Month: October 2013




The Monterrey poet at the site of the 2011 casino fire, allegedly set by the Zetas cartel, that killed more than 50 people. Thank you, Armando, for showing me the good and the bad.

A translation of an Alanis poem published in 1998:




Here I am, always waiting

for a literary opinion.


Here I am, without finding 

a metaphor that encompasses you.

[Photo: RF]


Originally posted (10/24/13) at

Tangled U.S.-Mexico ties on display amid spying outrage

The U.S. and Mexico are frenemies that can’t help offending — yet still need — each other.

By Richard Fausset

October 24, 2013, 4:38 p.m. 

MEXICO CITY — It was a minor gaffe, but a telling slip that spoke volumes about the tangled love-hate relationship between Mexico and its northern neighbor.

The respected newspaper Reforma, in an article Wednesday about new allegations of U.S. spying on Mexico, accidentally referred to Earl Anthony Wayne, the American ambassador to Mexico, as John Wayne.

Though individual Mexicans’ opinions about the United States are complicated, many cling to the opinion that the U.S. is a brash cowboy of a country.

It is a view, at least as old as the 1846 U.S. invasion of Mexico, that has gained new traction this week after the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article alleging that the U.S. National Security Agency had hacked the email account of former President Felipe Calderon, one of the most pro-U.S. presidents in recent Mexican history.

The allegations, based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, came on the heels of previous reports, also based on Snowden leaks, that the United States had spied on President Enrique Peña Nieto when he was a candidate.

Mexico’s foreign minister and interior minister each held news conferences Tuesday to complain, and a government statement declared that U.S. spying on Mexico was “unacceptable, unlawful and contrary to Mexican law and international law.” But many here saw it as an expression of outrage carefully muted to ensure that Mexico didn’t do too much damage to its relationship with the U.S.

American officials, meanwhile, neither confirmed nor denied the German magazine’s report, but took pains to emphasize what a great friend they had in Mexico. A statement from a U.S. Embassy spokesman noted that the two countries were “strategic partners and enjoy close cooperation on many fronts.”

So it goes with the continent’s diplomatic odd couple, a pair of classic frenemies who can’t help offending each other yet can’t quite seem to quit each other either.

The response from Calderon, who left office at the end of 2012, was a case in point: “More than just personal, it’s an affront to the nation’s institutions,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Calderon, as is widely known in Mexico, is ensconced in Cambridge, Mass., where he is employed as a fellow at Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Long before the spying scandal, the Mexican left was highly critical of Calderon’s pro-American leanings. During his six-year presidency, he welcomed the U.S. into an unprecedented partnership in which security agencies of the two countries regularly shared intelligence as Calderon waged war against Mexico’s drug cartels. The U.S. has also kicked in hundreds of millions of dollars to help fight that war.

This week, the former president’s critics roundly chided him for being surprised by what happens when one lets a fox into a henhouse. Some accused him of being a lackey. A cartoon in the left-wing paper La Jornada depicted Calderon complaining, “I energetically protest the spying by the U.S. government — I’m offended that they don’t trust their employees.”

Many observers criticized the Peña Nieto government for what was seen as its tepid response to the previous U.S. spying allegations in July and September. The government essentially demanded that the U.S. open an investigation.

After this week’s allegations, the government ratcheted up its response incrementally. Jose Antonio Meade, the foreign minister, said Wayne would be summoned to discuss the new allegations. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said an investigation would look into whether any Mexicans colluded with the U.S.

A key question is whether the revelations will do lasting damage to the U.S.-Mexico security relationship. After Peña Nieto took office in December, some U.S. officials worried that their tight security partnership with the Mexicans would fray. At the same time, there has been some indication that the new government is changing the rhetoric of how it describes the controversial drug war it inherited, while maintaining the same basic plan.

George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary, said he didn’t expect the spying allegations to change the relationship much. He considers the response from Peña Nieto’s government as a sop to the Mexican left, whom Peña Nieto, a member of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is courting as he attempts to pass a wide-ranging domestic reform agenda.

Grayson also noted that the PRI, which ruled Mexico in a quasi-authoritarian style for much of the 20th century, had a long history of spying on its fellow Mexicans.

“For the PRI to condemn eavesdropping is like a brothel owner condemning prostitution,” Grayson said.

