Tagged: Mexico

UN slams Mexico over citizens who have “disappeared”


“I didn’t notice anyone missing. Did you?”

A U.N. committee accused Mexico of failing to adequately prosecute and convict individuals responsible for enforced disappearances.

The United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances has published its concluding observations…about Mexico’s efforts to combat enforced disappearances at the request of the relatives of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students…

The experts voiced concern at “impunity regarding numerous cases of enforced disappearances.”

The recommendations from the U.N. panel calls on the Mexican government to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED), under which all signatory parties are required to fully investigate enforced disappearances and bring all those responsible to justice…

The Mexican government ratified the ICCPED in 2010, which stipulates that all signatory parties’ allow the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances authorization to hear individual cases of alleged disappearances and issue recommendations…

According to official figures, almost 50 percent of the 22,322 disappeared people went missing between 2012 and 2014 under the current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

I’ve said it before. Let me say it, again.

Corruption, the absence of rule by law, the dominance of neighborhood by neighborhood, provincial, regional rule by gangsters, vicious killers wholly insulated from justice by bought-and-paid-for coppers – this is the stuff of daily life in Mexico. It lies at the core of my personal boycott of our southern neighbor. And, yes, it is also key to my contempt for jingoist, Amerika First Republicans, cruel conservatives who don’t understand commerce and base their definition of economic justice on bigotry.

Time-lapse video of volcanic explosion in Mexico

A mesmerizing time-lapse video shows a Mexican volcano’s explosive eruption — spewing ash high into the sky.

The Colima volcano exploded around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday and sent an ash column about 29,000 feet into the air.

More than five minutes of the vulcanian eruption, which ejects lava fragments and lots of volcanic ash, were condensed into 30 seconds for the clip…

Experts say Colima is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes, with multiple eruptions in recent weeks alone.

Nicely done!

New plastic recycling process uses half the energy and no water


Shutterstock

A Mexican startup has developed a new method of recycling plastic that does away with water and only consumes half the energy of previous systems. At the same time, it produces plastic pellets of equal or better quality,  resulting in an environmentally friendlier process that also promises to be significantly cheaper.

Plastic recycling can turn discarded bottles and other scrap into a myriad of useful objects, helping produce anything from polyester clothes to 3D printing filaments and even diesel. However, it is a long, laborious affair that consumes plenty of resources  –  especially water. Among other things, the plastic needs to be thoroughly washed to get rid of impurities, carefully dehydrated inside an oven, and then water-cooled once again as the newly-formed plastic filaments are cut into small pellets.

According to Marco Adame, the new method that his startup has come up with can produce pellets of equal or better quality using just half of the energy by getting rid of the need for these temperature extremes, while also doing away with the need for water altogether. The system uses special walls that, on contact, are able to both mold the plastic into the desired pellet shape and cool those pellets at the same time…

Adame says that using his technique, the same machines are able to process styrofoam, polystyrene and ABS, which together make up about 90 percent of all plastics. The improved versatility would mean less space would be needed for operation.

Bravo! One industry that has always availed itself of recycling capabilities is the plastics industry. A lot of the tech translated over from both the tradition of physical re-use of rubber goods and the comparatively easy chemistry that touched the physical properties of recycling plastic.

Removing water requirements and using less energy in the process is an unexpected twofer.

Drug cartel members link Mexican police to massacres of migrants


Meanwhile – Relatives of 43 missing students protest at the presidential residence in Mexico City –
– victims of the same interlocking directorate of government and gangsters in Mexico

With the Mexican government facing widespread public outrage over the alleged role of police and other officials in the September forced disappearance of 43 students, and the killings of at least six others, from Ayotzinapa Normal School, the country’s federal prosecutor (PGR) has for the first time declassified a document on the suspected participation of police in the kidnapping and massacre of hundreds of migrants in San Fernando massacres of 2010-11.

The new revelations, along with key U.S. documents on how violent drug cartels gained control of local police forces in parts of Mexico during the last decade, are the subject of “San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: las similitudes” (“San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: the similarities”), an article published online…in Mexico’s Proceso magazine in collaboration with Michael Evans and Jesse Franzblau of the National Security Archive.

According to declarations from members of the Los Zetas drug cartel named in the newly-declassified “Tarjeta Informativa” (“informative note” or “information memo”), the police acted as “lookouts” [“halconeo”] for the group, helped with “the interception of persons,” and otherwise turned a blind eye to the Zetas’ illegal activities.

