La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Photos

Despite photos, doubts remain on health of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

Hugo chavez venezuela fidel raul castro government photo

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has not been seen in public for more than two weeks following an operation for pelvic swelling in Cuba. His absence has prompted widespread speculation about his health and his ability to govern, report special correspondents for The Times.

The Venezuelan and Cuban governments insist Chavez is OK and recovering at an undisclosed location. Cuba's Communist government released photos of President Raul Castro and former President Fidel Castro visiting Chavez in what appears to be a hospital room, but the Venezuelan leader has otherwise been absent from public view.

Chavez's Twitter has also largely been inactive since earlier this month, although on Friday a flurry of messages appeared. These made no mention of the president's health or location.

Speculation persists in the opposition news media over whether "Chavez has a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and even whether he is alive," The Times reports. 

As Chavez's absence enters its 17th day, political opponents in Venezuela have ramped up criticism of the government's silence. The opposition is demanding Chavez delegate power to his vice president while he recovers. Relatives, including Chavez's mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, have asked that Venezuelans pray for his recovery (link in Spanish).

Chavez, who is 56, leads one of the world's biggest oil-producing nations and is an ardent antagonist of the United States. He hopes to be reelected in 2012 but faces rising domestic problems — including crime, inflation, and energy woes — that have hampered his ability to lead a leftist anti-U.S. bloc in the region at large.

Cuba is known to release photographs of the Castro brothers, ages 80 and 84 respectively, when public doubt rises over their health. In the past, such photos have come under scrutiny by bloggers, who have claimed they were faked. (The Chavez photos, in a medium resolution, are reproduced here.)

If Chavez remains in Cuba for "10 or 12 days" more, as his brother Adan Chavez said Sunday, and he does not delegate presidential powers, he will have governed Venezuela from afar for more than a month.

Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and current President Raul Castro of Cuba, in a photo released on June 17, 2011. Credit: Government of Cuba 

Mexico remembers writer Carlos Monsivais, one year later

Monsi house 1

The photo above shows the front gate of the longtime home of Carlos Monsivais, the celebrated Mexican author who died a year ago Sunday at the age of 72. Read our June 20, 2010, La Plaza post on his death as well as the obituary in The Times.

Well-regarded in his barrio, Monsivais lived for many years on Calzada San Simon in the San Simon Ticumac neighborhood of south-central Mexico City, near the famous Portales market. He worked there for many years, surrounded by piles of books, pop memorabilia and, famously, his cats (link in Spanish).

La Plaza shot these photos on Calzada San Simon in the days after the author's death.

Neighbors posted signs of regards and affection for "Monsi," as the author of "Days to Remember" and "Apocalipstick" was called. The messages in Spanish are heartwarming and often florid, a worthy homage to the writer who once poetically described the Mexico City subway as a primal human battleground for oxygen.

Monsivais was remembered once again by friends and colleagues during a memorial on Sunday at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in downtown Mexico City (link in Spanish). The writer Elena Poniatowska, a lifelong friend, said at the memorial that in the past year Monsivais' death has been an ever-present void in the intellectual life of Mexico, "a horrible loss."

"Monsi went directly to the essence of things," she said. "His implacable fortitude, his critical intelligence ... transformed him into a defender of civil rights, into the intellectual who most knew and best knew how to protest the violation of human rights, and the citizen who best denounced the enormous ineptitude and rampant greed of the politicians who govern us."

More photos below.

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Abel Quezada drew the idiosyncratic soul of Mexico

Abel quezada mural los angeles times

Above: "There go some low-class people."

"I make illustrated texts," the Mexican cartoonist Abel Quezada once remarked. "People like calling them cartoons in order to define my profession, but I consider myself someone who draws. Drawing for me is a constant nervous tic."

