The Mexican government has officially abandoned the policy of maintaining a fishing-free zone around the last ten or so remaining vaquita marinaBy MARK STEVENSON Associated PressJuly 15, 2021, 1:35 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMEXICO CITY — The Mexican government officially abandoned the policy of maintaining a fishing-free zone around the last 10 or so remaining vaquita marina.The measure announced Wednesday replaces the fishing-free “zero tolerance” zone in the upper Gulf of California with a sliding scale of punishments if more than 60 boats are seen in the area on multiple occasions.Given that Mexico has been unable to enforce the current restrictions — which bans boats in the small area — the sliding-scale punishments also seem doomed to irrelevance.Environmental experts say the move essentially abandons the world’s most endangered marine mammal to the gill nets that trap and drown them. The nets are set for totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China, and sells for thousands of dollars per pound (kilogram).Alex Olivera, the Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the rules establish a sliding scale of responses to a situation that shouldn’t be allowed to occur in the first place. For example, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department says it will use 60% of its enforcement personnel if 20 fishing boats or less are seen in the restricted area.“This is stupid. They are waiting to count boats in an area designated as ‘zero tolerance,’ where there shouldn’t be a single boat,” Olivera said. “They are letting in dozens of boats.”“This is the end of the concept of zero tolerance,” Olivera said. “There is just going to be dissuasion.”One conservation expert who is familiar with the case, but who cannot be quoted by name for fear of repercussions, said the new rules “imply not protecting the vaquita.”“It appears that fisheries authorities want to drive the vaquita to extinction,” the expert said.Two ships from the conservationist group Sea Shepherd have worked with Mexican marines to try to grab banned fishing nets from the area, but they are frequently outnumbered and attacked by fishermen, who have no fear at all of the marines.In January, two fishermen rammed their small boat into a larger vessel used by Sea Shepherd to haul out nets. Sea Shepherd said its vessel, the Farley Mowat, was pulling illegal gill nets out of the waters of the gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, when people on a group of about a half dozen small, open fishing boats began tossing gasoline bombs at the vessel, setting the bow and another part of the ship afire.The nets confiscated by Sea Shepherd vessels are expensive, so fishermen often harass the conservationists’ boats to try to get them back. The fishermen claim they have not received compensation from the Mexican government for lost fishing income. Groups representing fishermen were not immediately available to comment.The upper Gulf of California is the only place the vaquita lives.Mexico’s Environment Department had previously said the drop in the number of vaquitas and the area where they have been seen in recent years justified reducing the protection zone, which in theory once covered most of the upper Gulf.Formally known as the vaquita “reserve,” that zone starts around the Colorado river delta and extends south past the fishing town of San Felipe and near Puerto Peñasco.But as vaquita numbers dwindled to a few dozen, and then to less than a dozen, scientists and environmentalists decided to make a last-ditch stand in the ‘zero tolerance’ zone, a far smaller area where the last vaquita were seen.Their numbers are confirmed by subaquatic listening devices that graph the squeaks and squeals the animals make, even as visual sighting become rare.
