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Mexican police chief implicated in attack against female reporter

September 12, 2014
The brutal assault left Karla Silva in hospital with cerebral edema and problems with her vision.

The brutal assault left Karla Silva in hospital with cerebral edema and problems with her vision.

Mexican authorities are searching for a municipal police chief who was allegedly responsible for the savage beating of a 24-year-old female reporter in the central state of Guanajuato last week.

Nicasio Aguirre Guerrero, head of the police department in the city of Silao, stands accused of hiring three men to assault local reporter Karla Silva at the offices of El Heraldo de León newspaper on September 4.

Two suspected culprits were arrested on September 11 and Guanajuato Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa Aguirre told the press there was substantial evidence indicating that the police chief “orchestrated it and hired these people to carry out the attack.”

Having evaded arrest that morning, Aguirre is now considered a fugitive from justice. Silao Mayor Solís Arzola is also being investigated and faces questioning over the attack…

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

Three months on, El Azul’s apparent death remains shrouded in mystery

September 11, 2014
There is no hard evidence to prove that 'El Azul' Esparragoza died in June.

After months of investigation. there is no hard evidence to prove that ‘El Azul’ Esparragoza died in June.

U.S. and Mexican intelligence agencies have not uncovered any evidence to support recent reports of the death of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza Moreno, according to an investigation by Mexican newspaper Reforma.

A veteran but discreet drug lord, Esparragoza, 65, is thought to have assumed control of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, alongside Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada after the arrest of their partner Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in February.

Rumors of his apparent death first circulated on Sunday, June 8, when Sinaloa newspaper Riodoce reported that he had died from a heart attack two weeks after damaging his spinal column in a car accident. The Mexican government never confirmed the news but Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former head of international operations, said Mexican federal security sources told him that members of Esparragoza’s family had confirmed his death.

Shortly after the news of Esparragoza’s death, Bloomberg reported that Mexico was awaiting the results of DNA tests that would conclusively prove whether or not he was dead. Yet the results were never made public and it is unclear how they could have been conducted given that all the reports of Esparragoza’s death stated that his remains were immediately cremated.

Now it appears that Esparragoza could still be alive. In late August, Jesus Murillo Karam, the head of Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR), declared that it had found no proof that he is dead. Esparragoza was reported to have died at a hospital in Guadalajara or Mexico City, but investigations by U.S. and Mexican authorities have uncovered no evidence to support this, Reforma stated.

The rumors of his death were fueled by conversations overheard on the telephones and radio frequencies of cartel members in Guadalajara, according to Reforma’s sources. In some conversations it was mentioned that Esparragoza had died on Saturday, June 7, while others revealed that he had been receiving treatment at the Hospital Real San Jose in Zapopan, part of the Guadalajara metropolitan area.

Having investigated a number of hospitals in the city, Mexican intelligence agencies believe Esparragoza may have visited Real San Jose but they do not think he died there, Reforma noted. Their investigations revealed that no one of the name, age or appearance of Esparragoza died that weekend, nor were there any records of anyone that could pass for him being cremated at any of Guadalajara’s funeral parlors.

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Mexican authorities believe the man seen here in the Hospital San Jose Real may be ‘El Azul’.

Reforma said it had access to the Hopsital Real San Jose’s 41 CCTV cameras but found no evidence of Esparragoza’s presence there on Saturday, June 6. However, the following day at 8:06 p.m. a mustachioed man wearing dark pants and a grey t-shirt and cap was filmed talking with a doctor in the emergency ward. It is impossible to conclusively prove that it was Esparragoza due to the poor quality of the footage, but the man fits his appearance and – according to Reforma – Mexico’s intelligence agencies suspect that he may have been treated at the hospital that weekend.

The following week, three Masses were held in honor of Esparragoza in churches in Culiacan, Sinaloa. Mexican newspaper La Jornada claimed the authorities had received reports indicating that Esparragoza may actually have died at a hospital in Culiacan where he had been registered under a fake name. However, PGR staff told La Jornada that they had carried out investigations in the states of Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon and Jalisco without uncovering any clues as to his fate, while Sinaloa Governor Mario Lopez Valdez dismissed the news of his death as “just rumors.”

The latest suggestion that Esparragoza is dead came from a man claiming to be his son, Jose Juan Esparragoza Jimenez, who was arrested by marines in Culiacan in late August. Esparragoza junior claimed that his father died in Mexico City after suffering a car accident. He said he was cremated in Mexico City and his ashes were then taken to Culiacan.

