Mexico City

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Photo Credit: Geo Casillas | Daily Texan Staff

UT expanded its international sphere of influence in Mexico earlier this month with the opening of an office in Mexico City as well as a new research partnership with a top Mexican university.

The new office and partnership are the latest in a long history of collaboration and shared research between UT and Mexican educational and scientific institutions. UT researchers have worked with those in Mexico on various projects for more than 50 years, according to a press release. The two additions were announced one day apart, on Nov. 16 and 17.

Working with scholars in Mexico will help UT researchers gain vital perspectives in attempts to tackle common issues, UT President Gregory Fenves said in a press release.

“For decades, UT has worked closely with Mexican scholars, as well as with public and private sector stakeholders on educational programs and research,” Fenves said. “By opening (the Mexico City office), the University plans to become an even closer partner with Mexico, building on existing relationships and developing new ones to expand opportunities in education and research.”

The new office, based out of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, will serve as the home of the University of Texas at Austin-Mexico Institute, a nonprofit founded in May that focuses on scientific research and cultural studies.

A day after the announcement of the new office, UT also signed a partnership with Monterrey Tech, a top Mexican university that UT officials have been collaborating with for almost 50 years. The partnership will focus on developing a more environmentally friendly, sustainable electric energy plan for Mexico.

“If we want to transform our country and bring about economic growth and competitiveness, we need to create alliances with international institutions that are active game-changers in the global landscape, such as UT Austin,” Monterrey Tech President Salvador Alva said in a press release. “We are delighted with the strengthening of a relationship that will generate joint world-class research, education and long-lasting impact to our societies.”

UT’s move to connect further with Mexico comes in a moment of tension between American and Mexican officials. President Donald Trump has hinted that the U.S. may drop out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a bilateral trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that was formed more than 30 years ago.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed last month to stand as a united front in future negotiations and said they would oppose a proposed dissolution of the trade agreement, Bloomberg reported.

UT Director of Communications Joe Williams said agreements regarding the recent expansions in Mexico were in the works for a while, but were finalized just before Thanksgiving break when UT officials traveled to Mexico to discuss them in person.

Williams said increasing connections to Mexico are part of a broader plan to expand UT’s influence and international connections.

“This is actually just an example of our mission to connect our faculty, staff and students with Mexico and institutions across the globe,” Williams said.

Utopiafest Press Art

In the western hills outside San Antonio is Utopia, Texas, a small town with a population of 227, according to the 2010 census. In addition to being known as an idyllic rural community, it has recently been put on the map as the home of Utopiafest, an annual music festival that started in 2009. This year’s festival will take place Friday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Sept. 30 and features psychedelic/indie rock band Dr. Dog, Texas singer/songwriter Ben Kweller, bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring and, coming all the way from Mexico City, electronica act Mexican Institute of Sound.

Utopiafest reflects the size of the town by embodying the saying “less is more,” aspiring to be a smaller scale alternative to bigger festivals like Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. The producers have capped the maximum amount of tickets to be sold at 2,000. Just like Utopia’s tightly knit community, the small audience of Utopiafest makes it easier for people to recognize each other and turn strangers into friends.

“We want to maintain a feel of comfort and intimacy first and foremost,” said Travis Sutherland, founder and producer of Utopiafest. “Sometimes people get sick of being in massive crowds.”

Utopiafest takes the good parts of a bigger festival while trying to eliminate the negatives. There are no long lines or overwhelming crowds, and, perhaps most importantly, seeing a famous band doesn’t require staking out a spot hours in advance. None of the set times overlap, making it possible to see all 28 acts, 17 of which are local to Texas. 

The two stages are strategically placed between two large hills, creating an amphitheater that resembles a natural venue. The festival encourages interaction with the environment by allowing attendees to camp out on a plot of land only 150 yards away from the stage.

The Four Sisters Ranch is a 1,000-acre plot that Sutherland’s family has owned and lived on for five generations. Having become an Eagle Scout at age 13, Sutherland wandered the West Texas hills as a youth and has since sought to combine his passion for music with his love for the environment.

“I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to experience this land that we’re so blessed with,” Sutherland said.

New additions to this year’s festival include a second stage, an opportunity to pre-camp Thursday, three times the parking space, additional food vendors, upgraded lights, a laser show and more Porta-Potties.

“After last year I kept hearing ‘I had the best weekend of my life!’ from people, so that’s set the bar for me,” Sutherland said. 

Since its inception the festival has steadily grown in attendance and size every year, but Sutherland and his co-producers Aaron and Jamie Brown of Onion Creek Productions have expressed their intent to limit that growth.

“My only goal is to make the land self-sustainable while minimizing destructive tendencies,” Sutherland said.

In addition to the music, there will be a disc golf course with workshops led by professionals. Black Swan Yoga, an Austin studio located on Fifth Street, will offer yoga classes.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing great music and doing yoga out in nature,” said Joshua Whisenhunt, a Black Swan instructor and UT alumnus.

Utopiafest offers a diverse music lineup in a scenic environment.

“This is as close to a perfect festival as it gets,” Sutherland said. “It would really suck for you to miss it.”

