Month: November 2013

MAD FLOW

APphoto_Mexico Vigilantes

Originally posted at www.latimes.com:

Mexican cartels abet heroin and meth surge in U.S., DEA study says

By Richard Fausset
November 19, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — The availability of heroin and methamphetamine in the U.S. is on the rise, due in part to the ever-evolving entrepreneurial spirit of the Mexican drug cartels, according to a new study released by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The report, which analyzes illicit drug trends through 2012, also notes that cocaine availability was down across the United States. It offered various possible reasons for the decline, including cartel versus cartel fights over drug routes in Mexico, declining production in Colombia and various anti-narcotics strategies that have put more heat on the groups that control production and shipment of the product.

The yearly report, released Monday and known as the National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, is an effort to describe “the threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs.”

The report is a synthesis of quantitative data and survey feedback from more than 1,300 state and local law enforcement agencies. Among other things, it provides an updated profile of the seemingly intractable user-pusher relationship that has developed between the United States  and its southern neighbor.

According to the report, the amount of heroin seized at the southern U.S. border increased 232% between 2008 and 2012 — apparently the result of greater Mexican heroin production and a growing incursion by  Mexican traffickers into U.S. markets. It notes that the U.S. is experiencing a “sizable increase” in the number of new heroin users.

Methamphetamine seizures at the Mexican border, meanwhile, increased fivefold in the same time period, although the report notes that U.S. demand and abuse data for meth appeared to remain stable.

The trouble with meth is most acutely felt in the West: The report notes  that 2011 arrest data showed that large percentages of arrestees in Western states tested positive for meth, with rates much lower in the East. For example, 42.9% of men arrested in Sacramento tested positive for methamphetamine; in Washington, DC, that number was 0.4%.

Marijuana continues to be Americans’ illicit drug of choice. Smuggling from Mexico has remained “consistently high” for 10 years, the report says, while U.S. domestic production is on the rise — in part due to large-scale U.S. growing operations controlled by Mexican traffickers.

The U.S. government appears to be tolerating recent decisions by voters in Washington and Colorado to legalize marijuana for recreational use in those states. But the plant remains classified as a dangerous and illegal controlled substance under federal law, and the report warns, darkly, that drug cartels will “increasingly exploit the opportunities for marijuana cultivation and trafficking created in states that allow ‘medical marijuana’ grows and have legalized marijuana sales and possession.”

The report notes the continued decline of availability of cocaine in the U.S., a trend that began in 2007. The majority of cocaine that ends up in the U.S. is of Colombian provenance, and much of it must first travel through Mexico. The United Nations has noted a decline in Colombian coca production, and U.S. officials have credited the success of Plan Colombia, the United States’  multibillion-dollar drug-fighting effort in Colombia, which includes, among other things, military aid, crop eradication programs and social spending.

Critics of U.S. drug policy fear that the pressure on Colombia is only pushing production to other countries, like Peru, a phenomenon commonly known as the “balloon effect.”

The title of “fastest growing drug problem” in the U.S., according to the report, goes to prescription drugs, including painkillers, which are often obtained domestically at unscrupulous “pill mills,” or from online sellers.

The report says that recent state laws to crack down on pill mills could create another kind of balloon effect, forcing “abusers and distributors to obtain [prescription drugs] in other areas of the country where little or no legislation currently exists … or in other countries such as Canada and Mexico.”

Photo: Vigilantes arrive in the town of Pareo, in Mexico’s Michoacan state. The Knights Templar drug cartel controls parts of the state, and a “self-defense” movement has arisen to fight it. (Agencia Esquema /November 16, 2013, via LA Times)

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HORRORSHOW

FAMILY STABBED TO DEATH

Originally posted at www.latimes.com:

Mexico: Family of eight stabbed to death in Juarez

By Richard Fausset
November 18, 2013, 9:47 a.m.

MEXICO CITY — For the second time in two months, the Mexican border city of Juarez is reeling from a harrowing massacre, the victims this time a religious family of eight, including three children, whose bound, lifeless bodies were found with multiple stab wounds, according to state officials and local media reports.

The victims, discovered Sunday, include two girls, ages 4 and 6; a 7-year-old boy; three women, ages 25, 30 and 60; and two men, ages 30 and 40, according to the Chihuahua prosecutor’s office. As of Monday, no suspects had been detained.

The newspaper El Diario reported that the dead, who had been bound and gagged with packing tape, were members of a Jehovah’s Witness group. Fellow congregation members stumbled onto the crime scene when they stopped by the family’s house to check on them after they had failed to show up for Sunday religious services, the paper reported.

Friends of the family also found a 3-month-old baby girl in the house who had been spared in the assault, according to media reports.

The gruesome discovery, combined with a Sept. 22 shooting that left 10 dead at a suburban house party, is likely to amplify the debate about the tenuous security gains Juarez has enjoyed in recent months.

