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.
** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.
* 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.
Photo by Marco Antonio Cruz.
Today marks 20 years since a previously unknown army emerged from the rain forests of the indigenous highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, and declared war on the government. It was a landmark day. Even in early 1994, as a 13-year-old middle-school kid living in Southern California, I knew something huge was happening in my parents’ homeland. And I started to pay attention.
That same day, the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA was going to launch the hemisphere into the age of the globalized economy, inducting Mexico into the club of developed nations. There was what seemed to be an infallible hope of more and better and cheaper goods would pour in from the United States. We were all supposed to be excited about it.
But the armed group that seized parts of Chiapas that New Year’s Day, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), had a much different point of view.
They declared war—specifically on an army dozens of times larger than theirs. The indigenous and poor of Mexico had apparently had enough. Under the autocratic regime of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), or “dinosaurs” as they were more colloquially known, exploitation, inequality, and neglect were the norm. Nothing was changing, and there was no potential for change on the horizon. Peaceful means of protest were no longer an option for the army that called themselves Zapatistas, in honor of the Mexican Revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata who took up arms nearly a century before.
The new Zapatistas rightly suspected that NAFTA would do little to better their conditions, or could even worsen them. The guerrillas offered a wake-up call for Mexico, but also, I think, for all of Latin America and for Latino diasporas in the United States.
It was the first armed uprising in Mexico since the country’s “Dirty War” against leftist guerillas in the 60s and 70s (a period that’s been erased from Mexico’s official history, and thus is barely mentioned in the national narrative). It was also considered the first armed uprising in history aided and spread by modern technology and organized through the internet (the EZLN’s first declarations, which were distributed via fax). The guerrillas included men and women, mostly ethnic Maya Indians who spoke Mayan languages. They relied on a charismatic Spanish-speakingmestizo spokesman known as Subcomandante Marcos to send their message around the globe. In short time, Marcos’s pipe, machine gun, and ski mask quickly became iconic.
The armed EZLN rebellion lasted 12 days, costing roughly 100 lives, although that figure remains in dispute. A ceasefire was called, and peace accords began. Those went basically nowhere. A stalemate has hung over the two sides ever since, while political violence and disappearances in Chiapas continue to this day.
On January 1, 1994, no one knew how the Zapatista uprising would play out. But we all knew that Mexico—and a few generations of Mexicans—would never be the same again.
Marco Antonio Cruz, one of Mexico’s most respected photojournalists, managed a photo agency called Imagen Latina at this pivotal time. On the morning after word emerged that the EZLN revolt had begun in the mountains, Marco Antonio and a small group of journalists in Mexico City gathered at the airport and wrangled an airline to fly them to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas state capital, after all routes there had been halted. He covered the earliest and bloodiest days of the EZLN conflict.
Today Marco Antonio is photography editor of Mexico’s storied investigative weekly, Proceso. The magazine has published some of the most memorable shots from the Zapatista movement.Proceso’s Mexico City headquarters is a modest, white-stucco house on a residential street in Colonia Del Valle. I recently visited Marco Antonio there to recall the EZLN revolt through the lens of the photojournalists who were there to document it.
“For many of photographers Chiapas is a state where the injustice, the neglect, has been historic,” Marco Antonio told me. “Much of what occurred after the triumph of the Mexican Revolution [1910-1920] never reached Chiapas. It’s been centuries and centuries of slavery and oppression.
“[Photographer] Antonio Turok had already been living there for 15 or 20 years, and my first trips were in the 80s when the Guatemalan refugees arrived. I also did a project about blindness in Mexico, so I went to communities in Chiapas where people were affected by blindness. I knew the situation. It is a place where people die from curable diseases. Something like this had to happen, and so, when it did, it really wasn’t all that surprising.”
In his dim office, the photographer went on to remember the fear that gripped him the first time he saw uniformed Zapatista casualties following their skirmishes with the Mexican Army, and then how he shared in the thrill that many of us felt years later upon seeing the Zapatistas’ caravan arriving before crowds of supportive civilians in the symbolic core of the nation—the Zocalo central square in Mexico City.