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Utopian hills come alive with indie music

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican authorities say troops have clashed with an armed group near a church in southern Mexico, leaving 11 people dead, including a soldier and one woman.

The Guerrero state prosecutor’s office says troops confronted the group in the town of Tepecoacuilco de Trujano, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of Mexico City. It says state police found 10 bodies in and around a chapel, in addition to the soldier who died in Wednesday’s shootout.

The agency says two civilians were wounded, and says they apparently had been kidnapped by the group.

It reports that weapons, vehicles and bags of marijuana were also confiscated.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), speaks during a news conference in Mexico City, Friday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — The man who led Mexico’s main leftist party in the past two presidential elections announced Sunday he is leaving it behind and may start a new party, throwing uncertainty over the future of the nation’s political left.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told supporters at a rally at Mexico City’s main plaza that he is leaving the Democratic Revolution Party “on the best of terms.” He also announced he is leaving the smaller Labor Party and Citizens’ Movement, which also backed him in the July presidential election, when he finished second.

Lopez Obrador said he will begin consultations that would create a new party out of another, less formal organization that backed him, the Movement for National Regeneration.

The motives for the break were not clear, but it could complicate efforts for the left to rally again around a single candidate as it has in every election since 1988.

Lopez Obrador has been the most prominent figure within Democratic Revolution in recent years, one of only two people it has ever run for the presidency since forming in the wake of the fraud-tainted 1988 election.

Still, he has not been able to dominate the structure of the party, which has suffered through bitter internal feuds, many of which Lopez Obrador’s faction has lost.

Lopez Obrador, who turns 59 in November, was one of many political figures who abandoned the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1988 to support the candidacy of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. That alliance of populist insurgents from ruling party with a collection of small socialist parties led to the formation of Democratic Revolution.

Lopez Obrador was a popular Mexico City mayor before seeking the presidency in 2006. He lost that election by less than 1 percentage point and his supporters then staged months of disruptive street protests, alleging fraud.

This year he finished about 7 points back. While his supporters again have alleged election irregularities, the protests have been more subdued.

MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials said Wednesday that two Americans wounded in a shooting attack by federal police on a U.S. Embassy vehicle are employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, and acknowledged they have returned to the United States. 

A Mexican federal official whose agency does not allow him to be quoted by name said the wounded Americans are CIA employees. U.S. officials wouldn’t confirm which agency the men work for or say what work they were performing in Mexico.

On Tuesday, the Mexican navy issued a statement saying the Americans were visiting a training course being held in a rural, mountainous area south of Mexico City. Some local press had previously said the Americans were acting as trainers or instructors.

MEXICO CITY — Authorities say police found the mutilated bodies of 14 men in a minivan abandoned in the downtown area of the border city of Nuevo Laredo.

Tamaulipas state prosecutors say in a statement that the bodies were inside plastic bags.

Prosecutors say officers also found a message signed by a criminal group, but authorities wouldn’t identify the group or release the content of the note.

Prosecutors say all the victims were between the ages of 30 and 35, but they gave no other details. The bodies were found on Tuesday.

Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, is a stronghold of the Zetas drug cartel. It has been the scene of vicious turf battles between the Zetas its former ally, the Gulf cartel.

MEXICO CITY — A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit central and southern Mexico on Tuesday, collapsing at least 60 homes near the epicenter and a pedestrian bridge in the capital where people fled shaking office buildings in fear.

One of the strongest to shake Mexico since the deadly 1985 temblor that killed thousands in Mexico City, Tuesday’s earthquake sent fear and panic across the region, especially after a less powerful, magnitude-5.1 aftershock was felt in the capital and several other aftershocks around the borders of Oaxaca and Guerrero near the epicenter.

But hours after the shaking at noon local time (18:06 GMT), there were still no reports of death or serious injury.

“It was very strong, very substantial,” said Campos Benitez, hospital director in Ometepec, about 15 miles from the epicenter.

Police radio operator Marcos Marroquin said there were preliminary reports of 60 houses damaged in the municipality but only a report of a broken arm. Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre, who is from Ometepec, was headed there to survey the damage.

In Mexico City, frightened workers and residents poured into the streets of the capital. Telephone service was down in the city and throughout the area where the quake was felt and some neighborhoods were without power, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who set up a hotline for people to report damage.

About 40 passengers were stranded for a short time on the Mexico City airport air train, but later released. The airport closed for a time but officials said there was no runway damage and they resumed operations.

Samantha Rodriguez, a 37-year old environmental consultant, was evacuated from the 11th floor on the Angel Tower office building.

“I thought it was going to pass rapidly but the walls began to thunder and we decided to get out,” she said.

Mexico City, built on a lakebed, was badly damaged in 1985 when an 8.0 earthquake killed at least 10,000 people. In past years, Guerrero has suffered several severe earthquakes, including a 7.9 in 1957 which killed an estimated 68 people, and a 7.4 in 1995 which left three dead.

Tuesday’s quake was the strongest shaking felt in the capital since a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck also in Guerrero in December. Officials said at least three people died in Guerrero, but there were no reports of widespread damage.

