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02/27/2012

Will 'Chapo' end up like bin Laden?

Mexico Janet Napolita_Nost
At a brief news conference this afternoon, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was why it has turned out to be so difficult to find and detain Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa crime group.

Here is what she said:

“Well, let me just say, it took us 10 years to find Osama bin Laden. And we found him. You know what happened there. I’m not suggesting the same thing would happen to Guzman. But I am suggesting that we are persistent when it come to wrongdoers and those who do harm to both countries.”

The U.S. government considers Guzman the "world's most powerful drug trafficker." Guzman spent much of the 1990s in prison but a guard rolled him out of Puente Grande prison in a laundry cart on Jan. 19, 2001.

It is common to hear Mexicans suggest that there might be an equivalent of an “October surprise,” a pre-election blow to help the ruling party. Presidential elections are July 1. How much time would that give El Chapo?

Felipe Calderon retains his popularity

It might seem surprising. Despite more than five years of heavy bloodshed in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon retains relatively high approval ratings.

Some 58 percent of those surveyed offered approval of Calderon while 29 percent neither approved nor disapproved, and 11 percent disapproved.

Also surprising: Mexicans are far less concerned about drug-related violence than they were just a year ago. In May 2011, 48 percent of those polled said security was the most important issue facing the government. The new poll found that had fallen to 33 percent.

The poll was published today in El Universal, and conducted among 1,000 people Feb. 8-13. The margin of error is said to be 3.5 percent. Unfortunately, the story appears to be behind a paywall.

Calderon registered 60 percent approval ratings in August 2008, dipping to a low of 53 percent last August. The numbers, then, have bumped up in the last six months.

Granted, Mexicans tend to put their presidents on pedestals. Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox, left office in 2006 with approval ratings approaching 70 percent even though in hindsight experts call his government the lost sexenio, or six-year presidential term, because of his limited success in dismantling the scaffolding of the one-party state set up over seven decades by the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party. Calderon leaves office at the end of this year.

In the final decades of the 20th century, Mexicans grew accustomed to economic turmoil during political transitions, a phenomenon that became known as the “sexenio curse.” That doesn’t happen these days. Mexico’s economy is expected to grow above 3 percent this year, only a slight dip from 3.9 percent in 2011.

02/26/2012

Mass robbery of cruise line passengers

You may have seen the news that 22 Carnival cruise line passengers were robbed at gunpoint last Thursday while on a shore excursion in the Puerto Vallarta area.

Gunmen stopped the bus carrying the tourists at about 5 p.m. while they were returning from a ship-sponsored nature excursion in El Nogalito, a lush tropical area. 

Carnival Cruises has issued an apology to the passengers and is reimbursing them for the money, passports, cameras, jewelry and watches stolen in the holdup. The Carnival Splendor returned to Long Beach, Calif., from the seven-day tour Sunday morning.

Puerto Vallarta has generally been considered a safe tourism destination (and it probably remains so). But organizing a holdup of an entire tourist bus requires logistical expertise – lookouts, escape routes, pre-robbery surveillance, possible cooperation from some authorities, etc. – so cruise lines are taking it seriously.

Also distressing is that police have made no arrests

Puerto Vallarta is looking to avoid any of the distress facing Mazatlan, further to the north, over attacks on tourists. A Canadian woman from Calgary was beaten into a coma in an elevator at a five-star hotel in Mazatlan last month. Sheila Nabb, 37, was airlifted back home afterward, and Mazatlan authorities say they caught the culprit. But he later admitted he confessed due to torture and was not the real assailant. As far as I know, the Nabb case remains unsolved.

Another Mexico blog has a very interesting interview with Walter McKay, a Canadian security analyst resident in Mexico City, about the realities of security in resort hotels. How much can hotel security guards be trusted? Are they there to keep the guests safe or to protect hotels’ economic interests?

02/24/2012

Mexico awaits an Oscar

Mexico Oscar Nominee_Nost
If you want to learn more about Demien Bichir, the Mexican actor who is up for the best actor award in Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, read this lovely AP profile.

Bichir stars in the film A Better Life as a Mexican gardener in Los Angeles who is illegally in the United States. The role Bichir plays _ AP describes it as “how to live the invisible life of an illegal immigrant with dignity” _ is one he knows well. He was illegally in the United States himself at one point.

Bichir comes from a clan of Mexican actors that the story likens to the Barrymores of Hollywood fame. But if there is one Mexican actor with whom Bichir might be linked, its Anthony Quinn, the last Mexican to win an Oscar 47 years ago.

To have the same distinction as Quinn is "surreal," Bichir tells the AP's Kathy Corcoran (a friend).

"Everyone knows him, everyone loves him and he has always been a pride for Mexico," he said. "All I can say is that I wish I had that career, that at the end of my life I would have had at least a little bit of it ... and I hope it won't take another 48 years to have a Mexican nominated."

A young Filipino journalist who lived much of his life in the United States, rising to become a Washington Post reporter only to acknowledge in a noteworthy magazine piece that he, too, was illegal, also has written about the movie (which I haven’t seen yet). 

There are moments in A Better Life of such heartbreaking truth — the conversations between father and son, the fear, anguish, and shame on Bichir’s face as he encounters a cop on the street — that the film transcends language and race.

02/23/2012

Would you dare take this zip line?

