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Posts tagged ‘Ancient Land of Mexico’

Residents of Mexican town struggle with fear after massacre

November 08, 2019

LA MORA, Mexico (AP) — After holding funerals for and burying some of the nine American women and children slain in a cartel ambush, residents of this town of about 300 are left to come to grips with the fear the attacks inspired among the tightly knit community.

“I do not feel safe here, and I won’t, because the truth is we aren’t safe here as a community,” David Langford said between tears addressing mourners at the funeral for his wife, Dawna Ray Langford, Thursday in La Mora, whose residents consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While the sibling community of Colonia Le Baron has been peaceful since the 2009 murder of one of its members and subsequent installation of a security base, La Mora lacks such a presence — at least until Monday’s killings prompted state and federal forces to deploy to protect those who came to mourn. How long they stay could be crucial to its future.

“We here in the mountains, we have no access to authorities, or very, very little,” David Langford said. The burials Thursday took place as Mexican soldiers stood guard, a reminder of the dangers they face living amid a drug cartel turf war.

The first funeral was for a mother and two sons who were laid to rest in hand-hewn pine coffins in a single grave dug out of the rocky soil. Clad in shirt sleeves, suits or modest dresses, about 500 mourners embraced in grief under white tents. Some wept, and some sang hymns.

Members of the extended community — many of whom, like the victims, are dual U.S-Mexican citizens — had built the coffins themselves and used shovels to dig the shared grave in La Mora’s small cemetery.

Mourners filed past to view the bodies and pay their final respects to Dawna Ray Langford , 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2. They were laid to rest together, just as they died together Monday when attackers fired a hail of bullets at their SUV on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron. Six children and three women in all were killed in the attack on the convoy of three SUVs.

In a raw, tearful service, relatives recounted valiant efforts to try to rescue their loved ones after the ambush, and how some of the children walked miles out of the mountains to the town, situated about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of the Arizona border.

There was no talk of revenge in the deeply religious community, only justice. “God will take care of the wicked,” Jay Ray, Dawna’s father, said in a eulogy. David Langford called his wife a hero for telling her children to duck as their vehicle came under fire.

“I find it hard to forgive,” he said. “I usually am a very forgiving guy, but this kind of atrocity has no place in a civilized community.” “My children were brutally, brutally murdered,” he said, “and my beloved wife.”

Of the survivors, he said, son Cody had had a plate installed in his jaw, which was being wired shut for six weeks. Dawna’s younger sister Amber Ray, 34, eulogized her as a devoted mother to her 13 children and homemaker who loved a good laugh and baked the best birthday cakes around.

“There isn’t anything in life that a cup of coffee couldn’t make better,” Amber said Dawna was fond of saying. The three coffins, two of them child-size, were placed into the beds of pickup trucks, and family members rode with them to the grave, hundreds of mourners following on foot.

Later in the day, a memorial was held for Rhonita Miller and four of her children, all of whom also were murdered on the road between La Mora and Chihuahua state. In a grassy backyard before hundreds of attendees, she was eulogized as an “innocent spirit, beautiful heart” and a woman whose laugh “could light up a room.”

Son Howard Jr. loved basketball and recently was delighted to make his first three-pointer; daughter Kristal was “the apple of her daddy’s eye;” twins Titus and Tiana, born March 13, were remembered as “two perfect angels in the first precious moments of their lives.”

Their bodies were to be taken later across the road where they died for burial in Colonia Le Baron. The two communities, whose residents are related, drew together in a show of grief. Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly on the hamlet’s only paved road.

Gunmen from the Juarez drug cartel had apparently set up the ambush as part of a turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, and the U.S. families drove into it. Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang.

But Julian LeBaron, whose brother Benjamin, an anti-crime activist, was killed by cartel gunmen in 2009, disputed that. “They had to have known that it was women and children,” he said. He said the eight children who survived reported that one mother got out of her SUV and raised her hands and was gunned down anyway.

