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US agents shoot at smugglers, closing border

The border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is shut for the first time in decades after US agents fire on three vans. Human rights groups cry foul about 5,600 border deaths. This has been the bloodiest year on record due to drug-related violence. A new attorney general is appointed. Remittances are down. And Mexico cites economic troubles as the reason for withdrawing their bids to host upcoming World Cups.

Top News: The United States temporarily closed the busiest crossing on its southern border on Sept. 22 when agents shot at migrant smugglers who tried to speed through the border post in three vans packed with illegal migrants. The incident broke out at the San Ysidro port of entry just south of San Diego.


Media reports initially said the migrants had opened fire on the agents who shot back in self defense, a version of events that was apparently confirmed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. However, it was later revealed that three U.S. agents had fired across traffic at unarmed migrants. The agents said they felt trapped and endangered from the speeding vehicles.


Four of the migrants were injured from bullet wounds. Two were later charged with migrant smuggling, while 58 migrants were returned to Mexico. Advocates in Mexico criticized the U.S. agents for using excessive force.


The shooting came days before the 15th anniversary of the United States’ Operation Gatekeeper, the security scheme for the southern border. Human rights groups in Mexico and the U.S. used the day to launch scathing attacks on the operation, which they said has led to the deaths of more than 5,600 migrants in deserts and rivers. The American Civil Liberties Union said the deaths were a true “humanitarian crisis,” while San Diego-based director John Carlos Frey released a critical documentary about the operation entitled "800 Mile Wall."


New figures released on Sept. 30 found that deaths by migrants crossing their border had risen compared to the last two years, despite agents making fewer arrests. The rise in deaths is allegedly caused by increased border defenses such as the extended fence, pushing migrants to attempt crossing in more hazardous terrain.


South of the border, the relentless wave of drug-related violence rages on. Media tallies of the drug killings found that 2009 has been the bloodiest year on record, with more than 5,800 drug-related slayings by the end of September. There were just over 5,600 such killings in 2008, the previous record.


To crack down on this endless wave of bloodshed, Mexico named a new point man in its war on drugs. Arturo Chavez was ratified by the Senate on Sept. 24 as the federal attorney general, a position in which he will oversee the prosecution of drug lords and their armies of hitmen.


Not everyone was happy with the new prosecutor. Opposition politicians said Chavez had failed miserably as attorney general of the state of Chihuahua when hundreds of women were raped and killed in the 1990s in Cuidad Juarez. He did not satisfactorily solve that case, bringing on criticism from international groups, including the United Nations. Some relatives of the victims protested outside the Senate when Chavez was ratified.


However, the Mexican media was much more preoccupied with a smaller political appointment – that of the borough chief of Mexico City’s working class Iztapalapa district. The selection of the chief became a twisted political saga, involving back-room deals, street rallies and infighting in Mexico’s largest leftist party. At the center of the storm was an eccentric street vendor known for his Rambo-style headband. The so-called Juanito has been celebrated as the man on the street making a buck from politics.


Money: Economists continued to be pessimistic about Mexican growth in 2009 with a survey of analysts released on Oct. 1 by Mexico’s Central Bank predicting that the economy would shrink 7.2 percent year on year. The prediction was the same as that found in September.


Remittances from the United States to Mexico also continued to dip with data released on Oct. 1 showing that August remittances were down 15.12 percent compared to 2008. The Central Bank blamed the U.S. recession, particularly in the building trade, for the decline.


However, some companies still managed to buck the trend and make sizeable profits. Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish language broadcaster, made marked gains on its shares after Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating on Sept. 27.


Elsewhere: Mexico withdrew its bids to host the 2018 or 2022 soccer World Cup on Sept. 30. Officials from Mexico’s football federation said the decision was based on the poor economy and lack of infrastructure. Mexico hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, the tournament which has become the most profitable event in international sport.