Thursday, May 31, 2012

Enrique Peña Nieto falling; U.S. dollar soaring

PRI candidate hits a new campaign low, exactly 30 days before Mexico votes; meanwhile, "the dollar is in the clouds"

The numbers speak for themselves. EPN must be sweating; he's lost .7 of a percentage point since the Milenio/GEA poll released yesterday. Another Mexico City poll (Reforma) reported today that the PRI candidate is actually at 38%, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador at 34%. With the percentage of error factored in, that's almost a statistical tie.

A "free press" in Mexico - but who's really paying the tab?

MGRR Opinion - All the news they want you to have, and at a price you can afford

Mérida protesters recently admonished a local newspaper, "Stop hiding the truth!"

Mérida, Yucatán -
In my university days I was an enthralled student of Russian for three years (most of it now forgotten, unfortunately). My Russian professor was a wonderful man named Pyotr (Peter) Pirogov, and he was a genuine Soviet Air Force defector who one day in the 1950s took off from a base in Czechoslovakia in a then state of the art two-seater MiG and made it to an Austrian air field, chased all the harrowing way by his own squadron, which had orders to shoot him down.

But flying very low and under the radar he made it to freedom, and later to Canada, and still later to the United States. He lived, and as a result I got to learn Russian from a fine teacher who greatly motivated me. That was in the fall of 1970. (His co-pilot, by the way, met a very different fate, but I'll leave that for another story . . . one dealing with trust.)

Peña Nieto strikes back on PAN "narco alliance" claims - and hits the bullseye

PAN put El Chapo Guzmán on the cover of Forbes, charges PRI candidate

Fairly or not, the Institutional Revolutionary Part is often accused of having been in bed with drug dealers during it's long seven decade rule of Mexico, which came to an end in 2000 (Is alleged PRI-narco connection fair game in Mexico's 2012 presidential election?: Yesterday PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto fired back rather on that issue rather effectively, pointing out that the most wanted drug trafficker in the world, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, escaped during PAN's watch. Here are the basics:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mexican presidential race tightens

Thirty-one days to go and counting, and the political ads heat up

The random survey of 1,152 respondents was taken May 27-29. Over 21% report that they are still undecided, and the election is but a month away. This is López Obrador's highest number to date, while Peña Nieto slides perilously close to the 40% mark. If the distance should close to 10 percentage points, look for a wild June finale. And how many of Josefina's crowd will stick with her on July 1, faced with the possibility of PRI's return?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Robert Wickard suspects held for 30 days

One defendant seeks dismissal or release, alleging mistreatment in police custody

Mérida, Yucatán --
Four men who are suspects in the murder of former Pennsylvania resident Robert Leo Wickard appeared in criminal court today.

A judge ordered that Martín Alejandro Gómez Gómez, 26, Gianri Lorenzo Matos Montalvo, 18, Edward Jesús Gamboa Salas, 36 and David Wilfrido Pérez Morán, 26, be held for 30 days while their case is further investigated. The detention can be extended at the request of prosecutors. A fifth suspect, Angel Javier Segovia Domínguez, remains at large.

U.S. set to approve more Mérida Initiative funds, amid continued charges of torture, human rights violations by Mexican army

But delivery of cash may be linked to tighter control over 'ejército mexicano'

Mérida, Yucatán --
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, coupled with intelligence gathering and sharing. As of Dec. 31, 2011, U.S. funding of the program was at $900 million, or over half of the $1.6 billion budgeted by Congress in 2008. The drug war deal derives its name from several meetings held in this capital of Yucatán state between Mexican president Felipe Calderón and U.S. president George W. Bush.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Four suspects in murder of U.S. citizen set to be arraigned, while police hunt another

Victim may have met one of his assailants during recent trip to Campeche

Mérida, Yucatán --
Four men who were detained Friday (May 25) in connection with the brutal murder of a former Pennsylvania man remain in police custody here this weekend.

The arrested men are identified as Martín Alejandro Gómez Gómez, Gianni Lorenzo Matos Montalvo, Edward Jesús Gamboa Salas and David Pérez Wilfrido Morán (all in photo).

Authorities are searching for a fifth suspect, Angel Javier Segovia Domínguez.

