Customs coppers save us all from smuggled tamales


Click to enlarge

Customs officials announced Wednesday that they seized 450 pork tamales smuggled from Mexico to Los Angeles in luggage earlier in the month.

The traveler, who was not named, admitted having food on a declaration form but denied it was pork products when questioned, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Inspectors then found hundreds of tamales wrapped in plastic bags.

“Although tamales are a popular holiday tradition, foreign meat products can carry serious animal diseases from countries affected by outbreaks of Avian Influenza, Mad Cow and Swine Fever,” said Anne Maricich, acting director of field operations for Customs.

Uh-huh. What’s the first country you think of when you hear about avian flu, mad cow disease and swine fever? I think most times when I’ve blogged about an outbreak of these – it’s been here in the GOUSA.

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Mexico’s Supreme Court says OK to grow your own, dude!

Mexican cannabis

The Mexican Supreme Court has opened the door to legalizing marijuana, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.

The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. While the ruling does not strike down current drug laws, it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately rewrite them…

The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed antidrug campaign has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless campaign against traffickers, remains engulfed in violence…

The marijuana case has ignited a debate about the effectiveness of imprisoning drug users in a country with some of the most conservative drug laws in Latin America. But across the region, a growing number of voices are questioning Washington’s strategy in the drug war. With little to show for tough-on-crime policies, the balance appears to be slowly shifting toward other approaches…

Although the rising production of higher-quality marijuana in the United States reduces demand for Mexican imports, experts say that Mexican gangs continue to account for an important percentage of the American supply…

The one thing that could significantly affect the cartels’ marijuana business is legislation in the United States. As marijuana growing for commercial purposes in America expands, demand for Mexican marijuana could eventually dry up.

Marijuana is just one of many sources of income for the cartels, which smuggle narcotics across the border to the United States and run kidnapping and extortion rings at home. The criminal infrastructure will persist whether or not marijuana use is legal.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said his government would respect the Supreme Court’s decision, but his government, legislators and security and health officials all oppose legalization, as does the Roman Catholic Church.

Armando Santacruz is determined to change minds. Invoking the specter of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, he likes to remind people: “Bad regulation is better than whatever regulation El Chapo and the narcos can provide.”

Gangsters will always find way to profit from a corrupt society. Reducing that corruption by modern means, enlightened remedies reduce the effectiveness of criminal elements, diminish the profitability of corruption. A lesson we should have learned decades ago.

The process of removing the whole effect of bad laws, incompetent understanding – like Nixon’s War on Drugs – will continue to be an uneven process. Like any social reform. Nevertheless, as victories roll out, progress will not be halted.

Torture in Mexico reaching catastrophic levels

La Jornada: According to Amnesty International, Mexico’s torture epidemic continues, reaching “catastrophic levels in the past year, with more than double the number of reports at the federal level of suffocation, rape and other sexual abuse, electric shocks and beatings.”

In the report, [.pdf full English text] AI stated that the number of complaints for torture more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, from 1,164 to 2,403, according to the Attorney General’s Office…

…It was asked why President Enrique Peña Nieto has not launched an initiative in Congress for a general law on torture, as a first step in addressing the crisis, when he said he would. The deadline for the Legislature to approve the initiative is in less than three months (January 2016) and it has not yet been delivered…

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director AI, said: “A strong general law against torture, which means more than words and ensures justice for the victims, would be a good first step for Mexico to recover from the deep crisis of human rights in which it is immersed.”

She added that it was hard to imagine a year ago that Mexico’s torture crisis could get any worse, and now we see that that is exactly what happened as the government continues to ignore a crisis it created.

AI noted in its report that the President’s commitment to the law is a major step forward, but these paper promises have not been accompanied by concrete results that would translate into a change in people’s lives.

Same as it ever was. Not just in Mexico, not just in Israel, not just in offshore prisons run by the United States. The mentality of many “freedom-loving” democracies often finds excuses for torture.

Texas/Mexico pipeline opposition builds in Big Bend country

No pipeline
Click to enlargePhotograph/Tom Dart

Thorny mesquite branches scratched the sides of James Spriggs’ battered old Chevrolet truck as he drove the rutted pathway from his house towards other, less natural, spiky objects.

