Must Reads: A 'Red Era' museum, Obama and mothers of the missing


From attacks in Afghanistan to the missing in Mexico, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from the past week in global news:

China museum builder lets history speak

Obama faces new Mideast challenges in his second term

As 'insider attacks' grow, so does U.S.-Afghanistan divide

Mothers from Central America search for missing kin in Mexico

Britain's crackdown on Web comments sparks free-speech debate

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Marta Elena Perez of from Nicaragua attends Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Oct. 28, 2012, with a photograph of her daughter, Karla Patricia Perez, who went missing in 2005. Credit: Marco Ugarte / Associated Press

Mexican police charged in attack on CIA officers

Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August.

MEXICO CITY — Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August on a road south of the capital, federal prosecutors said Friday.

In a statement, prosecutors said the officers’ actions were deliberate, alleging that they “intended to take the lives of two functionaries from the United States Embassy in Mexico,” as well as a member of the Mexican navy who was traveling with them through dangerous country on their way to a Mexican military training facility.

But in a phone interview, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office left open the possibility that the attack could have been the result of a mixup, and not something more sinister.

“At this moment there are various lines of investigation,” said Jose Luis Manjarrez, including the officers’ “alleged relationship with organized crime,” but also the possibility that their attack was the result of "confusion."

Manjarrez added that the question of motive was “part of the investigation,” and would eventually be presented in court.

The attack has raised troubling questions here about the competence and trustworthiness of a federal police force that outgoing President Felipe Calderon has been trying to clean up and strengthen as his nation struggles in its fight against the powerful drug cartels.

Prosecutors allege the officers, all of them based out of a station in Mexico City, acted deceptively when confronted by investigators. They were in plain clothes and driving civilian vehicles when they approached the Toyota Land Cruiser, which had diplomatic license plates, and riddled it with 152 bullets.

But when the officers initially appeared before prosecutors, they showed up in their squad cars and had changed into their uniforms — “thereby encouraging the concealment of the cars that they had, and simulating a circumstance that turned out to be false,” the statement said.

Mexican officials said the investigation was carried out with the “close collaboration” of the federal police and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.


An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

Photo: Forensic personnel check a U.S. diplomatic vehicle attacked with gunfire in the Tres Marias–Huitzilac highway in Morelos, Mexico, in August. Credit: Nuvia Reyes / AFP/Getty Images

Other countries eagerly await U.S. immigration reform

Apple harvest
They design our electronics, harvest our food, staff our research labs and care for our children. Immigrants -- legal and illegal, skilled and unskilled -- by all accounts are vital cogs in the wheel of the U.S. economy, and the money they send back to their families improves the quality of life throughout their homelands.

GlobalFocusSo why, when both sending and receiving countries benefit, is the quest for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States so politically divisive and often pushed to the legislative back burner?

Immigration policy experts say the caustic partisan debate over who can stay and who must go has been ratcheted up by the lingering joblessness inflicted by the Great Recession and the searing spotlight of Campaign 2012 that illuminated only candidates' points of contention rather than those of convergence.

Now that the election is over and President Obama purportedly is beholden to the 71% of Latino voters who helped propel him to a second term, the more sober analysts of immigration dynamics are predicting that lawmakers of all political stripes will make a priority of devising more fair, efficient and mutually advantageous practices for integrating foreign labor.

"Immigrants operate on supply and demand, like everyone else. If there is a huge supply of jobs, they will come to the United States and look for them. If, as the case has been recently, there is not a huge supply of jobs or work opportunities are declining, then they either don’t come here or they go back," said S. Lynne Walker, vice president of the Institute of the Americas and an immigration policy analyst for more than 20 years. She pointed to a Pew Hispanic Center report in April that tracked the steady decline of undocumented workers, who have been kept at bay by the recession.

Continue reading »

Quake rattles Guatemala, Mexico; 3 reported dead

At least three people were reportedly killed in Guatemala after a powerful earthquake shook the Central American country

MEXICO CITY -- At least three people were reportedly killed in Guatemala after a powerful earthquake shook the Central American country Wednesday morning.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the quake, which registered magnitude 7.4, occurred at 10:35 a.m. CST along the northern part of Guatemala's Pacific coast, about 100 miles west-southwest of Guatemala City.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina declared a "national red alert," suspending public activities and recommending that buildings be evacuated. The Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that three people had been found dead under the rubble in the Guatemalan city of San Pedro Sacatepequez -- along the country's border with Mexico -- where at least 40 houses had been destroyed by the temblor.

