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News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Los Angeles

Demonstrations on Mexico drug war offered look at Mexicans abroad

Montreal demonstration may 8 no mas sangre facebook

When large demonstrations in Mexico calling for an end to the drug war grew last spring, communities of citizens abroad perked up and took notice.

Chatter began popping up on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Virtual groups formed. Mexicans living abroad united around a feeling of desperation over a climbing death toll and reacted to a growing sense among Mexicans at home that the government was losing control of the situation.

By May 8, when poet Javier Sicilia led tens of thousands of demonstrators on a march to the historic heart of Mexico City, smaller demonstrations were also held in cities all over the world, including Barcelona, Spain; Buenos Aires; Madrid; Montreal, Canada; Frankfurt, Germany; and in Paris with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance (links in Spanish).

The demonstrations not only showed that many Mexicans abroad were up-to-date with developments back home, they also offered a window into the large numbers of Mexicans making lives in other countries besides the traditional migration magnet of the United States.

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The week in Latin America: A smuggler named John

John ward bartletti

The Times this week published a four-part series by reporter Richard Marosi on the U.S. face of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, considered one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world. Here are highlights from the series, and other stories that made top headlines in Latin America this week:

Welcome to Calexico

In the first part of the series, Marosi introduces readers to a Drug Enforcement Administration operation tracking Sinaloa cartel distributors in Southern California. The article highlights the exhaustive surveillance strategies that U.S. anti-drug authorities employ to track smugglers, which includes permitting loads of drugs to pass from Mexico in order to gather further intelligence on suspects.

The tactics of psychics

"Mexican psychics have been known to rub white pigeons up and down a person to absorb negative forces before releasing the birds, and any evil, into the sky," reads part two of the series. "They suggest herbal baths and sometimes add hallucinogenic morning glory seeds to teas they serve their clients." Fascinating and creepy stuff.

Meet John, a cartel drug pilot

John Charles Ward made a living out of piloting drugs from Mexico into the United States, as part three of the series describes. Ward, now serving a sentence in a federal prison in California, managed to escape the law for decades. He tells Marosi of his high-flying times: "It wasn't just a smuggling job. It was my career."

The cartel flow continues

The final part of Marosi's series recounts a confrontation between a U.S. cocaine distributor and his boss in Sinaloa, a top cartel lieutenant. While the DEA operation targeting them eventually netted major arrests and seizures of cash and drugs, Marosi writes: "More than four years later, the cartel continues pumping drugs through the Calexico border crossing."


In other news:

'El Ponchis' is sentenced in Mexico

It was another week of horrific incidents in Mexico's drug war. A newspaper reporter was found decapitated in Veracruz. Shootouts in the municipal prison in Ciudad Juarez left 17 dead and fueled a spat between the local police chief and federal forces. And Edgar Jimenez, also known as "El Ponchis," was sentenced in Morelos, a reminder that Mexico's 4-1/2-year conflict is breeding ever-younger victims and perpetrators. 

Humala assumes presidency in Peru

Ollanta Humala, a leftist former military officer, was sworn in as president of an increasingly prosperous Peru on Thursday. Among his first appointments was naming Susana Baca, the celebrated Afro-Peruvian singer who was recently profiled by The Times, as his government's culture minister.

Guatemala election heats up

From Guatemala City, special correspondent Alex Renderos looks at the state of the campaign to replace President Alvaro Colom in elections in September. More than 30 people have been killed in campaign-related violence, a troubling figure, Renderos reports. One of the candidates is Colom's ex-wife; Sandra Torres, the former first lady, had to divorce her husband in order to be eligible to run.

Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Convicted cartel smuggling pilot John Charles Ward, in federal prison in California in 2009. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Rising Mexican banda crooner Espinoza Paz pours on the romance

Espinoza paz grandmother a&r

Halfway through his Friday night concert in Mexico's biggest indoor auditorium, the Mexican banda crooner Espinoza Paz lost his black cowboy hat. It either fell off or disappeared in a scrum of fans who scrambled to touch him during one of several times he left the stage to come near.

