Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category

Knock, knock…

July 19, 2010

On Thursday evening Americans could see and hear a car bomb as it exploded in downtown Juarez — the city I just returned from a few weeks ago. The blast hit a Federal Police convoy and killed 3 people, rattling law enforcement on both sides of the border and creating fears that the bombings that shook Colombia throughout the 80’s and 90’s could make a comeback a few hundreds yards from the US border.

Investigators and bystanders gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Colombia.

When I saw the image of the burning police trucks on the El Paso Times website, I felt a personal connection. During my visit to Juarez in June, I spent a day interviewing the Federal Police and riding in one of their convoys, as the video in my previous post shows. With this attack, the Juarez Cartel — which claimed responsibility for the car bomb — puts itself on the same level as Jihadist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, which attempted to bomb Time Square with its own explosive-laden vehicle in May.  The Juarez hit, however, suceeded…and just a short stroll form the United States.  The explosion of car bombs and the rattle of AK-47 is knocking on our door…and its even found a way in.

Here are the links to my articles about Juarez. The first one was published on July 2nd and the second came out on July 9th. A third installment will follow at the beginning of August — this time around, I will be reporting from Phoenix.

Government-run tour

June 24, 2010

Hello everyone…my apologies for not posting in a while. I have been quite busy…and as you can see, my time away from the blog has been well worth it. On Tuesday evening I returned from a trip to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — the flash point in Mexico’s drug war. I have been following the situation in this city even when I was in South Asia.

The Federal Police allowed me to embed in one of their convoys and make this video. I know the sound of the wind and the traffic sort of gets in the way, but I feel its important for people — particularly Americans — to see how hard the police in Mexico are working. Remember, this is one of the most violent cities in the world.

I’m in the process of putting together a story together for the newspaper about this and it should be published next week.

Bienvenidos A Tijuana!

April 13, 2010

The biggest story coming out of Baja California right now may be the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit near Mexicali, but I would like to talk about my experience, which happened a few days before the quake hit. Two weeks ago, I went down to Tijuana for a report I am putting together about the drug war and the effect it has had on Mexico, both culturally and in regards to tourism. I saw all of Tijuana’s major districts and neighborhoods — and the contrast between some of them is stunning. Zona Norte is a particularly unsafe area to be in Tijuana, largely due to its close proximity to the US border. In spite of this, my friend and I handed the driver of a taxi libre $20 and asked him to take us through the red light district, the border, and other neighborhoods for an hour.

A patrol car passes through Tijuana's famous arch on Avenida Revolucion (photo/Corey Hunt)

Zona Norte begins just after passing through Tijuana’s famous arch, which stretches across Avenida Revolucion, the city’s main tourist district. It was nerve-wracking, especially since the driver of another cab I had taken to La Gloria earlier in the day said to me in a half-joking and half-serious way that I know too much information about the drug war. He had said this after  two hours of conversation about the fall of the Arellano Felix Cartel, the capture of “El Teo”, and what is next for Tijuana and its role on the border between the United States and Mexico.

Late afternoon in Zona Norte...not one of Tijuana's safer areas, especially at night (photo/Corey Hunt

While in Tijuana, I made several videos with my friend Anthony, who is also a fellow journalist (We’re still trying to break them up and get them on our Youtube channel…should be soon). Before we spent the night exploring Zona Norte, we were able to visit a police station and interview several police officers, including the Tourist Zone Supervisor. While they acknowledged the levels of chaos facing cities like Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, they were adamant in saying that Tijuana is much safer today than in recent months and years. Hector, one of the officers, even said that Tijuana is not the 14th most dangerous city in Mexico, compared to the 2nd most dangerous just a few months ago, when violence was rising in the run-up to El Teo’s capture.

Tijuana is a fascinating and cultural city…and it’s definitely worth a visit. But if you decide to go, keep in mind what’s going on there. Violence still occurs, and the decline in violence may have less to do with police and military action and more to do with the violent power struggles emerging in central and eastern Mexico between the largest drug cartels. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is locked in a brutal fight with the Juarez Cartel and the Gulf Cartel is teaming up with the “La Familia” drug gang to finish off their former hitmen for hire, the Zetas. None of the big guns are likely to try and snatch the lucrative trade routes from Tijuana into the United States in the immediate future, seeing as they have enough on their hands already. However, splinter cartels and common criminals remain abundant and its best to keep this in mind, wherever you might be in Baja.

That said, try to appreciate the culture in Tijuana and remember that Avenida Revolucion and Playas De Tijuana are only tourist attractions.

