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A Massacre in Mexico: book review

October 4, 2018

An estimated 15,000 protesters marched through Mexico City last week on the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 students.

A Massacre in Mexico: The True Story Behind the Missing Forty-Three Students – By Anabel Hernández

It takes a lot to stir up sustained national outrage in a country that has been ravaged by more than 200,000 murders and 30,000 disappearances in the last decade. Mired in a disastrous drug war, Mexico’s population has grown so accustomed to news of decapitations and bodies dissolved in acid that only the most nightmarish of crimes could provoke nationwide demonstrations or threaten to bring down the government.

That was precisely the kind of atrocity committed on 26 September 2014, a rainy Friday night that will never be forgotten. That evening, a group of trainee teachers from the Ayotzinapa college in the rural southern state of Guerrero arrived in the town of Iguala to commandeer buses to take them to Mexico City the following week. They intended to participate in an annual march to commemorate the massacre of scores of student demonstrators by the Mexican army in October 1968. Little did they know they would face a similar fate.

Local and federal police repeatedly attacked the students as they tried to leave Iguala aboard five buses. Officers shot dead three students and three bystanders, wounding dozens more. One student was found the next morning with his face flayed. Another remains comatose to this day. Forty-three students detained by the police were never seen again.

Mexico’s president elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to reopen the investigation into the disappearance of the students.

Before that night, Mexico’s handsome young president, Enrique Peña Nieto, could boast of undertaking major reforms and imprisoning Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. He even posed for Time’s front cover, appearing under the headline ‘Saving Mexico’. But when he leaves office in December this year, the lasting memory of his six-year term will be his government’s sinister efforts to cover up the disappearance of the forty-three students.

In A Massacre in Mexico, Anabel Hernández, a fearless journalist known for exposing the corruption and impunity that have undermined Mexico’s war on drugs, digs determinedly in search of the truth. She has conducted over a hundred interviews and trawled through more than a thousand official documents, and she examines the case in greater forensic detail than the government investigators, who hid, manipulated and fabricated crucial evidence, did…

Click here to read this book review in full at the Literary Review (subscription required)

 

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Cabrito al pastor is the perfect blend of Jewish and Mexican influences

October 3, 2018

Cabrito al pastor is often served with steamed goat’s head and machito (innards tied up in tripe)

Scraping gray strips of flesh off a kid’s skull on a recent trip to Torreón in northern Mexico, I was a little apprehensive about my first bite. Next to the head sat a ball of organs tied together with guts that glistened with fat.

But I’ve long since learned that in Mexico, it’s worth trying everything. Besides,cabrito al pastor, a spit-roasted baby goat dish not to be confused with pork tacos al pastor, is the source of great pride here in the state of Coahuila and neighboring Nuevo León.

Cabrito al pastor is one of northern Mexico’s most iconic dishes

Like tacos al pastor—a much loved Mexican take on shawarma, which Lebanese immigrants introduced to the central city of Puebla in the 20th century—cabrito al pastor is the product of Mexico’s Mestizo identity and the glorious fusion of indigenous flavors with European and Middle Eastern ingredients and influences.
My first taste came in La Majada, a local institution known for serving the best cabrito in the arid, industrial city of Torreón. Tucking into a generous plate of tender shoulder meat and crispy skin, I was immediately struck by how much gamier the flavor was than the goat birria I’ve grown to love down in Guadalajara.

Cabrito al pastor was a style popularized by Sephardi Jewish shepherds who settled in northern Mexico

The next morning I went back to meet Federico Chávez, the head chef who has worked at La Majada for 34 years. He tells me they sell 35 to 40 goats per week, with each one serving seven people…
Click here to read this article in full at Munchies

Mexico students v the state: Anniversary of 1968 massacre reopens recent wounds

October 2, 2018

Mexican army snipers from the Chihuahua building fired on student protesters in this square in Tlatelolco on 2 October 1968.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre, when the Mexican army slaughtered scores of student demonstrators in the heart of Mexico City on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games.

A memorial to the murdered students stands beside a colonial church and ancient Aztec ruins in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas.

I took a few photos at the scene of the massacre for this BBC news report by my friend Stephen Woodman.

Every 2 October, demonstrators gather at the scene of the massacre to commemorate those who were killed.

Beach-hopping in Baja California, Mexico

February 7, 2018

La Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez is a must-visit site.