To many, the bloodshed seemed to demonstrate once more that the government has lost control over vast areas of Mexico to drug traffickers. And it called into question President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “hugs, not bullets” security strategy of trying to solve underlying social problems instead of battling drug cartels with military force.

“Now this place is going to become a ghost town,” said Steven Langford, a former La Mora mayor whose sister Christina Langford was among the women killed. “A lot of people are going to leave.”

Associated Press Writer Maria Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.

Frustration grows among migrants in Mexico as support fades

April 21, 2019

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico (AP) — Madison Mendoza, her feet aching and her face burned by the sun, wept as she said she had nothing to feed her 2-year-old son who she’d brought with her on the long trek toward the United States.

Mendoza, 22, said an aunt in Honduras had convinced her to join the migrant caravan, which she did two weeks ago in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The aunt said she’d have no problems, that people along the route in Mexico would help as they did for a large caravan that moved through the area in October.

But this time, the help did not come. The outpouring of aid that once greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern Mexico has been drying up. Hungrier, advancing slowly or not at all, and hounded by unhelpful local officials, frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants in the southern state of Chiapas.

“What causes me pain is that the baby asks me for food and there are days when I can’t provide it,” said Mendoza, who fled Honduras with almost no money because she feared for her life after receiving threats from the father of her son. “I thought that with the baby, people would help me on road.”

Members of the caravan in October received food and shelter from town governments, churches and passers-by. Drivers of trucks stopped to give them a lift. Little of that is happening this time. And local officials who once gave them temporary permits to work in Mexico, now seem to snare them in red tape. Truckers and drivers have been told they will be fined if caught transporting migrants without proper documentation.

Mendoza bathed her son, José, under a stream of water in Escuintla, a Mexican town 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the Guatemalan border. It was the first time she has been able to bath the child since they left Tegucigalpa.

“I don’t even have a peso,” she said, teary-eyed. Many migrants are collecting mangos and fruits from trees along the route and sharing food among themselves. Some 1,300 migrants spent the night in Escuintla and were heading north to the town of Mapastepec, Chiapas. Mendoza and José arrived in Mapastepec on Saturday. They joined thousands of stranded migrants waiting to see if local authorities provide them with a temporary permit or visa to work in Mexico or whether they would continue their trip to the U.S. border.

Heyman Vázquez, a parish priest in Huixtla, a community along the caravan’s route, said local support for the Central American migrants has dried up because of an anti-migrant discourse that blames them for crime and insecurity.

“It is due to the campaign of discrimination and xenophobia created through social networks and the media that blames migrants for the insecurity in Chiapas,” he said. Oscar Pérez, who sells cooked pork in Ulapa, a village along the way, said people have become tired of supporting the migrants because of reports that “they’ve become aggressive.” He acknowledged, however, that he doesn’t know of anyone who has been attacked by a migrant.

The frustration felt by the migrants is affecting Geovani Villanueva, who has spent 25 days along with several hundred other migrants at a sports complex in Mapastepec waiting for a permit that would let him legally and safely travel north with his wife, two small children and four other relatives.

“I think it’s a strategy by the government to wear us out,” said Villanueva, 51. The latest caravan is heading north during Holy Week in Latin America, when many activists organize processions to dramatize the hardships and needs of migrants. Caravans became a popular way of making the trek because the migrants find safety in numbers and save money by not hiring smugglers.

Mexico is under pressure from the Trump administration to thwart them from reaching the U.S. border. In April, President Donald Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border before changing course and threatening tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico if that country does not stop the flow of Central American migrants.

U.S. border facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrant families. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced recently that 53,000 parents and children were apprehended at the border in March.

Nancy Valladares, who is from the city of Progreso in Honduras, is part of the caravan that reached Mapastepec. She is traveling with her husband and two daughters in baby carriages. She said the family hoped to reach the U.S. and find help for her 2-year-old daughter Belen, who she says was born with microcephaly due to a Zika infection, and cannot walk or talk.

