Mexico City's new subway line alters transit map

Mexico City's new subway line

MEXICO CITY -- Maria Guadalupe Garcia usually spends two hours traveling from her home in southeast Mexico City's Tlahuac borough on bus and microbus to reach the city's west side.

On Tuesday, Garcia, 60, was one of the first riders of a new subway line inaugurated by the mayor and Mexico's president. She said she expects that those two hours of commuting will be reduced to 45 minutes.

"It's going to benefit us so much," Garcia said, standing with her husband, Angel Hernandez, on the platform of the Mixcoac station. "Now, we'll go with calm."

The 12th line of this city's moving hive of a subway system -- the loved and loathed el metro -- opened to the public in what leaders called the most significant and complex public-works project in recent Mexican history.

The new Line 12, or Gold Line, cost about $1.8 billion and is a capstone for the administration of outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The line also represented an unprecedented test for engineers, planners and politicians  who had to fend off vigorous protests and legal challenges from some residents.

For riders, the line makes a crucial alteration to the transit landscape of Mexico City: It adds a lateral connection across the southern end of the metro map, crisscrossing four lines and creating transfer points where previously none existed.

The line also connects Tlahuac, a large, semirural expanse on the southeastern end of the metropolis, to the subway grid. End to end, Mixcoac to Tlahuac, the line stops at 20 stations across 15.5 miles of tunnels and elevated tracks.

More than 380,000 people are initially expected to use Line 12 daily. Overall, nearly 4 million passengers ride Mexico City's subway every day, making it one of the largest such systems in the world.

"This is an immense project for Mexico City," Ebrard said. "It is the longest line and turned out to be most complex. We are very proud of our engineers, our workers."

President Felipe Calderon said he was proud the federal government supplied funds for Line 12, meant to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence.

"It was worth it," Calderon said. "This ... is a sustainable solution to the problems of mobility and transport in Mexico City. Moreover, it minimizes the impact of pollution on the city, and that's fundamental."

By noon, smiling, cheering riders were joining the inaugural train on which Calderon and Ebrard briefly rode. An hour later, at Mixcoac station, commuters were already moving about the transfer point as hardy residents of this city do: earphones in, bags held close, eyes alert to the journey ahead.


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-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Juana Cisneros, 59, and Jose Hernandez, 52, were among the first riders of the new Mexico City subway line, Line 12, on Tuesday. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times

Census sets off fears of politicking in Bosnia-Herzegovina

In much of the world, the census is a mundane and familiar routine. In fractured Bosnia-Herzegovina, the exercise is so touchy that its people have gone uncounted for more than two decades.

Twenty-one years ago, the last census showed a growing share of Muslims in the diverse territory, then a republic of the Yugoslav federation. Serb nationalists pointed to the numbers and argued that their status was in jeopardy.

The next year, after Bosnia declared its independence, a brutal war erupted. It lasted more than 3 1/2 years and claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.

In a country where political power is divided along ethnic lines, local activists and outside observers worry that a new census could be manipulated for political gain. The government is testing out the census on a smaller scale, counting about 9,000 people before launching a complete tally next year.

“There is already pressure on people” over how they choose to identify, said Tija Memisevic, director of the European Research Center, part of a coalition of nonprofit groups and individuals pushing for people to be able to define themselves as they wish to census-takers. “There will be a lot of fear-mongering.”

Bosniak Muslims fear the census will cement the elimination of their people from Serb enclaves, legitimizing Serb control of areas terrorized by "ethnic cleansing." Croats worry their numbers may have diminished as well. Others fear they won’t be fairly tallied and instead shunted into one category or another for political purposes.

In the dizzyingly complex political system that evolved after the war, some government seats are reserved for each of the three “constituent” ethnic groups and some are off limits to minorities -- a barrier that the European Court of Human Rights ruled was discriminatory. Local municipalities afford seats based on the census.

As new numbers are tallied, “politicians will push for more political representation for their group or demand less for the others,” said Doga Ulas Eralp, a George Washington University expert on fragile states. “It’s going to set the tone of the debate.”

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Party over? Alcohol sales banned on Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi

Pulque vendor

MEXICO CITY -- Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?