Guatemalan media reported downed phone lines, lost power and damaged buildings in various parts of the country.

The quake was also felt in numerous areas of Mexico, including parts of Mexico City, where some buildings were evacuated. However, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard tweeted in the early afternoon that the city was "without harm."


An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

-- Richard Fausset

Photo: Crowds of people gather at a meeting point in Mexico City on Wednesday after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Guatemala near the Mexican border. Credit: Mario Guzman / EPA

Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

Jesus Alfredo Salazar Ramirez
MEXICO CITY -- A drug capo described by Mexican officials as "one of the most important lieutenants" for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the fugitive leader of the Sinaloa cartel, has been captured, the Defense Ministry announced Sunday.

Jesus Alfredo Salazar Ramirez, known as "The Doll," was taken into custody Thursday by military officials and federal prosecutors in the state of Mexico, outside the capital, according to a news release [link in Spanish]. Salazar is the alleged leader of a cell within the Sinaloa cartel known as "The Salazars" and is wanted in both the U.S. and Mexico on drug trafficking charges.

Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel is probably the most powerful in Mexico. Many Mexicans suspect the federal government has favored the Sinaloa gang in its six-year crackdown on the myriad groups that control drug production and distribution in the country.

The government of outgoing President Felipe Calderon strenuously denies such rumors and argues that it has gone after all cartels with equal zeal. The arrest of Salazar may bolster that argument among some here, especially as it comes after the arrest last week of another top Sinaloa lieutenant, Jose Salgueiro Nevarez, alias "El Che."

Calderon leaves office in December with Mexicans deeply divided about his legacy and his career-defining decision to crack down on the drug cartels. The president boasts that his government has killed or captured two-thirds of the 37 most dangerous criminals in the country.

But more than 50,000 people have died since Calderon unleashed the Mexican military on the drug gangs, and it is unclear if the cartels' power has ebbed: The Times' Tracy Wilkinson reported Saturday that Coahuila, Mexico's third-largest state, has quietly been taken over by the Sinaloa cartel's bloodthirsty rivals, the Zetas.

Salazar, Mexican officials allege, controlled the growth, production and trafficking of drugs in the state of Sonora, which borders Arizona and New Mexico; and part of the state of Chihuahua, which borders New Mexico and Texas. Most of the drugs, officials said, was sent to the U.S.

Officials said Salazar is also suspected of directing numerous executions, including the slaying of Mexican peace activist Nepomuceno Moreno in November 2011. Moreno was a grieving father who had joined the high-profile peace movement headed by poet Javier Sicilia.

Moreno had accused police of abducting his son. He was gunned down by men who intercepted his car in the Sonoran capital, Hermosillo.


An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Leader of Mexico's Zetas drug gang proves elusive even in death

-- Richard Fausset 

Photo: Mexican authorities Sunday provided a photo of alleged Sinaloa drug cartel figure Jesus Alfredo Salazar Ramirez, who was taken into custody last week. Credit: Sedena

Remittances to Mexico fell 20% in September compared with last year

MEXICO CITY -- Remittances to Mexico from abroad fell by more than 20% in September compared with the same month in 2011, according to Mexico’s central bank, a decline that experts said can be partly explained by the reduction in immigrant employment in the United States.

Nearly 11% of all Mexicans live abroad, most of them in the U.S., and the money they send home to family members is one of the country’s most important sources of foreign income, representing about 2% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Mexico's remittances for September stood at $1.66 billion, according to the Bank of Mexico, compared with $2.08 billion in September 2011, a drop of 20.2%.

Researchers at Mexican bank BBVA Bancomer had been expecting the steep fall. They said an "extraordinarily high” amount of money was sent back to Mexico in September 2011, thanks to a steep increase in the exchange rate at the time. (The exchange rate can be a major factor on remittances because immigrants often wait for the rate to be as favorable as possible before sending money home.)

But the BBVA experts, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, also pointed to the labor market in the United States, where the number of Mexican immigrants in the workforce has dropped from more than 7 million in January to fewer than 6.7 million in August. The reasons for that decline are unclear, but they could be tied to the summertime contraction in the U.S. manufacturing industry.

Yearly Mexican remittance figures have been inching up after taking a plunge in the recession: The total amount of remittances in 2011 was $22.7 billion, a 7% rise over 2010.