Haiti and Chile stand together

February 28, 2010

I have been following the events that have taken place in Chile today, as well as the subsequent tsunami warnings that have spread across the Pacific. The Chilean government, society, and people should be praised for their readiness in dealing with such a catastrophic natural disaster…as of this writing, Chile has still not appealed for international help even though the death toll has topped 300.

Cars are piled together after an overpass collapse in Chile (AP)

Earlier, I read this article in the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, the president of Haiti visited the Chilean embassy in Port-Au-Prince just hours after the massive quake rattled the South American country. Many Haitian citizens, as one might imagine, are saddened to hear that the world is repeating its tragedies.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – News of Chile’s massive earthquake traveled fast in quake-hit Haiti, where people were saddened to hear about the latest quake, wondered aloud whether God was angry at the world, and worried that the globe’s attention would shift away from this tiny and impoverished nation.

“What’s going on in the world?” asked Nancy Brunet, a 54-year-old Port-au-Prince resident.

“Earthquakes here, in Chile, and in Japan. Nature is going crazy,” added Marlene Larco, a 49-year-old manager of a hardware store.

Having suffered so much since the Jan. 12 quake, many grieving Haitians expressed their heartfelt condolences. President Rene Preval went to the Chilean embassy in Port-au-Prince to give his personal message of sympathy. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was just in Haiti earlier this month to get a first hand look at the damage.

Haitians also marveled at the much lower death toll in Chile and said it was evidence that Haiti needed to enact much stricter building codes.

“There are very good structures in Chile, built correctly. That’s why not more people died,” said Moise Philogene, a 40-year-old unemployed lawyer. Mr.Philogene said he didn’t know much about science, but supposed there was a connection between the two quakes.

“It’s earthquake time. It started in Haiti, went to Chile… maybe Mexico is next,” he mused. “I don’t know. But it’s going around.”

As some news photographers left Haiti en route to Chile, locals wondered if the world’s attention would slip away from Haiti, where up to 300,000 people died in the quake and more than a million were thrown out of their homes.

The Haitian concern for the victims of the Chilean earthquake shows that there is much more to this story than body counts and cameras pointed at the ocean to await made-for-TV tsunamis. At the same time, Mr. Philogene makes a good point about the difference in casualties between the two countries…Chile was prepared for a massive earthquake, while Haiti was not. In addition, Haiti also suffers from a lack of legitimate governance. For years, the UN has served as the dominant police and political stabilizer on the island. Unfortunately, the 7.0 quake that ravaged the capital last month brought down the UN headquarters and killed several top officials, including the director.

Chile’s current president, Michelle Bachelete, and the president-elect, Sebastian Pinera, seem to be coordinating together efficiently. Hopefully next month’s transition will go through smoothly and even more importantly, we all should keep our fingers crossed that we have seen the worst of the devastation.

**Update** March 3rd,

Sadly, it appears the death toll in this disaster has now topped 800 in Chile as rescue crews continue to work round the clock.  Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens has an excellent article about Chile, the earthquake, and how its society was prepared for such a devastating event. Hitchens argues that Chile, as a free democracy and open society, was able to survive the quake “relatively well”, while a backwards dictatorship like Iran would not, should the Islamic Republic ever suffer a similar situation.

Slumdog Billionaires

January 11, 2010

If you’ve ever seen the stories of people who are addicted to meth, cocaine, and other drugs, its tragic. But there is A LOT more too it, because these people are not only ruining their own lives — their actions are fueling what has become a civil war south of the border. This can no longer be ignored…its time for action, and not just from the besieged government of President Felipe Calderon in Mexico. This battle demands the involvement and decisions made by the individual, in addition to international governments, police, and the military.

Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana (Photo by Corey Hunt)

Considering the lack of coverage this phenomenal situation south of the US border has recieved on television news, you might be shocked by this:

Mexico opened the new year with what could be its most dubious distinction yet in the 3-year-old battle against drug trafficking – 69 murders in one day.

The country resembled a grim, statistical dart board Saturday as law enforcement and media reported the deaths from various regions, including 26 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, 13 in and around Mexico City and 10 in the northern city of Chihuahua.

More than 6,500 drug-related killings made 2009 the bloodiest year since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in late 2006 and deployed 45,000 soldiers to fight organized crime, according to death tallies by San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute.

Two weeks into 2010, gang bloodshed is becoming more grotesque as drug lords ramp up their attempts at intimidation. Last week a victim’s face was peeled from his skull and sewn onto a soccer ball. On Monday, prosecutors in Culiacan identified the remains of 41-year-old former police officer divided into two separate ice chests.