Valladares complained that they weren’t able to find anyone to give them a ride, and when her family and scores of other migrants climbed on to a truck-trailer in Escuintla, federal police forced them to get down and walk.

Tired and angry, many migrants no longer want to talk to reporters. Villanueva, who owned several small stores back in Honduras, said he left his homeland because gangs had threatened to kill him after he refused to pay extortion.

He said he left to save his life and one thing is clear to him: there is no turning back.

AP journalist María Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.

2nd group of migrants enters Mexico as main caravan resumes

October 30, 2018

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (AP) — Hundreds of Central Americans following in the footsteps of a thousands-strong migrant caravan making its way toward the U.S. border crossed a river from Guatemala into Mexico on Monday, defying a heavy Federal Police presence deployed to patrol that country’s southern frontier.

A low-flying police helicopter hovered overhead as the migrants waded in large groups through the Suchiate River’s murky waters, apparently trying to use the downdraft from its rotors to discourage them. Guatemala’s Noti7 channel reported that one man drowned and aired video of a man dragging a seemingly lifeless body from the river.

Once on the Mexican side the migrants were surrounded and escorted by dark-uniformed officers as sirens wailed. The standoff at the riverbank followed a more violent confrontation that occurred on the bridge over the river Sunday night, when migrants threw rocks and used sticks against Mexico police. One migrant died from a head wound during the clash, but the cause was unclear.

The group was much smaller than the first caravan. In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Hidalgo, they said they hoped to continue onward early Tuesday morning. Far up the road in southern Mexico, the original caravan resumed its advance, still at least 1,000 miles or farther from their goal of reaching the United States as the Pentagon announced it would send 5,200 active-duty troops to “harden” the U.S.-Mexico border. There are already more than 2,000 National Guard troops providing assistance at the border.

The caravan currently has about 4,000 people, but has been dwindling. Earlier this year, only about 200 from a caravan of some 1,000 migrants reached the Tijuana-San Diego frontier. The Pentagon announcement comes as President Donald Trump has been focusing on the caravan to stir up his base a week before midterm elections. On Monday he tweeted: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

Earlier in the day, members of the caravan strung out along the highway outside the city of Tapanatepec, some waiting for rides while others plodded toward their goal for the day: Niltepec, about 34 road miles (54 kilometers) to the northwest. Federal Police patrols drove slowly alongside encouraging them to stay on the shoulder.

Victor Argueta, 54, of Santa Barbara, Honduras, said he and his wife had spent two nights sleeping on the international bridge between Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, before eventually crossing the river on a raft.

“We came with the goal of wanting to improve our future for ourselves and for our family. We did not come with the intention of finding death on the road,” Argueta said, reflecting on the news of the Honduran man’s death the previous night. “Maybe that boy came with good intentions, perhaps with a young person’s idea of supporting his family.”

Sandra Rodriguez, 31, had heard about the incident because her husband’s family lives in Tecun Uman. The couple from Guatemala City had joined the caravan in the border town and never considered someone could die on the bridge.

“I think they are risking much to cross to this side,” Rodriguez said. While catching rides from passing trucks was a largely impromptu affair in the first week of the caravan, it has now become more organized. On Monday, more than 100 migrants lined up at a gas station parking lot to wait for rides.

Mayor Ramiro Nolasco of the town of Zanatepec said locals had organized a bus and several trucks to carry migrants, mainly women and children. “We are helping our brothers from other countries with food, water, and transportation,” Nolasco said. “It is going to be very little, compared to what they need.”

At a checkpoint near the town, some migrants gathered to ask for help returning home to Honduras, the origin of the great majority of those in the caravan. Exhausted from many days on the road, and disheartened by the many miles yet to go and misbehavior by some fellow travelers, people have been dropping out from the caravan, which at its peak was estimated at more than 7,000.

The generosity shown by small towns and residents when the migrants first began trekking through southern Mexico has also lessened. At the last stop, few people came out to offer food, clothes and other items, said Hasiel Isamar Hernandez, a 28-year-old Honduran mother of three who has been with the caravan since it started in her hometown of San Pedro Sula.

