Wednesday, November 30, 2011

U.S. National Council of Churches visits Alan Gross in Havana and urges an end to Cuban embargo; hints at a prisoner swap

A delegation from the U.S. National Council of Churches visited convicted American contractor Alan Gross today in his Havana jail cell, where he is serving a 15 year sentence for state security crimes. The NCC delegation was led by Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the organization's general secretary. Gross' second anniversary of confinement is Dec. 3.

"Two of us went to see Alan," said Kinnamon. "We are very appreciative to the Cuban government for letting us do so. We had a good conversation with him; he was in good spirits." Kinnamon's comments were quoted in a late edition of today's El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish language newspaper in Miami which closely monitors Cuban affairs.

Kinnamon said the Council delegation undertook the trip because it's concerned about U.S.-Cuba relations, about Gross and about the Miami Five, who are convicted Cuban prisoners serving lengthy sentences in the United States. While in Havana the NCC delegation met with family members of the Five, who have been incarcerated since 1998. Kinnamon also met for about two hours with Cuban president Raúl Castro.

"Battle of the merchants" in Mérida likely to intensify with holiday season at hand

Mérida, like so many other Mexican cities, is a place of bustling street commerce. Ambulantes, as they're called here -- traveling merchants and vendors of everything under the sun -- cruise the city's historic plaza, and several blocks in each direction, from early morning until well after midnight. They have no other means of survival, and for most this is a lifetime occupation, frequently passed down to the next generation. In a state where 48% of the population lives below the country's official poverty line, and where many people never acquire more than a primary school education, there are no other career alternatives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. will train Mexico in AMBER alerts

An AMBER alert is a child abduction bulletin used by local police and public authorities to quickly broadcast notice of the unexplained disappearance of a child, especially where a kidnapping or other crime is suspected. The alert is an acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response." It was originally named for nine year old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, who was abducted and murdered in January 1996.

In the United States AMBER alerts usually are broadcast by conventional media such as radio and television, as well as by e-mail, wireless text message systems and through electronically-controlled road signs and billboards. AMBER alert data is entered into crime databases, such as the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC), so that authorities in other jurisdictions can be on the lookout for a victim.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Judy Gross asks president Obama to forget about politics and "bring Alan home"

Judy Gross, wife of convicted USAID contractor Alan Gross who is serving a 15 year sentence in Cuba for state security crimes, today implored president Barack Obama to do whatever is necessary to bring her husband home, "despite the impending elections" in 2012. Her desperate plea came as the second anniversary of Alan's arrest nears.

Gross, a Maryland resident, was detained in Havana in December 2009 as he was preparing to board a flight to the United States. He was convicted of various offenses by a Cuban criminal court in March 2011, and the judgment and sentence were later upheld by the nation's highest tribunal. Former president Jimmy Carter and ex-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson were unable to secure Gross' release during visits to the island. The latter trip ended in rather spectacular failure, with considerable name calling on both sides.

Mexico's Catholic Cardinal receives early holiday gift - a pipe bomb hidden in a book

Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera was the recipient of an unwanted gift last week -- a pipe bomb concealed within a book. A package delivered to Mexico City's archdiocesan headquarters on Friday (November 25) raised immediate suspicions. Staff aides contacted police, who found the explosive device wrapped inside a volume entitled "Economic Law of Latin America." A spokesman for the cardinal's office said that he was never in any personal danger, since the package was not delivered to him.

Rivera Carrera, the highest ranking Roman Catholic official in the country, is known as the Primate of Mexico. A native of La Purísima in Durango state, he was named a cardinal in 1998.

News updates from across Mexico

Politics, drug war, legal news and more

Peña Nieto registers as presidential candidate
It's now official. Enrique Peña Nieto registered yesterday as the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 2012 nominee. At a public event he said that "the winds of change and of hope" are blowing, and "better times are just ahead." The 45 year old candidate, who is often referred to as the most handsome politician in Mexico, promised the thousands of attending PRI supporters peace, security, jobs and economic growth, and called himself "part of a new generation of Mexicans that is convinced the country can transform itself." No word yet on whether the Peña Nieto/PRI campaign will offer voters free bread and circuses, too.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sinaloa governor gets family out of Mexico

In the face of increasing violence in Sinaloa, on Mexico's northwest Pacific coast, governor Mario López Valdez announced yesterday that his four children have left the country.

On November 4 eight people were machine gunned to death in the capital city of Culiacán while playing volleyball in a city park. Six others were injured in the attack. (

On November 7 the mayor of the popular coastal resort city of Mazatlán narrowly survived an assassination attempt while he was returning from a business trip to Culiacán. (

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mexico's INM "kidnapped, sold migrants to drug cartels," ICC lawsuit alleges

That's one of the extreme allegations made in today's criminal complaint against the Felipe Calderón administration, filed this morning with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands (see principal story immediately below). The bizarre claim was one of many human rights violations set out in the 700 page legal document. It was reported by Mexico's Milenio news network.

Felipe Calderón, top cabinet officials accused of war crimes in The Hague

True to their promise, a group of Mexican attorneys, writers, academics and self-styled "intellectuals" have filed a criminal complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, accusing president Felipe Calderón and high ranking members of his administration of committing "war crimes" in the five year old battle against the drug cartels.

