Monday, October 31, 2011

Weeding out corruption is daunting task in Mexico - polygraphs await 500,000

Corruption at the local law enforcement level -- municipal and small town police departments in particular -- is very much at the heart of Mexico's struggle to bring the drug cartels to the mat. The cop on the beat is often the first person to know if something is amiss in town, and if he himself is on the payroll of criminal elements, security will remain compromised.

Risk of murder in Mexico quadruples, kidnapping triples since 2007 - because cartels are being "decapitated"

A private organization says that life in Mexico has gotten dramatically more dangerous in just the last 48 months. The chance of being murdered has grown four fold, and of being kidnapped three fold. But it's not because organized crime is getting stronger.

So says the Mexican Institute for International Competition in a 2011 publication called "The Endless Spiral: How Mexico Became a Violet Nation and What Can Be Done About It."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

With Russian arms on the way, Hugo Chávez warns, "we're not Libya"

In August Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez announced that his country had negotiated a $4 billion arms deal with Russia, designed to "strengthen defense capabilities." With the first of the weapons systems soon to arrive, Chávez used the opportunity to to engage in a little saber rattling today.

Día de los Muertos - A photo essay

Scenes from main plaza of Mérida, Mexico, showing family altars and traditional foods left for the dead. [Photos © MGRR 2011-2012. All rights reserved].

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Woman, 53, decapitated in Cancún; police say her son is local drug gang executioner

The body of a woman who was kidnapped two days ago has been found in the commercial district of Cancún, near the entrance to the main highway to Mérida.

Jovita Morales Sarmiento, 53, was taken from her home in a Cancún neighborhood by four armed men about 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Authorities say that her decapitated remains were found last night (October 28). Her body showed signs of torture. Her severed head was found nearby this morning.

Mexico losing Catholics - even as relics of John Paul II are circulated

Mexico has been a profoundly Roman Catholic country since it declared independence 201 years ago. Not a surprising fact, since it was part of the colonial empire of Spain for centuries. A Mexican priest, Miguel Hidalgo, gave the rallying cry which began the war of independence on the morning of September 16, 1810 (

Today nominal Catholics account for 83% of the Mexican population, although far fewer actively participate in church affairs. But one student of religious trends in Mexico predicts that by 2040, that number will have been reduced to 67% -- a membership forecast which is unnerving to church leaders within the country and internationally.

Crime proceeds account for 3.6% of world economic output -- double Mexico's GDP

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents the value of all goods produced and services delivered by a nation's economy during a year. Every country has a GDP.

An October report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime says that in 2009, criminal activity generated about $2.1 trillion USD, or roughly 3.6% of worldwide GDP. By way of comparison, the United Sates has a GDP of about $15 trillion, approximately one fourth of the world's total (estimated at over $60 trillion USD).

Friday, October 28, 2011

At least 200 died from "Fast and Furious," says U.S. House committee chairman

The chair of a U.S. congressional investigating the "Fast and Furious" DEA arms sale program says that at least 200 persons have been killed by weapons which the federal agency allowed to be sold to Mexican drug cartels. The secret operation began in 2009 but came to a quick halt in January 2011, after it became public. In the interim over 2,000 military assault weapons were sold in the United States to straw purchasers working for the cartels, with the full knowledge of federal agents. Most of the sales occurred in southern Arizona, near the border. The director of the DEA and the U.S. Attorney for Arizona were forced to resign over the scandal earlier this year.

El Chapo Guzmán: "Dead or Alive"

*Updated Feb. 21, 2013*
A full court press is underway in Mexico to capture or kill Enrique "El Chapo" Guzmán, the world's most wanted man. Guzmán escaped from a Mexican prison in January 2001, hiding in a laundry cart. The United States has offered $5 million for his capture, and Mexico another $2 million. The latest push to take down El Chapo ("Shorty") was reported in yesterday's Washington Post.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Political insurgency, or ordinary crime? It's all in how you look at it

In September 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provoked controversy when she compared Mexican narcoviolence to the the situation in Colombia in the 1980s. She said that Mexico's drug cartels represent an insurgency, which comes much closer to defining the violence here as a civil war, incipient or actual.