Mexican academic Sergio Aguayo said Wednesday in a radio interview that Mexico had in fact been forced to talk tougher after the leaders of France and Brazil complained much more forcefully about similar U.S. spying allegations in their countries.

“Finally the Peña Nieto government raised the argument by a few decibels — not too much, [but] they raised it a little more,” said Aguayo, who added that Mexico’s simultaneous “feelings of admiration and rejection” toward the U.S. were preventing it from standing up for itself more forcefully.

The assumption, of course, is that too much complaining could jeopardize U.S. security funding for Mexico. But the U.S., too, has been careful not to complain too loudly over recent events involving such a key trade and security partner. The U.S. responses were notably muted after a Mexican federal police attack last year on CIA agents and the court-ordered prison release in August of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, the convicted killer of a U.S. drug agent.

Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox, who served as president from 2000 to 2006, also weighed in on the controversy this week, saying in a radio interview that the allegations against the U.S. were not that big a deal.

“Spying has existed,” he said, “since the time of Adam and Eve.”

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times



Monterrey, Mexico, strives to leave its bloody past behind


Originally posted (10/23/13) at


Monterrey emerging from shadow of drug violence

The Mexican city, roiled by drug violence since 2010, has made notable strides, but the battle is not yet won.

By Richard Fausset
October 23, 2013, 5:00 a.m.

MONTERREY, Mexico — It is one of those small, hopeful signs that this traumatized city may be awakening from the nightmare of Mexico’s drug wars: Armando Alanis once again feels safe enough to stop off for a late-night nosh at Tacos Los Quiques, a beloved sidewalk food cart.

“We couldn’t have done this two years ago,” Alanis, a 44-year-old poet, said recently as he chowed down on tacos gringas in the dim glow of inner-city streetlights. “It would be wrong not to recognize what we have regained.”

But Alanis, like most residents of Monterrey, knows that he lives in a city that is only half-saved. That night, he would drive over the cobblestone streets of Barrio Antiguo, once the premier night-life zone, pointing out the near-lifeless streets that previously were packed with revelers. He pointed to the bullet holes in the wall of the Cafe Iguana, where four people were slain in May 2011.

Later, he would drive to the Casino Royale, where the ruthless Zetas drug gang set a fire that killed more than 50 people that year. The building remains a burned-out husk, its fence adorned with white crosses commemorating the dead.

These days, the headline-grabbing horrors that exploded three years ago — the running street battles, the dumped or hanging bodies — are less common. The number of homicides has plummeted, on track to be less than half this year what it was in 2011. A new state police force, vetted and well paid, patrols the streets in place of the old corrupt one.

The conversation about just how far Monterrey has, or hasn’t, come recently has been revived by a series of grisly crimes that appear to be linked to business owners’ failure to pay “protection money” to criminals: The butcher shot in the head Sept. 5. The bakery supply salesman slain Sept. 24. The four patrons of a suburban bar killed by gunmen Sept. 26, their deaths apparently a message to the owner to pay up.

“The situation continues to be a delicate one,” said Gilberto Marcos, a Monterrey businessman and the president of a neighborhood coalition. “We’re not ready to proclaim victory.”

The new state police agency, called the Civil Force, has been touted by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as a model for the country. But lingering challenges in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state, demonstrate that solving Mexico’s deeply ingrained organized crime problem will require more than just swapping out old cops for new ones.

Moreover, many here believe that the plummeting homicide rate is the result of one group of organized criminals — the Gulf cartel and its allies — defeating its rival, the Zetas, in the bloody struggle for control of the city. Implicit in that theory is skepticism about the government’s ability to affect the drug war at all — a suspicion that officials would have as much luck trying to control the weather.

Though trouble had been brewing for years in Monterrey’s rougher neighborhoods, the peace was fully shattered in February 2010 as the Zetas, the former armed faction of the Gulf cartel, began fighting its former bosses for control of the city’s retail drug trade and lucrative drug shipment routes to the border, less than three hours north.

The city’s homicide rate skyrocketed by 300% from 2010 to 2011, reaching 700 deaths. Residents, and the nation, were shocked: Monterrey had long been one of Mexico’s wealthiest, safest cities and home to important textile, beer and construction industries. Many members of the business-owning elite fled to Texas or Mexico City. The U.S. government ordered the children of its diplomats to leave town. Get-togethers with friends and relatives moved from public to private spaces.

