Hurricane Willa live hits

As Mexico braced itself for what was expected to be one of the strongest storms to hit its Pacific coast, I joined Canada’s CTV News Channel to discuss preparations for Hurricane Willa.

I also reported on the impact of the storm with a follow-up appearance the next day:

The hits can be seen here and here on the CTV News Channel Facebook page.

Pet-sitting app DogHero takes off in Mexico

Hailed as the Airbnb for pets, DogHero is taking off in Mexico, a country where man’s best friend is number one.

CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock talked to a pet owner and her sitter.

I produced this digital video which was posted to the CGTN America Facebook page.

Despite love for pet dogs, Mexico has highest number of stray dogs in region

Pet dogs are extremely popular in Mexico. 

In the evenings the parks of Mexico City are teeming with dog walkers often stopping to chat with other owners they only know through a shared passion for their pets.

But there is a dark side to this picture of harmony between man and his best friend.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, 70 percent of Mexico’s estimated 18 million dogs live on the street, either born as strays or abandoned by their owners.

The country has the largest number of street dogs in Latin America.

Dog Angie is examined by veterinary doctor Jose Carlos Hernandez Trejo at the Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional in Venustiano Carranza, Mexico City, 10.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

The most recent figures from Mexico City’s department of health estimate there are 1.2 million strays roaming the streets of the capital alone.

The Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional is a small shelter in Venustiano Carranza, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs.

Tucked away in the shadows of a raised subway track it does its best to give a second chance to the small fraction of the city’s strays fortunate enough to end up there.

Jose Carlos Hernandez Trejo, 26, is a veterinary doctor at the clinic, which receives support from local animal charity the Antonio Haghenbeck Foundation.

Achilles the cat in his cage at the Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional in Venustiano Carranza, Mexico City, 10.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

It is Trejo’s job to give all new arrivals a medical examination, administer any appropriate vaccinations, and carry out sterilizations, an important way of controlling the stray dog population.

The shelter currently has around 40 cats and dogs living in cages laid out across a concrete courtyard but that can rise to 80 at certain times of year.

“There are periods when there are going to be a lot more animals abandoned—February, March, April, and up until May,” Trejo said.

He speculates that the reason is that many people receive pets as Christmas gifts in December, and then later abandon them.

The courtyard at the Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional in Venustiano Carranza, Mexico City, 10.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

“People think they’re a thing or an object, not a living being that needs food, water, attention, washing, and plenty of care.

“Later they don’t understand when it goes to the bathroom or bites their child. They generate problems and then they end up here.”

Read the full story at

Pictured at the top of this post, a dog without a name in a cage at Dog at Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional in Venustiano Carranza, Mexico City, 10.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

The pride and perils of working in Mexico’s fireworks capital

Claudia Urbán is one of the lucky ones.

On the afternoon of Dec. 20, 2016, she was working her stall at the San Pablito fireworks market in the town of Tultepec, about an hour north of Mexico City, when tragedy struck.

Explosion after explosion ripped through the dozens of stands at the market, where up to 300 tonnes of fireworks are thought to have been on sale.

Claudia, whose family has been making fireworks for four generations, ran for her life.

“I heard the explosion and I ran out, but when I did I saw a black cloud of smoke which had enveloped us and many lights,” she said.

Claudia Urbán outside her home in Tultepec, 01.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

“I didn’t have time to do anything and when I turned to look for my friend at the next stand, she wasn’t there.

“So I ran, and I ran, and I ran, until I came to the fence. But the smoke was everywhere, so I ran for the exit. I don’t remember how or when I got to the road.”

The cause of the initial explosion that afternoon, at the height of the firework-selling season just five days before Christmas, is still unknown.

That day, 42 people lost their lives, either killed instantly by the blasts or succumbing to their injuries later in hospital.

“It is a painful experience we still haven’t recovered from. It hurts us still,” Claudia said.

Clouds gather over an outbuilding at a workshop in La Saucera, Tultepec, 02.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

The tragedy was the worst to have ever struck Tultepec in terms of loss of life—but it is just one of 55 explosions connected to the town’s firework industry to have been recorded since 1998, according to a list compiled by the Mexican newspaper Excelsior.

These incidents have resulted in 119 deaths in a town with a population of just 120,000 people.

Yet the industry in Tultepec is growing.

Read the full story at

Pictured at the top of this post, Juventino Luna, Tultepec town hall’s representative with special responsibility for the fireworks industry, with some ‘bomba’ fireworks at one of the town’s regulated workshops, 01.10.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

Many still without a home one year after Mexico earthquake

A year on from a devastating earthquake that struck Mexico City and killed dozens of people, hundreds of buildings in the capital are still uninhabitable and many of their former residents remain homeless.

At 1.14 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2017, the anniversary of another devastating quake in 1985 that claimed tens of thousands of lives in Mexico City, a 7.1 magnitude tremor shook the center of the country, killing about 370 people.

In the capital more than 430 buildings either collapsed or have been demolished in the 12 months since, according to Plataforma CDMX, a government body set up to survey and categorize structures following the quake.

More than 1,000 buildings that are still standing remain at high risk of collapse according to data gleaned through reports and structural analyses filed on the Mexico City government portal by affected residents, many of whom have been forced to abandon their homes.

A demonstrator reaches for the sky during an emotional protest in support of the damnificados of Multifamiliar Tlalpan and across Mexico City, 19.09.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

Movements in support of “los damnificados”—”the victims” or “the people who have suffered a harm,” as those made homeless by the quake call themselves—have sprung up across the capital.

One of the most prominent are the damnificados of Multifamiliar Tlalpan, a housing development in the south of the city which was once home to 500 families, according to citizen watchdog group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity.