A magnitude-8.0 quake near Manzanillo on Mexico’s central Pacific coast killed 51 people in 1995 and a magintude-7.5 quake killed at least 20 people in the southern state of Oaxaca in 1999.

In Huajuapan, Guerrero, near the epicenter, hotel manager Marco Antonio Estrada also reported shaken-up guests but no major damage. He said it was longest and strongest he ever felt. People ran out of their homes and cars.

“It was very strong, but we didn’t see anything fall,” said Irma Ortiz, who runs a guesthouse in Oaxaca. She said their telephones are down, and that the quake shook them side-to-side.

The U.S. Geological Survey set the preliminary magnitude of the first quake at 7.4 and said the epicenter was 11 miles underground. The survey set the aftershock at 5.1.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter, Malia, was reported and safe while on vacation with a school group in Oaxaca.

Groups of women hugged and cried at Mexico City’s Angel of Independence monument, where hundreds of people evacuated from office buildings said they never had felt such a strong earthquake. Others typed ferociously on their Blackberries.

Mexico City’s airport was closed for a short time but there was no damage to runways and operations were returning to normal.

In Oaxaca, Sylvia Valencia was teaching Spanish to five adult students at the Vinigulaza language school when the earthquake hit.

“Some of us sat down, others ran out,” she said. “It was hard, it was strong and it was long.”

After the shaking stopped, however, she said they found no damage, not in their own classrooms, nor outside in the historical center of the city, so they went back to class.

Celia Galicia, who works at the U.S. consular office in Oaxaca, had just flown in from Mexico City when it hit.

She said there was panic in the airport, and a dash for the doors. But she said that she saw no damage at the airport and no one was hurt. She says one building in downtown Oaxaca appears to be damaged and has been evacuated.

She added that they’ve had two strong aftershocks, and that in downtown Oaxaca most people are out on the street at this point.

“It started shaking badly,” she said.

Argentinian director and screenwriter Miguel Pereira introduces the 32nd annual Student Conference on Latin America Thursday afternoon in the SAC. The ILASSA Conference, which will last until Saturday, showcases the work of students from around the world on topics such as migration, human rights and art.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

The UT campus is welcoming an Argentinian screenwriter, students from around the world and the first female head of government in Mexico City for a three-day discussion of research on Latin American issues.

The 32nd annual Student Conference on Latin America, coordinated by the Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association, began Thursday in the Student Activities Center and will continue through Saturday. The conference is a global event showcasing work by participants both locally and internationally. The event presents research conducted by students at UT and other institutions, involving all aspects of Latin American Studies, including art, human rights, migration and violence. It is the longest running and largest Latin American Studies conference in the United States, said program manager Carolyn Palaima.

“It’s well-known and recognized,” Palaima said. “It’s a very large event, with about 200 people [attending] per day. There are several panels running in a day and there’s also going to be a screening of a movie, so there’s a lot that goes along with the conference.”

Palaima said graduate students, undergradutes and people from the general public have attended the conference in the past, as it is not limited to UT students only.

“The staff provides administrative support, but it really [began with] wanting to give the students that feeling of what it’s like to put on a conference,” Palaima said. “[It’s also about] the professional experience of turning in and presenting research.”

Henry Dietz, graduate faculty adviser for the Department of Latin American Studies, said the conference is completely organized by members of the Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association.

ILASSA conference coordinator and Latin American graduate student Mayra Marquez said the event is a great way for graduate students from any college to get their work recognized.

“This year we have close to 90 participants,” Marquez said. “A lot of those are from UT, but a lot are also from places like Brazil and Spain.”

The event also includes two keynote speakers. Miguel Pereira, director and screenwriter from Argentina, began the conference with screenings of his films “Sangre en el Plomo” and “Encuentra en la Sal.” Marquez said Pereira’s documentaries focus on themes of social justice and its relation to the environment. The conference will end Saturday with the final keynote speaker, Rosario Robles Berlanga, the first female head of government in Mexico City who went on to serve as national president for the Mexican Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Conference features research by UT students

MEXICO CITY — A top Mexican official has confirmed that an army general and 29 soldiers under his command assigned to a town on the border with Texas are being tried on charges of homicide, drug trafficking and other crimes.

Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire says the alleged crimes are “deplorable and reprehensible.”

According to testimony, at least 10 civilians were killed by soldiers or by hit men under the orders of Gen. Manuel Moreno. The defendants also are alleged to have resold seized marijuana and cocaine, and stole cars, computers, TV sets and even mattresses during raids.

MEXICO CITY — A ruling by Mexico’s supreme court has let stand a right-to-life amendment to the Baja California state constitution that says life begins at conception and effectively bans elective abortions in the northern border state.

The ruling means Mexican states are free to decide individually on the abortion question.
Sixteen of the 31 states have adopted right-to-life amendments. Only Mexico City has legalized abortion on demand in the first trimester.

Seven justices of the 11-member supreme court voted Wednesday to overturn the amendment, arguing it was a federal issue or could violate federally guaranteed rights.

But eight votes are needed to overturn a law on grounds of unconstitutionality.