It was a reality that many swaths of Mexico suffered, and continued to suffer. But Monterrey took advantage of its wealth and the strength of its business community, which agreed to higher taxes to fund the Civil Force after many police officers in the old force were found to be collaborating with the cartels or otherwise untrustworthy.

The Civil Force, now 2 years old and 3,500 officers strong, is the defining achievement of Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina, a member of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party. Applicants must pass relatively strict background tests and must never have worked as police officers. The unit’s members live in barracks for weeks at a time; their pay is high by Mexican standards; and their perks include scholarships for their children, good health insurance and subsidized housing in police-only neighborhoods.

Today, the helmeted, heavily armed officers and their blue pickup trucks are a common sight on the streets of Monterrey. Medina said he plans to double the size of the force in the next two years, and it is hoped that the officers will replace the undisclosed number of army, navy and federal police personnel who continue to patrol here, perhaps the most overt reminder that normality has not fully returned.

Father Agustin Martinez, a Roman Catholic priest in the crime-ridden neighborhood of La Independencia, said the new police, while not perfect, have proved to be more vigilant and trustworthy than their predecessors.

Martinez, 31, has lived in this desperately poor neighborhood for three years. He has seen bodies that have been cut up and dumped on the street in plastic bags. On a recent morning, he offered a tour of the narrow streets that snake up a steep hill jammed with concrete homes and tin-roofed shacks.

When he arrived here, Martinez said, “there were streets you couldn’t pass after 7 p.m., because the bad guys would block them off.” Young lookouts stationed on street corners would call in news of unwanted visitors to their drug cartel bosses farther up the hill.

The Civil Force, he said, has gained the trust of many residents and persuaded them to report more crimes. The officers regularly stop and check the cellphones of children suspected of being lookouts.

At the same time, he said, the government has become more involved in the community, opening a massive center that offers classes in carpentry, baking and hairdressing to help residents start their own businesses. On a recent morning, the classrooms were packed, while outside, scores of residents waited in line to buy subsidized groceries as part of a state anti-hunger program.

Martinez said that all of this has helped, but he was wary of giving too much credit to government programs. He subscribes to the theory that officials allowed the Gulf cartel and its allies to beat back the Zetas, who are considered the most bloodthirsty of the drug gangs, in an effort to stabilize the city.

In his state of the state address this month, Gov. Medina cited polling that showed 83% of residents approve of the Civil Force. He said business robberies were down 54%, vehicle thefts down 80% and that a new anti-kidnapping unit had resolved 96% of the cases that had been reported to authorities. His tone was hopeful, but modulated by reality, as he acknowledged “the great problems that we recognize, and that we still have to resolve.”

Alfonso Verde, head of the Nuevo Leon Citizen Security Council, laid out a few of those remaining problems. The new police officers, he said, were good at patrolling, military-style, through the streets, but “they don’t make contact with the population.” Nor are they charged with investigating crimes, a task still reserved for the state prosecutors’ office.

Meanwhile, Verde said, corruption at the municipal level continues to be a serious problem, and many police officers in greater Monterrey are municipal cops. And although Nuevo Leon was one of the first states to begin moving toward a U.S.-style justice system, introducing oral trials in 2004, some critics say the process has been poorly designed and implemented.

Verde said crimes such as extortion continue and are rarely reported to authorities: A recent federal government poll found that 343,000 extortion attempts had gone unreported last year in Nuevo Leon. Many victims doubt that justice will be done.

“We haven’t generated the kind of police who are scientific, capable, honest, who can investigate and make the citizenry feel that whoever is a victim of extortion can count on the support of the authorities,” he said.

And so Monterrey lurches into the future, unsure how far behind it has left its bloody past.

After his tacos, Alanis drove to his little house downtown. A few years back, he built a two-story wall that totally obscures the building, after a bout of gunplay left a dead stranger bleeding on the pavement a few steps from his front door.

It was after midnight. Alanis gave a wave to his next-door neighbors, who were out drinking beer in their concrete yard. They were exposed to the street, but locked in behind an iron gate — half-cautious, half-bold, a calculation well-suited to the times.

Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.



