hilltop park in Mexico City, a crisis that has sparked protests from dog advocates and victims' families.The city's attorney general's office released a statement saying it was investigating a case involving a 15-year-old girl named Gabriela Nataret Ramirez, who was found near Cerro de Estrella national park on Dec. 16, mutilated and bitten.
Gangs of dogs are suspected in the gruesome deaths of four other people -- including an infant -- at the park in southeast Mexico City in attacks on Saturday and Dec. 29.
Police have rounded up 25 dogs at the park, including seven puppies, and promised sweeps at other large green spaces in the city, starting with Chapultepec Park and Aragon Forest.
But dog owners and activists said the canines rounded up and seen in photographs released by authorities showed no signs of being violent or having been involved in an attack against a human. People were arriving at the city's canine-control center in the Iztapalapa borough, where Cerro de Estrella is located, claiming they were owners of one of the detained dogs, news reports said.
Additionally, some families of the victims have told Mexican news outlets they distrust the investigations so far, saying their loved ones might have been attacked by humans and claiming the dog-attack theory is a cover-up.
Atty. Gen. Rodolfo Rios said at a news conference late Tuesday that the city's top forensic investigators had reconfirmed that the four victims identified through Monday were killed by bites, mauling, and "pressure" injuries. They also found dog hair on the victims' clothing. There were no signs of injuries caused by weapons or humans, Rios said.
On Dec. 29, the bodies of Shunashi Elizabeth Mendoza Caamal, 26, and an infant were found in the Cerro de Estrella area.
Mendoza, identified in some reports as a Guatemalan immigrant who had lived in Mexico for three years, was found with her left arm torn off and missing. An infant said to be her child was found by her side with bite injuries, officials said.
On Jan. 5, the bodies of Alejandra Ruiz Garcia, 15, and Samuel Suriel Martinez, 16, were found in the park in a "semi-devoured" state, officials said. In both cases, authorities said, biting and tearing occurred before and after the victims' deaths. Authorities confirmed that Ruiz called a sister pleading for help as the attack occurred, but the relative initially thought Ruiz was joking.
The wooded Cerro de Estrella park is known for its Holy Week festivities and its large-scale reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. It is also known as a magnet for petty crime, as Iztapalapa residents use the park for exercise, walks and picnics.
It was still unclear whether the dogs suspected in the attacks were strays or so-called "wild" dogs. It was also unclear what would happen to the canines sitting in the Iztapalapa pound, or if any humans would be investigated or found at fault for the attacks.
Officials have also been unable to explain what might have caused the bands of dogs to reportedly attack humans. Rios said the investigation was ongoing and that the detained pups were still undergoing tests.
"The dogs will not be sacrificed," Rios said. "They will be treated well."
Antemio Maya, president of the Pro-Street Dog Assn. in Mexico City, said he spent a day trying to gain access to the rounded-up dogs and met people who said one of the dogs seen in photographs belonged to them.
He questioned the official investigation and warned against a wave of "hate" against the estimated 1.2 million stray dogs that roam the city.
"It's very, very strange. Strays don't care about humans, they care about females in heat," Maya said. Authorities "are making a huge error. They're generating a climate of hate against dogs."
* Photo: Hand-out from the PGJ-DF showing some of the dogs captured in Iztapalapa after the suspected dog-maulings.
** Originally published at World Now and re-published today with some modifications in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- Promised that no questions would be asked, they've brought in handguns, pistols, rifles, grenades, ammunition, and dozens of gun replicas that may or may not have been used to spook a robbery victim.
Hundreds of people have turned in nearly a thousand weapons and at least one grenade-launcher in nine days in exchange for gifts and cash, as well as anonymity, in a holiday pilot program that has exceeded government expectations in Mexico's populous capital.
The program, For Your Family, Voluntary Disarming, was launched at the historic Santuario de la Cuevita church in the crime-toughened borough of Iztapalapa on Christmas Eve, with promises of tablet computers and bicycles for handing over any firearms.
By Dec. 31, when the offer was supposed to end, about 900 weapons had been turned in, said Rodolfo Rivera, the Mexico City police official in charge of the program. His team restarted the exchange on Wednesday.
The tablets and bikes have long run out, but steadily men and women of all ages arrived with nervous expressions and a curious-looking bag or two. Because Mexico's strict gun laws are regulated by the military, uniformed soldiers examined each weapon to determine its worth, then tagged it with tape and piled it with others waiting to be destroyed.
