Boing Boing 

Modern slavery: the Mexican megafarms that supply America's top grocers


A four-part series in the LA Times explores the corrupt labor conditions in Mexico's biggest farms, where the produce, destined for American grocers like Walmart and Whole Foods, is treated with infinitely more care than the workers, who are subject to illegal, inhumane treatment, including indentured servitude.

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Conjoined whale calves wash ashore

This video shows conjoined Pacific gray whale calves that washed ashore in Mexico. Female gray whales give birth each winter in the warm waters off Mexico where they are safe from their primary predators, killer whales.

Unfortunately for these twins, absence of predators didn't make much of a difference to their survival. It's sad that these calves didn't make it, but not surprising given the physical limitations and the problems that being attached in this way would present to a wild animal. (Learn more about gray whales.)

Protesters burn capital building in Mexican state seat

Students and faculty from a teachers' college in Guerrero state set fire to a government building in Chilpancingo in fury at the disappearance of 43 student teachers believed to have been kidnapped by corrupt police officers working with a drug cartel.

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US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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The gruesome reality of the drug trade

My friend Erik Vance lives in Mexico City and writes about science. But, in the past year or so, his work covering ocean fisheries has brought him into contact with some of the fallout from the cocaine trade. That overlap lead to a recent piece for Slate, where he writes that "there's no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine". If you care about sustainability, fair trade, and the power of consumer choice to change industry practices in fishing, then you should care about those things when it comes to drugs, he writes. More provocatively, Vance likens buying coke today to donating to the Nazi party in the 1930s.

Mexican drug lord assassinated by killer clowns


Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix , the eldest of seven brothers of the Tijuana cartel.

Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, the eldest brother in Mexico's once-dominant Tijuana drug cartel, was shot to death by gunmen disguised as clowns at a children's party on Friday.

The 63-year-old drug lord was also known by the nicknames "El Pelón" (the baldie) or Menso, ("stupid/crazy"). He was assassinated by a man in a clown suit during a family gathering at an upscale resort in Cabo San Lucas, a popular tourist destination on the Baja California peninsula, state special investigations prosecutor Isai Arias told Associated Press on Saturday:

An official of the Baja California Sur state prosecutor's office told the AP that the costumes included a wig and a round red nose.

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NSA hacked email of Mexican president and drug-war reformers


A Snowden leak, discussed in detail in Der Spiegel, shows how the NSA broke into the email servers of the Mexican president Felipe Calderon's public account, and used that access to wiretap the president, cabinet members, and senior diplomats. The NSA described the program, called "Flatliquid" as "lucrative." A second program, "Whitetamale," also spied on senior Mexican politicians (including presidential candidate Peña Nieto), targeting efforts to change the country's disastrous War on Drugs.

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Teaching kids by getting out of their way


Sergio Juárez Correa teaches at José Urbina López Primary School in Matamoros, Mexico -- a violent, terribly impoverished border town. His school is often referred to as "a place of punishment." But when he encountered the educational ideas of Sugata Mitra (who famously installed computers in slums for illiterate street-kids to use, and found that they'd taught themselves to use them and were educating themselves), he rebuilt his teaching around leaving his kids alone as much as possible. His classroom became one of the highest-scoring groups in the Mexican educational system.

Moreover, one of Correa's students, a young girl named Paloma Noyola Bueno, demonstrated extraordinary talent and appears to be some kind of savant with incredible potential. That's pretty amazing and heart-warming, but what gets me as the parent of a school-aged kid (and as a sometime teacher) is the demonstrated efficacy of letting kids drive their own education with their own curiosity and passion.

I hate the way schools are focused on producing high test-scores. It scares me that if my kid walks into a classroom excited about reading and it's time to do math, she'll have to do math, because no one -- not the teacher, nor the school, nor even the kid -- can afford to have her blow the standardized test. Every important thing I know, I learned because I became passionate about it and then the adults around me let me pursue it.

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Exclusive: Where the inmates really do run the asylum

Video Link

In 2011 I set off with a camera to explore a mental asylum in Mexico run by its own patients. The place is just beyond the last junkyard on the curdled fringe of Juárez, the world’s most violent city. On one level these people shared common purpose in that they dressed each other, cleaned each other, fed each other. But then there were many other levels, many other worlds. The tragicomedy of Beckett was everywhere, I can’t go on, I’ll go on, while the infantile grotesqueness of Jarry’s Ubu Roi was never far away. The more I filmed, the less I understood and the more curious I became.

