World Three journalists slain in Mexico in a week•Violence linked to drug trafficking and political corruption continues unabated in Mexico and most crimes go unpunished (AFP Photo/Guillermo Arias) Mexico City (AFP) – Two journalists were shot dead in Mexico Friday, bringing to three the number of journalists killed in the country this week, officials say.Jorge Celestino Ruiz, who worked for the newspaper El Grafico de Xalapa, was killed on Friday night in the violence-plagued state of Veracruz, the mayor of the state’s capital Paulino Dominguez told AFP.Ruiz’s house was shot at in October and bullets were also „fired at his vehicle to intimidate him,” said a police source, who asked for anonymity, and did not give further details.Ruiz had stopped putting his name to his articles to keep a low profile, the reporter’s colleagues also said.State interior secretary Hugo Gutierrez „strongly condemned” the killing on Twitter and said it was an attack on freedom of expression.The shooting occurred less than 24 hours after the director of online news website La Verdad de Zihuatanejo, Edgar Alberto Nava, was gunned down in the southern state of Guerrero, according to the local prosecutors office.And on Tuesday, the body of Rogelio Barragan — head of news website Guerrero Al Instante — was discovered in an abandoned car’s trunk in the State of Morelos. Reporters Without Borders said eight journalists had been killed in Mexico this year up until Thursday.Since 2000, around 100 reporters have been killed in the country. Violence linked to drug trafficking and political corruption is rampant, and most crimes go unpunished.
(Bloomberg) — At the nightclub door, a security guard checks every bag, pocket and makeup pouch with a mini flashlight. In the bathroom, another stands watch as drug dealers sell cocaine in bags marked with skulls. That guard escorts revelers into a stall where they can snort in private.
Drug gangs are ever more powerful in Mexico City, leaving even the most exclusive nightspots with little choice but to let them sell their wares. It’s better than the alternative: Outside the club — near the Cibeles Fountain in a neighborhood popular with American tourists — the owner of another bar was shot dead. More recently, two men with narcotics in their car were gunned down eight blocks away in broad daylight and shooters at an exclusive mall left two more dead.
Mexico City had always been a haven from the beheadings and mass graves that beset the country. But as homicides have risen year after year, it began to look more like the rest of Mexico. Since leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took power in December, crime has become topic No. 1 in conversations in cafes and bars and offices.
Despite promises to lower violence by addressing poverty and youth disaffection, killings have soared 15% this year under the leadership of Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a close ally to the president known as AMLO. After gunfights hit chic neighborhoods and two young men from middle-class families were kidnapped and murdered, Sheinbaum sent in the newly created National Guard, a measure meant for only the worst narco spots. Now, the perception that crime is spinning out of control in one of the world’s largest capitals is unnerving investors in an economy that is poised to grow this year the least in a decade.
“Our clients are far more concerned,” said Gonzalo Nadal, who runs Mexico City-based risk consultancy ON Partners, whose clients include the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico. “Some have expressed serious uncertainty” about whether to expand in the capital.
Sheinbaum says crime had actually been worsening for years but the previous administration altered data to cover it up. She published new statistics for last year that showed homicides were higher than previously thought before she took power. That makes the comparison with this year’s numbers less dramatic. Some crimes, like theft, have actually fallen. Muggings are down 23%.
But homicides are still on the rise — 898 victims in January through June — and critics blame her and the president.
Mexico City needs more and better-trained detectives and prosecutors, but steep budget cuts instated by AMLO make their jobs harder, said Francisco Rivas, who heads the National Citizens’ Observatory, a group that seeks to improve security policy. “Instead, the city opted to change the color of patrol cars,” he said.
AMLO said in an interview Monday that his social programs are addressing the causes of the violence and the National Guard is providing personnel to beef up crime fighting. “I don’t delegate this matter to anyone. I’m dealing with it directly,” he said.
Read More: AMLO Defends His Record in Interview With Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief
Ever since then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on traffickers in 2006, violent crime has gotten worse and worse. The strategy of hunting down capos merely splintered cartels into smaller, more belligerent gangs.
Their new dominance in the capital is most evident in nightclubs and bars. Some proprietors have been forced to hire security and waitstaff chosen by the narcos themselves. Others take precautions, such as allowing guards to oversee narcotics purchases to keep order. At the club near Cibeles Fountain, a DJ spins old-school cumbia to a young crowd that spends the equivalent of about $10 on mixed drinks. The bathroom where cocaine and Ecstasy are sold for $25 to $50 is dimly lit, but its entrance is wide open.