“Of the friends that I have been with, all want to go back,” Hernandez said, adding that many had blistered feet. For her, the last straw was when her husband told her that her 3-year-old daughter back home had stopped eating because she missed her mother.

Another Honduran, Teodozo Melendez, 31, was also waiting for a bus back home after fighting a fever for two days. His body ached. “I thought it would be easier,” Melendez said, lying on the ground. Melendez’s goal had been to join relatives living in Houston. His experience with the caravan had taught him one thing, he said: “The next time, I’m going to need a ‘coyote,'” or smuggler.

The second group back at the Guatemalan frontier has been more unruly than the first that crossed. Guatemala’s Interior Ministry said Guatemalan police officers were injured when the migrant group broke through border barriers on Guatemala’s side of the bridge.

Mexico authorities said migrants attacked its agents with rocks, glass bottles and fireworks when they broke through a gate on the Mexican end but were pushed back, and some allegedly carried guns and firebombs.

On Monday, Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida lamented what he called a second “violent attempt” to storm the border, accusing people of placing the elderly, pregnant women and children at the front, putting them at risk of being crushed.

“Fortunately, that did not happen,” he said. The governmental National Human Rights Commission opened an investigation into the use of the helicopter at the river, saying it caused “strong winds and waves that put people at risk … especially girls, boys and women.”

The Interior Department said in a statement that two Hondurans ages 17 and 22 were arrested Monday when one of them tried to shoot at police in the town of Ignacio Zaragoza, near the Hidalgo border crossing. It said the Glock failed to fire, and no agents were injured.

Mexico said the previous day that temporary identity numbers had been issued to more than 300 migrants, which would allow them to stay and work in Mexico. Pregnant women, children and the elderly were among those who joined the program and were now being attended at shelters.

At least 1,895 have applied for refugee status in Mexico, and hundreds of others have accepted assisted returns to their country of origin. El Salvador’s immigration agency said a group of Salvadorans including several dozen children and adolescents that crossed legally into Guatemala on Sunday numbered about 500. Several Central American nations have a border agreement allowing their citizens to move among the countries with just ID cards. Passports and visas are required for them to legally enter Mexico, however.

Salvadoran Vice Foreign Minister Liduvina Margarin warned against attempting the journey, saying, “This route is not safe, you will not be able to enter the United States like you think.” The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said in a statement that a diplomatic official had met with caravan participants in Mexico and explained that illegal entry is risky and can lead to prosecution. The official also told them that those without proper entry documents have a right to request asylum at a border crossing but it could entail up a monthlong wait, as happened with migrants in the caravan that went to Tijuana earlier this year.

Associated Press photojournalist Santiago Billy reported this story from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and AP writer Christopher Sherman reported from Zanatepec, Mexico. AP writers Julie Watson in Tapanatepec, Mexico, and Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

Lawsuit lays bare Israel-made hack tools in Mideast, Mexico

September 01, 2018

PARIS (AP) — One day late last year, Qatari newspaper editor Abdullah Al-Athbah came home, removed the SIM card from his iPhone 7 and smashed it to pieces with a hammer. A source had just handed Al-Athbah a cache of emails suggesting that his phone had been targeted by hacking software made by Israel’s NSO Group. He told The Associated Press he considered the phone compromised.

“I feared that someone could get back into it,” he said in an interview Friday. “I needed to protect my sources.” Al-Athbah, who edits Qatar’s Al-Arab newspaper, now has a new phone, a new SIM card and a new approach to email attachments and links. He says he never opens anything, “even from the most trusted circles in my life.”

Al-Athbah’s discovery touched off a process that has led, months later, to parallel lawsuits filed in Israel and Cyprus — and provided a behind-the-scenes look at how government-grade spyware is used to eavesdrop on everyone from Mexican reporters to Arab royalty.