When it happened, some in the audience nervously sat up. In folklore as in banda music, a vaquero without his vaquero hat is like Samson without his locks.

Paz didn't miss a beat. The singer kept performing, finishing a two-hour show with his shaved head exposed to the lights above. Along the way, he gained two toy gifts, barrages of kisses and hugs, and the singalong adulation of more than 9,000 fans who sold out the stately Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park.

The venue, coveted by any Mexican performer, is also known as the "Colossus on Reforma."

It was a crowning and emotional night for the singer and songwriter, a milestone in Espinoza Paz's fast rise from undocumented farm laborer in California's Central Valley to teen idol of Mexican regional music.

Expect to hear the name more. With immigrants and their children increasingly building fluid lives, north and south, the genre is all but assured to be a hot-selling scene on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for years to come. Paz -- with his rural roots, rags-to-riches story, and handsome looks -- is its golden boy.

"You know, they say the audiences in Mexico City are the hardest to please," a beaming Paz told the crowds in his unvarnished ranchero voice near the end of his set. "So thank you for believing in me. Thank you for showing up. I thought it was just going to be me and my manager."

Near the stage, throngs of women up from their seats were held back by security guards in business suits. They screeched out Paz's name and reached toward the stage. One lucky lady got a two-song serenade: Paz's grandmother, pictured above.

Continue reading »

Awaiting DREAM Act, illegal student in U.S. compares himself to Superman

Erickhuerta_zocalo "Once, when I was seven, I fell asleep in Michoacan and woke in Boyle Heights. No joke."

This is how a young writer and journalist in East Los Angeles named Erick Huerta begins telling his story. Huerta, 26, is a student and undocumented immigrant, stuck in a legal and cultural bind between two countries. He was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, like many others whose parents were lured to the U.S. by economic prospects. He finished high school, entered college and is now as culturally "American" as anyone else.

Should he be deported to a country he doesn't know, or should his status be normalized under the DREAM Act?

The proposed law, built around an energetic grass-roots effort, would give certain undocumented students like Huerta -- or those entering the U.S. military -- conditional legal status in the United States.

Huerta, in an essay published by Zocalo Public Square, writes that his experience has made him analogous to ... Superman? He explains:

I guess I should be inspired by Superman, arguably the most accomplished of all "illegal aliens." Literally, in his case, as he came from another planet as an infant because his parents wanted to give him a better life when his home world was annihilated. He landed on earth and was raised in the Midwest by a loving couple to become a symbol for truth, justice and the American way. Last time I checked, he was still working at the Daily Planet, getting by under the name of "Clark Kent." I hope that the e-verify system doesn't catch up with him someday; where would ICE deport him?

Huerta uses humor to address a serious and complex issue that directly affects his future and that of thousands like him. But the DREAM Act's own future is uncertain. It's had a long and nail-biting journey through Congress, tabled and revived several times, a political ping-pong ball in the bitter and often hate-filled debate over reforming the country's "badly broken immigration system."

Those are President Obama's exact words, in a statement congratulating the House of Representatives for passing the DREAM Act Dec. 8. Despite strong grass-roots opposition to the DREAM Act among Republicans, the House passed it by a vote of 216 to 198. Obama and most Democrats in Congress want the DREAM Act passed before the end of this year's lame-duck session. The bill is now before the Senate.

A Republican filibuster would require all of the chamber's 57 Democrats to join at least three Republicans or independents to pass the DREAM Act. The bill is currently delayed pending a future vote.

Read Erick Huerta's entire essay here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: An artist's rendering of Erick Huerta, "the intrepid reporter."  Credit: Zocalo Public Square

Payasos entertain Los Angeles on Day of the Clowns

Historic Olvera Street Plaza in Los Angeles this weekend hosted the annual Dia de los Payasos, or Day of the Clowns, which featured nearly 60 entertainers, colorful costumes and lots of smiles.


Read the full story on Dia de los Payasos by L.A. Times staff writer Carla Rivera.

