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Guns, Germs And Recession: The Curse On Mexican Tourism - UPDATES

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Bianca
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« on: June 11, 2009, 11:56:31 am »









                             Guns, Germs and Recession: The Curse on Mexican Tourism
           





Ioan Grillo
TimeOnLine.com
Mexico City –
June 11, 2009


It was the last image the Mexican government wanted from one of its sunny seaside resorts. In the heart of Acapulco, soldiers fought a blazing battle against drug cartel thugs who sprayed bullets from Kalashnikov rifles and hurled more than 50 grenades. After hours of the warlike scenario, 13 gunmen, two bystanders and two soldiers lay dead on the concrete. Worst of all, the shoot-out happened in the middle of a sweltering Saturday night and less than a hundred yards from Los Flamingos Hotel, which in its heyday saw Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller party until dawn.


Last weekend's Acapulco firefight was only the latest episode of close urban combat in Mexico as cartel militias fight each other and the government for the bounty of the drug trade. But its time and place could not have been more unfortunate. After tourism was shattered by the swine flu scare, Mexico just two weeks ago launched a campaign to try and lure holidaymakers back to its paradise beaches. Under the name "Vive Mexico," or "Long Live Mexico," the $90 million effort is using such stars as Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and soccer ace Rafael Marquez to show off the golden sands. But while Vive Mexico has yet to have much international impact, the wild seaside shoot-out grabbed the attention of TV stations from Long Beach to London. (See pictures from Mexico's drug war.)


Until the early part of 2009, it was difficult to gauge exactly how many foreigners were scared away by the drug war and its piles of headless corpses. The global economic crisis may have done just as good a job keeping potential visitors at home. In any case, while tourism was hit in the first months of 2009, it was not devastated; for example, the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coast reported hotel occupancy in February of 83%, compared to 90% in the same month in 2008.


But then came disease. While the drug war may have given a few people the jitters, the swine flu sent many more running for their lives. As news of Mexicans sputtering to death on hospital beds shot round the world, tourists fled resorts in packed planes while many more upcoming holidays were canceled. Back on the Riviera Nayarit, hotel occupancy in May plummeted to 33%, compared to 70% in the same month in 2009. In some other resorts, it was down to single figures. And most of the visitors who did come were Mexicans - not foreigners. "It was like first getting a cough and then getting hit over the head with a shovel," says Marc Murphy, director of the Riviera Nayarit tourist board. (See pictures of swine flu in Mexico.)


Like most tourist officials here, Murphy complains the media painted Mexico in an unfairly bad light. He is quick to point out there have been no documented cases of any holiday makers being directly affected by the Mexican drug war. "Somewhere like Los Angeles has many more gang members and killings than the places the tourists visit here," Murphy says. "But Mexico has got more negative coverage than most countries. There has also been some irresponsible and incompetent reporting."


President Felipe Calderon is also critical of the media spotlight shining on Mexico. He was particularly incensed when Forbes magazine included Mexican trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman on its rich list - he was put at No. 701 with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. "Magazines are not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico but are also praising criminals," he said in March, following the Forbes choice. (TIME later went on to include Guzman in its Time 100 list, noting that criminals are unfortunately influential in today's world.)


Calderon is particularly concerned about the nation's image because of the bottom line. In 2008, foreign tourists spent $13.3 billion here, the third biggest source of foreign income after remittances and oil exports. This year, all three of these moneymakers are being clobbered. While the price of petroleum nosedived with the crisis, the recession north of the border pushed Mexican remittances down by 18.6% in April compared to the same time last year. To add to these woes, Mexico's manufacturing sector has been battered by a drop in spending in the U.S. In total, the Mexican government predicts the economy will shrink by 5.5% this year. But some private analysts speculate the decline might be over 8%, the worst dive since the Great Depression.


