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‘I can’t believe how I used to live’: from gang war to peace treaties in Monterrey

February 22, 2017
Two rehabilitated former members of Monterrey's Destroyers gang.

Two rehabilitated former members of Monterrey’s Destroyers gang who now work for NPT.

Juan Pablo García was six years old when he left home and joined a street gang. Over the next 14 years he sold marijuana for a local kingpin, became the leader of his own gang and developed a heavy cocaine addiction. Like thousands of others who hustle on the dusty streets of Monterrey, Mexico’s third-biggest city, he was the product of a society that has spawned a seemingly endless cycle of violent crime.

“I grew up in a very poor neighbourhood. We didn’t even have water or basic services,” García recalls. “After my dad abandoned us I wanted to earn money on the streets to support my mum, but I ended up getting involved with gangs.”

It was only when he “found God” at the age of 20 that García managed to break the cycle, although it took another three months of homeopathy and abstinence to kick his cocaine habit. Now 42, he is helping others to escape gang life and return to school or find formal employment opportunities.

NPT estimate that there are 2,400 street gangs in the Monterrey area alone.

NPT estimate that there are 2,400 street gangs in the Monterrey area alone.

In 2011 García founded the NGO Nacidos Para Triunfar (Born to Triumph; NPT) in a bid to prevent vulnerable youths from joining street gangs and becoming foot soldiers for large predatory drug cartels. “At this time Monterrey was controlled by the cartels,” he says. “There were a lot of kidnappings and carjackings. People didn’t want to leave their homes.”

García has since brokered over a dozen truces between more than 100 street gangs that were once locked in longstanding feuds over territory and respect. Almost 400 former delinquents have graduated from NPT’s educational programme and the aim is to remove 2,000 kids from gangs in the Monterrey area.

Thirteen gangs signed a truce at a gym hall in Monterrey’s San Bernabé neighbourhood in January. A dozen police officers brandishing submachine guns kept watch beneath the broken streetlights outside as 300 adolescents filed in wearing baseball caps, chains and baggy jeans.

The leaders of 13 warring street gangs gathered to sign a truce in a gym hall in Monterrey in January.

The leaders of 13 warring street gangs signed a truce in a gym hall in Monterrey in January.

Each gang leader had to sign the treaty and embrace their rivals but the pact almost broke down when one pair exchanged overly aggressive fist bumps. A tense standoff ensued but García persuaded them to make up. Celebrations followed, with the attendees sharing tacos and soft drinks before skanking together to live vallenato music.

Eduardo, a 16-year-old member of the TFP gang, one of the approximately 2,400 gangs in the city, hopes the truce will bring lasting peace. “We fight over things that aren’t worth it. I’ve seen stabbings and the crazier guys even pull out pistols or machetes,” he says. “It would be great if the gangs stop fighting but these rivalries go back many years. It’s hard to let your guard down but this foundation is really helping us.”

NPT have now brokered over a dozen truces between more than 100 street gangs.

NPT have now brokered over a dozen truces between more than 100 street gangs.

Eduardo’s girlfriend, Alexa, joined his gang last year. She was only 11 when she started drinking and smoking marijuana but now hopes for a brighter future. “I’m about to finish high school,” she says shyly. “I’d like to go to university and become a family lawyer.”

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

Mexico’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Senses Opportunity Despite Donald Trump’s Threats

February 16, 2017

Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval welcomes foreign talent 'with no discrimination of origin, religion or legal status.'

Jalisco’s governor welcomes foreign talent ‘with no discrimination of origin, religion or legal status’

Donald Trump’s obsession with tearing up NAFTA, bringing back jobs, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and making Mexico pay for his infamous wall has inspired much fear and uncertainty south of the border, causing the peso to plummet to record lows. 

Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched across the country on Sunday to show they will not be bullied, but also to castigate their own president, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose approval ratings have slipped to 12 percent partly because of his meek response to Trump’s threats.

In Mexico’s burgeoning tech sector, however, concern is offset by recognition of an opportunity to build a more self-sufficient scene and capitalize on Trump’s rejection of foreign talent.

Long famed as the birthplace of tequila and mariachi music, the western state of Jalisco is now known as “Mexico’s Silicon Valley” due to the proliferation of local and multinational tech firms clustered around the state capital Guadalajara.

CityDrive is growing while Uber loses business over its links to Trump

Mexico’s CityDrive is growing while Uber has lost business over its past links to Donald Trump

Last week, Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval ran a bold full-page ad in Politico magazine offering to work with any American tech firms affected by Trump’s policies, while providing opportunities for their 85,000 foreign workers “with no discrimination of origin, religion or legal status.”

“If the United States shuts the door on people with visas and skills then of course we’ll open the doors to them here in Mexico, where there’s no barriers for talent,” Sandoval said in an interview with Motherboard on Monday before flying to California for talks with local officials and dozens of major tech companies and startups…

Click here to read this article in full at Motherboard

Feast your eyes upon Mexico’s most underrated tacos

February 10, 2017
Most people at Tacos Charlie order their tacos “bañados”—literally bathed in sauce.

Most people at Tacos Charlie order their tacos “bañados”—literally bathed in sauce.

Everyone loves tacos al pastor. Beef steak, chorizo, and shrimp tacos are also hugely popular choices in both Mexico and the United States. But some regional specialties remain tragically overlooked. Jalisco-style tacos de barbacoa, for example, are perhaps the most underrated members of the taco family.

The barbacoa is made with shredded beef slowly braised with chiles and tomatoes.

