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Mexico’s drug violence is bad for business

The drug violence that continues to sweep across Mexico isn’t only damaging citizen confidence in the country’s government and public security. It also is taking a toll on Mexico’s economy, according to Treasury Secretary Agustin Carstens.

The Mexican government estimates that the violence has slowed economic growth by more than 1%.

Increased safety concerns have meant that companies and businesses spend 5% to 10% more on security services. This has hurt domestic competition and sales, according to Carstens, as well as having a negative affect on national development generally.

Last week was another bloody one for Mexico — on Thursday, 12 headless bodies turned up in the normally quiet southern state of the Yucatan.  Five bodies — four of them decapitated — were found earlier in the week in Tijuana. All the deaths are thought to have been drug-war related.

The ongoing drug wars and rising levels of crime and kidnappings in Mexico prompted thousands across the country to march over the weekend, expressing their anger and demanding action.

Carstens also announced that the security budget for 2009 will increase substantially, speaking to the newspaper Reforma.

Click here for more on the drug trade across Latin America.

For our special report on Mexico’s drug problems, go to our Mexico Under Siege page.

— Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

This blog post was written for La Plaza.

NYT: How the drug war impacts civilians

The drug war in Mexico has become pretty much a daily assignment here in the country – news of headless bodies turning up in the Yucatan and mass shootings in Chuihuaha tend to dominate the headlines. Combined with the huge crime wave and rising kidnappings, the country probably has one of the worst reputations abroad.

The New York Times has a great piece online today about how just regular citizens are reacting to the drug war.

“We all live in fear now,” he said. “Any of us could be taken or killed. I try to wear nothing and do nothing that attracts attention. I wear T-shirts and a hat. I have no jewelry. I don’t want to stand out.”

In modern Mexico, a new way of cautious thinking is setting in. A Hummer pulls beside one’s vehicle at an intersection? Better keep looking straight ahead. Or better yet, many recommend, do not stop at red lights at all.

Click here to read the full piece.

For nearly daily coverage of the drug violence in Mexico, stay tuned to the Los Angeles Times Mexico Under Siege page and the NYT’s Drug trafficking in Mexico topics page.

Photos: Peace march in Mexico

A girl wielded a photo of Monica Alejandrina, who was kidnapped in 2004, during this Saturday’s march for peace across Mexico.

Thousands of protesters of all social classes hit the streets of cities across the country, expressing their anger and indignation at rising levels of kidnappings and crime across Mexico.

Click here for the video dispatch from the march.

Video: Mexicans march for peace

Tens of thousands of people of all social classes and ages marched across Mexico Saturday (August 30th 2008) in protest against high crime levels and rising kidnappings.

Anger has boiled over in the weeks since the death of Fernando Marti, the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman, whose body was found after his family reportedly paid millions of dollars to kidnappers.

At least two Mexico City police officers were suspected of involvement, provoking more fury among residents weary of endemic corruption and apparent impunity.

The Calderon government has struggled to show results from its 21-month-old offensive against organized crime.

More than 2,600 people have died this year in drug-related violence, according to unofficial counts by Mexican news outlets. [Los Angeles Times]

Video: The thrill of the Huamantlada

Watch last weekend’s festivities in Huamantla, Mexico in which 23 people were injured trying to challenge 500-kilo bulls.

Filming bullfights is not worth dying for

The Huamantlada pits man against beast in potentially disastrous circumstances. The annual event, which takes place in the otherwise sleepy town of Huamantla in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, saw 24 bulls let loose in the town’s narrow, uneven streets to be confronted by locals and visitors alike – many of which had been drinking since early in the morning on what was a scorching hot day.

My loyal readers may remember the Huamantlada from last year – the film we made has proved one of our most watched and the coverage was one of the earliest missions of MexicoReporter.com – then known as NewCorrespondent.com. Well, this year I was back – for the Los Angeles Times this time around – and I wanted to apply my new video training to the event which had proved entertaining 12 months ago, although a little hard to watch. One man had died and there were 24 injuries during the 2007 event. Continue reading

Amateur bullfighting festival in Mexico ends with 23 injuries

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More than 20 people were gored or injured by bulls this weekend in Huamantla in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala after taking on one of the 24 bulls let loose into the streets as part of an annual festival.