This goes beyond words. I only wish that the meth, crack, and pot heads getting a fix every night here in the US knew where their stashes were coming from and worse, who is profiting from it.  Years of bringing drugs across the border into the United States has made people like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man,   billionaires…If “Slumdog Millionaire” had a dark version, these guys would be the stars, recruiting hundreds, if not thousands of young Mexican men from the poorest neighborhoods into a Jihadi-style violence mafia, where anyone deemed as a threat is done away with in the most psychopathic of ways. In fact, comparing Jihadis and Al-Qaeda to the above violence might not be enough, because over the last couple of years, more beheadings have taken place in Mexico than anywhere else in the world. Even Hakimullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader mentioned in my last post, might cringe at the thought of stitching a rival’s face onto a soccer ball. Exactly how evil does a Homo Sapiens have to be to do something like this?!

Religious beliefs and politics don’t have much of a place in Mexico’s violence…just pure human greed and a desire to come out on top. It makes me angry when I think of America’s obsession with drugs. Is it really worth sneaking out into the dark of night, evading the cops, breaking the law, and enabling what is tantamount to a civil war  just to take a hit of crystal meth? Its people like this that are empowering the drug cartels and making them the “Slumdog” billionaires of a country that is increasingly becoming North America’s version of Somalia.

Some people will say we need to legalize drugs and that will stop the violence. Maybe that’s true, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. So for the time being, the best advice I can give to my fellow Americans is PLEASE stop using drugs! Mexico has become the world’s meth lab and it needs to be shut down…if only people cared more about the children of Mexico than rotting their teeth out with meth and tweaking with crack and LSD. Mexico’s slumdog billionaires have the clueless drug-using population in America and the terrorized people of their own country in the palm of their hands. It’s like a playground where Satan would frolic with Jeffrey Dahmer and America won’t stop its investments.

Startling Numbers

December 1, 2009

Where do you think the most dangerous place on earth would be? Would it be in Somalia? Iraq? Perhaps somewhere else in the Muslim World, like Afghanistan or Pakistan?

An overpass in Tijuana, Mexico. Drug cartels have taken to using them as a way to show off their victims. Photo/Corey Hunt

President Obama is set to define the Afghan Mission as a war of vital defense and many of his advisers have labeled the Taliban strongholds of Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous places. But guess again. The most dangerous place for for well, just about anyone, is right over the US border, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s volatile border city of Ciudad Juarez has the world’s highest murder rate, followed by Caracas, Venezuela, and the US city of New Orleans, a Mexican security watchdog said Wednesday.

Ciudad Juarez — the scene of regular and brutal score-settling between rival drug gangs — has 130 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, said the Citizen’s Council for Public Security (CCSP) in a statement.

Caracas has 96 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and New Orleans registers 95, said the Mexican non-governmental organization, which based its figures on media reports and an FBI report for the United States.

Caracas was listed as the murder capital of the world in the September 2008 Foreign Policy magazine, quoting official figures of 130 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

The Mexican NGO put Baghdad, Iraq, in 10th position with 40 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and another Mexican border city, Tijuana, in fourth place with 73.

I’ll make this point through another comparison. In the month of November, 88 civilians died violent deaths in Iraq, along with 34 members of the Iraqi Police and Army. After 6 years of war, this is considered to be the calmest month ever in Iraq, which now has a murder rate roughly equivalent to the United States. By contrast, more than 200 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez last month, making the Mexican border city pretty much the world’s deadliest place. Remember, Juarez is a city of 1.6 million people, while Iraq is roughly the size of California, making these numbers all the more startling. The incessant shooting sprees, abductions, and even grenade attacks have led some in the global media to believe that the region is “bordering on anarchy”. Reporters who embed with Mexican police and army units follow the same protocol as they would in a war zone, donning bullet-proof vests and helmets. The demented acts of violence committed by the drug cartels mirrors intimidation methods used by Al-Qaeda, redefining the meaning of a terrorist threat.

So what can be done in Ciudad Juarez? Well, the citizens of the border city are starting to feel that an international peacekeeping force may be the only option left, believe it or not. The deployment of thousands of Mexican Army soldiers and Federal Police has only made the cartels, who focus much of their energy on killing one another, even more aggressive. Its basically a ground zero and a gathering point for scumbags, low-lives, and the most grotesque individuals our societies on both sides of the border has to offer. In addition to the drug cartels; sex offenders, serial killers, and other organized crime also operate with impunity across the city, which has resulted in the unsolved murders of hundreds of young women. American citizens should think about this before going out for a fix. After all, its our obsession with drugs that helps these people operate in the first place. A visit to a Mexican border city might be a D.A.R.E. officer’s best way to keep kids off of drugs.