Saturday 30 June 2012

#YoSoy132’s final election push

Mexico City, June 30. It was May 11, less than two months before Mexico’s July 1 presidential election. Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 until 2000, was well ahead in the polls. He strolled in to have a chat with some middle class students at the private Ibero-American University in Mexico City.

He expected an easy ride. After all, these weren’t the rabble rousers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. These affluent students would be tired of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), which had plunged Mexico into a drug war that had claimed over 55,000 lives. And they certainly weren’t leftist supporters of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

But what Peña Nieto got was a very rough ride indeed. The students heckled him. They mocked him. They faced him behind masks of the notoriously corrupt Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the PRI president from 1988 to 1994.

Peña Nieto went and hid in the washroom. As his handlers hustled him away, hundreds of students openly accused him of corruption and a poor track record when he was governor of the State of Mexico, the country’s most populous.

Videos of the event went viral. Peña Nieto’s team accused the hecklers of being leftist plants. 131 Ibero students countered with YouTube videos showing their university ID cards. The news began trending on Twitter, with young people around Mexico – and the world – claiming solidarity as the 132nd dissenter. #YoSoy132 (I am 132) was born.

Tlatelolco - June 30

The movement didn’t stop there. It pressed its three main demands: security and human rights; education; and the democratization of the media.

Friday 29 June 2012

A Gadhafi plan without Cynthia Vanier

June 29. It was allegedly a complex plot involving forged documents, private jets, luxury villas, and highly paid security personnel. Success would have brought Saadi Gadhafi, the playboy third son of fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi, into exile in Mexico.

The sponsor was to be the Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which had banked hundreds of millions of dollars in business off Saadi as the regime’s point man. And the organizer was allegedly Cynthia “Cyndy” Vanier, a conflict mediator from Mount Forest, Ontario.

Saadi Gadhafi

But the only acknowledged plot does not fit this scenario. It was instead much more personal, the result of a separate plan by Gary Peters, a Cambridge, Ontario-based bodyguard who counts Saadi Gadhafi as both client and friend.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Mexico City in transit

June 27, Mexico City. The first time I visited Mexico City, in the late 1980s, the air scorched the back of my throat. In the mid-1990s a Mexico City resident I knew despaired that there always had been, and always would be, only one answer to the huge metropolis’s problem with contaminacion. Rain.

There was talk of seeding the air to create showers to cleanse the sky. The problem was dire. Old cars, diesel trucks, and industrial age factories spewed filth. At an altitude of 2240 metres (7350 feet), the city of ten million sits in a raised bowl. For decades the populous wheezed in the tangy, grey-orange soup that passed for air.

A Megabus on Insurgentes Sur, Mexico City

It was so bad flocks of birds fell out of the sky. This is no myth: when I was flying in to Mexico City yesterday, my seat-mate, who grew up in the capital, remembers once coming across a pile of dead birds on his way to school. Now, the air is much better. There are still bad days, even bad weeks, but the city is more livable than it used to be.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Acapulco: five dead in one day from 9 mm handguns

June 20. As the drug war wages in Mexico, much attention has been given to the “cuerno de chivo” (goat horn), the street name for the AK-47 (Kalashnikov), the assault rifle favoured by gangsters.

However, local gang activity on the streets is often defined by the 9 mm pistol, as can be shown by recent events in Acapulco, where five people were shot to death on one day by handguns.

The Beretta M9 - favoured by the U.S. military, and Mexican gangsters

As well, there is evidence that families of the dead are rallying and refusing to comply with police investigations – even denying access to bodies for autopsy.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Two indigenous activists killed in Oaxaca

June 17. A lawyer known for defending indigenous rights, and a well-known indigenous activist, were found dead in seemingly unrelated murders in the State of Oaxaca over a 72 hour period.

The body of Sergio Garcia Vazquez, a lawyer who worked actively to defend indigenous rights, was found Sunday at 206 kilometer mark of the highway between state capital, also called Oaxaca, and Nochixtlán.

The highway where Garcia Vazquez was found

Garcia Vazquez had been kidnapped 18 days before and, as is often the case in such incidents, his body was found with signs of torture. He had been shot in the head execution-style.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Another journalist killed in Veracruz

June 14. The body of Mexican journalist Víctor Manuel Báez Chino was found on the morning of Thursday, June 14, near the main square in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state. This is the fourth journalist to be killed in Veracruz in the past two months.

 Víctor Manuel Báez Chino

Báez was the editor of the crime section for the state digital edition of the national newspaper Milenio and an editor of the website Reporteros Policiacos, which also covers crime.

Drug violence in Mexico declines for first time in eight years

June 14. Mexico’s president President Felipe Calderón has told the The Wall Street Journal that his country’s drug-related murders fell about 12% during the first five months of 2012, the first decline in eight years.

Mr. Calderón said that non-governmental organizations had requested that is government not release  specific numbers, because to signal in advance that a crime is “drug related” could prejudice cases before the courts.

Felipe Calderón

In determining if a murder is drug related the government relies upon evidence at the crime scene that distinguishes these crimes from common murders. In a drug-related murder, for example, the victim may have been tortured, killed “execution style”, and decapitated.  Rival cartels also often leave notes.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

U.S. Embassy issues sweeping Mexico travel warning

June 12. The United States Embassy in Mexico, via its Consulates, has come out with a truly bizarre travel warning, advising its citizens in Mexico “to maintain a low profile and a heightened sense of awareness.”