Calderon argues that the ability of Mexicans to deal with this challenge will be crucial to luring the tourists back. Personally launching the Vive Mexico campaign in his presidential palace, the President focused on selling Mexican character. "Let us tell the whole world that we are a strong nation, with a unique unity and identity," he said. "That no matter how hard or difficult the tests we have to face, particularly at the present time, Mexico is united and will overcome them."
« Last Edit: June 11, 2009, 12:32:46 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2009, 12:00:33 pm »









                      Swine Flu: The Political Stakes for Mexico's Government — and Obama






By Tim Padgett
Time.com
Apr. 29, 2009



The year 2000 — when Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was toppled after 71 consecutive and authoritarian years in power — is considered the moment democracy arrived south of the border. But the process started 15 years before, after a horrendous 1985 earthquake that left 10,000 dead in Mexico City. The PRI's response to that tragedy was appalling, and it sowed the opposition anger that proliferated as the jaded ruling party kept making blunders, including a disastrous 1994 peso crash. In the next presidential election, six years later, Mexico's Berlin Wall finally fell.

The swine flu epidemic gripping Mexico probably won't claim as many lives as the 1985 earthquake did. But it could still claim political victims — and this time Mexico's nascent democracy could stand to get a kick in the head instead of a shot in the arm. Even before the flu emergency hit Mexico last week, the PRI was enjoying leads of as many as 10 points in polls asking voters which party they preferred in upcoming national midterm elections on July 5. President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (PAN), which vanquished the PRI in 2000 and again in 2006, but which is struggling now with a bloody drug war and an economic downturn, is second. The leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which came within a half-percentage point of winning the presidency in 2006, is a distant third. If Calderon's federal government, and the Mexico City administration of PRD Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, don't contain this epidemic to Mexicans' satisfaction, the PRI may position itself this summer to regain the presidency in 2012. (See pictures of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico.)

That would be bad news for Mexico, and bad news for the U.S. The PRI came to power in 1929 by reestablishing order after the bloody chaos of the Mexican Revolution. It set up an elective dictatorship, one of the world's most corrupt, infamous for ballot-box fraud and notorious for blaming all its epic failings on Washington. The party was also as soulless as its massive, East German-style headquarters in Mexico City. It stood for little more than the cynical acquisition of power and its spoils — the manifestation of Octavio Paz's premise that Mexico is a country sadly divided between chingones (the screwers) and chingados (the screwed). The conservative PAN and liberal PRD at least have identifiable platforms. But even today, if you ask most PRI-istas to articulate their party's political philosophy, you'll get rollo, or meaningless blah-blah. (Read about why the virus seems to be deadlier in Mexico.)

Nor is there much indication that the PRI is a reformed or even chastened entity. In fact, as democracy has engendered federalism in Mexico, critics say many PRI state governors have gotten even more brazen than their 20th-century forerunners. In the impoverished southern state of Oaxaca, PRI Governor Ulises Ruiz is widely accused by opposition parties, media and labor unions of winning his 2004 election through vote fraud, of muzzling the media and violently harassing indigenous groups. Ruiz denies the charges and rejects calls by the opposition for his resignation. But he's a reminder that if the PRI were to take federal power again, Washington would most likely be dealing with a less transparent, competent and cooperative government than Calderon's. Calderon has at least led a military offensive against powerful and violent narco-cartels — in contrast to the PRI's lingering reputation for cozying up to Mexico's drug lords. (See pictures from the war on Mexico's drug lords in Juarez.)

So why is the PRI leading voter polls? Because democracy raises expectations that the PAN and PRD have yet to meet. Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, was the Lech Walesa of Mexico, a democratic hero who turned out to be a mediocre President. Calderon has pushed through some much needed economic changes like tax reform; but the drug war, which has produced more than 7,000 murders since the start of last year, has consumed much of his agenda. Almost half the population still lives in poverty, and that won't improve any time soon thanks to the U.S. economic calamity across the border. Meanwhile, the PRD shifted too far to the left for most voters' tastes.