The group had announced in October that they would file their claims today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"The beast in the cave and the soap opera actor" - thoughts of November 24, 2011

Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature and a frequent commentator on Mexican affairs, speaking today in Mexico City on the drug war:

México ha tenido el gran coraje de enfrentar un problema que no es mexicano, sino latinoamericano y en buena parte mundial, que es el problema de narcotráfico, una de las fuentes más peligrosas de la corrupción que está socavando las instituciones democráticas en muchos países, y se ha enfrentado de manera resuelta, valiente y ha sacado a la bestia de la cueva donde se ocultaba, ahora sabemos hasta qué punto el narcotráfico es una bestia monstruosamente poderosa, enormemente rica y sin ninguna clase de escrúpulos.

"Mexico has had the great courage to confront a problem which is not just Mexican, but Latin American - really, a problem which is facing the entire world. It's the problem of drug trafficking, one of the most dangerous, corrupting forces which undermines democratic institutions in many countries. Mexico has confronted the problem with resolve, with valor, and has dragged the beast out of the cave where it's been hiding. Now we know that the beast is a monstrosity, powerful, enormously rich and without the slightest scruples."

And leftist PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on his PRI rival Enrique Peña Nieto: "He's a soap opera actor, more of that same group that's hoarded privileges and corrupted the country." [Note: Peña Nieto married Angélica Rivera Hurtado, a well-known "telenovela" star, in November 2010].

Added López Obrador, "Peña Nieto and PRI represent those who don't want any change in Mexico, those who want more of the same, more corruption, more injustice, and more privileges (for the few)."

U.S. FBI, DEA agents help with screening new cop applications in Juárez

Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Bravo (as it's known in Mexico) from El Paso, Texas, is often compared to Baghdad. It's long been the epicenter of Mexican narocoviolence and is considered more dangerous than the Iraqi capital.

Juárez is trying to build up its police force, which has been decimated by executions, defections to the cartels and officers who have simply fled the city out of terror. The hiring and maintaining of "clean" cops who have no known connections to organized crime and who can be trusted is a real challenge.

Los Zetas rule Durango and Zacatecas states, says gutsy Mexican archbishop

What makes this story a story is the complete lack of any intelligent response by state government officials.

Héctor González Martínez is a very brave Roman Catholic archbishop in the Mexican state of Durango. He captured a bit of notoriety in 2009 when he casually announced that the most wanted man in the world, Sinaloa cartel boss El Chapo Guzmán, lived in the area. "Sure, he lives not far from here, everybody knows so," said Martínez. No one in local officialdom responded.

Narco terror strikes Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, in Jalisco state

*Updates below*
Guadalajara, the capital city of Jalisco state and historic cultural center of Mexico, was touched by the ravages of the burgeoning drug war this morning. Three abandoned vehicles containing 23 bodies were discovered on a prominent avenue at 7:00 a.m.

Some authorities believe it may be the work of Los Zetas. The case bears grisly similarity to one in Veracruz on Mexico's Gulf coast in September, where 35 bodes were dumped on a busy city street, at the height of rush hour and in full view of hundreds of persons. Horror on a Veracruz street.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Los Zetas launch "Mexico-style" drug delivery attack in Houston; one killed

The headline is a direct quote from today's Houston Chronicle, in a just published article. Read it here: The enemy has landed in Harris County, Texas.

No more borders, no more "national sovereignty":

New terror strikes Sinaloa, as bodies of 20 kidnapping victims are found burned, shot

Sinaloa state on Mexico's northwest Pacific coast is a seedbed of extreme narcoviolence. On the evening of Friday, November 4 eight people were machine gunned to death while enjoying a game of volleyball in a city park. Six others were critically injured in the deadly assault, carried out by a commando square armed with AK-47s and U.S. made AR-15 military assault rifles.

Renowned Mexican novelist offers harsh assessment of all the candidates, but says Calderón "did his job as he saw it"

Speaking yesterday at the Cervantes Institute in New York, prominent Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes said that he'll be sitting out the 2012 presidential election. His personal choice candidate, Marcelo Ebrard, the PRD governor of Mexico's Federal District, announced last week that he was withdrawing in favor of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In the absence of any other PRD primary contender, López Obrador, who came within a half percent of winning the presidency in July 2006, automatically captured the nomination (

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mexican prosecutors will investigate possible organized crime links with Michoacán elections, PRI candidates

The office of Mexico's attorney general announced this evening that it will investigate claims of possible organized crime involvement in Michoacán state elections which were held on Nov. 13. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is directly linked to the case, and is under a cloud of suspicion for allegedly having connections to a drug cartel which operates in the region. Michoacán voters elected a new PRI governor and many mayors on Nov. 13, most of whom were candidates on the PRI ticket.

