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Guadalajara’s calendar is packed with cultural celebrations

April 17, 2014
La-Minerva-Guadalajara

The home of tequila and mariachi, Guadalajara has a rich cultural heritage.

As Mexico’s second biggest city and one of the most culturally significant places in the country, Guadalajara hosts dozens of festivals and celebrations that draw hundreds of thousands of participants, special guests and tourists from all over the world each year. Here’s what the city has in store for the rest of 2014:

May: Festival Cultural de Mayo

Guadalajara’s May Cultural Festival is a multidisciplinary artistic event featuring opera, ballet, contemporary dance, electronic dance music and fine art exhibitions, among many other activities. Now in its 17th year, the festival has drawn over 2.2 million visitors throughout its history. There are 66 activities planned in 20 different venues across the city from May 8 to 31. The state of California is this year’s guest of honor and Gregory Porter, the winner of Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards, will be among the guest performers. Tickets for the different events range from 100 to 350 pesos ($8 to $27) and are available from Ticketmaster.com.mx.

June: Fiestas de Tlaquepaque

A delightful district popular with foreign tourists for its craft markets and cobbled streets, San Pedro de Tlaquepaque hosts an annual fair from June 14 to 30 in honor of San Pedro, the municipality’s patron saint. Centered around the Valentin Gomez Farias recreational center, the Fiestas include parades, beauty pageants, rodeos, cockfights, sporting events, fairground rides, live music and plenty of food and drink. One spectacular but somewhat dangerous local tradition that visitors may want to observe from some distance takes place on June 29, the day of San Pedro, when scores of fireworks are fired from wooden structures known as El Castillo and El Toro (the castle and the bull).

July: Intermoda Fashion Fest

Mexico’s premier fashion industry event, Intermoda is a biannual affair held at the Expo Guadalajara convention center every January and July. It has running for 30 years and is considered one of the most important showcases of design trends in Latin America. Over 23,000 buyers attend the conferences and catwalks where 950 designers from across Mexico and beyond exhibit their latest designs. Although this is essentially an industry event, visitors will be able to watch beautiful models sporting next season’s trends and take advantage of trade stalls offering discounted accessories. The next edition takes place from July 15 to 18.

Female mariachis

Guadalajara’s International Mariachi Festival takes place every August.

August: International Mariachi Festival

Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi music and charreria (Mexican rodeo) and these most emblematic forms of Mexican culture are both celebrated in this annual festival. Every year mariachi groups from all over Latin America, North America, Europe and even Asia make the pilgrimage to Guadalajara to perform nightly concerts and participate in the mariachi parade along Avenida 16 de Septiembre. This year the festival runs from August 28 to September 8.

September: Independence Day

Mexico’s most patriotic day, El Dia de Independencia, marks the War of Independence from Spain, which began on September 16, 1810. The festivities begin on September 15, with celebrations scheduled in almost every bar, restaurant or public space in Guadalajara. The biggest party of all is held at the Plaza Liberacion in the historic city center, where at midnight the Jalisco State Governor shouts “Viva Mexico!” in a reenactment of independence hero Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s stirring call to arms known as the “Grito de Dolores.” The annual celebrations also include parades and firework displays.

October: Fiestas de Octubre

Throughout the entire month of October, Guadalajara hosts the Fiestas de Octubre, an inexpensive festival with a wide array of attractions for visitors of all tastes and ages. Most of the events are held at the Auditorio Benito Juarez, where attendees can enjoy street entertainment and fairground rides, sample local cuisine, marvel at art exhibitions, browse markets with over 700 vendors, and sing and dance to live music. Adults pay 30 pesos to enter (US$2.30) while kids’ tickets are half price. Tickets includes entry to live concerts by famous bands from Mexico and abroad.

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Candy skulls are a popular gift during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations.

November: The Day of the Dead

Mexico’s best known festival, El Dia de los Muertos dates back to pre-Columbian religious rituals from over 500 years ago. Every year on November 2, millions of Mexicans gather to honor and remember deceased friends and family (children are remembered on November 1 – All Saints Day). The nation’s cemeteries are packed as relatives leave offerings at their graves, including photos of the deceased, their favorite dishes and even packets of cigarettes and bottles of tequila. It is also traditional to decorate graves with cempazuchitl, orange marigold flowers whose sweet, enticing scent is supposed to draw out the spirits of the dead. The best cemeteries to visit in Guadalajara are the Panteon de Mezquitan and the spooky Panteon de Belen where visitors can take a night-time tour and learn about the resident vampire.