DRUDGE-REPORT-2014- 2013-10-17 14-09-30

Matt Drudge, ringing the alarm…




Originallyposted at

Damage to ‘El Caballito’ statue stains Mexico City’s reputation

The 211-year-old equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV is discolored, and many are blaming a restoration team hired by the city.

By Richard Fausset
October 13, 2013, 6:04 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — The 211-year-old equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV, known to generations of Mexicans as “El Caballito,” is one of their nation’s most famous and storied works of public art.

Today it stands on a picturesque square in the capital, discolored and allegedly damaged by a careless restoration team — a casualty, officials say, of an act of monumental boneheadedness.

Last week, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History issued a report alleging that a restoration job ordered by the city government was botched and has resulted in “irreversible damage” to the historic bronze, which was cast before Napoleon declared himself emperor of France.

Experts claimed they found the culprit on scaffolding at the work site: a bucket containing a 60% nitric acid solution. The use of such stuff, they said, has been known for decades to be a bad choice for metal restoration work, and its application has caused new corrosion and discoloration, affecting more than half the surface of “El Caballito,” which means “The Little Horse,” even though it’s nearly three stories high.

The institute has pledged to bring legal action against the contractor, Marina Monument Restoration. King Carlos’ newly splotched face has appeared on the front pages of the major newspapers. And Mexicans — who tend to be as proud of their history and culture as they are wary of their government — have reacted with collective exasperation. A cartoon ricocheting around Twitter depicts the statue scrawled with a new imagined name: “La Burradota,” literally “the big burro,” but colloquially “the big screw-up.”

The scandal is proof, if any was needed, that art restorers are the field-goal kickers of the culture world — specialists whose work tends to go largely unnoticed until they shank a big one. In this case, however, the owner of the restoration company, Arturo Javier Marina Othon, is pushing back. In a public statement, he said the stains were ancient, his methods were justified and the story had more to do with a government too dysfunctional to care for its cultural heritage.

“I’m not lying when I say that 90% of the sculptures and monuments at the national level are in deplorable shape,” he declared.

Marina argued that his solution was only 30% acid and was perfectly safe for cleaning the layer of grime that accumulates on outdoor statuary. In a fiery five-page letter, he painted himself as a scapegoat, declared himself a passionate advocate of the “history of the fatherland” and denounced the government for failing, he said, to protect Mexico’s cultural treasures.

The controversy threatens to be a problem for Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, who does not need another stain on his short record in office. He and his team, who took the reins of the city in December, have been widely criticized for their handling of a case this year in which a dozen clubgoers were abducted from a bar and slain. Adding to the pressure, both of Mancera’s most recent predecessors had counted the restoration of Mexico City’s historic core as a signature achievement.

On Wednesday, Mancera declared that his government would “act firmly to establish responsibility.” A day later, city officials in charge of the capital’s historic zone announced that they had met with the experts from the institute, who, apparently contradicting their initial report, assured the officials that the damage could be reversed.

“El Caballito,” the work of the great Spanish neoclassical sculptor and architect Manuel Tolsa, has seen its share of controversy. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the statue was, understandably, deemed out of sync with the national mood and was moved from Mexico City’s main square into storage. It eventually landed in its current spot in front of the National Art Museum in a plaza named after Tolsa.

On Friday morning, the statue was obscured by blue sheeting that had been wrapped around a barn-like scaffolding. A number of Mexicans hurrying to work could be seen peeking through the sheets to get a glimpse.

“This is one of the monuments we’ve admired for years,” said Ruben Ramos Calderon, 59, a worker in an accounting office. “Instead of doing something good, they’ve damaged it.”

The Mexican press, meanwhile, has been using the opportunity to remind its readers of the way bronze statuary is spiffed up in the city of Juarez. Officials there claim that Valentina, the cheap and popular hot sauce, works like a charm.

Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: The 211-year-old equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV is discolored, and many are blaming a restoration team hired by the city. The statue is obscured by blue sheeting that had been wrapped around a barn-like scaffolding. A number of Mexicans hurrying to work could be seen peeking through the sheets to get a glimpse. (Richard Fausset / Los Angeles Times / October 11, 2013)


Mexico kidnapping suspects


Originally posted at

13 federal police among 18 arrested in Mexico kidnapping probe

The arrests are linked to a ring operating in Acapulco, officials say, and probably will do little to improve the reputation of the federal force.