Clinton's comments got her in a bit of trouble with her boss after president Felipe Calderón strongly objected to the comparison. Barack Obama quickly weighed in on the side of Calderón, mildly repudiating Clinton's statements. So today the secretary was more cautious when she appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mexico fails to protect journalists, says organization in legal complaint

A international journalistic advocacy group has filed a complaint against Mexico with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that the country has failed to discharge its responsibility to protect journalists from acts of violence.

Since 2000 there have been 75 confirmed killings of Mexican journalists, all of whom were murdered while in the course of their official duties. At least 20 were women. In a September report the United Nations said that Mexico is the most dangerous place in the world for reporters -- even more so than combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan (details:

Hillary Clinton sticks to the same old game plan on Cuban affairs

In a morning appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told committee members that there will be no trade of Cuban prisoners who have been imprisoned in the United States for over 13 years in exchange for American Alan Gross, who is jailed in Havana. Gross is about 22 months into a 15 year sentence for state security crimes. He was convicted in a Cuban court in March, and neither former president Jimmy Carter nor ex-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson were able to negotiate his release. Gross, 62, is said to be in poor health, and both his daughter and mother in the United States have cancer.

12 killed in Acapulco violence overnight

Operation Guerrero Seguro ("Safe Guerrero") is an intensive federal and state law enforcement action in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located. The operation was launched three weeks ago, and officials claimed yesterday that things already are showing significant signs of improvement. The Department of Public Security said that executions have decreased 42% in the past 17 days. But apparently not everyone has been told.

Guatemalan uses Facebook profile to kidnap, murder two teenage girls

Guatemala's National Civil Police have announced the arrest of Eduardo Chen García, 23, on charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and murder. A judicial warrant was issued for García on September 28, and he was located in a suburban neighborhood of Guatemala City earlier this week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cuban Embargo: 51 years later, it still remains a disastrously failed foreign policy

An editorial in today's The Yucatan Times:

For my post on today's 186-2 U.N. vote to condemn the embargo, scroll just below.

Correction to Veracruz air crash story of October 24, 2011

Yesterday The Yucatan Times and this Blog reported the deaths of two U.S. nationals on Sunday, October 23, killed in a private aircraft accident near Veracruz, Mexico.

This story was reported on the day of the event by several media sources, including CNN-Espanol, Milenio and Notiver, a Veracruz newspaper. The sources reported that two victims were dead at the scene: Reggie Henkart and Andrea Henkart. The sources reported that the victims had been identified based upon credit cards, business cards and personal effects found in their luggage and in the aircraft wreckage.

United Nations condemns U.S. embargo of Cuba, 186-2, for 20th consecutive year

Opinion -

The vote was no surprise to anyone. On a resolution presented by Cuba, 186 nations of the world community comprising the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the United States' 50 year old economic blockade - that's a better way to describe it - of the Caribbean island. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against the proposal, as they do every year. Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. The vote was an idle count, since the U.N. lacks a mechanism by which to implement its overwhelming decision. (The U.S. can also veto U.N. Security Council votes with which it disagrees.)

Grass and opium poppy are doing just fine in rural Mexico, ignored by government

"The Mexican government is allowing domestic marijuana and opium poppy production to climb to record levels, as soldiers who once cut and burned illegal crops are being redeployed to cities to wage urban warfare against criminal gangs," says The Washington Post in an October 21 report. The Post claims that marijuana acreage has "nearly doubled," and that production of opium poppies has "soared."

U.S. cops hard at work in Mexico via clandestine informant network

The New York Times reports his morning that "American law enforcement agencies have significantly built up networks of Mexican informants that have allowed them to secretly infiltrate some of that country’s most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations." The Times says the informants "have helped Mexican authorities capture or kill about two dozen high-ranking and mid-level drug traffickers, and sometimes have given American counter-narcotics agents access to the top leaders of the cartels they are trying to dismantle."