It was a tic that for more than 50 years produced some of the most memorable political cartoons in the popular imagination of Mexico. Quezada skewered both left and right, rich and poor, and was undeterred from criticizing through his "illustrated texts" the long regime under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

That much is known about Quezada by anyone who can point to one of his many recognizable drawings of "typical" Mexicans -- our idiosyncratic selves, for better or for worse.

An overweight man in a cowboy hat with a party pin on his jacket signifies the "PRI Deputy." A robust pointy-nosed woman in a gown and pearls symbolizes a haughty "Dame of Las Lomas." Even a journalist type pops up in Quezada's illustrations. The workhorse scribe is represented as a man so paper-thin he is tied to the ground with rope to prevent him from floating away.

Such images reappear in a far-reaching exhibit on Quezada's work, "Códice Abel Quezada," currently on view at the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico in downtown Mexico City (links in Spanish). The exhibit, a 15-year project curated by Alfonso Morales and organized with the support of the Quezada family civil organization, breaks new ground on the artist, depicting him as a full-fledged master who also excelled in painting and mural-making.

Indeed, some of his most vivid work wasn't inspired by Mexico but rather his time spent in New York. Other wondrous Quezada pieces illustrate a fantastical metropolis named Comales that existed only in the artist's imagination.

"He had two cities, three cities -- well, maybe four, Paris was another -- that seduced him enormously," curator Morales said in an interview with La Plaza. "Comales was like the capital of the world [for Quezada], the best of the worlds that are impossible." 

"Ultimately," Morales added, "he was a fabulist."

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A 'Surfing Madonna' appears in San Diego

Surfing madonna daniel hernandez los angeles times 5

Where did she come from? Who made her? Will the city decide to keep her around?

Residents of a laid-back beach community in San Diego County have been gathering day after day before a striking mosaic mural that appeared unannounced on a bridge wall, guerrilla-style, without proper approval. They are curious and concerned. The "Surfing Madonna," as locals have dubbed her, is in danger of being removed by the city of Encinitas.

The mural is a 12-foot-tall representation of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary image believed to have miraculously appeared before an Indian peasant named Juan Diego in 1531 in Mexico City. Guadalupe has been called the "Empress of the Americas," the patron saint of Mexico, and the "unofficial flag of Mexicans." Her image has been appropriated across popular culture and national and religious lines, and is considered a special icon for Southern California as well.

In the Encinitas mural, the Virgin Mary figure appears in her familiar flowing green robe, with her famous downward-cast eyes and slight smile. But this being Southern California, Guadalupe here is riding a white surfboard, with the image's traditional moon-bearing cherub depicted on the board's deck, as if navigating down Encinitas Boulevard and onto the breaks at Moonlight State Beach.

"Save the ocean," reads a message running down the mural's left side, in bright glass pepples.

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Three Kings Day in Mexico, a holiday in flux

Reyes magos mexico city

It might be hard to imagine, but the streets of Mexico City these past few days have been more jammed than they normally are with vendors hawking food and cheap gifts. Today, Jan. 6, is Three Kings Day. In Mexico that means the happiest day of the year for boys and girls who wait with giddy anticipation for the "reyes magos" to bring them presents.

And this being Mexico, Three Kings Day is also another healthy excuse to have a big street party.

Consider the scene this week at the Alameda Central, the downtown Mexico City park historians describe as the oldest planned urban green space in the Americas. There are mechanical rides, snack stands, carnival games, and the main draw: enormous stages where children pose for photographs with three live "reyes magos" in elaborate beards and costumes. They're meant to represent the "wise men" who in the Bible followed a star to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus had just been born, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Today, after opening presents, families in Mexico break a traditional rosca de reyes, a circular breadloaf coated in candied fruits.

"It's a beautiful tradition, whether it's here or anywhere else," said Antonia Perez, who watched as her grandchildren played inside huge inflatable spheres floating on pools of water, a popular new "ride" at the Alameda Central reyes magos fair. (Watch original video by La Plaza here.)

