Thursday 31 January 2013

37 dead, 121 wounded in Pemex tower explosion in Mexico City

After the explosion
The director of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Emilio Lozoya Austin, now says that 37 people died from the explosion  at the company's  central administrative “B2” building in Mexico City. 121 people were wounded, with 52 remaining in hospital.

The explosion occurred on Thursday, January 31st  at 15:55 in an electrical substation in the basement of the building, and blew up into the ground floor and mezzanine area. 

Early responders found a large debris field in front of the building, with plumes of smoke rising high and visible across Mexico City. The tower is located in the Anáhuac neighbourhood, at #329 Marina Nacional.

Mexico’s human rights reputation takes another hit

The revolution has yet to be perfected

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is again warning that human rights violations by Mexican security forces, particularly the Army, continue to occur and remain unpunished.

“Mexican security forces have committed widespread human rights violations in efforts to combat powerful organized crime groups, including killings, disappearances, and torture. Almost none of these abuses are adequately investigated, exacerbating a climate of violence and impunity in many parts of the country,” said the international organization in its just-published World Report 2013.

Who needs 60 bodyguards? The governor of Morelos, Mexico

A PRD supporter during last year's election

The left-wing PRD governor of Morelos, Graco Ramírez Garrido Abreu, has announced in an informal press scrum that he is doubling the size of his security detail.

Now the governor and his family will be accompanied by no less than 60 body guards – half of them employees of the state’s Ministry of Public Security.

That may sound like a lot, but at one point the previous right-of-centre PAN governor (2006-2012), Marco Adame Castillo, had 80 police officers protecting him and nine family members. In the final days of Adame Castillo’s tenure he pulled back to having only 12 body guards and four Humvees.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Garcia Luna wanted me dead: Florence Cassez

Florence Cassez, the French woman recently released after being imprisoned in Mexico for seven years on kidnapping charges, has spoken out from her home country, saying that García Luna, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Safety, wanted her dead.

"Garcia Luna’s objective was to demolish me,” she said in an interview with Paris Match. “I was in his hands. He wanted me dead."

From Miami to Mexico City

Business and technology writers who cover Latin America know the drill. If you want to talk to a multinational company or research firm, chances are you’re putting your call in to Miami.

But it looks like things are changing, with Mexico City increasingly being seen as a good anchor for multinationals active in Latin America.

 Chilangos out at night

Why? Well, for starters the price per square meter for real estate in Mexico City is $25, compared to $32.18 in Miami, according to global commercial real estate brokerage CBRE. Additional factors supporting this trend, which really kicked into gear in 2011, are the proximity to the U.S. and a competitive and qualified labour force.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Lopez Obrador breaks down campaign spending, and IFE gets hacked

The hacked Wiki page - pinche cabron!

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), last year’s leftist candidate for the presidency of Mexico, has responded to concerns raised by the country’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), writing a letter that breaks down his campaign spending.

In the letter he attacks the proposed fine against his coalition members for exceeding their spending limits. The coalition consisted of the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party), PT (Workers’ Party) and Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement).

"I consider it necessary to clarify in detail the amounts received, the way things were done, and how campaign expenses were checked during my campaign for president,” he wrote.

He added that, according to the law, in advance of the campaign the coalition parties signed an agreement to allocate 50% of public funds directly to presidential campaign spending. This amounted to 223,452,000 pesos.

The resources were all managed through a single account (#70034671344), with the PRD contributing 112,872,000 pesos, the PT 59,049,000 pesos, and the Citizens Movement 51,531,000 pesos.

"It should be clarified that the PRD contributed an additional 5 million pesos, and took on liability of 4,979,000 pesos – all duly documented by contracts and invoices.”

Total spending amounted to 233,430,000 pesos. AMLO claims that all spending was reported and audited on a monthly basis by IFE via the financial arm of the Coalición Movimiento Progresista (Progressive Coalition Movement).