Many of the informants have, or have had, connections to drug trafficking or other criminal enterprises. Often they are recruited as informants under the threat of pending or impending criminal charges in the United States. The U.S. has extradited and prosecuted many Mexican drug operatives.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cyber crime puts Mexico in # 3 position worldwide; 80% have been victimized

Jan. 19, 2013 - Mexico not prepared for cyber attack, Pentagon says, placing its population at risk

Guadalajara -
Cyber crime is taking its toll on Mexicans, according to a recent report. Symantec, a California company that develops and sells computer security software, says 8 of every 10 adult computer users have been subjected to some form of computer threat or attack, and 7 of every 10 have had to deal with malicious viruses designed to gather confidential information from their machines. Only internet users in China and South Africa reported higher rates of attack by mass distributed malware.

Los Zetas are taking over Cancún, Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Riviera Maya

That's what a peninsular newspaper, Por Esto, said in it's today's edition. Bars, restaurants, stores and businesses of all types are being taken over by the feared drug cartel Los Zetas. They simply make the legitimate owners "an offer they can't refuse."

Economists call this "income diversification." Cops call it money laundering. The U.S government recently said that about $39 billion USD gets washed every year in Latin America and the United States via drug trafficking.

Here's what Por Esto has to say about the famed Riviera Maya:

How Los Zetas do it:

Recent high profile crimes on the Caribbean Gold Coast:

I'm glad I don't own any Gold Coast "resort property." The day may come when you won't be able to give it away - except to Los Zetas.

Feb. 2012 update - Riviera Maya in the hands of drug cartels and extortionists:

Empty hotel rooms on Isla de Mujeres

At least at the Hotel San Jorge, that is. Site of last week's brutal double execution of two alleged female drug dealers, the usually busy island hostelry has ground to a virtual halt. Staff members say that some people still stop by to check on prices -- all of them foreign tourists -- but so far there have been no takers. Employees say that those who do inquire about room prices and availability seem oblivious to recent events.

Two women executed on Isla de Mujeres

Aug. 17 - Isla de Mujeres is flooded with drug dealers, young bandits who target foreign tourists and undocumented Cubans arriving by sea under cover of darkness. How much worse will it get?

One wonders if the place will be permanently jinxed, like a famous motel of an earlier era.

The Cocaine Road: stopping the crime means dismantling an economic system

So argues U.S. journalist Tim Chitwood in a wonderful article in today's Columbus, Georgia Ledger-Enquirer. Read the disturbing details:

The international drug trade and the multinational drug cartels behind it present at least as much threat to the United States (and other countries) as does terrorism. In fact, the cartels are but another facet of terrorism. That's what a top DEA official told Congress just a few days ago:

Cocaine is just ONE of the drugs which former Mexican president Vicente Fox wants to legalize, worldwide:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mexico has a new federal child care law

On June 5, 2009, disaster struck suddenly in the city of Hermosillo, in Mexico's northern state of Sonora. A fire broke out in a building next door to the Guardería ABC, a popular and busy day care facility, and spread quickly. The day care operated out of an antiquated building which was not equipped with smoke detectors, fire extinguishers or even designated fire exits. Events happened so fast that many were not able to escape. Forty-nine children died on the premises, and another 76 were injured. Most of the deaths were attributed to suffocation from the intense smoke. The victims ranged from five months to five years of age.

Extortion on a grand scale, with business owners the usual targets

I've written before about the huge threat posed by extortion in Mexico. Anyone may be a target, but businesses, small mom and pop enterprises in particular, are the usual ones. Sometimes particular industries or trades are singled out, for reasons which are not entirely clear. Retail pharmacy chains, for instance, have been targeted in recent months. School teachers in Guerrero state (Acapulco and its environs) were hit up for 50% of their paychecks just as classes resumed in late August. Schools were closed for about six weeks, putting thousands of teachers out of work and idling tens of thousands of elementary and high school students, while the government beefed up security. And individuals with money have long kown to avoid conspicuous displays of wealth, unless they're able to pay for full time private security.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Who's buying the drugs in Quintana Roo's Riviera Maya?

