The George W. Bush administration had its “Axis of Evil.” Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.
National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.
“This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall. . . . The Troika will crumble.”
It’s no coincidence that Bolton is in South Florida just days before the 2018 midterm elections. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, is defending his seat in a district that favored Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 16 points. Former journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, also born to Cuban immigrant parents, is running as a Republican against Bill Clinton administration official Donna Shalala to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is retiring.
There’s also a neck-and-neck gubernatorial race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and while Hispanics overall favor Gillum, Cuban Americans strongly favor DeSantis.
But administration sources insist this new Latin America policy is not just to get out the vote. Once the election is over, the White House is vowing to use all the tools of national power to raise the pressure on the leaders of these three governments, especially targeting their ability to corruptly enrich themselves.
Last year, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum (NSPM-5), titled, “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” which set the broad outlines of what the larger campaign will prioritize. The policy aims not only to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize the U.S.-Cuba relationship but also to ramp up efforts to contain the regime and support those inside the country struggling for greater political, economic and religious freedom.
Experts said the test will be whether the Trump administration can maintain focus and follow through with real results after the U.S. midterm elections are over.
“It is true what they say that these are three regimes that are horrible and deserve to be treated as pariahs, but nothing has worked so far,” said former Venezuelan minister of industry and trade Moisés Naím, now a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Cuba has been a challenging issue for every administration since the Bay of Pigs invasion and no American president has been able to solve that puzzle. So let’s see if they have come up with a new remedy, a new strategy, a new regional approach. Right now, we don’t know.”
So far, the Trump administration’s approach to Latin America has been ad hoc. Most recently, Trump has threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Honduras, a country that cooperates extensively with the United States, unless that government stopped a “caravan” of migrants heading toward the U.S. southern border. The Trump administration’s relationship with Mexico has been contentious because of Mexico’s refusal to pay for Trump’s border wall. Trump has floated the idea of using the U.S. military to invade Venezuela, which evoked fears of past U.S. intervention in the region.
But there are positive signs that there is opportunity for a reset. The United States and Mexico have come to a new trade agreement that the incoming Mexican president — not a natural Trump ally — seems to accept. Brazil’s new president-elect has a terrible record of past statements but is someone with whom Trump might be able to do business. If the United States led a true regional approach aimed at addressing the continent’s growing humanitarian crises, most Latin American countries might be persuaded to come on board.
Absent such an approach, the deteriorating situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua are likely to create more refugees, more mass migration, more regional economic strife and, as a result, more repression, suffering and instability. Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny” label won’t solve anything by itself. But if it’s followed up with a real strategy, it could be the beginning of what’s needed to prevent Latin America’s failing states from dragging the rest of the hemisphere down with them.
By Josh Rogin
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It was the beginning of just another day in one of the world’s most murderous places.
Cristian Sabino was sitting on a plastic chair by this beach resort’s central market when a gunman walked up and shot him five times. As the 22-year-old dropped to the ground, the assailant fired a final bullet to the head and walked away.
Six more people would be killed that day in Acapulco, including a cabdriver who was hacked to pieces. Death is so much part of the landscape that once police cordoned off the area around Mr. Sabino’s body, some patrons at a nearby rotisserie chicken restaurant stayed to finish their meals.
Acapulco’s days as a tourist resort with a touch of Hollywood glamour seem long ago. In a city of 800,000, 953 people were violently killed last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands put together.
There were more than 900 murders in Acapulco last year. Violence is so pervasive in this city, once a premier Mexican tourist destination, that criminology has become a thriving new profession. Photo/Video: Jake Nicol/The Wall Street Journal
It’s not just Mexico. There is a murder crisis across much of Latin America and the Caribbean, which today is the world’s most violent region. Every day, more than 400 people are murdered there, a yearly tally of about 145,000 dead.
With just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for roughly a third of global murders. It is also the only region where lethal violence has grown steadily since 2000, according to United Nations figures.
Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. Last year, a record 63,808 people were murdered in Brazil. Mexico also set a record at 31,174, with murders so far this year up another 20%.
The 2016 tally in China, according to the U.N.: 8,634. For the entire European Union: 5,351. The United States: 17,250.
Violent deaths by firearms in 2016
(per 100,000 people)
and Middle East
Note: Deaths resulted from Forces of nature, conflict and terrorism, and executions and police conflict are not included in the calculations.
Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington
Crime slows development and spurs migration to the U.S. Violence costs Latin America 3% of annual economic output, on average, twice the level of developed countries, according to a 2016 study by the Inter-American Development Bank. The price tag for crime, which the bank put at between $115 billion and $261 billion, is comparable to the total regional spending on infrastructure, or the income of the poorest third of Latin Americans.
In recent years, growing numbers of families from Central America, including women and children, have fled to the U.S. because of horrific violence. Gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 enforce a reign of terror, dictating even where people can go to school or get medical care. El Salvador’s murder rate of 83 per 100,000 people in 2016—the world’s highest—was nearly 17 times that of the U.S.
A new study by Vanderbilt University shows that the strongest factor in predicting whether someone emigrates from Honduras and El Salvador isn’t age, gender or economic situation, but whether they had been victimized by crime multiple times in the past year. A World Bank study found that nearly a quarter of children in one Honduran municipality suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to violence.
At the Acapulco morgue, bodies pile up faster than workers can process them. The morning after Mr. Sabino’s murder, there were already three new victims lying on gurneys awaiting autopsy. A few feet away, 356 bodies that remain unclaimed or unidentified were stuffed into five refrigeration units. The smell of death hung in the air.
A resident of Acapulco’s Primero de Mayo neighborhood eats breakfast while Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head left on the street.
“We never catch up,” says Ben Yehuda Martínez, the top forensic official for the state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located. “While we’re trying to clear the first set of bodies, another set of bodies arrives.”
Just this week, Mr. Martínez’s counterpart in the state of Jalisco was fired after it emerged that two trailer trucks filled with more than 150 cadavers each were roaming Mexico’s second-largest city of Guadalajara for days because the local morgue was too full. Officials admitted the trucks contained corpses after neighbors complained of the smell and dripping blood.
Mr. Martínez, 60, has seen it all. His very first case as a young forensic specialist in the nearby city of Iguala was the 1997 autopsy of two doctors who had botched a plastic surgery operation, accidentally killing drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Their bodies, encased in cement, were found on the side of the Mexico City-to-Acapulco highway. Mr. Martínez’s verdict: They were both asphyxiated with a tourniquet.
Mr. Martínez says he hasn’t ever become used to seeing children killed. “Before, criminals never killed kids. But now I do autopsies on 7- or 8-year-olds,” he says. He teaches chemistry and biology at a local college. “I’ve had the shock of having to autopsy quite a few of my former students.”
Up to 10% of the cadavers that arrive are never claimed. No one files a police report or bothers to pick up the body. Other times, there is no way to identify a corpse: “We sometimes get only a leg or a head to work with,” he says.
Latin America accounts for 43 of the 50 most murderous cities, including the entire top 10, according to the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that focuses on violence. South Africa and the U.S.—where St. Louis ranks No. 19—are the only countries outside Latin America that crack the top 50.
Mexican soldiers and police guard a severed head which was left as a message between rival drug cartels.
At current murder rates, if you live in Acapulco (or Caracas, Venezuela, or San Salvador) for 70 years, there is a roughly 1-in-10 chance you will get murdered.
Between 2000 and 2017, roughly 2.5 million people were murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean, as if Chicago were wiped out. That compares with about 900,000 killed in the armed conflicts of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, according to U.N. figures and estimates by groups like Iraq Body Count.
During that same period, all the world’s terrorist attacks killed 243,000 people, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database.
“Large swaths of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela are experiencing a war in all but name,” says Robert Muggah, head of the Igarapé Institute.
The vast majority of victims and perpetrators are young men, killed mostly by gunshot. A vital Twitter feed in Rio de Janeiro is “Onde Tem Tiroteo,” or “Where’s the Shootout?” which tells motorists which parts of the city to avoid. Some recent entries: “A grenade was thrown on the pedestrian bridge near Zuzu Angel Tunnel.” “Shots on 2nd Street in Rocinha, police base under shooting attack.”
Shockingly, 1,379 babies under one year of age died violently in Brazil between 2000 and 2015, according to government statistics. Nearly 30,000 victims in Brazil were over 60 years old.
Gabriela Victoria’s daughter Erica was kidnapped and murdered by long-time acquaintances from her Acapulco neighborhood.
Six-year-old Elias Victoria with a photo of his older sister Erica.
Mexico’s murder tally may be underreported because many victims are tossed into unmarked graves, burned or put through sugar-cane grinders. In Tijuana, Santiago Meza confessed to dissolving more than 300 people in acid for a local cartel, earning the nickname “Pozolero,” or soup maker. The state of Coahuila, once under the control of the hyperviolent Zetas drug cartel, holds some 103,000 bone fragments belonging to unidentified bodies.
