Category Archives: Features

The search for clandestine graves of the disappeared

LAT – They lug basics: shovels, machetes, hammers, a metal rod to test the earth, a portable canopy to block the broiling sun. Lucia Diaz and about 15 others head off in several pickups, passing a police guard and arriving at a mosquito-infested field where everyone sprays on repellent and dons masks and gloves for the grisly task ahead.

Their objective: human remains, long buried, now emerging from the earth, providing clues to unspeakable fates. Searchers on the northern fringes of Veracruz say they have uncovered at least 80 clandestine graves in the last eight weeks.

Peatonito protects Mexico City pedestrians

peatonitoLink –  A local activist is taking a playful approach to tackle a deadly violation of pedestrian rights in Mexico City. It is estimated that the 5 million cars operating in Mexico City cause 63 traffic accidents, leave 21 wounded, and kill 3 people every day. At least one of those fatalities is a pedestrian. Traffic accidents claim more casualties than the country’s infamous drug war. Also, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Mexican children.

The women who rule Mexico City

City Lab – In the media, Mexico City’s most important people often appear to be male politicians and businessmen. But on the city’s crowded streets, it’s women who run things. There are no public numbers on the leadership of the myriad street vendor organizations, self-produced housing developments, and indigenous groups in the metro of 21.2 million. But Alejandra Barrios, perhaps the most influential street vendor in Mexico City, estimates that of the approximately 100 organizations in the city’s central areas, 80 percent are led by women.

Mexico drug war fuels private security boom

Al Jazeera -The security business has been booming since Felipe Calderon declared war on organized crime in December 2006, yet insiders and security experts warn that the industry is rife with corruption and that its rapid growth risks exacerbating security inequality by encouraging authorities to neglect public security. There are currently 1,168 private security firms registered with Mexico’s federal government, up from only 173 in 2005.

Child labor is widespread in Mexico

Child labor 2Al Jazeera – “Education for everyone” has been a popular slogan since the Mexican revolution over 100 years ago. But according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, eight out of 100 Mexican children who enroll in elementary school, do not show up for classes.

A study released by UNESCO last year says the children who don’t attend school are mostly working. The report reveals that at least 21 percent of all Mexican youth between the ages of seven and 14 drop out of school – that’s around 651,000 children.

Mexico’s lone gun store discourages sales

AP – Mexico’s constitution guarantees citizens’ right to own a handgun and hunting rifles for self-defense and sport. Legally getting your hands on one, however, requires clearing a series of bureaucratic hurdles far stricter than in the United States and, for many, travelling great distances to reach the country’s lone gun store.

Why teachers have been occupying one of Mexico’s most alluring public spaces

The Guelaguetza starts today and hotel bookings are down 50 percent or more.
The Guelaguetza starts today and hotel bookings are down 50 percent or more.

By Patrick J. McDonnell / LAT

With its towering cathedral, stately trees and many cafes, the central plaza of Oaxaca City usually exudes a sense of peace and elegance — a place to dine, reflect or listen to the marimba bands that perform on the ornate, wrought-iron bandstand.

But sit-ins, roadblocks and violence linked to Mexico’s roiling conflict between teachers and the federal government have cast a pall over Oaxaca City and the Guelaguetza, the signature annual celebration of the indigenous and mestizo heritage of this culturally rich state.

The plaza, or zocalo, has become a desolate eyesore, a tent city of sleeping bags and plastic mats topped with a jagged array of plastic tarps thrown up as protection against daily thunderstorms.

Teachers enraged at federal education reforms have occupied the plaza since May, stranding thousands of pupils and transforming one of Mexico’s most alluring public spaces into something resembling a ramshackle refugee camp.

The Guelaguetza starts Monday and hotel bookings are down 50 percent or more in the heavily tourism-reliant capital of the state also called Oaxaca. Key routes to town remain shut or subject to long delays after protesting teachers, many wearing masks, erected barricades of earth, tree trunks and assorted debris.

“We won’t leave until our demands are met,” vowed Nelly Ruth Vicente, one of a number of teachers posted at a blockade at the crossroads town of Asuncion Nochixtlan, on the main federal toll road linking Oaxaca City and Mexico City.

Bad break in Sinaloa: Two surfers murdered

Men’s Journal -It was surfing that drew Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman to Mexico last November. Their construction jobs in Edmonton, Alberta, had wrapped in October, and, with six months’ worth of paychecks stashed in their bank accounts, the two Australians loaded their boards into Coleman’s 1992 Chevy van.

When Lucas and Coleman finally arrived on the mainland, it was just before midnight. They knew how to handle themselves in foreign lands, but it’s almost certain they didn’t know just how dangerous the stretch of road is that they were about to set off on. In the last two years, at least half a dozen travelers have been murdered on it, by bandits preying on motorists. Locals call it the Highway of Death.

Mexico retains its faith in globalization

Economist – These are dark days for globalization. In America, presidential candidates are talking about building walls and unpicking trade deals. Brazil, another giant of the Americas, seems as protectionist as ever. Britain is preparing to hold a referendum on withdrawing from the European Union. The EU as a whole is bickering over what to do about a swelling tide of refugees.