“Organized crime groups force bars to sell or permit the sale of drugs,” Ernestina Godoy, the city’s chief prosecutor, said in an interview.
The latest daylight shootout took place last week at the Plaza Artz mall, just a few stores down from a Louis Vuitton shop. A woman shot and killed two Israeli men who local media reported distributed drugs to bars in the wealthy Polanco neighborhood. Video footage shows her accomplice firing a high-caliber weapon as he makes his getaway while shoppers duck under tables. One officer was wounded.
A turf war between two gangs, Union Tepito and Anti-Union Force, is often cited as the source of the bloodshed, and authorities say that they’re operating with the help of the most powerful and violent cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation. The mall shooting may have even been a showdown between the two cartels, says Mexican risk-consultancy Empra.
Newly freed prisoners provide foot soldiers, some Mexico City authorities say. People have been released from prison in droves thanks to a 2008 criminal-justice overhaul that improved due process but failed to train and vet law enforcement officials before taking full effect in 2016. Many have been let out on technicalities, while some suspects in violent crimes are eligible for bail. The city’s prison population has plunged to about 25,000 this year from more than 41,000 in 2012.
Homicides in the city have climbed so high that killings per 100,000 people are now only 23% below the national average. They were 33% below last year and 41% less in 2017, according to the newly corrected federal data.
Godoy, the prosecutor, says the former administration doctored files so extensively last year that bodies found in Mexico City were registered outside the capital in final reports. The previous government would tally only a maximum of 600 crimes per week, she said. Former Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, now a senator, hasn’t responded to requests for comment. He’s previously denied the allegations.
Reports of altered data are raising questions about whether any government security statistics can be trusted. “States, depending on how they’re conveyed in the news, will often change or doctor their numbers,” said Jack Harary, managing director of Mexico City-based security firm Harary Security Inc.
This week, Sheinbaum pushed through laws requiring harsher sentencing for recidivism and petty crimes like mobile phone theft. She plans to expand the police force this year by 66%.
Read more – How AMLO’s Plans to Transform Mexico Ran Into Reality: QuickTake
The government’s actions aren’t sufficient, said Rafael Guarneros, who sits on a neighborhood watch in upscale Condesa. A member of his association, Cristina Vazquez, was murdered in June after reporting crime on her block. Hours after she was found, a man tried to force his way into her apartment for unknown reasons and was arrested. He’d been in and out of prison four times, local media reports.
“Prosecutors don’t know how to send a criminal to prison and keep them there, or they just don’t want to,” Guarneros said. “This is Mexico City’s biggest failure.”
(Adds link to Bloomberg interview with AMLO.)
–With assistance from Andrea Navarro and Rafael Gayol.
To contact the author of this story: Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com, Juan Pablo Spinetto
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Democratic senator warns of Trump involvement in Pentagon contract
(Reuters) – U.S. Senator Mark Warner on Friday raised concerns over the Pentagon’s decision to put on hold a $10 billion cloud computing contract after President Donald Trump said his administration was examining Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> bid following complaints from other tech companies.
Trump in July had said in July that Amazon’s bid for the contract, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI, was being reviewed.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said on Thursday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who assumed his role on July 23, was reviewing accusations of unfairness.
„It’s important that we maintain a fair & competitive process for DoD contracts, but for the President to use the power of his office to punish critics in the media would be a complete abuse of power,” Warner, a Democrat, said on Twitter. „This does not pass the smell test & we need some answers.”
Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post. Trump, who has continually assailed the media with cries of „fake news,” has accused the newspaper of unfair coverage.
Oracle Corp <ORCL.N> lobbied aggressively and expressed concerns about the award process for the contract, but along with IBM Corp <IBM.N> it has since been eliminated from the competition, leaving Amazon and Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> as finalists.
(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Atlanta’s monuments to its Confederate past cannot be taken down by law. But the city is now moving to provide much-needed historical context on the realities of slavery, the civil war and the era of Jim Crow segregation that followed.
Homages to Atlanta’s history crop up in many cemeteries and parks. Little context accompanies those stone memorials with engraved plaques referring to “heroic efforts” and the south’s soldiers’ efforts to “unite” the country after the civil war. There is no mention of racism or slavery and segregation.
But now, Atlanta is placing four new context markers near some of the statues and monuments that will offer a fuller and more honest accounting of the south’s history and its legacy of slavery and racism.
One marker will go up near the 1935-constructed Peachtree Battle Avenue monument, a simple stone engraved memorial commemorating an 1864 civil war battle stressing peace between the north and south. The new additional panel next to it will point out flaws in the monument’s inscription by saying: “[It] describes the United States after the civil war as a perfected nation. This ignores the segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans and others that still existed in 1935.”
