Renowned for its limes, avocados and other produce, Michoacan also has long been a hub for drug production and trafficking as well as other vices. In the past decade, it’s become Mexico’s foremost producer of methamphetamine, with precursor chemicals easily imported from Asia through Lazaro Cardenas seaport and clandestine labs sprouting in remote mountain communities.
Why Mexico’s meth country is totally tweaking out
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
APATZINGAN, Mexico — After decades of watching varied gangsters and government officials prey upon his faithful, this farming city’s Roman Catholic prelate finally has had enough.
“Michoacan has all the characteristics of a failed state,” declared Apatzingan Bishop Miguel Patino, describing his western Mexican home state that’s become the fiefdom of the homicidal Knights Templar gang.
The Knights Templar and other gangs vie for control of Michoacan “as if it were a pirate’s bounty,” while “municipal officials and police are either subjugated by or in collusion with the criminals,” the 75-year-old bishop wrote in a recent missive.
Mexico’s top clergy long have lamented the “culture of death” that abets the violence wracking their country. But, because of fear or favor, they’ve rarely confronted the perpetrators head on.
Now a small but growing number of bishops like Patino has proven willing to name the tormentors, and even to call out officials aiding the thugs.
In Mexico, agitation between church and gangland state
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
LIMA, Peru — Are you paying a fair price for your latte every morning?
More than fair, you might think, given the occasional criticisms that Starbucks, the world’s most popular specialty coffee retailer, is too expensive.
But try telling that to the farmers in Latin America who grow most of the world’s premium java and, in many cases, are not even making ends meet.
Current rock-bottom prices for coffee beans — below cost for many of the region’s growers — and a crushing outbreak of coffee leaf rust, a fungus that slashes harvests, are making their lives a misery.
Although the picture is uneven, from the lush fields of Chiapas, in southern Mexico, to the Andean foothills, many growers are caught in the pincer.
The problem is at its most intense in Mexico, Central America and Peru, which together produce roughly 30 million 132-pound sacks a year of arabica, the beans used in top-end coffees.
“It is a disaster. This has just deepened the poverty,” says Eliseo Condor, of Mountain Coffee exporters, which groups together 600 small growers in the Chanchamayo region of central Peru.
That coffee you are drinking might not be so fair trade after all
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
Mexico cannot afford to lose Cancun.
Yet that may be exactly what will happen as more, stronger hurricanes, generated by warming seas, batter the Yucatan Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean itself is slowly rising, around 3 millimeters a year, thanks to ice melting at the poles and in mountain ranges from the Andes to the Himalayas.
In the next decade or two, Cancun will likely have to repeat the sand dredging operation annually, and possibly even continuously, experts say.
VIDEO: A fortune made of sand: How climate change is destroying Cancun
We are on the knife’s edge. I can be talking with you here today and in a few weeks you could be reading my death notice.
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — With a chill wind blowing from north of the US border, scores of teenage boys are running through drills and scrimmaging on a jarringly green sports field in Ciudad Juarez.
These are the Jaguares (pronounced ha-GWAR-ehs, which means Jaguares), an American-style football club that in recent years has become a prominent symbol of this crime-bloodied border city’s struggle to reclaim normality.
They became infamous when two team members were killed and three wounded in a massacre at the nearby Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood in January 2010. The Jaguares’ quarterback took three bullets in a leg.
Many of the 10,000 people murdered in recent years in Juarez were boys and young men from rough neighborhoods, caught up in gangster life. They were kids all too similar to those practicing this night.
The killings transformed a pastime into an obsession for Coach Fernando Gallegos, 50, his assistants, the players and their parents.
“It’s not a team. It’s a family, a way of life, of seeing the world,” says Edgar Rivas, 23, a state employee and eight-year team veteran who plays on the Jaguares’ university-level squad and helps coach younger players.
“People talk badly about Juarez, but there are many good people here,” he says. “The Jaguares are a way that we can change things.”
Gang violence abating, Juarez kids find a safer line of scrimmage
VIDEO: Clear eyes, full hearts in Juarez
Photos by Julian Cardona/GlobalPost
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Young daughter in hand, Isabel Aguilera recounts the mayhem that stalked these streets.
Here they dragged a father from the breakfast table, shooting him dead outside in front of his family. There they came for a shopkeeper, gunning him down behind the counter. Yonder they snuffed two brothers after pulling them from their beds before sunrise.
“They were people from outside,” Aguilera, 38, said of the killings that recently swept like cholera through Riveras del Bravo, a teeming sprawl of Mexico’s working poor. “They wanted to inject power, fear.”
These thousands of matchbox houses once ranked among Earth’s deadliest patches through years of criminal war in Ciudad Juarez, an industrial and narcotics corridor bordering America’s safest large city El Paso, Texas.
More than 10,000 people were murdered across the Mexican city of 1.3 million in less than five years. Many were young men gunned down on streets like these.
But the fever has broken. At fewer than two a day, murders citywide likely will finish the year at about a seventh (14 percent) of those three years ago.
Juarez: The sequel
Photos by Getty and Julian Cardona/GlobalPost
NEED TO KNOW
Syria’s uncivil war. It’s long been apparent that the conflict in Syria includes a cast of regional, even global, forces in addition to the original players of government and rebels. In the latest reminder of just how ugly things could get if those supporting actors come out of the wings, US officials say that Israel launched an air strike in Syria this week on Russian-made weapons possibly destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The alleged attack, which took place in the government stronghold of Latakia early Thursday morning, hasn’t been officially confirmed by either Israel or Syria. But American security officials have indicated that Israel is carrying out its pledge to act whenever it has reason to believe arms are reaching Hezbollah from Syria, as it’s believed to have done at least five times this year already. None of which bodes well for the internationally brokered peace talks that still hang in the balance.
Life for a life. A court in South Africa has sentenced a man found guilty of one of the country’s most violent and notorious rapes to life in prison. Johannes Kana, convicted earlier this week, was ordered to serve two life sentences without parole for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was found bleeding to death at a building site in February. Her injuries were so horrific that the doctors who tried to save her life required counseling.
In a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world, Booysen’s tragic case was one too far. Activists used her name as a rallying cry; the government called for the toughest possible sentences for those convicted of sexual violence. So far, the progress is limited. Before she died, Booysen said as many as six men attacked her; three were arrested; Kana was the only one to stand trial.
WANT TO KNOW
Male, female, other. From today, Germany is the first country in Europe to add a third gender option to its birth certificates. Where once a child’s sex had to be marked ‘M’ or ‘F,’ parents of babies born with both male and female characteristics will now be able to mark, simply, ‘X.’
The aim is to allow parents — or rather, the child — the space to decide just what she or he is, without rushing to pick a gender for the sake of a bureaucratic deadline. Of course, many parents feel obliged to assign their baby’s sex, surgically and irreversibly, due to more profound societal pressures. Those, gender rights activists say, will take more than a new checkbox to change; but it’s a start.
'Tech support here. Edward Snowden speaking. How can I help?' The US intelligence analyst turned whistleblower has dusted off his suit and tie — or more likely, jeans and “Ctrl+Alt+Delete” tee — and is back in the office for his first day of work since copying a motherload of confidential NSA documents and hightailing it to Hong Kong. According to his lawyer, Snowden started a new job this morning, offering IT support to an unnamed but “major” website in Russia.
Don’t mention this to the HR department, but he might soon be telecommuting: Snowden met with a member of the German opposition yesterday with a view to securing safe passage to Germany — firstly to testify before parliament on how the US spies on its European allies, but potentially with view to staying on. (Berlin is way hipper than Moscow, to be fair.) That would have been unthinkable when Snowden was first seeking asylum; but in the wake of revelations that the NSA may have tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, he might just find the German government a touch more sympathetic. We’ll know more after a press conference in Berlin, later today.
Juarez, the sequel. Not long ago, all headlines out of Ciudad Juarez screamed drugs, gangs and murder. But now, something unexpected is happening in the Mexican border town.
Homicides have plummeted. Some who fled have returned. Sports clubs keep kids out of gangs. In a new series, GlobalPost goes on location to find out if this amazing comeback is built to last.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
The ghosts of presidents past. Eight months after his death, Hugo Chavez casts a rotund shadow over Venezuela. And we’re not just talking his politics: the dead president genuinely haunts his successor.
First it was a “little birdie” appearing to Nicolas Maduro while he campaigned for Chavez’s freshly vacated office. Then the newly elected President Maduro claimed to commune with the spirit of Chavez in the mountains outside Caracas. Now Maduro says he’s seen El Comandante in a subway tunnel. Like most supernatural sightings, the account is secondhand (workers digging the tunnel were the ones who reported it), the evidence blurry (cell phone pictures), and the vision long since disappeared. That hasn’t stopped Maduro citing it as evidence that — we quote — “Chavez is everywhere.” Now that, this Day of the Dead, is a truly scary thought.
NEED TO KNOW
Know your enemies, know your friends, and know which is which. The 35 world leaders who now suspect that they had their phones monitored by the United States fear that Washington has got itself a little confused over who’s out to harm, and who’s out to help.
Some of the US government’s closest foreign allies, the members of the European Union — whose redoubtable Angela Merkel is thought to be among the Wiretap 35 — today say that being treated like suspects by US intelligence agencies has left them feeling, well, suspicious. And if the US doesn’t work hard to restore their trust, an official EU statement declares, “the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering” could suffer. (That’s EU-speak for: “If you don’t show us yours, we won’t show you ours.”) None of which looks too good for the global effort to fight terrorism. Unless the US can carry off some pretty extensive confidence-building exercises: France and Germany have proposed holding talks with the US, open to other European nations, to resolve the issue by the end of the year. Somehow we imagine trust falls won’t cut it.
The end of the road for Bo Xilai. A court in China has, to no one’s surprise, rejected the disgraced politician’s appeal against his conviction and sentence for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. After the provincial court’s ruling, there is no further recourse; Bo is due to serve life in jail.
The former Communist Party princeling has already been taken to the same prison where his father saw out some of his multiple terms. Bo Senior, of course, was jailed repeatedly and yet came back — an achievement his son has already vowed to repeat. Perhaps where one cell door closes, a window opens; but probably not for another political generation at least.
WANT TO KNOW
Madagascar votes. Finally. It’s fair to say today’s Madagascan election is the biggest in years. That’s because it’s the only Madagascan election in years: the country’s voters haven’t picked a president since 2006, and the one they chose then was overthrown in a 2009 coup.
Since then, the collapsing state and slumping economy have dramatically worsened the fragile humanitarian situation in the impoverished island nation. Foreign donors suspended aid; foreign investors were scared off. Such was the political crisis that that even getting to today’s vote was an achievement: it has already been postponed three time this year. Get there they did, however — and now polls are open, will elections finally get Madagascar back on track?
Driving Saudi Arabia forward. Take to the kingdom’s roads tomorrow and you’ll notice something different. Something more modern. Something more fair. Something less… segregation-y.
That’s because Saudi women are planning to launch an on-road protest on Saturday to prove that banning them from driving is as ridiculous as saying sitting behind a steering wheel will deform their anatomy — which hasn’t stopped the country’s powerful religious conservatives from doing both. The government, having quietly made the campaign’s website inaccessible from within the country, has pledged to “deal with” anyone who either rallies in the protesters’ support or drives without permission. We say: if driving’s a crime — ladies, put your foot down.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Another week, another death by clown. You may have thought this week’s gangland killing of a Mexican drug lord by gunmen dressed as clowns was the weirdest assassination plot you’d ever heard. You’d be wrong.
As long as there have been people, there have been people conniving to kill those people. Cain started out with just a stone, but even by Nero’s time murder had evolved to include mechanical ceilings and self-sinking ships. Since then generations of imaginative killers have built on their legacy to find new and ever more far-fetched ways to do someone in. From exploding cigars to axe-wielding bears, here are the most insane assassination plots in history. Some worked; some just left their inventors with poison-laced egg on their face.
NEED TO KNOW
Anybody who’s anybody has been spied on by the US. Foreign embassies? Obviously. European Union headquarters? But of course. Chinese telecoms? You bet. The president of Brazil? Who wouldn’t? Swathes of American and foreign civilians? We’re famous!
Today some more “lucky” people have made it into the ranks of alleged National Security Agency targets, as per internal documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Firstly: former president of Mexico Felipe Calderon, who supposedly had his email account hacked back when he was in office. And secondly, thousands if not millions of French citizens, who — according to reports — were the targets of phone tapping not necessarily because they were suspected of terrorism, but in some cases simply because they were prominent in business, politics or government.
Hours after the revelations were published and US diplomats have got a lot of diplomatizing to do: Mexico’s foreign ministry has demanded an explanation, while Paris summoned the US ambassador to complain about what its interior minister calls “shocking” allegations.
Egypt’s Christians in the crosshairs. Three people — one an 8-year-old girl — are dead after gunmen opened fire outside a Coptic church in Cairo late last night. The congregation had been celebrating a wedding.
Today soldiers are stationed outside the church; priests complain that they should have been there last night. The shooting was the first to target the capital’s Christians since the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in August, but Christians in other provinces have been the focus of "revenge" attacks ever since the coup, and even more so since the army’s crackdown on its Islamist opponents.
WANT TO KNOW
Mr. Sharif goes to Washington. Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is in DC this week to lead his country’s highest-level talks with the US in years. He was welcomed with open arms by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the United States’ relationship with Pakistan “could not be more important.”
It also, we might, could not have been worse after the string of controversies — the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, CIA drone strikes, the Pakistani intelligence service’s alleged ties to militants — that have reduced interactions to a resentful minimum. All that looks to be changing, however: after freezing much of its aid to Pakistan, the US has quietly resumed its security assistance to Pakistan — according to officials, more than $305 million’s worth for 2014 alone.
How do you solve a mystery like Maria? Authorities in Greece have launched a Europe-wide appeal for help identifying a 4-year-old girl found living in a Roma encampment with a family not her own. Police became suspicious after spotting blonde-haired ‘Maria’ during a raid on the camp last week, and DNA tests confirmed that the couple who claimed to be her parents were unrelated to her. The pair have been arrested on suspicion of abducting the child, though they insist she was given to them willingly by her biological mother.
The investigation continues; but the prejudices reserved for Europe’s most stigmatized minority have led to some nasty conclusions already being drawn. Now Roma in Greece — where anti-immigrant sentiment is at a high — fear that the “blonde angel,” as local media have dubbed the little girl, will be the unwitting cause of further backlash against them.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Korean whispers. With North-South communication discouraged if not forbidden, Koreans on both sides of the demilitarized zone have got used to getting creative if they want to get a message across. One of the favored methods of South Korean activists is to float balloons in their Northern neighbors’ direction: firstly to carry anti-regime propaganda over the border, and secondly because — well, they live in North Korea, for cripes’ sake. Don’t they deserve some balloons?
But some of the latest airy messengers were distinctly R-rated. The leaflets they carried proclaimed that dictator Kim Jong Un’s 20-something wife, Ri Sol-ju, once starred in — ahem — a homemade porno flick. (There were some other salacious details, too, but we won’t go into that here.) Most people are pretty skeptical about this particular rumor, but if you want a way to get North Korean backs up, we can think of few better. What’s the bet that Pyongyang’s next big investment is in thumb tacks?