June 17, 2013
Book review by David A. Shirk, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/16/2013
Join us for the book’s launch this Thursday [RSVP here].
“Midnight in Mexico” is Dallas Morning News journalist Alfredo Corchado’s deeply personal account of his experiences covering Mexico’s struggle against drug trafficking, corruption and violence. The title is both a literal reference and a metaphor. At a crucial moment in 2007, Corchado lies awake at night with the realization that he has gone from reporting on a story to becoming the center of a plot to end his life. The book’s title is also a reference to nearly a decade of darkness in which ruthless criminal organizations have engaged in horrendous violence that has killed tens of thousands of people.
How many have died is a matter of much speculation. But, according to Mexico’s national statistics agency, there were more than 120,000 murders in Mexico from 2006 to 2012, during the presidency of Felipe Calderon. A number of other tallies suggest that at least 45 percent and as many as 65 percent of these murders bore signs of organized crime involvement: execution-style killings, mass killings, killings in public shootouts, killings by torture, killings with poorly spelled narco-messages, killings with U.S. and imported firearms, killings of sons and daughters, killings of mayors and political candidates, police killings, killings by authorities and killings of journalists.
June 14, 2013
The Mexico Institute’s “Weekly News Summary,” released every Friday afternoon summarizes the week’s most prominent Mexico headlines published in the English-language press, as well as the most engaging opinion pieces by Mexican columnists.
What the English-language press had to say…
This week, new and ongoing crime-related stories, including the kidnapping of 12 teenagers in Mexico City and a prison break in Guerrero, prompted CNN to publish a piece arguing the country remains as dangerous and safe as ever, depending on the region in question. The Los Angeles Times looked at the evolving security situation in western Michoacán’s tierra caliente, the site of Peña Nieto’s first military operation since he took office in December. AFP featured the story of 275 ‘slave’ workers who were rescued from a tomato processing plant in Jalisco. The Economist, meanwhile, praised the results of public-private partnerships to reduce violence in Monterrey.
Bloomberg reported on the corruption case involving former governor of Tabasco Andrés Granier and his state treasurer, José Saiz. McClatchy noted that the telecommunications reform, signed into law by President Peña Nieto on Monday, is expected to significantly alter the industry. Energy and fiscal reform will be next on the agenda, according to Reuters. TIME joined the ongoing debate regarding Mexico’s ‘middle class’ after a Mexican government report determined only 40% of the population can be considered as such. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Carlos Puig explored how several Mexican mayors’ participation in evangelical ceremonies raises constitutional questions about the separation of church and state in Mexico.
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June 14, 2013
Jesus Villaseca (Flickr)
The Economist, 6/13/2013
ON ONE side of a low hill in the middle of Monterrey, Mexico’s biggest industrial city, lies Independencia, a district so run down that donkeys still carry heavy goods to the top. On the other side is San Pedro Garza García, one of Latin America’s most affluent neighbourhoods and home to some of its biggest companies.
In the past four years, the yawning social divide between them has been bridged by violence. First, the sound of gun battles between drug gangs fighting in Independencia carried over the hill to the mansions of San Pedro. Then the killings began in San Pedro itself. In a place once considered by its residents to be safer than Texas, just a few hours’ drive away, murders, carjackings and extortion became everyday occurrences. Some rich families fled to Texas—and were branded as “cowards” by Lorenzo Zambrano, the boss of Cemex, a cement-maker which is one of Monterrey’s (and Mexico’s) biggest firms.
June 12, 2013
Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2013
This western-most section of Michoacan state is experiencing a rare phenomenon in Mexico: Communities have risen up against the drug-trafficking gangs that terrorized them for years. And although questions remain over who exactly is behind all of it, the developments are posing a challenge to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who must confront the possibility of widespread vigilantism, possibly even outbreaks of civil war. His decision to send in the army last month was the first major military operation against traffickers in his 6-month-old administration.
Locals had tolerated cartel henchmen for years — and often collaborated with them — but increasingly, the bad guys harassed the public. First there was the steady stream of extortion as the cartel, which took the name Knights Templar (“Caballeros Templarios”) after the Middle Ages crusaders, gained a stranglehold on the economy throughout Michoacan, one of the most bountiful agricultural states in Mexico.