Calderon's response to the flu epidemic has been assiduous compared to the PRI's indifference to the 1985 earthquake. Dr. Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday thanked Mexico for "being very open and transparent" with its flu case data and for providing the "kind of political support" that she said helps the WHO "get to the bottom" of the pandemic. But questions have already arisen about whether Calderon's government jumped on the crisis as rapidly and adeptly as it should have. Has the PAN, for example, done enough since 2000 to improve Mexico's threadbare public health infrastructure? It's not the kind of issue any ruling party wants to be defending two months before critical congressional elections.

Then again, that's democracy, hombre. If Mexican voters were right to oust the PRI nine years ago, who's to say they're wrong if they resuscitate the party this summer? We've seen this phenomenon before — like Walesa's Poland, where democracy's early disappointments brought former communists back to power in the 1990s. But democracy survived there, and the communist-era holdovers were forced to govern more from the center. They were defeated in the 2005 presidential election, and today the country has a center-right President, much like Calderon.

Democracy will survive in Mexico, too, even if the PRI moves back into power in three years. But the Obama Administration should do as much as it can to help keep that from happening — starting with epidemiological aid to Calderon's government. From trade to immigration to the drug war, the U.S. has much more at stake in Mexico than it has in Poland. All the more reason for Washington to make sure swine flu doesn't become Calderon's earthquake.
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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2009, 12:03:51 pm »











                     As Swine Flu Eases, Mexicans Ask: Was the Government Lucky or Good?






By Tim Padgett and
Dolly Mascarenas
Time.com
/ Mexico City
Monday, May. 04, 2009

The worst fears about swine flu seem to be dissipating in the Mexican capital as quickly as they arrived. And with plenty of time on their hands — President Felipe Calderón ordered all but the most necessary businesses shuttered and advised families to stay in their homes during the long Cinco de Mayo holiday weekend — many Mexicans are wondering: Has the crisis abated because their government was diligent, or because it was lucky?

Once Calderón's administration learned on April 23 that it was dealing with a new flu virus type — A/H1N1, a unique mix of swine, avian and human strains — it moved swiftly to control its spread. As of Saturday night, the official number of confirmed swine-flu cases in Mexico stood at 473, less than a third of early estimates, and the death toll was only 19. (Health officials have stopped publicly tallying suspected cases; there are still so many garden-variety flu cases that they felt continued reporting of suspected cases of swine flu would unnecessarily add to the alarm.) (See pictures of the swine flu in Mexico.)

But at the same time, Mexican media outlets have begun to question whether health officials moved quickly enough at the end of March and the beginning of April, when strange flu cases began emerging, to get the strain identified. (See the 5 things you need to know about swine flu.)

In an interview with TIME, Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana, director of Mexico's National Epidemiological Center, rejects the criticism. "When you're dealing with a completely new germ, it tasks any health system's early-response capacity," says Lezana. "But it's difficult for me to imagine how a country could have acted more rapidly than Mexico did in this case."

Still, the Mexico City daily Reforma on Sunday quoted a report from the World Health Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, suggesting that Mexican officials should have sent samples from flu patients — including the first Mexican believed to have contracted A/H1N1, 5-year-old Edgar Hernandez of Veracruz state, and the first to die from it, Adela Maria Gutierrez, 39, of Oaxaca — to labs in Canada and the U.S. sooner than April 22. Reforma notes that the first analyses of Gutierrez's blood and tissue samples done by Lezana's agency diagnosed severe pneumonia instead of flu. (Swine-flu victims usually die of pneumonia-like symptoms.) TIME has obtained a copy of Lezana's agency's medical report on Gutierrez, which concluded, in some respects mistakenly, that she was negative for a number of flu types.

