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Viva Mexico! 200 Years of Independence

Migrants are massacred. A Texan drug kingpin is nabbed. The economy bounces back hard. And a Cancun resort receives some bling.

Top News: “Viva Morelos! Viva Hidalgo! Viva Mexico,” shouted President Felipe Calderon as he rang the bell at 11 p.m. on Sept. 15 to celebrate 200 years since insurgent priests first declared independence from Spain. It was quite a party. Fireworks filled the sky of the capital with the red white and green of the flag; the most famous musicians sung out; acrobats jumped. Later, a laser light show stunned. On Sept. 16, the army marched through the center in its best brass buckles with planes doing loops above. In total, the government had spent $200 million on the fiesta.

Everybody enjoyed a peaceful shindig. But in the days leading up to the 200th birthday, the media in both Mexico and the United States pontificated about what muted festivities they would be. Many pundits asked the big question: what is there to celebrate? Critics underlined the relentless drug related violence, kidnapping, and mass emigration as reasons not to be cheerful. Others pointed out that Mexico was at least having a frank discussion about it all.

There have certainly been brutal recent events in the Mexican drug war. Most shocking was the massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants on Aug. 23. The migrants had been going through Mexico en route to the United States when they were abducted by Zeta gunmen, taken to a ranch near the border with Texas and then summarily executed. The killings sent shockwaves across the region, especially in the countries from which the migrants had hailed. Light was shone on the testimonies of thousands of other migrant workers who have been robbed, kidnapped, raped and murdered by Mexican drug gangs during their treks north.

On a more positive note, the Mexican government netted some big drug trafficking fish. On Aug. 30, federal police nabbed the Texas-born drug kingpin Edgar Valdez, nicknamed “The Barbie Doll” outside a plush mansion on the outskirts of the Mexican capital. Then on Sept. 12, marines seized the six foot six inch Sergio Villarreal, alias El Grande, in a luxury residence in Puebla. Both were paraded before the cameras. Valdez also entertained Mexicans with a bragging confession about his trafficking antics that was played daily on newscasts. American media were fascinated about the tale of “La Barbie” and how he went from a middle class home in Texas to the top of the Mexican underworld.

Covering such stories is an increasingly risky business. Mexican cameraman Alejandro Hernandez, who had worked for top network Televisa gave a news conference in El Paso, Texas on Sept. 14 announcing he was seeking asylum in the United States as his life was in danger and his government would not protect him. Drug gangs kidnapped Hernandez in July after covering the story of jailed prisoners being used as killers. Following his release, he says the Mexican government showed him off to the press but gave him no protection. He said he feared for his life in his home state of Durango.

Money: Mexico’s economy showed off its biggest quarterly growth in a decade, an indication that it is bouncing back hard from the 2009 recession. Gross domestic product grew 7.6 percent compared to the second quarter of 2009, the National Statistics Institute announced. The jump was bigger than most analysts had predicted. Growth was attributed to spikes in auto sales to the United States, the agricultural sector and in services.

Mexico’s tourist industry also appears to be improving. Many holidaymakers stayed away last year after the triple whammy of swine flu, recession and the drug war. But this year, officials expect to be back to 2008 levels, when 22 million visitors splashed out $13 billion. In the first six months of this year, tourists spent $6.49 billion, according to the Mexican tourist board. It seems news of the drug war is not scaring Americans and Europeans away.

Elsewhere: A Cancun resort on Sept. 15 had its own little fiesta after receiving the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Award Distinction for 2011. Le Blanc Spa Resort, a luxury, adults-only hotel next to a white beach on Mexico’s Caribbean coast picked up the prize after being voted in at sixth place on Trip Adviser for the most popular all-inclusive resorts in the world. The hotel has a contemporary minimalist look with international features.