It's not Mexicans, that I can assure you. The petty 12,000 person permanent population on the island is not enough to support the lucrative regional drug industry run by Los Zetas and a few wannabes. Nor can locals afford to snort coke or smoke weed. Who then?

Arrest made in Isla de Mujeres murder case; suspect is 15 and "boss of the plaza"

A Mexican news service is reporting that an arrest has been made in connection with the double executions in Isla de Mujeres on Mexico's Gold Coast. I posted on the case yesterday (see just below).

The suspect is a 15 year old boy, described as "jeffe de la plaza," or boss of the plaza, in the island's tourist zone. A boss of the plaza is a drug kingpin who controls all narcotics sales -- or tries to -- within a geographical territory. Power struggles between such drug bosses are common events in Mexico.

What happens when illegal immigrants go away? A lot more than you may think

If you do nothing else today, spend five minutes and read this:

U.S. deports record number of Latinos in 2011 - the majority of them to Mexico

The United States deported nearly 400,000 people in fiscal year 2011, the most in its history. Some 377,500 were of Latin American origin, and almost 287,0000 were Mexican nationals. Almost three of every four persons (72%) deported from the United States during the last accounting period were Mexican.

Latin American nations occupied the top nine places for number of U.S. deportees. Jamaica was in a distant tenth position. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador took first, second, third and fourth places. All are feeling the ravages of narcoviolence, and a war against Mexican and Colombian drug cartels which has spilled far beyond the frontiers of both countries.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Venezuelan doctor who suggested poor prognosis for Chávez is forced to flee

I posted about Hugo Chávez' poor medical prognosis four days ago (Oct. 17). You can read it here: Since that time Chávez has returned home, and yesterday he spoke in glowing terms about his health, saying that Cuban doctors have determined that there isn't a trace of diseased cells left in his body.

But what surprised me, as it probably did many of you, was the fact that even a prominent Venezuelan surgeon would have the guts to stick his neck out by offering such a dire assessment of Chávez' medical condition. Moreover, he did it in the most public of ways, by granting an interview to a widely read Mexican magazine.

Judicial corruption in Guatemala -- but don't forget, the maid knows everything (Sí, la criada sabrá de todo)

In earlier days many a Hollywood thriller contained a plot in which the ever present butler or maid knew something critical -- sometimes just the smallest detail. When that detail was finally pried out by the cops, the guilty party was arrested.

In Guatemala -- where 98% of all serious crimes go unresolved, according to a United Nations report -- the "small detail" happened to be the witnessing of a domestic homicide. According to police one of the guilty parties is a former judge of the country's highest court, accused of concealing the whereabouts of her son, Roberto Barreda, the likely perpetrator of the murder.

Two women executed in plush Isla de Mujeres on Mexico's Riviera Maya

Cancún -- Two young women who allegedly peddled drugs on the Isla de Mujeres tourist strip were found executed in a room of the Hotel San Jorge yesterday (October 20). The women, 26 and 23, were seized by unknown persons on Tuesday. One of them had just been released from jail the day before, after being found guilty of possession of 150 grams of cocaine. She was fined 150,000 pesos ($11,500 USD), according to court officials. Authorities say they were known to be local drug retailers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hugo Chávez on Muammar Gaddafi: "A murdered martyr, but what can you do?"

All day long I knew I would be writing this post. What's taking him so long, I thought? I guess it's because Chávez was to busy telling everyone who'd listen that there's not a cancerous cell left in his body.

Anyway -- The president of Venezuela did indeed refer to deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, killed today by revolutionary forces, as a "murdered martyr." Chávez told journalists, "Raul Castro and I were just talking, and I remember that Raul told me, 'they're going to kill him.' Well, sadly, they did it, they murdered him. It's another hard blow in life, but what else can I say?"

Presidential Citizens Medals awarded today to 13 American heroes

The Medal is awarded for "exemplary deeds or services for [one's] county or fellow citizens." Today 13 people got it, and one of them was Roger Kemp of Leawood, Kansas, a suburban community just outside of Kansas City, MO. I don't know Roger, but my home for many years was just a stone's throw from Leawood. And although we've never met, I've thought about Roger more times than I could ever tell you.