The sheer number of the missing could outnumber better-known cases of “disappeared” in Latin America’s sometimes bloody history, including Argentina’s Dirty War against leftists in the late 1970s.
Mexico has become a nation of unmarked graves where a small army of grieving mothers financed by bake sales search for their missing children. Their technology: They hire construction workers to hammer steel rods 6 feet into the ground, and then sniff the ends. If it smells of death, then it’s probably an unmarked grave. The government gives little support.
“It’s an interminable search,” says Guadalupe Contreras, one such searcher. “Today you find 20. Tomorrow, they bury another 20 somewhere else.” This month, the state of Veracruz discovered a mass grave with 168 skulls.
While murder rates are falling in most of the world, in Latin America the number of murders has grown about 3.7% a year since 2000, three times faster than the population, according to the Igarapé Institute. The region’s murder rate, at about 24 per 100,000 right now, will hit 35 per 100,000 by 2030 if the trend isn’t reversed.
Crime affects everyday life. About half of respondents in Latin America said they stopped going out at night, while more than 1-in-10 said they had moved due to the fear of violence, according to a survey from the U.N. Considering Latin America’s population, that’s more than 62 million people who felt the need to change homes.
Once the party spot of choice for the wealthy and famous, Acapulco has descended into disrepair and despair.
How did it get this bad?
Latin America was colonized violently and had bloody wars of independence. It has the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor, fueling resentment. Large parts of the economy are “informal,” street markets and family-run businesses that operate outside government control and pay no taxes, creating a culture of skirting the law. It has powerful groups of organized crime like Mexican drug cartels, and weak states riddled with corruption.
Demographics play a role: Latin America has more young people than most other regions, making for too many young men chasing too few quality jobs. And it has weak educational systems. Only 27% of Brazilians aged 25 or older have completed high school, according to government figures.
Much of Latin America also urbanized rapidly without services such as schooling and policing, creating belts of excluded groups around cities. Migration may have made matters worse. The percentage of single-parent homes in Mexico and Central America has grown rapidly over the past 20 years.
Latin America is also awash in guns, most of them held illegally. Nearly 78% of murders in Central America between 2000 and 2015 were caused by guns, compared with a global average of 32%, according to the Igarapé Institute. (In the U.S., it is around 73%.)
Latin America’s share of global population and homicides
Source: Igarape Institute
These factors create vicious cycles. Laura Chioda, a researcher at the World Bank, found that as many as 40% of young people in Honduras suffer from some form of depression due to the violence. “Now, imagine them at school,” she asks. “Can you teach calculus to someone with that level of trauma?” Many drop out and join the informal economy, where they won’t have a salary, training or career prospects. “Once there, they find this parallel structure of crime that provides jobs, services and an identity,” she says.
Marcelo Bergman, a sociologist who runs the Latin America Violence Research Center in Buenos Aires, thinks the informal economy plays a role. He says much of rising income at a time of economic growth among the region’s poor since 2000 went to consumption in the informal economy, creating more demand for stolen car parts, knockoff clothing and pirated movies. That gave more power to the mafias that supply them.
Latin America’s powerful mafias come from two accidents of geography: One is sitting next to the world’s biggest market for illegal drugs, the U.S., and the other is being the only region in the world to grow the coca plant, the main ingredient in cocaine, which remains among the world’s most profitable drugs. Organized crime accounts for about two-thirds of Mexico’s murders, experts say.
Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations on the night of Sept. 15 were marred when gunmen dressed as mariachi singers entered the city’s fabled Garibaldi plaza and gunned down five people, allegedly in a dispute over local drug sales.
Organized crime doesn’t explain all the violence, however. In Colombia, for instance, it accounts for anywhere from a quarter to half of crimes, government officials estimate. Latin America also has high rates of interpersonal and family violence. Colombian officials say the most murderous day of every year in Colombia is Mother’s Day, when revelers get drunk. Next on the list: New Year’s and Christmas.
Mexican state police stop cars to search for firearms after cartel members fired on a taxi stop.
Latin America wasn’t always the most murderous region in the world. In the 1950s, Singapore and Caracas had very similar murder rates, between 6 to 10 per 100,000 residents, according to Manuel Eisner, who studies historical levels of violence at the Violence Research Centre in Cambridge, U.K.
