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"Lights" out in Mexico City

The government shuts down Light and Power, which provided electricity to Mexico City and the surrounding areas. Hurricane Rick hits Acapulco. The drug war continues with the dumping of nine severed heads. Lawyers produce an acclaimed documentary saying the legal system is "midieval." Mexico City puts its obese cops on a diet. A second wave of swine flu sweeps the country. Stocks and the peso are up, although the economy is still expected to contract. Walmex does exceptionally well. And the world's biggest revolving restaurant is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

Top News: The surprising shut down of Mexico’s state-run Light and Power company, which provided electricity to 25 million in Mexico City and nearby states, dominated the Mexican headlines in the first half of October. President Felipe Calderon closed the company by decree on Oct. 11, citing inefficiency and waste. Light and Power had spent $32 billion in the last five years and collected only half of that in revenues. The job of keeping the lights on will now be done by federal workers.


However, the real story was not the company but its trade union – the oldest industrial syndicate in the country and a fierce critic of the government. With the Light and Power company shut down, the union would lose its entire working membership. Keen to hang onto dear life, its members took the streets in mass protests on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, foreign investors celebrated the move as a step towards modernizing Mexico. One investment publication called it the “strongest act to support the future of a country since British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took on the National Union of Mineworkers.”


Perhaps Mexico would be better off using more wind power to keep the lights on. Hurricane Rick formed off the Pacific coast on Oct. 16, threatening the resort of Acapulco with 75 mph winds. Rick was the seventh Pacific hurricane of the 2009 season, although none have been devastating to life and property.


In one of the latest brutal acts of Mexico’s drug war, nine severed heads were dumped in a town in the Western state of Guerrero on Oct. 16. Such savagery in many nations would grab international attention, but in Mexico it has become tragically routine.


Authorities say one problem is that some Mexican police are simply too obese to catch criminals. After revealing that 70 percent of Mexico City’s police force is overweight, the department announced it was putting its 1,300 heaviest officers on a diet. Mexico has a shot at becoming one of the most obese nations in the world in recent years.


Others say crime in Mexico is a result of poor investigations and failing courts. A new documentary titled “Presumed Guilty” takes a hard look at the Mexican justice system. Made by lawyers who claim the system is “medieval,” the documentary received critical acclaim at film festivals in Toronto and Mexico and its producers are in negotiations with major distributors for screenings.


Some people, however, were shying away from being in crowded cinemas as the H1N1 flu virus continues to tear through Mexico. The second wave of the flu in Mexico has now claimed more victims. The first wave was in April when the virus first grabbed worldwide attention. As of Oct. 14, there had been 41,920 confirmed cases in Mexico and 260 deaths.


Money: Mexico's stocks enjoyed a 10-day-long rally in the first half of October, pushing the benchmark index up 8.5 percent. The new level was a 16-month high for Mexico’s Bolsa stock exchange. Analysts credited the surge on worldwide stock gains. They also said closing of the money-losing Light and Power monopoly helped improve optimism.


Along with the stocks, Mexico’s peso also edged up. After gains for several days running, it closed at 13.07 pesos per dollar on Oct. 15. The change was a far cry from the dark days in March when it sunk to more than 15 pesos per dollar.


One of the companies that best gained from the upsurge was Walmart de Mexico, the Mexican subsidiary of the U.S. retailing giant. Known as Walmex, the company posted an 18 percent increase in the third quarter earnings. The company had made the gains by eating into the market share of both other superstores and informal street traders, the Walmex CEO said.


Walmart’s best selling outlets are the Bodega Express shops, which offer smaller, cheaper products and are often in poorer neighborhoods. The stores have helped Walmart take advantage of the worst recession in Mexico since the 1930s, by offering bargains. (Despite the gains this month, Mexico’s economy is still predicted to contract by about 7.5 percent this year, the worst level since the Great Depression.)


Elsewhere: For those looking to eat better Mexican food than in Walmart’s bargain basement, one restaurant grabbing attention is the spinning Bellini eatery. Measuring a huge 1,044 square meters, Bellini was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records this month as being the biggest rotating restaurant on the planet. Bellini is located on top of Mexico’s World Trade Center.