Roger was father to a beautiful young daughter, Allie. Allie's whole life lay just before her, until one horrible afternoon in June 2002. Then tragedy came calling, and Roger had to endure every man's worst nightmare. He was tested to the limit, and then some, but he survived. In the process he made the world a much better place, despite his enormous personal agony. "We don't always get to choose the challenges that we face," Barack Obama said at the White House today. "But how we respond is entirely up to us."

Vicente Fox "let's make a deal" proposal going over like a lead balloon

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox's suggestion earlier this week (see post below) of negotiated peace with the drug cartels has people almost lining up to denounce it. Several PAN (National Action Party) officials have done so, and today PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) darling Enrique Peña Nieto joined the chorus, saying that neither he nor his party would ever support such an approach. Peña Nieto has a very good chance of being PRI's 2012 presidential standard bearer.

U.S. owes its strength to immigrant labor - especially Mexican, says Calderón

The president made his comments this morning during the Third International Migration and Peace Forum in Mexico City. At times openly and at times obliquely Calderón referred to U.S. policy, condemning "absurd, restrictive immigration laws that persecute migrants in an irrational manner." In a thinly veiled reference to U.S. demand for drugs, the president added that the "business which really (drives) illegal immigration begins on the other side of the Rio Grande." Calderón frequently speaks out on this topic, as well as on U.S. arms sales to Mexican drug cartels.

Hugo Chávez says he's clean, cancer's gone

Just back from his latest visit to Havana for what he described as a routine checkup, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, 57, says that Cuban doctors detected "no malignant cells" in his body. He told reporters that his condition had been "verified scientifically," without elaborating on details.

Chávez' health claims are at odds with what one of the president's former personal physicians said in an interview earlier this week. That doctor, a Venezuelan surgeon not involved in the current cancer treatment, told a Mexican magazine that Chávez family members had confirmed to him that a pelvic sarcoma was discovered in June. The surgeon said that the prognosis was grim, and that Chávez' life expectancy would be perhaps two years.

Hugo Chávez given dire prognosis by physician: pelvic sarcoma, two years left.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Average Mexican: 8,605 pesos per month

That's the strict national average monthly pay for workers in this country of 110 million people. At the current exchange rate of about 13 pesos for each U.S. dollar, it figures out to $662 USD per month. The numbers were reported today by a Mexican agency, and are based upon 2010 incomes.

Mexican drug cartels have expanded operations to Peru and Bolivia, says DEA official

In statements today before a U.S. Senate committee, a high ranking official of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that Mexico's drug cartels have now expanded beyond immediately adjoining Central America, and may be found in Peru and Bolivia as well, where they deal in "large quantities of cocaine." The official alleged that this is likely with the cooperation of officials in those countries.

Rodney Benson, the DEA's chief of intelligence, testified before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. He told legislators that his agency has been monitoring the trend since 2007. Benson said that it has been very difficult for the DEA to identify the cartels involved in Bolivia, since U.S. agents were expelled by president Evo Morales in 2008. Morales (below) is an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in the region, and has accused DEA personnel of being agents provacateur, sent to destabilize his government.

Benson told committee members that Bolivian cocaine is exported directly to Africa and western Europe. He also said that cocaine production is greatly on the rise in Peru, and will soon surpass that of Bolivia. Benson testified that the growing narcotics industry in Peru, where a new president took office in June, represents the government's severest challenge. He noted that drug consumption has increased greatly in neighboring Brazil, although it is still behind that of the United States.

March 18 - Evo Morales threatens to close American embassy in Bolivia

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Vicente Fox urges legalization of all drugs in Mexico - and worldwide

Speaking today in the United States, former Mexican president Vicente Fox urged the legalization of all drugs in his country. “It’s necessary in order to take a step forward in the war against drug trafficking,” said Fox.

During a conference at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., Fox said that Mexico should follow the example of countries like Portugal and Holland, which “have legalized drugs without negative health consequences for their populations. My proposal is to legalize all drugs and their production,” added Fox, who served as Mexico’s president from 2000-2006.

