My final piece from a recent reporting trip to Juarez for AFP:
Multinational-run factories employing tens of thousands are doing brisk business in Ciudad Juarez, even as local businesses in the Mexican border town wither, devastated by the high murder rate and extortion by drug gangs.
Mexican poet turned peace activist Javier Sicilia meets President Felipe Calderon, who he has much criticized for the strong-arm military tactics against drug cartels that many blame for unleashing widespread violence.
This video was produced for AFP. You can also see it here on AFP’s YouTube channel.
Daniel Dominguez, one of the hard-worked crime reporters on El Diario, the biggest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, was kind enough to let me spend the day with him last week. Here’s the report I produced for AFP, which you can also see here on YouTube. The same video is also embedded below, in case of geographical restrictions on the above.
Mexico City authorities are counting on new metro lines, improved bus services and toll roads, and cycling initiatives to ease traveling for the city’s 20 million inhabitants, reports Adam Thomson, the FT’s Mexico correspondent. Filmed, produced and edited by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Mexico’s march for peace, led by Catholic poet Javier Sicilia, crossed over from Ciudad Juarez – the violent epicenter of the country’s drug war – into El Paso, Texas Saturday.
They were joined by hundreds of Americans in their demands for a change in strategy from both the Mexican and US governments.
This video was created for AFP.
Just to give you a taste of last night:
Friday 10th 2011 – Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and his caravan of peace protestors received a warm welcome from thousands of people in Ciudad Juarez when they arrived Thursday evening. It was the final stop on a tour of some of the country’s states worst affected by drug-related violence. On arrival, Sicilia and his supporters held a rally remembering the dead.
Some 37,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared ‘war’ against the country’s organized crime and drug networks.
June 6th 2011 – Since Javier Sicilia’s son was killed by gunmen in March, the left-leaning Catholic poet has become the voice for those left dead or grieving by drug-related violence in Mexico. Some 37,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon launched his assault against the country’s drug cartels and organized crime networks in 2006. But how far can Sicilia go in improving Mexico’s future?
This video was produced by Deborah Bonello / MexicoReporter.com for AFP and you can see it here on their site. </a>
June 6th – Mexicans protesting a military crackdown on drug cartels launched a convoy protest Saturday that will travel through some of Mexico’s bloodiest towns on its way to the US border.
This dispatch was done for AFP. You can see it here on their YouTube channel.
National oil company Pemex struggles as oil production drops. Carola Hoyos reports from Mexico for the Financial Times. Filmed, produced and edited by Deborah Bonello.
Feb 3rd 2010: The remittances that Mexican migrants send home to their families from a recession-bound US has dropped by 14 per cent over the last year. Adam Thomson visited the small town of Sengio in the Mexican state of Michoacan to see how families and local businesses are being affected by the drop off in funds. Filmed and produced by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Feb 3rd: Marriage between same-sex couples in Mexico City will become legal in early March. But Adam Thomson explains how the new rules are proving controversial and opponents are planning to take it to the Supreme Court. Produced and filmed by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Although Mexico is currently in the grip of the worst drought it has suffered since World War Two, houses flooded and streets turned into lakes this week when torrential rainfall lashed down on Mexico City and the neighboring State of Mexico.
Speaking to El Universal, Ramón Aguirre, director of Mexico City’s water system, said that although the rains won’t be enough to replenish reserves enough to stop current water rationing.
See the video for more.
Video: Mexico: heavy rains can’t beat the drought. Credit: Deborah Bonello
Crops are wilting in the countryside, and the capital’s water shortage has turned dire as Mexico grapples with its worst drought in more than half a century.
Anyone with even a passing interest in Latin American art and culture will have heard of Diego Rivera, the Mexican painter and muralist. Rivera, who is credited with being one of the founders of the Mexican muralist art movement, was also an active communist and the husband of the equally famous Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.
Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in Mexico City, Chapingo and Cuernavaca here in Mexico, as well as in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. Mexico City’s Palacio Pacional, or National Palace, is home to some of the paintings that Rivera did under government commission, and those works are currently the focus of a restoration project by the federal government.
Diligent specialists are touching up missing color with watercolor paints, and using a weak alcohol solution to wash away dust and grime that the murals have collected.The restoration program is expected to be completed in September.
See the video for more.
– Deborah Bonello in Mexico City for the Los Angeles Times.
Video: Specialists restore Diego Rivera’s murals in Mexico City’s Palacio Nacional. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times.
The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City’s posh Polanco neighbourhood has been descended upon by thousands of Mexicans since the Canadian government announced on Monday that Mexican nationals now need a visa to travel to Canada.