Those crimes included the summary execution of 72 migrants pulled from intercity buses in San Fernando in August 2010 and an untold number of similar killings that culminated in the discovery, in April 2011, of hundreds more bodies in mass graves in the same part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The victims were mainly Central American migrants making their way to Texas, which borders Tamaulipas to the north. The state’s highways are at once primary avenues for migrants and highly-contested narcotrafficking corridors.

One of the police detainees cited in the memo, Álvaro Alba Terrazas, told investigators that San Fernando police and transit officials were paid to deliver prisoners to the Zetas

If the facts surrounding the San Fernando case seem eerily familiar, it is beacuse they follow pattern seen over and over again in recent years. Like the Ayotzinapa case, the San Fernando massacres are symptomatic of the dirty war of corruption and narcopolitics that has consumed parts of Mexico over the last decade. Killings like these are disturbingly common, and the forces behind the mayhem—usually drug cartels counting on the collaboration of, at a minimum, local police—are remarkably consistent.

RTFA for more details of government corruption than the most cynical might imagine.

The task of decriminalizing the Mexican government is Herculean. It feels like that nation and the government should take a year or two off from every other activity and simply focus on jailing all the politicians and their gangster compadres. Only then might Mexico start all over again as a free and democratic nation.

Mexico’s “Harvest of Shame” fills American tables


Click to enlargeLA Times/Don Bartletti
Half the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. come from Mexico

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming “Product of Mexico.”

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

The farm laborers are mostly indigenous people from Mexico’s poorest regions. Bused hundreds of miles to vast agricultural complexes, they work six days a week for the equivalent of $8 to $12 a day.

The squalid camps where they live, sometimes sleeping on scraps of cardboard on concrete floors, are operated by the same agribusinesses that employ advanced growing techniques and sanitary measures in their fields and greenhouses.

The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.


One of ~100,000 Mexican children under 14 who pick crops…He is 9 years old.

The comparison with Edward R Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” about migrant labor on US farms in 1960 is appropriate. Some of the poor buggers in that documentary probably were the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers of folks revealed in this series of articles.

This is the kind of long-form journalism still popular outside the United States. Sometimes, I feel our Establishment deliberately encourages Americans to develop the attention span of a cricket. It would be an injustice for me to use my usual editor’s X-Acto knife on the wealth of information inside these articles. Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti are to be congratulated much for their work undercover – and cold-call walk-ins. I hope the journalism craft recognizes their work appropriately.

Please, please, RTFA. There’s a link above to this the first in the series.

Here are the links to:

Part 2: A raid exposes brutal conditions at Bioparques, one of Mexico’s biggest tomato exporters, which was a Wal-Mart supplier. But the effort to hold the grower accountable is looking more like a tale of impunity.

Part 3: The company store is supposed to be a lifeline for migrant farm laborers. But inflated prices drive people deep into debt. Many go home penniless, obliged to work off their debts at the next harvest.

Part 4: About 100,000 children under 14 pick crops for pay at small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, where child labor is illegal. Some of the produce they harvest reaches American consumers, helping to power an export boom.

Thanks, Mike

Kudos for finding us one of the best pieces of American journalism in quite a while

Why should Americans care about protests – and murder – in Mexico?


Click to enlarge

Christy Thornton is earning a doctorate in Latin American history at New York University and is a board member of the North American Congress on Latin America.

In early October, I attended a rally outside the Mexican consulate in New York City to protest the disappearance of a group of students taken by police in the state of Guerrero two weeks earlier. On a busy midtown Manhattan street, a dozen people gathered to call attention to the missing students and demand their return. A passerby, puzzled by the commotion, stopped a protester to ask what they were shouting about. When he was told what had happened, he asked incredulously, “But they were Mexican students? Killed in Mexico? Why should we care here?”

Indeed, why should ordinary Americans care about the rampant corruption, extrajudicial violence and culture of impunity that has overtaken Mexico in the eight years since then-President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels? Why should they care about 100,000 dead and at least 20,000 disappeared, some of whose remains are being uncovered in a quickly metastasizing map of mass graves? Why should they care about the 43 teachers in training, rounded up by police and turned over to a gang of killers who, it is alleged, burned their bodies and dumped what remained in a local river? Why should they care about the surging protests, the tens of thousands marching in the streets of Mexico’s cities and towns, calling for the renunciation of President Enrique Peña Nieto and declaring “Fue el estado” (It was the state)?

Here’s why Americans should care: We are collectively funding this war. Our tax dollars, in the form of security aid, provide the equipment, weapons and training to state security forces responsible for an ever-lengthening rap sheet of human rights abuses. U.S. drug habits, in the form of an insatiable market for narcotics, marijuana and amphetamines, provide the liquid cash that has proved so corrosive when it has come into contact with every level of the Mexican state.