In total, AMLO argued that this brought the coalition 100 million pesos under the spending cap for deputies and senators, as well as for the parties supporting the presidential candidate.

“It's totally unfounded for to IFE hold to its opinion that we exceeded the ceiling prescribed by the campaign law,” said AMLO. “Obviously, all this maneuvering is intended to send a message, to discredit and to manipulate, so that all politicians appear to be the same.”

On a lighter note, the IFE Wikipedia page was hacked yesterday, likely by AMLO supporters (given the nature of the comments).  

The page briefly included a few racy edits such as:

pero siempre dando las nalguitas a los adinerados – colourfully translated as IFE  “always getting fucked up the ass by the rich”.

hacer lo que inche el huevo con el voto de todo pueblo (which in his or her haste was probably intended as “hacer lo que pinche el huevo con el voto de todo pueblo”) – which is basically untranslatable, other to say that IFE has the country by the balls, fucking up the entire vote.

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

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

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Mexico: a dangerous place for Catholic priests

Calles - a fierce atheist

Mexico is the second most dangerous country in the Americas to be a priest, according to the Catholic Church’s Information Service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, known as the Agenzia Fides.

In the past eight years 22 Catholic priests have been killed in Mexico. This figure is only surpassed by Colombia, where during the same period 25 clergy came to a violent end.

During this time frame the worst year was 2011, in which five Mexican priests were killed.  This was followed by the period between 2004 – 2005, when another five were murdered due to their work “in areas of extreme poverty, violence, and at the crossroads of criminal activity.” A common feature was a willingness to speak out in matters of social justice.

2006 was something of a respite – in that year not a single priest was killed in Mexico. That year, however, also marked the beginning of president Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs”, which has unleashed a wave of violence that has left over 60,000 dead.

In fact, the presidency of Felipe Calderón has been the most dangerous for Catholic priests since the Cristero War raged in the late 1920s. At that time, the fiercely atheistic president Plutarco Elías Calles began an extensive persecution of the Church, resulting in a violent revolt that left thousands dead, many of them priests.

All in all, during Felipe Calderón’s six year tenure in office (2006-2012) 17 priests were killed in Mexico.

And in the early days of the Peña Nieto administration, things don’t seem to be improving.

Santiago Alvarez
The young priest Santiago Alvarez, of the Diocese in Zamora, Michoacán, went missing on December 27, 2012, and has not been found. Santiago Alvarez was last known to be driving near the city of Jiquilpan, Michoacán, directly south of Lake Chapala and east of a popular tourist destination, the “Pueblo MágicoMazamitla. This is near the border with Jalisco, where warring drugs gangs have been very active of late.

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

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

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Monday 28 January 2013

Lopez Obrador exceeded spending caps by 60 million pesos

Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the arbiter of electoral law in Mexico, has concluded that Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his leftist political coalition overspent on last year’s presidential campaign by 62,766,642 pesos and 80 centavos (we’ll round it to US$4.85 million).

Still a blurry picture (soure/fuente: IFE)

As a penalty for the violation, the coalition party members PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party), PT (Workers’ Party) and Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement), are being eye-balled  for fines of up to 129 million pesos (US$10.1 million).

IFE’s draft resolution made a point of calling out the falseness of the coalition’s claim to honesty, and accusing it of having a parallel financing system.

Sloppiness and inefficiency created the perfect climate for corruption – or at best honest miscalculation. IFE noted that there were errors in the distribution of campaign funds at the presidential level, and also for congressmen and senators. Some expenditures were reported and poorly recorded, resulting in the “irregularities” that put the final number over the top of the spending limit, which had been set at 336 million pesos (US$26.33 million).

Wednesday, January 30 will be a big day for IFE. At that time the organization’s General Council will deliver its consolidated opinion, which acts as a general overview of the spending practices of all the big parties and their leaders in last year’s election: Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI-PVEM), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (PRD, PT and Citizens’ Movement), Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) and Gabriel Quadri Tower (New Alliance Party).