Since Tuesday, Mexicans from Mexico City and states outside of the Federal District (another name for the capital) have been lining up around the block clutching envelopes and bundles of documents that they need to apply for the new visa. It’s up to the officials at the Canadian embassy to decide who qualifies and who doesn’t.
Much like the visa process Mexicans who want to visit the United States have to go through, they need to convince embassy officials that they only plan to visit, that they have enough money to do so, and that they won’t overstay their approved period of time in the country.
I spoke to many of the people lining around the block yesterday morning. They were, generally speaking, a very well-heeled, middle class bunch. All of those that I spoke to had already booked their flights when the Canadian government introduced the new visa restrictions.
The Canadian government explained on Monday that the new visa restrictions were in response to a surge in refugee applications from Mexican nationals. Reading between the lines, the new visa restrictions were in response to an increase in what they judge to be fraudulent refugee applications from Mexican nationals. As the news release stated:
In 2008, more than 9,400 claims filed in Canada came from Mexican nationals, representing 25 per cent of all claims received. Of the Mexican claims reviewed and finalized in 2008 by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent administrative tribunal, only 11 per cent were accepted.
The Canadian authorities have their reasons, but what still seems odd to me is that they should announce the new visa restrictions just two days before they came into force, throwing thousands of Mexican travelers into panic and dumping an enormous workload onto the embassy staff here in Mexico City. The usual working hours for visa issues is 8am to 1pm but staff have been working into the early evening over the last few days to cater to the demand for the new visa.
Watch the video for more on how Mexicans feel about the new visas.
Video by Deborah Bonello, created for the Los Angeles Times.
A couple of non-profits who work on press freedom and protection issues here in Mexico, the Rory Peck Trust and Article 19, got together and ran a course just outside Mexico City this month for 18 journalists living and working here.
During the five-day course, the participants, who came from states all over Mexico, from Michoacan all the way to Tijuana in Baja California, were “kidnapped”, dodged tear gas, learned first aid, and received psychological training on how to deal with emergencies.
See the video for more.
Video: Mexican journalists put through their survival paces, by Deborah Bonello.
Mexico’s “Museum of Drugs,” buried up on the seventh floor of the Defence Ministry, isn’t open to the public. The installation was designed as an educational tool for military personnel who have been tasked with fighting Mexico’s narco-trafficantes and organized crime networks. It explains the methods that drug traffickers use to get their product around and out of the country, as well as the strategies that the army employs to try and stop them.
– Deborah Bonello in Mexico City for La Plaza.
Government restrictions have limited them and the thousands of other restaurants in Mexico City to only providing takeout meals, and sales at Fonda Garufa have plummeted as a result.
It wasn’t hard to imagine what the real crucifixion of Christ might have been like if you were anywhere near the populous, working-class neighborhood of Iztapalapa in Mexico City last Friday.
Nothing was left to the imagination in what is one of the world’s biggest Passion plays. Holy Week, or Semana Santa, sees the staging of a number of scenes from the Bible on the streets of Iztapalapa, including Palm Sunday and the Resurrection. But none are as dramatic as the reenactment of Good Friday.
An estimated 2 million people descended on Iztapalapa on Friday to witness the 166th annual crucifixion, this year of Diego Villagran, the 18-year-old local playing the role of Jesus.
The sheer number of people taking part in or watching what was well-organized chaos was similar to portrayals of the crucifixion one might have seen in films such as “Ben-Hur” and Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ.” Babies and young children sat atop their parents’ shoulders, crammed into crowded streets and pushed up against police barriers as some of the 4,000 actors in the street play bayed for the blood of “Christ”.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s ubiquitous street vendors showed no shyness in taking advantage of the religious event. They were everywhere, flogging sunhats, bottled water and stamps of the face of Jesus, while offering to imprint the faces of those willing to pay five pesos.
The heat of the April sun, combined with the severe water shortages that the borough also experienced over the week, made the setting feel uncomfortably real. When the blood-soaked “Jesus” staggered past, surrounded by a jeering crowd that kept pushing him to the ground and laughing, it was hard to resist the urge to wade in and save him from his violent destiny.
But Villagran was well prepared for his ordeal. He has been in training for the role since January, when he was selected during a casting process from 20 young men from the neighborhood (watch the video above, filmed over a period of three months, to see Villagran prepping for his big day).
Playing the lead made Villagran into a temporary celebrity here in Mexico, and he says he has had at least one media interview a day since he was given the role.
Over the last few months in the build-up to his big week, Villagran trained daily on the Cerro de la Estrella, a steep hill that doubled as Mount Calvary on Friday. His preparation included dragging a 190-pound cross around a 2.5-mile running track and doing push-ups with a brick on his back.