This is our war, on our drugs. We have created the Mexico from which we now distance ourselves — but we can’t afford to turn our backs any longer.

Since 2007, the U.S. government has spent roughly $3 billion on security aid to Mexico, through the George W. Bush–era Mérida Initiative, which was extended indefinitely by President Barack Obama, and through counternarcotics programs run by the Defense and Justice departments. Those funds served to militarize the war on drugs and contributed to the extraordinary increase in violence under Calderón…

The aid provided by the U.S. government pales compared with the estimated $30 billion a year that the sale of drugs in the United States sends to Mexico. And it is that money that is coursing through Mexico’s political veins, infecting everyone from small town mayors and state governors to federal security officials, rotting the Mexican state from within and leaving the protesters without recourse. Small wonder that many in Mexico have taken up the slogan that brought down the Argentine government in 2001: Que se vayan todos (Throw them all out).

The U.S. government’s response to the demands of the Mexican people for respect, answers and justice has been tellingly quiet. No word from Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. So far, we have only the pleas of a State Department spokeswoman for “all parties to remain calm.” This statement was triggered by fears that the protests will turn violent, an outrageous worry, given the scale and brutality of state violence that provoked them.

The White House continues the great American tradition of deciding for the rest of the world whose violence counts and whose doesn’t. If people rise up to strike out against corruption that has nothing to do with the management of official America’s response. As usual, money talks. Policy set in motion decades ago by some of the most useless politicians in our history – are accepted as holy writ.

Thanks, Mike

Insect-resistant maize can increase yields/decrease pesticide use in Mexico


Fall Armyworm

Although maize was originally domesticated in Mexico, the country’s average yield per hectare is 38% below the world’s average. In fact, Mexico imports 30% of its maize from foreign sources to keep up with internal demand.

To combat insect pests, Mexican farmers rely primarily on chemical insecticides. Approximately 3,000 tons of active ingredient are used each year just to manage the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), in addition to even more chemicals used to control other pests such as the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) and the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon). Because of the severity of these pests and the reliance on chemical insecticides, Mexico uses the highest quantity of pesticides per hectare of arable land in North America.

While integrated pest management (IPM) programs — which aim to minimize economic damage and lower environmental and health risks — are widely used in crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers, IPM is highly uncommon in Mexican maize crops…

The authors found the diversity of growing conditions to be the greatest obstacle for implementing IPM programs for Mexico’s 2 million growers, many of whose fields are only two hectares or less.

Another obstacle, according to the authors, is the lack of insect-resistant maize varieties, such as Bt hybrids. These varieties, which are genetically modified to express proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, are grown on 90 percent of maize fields in the U.S., whose yields per hectare are nearly three times greater than Mexican yields.

“According to our estimates, 3,000 tons of organophosphate active ingredient is sold in Mexico each year to control ONLY fall armyworm, ONLY on corn,” said Professor Urbano Nava-Camberos of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, and one of the co-authors. “In addition, applications are also made to cutworms, corn rootworms, borers, and corn earworms that do not necessarily coincide with the fall armyworm applications. However, all of these insect pests can be effectively controlled with Bt corn and integrated pest management programs.”

“There are a few solutions that can be immediately implemented to diminish the environmental impact of corn pests, including the use of Bt corn,” added another co-author, crop consultant Guadalupe Pellegaud. “Unfortunately, people who oppose the introduction of this technology in Mexico do not seem to realize that a far greater environmental impact is done by applying more than 3,000 tons of insecticide active ingredient each year.”

The full open-access article, “Maize Pests in Mexico and Challenges for the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management Programs“, is available as a freebie. If you can find your way through a website designed by entomologists.

Thanks, Mike

“Enough, I’m tired” – Mexico’s politicians still trying to ignore a massacre

mexico demonstrations

The office of the Mexican president has been set alight as public anger intensifies over the government’s response to the apparent murder of 43 trainee teachers by a drug gang.

The violence comes after the country’s attorney general caused fury among the public with his throwaway remark about the case.

Jesus Murillo Karam, speaking at a press conference on Friday, fielded questions on the case for an hour, before saying, “Ya me canse” or, “Enough, I’m tired”.

Within hours the phrase was trending on Twitter and other social media sites. It is now being used as a rallying call for those who are demonstrating against the government’s handling of the case…

On Saturday evening what had been peaceful protests in Mexico City turned violent when the National Palace, which houses the office of the president, was set on fire by demonstrators carrying torches.

