The world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, is not finding an easy go of it when he makes public appearances in the United States. Last week, at an event at the New York Public Library along with Salman Khan, the head of Khan Academy, a number of activists in the audience interrupted the event with loud laughing. This Forbes posting cites one activist saying it was a protest against Slim's "monopolistic and predatory practices."
Slim faced protests a year ago when George Washington University gave him an honorary degree.
The Forbes story said Slim's son-in-law, Arturo Elias, believes some of the protesters were paid $35 and a Metro ticket to get to last year's events.
Slim's America Movil offers cellular services in 17 countries. A recent monopoly-busting telecom reform in Mexico, Slim's home base, will make it harder for him to hang on to some 70 percent of the cellular market there and 80 percent of the land lines.
Where is the wooden leg of famed Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna? Watch this interesting video from CBS's Sunday Morning program to learn more about what a Penn State historian describes as the "wicked" Mexican-American war, America's first war based on greed rather than ideological principal.You'll discover in this video why Mexicans revere the "Niños Heroes" who defended the Chapultepec Castle. And you'll also learn about Santa Anna's leg. If you want to find out why it is somewhere in Illinois, click here.
Once news broke on Tuesday that the Walt Disney Company had filed 10 trademark requests for “Dia de los Muertos” for an upcoming Pixar animated movie, social media began to boil with anger and ridicule.
A woman from Colorado, Grace Sesma, posted a petition at change.org and in less than 24 hours, more than 20,000 signatures were posted. Here is part of her introduction:
“Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit. I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek (to) own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico.”
Disney apparently hoped to market toys, cereal, jewelry and other merchandise with the “Dia de los Muertos” phrase when a Pixar movie of the same name comes out.
For those not in the know, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday in Mexico that has been around since before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. Families pray to the deceased before private altars and trade favorite candy and foods. A common symbol of the holiday is the skull, thus dancing skeletal figures like in the AP photo above.
An L.A.-based cartoonist, Lalo Alcaraz, created a cartoon in which a mouse rampaging through a cityscape bears the name: Muerto Mouse (Dead Mouse). Click here to see.
With this kind of reaction, Disney went into retreat. It said in a statement:
“As we have previously announced, Disney-Pixar is developing an animated feature inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Disney’s trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities. It has since been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”
Word so far is that Halloween and Christmas are still safe from Disney's lawyers.
It looks like an ordinary news photo until you look closely at the handshake. A mysterious "third hand" is there. Where's the body belonging to the hand? I don't see anyone who could be hiding behind Obama. It's just a disembodied hand. It's either the coolest magic trick imaginable. Or someone is up to some shenanigans with Photoshop.
Then again, maybe it's just a floating hand -- perhaps the long lost hand of Benito Juarez or Lazaro Cardenas -- or perhaps some other lost soul wanting to "lend a hand" to U.S.-Mexican relations.
President Barack Obama has just left Mexico City after a little less than 24 hours in the city. He spoke publicly on two occasions and held two private sessions with President Enrique Pena Nieto, including a working dinner Thursday night.
In his public remarks, Obama was quite effusive about changes here, describing a “new Mexico,” one that “has lifted millions from poverty” and with a “courageous press” and “robust civil society.”
A “majority of Mexicans now call themselves middle class,” Obama said Friday morning at the National Museum of Anthropology. Here’s the text of the prepared speech although he departed from text several times.
The visit certainly pleased the Pena Nieto government, which is eager to change the tone of US-Mexico relations away from an emphasis on public security and fighting crime into what Pena Nieto called “a multi-thematic” relationship that embraces trade and other issues as well.
Pena Nieto wants to get crime off the front pages, and Obama certainly offered a vote of confidence in his still-ill-defined strategy of prioritizing a reduction in violence over the busting up of drug cartels and the capture of their leaders.
As Adam Thomson of the Financial Times noted, the Obama visit was successful in broadening the bilateral agenda:
Peña Nieto, who has wowed international investors thanks to his apparent determination to push through an ambitious economic reform agenda, wants to promote trade and investment as the two guiding missions of his country’s relationship with its northern neighbor.
Mexico-US trade is already about $1.4bn a day – almost US$1m a minute for the nerds out there – but there is little doubt that it could grow significantly in the coming years. Thursday’s announcement of a joint working group to be populated by Mexican cabinet secretaries and their US counterparts was a clear step in the direction of refocusing the agenda.
But some of the coverage was far more skeptical about what Obama said and the reality of life in Mexico. Here’s an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times story that moved this morning after Obama’s speech at the museum:
Obama described a Mexico that many Mexicans do not recognize. He praised a growing middle class when, in fact, economists say the middle class in Mexico has been stagnant for years, and violence has hurt the pocketbooks of many of those who barely emerged from poverty.
Obama lauded a courageous press that holds authorities accountable, when in fact violence and intimidation has silenced most newspapers outside of Mexico City; they do not report on drug trafficking and other issues because of threats or bribes from criminals or local authorities.
His discourse, however, fits in with efforts by both Washington and the Pena Nieto administration to change the image of Mexico, regardless of the facts on the ground.
