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Maverick priest becomes the unlikely face of Mexico’s protest movement

November 21, 2014
“Neither the left nor the right, we’re those from the bottom and the middle, and we’re coming for those at the top,” reads this banner.

“Neither the left nor the right, we’re those from the bottom and the middle, and we’re coming for those at the top,” reads this banner from last night’s peaceful march in Guadalajara.

What began with a few families demanding to know the whereabouts of their missing children has morphed into a national movement that threatens to bring down the president of Mexico.

The nation has seen wave after wave of demonstrations since the disappearance of 43 students from a radical teacher-training college near the town of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero in late September. The case has exposed the corruption that permeates much of Mexico, with prosecutors saying that the Iguala police force abducted the students and handed them over to a local drug gang under the orders of the mayor.

Public anger has largely been directed at President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose government was slow to investigate the case but admitted a fortnight ago that the students were most likely massacred and their bodies burnt to ashes. Protesters burned an effigy of the president in Mexico City on Thursday night, as tens of thousands marched all across the country demanding justice and Pena Nieto’s resignation.

Although Mexico’s opposition parties have stayed strangely silent on the case, a clergyman has emerged as the unlikely leader of this unprecedented protest movement: 69-year-old Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde…

Click here to read my interview with Father Solalinde in full over at The Independent.

Protests in Mexico reflect public disdain for political parties

November 21, 2014
Students from the University of Guadalajara demand the safe return of their counterparts from Ayotzinapa.

Students from the University of Guadalajara demand the safe return of their counterparts from Ayotzinapa.

Another wave of mass demonstrations shook Mexico on Thursday as tens of thousands of protesters marched across the country to demand the safe return of the 43 missing students and the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Already damaged by the disappearance of the students who were abducted and most likely murdered in late September, Peña Nieto’s image has been further soiled by the scandal over the luxury mansion his wife bought from a controversial government contractor in one of the capital’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Shortly after returning from a week-long trade mission in Asia, the president appeared to be feeling the heat on Tuesday, when, instead of recognizing the protesters’ legitimate concerns, he slammed them for conspiring to “destabilize” his government.

In a bid to diffuse the crisis that night, First Lady Angélica Rivera posted a YouTube video in which she vowed to sell the controversial property, despite insisting that she had bought it legitimately using her own considerable career earnings as a soap star.

But the gambit quickly backfired and Rivera’s intervention was roundly mocked on social media after she claimed to have earned approximately 10 million dollars in 2010 and disdainfully – in full-ontelenovela mode – denounced all criticism as attempts to “defame” her husband…

Click here to read this story in full at Latin Correspondent.

Digital payment networks enhance financial inclusion in Mexico

November 17, 2014
70% of transactions in Mexico are made in cash - will more stores offering card terminals make a difference to both customers and business owners?

70% of transactions in Mexico are made in cash – will more stores offering card terminals make a difference to both customers and business owners?

In every corner of Mexico you will find small, family-run grocery stores that stock the basic essentials and provide a vital source of income for local communities.

But these traditional micro-businesses have suffered from increased competition in recent years, with four closing down for every larger format store that opens. This is a concerning trend, particularly in the more remote and under-developed areas of Mexico where economic opportunities are few and far between.

In a bid to support these small businesses, Mexico’s largest baked goods provider, Grupo Bimbo, is supplying them with mobile point-of-sale terminals that enable them to process electronic transactions for the first time…

Click here to read this feature in full at The Guardian.

Mexican president embroiled in worst crisis of his administration

November 14, 2014
"I'm tired too, but of the narco government," reads this sign.

“I’m tired too, but of the narco government,” reads this sign, in reference to the Attorney General’s gaffe.

Outrage over the disappearance and probable murder of 43 students shows no sign of abating in Mexico, with President Enrique Peña Nieto and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam bearing the brunt of public anger over the last week.

In a press conference in Mexico City last Friday, Karam announced that three members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang had admitted to murdering the students, burning their bodies and throwing plastic bags full of their ashes into a nearby river.

Shortly after delivering this delicate news to the victims’ parents, the Attorney General grew tired of answering questions and called the press conference to a close. “Ya me cansé,” he said, meaning, “Enough, I’m tired”.