December: International Book Fair

Guadalajara’s Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL) is the world’s second biggest book fair after the Berlin International Literature Festival. Held at the Expo Guadalajara, this year’s nine-day event runs from November 29 through December 7. The FIL draws hundreds of thousands of visitors as well as many prominent authors and intellectuals who come from across Latin America and beyond to attend prize-giving ceremonies, give talks, participate in debates and sign major publishing deals. The FIL also serves as platform for other countries to showcase their music, culture and cuisine in Guadalajara, as every year the guest of honor sends an envoy of cultural ambassadors to set out their stalls and give special performances throughout the event. This year’s special guest is Argentina.

‘Canelo’ Alvarez dumps Televisa after manslaughter accusation

April 14, 2014
Canelo AlvarezCredit: Photograph by James Michelfelder & Therese Sommerseth

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez dumped Televisa after it blamed him for the death of sparring partner Javier Jauregui.

Guadalajara-born boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has ended his alliance with Mexican broadcaster Televisa following accusations that he was responsible for the death of sparring partner Javier Jauregui.

Alvarez, the former WBC and WBA Light Middleweight Champion, enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-language media outlet, for over five years, culminating in a bout with Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas last September. Alvarez lost on points but the highly anticipated fight broke box-office records and was broadcast by Televisa to a record audience of 45 million in Mexico.

Yet Alvarez’s stock has since fallen and he was fortunate to win by technical knockout against his next opponent, the decidedly less glamorous Alfredo Angulo, on March 8. A week later, despite having helped fuel – and profited from – Alvarez’s rise to superstardom, Televisa publicly turned against him.

In consecutive weekly issues, Televisa-owned magazine TV y Novelas explicitly blamed Alvarez for the death of his friend and sparring partner  Jauregui, a former lightweight champion who died in Guadalajara on December 11. Jauregui died at the age of 40 from a stroke, which TV y Novelas alleged was the result of “the terrible blows that he received during his training sessions with the redhead ahead of his fight against Angulo.”

Alvarez paid for Jauregui’s funeral and delayed a trip to watch his brother Ricardo fight in San Antonio, Texas in order to attend the service. Enraged by the allegations against him and the lack of support he felt from Televisa, Alvarez opted to rupture his partnership with the broadcaster ahead of his fight with Cuban boxer Erislandy Lara.

“I’ve decided that my fight on July 12 will not be televised by Televisa for professional and personal reasons. Thanks for your support and we will continue looking for what’s best for all of you and for me,” Alvarez posted on Instagram on April 8.

The fight may not be televised in Mexico unless a compromise agreement is reached with Televisa or an alternative broadcaster is found, with rival network TV Azteca being one such possibility.

Golden Boy Promotions owns Alvarez’s television rights in the United States but the promoter has not clarified conflicting reports over whether the boxer retains ownership of such rights in Mexico.

This is not the first time that a member of the Alvarez family has been accused of killing someone. Canelo’s brother Victor Alvarez is wanted by the Jalisco authorities for allegedly shooting dead Luis Enrique Gama Partida at a private party in the town of Juanacatlan in November 2012.

Canelo is also no stranger to controversy himself, having allegedly hospitalized fellow boxer Ulises “Archie” Solis at a Guadalajara training facility in October 2011.

US designates Guadalajara’s Lucrecia Bar for money laundering

April 11, 2014
Lucrecia-Guadalajara

Guadalajara’s Lucrecia nightclub is allegedly a front for the Sanchez Garza money launderers.

The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Guadalajara’s trendy Lucrecia nightclub for laundering illicit funds for two of Mexico’s most wanted drug barons.

The bar was designated on April 10, along with nine real estate development companies, following a joint investigation by the DEA and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The businesses are all linked to the Sanchez Garza family, “a money laundering organization based in Guadalajara, Mexico that began operating on behalf of major narcotics traffickers Rafael Caro Quintero and Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno (a.k.a. El Azul) in the 1980s,” OFAC said in a statement.

Six members of the Sanchez Garza family were designated under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act last June, while another five relatives were blacklisted on Thursday. “Today’s action prohibits U.S. persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these individuals or entities, and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction,” OFAC noted.