Here are 20 photographs that Cruz shared with VICE that tell us, paired with his commentary, the story of 20 years of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional.
“This is by Antonio Turok, he used to contribute to Imagen Latina, and lived in San Cristobal de las Casas. In the middle of the night on January 1, he came upon the arrival of the Zapatistas and the take-over of the municipal hall in San Cristobal de las Casas. They took the main city halls in the highlands and in the jungle, and the most important one was San Cristobal. And this photo, well, is an icon. It is part of the history of this country, the entrance of the Zapatistas.”
** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 188.8.131.52.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 184.108.40.206.14]
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:
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 220.127.116.11.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Questions are dogging police this week after nearly 100 people were detained and at least 100 others injured -- two seriously -- during hours of raucous demonstrations in central Mexico City as Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico.
In scenes captured on video or transmitted live via Internet streams, demonstrators with their faces covered clashed Saturday with federal police officers outside the San Lazaro legislative chamber as Peña Nieto took the presidential oath of office. Later, more clashes erupted around the Palace of Fine Arts downtown between demonstrators and local police.
From there, masked "anarchists" rampaged through the central city, vandalizing hotels, restaurants and banks. The attacks caused more than $1.7 million in damage, authorities said.
"This was an attack on the city," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said of the protesters who damaged businesses. "They had nothing to do with the day's events."
Ebrard and Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said at police headquarters that at least three anarchist groups had planned the attacks on businesses "for weeks."
Two men were still hospitalized Tuesday, one critically, after being hit during the protests by what activists claim were police projectiles.
Juan Francisco Kuy Kendall, a 67-year-old theater director, was in a coma after he was hit in the head with a projectile outside San Lazaro during Saturday's confrontations, reports said. Further details about his condition were not known.
University student Uriel Sandoval Diaz, 22, was also struck with a projectile at San Lazaro and may lose sight in his right eye, doctors said.
Activists and rights groups are now raising questions about the police operations, claiming that dozens of people were arrested without cause.
YouTube videos show what are described as arbitrary detentions in the historic center of Mexico City. Municipal police are seen rounding up a man who was walking near a taco stand and another man in a suit.
The rights group Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of two Romanian freelance journalists who were detained while covering the demonstrations.
At least seven Mexican journalists suffered injuries or some form of aggression while covering the street protests, the free speech group Articulo 19 said in a statement.
The Mexico chapter of Amnesty International also released a statement urging authorities to respect the rights of those detained.
A spokesman for Mexico City's police declined to answer specific questions about the protests or discuss Saturday's operation.
A spokesman for the federal police did not return calls.
On Monday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, who until recently was chief of police in Mexico City and joined the Peña Nieto government as an operational chief at the federal level, said the clashes were "totally directed" by several anarchists groups.
He said 10 or 12 federal officers were injured Saturday.
The confrontations between police and a variety of protesting groups -- including teachers, students and others -- appeared to set a troubling tone for future relations between leftist organizations in Mexico and the first presidency under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since 2000.
As early as 7:30 a.m. Saturday, protesters made the first of several attempts to storm the San Lazaro chamber, but they were repelled by federal officers using tear gas and high-pressure water, videos show.
Afterward, clashes erupted at various sites near the National Palace, where Peña Nieto gave the first speech of his government before foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president of China.
Similar but smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities in Mexico. In Guadalajara, protesters gathered outside the annual International Book Fair to denounce the ascent of Peña Nieto to the presidency. Police arrested 27 people there; they were freed Monday night after paying fines, reports said.
On Monday, more than 2,000 people marched through central Mexico City calling for the release of more than 60 "political prisoners" who remain in custody and are now facing vandalism charges.
* Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
** Originally published at World Now:
"Excuse me, Mr. President. I cannot say you are welcome here, because for me, you are not. No one is."