At the time, Singapore suffered from gangs, prostitution, drug trafficking and corruption. But after independence in 1962, authoritarian Lee Kwan Yew enforced rule of law, boosted education, and created a culture of working hard and achievement, and ensured social integration. “It wasn’t all coercion—there was a caring element,” says Mr. Eisner.
Nowadays, Singapore’s murder rate is 0.4 per 100,000 residents. In Caracas, the government doesn’t bother to count. The nongovernmental Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates the country’s murder rate is roughly 110 per 100,000—about 34,000 a year.
Not all of Latin America has this problem. Chile’s murder rate of 3.6 per 100,000 sits well below the U.S. The state of Yucatán in Mexico has a similarly low murder rate. Even within cities, crime is concentrated: Half of all crime in Bogotá, Colombia, takes place in just 2% of the city. That makes good policing crucial to lowering violence.
But with some exceptions such as Chile, and increasingly Colombia, Latin America has largely failed to build strong legal institutions. Less than 20% of homicides in the region are solved. In Mexico, the figure is below 10%. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, the country’s version of the FBI, investigated more than 600 murder cases linked to organized crime in the past eight years. It won a guilty verdict in just two. That kind of impunity literally means that you can get away with murder.
When impunity is high, people take justice into their own hands. In mid-May, locals in the town of Miravalle in southern Mexico grabbed three men accused of holding up an elderly woman and burned them alive. No arrests were made in the case, state officials say.
A 10-year study of murder cases in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte found that police investigations lasted an average of 500 days, the average trial lasted 10 years and in a quarter of the cases the statute of limitations ran out—allowing the suspect to go free. Some 7% of suspects were slain before their sentence was handed out, in many cases by families of victims tired of waiting for justice.
Latin American prisons, the most overcrowded in the world, breed violence. Wardens have little control. The murder rate in Latin American prisons is 16 per 100,000—by far the world’s highest, according to U.N. figures. In two of the most chaotic prison systems—in Venezuela and Brazil—hundreds of prisoners die in gang fights each year and warlord inmates run vast drug-trafficking outfits that, on the outside, control swaths of territory.
The prison system is so weak that Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was allowed to build his own jail in the early 1990s, and Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped twice from a maximum-security prison.
The spread of democracy in the 1990s across the region has had a perverse effect. Authoritarian states have an easier time controlling organized crime and violence. Many parts of Latin America got democracy before the rule of law; parts of Asia got the rule of law without democracy. Cuba, the hemisphere’s lone communist state, has a homicide rate estimated at about 4 per 100,000 residents.
Democracy in places such as Mexico disrupted existing arrangements between governments and organized crime that allowed for a pax mafiosa, says Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexican violence researcher. State governors would allow drug gangs to ferry narcotics to the U.S. in exchange for money and a promise to keep violence in check, not sell drugs near schools and reinvest some of the profits locally. The marketplace for votes upset those arrangements.
“None of these governors had bothered to build capable police forces because they relied on these arrangements,” he says. “But when the arrangements broke apart, they didn’t have any way to control the violence.”
In many ways, Acapulco is a perfect metaphor for Latin America’s broader failures. It is a place of stunning beauty spoiled by the same factors that fuel violence across the region: inequality, rapid and unplanned urbanization, lack of good institutions from education to police, deeply rooted corruption and an anything-goes attitude to the law.
Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne were regulars here during the resort’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. Two American presidents—John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton—made it their honeymoon destination. Later on, for more daring tourists, Acapulco was the place they could do what they couldn’t back home. Marijuana and cocaine were easily available at discos and from taxi drivers, and prostitution thrived, with brothels sitting just a block from the main strip.
“Acapulco was a place where tourists were allowed to do anything. So it’s not that surprising that locals also began to view the place as a city where there were no rules,” says Elisabet Sabartes, a Spanish journalist who is writing a book on the city’s violence. During the four years she has lived there, five acquaintances have been murdered.
A mural depicting a more prosperous time in Acapulco at a now-empty beach.
As the drug war escalated, the tourist-dependent economy of Acapulco quickly declined and many large construction projects were left unfinished or abandoned.
Despite opium fields in the nearby mountains, violence here only took off in 2006, when the drug gang that controlled Guerrero split into two rival groups. It got worse in 2011, when Mexican marines killed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva, prompting further splits. Nowadays, more than two dozen rival gangs fight for control of the city’s criminal market.