Thus far, total remittances in 2012 amount to about $17.2 billion, according to the Mexican central bank.


An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Leader of Mexico's Zetas drug gang proves elusive even in death

-- Richard Fausset

Study: Pot legalization in U.S. states could hurt Mexican cartels


MEXICO CITY -- This may not weigh heavily on the minds of voters in Seattle, but if Washington and two other U.S. states decide to legalize marijuana in next week's election, the effect on drug traffickers in Mexico could be enormous.

Such is the suggestion of a new study by a Mexican think tank.

"It could be the biggest structural blow that [Mexican] drug trafficking has experienced in a generation," Alejandro Hope, security expert with the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, said in presenting the report.

Producing and distributing marijuana inside the U.S. would supply a less expensive and better quality drug to the millions of American who smoke it, Hope said. Demand for Mexican pot would decline, cutting into cartels' profits by 22% to 30%, the study calculates.

The consequences would be most dramatic, Hope added, for the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which is based in western Mexico and controls most of the marijuana production.

It is estimated that around one-third of Mexican drug gangs' income is from marijuana, surpassed only and narrowly by cocaine.

Continue reading »

Arrest in Mexican reporter's killing met with doubt

Vigil for slain Mexico journalist Regina Martinez

MEXICO CITY -- Veracruz state authorities announced an arrest in the killing of a well-known reporter, but the slain woman's colleagues and friends greeted the news with skepticism and scorn.

Regina Martinez, a veteran reporter for the muckraking national newsmagazine Proceso, was killed in her home in the Veracruz capital, Xalapa, about six months ago. She was one of more than half a dozen journalists and former journalists who have been slain or gone missing in Veracruz in the last two years. Local reporters --  many of whom have fled to Mexico City in fear of their lives --  blame drug traffickers and corrupt authorities.

Late Tuesday, the Veracruz state prosecutor announced the arrest of a two-bit thief, Jose Antonio Hernandez, and said he had confessed to beating Martinez to death. The motive was robbery, prosecutor Amadeo Flores Espinosa said, and a second suspect remains at large.

With that, the authorities in Veracruz declared the case solved. But many of those close to Martinez, along with press freedom advocates, were not buying it.

Continue reading »

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.


In Mexico, blind vendors sell bootleg CDs on subways

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

Popular Mayor Ebrard on sidelines in Mexico's presidential election

-- 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

14 kidnapped Central American migrants found in Mexico


MEXICO CITY -- As a group of mothers from Honduras, Guatemala and other countries travels across Mexico in search of missing relatives, the Mexican navy on Monday announced that it had freed 14 Central Americans kidnapped by suspected drug traffickers.

Thousands of migrants from Central America go missing every year as they attempt to reach the United States through Mexico. They are often kidnapped by Mexican gangsters, held for ransom, forced to work for cartels or on marijuana farms, or killed. Many turn up in hidden mass graves.

Naval marines acting on what they described as an anonymous tip over the weekend discovered 14 migrants being held against their will in a shack in the town of Altamira, in the violent border state of Tamaulipas (link in Spanish). The state has been the scene of several massacres of Central American and Mexican migrants.

The rescued men and women looked for the most part young and skinny, judging by a video released by the navy. They told authorities they had been kidnapped in different places in Tamaulipas and were from Central America, the navy said. The navy did not offer a breakdown of nationalities and said their "migratory status" would be corroborated. They stand a good chance of being deported.

Two men who apparently were holding the migrants were arrested, the navy said.

Monday's announcement from the navy gives hope to groups searching for the missing that more  victims may still be alive.

A caravan of mothers  this month embarked on a 19-day, 14-state journey through Mexico. All 40 or so mothers are looking for children, spouses or other relatives who vanished on their way north. Through the efforts of the organizers -- they've staged a caravan every of the last several years -- and other migrant-rights activists, a few missing relatives have been found and reunited with mothers.

Human rights groups say government neglect and refusal to recognize the problem of the missing result in  families left with the task of searching on their own, sometimes going state to state to offer DNA evidence when bodies turn up.


Sifting for answers in a mass grave in Tapachula, Mexico

Two-thirds of most-wanted Mexican drug lords are in custody, dead

Mexico's drug war disappearances leave families in anguish

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Central American migrants ride on top of a train in Veracruz state, one of the precarious ways in which they try to reach the U.S., in June 2011. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency








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