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

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

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It’s official: Guatemala’s ex-dictator Rios Montt to face genocide charges

It’s been a long time coming, but a Guatemalan judge has ruled that General Efraín Ríos Montt, the military dictator who ruled Guatemala from March 23, 1982 to August 8, 1983, is to stand trial on genocide charges.

 They've been waiting a long time (source/fuente: Indymedia)

Ríos Montt was president of Guatemala at the height of that country’s civil war. He is to face charges of crimes against humanity related to the murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Maya. He will also be charged with the forced displacement of another 29,000 people, all of them indigenous. The displacement was part of the military’s strategic “scorched earth” campaign, in which the military burnt villages to the ground and committed hundreds of massacres.

In total, more than 200,000 civilians lost their lives in the war, which pitted the US-backed dictatorship against Marxist rebels. Guatemala had been under military rule since 1954, when the democratically-elected president Jacobo Árbenz was ousted in a US-backed coup. In December 1982, at the height of the atrocities, US president Ronald Reagan called Montt "a man of great personal integrity" who was "totally dedicated to democracy".

The genocide charge against Ríos Montt is based on the findings of the United Nations’ Historical Clarification Commission, which concluded that the war devolved into a deliberate attempt on the part of the military to wipe out Guatemala’s indigenous Maya people.

The General has been fighting these accusations for thirty years, and for a 12 year period hid behind prosecutorial immunity as a member of congress. That immunity expired with his term in office, on January 14, 2012, and he has been under house arrest ever since.

Now 86 and in failing health, he is the first ex head of state to be charged by a Latin American court. In 1998 a Spanish judge indicted former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations committed during his rule, which resulted in his arrest while visiting England. However, he was released and returned to Chile, where he died in 2006.

A three judge panel will decide the fate of Ríos Montt and another man, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez, a former military intelligence official.

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

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

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PAN official kidnapped in Cuautla, Morelos

Ramón Jaimes, a PAN councillor in the municipality of Cuautla, Morelos, was kidnapped at around eight o’clock on the morning of Monday, January 28, when he was dropping his children off at school.

The PAN...Under attack in Morelos

Several armed men took him away. So far, there is no news of any communication between the kidnappers and authorities, or what the ultimate intention of the kidnappers is.

The State Attorney for Morelos is now in charge of the investigation.

Ramón Jaimes is the second PAN party member in Morelos to have been attacked by organized crime in the past week. On January 23 Ignacio Domínguez, the former PAN candidate for Tlaquiltenango  was gunned down at home along with his wife and child.

Though it has been speculated that Ignacio Domínguez may have been the victim of extortion attempts, officials have made no progress in solving the case.

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

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

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Mexico’s police implicated in 90% of kidnappings

According to a study conducted by Mexico’s Council for Law and Human Rights (Consejo para la Ley y los Derechos Humanos), in 2012 the country had over 26, 280 kidnappings, averaging one every 20 minutes. Most damning, in 90% of cases the police were involved.

The organization’s president, Fernando Ruiz Canales, told Mexico’s La jornada that the involvement of security forces has increased from 70% in 2010. Kidnappings are also more dangerous. In 2008, three of ten kidnap victims died. Now, the rate has doubled to six out of ten.

Fernando Ruiz Canales (source/fuente: Consejo para la Ley y los Derechos Humanos)

“Generally the kidnapper decides to murder his victim because he always has a lagging fear he’ll be identified,” said Ruiz Canales. “They know the surest way to keep this type of illicit business going is murder."

Sunday 27 January 2013

Lopez Obrador turned down deal from Peña Nieto

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who ran as the candidate for the left of centre PRD in last year’s presidential contest, says his team was approached after the national vote to sign a pact recognizing Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) as president.

Merkel schools EPN (source/fuente: Informador)

In return, AMLO claims EPN’s centrist PRI party would include PRD proposals in its governing platform.

AMLO, who has since split with the PRD to form a new leftist party named Morena, made his statements during a tour of the southern state of Chiapas. He claimed the offer came between August and September 2012, and that he refused out-right as it would amount to “recognizing a government based on fraud."

Such agreements can occur, asserted AMLO, but only “when there is democracy”. Without it, such an agreement would be “pure demagoguery”.

EPN is finishing up a tour of Chile for the first ever summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union (EU). Looking like a schoolboy out of his depth while sitting next to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, EPN rose to the podium and gave a halting speech, passing off the usual bromides about democracy and the need for the removal of uncertainty to secure economic growth.

It was a good time for EPN to be out to the country. Late last Wednesday Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) confirmed that the PRI spent over $5 million on cash and gift cards during the presidential campaign. These were spread about to garner votes, but in a close 5-4 vote the IFE ruled that the cards did not necessarily represent campaign violations.

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

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

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Guadalajara’s Friday afternoon shootouts

A shootout on the Guadalajara-Tequila highway on Friday, January 25, in which six people died, has been described by police as a conflict between two criminal gangs. Which ones, however, and why they were active on a normally tranquil highway, is anyone’s guess. There is also no information on who was behind another Friday-afternoon shootout, this one in downtown Guadalajara between police and alleged kidnappers. As well, the chief of police in the municipality of Tlajomulco de Zuniga near Guadalajara was gunned down in broad daylight early the same day.

Tequila's escudo: Kind, happy, and noble

Jalisco state police reported that the highway violence occurred Friday afternoon at the 60 kilometre mark of the road that connects Guadalajara to Tequila, a popular tourist destination. Armed individuals apparently opened fire on men travelling in a number of vehicles.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Police commander killed outside Guadalajara

The chief of police in the municipality of Tlajomulco de Zuniga was gunned down in broad daylight early on Friday, January 25.

Francisco Chacon was killed in San Sebastian el Grande, a town of about 28,000 directly north of the main town of Tlajomulco de Zuniga. The town is east of highway 54, just beyond the southern suburbs of Guadalajara and northwest of Lake Chapala.

The view from afar

Chacon was felled in hail of bullets while eating breakfast at a food stall.  Early reports are that two men on a motorcycle approached the chief and opened fire. His body guard managed to return fire, killing one of the aggressors while the other escaped, only to be apprehended later. Unofficial reports have identified the apprehended man as a former police officer in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga. In effect, he killed his former boss.

Over 20 .45 caliber shell casings were reportedly found at the scene, with the shooting resulting in a heavy deployment of state and federal security forces. A helicopter from Guadalajara’s municipal force was even called into action.

Local response to the murder has been mixed, with comments on message boards claiming to honor the fallen commander, and others accusing him of corruption and having been “already in the ground” and saying that he “was no victim”. Motive was possibly revenge, with some theorizing that the arrested former officer, Jose Alfredo Espinoza Guerrero, 32, had joined the Cartel Jaliso Nueva Generacion, and that the killing was payback for the recent murders of two other officers.

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

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

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Friday 25 January 2013

Cassez fiasco casts shadow on Gaddafi case

Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, has called on that country’s authorities not to repeat similar fiascos such as the Florence Cassez case. Ms. Cassez, a French national, was released from prison on January 23 after a 3-2 decision by the supreme court, which determined that extreme irregularities had made it impossible for her to receive a fair trial.

 Cassez, exhausted and disheveled, on the morning of her "arrest"

“I reaffirm my absolute respect in the decisions,” said Peña Nieto. “I lament that in this case, or in any other case, errors or violations of due process prevent the judiciary from determining the innocence or guilt of a person.”

The only other high profile international case facing Mexico’s Attorney General’s office (PGR) relates to an alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, third son to former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, from Libya to Mexico in 2011. In that case a Danish national, Pierre Flensborg, a Canadian, Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier, and an American, Gabriela (Gabby) de Cueto, are being held.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Correction to Canadian Press story on Cynthia Vanier

In a recent, widely distributed article written by Diana Mehta of the Canadian Press and titled, Case of Canadian woman accused in Gadhafi smuggling plot nears turning point, says her family, there was a major inaccuracy. This was not the journalist’s fault – she had been given the wrong information.

Specifically, the article made the following two statements:

Cynthia Vanier, who’s been sitting in a Mexico prison for more than a year, is currently waiting to make her closing statement before a judge, who will then decide whether to send the case to trial or drop the charges against her.

And -

The ongoing legal proceedings, which Ms. MacDonald likens to Canadian pretrial hearings, were meant to wrap up last week, but were delayed until an undetermined date in the next few weeks.

It is important to clarify that Ms. Vanier’s trial is ongoing – this is not a pre-trial hearing. Consequently, the stakes are very high. On January 31, assuming a translator is present, Ms. Vanier will give her closing statement before the judge.

Though we are nearing the end, the judge always reserves the right to recall witnesses. We also must hear the lawyers’ final arguments. The judge, who must review all proofs from both sides, will then retire before his ruling, which could take weeks or even months.

The stakes are high. If found guilty of conspiring to human smuggle Ms. Vanier could receive from 8 to 16 years in prison. There is an appeals process, but it is slow and arduous.

The Canadian Press has notified La politica that it has "refiled a replacement version that removes references to current proceedings in Mexico as [being] like 'Canadian pre-trial hearings' or a period before a trial."

CP further stated that  "We will look further into the best way to describe Mexico's different legal process."

The problem persists, and has become something of a "meme". In the January 25 National Post story, Unsealed RCMP affidavit could affect case of Canadiancharged with helping Gaddafi-son escape Libya, the article states that Vanier "was preparing to make a final statement to the Mexican judge who will decide whether she should go to trial". The paper and journalist, Stewart Bell, have been notified. No correction.

It should be noted that this misinformation has created some confusion, with requests coming in to La politica to print a correction.

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

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

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Tuesday 15 January 2013

Spaniards abducted in Morelia found alive

It was good news, but it has only served highlight a chronic problem: two Spanish cousins who disappeared on January 7 from Michoacán’s capital, Morelia, are alive and recuperating in Regional Hospital in Uriangato, in Guanajuato state.

The assistant prosecutor for Michoacán, Marco Vinicio Garibay, would not confirm that the two had been kidnapped, but all indications are that they had been abducted in the hopes of receiving a ransom. Unfortunately for the criminals, when foreigners go missing the Mexican authorities shift into high gear – 95% of all crimes against Mexicans are not solved, with many not even investigated, but when a pair of Europeans go missing there is assuredly more pressure.

The four star hotel Villa del Sol

Mexican officials confirmed that the two Spaniards, aged 44 and 45 and from Cuenca, had “some injuries”, but would not give additional details. However, Mexican press reports say that on Sunday, January 13, six days after their abduction, the two men appeared in a highway near the border with Michoacán and Guanajuato, their heads and bodies having been severely beaten by a pipe.

Monday 14 January 2013

Gangs create uncertainty along Michoacán Jalisco border

The ongoing feud between the Knights Templar and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels has turned the area bordering the states of Jalisco and Michoacán into lawless zone where even the police fear to tread.
Over the Christmas holidays seven police officers and at least six gunmen were killed in three shootouts, with eight wounded. The police were attacked by heavily armed commandos, with at least one incident appearing to be a deliberate set-up when Michoacán state police were ambushed while responding to a traffic accident.

Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, the PRI governor of Michoacán since February, 2012
This happened in Briseñas, with the other two incidents on Quitúpan and Ayotlán. These areas are to the south and east of Lake Chapala, a popular destination for snow birds, and within a few hours’ drive from Guadalajara.