On his 4,400-acre ranch there are deer, quail, jackrabbits, roadrunners, dragonflies and even the occasional eagle or mountain lion. And there are wooden stakes indicating the route of a natural gas pipeline that will slice through his property against his wishes.

“They stand out, kind of out of the ordinary, when the light’s correct on them,” he said, picking up a stake that lay flat beneath a small tree. Since their discovery, Spriggs and others have made it their mission to protest a proposal that would be routine almost anywhere else in the state.

Many moved to Big Bend because it is spiritually and physically unlike much of the rest of Texas, which long ago kowtowed to the boom-and-bust thrust of Big Oil, with all its possibilities and problems.

Some 426,000 miles of pipelines already crisscross Texas, acting as the cardiovascular system of the state’s thriving economy. Only one large area is untouched, but that is about to change – unless a diverse group of citizens can prevail in an underdog fight against billionaires, anemic regulators and new economic realities…

The oil industry may be squirming because of the low price of crude, but natural gas pipelines are sprouting as a response to soaring demand in Mexico and legal changes there in 2014 that make it easier for foreign exporters to sell the fruits of the Texas fracking boom…

The Trans-Pecos pipeline is a partnership between companies controlled by billionaires: Mexico’s Carlos Slim, reportedly the world’s second-richest man, and Kelcy Warren, head of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which in February welcomed former Texas governor and failed Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to its board of directors.

They hope that construction will start in the first quarter of next year and in 2017 the 42-inch pipeline will transport 1.4bn cubic feet of natural gas per day from a processing plant near Fort Stockton to the border, where the line will go under the Rio Grande and connect with Mexican infrastructure.

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Crucial October 10 match: USA vs. Mexico

The Mexican view of the upcoming match is more fun than SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Judgment day is coming on October 10 for the U.S. men’s soccer program, or at least the closest thing to judgment day not related to the World Cup. On that day, two important games will take place. One is the senior team’s showdown with Mexico at the Rose Bowl for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup. The other is a one-game decider for the Under-23 team with a spot in the 2016 Olympics on the line.

The U.S.-Mexico game is a mid-term referendum on Jurgen Klinsmann the U.S. men’s national team coach, while the Olympic berth is a referendum on Klinsmann the U.S. technical director. It’s a results-based business, so the takeaways will be relatively easy to make: Elation with two wins. Disaster with two losses. And something in between if there’s a mix.

The senior match is one of those where I will use the 4K upscaling critter in my living room to sit 5 feet away from the screen to watch. Hopefully, all the way through to the end. 🙂

25,000 disappeared in Mexico since 2007 – half in 3 years under Peña Nieto


Click to enlargeYuri Cortez/AFP

Like Gambia, Syria, Sri Lanka and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mexico is a country whose government uses enforced disappearance to silence their critics and instil fear…

On August 27, Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, presented a report to mark International Day of the Disappeared, which reveals that since 2007 — i.e., during the administrations of Felipe Calderón [2006-2012] and Enrique Peña Nieto [2012- ] — almost 25,000 people have disappeared in Mexico.

AI reported that almost half the disappearances, 12,500, have occurred during the current administration

In listing emblematic cases of enforced disappearance, Amnesty International cited the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students as a case with great impact worldwide. The AI report states…”Even with the world’s attention on the case, Mexican authorities have failed to properly investigate all aspects of the case, especially the disturbing criticism regarding complicity of the armed forces.”

AI is organizing a campaign of letters urging the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, to investigate these disappearances. The end of this article has a sample of the letter in English and a link to the same in Spanish.

Here’s how to contact him online.

Journalist’s death points out danger of telling the truth in Mexico


Ruben Espinosa interview just days before his murder

The young photographer had fled the state of Veracruz in fear for his life to seek security in Mexico City. On Sunday the 2nd, his fellow journalists mourned the loss of Ruben Espinosa, shot to death two days earlier in a middle-class neighborhood in the capital…

“We’re really surprised that it happened here,” said Sashenka Gutierrez, 35, a Mexican photojournalist who knew Espinosa. “He came here to feel safe.”