MEXICO CITY — As many as 50 people are missing after setting out on three-hour car trips this year between Mexico’s industrial hub of Monterrey and the border city of Nuevo Laredo on a well-traveled stretch of road local media have dubbed “the highway of death.”Relatives say family members simply vanished. The disappearances, and last week’s shooting of 15 apparently innocent bystanders in Reynosa, suggest Mexico is returning to the dark days of the 2006-2012 drug war when cartel gunmen often targeted the general public as well as one another.“It’s no longer between the cartels; they are attacking the public,” said activist Angelica Orozco.As many as half a dozen of those who disappeared on the highway are believed to be U.S. citizens or residents, though the U.S. Embassy could not confirm their status. One, José de Jesús Gómez from Irving, Texas, reportedly disappeared on the highway on June 3.On Saturday, the FBI office in San Antonio, Texas, issued a bulletin seeking information on the disappearance of a Laredo, Texas, woman, Gladys Perez Sánchez, and her 16-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, who were last seen setting out on the highway June 13. They had visited relatives in Sabinas Hidalgo, a town on the highway, and were returning to Texas when they vanished.Most of the victims are believed to have disappeared approaching or leaving the cartel-dominated city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas. About a half-dozen men have reappeared alive, badly beaten, and all they will say is that armed men forced them to stop on the highway and took their vehicles.What happened to the rest remains a mystery. Most were residents of Nuevo Leon state, where Monterrey is located. Desperate for answers, relatives of the missing took to the streets in Monterrey on Thursday to protest, demanding answers.Orozco, a member of the civic group United Forces for Our Disappeared, said the abductions seem to mark a return to the worst days of Mexico’s drug war, like in 2011 when cartel gunmen in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas dragged innocent passengers off buses and forced them to fight each other to the death with sledgehammers.Then, as now, politicians and prosecutors have given the families of the disappeared few answers.“Now, more than 10 years after the disappearances in 2010 and 2011, they cannot continue to use the same pretexts,” said Orozco. But “they’re using the same lines. … In the last decade they were supposed to have created institutions and procedures, but it’s the same old story of authorities doing nothing.”United Forces for Our Disappeared sent out a press statement on May 19 warning people about the dangers on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway, even though by mid-May the group had received only about 10 reports of people disappearing there. More reports poured in in June, and now amount to about 50.The government of Nuevo Leon state acknowledged 10 days later that it had received reports of 14 people who had disappeared on the highway so far in 2021, along with five more in neighboring Tamaulipas, where Nuevo Laredo is located.But Nuevo Leon didn’t warn people against traveling on the highway until almost a month later on June 23.That was too late for Gómez, and for Javier Toto Cagal, a 36-year-old truck driver and father of five who disappeared along with three employees of the same trucking company on the 135-mile (220 km) stretch of highway on June 3. They were driving to Nuevo Laredo in a car.“Up to now, we don’t know anything about (what happened to) them,” said Erma Fiscal Jara, Toto Cagal’s wife. “It wasn’t until June 5 that the company called me to say ‘your husband has disappeared.’ As far as the authorities, I ask and they say ‘we don’t know anything.’”Even after acknowledging the abductions, the Nuevo Leon state government suggested it was Tamaulipas’ problem. The Nuevo Leon government also gave confusing information, first claiming to have rescued 17 people after abductions on the highway, then later acknowledging those victims had made it home on their own.It wasn’t until Friday that both state governments announced a joint program to increase policing and security on the highway, a step that, if it had been carried out a month earlier, might have saved dozens of lives.“Only now is the National Guard going out to patrol the highway. Why did they wait so long?” asked Karla Moreno, whose husband, truck driver Artemio Moreno, disappeared on the road April 13.She, too, is horrified that northern Mexico is reliving the experiences of a decade ago. “How can this be happening? We were supposed to have more (law enforcement) resources by now,” she said.Nuevo Laredo has long been dominated by the Northeast Cartel, a remnant of the old Zetas cartel, whose members were infamous for their violence.Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope said the highway disappearances and the June 19 events in Reynosa — when gunmen from rival cartels drove through the streets, randomly killing 15 passersby — were reminiscent of the attacks on civilians during the 2006-2012 drug war.In 2008, a drug cartel in the western city of Morelia tossed hand grenades into a crowd during an Independence Day celebration. In 2011, cartel gunmen in Tamaulipas abducted dozens of men from passenger buses and made them fight each other to the death, either as a recruitment tool or for entertainment.“It is something that happens episodically; it never completely stopped,” Hope said of the attacks on civilians. The only thing that has changed, Hope said, was the rhetoric.Officials in the early 2000s were often quick to repeat an old belief that drug cartels only killed each other, not innocent civilians. This time around, both in the Reynosa killings and highway abductions, officials quickly acknowledged the victims appeared to be innocent civilians.“That argument, that ‘they only kill each other’ isn’t heard so much anymore,” Hope said.
