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A formerly drug-addicted pastor hijacks a plane from Cancun. Violence shaves 3 percent off GDP. Federal, state and municipal officers are arrested for links to a deadly gang. After human rights groups complain about a rigged trial, a kidnapper of federal agents is released from prison. Officials say that Mexico is pulling out of recession, but industrial production is down significantly. Stocks are up. The president wants to pass a new tax, but Congress is convinced it will punish the poor. Also, a colonial museum caters to pre-teens.
Top News: The story of the hijacking of a packed plane from Cancun briefly made headlines on Sept. 9. The first reports were particularly shocking with TV networks making wild claims that there were three terrorists on board with explosives tied to themselves. But after masked police raided the plane in Mexico City, it turned out to be one lone hijacker with a fake bomb made of orange juice cartons.
The ensuing revelations about the whole affair made for a bizarre slew of stories in the following days. The hijacker was identified as a Bolivian pastor and former drug addict who was a part time singer and martial arts whiz. YouTube videos showed him crooning church songs and practicing with nunchucks (fighting sticks joined by a chain). Fortunately, none of the 104 passengers on board were harmed, although many said they were shaken, including five Canadians.
The hijacking may have been a storm in a tea cup, but it was still the last thing Mexico’s tourist industry wanted. Plagued by drug violence, swine flu and a poor global economy this year, Mexican tourist officials have been wading through a near-perfect storm of bad business.
Not even celebrations for Mexico’s Independence Day provided a respite from the violence of Mexico’s drug wars. On the night of Sept. 15, when Mexicans were waving flags, throwing firecrackers and chugging tequila, gunmen shot and killed 15 people in Juarez, 10 in Tijuana and more in other towns and cities.
The relentless body count is becoming increasingly bad for business. A new report by a private group claims the bloodshed strikes a whole 3 percent off Mexico's Gross Domestic Product.
The roots of corruption linked to these gangs also appear unceasing. In the latest sting, federal authorities arrested 124 police officers in Hidalgo State for alleged links to the deadly Zetas gang. Those detained included high level federal and state officials as well as dozens of municipal policemen, the federal attorney general said in a news release.
But while some are going into prison, others are being let out. On Sept. 16, a Mexican jail released Jacinta Francisco Marcial, a 47-year-old mother of six and an Otomi Indian, who had been sentenced to 21 years in prison for her part in holding federal agents hostage when they tried to raid a market selling contraband. Groups including Amnesty International took up her cause claiming her trial was rigged and Mexico’s attorney general dismissed the case.
Money: After months of depressing bad news some signs of light at the end of the tunnel have appeared. Preliminary data for the third quarter showed signs of improvement, prompting Mexican officials to say that the nation was finally pulling out of recession.
The release of more data appeared to support the trend. In July, industrial production dropped 6.5 percent year on year - bad, but far shy of the 9 percent predicted.
Mexican stocks rallied on the good news with gains on the last session before the Independence Day holiday to a new high for the year.
International investors were also optimistic about the government plan to put a new 2 percent emergency tax to secure government finances. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s described it as a “good signal,” which could help the federal finances out of the hole dug by the recession.
However, it is unclear if the tax will make it through Congress, which is controlled by the opposition. Lawmakers from the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, which form the largest block in the lower house, complained the tax punished the poor and didn't provide enough stimulus.
Elsewhere: One place trying to provide real stimulus is Mexico’s National Museum of the Colonial Period, in Mexico State. In a new effort to attract school children, it has created a special youth-orientated tour of the museum, aimed specifically at 10 to 14-year-olds. The interactive exhibits even include a special Colonial lottery the children can play.