During the earthquake, housing block 1C of the development collapsed completely, killing nine people and trapping 18 others who had to be rescued.

A firefighter taking part in the demonstration at Multifamiliar Tlalpan, 19.09.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

A number of the 2,000 people who once lived in Multifamiliar Tlalpan haven’t been able to find permanent housing, surviving under tarpaulins in a makeshift camp at the edge of the development.

With the rest of the blocks declared uninhabitable, residents are still waiting for work to be carried out in order to make them safe.

A demonstration to call attention to the plight of the damnificados on Sept. 19 stopped all five lanes of traffic northbound on Tlalpan, one of the busiest roads in Mexico City.

Read the full story at

Pictured at the top of this post, firefighters and demonstrators link hands at a demonstration at Multifamiliar Tlalpan in Mexico City on the first anniversary of the devastating 19S earthquake, 19.09.18 (Tim MacFarlan)

Arrival of Diego Maradona puts spotlight on Mexican second division team

Diego Maradona speaks to the press after winning his first match as the new manager of Los Dorados in Culiacán on September 17 (Reuters)

The arrival of a football legend with a reputation as a troublemaker has thrust a second division Mexican team into the spotlight.

Wherever Diego Maradona goes he is guaranteed to attract attention and his latest attempt to resurrect his coaching career has certainly brought that to Los Dorados.

The team, named after the Mexican term for a type of golden dolphinfish, is based in Culiacán, the capital of the north-western state of Sinaloa.

Long the cradle of illicit drug production and trafficking in Mexico, Sinaloa is home to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the largest and most feared criminal organizations in history.

After the announcement on September 6 that Maradona would be taking over as Los Dorados’ technical director, the state is also home to one of the greatest footballers to have ever graced the game but also one of the sports’ most divisive figures.

In his homeland of Argentina, the 57-year-old is still revered as a hero for his performances in the country’s 1986 World Cup-winning team, which won the tournament hosted by Mexico.

The diminutive forward is credited with inspiring an unfancied group of players to glory with his brilliance, culminating in victory over West Germany in the final at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

“His reputation in Mexico is generally good,” said Tom Marshall, a journalist based in Guadalajara who has covered Mexican football for eight years.

“Mexico is where he crowned his career, playing in 1986 like he did….Even at the recent World Cup he was saying he loved Mexican football and Mexico was his favourite team and that he was a Mexico fan.”

But that great victory in 1986 also showed Maradona’s dark side when he deliberately used his hand to score a goal in a quarter final game against England.

The man himself later dubbed it the “Mano de Dios,” or “Hand of God” goal, and it remains probably the most infamous example of cheating in the history of sport.

Read the full article at

UNAM students protest violence by ‘porros’ on campus

It may have been a daunting task, but the group of a dozen or so students seemed determined to scrub the graffiti off the side of the most famous building on the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), while wearing surgical-style masks to avoid inhaling the pungent mix of water and paint thinner.

“We are for freedom of expression, but not like this,” said Karen Aketzali García Miranda, who joined the clean-up group on Sept. 7 at the end of a tumultuous week at the largest and most storied university in Latin America.

Earlier that week, on Sept. 3, a group of students from one of UNAM’s many affiliated schools and colleges held a demonstration in front of the rectory at UNAM’s main campus.

A young girl rests on a ‘Made in CU’ (Ciudad Universitaria) sign in the shadow of the Biblioteca Central on Sept. 7, 2018, amid the calm of UNAM’s main campus just two days after a protest against university officials drew 30,000 people (Tim MacFarlan)

The gathering in the south of Mexico City was small, with the students intending to present a petition with a list of seven demands to UNAM Rector Enrique Graue Wiechers.

According to reports, about 40 people arrived at the protest site in cars and proceeded to attack the students with sharp weapons, large sticks, stones, firecrackers, and Molotov cocktails.

Fourteen protestors were injured, including two who sustained serious injuries—one of whom is thought to have been stabbed.

The attacks were carried out by members of so-called “porros,” mercenary groups also known as “grupos de choque,” or “shock groups.”

Volunteer student cleaners belt out UNAM’s famous ‘Goya’ chant in front of the Biblioteca Central (Tim MacFarlan)

These gangs of young men are often officially registered as students but have a darker purpose than getting a degree.

They are heirs to a long history of attackers, allegedly acting with the tacit approval of authorities intending to crack down on protests.

Read the full story here at

Pictured at the top of this post, Miguel Ángel Romero Castillejos, 18, helps with the voluntary effort to scrub graffiti from the walls of the Biblioteca Central at UNAM (Tim MacFarlan)

Mexico a ‘war zone’ for journalists

The situation for journalists in Mexico is comparable to some war zones and it’s only getting worse, according to press freedom advocates.

The murder of a cameraman in the tourist city of Cancún is the latest fatal attack on a media worker.

Javier Enrique Rodríguez Valladares, who worked for local television station Canal 10, was shot dead in a central part of the coastal resort between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on August 29, according to local news reports.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that the 31-year-old, who was due to get married on August 31, was gunned down alongside another man to whom he may have been selling a car.

Many Mexican journalists have to maintain other sources of income because the pay and conditions on offer from their main employers are poor.

Javier Enrique Rodríguez Valladares has become the latest Mexican journalist to die violently

Though the attorney general’s office for the state of Quintana Roo announced there was so far no indication Rodríguez Valladares’ death was linked to his work, a motive for the killing has yet to be established.

He has become the third journalist to be killed in Quintana Roo in just over two months after Rubén Pat Cauich José and Guadalupe Chan Dzib were both shot dead.

Read the full story here at

Pictured at the top of this post is the cordoned off home in Mexico City where Luis Pérez García, an 80-year-old journalist, was found bludgeoned to death (Tim MacFarlan)

‘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.