But he also said that he had to do some spiritual preparation for the role that included, naturally, regular visits to church, but also what he described as “finding himself, within himself,” and asking himself at every step of the process why he was doing it.
“It doesn’t scare me to play this role – it makes me feel proud and gives me confidence,” says Villagran, who is unusually tall for his 18 years and stands head and shoulders above most of the men in the neighborhood.
Although a big guy, Villagran is still boyishly handsome, and he was striking in the role of Jesus. But he says that acting isn’t something he’s planning to pursue, adding that he’s more interested in becoming an engineer at the state-owned oil company Pemex.
“Since I was little, I’ve watched the procession, and I always wanted to see myself there – I always wanted to play the main role,” says Villagran.
“And now that they’ve given me the chance, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Well, he certainly did.
Video: Diego Villagran trains for the role of Jesus on Iztapalapa’s Cerro de la Estrella. Photo image: A video still taken from the above film. Click here for more images on Flickr. Video and photographs by Deborah Bonello
Traffic on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma was blocked briefly last Friday afternoon by an actor in the role of Jesus.
Wearing a long white robe over jeans and sneakers and carrying a cross fashioned roughly out of wood, ”Jesus” took a tumble on a pedestrian crossing on the traffic artery in front of the U.S. Embassy while on his way to Calvary Hill.
But Friday’s performance wasn’t part of Mexico’s traditional Semana Santa (Easter week) activities, which are now in full swing. The depiction of the crucifixion of Christ in the tradition known as the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, had a cross-border purpose.
Organized by pro-immigration activists, the street performance depicted Jesus as a Mexican migrant, and as the actor walked around dragging his cross, others wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ICE (U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, Mexico’s national migration agency) flogged him from behind shouting, “Walk, wretch, walk!”
One of the organizers was Elvira Arellano, who shot into the spotlight in both the United States and Mexico in 2006 after she took refuge in a Chicago church to avoid being deported back to Mexico. Click here to read more about Arellano’s case.
Arellano was eventually deported, leaving behind her 10-year-old son Saul, who was born in the United States after she had crossed the border illegally from Mexico.
“It’s very sad that the migration policies treat us as though we were basically terrorists or criminals,” Arellano said in an interview after the protest.
“We’re just families looking for a better life. We want to live better and we all believe we have the right to look for work opportunities. Unfortunately, we don’t find those opportunities here in Mexico, which is why we go looking for those opportunities in the United States.”
Arellano, who was accompanied by protesters carrying signs that said “Stop the Deportations” in English and Spanish, implored Mexican as well as U.S authorities to show more respect for migrants’ human rights. As we reported last year, tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. Migrants have been maimed or killed hopping aboard freight trains. Others are robbed or raped.
Often, they are arrested and held in squalid cells or denied medical care. In hundreds of cases, Central American families never hear from their relatives again.
“Mexico’s National Migration Institute is complicit with the U.S immigration authorities because here in Mexico they ignore the rights of migrants who come from Central America,” Arellano said.
Thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally every year.
See the video for more.
Image: A Mexican man playing the role of Jesus takes a tumble in front of the U.S embassy Friday during a street theater performance depicting Jesus as a Mexican migrant. Click here for more images on Flickr.
You may remember Eufrosina Cruz from this Column One article last year by Hector Tobar and Maria Antonieta Uribe. Cruz is a 28-year-old indigenous woman from the state of Oaxaca who is an activist for the rights of indigenous women. Cruz rebelled against the restrictions of her own community, where Zapotec is the native language, to become a college-educated accountant.
We caught up with her in Mexico City earlier this week during an event in which she launched a foundation, called Quiego, that she says will dedicate itself to providing shelter, education and work opportunities to indigenous women from poor, rural communities.
See her introduce herself here.
Speaking at a packed news conference about the women of her rural community, Santa Maria Quiegolani, in the southern highlands of Oaxaca, Cruz said: “Because we’re in the mountains, no one hears us, no one listens to us.”
She explains in the video below why she decided to speak out against some of the traditions and customs of her community in a cause that has gained national recognition.
I asked her whether she saw a conflict between her struggle and that of other indigenous communities to gain recognition and respect for a way of life that is often quite different from mainstream Mexico.
The most famous indigenous struggle here in Mexico is embodied by the masked guerrilla, Subcomandante Marcos, who led the Zapatista army out of the jungle in 1994 in a short-lived uprising.