The preliminary inquiry was opened by federal prosecutors after a tape recorded telephone call was broadcast throughout the day by Mexico's Milenio news network. The recording contains the voice of an alleged cartel operative -- El Perro ("The Bad Guy") -- advising a woman to vote for the PRI candidate in one of the municipal elections. El Perro, who purportedly is a local boss for La Familia Michoacána, told the woman to call all of her family members and friends and warn them to vote for the PRI candidate as well, or their houses would be burned down and they and their families would be killed. The PRI candidate won the mayoral election which had prompted El Perro's threat -- by 33 votes.

News updates from across Mexico

Politics, drug war, cartel threats, legal news and more

PRI has a presidential nominee
Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country for most of the 20th century, has a presidential nominee -- by default. Most people had presumed that favorite Enrique Peña Nieto would be the party standard bearer in 2012, but the leader of Mexico's Senate, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, was also quite interested in running. Beltrones is a respected, experienced politician, with far more substance than Peña Nieto, in my opinion. But Beltrones, who could clearly read the political weather, announced yesterday that he was withdrawing as a candidate. It was probably a wise move, given the recent groundswell of support for Peña Nieto.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A new Black Hawk helicopter is latest Mérida Initiative gift to Mexico

The Mérida Initiative is a 2007 agreement between the United States and Mexico which provides for U.S. training and equipping of Mexican military and police forces, as well as for intelligence gathering and sharing. The name derives from meetings held by former President George Bush and President Calderón in Mérida, the Yucatán's capital, that same year. The package promised to Mexico came with a hefty $1.6 billion price tag.

The L.A. Times just doesn't get it

MGR Opinion - history will judge Felipe Calderón, as well as those who ignored the cartels

In a blistering editorial, the Los Angeles Times today excoriated Mexico's president Felipe Calderón - and with shocking ignorance of the facts:

"Calderón's most enduring legacy may well turn out to be the death toll from his country's bloody drug war. Since 2006, some 45,000 civilians have died, and the body count continues to rise. The homicide rate increased by more than 260% between 2007 and 2010. And a new report by Human Rights Watch indicates that drug cartels and organized crime aren't solely responsible for the bloodletting. The military, deployed to protect civilians, may have caused many of their deaths, according to the group's study. The report is just the latest reminder that Calderón's security strategy, including his decision to deploy more than 50,000 soldiers against the cartels, hasn't reduced violence, and may in fact be fueling it," said the Times.

In terms of content, the editorial could just as well have been written by any one of several 2012 presidential candidates here who will heavily base their campaigns on opposition to Calderón's strategy of using Mexico's armed forces against the drug cartels. Calderón was elected in July 2006 and launched the controversial offensive in December of that year, shortly after taking office. His term ends next year and he cannot run again.

Let's deal with the facts first. The claim that "45,000 civilians" have been killed in the drug war may be accurate, provided we're including the tens of thousands of people who were killed while directly participating in drug trafficking - the bad guys, in other words. Many soldiers and police, and not a few local politicians, including at least 25 mayors, have also been murdered by cartel executioners and hit squads since 2006. And indeed, people whose only "crime" was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time have sometimes died. But to suggest that most of the drug war's victims have been innocents caught in the crossfire - much less killed by military forces - is as irresponsible as it is unfounded. The government makes a strong case that at least 90% of those killed have been cartel operatives, narcotics traffickers or gang members involved in other criminal enterprises.

Mexico reports major decline in tourism due to narco crime, world economic woes

Faltering economies in the United States and Europe have combined with unprecedented levels of narcoviolence in Mexico to produce a significant decline in the country's tourist industry in recent years, says a private trade organization here.

Tourism has fallen off 13% in the past half dozen years, and Mexico's high ranking as an international tourist destination has dropped drastically in the same period.

The dire statistics were reported by the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association (MHMA). In 2010-2011, the United States, Australia and several western European nations advised their citizens to steer clear of areas constituting 65% of Mexico's national territory, due to high levels of organized crime violence in those regions ( Last year 12,658 people were murdered in drug related crimes, according to MHMA. The preceding year, 2009, brought troubles of its own when an outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) scared off foreign tourists for many months.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another death penalty hearing this week for three Mexican men held in Malaysia

Three Mexican nationals may learn later this week whether they'll be able to avoid a trip to the gallows in a country which shows no mercy for drug dealers. Their last hearing on Sept. 28 resulted in a delay until Nov. 25.

The accused are brothers Jose Regino Gonzalez Villarreal, 33, Simon Gonzalez Villarreal, 36, and Luis Alfonso Gonzalez Villarreal, 43, all from the western state of Sinaloa on Mexico's Pacific coast. Together with two Malaysians, they were charged in 2008 with manufacturing and possessing methamphetamine and precursor chemicals (used to cook the meth), and with narcotics trafficking. They have been in custody for over three years.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Young Mexican women suffer from lack of opportunities, entrenched prejudices

Mexico, a country of about 110 million people, is young. The median age is 26. Over 36 million, a third of the population, is between 12 and 29 years old. Twenty percent of them, almost eight million young people, have nothing to do every day. They don't go to school and they don't work, because there are no jobs. Mexico refers to them as "ninis." Among that group with little or no future, 78%, nearly six million, are girls and young women.