MEXICO CITY — A preliminary report by experts into the collapse of a Mexico City elevated subway line that killed 26 people placed much of the blame Wednesday on poor welds in studs that joined steel support beams to a concrete layer supporting the track bed.The city government hired Norwegian certification firm DNV to study the possible causes of the May 3 accident, in which a span of the elevated line buckled to the ground, dragging down two subway cars.The report also said there were apparently not enough studs, and the concrete poured over them may have been defective; the welds between stretches of steel beams also appear to have been badly done.“The studs showed deficiencies in the welding process,” the report states.The existence of construction defects when the line was built between 2010 and 2012 could be a major blow to the political career of Mexico’s top diplomat, who was mayor at the time, and to Mexico’s richest man, whose company built part of the subway line.The report centered on photos and physical inspection that showed that metal studs welded to the top of steel support beams had broken or sheered off cleanly, suggesting the welds were defective.The beams could not carry the weight of the track bed on their own. The studs projecting upward from the beams were covered with a poured concrete slab meant to help carry the weight.But the studs were found to be still carrying ceramic rings that covered the welds. Used as a safety and control method to contain the molten steel, the rings were supposed to have been knocked off after welding so inspectors could see the welds themselves. The fact they were left in place may suggest the welds were not properly inspected.That would fit in with reports that the project was rushed to completion so the Number 12 subway line could be inaugurated by current Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard before he left office as mayor in 2012.The section was built by a company owned by telecom and construction magnate Carlos Slim, currently Mexico’s richest man and once the world’s wealthiest. Slim is an engineer by training and his firms are currently involved in building some parts of the controversial Maya Train project, which will circle the Yucatan Peninsula.Any suggestions his firm did shoddy work on the subway would be a serious blow to his reputation as a sort of elder statesman of the Mexican business community.The $1.3 billion Number 12 Line, the newest section of a vast subway system opened in 1969, was ill-fated from the start. The so-called Gold Line cost half again as much as projected, suffered repeated construction delays and was hit with allegations of design flaws, corruption and conflicts of interest.A top executive of one of the companies that built it was the brother of the man who oversaw the project for the government.The scandal over forced closure of the costly new line in 2014 — just 17 months after it was inaugurated — essentially forced Ebrard into political exile. He was rescued by his patron, new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had helped make him mayor in 2006 and resuscitated him by naming him foreign relations secretary in 2018.Despite the subway scandal, Ebrard was put in charge of Mexico’s efforts to obtain coronavirus vaccines and was once considered a top contender to succeed López Obrador in 2024.Ebrard has said he’ll cooperate with investigations into last month’s accident. In a statement Wednesday, he said the subway line was planned, designed and built with help from “the best of Mexican engineers.”“Identifying the causes of the accident is a necessary step in achieving justice for the victims of the tragedy,” Ebrard wrote.But previous reports by engineering firms revealed Ebrard’s city government had made a series of startlingly wrong choices when the subway line was designed and built.Experts said unusually sharp curves in the route exacerbated problems with the wheels-on-steel track design, which more resembles New York’s subway rather than the European-style rubber tires used on the rest of the system.The Gold Line line chattered, bumped and shrieked. The rails began to take on a wavy pattern. Drivers had to slow trains to as little as 3 mph (5 kph) on some stretches.In 2014, the Gold Line had to be shut down for months for the tracks to be replaced or ground into shape.Ballast was added between the train’s tracks during those repairs, and some say extra weight and possible poor maintenance could have been potential factors in the collapse.An official 2017 survey of damage from a deadly 7.1 magnitude quake showed indications of construction defects. Authorities decided on quick patches, welding props under the bowed beams and reopening service.Ebrard has argued that subsequent investigations showed the line was judged to comply with standards when it was built. He wrote that “the supervision and maintenance that was up to the administration that succeeded mine remains in large part an unknown.”Following earlier investigations into the design and corruption, more than 38 government employees were hit with fines or other punishments for improperly contracting out work on the train, as well as some criminal charges.Since the May accident, much of the line has been closed. The elevated portion of the tracks rise about 16 feet (5 meters) above a median strip and roadway in the poor southern borough of Tlahuac. Slender, reinforced concrete columns are topped by horizontal steel beams, which in turn support prefabricated concrete track beds on which gravel, railway ties and tracks are laid.Mexico City’s subway, which serves 4.6 million riders every day, has never had the one thing it needs most: money. With ticket prices stuck at 25 cents per ride, one of the lowest rates in the world, the system has never come close to paying its own costs, and depends on massive government subsidies.