But she said the idea that Mexico City could be a haven for journalists fleeing violence in other states had been shattered. Asked what response she expected from Mexican authorities, she shrugged.

“We fear that Ruben’s case will be just another name on the list.”

Espinosa, 31, was the 12th journalist who worked in the state of Veracruz to be killed since 2011. Three more are missing…

The Mexico branch of the international advocacy group Article 19 said that Espinosa’s death marked a new level in violence against journalists in Mexico…

“The threats that Espinosa had suffered were public, and his murder happened because the authorities charged with protecting journalists in this country didn’t lift a finger for him,” said a statement from the group.

A significant change in the violence committed upon those we rely on to bring us news and truth has grown – and continues to grow throughout the world. From warzones in the Middle east to unofficial warzones in the Americas, journalists are in danger of torture and death for simply doing their job.

Authorities charged with protecting all citizens, oftimes with a special constitutional mandate to protect a free press – refuse to do their job.

TPP talks crash and burn — not every nation willing to rollover for Obama

Pacific Rim trade ministers have failed to clinch a deal to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared between Japan and North America over cars, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world economy, fell just short of a deal on Friday at talks on the Hawaiian island of Maui…

The result frustrated negotiators who had toiled to cross off outstanding issues and made significant progress on many controversial issues.

Three sources involved in the talks told the Reuters news agency that a last-minute breakthrough had been viewed as unlikely due to issues with dairy and auto trade and a standoff over biologic drugs made from living cells.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the problem lay with the “big four” economies of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. “The sad thing is, 98 percent is concluded,” he said.

Failure to seal the agreement is a setback for US President Barack Obama, given the trade pact’s stance as the economic arm of the administration’s pivot to Asia and an opportunity to balance out China’s influence in the region…

Obama promised oil income to Canada and Mexico, agricultural income to Canada and Mexico, monopoly power to US Pharmaceutical giants and American Tech firms. Japan as our pet stalking horse on the Asian side of negotiations was promised continued niche protections which would help keep Abe’s political party in power. Everyone else was supposed to line up in tidy little rows and nod their bobbleheads. Especially those nations like Australia with Conservatives holding power.

Didn’t happen.

If this doesn’t happen before the end of the year, the TPP is probably dead. An election year in the United States guarantees no legislative approvals more radical than Congress voting for baseball, motherhood and apple pie.

Prepare for five months of carrots, sticks, butt-kissing and bribes.

Cilantro imports banned from Mexican farms littered with feces and toilet paper

The US has banned imports of cilantro from several farms in the Mexican state of Puebla after an investigation found growing fields littered with human feces and toilet paper.

A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and Mexican authorities found “objectionable” hygiene conditions in eight of 11 cilantro farms inspected in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-biggest state, 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital.

Five of the eight Puebla farms have been linked to recurrent outbreaks of the serious gastric disease cyclosporiasis in the US since 2012. The herb is thought to be at least partially responsible for a current outbreak which has so far sickened 200 people in Texas.

The disease, which is caused by a parasite that lives in human faeces, can lead to severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, nauseas, vomiting, fever, extreme tiredness and other flulike symptoms. It can last from a few days to more than a month, and even after the symptoms disappear, some people will suffer recurrent relapses. In rare cases, people can suffer long-term muscle weakness and tiredness.

The parasite is spread by people ingesting contaminated food or water, but is not transmitted person to person…

In Puebla they found that some farms had no toilet or handwashing facilities for workers, while others had bathrooms but no running water, soap or paper towels. They also found visibly dirty surfaces where the herb was cut, bundled and stored, including the crates used for transportation. The water used to wash coriander in some farms may have been contaminated by sewage.

At one firm, the storage tank which supplied workers with water for handwashing tested positive for the cyclospora parasite that causes the illness…

The summer ban will continue in future years unless a company can prove to health authorities that its product is safe.

The FDA said it is tightening documentation requirements after it found firms producing coriander in Puebla often do business under multiple names and addresses, and some falsely claimed their suppliers are located outside of the state.

Cripes. Grow your own, folks. Easy-peasy as having a basil plant, Italian parsley or some rosemary in your kitchen window.

We planted it once in our courtyard kitchen garden and it came back for years.