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Murders, massacres and gay marriage

Details emerge in the firefight that killed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva, as his henchmen murder the family of a marine who died during the battle. In the first week of the month, twenty-nine people are killed in Ciudad Juarez, and in Durango a member of the Los Angeles school board is killed. The WSJ grabs headlines by pointing out the argument for legalization of marijuana. Mexico City legalizes same-sex marriage and adoption; the Catholic Church calls the law "perverse." President Calderón announces major infrastructure investment to address recession. Oil production is down significantly and prices of basic goods and diesel rose an estimated thirty percent.

Top News: Alleged drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva, alias “The Beard” was trapped in an apartment building with five of his henchmen when Mexican security forces found him in December. But never saying never, his troops unleashed grenades and rifle fire at the hundreds of marines outside. After a pitched battle that lasted more than two hours, Beltran Leyva, accused of being one of Latin America’s biggest traffickers, lay dead in the apartment.


But tragically, the bloodshed did not stop with that Dec. 16 firefight. On Dec. 21, Mexican authorities held a heroes’ funeral for a marine who had been killed in the Cuernavaca battle. The next morning, gunmen stormed the fallen soldier’s family home in the swampy state of Tabasco, killing his mother and three other relatives. Such revenge attacks on the family of a law enforcer were unheard of here, and shocked a nation accustomed to relentless bloodshed. As the Mexican government apologized to the family for exposing them to danger, pundits and activists screamed for peace and justice.


As the new decade begun, there was little sign of those calls being met with results. Execution-style murders and massacres tore across Mexico in the first week of January, with 29 people shot dead in Ciudad Juarez alone in just four days. In the neighboring state of Durango,  a prominent member of a Los Angeles school board was also killed. The death of Bobby Salcedo sent shockwaves up into California, where the state’s La Opinion Latino newspaper said it was a tragic loss for the community.


Some say that the only way to really stop the drug war is to legalize drugs. The call is not only being made by hippy marijuana puffers. On Dec. 25, the Wall Street Journal’s Mexico correspondent published an article laying out the case for legalization of narcotics to save Mexico. The report sent ripples through the Mexican press, which reported it in front page stories.


Money: President Felipe Calderon kicked off 2010 by promising historic levels of investment in infrastructure to help pull Mexico out if its worst recession since the 1930s. The conservative president said that creating jobs and reducing poverty were now the priorities of his administration, ahead of the relentless war against drug cartels. Investment would be in roads, airports, hospitals and schools, among other things, Calderon said.


The declaration comes as Mexico closed off a devastating 2009. Altogether, the nation’s economy is estimated to have fallen by about 7 percent compared to the previous year, although there were some signs of recovery in the fourth quarter. Unemployment also hit a new high of 5 percent. To make matters worse, oil production — the nation’s cash cow — has continued to decline and is estimated to be down to 2.5 million barrels per day this year — from a high of 3.4 million per day in 2004.


In the first days of January, Mexicans were also hit by a hike in food prices, corresponding with a new tax on basic goods and a rise in the cost of diesel. Analysts estimated the costs of a basic basket of goods surged up to 30 percent, and  Mexico’s largest opposition party proposed a new law to fix prices. If Mexicans struggle to afford their basic tortillas and beans, it said, 2010 could be a very hectic year.

Elsewhere: On Dec. 21, Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage and adoption for same-sex couples — the first place in Latin America to take such action. The law was possible because of Mexico’s federal system, in which Mexico City’s assembly has the same power as a state legislature. That assembly has been dominated by leftists since 1997. Critics called on Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard to veto the landmark ruling. He ignored them, and the law was enacted on Dec. 28. The mayor’s top aides added that the move could make the city a tidy income in gay tourism.


However, the nation’s Roman Catholic Priests were not throwing any confetti at the couples. From the pulpit to press conferences, church officials and Catholic activists hit back against the gay marriage law, saying it was an attack on the family. The clergymen used strong language, calling the law “perverse" and a “stupidity.” They were also joined by Evangelical Christians who are claiming a growing share of Mexico’s faithful. Mexico’s Constitution prohibits religious officials from being involved in politics, and the leftist lawmakers hit back saying they had crossed the line with the cross-church alliance against the law.