Four years ago, the city was ranked, by some measures, as the most violent in the world, due in large part to a running turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels. In 2009, a homicide occurred on average about every three hours, and a quarter of the population fled the city.

The Mexican federal government, led by then-PresidentFelipe Calderon, sent in thousands of troops, and intensified a massive security and social-programs push after another massacre on Jan. 31, 2010, in which 15 celebrants at a house party were slain by gunmen, sparking a national outrage.

Last year saw a significant decline in slayings. Officials have been touting the influence of new classrooms, programs for troubled youth, and upgraded tools and training for police — some of which was funded by the U.S. government.

But many suspect that the decline is due largely to the Sinaloa cartel’s victory over its rivals.

It was unclear if the latest massacre was connected to drug cartel activity. But for many residents, the immediate focus was not on the motives, but on the human toll.

“Who in the hell … would assassinate three kids?” wrote one commenter on the El Diario website. “Not even irrational beasts would do such a thing.”

Photo: Forensic experts investigate at a house in which eight people were stabbed to death in the Mexican city of Juarez. (EPA, via LA Times)

EL CHOQUE DE LO NUEVO

Museo Jumex

Originally posted at www.latimes.com:

Mexico City’s Museo Jumex explores art’s modern edge

The new museum embarks on a modern art mission that stands apart from much of the Mexican capital’s steeped-in-history collections.

By Richard Fausset
November 19, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

MEXICO CITY — The Museo Jumex, the latest museum to go up in this deliriously art-rich city, is a stout limestone box of a building, with a signature roof made up of four right triangles lined up in a jagged row. They are, almost literally, new waves.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The museum, fueled by the riches of Grupo Jumex, the massive Mexican fruit juice company, opens Tuesday in a bustling, ultramodern neighborhood of glass-and-steel high rises just north of the ritzy Polanco district. It will be dedicated almost entirely to art that came after the peak of classic Modernism.

Though there are other venues for contemporary art in the Mexican capital, the Jumex, with its high-profile location and deep-pocketed patron, is likely to do more than any other to bring a shock of the new to a city largely defined by its vast troves of pre-Columbian, colonial and 20th century masterworks.

“We’re looking ahead,” Jumex collection coordinator Humberto Moro said last week as he gave a sneak peek of an inaugural exhibition dedicated to the work of the late American conceptual artist James Lee Byars. “Otherwise, we’d be building another Diego Rivera museum. Which would be great, but…”

Moro’s half-finished thought speaks volumes about the mission of the Jumex. In quintessential Mexican style, the museum takes pains to honor the past: As part of it opening activities it is releasing a book exploring the work of Fernando Gamboa, 20th century Mexico’s most important art curator and museum director. The pointy roof, meanwhile, appears to be architect David Chipperfield’s sly reference to a similar design found atop the former studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, in the city’s San Angel district.

But the real focus of the Jumex will be on what happened long after such art giants roamed the land. Central to the museum’s mission is the display of works from the 2,600-piece Coleccion Jumex, consisting largely of art created after 1990. Assembled by Eugenio Lopez Alonso, the heir to the Grupo Jumex fortune, it is widely considered to be one of the most important collections of its kind in Latin America.

Many of the artists in the collection are Mexicans who have made a splash on the international art circuit. The new building will allow them to take center stage back home, while exhibitions by important non-Mexicans — the museum is also featuring seven Minimalist sculptures by the late American artist Fred Sandback — will give local audiences an idea of the broader world in which they operate.

“For the last 10 years, Mexico has completely inserted itself in the global contemporary art circuit,” said David Garza-Usabiaga, curator of the Museo Universitario Del Chopo, another contemporary art venue here. “I think that the Museo Jumex will reaffirm that much more.”

The museum plans to regularly rotate works from its permanent collection. The first wave of 57 pieces on display gives a good sense of what’s in store: a bull’s head rotting in a transparent box, courtesy of Damien Hirst, the 48-year-old British art star; a stack of mirrored, peach-tinted boxes, at once austere and playful, from the late American artist Donald Judd.

Nearby, along a long stretch of wall, is a 2009 installation, “The Count of the Days,” by Mexican artist Daniel Guzman, consisting of everyday household items, a few pre-Columbian designs, and a series of images that one might find in any contemporary newspaper here: mutilated bodies, beauty queens, a soccer star.

The museum’s location is its own kind of statement, set among the offices of multinational companies like General Motors and Colgate Palmolive (the United States embassy is also set to move here from the more central Paseo de la Reforma eventually). The new building is also a few steps away from the Museo Soumaya, opened in 2011 to house the art collection of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest men. The Soumaya is the more daring building, a swooping, aluminum covered form reminiscent of an hourglass — or the base of a toilet. But the Soumaya’s collection is a hodgepodge, including both Rodin sculptures and Slim’s coin collection. It is the Jumex that has the more focused, and daring, mission.