The Huamantlada, which is often compared to the running of the bulls event in Pamplona, takes place every year in this small rural town. The comparison to the event in Spain is inaccurate – the bulls didn’t run anywhere. The town’s 17 central streets were transformed into huge pens for the half-ton animals, which were mercilessly taunted by the crowd and pelted with plastic bottles and beer cans.

Many of the men who challenged the bulls, matador-style, knew what they were doing and approached the animals with caution and capes. But many didn’t. The combination of alcohol, a screaming crowd and poor judgment was too much: 23 people ended up being carried away on stretchers by the Red Cross. Continue reading

Brian Conley and co heading home

Following the detention of Brian Conley, founder of Alive in Baghdad, and some of his colleagues on August 21st in Beijing, news emerged today that he and his companions have been released and are expected to arrive in los Angeles on Monday morning.

An email from Conley’s wife Eowyn reads:

We just got word that Brian and friends are on a plane to Los Angeles, arriving Monday morning. He was released with 7 other US citizen detainees: Jeff Goldin, Tom Grant, Mike Liss, James Powderly, Jeff Rae, John Watterberg and Jeremy Wells.

They have been released 6 days early, largely (we believe) because of political pressure and media attention that forced the US Embassy to take action.

The fate of the other 2 international detainees, Florian Norbu Gyanatshang a Tibetan with German citizenship, and Mandie McKeown from Britain, is not clear. Please feel free to call their respective embassies and urge their immediate release. For more info on phone numbers and other action steps, see the Free Tibet 2008 website.

There are other important steps we can take to make sure that their detention gets the international attention it deserves and that the underlying cause — freedom for the people of Tibet — is advanced. We can keep putting pressure on media to tell the real story of the Olympics in China. We can continue to raise awareness about the oppression and violence in Tibet. We can work to support independent media, so we actually get to hear these stories.

Welcome home Brian. Alive in Baghdad this week is expected to feature a short section on his detention.

Alive In Baghdad founder detained in China

Brian Conley, who runs the award-winning video blog Alive in Baghdad, has been detained in Beijing whilst documenting pro-Tibet protests in the city running alongside the Olypmics.

Conley has been of incredible help to MexicoReporter.com, helping me with video editing and filming tips during the early days, and also helped the Frontline Club promote the Frontline Club live video channel. Conley has “dedicated his life to helping oppressed people communicate their struggles to the world. Since 2004 he has worked on the video blog Alive in Baghdad which produces and distributes weekly video segments about daily life in Iraq and the impact of the war,” says his wife Eowy.

According to an email from Eowyn – who is 31 weeks pregnant with their first child – Conley was arrested by Chinese authorities for this work, along with 5 others working with Students for a Free Tibet, Jeff Rae (who also works with Alive in Baghdad), James Powderly, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, and Tom Grant.

As of about 8 pm Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, August 21 Brian and 5 others had been detained for approximately 77 hours, with no communication from them and minimal direct information from the Chinese authorities.

Earlier on Thursday, according to the Agency France Press the Beijing police disclosed that “Thomas” and 5 other unnamed activists had been sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for “upsetting public order.” We believe that the 6 detainees are Brian Conley, Jeff Rae (who also works with Alive in Baghdad), James Powderly, Jeff Goldin, Michael Liss, and Tom Grant.

After 72 hours of detention, foreign governments are expected to inform local embassies of the detention of any foreign nationals. The US Embassy has been confirmed the names of the 6 detainees with the Chinese authorities. The Embassy has also been in touch with Eowyn and assured her that they are working diligently to gain access to Brian and the other detainees.

For more information about the detention of Brian Conley and 5 others in Beijing, please see www.freetibet2008.org . Please consider donating money to Students for a Free Tibet to support their work. To get regular updates about Brian’s situation or to arrange an interview with me (Eowyn Rieke, Brian’s wife), please email brian.conley.update@gmail.com.