I met a man called Josué who was managing the asylum. Five years previously he’d lost his mind and the ability to walk but I found him in a reflective mood. He told me his dream. After two visits and many hours of material my editing was frustrated by a desire to present the mystery I’d encountered while needing a story to hang it on. Then Josué’s dream came true. His daughter in LA emailed me to ask what her father was doing in a mental asylum. She’d seen a trailer for the film I’d posted online. She hadn’t seen her father in 22 years and had been told he was dead. Two more visits and I managed to put Josué and his daughter together and filmed the reunion.

The film, titled Dead When I Got Here, is due to be finished later this year and we’ve launched a Kickstarter to help fund its completion.

Below is an exclusive scene for Boing Boing featuring Josué trying to reason with a psychopath, and an excerpt from my diary during the last shoot at the asylum.

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How a Mexican drug-lord dines out

When Joaquín Guzmán Loera, leader of Mexico's notorious Sinaloa Cartel, wants to dine out, he engages some rather extreme security measures:

In 2005 on a Saturday evening, Guzmán reportedly strolled into a restaurant in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, with several of his bodyguards. After he took his seat, his henchmen locked the doors of the restaurant, collected the cell phones of approximately 30 diners and instructed them to not be alarmed.[26] The gangsters then ate their meal and left – paying for everyone else in the restaurant.[27]

Culiacán appearance

Later that year, Guzmán was reportedly seen in Culiacán, Sinaloa, repeating the same exploit at a restaurant.[28] According to a witness, in November 2005 Guzmán entered the restaurant in Culiacán with 15 of his bodyguards, all of them carrying AK-47s.[29] The restaurant was known as "Las Palmas", a lime-green eatery with an ersatz tile roof on a busy street.[30] A man in the restaurant told those present the following:

"Gentlemen, please. Give me a moment of your time. A man is going to come in, the boss. We will ask you to remain in your seats; the doors will be closed and nobody is allowed to leave. You will also not be allowed to use your cellulars. Do not worry; if you do everything that is asked of you, nothing will happen. Continue eating and don't ask for your check. The boss will pay. Thank you."[29]

Joaquín Guzmán Loera (via Reddit)

Disney files trademark application for "Dia de Los Muertos"

Disney has filed for trademarks on "Dia de Los Muertos" in a wide variety of goods and services -- candy, snacks, cosmetics, toiletries, perfumes, gadgets, jewelry and jewelry boxes, and more. This would be a good time for people to tell the USPTO that there are innumerable products in those categories that already use the term, and that no exclusive association exists (or should exist) between the Disney company and the traditional Mexican holiday. Not even if the next Pixar movie is called "Dia de Los Muertos." (Thanks, Chryss!)

Reporters, bloggers in Mexico march to protest violence against news media

In various cities in Mexico on Sunday, journalists from newspapers and independent online news organizations marched to protest "violence that has claimed the lives of co-workers and silenced news media in parts of the country." Demonstrators chanted “Justice!” and “Solution!,” and demanded that authorities investigate a string of murders, kidnappings and threats—like the unsolved brutal attack that claimed the life of muckraking reporter Regina Martinez. [LA Times, WaPo]

US-aided electronic spying in Mexico’s drug war

In the Washington Post, an extensive report by Dana Priest on the changing role of the U.S. in Mexico’s intelligence war on drug cartels. The article includes extensive details on how closely intertwined the CIA and other US agencies have become with Mexican law enforcement entities:
The administration of former president Felipe Calderon had granted high-flying U.S. spy planes access to Mexican airspace for the purpose of gathering intelligence. Unarmed Customs and Border Protection drones had flown from bases in the United States in support of Mexican military and federal police raids against drug targets and to track movements that would establish suspects’ “patterns of life.” The United States had also provided electronic signals technology, ground sensors, voice-recognition gear, cellphone-tracking devices, data analysis tools, computer hacking kits and airborne cameras that could read license plates from three miles away.
(HT: Shannon Young)

Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits: indie horror comic


Vera Greentea and Laura Muller's "Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits" is an indie comic (funded by a very successful Kickstarter) that spans four issues. The first issue, just out ($6), is a nice, deceptively gentle entree into what promises to be a proper kick-in-the-teeth bit of horror about the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits is a spirited horror story about a ghost searching for her family during the festival of the Day of the Dead, while dodging ambitious exorcist apprentices. Vera Greentea (Recipes for the Dead, To Stop Dreaming of Goddesses) and talented artist Laura Müller (Mega Man Tribute, Subway to Sally Storybook) collaborate to create an autumn-friendly tale of skulls and hope. The first issue introduces the vivacious but forgotten ghost girl, Nena, as she explores the labyrinthine streets of Mexico during its most eerily evocative celebration and Bastian, the first of the exorcists speeding after her – completely for the wrong reason.

Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits by Vera Greentea

Drug cartel violence in Mexico, an animated video explainer

Jess Bachman at Visual.ly says,

We just produced this animated short on the escalating drug cartel violence on the US-Mexico border. This is some horrific stuff that is a lot closer than Afghanistan and Syria and something we play a much larger role in, yet it get's no national coverage. Additionally its not even mentioned as part of the gun control debate. Mexico has strict gun laws... where do the cartels arm themselves? Imported from the U.S. of course. Our gun policy is not just a domestic one. Here's to hoping we can keep the drug war at the forefront this term.

Reportero: documentary on journalist's life in one of the world's deadliest places for news

For a limited time at PBS.org, you can watch the full-length version of "Reportero," an incredible documentary film about Jesús Blancornelas and Héctor Félix Miranda's long-running Mexican newsweekly, Zeta. The environment in Baja California is so hostile -- it is certainly one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters -- that the paper is printed across the border in Southern California to ensure its survival, and that of the people who run it.

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Kidnapped radio engineers forced to build comms networks for the Zetas, never seen again

On Wired Danger Room, Robert Beckhusen tells how Mexican drug cartels, notably the Zetas, kidnap skilled radio engineers and force them to build out elaborate communications networks -- one comprised 167 antennas. The engineers are kidnapped and usually never seen again, and are presumed to have been murdered.

For at least six years, Mexico’s cartels have relied in part on a sophisticated radio network to handle their communications. The Zetas hide radio antennas and signal relay stations deep inside remote and hard-to-reach terrain, connect them to solar panels, and then link the facilities to radio-receiving cellphones and Nextel devices. While the kingpins stay off the network — they use the internet to send messages — the radio network acts as a shadow communication system for the cartels’ lower-level players and lookouts, and a tool to hijack military radios.

One network spread across northeastern Mexico and dismantled last year included 167 radio antennas alone. As recently as September, Mexican marines found a 295-foot-high transmission tower in Veracruz state. And while the founding leadership of the Zetas originated in the Mexican special forces — and who might have had the know-how to set up a radio system — relatively few of the ex-commando types are still active today.

One engineer, named Jose Antonio, was kidnapped in January 2009 while talking on the phone with his girlfriend outside a mechanics shop. He worked for ICA Fluor Daniel, a construction company jointly owned by U.S.-based Fluor Corporation and ICA, Mexico’s largest construction firm. Antonio’s family contacted the authorities, but were instead visited by a man claiming to be an ICA employee along with two Zetas. “They said they were going to help us, and that our contact would be ICA’s security chief,” said the kidnapped engineer’s mother. But the group’s message was implicit: Don’t pursue this, or else. The cartel members were later arrested, but Antonio never returned.

Mexican Cartels Enslave Engineers to Build Radio Network

Military spy blimps used in Afghanistan will now patrol US-Mexico border

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.

Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.

The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.

In other words, hardware recycling. Read more: Battlefield Blimps to Patrol U.S.-Mexico Borders (WSJ).

Image: REUTERS. A US military blimp carrying surveillance imaging equipment flies over eastern Afghanistan, September 2011. Devices like this are being tested along the US-Mexico border.

Mexican-US illegal migration has been largely static since the 1950s


Princeton's alumni magazine has an excellent profile of Douglas Massey, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and director of Princeton’s Office of Population Research. Massey studies patterns of US migration, particularly illegal immigration from Mexico. His research is the only rigorous census of Mexican-American illegal immigration flows, and its conclusions are that the US perception of Mexican migration is completely backwards, and that the major immigration problems are the result of bad policy, not changes in volume:

The MMP’s reports are freely available to anyone through its website, http://mmp.opr.princeton.edu. But statistics can be sterile things. Get Massey going, and one gets an earful about the true state of affairs along the border. To wit:

* We are not being flooded with illegal Mexican migrants. The total number of migrants from Mexico has varied very little since the 1950s. The massive influx many have written about never happened.

* Net illegal migration has stopped almost ­completely.