Calderón smacks INM - "no immigration corruption" will be tolerated

Last week Mexico announced the firing of 121 federal INM agents. The Instituto Nacional Migración processes visa applications, citizenship requests and all other matters pertaining to migrants, regardless of where, when or how they crossed Mexico's borders. The agency has been beset with corruption in recent years.

"We're not going to stop in our efforts to clean it up and strengthen it," said president Felipe Calderón. "Without a doubt, it's been a prisoner of corruption, of arbitrariness, and all of the abuses must be eliminated."

Calderón made his comments at the beginning of National Migration Week 2011. He said that the same respect for human rights which Mexico demands the U.S. show for undocumented persons living in that country, Mexico will extend to the undocumented within its own borders, especially to people from Central and South America. Concerning that issue, Calderón said that Mexico will decriminalize illegal migration, which he urged the United States to do as well.

The president delivered his remarks yesterday in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

More on the recent firing of corrupt INM agents:

El Chapo Guzmán must be in United States, says Felipe Calderón

Everybody’s still talking about Felipe Calderón’s September 28 interview with the New York Times, which was published last weekend (see posts below). By the way, the Times has now published that interview in Spanish (on its webpage), to clarify whether the president was accurately quoted by its reporters. Mexico’s Secretary of Government, Francisco Blake, told a press conference yesterday that Calderón’s anti-PRI remarks had been taken out of context.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Could "domino theory" apply to Central America?

The domino theory was popular in the 1950s and 1960s when many in the West, especially in the Untied States, feared a worldwide communist takeover. The theory held that if a nation fell to the "Red menace," its neighbors would soon follow. The phrase was coined when president Dwight Eisenhower (speaking of Asia, principally) told an April 1954 press conference:

"Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences."

Could such a thing happen in Central America -- with the threat this time being narcotics traffickers instead of communists? Some say it's a very real possibility.

A meeting of Latin American foreign ministers convened today in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, to focus on the issue. Mexico’s Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano said that organized crime presents the single greatest threat to governments in the region today. Drug traffickers and others seek to destabilize the area, and to destroy democracy itself, she argued.

Espinosa Cantellano said that in the face of this threat, countries must work together to preserve their mutually dependent security. She urged her counterparts from several nations to “reject absolutely” any and all destabilizing forces, and to aggressively confront transnational organized crime.

The countries participating in the conference are Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belice, Panamá, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and México.

More shots traded in PAN vs. PRI narco connection battle: PRI knew drug routes

The war of words continued today, as another PAN presidential candidate fired back at PRI leaders who have demanded a retraction and apology by Mexican president Felipe Calderón for comments he made to the New York Times during a September 28 interview, published last weekend.

Ernesto Cordero, a former secretary of Mexico's Hacienda (the country's tax collection and budget analysis agency), said that "it's PRI who owes an apology to all of Mexico." Cordero told a press conference today that there are public statements made by former PRI leaders who have openly acknowledged the party's connection to organized crime as long as 30 years ago, enabling it to become much stronger. He pointed to admissions by Sócrates Rizzo, a former PRI mayor of Monterrey and governor of Nuevo Leon in the 1990s, as well as statements by Miguel de la Madrid, Mexico's PRI president from 1982-1988. Neither man had any immediate comment in response.

"Those people even knew the drug routes," Cordero quoted Sócrates Rizzo as saying.

The PAN pre-candidate also noted that in many states which are controlled by PRI governments narcoviolence is severe, including Nuevo León, Coahuila, Nayarit, Veracruz and Quintana Roo.

Obesity presents severe risk to Mexico: 70% of population is overweight

Mexico, like many other developed and developing nations, has a major health battle on its hands. Simply put, most people here are overweight. A combination of too many calories and too little exercise places millions of Mexicans at serious health risk, concludes a recent study of the nation’s population.

A 2010 study of obesity commissioned by the Mexican government concluded that 70% of the country’s population is clinically overweight, and many more are at an unhealthy weight. Some four million children suffer from obesity.

