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Russia supplies weapons for drug war

Russia announces plans to sell weapons to Mexico to assist in fighting cartels. President Calderon visits Ciudad Juarez while ten people are murdered. Professionals and skilled workers flee the city. New rules mandate passports for any visitor to Mexico going more than twenty miles into the country. Economic growth projections rise, but airport arrivals plummet. Bidding begins for new cell phone frequencies. And a mysterious cloud has believers convinced that the extraterrestrial invasion has begun.

Top News: Russia announced on Feb. 17 that it is signing a deal to sell equipment and weapons to Mexico so the nation can beef up its army against violent drug cartels. The sales will include helicopters and coastal monitoring equipment, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit here, adding, “I hope these will help our Mexican friends to combat this scourge.” Currently, Mexico gets most of such weapons and equipment from the United States, which both sells and donates them.  The U.S. said it had no objection to Russia’s new role.

President Felipe Calderon hit ground zero of this drug war, visiting the bloody Ciudad Juarez on both Feb. 10 and Feb. 17 to discuss a new security plan for the city. Juarez suffered 2,300 murders last year and grabbed national headlines again when 15 teenagers were murdered in January. Calderon promised to send more troops, improve police response times and bolster public health and education to help the city. But some commentators say the plan is too vague. The president’s latest speech was met by  protests which erupted in scuffles with police. And 10 people, including a local mayor, were murdered in the state while he was visiting.

Some say they are better off packing their bags and crossing the Rio Grande. In the last 18 months of killing in Juarez, up to 200,000 people (or 10 percent of the population of 1.5 million) have moved to El Paso. Many of those abandoning the city are professionals and skilled workers. Others say the government should rethink its military drug war. The Mexican bishop’s conference on Feb. 15 sent a pastoral letter urging a new approach, and saying the use of more military force did not equal more safety.

In the south of Mexico, a court on Feb. 17 cleared a protester in the murder of an American journalist three years ago.  Juan Martinez was released because of lack of evidence, his attorney said. The victim, Bradley Will, a 36-year old independent cameraman, was shot and killed while filming a clash between protesters and state gunmen in October 2006. Will’s family members and fellow indie journalists had said Martinez was a scapegoat while the real killers were being protected by the Mexican government.

Americans traveling into the interior of Mexico should be ready with a passport. New rules say that effective Mar. 1, anyone going more than 20 miles into the interior of Mexico will have to have their national travel document. Americans can still enter border cities without a passport. 

Money: Mexico’s Finance Ministry raised its growth outlook for 2010, citing signs of recovery at home and in its key export markets. The economy is now expected to grow by 3.9 percent this year, up from the previous projection of 3 percent.  Particularly driving growth is a rebound in the auto-industry, helped by domestic sales, the ministry said.

However, a Mexican airport operator posted a sharp drop of 23 percent in profits for the fourth quarter of 2009. Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste operates the Cancun airport, which receives the bulk of foreign holiday makers hitting Mexican beaches. That airport had 6 percent less passenger traffic, while nearby airports at Cozumel, Oaxaca, Tapachula, Veracruz and Villahermosa all suffered double digit declines.

Meanwhile, Mexico's telecommunications regulator Cofetel announced on Feb. 18 that it has 17 potential bidders for new wireless frequencies for cell phones. The auction aims to boost competition in the sector, in which Telcel – of billionaire Carlos Slim – currently has a 72 percent share. Some of the competition will come from Nextel, which Mexican media conglomerate Televisa just brought a 30 percent stake in. Some analysts say Televisa’s buy was risky, as Nextel lacks the cutting edge technology to compete with the mighty Telcel.

Elsewhere: Forget about a secret installation in Nevada. Apparently, aliens are swarming over Mexico. Footage of a mysterious cloud formation over Mexico that looks something like a whirlpool, has been exciting UFO believers after being uploaded onto YouTube. Similar videos from Russia and Indonesia recently went up on the Internet, leading some believers to claim that the major alien visitation has finally arrived...