The statistics were disclosed yesterday in a report on a 2010 survey conducted jointly by Mexico's Secretary of Education and the National Youth Institute. The report says that 72% of the women end up in the country's domestic labor force, providing housekeeping and childcare for more affluent members of society (Mexico's domestic workers suffer lifetime of institutionalized discrimination).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Decapitated animals left as warning to narco criminals in Guerrero state

Guerrero state, on Mexico's Pacific coast, is one of the most dangerous regions in the country. Drug related violence has severely damaged the tourist trade in Acapulco in recent years, and it shows no sign of recovering anytime soon.

In a small community in the northern part of the state, police this morning reported the discovery of 13 decapitated dogs. The bodies of the stray animals had been left on a public road, an event which police said was unprecedented.

Mexico's "Christmas bonuses" illustrate - and reinforce - persistent earnings gap

Mexico is a nation of the very rich and the very poor. Most people fit nicely into the latter category. The average monthly salary of a local police officer, for instance, is about 4,000 pesos. Assuming an exchange rate of 13 pesos to the dollar (it's actually been a little higher than that recently, due to a weaker euro), a policeman earns just over $300 USD per month. Of course, most of them have to support families on that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In drug war, "national sovereignty" is antiquated political theory

MGRR News Analysis -
Los Zetas in Chicago, and U.S. guns "gone walking" in Mexico

Mérida, Yucatán
Marisela Morales, Mexico’s attorney general, addressed this country’s Camara de Diputados today, a legislative body roughly equivalent to the United States House of Representatives. Her topic was Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious, the recently revealed secret arms sale programs which were conducted by U.S. federal agents during the Bush and Obama administrations. Mexico’s drug cartels were able to acquire another 2,500 or so military assault weapons through those operations – in addition to the 60 or 80 thousand they'd already gotten their hands on from north of the border in recent years. It surely came as no surprise to anyone when attorney general Eric Holder told Congress just last week that "the U.S. is losing the war on arms trafficking."

Morales' marching orders from her boss Felipe Calderón were no doubt to throw cold water on the smoldering tempers of Mexican legislators outraged by the arms sales. Mexico's Senate has formally called for the extradition of anyone and everyone behind Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. The operations have proved an embarrassment for both governments, all the more so since Calderón and Barack Obama have generally been team players in Mexico's full court press against the drug cartels. Of course, the extradition demands are as much about politics as policy, and they'll go nowhere while Calderón is in Los Pinos - anymore than they would if a PRI or PRD president occupied the country's executive mansion. Friends don't extradite friends, especially when both are facing the same enemy - one carrying an AK-47 or AR-15.

Major drug bust of Los Zetas - in Chicago

The U.S. attorney for Illinois has announced the arrest of 20 men on federal narcotics charges, 12 of them in Chicago, including five members of the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. The local men, who were arrested in a city-wide raid yesterday (Nov. 15), are alleged to have transported large quantities of cocaine from Mexico to Chicago and its environs, returning with huge amounts of cash. Other members of the conspiracy were arrested in Laredo, Texas.

The charges were filed after an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Preliminary reports say that 250 kilograms (about 550 lbs.) of cocaine and $12.5 million in cash were recovered from joint operations conducted by DEA and FBI agents in Chicago and Texas.

Fast and Furious still front and center in Washington, Mexico City

The controversy over secret U.S. arms sales to Mexican drug cartels shows no sign of quietly drifting off the radar screen. With presidential elections next year in both Mexico and the United States, it likely will remain a popular topic with politicians in both countries.

López Obrador begins campaign with bold promise: seven million new jobs if he's elected

PRD nominee Andrés Manuel López Obrador didn't waste time coming out of the gates. Today he promised that seven million jobs would be offered to young people in the first year of his administration, with four million of them on the table within just six weeks. The candidate claims that he has already budgeted for the massive work program, and he promised full details during the upcoming campaign.

"There are no jobs, young people have been ignored, and that's why they've ended upon in the hands of drug traffickers, who've promised them everything they want if they go down that road," said López Obrador. "We're not going to ignore Mexico's youth."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Peña Nieto predicts PRI victory in 2012 - with him as the candidate

Enrique Peña Nieto, making the rounds in Washington, D.C. today, predicted that Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will win next year's presidential election. He also predicted that he'll be at the top of the ticket.

Peña Nieto's comments came shortly after a new PRD coalition announced that their candidate in 2012 will be Andrés Manuel López Obrador (see story below).

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is PRD's 2012 presidential candidate

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (right) will be the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) standard bearer next year after his sole primary rival, Marcelo Ebrard (left), decided today not to further contest the race. An internal survey of probable PRD voters conducted the first week of November had shown López Obrador to be the party favorite. Mexico does not hold formal primary elections.

Monday, November 14, 2011

PRI's likely presidential candidate urges that military be withdrawn from drug fight

Enrique Peña Nieto is in Washington, D.C. today, where he will speak on Mexico's war against the drug cartels and related national issues.

Peña Nieto is the front runner in the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) presidential primary contest. He's almost certain to be PRI's candidate in the general election, and he has a very good chance of becoming Mexico's next president.