“Today’s designation targets those who hide behind seemingly legitimate real estate operations in order to support the illicit finance activities of drug trafficking empires led by Rafael Caro Quintero and Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno,” added OFAC Director Adam J. Szubin. “OFAC will continue to investigate and uncover the ties between similar types of deceitful operations and money laundering networks.”

A founding member of the Guadalajara Cartel, Caro Quintero is wanted in the United States for the role he played in the abduction, torture and murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. He was arrested and convicted in Mexico but was controversially released on a technicality last August, having served just 28 years of a 40-year sentence.

“El Azul” Esparragoza is another veteran drug trafficker who used to work with Caro Quintero in the Guadalajara Cartel. He has kept a lower profile over the years but is now believed to be leading Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Federation alongside Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, following the arrest of their partner Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in February.

OFAC-Sanchez-network

OSAC designated five new individuals linked to the Sanchez Garza family on April 10.

Located at Avenida Pablo Neruda 3085 in Guadalajara’s swanky Providencia neighborhood, Lucrecia is a popular hangout for the city’s large student population. The bar last made headlines in March 2013 when the head waiter was shot eight times after refusing to allow an unidentified assailant to enter.

This is not the first time that businesses related to Caro Quintero and Esparragoza have been designated for money laundering in Guadalajara and the state of Jalisco. In June 2013, OFAC imposed sanctions against 18 people and 15 companies that allegedly moved money for Caro Quintero. These included Barbaresco, a popular restaurant in Providencia, and Grupo Fracsa, the company behind the luxury Pontevedra and Zotogrande developments beside Avenida Acueducto in the upmarket Puerta de Hierro area. Another 20 local businesses and one other individual were then designated for laundering money on Caro Quintero’s behalf in October.

In July 2012 OFAC also designated nine entities and 10 individuals linked to Esparragoza, including several businesses run by members of his family in the municipality of Tlajomulco on the southern outskirts of the Guadalajara metropolitan area. Most notably, according to OFAC, Esparragoza’s wife Maria Guadalupe Gastelum Payan and their four children own the Provenza Residencial gated community and the adjacent Pronvenza Center shopping mall on Avenida Lopez Mateos.

The latest figure to be accused of laundering money for Esparragoza was Colombian-Mexican citizen Hugo Cuellar Hurtado, who was designated on February 27. According to OFAC, Cuellar formerly worked for Colombia’s infamous Medellin Cartel and then began supplying cocaine to the Sinaloa Federation in the late 1990s.

OFAC designated two Guadalajara pawn shops owned by Cuellar and a 57-acre ostrich ranch in Tlajomulco, where he recently welcomed a reporter from the New York Times in order to publicly protest his innocence.

The US State Department offers rewards of five million dollars for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Caro Quintero and Esparragoza. However, the latest designations may have little or no impact on their money laundering operations within Mexico as the local authorities have taken no apparent action against many of the businesses and individuals blacklisted in the past.

Guadalajara’s La Fuente cantina offers a taste of old Mexico

April 1, 2014
La Fuente cantina, Guadalajara

Founded in 1921, La Fuente is one of the oldest and most traditional cantinas in Guadalajara.

Step inside and it feels like you’ve walked onto a mid-twentieth century movie set from the golden age of Mexican cinema. Old men are knocking back tequila at the bar, while others are crowded around small wooden tables, sipping Corona and munching on spicy snacks to the sound of an accomplished live pianist.

A typically Mexican bar founded in 1921, La Fuente is one of the oldest and most traditional cantinas in Guadalajara. Situated at Pino Suarez 78 in the heart of the historic city center, La Fuente is a stone’s throw from Guadalajara’s biggest square, the Plaza de Liberacion, making it the perfect place to stop for a refreshing cold drink after a day of sightseeing, shopping or work.

While cantinas were once an exclusively male domain, they are now commonly frequented by the fairer sex and La Fuente in particular has established itself as one of Guadalajara’s more tourist-friendly cantinas – without ever diluting its authentic Mexican ambiance or diminishing its reputation as a popular local’s bar.

The cantina has drawn an illustrious clientele over the years, including notable sports stars, musicians, actors, writers, journalists and politicians (conveniently for the latter, La Fuente is located right next door to the Jalisco State Congress building). It has also become a favorite watering for local attorneys, who coined the phrase, “A lawyer who hasn’t been to La Fuente is not a good lawyer.”

