Friday 29 March 2013

Joaquín "El Chapo” Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel brings in $3 billion a year

El Chapo - all business
According to a report to be released next week, Joaquín "El Chapo” Guzmán controls 80% of the methamphetamine market in the United States and is the main trafficker of opium from Asia to Mexico and the United States.

Guzmán, the de facto head of the Sinaloa Cartal, Mexico’s largest, is estimated to earn about US$3 billion annually, comparable to Netflix or Facebook.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Army to accompany aid workers into 49 Mexican communities

"To live better" says SEDESOL
In January 21 of this year the Mexican government announced its National Crusade Against Hunger (Cruzada Nacional contra el Hambre), which is specifically targeted at the 7.4 million of Mexico’s 11.7 million people who are living in extreme poverty.

The Crusade will be staffed by the Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) and will address the needs of 400 communities. However, in 49 of those communities the security situation is so bad that government aid workers will have to be accompanied by the army.

The program is set to start April 1 and in its first stage will address the needs of 4.5 million people. It has an overall budget of 294 billion pesos (US$23.8 billion) and will include 70 programs. As a result of the high risk of violence in some areas, it will also involve a security strategy integrated with the Department of Defense.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

The cardboard-on-grass tobogganers of Montevideo, Uruguay

Some have heard of Jamaican bobsledders, and of Canadians who play golf in the snow.

Now there are the cardboard-on-grass tobogganers of Montevideo, Uruguay.

During a recent visit we went for a walk along the Uruguayan capital’s lovely coastline, which is scalloped with sandy beaches. It’s not the best swimming, but people were out sunbathing, walking their dogs, jogging, cycling, rollerblading, and...toboganning.

Friday 22 March 2013

Argentina skirts full blown currency crisis

"I have the strength you give me"
The Argentine peso was hit hard this past week on the black market: the official rate hovers slightly above 5 to the US dollar, but on Wednesday the “parallel” market saw it move up 48 centavos (cents) to trade at $8.75. That’s 75% over the official rate.

The peso made a comeback later in the week to drop into the $8.45 range. Black market dealers in the “caves” on the pedestrian malls on Florida Street and near Plaza de Mayo reported that the streets were suddenly flooded with dollars, a possible attempt by the government to cause some pain to speculators.

By comparison, on Wednesday Buenos Aires was crawling with hawkers yelling “Cambio! Cambio!” – it seemed everyone, young and old, male and female, wanted to get in on the game. Local press also reported arrests at the Bolivian border of people trying to move large sums of $US into the country. The black market for the “blue” – an Argentine colloquialism for the US dollar – is being further driven by increasing government restrictions on dollar purchases.

CEO Kevin McArthur says suggestions of possible Tahoe Resources complicity in murder of Guatemalan indigenous leader “a complete fabrication”

Approximate location of proposed mine site
In response to a query from La politica, Ira M. Gostin, Vice President Investor Relations for the Canadian silver mining company Tahoe Resources Inc., as well as CEO Kevin McArthur, have rejected any suggestion that the company or its subsidiary, Minera San Rafael (MSR), were involved in the murder earlier this week of the indigenous activist Exaltación Marcos Ucelo.

“Tahoe Resources along with its Guatemala operating company Minera San Rafael (MSR) emphatically reject and condemn criminal activities in our surrounding communities and in Guatemala at-large,” Mr. Gostin told La politica in an email.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Tensions rise after murder of Guatemalan indigenous activist opposed to Canada’s Tahoe Resources silver project

The vote (Photo: C.P.R.Urbana)
An indigenous Guatemalan activist opposed to Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources’ plan for a silver mine was found dead on the morning of Monday, March 18.

Four indigenous Xinca leaders, including the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament, were abducted by a group of heavily armed men shortly after 8 pm on the night of Sunday, March 17. Two of the kidnapped men escaped, and Roberto González Ucelo, President of the Xinca Parliament, was freed a day later.

However, the lifeless body of the fourth man, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, who acted as Secretary of the Xinca Parliament, was discovered the morning after the kidnapping in a ravine in Mataquescuintla. According to Guatemala’s deputy minister of state, Edy Juárez, the community activist had been severely beaten before being killed.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Buenos Aires and the plague of the Adidas track suit

The classic look
Upon arriving in Buenos Aires the first thing we noticed was that the people were friendly, and that they spoke Spanish like Italians.

We noticed too what a lovely city it is architecturally, and its vibrant feel. But something was off. The people looked as if they had “let themselves go”, and in a manner that had nothing to do with poverty.

