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Star striker shot in Mexico City

A soccer star is shot in the head and survives. Revenge killings for the death of kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva continue. Mexican drug traffickers engage FARC, bypassing Colombian middlemen. Authorities propose prison time for entertainers who glorify the drug war. Two opposition candidates emerge who may challenge Calderon in 2012. A new bridge connects Monterrey to the U.S. Heineken takes over Mexican beer company Femsa. The economy is rebounding, but inflation surges. Also, 150 ferrets are left unharmed after a high-speed police chase.

Top News: While Mexico may be accustomed to violence and murder, celebrity shootings still cause a stir here. Such was the case on Jan. 25, when  Paraguayan soccer star Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head in the bathroom of a Mexico City bar. The 29-year old striker is one of the highest ever goal scorers in the Mexican league, where he plays with Club America.  He was also scheduled to play in the World Cup, where Paraguay faces Italy. The motive for the shooting was not immediately known.

The attack comes as Mexico continues to writhe in drug-related bloodshed. This January has been one of the bloodiest months in Mexico’s recent history with hundreds of killings up and down the country.  In one incident, assassins killed seven people and left their bodies on roads near the tourist resort of Acapulco. Notes by the bodies indicated the slayings were connected to the December killing of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva by marines.

The violence is also playing out inside prison walls. On Jan. 20, rival prison gangs fought in a penitentiary in the northern state of Durango, leaving 23 people dead. The army eventually stormed the jail to quell the fighting. Such confrontations are often linked to drug cartels warring over the lucrative drug trade outside bars.

And the Mexican drug trade is certainly lucrative. New information shows that the Mexican gangs are increasing profits by cutting out the Colombian trafficker intermediaries and buying cocaine straight from the guerrillas. The deal was made back in 2007 in a meeting between Mexican gangsters and Raul Reyes, a leader of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC.) Reyes wrote a letter of that deal to other commanders, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. 

Mexican authorities say it is time to take action — against the gangster’s entertainers. Lawmakers from the ruling National Action Party sent Congress a bill proposing prison time for anyone performing or producing so-called narco corridos or drug ballads. The songs glorify the exploits of known gangsters and are already banned on Mexican radio. But some say locking people up for singing such tunes would be like trying to round up every gangster rapper for talking about the street.

While the government wages war, it is not doing too well in the opinion polls. Meanwhile, two opposition politicians have emerged as strong candidates to take over the presidency in the next elections in 2012. The politicians — including the green-leftist Mexico City mayor and the governor of Mexico State — both have telegenic images, soap opera personas and star-looking wives or girlfriends. Some say this shows a new way of doing politics, in contrast to the bespectacled, pot-bellied president Felipe Calderon.

Calderon has claimed one small triumph in January though: the opening of a new border crossing to the United States. The Anzalduas bridge, connecting the Texan town of McAllen with Mexico’s Reynosa, was opened on Jan. 12 and is the first new port between the two countries to be opened in a decade. The bridge aims to strengthen ties between the Rio Grande valley and the Mexico’s industrial center, Monterrey.  

Money: In a move shaking up the international beer market, Dutch brewer Heineken bought up the beer sector of Mexico’s Femsa for a cheeky $5.4 billion. The sale at a price less than expected caused Femsa shares to plummet by 13.1 percent in the first day of trading. But for Heineken and its CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer, it was time to have a celebratory drink, placing the company as one of the biggest brewers on the planet, with an empire now stretching from Acapulco to Outer Mongolia.

Mexico’s economy generally is also starting to rebound, at least according to the Finance Ministry. Miguel Messmacher, the ministry’s chief economist, said Jan. 22 that the economy will grow by more than 3 percent in 2010. The projection is based on a recovery in the U.S. demand for Mexican goods, a crucial cornerstone of growth here. Furthermore, Mexico’s jobless rate went down to 4.8 percent in December, the lowest since March, new data from the government’s statistics agency showed.

On the downside, inflation surged in January as new taxes kicked in and the government raised prices on gasoline and diesel. On Jan. 22, the Central Bank announced that Mexican consumer prices rose 0.75 percent in the first half of the month, pushing 12-month inflation up to 4.17 percent.

Elsewhere: Some Mexico City police officers got into a high-speed against thieves who heisted 150 ferrets from a truck. The 14 boxes of ferrets had been imported from the United States and were just leaving Mexico City airport when the three robbers struck. But the thieves crashed their car into a tree and fled on foot leaving police to reclaim the furry cargo. The ferrets were unharmed.