LIKE many a sun-seeking tourist, the monarch butterfly prefers to spend winter in the warmth of Mexico. Before the first frosts, it leaves its breeding grounds in Canada and the United States and flies up to 5,000km (3,000 miles) to a patch of forest west of Mexico City. Weighing down tree branches in giant clusters by night, the monarchs flutter through the forest in their millions in the day, turning the sky amber.
I HAD an unusual appointment on Saturday at a tent outside the British embassy in Mexico City. Estíbalis Chávez, a 19-year-old Mexican schoolgirl, had been camped on a street corner outside the compound for ten days, foregoing food. Her ongoing hunger strike is designed to persuade the British government to give her a ticket to the April wedding of “Príncipe Guillermo” and Kate Middleton. The ambassador, Judith Miller, has sent her a letter gently telling her that it’s not going to happen. “But I still have hope,” says Ms Chávez, who is very faint after ten days without food but has vowed to stay outside the embassy until her health gives way—or the wedding planners give in.
A SIMMERING six-year squabble between Mexico and France finally boiled over this week, sending increasingly testy statements zipping back and forth across the Atlantic. Regarding the decision by a Mexican court on February 10th to uphold a 60-year prison sentence given to a French citizen accused of kidnapping, Mexico was responsible for a “serious humanitarian problem”, according to Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president. The Mexican foreign ministry retorted that it was “very surprising” that a head of state would conduct foreign policy in consultation with a convict. The latest fallout is that a12-month celebration of Mexican culture due to take place in France this year seems to be on the rocks.
ONE of the striking features of Mexico’s crackdown on drug gangs is that the resulting violence has kept a wide berth of the capital. Of the 34,612 murders related to organised crime that the government counted between 2007 and 2010, just 1.9% took place in Mexico City. Considering that the metropolis accounts for about 8% of the country’s population, that’s not bad going.
A LINE of Bibles snaking out of the door of the Friends of Israel Biblical Baptist Tabernacle means the afternoon service is about to start. The church has been extended three times in ten years to seat over 10,000 people, but it is still so busy that the faithful use Bibles to hold their spots in the queue. Weekly attendance is now 80,000, which its officials say is the most in El Salvador.
AS THE tally of murders linked to organised crime has risen over the past four years in Mexico, analysts have warned that insecurity is spreading to areas that were previously unaffected. The Mexican government insists that, on the contrary, the violence remains highly concentrated. Who is right? The answer, oddly, is both. In 2007, the first full year of the crackdown against the “cartels”, as the mafias are known, 70% of homicides linked to organised crime took place in just 4% of the country’s municipalities. In 2010, again, 70% of killings took place in only 3% of municipalities. If anything, the violence has become slightly more concentrated over time. But total annual killings have risen dramatically. The total for 2010 was more than five times that of 2007 (though there was an encouraging dip towards the end of the year). So although 97% of the country still sees only 30% of all the violence, that 30% represents a much larger number in gross terms than it did four years ago. The map above illustrates the paradox that violence in Mexico has spread extensively, while remaining highly concentrated.
"TOP GEAR", an inexplicably populartelevision programme in which three paunchy Englishmen drive slender foreign sportscars, recently began a new series in Britain. The BBC, which makes "Top Gear", is short on money. How do you think they decided to generate some publicity on the cheap?