Then, one day while walking down Independencia, we witnessed an extraordinary sight. A well-dressed middle-aged woman was casually tearing a strip off a man in his thirties. He had his nose stuck in his device. In his left hand, a cigarette smouldered.

But this wasn’t what offended her.

Argentina’s President Kirchner asks Pope Francis to mediate Falkland Islands dispute

Honour guard at the war memorial in Buenos Aires
President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina has asked Pope Francis, an Argentinian, to help solve the Falkland Islands dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom (UK).

Kirchner specifically asked for “his brokerage” of the dispute. The islands in the South Atlantic, which the Argentine government refers to as Las Malvinas, were subject to a brief war in April 1982, which Argentina lost. Most residents of the islands speak English and wish for the Falklands to remain a British Overseas Territory.

Of seven killed in Cancún bar attack, six were innocent victims after “everything went out of control”

Behind the scenes...not so pretty
The depressing regularity of drug violence in Mexico took another brutal turn on Thursday, March 14, when seven people were shot to death in a bar outside the hotel zone in Cancún.

Now, according one of two men arrested in connection with the murders, it turns out that the attack was only intended to target one man.

The attorney general of the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatán peninsula, Armando García Torres, has told the Mexican press that one of the arrested men, Héctor Cacique Fernández (aka “el Diablo”),  confessed to only wanting to kill one individual, Asís Achach Castro (aka “Barbi”).

Monday 18 March 2013

Pope Francis buys Argentina’s Kirchner some time

The churches in Buenos Aires got the posters up pretty quick
Buenos Aires. When President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died on March 5 his political ally president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina arrived within 24 hours to show her respects.

However, she then returned to Buenos Aires the next day, on March 7, and didn't attend Chávez’s funeral. This caused some pundits  in her home country to opine that she was either trying to distance herself from the legacy of the deceased socialist leader, or that she feared being upstaged by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another friend of Chávez.

Either way, back at home problems were mounting: inflation was on the rise, and the country’s two main right-of-center newspapers, La Nacion and Clarín, were maintaining their critical stance against the Peronist president.

Sunday 17 March 2013

The wild dogs of Mexico

Not guilty
On March 6 Notimex reported that an inebriated 61-year-old Mexican man was attacked and killed by wild dogs in Tlalnepantla, north of Mexico City. This followed an attack in early January in an ecological reserve within the Federal District (Mexico City), in which four people were killed. And after that news broke, it was reported that a 15-year-old girl had been found dead and partly eaten last December in the same area. She is now believed to have been the first victim.

All six victims were partly eaten by the dogs, suggesting that this is not rabies, or fear-based: it is hunting for food.

In an interview with Mexico’s La Prensa, Julio Cancino, who is finishing his studies in veterinary and zoological sciences at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City (UNAM), said that stray dogs usually live in streets and subsist off of garbage. In that environment, it makes sense to fear people.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Four arrests in murder of Jalisco’s secretary of tourism

The scene of the crime (source: Excelsior)
The news that the secretary of tourism for the Mexican state of Jalisco, which includes the popular tourist destinations of Lake Chapala and Puerto Vallarta, has been assassinated has sent shock waves around the country.

José de Jesús Gallegos Álvarez was walking to his Toyota Highlander at around 3:15 pm on Saturday March 9 in the Zapopan neighbourhood of Guadalajara, the state capital and Mexico’s second largest city, when he was shot multiple times. Investigators found at least 25 spent 9 millimeter cartridges at the scene.

It is thought that the assailants may have first deliberately crashed into Mr. Gallegos Álvarez’s vehicle to distract him.

Gallegos Álvarez, 47, had just met with other members of the cabinet of the newly-elected PRI governor Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval to assess his first 100 days in office. The secretary himself had only held his position for nine days.

The tourism secretary, a property developer, was killed outside of the Torre de Hierro building, which was one of his projects. His chauffeur and another individual travelling with him were wounded in the attack.

Four people have been arrested in relation to the murder, which had at least 40 witnesses.

As well, the secretary of state for Jalisco, Arturo Zamora Jiménez, said in an official statement that, as a result of the preliminary investigation, the government believes Mr. Gallegos Álvarez was killed as a result of a dispute related to his “business and economic activities”, and that it had nothing to do with his role as a politician.

Part of the reason for this theory was the use of a 9 millimeter handgun, which is not typical of drug cartels known for using heavier weapons. In and of itself, however, that hardly argues for the lack of involvement of organized crime. As well, to assume that there is some sort of impermeable barrier between the drug cartels and other forms of criminal activity might best be described as naive.