The Proceso newsweekly magazine was even harsher. It’s story (here in Spanish) said Obama hailed Mexico for lifting millions from poverty “without providing any evidence.”
This gets into tricky terrain because there is no “go to” source. Rather Mexican government agencies even disagree among themselves, and the United Nations and World Bank take sharply different tacks.
First off, Mexico’s population is about 113 million people. According to the Social Development Secretariat, 13 million of them live in “extreme poverty.” Coneval, the agency that measures poverty, said in 2011 that 52 million Mexicans live in poverty.
A U.N. agency, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, says 40.8 million Mexicans live in poverty while another 14.9 million are indigent (see page 14 of this study which expresses percentages rather than numbers).
Measuring the middle class is less easy, and the World Bank is the one that has touted its expansion in Mexico, saying that 17 percent of the population joined the middle class between 2000 and 2010. It describes middle class as people who make between $10 and $50 per day, so it places the bar low, too low in my opinion. Can someone making $300 a month in Mexico be considered middle class? If so, then maybe Obama wasn’t offering “happy talk” on Mexico. I’m not so sure myself.
A couple of months ago, Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald noted in a column that everybody is upbeat on Mexico – except Mexicans themselves. That jibes with my experience as well. So maybe what Obama said was meant more as a pep talk than as a description of reality on the ground.
Imagine if gangster Al Capone had an outlet like YouTube. Would he have tried to convince the good people of Chicago of the righteousness of his Prohibition-busting bootlegging?
In Mexico, gangster leaders do have YouTube and they use it. In the video above, Servando Gomez, the leader of the Knights Templar, a crime and narcotics cartel in Michoacan state, rambles on for nearly 14 minutes in Spanish. Known commonly as La Tuta, the alleged drug lord talks about a host of subjects, including his hatred for rival groups Los Zetas and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel.
He also lashes out at self-defense groups that are forming along the Pacific coastal states, and says his group is willing to dialogue with the government -- but not to give up its weapons.
One of the most noteworthy things about the video is that La Tuta has no fear of showing his face. In Michoacan, the Knights Templar are the uber-bosses. Politicians are mostly under their thumb. I bet La Tuta can drive through the larger towns and cities of Michoacan with little fear of harassment or arrest. For those who believe Mexico is getting a grip on crime, do you think Al Capone could wander the streets of Chicago openly?
Another noteworthy aspect of the video -- it has nearly a million hits and it's only been out for a few days. Clearly, some Mexicans are interested in what he has to say.
Item: I had difficulty viewing this video on Safari. If you, too, have trouble viewing it, try changing browsers.
President Obama offered a press conference a few hours ago, and the subject of Mexico came up only at the very end even though Obama will be landing here in Mexico City on Thursday for about 24 hours.
Here is the transcript of his remarks on Mexico, in response to a question from Antonieta Cadiz, a Chilean correspondent. She asked how the U.S. felt about Mexico saying Monday that all future contact with U.S. law enforcement will now go through a single gateway, the Mexican Interior Secretariat:
When it comes to Mexico, I’m very much looking forward to taking the trip down to Mexico to see the new President, Peña Nieto. I had a chance to meet him here, but this will be the first, more extensive consultations and it will be an opportunity for his ministers, my Cabinet members who are participating to really hammer out some of these issues.
A lot of the focus is going to be on economics. We’ve spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border. We want to see how we can deepen that, how we can improve that and maintain that economic dialogue over a long period of time.
That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be talking about security. I think that in my first conversation with the President, he indicated to me that he very much continues to be concerned about how we can work together to deal with transnational drug cartels. We’ve made great strides in the coordination and cooperation between our two governments over the last several years. But my suspicion is, is that things can be improved.
And some of the issues that he’s talking about really had to do with refinements and improvements in terms of how Mexican authorities work with each other, how they coordinate more effectively, and it has less to do with how they're dealing with us, per se. So I’m not going to yet judge how this will alter the relationship between the United States and Mexico until I’ve heard directly from them to see what exactly are they trying to accomplish.
But, overall, what I can say is that my impression is, is that the new President is serious about reform. He’s already made some tough decisions. I think he’s going to make more that will improve the economy and security of Mexican citizens, and that will improve the bilateral relationship as well.
Andrea Benitez went to a pricey, chic restaurant in Mexico City’s Roma district last Friday afternoon. She demanded to be seated ahead of other waiting diners.
When she couldn’t get what she wanted, she threw a hissy fit.
She sent out a tweet dissing the restaurant (“Service is the worst … I would never come back @ Maximo Bistrot), and told owner Gabriela Lopez that her daddy was the head of the Attorney General’s Office for Protection of Consumers, and she’d sic inspectors on the eatery and get it shut down.
Sure enough, inspectors showed up and ordered the Maximo Bistrot sealed. The inspectors reported “irregularities” in the system of reservations, and said a type of mezcal on sale was falsely advertised. They backed off when other diners started taping them on their cell phones.
Benitez’s father, Humberto Benitez, is now in hot water indeed.