(For more optimistic news, see the June 14 post, Drug violence in Mexico declines for first time in eight years).

The warning comes after federal agents arrested associates and family members of a senior Los Zetas cartel member, seizing property and assets.

On the morning of Tuesday, June 12, the New York Times broke the story that seven people had been arrested in connection with a scheme to launder money by buying race horses that ran at Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino, in New Mexico.

As part of the law enforcement operation, authorities have indicted Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, 38, one of the leaders of the ultra-violent Los Zetas cartel, as well as his brother, Oscar Omar Trevino Morales. Both are believed to be in Mexico.

Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales is notorious for acts of extreme violence and cruelty – even dismembering his victims while they are still alive. As the New York Times reported, “dismembered bodies, dumped by the dozens, have become his calling card”.

The wanted poster for Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales

The concern is that Mr. Treviño Morales, given his reputation, could start ordering retaliatory hits against Americans.  The Embassy warning is highly unusual, and disturbingly lacking in details.

Monday 11 June 2012

Shoot out at parking lot in Bucerias leaves one dead

For the shootout on Feb 6, 2013, go here.

June 11. One man died and another was wounded in a shooting  in the parking lot of the Mega supermarket in Bucerías, Nayarit, an area popular with  tourists north of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.

(For an update on the June 12 warning from the U.S. Embassy, see U.S. Embassy issues sweeping Mexico travel warning.)
The Mega supermarket in Bucerias

Shots were first heard around 10:30 a.m.  They continued for several minutes and caused panic among shoppers and neighbours. 

The firing from assault rifles was rapid and ongoing. Shots were directed at the occupants of a white Lincoln with California plates. A total of five cars were hit with gunfire, as was a Banamaex bank branch.

The dead man was found on the ground. He had been carrying an AK-47, a pistol, and two grenades.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Mexicans arrest suspect in murder of Francisco Sicilia's son

Mexican defense department said on Friday, June 6, that the army had apprehended Raul Diaz Roman, a drug boss allegedly behind the death of Juan Francisco Sicilia and six other men in March 2011.

Javier Sicilia

Francisco Sicilia’s father is the well-known Mexican poet and cultural commentator Javier Sicilia. After his son’s death, Sicilia abandoned literature and has since devoted his life to trying to stop the violence that is plaguing Mexico.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Oaxaca abuse case: Mexico’s Catholic Church acting true to form

The past few years have seen the Catholic Church rocked by abuse scandals around the world. The pattern has been consistent: the scandals first break in more open societies, such as the United States and Canada, and then shift to those places only recently out from the shadow of Catholic influence over political spheres, such as in Ireland and Brazil.

The scandals also reveal a disturbingly consistent approach on the part of the Church. When complaints are made, the culprits are simply moved to other parishes, sometimes with duties that still include exposure to children. If victims have reached adulthood and are persistent in their complaints, they might be offered a secret pay-off.

Over and over again, even well-meaning functionaries within the Church see this as an internal matter, and not one for the secular courts. Above all else, the important thing is to maintain the “sanctity” of the Church itself.

Sadly, this story is a long way from over, for the simple reason that there are many historically Catholic countries that have large poverty-stricken populations with little access to economic or political power.  Indigenous communities are at particularly high risk.

Not surprisingly, then, Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, with its large Zapotec population, is now in the spotlight. At least 45 indigenous children and youth were allegedly sexually abused by a priest named Gerardo Silvestre Hernandez. This evidence has been collected since 2009 and, as is now pro forma for the Church, was mitigated by evasive action from higher authorities, in this case archbishop José Luis Chávez Botello.

 José Luis Chávez Botello

Specifically, despite complaints against Gerardo Silvestre, archbishop Chávez Botello allowed the alleged abuser to stay in office for three years, and even punished and removed those who attempted to act on the complaints. Worse, Gerardo Silvestre was given more power and privilege during the period when the archbishop was receiving complaints.

Friday 1 June 2012

For the first time in six years, Costa Rica is a little safer

June 1. Costa Rica reported 474 homicides in 2011, 53 fewer than in the previous year.

This the first decrease in six years.

According to an official government report, the homicide rate per 100,000 fell from 11.5 in 2010 to 10.3 in 2011.

Beautiful - and a little safer than last year

This is only the second time in the past 10 years that a decline has been reported. The first decline in homicides took place in 2004, when the overall number dropped from 300 to 280 deaths.

The private trials of Cynthia Vanier

June 1. On Thursday, May 24, 2012, Cynthia Vanier, the Canadian in prison in Chetumal, Mexico, lost a legal judgment that might have seen her released from her prison cell and on her way home to Canada.

Ms. Vanier is facing charges that she plotted to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi to Mexico while she was under contract to the engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which had close ties to Mr. Gaddafi.

The same judge who ruled to charge Ms. Vanier back in February reasserted his original decision, letting the charges stand.

The nature of the appeal, and the specifics of the decision, are still somewhat unclear. However, La politica, as a result of extensive communication with many people close to the trial, can give an approximate summary of what happened, and what the consequences might be.