The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.

Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.

Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.

"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."

Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.

"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."

Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.

"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."

But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.

"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.


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-- Daniel Hernandez 

Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulque bar La Hermosa Hortencia, worries that fewer people will come to Plaza Garibaldi with the new alcohol ban on the square. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times 

Cuba lifts 'exit visa' requirement for its citizens


MEXICO CITY -- The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it plans to rescind the requirement that its citizens obtain exit visas in order to travel abroad, generating hope on the island that a longstanding bureaucratic hindrance to their freedom of movement will soon be removed.

The change in immigration policy was announced Tuesday in the official state newspaper Granma, with the details printed in the government's legal journal. Beginning Jan. 14, the news report said, Cubans wishing to leave the island temporarily will no longer need to obtain a government-issued “travel permit” -- a document that in the past has been withheld for political or arbitrary reasons.

How the new rules will actually change things for everyday Cubans remains to be seen. Much depends on the way the law is applied  and the fine print. Cubans will still need to obtain a passport to travel, and the new rules allow officials to deny anyone a passport for “reasons of public interest.”

The government also said it would maintain special travel restrictions for the professional classes because it fears that they could be lured away by high salaries abroad after benefiting from a low-cost socialized education -- an attempt, as the regime puts it, to preserve “the human capital created by the  revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations.”

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Spanish politician sentenced to 4 years in Cuba car crash


MEXICO CITY -- A Cuban court has sentenced a conservative Spanish politician to four years in prison for causing an automobile accident that killed two Cuban dissidents who were riding with him, according to news reports. Now the Spanish government is trying to find a way to bring him home.

The Spaniard, Angel Carromero, was found guilty of homicide by a court in the eastern province of Granma, where the accident occurred on July 22, according to a report posted Monday on the Cuban government website Cubadebate (link in Spanish).

The report said that Carromero’s “reckless conduct” behind the wheel had caused the “lamentable” deaths of the two anti-government activists, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Prosecutors, who argued that Carromero was speeding at the time, had originally sought a seven-year sentence.

Paya, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, was one of Cuba’s most prominent critics, and Carromero, a member of Spain’s Popular Party, had come to the island to lend him financial and strategic support. The Cuban government said that Carromero had entered the country on a tourist visa but had “illegally” engaged in political activity.

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Israeli Army Radio ban on protest song raises controversy

JERUSALEM — A leading Israeli radio station's decision to ban for broadcast a protest song is stirring controversy and underscoring the sensitive intersection of art, politics and freedom of speech in the country.

"A Matter of Habit," recently released by veteran Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot, describes the slippery slope Israeli soldiers go down, from fear and confusion to complacency, until "killing is a matter of habit."  The lyrics, written by Ashdot's life partner, novelist Alona Kimhi, reportedly were inspired by her tour with Breaking the Silence, an organization of former combat soldiers whose website says it is dedicated to exposing the "reality of everyday life in the occupied territories." 

The song was welcomed by liberals as a protest of Israel's actions in the West Bank but fiercely criticized by others, who defaced Ashdot's official Facebook page last month, with one angry reader referring to Ashdot as a "draft-dodging dog" — though he didn't evade mandatory service.

Army Radio stuck by an advance invitation that Ashdot perform in its studios but expressly vetoed the playing of this song. The station later issued a statement saying there was no room on the military station for a song that "denigrates and denounces those who have sacrificed their lives for the defense of the country."

"I am worried when songs are banned for broadcast in a democratic country," Ashdot told Israeli media, adding he was shocked by the "incitement" against him that the statement encouraged. The decision and statement were issued by Yaron Dekel, a veteran journalist appointed to be the station's military commander in February.

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Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Don't bother yelling 'Taxi!' in Saudi Arabia anymore

Saudi woman boards taxi in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.

The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders,  Al Madina newspaper reported.

The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.

The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.

Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.

Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.


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--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: Saudi women are dependent on taxis for travel and errand-running as the kingdom prohibits women from driving, and most urban bus travel is exclusively for men. Credit: Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty Images

Mexico's first loss to U.S. at home, on a Mexican American's goal

Michael orozco estado azteca ap

MEXICO CITY -- It was a sweet Olympic gold victory for Mexican soccer, yes. But that was last week.