He issued a statement on Sunday. “I offer a sincere apology to those affected by the inappropriate behavior of my daughter Andrea. She exaggerated the situation, and the inspectors, who are under me, overreacted because they were dealing with my daughter,” the prosecutor wrote.
Benitez is no small potatoes He was attorney general of Mexico from 1994 to 1996, and provided legal advice to President Enrique Pena Nieto when he was running for governor of the State of Mexico. As readers of this blog are aware, Pena Nieto’s own daughter also ran amok with some wildly inappropriate tweets a while back, creating a fierce backlash on social media. Over the weekend, critics took after Andrea Benitez under the hashtag #LadyProfeco, a takeoff on the Ladies of Polanco who once bullied police.
Andrea Benitez (@andybenitezz on Twitter) promptly took her Twitter account private.
Eying an easy target, lawmakers took up the matter Monday, pontificating on the importance of equality.
“We are in a country where everyone is equal before the law, and no one, no matter who they are the son or daughter of, should get any type of privilege,” said Fernando Rodriguez Doval, of the opposition National Action Party, according to Notilegis, the news branch of Congress.
Best to take his remarks with a grain of salt, given that privilege of the powerful trumps about everything else in Mexico. Know any important people in jail here?
A group of some 15 students, most wearing hoods, have won headlines by seizing the administration tower at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The rebel students have been holed at Latin America’s largest university since last weekend, and images of the takeover (like the AP photo of the student above) are on the front pages of newspapers.
While the incident focuses on matters particular to Mexico, it brings together facets of university life across Latin America, especially the notion of autonomy of campuses – meaning that the police and the army must stop at the gates. Students generally play a role in Latin universities, including in academic affairs, that might seem incomprehensible on a U.S. campus, partly because student leaders are often affiliated to political forces off campus. University battles can seem like societal battles. A third element is the tolerance for violence on the part of students that might seem alien to an outsider.
So the takeover at the UNAM, as the university is called, drags on as the university rector decides whether to invite in federal police to dislodge the protesters. Police say they are ready.
The case at the UNAM, though, is not about major social issues. The hooded students are protesting the expulsion of five students from a different campus following a melee early in February.
According to news reports from Mexico City (I’m in Acapulco following a different story), some 115,000 students, teachers and staff members have signed petitions calling for the removal of the hooded students.
Some 200 student supporters have encircled the administration tower, an iconic building which houses gigantic murals by Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Much of Mexico City awaits to see what will happen next.
Earlier this month, after an 11-year wait, a border crossing re-opened that connects Big Bend National Park and the tiny Mexican town of Boquillas.
Visitors who show up there scan their documents in a machine and converse remotely with a Customs and Border Protection agent more than 300 miles away in El Paso. Okay, you get the point, it's kind of an honor system. If there's a problem, apparently rangers from the national park or Border Patrol agents would arrive.
The video above is from Angela Kocherga and gives an idea of the remoteness of the place. You can actually wade across the Rio Grande there at many times of the year. Boquillas isn't much of a place. According to this Texas Monthly article, it's 150 miles (or five hours on a bus) from the nearest larger town, Melchor Muzquiz.
But it does have its charms, including a Mexican gentleman, Victor Valdez, who serenades those crossing the river with Mexican ballads like Cielito Lindo.
The re-opening also drew the attention of John MacCormack, a veteran San Antonio Express News writer, who noted in this article that many of the Mexicans in the village have stronger ties with the United States than with Mexico:
Food, gasoline, mail and hard cash came from the United States, medical emergencies often were treated in American hospitals and friendships with folks in the Big Bend region went back decades.
That all changed in May 2002, when the crossing was closed as part of a dramatic tightening of the border. With the town's lifeblood gone, many people moved away.
MacCormack went on to note that few thought the Boquillas crossing would ever reopen after terrorism came to the fore with the Sept. 11 attacks.
Last week, after years of work by officials in both countries, what many thought impossible in an age when "border security" is a hot-button political issue, quietly became a reality.
Enjoying a couple of cold ones at the Park Bar were two officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection national headquarters who were tasting the fruits of the successful project.
"We've been coming all the way from Washington for the last three years. We basically worked alongside the National Park Service," said Bryan Kegley, a CBP program manager.
"I think it's going to be great for the park and the river outfitters, and it's certainly going to be great for Boquillas," he said.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
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Read Tim's stories at news.mcclatchy.com.
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- The hostility facing Carlos Slim
- America's 'wicked war'
- A fast U-turn at the Mouse House
- The mysterious 'third hand'
- Was it 'happy talk' on Mexico?
- Al Capone and YouTube
- 'New president is serious about reform'
- A hissy fit from a powerful daughter
- The hooded students on campus
- A high-tech crossing for Big Bend
- Art and Architecture
- Border issues
- Carlos Slim
- Central America
- Culture and music
- Drug war
- Foreigners in Mexico
- Institutional Revolutionary Party
- Joys of Mexico
- Mexican media
- Mexican politics
- Retiring in Mexico
- Social issues
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