The NSO Group did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The first lawsuit , filed in a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, carries a claim from five Mexican journalists and activists who allege they were spied on using NSO Group software. The second, filed in Cyprus, adds Al-Athbah to the list of plaintiffs.

Both draw heavily on the leaked material handed to the editor several months ago. Portions of the material — which appears to have been carefully picked and exhaustively annotated by an unknown party — appear to show officials in the United Arab Emirates discussing whether to hack into the phones of senior figures in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including members of the Qatari royal family.

Al-Athba declined to identify his source and the AP was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the material, some of which has already been entered into evidence in the Israeli case, according to Mazen Masri, a member of Al-Athbah’s legal team. But The New York Times, which first reported on the lawsuits earlier Friday, indicated that it had verified some of the cache, including a reference to an intercepted telephone conversation involving senior Arab journalist Abdulaziz Alkhamis. The Times said Alkhamis confirmed having had the conversation and said he was unaware that he was under surveillance.

The parallel lawsuits underline the growing notoriety of the NSO Group, which is owned by U.S. private equity firm Francisco Partners. One of the Mexican plaintiffs, childhood anti-obesity campaigner Alejandro Calvillo, drew global attention last year when he was revealed to have been targeted using the Israeli company’s spyware. The NSO Group’s programs have since been implicated in a massive espionage scandal in Panama. A month ago, respected human rights organization Amnesty International accused the company of having crafted the digital tools used to target one of its staffers.

The five Mexican plaintiffs, who were advised by Mexico City-based digital activism group widely known by its acronym R3D, are seeking 2.5 million Israeli shekels ($693,000) in compensation and an injunction to prevent the NSO Group from helping anyone spy on them.

Al-Athbah said he wanted the case to go even further and spawn restrictions on the trade in hacking tools. “I hope selling such technology should be stopped very soon,” he said.

Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.

With focus on Mexico, apprehensions grow at Canadian border

July 24, 2018

DERBY LINE, Vt. (AP) — While the Trump administration fortifies the southern border, there’s growing concern over the number of foreigners entering the country illegally across the porous northern border with Canada.

People crossing the border between Vermont and Quebec have paid smugglers up to $4,000, usually payable when the immigrants reach their U.S. destination, according to officials and court documents. While the number of arrests is tiny compared with the southern border, the human smuggling is just as sophisticated.

“They are very well organized. They have scouted the area. They have scouted us,” said U.S. Border Patrol Agent Richard Ross. “Basically, we are not dealing with the JV team; this is the varsity.” Driving the increase here, officials say, is the ease of entry into Canada, where visas are no longer required for Mexicans, and a border that receives less scrutiny and resources than the southern border, where thousands fleeing violence in Central America are being detained.

In the Border Patrol sector that covers 300 miles (480 kilometers) of border with New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, agents have apprehended 324 people who crossed illegally from Canada so far this fiscal year, compared with 165 in all of 2017. Last month, agents apprehended 85 people across the three states, compared with 17 in June 2017 and 19 in June 2016, statistics show.

So far this fiscal year, there have been at least 267 apprehensions along Canada’s border with Vermont alone, compared with 132 all of last year, according to statistics compiled by federal prosecutors in Vermont.

The statistics show no corresponding spike in illegal immigration or apprehensions elsewhere along the northern frontier. Border Patrol agents speculate it’s because the area that includes Vermont is the first stretch of land border east of the Great Lakes and is a short drive from the population centers of Canada and the U.S. East Coast.

The northern border numbers are still small compared with the southern border. Federal statistics show that in fiscal 2017 there were 303,916 apprehensions on the U.S. border with Mexico, compared with 3,027 on the entire northern border.

Still, there is a growing sense of unease among U.S. law enforcement authorities. “The number of illegal alien apprehensions at the Vermont-Canada border has skyrocketed,” said Christina Nolan, Vermont’s U.S. attorney.

Much of the illegal border crossing activity in Vermont appears to be focused on a 30-mile (50-kilometer) segment of the Vermont-Quebec border where Interstate 91 reaches the Canadian border at Derby Line, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Montreal.

