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Massacare of innocents

Fifteen innocents are killed at Cuidad Juarez party, leading to demands that President Calderon quell the violence; local media are too frightened to cover the story. The government extradites a man accused of running over a US agent with a Hummer. A $6.7 billion US government "virtual fence" appears to be a waste. Studies show that most Mexican adults are overweight. The economy is expected to grow. Mexico's Central Bank will not raise interest rates. And authorities attempt to ban Twitter.

Top News: Just when residents of Mexican murder capital Ciudad Juarez thought it couldn’t it worse, events showed it could. On Sunday Jan. 31, trigger men stormed into a party in the city across from El Paso and killed 15 people – 12 high school students and three family men. But while most slayings in this city are related to drugs and organized crime, prosecutors say the latest victims appeared to be innocent, hard working students.

The massacre led to increased pressure on President Felipe Calderon to resolve the security situation in the city. Mexico’s Congress and Senate both called in top federal officials to answer questions on their tactics.  The president, who was in Tokyo, said he would reinforce his strategy in Juarez. But business and resident groups said these words were not enough and they wanted the head of state on the ground at the border ASAP.  

In most places, the local media would be all over such a massacre story. But Juarez newspapers kept to the basic details for fear they could be in the firing line themselves. The caution is more than justified. In January, gunmen killed three Mexican journalists. In 2009, on average one journalist was slain every month.

Still, the Mexican government keeps arresting suspected gangsters. On Jan. 28, it extradited to the United States a man accused of killing a border patrol agent by running him over with a Hummer loaded with drugs. The victim, Luis Aguilar, was struck in southeastern California's Imperial Sand Dunes in 2008. Adding to the drama, prosecutors on Feb. 3 announced that the suspect Jesus Navarro had actually escaped to Mexico in a border patrol vehicle back in 2007.

Some Americans say the best thing for the United States would be to build a huge wall on its southern border. But new reports show that attempts to increase defenses are plagued by glitches and long delays. It turns out that $6.7 billion spent on a so-called “virtual fence” of cameras, ground sensors and radars, has produced very little. Budget cuts ordered by the Obama administration will also slice some money out of revamping border defenses. Some editorials say it is time to rethink the whole idea of trying to fortify the south.

Down in Mexico, some would like to build their own wall – against American junk food. At the end of January, the government has kicked off a new campaign against obesity, after studies showed that 70 percent of Mexican adults are overweight. The campaign, headed by Calderon himself, is especially targeting children because of figures showing that Mexican kids are even heavier than their U.S. counterparts.

Money:  In more signs of recovery, private sector economists raised their outlook for growth in Mexico. A survey released on Feb. 2, found that 28 economists predicted growth of 3.3 percent in 2010 and 3.5 percent in 2011. Both predictions reflected a rise of 0.2 percent compared to the last survey. Mexico’s economy shrunk by about 6.8 percent in 2009, the worst drop since the Great Depression.

Trying to stoke this growth, Mexican Central Bank Governor Agustin Carstens said that he would not raise interest rates. Rate hikes had been expected to try and curb inflation which shot up in January along with hikes in commodity prices and basic government services. However, in a conference in Madrid, Carstens said the surges were temporary and long-term price expectations should be “anchored.”

One tactic to curb price increases is to increase import quotas of basic goods. In a bitter-sweet blow for the national sugar industry, officials say they could raise sugar import quotas to their highest in 16 years.  While Mexico is the world’s sixth largest sugar producer, it imported 390,000 metric tons of the sweet stuff last year. This year, amid droughts and sky-high prices, that could rise to 600,000 metric tons. 

Elsewhere: While the drug war rages on, Mexican authorities also have their eye on another enemy: the Twitteros, or people who use the website Twitter. Federal deputies have proposed new powers to ban the site after it emerged that twitteros are communicating the locations of alcohol breathalizing points. Officials say it is no laughing matter, as drunk driving is a serious problem in Mexico.