The woman's voice trembled with bitterness and apprehension. She stood just a few feet away from a low stage where Mexican President Felipe Calderon, his wife, Margarita Zavala, and top members of his Cabinet were seated at a tightly controlled forum in Ciudad Juarez on Feb. 11, 2010.
"No one is doing anything! I want justice, not just for my children, but for all of the children," she went on. "Juarez is in mourning!"
The woman, later identified as Luz Maria Davila, a maquiladora worker, lost her two sons in a massacre that had left 15 young people dead during a house party in Juarez 12 days earlier.
Calderon initially dismissed the victims as "gang members," more cogs in the machine of violence that by then was terrorizing every sector of what was once Mexico's most promising border city. But news reports quickly revealed that the victims of the Villas de Salvarcar massacre were mostly promising students and athletes.
They died only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: Juarez hitmen had been ordered to kill everyone at the party because it was believed that rival gang members were in attendance.
"I bet if they killed one of your children, you'd lift every stone and you'd find the killer," Davila said to the president as the room fell silent after her interruption. "But since I don't have the resources, I can't find them."
Calderon and Zavala remained silent, frowning.
"Put yourself in my shoes and try to feel what I feel," the mother continued. "I don't have my sons. They were my only sons."
It was a searing, unscripted moment in a presidential term that was abundant with them.
In his six years in office, a term ending Saturday with the swearing-in of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, Calderon's government built bridges and museums, expanded healthcare and led major international meetings on climate change and development. But for the many achievements, the Calderon years will probably be remembered as the bloodiest in Mexico's history since the Revolutionary War a century ago.
Civilians were mowed down by masked gunmen at parties and funerals. Journalists, mayors, human rights activists, lawyers and police commanders from small towns to big cities were shot while sitting in their cars or going on errands. Regular citizens, from small-business owners to oil workers, were snatched from homes or offices and never heard from again.
While drugs continued to flow north and U.S. government weapons and cash laundered by major global banks flowed south, the Calderon security strategy remained basically unchanged over the years. Its effect was a catastrophic expansion of violence and a crime-solving rate of nearly zero.
For average Mexicans, the extreme violence seen during this sexenio -- as a six-year presidential term is called -- was psychologically and emotionally grueling, particularly for children, experts say. In many parts of Mexico, a culture of fear settled over the population.
Overall, more than 100,000 people were violently killed in Mexico during this term, government figures show. The number of those killed directly tied to the drug war may never be known, as the lines blurred between drug-trafficking violence and violence spurred by the general impunity enjoyed by the drug lords.
The national human rights commission says more than 20,000 people are missing in Mexico. Torture is also believed to be widespread nationally.
During this term, Mexican cartels also expanded their control and firepower to Central America, while clandestine anti-trafficking operations led or funded by the United States grew to unprecedented levels, as The Times reported this week. About half of Mexico's territory is believed to be under cartel influence.
Here is a rundown of some significant events and markers of Mexico's drug war from 2006 to 2012 -- the Calderon years.
** 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
** Originally published at World Now and re-published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?
The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.
Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.
Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.
"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."
Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.
"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."
Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.
"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."
But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.
"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.
* Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia on Plaza Garibaldi, Oct. 27, 2012.
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
By Daniel Hernandez and Cecilia Sanchez
ISLA HOLBOX, Mexico — Separated from the Yucatan Peninsula by a lagoon, this pristine island has streets of sand, iguanas that roam among humans, and a police presence best described as casual. In the tiny town on its western tip, golf carts are the primary mode of transportation.
"It's like out of movie, isn't it?" said a chuckling Ramon Chan, a 41-year-old vendor who on a recent day was hacking away at fresh coconuts from a cart on the beach.
In recent years, however, Isla Holbox (pronounced "holl-bosch") has sat at the center of a complex legal dispute pitting powerful developers seeking to build a high-end resort against a group of longtime residents who say they were cheated out of their rights as holders of revolutionary-era communal lands, known as ejidos.