By Richard Fausset
October 8, 2013, 6:56 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Thirteen Mexican federal police officers are among 18 people arrested last week on suspicion of being part of a deadly kidnapping ring operating in the troubled Pacific resort city of Acapulco, government officials said Tuesday.

The arrests on Wednesday and Friday probably will do little to improve the reputation of the federal police, an agency that former President Felipe Calderon, who left office in December, had hoped in vain to transform into Mexico’s most trustworthy crime-fighting force.

Nor is the news likely to improve the reputation of Acapulco, where drug cartels and other criminal gangs have helped make the former playground of Hollywood royalty the city with highest homicide rate in Mexico.

The arrests come at a time when, according to federal government figures, kidnapping and extortion are on the rise across Mexico, even as the number of homicides is declining.

During a news conference Tuesday, Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez, the federal security spokesman, put a positive spin on the matter, saying that the arrests proved the resolve of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government to act with a “firm hand” against corrupt public servants. He said that 81 federal police officers had been arrested since Peña Nieto took office 10 months ago.

“The government of the republic does not tolerate, under any circumstances, acts of corruption committed by public servants,” he said. “It’s lamentable that among those who have the high honor of serving the citizenry, some commit acts of treachery against the citizens they have sworn to protect.”

Sanchez said the group was responsible for at least seven homicides and four kidnappings. In two of the kidnappings, he said, the victims were slain. The investigation was sparked by a citizen complaint, he said, but he offered few other details about the crimes.

The civilian suspects, Sanchez said, were four men and one woman between the ages of 24 and 35. They included Luis Miguel Gonzalez Petatan, 31, whom police identified as the ringleader. The police officers were all men, and all in their 20s and 30s except for a 51-year-old officer.

Police corruption in Mexico is notoriously widespread, and public confidence in the police is dismally low. Beginning under Calderon, the federal government has sought to solve the problem by subjecting every current police officer and potential new hire to polygraph and drug tests, investigations of personal finances and psychological evaluations.

But the tests have come under fire for being poorly administered, leading to the dismissal of some good police officers and the retention of some bad ones.

In a TV interview Tuesday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, the federal security commissioner, said he was not sure whether the arrested officers were among the 90% of the force that has already been subjected to the testing. He also acknowledged that some of the testing had been flawed, and said he hoped that lawmakers would carry through on proposals to refine the system.

“I think that there will have to be some rethinking” of the testing, he said.

Even though Calderon lavished attention on the federal police, increasing salaries and hiring more college-educated officers, some of the force’s more than 38,000 officers have been involved in a number of high-profile scandals. Fourteen federal officers remain imprisoned on charges that they opened fire on an American SUV with diplomatic plates on a country road south of Mexico City in August 2012, injuring two CIA officers. Five other officers suspected of involvement remain at large.

In June of that year, a group of federal officers trying to arrest another group suspected of cocaine trafficking engaged in a firefight in the middle of the busy Mexico City airport. Three of the responding officers were killed.

On Tuesday, Mondragon, in an effort to accentuate the positive, noted that it was the federal police, in cooperation with the organized-crime unit of the federal prosecutor’s office, who carried out the investigation.

Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Mexican officials released photos of 18 suspects arrested in connection with a kidnapping ring in Acapulco. (Interior Secretary of Mexico, European Pressphoto Agency / October 8, 2013, via LA Times)




Artemio Rosas wants to let foreigners buy coastal land in Mexico


Originally posted at

A line in the sand over opening Mexico’s beaches to foreign ownership

Mexicans are divided over a proposed constitutional change that would allow foreigners to own coastal property.

By Richard Fausset
October 7, 2013, 5:00 a.m.

ARROYO SECO, Mexico — To nationalistic Mexicans, it may sound like blasphemy. But Artemio Rosas doesn’t care. He wants more gringos living in his tiny coastal pueblo.

As it stands, a few hundred foreign surfers visit each winter to ride a strong north swell that moves across the smaller of Arroyo Seco’s two pristine Pacific beaches. Rosas wants them to stay, buy land and build retirement and vacation homes on this obscure pocket of coast, two hours south of Puerto Vallarta. It would help his surf shop and would help him with his new gig as a real estate broker. Most important, he says, it would mean better jobs for the town’s low-paid agricultural workers.