Michoacán governor's race draws to a slow close, with a PRI (apparent) winner

It's only one state, and less than 55% of eligible voters turned out, but the results in yesterday's closely watched governor's race in Michoacán state were still being counted this morning. With about 98% of the vote tallied, it appears that the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) candidate Fausto Vallejo Figueroa has narrowly defeated PAN (National Action Party) candidate, Luisa María Calderón Hinojosa. Vallejo Figueroa received 35.38% of the ballots cast, while Calderón Hinojosa, who is the sister of Mexican president Felipe Calderón, won 32.67%. The PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) candidate, Silvano Aureoles Conejo, was in third place with about 29%.

There were no reports of violence in yesterday's state elections for the Michoacán governor's office, as well as many mayoral posts throughout the state. The results will be closely dissected and analyzed for clues as to what may happen in next year's national elections. Mexico will select a new president, together with many federal and state office holders, in 2012.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mexico's southeastern states - including Yucatán - suffer endemic child poverty

Almost 16 million Mexican children suffer from dire poverty and lack access to basic education and health care services, says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The majority live in Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Yucatán, Chiapas and Oaxaca, according to OECD.

The 34 member nation organization, based in Paris, was founded in 1961 with a focus on economic and trade issues. Mexico, Canada and the United States belong to OECD, although most Latin American nations do not. In a recent report the group says that Mexico ranks first place in child poverty among OECD members. Four of every 10 Mexican children live in dire poverty -- on less than one U.S. dollar a day.

Crash which killed government minister likely pilot error, but some are suspicious

Friday's accident which killed Mexico's Secretary of Governmental Affairs, Francisco Blake Mora (story below), was a devastating blow for president Felipe Calderón . Not only was Blake a key minister in this administration, but the two men were close friends as well. Worse still, it was the second such cabinet secretary Calderón has lost in 36 months. A previous occupant of Blake Mora's post was killed when his plane crashed in Mexico City in November 2008.

The government helicopter in which Blake Mora and three other Calderón functionaries were traveling went down about 9:00 a.m. Friday in a remote area. All aboard were killed, including four members of the military who served as the crew and security detail for the officials. Joint public funerals for the seven victims were held yesterday, at an impressive ceremony presided over by Calderón. The grief and exhaustion were etched on his face.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

U.S. intensely focused on Yucatán security in 2008-2009, diplomatic cables reveal

MGRR News Analysis - Wikileaks revelations

*Updated Apr. 12, 2013*
Mérida, Yucatán -
In August 2008, the unthinkable happened. Twelve decapitated bodies were found in Mérida, the obvious victims of narco executions. At first, local residents were convinced that they were drug dealers from outside the state - until investigators confirmed that all but two were from the Yucatán. Many also presumed that the murders had occurred elsewhere, and the bodies were simply dumped here. But then police discovered that the executions had occurred in a house just blocks from Mérida's premier avenue, Paseo de Montejo. For the first time since Mexico's war against the drug cartels began in December 2006, the Yucatán's belief in its natural immunity to narcoviolence was severely shaken.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Calderón top cabinet member killed in helicopter crash this morning - his second aid to die in an air accident since 2008; seven other officials also are dead

Mexico's Secretary of Governmental Affairs Francisco Blake Mora was killed this morning when his helicopter crashed after leaving Mexico City. He was a high ranking member of the Felipe Calderón administration, and frequently appeared at the president's side during public events. The accident occurred about 9:00 a.m.

Cancún narco executions at steady pace

Two more bodies were found in a busy area of Cancún last night, both victims of narcoviolence. Police say their deaths bring to 63 the number of drug related murders in the city this year.

Most Cancún crime is not reported in the mainstream Mexican press. It may be nothing more than an attitude of "so what else is new?," or it may be concern about disrupting Gold Coast tourist trade, at famous resorts like Playa del Carmen, Isla de Mujeres and Cancún itself. Those areas could end up like Acapulco, where the local economy has been ravaged by cartel violence in recent years.

PAN, PRI both call for extradition of U.S. agents who authorized secret arms sales

Yesterday Mexico's two largest political parties demanded that a formal extradition request be submitted to the United States government, so that the officers behind Wide Receiver (2006-2007) and Fast and Furious (2009-2011) are compelled to face Mexican criminal justice for arms trafficking. There's zero possibility that their demands will go anywhere, since it would be up to the Calderón administration to process the request. That assuredly will not happen.

Joint resolutions for extradition were offered in the Mexican Senate by PAN (National Action Party) and PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Those two parties do not often agree on much of anything, but this time they did, since it's politically popular to do so.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ex-diplomat says Chávez has 6 months; warns of Venezuelan "narco-generals"

A former U.S. diplomat with expertise in Latin American affairs alleges that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is gravely ill, and likely has no more than six months to live. He says his information, which was published on an internet site yesterday (Nov. 9), is based on inside sources close to the Chávez government in Caracas.

Roger Noriega, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, claims that his sources have told him Chávez will not survive until the country's October 2012 elections. The Venezuelan president has said he intends to be a candidate and is ready to mount a vigorous re-election campaign. Chávez has ruled Venezuela since 1999.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Internet blogger decapitated by Los Zetas

In September there were several high profile cases of internet users -- here they're referred to as cibernautas -- who were executed by drug cartels. Why?