But Reforma reported that the Mexican authorities grew suspicious of the detainee – who is awaiting trial after being caught in possession of over 26 kilos of methamphetamine, 369 grams of cocaine, 74 grams of marijuana, two military-grade firearms, 75 rounds of ammunition and 2.7 million pesos ($204,000) in cash – because he seemed overly willing to discuss his father’s death. Furthermore, the U.S. and Mexican intelligence agencies have no records of Esparragoza having a son of his name, even though they have exhaustive records on his family members, many of whom have been designated for money laundering under the U.S. Kingpin Act.

Esparragoza, who was imprisoned three times in the 1970s and 1980s, had always sought to keep a low profile and it may be that friends and family members invented the death in order to help him evade the U.S. and Mexican authorities, who have posted rewards worth over $7 million for information leading to his arrest and/or prosecution.

If so, he would not have been the first Mexican drug lord to play dead in order to escape unwanted attention. The Mexican government famously claimed to have shot dead Knights Templar kingpin Nazario Moreno Gonzalez in December 2010 but it was not until March this year that he was finally killed.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes and Ignacio Coronel, two of Esparragoza’s close companions from the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels respectively, are also rumored to have faked their own deaths: the former in a botched plastic surgery operation in Mexico City in 1997; the latter in a military raid on his home in Guadalajara in 2010.

Given the lack of transparency and trust in the government in Mexico, few will believe that Esparragoza is truly dead until they are presented with irrefutable evidence.

Ten most famous people from Guadalajara

September 11, 2014
guillermo_del_toro_monster

Guillermo del Toro is best known for his fantasy, horror and monster movies.

Home to over four million inhabitants, Guadalajara is best known as the birthplace of tequila, mariachi music and charreria (Mexican rodeo). But the city has also produced an array of music, film and sports stars that are recognized the world over. Here are ten of the most famous “Tapatios,” as people from Guadalajara are known:

Guillermo del Toro

A world famous Hollywood director, Guillermo del Toro was the man behind Spanish-language fantasy/horror flicks The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as more mainstream American action movies like Blade II, Hellboy and last year’s epic blockbuster Pacific Rim. Del Toro, who turns 50 next month, also worked as the producer of The OrphanageJulia’s EyesBiutifulKung Fu Panda 2Puss in Boots, and Mama and helped script Peter Jackson’s big-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, which he was once in line to direct. In recognition of his success, del Toro was even invited to direct the traditional “couch gag” in the opening sequence of an episode of The Simpsons last year. The extended sequence, which featured dozens of monsters and villains from del Toro’s favorite horror movies, was hugely popular among fans.

Gael Garcia Bernal

A handsome and highly talented actor and director, Gael Garcia Bernal made his breakthrough in the hugely popular Mexican films Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También. He received further acclaim for his portrayal of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in the popular Spanish-language road movie The Motorcycle Diaries and has since starred in Hollywood films such as Babel, Letters to Juliet and Will Ferrell comedy Casa de Mi Padre. Having taken part in peaceful demonstrations during the Zapatista uprising of 1994, Garcia Bernal has always been a committed social activist and he helped to create not only the Ambulante organization and film festival, which works to bring documentary films to places where they are rarely shown, but also the Amnesty International Short Documentary Series Los Invisibles.

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Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has joined Real Madrid on a season-long loan deal.

Javier Hernandez

Like his father and grandfather before him, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is one of Mexico’s most beloved soccer players. Having made a relatively low-key start to his career at local side Chivas de Guadalajara, Hernandez raised eyebrows when he signed for Manchester United, then the biggest club in England, in 2010. Undaunted by taking such a huge step, he made an immediate impact, winning the English Premier League and starring in the Champions League final in his debut season.

Despite not playing as regularly in the last two years, Hernandez took another giant stride forward last week by joining Real Madrid, one of the richest and most successful clubs in the world. Hernandez has starred in two World Cups for the Mexican national team and with 36 goals in 66 appearances he is already the nation’s third highest goal scorer of all time. Having only recently turned 26 years old, he needs just 11 more goals to break the record. Few would bet against him.

Saul Alvarez

Although still only 24 years old, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has come a long way from learning to fight at his family ranch in Juanacatlan on the outskirts of Guadalajara. The red-haired boxer earned $19.5 million last year, making him the 66th best paid sportsperson in the world, according to Forbes. Alvarez boasts an impressive record of 44 wins (31 knockouts), one loss and one draw, with his only defeat coming against the world’s greatest boxer, Floyd Mayweather, in a highly anticipated bout at Las Vegas’ MGM Arena which broke box-office records last September.

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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was the world’s 66th best paid sportsperson last year.

