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Feds keep it all in "La Familia"

U.S. drug agents nab 300 members of Mexico's deadliest drug cartel. Gang members strike back. Los Tigres del Norte releases song calling drug runners "dogs" and politicians "fat pigs." The swine flu death toll reaches 328. The stock market plunges. Sales of monster masks soar.

Top news: In what U.S. officials are calling their biggest Mexican drug operation ever, federal agents swept 19 U.S. cities this month, arresting 300 members of "La Familia," one of Mexico's deadliest drug cartels. Codenamed “Operation Coronado,” the sting was part of a 3 1/2 year investigation that has netted 1,200 drug traffickers from La Familia, an ultra violent, quasi-religious gang based in the state of Michoacan, the homeland of President Felipe Calderon. 


South of the Rio Grande, Mexican police joined the U.S. offensive against La Familia on Oct. 27, detaining one of the gang’s capos as he headed to bet on a cockfight. Known as “El Clinton,” the suspect allegedly masterminded the murder of a Mexican mayor earlier this year. But while police were rounding up some gang members, others were hitting back. On Oct. 27, gunmen killed four policemen in the Central Mexican city of Puebla who were ambushed while responding to a call about a suspicious car. In Tijuana, a shoot-out between police and gang members unleashed a stray bullet that killed a 15-year old girl waiting at a bus stop to go to school. 


Such mayhem leaves many Mexicans feeling desperate. Some are turning to vigilante justice to clean up the streets. In a recent case, vigilantes beat five teenage boys who allegedly robbed a house, forcing them to French kiss each other and threatening them with rape. A video of the incident, posted on YouTube on Oct. 23, drew condemnation from human rights groups but praise from others who hailed its makers as heroes.  


Such upheaval has also inspired musicians. Los Tigres del Norte, a popular Latin band, caused a commotion with their new song criticizing the Mexican drug war. Entitled “La Granja” or “The Farm,” it compares the drug cartels to dogs, the politicians to fat pigs and poor Mexicans as the peasant farmers caught in the middle. Los Tigres were scheduled to play at a prestigious awards ceremony in Mexico City, but withdrew when they were asked not to play the song. 


Some Mexican farmers, however, are less concerned about cocaine and more about corn. This month, the government granted its first permits to Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer to carry out tests on Mexico's genetically modified corn. Some farming and environmental groups are campaigning against the GM crops, claiming they threaten the native varieties of Mexican maize.


The H1N1 flu virus, commonly known as swine flu, continued to spread in the second half of October. On Oct. 28, the Mexican government announced the death toll had reached 328 out of 50,234 confirmed cases. The most infected states are Chiapas in the south, Yucatan in the east and Nuevo Leon in the north.


Money: Through late October, Mexico’s Senate was engulfed in a raging debate over tax reforms to bolster next year’s budget. Amid falling oil revenues, Mexico is under pressure from the international investment community to increase its tax base to balance its budget. On Oct. 28, Finance Minister Agustin Carsten urged senators to back consumption tax hikes that include a 2 percent levy on food and medicine and raises the VAT from 15 to 16 percent. But with a minority of Senate seats, the government’s National Action Party has to rely on support from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, which some reports suggest may reject the bill.


In the midst of the debate, President Felipe Calderon lashed out at corporate tax dodgers. In a speech to business leaders on Oct. 29, the conservative president scolded big companies for not paying their dues. “I am not asking companies in Mexico to pay more than what a dentist or an employee pays," he said. "I am asking them to put in what they need to, to observe the law."


Mexican stocks followed world markets in a downward plunge in late October, falling for six consecutive days, the longest drop since January.


Elsewhere: Sales of monster masks, jack-o'-lanterns and broomsticks surged as the Halloween and Day of the Dead festivals approached. In recent years, the American Halloween holiday on Oct. 31 has merged with Mexico's Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, creating a three-day free-for-all of witches, spirits and parties. Those in the Mexico City area can find the most colorful festivities in the city outskirts of Mixquic. The celebrations, which stretch from Mixquic's plaza to its cemetery, peak at midnight on Nov. 1.