By Nina Lakhani / Al Jazeera
Mexico's mountain of unsolved disappearances continues to rise despite President Enrique Pena Nieto's promise to tackle the problem which has devastated thousands of families since 2006.
The disappearance of four people within six days close to the US border recently exposed the cruel mix of state corruption and organized crime still blighting the lives of ordinary folks on Mexico's mean streets.
"Mexico today has the worst crisis of disappearances in Latin America, arguably the world," Nik Steinberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. "That there is still no single unified definition and many state authorities have no idea how to investigate disappearances shows the government has failed to take the problem seriously."
By Jude Webber
Enrique Peña Nieto has spent the past few days touring areas shattered by the catastrophic floods that have ravaged Mexico in the past fortnight, declaring that his country is “back on its feet” and will be “back to normal very soon”.
But the same cannot yet be said about Latin America’s faltering second-biggest economy – hit by the still tepid recovery in the US, its main export market.
Though there have been some newly encouraging signs – such as a boost in retail sales in July for the third month running and promising economic activity data that could help rev up growth – the Ingrid and Manuel storms that battered both coastlines simultaneously will only deepen Mexico’s sudden slowdown in gross domestic product growth.
The storms, which killed at least 147 people and caused an estimated $6 billion in damage, are likely to trim another 0.1 per cent off 2013 growth, bringing this year’s official forecast to 1.7 per cent, Luis Videgaray, finance secretary, has concluded. That is less than half the 3.5 per cent predicted last December when Peña Nieto took office and Mexico was the region’s success story.
With government aid already expected to exhaust a 12.5 billion peso ($950 million) emergency fund, some economists consider even the lower growth target too generous.
Alonso Cervera at Credit Suisse has trimmed his 2013 forecast to just 1.1 per cent from 1.3 per cent, though reconstruction work should help fuel an upturn before year-end in an economy languishing at a four-year low after shrinking in the second quarter. The government’s slowness to spend 2013 budget allocations will now come in handy, allowing it to ramp up spending.
By Dolia Estevez
Britain’s headline-grabbing billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, plans to take on Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest person, on Slim’s home turf: Mexico.
In an exclusive interview with Expansión magazine this week, Branson said that he is getting ready to enter the cell phone market in Mexico, currently controlled by Carlos Slim’s América Móvil.
“I think there’s room for both of us. I don’t think [Slim] will suffer much from our presence,” he told the magazine.
Asked about Branson’s expansion plans, Arturo Elías Ayub, Slim’s spokesperson and son-in law, responded: “Competition is always welcomed.”
Challenging Slim casts Branson in his familiar role as underdog.
“Compared to Slim, whose wealth is estimated at $73 billion, he is a relative minnow in the global billionaire pond, with a personal fortune of $4.6 billion,” commented The Daily Telegraph of London. Forbes currently pegs Slim’s net worth at $67 billion, a drop from Forbes $73 billion estimate in March 2013.
Branson appears to be taking advantage of a new Mexican telecommunication law designed to boost competition in the phone and television industries. América Móvil currently controls 80 percent of Mexico’s landline phone and 70 percent of the country’s wireless market.
By Will Grant / BBC
Margarito Hernandez is still numb with grief. Answering at times with barely a murmur, at others in great torrents of words, he recounts the worst night of his life: Mexican Independence Day 2013.
The 18-year-old carpenter is from La Pintada, the small village in the mountains of Guerrero that last week was almost completely destroyed by a mudslide caused by the torrential rains of Hurricane Manuel.
"It happened in an instant," he remembers. "It was like an explosion, like a bomb going off. The mountain didn't take even a minute to reach the very centre of the village. It destroyed everything in its path."
Reaching La Pintada is still only possible by helicopter. The only people at the site are military personnel and Mexican search-and-rescue teams, known as Topos.
Torrential rain has caused fresh floods in the Mexican beach resort Acapulco, less than two weeks after two storms killed 139 people.
Authorities evacuated people from high-risk areas and closed schools, after flooding reached more than 1 meter (3 feet). Acapulco was one of the areas worst affected by the bad weather, which left thousands of tourists stranded.
The government issued renewed alerts for the rest of the state of Guerrero, as further heavy rain was expected.
Officials say September, days before its end, is set to break rain records in Mexico by a large margin.
Acapulco's international airport re-opened for commercial flights on Sunday, a week after it had to close due to power cuts and flooding. But on Thursday, one of the main access roads to the airport had to be closed, officials said.
Authorities issued fresh rain alerts, as torrential rains led to evacuations in more than 20 districts.
From Mexico City, President Enrique Pena Nieto called on the population to remain alert, as more rain was expected in the next "two or three days."
For many, the first experience of Mexico City is a sprawling airport and an appalling stink.