According to the federal study, Yucatán state has Mexico's highest obesity rate among children age 5 to 11, and the fifth highest among adolescents 12 to 19. In the younger group 36.3% of children are overweight, and in the latter group 38.9% are. The study was reported October 3 by El Diario de la Yucatán, one of Mérida's principal newspapers.

The problem is aggravated by poverty. The limited incomes on which many families must subsist interferes with maintenance of a healthy diet, and promotes the consumption of fast food and junk food, says Mauricio Hernández, undersecretary of Mexico’s agency for disease prevention. Those foods are generally cheaper and are readily available on the street, he noted.

“There is a huge imbalance between calories consumed and calories burnt through exercise,” said Hernández. “It’s very easy to take them in, but much harder to burn them.”

Jaime Zabludovsky, president of the Mexican Council for Consumable Products, said that “today, Mexicans live longer, they’ve moved (from the countryside) to the cities, and they eat more. Today people have access to (prepared) foods that they didn’t have access to in earlier times.”

Roberto Marmolejo, editor of Balance magazine, says that the problem is also one of lack of education about how to select healthy foods, as well as the importance of regular exercise.

In 2010 Mexico passed an anti-obesity law which was particularly aimed at young people. It prohibits the sale of foods with very low nutritional value, particularly ones high in fats, salt and sugar.

The World Health Organization (flag pictured) says that Mexico’s battle with obesity could cost the country $15 billion USD over the next decade, in the form of treatment for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

No deals with criminals, says PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota

Josefina Vázquez Mota leads the presidential preference polls among all current PAN (National Action Party) precandidates. At a campaign appearance today, she emphasized that if elected, she'll never consider "any kind of amnesty for, or deal with, organized crime." Her remarks will no doubt continue to fan the flames on that issue. PRI politicians throughout Mexico remained on the offensive today, demanding that president Felipe Calderón retract and apologize for his recent comments during an interview with the New York Times. Calderón inferred that if PRI wins the presidency next year, there will be a return to "business as usual," with the drug cartels being permitted to carry on their activities below the radar screen.

Vázquez Mota also said that Mexican armed forces will be withdrawn from their leadership role in the war against the drug cartels as soon as the government is confident that local law enforcement can handle the task.

More on the Vázquez Mota candidacy:

Update Apr. 25, 2012 - Josefina pide EEUU corresponsibilidad contra crimen:

Hugo Chávez given dire prognosis by physician: pelvic sarcoma, two years left

In recent weeks I've reported on the condition of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who is suffering from an undisclosed form of cancer. The illness was first acknowledged in June, and since then Chavez has undergone several rounds of chemotherapy in Havana. After the last, in Sept., Chávez returned to Caracas and declared himself cured.

But that's not the case, says Venezuelan physician and surgeon Salvador Navarrete, who claims he has treated Chávez in the past. The doctor says that Chávez had "a pelvic tumor, a sarcoma, very aggressive, with the life expectancy being no more than two years." Navarette was interviewed by the Mexican magazine Milenio, excerpts of which were quoted today in a U.S. newspaper. He said his information is based upon direct communications with members of Chávez' immediate family, who disclosed the diagnostic details. Navarette is not involved with Chávez' current cancer treatment.

Navarette also confirmed that in late September, after returning to Venezuela, Chávez suffered critical renal failure. He received emergency treatment at a military hospital, which included dialysis. I reported that story at the time, as did other news sources, but Chávez vigorously denied there had been any emergency. (

The doctor said that Chávez decided to receive medical treatment in Havana because "he doesn't trust anybody (in Venezuela), only the Cubans. He has abandoned all his own doctors,and placed himself in the hands of Cuban physicians." According to Navarette, Chávez is still receiving "aggressive chemotherapy." The Venezuelan president arrived on the island yesterday, allegedly for a routine checkup.

Navarette characterized Chávez as a man of "fine presence, a very magnetic personality." He said that Chávez is a heavy coffee drinker and an occasional smoker, and that he has been treated in the past for a manic-depressive condition.