Photo: Entertainers gather in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday for Day of the Clowns. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

World mayors sign climate-change pact in Mexico City

Mexico City mayors climate change summit

Hoping to place cities at the forefront of global climate-change policy efforts, leaders of more than 100 urban centers pledged on Sunday in Mexico City to commit their governments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The so-called Mexico City Pact is a precursor to climate-change talks with world governments opening next week in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Countries will attempt once more to come up with a binding treaty to rein in global warming after the failure to do so at United Nations talks in Denmark last year.

In Mexico City, mayors and representatives of 138 cities, including Los Angeles, Paris and Johannesburg, signed the voluntary pact that states they will develop and implement local climate-change action plans that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable." The mayors summit was organized by the government of Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, whose efforts to "green" this crowded and polluted megalopolis are considered the most ambitious in Latin America.

Ebrard, who appears a likely presidential candidate in Mexico in 2012, said local governments will be key to reducing the effects of climate change. A majority of the world's population is now living in cities for the first time in history.

"We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," the mayor said before the summit.

Other cities in the region joining the pledge in Mexico City included Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina; La Paz, capital of Bolivia; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the largest cities in Brazil; Bogota,  capital of Colombia; Quito, capital of Ecuador; and Montevideo, Uruguay's capital (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, center, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, at left, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hold the pact. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, who also presented his plan on climate change at the mayors summit, is seen in the far rear, third from left (link in Spanish). Credit: World Mayors Summit on Climate Change

Morelia Film Festival: Collection of shorts looks at Mexican Revolution through contemporary lens

Revolucion still seventh alvarado

One film is about a woman who is so desperate to get cosmetic dental surgery that she sues her supermarket employer because she is paid partly in vouchers she can only redeem at her job. Another is about a young Mexican American woman who must find a way to "repatriate" her dead father back to his small village in Mexico, as many migrants do in their passing.

Another film -- by filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia, son of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- is a simple, surreal panorama: Revolution-era rebels on horseback riding in slow motion through the iconic crossroads of immigrant life in Los Angeles, often contested, 7th and Alvarado streets.

"Revolucion," a collection of 10 films each under 10 minutes long, by 10 young and up-and-coming Mexican filmmakers, is a meditation on a pertinent theme in today's Mexico. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution, a conflict that sought to free the poor from exploitation and disenfranchisement under the regime of Porfirio Diaz.

One hundred years later, these shorts seem to say, the situation isn't much better for millions of Mexicans who live below the poverty line, or the millions more who have abandoned Mexico altogether to seek economic opportunity in the United States.

After the North American Free Trade Agreement, after the fall of one-party rule, after that exodus, what does "revolution" look like today?

The collection is a collaborative production by Canana, the company founded by actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal. It had its world premiere earlier this year at Berlinale 2010 and premiered in Mexico on Sunday night at the Morelia International Film Festival. The filmmakers who were asked to participate in the project were given a single task: Make a film that expresses what "revolution" means to you.

The result is a wide array of styles and stories, yet each is told from a perceptively personal angle. That was the idea, Luna said during a news conference in Mexico City Sunday morning.

"It's time to give it a personal touch, because for too long they've imposed upon us what the revolution means, and very few times are we given a space for personal expression," the actor said.

Luna and Garcia both offer shorts in "Revolucion," as does Carlos Reygadas, acclaimed director of "Japon," and Amat Escalante, director of "Los Bastardos."

In the short "Lindo y querido," by Patricia Riggen, Elisa is a Mexican American girl whose father's last wish before dying was to be buried in his hometown in Mexico. She resists the idea at first, but the prodding of an aunt, and the powerfully symbolic heirloom of a revolution-era pistol left in her family, cause Elisa to reconsider.

"I live in Los Angeles. When they ask what revolution means for me, well, it means a bunch of Mexicans living in the United States, no?" Riggen said an interview with La Plaza. "And I ask myself, Why? Why there are so many Mexicans there? Did the revolution triumph or fail?"

Riggen's most recent major feature, "La Misma Luna," also deals with the pressures applied on families by borders and migration. This time, she said, she's looking at "those who return."

