Saturday, November 26, 2011

A "green zone" for firms in Ciudad Juárez

Business on the bloody border

Desperate measures to keep businesses alive in the world’s most dangerous city

For some reason, shoppers shun Juárez

A STEEL fence is all that separates El Paso, in west Texas, from Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico, and it has never stopped business flowing across the border. Drinks, dentistry and divorces have been served up to bargain-seeking gringos for decades. But since fighting erupted among local drug-traffickers in 2007, Juárez has seen more violence than anywhere on Earth, battlefields aside. The murder rate last year was over 200 per 100,000 people, more than ten times the national average and 200 times the rate in El Paso. In a once-busy tourist area close to the border, well over half the shops are boarded up.

Visitors “think Mexico is a country at war,” says one dentist with a practice close to the frontier. Since the violence ratcheted up, three-quarters of his mainly American patients have decided that crossing the border for half-price drilling is not worth the risk. It does not help that since September 11th 2001 crossing the border can take up to two hours, rather than a few minutes. Most gringo-oriented businesses have struggled: a few blocks away Club 21, a betting shop, has closed, as has the Montana restaurant, which once served toothsome steaks. A hotel lies half-built; the rumour is that its backer was a drug lord who was killed earlier this year.

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Mexico's changing drug war

Shifting sands

The drug war’s fifth year throws up new trends, for better and worse

FIVE years ago next week, Felipe Calderón took office as Mexico’s president and launched a crackdown against organised crime. Since then there has been a horrible predictability about the country’s drug war: each year the number of deaths has risen, most of them concentrated in a handful of cities. But this year both those tendencies look as if they have started to change. The annual death toll seems to have plateaued at around 12,000. Hotspots have cooled, only for violence to invade places previously considered safe.

Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua state and on the border with Texas, is the most striking example of this. For several years it has been the most dangerous place in Mexico and, by most counts, the world. A city of 1.3m, it saw more than 3,000 murders last year. Yet this year the number of mafia-related killings in Chihuahua has fallen by about a third, according to a tally by Reforma, a newspaper, as have kidnappings and car thefts. (The government has not released murder statistics in almost a year.) So far this year, Chihuahua state accounts for only around 15% of such murders in Mexico, down from a peak of 32%.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mexican politics

Left in the lurch

Mexico’s divided leftist party has chosen a veteran radical as its presidential candidate. Will he pull it out of its hole, or dig it in deeper?

ON A quiet street in central Mexico City is a bright-yellow building claiming to be the headquarters of the “Legitimate Government of Mexico”. This curious outfit is run by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a charismatic leftist who narrowly lost the presidential election of 2006, which he believes was fraudulent. In the weeks after the election his followers brought the capital to a standstill with a protest that inspired millions of Mexicans and infuriated millions more. Mr López Obrador, known to friends and foes alike as AMLO, is still a polarising figure. His party’s decision on November 15th to select him again as its candidate in next year’s presidential race added uncertainty to the contest and to the party’s own future.

Mr López Obrador began the 2006 campaign as the favourite. This time, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), under whose banner he will run again, languishes a distant third. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, leads the pack and looks set to return under the slick candidacy of Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of Mexico’s most populous state. The ruling centre-right National Action Party (PAN) of Felipe Calderón is clinging on to second place, buffeted by soaring crime and a subdued economy.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Human rights in Mexico

Friendly fire

Sending soldiers to do the job of police has led to widespread abuses

A cure worse than the disease?

ISRAEL ARZATE was walking to his home in Ciudad Juárez in February 2010 when a truck pulled up. Two men forced him into the back seat. When they got out, he says, they blindfolded him, made him strip, and applied electric shocks before suffocating him with a plastic bag. He finally broke when they told him that without his co-operation, his wife would be found “dumped and raped in an empty lot”.

Gangsters rich on drug profits have brought hell to Juárez, a dusty border city full of such grim tales. Yet Mr Arzate’s alleged torturers were not criminals but soldiers. As part of a crackdown on organised crime, Felipe Calderón, the president, has sent 50,000 troops to police the streets of Mexico. They have helped to kill or capture some of the country’s most wanted kingpins. But poorly trained and under pressure to get results, some have resorted to the same tactics as the criminals.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nicaragua's presidential election

The survivor

Buoyed by a growing economy and Venezuelan cash, the Sandinista leader who toppled a dictator is set to win an unconstitutional third term

SPORTING sunglasses and military fatigues, Daniel Ortega’s portrait graced thousands of student-bedroom walls in the 1980s. His Sandinista guerrillas overthrew Anastasio Somoza, whose family had run Nicaragua as a private fief for four decades until 1979, and inspired even more support when the United States began an unsuccessful covert war to remove them. Mr Ortega lost power in the country’s first-ever free election in 1990, but was voted back into office in 2006. On November 6th he is likely to win another five-year term.

The world’s romance with his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has soured. Whereas Mr Ortega was once a symbol of victory over tyranny, he is now a cheat. Local elections in 2008 saw vast fraud, with the FSLN wrongly awarded some 40 mayoralties. Foreign donors suspended over $100m in protest. This year the signs are ominous. Voting cards have not been delivered in some areas, and accreditation of opposition parties’ agents has been slow. The government has admitted a few EU election monitors, but no independent domestic observers.

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