The fight illuminates the growing practice of transferring communal ejidos — which make up slightly more than half of the national territory — to private hands, a practice that was authorized in 1992 but remains a legal twilight zone.
In separate cases, nine islanders allege that Peninsula Maya Developments offered to buy their individualized ejido parcels in a 2008 deal to which they agreed. But in the process, theejidatarios allege, the developers also persuaded them to unwittingly sell their permanent, constitutionally guarded titles to the Holbox ejido at large.
Because Mexico's agrarian law refers to "inalienable" titles toejidos, the islanders are asking courts to nullify the dual sale of their parcels and titles.
In response, the company said the sales were legal and clear and suggested in a statement that the ejidatarios are trying to shake them down for more money than the original price of about $388,000.
The developers contend that the ejidatarios are challenging the deal through loopholes in the ejido laws, which established strict codes meant to protect the rural peasant class from abuse by private interests. The suits over the $3.2-billion development plan are working their way through Mexico's agrarian tribunals, with one awaiting a hearing before the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the island simmers with discord, and the eastern end, where La Ensenada resort would be built, remains untouched.
** Originally published at World Now:
Governments in Latin America quickly congratulated Hugo Chavez on his reelection Sunday as president of Venezuela, a sign of his convincing win over strong opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.
With Chavez's victory, Venezuela's socialist government is set to remain in power at least through 2019 and maintain its position as a regional leader for leftist governments that are Bolivarian ideological allies or depend on Venezuela's oil and subsidies.
The congratulations were effusive and personally directed at the president who has been in office for more than 13 years, making Chavez, 58, the longest-serving leader in Latin America.
"Your decisive victory assures the continuation of the struggle for the genuine integration of Our America," said Cuban President Raul Castro, in a statement released by the communist country's embassy in Mexico City.
Ecuad President Rafael Correa called Chavez "compa" -- short for compadre -- via Twitter and declared: "All of Latin American is with you and with our beloved Venezuela. ... Next battle: Ecuador!"
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales called Chavez's victory a win for "the nations of Latin America that fight for their sovereign dignity," according to the official Bolivian Information Agency.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner sent an emotional tweet to the Venezuelan leader, saying: "Hugo, today I wish to tell you that you have plowed the earth, you have sown it, you have watered it, and today you have picked up the harvest."
Capriles conceded after voting Sunday showed Chavez winning by nearly 10 percentage points with 90% of votes counted. Despite the narrowing in his margin of victory over past elections, Chavez overcame the challenge due partly to what one pollster called an "irrational and emotional devotion" to him among poor Venezuelans.
By Monday, other regional players, including ideologically conservative governments that share closer ties to the United States, also recognized Chavez's win. The foreign relations ministries of Colombia and Mexico pledged in short statements to continue working with the Venezuela president, who has struggled against cancer.
"The government of Mexico reiterates its full disposition to keep strengthening the relations of friendship and cooperation that unite Mexico and Venezuela," the Foreign Ministry in Mexico City said.
* Photo: Front-pages in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 8, 2012. Credit: AFP
** Originally published at World Now:
Nearly a third of households in Mexico suffered a crime in 2011 and only in 8% of those cases was a preliminary investigation opened, according to new figures from the national statistics institute.
The numbers demonstrate that crimes with victims, including robbery, assault, car theft, extortion, identity theft, and kidnappings, are widely under-reported to authorities in Mexico and that the true scope is probably unknown.
The National Institute of Statistics and Geography, or Inegi by its Spanish acronym, polled 95,903 homes this spring and asked respondents to list instances of crime victimization in 2011, not including homicides.
In 30.6% of households polled, at least one adult resident was victimized in 2011. When the victim was present, "physical aggression" occurred in 26.6% of the cases.
The most common crimes were robberies or muggings, car thefts and burglaries. In 91.6% of the cases, preliminary investigations were not started, as victims widely distrust the police or see reporting crimes as a "waste of time," Inegi said in an analysis released Sept. 27.