The barbacoa is made with shredded beef slowly braised with chiles and tomatoes.

The central Mexican state of Hidalgo is rightly famed for its barbacoa: a succulent, pit-roasted mutton served over soft corn tortillas and often washed down with a mug of pulque. But there are other ways of doing barbacoa and few are better than the slow braised beef packed into crunchy corn tortillas found in the western state of Jalisco.

Once stuffed with meat, the corn tortillas are glazed and crisped on the comal.

Once stuffed with meat, the corn tortillas are glazed and crisped on the comal.

Here in Guadalajara, the Jalisco state capital, the quality of barbacoa can vary considerably from one establishment to another, but when it’s done right it’s better than practically any other taco filling. Although generally considered a breakfast food, tacos de barbacoa also make a fine lunch and I’d probably eat them for dinner as well if they were still on sale anywhere in the evening. (I’ve looked; they’re not.)

Tacos Charlie is one of the best places in Guadalajara to try tacos de barbacoa.

Tacos Charlie is one of the best places in Guadalajara to try tacos de barbacoa.

Once stewed in a tomato- and chile-based broth, each helping of shredded beef is typically stuffed into two tortillas and then fried on the comal until the outside turns satisfyingly crispy. Meanwhile the inner layer remains soft and soaks up the flavor from the meaty juices. Add one spoonful of diced raw onion, another of fried onion, a pinch of cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice and a dollop of salsa, and you’re in taco heaven…

Click here to read this article in full at Munchies

How French striker André-Pierre Gignac conquered the Liga MX

February 6, 2017
Vendors outside Tigres' stadium say shirts with his name are by far the most popular

Vendors outside Tigres’ stadium say shirts with Gignac’s name on are by far the most popular

Ever since the first European Championship in 1960, no final has ever been decided by a goalscorer based at a club in another continent. Elite players capable of making the difference at this level simply do not leave Europe during their prime years. Except André-Pierre Gignac, that is.

Having already won one Liga MX title with Tigres UANL, the forward from Martigues was inches away from making history. The Euro 2016 final was tied at 0-0 in the final minute of regulation when Gignac turned his marker inside out and slid the ball past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patrício, only to see it strike the inside of the post and bounce agonizingly away.

Gignac had been on the pitch for just 12 minutes, but had his shot crept in he would have been remembered as France’s unexpected hero. Instead, Portugal won the game in extra time.

“It would have caught the world’s attention if it had gone in,” reflected Samuel Reyes, the leader of Tigres’ hardcore fan group Libres y Lokos. Nonetheless, he added, Gignac’s presence is “a great way to showcase our club around the world.”

Gignac has won two Liga MX titles since joining Tigres in 2015.

Gignac has won two Liga MX titles since joining Tigres in the summer of 2015.

Undeterred by that missed opportunity, Gignac returned to the dry, desert heat of Monterrey, Mexico’s third biggest city, where he consolidated his status as a Tigres legend by winning his second league title on Christmas Day. Gignac may be the most unlikely superstar in the long history of Mexican league soccer.

Surrounded by dramatic peaks, this sprawling, smoggy metropolis was hardly Gignac’s only option when his contract at Marseille expired in the summer of 2015. Plenty of clubs were interested in the bulky forward of gypsy heritage who had scored 21 goals in Ligue 1 that season, two more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG…

Click here to read this feature in full at VICE Sports.

 

Viva México Podcast: Walls Can Fall

February 1, 2017

Listen to episode one of Viva México, a podcast by my colleague Stephen Woodman and I, featuring news and views on Mexico in the age of Trump. In this debut edition, Pedro Kumamoto, the first independent candidate ever elected to congress in the western state of Jalisco, tells us about his plans to reduce the public funding of Mexico’s political parties. We also discuss the impact of Donald Trump and the measures Mexico could take to defend itself against his threats.

Man arrested in shooting of American consular official in Guadalajara

January 8, 2017
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The shooting of the consular agent was captured on CCTV.

American and Mexican authorities have arrested the man believed to be responsible for the nonfatal shooting of a US consular official in the western city of Guadalajara.

“The detention of the aggressor against the consular agent has been achieved,” said Eduardo Almaguer, attorney general in the state of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is located, on Sunday morning. “The suspect has been handed over to Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office.”

He did not provide any further details but a source within the Guadalajara police force, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the suspect as Zafar Zia, a 31-year-old US citizen of Indian origin.

The source said Zia was captured in a joint operation by the FBI, DEA and Jalisco state officials in Guadalajara’s affluent Providencia neighbourhood early on Sunday morning. The suspect had a .380 caliber pistol tucked into his waistband when he was arrested. The authorities also seized a Honda Accord with California license plates, a wig and sunglasses that may match those seen in footage of the shooting, and 16 ziplock bags containing 336 grams of a substance believed to be marijuana…

Click here to read this article in full at The Guardian

FBI seeks suspect after US consular official shot in Mexico

January 7, 2017

A US consular official was shot in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Friday night, prompting the FBI to offer a $20,000 reward for information that leads to identifying the suspect.

Guadalajara’s El Informador newspaper reported that the victim, not named in the report or by the consulate, was being treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound in the upper chest.

CCTV footage released by the consulate showed a well built, light skinned man in gym clothes paying at a machine for a parking ticket at 6.16pm. He was immediately followed by a man in a purple T-shirt.

A second video shows the man in purple loitering by the car park exit before pulling out a pistol, firing once and running away…

Click here to read this article in full at The Guardian