On Wednesday night, Mexico was defeated by the United States in a friendly match at the cavernous  high-altitude Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, 1-0, the first win for the U.S. on Mexican soil in 75 years of a storied and often bitter rivalry.

The only goal of the game came from U.S. defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, 26, a Mexican American native of Orange.

When it happened, in the 79th minute, utter silence seemed to befall the entire Mexican capital for a second or two. The United States had not won a single game at the Azteca, and Mexico had barely lost there against any opponent, in official matches or friendlies.

Watch the game-winning goal here:

Mexico's current sports superstar, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez -- who didn't play for gold in London in the men's soccer final on Saturday -- attempted a few desperate strikes in the final minutes to salvage the game.

But U.S. goalie Tim Howard delivered crucial saves for the Americans, despite being battered with harrasment from the stands, a custom relished by fans at the Azteca. (At least one pesky person Wednesday was distracting the U.S. goalie with the light of a green laser.)

There was surprisingly little bad blood for Orozco in Mexico's media the next morning and among armchair analysts online.

Where could an ardently nationalist fan draw a line on criticism anyway? The U.S. friendly roster is rife with border-blurring athletes, a reflection of the complex historical migration patterns between the  countries, and maybe a little of that free-trade spirit that has defined the binational relationship since 1994.

Edgar Castillo, a defender born in Las Cruces, N.M., has played for both the Mexican and U.S. national teams. Midfielder Joe Corona -- half-Mexican, half-Salvadoran and born in Los Angeles -- plays professionally for Tijuana. And Herculez Gomez, born in L.A. to Mexican American parents, plays in Mexico for Pachuca.

Game-winner Orozco's parents are from the Mexican states of Durango and Queretaro. He was born in Orange County but plays professionally in Mexico for San Luis.

"That's history," he told one news outlet after the game. "It does leave a mark in my heart."


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In Mexico, Olympic gold is a welcome chance to celebrate

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: U.S. defender Michael Orozco, right, celebrates with teammate Terrence Boyd after scoring during a friendly soccer game against Mexico in Mexico City, Aug. 15, 2012. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press

Record low number of babies born in Japan

JapanbabiesFewer babies were born in Japan in the last year than any other on record, pulling down its population for the third year in a row, according to government statistics released this week.

As of the end of March, Japan had more than 260,000 fewer people than a year earlier, the biggest drop of   the Japanese population yet, according to Japanese media. 

The baby bust has continued year after year despite Japanese efforts to nudge up the numbers: The government has doled out payments for couples with children and subsidized daycare. Japanese towns publicly herald the number of local births in city signs. Engineering students even crafted a cooing robotic baby years ago in hope of setting biological clocks ticking.

Taking a more pointed tack, one professor recently created an online clock that ominously counts down until Japan has no children left -- a doomsday estimated to roll around in 3012.

“It is not received seriously, with urgency,” economics professor Hiroshi Yoshida of Tohoku University wrote as the clock was unveiled on Children’s Day in May.

SERIES: Beyond 7 billion

The Japanese are well aware of the problem, but birthrates continue to hover under 1.4 children per woman, far below the 2.1 needed to replace one generation with the next, said Noriko Tsuya, a Keio University statistician who leads a government committee on population. The number of marriage has  dropped, and bearing children out of wedlock is rare, Tsuya said.

Experts say women forced to choose between child and career in Japanese companies have increasingly opted against babies. Despite government efforts to foster gender equality, Japanese women are still expected to shoulder chores at home, researchers have repeatedly noted. Some companies pressure Japanese women to leave if they marry or have a baby, said John W. Traphagan, a University of Texas at Austin professor who has studied family dynamics in Japan.

Men seem to be losing interest in babymaking in the first place, with one government survey finding that more than a third of Japanese males ages 16 to 19 were uninterested in sex or even despised it; even more women said the same. The erosion of old guarantees of lifetime employment and the rise of temporary jobs are also damping the desire to start families.

“I don’t think young Japanese people want to stay single their whole lives,” Tsuya said. “But once you marry you’re supposed to have kids,”  a less appealing prospect without a steady job.

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