Protesters had earlier used a metal police barricade as a battering ram to try to enter the building. Police eventually pushed them back, before they breached the doors…

Before the attorney general’s ill-judged attempt to wrap up his conference, he had told the press that suspects had led authorities to rubbish bags that are believed to contain the incinerated remains of the abducted students.

Since the disappearance of the students in September, from a rural college in Guerrero state, Mexicans have reacted with outrage at the government’s response and its inability to fully explain what happened.

The case has proved a focal point for citizens’ anger in a country where almost 100,000 people have died in the past seven years due to organised crime.

This is a long and detailed, painfully accurate article. Not the best intellectual, political fare for a Monday morning. Which is exactly why you should read it.

Corruption, the absence of rule by law, the dominance of neighborhood by neighborhood, provincial, regional rule by gangsters, vicious killers wholly insulated from justice by bought-and-paid-for coppers – this is the stuff of daily life in Mexico. It lies at the core of my personal boycott of our southern neighbor. And, yes, it is also key to my contempt for jingoist, Amerika First Republicans, cruel conservatives who don’t understand commerce and base their definition of economic justice on bigotry.

Thanks, Mike

The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


PHOTOGRAPH BY OMAR TORRES/AFP/GETTY

Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

Dating and DNA affirm Paleoamerican-Native American connection


Click to enlargeDaniel Riordan Araujo

Eastern Asia, Western Asia, Japan, Beringia and even Europe have all been suggested origination points for the earliest humans to enter the Americas because of apparent differences in cranial form between today’s Native Americans and the earliest known Paleoamerican skeletons. Now an international team of researchers has identified a nearly complete Paleoamerican skeleton with Native American DNA that dates close to the time that people first entered the New World…

The skeleton of a teenage girl was found in Hoyo Negro, a deeply submerged chamber in the Sac Actun cave system in the eastern Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Alberto Nava Blank and a team of science divers discovered the skeleton along with many extinct animal remains deep inside this inundated cave in 2007. The divers named the girl Naia…

Kennett and Brendan J. Culleton, postdoctoral fellow in anthropology, Penn State, were originally asked to directly date the skeleton. After traditional and well accepted direct-dating methods failed because the bones were mineralized from long emersion in warm salty water within this limestone cave system, they worked closely with colleagues to build a geochronological framework for Naia using a unique combination of techniques to constrain the age of the skeleton to the end of the ice age.

To build the case for a late Pleistocene age they collaborated with Yemane Asmerom and Victor Polyak from the University of New Mexico using global sea level rise data to determine when the cave system, which at the time Naia and the extinct animals entered was dry, filled with water. The site where Naia lies is now 130 feet below sea level and sea level rise would have raised the groundwater level in the cave system and submerged everything between 9,700 and 10,200 years ago. So initial estimates of the latest that animals and humans could have walked into the cave system was 9,700 years ago.

At the same time, the researchers experimented with uranium thorium dating the skeleton directly. Asmerom and Polyak tried to directly date Naia’s teeth using this method, but that also did not work well.

The bones were found deep below today’s ground surface in a collapsed chamber connected to the surface via a web of now flooded tunnels that Naia once walked along to fall to her untimely death. Because the caves are limestone, mineral deposits continued to form while the cave was largely dry. Working with Patricia Beddows, Northwestern University, Chatters noticed accumulations of calcium carbonate — tiny rosettes of calcite deposited by water dripping off the cave roof — which could be accurately dated using the uranium thorium method. Because these drip water deposits formed on top of Naia’s bones, their date must occur after she fell in the cave. The oldest one dated so far is 12,000 years old.

Naia’s tooth enamel was also radiocarbon dated to 12,900 years ago by Kennett’s lab…

Morphologically, Naia does not look like a contemporary Native American, but mitochondrial DNA testing — maternally inherited DNA — carried out by Brian Kemp, Washington State University, and his collaborators shows that she has a D1 haplotype. This is consistent with the hypothesis that her ancestors’ origins were in Beringia, a now partially submerged landmass including parts of Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon. Early humans moved into this area from elsewhere in Asia and remained there for quite some time. During that time they developed a unique haplotype that persists today in Native Americans. Genetically, Paleoamericans have similar attributes as modern Native Americans even if their morphology appears different.

There is so much more that can be determined about paleolithic finds with the aid of modern chemistry and the tools grounded in DNA. Has to make paleontologists a heck of a lot happier about the focus and improved accuracy they can bring to their studies.

Lifetime science students like me really appreciate the difference between sound hypothesis and certified measurement. Even if the increments are centuries. :)