Violence related to tourism in Jalisco has been in the news of late. Last week the American Bentley Main died after being attacked in his home in Lake Chapala.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For news related to that story please see:

February 24: One man stabbed to death in Chapala, expat in critical condition in Guadalajara hospital

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
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Thursday 7 March 2013

Bentley Main, American stabbed in Chapala, succumbs to his wounds in Guadalajara hospital

Bentley Main, 66, a former resident of Seattle who had been active in the business community there, has died in a Guadalajara hospital after being attacked in Chapala on February 24. The attack, which occurred mid-day at 204 Avenida De la Rivera, had previously taken the life of Mr. Main’s companion, Martin Orozco Gutierrez, 48.

Mr. Main in 1994
Both men were found with multiple stab wounds. Though Orozco was dead at the scene – possibly beaten by a giraffe statue, which was found broken near his body – Mr. Main was transferred to a hospital in Guadalajara, 45 minutes away, where he has since succumbed to his wounds.

There were two separate sets of footprints at the scene that did no match those of the victims. However, as of this writing no suspects have been arrested. Robbery is a possible motive, given that the victims were without their wallets and keys, and a wall safe and two television sets may have been removed from the premises.

Responses on the Internet and directly to La politica suggest that Mr. Bentley was a well-respected and beloved member of his community in Seattle. He was a member of the Greater Seattle Business Association, and Board President in 1994, and will be greatly missed.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For the original report from La politica, please see:

February 24: One man stabbed to death in Chapala, expat in critical condition in Guadalajara hospital

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
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Nine questioned in attacks on media outlets in Chihuahua

Door of Diario de Juárez (source: Diario de Juárez)
Nine men have been detained in relation to the attacks on two media outlets early Wednesday in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

A spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s office (Fiscalía General del Estado, or “FGE”), Carlos González Estrada, said that four of the men were seized at one location. They were located because the Dodge Caravan used in one of the attacks was spotted on the street.

The five other detained men are security guards at a location where there had been a fire the previous night.  Apparently, at the time they had threatened a reporter who had arrived on the scene to cover the story.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

From Michoacán to Tabasco, the Mexican people want their money back

Time to pay it back (source: Counter Corruption Network)
There is often a sameness to reports of corruption in Mexico. We hear about the obscene amounts of money stolen from the people, and sometime about the the public officials who get caught. But now there’s a welcome twist: the people want their money back.

In the case of Mexico’s most recent scandal, in which the former head of the national teachers union, Elba Esther Gordillo, 68, was arrested for allegedly pocketing up to two billion Mexican pesos, or about $156 million, the union boss in the Mexican state of Michoacán, Juan José Ortega Madrigal, would like to see where two decades worth of fees for 75,000 teachers went.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Mexican government to pay for hospital costs of Canadian tourists assaulted in Acapulco

Where the assaults occurred
On Tuesday, March 5, a senior official with the state of Guerrero, Ernesto Aguirre, visited two Canadians in a private Acapulco hospital where they were recovering after an attack the night before.

Earlier reports that one of the two Canadians, a woman aged 60 and her husband, 65, had been stabbed appear to have been inaccurate. Aguirre said that the woman had some bruises and her husband had been hit in the ear. Both are in good health.

He also said that his government would be picking up all hospital costs.

With Chávez death, Venezuela to call election within 30 days

As news broke that Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, 58, died at 4:25 pm local time on Tuesday, March 5, questions swirled as to the political repercussions.

Had the Venezuelan people been lied to in recent weeks, with the president effectively “brain dead”? Speculation was rife that the president had been on life support since the end of December, with pressure heating up within Venezuela itself. Young activists were even conducting sit-ins demanding to see the president.

Chávez was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, and had undergone four operations. It is believed he died from a lung infection, a complication of one of his surgeries.

In Mexico, Coca-Cola is more available than water

Things go better with fresh water
According to Coneval, Mexico’s federal agency for social and political development, 10% of Mexicans lack access to potable water, the majority of them in remote, rural areas.

It could be argued that the reason for this lack of access is the fact that poor Mexicans do not have the purchasing power to create local markets. That is clearly part of the challenge, but doesn’t explain why so many of Mexico's poor lack access to clean drinking water, yet Coke and other commercial “refreshments” are available everywhere – even in the dustiest little town.

Clearly, the global beverage company knows how to distribute products and get a population hooked. Despite its poverty, Mexico is the largest per-capita consumer of Coca-Cola in the world, with the average Mexican drinking more Coke products than the average American, British, Indian, and Chinese person combined. There is even the “Mexican Coke” phenomenon in the United States, where the drink is prized because it is sweetened with cane sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup.