Vicente Fernandez

No one exemplifies Guadalajara’s rich musical heritage better than Vicente Fernandez. Nicknamed “the King of Ranchera,” a traditional guitar-based form of Mexican music, Fernandez released almost 60 studio albums, plus dozens of live albums and compilations from 1965 to 2013. In total, “Chente,” as he is affectionately known, has sold over 50 million records worldwide. Most Mexicans grew up with his music and almost everyone knows the lyrics to at least some of his songs. The 74-year old singer finally retired last year, but fortunately for fans his son Alejandro Fernandez, another successful singer, continues to carry the flame.

Maná

Arguably the biggest Latin rock band in the world, Maná are a four-piece from Guadalajara who combine calypso, reggae and ska influences to create catchy pop/rock tunes. Since first finding fame with their seminal 1992 album ¿Dónde Jugarán Los Niños? Maná have won four Grammy Awards and seven Latin Grammys and sold some 35 million albums worldwide. They are hugely popular in the United States and even performed at President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign rallies and his re-inauguration ball.

Lorena Ochoa

From April 2007 until her retirement in May 2010, Lorena Ochoa was the world’s top-ranked female golfer. The only Mexican – male or female – to ever be number one in the world, she is considered the greatest golfer her country has ever produced. Ochoa grew up at her family home beside Guadalajara’s swanky Country Club and certainly took advantage of her surroundings by honing her craft on the golf course form a young age. Although now retired, she continues to host the annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational tournament, part of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. The competition, which debuted in 2008, draws the world’s best female golfers to Guadalajara to compete for $1 million in prize money every November.

Sergio-Checo-Perez

Sergio Perez will race before a home crowd for the first time at the 2015 Mexico City Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez

One of two drivers currently representing Mexico in Formula One, 24-year-old Sergio “Checo” Perez has been largely responsible for a surge in the sport’s popularity in recent years. Perez made his Formula One debut for team Sauber in 2011 and the following year he became the first Mexican to claim a place on the podium in 41 years when he finished second in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Perez went on to join for the 2013 season McLaren and then moved again to Force India in 2014. As of next season, he will be able to race in front of a home crowd for the first time, as Mexico City recently signed a lucrative deal to host five seasons of Formula One from 2015.

Ximena Navarrete

The daughter of a local dentist, Ximena Navarrete studied nutrition before shooting to fame in 2010 when she won the Miss Universe beauty pageant. After touring the world for the year, the stunning 26-year-old has since established herself as a successful model and actress. She is a spokesperson for L’Oreal Paris and Old Navy and starred in the popular 2013 soap opera La Tempestad. Navarrete is also an active proponent for humanitarian causes and in 2011 she campaignedto raise awareness for Children International, a U.S.-based humanitarian organization helping over 12,000 poor children in her native Guadalajara.

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Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarrete has represented brands such as L’Oreal and Old Navy.

Gabriel Flores

Born in Guadalajara on February 8, 1930, Gabriel Flores was a prominent Mexican painter and muralist who died on December 14, 1993. He was involved in the arts since early childhood and at the age of 18 he entered the School of Fine Arts at the University of Guadalajara, where he and other local painters formed the Neo-realist art group. Much of his work focused on historical themes of poverty, social injustice and discrimination and from 1956 he was commissioned to paint murals in public and private buildings across Guadalajara and other Mexican cities. Flores is best remembered for his his magnum opus Los Niños Héroes, a v1967 mural he painted in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle depicting the suicide of six child soldiers during the Mexican-American War.

Knights Templar boss ‘La Tuta’ Gomez rumored to have been arrested

September 9, 2014
Knights Templar kingpin Servando "La Tuta" Gomez is said to be the head of the Third Brotherhood.

Rumors of the arrest of Knights Templar kingpin Servando “La Tuta” Gomez remain unconfirmed.

Unconfirmed reports are circulating that Servando Gomez Martinez, the last remaining leader of Mexico’s infamous Knights Templar drug cartel, has been arrested in the western state of Michoacan.

A former teacher more commonly known as “La Tuta,” Gomez was reportedly captured near the border with neighboring Colima state and then airlifted to Mexico City, according to Mexican journalist Luis Avalos. Some 1,400 members of Mexico’s Rural Guard had been searching for Gomez in the area, but there has been not yet been any official confirmation of his arrest.

Gomez was a founding member and leader of the now-defunct quasi-religious cartel La Familia Michoacana and subsequent splinter group the Knights Templar, which has been severely weakened by vigilante groups and federal forces over the last year. After the deaths of his associates, Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno and Enrique “Kike” Plancarte, Gomez became the only major Templar leader still at large and in recent months he is thought to have founded a new organization known as the Third Brotherhood.

