Monday, December 31, 2012

Dollar falls unexpectedly against Mexican peso as U.S. goes over fiscal cliff

Greenbacks move, but in the wrong direction

*Updates below*
Guadalajara -
In difficult economic moments, the world still turns to U.S. dollars - even when those difficult economic moments are playing out on American soil. It may sound illogical, but that's what happens. Parking money in greenbacks is the safe haven sought by many investors until the financial dust settles. That, in turn, pushes the dollar upward. It's welcome news for those who spend dollars (converted into pesos) here.

With no deal likely to be reached today in Washington, the dollar should have risen significantly against the peso. Fortunately for Mexico's government, it owns about 160 billion of the former, as a hedge against volatile currency markets. The Mexican on the street would have definitely felt pain in the days ahead, however. But by day's end what was supposed to happen simply didn't.

Venezuela faces huge homicide rate, 80% committed by firearms, as its president hangs by a thread in Havana

And Mexico remains in solid competition for some of the world's deadliest cities

Guadalajara -
On Sept. 6, 2011, in what was then just MGRR's third report of the almost 900 published to date, the topic was Rampant street crime in Venezuela. It appears things haven't got any better in Caracas.

Venezuela is waiting today for its president to return from Havana, where he is recuperating from the latest of several cancer surgeries in the last 18 months. He's scheduled to be sworn in for another term - his fourth - on Jan. 10. But there's every reason to doubt that he'll make it on time, or indeed that he'll make it back at all. Reports from many news agencies this morning say he has suffered yet another setback, and that his condition is grave (As Venezuelans head to the polls, Hugo Chávez proves all the prophets wrong). Earlier today a Venezuelan doctor told a Colombian radio station that Chávez is in his ultimate days, if not hours, and is far too sick to begin a new term less than two weeks hence.

In the meantime, while the country's vice president and his top ministers fret over the Bolivarian comandante's health, they have something else to worry about - those just published crime stats.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Follow Mexico with MGRR in 2013 - there's more to come

If it's not reported here, you don't need to know it

Guadalajara -
The Mexico Gulf Region Reporter (MGRR) is proud to have brought its readers over 480 articles in 2012. More than 40 a month, far more than one every day.

MGRR covered it all in the year just ending: Mexican domestic politics, and the highly contentious 2012 presidential contest. The horrors of the drug war. U.S.-Mexico relations. Important legal events in Mexico, like the criminal appeal of French national Florence Cassez (watch for developments in that case in the months ahead), abortion and gay marriage. Business, financial and economic news from south of the border. Violence against American citizens in Mérida. Cancún, Playa del Carmen and the deteriorating security along the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo state. Puerto Vallarta's ugly introduction to the reality of narco violence. Guadalajara and Jalisco state - the new hot spots in the drug war, according to some experts. Cuban affairs the U.S. press never tells you about. Venezuela, the Gulf, in depth news analysis of Mexican events, editorial opinion - and so much more.

Six weeks after murder of American in Mérida, no arrests, no identified suspects, no developments

2012 will end with vicious homicides of two gay U.S. citizens still unresolved in Yucatán capital

*Updated Jan. 10*
Mérida, Yucatán -
More than six weeks after a brutal knifing attack left a long term resident of the city’s American expatriate community dead, no one has been arrested, and local prosecutors have not reported on what progress, if any, they've made in the case.

Neighbors found U.S. citizen Sam Woodruff, 63, originally from Boonville, North Carolina, gravely wounded in his Colonia Itzimina home early on Nov. 12. He had been stabbed at least five times, and died a short time later at a local hospital.

Mexico's drug war, by the numbers

The Secretary of Defense releases some six year stats, and many won't like them

Guadalajara -
Mexico's Secretary of National Defense has reported the following drug war stats for the period Dec. 1, 2006 through Nov. 30, 2012:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mexico extends time to weed out corrupt local cops

About 130,000 still haven't passed the tests

*Updated Jan. 18*
Guadalajara -
One of the hallmarks of Mexico's National Security Strategy, implemented by former president Felipe Calderón on Dec. 11, 2006, was the substitution of local police forces with federal military units in the war against drug traffickers and organized crime.