From Derby Line, it’s about a six-hour drive to New York and its teeming immigrant communities. Guarding the border here is tricky because Derby Line and the neighboring Quebec town of Stanstead comprise one community where homes and buildings happen to be bisected by an international border.

The community library was purposely built straddling the border to serve people in both communities. Quebecers simply cross an international boundary marked outside the library by pots of petunias. Occasionally, illegal border crossers will walk, or even drive, across near the library.

“This is really a town with an invisible border going through it,” said Stanstead resident Matthew Farfan, who has written a book about life along the border, after he left the library’s Vermont entrance and prepared to cross back into Canada.

As part of a broader recent immigration crackdown, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has set up highway checkpoints in Maine, New Hampshire and upstate New York. One person was apprehended in New York on charges she had picked up four people crossing from Canada.

Visa-less entry into Canada for countries like Mexico and Romania, another nationality noted by Nolan and Border Patrol agents as contributing to a spike in apprehensions, play a role by making the northern border more attractive for people seeking to enter the U.S. illegally, Nolan said. A plane ticket from Mexico City to Montreal or Toronto can cost less than $350.

The Canadian government in late 2016 lifted its requirement that Mexican citizens apply for visas to enter the country as part of broader efforts to strengthen ties with Mexico. A similar requirement for Romanian citizens took effect in late 2017.

Canada views the recent visa changes for Mexico and Romania as having a minimal impact on the border, said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. In the past two months, agents in Vermont have chased border crossers through the woods near Derby Line; there have been car chases and cases in which agents have lost sight of suspects in the woods, only to apprehend them days later.

“They have kind of gone southern-border style where they are taking a hike and they are coming through the tall grass,” Ross said. “It’s something I would have seen years ago when I worked in Harlingen, Texas.”

The agents won’t guess how many make it across. The flow of illegal border crossers goes in both directions. Since around the time President Donald Trump took office, thousands of immigrants in the U.S. have fled north to Canada seeking asylum.

Last October in the largest single case in memory of Border Patrol agents in the Derby Line area, 16 people were apprehended at a hotel after 14 had entered the United States west of Derby Line. The other two were the smugglers.

In another case east of Derby Line, a group of eight Mexican immigrants met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Montreal after flying into Toronto and Montreal, where they hired two taxis to take them to Stanhope, Quebec, not far from where Quebec meets Vermont and New Hampshire.

After the immigrants walked six hours through the forest, they were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Norton, Vermont, while riding in a taxi from Albany, New York, court documents say. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, responsible for border security in Canada, made arrests last month in two human-smuggling cases between Stanstead and Derby Line.

In one case, the suspect, a Mexican who did not have legal status in Canada, has been convicted of bringing immigrants to the Vermont border and was sentenced to six months in jail, after which he will be deported.

The Mounties are aware of the cases and ready to help their U.S. counterparts, said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Camille Habel. But the RCMP doesn’t appear to view the problem with the same urgency as U.S. officials: “It’s not a trend yet,” Habel said.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto; Michael Hill in Derby Line, Vermont; and David Sharp in Portland, Maine.

Forests, locals harmed in Mexico’s avocado boom

By Jennifer Gonzalez Covarrubias

Jujucato, Mexico (AFP)

Nov 4, 2016

Liliana Carmona misses the lush pine forest on the hills overlooking her village in western Mexico. She now stares at vast avocado orchards that feed a massive foreign appetite for the green fruit.

Growers have been cutting down swaths of forest to make room for more fruit trees in the state of Michoacan, the world’s avocado capital.

Experts are now concerned that chemicals used in the orchards could be behind illnesses afflicting the local population.

“The sneezing doesn’t stop when they are fumigating,” said Carmona, a stocky 36-year-old mother of two who works at a small grocery store in Jujucato, a village in the heart of avocado land.

In the 15 years that Salvador Sales has been teaching in Jujucato, he has seen his students come down with more and more breathing and stomach problems.

