Mexico At A Crossroads - Up Close At Ground Zero Of Nation's Deadly Drug War

As Mexico goes to the polls to elect a new president, a visit to Xalapa, a city that once attracted cultural elites and foreign university students --until the country's bloody drug war brought it to its knees.

Signs of the death toll on the streets of Xalapa (fronkonsteen0)
Signs of the death toll on the streets of Xalapa (fronkonsteen0)
Emiliano Guanella
XALAPA - The "ruta 140" from Mexico City to Veracruz goes up across the foggy Cofre de Perote mountain and then down to the valley which leads to city of Xalapa. Locals warn against traveling by night, due to the dangerous bends of the mountain road, and most importantly, due to the daily assaults on travelers. It is another sign of the risk for Xalapa, known as the city of flowers, to be cut from the rest of the country. Today this cultural destination and university city is the center of Mexico's current plague of violence.

Drug dealers are in charge. Kidnapping, killing, extortion, assaults…all run rampant. Murders regularly go unpunished. Xalapa is the capital of the state of Veracruz, a strategic crossroads on the route to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Boss "Chapo" Guzman's cartel battled over the route with the Zetas paramilitary group, which consisted of former commandos of the Mexican army who learned anti-insurgency strategies from American and Israeli experts. The Zetas, though, decided to go on their own, using violence and co-opting corrupted officials who were previously tied to the traditional cartels.

In Veracruz, virtually every day brings new victims -- investigations go nowhere. For two years, Ester Hernandez Palacios, professor at the Universidad Veracruzana, has been fighting to obtain justice for the murder of her daughter Irene, who was killed with her husband, the son of an important local builder contractor.

Irene's father-in-law was due to develop the tallest building of the city, a multipurpose tower with offices and luxury apartments, which was funded mainly with money from drug dealing. When the project got stuck, the money was given back, but without the huge interests claimed by the bosses. Revenge was destined to target the children.

"Irene and her husband Fouad had just told me that they wanted to leave Xalapa," says Ester. "They thought of moving to Houston to begin a new life. They were killed in the city center, at 8 p.m., in front of dozens of witnesses. Police never even looked for their killers."

Daughters and journalists, slaughtered

In the last two years Ester has written a diary addressed to her daughter. It will soon become a book that will be distributed in universities. She is a member of an organization of hundreds of victims' relatives. Once a month, they rally in the main square of Xalapa, in front of the governor's palace, wearing white shirts and holding candles and pictures of their loved ones. Every story is different, but the impunity for the perpetrators is always the same.

For the last two months, Maria Teresa Avila has not had any updates from her husband, a storekeeper who was kidnapped while heading home at the end of a workday. There are no clues, investigators say. They cannot explain why a security video camera in front of the store did not work on the day of the kidnapping.

Barbara Ybarra has hoped for three months to see her 17-year-old daughter who disappeared while going to school. Police haven't bothered to look for her. They blamed the mother for her daughter's escape. "Instead of thinking about it afterwards, you have to treat your children better, so they won't run away," a police chief told the woman. The girl's corpse was found in a park close to her home, the day after the case was covered on television.

In the square, the victims' relatives say that not long ago Xalapa was one of the most active cities in Mexico, with a bright cultural life and foreign students flocking to the local university. "In the last two years, everything has changed. After 10 p.m. you cannot see anyone around. Fear is everywhere," they say.

Veracruz holds the sad record of the largest number of journalists killed. There were five slain in the last month, and nine in the last year. The most notorious case is the one of Regina Martinez, correspondent for Proceso magazine. She was tortured and killed two days after the publication of an article denouncing the links between local government and organized crime.

Three photographers who worked in the harbor of Veracruz were butchered alive. Their remains wound up in garbage bags left in the street. Petrol bombs have been thrown against the doors of local newspaper newsrooms. The leading Mexican dailies withdrew their correspondents, some of whom sought political asylum in the United States. Sometimes, Governor Javier Duarte calls the journalists to warn them that they are in danger -- a clear invitation to leave.

The goal is to silence information, as has happened elsewhere in Mexico. During outgoing President Felipe Calderon's six-year government, the strategy was to fight openly against the drug cartels, but it is obvious that the state is on its knees. The Navy is the only institution that still has the people's respect. The federal and local police as well as the army are suspected of colluding with organized crime.

Even the most conservative data says that more than 60,000 people have been murdered and that 20,000 people have disappeared over the last six years.

Mexican presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), said that if he wins on July 1st, he will call the former chief of the Colombian police, Oscar Naranjo, to fight the drug dealers. Yet if rampant corruption among government authorities is not confronted, drug trafficking is sure to stick around.

Read more at La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Flickr/fronkonsteen0

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]


Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.


Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.



China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.


7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

➡️


"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.


​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.

Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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