In Mexico, the drug war makes the headlines, but hunger and diabetes kill just as many

Scavenging at a dump (source:
In the past six years 71,400 Mexicans have died from “causes related to malnutrition”, an average of 11,900 a year. That tracks with the dead in the six-year drug war, which is estimated to have killed over 70,000 people since it began in December, 2006. And, strangely enough, it also matches the 70,000 who die every year of diabetes.

The majority of those who die of malnutrition in Mexico are children, particularly those under five years old. This problem is largely invisible to many Mexicans, two thirds of whom struggle with obesity. This is because extreme hunger tends to plague the rural regions in the poorer southern states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Monday 4 March 2013

Journalist slain in Chihuahua, Mexico’s most dangerous state to be a reporter

"Rest in peace" (retouch: azteca noticias) 
Jaime Guadalupe González, 38, director of a digital journal in the city of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, was killed yesterday while on his way to work (Sunday, March 3).

He was shot at least 18 times with 5.27 mm caliber “cop killer” bullets, and his digital camera was stolen. He had stopped to have a bite at a taco stand when he was killed. A woman accompanying Mr. Guadalupe González was unharmed.

The town of Ojinaga is on the border with Presidio, Texas.

Mr. Guadalupe González worked for the news portal. The killing has had the desired effect: the new service is now completely shut down.

Early reports are that he was on his way to the office to deliver some photographs he had just taken, as well as his reporter’s notes, when he was killed. It is believed that some images in the camera could have identified members of an organized crime group.

The attack occurred at the intersection of 13th Street and Trasviña Retes. Armed men allegedly blocked his way, shot him, and took his camera.

According to witnesses, no other object was stolen, leading to the presumption that the sole aim of the assailants was to obtain the camera and its contents.

Ojinaga is in eastern Chuhuahua, the most dangerous state in Mexico to be a journalist. The area is hotly contested by Los Zetas Cartel, which succeeded in forcing out the Gulf Cartel a few years ago, but is now fighting off attempts to control the plaza by Mexico’s largest criminal organization, the Sinaloa Cartel.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For historical analysIs of the effects of the drug war on journalism in Mexico see:

And for recent reports of attacks on journalists, see:

February 25: Federal agents attacked while guarding El Siglo de Torreón newspaper

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Sunday 3 March 2013

The lion by the side of the road

The photo of a lion carcass dumped by the side of the road in Querétaro, north of Mexico City, has caused an uproar.

The remains of the animal were not only left in open view – they were within sight of the circus itself.

Horror or hoax?
The photograph has being doing the rounds of social networks for a few days, but there is no word yet on how the lion died, or who might be responsible for dumping it.

The circus has denied that its show even uses lions, and no one has been able to locate the carcass, causing some to wonder if the photo is a hoax.

The originating source appear to be the Twitter account @Pacmanlalo, which sent it to various accounts – including the account managed by the Government of Querétaro.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Mexico has had a string of exotic animal stories in the past month, among them:

February 2: Forget the Ikea Monkey. How about the Veracruz Lion?

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
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Crime spree on Panama-Costa Rica border may be same "five masked men"

Bribrí, near Las Delicias on the other side of the border
Panamanian police are saying that early in the morning of Thursday, February 28, a band of Costa Rican criminals crossed the border and, while robbing a store, killed a person under 17 years-old and wounded two others.

This happened after 18 American tourists were robbed in Talamanca, Limon, in southern Costa Rica near the border with Panama, on Wednesday. The tourists at the Samasati Nature Retreat were held at gunpoint, and their hotel rooms were ransacked, but no one was physically hurt other than one person who was allegedly punched in the face. Approximately $6,000 in cash and belongings were stolen.

Cartel hitman was seven years old when drug war began

Community policing in Ayutla
He was seven when the “drug war” began over six years ago.

Perhaps, if they had looked into his eyes then, those who believe that the victims of this conflict flow into a never-ending stream of riff-raff who are doing us all a favour by killing each other, would think twice.

And they might want to consider some of the other innocent victims, too.

The boy, Jorge Armando Moreno, was arrested early in February with 15 other suspects near the town of Morelos, in the state of Zacatecas. He confessed to taking part in 10 executions, and of working for Los Zetas.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Mexico’s new National Security Commission detains 21 federal police officers in its first week

In the first week of its implementation, Mexico’s new National Security Commission (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad, “CNS”) has detained 21 federal police and presented them before prosecutors.

The officers are being charged with extortion and hail from four states: Baja California, Nuevo Leon, State of Mexico, and the Federal District (Mexico City).