Yet there is at least some light in the darkness. Mexico, for instance, continues to carry a torch for globalisation. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration boasts about the country’s 44 trade deals, more than any other country, and its 11 reform initiatives. The World Bank calculates that Mexico is one of the most open large economies in the world: exports plus imports are equivalent to 66% of GDP, compared with 26% for Brazil and 42% for China.

Bodyguards of Mexico’s elite are getting out of control

BodyguardVice News -Stroll around Mexico City’s posh Polanco neighborhood during lunchtime and you can’t miss them — small groups of physically imposing men typically dressed in grey or blue suits who are often making a bit of a show of attentively scanning their surroundings.

Hired to protect the nation’s business and political elite from kidnappings, robberies, and assassinations, these bodyguards are a key part of the private security industry that is among Mexico’s fast growing sectors. In recent weeks, however, they have also been hitting the headlines thanks to a string of incidents, ranging from the apparently trivial to the horrific, suggesting they believe themselves above the law.

The Catholic Church and the irresistible power of Mexico’s narco culture

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zamora, Mexico. (Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca / Flickr)
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zamora, Mexico. (Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca / Flickr)

By Richard Marosi and Marisa Gerber / Los Angeles Times

Growing up Catholic in Michoacan state, Alberto Cornejo always marveled at the beauty of the Gothic cathedral in his hometown of Zamora. He watched as workers installed spires, repaired the aging pillars and kept the floors polished.

The constant care and remodeling cost a lot of money and not all of it, he’s convinced, came from legitimate sources. “Narcos have looked out for our pueblos and our churches,” said Cornejo, a 48-year-old cellphone salesman. “It shouldn’t be, but it’s the reality.”

That belief, true or not, is widespread in parishes large and small across the country. Confronted with the expansion of organized crime groups, Catholic Church leaders have faced tough choices and more than a few have given in to traffickers, either cowed or complicit in taking tainted money.

Pope Francis, who travels today (Tuesday) to the violent state of Michoacan, has during his Mexican trip made his feelings clear, most specifically on Saturday during a speech in front of top church bishops, in which he called on clergy to act courageously against an “insidious threat.”

“I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the church,” he said.

The pope’s challenge – an upbraiding of an institution rarely criticized – was hailed for recognizing the widespread perception in Mexico that the church has often failed to protect society and its own priests from drug violence.

The dark side of Mexico the pope didn’t see

Arizona Republic – It’s not hard to tell when you are leaving the relative safety of Mexico City and entering this violence-torn, crime-ridden suburb of Ecatepec in the neighboring state of Mexico.

A metal cross marks the spot where the body of murdered woman was thrown on the side of the road leading into the sprawling-hillside slums, among the poorest, most densely populated and dangerous in Mexico. And then a second cross. And a third.

They are grim reminders of the killings, particularly of women, that have terrified residents here.

On Sunday, just hours before Pope Francis would celebrate Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in another part of the city, a layer of choking smog hung over the municipality at dawn.

“This is the gateway to hell,” said Manuel Amador, as he drove past the crosses.

Ex-murder capital presents sunnier image for pope

LAT -Not long ago, the sprawling border city of Ciudad Juarez was known as the murder capital of Mexico. These days, billboards proclaim, “Juarez es amor” — “Juarez is love” — and officials are claiming a more than 40% drop in homicides over the last two years. Next to the new “love” logo is an image of a smiling Pope Francis, whose visit next week is being greeted by Juarez officials as a chance to revive and rebrand their city, and to restore its frayed cultural and business ties to El Paso.

Mexico emerging as one of hottest tech hubs in Latin America

Omar Acoltzi works on his laptop in the beach section of Startup Mexico, an innovation campus in northwest Mexico City based loosely on Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif. (Rick Jervis)
Omar Acoltzi works on his laptop in the beach section of Startup Mexico, an innovation campus in northwest Mexico City based loosely on Google’s campus in Mountain View, Calif. (Rick Jervis)

By Rick Jervis/ USAToday

With a master’s degree in business administration from MIT and spotless English, Hernán Fernández could have taken his skills to Silicon Valley or landed a cushy job with a Mexican bank.

Instead, he runs a small team of analysts in an office in the Polanco neighborhood of his native Mexico City, looking for Mexico’s next big tech breakout and helping forge his country’s new economy.

The tech fund created by Fernández, 36, and his partners, Angel Ventures Mexico, started in 2008 with a handful of employees and personal investments from friends and family. Today, the fund, which helps finance mostly tech companies in Mexico and the region, has grown to $20 million, with 29 employees spread through offices in Mexico City and in Bogotá and Lima, Peru. The firm is currently fundraising to grow the pot to $100 million.

“The new generation of Mexicans are tech savvy, more connected with the U.S., often U.S. educated,” Fernández said. “It’s impossible not to feel the … attraction of the start-up economy that goes on in the U.S.”

Mexico is emerging as one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in Latin America, with more than $1 billion in investments last year and more than 500,000 IT professionals.