Gay readers share candid thoughts on gay sex tourism in Mérida - and on gringos

Continuing public commentary on the Robert Leon Wickard murder in Mérida

"If there's anything almost as shameful as the behavior of these predatory gringos, it's that Merida's English-speaking expat community hasn't only turned a blind eye to what they do, but has in fact tolerated their presence and quite often interacted with them socially. A great many Yucatecos regard Merida's English-speaking expat community as generally amoral, disreputable, and untrustworthy. And you really can't blame them."
Anonymous comment received by MGRR
May 29, 2012 1:06 PM

"Mérida's English-speaking gay community is more or less a cadre of retired sex tourists. These men like their prostitutes cheap and desperate."
Anonymous comment received by MGRR
May 27, 2012 3:25 PM

The following is the full, unedited text of an unsigned reader comment received by MGRR today, May 27, 2012:

"As a gay gringo in a happy, monogamous relationship with another gringo living here in Merida, I can attest to the humiliation felt when our reputation precedes us.

But I'm the first person to admit that this reputation is pretty solidly grounded in reality.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A revolting way to die – and to live

MGR Opinion - the ugly consequences of social exploitation

Mérida, Yucatán -
No one deserves to die the way local U.S. resident Robert Leon Wickard apparently did. Stabbed to death in his own home, buried in his own garden. Wickard's brutalized body was left to rot by five young Mexican men, who casually sold off his worldly possessions while sleeping feet away from his decaying remains for over two weeks. They took not just his property, but all that any man has: his life. If their statements to police are true, Wickard brutalized them as well, robbing them of all they had: their dignity as human beings.

American citizen murdered in Mérida died at hands of gay sex partners, police say

"Young homosexuals arrived at all hours," claims local newspaper; and - is Mérida homophobic?

Mérida, Yucatán -
A U.S. national who was found murdered in his home in the San Sebastian neighborhood of this capital city of Yucatán had been involved in a consensual sexual relationship with his killers, according to authorities. The five men may have sold their services to him.

The admissions came yesterday (May 25) when four of the suspects in the murder case made formal statements before state judicial authorities. The statements, known in this country as declarations, are compulsory under Mexican criminal law, where there is no legal privilege against self-incrimination.

All of the men remain in custody, with no right to bail.

Friday, May 25, 2012

U.S. citizen found murdered in Mérida

Robbery the likely motive in case which local authorities call "unprecedented"

*Updated content*
Mérida, Yucatán --
A U.S. national was found murdered here today, local law enforcement agencies report. The victim has been identified as Robert Leon Wickard, 67, originally from Pennsylvania. He owned a home in the San Sebastian neighborhood of Mérida, which is southwest of the city's main plaza.

Four men, at least one from Veracruz, are in custody. One is described in a local press account as a transvestite. Robbery was the apparent motive, say investigators.

López Obrador hits personal best in polls

The latest survey, taken May 22-24, will boost the spirits of PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, especially since 21% of the 1,152 respondents interviewed said they are still undecided. The election is just 37 days away.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

U.S. Dollar continues to pound MX Peso

But Enrique Peña Nieto has a "secret stimulus plan" . . .

When there's trouble in Europe -- and there's plenty of it these days -- or in times of general economic uncertainty, investors worldwide park their money in American greenbacks until things improve, thereby bolstering its international value. The U.S. dollar has been steadily gaining ground against the Mexican peso for the last eight weeks or so, a delight to those who spend American currency in this country.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

YoSoy 132 protest arrives in Mérida

News Analysis -
"Un Mexico ciego no puede votar - A blind Mexico can't vote"

Mérida, Yucatán --
YoSoy 132 is a very grass roots movement of Mexican activists who have joined forces during this electoral season to protest what they allege is massive manipulation of the candidates and the political process itself by the country's news media, especially at the presidential level. The movement sprang into existence almost overnight, and plans to stage public rallies all over the country from now through July 1. Tens of thousands of the "YoSoys" marched in Mexico City last weekend. Several hundred others gathered at Mérida's main plaza late this afternoon, for 90 minutes of speeches and banner waving.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cancún business leader with Mérida ties executed at home - but by Los Matazetas?

Narcomensaje might have been authentic, or maybe just a ruse

*Updates below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
A prominent Cancún businessman and local civic leader was found murdered in his home here yesterday morning (May 21).