In each case the person had used some form of social media, such as a Twitter or Facebook account, or a blog or website, to post information about organized crime. In one gruesome case, the 39 year old lead editor of the newspaper Primera Hora, María Elizabeth Macías, was found decapitated and mutilated in northern Nuevo León state. A narcomensaje, or executioner’s warning note left by her head, said that she had been killed in retaliation for using the internet and social media networks to report on drug trafficking.

Official response by Mexico to Human Rights Watch report on military abuses

Translated from a Spanish press release by Mexico's Department of Government earlier today:

"Mexico is not at war. Our strategy is simply to reestablish domestic order, and a state based upon the rule of law, so that Mexicans will be able to enjoy the security, liberty and justice necessary to live in peace and harmony with one another.

"Our struggle against crime is being carried out in strict compliance with the law. The rights and liberties of all Mexicans have been trampled upon by criminal violence. We are committed to doing everything within our power to bring to justice those who kidnap, torture and murder, and those who would destroy our very institutions."

Human Rights Watch condemns abuses, violations by Mexican military forces

The U.S. based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization today condemned what it says have been human rights violations by Mexican armed forces in the five year old war against drug cartels. Launched in December 2006 by the administration of president Felipe Calderón, the unprecedented offensive against organized crime has cost at least 40,000 lives, according to some sources.

HRW said evidence indicates that Mexican military or police forces are responsible for at least 24 killings and 39 unsolved disappearances. It also claims that it verified 170 cases of torture, which occurred in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo León and Tabasco. "Instead of reducing violence, Mexico's 'war on drugs' has resulted in a dramatic increase in torture and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country," said a report by the organization.

Dow loses 400 points; Italian debt issues threaten global economy; dollar steady

The Dow Jones industrial average lost almost 400 points today, its worst one day loss since last summer. The market closed down at 11,780.

Greek sovereign debt issues are still a major worry for investors, but they pale in comparison to those of Italy, which has a national economy six times greater than that of Greece. Italy's cost of borrowing -- the interest rate it would have to offer investors on a new bond issue -- reached a record 7% today. A BBC economics editor said, "No one wants to lend to a country when that country would use the loan to pay the interest on previous loans - that's throwing good money after bad." A European economist said this week that Italy needs an immediate cash infusion of 300 billion euros "just to stand still."

Vatican announces probable papal visit to Latin America in 2012

Spokesmen for the Holy See in Rome hinted that an announcement concerning the Pope's 2012 travel plans will likely be made on December 12. The Pope will celebrate a special mass on that date, in honor of the bi-centennial of the independence of Latin American nations. The date coincides with the feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the most solemn religious observance on the Mexican Roman Catholic calendar.

The Holy Father has been officially invited for visits by Cuba and Mexico. Vatican sources said that he will most likely visit both countries in the spring of 2012.

Papal itinerary confirmed for March 2012:

Drug hit men execute policeman and his 4 year old daughter; wife, 2 other kids hurt

The events occurred yesterday in the city of Chihuahua, an industrial and commercial center of 825,000 in northern Mexico.

The officer, 32 year old Jean Calet Aguirre, had served seven years as a state police officer. It was his day off, and he was driving down a busy street with his family. Gunmen pulled up in a vehicle and cut him off. Police say that traffic was heavy and the area was congested, so the officer couldn't escape. Aguirre and his 4 year old daughter were killed at the scene. His wife and two other children remain in serious condition.

More than 10,000 people died from drug violence in Chihuahua in 2010, where two cartels -- Los Zetas and Cartel del Golfo -- are engaged in a deadly turf war. The state borders New Mexico and Texas on the north.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Survey reveals massive disconnect in Mexico between drug trade and violence

MGRR Opinion -

A recent survey revealed in a very graphic way the public shortsightedness with which governments must contend in dealing with the governed.

People here ask, "Why is there all this violence since president Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006? We didn't use to have such troubles. Why can't things be like they were before?" I have to bite my tongue - hard - when I hear such comments. I tend to change the subject, rather than tell the person what sophomoric questions those are.

Yucatán - and all of Mexico - about to get a major legal facelift with "oral trials"

Radical changes in the way Mexico's criminal justice system operates will premier in Mérida and other Yucatán communities next week. For the first time in the country's 201 year history, trials will be conducted much more like those in common law nations which share English legal traditions and philosophy.

The changes were mandated by constitutional amendments which Mexico adopted in 2008. The most critical difference is that henceforth, Mexican criminal judges will decide the guilt or innocence of an accused person based upon live testimony of witnesses in an American style courtroom. Witnesses will be subjected to direct and cross examination, just as they are in U.S., Canadian and British criminal trials.

Previously, criminal courts here based their decisions almost exclusively upon written documents, such as police reports, which often were hopelessly one-sided. Juries will not be used in future trials, however, and verdicts still will be determined by judges alone.

Mayor of Pacific coast resort survives assassination attempt

Mazatlán is a popular tourist destination in the state of Sinaloa, on Mexico's northwest coast. It has a population of about 440,000.

