‘A spectacular night’: Guatemalans rejoice as two-year FIFA ban ends with win

It took just eight minutes for the first goal to go in – but in reality it had been a lot longer in coming than that.

After 709 days or nearly two years in the footballing wilderness, the Guatemalan mens’ national team announced their return from a FIFA corruption ban with a 3-0 victory over Cuba at the national stadium in Guatemala City on Wednesday night (August 15).

The crowd of more than 17,000 at the Estadio Doroteo Guamuch Flores, most of them decked out in the light blue and white colours of the ‘Azul y Blanco’ as the national team are known, erupted at José Márquez’s opening goal.

It was on September 6, 2016 that a Guatemalan mens’ national football team last took to the field after the sport’s world governing body banned them from all competition in the wake of a corruption scandal at the very top of the country’s national football federation.

But all that melted away in the celebratory atmosphere of a comfortable home win, with fans indulging in Mexican waves and raising frequent shouts of ‘Guate!’, their country’s abbreviated name.

Excited Guatemala fans line the streets before the game at the national stadium

Guatemala’s ban was imposed in October 2016 after a drawn-out wrangle with FIFA over corruption among leading figures in Guatemalan football.

First Brayan Jimenez, former president of the Guatemalan national football federation (known as Fedefut, thanks to its Spanish initials) was arrested in December 2015 on corruption charges.

He and Hector Trujillo, a former judge and secretary general of Fedefut, were accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a US media company for the rights to market and transmit World Cup qualifying matches, as reported by Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre.

In October last year Trujillo was sentenced to eight months in prison in a hearing at federal court in Brooklyn in the US having previously pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy.

Judge Pamela Chen also ordered him to pay $415,000 in restitution over the $175,000 he had pocketed.

The atmosphere was joyous as supporters celebrated Guatemala’s first game in nearly two years

Jimenez is to be sentenced next month by the same judge having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit electronic fraud over $400,000 in bribes allegedly paid to him, Trujillo and another Guatemalan football official, Rafael Salguero.

Amidst all this the refusal by another Guatemalan sporting body, the Autonomous Sporting Confederation of Guatemala, to accept new anti-corruption statues FIFA had proposed for Fedefut, was the move that sealed the ban in October 2016.

Only in May this year when Fedefut finally agreed to submit to being run by a FIFA ‘normalisation committee’ until at least May 2019, was the ban lifted.

The saga has left some bitterness among Guatemalan fans towards FIFA, an organisation not known for its probity in recent years.

Armando Mazariegos, 39, a university professor from Guatemala City, said before Wednesday night’s game: “We are not a very important country for FIFA so they wanted to make an example of us – ‘Guatemala we can punish to make a point to the world’, but the big countries are still in some way untouchable.”

Fans sing the national anthem before kickoff

But most fans seemed to feel the punishment was justified and there had been – and even continues to be – corruption in Guatemalan football, as there is across many other parts of society in this beautiful but troubled country.

Monica Figueroa, an architect, said: “I feel there’s a lot of corruption in Guatemalan football and our best sportsmen have not been able to play.

“Unfortunately the sport is not very transparent and clean.

“I think the punishment was fair. There’s been a lot of corruption and still there is, for sure.

“But imagine it coming from FIFA – and we’re even worse!”

Andrés Heredia, a 36-year-old publicist who correctly predicted Guatemala would win 3-0, added: “There’s a lot of corruption in the country and a lot of things that aren’t good.

“But football is a sport that unites people and unites the world and for us we’re very happy to be here today.

A cameraman trains his lens on the Estadio Doroteo Guamuch Flores field before the game

“I believe the ban was fair for the corruption and those who are corrupt should be punished but the players themselves don’t deserve it.

“Unfortunately it’s all a chain linked to other things.”

But the final word was one of joy at finally being back in the game.

Speaking after the match, college student Ivan Flores, 18, said: “I’m happy and content because it’s been two years since the team played in that stadium and I’m very moved as well by the support for Guatemala.

“I think the ban was harsh but I’m glad it’s been lifted and we played so well. I think the mentality of the team was great and I really enjoyed the game.

“It’s been a spectacular night and very important for the country.”

Lost ecological wonder could hold key to making Mexico City sustainable

Mexico City is facing multiple ecological crises – it is sinking, drowning and drying out, all at the same time.

The city is built on layers of clay and lava rock which used to be at the bottom of a giant lake system.

In the absence of these lakes the city gets its water from aquifers below ground, the draining of which and paving over of the surface with concrete is causing the city to sink, in rainy season perversely flooding some areas whose residents don’t have running water.

Pedro Camarena, a landscape architect at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), thinks he has a solution – bringing back the native volcanic rock landscape of the Pedregal region of the city to allow water to percolate back through the soil and refill the dwindling aquifers.

It could help do what generations of city government have failed – make Mexico City sustainable for the future.

My piece for TRT World.

Inside the Sinaloa cemetery famous for its $500,000 narco tombs

Even in death, Sinaloa drug lords can’t resist showing off the enormous power and wealth obtained thanks to their murderous careers.