It was almost 1:30 a.m. this morning, and kids in sparkly crowns and face-paint were out way past their bedtime with parents in the late-night valley chill, as if they were on a Sunday afternoon stroll.

For almost two weeks since the fair sprung up, the nightly crowds at the Alameda appear endless, waiting in long lines for their photo session with their reyes magos chosen from the 40 stages set up by photographers who were awarded permits to operate in the park. The feria is sensory overload, from the screeching Tilt-a-Whirl rides blasting cumbia and electronic tribal music, to the outrageous reyes magos stages, outfitted with neon lights and (surely unlicensed) replicas of figures from the "Toy Story" franchise.

Here's a little of what it sounds like.

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Photographer Enrique Metinides artfully captured five decades of mayhem in Mexico City

Metinides 1

The old photographer spends most of his time these days in his cramped but neat Mexico City apartment, usually alone, recording footage from accidents or disaster scenes he finds on television or in movies. He is especially fond of clips of the September 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

"Since I'm not working anymore, I get by doing this," Enrique Metinides said frankly one recent afternoon. "I wish I was there. I would've gone right in."

His longing is not satirical. Far from it. Metinides, now graying and 76, belongs to a rare breed: the photojournalist with an absolute, unflinching addiction to the news. By any standard he ranks among the best and most prolific.

For more than 50 years, Metinides shot too-many-to-count accidents, shootouts, fires and robberies-gone-bad for the tabloids of his hometown, the big bad capital of Mexico. He worked nearly every  day from the age of 12 -- when he was spotted by a newspaper reporter taking photos of a car accident -- until he retired in the 1990s. He listened to police scanners, rode along with ambulances and firetrucks, or sometimes arrived at harrowing scenes before the authorities.

And he often came close to death doing it, suffering over the years various heart attacks, accidents, and broken bones. Metinides was not above dropping his own equipment and throwing his hands into an especially urgent rescue effort. He recalled brashly telling editors back in his day: "Don't give me any orders or tell me what to do. I'll go out, and come back with my report."

Boy, did he.

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Michoacan peace march turns into rally for La Familia drug lord

Marcha michoacan peace la familia

A peace march called by the government of a Mexican town that was the scene of a deadly gun battle between federal forces and the local cartel ended up as a rally in support of a slain drug lord.

Saturday's marcha in Apatzingan, Michoacan, a stronghold of the drug-trafficking group La Familia, had been called as a demonstration for peace after a federal operation against the cartel left 12 people dead last week. Among them was purportedly one of the drug group's two top leaders, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as "The Craziest" and "The Doctor," among other names.

Photographs show people who took part in the march carrying posters expressing support for La Familia and loyalty to Moreno, regarded as the group's "spiritual leader." One poster said "Viva La Familia Michoacana" and others displayed the phrase, "Nazario will always live in our hearts."

The municipal government distanced itself from the march in a statement released Sunday. But on Monday, in an astonishing radio interview, Mayor Genaro Guizar seemed to lay the blame for the violence on the federal government, not La Familia (links in Spanish).

"The insecurity is not caused by the delinquent groups," Guizar told W Radio. "It is the federal police, who, pardon me, but they go into houses, in almost the entire municipality."

Pressed to elaborate on his accusation, Guizar said he would not comment further and expressed fear for his safety. Later, he told another interviewer that he didn't mean to imply that he did not support the federal government's drug war.

The protest turned narco-rally in Apatzingan demonstrates just how deeply the cult-like La Familia has penetrated society in Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon. La Familia strictly prohibits heavy drug use among communities that it dominates but is also known for brutal tactics against enemies, such as decapitation. The group has a quasi-religious component that was built largely by Moreno, a co-founder of the cartel who was known to pass out booklets containing spiritual quotes he coined.

Mexico's president launched his campaign against the drug cartels in December 2006, with a heavy deployment of military to the Michoacan area. Calderon has also sought to tackle institutional corruption in Michoacan, but that front in the government's anti-drug strategy is so far failing.

