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A bloody fortnight

When a fire ripped through a day care center, parents found that sprinklers, alarms and exits were not functioning, despite a recent inspection. A shootout in Acapulco killed 17. Goldman Sachs predicts Mexico’s economy will suffer its worst post-depression contraction. The bad news crimps the government's Vive Mexico campaign, to bring tourists back.


Top News: A fire that burned through a Mexican day care center killing 44 children shocked people across Mexico and the world. The inferno swept through the nursery in Hermosillo, Sonora on Friday June 5, killing the infants with burns and intoxicating smoke. The death toll was already 38 by Saturday, but more would die in the coming days. 


Other children, who were as young as three months old, survived the fires but were left with severe burns across their faces and bodies. Four of the young victims were flown to a special burns hospital in Sacramento, Calif.


The public and distraught parents demanded to know what went wrong to allow this tragedy to unfold. Reports said that only one emergency exit had been working and no sprinklers or smoke alarms went off. In desperation, neighbors and parents had to break holes in the outer walls to get children out. The day care center had passed a safety inspection two weeks before the fire. 


Pressure mounted for those responsible to be punished. It was found that two owners of the day care center also had senior jobs in the Sonora state government. They resigned on Tuesday. But others were still calling for the resignation of the Sonora governor or the head of the Mexican Social Security Institute, which licensed the center. Local politicians responded by blaming each other.


Just a day after the fire, Mexico was in the international news again. This time it was from a gun battle in Acapulco that was like a scene from a Rambo movie.


The firefight kicked off when the army responded to a call about men with guns snooping around a gated mansion near the resort’s old hotel district. Then for four hours soldiers battled with cartel thugs who fired thousands of rounds and lobbed some 50 grenades.


By the time the smoke cleared, 13 gunmen, two bystanders and two soldiers lay dead. Four kidnapped police were also found tied up in the house. The incident happened in the middle of Saturday night and less than 100 yards from the Los Flamingos Hotel that was once a private club for Hollywood stars including John Wayne and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller.


But the bloodshed didn’t stop there. In apparent revenge for the siege, gunmen killed three police in hit and run attacks on police stations in Acapulco two days later. Law enforcement is definitely a hazardous occupation in Mexico.


The Acapulco problems added to Mexico’s tourist woes. Holiday-makers had fled beaches when the swine flu scare erupted in April. The government was hoping to woo them back with a recently launched campaign called “Vive Mexico” or “Mexico Lives.” The $90 million effort brings in celebrities such as Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, Mexican actor Diego Luna and Mexican football player Rafael Marquez. But while the campaign has had little impact so far, the Acapulco shoot-out made headlines the world over.


Money: The flu, fire and firefights have not helped Mexico’s economy. This month, Finance Minister Agustin Carstens adjusted his forecast for the recession again to say GDP would shrink by 5.5 percent in 2009. It was a grim prediction, especially considering that in January he had said that the economy would decline by just 1 percent.


Some say he still isn’t being pessimistic enough. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. projects that Mexico’s GDP will shrink 8.5 percent this year, which would be the biggest contraction since the Great Depression.


Other bad financial news contributing to this gloomy scenario has been a drop in remittances sent from the United States. Data released on June 1 found remittances had dropped a staggering 18.6 percent in April compared to the same time last year.


Elsewhere: But so much bad news can still not dampen the party spirit in Mexico. Many prefer to drink and sing their troubles away. One place where Mexicans have celebrated their sorrows for centuries is the Plaza Garibaldi in the heart of Mexico City. Home to many mariachi bands and several cantinas, the plaza is a rowdy all-day and all-night affair. One particularly colorful place to swig tequila there is La Tenampa in the heart of the plaza.