Rosas, 40, is among those hoping that Mexican legislatorswill soon modify a long-standing constitutional provision that prohibits foreigners from directly owning property along the nation’s coasts and borders.

If the constitution is changed, “it’s going to be good for a lot of people here,” Rosas said on a recent afternoon as he maneuvered his old Jeep Cherokee over the pueblo’s dusty unpaved roads. “Especially the poor.”

Since the late 1970s, foreign investors have worked around the ban by entering into trusts called fideicomisos with Mexican banks, which then hold the title to the purchased property. But real estate agents have long complained that the unorthodox arrangement can scare off would-be buyers.

In April, the lower house of Mexico’s Congressoverwhelmingly approved a proposal to lift the ban on ownership of residential property in the area known as the restricted zone, which extends 31 miles inland from the coast and 62 miles inland from the border. (A ban on ownership of commercial property would remain intact.) The proposal now is subject to the approval of the upper chamber, where the chances appear good, and then of a majority of state legislatures.

Complications would still remain for foreigners who want to live on coastal land held by ejidos, the agrarian communes that are legacies of the Mexican Revolution. Such land cannot be sold to foreigners, although over the years, many non-Mexicans have entered into dicey arrangements that provide them access.

Proponents of the constitutional change are hoping it will spur new foreign investment, which has been limited of late by concerns about drug cartel violence and the 2008 financial crash in the United States.

Opponents — 88,000 of whom have signed an online petition — insist that Mexico’s beaches should remain solely in the hands of Mexicans. Some of the feeling is rooted in a historical mistrust of outsiders: Lawmaker Roberto Lopez Gonzalez, who this spring voted against the bill to ease restrictions, said in an interview that foreigners might use their beachfront property to set up military installations.

Here along the Costalegre, the partially developed stretch of Pacific coast in Lopez’s home state of Jalisco, the proposal tends to raise less dramatic, but still vexing, questions about what a future Mexico should look like: Will a new influx of outsiders transform and Americanize traditional coastal villages like Arroyo Seco? And if that happens, what would Mexicans gain or lose?

The 1917 constitution was drafted after decades of military intervention by Spanish, French andU.S. military forces. The next invasion, if it comes, is likely to be one of U.S. baby boomers — that is, if they decide that their warm, affordable but perennially troubled neighbor is a stable enough place to retire.

The tan, wiry Rosas considers himself a bridge between the two cultures. He was born in Guerrero state but attended high school in Orange County, where he was a regular on the surfing scene. The old Mexican fear of foreigners is alien to him. “It’s small minds who think like that,” he said.

He’s been in the real estate business only a few months but has sold several lots. But he’s also seen the foreign reluctance to buy here.

He recalls a Canadian surfer who eventually backed out after being confounded by the details of the deal. “He said, ‘Let’s wait until the constitution changes,'” Rosas recalled.

Arroyo Seco’s surf may be spectacular, but the village of 400 is a workaday place, with a handful of dusty stores and a humdrum concrete town square. Here, men in dirt-caked huaraches wait for pickup trucks to take them to nearby fields to plant chiles and cut papayas. Some of these workers express eagerness to supplement their incomes with jobs that cater to foreign snowbirds.

“There would be work,” said Geronimo Magaña, 55. “That’s the main point.”

Others, though, worry that new development would cut off locals’ access to the beaches, despite federal guarantees.

Farmworker Roberto Gudiño said it isn’t just a matter of feeling the sand underfoot. It’s about fishing to survive.

“It’s really important,” he said. “A lot of times when there’s no meat, at least there’s sea bass.”

The Costalegre is already home to several posh resorts that cater to foreigners and wealthy Mexicans. Today the region is bracing for more than $1 billion in new resort projects, including residential subdivisions and condo towers that would stand to benefit from a change in the constitution.

The future that Rosas envisions for Arroyo Seco might look something like La Manzanilla, a town of 1,300 people about 30 minutes’ drive down the coast. Roughly 15 years ago, that fishing village was “discovered” by Canadian and Mexican snowbirds; today, their Malibu-style luxury homes loom in the hills overlooking the traditional town like landed UFOs.