“We believe this is caused by the products used to spray the avocado orchards,” said Sales, who believes that the wind blows the chemical fumes into the homes of his students.

About 40 percent of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, and most of those come from the area around Jujucato and Lake Zirahuen.

Avocados occupy some 137,000 hectares (340,000 acres) of land in Michoacan, according to state government figures.

Half of those orchards were planted in forests after the land was bought through dubious legal means, according to Jaime Navia, head of a rural technology NGO called GIRA.

Deforestation is growing at a pace of 2.5 percent per year, according to GIRA.

– Kidney and liver problems –

Temperate weather in the region allows for year-round cultivation of avocado, a fruit that originated in Mexico and is loaded with vitamins, proteins and healthy fats.

While there is a strong local demand, production has soared along with the avocado’s ever-growing international appeal, and forests have paid the price.

Experts warn that the chemicals used in mountain orchards may be spilling down into ground water, streams, rivers and lakes, and subsequently causing illnesses among the population.

Alberto Gomez Tagle, an expert on the environment in the Lake Zirahuen region, which includes Jujucato, said many communities that rely on the lake water may already be suffering from the effects of chemical runoff.

One lakeside village asked researchers for help when residents began to suffer from liver and kidney problems that did not exist until “the avocado orchards expanded and all types of pesticides were used,” Gomez Tagle said.

Officials and some producers are striving to halt the growth of orchards in forests.

Since August, authorities have recovered 100 hectares of land and detained dozens of people working in fields that had invaded forests.

A label is being created for avocados sold in stores so that consumers can identify those from orchards that don’t harm the environment.

– Drug cartels –

Avocados had their first “boom” in the 1970s, but production really took off in an uncontrolled way into the forests in 2000, said Navia of GIRA.

Foreign demand for avocados have grown consistently in the past decade, especially from the United States — Mexico’s biggest trade partner — and countries like Japan, according to federal government figures.

In 2003, avocado exports reached nearly $60 million, a figure that shot up to $1.5 billion by 2015. Avocado sales to Japan went from $40 million to $106 million in the same time period.

Michoacan has been known in recent years for bloody clashes between rival drug gangs, which have also moved into the avocado trade, officials said.

Some of the avocado farmers that invaded the forest are “organized crime” members, a state government official told AFP, stressing that the authorities had recouped some of that land.

There are even avocados grown as high as 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level, “even though they aren’t that productive,” said Navia.

One hectare of avocados generates on average around $5,400 per year.

Mexican avocado packers recently went on strike for a few days to protest the low pay they were getting this season, which ranges from between $1.8 and $2.6 per kilo.

The brief strike resulted in a global avocado price hike.

Source: Seed Daily.

Link: http://www.seeddaily.com/reports/Forests_locals_harmed_in_Mexicos_avocado_boom_999.html.

Mexico must probe ‘possible’ army executions: UN expert

Mexico City (AFP)

Sept 29, 2014

A UN expert urged Mexico on Monday to conduct an independent investigation into the killing of 22 drug gang suspects by soldiers, saying the deaths may have been summary executions.

Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, welcomed the military’s arrest last week of seven soldiers and one officer “in what could be summary executions,” said a statement by the UN’s human rights office.

“The government of Mexico has the duty to fully investigate, prosecute, and punish all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions,” Heyns said in the statement.

Heyns called on the government to protect a witness whose testimony contradicted official accounts that the suspects had died in a gunfight with soldiers on June 30 in Tlatlaya, 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Mexico City.

The witness told Esquire magazine that 21 of the suspects, including her 15-year-old daughter, were executed after surrendering, while only one person died during a shootout.

Heyns said the authorities should also protect two other women who survived the shooting and were detained on charges of firearms possession and organized crime.

The federal attorney general’s office is conducting its own investigation into the case, which has put a spotlight on Mexico’s controversial use of the military in the drug war.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Mexico_must_probe_possible_army_executions_UN_expert_999.html.

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