"I've realized that Mexicans, despite the fact that they spend an entire life in the United States, they wish to return to Mexico to be buried," she said. "What power does that land have, that they wish to return to a country that did not support them, that did not give them many of their fundamental rights? That's where my story comes from."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Morelia, Mexico

Photo: A still from 'La 7th Street y Alvarado,' by Rodrigo Garcia. Credit: Canana films

A migrant's police shooting death in Los Angeles resonates in remote Guatemala

Guatemala westlake lapd shooting funeral victim

In the highland Mayan village of Xexac, in Guatemala, the body of Manuel Jaminez Xum finally arrived for burial, the flags of Guatemala and the United States draped over his casket. Jaminez was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer on Sept. 5 after allegedly brandishing a knife and threatening others, in an incident that sparked several protests and has become a symbol of the sometimes tense relationship between police and immigrant communities in Los Angeles.

The shooting occurred in the dense, low-income and heavily Central American L.A. neighborhood of Westlake, near where Los Angeles police violently broke up a 2007 immigrant-rights demonstration. Reporting from Guatemala, L.A. Times staff writer Esmeralda Bermudez and special correspondent Alex Renderos tell us that Jaminez's death also helps illustrate the waves of human migration that have reshaped communities not only in the United States but also in Guatemala.

"Ten years ago, many in Xexac had never seen Guatemala City, let alone the United States," Bermudez writes.

Then one man in Xexac went to L.A., and over the next decade, 60 to 70 men followed, paying between $3,500 and $5,000 to smugglers for the treacherous journey through Mexico and over the U.S.-Mexico border. Jaminez left the village in 2003.

They were lured by the prospect of earning in dollars and the possibility of improving the lives of their relatives. But Los Angeles was an entirely different world, difficult and alienating. When construction work took a downturn in 2007, Jaminez began struggling to pay his share of rent for the tiny Westlake studio he shared with 11 other men. His debt with his lender in Guatemala shot up to $20,000.

Jaminez then turned to alcohol. Read the rest of the story here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Isabel Marroquin Tambriz, center, at the Sept. 20 funeral of her husband, Manuel Jaminez Xum, in Xexac, Guatemala. Credit: Esmeralda Bermudez / Los Angeles Times

'America Tropical': A forgotten Siqueiros mural resurfaces in Los Angeles [Updated]

America tropical mural los angeles culture monster

A significant artwork from the Mexican muralism movement has sat unseen for more than 70 years, whitewashed soon after it was completed to mask its political content, on a second-story exterior wall of a historic building in Los Angeles.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, like his Mexican contemporaries Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, traveled and painted north of the border while Mexican modernism flourished and grew an international profile in the early- and mid-20th century. He lived in L.A. for about seven months in 1932 and was commissioned to paint a mural on the old Italian Hall in the Olvera Street district. Siqueiros was asked to paint something celebrating "tropical America," part of efforts by a booster named Christine Sterling to transform the Olvera Street area into something like a stereotypical Mexican village.

The resulting mural, "America Tropical," scandalized L.A. elites who were perhaps expecting lush foilage and colorful birds. The centerpiece of Siqueiros's mural depicted an Indian peasant with an eagle -- symbolizing American imperialism -- bearing down from above. The mural was whitewashed, and Siqueiros was later deported from the U.S. after his visa ran out.

Siqueiros traveled on, and the mural was largely forgotten for decades.

America tropical whitewashed

Earlier this month, ground finally broke on a project that will see conservation of the mural and construction of an adjoining visitor center. The project, conceived as far back as the 1960s and expected to be completed by 2012 or 2013, will help fill in a key chapter in the long history of cultural and political exchange between Mexico and the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, professor and muralist Judy Baca notes in an essay for PBS.

Siqueiros experimented with a new technique while painting "America Tropical," reinterpreting the fresco approach on wet cement. He also seemed aware that the commission was an opportunity to "create a work of revolutionary character." Christopher Knight, art critic at The Times, elaborates at Culture Monster:

Siqueiros, of course, was profoundly influenced by Italian Renaissance frescoes -- he made studies of Masaccio's early 15th century Brancacci Chapel in Florence -- as well as by the fervent industrial motifs of early 20th century Italian Futurist painting. And he was partly inspired in this by the urging of Dr. Atl -- Gerardo Murillo -- the spiritual guide of Mexican Modernism, who had studied at the University of Rome. So a politically trenchant fresco of a crucified Indian peasant painted on an upstairs wall of El Pueblo's Italian Hall doesn't seem a stretch.