Mazatlán Mayor Alejandro Higuera Osuna narrowly survived an assassination attempt last night when a convoy transporting him and his security guards was fired upon by armed gunmen. He was traveling from Culiacán, the state capital, when the attack occurred on a major highway. The events were reported today by the Sinaloa state prosecutor's office. Sources say that shells from automatic weapons, including AK-47s and AR-15s, were recovered at the scene. Those arms are commonly carried by sicarios (hit men) who work for drug cartels. AR-15s are made in the United States.

Monday, November 7, 2011

U.S. A.G. to Congress: "Fast and Furious should never have happened"

One of the reasons presidents have cabinet secretaries is so when something goes wrong, he (or she) can go down to Capitol Hill and tell legislators, "We admit it, we screwed up." That was Eric Holder's task this morning. As Barack Obama's attorney general, it was Holder's duty to go along quietly to the wood shed and take his licking from hostile Republicans on a Senate committee panel.

From a Havana cell, Alan Gross calls for a prisoner swap: himself for the Miami Five

Several news sources in the United States and Europe are reporting late today that Alan Gross has sugested that the U.S. trade him for the Miami Five. His request was allegedly made to a rabbi, David Shneyer, who recently visited Gross in Cuba. According to media reports, Rabbi Shneyer made the request public today in a message to members of his congregation, located near Washington, D.C. There is no indication that Shneyer spoke directly with the press about Gross' alleged wishes to be exchanged.

Gross is a Maryland resident who was arrested in Havana in December 2009. In March he was convicted of state security crimes in a Cuban court, and was sentenced to 15 years. He has served almost two years of that term, and is said to be in poor health.

U.S. has drug commandos throughout Central America, says New York Times

The paper reports in today's edition that Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) commando squads have been deployed in several countries where drug cartels are strong, especially in Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize. The program is called FAST, an acronym for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams. The Times says that the paramilitary units were created in 2005 during the George W. Bush administration, and were originally designed to go after "Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan." Under president Barack Obama, FAST operations have expanded.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Announcing the NEW Mexico and Gulf Region Reporter (MGRR) Supplement

Over the past several months, I've written many articles, columns and op-ed pieces for The Yucatan Times of Mérida. Throughout this Blog, there are URL links to a number of those items.

For your convenience, I've created a Mexico Gulf Region Reporter (MGRR) Supplement, where all of my Yucatan Times pieces will be permanently available. They are being uploaded today. They are in no particular subject matter order.

I invite my readers to click on the link on the right side bar of this Blog, where you will be instantly connected to the MGRR Supplement. The articles stored there cover a wide range of topics, and many of them have never appeared in this Blog. From time to time I may also post special or longer works in the Supplement -- editorial opinions, for instance -- but there always will be notice of such, and a direct link, on this Blog page. This Blog will remain, in other words, my primary writing location.

I will be re-linking some of the posts in this Blog with my new Supplement. That will take time. If you click on a link on this page and it "goes nowhere," let me know and I'll create a new link immediately. Or simply stroll over to my Supplement page, where you'll probably be able to quickly find whatever you're looking for.

Thanks for reading the Mexico Gulf Region Reporter, and the MGRR Supplement.

Veracruz newspaper attacked by arsonists

This week I posted about increasing threats to a free press in Latin America. Mexico is of course the most dangerous location, where organized crime has killed dozens of journalists since 2000. Early this morning there was further evidence of the challenges facing those who simply try to get out the news each day.

65% of Mexico declared "off limits" to foreign travelers by western nations

In the past 12 months, the governments of Australia, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany have warned their citizens to stay out of almost 65% of Mexico's national territory. The alerts were based upon high levels of organized crime violence in 20 of the country's 31 states. The most dangerous areas, according to the reporting nations, include Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Baja California, Sonora, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Michoacán and Guerrero.

Local police suffer the most in Mexico's drug war: underpaid and outgunned

In almost five years of war against the drug cartels, 1,158 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in this country. According to Mexico's national public security agency, 44% of those have been municipal or community officers, 34% worked for state police departments and 22% were federal agents. The clear message, says the agency, is that local police have borne the brunt of the losses, because they are outgunned, under-trained and underpaid.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Eight executed during volleyball game by gunmen carrying AK-47s, AR-15s

The past 24 hours have been brutal in Mexico's northwestern Sinaloa state, long a center of narcoviolence. Seventeen people were murdered in multiple incidents.

The worst occurred last night (November 4) in Culiacán, the state capital and a city of 675,000 people. About 8:15, a group of persons was playing volleyball in a neighborhood park. A convoy of vans and trucks pulled up, carrying multiple masked men armed with AK-47s and AR-15s. Those are military assault weapons. Many different models of the AR have been carried by generations of U.S. soldiers in combat theaters. The ubiquitous AK-47 is known by a nickname here, based upon its distinctive magazine: cuernos de chivo, or goat horns.

The gunmen opened fire without a word. Eight persons were mowed down and died instantly. Six others were seriously wounded. The hit men got back in their vehicles and drove away. As of this hour there are no arrests, no suspects, and no known motive.