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Light show in honor of Mexican Revolution wows audiences, but skips parts of history

Yo mexico light show zocalo 1

For starters, it's bigger than big.

The multimedia "spectacle" playing its final show Wednesday night on the vast Zocalo central square in Mexico City employs enormous light projections and audio systems, 12 semi-transparent jumbo screens, fiery pyrotechnics, a chorus of 325 live dancers and performers, and a breathtaking fireworks finale.

The "Yo Mexico" show tells Mexico's history, from the dawn of time to today. It's meant to honor the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, observed on Nov. 20. The show easily rivals the degree of spectacle of the one-night festivities celebrating the bicentennial of Independence in September. It has surprisingly ducked below the radar of political opposition that railed at the federal government this year for that event's costs.

"Yo Mexico" uses animated designs projected onto the facades of the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and City Hall, portraying Aztec pyramids, sailing Spanish galleons, and locomotives choo-chooing. It covers the usual "great men" and events of Mexican history but also gives attention to female figures not always seen at the center, such as Malinche, the Indian translator and mistress to Hernan Cortes, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a brilliant 17th century nun and poet.

Overall, "Yo Mexico" is an 88-minute barrage of over-the-top sensory stimulation. The "wow" factor is high. Take a look at this fire sequence:

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Photos explore the 'surreal' side of Tijuana

Tijuanalandia Jason Fritz clown blog

"It's never a dull day in Tijuana," photographer Jason Fritz says of his adopted city. It is, in his view, "one of the West Coast's great cultural centers, only most people aren't in on the secret."

Fritz is author of a photo-blog called Tijuanalandia, featuring large snapshots of the more surreal and surprising aspects of Mexico's far northwestern border city. The photos range from tijuanenses celebrating a Mexico win in the 2010 World Cup to the vibrant new nightlife scene on downtown's Sixth Street.

Fritz, a graduate student at San Diego State University and a former photographer at several medium-sized newspapers, said Tijuanalandia was born out of a necessity to record -- and prove -- his experiences.

"It's like when you see something so extraordinary, then tell the story at a cocktail party, and people look at you funny, because in their hearts, they think you made the whole thing up," the blogger said in an e-mail interview with La Plaza. "The photos posted on Tijuanalandia are evidence of the surreal-ness, absurdity and beauty I experience everyday."

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Texan says 'adios' to life in Mexico City

Jesus chairez apartment flickr

Jesus Chairez, a native of Texas and longtime activist in Mexican American and gay rights causes, reflected recently on his decision to leave Mexico City, where he savored the expatriate life for nearly three years.

After first getting an apartment in the megalopolis in late 2007 and then discovering the charms of the Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood, Chairez says that life here was in many ways a "culture shock." "Time to start another chapter in my unscripted lifestyle," Chairez writes in an "adios" post at his blog.

More:

The word  Latino and most especially Hispanic does not exist here.  The whole time I was here I never heard these two words used to identify one, unless it was by a visiting friend from Texas.

I found it fascinating how I had been such a Latino activist in Dallas and then when I moved to Mexico City I was now considered a GRINGO -– no kidding.

I often got the nickname gringo and or güero, two common words I, as a Latino, would call white folks back home. I found my nicknames most interesting because I didn’t ever consider myself white, but those words have nothing to do with being white.

In his time in the Mexican capital, Chairez became somewhat of a fixture in the vibrant U.S. expat community, frequently hosting parties at his apartment in Santa Maria la Ribera, with plenty of domestic help.

"I will miss living the life of a rich white woman," he jokes at his blog, where he posted on art, food, and his neighborhood.

Chairez says he plans to write a book about his experiences, and tells La Plaza that he is settling smoothly back into life in Dallas.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A view inside Jesus Chairez's living room in Mexico City. Credit: Flickr, via JesusChairez.com

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