Oct. 5, 2012 - As Venezuelans head to the polls, Hugo Chávez proves all the prophets wrong

Former U.S. ambassador reveals details of Chávez' condition:
How Chávez feels about one U.S. presidential candidate:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

PRI enraged over Felipe Calderón's comments to New York Times

Last night and this morning I reported Felipe Calderón's observations about what will happen if Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) regains the presidency after the 2012 election. The posts are just below, as is a link to my editorial today in The Yucatan Times, which is related to the same topic. If you're not familiar with what's causing all the controversy, scroll down a bit.

Calderón opined in a September 28 interview with the New York Times that a PRI win next year would very likely carry with it a return to "the old days," when some PRI politicians quietly tolerated organized crime, or made informal "under the table" pacts with them, or simply looked the other way. Calderón was also quoted as saying that the most likely PRI candidate in the 2012 election, Enrique Peña Nieto, would go soft on the drug cartels, and perhaps "crawl back into bed with them." See my post below on Peña Nieto.

The comments, widely reported all over Mexico today, have set off a firestorm of controversy, especially within PRI. Mexican Senator Carolos Jiménez Macías (pictured below), a PRI powerhouse who speaks for the party, has demanded that Calderón retract the statements, apologize for them and then back them up with hard evidence. It might occur to some of you, as it did to me, that there wouldn't be much point in backing up a retracted statement.

Jiménez Macías also demanded that Calderón "get his hands out" of the 2012 pre-electoral process. No response yet from Calderón or the PAN (his party) camp.

By the way: Carolos Jiménez Macía is the same gentleman who told us yesterday that the recently busted Iranian conspiracy to assassinate foreign ambassadors in Washington -- murders which were to be carried out by a supposed Mexican drug cartel hit man -- is a fabrication of the U.S. and Mexican governments, supposedly created so that the United States can further involve itself in Mexico's "internal affairs." If you missed my post on that story, it's just below. Read it, so you'll know what PRI is prepared to say and do in order to retake the presidency in 2012.

And now, MY question for Carolos Jiménez Macía:

"Estimado Senador y portavoz de parte de PRI: Favor de decirnos todos los detalles – a tu conocimiento -- sobre la presunta “conspiración” entre México y los EE.UU., con respecto del asunto de los espías iraníes. Te esperamos, señor.

Dear Senator and spokesman for PRI: please tell us everything you know about this alleged conspiracy between Mexico and the United States, concerning the Iranian spies."

Former Colombian military officers train Los Zetas in Mexico, alleges newspaper

A Mexican newspaper reports today that four former Colombian military officers make regular trips to Mexico to participate in the training of Los Zetas drug cartel members. The paper says that Colombian officials have not yet identified the now retired officers, but they are under investigation by Colombian and Mexican police, as well as by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The training connection may have been established because some members of Los Zetas are former Mexican military, who had professional contacts with their Colombian counterparts.

According to the report, the training program is directed by two former Colombian army captains who once served time in a military prison for humans rights violations. They and two associates conduct the lucrative training at carefully guarded locations in Mexico. The Colombians set up the company in 2007. They are alleged to have also trained mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Mérida Initiative takes off in Maryland

The Mérida Initiative is an agreement between the United States and Mexico which contains provisions for the training and equipping of Mexican police forces, as well as for intelligence gathering and sharing. The name derives from meetings held by former President George Bush and President Calderon in Mérida in 2007.

The U.S. State Department announced Friday (October 14) that a group of over 400 Mexican state police officers will begin receiving "professional enhancement" training soon at a Maryland facility. The officers were selected from Mexico's 31 states and federal district. "These participants will be trained (in techniques) useful for confronting the threat presented by drug cartels along the border," said a State Department press release.

Last April U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa held a meeting in Washington to review the Mérida Initiative. They agreed that the primary focus now should be on training state police forces, which are at the forefront of the war against organized crime. The Mexican armed forces are trained internally, and local police departments are much less actively involved in offensives against the drug cartels. Local police in many areas are often infiltrated by criminal elements, and state police spend considerable time and resources weeding out corruption in their ranks.

More on the Mérida Initiative.