The body of Raúl Enrique de Jesús Encalada Burgos, 52, was discovered by a housekeeper when she arrived for work about 8:30 a.m. Press reports say that Burgos lived previously in Mérida, four hours west of this resort city.

Monday, May 21, 2012

PAN, PRD reject cross demands to give up race; Peña Nieto publishes 10 point creed

Vázquez Mota says she's not quitting - but her campaign calls for López Obrador to do just that, while there's still time to "avoid a return of PRI to Los Pinos";

Mientras EPN da una lección en el arte de engañar a la gente "con circos y tortillas"

Forty days remain before Mexico will pick a successor to Felipe Calderón. Front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto and his well-oiled campaign machinery remain firmly in control of the situation, despite last weekend's vocal and well-covered national protests against a return of PRI. EPN actually rose to almost 48% popularity in today's Milenio poll -- around double that of each of his two main opponents. Curiously, most of the real action and not a little of the political focus remains on the runner-up spot, which is hotly contested between PAN's Josefina Vázquez Mota and PRD's Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Although the numbers change daily, each has averaged about 25% support in recent weeks. Many undecideds remain, it should be noted -- perhaps 20% of eligible voters.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

López Obrador loyalists march nationwide as thousands protest Enrique Peña Nieto

In Mérida, local PRD supporters gather at Monumento a la Bandera

With less than six weeks remaining before this country's July 1 presidential election, tens of thousands of Mexicans mobilized over the weekend to voice their opinions. Their was sporadic violence in locations, as at least 17 Mexican cities saw vigorous outpourings of protest against the man who appears likely to lead the nation for the next 72 months.

An aggressive PRI responds
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, often associated with a history of brutal repression in Mexico, lived up to its reputation for political brawling Saturday in the city of Córdoba, in Veracruz state. During a day filled with street protests and marches against race leader Enrique Peña Nieto, several demonstrators reported they were attacked and beaten by PRI loyalists. Some claimed that municipal police observed the assaults and did nothing. Veracruz, a hotbed of the most extreme narco violence, is run by a PRI state government. Similar reports of attacks directed at anti-EPN marchers came from Colima on Mexico's Pacific coast. The Colima state government also is in PRI hands.

Friday, May 18, 2012

López Obrador cleans up in UNAM mock election, with 83% of student, worker vote

"If only it were this easy," PRD candidate must be thinking

Mexico, D.F. --
If Mexico's 2012 presidential contest was determined by the students, professors and employees of the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), it would be a cake walk for Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The PRD nominee crushed all three of his opponents, capturing 83.37% of the votes cast yesterday (May 17) in a mock election. Balloting began at 10:00 a.m. and concluded at 6:00 p.m. UNAM officials set up 25 voting centers at various locations around the campus. Only members of the university community, including students, professors and employees, were allowed to participate. UNAM is in Mexico City, in the Federal District.

Attorney murdered in Quintana Roo office

Working for or against organized crime is risky business for Riviera Maya lawyers

*Updates below*
Tulum, Quintana Roo --
Organized crime executioners have struck out again at a member of the legal community, this time in Tulum. It's not the first such occasion.

Attorney Álvaro López Joers, 52, was in his office yesterday (May 17) when a man walked in and shot him twice at close range with a .9 mm handgun. López died on the scene. A partner who was present was uninjured.

The attack was carried out shortly after 9:30 a.m. at his law firm, located just off the town's main plaza. López bled to death within minutes from a massive neck wound, said police.

Another taxi driver executed in Cancún

Cancún, Quintana Roo --
The latest victim in an effort by two groups, Los Pelones and Los Matazetas, to rid the city plaza of their Los Zetas competitors was found early yesterday morning (May 17). Investigators said that the throat of the 48 year old driver had been cut and he was almost decapitated. Police say the execution is most likely an "adjustment of accounts" between the incessantly warring groups.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cancún Zetas extort even street vendors, and run sex trade, too - with INM help

A Dodge City brew of Zetas, cabbies, imported prostitutes and corrupt INM agents

Cancún, Quintana Roo-
I've reported before on the extreme micro-control which the Los Zetas drug cartel exercises over every aspect of the local economy in this Riviera Maya gateway. Everybody here has to pay the derecho de piso -- also known as the floor charge, or sometimes just the rent. It's so bad that some businessmen have asked that city policing be turned over to federal troops, just as it was in body-strewn Veracruz last year (Mexico's Riviera Maya in the hands of drug cartels and extortionists).