Alfonso Trejo, a 63-year-old from a nearby housing project, said he turned in two revolvers for cash and a despensa, a basic food package in a cardboard box. "You know, kids can be curious. You don't want that fear, you want calm," he said.
Asked the cash amount he was given for the revolvers, Trejo responded, "Things being the way they are, it's a bit for the ride, for a soda pop."
In truth, cash awards started at about $195 for a .22-caliber pistol and went up to $590 for a rifle. The borough government and the police department have split a cost of $203,000 in cash and gifts so far. The program has been extended through Saturday and will move to the northern borough of Gustavo A. Madero next week.
The program is similar to -- albeit more generous than -- one held in Los Angeles for one day last week. In exchange for supermarket gift cards, Californians turned in more than 2,000 firearms, including 75 assault weapons and two rocket launchers.
Serious crime has dropped in recent years within the boundaries of the Federal District, Mexico City's formal name, while drug-related violence has soared in other regions of the country. The Citizens Council on Public Safety and Justice said serious crimes in the capital dropped 11% in 2012.
Yet wide regions of the sprawling metropolitan zone remain under the threat of gun crime. Iztapalapa, the city's most populous borough, has in particular drawn the attention of the tabloid news pages in the past year for sharp increases in drug and gang violence.
On Nov. 2, a 10-year-old boy named Hendrik Cuacuas was killed by a stray bullet as he sat in a movie theater in an Iztapalapa mall, a case that brought attention to a growing local practice of firing rounds into the sky during parties and the borough's many prized festivals.
As young men carrying covered handguns and rifles kept arriving on Wednesday afternoon, Carlos Candelaria, the borough's public safety coordinator, said the gun exchange program would help. Authorities netted 43 more small guns, 12 big guns, six grenades, and 15 "war toys" such as tear-gas canisters.
"This is one less weapon on the streets, possibly one less life [lost], possibly one less injury," Candelaria said.
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY — For nearly 50 years, the mummified remains of a dog believed to have lived 1,000 years ago sat forgotten in a school museum in north-central Mexico.
That meant, among other things, that no one got to admire the ancient dog's irresistible facial expression.
The canine, which has no name, appears in recently released photographs lying on its side as if relaxing. Its expression is serene and somehow friendly.
Archaeologists say the mummified male dog is about 1,000 years old, but other than that, little is known about it, including whether it is a xoloitzcuintle, the indigenous Mexican hairless dog, because of its curious shape.
The specimen was pulled from the Cave of the Candelaria, a 30-foot-deep ancient burial site in the semidesert region known as La Laguna, by government researchers in 1953. Along with the dog, archaeologists found textiles, ceramics, arrowheads and mummified figures such as a 3-year-old child wrapped in a rope.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History says it was eventually stored at the museum of the Escuela de Bachilleres Venustiano Carranza, a state school in the city of Torreon.
It lay there, in effect forgotten, until August, when the institute's archaeologists at the Regional Museum of La Laguna examined the school's holdings, found the dog and determined that it hadn't been properly studied. Authorities said the dog will soon undergo DNA tests and carbon-dating.
Jaime Alejandro Bautista, the institute's subdirector of public records, said the mummified remains would prove telling if they turned out to be those of a xoloitzcuintle — pronounced "cho-los-kuint-leh." It would push the border of the breed's native region significantly farther north than the Mesoamerican region of central and southern Mexico. It could also suggest that nomadic northern peoples such as Chichimecas had earlier contact than previously thought with urbanizing pre-Hispanic societies such as the Aztecs.
"We know that dogs are associated with funeral rites in pre-Hispanic societies, so it is likely that it was deposited there intentionally," Bautista said. "The dog mummified naturally, due to the conditions of the microclimate in the cave."
Its skin, or what's left of it, is coated in a varnish, a preservation-minded mistake years ago by an unknown custodian, Bautista said.
"We just lost track of it. At the time, an adequate museum did not exist to receive it," he said.
Indeed, the northern region of Mexico is sorely understudied by anthropologists and archaeologists in comparison with the deeply studied Mesoamerican region. There are even fewer U.S. specialists — "five or six," by one count — who concentrate on the north and who might be able to independently comment on the rare mummified dog.
The dog could be put on display at the Regional Museum of La Laguna as early as mid-2013.
In the meantime, its friendly expression will remain out of public view.