* Illegal migration has not stopped because of stricter border enforcement, which Massey characterizes as a waste of money at best and counterproductive at worst.

* There are indeed more undocumented Mexicans living in the United States than there were 20 years ago, but that is because fewer migrants are returning home — not because more are sneaking into the country.

* And the reason that fewer Mexican citizens are returning home is because we have stepped up border enforcement so dramatically.

Mull over that last point for a minute. If Congress had done nothing to secure the border over the last two decades — if it had just left the border alone — there might be as many as 2 million fewer Mexicans living in the United States today, Massey believes.

Crisis Contrived (via Wil Wheaton)

(Image: Illegal Immigration, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from qwrrty's photostream)

Border Patrol sadism and human rights abuses on the Mexican border

John Carlos Frey investigates the deliberate cruelty of the US Border Patrol agents who work on the US-Mexican border. A humanitarian relief group called No More Deaths used hidden cameras to record smiling Border Patrol agents destroying water-caches left in areas where migrants have died of exposure. A former senior agent who left after witnessing horrific acts of torture and cruelty describes the way that Border Patrol agents delight in sadistic brutalizing of captured migrants. These accounts have been corroborated by the Red Cross and Doctors of the World.

My grandparents -- Red Army deserters -- deliberately destroyed their papers after WWII in order to become "displaced people" so that they could make their way from a camp in Azerbaijan to the DP boats in Hamburg. I don't see any difference between that sort of "illegal" migration and the sort that the US BP is currently fighting. Back then, the US, UK and Canada used very similar rhetoric about the way that migrants would take badly needed jobs, bring criminality, and fail to assimilate. But as Elie Weisel said, "there is no such thing as an illegal human being."

In his nine years working the border near Tucson, Ariz., and earning the rank of senior agent, Cruz says he frequently saw agents physically abusing detainees and denying food and water to those who were in obvious need. He also saw “individuals being crammed into cells twice beyond the posted capacity. Standing room only. I mean, you couldn’t even lie down on the floor.” This was done, he says, even when empty cells were available nearby. In 2003, he began warning his supervisors of this pattern of abuse. When his spoken complaints didn’t elicit a response, he began to write letters. “I started at the unit level,” Cruz says. “I went to the sector chief, office of inspector general — via phone calls and faxes of those memorandums. Went on to the commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection, who’s over the U.S. Border Patrol Agency. And then felt the need to move on to Congress.” Cruz left the force in 2007 without ever hearing a response.

Cruelty on the border

Google execs: our technology can be used to fight narcoviolence in Mexico

In a Washington Post op-ed, Google's executive chairman (and former CEO) Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen argue the case for technology as a tool to aid citizen activists in places like Juarez, Mexico. Schmidt and Cohen recently visited the drug-war-wracked border town, and describe the climate of violence there as "surreal."

In Juarez, we saw fearful human beings — sources — who need to get their information into the right hands. With our packet-switching mind-set, we realized that there may be a technological workaround to the fear: Sources don’t need to physically turn to corrupt authorities, distant journalists or diffuse nonprofits, and rely on their hope that the possible benefit is worth the risk of exposing themselves.

Technology can help intermediate this exchange, like servers passing packets on the Internet. Sources don’t need to pierce their anonymity. They don’t need to trust a single person or institution. Why can’t they simply throw encrypted packets into the network and let the tools move information to the right destinations?

In a sense, we are talking about dual crowdsourcing: Citizens crowdsource incident awareness up, and responders crowdsource justice down, nearly in real time. The trick is that anonymity is provided to everyone, although such a system would know a unique ID for every user to maintain records and provide rewards. This bare-bones model could take many forms: official and nonprofit first responders, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, neighborhood watches.

I'll be interested to hear what people in Juarez, and throughout Mexico, think of the editorial. The notion that crypto, Tor, or other anonymity-aiding online tools might help peaceful observers is not a new one, and not one that activists in Mexico need outsiders to teach them about. There are plenty of smart geeks in Mexico who are well aware of the need for, and usefulness of, such tools. But Google execs speaking directly to the conflict, and how widely-available free tools might help, is a new and notable thing. Red the rest here. (thanks, @martinxhodgson)

See-through Jewel Caterpillar

Here's a photo of the Jewel Caterpillar (Acraga coa), snapped by Gerardo Aizpuru near Cancun, and submitted to Project Noah. Be sure to click through for other views. Wow.

