Category Archives: News & current events

Traveling in Mexico: Passports and travel advisories, oh my!

Several travel-related issues along the U.S.-Mexico border are sure to raise some questions on this blog (and they already have started doing so), so I’m going to see if I can address them in this post:

Is is safe to go to Tijuana? Tijuana’s name showed up again in a list of cities linked to drug trafficking violence by the U.S. Department of State under their periodically-updated  travel alerts. This time, the alert seemed to focus more on the Mexican border towns south of Texas, but Tijuana continues to smart from being on this “black list.” Tijuana’s mayor Jorge Ramos has criticized the advisories for being too inflamatory (he would like the wording to change).

A story by ABC News points out that overall violence appears to be in decline in Mexico when compared to a decade ago, and in explaining that much of the impact of violence is influenced by perceptions rather than reality. Tracking and defining border violence is a complicated thing, especially since it tends to surge up and down and shift back and forth between regions. I have found the alerts to have no impact on my own travel decisions, but that’s just me.

Is Mexico requiring that I have a passport to go to Tijuana/Mexical/other border cities? The Mexican government created some confusion over this when they said that visitors to Mexico who travel through the land ports of entry would need to bring their passports starting in March. It became clear that having passports checked at these busy border entry points would be a logistical nightmare. Since then, the Mexican government has clarified that people who travel as far south as Ensenada in Baja California won’t have to worry about bringing their passports after all. Read more in this KPBS report. and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, the issue of whether or not people need to bring their passports to get back into the United States through the land ports of entry  – despite a U.S. government passport “requirement” announced last year – continues to be hotly debated. For more on that, go to this blog post or start a new conversation thread below.

Jennifer Aniston goes to Baja; helping a Tijuana orphanage

Jennifer Aniston was recently in Cabo San Lucas where she spent her birthday and did an interview with Access Hollywood. She apparently helps out a group called Friends of El Faro that does charity work south of the border. One of their projects is with a Tijuana orphanage and school called Casa Hogar Sion.

Aniston, who stayed at the Palmilla resort , helped launch the $95 Farita doll – presumably named so on behalf of the Faro group – to raise money for the orphanage (though I can’t seem to find a picture of the doll anywhere).

Aniston gave a plug for the orphanage: “They have been given a lot of love and they’re getting educated, which is the most important thing for them,” she told Access Hollywood.

And for Mexican tourism: “Mexico is really hurting right now because of the swine flu and the drug trafficking and all this sort kind of stuff – but it’s not all of Mexico. These people survive on us coming down and spending money and coming here to these beautiful places,” she told Access Hollywood.

Joining Jennifer in Baja, according to the UPI, were Courtney Cox, Jason Bateman, Sheryl Crow, Kathy Najimy and Gerard Butler. And it looks like the Mexican military did their part to keep away the paparazzi boats.

Photo of Cabo San Lucas bay  by Stan Shebs, via Creative Commons License.

Smuggled Christmas Puppies Rescued at Tecate Border

Puppy Christmas 6
Image by Grammatic Error via Flickr

There’s been lots of attention lately on the smuggled stash of puppies rescued at the Tecate border this week. The fifteen sickly puppies were being smuggled into the United States through Mexico, apparently for sale as Christmas gifts. The miniature poodle mixes were promptly dubbed the “Christmas puppies.”

But it’s not just a Christmas thing. Customs and Border Protection officials have estimated that as many as 10,000 puppies are smuggled across the border in any given year, according to this Customs and Border Protection article from 2006. The problem apparently merited its own task force: A Border Puppy Task Force was created in 2004 as a result of complaints from owners who had bought sick dogs that ended up being traced to Mexico. The task force is comprised of 14 California animal welfare and law enforcement agencies.

As with drugs, the business is inspired by profit. The puppies (typically smaller breeds such as poodles and           Chihuahuas) may be purchased for between $50 and $150 in Mexico and sold for between $300 and $1,000 in the United States, according to this Associated Press report in 2006.

Sometimes dogs are smuggled across with even more ulterior motives. Learn about some puppies that were being used as drug mules. In other cases, dogs are the unsung heroes in the ongoing war against drugs. Here’s a story about a drug-sniffing dog that sniffed out 68 pounds of cocaine hidden in a car.

Photo NOT of sumuggled puppies. Photo used through Creative Commons License. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9523689@N08/3176162046

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Migrants using online communities to stay in touch with their Mexican villages

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Mexicans who have migrated to the United States from rural villages have been forming online communities to stay in touch with their families and friends back home. They log onto specific websites (such as that of Tlaltenango.com, above) to share photos, memories and send Yearbook-style greetings. In the process, they are reinforcing cultural, historic and emotional ties.