Author and professor Ruben Martinez, writing in our Opinion section, describes an intriguing family connection to Siqueiros' mural on Olvera Street, and argues:

During his stay in Los Angeles, Siqueiros, a lifelong revolutionary, absorbed the political moment. He painted on behalf of indigenous Mexicans, then as now among the most oppressed and rebellious of Latin America's peoples — and, by extension, Mexicans in America, then as now a disposable labor force that doubles as scapegoat in troubled economic times.

Interestingly, Martinez writes that during the era when his grandparents played music in a restaurant downstairs from where Siqueiros worked, some Olvera Street employees "were paid to assume 'sleepy Mexican' poses in shaded corners." (La Plaza believes it, but just can't imagine it.)

Getty america tropical conservation

There are a variety of upcoming events and exhibitions in L.A. related to Siqueiros's work in southern California, including the exhibit "Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied," at the Autry National Center museum. The Getty Conservation Institute is performing the painstaking conservation work on the mural, as seen above, and shouldering $3.95 million of the $9 million overall cost.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

[Updated at 12:06 p.m.: A previous version of this post used the term restoration instead of conservation regarding work on the mural, and did not specify that the Getty Conservation Institute is contributing only $3.95 million of the overall project costs.]

Photos, from top: A man identified as Robert Bredecio, an assistant to muralist David Alfaro Siquieros, stands before the completed "America Tropical" mural. (Credit: Getty Conservation Institute); a view of "America Tropical," partly whitewashed. (Credit: PBS); Leslie Rainer, a Getty project specialist, working on "America Tropical." (Credit: Getty Conservation Institute)

Mexican airline in disarray amid flight cancellations, pilot protest

Mexicana pilots protesting

Financial troubles forced Mexicana de Aviacion, the first airline established in Mexico and among the oldest in the world, to suddenly cancel on Monday several regular flights to destinations in the United States, including Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento.

Confusion seemed to reign at the airline on Monday, as phone operators and a company spokeswoman offered differing information on which routes or flights were in fact canceled. By late afternoon, had listed updated flight schedule modifications. The list, currently only in Spanish, shows schedules affected on routes between airports in Mexico and Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, New York and Orlando.

Mexicana spokeswoman Theresa Bravo, reached in L.A., said the airline was making efforts to accommodate passengers on canceled flights while Mexicana attempts to restructure itself. "Mexicana laments the inconvenience to passengers with these cancellations," Bravo told La Plaza. "All passengers are being protected, either on other Mexicana flights or with our commercial partners."

No other details were available, Bravo said.

Mexicana de Aviacion executives and investors held an extraordinary meeting in Mexico City on Friday to assess options -- including bankruptcy -- amid the airline's financial struggles. Pilots and flight attendants were told that as many as 500 positions could be slashed in a restructuring, prompting Mexicana employees to stage a protest Sunday inside Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City.

The pilots and flight attendants unions have asked President Felipe Calderon to intervene, but the federal government has so far declined to step in to bail out the airline (link in Spanish). The airline is asking employees to agree to deep cuts in salaries.

Separately, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday downgraded Mexico's overall aviation safety rating, affecting code-sharing agreements with U.S. airlines and temporarily barring all of Mexico's airlines from expanding service in the United States. The agency's statement on Mexico's aviation safety rating is available here. "The FAA is committed to working closely with the Mexican government and providing technical assistance to help Mexico regain its Category 1 rating," the statement says.

Further adding to Mexicana's ills, three of its planes were grounded last week -- one in Chicago and two in Canada -- after requests from creditors, Reuters reported. The planes in Canada were seized over a dispute with lessor Air Canada, reports said. In a statement, Mexicana called the Air Canada actions "legally unjustified."


-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexicana pilots and flight attendants protest inside Mexico City's international airport. Credit:


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson