Tag Archive | "mexico"

Mexico: Experts Slam Government Over Disappeared Students


Relatives of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students marched yesterday to mark 19 months since they taken away by police, just days after the release of another damning report into the Mexican government’s handling of the investigation.

On Sunday, an international group of experts (GIEI) appointed in March 2015 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said that the government had “stonewalled” their investigation, thwarting efforts to find the truth.

The GIEI panel in Mexico (Photo via IACHR)

The GIEI panel in Mexico (Photo via IACHR)

The group, which is now leaving Mexico after the government chose not to renew its mandate, presented a 608-page document highlighting major doubts over the official version of what is alleged to have taken place in Iguala back in September 2014.

Debunking the ‘Historic Truth’

In January 2015, following what public prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam classified as an “exhaustive” and “serious” investigation, the government concluded that the students were kidnapped then murdered by a drug cartel, with their remains incinerated in a nearby rubbish dump.

This version, called the “historic truth” by Karam, has been challenged by relatives of the missing students as well as various international groups.

The GIEI’s two comprehensive reports also debunk, as this theory. In September, the group said that there was “no scientific proof” to support the government’s verdict, adding that “things did not happen as described.”

In the follow up report released on Sunday, the group confirmed that it found inconsistencies, errors, omissions in the official investigation. It also stated that key evidence from testimonies and confessions from the alleged perpetrators was gathered “under torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.” Adopting United Nations guidelines relating to torture, the panel determined that 17 suspects were tortured. Forced confessions are not permitted in Mexican courts.

Further concerns were raised pertaining to the failure of the government to fully check phone records, which could have depicted where students were taken that night. Other doubts were raised over whether evidence – including a bone fragment identified as belonging to one of the victims, Alexander Mora – was gathered correctly.

Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer on the GIEI panel stated that he “has not a single piece of evidence” to warrant changing the existing conclusion that the 43 students were not incinerated as purported.

However, while challenging the official version, the panel lamented not being able to come up with definitive answers to what really happened that night. Claudia Paz, a GIEI member and former public prosecutor in Guatemala said that: “we are unable to respond to the question that we asked ourselves every night for the last year and a month and that all of the fathers and mothers still ask.”

In its presentation the group said that its progress had been stymied by a lack of cooperation by the government after the September report was released. It reported that requests for information were ignored or took a long time to be answered, while also claiming that a smear campaign was undertaken in local media. The report notes that: “The group has suffered a campaign trying to discredit its members as a way to question their work… certain sectors are not interested in the truth.”

The Mexican government denied these claims, saying it had cooperated fully and adding that it will continue to investigate the findings of the GIEI, which have criticised Mexico’s human rights record and exposed widespread corruption, negligence, and abuse in the country’s security forces and judicial system.

Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer who also forms part of the five-person panel explained on Sunday that: “The Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defence, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”

Meanwhile, the premature departure of the GIEI group represents another blow for the relatives of the disappeared students, who continue to demand answers over the whereabouts of their loved ones.

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

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Mexico: Prison Riot Leaves 49 Dead


Rioting at Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, has left 49 people dead with an additional 12 injured.

Fighting between two rival gangs – led by Jorge Ivan Hernandez Cantu, known as ‘El Credo’, of the Gulf cartel; and Juan Pedro Saldivar Farias, alias ‘El Z-27’, of the Zetas cartel – broke out around 11.30pm Wednesday night and continued until 1.30am Thursday morning when authorities regained control of the prison with the help of Mexican soldiers, marines, and federal police.

The majority of Mexican prisons are overcrowded (photo: Coyoacán prison, by Irene Soria Guzmán)

The majority of Mexican prisons are overcrowded (photo: Coyoacán prison, by Irene Soria Guzmán)

While the fighting was contained to two wings housing male inmates, the rioters also set fire to a food storage facility. The women’s wings remained without conflict, with no female or child casualties reported.

As more information became available, Governor Jaime Rodriguez lowered the original death toll of 52 to 49.

While the involvement of weapons was unclear, Rodriguez stated in a press conference on Thursday that the use of firearms was being investigated.

The governor also denied the existence of an escape or escape attempt.

In an official statement released on Thursday, the state government published the names of 40 identified victims, all male inmates. Chief of the Executive Office of the Governor, Miguel Treviño de Hoyos, stated that the office is working to identify the remaining nine casualties, five of which were burned in the fire.

The statement also ensured the government’s commitment to providing support for the families waiting for information, supplying food and water, as well as legal and bureaucratic advice, psychological care, and funeral expenses for those in need.

The state ensured that information and aid will be provided with “unrestricted respect for human rights.”

Families of the inmates who had amassed outside the prison seeking information were cleared by Thursday evening as authorities ended visiting hours.

The state of Mexican prisons was discussed in a 2014 report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez which found that of the country’s 389 prisons, 212 were overcrowded. Topo Chico, in particular, according to Governor Rodriguez, has a capacity of 2,600 inmates yet currently houses almost 4,000.

Overcrowding, aging facilities, and “self-governing” within the prisons are said to be responsible for incidents like these at Topo Chico and other prisons across Mexico.

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Mexico: Missing Journalist Found Dead in Veracruz


Anabel Flores Salazar was found dead on Tuesday (photo: Facebook)

Anabel Flores Salazar was found dead on Tuesday (photo: Facebook)

The body of a kidnapped Mexican journalist was found on Tuesday, half-naked, bound, and with a bag over her head, along the side of a highway in the state of Puebla, Mexico. Showing signs of torture, an autopsy determined that the 32-year-old journalist died of asphyxiation.

According to the Veracruz Attorney General’s Office, the reporter from El Sol de Orizaba, Anabel Flores Salazar, was abducted from her home in Orizaba, Veracruz, early Monday morning when armed men entered the building.

Flores Salazar’s aunt, Sandra Luz Salazar, who was in the house at the time, said she saw at least eight men dressed in military uniforms – who claimed they had a warrant for the journalist’s arrest – force her into one of three grey trucks outside.

Veracruz State Governor, Javier Duarte Ochoa, tweeted soon after a confirmation that the vehicles used in the abduction were reported stolen.

This tragedy is only the latest example of the dangers journalists face in Mexico’s southern states.

In a report published by ARTICLE 19, an independent human rights organisation working to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, the group explores “the disappearances and forced disappearances of those exercising freedom of expression in Mexico.”

The report, presented on 9th February 2016, outlines the circumstances of the disappearances of 23 journalists in Mexico from 2003 to 2015, identifying that 96% of cases involved journalists writing about corruption and security issues related to criminal organisations and public officials on municipal, state, and federal levels.

In Veracruz, where the latest murder took place, the state has a particularly terrible reputation of impunity for crimes against journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has criticised Duarte Ochoa and his government for being “incapable and unwilling to prosecute crimes against the press.”

Futhermore, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, Carlos Lauria, has accused Veracruz authorities of a “history of denigrating the activities of local journalists without providing any concrete evidence.”

CPJ’s existing research indicates that of the 11 journalists killed in Mexico in direct relation to their work between 2011 and 2015, six were either killed or had reported in Veracruz. Impunity is often cited as one of the main causes for violence against journalists in the southern state.

In a global perspective, The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also released a report on 3rd February 2016 of the 2,297 global media deaths from 1990 to 2015, 120 of which occurred in Mexico, according to the report. These figures place Mexico as the third most dangerous country for journalists and media staff after Iraq, with 309 deaths; and the Philippines, with 146.

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Mexico: Supreme Court Rules Against GM Soy Production


Soybean farming has been rapidly spreading over the continent for the last ten years. (Photo: Greenpeace)

Soybean farming has been rapidly spreading over the continent for the last ten years. (Photo: Greenpeace)

Mexico’s Supreme Court has annulled a permit allowing Monsanto to plant genetically modified soybeans in areas of Yucatán and Campeche inhabited by indigenous communities.

Monsanto had received authorisation from the Agricultural Secretariat in 2012 to plant GM seeds across 253,000 hectares of land spreading across several Mexican states in the Yucatán peninsula and beyond.

Local Mayan farmers and beekeepers had protested against the agency’s measure, as did Greenpeace, The National Institute of Ecology, and several other institutions fighting to protect Mexico’s biodiversity.

The Supreme Court made the decision to revoke Monsanto’s permit based on the testimony presented by the protesters, who made their case by outlining the dangers of GM crops and how this would affect honey production in the area.

The local beekeepers argued that GM soy production in the area would contaminate local honey due to the use of pesticides and the interaction of bees with pollen from the GM soy crops. In 2014, Germany rejected a batch of honey for containing traces of this type of pollen.

Mexico is the third largest exporter of honey in the world, and around 40% of the country’s honey is produced in the Yucatán peninsula.

The court also ruled that authorities must consult with local communities before approving any project in the region that may impact no their commerce or lifestyle.

The ruling represents a small victory for local farmers, who have long insisted that coexistence between GM crops and subsistence farming is not possible.

However, the Supreme Court ruling only applies to affected regions in Yucatán and Campeche, leaving Monsanto free to continuing selling GM seeds in several other Mexican states.

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Mexico Braced for Record-Breaking Hurricane Patricia


A potentially catastrophic Category Five hurricane, Hurricane Patricia, is expected to make landfall in Southern Mexico today.

Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center are calling it the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

US astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo of hurricane Patricia seen from space on Twitter.

US astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo of hurricane Patricia seen from space on Twitter.

Patricia has maximum sustained winds upwards of 325 kilometres per hour and is expected to maintain its strength until landfall, before weakening significantly because of the higher terrain of the region. However, the mountainous region is prone to dangerous flash floods and landslides.

Jim Cantore, meteorologist at the Weather Channel, said the hurricane is in “uncharted territory” in a Twitter post.

The hurricane is expected to hit land in the Mexican state of Jalisco in the late afternoon or early evening, with the popular resort city of Puerto Vallarta, as well as inland Guadalajara, directly in the storm’s estimated path.

Mexican officials have declared a state of emergency in 56 municipalities in the states of Colima, Nayarit, and Jalisco and have closed schools. The Mexican president has also called in over 4,000 soldiers to aid in the aftermath of the storm.

Evacuations are currently under way in Puerto Vallarta and officials are taking people to 14 shelters, mostly in schools. Authorities have also closed three airports in expectation for the storm: Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo in the state of Colima; and Tepic in Nayarit. The major shipping port in Puerto Vallarta is also closed in anticipation of the storm. .

Residents are quickly working to reinforce homes and businesses, while others are evacuating and moving away from the coast.

Because of its immense strength and rapid development, there are very few points of comparison for Hurricane Patricia. However, meteorologists are warning that it could have similar effects to Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines in 2013.

“This is the only hurricane that’s ever been this powerful,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Meteorologists are speculating that the storm’s historic strength is due in part to the naturally occurring, periodic weather phenomenon known as El Niño. This year’s El Niño is considered the largest on record, causing significantly warmer water temperatures in the eastern Pacific and leading to heightened storm activity.

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Agreement Reached in Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations


Trade ministers from 12 countries —including three Latin America ones— have reached an agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, creating a new economic block which will include 40% of the world’s economy and the countries’ 800 million people.

TPP countries. In dark green: currently in negotiations; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

TPP countries. In dark green: currently in negotiations; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The TPP, which still has to be ratified by lawmakers in each country, will reduce trade barriers between the US, Japan, and nine other Pacific countries and affect prices of goods and services all over the world. Supporters estimate that it will increase global economic activity by US$200 billion per year.

Mexico, Peru, and Chile have signed up to the deal, hoping to increase exports and attract investment, particularly from Asian markets. The TPP is expected to form an integral part of the three countries’ economic strategy in future.

Mexican Economy Minister, Joaquín López-Doriga, hailed the TPP’s potential effects on his country’s automotive industry, saying that Mexico was among the most active in negotiations because it is one of the countries “with the greatest capacity for automotive production in the world.” Previous free trade partnerships, such as NAFTA, have been credited with recent booms in auto-related investment in the country and it has been estimated that the TPP could increase the size of its US$397 billion industry by 37% over the next five years.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, said today that the deal would offer advantages for small and medium-sized businesses in his country thanks to a special chapter designed to allow them to “enter into global chains of value”. He also highlighted the potential increase in “non-traditional” exports such as agro-industry, fishing, manufacturing, and cotton and alpaca wool products.

The final agreement– which also included Australia, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam – was reached in Atlanta yesterday after five days of talks, but negotiations have been going on for the last five years.

A sticking point had been the issue of the length of the monopolies that biological drug companies should have over new patents. The US had pushed for up to 12 years, but many countries have expressed fears that such a period would significantly increase the cost of health-care by impeding the creation of generic medicines.

Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz expressed satisfaction at the agreement of a five-year limit, – the same as the existing rule under a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Chile. “This is a valuable deal for Chile, and one which protects our interests,” he said. “The TPP will be one of the defining trade agreements of the 21st century. We’ll be part of the largest and most modern economic scheme in the world.”

Concerns

Critics of the deal, however, say it does not go far enough to protect the rights of citizens, particularly in developing countries.

Protestors against the TPP in the US (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

Protestors against the TPP in the US (photo courtesy of Public Citizen)

On the issue of pharmaceutical patents, a statement released by Doctors Without Borders said, “Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.”

Further criticism has stemmed from the secrecy in which the TPP – which also affects issues such as internet legislation, digital rights, and environmental protection measures – has been negotiated. The public has had no access to drafts of the bill – aside from a few leaked chapters – and even some of the countries involved have complained of being kept in the dark about the contents of the agreement. The full text of the agreement has yet to be released to the public, though a summary has been published.

Chilean activist group, Chile is Better Without the TPP (PCCMST) denounced the “absolute secrecy and lack of effective citizen participation” in the agreement, expressing their “profound rejection for the irresponsible actions of Michelle Bachelet’s government”.

One controversial point included in the deal is its investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS), which enable companies to take legal action against governments whose decisions negatively affect their investments in a country. This has been a particular issue for countries with involvement in extractive industries, such as Peru.

Peruvian economist Felix Moreno told RT that, “the secrecy is a result of the deal’s content, which the public is not going to like.” He says the TPP is “an agreement with a lot of small print, which has been very intensely negotiated and in which various special interest groups and large companies have applied a lot of pressure to ensure certain advantages”.

The agreement will now be put before the parliaments of the 12 countries involved.

The absence of China from the TPP has lead many to label the deal a US challenge to China’s growing dominance in the Pacific region. China refused to join the new economic block due to restrictions the TPP would place on its financial sector.

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Mexico: Experts Refute Official Verdict on Disappeared Students


A team of experts from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) says there is ‘no scientific proof’ to support official verdict of what happened to 43 Ayotzinapa students who disappeared after being taken by police from the town of Iguala on 26th September, 2014.

The Inter-disciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) published a report Sunday after a six-month investigation into the disappeared students. In it, the experts contest the conclusion of the Prosecutor General (PGR) that the students were handed over to drug cartel Guerreros Unidos, murdered, and incinerated in a rubbish dump near the town of Cocula.

“This event did not happen as described,” said expert Carlos Beristáin in a conference presenting the 560-page report. However, the GIEI, which also criticised the government’s handling of the investigation, added that it could not determine what did happen to the students.

Mexicans protest of the disappearance of 43 students (Photo by Giulia Lacollutti)

Mexicans protest of the disappearance of 43 students (Photo by Giulia Lacollutti)

Three Reasons To Refute Official Verdict

The rejection of the official version is based on three main conclusions elaborated on in the report.

Firstly, according to a Peruvian specialist in fire safety engineering, José Torero, there is no scientific evidence that a fire large enough to cremate 43 bodies ever existed at the Cocula site. “The testimonies imply events that could not have occurred given the scale of fire that would have been necessary to burn the bodies,” the report notes. Torero determined that to create an open-air fire big enough to incinerate 43 bodies would require some 30 tonnes of wood and 13 tonnes of tyres, and would have to burn for 60 hours. Testimonies used in the official report stated that the fire continued for only 16 hours.

The GIEI report also highlighted the suspected role of a fifth passenger bus hijacked by the missing students that day in Iguala, the existence of which was denied and then dismissed as irrelevant in the official investigation. The independent experts believe that this vehicle is key to the incident, as it may be linked to a known network of drug smuggling using passenger buses. The GIEI said that this could explain why the buses carrying the students were violently attacked by police and members of the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos, and questioned why the statements of the bus drivers were only taken in April this year.

Finally, the report claimed that military intelligence officers had admitted to witnessing the attacks on the students that night. They allegedly reported the presence of Federal Police and army soldiers, contradicting claims in the official investigation that only municipal security forces were involved.

The parents of the missing students reject the state's official version of what happened to their children. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

The parents of the missing students reject the state’s official version of what happened to their children and toured South America to raise awareness of their case. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Argentine Experts Also Questioned PGR Verdict

The GIEI report is not the first to cast doubt of the official version of events as described by then-General Prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam in January.

In February, The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), which has been conducting a parallel investigation into the case at the request of the missing students’ families and lawyers, released a statement highlighting “problems” in the official PGR conclusions.

According to the EAAF, irregularities include the potential contamination of evidence from the rubbish tip outside Cocula, as well as photographic evidence that contradicts the official PGR claim that there had only ever been one fire at the site, the night the students disappeared.

The EAAF also noted numerous discrepancies in the genetic profiles taken from relatives of the students by both the EAAF and PGR and sent to a laboratory in Austria to cross-check with bone samples found at the alleged crime scene. And it added that they had found proof of human remains not belonging to the missing students at the site.

In its conclusions, the EAAF said that while the students may have suffered the fate as described by the PGR, the forensic evidence it has gathered so far did not provide scientific proof of this.

What Comes Next?

In its Sunday afternoon press conference, the GIEI urged the government to continue the search for the missing students and re-open the investigation based on the new information, including the potential role of drug smuggling as a prime motive for the original attack.

Ex-federal prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam gave details about the case to press in January (Photo Omar Torres/AFP/Télam)

Ex-federal prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam gave details about the case to press in January (Photo Omar Torres/AFP/Télam)

The PGR responded by defending its investigation and repeating that its investigation proved that an “important number” of the students – if not all 43 – were killed and burned outside Cocula.

Tomás Zerón de Lucio, director of the Criminal Investigation’s Agency in the PGR, told local press yesterday that the OGR would continue with the existing case. “We’ll take the GIEI’s considerations into account, but really we are on the same path. The truth is the one we have, which is that an important number of students were executed and incinerated in the rubbish tip and later thrown in the river.”

Meanwhile, President Enrique Peña Nieto said that the search for the students was still on, and that new tests would be carried out to be “more certain” about what happened in Iguala and Cocula. He added that he was willing to meet with the parents of the disappeared students.

Speaking after the release of the report, a group of parents of the missing 43 students said it vindicated their own suspicions of the PGR investigation. “There is scientific proof that now says our children did not die in that rubbish tip as Murillo Karam wanted to make us believe with his ‘historic truth’, that turned out to be a ‘historic lie’,” said spokesperson for the parents, Felipe de la Cruz.

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Mexico: Activist Leading Search for Students Killed


Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco was found shot dead on Saturday night in the city of Xaltianguis, Guerrero.

Jímenez Blanco had been a central figure in the search for the 43 missing students of the Ayotzinapa rural school, who went missing in Iguala last September, sparking nationwide protests. He was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car with a single wound to the head. The activist had received death threats in the past.

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

The disappearance of the 43 students ignited protests all over Mexico. (Photo by Montecruz Foto)

After the disappearance of the students on 26th September, and outraged by the absence of the government in the search for them, Jiménez Blanco took matters in his own hands and headed brigades digging the hills of the state of Guerrero searching for bodies and clues. Over 60 mass graves, containing the bodies of at least 129 people, have been uncovered in the search for the students.

In 2014, Jiménez Blanco was appointed by Upoeg (Union of Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero State) as commander of the community police.

He also helped organise Los Otros Desaparecidos de Iguala (The Others Disappeared of Iguala), an organisation mainly consisting of women who meet up every Sunday in search of their missing loved ones.

A police investigation into his death has been opened.

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Mexico: Drug Lord El Chapo Guzman Escapes Prison


Leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, escaped from a maximum-security prison in south-central Mexico on Saturday night.

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka "el Chapo Guzman", is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella        (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín Guzman, is escorted by marines after his arrest 22nd February 2014 in Mexico City. (Photo credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

Guzman, who reigns a multibillion-dollar global drug empire that supplies much of the cocaine, heroine, and marijuana sold on the streets of the US, is the first prisoner who managed to break free from the Altiplano federal prison. He escaped through a tunnel that began with a 50 by 50cm opening inside the shower in his cell, which connected to a vertical passageway running over 10m underground. The passageway, equipped with a ladder, led to a tunnel that was about 1.7m high and 70cm wide, stretching for over 1.5km and ending inside a half-built house.

“This represents, without a doubt, an affront to the Mexican state,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto. “But I am also confident that the institutions of the Mexican state, particularly those in charge of public safety, are at the level to recapture this criminal.”

However, this isn’t the first time that Mexico’s most notorious drug lord managed to break free. In 2001, he pulled off a less elaborate escape by hiding in a laundry cart. As a fugitive, he was considered the world’s most powerful drug lord until he was rearrested in Mexico in 2014 – it took authorities 13 years to catch him.

A US law enforcement official said Guzman’s escape illustrates “the strength of the cartel and his ability to pay people off,” as Mexican authorities are known to succumb to bribes, sometimes out of fear. “If this guy can get out of prison, it shows how deep the corruption is there,” the official said, as authorities believe it’s impossible to build a tunnel of that magnitude without inside help – the tunnel was equipped with lighting, ventilation, and even had a modified motorcycle on tracks.

“It’s estimated that he may have murdered or ordered the murders of more than 10,000 people,” said former assistant director of the FBI, Tom Fuentes, who described Guzman – and his cartel – as complete savages. “What they do, and how they do business, is based on complete terror. They kill journalists, politicians, police officers, correction officers. And then not just that person, but every member of their family.”

In January, the Obama Administration sent the Mexican government an extradition request for Guzmán, however, Mexico’s Attorney General Office refused.

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Mexico: Election Victory for Ruling Party Amid Violence & Protests


Exit polls suggest that ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and its allies have held on to a majority in yesterday’s elections in Mexico.

(Photo from President Enrique Peña Nieto's Facebook 2015)

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (Photo from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Facebook)

Despite the fall in approval ratings due to corruption scandals, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s party is poised to gain 196 to 203 of the 500 seats in the lower chamber of Congress. Their allies, the Partido Verde, are predicted to win 41 to 48. The main opposition party, the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) is predicted to win between 105 and 116 seats. Smaller parties also made gains, making the political landscape increasingly multipolar. Final results will be announced on Wednesday.

On top of the 500 federal legislators, the country also chose nine state governors, around 900 mayors, and local legislators in 17 of the country’s 32 states.

However, the elections were marked with an increasing challenge to traditional parties. With the turnout estimated at around 48%, and null votes at around 5%, those supporting no party form the largest group in the country.

Tensions

There were calls for boycotts, most notably in Guerrero where the parents and friends of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa normal school continue their demands for the students to be found alive, and have called for Mexicans to not to vote until the case has been resolved.

In many places activists attempted to stop the elections from taking place. According to Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the installation or working of 603 voting stations was prevented, with the majority of the incidents registered in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, known for their revolutionary history. The newspaper also reported 145 cases of violence and 254 cases of destruction of theft of election materials.

One of the hotspots of protest against the elections was the town of Tixtla in Guerrero where 20% of the voting booths were burned by the protestors and consequently the election for municipal president was annulled.

Protests for 43 missing students in Mexico (Photo by Iván [protoplasmakid], creative commons)

Protests for 43 missing students in Mexico (Photo by Iván protoplasmakid)

In a separate incident, ten teachers from CETEG teachers union were detained by federal police for attempting to impede the electoral process in Tlapa de Comonfort. In response, CETEG proceeded to withhold federal police officers demanding the release of their colleagues. The operation by the federal police to rescue their members resulted in various injuries and the death of one of the teachers. The teachers are striking for more pay and to prevent Peña Nieto’s education reform. Like the relatives and friends of the disappeared students, they had called for a boycott.

Despite the clashes, president Peña Nieto assured in a message on national TV that the majority of Mexicans had shown their faith in the political system: “With the simple but important act of going to the box and depositing our vote in the ballot box, we reaffirm our desire to live in a country of rights and freedoms, democracy and pluralism.”

He went on to condemn the protests: “There were those who tried to affect these elections. In the previous days they even performed violent acts, seeking to discourage the population.”

Arguably the most talked about event of the day, however, was the first-ever victory for an independent candidate in a governor race. Jaime Rodriguez Calderón, 57, known by his nickname ‘El Bronco’, is estimated to have gained 45% of the vote in the wealthy northern state of Nuevo León, bordering Texas. Having become a symbol of the backlash against the main parties, the future governor stated that “Nuevo León will be the beginning of a second Mexican revolution”, while his nickname became the third most used hashtag in the country yesterday.

Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, Mexican elections (Photo by Estefania Acevedo, creative commons photo)

Jaime Rodriguez Calderón (Photo by Estefania Acevedo, creative commons)

Rodriguez Calderón became famous for confronting the Zetas drug cartel when mayor of Garcia, Nuevo León. With fewer resources than the established parties, his campaign was increasingly waged over social media.

“It is the awakening of Mexico. Nuevo León is the example of citizens asleep, let’s go a for a citizens’ government,” he tweeted last night. “If we all intend to do things well we can achieve it. Thanks to everyone who trusted and supported me,” he celebrated at the end of the election day.

Some people are sceptical as to Rodriguez Calderón’s capacity to bring about desired changes. They point out that he was part of the ruling PRI for 30 years and that his campaign has focused mainly on criticising the ruling elite while concrete policy proposals have been absent.

The challenges for those seeking to transform Mexico are significant. The case of the disappeared students has brought to light the widespread links between the political elite, police and the drug cartels and the corruption therein. Widespread violence is made worse by almost absolute impunity: of crimes committed in 2013, 93.8% remain unresolved, according to the government’s own statistics.

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