The CNS operates under the auspices of the Interior Secretary (Secretaría de Gobernación, or “Segob”), which is headed by Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong. The new government of Enrique Peña Nieto has given added powers to Segob, which is now more involved in judicial issues that were formerly the exclusive arena of Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s office (Procuraduría General de la República, or “PRG”), which is led by Jesús Murillo Karam.

Civil defence groups now active in 13 Mexican states

Illegal logging in Veracruz
Mexico’s respected Reforma newspaper is reporting that vigilante groups have now organized in 68 municipalities within 13 of Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District (Mexico City).

These groups have variously organized to respond to the threat of organized crime and to the illegal or excessive exploitation of natural resources.

The activity has increased in the past three years. It has also changed, with disturbing evidence that organized crime is leveraging the populist movement to its own advantage.

Jalisco’s PGR seizes more than 26,000 ammunition rounds in Guadalajara

Where the ammunition was found
After conducting a raid on a property in the Lomas del Paraíso neighbourhood in Guadalajara, Jalisco, agents from the state attorney general’s office (PGR) have seized more than 26,000 firearm cartridges of different calibers.

The raid came after information gained form the arrest of Arnulfo Ramírez Cruz, 35, and Víctor Barajas Martínez, age unknown, last Monday, February 25, in the town of Magdalena.

Police allege that at the initial arrest the two men were in possession of 11,000 cartridges that they intended to sell to either the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG) or the Crown Cartel (La Corona).

Mexico gets a hand from U.S. authorities in Gordillo investigation

23 Green Turtle, complete with Hummer
The U.S. government is working with Mexico’s federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) in the investigation against Elba Esther Gordillo, 68, the former head of that country’s national teacher’s union who allegedly defrauded millions of dollars from the organization.

As part of this cooperation, the PGR is in the process of having U.S. authorities physically secure two of Gordillo’s properties in the upscale Coronado area of San Diego, California. This is because the financial resources required to purchase the properties’ furnishings and household effects is believed to have come from funds diverted from the union. In one startling example, Gordillo allegedly spent about $2 million at a Neiman Marcus store in San Diego.

Two bodies found outside of Jocotepec

The bodies were found near the red marker
At 7 am on Thursday, February 28, police received a report of two bodies dumped by the road near the town of Jocotepec, on the western shores of Lake Chapala, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

The bodies were found "encobijadas" – wrapped in blankets – a common method of disposal by organized crime in Mexico. They were of a man and a woman and were left above the hamlet of Crucero Potrerillos on Highway 15, which links Guadalajara to Tizapán Alto on the lake’s southern shore.

The man has variously been described as dark complexioned and “swarthy”, and the woman as “white”. The blankets were plaid and the bodies were tied at the neck and ankles with a white lasso.
The crime scene

After the bodies were discovered members of the Municipal Public Security Bureau arrived at the scene, after which a prosecutor from the State Attorney General’s office arrived, as did investigators from Jalisco’s   Institute of Forensic Sciences. Both victims were then taken to the morgue in Ocotlan.

As of this report no names have been released, and there have been no arrests.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Friday 1 March 2013

Three months of Peña Nieto, and almost three thousand dead as drug war grinds on

More of the same
From December 1, 2012, when Enrique Peña Nieto took the helm as Mexico’s new president, to 28 February of this year, some 2,882 people have been killed in actions linked to organized crime.

The count comes from Milenio newspaper, which noted also that among the dead were 100 soldiers and federal police. Most of these were local agents (64), followed by state police (23), federal agents (6), soldiers (6) and a sailor. The monthly tallies for the security forces were 43 in December, 11 in January, and 46 in February.

Jalisco: anonymous tip leads to a narco lab, tigers and deer

An anonymous tip led to the discovery
An anonymous tip has led Mexican authorities in the state of Jalisco, near the border with Zacatecas, to a narco laboratory where there was also a primitive zoo containing two Bengal tigers and deer.

The commissioner of public safety for the town of Yahualica, Francisco Alejandro Solorio Aréchiga, said that after receiving the tip authorities mounted an operation, whereupon they located 15 boilers – possibly for the manufacture of methamphetamines.

As is often the case, no arrests were made. Occasionally in Mexico after the authorities are tipped off corrupt official then in turn warn the criminals that they are about to show up, giving them ample time to escape.
Yahualica is northeast of Guadalajara

Jalisco is well-known as being a transit point for precursor chemicals that come into ports on the Pacific coast and are then converted to powerful crystal meth before being shipped north to the United States.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For related stories, see;

Tiger kills trainer at circus in Mexico

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