The government of President Felipe Calderon, who is leaving office late this year, says that violence tied to the drug war is diminishing. Inegi's Public Safety Perception Index, a figure calculated on a monthly basis, shows that Mexicans' sense of personal safety is steadily rising.
However, a separate poll conducted in Mexico by the U.S. firm Gallup showed that Mexicans felt less safe walking alone at night in 2011 compared with 2007, the first full year of Calderon's campaign against the cartels.
In that struggle, more than 55,000 people have been killed, media estimates say, though independent analysts and activists say that figure is under-counted.
Inegi's new analysis also estimates that Mexicans lost $16.6 billion to crimes in 2011, or about 1.38% of the country's gross domestic product. Most of that amount was in stolen money or valuables, Inegi said, while 24.8% of that was money spent on preventive measures such as new locks, windows, and doors on homes.
* Photo: Armed police officers patrol in Mexico City in 2004. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
Dancing + being in love + flying?
"Dancing in Slow Motion," by friends Teengirl Fantasy, features vocals from the venerable Shannon Funchess. And don't you think she sings with the grace of a chamana from space? There are a variety of great remixes, such as a noteworthy mix Brenmar. But the original has that beautiful pause at 2:39 ... and then it catches you, safe.
This is the mercado in Tizimin, a stop between Valladolid and the port of Chiquilá. The mercado is easily one of the coolest structures I think I've ever seen in Mexico. It is circular; concentric rows of stalls are separated in meats, produce, produce, and meats again. Tizimin is known for its meats. But not for this building, unbelievably.
The design makes the market feel airy, inviting, even logical; those are qualities that would rarely be used to describe a mercado in Mexico, where stalls are usually crammed into a dense maze system. The circular design also permits the room to be flooded with natural light all day. Noise bounces around soothingly.
I found a circular market online in Coventry, Britain, and one Givry, France. Any others? In Tizimin's case, it feels like one of those rare "perfect" buildings, in terms of its properties of harmony, and I'm glad I got to see it.
It was a Saturday. We asked vendors when the market was built, or who designed it. The most we got was that it was about 50 years old. If so, the mercado would have been built during the boom of spirited Modern architecture in Mexico, chronicled by enthusiasts such as Mario Ballesteros.
What brilliant young Maya architect snagged this PRI era contract and came up with harmony? Is the form a reference to prehispanic Maya design? Or is it by the architect who did TAPO? Serious Investigations.
** Originally published at World Now:
For travelers who've never been to the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza, a virtual window into the site's pyramids and plazas is available online, among 30 archaeological zones in Mexico now mapped by history's greatest peeping Tom: Google Street View.
From the comfort of a computer, any Internet user anywhere can now zoom in and examine the perfect form of Chichen Itza's Kukulkan pyramid, known also El Castillo, or the Castle.
On Google Street View, a viewer can almost feel like they might tumble into the Sacred Cenote, or natural sinkhole, where Maya priests practiced ritual sacrifice. Or imagine cavorting on the Plaza of the Thousand Columns. Or maybe do some souvenir browsing, up close and in intensely high resolution.
Google and Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, announced the new maps last week. Using a 360-degree camera mounted on a bicycle, Google captured "street views" of other major archaeological sites in Mexico, such as Monte Alban in Oaxaca and Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.
The Internet search engine has focused its publicity campaign for the new maps on images captured at Chichen Itza, one of Mexico's most storied tourist destinations. But for travelers who have been there, could Google Street View now be better than the real thing?
Consider: A recent (physical) visit to Chichen Itza confirmed that tourists are no longer allowed to climb the Castillo pyramid, no more tackling its famous 91 steps that President Felipe Calderon recently climbed in a widely mocked tourism video.
Visitors can no longer actually, physically cavort among the plaza of the columns. In fact, most of the structures at Chichen Itza these days are off-limits to tourists, who must settle on snapping photos behind wire barriers. Worse, the archaeological zone is also overrun with vendors from the neighboring communities, making a non-virtual visit a somewhat disappointing experience overall.