Oaxaca state health minister Martin Vasquez tells TIME he pressed for further analysis and sent more samples — which then tested positive for flu. A week later, Lezana received word in a teleconference with Canadian officials that Gutierrez's cause of death, and the strange cause of illness for hundreds of other patients showing up in Mexican clinics and hospitals, was A/H1N1. Lezana concedes that Mexican labs did not then have the rare and expensive form of PCR and RT-PCR analysis — a means of identifying a virus' genetic makeup — to pinpoint such an unusual strain. (They have such analysis now.)

The WHO has generally praised Mexico's response to the pandemic. For his part, Lezana insists the media "misinterpreted" his quote in an Associated Press article last week suggesting the WHO itself should have acted in a "more immediate" manner after Mexico informed it on April 16 that the flu strain that had killed Gutierrez seemed abnormal. "I wasn't claiming any delay on the WHO's part," Lezana tells TIME. What he was noting, he says, was that because the flu strain seemed atypical, there was a generalized fear among health officials "that we might not be able to learn its transmission characteristics fast enough. When you're dealing with an unknown virus, part of the hypothesis is that it will move faster because the population is more vulnerable. Thankfully, its capacity for transmission, its virulence, turned out to be relatively low compared to what we'd originally estimated."

Lezana says Mexican and international virus sleuths are "much closer than we were a week ago" to determining the geographical, animal and human origins of the swine-flu outbreak — which may not even be in Mexico. (Until late last week, most media reports speculated that Hernandez's village in Veracruz, La Gloria de Perote, where large pig farms are located, was ground zero, but many Mexican and international health officials now say it could be in California or even Asia.) But it could take weeks if not months for a final answer.

For many Mexicans, meanwhile, concern has moved from health to the economy. The global financial crisis has already battered Mexico; now tourism, one of the nation's top three sources of income along with oil and migrant-worker remittances, stands to take a severe hit because of the epidemic scare. (See the top 5 swine-flu don'ts.)

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova warned his countrymen Saturday evening that it's "premature to say we've passed the [outbreak's] most worrisome moment." But the positive flu-containment news coming from the government may well put public pressure on Calderón to let businesses like restaurants open sooner than the end of the long Cinco de Mayo weekend on Tuesday. With few people on the streets on what is usually a bustling Mexico holiday, businessmen like taxi driver Francisco Diaz are chafing. "I've been driving all day and all I've got to show for it is 60 pesos [$4.60]," says Diaz. "It's like we've protected ourselves healthwise but now we won't survive economically."
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2009, 12:07:44 pm »










                                    For Mexico's Drug Wars, Obama's Visit Promises Help






By Ioan Grillo /
Time.com
Tijuana
Thursday, Apr. 16, 2009

On the once thriving Revolution Avenue that runs through this unwieldy border city, Oscar Rivera eyed a solemnly empty store of sombreros and ponchos. Amid a global recession and drug war that is terrifying American visitors, business has nose-dived, Rivera says, falling a staggering 85%, compared with last year. "I've made $2 today. That is one dollar for me and one for my assistant. How can we live on that?" he asks. "This is what President Barack Obama has got to look at when he comes to Mexico. We have got to work together with the United States to get out of this."

As Obama arrives for his first presidential visit to Mexico, many from the nation's southern jungles to its northern deserts are hoping the U.S. leader will bring some of his contagious optimism. Since opening up its economy in the 1990s, Mexico has become increasingly entwined with its northern neighbor, sending the U.S. 80% of its exports, 400,000 migrants and an estimated $30 billion worth of narcotics every year. But in the past 12 months, this special relationship has been seen as more blight than blessing, with falling remittances, tumbling trade and an increasingly bloody war over the north-bound drug business. Many here are looking for the U.S.'s new and novel leader to revive the North American partnership. (See pictures of Obama's trip to Europe.)

Nowhere is this bilateral relationship more apparent than in Tijuana, the busiest border crossing on the planet. A giant launching pad for migrants, center for U.S.-owned assembly plants and strategic front in the drug trade, the city of 1.6 million has long enjoyed the best and worst of living next door to the U.S. colossus. However, that relationship has soured in recent months with news of a bloody cartel turf war that has scared many Americans away from even stepping foot in Tijuana. (See pictures of Mexico's war on drugs.)