Struggle against drug cartels and organized crime will be his legacy, Felipe Calderón says

"Mexico is a friend, an ally and a partner"

Cancún, Quintana Roo --
In an interview today with CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, producer of The Royal Tour - Mexico, president Felipe Calderón defended his administration, which will come to a close on Dec. 1. "We acted just in time," he said. "There had been corruption, a lack of official concern, but in the years ahead our law enforcement agencies will be fighting for justice for all."

"We're fighting so that Mexicans will be more secure. Future generations will look back and remember that this administration began the battle to achieve true security. We expect to see the fruits of our efforts in the years ahead. It's not been easy, the work has been difficult. As I've said from the very beginning of my term, it's going to take time as well as financial resources."

López Obrador clarifies stance on Mexican military force withdrawal from drug war

Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has repeatedly announced that if elected he would quickly remove Mexican troops from the 65 month old drug war, yesterday clarified, if not modified, his stance.

On several occasions López Obrador, whom the Mexican press invariably refers to as the "leftist" nominee, has said that the armed forces would be "returned to their quarters within six months." The candidate's plan is to let local and state police units carry the brunt of the struggle against the country's drug cartels. Many Mexicans no longer have confidence in the National Security Strategy implemented by president Felipe Calderón in December 2006, the purpose of which was to defeat the cartels with federal forces. But neither do most believe that municipal contingents, often called preventivos here, are up to the task.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Three Mexican brothers sentenced to die on rope for Malaysian drug crimes

Commutation of the death sentences will be unlikely

*Update Aug. 14, 2013* - Malaysian court affirms Mexican brothers' death sentence

Kuala Lumpur, May 17 - Three Mexican men were sentenced to death in a Malyasian criminal court today for drug crimes committed over four years ago. The High Court verdict was handed down at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, 8:45 p.m. in Mexico City. It was read in Malaysian by Judge Mohamed Zawawi, and simultaneously translated into Spanish for the accused.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

They even carry hand grenades in Cancún

What next? A Los Zetas aircraft carrier anchored just off the hotel zone beaches?

Cancún, Quintana Roo --
A 33 year old woman was taken into custody last night after municipal police observed her acting suspiciously in a neighborhood a few miles south of the city's famed hotel zone. They stopped to question her, and conducted a quick search.

In a small clutch purse officers found a grenade, fully armed and ready for business. She was also carrying a clip of .223 mm ammunition, which is widely used in combat grade weapons.

Two boys walking with the woman, eight and ten, have been turned over to state social services. Charges are pending against the woman.

Police noted something else. She was carrying photographs of drug war execution victims, clipped from local papers. Her personal collection, like baseball cards. That can't be good.

Investigators said they think "she might be involved with a drug dealer in the area."

Note to readers: In the interest of journalistic investigation and accurate reporting, I plan to travel to Cancún and Q.R. state later this year to scope out the situation. I'm waiting on my body armor and flak jacket right now. Amazon deliveries to Yucatán take a little longer.

Guatemalan toddler kidnapping illustrates ancient maxim, "hard cases make bad law"

U.S. relies on legal technicalities to dodge heartbreaking issues

"This is one of those unfortunate cases in which it is a hardship upon the plaintiff to be without a remedy, but by that consideration we ought not to be influenced. Hard cases, it has been observed, are apt to introduce bad law" - Winterbottom v. Wright (1842).

In the merry old England of the mid-19th century, Mr. Winterbottom was a mail carrier. He was hired by the local postmaster to drive a mail carriage pulled by horses as he went about his rounds. The postmaster, in turn, had hired a man named Wright to maintain the fleet of carriages in good running order. One day, while Winterbottom was out on his route, the carriage disintegrated and "collapsed upon the common way, throwing plaintiff to the ground with great force and violence, all because defendant Wright negligently failed to perform his duty." The mail carrier sued for his injuries. Think of the case as a forerunner of modern-day car accident litigation, with which the court dockets are clogged in many Anglo-American jurisdictions.

Renowned Mexican author and political observer Carlos Fuentes Macías dies at 83

"Mexico faces great challenges, but the candidates are poorly qualified"

Nov. 11, 1928 – May 15, 2012

Mexican literary giant Carlos Fuentes Macías, a writer equally acclaimed at home and abroad for more than half a century, died today in Mexico City. He was 83.