Reliance on troops was necessary because internal corruption in police departments, especially at the municipal level, had reached staggering proportions. Thousands were on criminal payrolls. Mexico has 450,000 state and local officers, and now all must pass lie detectors and background checks (Weeding out corruption is daunting task in Mexico - polygraphs await half a million). The project has proceeded much slower than anticipated, but it's critical in a country where an average police salary is $300 dollars a month (Honesty checks for Mexican local, state police proceed at a snail's pace).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mexico pays enormous price for domestic insecurity

Businesses estimate drug war has cost them $14 billion dollars in lost revenues in last 24 months

*Updated Dec. 12, 2014*
Guadalajara -
Mexico's retail, service and tourist sectors lost a whopping 64.7 billion pesos in 2012 due to the nation's continued domestic insecurity, and a still raging drug war which shows no sign of abating. At today's exchange rate of 13 pesos to the dollar, that represents just under $5 billion U.S. dollars.

The data was contained in a year end report published this week by the Confederación de Cámaras Nacionales de Comercio, Servicios y Turismo (Concanaco-Servytur). The president of the trade group was quoted in today's electronic edition of SinEmbargo, a reliable Spanish language news service.

Local police resign or desert posts in Jalisco, Michoacán

Many officers go AWOL, terrified that they'll be the next victims

A two officer foot patrol was attacked in Juárez the morning of Jan. 10, 2012 by a machine gun wielding hit team. One died instantly, and the other was gravely wounded. Local police, known as "preventivos," often are targets in Mexico's drug war.

Guadalajara -
In the wake of multiple organized crime attacks which wracked the central Pacific coast states of Jalisco and Michoacán last weekend (Christmas Eve Narco Violence), local police are tendering resignations or simply abandoning their posts in droves.

Two cartels unite to declare war on Los Zetas in Cancún, foreshadowing a "bloodbath" in Riviera Maya, says press

A harbinger of continued violence in 2013, in one of Mexico's premier tourist destinations

*Updated Aug. 22, 2013*
Cancún, Quintana Roo -
Two powerful organized crime organizations operating along Mexico's lush Caribbean coast, Los Pelones and the Gulf Cartel, have entered into a strategic alliance to take on Los Zetas - perhaps the country's most vicious drug cartel. A regional reporter calls the situation in the tourist popular Riviera Maya a "brewing bloodbath," likely to affect both this city and Playa del Carmen just minutes south.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cancún Int'l. Airport a "lawless gateway" for drug exports

An Aeroflot jet prepares to depart Cancún for a nonstop flight to Moscow. Like many aircraft departing the famous resort city, the cargo hold might contain more than just luggage.

*Updated Apr. 11, 2013*
Cancún, Quintana Roo -
Drug seizures at this bustling gateway to the Yucatán peninsula have become an almost daily event, a local newspaper reported today. Por Esto said that in December alone some 40 kilos of cocaine were seized, with a street value of half a million dollars or more, depending on how many times the white powder is "cut" to prepare it for the waiting retail market.

But the seizures represent only a small fraction of the drugs which get through undetected every day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Death toll in Jalisco-Michoacán violence rises to 28, with four police officers decapitated south of Guadalajara

Fourteen police officers murdered in two state region in 36 hours, and 10 others injured

*Updated Jan. 6*
Guadalajara -
The death toll in weekend violence which struck Mexico's central Pacific coast has risen to at least 28, authorities in the adjoining states reported today. Preventivos, or local police officers, accounted for almost half the victims.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas card from Mexico, 2012

"Pobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios . . . Poor Mexico, so far from God" - Attributed to Porfirio Díaz, president of the Republic from 1884-1911

Christmas Eve narco violence wracks Jalisco and Michoacán states, leaving seven police officers dead

Holiday week brings no respite from bloody attacks, some of them targeting public authorities

Guadalajara -
Thirteen people have died in the past 24 hours in a series of gun battles between government security forces and marauding hit squads in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Michoacán. Seven were police officers. Another seven persons were injured, including five policemen.