Some here fault the U.S. for buying all the cartels' drugs, then seemingly abandoning Mexico. "Obama needs to work on stopping all the American drug users. That is where the problem is," says Antonio Santiano, sitting in an empty shop of arts and crafts near the U.S. border. "And he needs to tell his people it is all right to come to Mexico. If he is coming for a visit, why can't all the other Americans?"

Obama's visit has a little more security than that of most U.S. tourists. Amid almost 8,000 drug-related murders here since January 2008, more than 4,500 Mexican police are being sent out to protect Obama in the few central Mexico City locations he will visit. He is not scheduled to step onto the streets but to move in a helicopter and special bulletproof limousine known as "the Beast." (See pictures of the Great Wall of America.)

In the Tijuana security services, officials welcome Obama for pledging to stand shoulder to shoulder against the drug gangs. Deputy Attorney General Salvador Ortiz says U.S. aid would be a valuable asset in fighting the gangs. He also says it would be useful to have U.S. agents work more closely in the training of Mexican police and prosecutors, a marked change from the aggressive nationalism long held by many Mexican officials. "It is positive for us to move toward a more American-style system of law enforcement," Ortiz says. "And to do this, it is constructive to have U.S. agents sharing advanced techniques of evidence-gathering and investigation."

The city's tourist officials are also championing Obama's vocal position on the drug trade. "He has taken the big step in recognizing that America has a major responsibility in this fight," says Jahdiel Vargas, director of Tijuana's Tourism and Conventions Committee. "He has been much clearer about this than previous U.S. Presidents." Obama has promised to step up efforts to stop guns and drug money from heading south and to increase direct aid to Mexico in the fight against the cartels.

However, not everyone is counting on Obama to save Mexico from the wrath of the drug armies. Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights, said the Administration's efforts to stop U.S.-sold guns from getting to Mexico are futile, unless the weapons are banned in shops — a move U.S. officials have shied away from. "If the entire border-patrol service cannot stop tons of drugs and millions of migrants heading north, how will a few hundred U.S. agents stop all the guns coming south?" he asks.

Clark says the real power of the cartels is corruption, a problem the U.S. President can do little to stop. "Obama cannot offer very much," says Clark. "This is not a question of hardware. We can have hundreds of Black Hawk helicopters, but this will not stop the cartels as long as they keep bribing large amounts of police and soldiers. We have to deal with the issue of corruption by a major change in our political culture. This is our problem."
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2009, 12:13:57 pm »









                               In Mexico's Drug War, Bad Cops Are a Mounting Problem







By Tim Padgett with
Dolly Mascarenas
/ Time.com
Mexico City Saturday,
Nov. 22, 2008

Few rituals are more futile than the "housecleaning" of Mexico's police forces. So deep, broad and brazen is cop corruption south of the border that removing it makes eradicating rats from landfills look easy. Mexico stages quasi-annual purges of officers high and low — last year it was 284 federal police commanders — and yet every year the nation seems to find itself with an even more criminal constabulary. This year's scandals, however, are especially appalling.

Over the summer, President Felipe Calderón's antidrug czar, Noe Ramirez, resigned abruptly.
The likely reason became apparent this week after Ramirez was detained by federal officials and accused of taking $450,000 to keep Mexico's most powerful narco mafia, the Sinaloa Cartel, informed about police antidrug operations. He is the highest-ranking government official to be nabbed in this year's anticorruption sweep.