** All photos courtesy of INAH.
** Originally published at World Now:
TULUM, Mexico – Hold on to your doomsday fever, folks, the Maya calendar date celebrated Friday as the “end of the world” might actually be off by two days – or a full year.
The end of the 13th baktun cycle of the so-called Long Count of the ancient Maya’s intricate, interlocking calendar system might correspond to Sunday, not Friday, said Carmen Rojas, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Rojas stressed that the Maya not only calculated baktun cycles of 144,000 days, but also had systems that measured the marches of Venus and the moon. Other scholars note some Maya glyphs mark dates thousands of years further into the future.
In addition, calendar dates that Maya leaders recorded on pillars that survive to this day might have been modified over time to suit certain cultural or political interests of the day, Rojas said during a walk-through Thursday of the ruins of Tulum, a pre-Hispanic port city situated on a spectacular bluff overlooking coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
One such inconsistency leads some Maya scholars to believe the 13th baktun cycle ends on Sunday, while others say it might be off by a full year or more.
Dec. 21 "is not a relevant date for us. It is an accident that someone would take and pull it out,” said Rojas, a specialist in the archaeology of cenotes, a type of sinkhole. “If you look at a book of Maya epigraphy, there are so many dates that could be commemorated. The glyphs are also not so easily interpreted. It depends on the correlation that you use.”
Nonetheless, in recent days, tourists from around the world have flocked to the so-called Maya Riviera on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, leading to higher-than-normal occupancy at hotels and on flights arriving at Cancun’s international airport, local reports said. Many visitors say they are using the supposed end of the 13th baktun as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and cleansing.
In Guatemala, people are gathering at the Maya site of Tikal for ceremonies marking the end of the baktun cycle and the winter solstice, which does correspond to sunset on Friday. Separately, highland Maya tied to the indigenous rebel army known as EZLN in Mexico’s state of Chiapas have mobilized and occupied at least five towns, reports said.
As tourists arriving on packed buses swarmed the Tulum site on Thursday, one visitor said she came to the region to get married at a nearby resort -- just in case.
"The end of a cycle is the end of a cycle, there are obviously translation issues," said Rhonda Church, a visitor to Tulum from San Marcos, Texas. "I find it interesting."
* Photo: People pray at Chichen Itza, on Dec. 21, 2012. Credit: Jacinto Kanek / EPA
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MERIDA, Mexico -- Contrary to any Hollywood doomsday scenarios or a variety of less-than-optimistic New Age theories, the world will not end Friday, Mexican tourism authorities and Merida residents assure anyone who asks.
Yes, the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the so-called Long Count of the Maya calendar corresponds more or less with Dec. 21, this year's winter solstice.
But the event merely signals the "end of an era" and the start of a new one, locals and scientists say. Or, as some academic Mayanists have explained, the end of the 13th baktun — a date deciphered from totem glyphs and written numerically as 22.214.171.124.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. government's decision this week not to prosecute top executives at the global giant HSBC for the bank's systematic laundering of money tied to violent Mexican drug cartels or to hostile regimes has resulted in an interesting number.
The U.S. fined the bank a record $1.92 billion on Tuesday, saying HSBC is essentially too big to prosecute. With assets, subsidiaries and investments spanning the globe, pressing criminal charges against HSBC could harm the global financial network at large, the Justice Department reasoned.
The fine, coincidentally, is about equal to the amount that the U.S. government has sent to Mexico in security aid in recent years under the Merida Initiative: A little more than $1.93 billion was sent by the Bush and Obama administrations to Mexico since 2007 to help Mexico fight the drug trade.
In other words, the money the U.S. government would collect from the British-based HSBC for laundering cartel cash would match the cost of the six-year security investment that the United States has made in a neighboring country fighting a bloody internal conflict.
The Merida Initiative funds for military hardware, intelligence upgrades and training is meant to help Mexico's government fight a war against drug cartels, which has left at least 60,000 people dead or missing over six years but made no major dent in the trafficking of drugs to the United States.
HSBC operators in Mexico are accused of laundering $881 million in drug profits, primarily for the Sinaloa cartel, as well as other Mexican and Colombian traffickers. In doing so, it violated a variety of U.S. laws and bank regulations, including the Trading with the Enemy Act and Bank Secrecy Act.
"These traffickers didn't have to try very hard," U.S. Assistant Atty. Gen. Lanny Breuer said in announcing the decision against HSBC.
"They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day in a single account," using deposit boxes "designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers' windows in HSBC's Mexico branches," Breuer said.