Fuentes felt light headed and lost consciousness at home after what was first a normal morning routine, his wife told doctors. He died about an hour after being admitted to a local hospital. His funeral services will begin this evening.

Fuentes, who most agree profoundly influenced modern Latin American literature, was a harsh critic of his country's contemporary political landscape, especially in recent months as Mexico prepared to select a new president. In New York last November to promote La Gran Novela Latinoamericana (The Great Latin American Novel), Fuentes said he would probably sit out the 2012 election because of the uninspiring choices.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Crooked Cancún cops shake down New Yorkers, who swear they'll never return

The dogs in Riviera Maya may not bite, but some local police do

Cancún, Q.R. --
"Welcome to Mexico," they were told. But it was anything but a dream vacation for several New Yorkers who recently headed south to one of the world's most famous Caribbean resorts, Cancún, in Quintana Roo state. All of them got taken for a ride, but not to the beach. They had to fork over thousands of dollars to local police after being taken into custody on a variety of trumped-up charges. One of the victims was a retired NYPD officer, but that didn't help him any. He had to pay up, too.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Los Zetas dump 49 bodies in Nuevo Léon

The Zs' latest act of terror, only a few miles south of U.S. border

*Update below*
The bodies of 49 presumed drug war victims were discovered about 4:00 a.m. today in Mexico's northeastern Nuevo Léon state. The remains of 43 men and six women were decapitated and dismembered, most with their hands cut off.

The victims were discovered on a remote stretch of highway between Reynosa and Monterrey, the latter of which is one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, is a border town directly across the Rio Grande from Hidalgo Tx.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Barack Obama should free Alan Gross

MGR Opinion - the President's prisoner, stuck in Havana on Mother's Day weekend

This Friday evening, May 11, 2012, two days before the United States of America honors its mothers, 63 year old Alan Gross must be thinking of his own. Today the cell door slammed shut on his very faint hope, however unrealistic it may have been, of seeing her one more time before she leaves this world, which may be within days according to family members.

Tonight Alan Gross remains in a Havana jail, a mere 30 months into a 15 year sentence for state security crimes. But Gross is neither a prisoner of Cuba nor of the Castro regime. Alan Gross is held captive by an archaic American policy towards the island, crafted by politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are determined to keep the Cold War alive 100 miles south of Miami, though it long ago fizzled out everywhere else.

The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be thinking of his mother, too, this weekend. And in the final analysis, Alan Gross is his prisoner.

Friday, May 11, 2012

U.S. refuses to to swap Miami Five for convicted American smuggler Alan Gross

U.S. intransigence guarantees an indefinite stay in Havana jail cell for Alan Gross, who likely will not again see his dying mother

The U.S. State Dept. today announced that there will be no exchange of five convicted Cuban spies for American contractor Alan Gross, who was found guilty of state security crimes by a Havana court in March 2011 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Gross, 63, and his supporters had asked the Castro regime in March to grant him a two-week furlough to visit his elderly mother in the United States, who is said to be in the final stages of cancer. On Thursday (May 10) an official of the Cuban Foreign Ministry told CNN that because Gross has served only 30 months of his 15 year sentence, and there would be no way to insure that he would return to the island to complete his term, the request for a furlough had been denied. The Cuban government countered with an offer to allow Gross' mother to visit him in Havana, or to engage in a reciprocal exchange of all the prisoners. The State Dept. today said that Gross' mother was too ill to travel to Cuba, and flatly ruled out any possibility of a swap.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Naive" Canadian gangsters pay heavily doing business with Mexican drug cartels

British Columbia gangs go "direct to the supplier," often with deadly consequences

Early this year I reported on the strange case of Salih Abulazis Sahbaz, a naturalized Canadian citizen who was murdered on the streets of Culiacán, in Mexico's northwestern Sinaloa state, on Jan. 15, 2012. Both the city and the state are well known for deadly drug violence. The Iraqi-born Sahbaz was shot nine times in the head at close range with a .45 caliber handgun, without any clear motive. Cash and travel documents were unconcealed on his person, but the assailant(s) plainly had no interest. Mexican authorities, noting that the execution had all the signs of a classic gangland hit, said that Sahbaz was not a tourist and solicited Canadian assistance.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

López Obrador again in 2nd place in post-debate survey; is Peña Nieto sweating?