But not the only one. Last month five top officials at the federal organized-crime task force were collared for the same crime after being fingered by an informant who, astonishingly, worked for both the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and the Sinaloa narcos. Days later federal police chief Gerardo Garay — whose predecessor, Edgar Millan, was murdered by narco hit men last May, allegedly with the aid of a federal cop — resigned after being linked to a Sinaloa capo. Mario Velarde, a top boss of the federal police force's antidrug unit and a former private secretary to Garcia Luna, was also detained this week, for leaking info to the narcos. Ramirez and all the accused deny the charges. But as one federal security analyst says, it's no longer strange in Mexico's police purges "to see today's butchers become tomorrow's cows."

Mexico's real carnage, meanwhile, gets ghastlier by the day. This year the nation has logged some 4,300 drug-related murders, and analysts fear that Mexico could double last year's record of 2,500. The spike in killing is largely due to the war Calderón declared last year on the drug cartels. He has deployed more than 25,000 federal army troops in the campaign, but the narcos have lashed out with insurrection-style violence against a harrowing number of law-enforcement officials, from beat cops to top cops like Millan, as well as prosecutors and judges. The cartels, whose homicidal repertoire includes an **** of beheadings, upped the terrorist ante in September when they allegedly threw grenades into a crowded plaza in Michoacán, killing eight people. (See pictures from Mexico's drug wars.)

The cartels, which run a $25 billion-a-year trafficking industry in Mexico, have also intensified their campaign of co-opting police. Not that Mexico's woefully undertrained and underpaid cops are that hard a mark. But the relentless revelations of the breadth of the corruption — including allegations that officers under Mexico's Public Security Minister, Genaro Garcia Luna, were involved in high-profile kidnappings — seem to make a mockery of Calderón's efforts to stamp it out. "This is Calderón's Iraq," says Sergio Aguayo, a security expert at the Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. "He declared war against the cartels, but he wasn't prepared for the size of the threat the cartels turned out to represent." Many cases in the latest purge, which is indeed called Operation Housecleaning, are based on the testimony of an unidentified cartel informant in U.S. custody. Still, Calderón faces critics who worry the arrests are an attempt by the Mexican President to find scapegoats for his antidrug quagmire and secure U.S. antidrug aid.

The cartels' ability to infiltrate officialdom has grown so convincing that many Mexicans have trouble believing the government's assertion that a fiery Learjet crash this month on a busy Mexico City avenue — which killed Calderón's Interior Minister and de facto Vice President, Juan Camilo Mourino, and top security adviser Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos — was an accident and not narco sabotage. That dwindling public confidence has done nothing to help the Calderón administration fend off the effects of the global economic crisis. This year the Mexican peso has lost about a fifth of its value against the U.S. dollar.

That is all the more reason why the U.S. and the incoming Obama Administration need to lend Mexico, America's third largest trading partner, a more serious hand in reforming and professionalizing its police forces. This year Washington approved $400 million for Mexico's antidrug fight in 2009, part of a three-year aid package known as the Merida Initiative. But critics say the plan focuses too much on interdiction hardware like helicopters and not enough on software like an overhaul of Mexico's police and judiciary — especially higher pay for cops, many of whom earn a measly $5,000 a year, and the creation of more modern investigative units. Without it, Calderón will continue to rely on his army in this fight, but in the long run, armies make for lousy drug-interdiction forces.

The police woes should also prompt the U.S. to take its own culpability for Mexico's narco-calamity more seriously. Even U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza this week took issue with Washington's complacency about curbing gringo demand for **** and the smuggling of Yanqui guns to Mexican drug gangs. "The truth is, Mexico would not be at the center of cartel activity, or be experiencing this level of violence," Garza said in San Antonio, "were the U.S. not the largest consumer of illicit drugs and the main supplier of weapons to cartels."

Traveling in Chile this week, Calderón insisted that his government "is strongly committed to fighting against not only organized crime but the corruption that organized crime generates and that has become entrenched over years and perhaps decades in the structures of power." It would seem that he made good headway this week. But as those years and decades have all too often shown in Mexico, the corruption usually gets generated at a far greater rate than any government can keep up with.
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