June 10, 2013
Violence in Mexico is back in the news and so is the perennial question: Is Mexico safe? In just the last few weeks there have been stories of 12 young people allegedly abducted in daylight from a Mexico City club; the death by beating of Malcolm X’s grandson, also in the capital; the kidnapping of a U.S. Marine reservist from his father’s ranch; the freeing of 165 people, including two pregnant women, who had been held prisoner; and the case of an Arizonan mom traveling on a bus who was arrested and jailed, accused of smuggling drugs.
That’s all before you look at the staggering toll of the years-long war between security forces and drug cartels — at least 60,000 people killed in drug-related violence from 2006 to 2012, according to Human Rights Watch. Other observers put the number even higher. Outside of war zones, more Americans have been killed in Mexico in the last decade than in any other country outside the United States, and the number of U.S. deaths jumped from 35 in 2007 to 113 in 2011. But those numbers do not lead to any simple conclusion.
June 6, 2013
Ex-president Vicente Fox says Mexico should legalize marijuana to steal business back from violent drug cartels — and when it’s legal, he’s in (as a grower). “Once it is legitimate and legal, of course, I do some farming. I can do it myself,” the conservative former leader said from his ranch in San Francisco del Rincon.
Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who was president from 2000-2006, surprised many when he was among early voices in Mexico calling for illegal drugs to be legalized, seeing it as the only way to break the cycle of violent crime. “Mexico should become an authorized producer, and export marijuana to places where it is already legal,” argued Fox, who is part of a group of former Latin American leaders pushing for drug legalization opposed by the United States.
June 5, 2013
By Maureen Meyer, CNN, 6/5/2013
The case of Yanira Maldonado brought international attention once more to the innocent people getting caught in Mexico’s drug war. Maldonado, a U.S. citizen and mother of seven children, was released late last week after spending more than a week in a prison in Nogales, Mexico, accused of trying to transport marijuana aboard a bus.
She and her husband, Gary, were returning on the bus from a family funeral in Sonora, Mexico, when soldiers at a military checkpoint stopped them. The passengers were told to get out so that the soldiers and an official from the public prosecutor’s office could inspect it. She was arrested and handed over to the official because soldiers said marijuana was found under her seat — conviction could have meant a minimum of 10 years in jail. A surveillance video showing her boarding the bus with only her purse, blankets and two bottles of water apparently exonerated her.
June 4, 2013
Baker Institute Blog, 6/4/2013
Mexico is embroiled in a violent and persistent drug war. Criminal cartels are battling each other and challenging the state for control of both the lucrative narcotics trade and territory. While the military has been involved in narcotics eradication for at least four decades, its role in combating the cartels rose in prominence during the administration of Felipe Calderón.
Calderón turned to the military for two reasons: first, the Mexican police lacked capacity to address the situation and second, the cartels were actively challenging the state in many places. The police were incapable of responding to the high-intensity violence. The police lacked weapons, training and doctrine for addressing these threats. In many cases, they were also suborned by the cartels. Corruption and impunity hobbled the rule of law and democratic governance.
June 4, 2013
Global Post, 6/4/2013
A gang of self-dubbed knights claim they’re on a crusade to protect the unprotected in Mexico’s western state of Michoacan, but there’s nothing cavalier about them. Mexico’s Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, are menacing communities in the region with extortion, kidnapping, killing and an arson rampage, the authorities say. They’ve also been fingered among Mexico’s top smugglers of crystal meth to the United States.
Last week, President Barack Obama added the Knights Templar to the US government’s list of narcotics “kingpins,” designating it for economic sanctions and enhanced US law enforcement attention. Taking their name from the famous Catholic order from the medieval Crusades, Mexico’s Knights Templar started several years ago as a cult-like offshoot of the feuding La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.
May 31, 2013
The Daily Beast, 5/30/2013
In 2007, the Zetas, a ruthless criminal syndicate in Mexico, put out a threat unlike any previous one: an American journalist would be killed within 24 hours. Being a journalist in Mexico is already a daunting task without a death threat. Information is difficult to collect. It’s nearly impossible to figure out your sources from your enemies. Personal safety is, at best, illusory.
Alfredo Corchado, a Mexican American journalist, has been covering the country since 1994 for The Dallas Morning News. Over the years he’s dug deep to uncover the inner workings of drug cartels and their complex relationships to the upper echelons of government. He’s familiar with the political changes that have transformed the country, including the defeat in 2000 of the despotic Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country uninterruptedly for 71 years. And he works hard to understand the ever changing, complicated dance between Mexico and the United States.