Today's spot poll from Milenio GEA-ISA is more bad news for PAN and leaves little doubt that PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the real second-place contender in Mexico's 2012 presidential race. This was always supposed to be a race just between PRI and PAN, but if Vázquez Mota was going to burst out of the pack she would have done so by now. The campaign is almost half over, and Josefina has failed to move the masses.

Twenty percentage points is still a huge distance to close, but can Enrique Peña Nieto be sleeping well? About that persistent nightmare he has . . . it's Sunday, July 2, 2006 . . . the votes are finally tallied, and the photo-finish result shows Felipe Calderón with 35.89% of the ballots cast and López Obrador, 35.31% (with most of that difference hotly disputed). Millions of voters are yet undecided, and "leftist" AMLO has the attention of many of them.

Attack on Cancún sports bar leaves young waitress dead, several others injured

Refusal to pay "derecho de piso" may have been the motive - or a hit on a Zeta boss

*Updates below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
A brutal early morning attack on a sports bar yesterday has killed a 26 year old waitress and left several employees and patrons seriously wounded.

Witnesses say that a heavily armed commando squad arrived at the Sports Bar Harem 95 about 2:30 a.m. and began firing indiscriminately with AK-47s, a machine gun commonly carried by Mexican drug cartels and organized crime. The bar is near 107th and Andrés Quintana Roo Avenue, a few miles west of the city's hotel zone. A Wal-Mart is located across the broad multi-lane avenue, in a neighborhood which is light commercial.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Five arrested in murder of University of British Columbia student, boyfriend

Mexican authorities say they "take the security of Canadian travelers seriously"

Five persons have been arrested in the Mexican state of Oaxaca and charged with the robbery and murder of a Canadian national and her boyfriend late last year. Three women and two men were taken into custody, and police say three other accomplices remain at large.

Ximena Osegueda Magana, 39, and her boyfriend Alejandro Honorio Santamaria, 38, went missing on December 14, 2011. Their bodies were found on a remote beach in Huatulco, Oaxaca later that month. Osegueda Magana, a Mexico City native, was a UBC doctoral candidate in the department of French, Spanish and Italian studies at the time of her death, focused on colonial Latin American literature. Osegueda Magana had earned undergraduate and master's degrees at McGill University in Montreal.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mexico's presidential candidates debate

Josefina drags a family tragedy out of the closet, but to what political end?

Mexico, D.F. --
The first presidential debate between Mexico's four presidential candidates was held this evening. The two hour affair was hard-hitting at times, with PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador relentlessly striking out at PRI nominee Enrique Peña Nieto, who remains in easy first place five weeks after the campaign opened (March 30). Reduced to basics, López Obrador accused Peña Nieto of being the front man for a corrupt political regime which ran Mexico for more than 70 years and is now desperately trying to recapture the country's highest office, which it lost in 2000. He also argued that PRI has paid millions to the media to protect its candidate's image. It's López Obrador's standard campaign theme, but his delivery was far less polished and less emotive than I've heard from him before.

Cancún hotel exec offers gloomy prognosis for local industry with 20% occupancy rate

Meanwhile, Grand Oasis Cancún discloses its losses in last weekend's robbery, and assistant cashier allegedly is prime suspect

*Update below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
In statements to the Q.R. press last week, the president of a national trade association delivered a dire prognosis on local tourism generally and the hotel industry specifically.

Juan Carrillo Padilla, himself a Cancún hotel owner, said many establishments these days average 20% occupancy. At that rate, owners can't meet wages, utilities and taxes, he said.

Padilla responded to some larger hostelries which report they're averaging 45-50% daily occupancy, "Those claims have nothing to do with reality. The truth is, even business in the city center (the hotel zone) is very poor, and I don't see any increase for at least two months."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bloody narco violence strikes Rio Grande border town of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas

On the eve of Mexico's Cinco de Mayo, 14 decapitations, 9 hangings in brutal display of drug cartel "adjustment of accounts"

"México ha tenido el gran coraje de enfrentar un problema que no es mexicano, sino latinoamericano y en buena parte mundial - el problema de narcotráfico. México ha sacado a la bestia de la cueva donde se ocultaba, y ahora sabemos qué 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 - drug trafficking. Mexico 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."