Rumored to have been hiding out in the mountains of Michoacan, Gomez has proved a more elusive figure than his peers. He has always managed to evade arrest, despite the U.S. and Mexican authorities offering bounties worth approximately $7 million for information leading to his capture or prosecution.

“Honestly he’s very smart. He moves alone, he doesn’t bring anyone with him,” said Alberto Gutierrez, leader of the Rural Guard in Michoacan, on Tuesday.

But, despite being on the run, Gomez has refused to keep a low profile. He often posts videos of himself taunting the Mexican government on YouTube and in January he even granted an interview to a team of reporters from the UK’s Channel 4 News.

Millions of dead fish mysteriously surface in lake in Mexico

September 8, 2014
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Millions of dead fish mysteriously rose to the surface of Lake Cajititlán in western Mexico last week.

CAJITITLÁN, MEXICO—Gaze across Lake Cajititlán here in western Mexico and normally you’ll see fisherman cutting their nets and tourist boats gliding over the blue-green water. But that picturesque scene turned grim last week when more than 4 million dead fish suddenly surfaced, turning the water a sinister shade of gray.

For days, the smell of rotting scales lingered in the air as locals joined government workers to scoop up more than 156 tons of freshwater popoche chub, a sardine-sized species native to the western state of Jalisco…

Click here to read the entire story by Jan-Albert Hootsen and myself for Vocativ.

Two police officers killed in shootout in Guadalajara

September 6, 2014

An unexplained shootout on a busy Guadalajara intersection left two police officers dead and two Colombians wounded on Friday evening.

The firefight took place at approximately 6:30 p.m. on the corner of Terranova and Avenida Mexico in the city’s upmarket Providencia neighborhood.

Having reportedly just left a local restaurant, the two police officers were traveling in a gray Dodge Ram with Colombian pair Juan Carlos and Maria Ines Pacheco Bercerra when a white Mercedes Benz pulled up in front of them, blocking their exit. At least two assailants armed with AK-47 assault rifles then opened fire from a green Nissan Pathfinder with Jalisco license plates.

The police officers returned fire but one was killed on the spot and the other died in hospital, according to Mexico’s Proceso magazine. The two Colombians, whom local newspapers identified as either a couple or brother and sister, were also hospitalized.

The assassins are thought to have escaped in a black Chevrolet Silverado, while those in the white Mercedez Benz also evaded arrest.

Agents from the Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office recovered the abandoned Pathfinder, which had been struck by at least ten bullets, several blocks away. Inside they discovered a gold-plated AK-47 and a nine-millimeter handgun. There were also blood stains indicating that one of the killers had been wounded in the shootout.

It remains unclear why the police officers and their Colombian companions were attacked or who the intended target of the hit was. Authorities in El Salto, a small town on the southeastern outskirts of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, confirmed that the policemen were bodyguards of Francisco Aceves, the local Director of Public Security.

It is not known if Aceves was present during the attack but the El Salto municipal government said in a statement that his escorts were off-duty on Friday and that it had no knowledge of their activities at the time of the incident. What the two Colombians were doing with the pair also remains a mystery.

Adding further intrigue to this unexplained turn of events, local radio host Pablo Lemus Navarro reported that Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval was traveling along the same point of Avenida Terranova at the time of the shootout, raising the possibility that he could have been the intended victim.

Over three million dead fish wash up in Mexico’s Lake Cajititlán

September 3, 2014
Over 82 tonnes of dead fish have been hauled from Lake Cajititlán this week.

Over 82 tonnes of dead freshwater fish have been hauled from Lake Cajititlán this week.

“The water used to be blue and crystal clear. You could see the sand and the fish beneath the surface,” said Dolores Herrera, a middle-aged fisherman’s wife from Cajititlán, a lakeside village in western Mexico. “The entire town used to bathe in the lake. Now I wouldn’t dare dip my feet in it.”

Over 82 tonnes of dead popoche chub fish have been hauled out of Lake Cajititlán since Sunday, when the now grey-green surface was covered in floating bodies for about as far as the eye could see.

The sudden death of approximately 3.2 million freshwater fish remains an unsolved mystery, but this is only the latest in a string of ecological disasters to hit Mexico in recent weeks.

It came just days after illegal drilling in the eastern state of Veracruz led 4,000 gallons of crude oil to leak into a nearby river, turning the water red and killing hundreds of turtles, rabbits, mice, birds and fish.

Earlier in August, Mexico suffered another environmental catastrophe when over 10 million gallons of toxic waste from a copper mine spilled into two rivers in the northern state of Sonora, leaving 24,000 people without clean water…

Click here to read this story in full over at The Independent.

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