Since Chichen Itza was declared a new Seven Wonders of the World site in 2007, access has been limited due to concerns over deterioration and also because the site's restoration process is ongoing, said an INAH spokesman.
The same is true at the Palenque zone in Chiapas, the spokesman said, where a visitor like you and me may no longer be able to climb that site's spectacular structures. But on Google, at least, there's a decent shot of a man in an orange polo with a sweat towel on his head.
* Photo: A view of the Kukulkan pyramid, or El Castillo, at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatan. Credit: Google, via INAH
** 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
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 on June 27, in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
TLAXCALA, Mexico — His razor-thin defeat in the 2006 presidential election spiraled into a contentious political melodrama that divided Mexican society after he refused to accept the results.
Now Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is running again, his second and presumably last attempt to become Mexico's first leftist president in modern times.
"We are going to win the presidency of the country once more," the former mayor of Mexico City proclaimed triumphantly during a campaign stop last week in this small colonial center east of the capital.
Once again, his optimism may belie the facts on the ground. In national polls, he continues to lag far behind Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, although he says his own internal polling shows him running neck and neck.
Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, has been gaining slightly in national polls since the race began in March, capitalizing on discontent with two successive governments under the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, and on lingering distrust of Peña Nieto and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Wrapped in a long wool serape thrown on him as he inched his way through throngs of supporters, Lopez Obrador described his "adversaries" as "desperate," detailing what he views as a conspiracy of television and political propaganda to "impose" front-runner Peña Nieto on the public.
The crowd booed, jeered and banged on drums. "May God never will it," a woman huffed near the podium.
This week, Lopez Obrador called on PRD supporters to be vigilant observers at polling places Sunday in case the PRI or PAN attempted to steal votes or stuff ballot boxes, which his campaign claims occurred widely in 2006.
Silver-haired at 58, Lopez Obrador inspires fervent passion in supporters — and profound angst among his many critics.
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexico's presidential campaign entered the home stretch Monday, with less than a week left until voters cast ballots in a race that could return the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to power. The PRI ruled virtually unchallenged and often with a heavy hand for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000.
The top three candidates crisscrossed the country over the weekend rallying thousands of supporters at huge events in the final days of official campaigning.
The PRI's poll-leading candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, on Sunday held a closing rally at the cavernous Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, runner-up in the 2006 election, closed his campaign in the capitals of western states Nayarit and Jalisco.
Josefina Vazquez Mota of the incumbent National Action Party, or PAN, rallied supporters in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, in the state of Veracruz.
"I am not like the PRI candidate who has brought a foreigner to take care of our families," Vazquez Mota said, in reference to Peña Nieto's appointment of Gen. Oscar Naranjo of Colombia to be an external advisor in security matters if he wins.
Mexicans will vote Sunday, in balloting that will also pick senators and deputies in Congress and six governors in races that could similarly see gains for the PRI, polls show. The PAN could lose two states it currently governs, Morelos and Jalisco, which have seen increases in violence tied to the government's campaign against organized crime.
The #YoSoy 132 movement managed to organize Mexico's first non-official "citizens debate" online June 19, with three of four candidates. Peña Nieto declined to attend, saying he believed the movement opposed his candidacy.
Another large demonstration against Peña Nieto was held in the center of Mexico City on Sunday. But despite the protests, most polls still show him withstanding early fumbles and maintaining his lead.
Throughout the campaign, Peña Nieto, 45, has been forced to reassure observers of his credentials to govern. In December, he was unable to name three books that influenced his life, and allegations have surfaced during the campaign that a former PRI governor of the violence-plagued state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, has ties to drug traffickers.
The PRI ruled the country from the end of the Mexican Revolution until it was voted out in 2000. Opponents fear its return could lead to authoritarian echoes of the past, such as repression and censorship.
Peña Nieto has campaigned on a message of inclusion, and has mostly refrained from attacking his opponents.