Hemingway Bar opens in Cuban consulate in Washington, D.C. - with FREE drinks

Who would have ever thought of a bar - a tavern - in an embassy or consulate? Well, the Cuban Interests Section, as it's known, has just opened one in Washington. Cuba and the United States have not had formal diplomatic relations for 50 years, since Fidel Castro came to power, but each maintains an interests section in the other's capital. The Cuban facility is located on 16th Street N.W. in the District.

Cuba's new U.S. watering hole is called the Hemingway Bar, after the famous author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). Hemingway spent many years living in Havana, where he wrote two classics in American literature, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and The Sea. The latter won him the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Mexico's chief prosecutor knew about secret arms sales to cartels, says U.S.

In a report made public yesterday, the U.S. Dept. of Justice says that Mexico's former chief federal prosecutor knew that one of its agencies allowed military assault weapons to be sold to Mexican drug cartels during the administration of former president George W. Bush. The document was prepared for a former U.S. attorney general in 2007, but the contents were first reported by the Associated Press this week.

The allegations were made against Eduardo Medina Mora, who now serves as Mexico's ambassador to the United Kingdom. The sales were under a program known as Wide Receiver, which lasted from 2006 to 2007. Earlier this week an assistant U.S. attorney general told a congressional investigative committee that president Bush had personally approved the sale of 350 weapons to straw purchasers during Wide Receiver, who in turn transferred the firearms to drug cartels. Most of the sales were through licensed gun dealers and shops in Arizona, near the border. Federal agents referred to the arms as "guns gone walking."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Alan Gross supporters take their release crusade on the road to D.C., Denver

With no other options available, Alan Gross supporters have issued two press releases within the past 24 hours, indicating that they will step up efforts to secure his release. Gross is the Maryland resident who was arrested in December 2009, while attempting to board a flight out of Havana. He was convicted of state security crimes by a Cuban court in March, and he has served just under two years of the 15 year sentence imposed on him. Every diplomatic effort to secure Gross' freedom, formal and informal, has been a complete bust. The current relationship between Cuba and the United States is as bad as it's been in many years, and things weren't helped any when the United Nations condemned last week, for the 20th consecutive year, the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba -- by a 186-2 vote.

Rick Perry throws another wild punch

Political pundits have long said that vice president Joe Biden has a God-given knack for saying just the wrong thing at just the wrong moment. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry is giving him a run for his money.

Yesterday candidate Perry casually told an interviewer that the Arab terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah are conducting operations from Mexican territory. One way the governor will help keep an eye on them - after he's president - is by flying unmanned surveillance drones up and down the border. "I know how to do it," said Perry, referring to his experience as Texas' chief executive.

Military court martial convicts 14 in 2007 murder of Sinaloa civilians

One of the arguments made by opponents of the offensive which president Felipe Calderón launched against organized crime in December 2005 is that in their zeal to take on the cartels, military forces have sometimes violated the civil rights of innocent civilians. Unquestionably, there have been excesses in the drug war, including unjustified killings. The government is not ignoring them.

Organized crime, hostile governments present challenges to Latin free press

On a hot summer afternoon 35 years ago, an intrepid Arizona Republic reporter named Dan Bolles walked out into the parking lot of a busy Phoenix hotel, got into his Datsun 710 and started the engine. The car rolled a few feet and then exploded with a flash and deafening roar, blowing off one of his arms and one of his legs. Bolles was still conscious when first responders arrived. Among his last words were, "They finally got me. The Mafia."

Updates on Guzmán Romero murder

Ricardo Guzmán Romero was buried yesterday, less than 24 hours after his death, in a funeral heavily attended by prominent government officials and many constituents. By all appearances, the mayor was well respected in his community.

No suspects have been identified in connection with Wednesday evening's assassination in La Piedad, in Michoacán state, but the vehicle used in the shooting has been recovered. It had been stolen from Jalisco state (Guadalajara area) a day or two before.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"We should have done more for Mexico," says Condoleeza Rice

The former secretary of state to president George W. Bush says that the United States "should have done more" to assist Mexico in its war with the drug cartels, apart from purely military and financial aid.

The remarks appeared in Rice's memoir, No Higher Honor, published yesterday in the United States. Rice served the Bush administration as national security adviser from 2001 to 2005, and as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009.

"I wished we had done more. There are parts of Mexico which are beginning to resemble a failed state," wrote Rice.

Cuba authorizes sale of residential real estate; KLM direct service to Havana

In most countries buying or selling residential real estate is taken for granted. Not so in Cuba. But effective November 10, Cubans will be able to purchase or sell up to two residential properties, without government approval. The new measure will also apply to foreign nationals living on the island who are permanent residents.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Traitors to Mexico?

A few weeks ago I reported on a case which made big news all over Mexico. A group of lawyers, journalists and self-styled "intellectuals" announced in October that they were about to file criminal charges against president Felipe Calderón, together with members of his cabinet and various Mexican military officers, with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The ICC is a tribunal which prosecuted dozens of Slavic military and government officials for crimes against humanity -- including mass murder and rape -- during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. It has also prosecuted African war lords for similar atrocities committed during civil uprisings. The ICC recently issued an international arrest warrant for one of the sons of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.