Photo take in a mangrove area , found this Stoning translucent caterpillar lay on a Red Mangrove tree leaf this morning early. Just can believe there is some species like this around the world. looks like made of glass whit small red mushroom inside every pic. about 3 cm long.

Jewel Caterpillar (via Geekologie)

In Veracruz, Mexico, renewed attacks on journalists

Three journalists were killed this week in the Mexican state of Veracruz, just a week after another reporter was murdered. More on the latest violence at SouthNotes. (via Shannon Young)

Japanese "Lolita fashion" anime subculture in Mexico

REUTERS/Daniel Becerrill

Above, Alin Nava (C) stands in a checkout line at a supermarket in Monterrey April 5, 2012. Nava, 25, is dressed in the so-called "Lolita" fashion style (ロリータ・ファッション Rorīta fasshon), a fashion subculture from Japan influenced by clothing from the Victorian or Rococo eras. The basic style consists of a blouse, petticoat, bloomers, bell-shaped skirt and knee-high socks. Nava is the co-founder of the "Lolitas Paradise" club in Monterrey and for members of the club, the Lolita style is not only a fashion statement but also a way to express their loyalty, friendship, tolerance and unity.

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Bristling guns from the Mexican drug war

The AP's Eduardo Verdugo captured a remarkable image from Mexico's drug war: a bristling rack of seized guns with their muzzles face on to the camera. Just looking at it makes me want to duck. Shown here, a downsized thumbnail. Click below for the whole image on the WashPo.

Seized weapons sit on racks in a warehouse at the Secretary of the Defense headquarters in Mexico City. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: "The Long Adios," A Walmart Detective Story

All right, you mugs. If you don't want some chin music, give TOM THE DANCING BUG WEBSITE the buzz, and tail RUBEN BOLLING on TWITTER.

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US to go after "Border Tunnels" by prosecuting landowners, wiretapping communications

In the San Diego Reader, more on a bill passed last week by The U.S. House Judiciary Committee to help law enforcement crack down on illicit tunnels along the US-Mexico border: "The bill would allow law enforcement to prosecute landowners, prosecute those that fund the tunnels, and wiretap communications in suspected buildings that house tunnels. Previously wiretaps were only available with proof of drugs or contraband."

Los Galgos Guapos ("The Handsome Hounds"): photo-essay on greyhound rescue in Tijuana

Photojournalist (and author) Erin Siegal has a wonderful photo-essay up on the The Reuters Photographers Blog about "Fast Friends," a group that adopts/rescues "retiring" greyhound dogs that have been used in racing in Tijuana, Mexico. On Erin's personal blog, there are more photos that didn't fit in. What beautiful creatures.

Meet Mexican tattoo diva "La Mujer Vampira," Maria Jose Cristerna

Mexican tattoo star Maria Jose Cristerna, better known as "La Mujer Vampiro" (Female Vampire), poses during the Venezuela Tattoo Expo in Caracas, January 27, 2012.

She is a 35-year-old attorney. 98 percent of her body is covered in tattoos. She also has prosthetic fangs, and platinum implants in her forehead.

"The 'Vampire Woman' was not something I thought of, it was a name that one of Mexico's major television stations baptized me with," she tells ABC News in one interview from the tattoo expo. "It doesn't necessarily bother me because it has helped me transcend to a new level. Yes, I do like vampires but they are only a dream, a fantasy."

She says the body modification project was a form of self-expression she sought after being the victim of domestic violence in a former marriage.

There's a fun video interview with her on Telegraph TV here, ABC News has another here, and ITN News has a segment from the con here.

(REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

Homebrew narco-tanks of the Mexican drug war

Here's a brief article from a June 2011 number of the NYT by Damien Cave detailing the bizarre improvised tanks used by Mexican drug gangs:

Over the weekend, Mexican authorities found two more of these makeshift road warriors in Tamaulipas, the same northern border state where the first armored vehicle appeared in April after a battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas gang. In the latest case, the Mexican Defense Department said, the armored trucks were found in a metalworking shop in Camargo, which also held at least two other partly modified monsters and 23 additional trucks.

The completed versions were bigger than what has been found before. Built on three-axle truck beds, they had room for 20 armed men, one official said. They were covered with inch-thick steel, which could withstand 50-caliber fire, and each had been equipped with insulation.

Monster Trucks on the Road, From Gangs in Mexico (via Neatorama)

(Image: a cropped thumbnail from an AP/Sedena image)