The staff is aware that it may be tricky to sell the masses on art’s bleeding edge. While Mexican art stars of the previous century, like Rivera, famously strove to be at once avant-garde and populist, many later strains of art have tended to be more difficult and abstruse.

Spokeswoman Mariana Huerta said that the staff has had plenty of practice fielding skepticism. For the last dozen years the collection has been showcased in a museum on the outskirts of Mexico City, in the working-class municipality of Ecatepec on the grounds of a Jumex juice plant (the original building will remain open).

The trick, she said, is not to lecture but to seek dialogue, even among doubters. “If they say, ‘I don’t like it,’ we say, ‘That’s fine. Tell me why you don’t like it,'” she said.

richard.fausset@latimes.com

Photo: Mexico City’s new Museo Jumex, which opens Tuesday, will focus on Mexican and international contemporary art. (Richard Fausset / Los Angeles Times / November 18, 2013)

BOSS

Joaquin Hernandez Galicia

 

Originally posted at www.latimes.com:

By Richard Fausset
November 11, 2013, 8:38 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, the former Mexican oil union boss who rose to control a political empire built on patronage and intimidation but was eventually dethroned by a Mexican president wary of his vast power, died Monday. He was 91.

Hernandez, who went by the nickname “La Quina,” a play on his first name, died in the port city of Tampico, where he had been hospitalized with an abdominal ailment, according to the news agency Notimex.

Both the rise of Hernandez, starting in the 1950s, and his subsequent arrest by former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1989, demonstrated the legacy of the old feudal system that infected Mexican public life long after the country’s independence from Spain. His heyday was also emblematic of the unique 20th century labor system in Mexico, in which unions, instead of challenging government, were deeply integrated into a one-party political structure within which all disputes and power struggles were meant to be resolved.

Mexico has become a more democratic country in the 21st century. Even so, many of the old-school unions remain intact, including Hernandez’s union, which represents workers in the crucial, but troubled, state-run oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. These vestiges of an older, less-transparent time present an ongoing challenge to those who purport to represent the forces of modernization and reform.

“Pemex was a latrine of corruption before La Quina came in, but he turned it into a sewer of corruption,” George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary, said Monday. “And it still is.”

Hernandez was a man of slight build, the son of an oil worker who eschewed flash and who, though trained as a welder, possessed uncanny political skill. After rising to the top of the union in 1958, he maintained control by doling out favors to local politicians and everyday workers, personally receiving underlings who would ask for loans or help with marital problems.

He also had a reputation for violence. He was publicly accused of the 1977 slaying of a rival, Heriberto Kehoe Vincent, although the accusation was never proven. Two of his bodyguards also allegedly admitted to killing another rival in the 1980s.

But Hernandez’s gravest sin, at least in the eyes of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was to grant his nearly 200,000 members free rein to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice in the 1988 elections. The PRI, which had dominated Mexican politics for decades, nearly lost that election, with Salinas, its candidate, receiving 50.7% of the vote in a count that was suspected to be fraudulent.

In previous elections, the PRI could have counted on the union’s support, but Hernandez was concerned about Salinas’ plans to bring more efficiency to Pemex — which could have meant weakening the union.

On Jan. 10, 1989, the Salinas government, facing the threat of further intransigence from the union leader, had him arrested on weapons charges. Hernandez was also charged in the slaying of a federal agent who died in a shootout that ensued with Hernandez’s bodyguards when government officials tried to make the arrest.

Hernandez was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, but was released under an amnesty in 1997. He had long maintained that the charges were bogus.

After his arrest, Hernandez ceased to be a player on the national stage. But his legacy lived on. Soon after the current president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office last December, his government arrested the old-school political boss of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who potentially stood in the way of a promised educational reform.

Many observers assumed that Peña Nieto was following Salinas’ playbook in the Hernandez affair.

Peña Nieto has also proposed reforming Pemex, where Hernandez’s union continues to hold sway. Its workers enjoy some of the best perks in Mexico, including rent and gas subsidies, scholarships for their children, access to a health system of 15 clinics and 22 hospitals.

But a 2011 study by the Texas-based Baker Institute found that the workers were 25% as efficient as the workers at British oil giant BP, and about half as efficient as the workers at Petrobras, the partially state-owned oil company in Brazil.

richard.fausset@latimes.com

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

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Joaquin Hernandez Galicia in 2005. Hernandez rose to the top of the oil workers union in 1958. In the 1988 elections, he granted his workers free rein to vote for the candidates of their choice, raising the ire of the ruling party. (Roberto Velazquez, Associated Press / May 27, 2005, via LA Times)

MUERTOS

muerto

 

A late-night reveler, Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Nov. 1, 2013

[Photo: RF]