"I propose to the nation a plainly democratic presidency," he said Sunday. "I am part of a generation that has grown up with democracy and I aspire to be a president that governs by respecting liberties, listening to all and including the voices of everyone."
All three candidates have essentially similar security platforms, The Times reported Sunday, suggesting that the election is unlikely to reshape the drug war that has left more than 50,000 dead and scores missing in nearly six years.
Since 2000, two successive center-right governments under the PAN saw economic stability but few significant reforms. Drug-related violence has exploded since 2006. Vazquez Mota has dipped to third in some polls, in a sign of weariness with the results of the drug war.
On the left, charismatic populist Lopez Obrador remains at least 10 points behind Peña Nieto. He asked supporters Sunday to use social networks to "guard the vote" to avoid a repeat of the contested results in 2006, which saw him lose by 0.56 point.
"I want to clarify this so that no one will think it's a small thing we're looking for," Lopez Obrador said in Guadalajara. "It's not only about reaching a public office. What we want is to achieve the rebirth of Mexico."
Also on Sunday, at least 26 people died when a passenger bus plunged off a road in the southern state of Guerrero. The victims were identified as supporters of the Democratic Revolution Party who were headed to a campaign event to support a minor leftist party candidate for a local mayoral race.
-- Daniel Hernandez
* Photo: Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, center in white shirt, rallies supporters at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Sunday. He stands with Beatriz Paredes, PRI candidate for mayor of Mexico City, left, and his wife, actress Angelica Rivera. Credit: Alex Cruz / European Pressphoto Agency
Here's an elderly man -- he seemed to be about 75 -- who is literaly crawling under a big rig truck to get one last glimpse of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador today in Tlaxcala, the tiny state in the antiplano north of Puebla.
As "AMLO" attempted to leave the closure of his campaign in this state, squeezing into his campaign minivan to head down to Veracruz, the customary chaos ensued. This truck stood in this man's way. Others were doing it, too. ... Why?
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government on Friday halted a controversial mega-resort development in Baja California Sur after environmentalists said it would have threatened a large coral reef in the Sea of Cortes that has rebounded dramatically from years of damage.
The government canceled the proposed Cabo Cortes project by withdrawing provisional permits first granted in 2008 to the Madrid-based company Hansa Baja Investments. President Felipe Calderon said at the presidential residence Los Pinos that the company failed to provide enough proof that the project would not harm the rich biodiversity of the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Park.
The protected marine reserve of more than 17,550 acres -- most of it at sea near Cabo San Lucas -- has become a symbol of environmental renewal after years of overfishing in the area.
"Due to [the project's] magnitude, we needed absolute certainty that no irreversible damage would be generated, and that absolutely certainty, simply and plainly, was not generated," Calderon said.
The Spanish company did not immediately react to the cancellation of the project. Hansa Baja Investments reportedly has been hard-hit by the Eurozone financial crisis.
Nonprofit groups, environmental advocates and researchers in Mexico campaigned heavily to stop the Cancun-size Cabo Cortes development, arguing that the proposed marina and 30,000-room hotel would be built too close to the reserve, one of the largest and most important in the country.
Since the Cabo Pulmo reserve was established in 1995, the total amount of fish rose by more than 460% over a 10-year period, according to a 2011 study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Greenpeace Mexico said in a statement that more than 220,000 citizen signatures opposing the project were delivered to the federal government last week. The group hailed Calderon's decision as a victory but said that it would still press for investigations of authorities in Mexico's environmental agency over the Cabo Cortes development's permit process.
"The Cabo Cortes project was not only unsustainable, it was also illegal," said Greenpeace Mexico Executive Director Patricia Arendar. "Mexico needs accountability, transparency in the authorization of projects of this kind, and guarantees that environmental rights will be respected."
* Photo: An undated photograph of a humpback whale at the Cabo Pulmo National Park marine reserve. Credit: Prometeo Lucero / Greenpeace