Almost 800 miles long, Baja is scattered with unspoilt beaches and enchanting towns that are more affordable than the Americanised resorts at its southernmost tip. Complete with a thriving culinary scene and a flourishing wine region, this peninsula is ideal for exploration by road and sea.

n two weeks it is possible to soak up winter sun and explore everything the region has to offer, beginning with a taste of mainland Mexico in nearby Mazatlán and ending in rapidly evolving Tijuana. Air-conditioned buses cover the route but there are affordable car-rental deals with companies such as BestDay.com.

Mazatlán

Known as the Pearl of the Pacific, Mazatlán is a port in the western state of Sinaloa famed for its seafood and annual carnival (8-13 February this year). With floats, fireworks, dancing, games and pageants, this family-friendly event dates back to 1898, making it one of Mexico’s oldest carnivals. For a quieter experience, admire the neoclassical and French baroque architecture in Mazatlán’s historic centre, though adrenaline junkies could try parasailing and take in spectacular views of the city and its long, palm-fringed beach.

Baja California’s desert landscapes are spectacular.

Get a taste of traditional Sinaloa with a stop in El Changuirongo (21 de Marzo 1326, Centro), a seafood joint close to the seafront that serves aguachile, a fiery local speciality made with raw prawns seasoned with lime, chile, onion, cucumber and avocado. It’s also worth visiting La Puntilla on the seafront to try its signature dish, pescado zarandeado: freshly caught fish grilled with a coating of garlic and spices…

Click here to read this article in full at The Guardian

Financial pressures are undermining Latin America’s media

January 8, 2018

Latin America is home to a growing number of independent publications, like Venezuela’s Efecto Cocuyo, that do not depend on government advertising.

With general elections scheduled in six Latin American countries this year, and another six to follow in 2019, the relationship between the media and democracy could have a major impact on the future of the region. However, mounting financial pressures are robbing many media outlets of their objectivity and forcing them to toe pro-government lines.

With traditional advertising revenue in decline, Latin American governments are using vast publicity budgets to keep cash-strapped publications afloat. In return, the media are expected to portray their benefactors in a favourable light.

According to the NGO Freedom House, much of the media in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico is heavily dependent on government advertising, resulting in widespread self-censorship and collusion between public officials, media owners and journalists.

“The history of journalism in Latin America is a history of collusion between the press and powerful people,” said Rosental Alves, a Brazilian journalist and founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, in an interview with Index. Sections of the media have become subservient, he explained, as any critical coverage could be punished with audits or a loss of advertising revenue…

Click here to read this article in full at Index on Censorship

Tear gas, violence and new laws are all being used to frighten Latin American protesters into giving up

January 3, 2018

It’s not just the clouds of tear gas, the ping of rubber bullets or the prospect of arrest under draconian new laws that Latin Americans have to consider when they take to the streets. With freedom of expression increasingly under threat, demonstrating in Caracas’ packed plazas, Rio de Janeiro’s hillside slums or Mexico’s rural towns can mean risking one’s life at the hands of oppressive and largely unrestrained security forces.

The socialist “pink tide” of the early 2000s has subsided in recent years, giving way to broad public anger at corruption and authoritarianism on all sides of the political spectrum. Latin American governments have responded by criminalising protesters and creating pretexts for violent crackdowns, and with 14 countries due to hold presidential elections in the next two years, observers fear this cycle of unrest and repression will continue.

Luciana Pol, who coauthored the 2016 report “Latin American State Responses to Social Protest” at Argentina’s Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), warns of the increasing use of legislation and judicial rulings to regulate the act of protest. She told Index that governments are trying to make protest legally and socially unacceptable by dictating under what terms it can take place and emphasising collateral damage to public spaces or free transit.

Pol also found that the worst state aggression is usually directed at those with the least political capital and the strongest motivations to protest: the environmental activists, human rights defenders and rural, indigenous, black or LGBT populations. “When demonstrations involve the middle classes we often see less repression,” she observed. “When they’re sectors that have been marginalised for decades the repression is much stronger.”

These trends are particularly pronounced in Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico, three of the region’s most politically and economically influential countries, where rampant violence, corruption and inequality are set to shape their respective elections in 2018…

Click here to read this feature in full at Index on Censorship (subscription required for full access)

Viva México episode 10: Beyond the Wall

December 10, 2017

In the final episode of the year we speak to the actor Natalia Cordova about her role as the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in Disney Pixar’s Coco. Cordova also reveals the prevalence of sexual harassment in Mexico’s entertainment industry in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. And we discuss Mexico’s presidential candidates and look back on our personal highlights from this podcast.