In a cemetery on the outskirts of Culiacán, capital of Sinaloa and home of the infamous cartel of the same name, some of the most elaborate and expensive mausoleums in the world mark the final resting place of dozens of former ‘narcotraficantes’ – or narcos.

Costing up to $500,000 each and featuring gold-plated domes, Italian marble and luxuries like wifi, air conditioning and satellite TV, many of the tombs at the Jardines del Humaya are like mini-mansions.

But the gaudiness at the cemetery 15 minutes’ drive from the center of Culiacán hides the grisly reality of the lives of many of their inhabitants.

I visited early in the morning with journalist and Culiacán native Miguel Angel Vega – early because come the afternoon and evening friends and family are known to hold parties for the deceased at their gravesides and some do not take kindly to visitors.

Read the rest at foxnews.com

‘Corrupt’ medical orderly ‘murdered family of five’ after botched kidney transplant deal

Jorge Alberto Ceballos posing with a Porsche

A medical orderly has been accused of selling organs, operations and job promotions at a hospital in Chihuahua – then murdering five family members when one deal went sour.

Jorge Alberto Ceballos is said to have run a racket selling job placements to health care workers and body organs to patients at Morelos General Hospital.

Pictures on social media show him posing with some of the 10 luxury sports cars he was allegedly able to buy with the proceeds from his corrupt enterprise.

And he is alleged to have carried out seven murders while running his dirty network.

Read the rest at dailymail.com

Moment fatal blast rips through Tultepec firework factory

This is the horrifying moment a fatal blast rips through a makeshift Mexican firework factory.

The explosion in the town of Tultepec, north of Mexico City, came just minutes after earlier blasts brought emergency services and bystanders rushing to the scene.

The blast happens in a split second and you can see how the people standing watching what had been a fire had little time to take cover.

Some of those who did so were killed in this explosion, including at least four firefighters, two police officers and a civil defence worker who were among the 24 reported fatalities.

The man who took the video was one of those who arrived after the initial explosions yesterday morning and hours later was still too upset to talk.

Guadalupe Romero

He was just yards away when the explosion ripped apart one of the factory buildings while emergency crews were trying to help those already injured.

Firefighters can be seen scurrying around the factory as they try to extinguish the flames.

Tultepec resident Guadalupe Romero was working in his furniture shop a few hundred yards away when he felt the first blasts at around 9.40am on Thursday morning (July 5).

The 64-year-old said: “They were very strong. The doors of nearby houses were blown off and the ground shook like an earthquake.

“There were injuries and pieces of bodies flying around.  Some friends of mine were killed.”

Tultepec is famed for its dozens of fireworks factories where deadly explosions are all too common.

Accidents have killed at least 70 people in less than two years, including one last month that killed seven and injured eight and a blast which levelled a fireworks market in the town, killing 35 people in December 2016.

Read the rest at thesun.co.uk

 

AMLO closes campaign sure of victory

Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador can certainly draw a crowd.

AMLO, as he is better known, closed his third presidential campaign by filling the giant Estadio Azteca in Mexico City for a final rally.

But unlike his two losing campaigns for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, this time it appears nothing can stop the veteran leftist from taking power following the vote on July 1.

Mexicans fed up after six years of current president Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI finally appear ready to trust a man who alienated too many centrist voters during his two previous runs for the top job.

Wednesday night’s rally (June 27) felt more like the coronation of a man whose lifelong dream of leading Mexico finally appears within his grasp.

Homophobic chant row ‘should not overshadow Mexico’s progress’ – on football pitch and off

A homophobic football chant which has again had Mexican fans in trouble with FIFA could be heard ringing out across Mexico City on Saturday (June 23).

But it was not coming from fans of El Tri, the Mexican national team, but participants in the city’s 40th annual Gay Pride parade.

The milestone event immediately followed Mexico’s victory over South Korea in their second game of the World Cup.

The city was packed with fans just like those whose use of the word ‘puto’, slang for a male prostitute, to try and put of goalkeeper Manuel Neur during El Tri’s clash with Germany in Moscow in their opening match, brought a $10,000 fine from FIFA.

But among the hundreds of thousands of LGTB rights advocates filling the streets of the capital on Saturday many could be heard ‘taking back’ the slur which has threatened to cast a shadow over Mexico’s brilliant start to the World Cup.

Javier Duarte’s fugitive wife Karim Macías filmed in west London enjoying life of luxury

Karime Macías in secret camera footage filmed in London

The wife of disgraced former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte has been filmed living the high life in London as she too is investigated for embezzlement.

Karim Macías is now the subject of an Interpol red notice after current Veracruz governor Miguel Ángel Lunes Linares issued an arrest warrant for her.

Macías’s husband Javier Duarte is in custody in Mexico facing accusations he and his associates looted $3.2 billion US from the state which he ran between 2010 and 2016.

She herself is accused of embezzling 112 million pesos of public funds during that period – around $5.65 million at today’s exchange rate.

It does not seem Macías will be hard to find. In a press conference yesterday (May 29), Linares played an eight-minute video to reporters appearing to show her going about a life of luxury in Belgravia in West London.