Pablo Galvan Tellez, a banking professor at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute, said banks are their own first line of defense against laundering activity.
"At the end of the day, banks must be glass boxes, where we can see all the tubes of where the money is coming from and where it's going," Galvan said.
Academic Edgardo Buscaglia, a world expert on money-laundering and organized crime, said the fine was a "farce," a laughable sum that amounted to "peanuts." He told a radio interviewer Friday that the fine equaled five weeks of HSBC earnings.
HSBC apologized this week for its "mistakes" and promised to set up better safeguards against laundering. The Sinaloa cartel, meanwhile, is believed to still control trafficking routes over much of western and northern Mexico.
* Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga / European Pressphoto Agency / December 14, 2012.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The city that was once considered one of the world's most polluted and crime-ridden now boasts that it is a haven from Mexico's drug violence and has gone so "green" with new mass transit lines and trendy vertical gardens that it is hardly recognizable from its former self.
Miguel Angel Mancera, the newly sworn-in mayor, vowed this week to continue the socially progressive policies of his predecessor and make Mexico's gargantuan capital "safer, freer, more equal, more progressive" during his next six years in office.
"My government shall be humanist, truthful, honorable, transparent, democratic and united with the people," the mayor said in his first speech after taking the oath of office Wednesday.
Mancera, 46, the former attorney general of Mexico City, holds a doctorate in law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a single father and fitness buff who boxes regularly. The society magazine Quien called him "the golden bachelor" in a recent cover story.
Mancera won the July 1 mayoral election by a whopping 63% of the vote, a margin of victory considered partly a referendum on the liberal Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and its uninterrupted run at City Hall since 1997, when the position of mayor was created for the Federal District, the formal name of Mexico City.
Mancera took the reins of the city's government after the largely successful term of outgoing Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a popular figure who is credited with reducing crime in the capital even as violence soared in other parts of the country and who legalized same-sex marriage and abortion on demand in the city.
The position of mayor is considered a launching pad for higher office in Mexico, but it is also a frustrating barrier for the PRD. Its presidential candidates in recent national elections, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have both been mayors of Mexico City but have been unable to capture the presidency in a total of four attempts.
Ebrard, a product of the more centrist wing of the PRD, was sidelined as candidate in the 2012 presidential election by the populist stalwart Lopez Obrador, who finished second after Enrique Peña Nieto, the new president.
After his swearing-in, Mancera said he would install thousands more high-tech surveillance cameras to further reduce crime. He also proposed the creation of a post in his Cabinet, a U.S.-style city manager, to answer citizens' needs.
On Thursday, his first full day on the job, Mancera waded into the capital's current major controversy, the alleged abuse by police and abitrary arrests of dozens of protesters in clashes during last week's swearing-in of Peña Nieto. The city's human rights commission said Thursday that more than 20 people who weren't involved in the violence had been arrested, including a Romanian journalist taking photographs of the events, and that at least four may have been tortured or beaten.
Mancera urged residents to be patient with legal proceedings for 69 people who face charges of vandalism and disturbing the peace on Saturday. "To say that no one disturbed the peace or public order would be out of touch with reality," he said.
However Mancera's term as mayor turns out, it may not be enough to catapult him higher if he harbors aspirations for the presidency in 2018. For that election, his former boss, Marcelo Ebrard, has already indicated he's in the running.
* Photo via Chilango.com.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Questions are dogging police this week after nearly 100 people were detained and at least 100 others injured -- two seriously -- during hours of raucous demonstrations in central Mexico City as Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico.
In scenes captured on video or transmitted live via Internet streams, demonstrators with their faces covered clashed Saturday with federal police officers outside the San Lazaro legislative chamber as Peña Nieto took the presidential oath of office. Later, more clashes erupted around the Palace of Fine Arts downtown between demonstrators and local police.
From there, masked "anarchists" rampaged through the central city, vandalizing hotels, restaurants and banks. The attacks caused more than $1.7 million in damage, authorities said.
"This was an attack on the city," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said of the protesters who damaged businesses. "They had nothing to do with the day's events."
Ebrard and Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said at police headquarters that at least three anarchist groups had planned the attacks on businesses "for weeks."
Two men were still hospitalized Tuesday, one critically, after being hit during the protests by what activists claim were police projectiles.
Juan Francisco Kuy Kendall, a 67-year-old theater director, was in a coma after he was hit in the head with a projectile outside San Lazaro during Saturday's confrontations, reports said. Further details about his condition were not known.
