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)