The most obvious symbol of La Fuente’s rich history is the iconic bicycle mounted on the faded sepia walls above the bar. Legend has it that many years ago a local patron had a few too many drinks and found himself unable to pay the tab. As a sign of good faith, he left his bike behind and promised to pay upon returning for it the next day. For some reason he never came back and the bike has remained there ever since, awaiting his return.

La Fuente cantina bike Guadalajara

Legends abound regarding the origin of the iconic bike mounted above the bar in La Fuente.

However, La Fuente’s current owner Rogelio Corona claims the bike actually belonged to an inebriated railroad worker who came into the cantina in 1957.When the staff refused to serve him because of his drunken state, the man replied “Fine, I’ll just use the bathroom and then I’ll leave.” But he forgot to take his bike with him and it apparently remained in the bathroom for over two decades, until Corona bought the establishment in 1983 and mounted in on the wall beneath an arched stone column.

Today La Fuente remains a place where friends of all ages can gather around a bottle of tequila and spend hours telling jokes, gossiping and engaging in heated discussion over soccer and politics. Clients can also request songs and as the night goes on the live musicians will often have the whole place singing and dancing.

This being a Mexican cantina, the menu is almost entirely comprised of a wide selection of tequila and a more narrow range of classic Mexican beers. Tequila can be enjoyed straight or as a long drink or cocktail, and the waiters will periodically appear with complimentary bar snacks.

While class divisions are obvious in many of Guadalajara’s snobbish nightclubs, La Fuente remains a bastion of egalitarian nightlife where rich and poor can both afford to drink. A bottle of beer costs under $2 USD, while a long drink will set you back anything from $1.50 to $7 USD. Whatever your budget, it is money well spent.

Mexican marines kill Knights Templar boss ‘El Kike’ Plancarte

April 1, 2014
enrique-plancarte

Knights Templar leader Enrique “El Kike” Plancarte was killed by marines in Colon, Queretaro.

Enrique “El Kike” Plancarte Solis, the leader of Mexico’s infamous Knights Templar drug cartel, was killed by marines on Monday evening in the central state of Queretaro. 

Plancarte was shot dead after resisting arrest sometime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the town of Colon. Over 150 marines and federal police officers backed by two helicopters are said to have participated in the operation, which lasted over 24 hours as they searched several homes in Colon’s Las Cruces neighborhood.

Samuel Diaz Benitez, an alleged associate of the slain capo, who was arrested (despite offering federal police officers one million pesos to let him go) in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, Michoacan on Saturday, is believed to have revealed Plancarte’s whereabouts.

Plancarte had assumed leadership of the Knights Templar cartel alongside Servando Gomez Martinez, alias “La Tuta,” after the death of founding member Nazario Moreno last month.  Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had offered a ten-million-peso reward for information leading to the capture of Plancarte, who was accused of organized crime, drug trafficking, kidnapping, murder and robbery.

Several Mexican media outlets cited federal sources confirming Plancarte’s death on Monday night, but the government will not make an official announcement until forensic tests have been completed. The Felipe Calderon administration famously erred by prematurely announcing Nazario Moreno’s death in December 2010, more than three years before he was finally killed.

Plancarte’s death comes just two weeks after his nephew, Manuel Plancarte Gaspar, was arrested in Tarimbaro, Michoacan, where the state authorities accused him of murdering children and engaging in organ trafficking. Enrique Plancarte’s uncle, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, another high-ranking member of the Knights Templar known as “El Tio,” was also arrested by the Mexican Army in Morelia, Michoacan in January.

Enrique Plancarte’s daughter, the semi-successful pop star Melissa Plancarte, drew controversy to the family earlier this year by posing in outfits adorned with the iconic red cross of the Knights Templar.

An offshoot of the pseudo-religious Familia Michoacana cartel, the Knights Templar dominated drug trafficking in Michoacan in recent years, but has recently been weakened by a grassroots vigilante campaign and a federal offensive aimed at freeing the region from widespread extortion, kidnappings, murder, rape and theft. The death of Plancarte will further damage the cartel, which has already been driven out of many Michoacan towns this year.