Press reports this afternoon said that a total of 20 persons have been killed in the two states since early Sunday morning. Some appeared to be execution victims caught up in local inter-gang rivalries.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mexico's new PRI government seeks huge increase in domestic security budget, as six year drug war rolls on

Almost $520 million dollars sought for fiscal 2013, 47% more than in final Calderón budget

Guadalajara -
Just three weeks in to his six year term, aides to president Enrique Peña Nieto have announced that he'll ask the country's House of Deputies for a 2013 crime fighting budget of over 6.71 billion pesos - almost $520 million dollars.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

With a little help from his friends, Jon Hammar released

MGR's view -
"Oh I get by with a little help from my friends"
(The Beatles 1967)

Guadalajara -
Former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar has been released from a Mexican jail. He was arrested last August for violating the country's strict laws against firearms possession, but a herculean effort by U.S. politicians and media sources turned the tide in his favor and persuaded officials in this county to free him on Friday.

CNN reported late last night that Hammar "languished for more than four months in a Mexican prison on a questionable gun charge." In fact there was nothing at all questionable about the charge. Hammar broke Mexican law, plain and simple. The penalty was draconian, to be sure, but so are many U.S. criminal sentences.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mérida millionairess convicted on all counts in Nicaragua

She'll trade those luxury homes in Altabrisa for a jail cell - with a 30 year rental agreement

*Updated Nov. 18, 2013*
Managua -
A Mérida woman who was arrested in Nicaragua last August while traveling in a convoy carrying $9.2 million dollars in cash has been convicted of money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime activity in a district criminal court here.

Juana Raquel Alvarado Torres was detained along with 17 other Mexican nationals while the group passed through the country in vehicles displaying the Televisa corporate logo. They told authorities they were employees of the mega Spanish language network, and carried a credential purportedly signed by a corporate vice president, asking officials to assist them as they went about "journalistic duties." But Televisa has said that it knows nothing about the suspects, and is an innocent victim of their cash smuggling operations.

Don't worry, it will all still be here on Saturday

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Enrique's challenging homework

MGRR News Analysis -

Guadalajara -
One of the worst things about running for president - in any country - is that you just might win. It's a thought which may have crossed Enrique Peña Nieto's mind this week before Christmas, number three in the six year tenure he began Dec. 1. Three weeks down, 309 to go. It's intimidating.

A drowning man desperately struggling to surface makes extravagant promises to God, they say. Of course they're promises which he may quickly want to forget after drawing that first huge gulp of air. President Peña Nieto made some rather extravagant promises to Mexico during last spring's campaign, promises which he's surely reassessing. And his self-started stopwatch is already ticking away. Consider:

In the hard, cold land of the Sierra Tarahumara, narco traffickers wage open war against the poorest of the poor

"We can only commend ourselves to God, and ask that He protect us all"

Guadalupe y Calvo, Chihuahua -
President Enrique Peña Nieto and the new PRI administration which took office on Dec. 1 say they'll focus mainly on crime prevention. Someone should explain the plan to narcotics traffickers, who continue operating as virtually autonomous armies in the countryside.

Two days ago Peña Nieto announced what he promised would be a significant strategy shift away from the drug war policies of former president Felipe Calderón (EPN presents long awaited security plan: Mexico will "move from punishing crime to preventing it"). He campaigned heavily on the issue last spring, and he may well have won on it. Whether it really is a new policy, and more, whether it will have the slightest impact on the 72 month old conflict, remain to be seen. There are plenty of reasons to doubt so.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Second Amendment, NRA leave their mark in Mexico

MGRR Opinion -
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"
- U.S. Constitution, Amendment II
National Rifle Association executive vice-president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, the very public face of NRA, is often in the cross-hairs. An armed principal in every school, he urged Americans on Dec. 21.