Read the rest here at mailonline.co.uk

‘Here, they go after you’

In the middle of the day on May 15, 2017, Javier Valdez Cárdenas was walking towards his car in his hometown of Culiacán, Sinaloa – he never made it.

A car full of gunmen pulled up beside the journalist, ordered him to kneel and shot him dead with a dozen bullets.

By all accounts Valdez was a fearless and brilliant reporter, first for Mexican television and later for daily newspaper Noroeste, based in Sinaloa, and RioDoce, a weekly magazine dedicated to chronicling crime and corruption in the state which he co-founded in 2003.

He also wrote a number of books, including The Orphans of the Drug Trade: The Forgotten Ones in the War on Drugs, Hitman: Confessions of an Assassin in Ciudad Juárez and the Mala-yerba, which literally means ‘bad weed’; a collection of short pieces each telling one story of those affected by the drug war in northern Mexico.

A year later and no one has been brought to justice for his slaying – putting the case in the 99.6 per cent of crimes against journalists in Mexico for which the perpetrators remain unpunished, according to a recent report by press freedom organisation Article 19.

Javiercito, grandson of Javier Valdez, with his mother Sariha Valdez at a march protesting impunity for the killers of his grandfather in Culiacán on May 15

Over five days of events across Sinaloa last week family, friends, colleagues and supporters of Mr Valdez came together to remember him and protest the impunity afforded his killers and those of dozens of others of journalists in Mexico – more than 30 have been murdered in the last three years alone.

They were led by his widow, Griselda Triana, who held her head high throughout what must have been a horrendous few days.

A new film, No Se Mata La Verdad – ‘The Truth Shall Not Be Killed’ – was screened for the first time, documenting these three preceding blood-soaked years of Mexican journalism.

As the credits rolled some in the audience broke out into shouts of ‘No al silencio’ – ‘No to silence’ – which has becoming a rallying call for supporters of free speech since Valdez was killed.

Témoris Grecko is a Mexican war correspondent and the reporter in the film, as well as being one of its producers.

Protestors at the Javier Valdez march

“I’ve worked in Syria, I’ve worked in Iran and Iraq; in Egypt, Libya and in Gaza – when you are in these places you are just another annoying journalist working around but here, they go after you,” he said.

To prove the point, news emerged on Tuesday (May 15) of the killing of yet another reporter in Mexico, this time Juan Carlos Huerta, shot dead as he left his home in Villahermosa, Tabasco.

On Friday (May 25) it was reported journalist Alicia Diaz Gonzalez had been found dead at her home in Monterrey with stab wounds to the back of the neck.

Hundreds joined a march in Culiacán on May 15 to protest 365 days of impunity for Valdez’s killers, starting at the city’s cathedral and ending at the office of the Sinaloa district attorney.

The black tinted windows of the six-storey building looked down on the crowd as the sun went down and a number of speakers addressed protestors.

A mock funeral pall laid out in honor of Valdez at a vigil remembering him in Culiacán on May 14

A cleaner poked her head out of the door but no one from officialdom emerged.

Progress seems to have been made in the Valdez investigation – authorities say his killing was ordered by Damáso López Serrano, alias ‘Mini Lic’, the son of Sinaloa Cartel leader Dámaso López Nuñéz, alias ‘Licenciado’.

Both are currently in custody, Mini Lic in the United States, where he faces drug trafficking and money laundering charges, and Licenciado in Mexico after his high profile arrest in Mexico City last year.

Two of those believed to have been in the car the day of Valdez’s death, alleged driver Heriberto ‘N’, alias ‘El Koala’, and passenger Juan Francisco Picos Barrueto, alias ‘El Quillo’, have been arrested by Mexican federal police.

Left to right: Valdez’s daughter Tania Valdez, widow Griselda Triana, CNN journalist Carmen Aristegui and Mirna Nereyda Medina of Las Rastreadoras, an organisation dedicated to searching for missing people in Mexico

The body of the man who supposedly pulled the trigger, Idelfonso Sánchez Romero, alias ‘El Diablo’, was found in a burned out car in Tijuana shortly after El Koala’s April 23 arrest.

But regardless of whether anyone is ever charged, let alone convicted, of Valdez’s murder, his widow has little hope for the future of journalism in Mexico.

Mrs Valdez said: “We can continue to believe something might change but I believe that as long as our authorities fail to put limits on the level of impunity and while that impunity exists here, people will have a license to kill each other and nothing is going to happen to them.”

A little-known Mexican gem: 11 reasons to visit gorgeous Guanajuato

If you think Mexico is all about beaches and wrestling then you need to check out Guanajuato.

The colonial capital of the state with the same name was originally built by Spanish conquistadors who plundered their wealth from mines beneath the city, which at one point supplied silver across the world.

It is now a Unesco World Heritage city, some of which is perched on the sides of hills so steep it doesn’t seem possible that people live there.

For my 11 reasons to visit, check out my piece on metro.co.uk

Main image features Guanajuato seen from the El Pípila statue (Carlos ZGZ: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carloszgz/)