The Enrique Peña Nieto administration has killed and captured the leaders of each of Mexico’s most prominent drug gangs since assuming power in December 2012, including the aforementioned Nazario Moreno, Miguel Angel Treviño Morales of Los Zetas, Mario Ramirez Treviño of the Gulf Cartel, and, most significantly, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa Federation.

Melissa Plancarte

Knights Templar boss Enrique “El Kike” Plancarte was the father of pop star Melissa Plancarte.

TV review: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

March 27, 2014
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From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series stars D. J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz as the Gecko brothers.

This month saw the premier of two TV series based on cult Robert Rodriguez movies set in Mexico: From Dusk Till Dawn and El Mariachi.

The former, an adaptation of the 1996 vampire flick written by Quentin Tarantino, was developed by Rodriguez himself for his El Rey network, in collaboration with Netflix. The latter, a Spanish-language series based on Rodriguez’s “tortilla western” trilogy, El Mariachi (1992), Desperado (1995) and Once Upon A Time in Mexico (2003), was produced for the Latin American market by Sony and Teleset (the same networks will also be making Metastasis,a Spanish-language version of Breaking Bad set in Colombia) without Rodriguez’s involvement.

I’ve yet to catch any of El Mariachi, but three episodes in, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series has already proven more engaging and entertaining than the two mediocre sequels that the original film spawned.

As is often the case in such series, the first episode was a bit slow. Inevitably, there were fewer memorable lines than in Tarantino’s snappy screenplay, and it was essentially just a drawn-out version of the opening to the movie – only with less charismatic actors than the original, which starred George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek and Tarantino himself.

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Salma Hayek starred as a sexy vampire demigodess in the original movie From Dusk Till Dawn.

But in the second and third episodes Rodriguez introduced new characters and more back-story, including a Mexican drug cartel angle and a Satanic Mayan cult headed by serpent-loving demigoddess who makes La Santa Muerte look like the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The series has drawn positive reviews so far and today it was announced that it will be renewed in a second season of 13 episodes. While unlikely to reach the heights of Breaking Bad or Netflix’s House of Cards, it is a trashy and entertaining show that remains faithful to the spirit of the movie.

It is also a far cry from teen guff like Twilight or the The Vampire Diaries. Rodriguez’s show, like his vampires, has real bite to it.

Jalisco stadium closed after Chivas fans clash with police

March 24, 2014

Guadalajara authorities have closed the Estadio Jalisco soccer stadium following violent clashes between hooligans and police in Saturday’s game between local rivals Chivas and Atlas.

Seventeen people were arrested and at least 30 civilians and eight police officers were injured in the brawl, which began when the Chivas ultras – known in Mexico as porras – started throwing flares from the upper tier toward the end of the Clasico Tapatio, which finished one goal apiece.

Television footage showed chaotic scenes as unruly Chivas fans outnumbered the police and brutally beat several officers, leaving two seriously injured. Another video posted on YouTube also showed police officers aggressively manhandling fans.

“After revising the evidence we’re going to close the building,” Jesus Lomeli, general secretary of the Guadalajara municipal government, told reporters the following day. The Estadio Jalisco is home to Club Atlas, who used to share the stadium with Chivas de Guadalajara before the latter side moved across town to the Estadio Omnilife in 2010. It is unclear if the Estadio Jalisco will be reopened in time for Atlas’ next home game against Puebla on April 5, or where that match will take place if not.

Chivas can also expect heavy sanctions for its supporters’ role in the violence. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has issued a statement of support for the Guadalajara authorities, declaring, “We reaffirm our commitment to a clean game inside and outside the grounds, the Federation will at all times support the investigation so as to identify and punish those responsible for such pitiful acts.”

In response to the bloody scenes, Chivas announced that is has banned all members of official supporter groups that are found to be responsible from attending games. The decision comes just a week before Chivas hosts its other bitter rival, Club America, in next Sunday’s Super Clasico.

“Following the shameful acts that occurred during the Clasico Tapatio, Club Deportivo Guadalajara S.A. de C.V. informs that it will investigate with photos, videos, and witnesses who were the responsible ones for the assault on the police officers. We will put our resources to make sure these individuals never go inside a Mexican soccer stadium ever again,” read an official Chivas press release. “In addition the club also announces that it has banned all members of organized supporter groups that were issued credentials at the start of this season if they are found to be responsible. This will take immediate effect for the upcoming Clasico against Club America.”

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