Enrique Peña Nieto presents long awaited security plan: Mexico will "move from punishing crime to preventing it"

But is it really "new and improved"?

Guadalajara -
Even before he was elected president of Mexico on July 1, Enrique Peña Nieto and his top campaign consultants spoke of a new drug war strategy which the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) would implement if it captured the nation's highest office.

Last week Peña Nieto confirmed plans to create a new 40,000 strong national gendarmerie and increase Mexico's Federal Police by 35,000 agents, both of which he promised during the spring campaign (Dec. 8 - Peña Nieto proceeds with plans for national gendarmerie, asks for $116 million). Today the new president convened the country's national security council and added some details.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

El País asks, "¿Quién desarma a EE UU?" - Who will disarm the United States?

A view from the other side of the Atlantic

Guadalajara -
The text is from today's editorial page of El País, one of Spain's - and the European continent's - most widely read and respected newspapers. The Madrid based daily is covering the Sandy Hook massacre closely for its readers. MGR's translation:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Former president Vicente Fox quits National Action Party

MGRR News Analysis - Good riddance, Vicente

Guadalajara -
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who led a coalition of center right groups to victory in the 2000 presidential election and snatched away the nation's highest political office from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for the first time in 71 years, has officially parted company with PAN.

Officials of the "Blue and White," Mexico's National Action Party, confirmed that Fox failed to re-enlist as a PANista. The time for doing so has expired.

The news won't come as a surprise to most observers. Fox became an outspoken critic of his PAN successor - former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa - and particularly of the National Security Strategy implemented by Calderón six years ago this month. Not only did Fox condemn the drug war and the use of the armed forces to go after narcotics traffickers and organized crime bosses, he vigorously advocated the complete legalization of all drugs on a worldwide basis.

Happy Birthday, First Amendment - December 15, 1791

Almost half a century later, New York Times v. Sullivan is still a powerful precedent for press freedom

"Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle, and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other." - Fredrick Siebert, Four Theories of the Press (1963)

On this date in history, in 1791, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution became law. The text of the First (right sidebar) is simple and elegant, and stands like a sentry defending freedom of thought, worship and expression. Forty-five words suffice to stop potential tyrants in their tracks. The draftsmen of the American Bill of Rights had long suffered at the hands of British monarchs who could not see that the Age of Democracy was at hand, and they understood from bitter experience the need to build a wall of expressive protection which would endure through the ages in the young nation. The First Amendment is 221 years old today and is as healthy as ever, despite challenges over the years by those who sought to silence robust speech and the free exchange of information.

Friday, December 14, 2012

U.S. denies Congressional Medal of Honor to Mexican Marine who threw himself on grenade, saving 12 GIs

MGRR News Analysis -
Once again, a double standard in Washington

*Update below*
Guadalajara -
While many on Capitol Hill continue to whine about the August arrest of former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar, who's in jail near Matamoros for bringing a 60 year old shotgun into the country, another Marine - a real hero - has been given short shrift by the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

Hammar's case became a cause celebre in the U.S. a week ago when McClatchy news service published this weepy report. Some in Washington are demanding that Mexico release him immediately. The case has received only the most marginal attention in this country, and has been largely ignored by the Mexican press. It's easy to understand why most here feel little sympathy for him.