This is an Al Jazeera piece about the huge zip lines that peasants use in the Yungas region of Bolivia. I once did a similar story about zip lines across steep Andean valleys in Colombia. This piece is 25 minutes long, but if you just watch the first couple of minutes you'll see amazing images. The link to an article on the zip lines, written in rather breathless fashion, is here.

02/22/2012

Sinaloa's inroads in the Caribbean

The Colombian drug cartels used Caribbean islands extensively in the 1980s as part of their smuggling routes to Florida. Looks like Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel is moving in the same direction.

The Dominican Republic ambassador to Washington, Anibal de Castro, had some interesting observations about this in testimony he gave Feb. 1 before the Senate drug caucus. Here is part of what he said:

“Recent public declarations by President Fernandez have confirmed that the authorities have detected cells of Mexican criminal factions in the northern regions of the Dominican Republic, specifically of the Sinaloa Cartel. The recent murders of a Spanish citizen, three Colombians and a Venezuelan are apparently linked to this trafficking organization, which might be operating in Santiago, La Vega and Jarabacoa.

“The president of the (Dominican Drug Control Agency), Rolando Rosado Mateo, has indicated that the Sinaloa Cartel might be receiving assistance from Dominican criminal groups in the Cibao region to acquire chemicals used for the fabrication of narcotics. This information was obtained through the capture of Luis Fernando Bertolucci Castillo, a Mexican trafficker who claimed that the Sinaloa cartel is seeking to create a route to Europe using the Dominican Republic. After his detention and interrogation, he was extradited to the U.S.”

I can’t find much on Bertolucci Castillo except that he was busted along with some Colombians and a Lebanese, who are allegedly involved in money-laundering in Massachusetts. One of the suspects was extradited to the U.S. last summer. Here is more background on the case in Spanish (scroll down to Julio 12, martes).

And here is a lengthy, interesting article from Global Post on the subject. 

Item: I'm aware that Anibal de Castro's testimony carries the date Feb. 1, 2011, but am sure it is misdated by one year as it refers to events in late 2011. 

A stray bullet and its injury to El Paso

Police and carjackers got into a gunfight Tuesday in Ciudad Juarez, and at least one in the swarm of bullets scorched at least 3,000 feet across the border.

It hit a 48-year-old shopper who was pushing her child in a stroller, penetrating her upper right calf. The shooting occurred at around 11 a.m. The victim received treatment at University Medical Center.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said the mother is a Mexican citizen who is a legal U.S. resident in Texas. Her identity hasn’t been released. 

In a news conference, Cook said that the public should not panic over the incident. It was an effort at damage control, recognition that El Paso's image was also affected by the spillover violence. 

Earlier in the day, Cook said: "People get struck by lightning, too, and that doesn't make us stay indoors when there is a rainstorm."

Yet preventing public distress is easier said than done. For one thing, the site of the shootout was fully half a mile inside Juarez at the intersection of Malecon Avenue and Xochimilco Street. And check out this map at the El Paso Times website to get a visual grasp of how far the bullet traveled. She was eight or nine blocks from the border crossing.

It is the first known case of a person in El Paso being struck by a bullet fired from Mexico, although rounds from gunfire in 2010 struck both City Hall and a building at UT El Paso

02/21/2012

Hillary Clinton didn't get the memo

ReuniónG20
Notice anything unusual about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's attire at the wrap-up photo for the G20 foreign ministerial summit in Los Cabos?

It seems there is one in every family photo.

Maybe it was a fear of turning up in exactly the same outfit as all the other ministers -- a de rigeur crisp white ensemble -- but the U.S. secretary of state decided to be different in lime green.

And from her broad smile, she was not at all red-faced about it.

Clinton, by the way, took a break from summitry to go whale watching off Los Cabos on Sunday. I was up in Baja doing an unusual whale story a few days ago, and you can click here to see it. And click here for a story about the evermore sophisticated smuggling tunnels from Tijuana across the border.

02/17/2012

Mexico City's latest tourism campaign

This is a very well-done promotional video for tourism to Mexico City. Makes me appreciate even more living in this marvelous and varied city.

Item: I am hearing from some readers outside of Mexico that they can't get video I am posting. Please let me know if the problem continues.

Will Mexico waver on crime war?

Doubts about whether Mexico will stay the course against organized crime after a change of government later this year are rampant in Washington.

Here’s a bit of interchange between Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at a hearing yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on world wide threats.

MCCAIN: Quickly, is -- in the situation in Mexico, do you believe that -- as you know 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives as a result of drug related violence. Is your assessment that these violent criminal organizations pose a threat to the United States, including states along the border?

CLAPPER: Yes, sir they do. There -- there is always the prospect of spillover and that's one reason why we were working closely with the Mexican government and that's particularly true with respect to intelligence initiatives that we're working with them, which I can -- happy to discuss in closed session. But there is a profound threat to both countries.

MCCAIN: Have you seen any indication that the top candidates vying to succeed President Calderon will alter the way the Mexican government addresses the threat of the cartels

CLAPPER: I believe, sir that -- I can't do a one by one assessment, but I believe that the -- no matter who succeeds President Calderon, they -- they will be committed to continue this -- this campaign.

MCCAIN: Well, I suggest you look a little more carefully because I think that may not be the case, at least with one of the candidates.

Set upon by journalists after the hearing, McCain declined to say whether he was referring to Enrique Pena Nieto, the front-runner in polls. Pena Nieto belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party which ruled Mexico for decades and has a history of accommodation with organized criminal groups.

“Do you think I am so stupid to give names?” McCain told the reporters.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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