Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mexico's drug war

Shallow graves, deepening alarm

Still no end to the horrors

OFFICIALLY, nearly 35,000 people have been killed since Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, began an assault on his country’s drug-trafficking “cartels” at the end of 2006. But the true body count will never be known. On April 6th police discovered mass graves near San Fernando, a town in Tamaulipas state near the border with the United States, which so far have yielded 183 bodies. Two weeks later hidden tombs were discovered in the north-western city of Durango from which 100 corpses have so far been extracted.

The Tamaulipas victims were apparently killed with sledgehammers or burned alive. They included a car salesman, a social worker and a Guatemalan migrant. Investigators believe they were kidnapped from buses to be robbed and raped by the Zetas cartel. The authorities’ failure to stop the slaughter, even as unclaimed luggage mounted at bus terminals, is stunning: only last summer, 72 migrants were found murdered near San Fernando, supposedly by the same cartel. However, police did free two groups of kidnapped migrants elsewhere in the state this month.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cuba's communist congress

The start of a long, slow goodbye

Age has at last caught up with the Castros and their revolution. New ideas are emerging slightly faster than new leaders

WHEN serious illness forced him to hand over power in 2006, Fidel Castro had been running things for almost half a century. This included an incident when, needing a knee operation, he contrived to have an epidural so that he could remain conscious and therefore in charge. Under Fidel, term-limits seemed less likely in the Plaza de la Revolución than in, say, Buckingham Palace.

But on April 16th Raúl Castro, who formally took over as president from his older brother in 2008, broke with tradition. Speaking at the opening of a four-day Congress of the ruling Communist Party, he declared that senior officials, including himself, should be limited to two consecutive five-year terms in office. “It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century,” Raúl, who is aged 79, said. As the generation that led the revolution of 1959 has grown old in office, Cuba has lacked “a reserve of well-trained replacements with sufficient experience and maturity,” he admitted.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Central America briefing

The tormented isthmus

Big-time drug trafficking has arrived in Central America. Its poor, politically polarised countries must now try to cope

WHEN Eduardo’s father came back to Guatemala after a spell in the United States, the tattoos up his arms gave away his roots in the mara (gang). Before long a rival gang had planted a knife in his back; when that failed to kill him they returned to finish him off in the street near his home. Eduardo (not his real name) was only eight at the time. But to avenge his father he joined his gang as a sicario (hitman), and killed his father’s murderer. Eduardo is now trying to find out whether life can offer any of the happiness he says he has never known. Since January he has been studying computing with La Ceiba, an NGO. As for that murder: “I enjoyed it,” he says blankly.

The bullet scar on Eduardo’s chest and the beaten right arm hanging limply by his side are signs of the violence that has come to engulf Guatemala and much of the Central American isthmus. No region on earth is more routinely murderous. Guatemala’s rate of 46 murders per 100,000 people is more than twice as high as Mexico’s, and nearly ten times greater than that of the United States. Honduras and El Salvador—the other two countries that make up Central America’s “northern triangle”, as it is called—are more violent still (see chart in map). Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, the quietest members of the group, have also seen violence increase in recent years, as has Belize.

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