Firearm ownership in Mexico is strictly prohibited, except by military and police forces. Mexico is in month 72 of an offensive against drug cartels and organized crime which has cost about 60,000 lives. It's almost impossible to enter the country by land, as Jon Hammar did, without confronting road signs clearly warning that all firearms possession is illegal. Allegedly relying on the advice of others that he was committing no offense, and that he could lawfully register the gun, Hammar ignored the warnings and crossed the border at Brownsville. He faces a decade in prison, although a diplomatic resolution appears likely.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mexico celebrates "La Virgen Morena," the Brown Virgin

The most solemn day in the nation's liturgical calendar is observed in every city, town and village

Guadalajara -
Today is the 481th anniversary of what millions of Mexicans (and many other Latin Americans) believe was the miraculous appearance of their beloved Brown Virgin - the national Patroness - to a young peasant named Juan Diego (modeled by this child).

According to the faithful, she addressed Juan Diego in Nahuatl, his indigenous language, and asked that a church be built in her honor at the spot of their encounter. Three days later, when Juan Diego took the request to Mexico City's first archbishop, a sudden miraculous event is said to have convinced the church prelate of the truth of the humble man's story. Mexicans refer to the Brown Virgin as Our Lady of Guadalupe, a word derived from the Nahuatl language, which may mean "rocky summit," in reference to the remote and barren place of the apparitions in which so many believe.

These shots were taken in Mérida last year: a proud youth group in its "team uniform;" the archbishop of Yucatán entering perhaps the city's most beautiful church for the evening service; food for hungry Mass-goers; and tots specially outfitted for the feast day, with clothing hecho a mano.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Peña Nieto proceeds with plans for national gendarmerie, asks Mexico's congress for $116 million dollars funding

Money will be used to create 40,000 member paramilitary force and add 35,000 Federal Police agents

*Updated May 8*
Guadalajara -
The day after he was elected president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto told the New York Times that he planned to create from scratch a federal gendarmerie, which would focus on providing security in the countryside and the targeting of key organized crime bosses (Enrique Peña Nieto's Manifesto makes New York Times). A week later his chief quarterback for national security, Colombian General Óscar Naranjo, said much the same thing during a press conference dealing with strategy for the 72 month old drug war (Security consultant elaborates on "new" Mexican drug war strategy - but is it?).

Just a week into his new job, president Peña Nieto made good on his promise yesterday when he asked the House of Deputies to budget $1.5 billion pesos for the new law enforcement body. At the current exchange rate that represents an investment of over $116 million dollars in the planned 40,000 strong gendarmerie, which will be modeled after Colombia's as well as the Italian Carabinieri. In those nations which have them gendarmeries are generally utilized as paramilitary forces, to supplement or even replace local law enforcement in certain operations.

Extreme narco violence marks Peña Nieto's first week

55 executed nationwide in last seven days; bodies of 13 organized crime victims found in Tamaulipas

"The fight against drug trafficking in Mexico has to imply the reduction of violence"
- General Óscar Naranjo, PRI government drug war czar, July 7, 2012

Guadalajara -
Mexico was wracked by brutal narco violence this week, the first of 312 which await newly installed PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto in his six year term which began last Saturday. He was sworn in on Dec. 1.

At least 55 persons have been executed in drug trafficking and organized crime violence since last weekend, according to news service reports. The events occurred in 13 Mexican states: Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Guerrero (Acapulco), Sinaloa, Sonora, Morelos, Jalisco (Guadalajara), San Luis Potosí, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Oaxaca and Estado de México.

Friday, December 7, 2012

DEA ends 30 month drug operation with 3,780 arrests

Cartel connected gangs distributing on U.S. soil were a target of "Operación Debajo de la Cintura"

Guadalajara -
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration today announced in Washington the conclusion of a 30 month undercover operation which yielded 3,780 arrests and the seizure of tons of narcotics on U.S. and foreign streets.

Operation "Below the Belt" (translated by some news sources as "Below the Beltway") was launched in May 2010 in 79 cities in the United States, Mexico, Central America and Europe according to the DEA's press release this morning.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mexico's Supreme Court takes another step towards nationwide recognition of gay marriage

Dec. 7 - U.S. Supreme Court agrees to consider two cases which present gay marriage issues

June 26 - U.S. Supreme Court rules on gay marriage

Guadalajara -
In January, Mexico's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that each of the country's 32 separate jurisdictions could decide for itself whether to permit gay marriage (Mexico's highest court upholds right of same-sex couples to marry, but only in some states). The Federal District had already done so in 2009, but legislatures in some states challenged its authority in the matter. The judges rejected that challenge, ruling that gay marriage is a local issue to be entrusted to state, not federal, representatives.