Another marker, at the Peace monument, built in 1911 in the midst of one of Atlanta’s most popular parks, is a large statue of a Confederate soldier halted by an angel. The original plaque explains how a Confederate-era city militia was on a peace mission to unite America after the civil war. The added marker explains how it excludes 200,000 African Americans who served in the US army.
Both monuments stress unity between the north and south in the wake of the civil war, but neither plaque commemorating the Confederacy mentions the reason for the war: pro-slavery southern states advocated for secession, wanting to continue the enslavement of African Americans.
Both were erected not during the civil war or shortly after, but during the era of Jim Crow laws, enforcing racial segregation.
“There’s a lot of people don’t understand these monuments were not really put up right after the civil war,” Heidi Bierich, the director of the Innocence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained. “[Confederate monuments] were assertions of when white people were gaining more power under Jim Crow, or the Klan in the 1920s. So it was a big old, you know: ‘I reject civil rights, I reject black rights.’”
Two other monuments in the Oakland cemetery – the Confederate obelisk and the Lion of the Confederacy – will also have markers to contextualize their continued placement on state-owned property. Both are some of the oldest Confederate symbols in the city, with the latter built in 1895 placing an enormous lion statue in the middle of a cemetery of thousands of unmarked Confederate graves. The Confederate obelisk, a looming stone pillar, is the tallest, most prominent focus of the Confederate part of the cemetery.
Advocates for these new markers, like Bierich, say the new information panels are more truthful because now visitors won’t see a Confederate monument without having some other narrative.
They are necessary because a local political struggle over the fate of the monuments ended with them being protected by law, even as some other southern communities took down their Confederate statues.
However, Atlanta’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) president Richard Rose said the city shouldn’t have compromised on the monuments. “You can’t contextualize racism or compromise on racism,” he said, adding that these markers “establish that racism is valid”.
In 2017, the city’s then mayor Kasim Reed formed a committee to review street names and city-owned monuments, just months after white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville in protest at the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. Some of those marching had carried white power symbols as a car smashed into anti-racism protesters, killing Heather Heyer.
Though the debate around memorials to Confederate history has continued since the violent rallies in Virginia, the 2015 shooting by Dylann Roof at a black church in South Carolina ignited the debate after the gunman posted pictures with the Confederate flag. South Carolina removed the flag from its statehouse grounds, but kept its monuments.
The committee advised that Confederate monuments in Georgia be moved to storage, but a recent law signed by Republican governor Brian Kemp makes it illegal to remove any monument on property owned by the state. The NAACP denounced the law, saying the monuments “glorify treason and a hateful history of black subjugation, reinforced through domestic terrorism”.
Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the SPLC, also have similar laws in place to protect Confederate monuments from removal.
Of the seven states banning the removal of Confederate monuments, Atlanta is the only city within them to add context via plaques.
Sheffield Hale, president and chief executive of the Atlanta History Center, said the markers – paid for in part by the center – help address the issue, but they are not a permanent solution.
“I do think it gives [people] a starting point, which is sorely needed right now, in our society, as a way to deal with contentious issues. Let’s argue about the facts, let’s put them down on paper – or on a marker – and have a conversation about them,” he said.
The final line to be added alongside the Peace monument is certain to do just that.
“This monument should no longer stand as a memorial to white brotherhood; rather, it should be seen as an artifact representing a shared history in which millions of Americans were denied civil and human rights,” it says.
But just miles from downtown Atlanta, the largest memorial of the Confederacy in the US still looms over the city with no context and a laser light show highlighting the state’s most visited attraction. That is Stone Mountain, where families picnic under the gaze of a gigantic carving of Confederate leaders.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The family of a visiting Chinese scholar whose body was never recovered after a former University of Illinois doctoral student kidnapped and killed her has been told the woman’s remains may be in a landfill in eastern Illinois, an attorney for the slain scholar’s family said Friday.
In a statement, attorney Steve Beckett said the family of Yingying Zhang was notified by prosecutors that Brendt Christensen’s attorneys provided information that led investigators to think the „potential site” of the remains is the landfill in Vermilion County along the Illinois-Indiana border. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, Sharon Paul, declined to comment on Beckett’s statement.