Mario Vargas Llosa, 2010 Nobel Prize winner (Literature), Nov. 24, 2011.

Today Cinco de Mayo was observed in Mexico, as it was in the United States. This year's anniversary was of particular significance since it was the 150th anniversary of Mexico's defeat of an occupying French army at the Battle of Puebla (May 5, 1862). On the eve of the festivities there was an ugly reminder that drug traffickers never take a day off, even to celebrate a day of national pride.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gay marriages will be recognized in Quintana Roo

*Updated Apr. 21, 2014*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
It appears that same-sex unions have been given the green light by officials in this southeastern state along Mexico's Caribbean coast. The announcement was made yesterday (May 3) during a government press conference in Cancún.

In November 2011, two gay couples applied for and received marriage licenses in the town of Lázaro Cárdenas. Local officials in the Q.R. community concluded there was nothing in state law limiting marriage to persons of the opposite sex. But the state marriage registrar later refused to recognize the unions or record the documents. Higher state officials have reversed that determination. Some in Quintana Roo have lobbied to make the state a center for same-sex weddings and gay tourism (Can Quintana Roo save itself by promoting gay marriage?)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Three more journalists killed in Veracruz

Twelve year death toll in Mexico hits 83, says Reporters Without Borders

The bodies of three more journalists were discovered in Verzacruz today. They are Guillermo Luna Varela, a photographer for Veracruz News, Gabriel Huge Córdoba, who had worked for the daily newspaper Notiver until 2011, and Esteban Rodríguez.

A fourth body found at the scene is thought to be Irasema Becerra, Luna Varela's girlfriend and an administrative employee at another Veracruz newspaper, El Dictamen. All four victims had been tortured, dismembered and were buried in black plastic bags. They were last seen alive Wednesday (May 2). Their remains were discovered on World Freedom of the Press Day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cancún, no longer an oasis for most

News analysis - On May Day, mayor admits the party's over in renowned resort

*Updates below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
Yesterday much of the world celebrated May Day, or International Workers' Day, which is observed in dozens of countries with parades and speeches extolling the value of human labor to society throughout history. May 1 is known as El Día del Trabajo in Mexico.

There was such a parade in Cancún, one of dozens across the country here. After the event mayor Julián Ricalde Magaña made some startling admissions during a press conference, candidly offering a bleak assessment of the region's economy. The mayor noted that struggling workers in his city "scarcely have enough to eat."

"We haven't seen the growth in the hotel industry that we did in the 1980s and 90s, and we have to adjust ourselves to new (economic) realities. We're having problems sustaining jobs, which is going to cause us difficulties in other areas of public life," he said, in a clear reference to Cancún's rapidly deteriorating security.

Oasis Cancún slow in cooperating with police - and hasn't met the last payroll

Cancún mayor says poor local economy, security issues are city's major challenges - "The dogs are no longer leashed with sausage here"

Cancún, Quintana Roo --
Authorities in Cancún complain that the Spanish hotel chain Oasis has not furnished critical details in the wake of Sunday's execution of a head cashier, who apparently was interrupted by robbers as she prepared the payroll for hundreds of employees over the weekend. The woman was found dead Monday morning in the company's administrative offices, her head enveloped in tightly sealed industrial tape. A post-mortem examination yesterday confirmed that the former Oaxaca resident died from asphyxia.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brutal execution at Grand Oasis Cancún

Head cashier cruelly asphyxiated by payroll bandits, but no one discovers her body for almost a day; police don't discount possibility of an inside job; Spanish owners try to zip the lips of prosecutors, alleges Quintana Roo press

*Updates below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo -
This has been a difficult spring for the mega hotel chain Oasis, which operates multiple establishments along Cancún's magnificent white beaches. Security challenges in what is still alleged by the local government to be a completely safe "green zone" for foreign and domestic tourists continue to mount. The latest horrific crime surely won't help business.

Yesterday morning (Apr. 30) about 10:00 a.m. the body of María del Rosario Ramis Carrasco, 54, the head cashier for Oasis, was found by co-workers in the corporate administrative offices. She had been bound and gagged, and her entire head was wrapped mummy-like in industrial tape, which produced death by suffocation within a few minutes. The clear motive of the crime was robbery. Ramis Carrasco was preparing the cash payroll, authorities said, which was due employees on the last day of the month.