In May same sex unions became lawful in Quintana Roo on Mexico's Caribbean coast (Gay marriages recognized in Quintana Roo). Cancún and other Riviera Maya locations which depend so heavily on the tourist trade have expressed interest in setting up a boutique industry dedicated to gay weddings and honeymoons (Can Quintana Roo state save itself from Los Zetas by promoting gay marriage?).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mexican prosecutors get tough with YoSoy 132 rioters

With a line borrowed from the country's national anthem, YoSoy cues up a call to battle: "You have a soldier in every son (God) has given you"

Guadalajara -
Sixty-nine persons arrested in connection with violent demonstrations in Mexico City on Saturday have been ordered held without bond. They're facing sentences of up to 30 years in prison.

The Federal District's chief prosecutor, Jesús Rodríguez Almeida, said in a television interview yesterday that no amount of political pressure from any quarter would result in their release. "We have the obligation to see that no one is allowed to act with impunity in the nation's capital. The accused are in the hands of the criminal justice system now, which will decide whether or not the evidence establishes guilt."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

As new PRI administration gets under way, narcos send Enrique Peña Nieto a message: nothing has changed

Mexicans - and drug traffickers - anxiously await EPN's "new" national security strategy

Guadalajara -
Drug traffickers and organized crime sent newly installed president Enrique Peña Nieto an inaugural greeting card this weekend, reminding him they're still around.

In Torreón, a city in the state of Coahuila in north central Mexico, authorities discovered dismembered bodies early this morning. A local police commander reported, "We've found seven human trunks, all of them male, and different body parts such as hands, arms, legs and feet, as well as the heads. They were left in six black plastic bags."

Retired U.S. software magnate arrested on Mexico-Belize border for questioning in neighbor's murder

Oops - maybe it was just his double; Belize P.M. describes suspect as "extremely paranoid, even bonkers"

*Read updates below*
Guadalajara -
Former U.S. computer programmer John McAfee, whose anti-virus software made him both a household name and a multi-millonaire in the 1990s, has been arrested along the Mexico-Belize frontier near southern Quintana Roo state (Q.R. is in black in the map; Belize is just below it).

McAfee, 67, had been sought by authorities in connection with the Nov. 10 murder of American expatriate Gregory Viant Faull, 52, who was his next door neighbor. Faull was shot in the head, and two days after his death Belize investigators named McAfee as a person of interest in the case. The men owned adjoining beach front homes on Ambergris Caye, a Caribbean island northeast of the Belize mainland.

By the time police went looking for McAfee he had fled. In telephone calls to press sources he said was afraid that police would kill him, and refused to reveal his whereabouts. In a Nov. 15 interview Belize prime minister Dean Barrow told The Telegraph, a British newspaper, that McAfee is "extremely paranoid, even bonkers."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Enrique Peña Nieto takes oath of office before Mexico's Congress, but not everyone was applauding

"I want to be a president who is always very close to the people. Together we are going to create a Mexico of possibilities."

Anti-Peña Nieto rally in Mérida, July 7, 2012 - "Mexicans, wake up and do something for yourselves!"

*Updates below*
Guadalajara - Enrique Peña Nieto took the constitutional oath of office before Mexico's congress at 11:17 a.m. today. He did so in the San Lázaro Palace in Mexico City, home to the country's senate and house of deputies. The swearing in ceremony, witnessed live on television by millions of citizens, completes an orderly transition of executive power which began last night. The formal changing of the political guard from PAN to PRI is complete, and in every legal sense Peña Nieto is now president.