In what media sources and Mexican officials are calling one of the most violent and brutal attacks in recent history, a group of unidentified men mostly likely associated with cartel rivalries, torched a casino in Monterrey, killing 52 innocent people trapped inside. According to witnesses, at least six armed men burst into the casino on Thursday yelling at patrons to leave, doused the building in gasoline and setting it on fire. While some costumers were able to escape through the front exits before it was engulfed in flames, the rear exits were blocked, trapping many people inside. The efficiently orchestrated operation took only several minutes, suggesting the work of the powerful Los Zetas drug cartel.
In a series of comments made this weekend, Felip Calderón said the attack was committed by ‘true terrorists’ and declared three days of national mourning. Calderón increased military presence in the region, ordering the deployment of 1,500 federal troops to Monterrey over the next few days and calling citizens to set their political interests aside and allow the security forces to ‘do their job.’ He asked the country to unite against the criminals, in a ‘unanimous condemnation’ of the violence by ‘society, politicians, political parties, leaders, and the media.’ Calderón also made a plea to the United States to reduce its drug consumption, trafficking of high-powered arms, and to take greater responsibility for its role in the increased violence. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the choice of actions and words following this attack will prove to be vital. Even though Calderón’s leadership is coming to an end, the attacks in Monterrey necessitate concrete solutions that can quell the ‘state of anxiety’ dominating the electorate.
The attack occurred on in Monterrey, the capital city of Nuevo Loredo, one of Mexico’s most modern cities and a ‘hub for big businesses. The area has been seen as a fairly isolated safe-haven from the drug-related violence spreading throughout Mexico in recent years. However, Monterrey has seen a dramatic increase in violent attacks as tensions and rivalry mount between Los Zetas and Gulf drug cartels. Murders in the state of Nuevo Leon have jumped from 267 in 2009 to 828 in 2010—a figure which was already surpassed mid-June this year. The Zetas have increased violent efforts against the Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels in a rivalry war over control of the Northeastern region of Mexico. The spread of brutality into what is considered the most Western city in Mexico is an urgent call for action—as Gilberto Marcos, a prominent Monterrey businessman put it, “if Monterrey falls, then Mexico does too.”
· Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez began his third round of chemotherapy on Sunday in Caracas. Chavez remarked that he is ‘determined to continue living…It’s not time to die. What we have to do still is a great deal.’
· More than 1,000 people protested on Sunday in Monterrey, demanding the resignation of the Nuevo Leon state governor and the mayor of Monterrey. Demonstrators said that ‘they are tired of the violence that afflicts the metropolis…as the Gulf drug cartel and the rival Zetas battle over turf.’
· Emilio Palacio, an Ecuadorian journalist accused of libeling President Correa, fled the country fearing for his safety. Palacio was sentenced in July, along with three other executives of the Universo newspaper, to three years in prison and $42 million in fines.
· As mass graves become an increasingly common discovery in Mexico, police discovered five bodies buried outside of Mexico City after responding to a call about a missing person.
· After ‘a relatively tranquil 20 years,’ Chile is experiencing a dramatic upsurge in popular protest with the students’ movement dominating the debate. According to the Economist, the protests might actually turn into some serious changes, so long as politicians are willing to ‘enact some sensible reforms quickly.’ After a 16-year –old boy was shot and killed on Friday, President Pinera agreed to begin education reform talks and open dialogue with representatives from ‘all sectors involved.’
· According to IPS, microcredit loans are growing at 15% a year in Colombia, with more than 1.2 million microenterprises accounting for approximately 50% of all employment. Small businesses and microenterprises dominate 96% of businesses in Colombia and many owe their success to microfinance loans.
· The National Tribunal of Spain called for an explanation of El Salvador’s decision to halt the extradition of 20 former military officials accused of murdering six Jesuit priests. The Supreme Court argued on Wednesday that the Salvadoran government is only required by law to locate those accused, not necessarily capture them.
· The Constitutional Court of Guatemala stood firm in its decision to extradite ex-president Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera to the U.S. amid charges of money laundering by the District Attorney of New York.
· As the global economy continues to weaken, some Latin American central banks are re-considering high interest rates and opening the door to looser economic policies. Brazil, Chile, and Mexico have all expressed interest in re-evaluating high borrowing costs.
· The Peruvian Congress passed a law last week making it mandatory to seek consultation and consent with indigenous populations before development projects will be permitted. The ratification of this law comes amid increased development-related violence and human rights violations against indigenous peoples throughout the region.
· The Peruvian government will continue its program of coca eradication on Tuesday, which is suspended last week. The Prime Minister, Salomon Lerner, said in an interview on Sunday that the eradication was meant to reevaluate the government’s anti-coca campaign and investigate more efficient methods and strategies.