The 1994 revolt, which lasted all of two weeks, demanded the recognition of indigenous rights. As Tracy Wilkinson reported last year about a speech Marcos made, the uprising was also “aimed at dramatizing the bleak living conditions, poverty and alienation of Mexico’s indigenous population.”
But does Cruz’s struggle to improve the lot of women in these communities undermine the struggle by Marcos and others to gain recognition and, in some cases, autonomy for indigenous traditions and customs?
Article 25 of the state constitution of Oaxaca establishes the rights of groups such as the Zapotecs to elect municipal officials according to the “traditions and democratic practices of the indigenous communities.” But women living, for example, in Cruz’s community are lucky to complete grade school, and the roost is ruled by a male-only assembly. Cruz’s sister was married off to a stranger when she was 12 years old.
Here are her thoughts on the issue.
Last week, I was invited to speak at the University of Texas Pan America about this website, MexicoReporter.com, violence against journalists in Mexico, the drug war coverage and how new technologies are contributing to the journalism beast. So I went.
The day started with a panel discussion about media coverage of the “drug war” in Mexico. I can’t help but put those two word in commas because, well, it just makes it sound so dramatic. Although it IS dramatic — the violence I mean — it’s not like the whole country is at war. Far from it.
The panel was filled by three representatives from local media, as well as three journalists from Mexico – none of whom spoke great English so a lot of the discussion was lost in translation.
The panel session was rather like a lot of television news – about a mile wide and an inch deep. It was frustrating because it focused so much on the current border violence plaguing the line between Mexico and the United States, without delving any deeper.
As I said pointed out during the discussion, the drug-related border violence between Mexico and the United States is really just the head of the beer – the violence is present in many of the country’s states and failing to report that misrepresents the problem.
Failing to report the U.S’s seemingly insatiable appetite for narcotics — which is the main driver between the illegal trade — is also problematic. One of the speakers described the responsibility of the U.S for the drug violence problems in Mexico as a “school of thought.” I’d say it’s a hard fact, not a theory. People buy fair trade coffee but then roll up a joint or have a few lines of coke at the weekend — chances are they haven’t stopped to think much about where their drugs come from and at what price in the same way that they worry about the origins of their coffee.
There was also a lot of concern over whether the border violence is “spilling over” into the United States. There was a lot of difference of opinion over that issue, and not one that I could apply any of my own experience to being based mainly in Mexico City. What I DO know that the Los Angeles Times (full disclosure: I spend the majority of my time working for them) has reported drug-related incidents spilling over into the United States here and here.
It’s also been reported by the LATimes that the drug cartels are moving in on the people smuggling business.
The other thing the television reporters during the event in Texas were especially were keen to talk about was what they see as the similarity between Mexico with the Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was a hard one for me to sit still through. Although the drug-related violence around Mexico is widespread and brutal, there are also huge swathes of the country — Mexico City being one of them — where you wouldn’t even know that there was a “war” on between the drug traffickers, as well as between them and law enforcement .
It’s my understanding that the vast majority of the 7,300 or so people that have been killed in drug-related violence since the start of 2007, when Calderon’s offensive began in earnest, are either law enforcement agents, drug traffickers or people involved in some way with the drug trade. Innocent civilians have been caught in the cross-fire, but they’re in the minority.
The media coverage of the drug war shows us how now more than ever, in these times of media accountability and economic hardships, we have to balance information and news provision with a need to entertain and engage audiences.
Everyone wants to report accurately, but they also want good ratings / reading figures / hits. Good reporting takes time and money — the internet means that news rolls now, there ARE no deadlines. Blood and guts gets more viewers / readers. In a time and cash-poor world, its understandable that alot of coverage focuses on the blood and guts of the illegal drug story. Understandable, but is it forgivable?
“Los Que Se Queden” (Those Who Remain) scooped the prize for best Mexican documentary at the closing of last week’s Guadalajara International Film Festival.
The film, which we featured on La Plaza on Friday, was made by Mexican directors Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo and is an intimate study of the families and homes left behind in Mexico by the migrants who head north.
Gerardo Tort’s road trip movie, “Viaje Redondo” (Roundtrip), also featured on La Plaza last week, was awarded the prize for best Mexican fiction feature. One of actresses who stars in the picture, Teresa Ruiz, who plays Lucia, won the best actress prize in the category.
“La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow), a Peruvian film by director Claudia Llosa, won the prize for best Iberoamericano fiction feature. Magaly Solier, who stars, won the prize for best actress in the category. The film is about a young woman who had been born as a result of her mother’s rape.
For a full list of winners at this year’s Guadalajara International Film Festival, go to their web page here.
See the video for a review of “Los Que Se Queden” (Those Who Remain).