It wafts from the manholes and leaves the morning air smelling fresh as a septic tank. It can overpower a pleasant bike ride along the cobblestone streets of the capital's downtown, or interrupt an alfresco meal in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.
The odor problems are a result of poorly managed wastewater and trash in a sprawling metropolis whose population — 20 million by official count — outgrew its infrastructure decades ago. Authorities have sought for years to find a solution.
Now, new Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera has announced a $135 million plan to control the foul odors that waft from the city's only compost plant at a landfill near the airport and to more aggressively recycle trash citywide. The plan calls for construction of three bio-gas plants to produce electricity from compost and more recycling programs so that by the time it's completed in 2018 all 12,500 tons of trash produced daily is recycled.
By Dave Graham and Jean Arce
Mexico is unlikely to be dragged into recession by severe flooding that has laid waste to large areas of farmland, destroyed homes and killed dozens of people, but the flooding has increased risk, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
Mexican gross domestic product (GDP) suffered a surprise contraction of 0.7 percent in the second quarter compared with the previous three month period after eking out growth of less than one tenth of a point in the January-March period.
That stumbling performance has put Latin America's second biggest economy on track for its worst year since 2009.
A survey of 16 economists by Reuters said the floods that swamped Mexico after tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel bore down from the Atlantic and the Pacific on Sept 14-15 could shave a few tenths of a percentage point from GDP growth.
But with the economy showing some signs of recovery, none of them currently forecasts a recession in the third quarter.
"I don't know if it's going to be a recession, but it's going to be very weak," said Eugenio Aleman, an economist at Wells Fargo Bank.
Economists differed about how severe the short term impact of the flooding would be, and the most pessimistic estimated it could subtract up to 0.5 points off the end result.
The government last month cut its is growth forecast for this year to 1.8 percent, from just over 3 percent.
By E. Eduardo Castillo / Associated Press
The arrest of four police officers in a case that has unsettled Mexico City is tarnishing the image officials have tried to cultivate of the capital as a safe haven from the violence and police corruption that plague other parts of Mexico.
The four are among 18 people now in custody for what's become known as the Heaven case, named for the after-hours bar in an upscale part of the city where 12 young people were kidnapped in broad daylight May 26. Their bodies were found three months later in a mass grave on a ranch in rural Mexico state.
Security Chief Jesus Rodriguez Almeida said the four officers had all been through the department's vetting process and had four to 11 years of service with the police.
"We're not prejudging whether they're guilty or not," Almeida said.
The death toll from heavy flooding across much of Mexico rose to 130 on Tuesday, while authorities warned that more heavy rains could soak areas that have already suffered some of the worst storm damage in decades.
Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Mexico's interior minister, said in a radio interview that more bodies had been recovered from a devastating mudslide that buried 40 homes in the mountain village of La Pintada in southern Guerrero state.
Osorio Chong and President Enrique Pena Nieto oversaw recovery efforts in La Pintada, where dozens are still feared missing under the mud. Pena Nieto said over the weekend there was little hope that anyone had survived the village mudslide.
Guerrero, home to the battered Pacific resort of Acapulco as well as some of the country's poorest rural communities, has seen the worst damage after Tropical Storm Ingrid and Hurricane Manuel last week drenched the country with torrential rains.
Mexico's meteorological service warned that a new low pressure zone would bring more moderate to heavy rains later on Tuesday to Guerrero and states where dams are already swollen to capacity and rivers are spilling over their banks.
Pena Nieto said on Sunday that Mexico's Congress will revise its proposed 2014 budget to allow for more disaster spending beyond the roughly 12 billion pesos ($938.91 million) available in emergency funding.
By Elisabeth Malkin
New York Times
The twin storms that tore through the country last week, unleashing rains that sent mud crashing down hillsides, buckling roads and flooding coastal cities, have renewed criticism that corruption and political shortsightedness made the damage even worse.
The storms battered both the Pacific and Gulf Coasts starting last weekend, a rare double hit from tropical systems at the same time. But experts said officials had not learned from earlier hurricanes and had failed to prepare for disaster, which magnified the losses this time.
“If we had the right development plan, the country wouldn’t fall into chaos,” said Angel Macías Garza, the vice president for infrastructure at the Mexican Construction Industry Chamber.
Corrupt officials give permits to developers to build along riverbeds and in canyons, Macías said. State governors build roads without containing walls in flood-prone regions because they prefer to spend the money they save on handouts. The federal disaster fund allocates only 5 percent of its budget on prevention and the other 95 percent on reconstruction.
“Politically, prevention doesn’t pay,” Macías said. “There is a lack of vision and a lack of resources.”
In an editorial posted on its Web site, Cidac, a research group, echoed the criticism. “Taking preventive measures, like relocating settlements from the most vulnerable areas or investing in infrastructure,” the authors said, “doesn’t appear to sell ad space or generate grateful constituencies.”