University student Uriel Sandoval Diaz, 22, was also struck with a projectile at San Lazaro and may lose sight in his right eye, doctors said.
Activists and rights groups are now raising questions about the police operations, claiming that dozens of people were arrested without cause.
YouTube videos show what are described as arbitrary detentions in the historic center of Mexico City. Municipal police are seen rounding up a man who was walking near a taco stand and another man in a suit.
The rights group Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of two Romanian freelance journalists who were detained while covering the demonstrations.
At least seven Mexican journalists suffered injuries or some form of aggression while covering the street protests, the free speech group Articulo 19 said in a statement.
The Mexico chapter of Amnesty International also released a statement urging authorities to respect the rights of those detained.
A spokesman for Mexico City's police declined to answer specific questions about the protests or discuss Saturday's operation.
A spokesman for the federal police did not return calls.
On Monday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, who until recently was chief of police in Mexico City and joined the Peña Nieto government as an operational chief at the federal level, said the clashes were "totally directed" by several anarchists groups.
He said 10 or 12 federal officers were injured Saturday.
The confrontations between police and a variety of protesting groups -- including teachers, students and others -- appeared to set a troubling tone for future relations between leftist organizations in Mexico and the first presidency under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since 2000.
As early as 7:30 a.m. Saturday, protesters made the first of several attempts to storm the San Lazaro chamber, but they were repelled by federal officers using tear gas and high-pressure water, videos show.
Afterward, clashes erupted at various sites near the National Palace, where Peña Nieto gave the first speech of his government before foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president of China.
Similar but smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities in Mexico. In Guadalajara, protesters gathered outside the annual International Book Fair to denounce the ascent of Peña Nieto to the presidency. Police arrested 27 people there; they were freed Monday night after paying fines, reports said.
On Monday, more than 2,000 people marched through central Mexico City calling for the release of more than 60 "political prisoners" who remain in custody and are now facing vandalism charges.
* Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
** 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:
Mexican President Felipe Calderon will head to Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., after his six-year term ends Saturday. He will be a teaching and research fellow in 2013, the university and the president's office said in statements Wednesday.
The announcement put to rest one of the most pressing questions in Mexico's political chatterbox: What's the next post or destination for Calderon, who declared a military-led campaign against drug cartels that left scores of civilians dead or missing across the country?
For his next move, the politically conservative Calderon will be named Inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School for next year, allowing him to lecture, teach and conduct research as he pleases, the school said.
Calderon received a mid-career master's degree in public administration at the Kennedy School in 2000. He also holds a law degree and a master's degree in economics from institutions in Mexico.
In inviting him to Harvard, the school emphasized Calderon's "pro-business" economic policies and his government's reforms in areas such as climate change and healthcare.
"President Calderon is a vivid example of a dynamic and committed public servant, who took on major challenges in Mexico," David T. Ellwood, dean of the school, said in the statement. "I am thrilled he will be returning."
Earlier this year, Calderon was in negotiations to take a post at the University of Texas at Austin, sparking protests among students and faculty there. One organizer of a petition against inviting Calderon to the University of Texas told a local news outlet in September that his presence there would be "like saying, 'We don’t care about your pain ... We don't care that your country has been ravaged.'"
Elite private universities in the United States are friendly ground for Mexican presidents. Calderon gave the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2011. Ernesto Zedillo, president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, is currently a professor at Yale University.
On Saturday, Calderon hands over Mexico's presidential sash to Enrique Peña Nieto in a ceremony at the lower house of Congress to launch the country's next six-year presidential term.
* Photo: Mexican President Felipe Calderon waves from the presidential palace. He hands over his post Saturday to Enrique Peña Nieto. Credit: Alex Cruz / EPA / November 20, 2012
Well, Southern California, we checked-in and said hello again. You'll always have a special place in my heart. But, as we all know, seasons change.
The talk at DePaul was about the processes in which the populist-progressive current leaders of Mexico City, under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, have re-socialized the core of the city into a "user-friendly" urban enthusiast's playden. The process I think at least partly reduces or represses some of the instinctual, genetic cultural ticks of improvisation and negotiation that define the true capitalino or chilango. "Safety first."
I'll have more about these ideas in future pieces. In the meantime, thank you Hugh Bartling and the DePaul community for the invitation. And thank you, Ector Garcia, gifted artist, for showing me around.
Chicago is impressive and I am eager to return.