In some cases, the online communication is also providing a way of reinforcing democratic practices and political debate in Mexico. According to one study about the village of San Martin de Blonan~os, 13.26 percent of messages on that village’s independently-run web site included discussions about politics and accountability (A few examples: The alleged corruption of one of the mayoral candidate members and mine contamination in a local river). The study, by Mexican researcher Miriam Cardenas Torres, provides a fascinating look at the online dynamics of this particular Jalisco community and the technological barriers and benefits to such interaction.

I am not finding a recent link to the paper about San Martin de Bloan~os that I found earlier this year by Miriam Cardenas Torres. But here is a link to another study of hers that mentions San Martin de Bolan~os: “Transnational Migration and Communication” (in Spanish). An additional study by Victor Gonzalez an Luis Castro  – “Maintaining links through the Web: The case of the Mexican communities of immigrants in the United States” (in Spanish) – was published in the Journal of Community Informatices (2007).

Special thanks to Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of “Mexican Enough.” Elizondo Griest mentioned Miriam Cardenas’ studies in her own book “Mexican Enough,” which I read earlier this year.

How social media is helping cross-border investigations

Facebook, Inc.
Image via Wikipedia

Being a former border reporter and an eager student of social media, I am always keeping my eyes open for ways that these two interests of mine intersect. A couple examples from this year demonstrate how social media is playing a role in cross-border investigations.

I previously wrote how a blog called the
The Stalker Chronicles apparently helped Tijuana law enforcement officials find the alleged stalker of actor David Caruso earlier this year. (Read details of the case in this Feb. 20 Associated Press story).

And now a story in The Guardian sums up why it’s a good idea to understand what’s public and what’s not in Facebook – especially if you are a fugitive hiding out in Mexico.

According to the story (which I first read in Mashable), Maxi Sopo fled the United States earlier this year after allegedly getting involved in a fraud scheme and learning that investigators were looking into his possible involvement. Rather than lie low online as well as offline, Sopo started updating his Facebook status with descriptions of the good times he was having in Cancun. One of his Facebook “friends” was a former justice department official who apparently met Sopo at a Cancun nightclub and had no knowledge of Sopo’s fugitive status, according to the story. Read The Guardian for more details, but I would venture to guess that Sopo’s updates from jail probably aren’t so pleasant.

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President Obama shares some dance moves with Mexican singer Thalia

Thalia is a well-known Mexican singer and former TV soap star. I remember watching her in the Maria la del Barrio series that was on Mexican television in the 90s in which  she portrays a trash picker rescued by a wealthy benefactor and  eventually finds true love after tearful betrayals and misunderstandings. In real life, Thalia Sodi Mirana married music executive Tommy Motolla.

In this video, she decorously dances with President Barack Obama for a few moments before concluding her song at the Fiesta Latina concert that was held at the White House on Tuesday.

According to The New York Times, the event will be rebroadcast Thursday on PBS stations as part of the series “In Performance at the White House.” It is also to be shown Sunday on the Telemundo network.

QUESTION: Was the president’s dance out-of-bounds? There seems to be a lot of chatter on the Internet about whether or not Michelle Obama looked annoyed or gave him the cold shoulder afterwards. Thoughts?

YouTube video from The Daily Beast.

Most defense lawyers for Mexican drug traffickers have shortened life spans – Americo Delgado outlived most

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfK_KUGD8i8]

The striking thing about the fate of Mexican defense attorney Americo Delgado, who defended various Mexican drug traffickers over the years, is not so much that he was murdered recently – but that he had apparently lived to be in his 80s.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ken Ellingwood reported on Delgado’s killing in this story, which explains how  Delgado was stabbed to death by a group of men in front of his home in Toluca, Mexico.

I remember reaching Americo Delgado by phone once when I was a reporter at The San Diego-Union Tribune, covering border news. I was seeking a quote from him in regards to the U.S. government’s efforts to extradite his client Benjamin Arellano-Felix, the former high-ranking member of the Arellano Felix drug group (Arellano was eventually extradited). The fact that he even took  my call was somewhat amazing to me.

Over the seven years I worked in Tijuana, I interviewed or talked to several other Mexican defense attorneys who represented people who were either directly or indirectly involved with major drug groups. One of them was gunned down shortly after I chatted with him (no connection). Another one ended up being killed and stuffed inside a car trunk.

I occasionally wondered how Americo Delgado  – who defended some of the drug world’s top lieutenants –  managed to avoid the fate of his less-fortunate colleagues in this shadowy world where “just doing one’s job” is complicated by the deeper symbolism and loyalties that the drug trafficking world operates on. Delgado had most recently been defending suspected drug trafficker Alfredo Beltran Leyva, according to newspaper reports.

Video originally posted by Multimedia on YouTube.