Christensen was convicted in federal court last month and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
Authorities have told family members of Zhang, who vanished in 2017, that she was likely dead. From the time they arrived from China, family members have made it clear that their goal was to recover the remains and bring them back to their country for burial. And after jurors sentenced Christensen, they stood before the news cameras outside the Peoria courthouse where the trial was held to beg him to reveal the location of the 26-year-old woman’s remains.
„If you have any humanity left in your soul, please end our torment,” said Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang. „Please let us bring Yingying home.”
Prosecutors say Christensen beat Zhang to death with a baseball bat before decapitating her. He never testified during the trial and has never told authorities what he did with her remains. Prosecutors have acknowledged that they considered a plea deal with Christensen after his 2017 arrest in which they would abandon plans to seek the death penalty if he divulged what he did with the remains and where they could be found.
Christensen’s attorneys suggested that a deal should be contingent only on Christensen’s providing information about her remains and not the actual recovery of the remains because Christensen had no control over whether the remains could be found. Prosecutors ultimately abandoned the idea of a plea deal after concluding that Christensen likely destroyed the remains, making it impossible to verify any details he might provide.
Beckett was to have a press conference Friday afternoon to offer further details about his statement, but in a statement he said that press conference has been postponed until next week so that the family’s Chinese attorney could attend.
Poland Roma Genocide
OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) — American civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed and mourned at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Friday as he joined survivors paying homage to an often-forgotten genocide — that of the Roma people — on a key 75th anniversary.
In addition to the 6 million Jews killed in death camps such as Auschwitz, the Nazis killed other minorities during World War II, including between 250,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti.
Broadly speaking, Sinti are people who arrived from India and settled in Western and Central Europe many centuries ago, while Roma are centered largely in Eastern Europe. Since the term Gypsies is considered offensive, the groups are usually collectively referred to as Roma.
Jackson drew comparisons between the suffering of the long-persecuted minority in Europe with that of African Americans. In turn, a German Roma leader, Romani Rose, said the African American civil rights struggle that made vast achievements in the 20th century was a model and inspiration for his people, who still face marginalization and violence.
Bowing his head as he began a visit of the camp ahead of official ceremonies, the 77-year-old Jackson, a Baptist pastor, prayed that such horrors never occur again. He appeared deeply moved as he visited a surviving gas chamber and crematorium and toured an exhibition depicting the mass murder of Roma and Sinti.
During official ceremonies in front of a memorial to Sinti and Roma dead amid the ruins of gas chambers and barracks, Jackson warned diplomats and Roma from across Europe of the current dangers from a resurgence of racism and white nationalism.
„The ugly head of racism, nationalism and neo-Nazism is rearing up again in the U.S. and Europe,” Jackson said. „It may be a mass murder at a church in Charleston, or neo-Nazis and racists chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ in Charlottesville, or crowds demonizing our Congressional representatives today with chants of ‘Send her back home!'”
That was what the crowd chanted at a recent rally by President Donald Trump after he hurled racist insults at Rep. Ilhan Omar and three other congresswoman of color.
The commemorations in southern Poland, which was under German occupation during World War II, fall exactly 75 years after thousands of the last remaining prisoners in the so-called Gypsy family camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau were killed.
Organizers said around 20 survivors, most of them Roma and Sinti but some Jewish, joined Friday’s commemorations.
One survivor who spoke was Else Baker, who was sent alone at age 8 to Auschwitz after being labeled a „half-caste Gypsy” by the Nazi regime. Now nearly blind, she expressed gratitude to those gathered to mourn together before someone read out her speech for her.
She later said in England, where she has lived since the 1960s, „nobody has a clue” about what people like herself have witnessed.
During the war, members of the Roma community faced deportations, sterilizations and mass shootings in Soviet-occupied territories as well as the Nazi gas chambers. Many perished from starvation and disease.
Despite their immense suffering, it took decades for them to achieve even small measures of recognition.
It was only in 1982 that West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt publicly declared that Sinti and Roma „were persecuted for reasons of race” and that „these crimes constituted an act of genocide.”
More progress has come of late. In 2012, Germany erected a memorial in Berlin. Three years later, the European Parliament declared Aug. 2 to be „European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day.”
And this year before International Roma Day on April 8, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the U.S. Congress that said „Roma enrich the fabric of our nation” and that they have been „part of every wave of European migration to the United States since the colonial period.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Friday „on all governments to take steps to combat intolerance against the Roma and to enable their full participation in civic and economic life.”
Pope Francis has highlighted the discrimination that Roma still face today, even in Rome.
Asked how he felt about commemorations like the one Friday, 94-year-old French Roma survivor Raymond Gureme simply pressed his hand to his heart and bowed his head.