The insensitive phrase immediately became a trending topic on social media under the hashtag #YaMeCansé, with thousands of Mexicans posting messages like “Enough, I’m tired of corruption” and “Enough, I’m tired of living in a narco state”.

Many people called for Karam to resign, but he was unrepentant on Monday, explaining that the remark was the result of emotional exhaustion and a lack of sleep…

Click here to read this article in full at Latin Correspondent.

Reporting on the fate of Mexico’s 43 missing students

November 13, 2014

I made my live TV debut on Sky News in the UK last Saturday, discussing the fate of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa college and the massive impact the case has had in Mexico.

It was my first time on television (unless you count this brief appearance on the HuffPost Live online channel) so there were a few nerves and I need to work a bit on the intonation, but that aside it didn’t go too disastrously and I would definitely like to do more broadcast journalism in the future.

I happened to be in Mexico City at the time and while I was there I witnessed some of the pain, suffering and rage that people have been experiencing all across Mexico in the wake of this atrocity.

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A banner proclaims “it was the state” that was responsible for the disappearance of the 43 students.

The Angel de Independencia, one of the capital’s most famous landmarks, on the iconic Paseo de la Reforma, was filled with candles, photos of the missing students and messages expressing solidarity with the victims or anger at the government.

Later that night, thousands would march through the city to the main square, where masked protesters (or agent provocateurs) firebombed the entrance of the National Palace.

It’s hard to predict what will happen now. Earlier today a reporter from Portugal’s Expresso newspaper asked me to comment on the situation and I told her that in my five years in Mexico I’ve never experienced an atmosphere of anger and unrest like this.

The only thing that seems clear is that people are not going to let this be forgotten and are determined to do something to fight the rampant corruption that facilitates tragedies like this.

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“I don’t know you but we need each other in order to create a new world,” reads this sign.

Mexico’s “guilty until proven innocent” justice system is failing the nation

November 9, 2014
Mexico's most successful documentary ever, Presunto Culpable laid bare the deep flaws in the national justice system.

Mexico’s most successful documentary, Presunto Culpable laid bare the deep flaws in the justice system.

Following their arrest in a grimy, working-class borough of Mexico City early Tuesday morning, the fugitive former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, will now face justice.

They stand accused of ordering the abduction of the 43 students who disappeared outside the town of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero on September 26.

The negative publicity caused by the case and the immense pressure on the government to solve the crime mean the suspects are likely to be tried sooner than many defendants are in Mexico, where the judicial process can be painfully slow.

But when they do stand trial, there will be no jury to decide whether or not they are guilty, and the judge will hear no verbal testimony from prosecutors, witnesses or the accused.

Instead, as is the norm in Mexico, the judicial process will consist almost entirely of written evidence submitted to a judge who will then singlehandedly determine the outcome of the trial…

Click here to read this feature in full over at Latin Correspondent.

Feds seize marijuana, cocaine and heroin at Guadalajara airport

October 31, 2014
Sniffer dogs led federal agents to the illicit shipments.

Sniffer dogs led federal PGR agents to the illicit marijuana shipment that was en route to the US.

Federal agents have seized illegal drug shipments at the Guadalajara International Airport for the last two Fridays in a row.

Following a public tip off, on October 24, agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) seized ten packages containing 2.58 kilos of cocaine and 1.69 kilos of heroin that were on their way to Houston, Texas.

The following week, agents accompanied with sniffer dogs found seven packages containing 9.43 kilos of marijuana hidden in secret compartments inside wooden tables and chairs. All of the shipments were en route from Morelia, Michoacan, to the United States. They were being shipped by a courier company that operates out of the Guadalajara airport.

Sending drugs by courier is not a new method of trafficking. Infamous Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is said to have sent shipments via Fedex in the past.

The PGR did not comment on who was behind these drug shipments, but it is most likely to be the work of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, which has grown in influence in recent years and now controls most of Jalisco state and parts of neighboring Michoacan.

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The marijuana was hidden in secret compartments in the wooden furniture being shipped by courier.

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