On a recent Sunday evening, half a dozen of the town’s taxi drivers were sitting in the main square, playing cards under an awning as fishermen launched small boats a few yards away. Driver Cesar Mendoza, speaking for the group, said the newcomers had created jobs in construction, housecleaning and gardening.

Yet even among some foreigners here, there is a fear that towns like this one will lose what’s left of their charm to an onrushing wave of ticky-tacky condominiums. Some echo the warnings of local environmental groups, which talk of damage that new development could do to the fragile coastal ecosystem.

La Manzanilla real estate agent Daniel Hallas said that even the pending legislation, if approved, might not do enough to boost foreign investors’ confidence. The Mexican legal system, he said, requires further improvements to truly protect the rights of such property owners.

Then there are the ejido properties. One way non-Mexicans can gain access to an ejido lot is by paying for it and then placing the title in an ejido member’s name. The practice often leads to heartache for non-Mexican investors who vainly attempt to assert their rights over land they may live on but do not really own, said David William Connell, a Puerto Vallarta real estate attorney.

Connell said that although a constitutional change would simplify the buying process for non-ejidocoastal lots, he didn’t think it alone could create a flood of new foreign investment. That, he said, will come only with a healthier economy north of the border.

Still, the possibility of a big change concerns Mexicans like Susana Peña, a La Manzanilla property manager. She said the foreign contingent in town had done much good, sponsoring kids’ sports teams and local schools. But she wonders whether a tipping point is on the horizon — a point at which little Mexican towns like this one no longer feel very Mexican.

“They are taking away the only thing we have left,” she said. “I feel like this land is a part of us.”

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Artemio Rosas, a surf shop owner and real estate broker in Arroyo Seco, Mexico, thinks letting foreigners buy coastal land would help his business and create good jobs. Many other people oppose the idea.(Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times / September 13, 2013)




Originally posted at

Suspected mastermind of Guatemala police massacre arrested in Mexico


By Richard Fausset
October 4, 2013, 5:54 p.m.
MEXICO CITY — An alleged drug cartel leader suspected of masterminding the June slayings of nine Guatemalan federal policemen was arrested Friday in the southern Mexico border state of Chiapas, officials said.

The suspect, Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano, became one of the most wanted men in Guatemala after more than a dozen armed men believed to be allied with his drug-running organization stormed a police substation June 13 in Salcaja, a municipality near Quetzaltenango, the country’s second-largest city.

The assailants fatally shot eight officers and abducted a police sub-inspector, whose partial remains were found later. The attack may have been in retribution for a cocaine seizure.

Friday’s arrest of Villatoro, who went by the nickname “Guayo,” comes amid increased cooperation between Guatemalan and Mexican security forces,  who are trying to combat the growing presence of drug trafficking cartels on both sides of their shared border.

The political importance of the matter was emphasized by the fact that Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called a news conference to personally announce the arrest. Perez Molina, a conservative and former Guatemalan army officer, was elected in November 2011 on a promise to get tough on crime.

But even before the massacre at Salcaja, Perez Molina’s popularity in Guatemala was slipping due to perceptions of continuing insecurity. (link in Spanish) Guatemala is experiencing one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, in part because of deadly squabbling among drug cartels for control of cocaine transshipment routes. Roughly 90% of South American cocaine headed north to the U.S. passes through the Central American country, according to a United Nations report released last year.

Perez Molina on Friday praised his country’s law enforcement officials for their role in the arrest, saying they “had excellent coordination with the Mexican authorities…. This concludes a successful operation that resulted in the capture of those responsible for the massacre.”

Villatoro’s base of operations was in the Guatemalan department (or state) of Huehuetenango, which shares a long, wild and uncontrollable stretch of border with Mexico’s Chiapas state. Though Villatoro is Guatemalan, Mexican prosecutors have linked him to the Gulf cartel based in Mexico, according to a Guatemalan news release.

After the shooting, the Guatemalan government launched an effort called “Operation Dignity” that targeted Villatoro’s operation and resulted in the arrest of 34 suspected members. In July, Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla told national news outlets that the group was responsible for more than 100 homicides. (link in Spanish)

A suspected deputy of Villatoro was also arrested Friday. Perez Molina said the men would be deported to Guatemala.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Above: The wanted poster for Guayo Cano, via



the game room at arroyo seco


Jalisco state, Mexico. [RF]




Drywall hanger, Polanco, Mexico City. [RF]