Many no longer have the clout to carry out big drug deals, so they turn to other activities such as extortion. Practically every business in Acapulco pays. Father Jesus Mendoza, a priest, says some of his colleagues get extorted, and gangs have stolen church bells from some parishes to sell for the copper. The effect on business has been predictably bad. No new hotel has been built in more than a decade.
“The only thriving businesses around here are funeral homes,” says Laura Caballero, the head of a shopkeeper association. She closed her eight shops along the city’s main beachfront avenue three years ago due to monthly extortion demands that reached $800 per store. She says several fellow shopkeepers who refused to pay were killed.
The police have been incapable of stopping the violence. In 2014, most members of Acapulco’s police force were given a battery of tests to see if they were honest, including psychological profiles and lie-detector tests. Some 700 out of 1,100 failed.
When the Acapulco mayor at the time tried to fire the cops who failed, the entire police force walked off the job for 11 months. He backtracked. During the walkout, crime actually fell slightly. Scores of police who failed the test are still on the job, say security experts and former policemen.
In 2014, Mexico was outraged when local police in Iguala, another city in the same state, handed over 43 college kids to a drug gang, who are believed to have incinerated the teens. Most experts think the students accidentally commandeered a passenger bus that had heroin on it heading for the U.S., and police, in the pay of a local drug gang, thought the kids belonged to a rival cartel.
Acapulco’s police chief, Max Sedano, failed his recent lie-detector test, according to a local opposition-party congressman, Ricardo Mejia. Mr. Sedano, who remains in his post, told local journalists he didn’t know if he failed the test. The tests, usually done by federal officials, are confidential, and by law only the municipalities can fire their own officials. Mr. Sedano declined to be interviewed for this article.
“It’s not right that the police here aren’t in charge. The cartels are in charge,” says a 17-year veteran of Acapulco’s police force who quit in disgust last year.
Lesly Mariana Reyes sits on her mother Penelope’s childhood bed on a visit to see her grandmother. Penelope disappeared without a trace after a shift at her work as a manager of a local bank.
Fliers and family pictures of Penelope Elizabeth Reyes.
There is a saying in Acapulco: If you want to be an old cop, look the other way.
In the hours after Mr. Sabino was murdered in Acapulco’s market recently, a local detective turned up, wearing a crocodile-skin belt and dark glasses. He asked no questions of witnesses. After the body was picked up by a forensic team, the detective left.
The violence in Acapulco has created a dystopia where social norms have broken down. Growing numbers of children drop out of school. Fewer go to church. Many hit men and teens worship La Santa Muerte, the cult of death represented by a grim reaper. A less toxic version is St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Mr. Sabino’s body had a tattoo of St. Jude, according to the autopsy report.
Perhaps the most notorious crime in Acapulco in recent years was the kidnap and murder of at least 10 teenagers by a gang of students who attended a local university. The gang targeted acquaintances, including classmates and friends from high school. One gang member had his own girlfriend abducted and killed. Members of the gang, after collecting ransom money and still killing their hostages, would even go to their victims’ funerals and mourn with the parents.
“What kinds of people do these things?” asked Elsa Ceballos, whose 19-year-old son was strangled by the kidnap gang.
At an Acapulco criminology college called Centro Forense, nearly every student in a ballistics class raises their hand when asked if they have been affected by violence. Conin Pascual’s father was killed. Luis Rodríguez’s cousin, a cabdriver, was hacked to pieces.
Carlos Kevin, 19, saw his first dead bodies at age 13, when he arrived at his middle school and there were two mangled bodies on the street.
“There are no cops in our neighborhoods and when there is a killing, they don’t want to investigate,” said Anitxa Gutierrez, who was 14 when a shootout left bullet holes in her family’s living room.
Santiago García, an eighth-grade teacher, says he tries to teach the students values in a society where social norms are breaking down. He also teaches them boxing so they can manage their anger.
Santiago García teaches his students boxing to give them an outlet for their frustrations.
“In the past, when kids got a failing grade, parents would ask how they could help. Now, I’ve had parents threaten to kill me or hire a hit man if I don’t pass their children,” he says.
Mr. García says between 30 and 40 kids didn’t return for this school year, in large part because their parents were threatened, a family member had already been killed, or the kids were being forced by gangs to sell drugs at the school. In many cases, the families simply left Acapulco.
Across the street from Mr. García’s middle school stands a pink house that was used by a gang to hold hostages. One day, during school hours, it was raided by marines, who pulled out several human remains. On another recent morning, a sixth-grader entered school crying, saying he had just found his uncle’s dead body outside the school gates.
“We ask the kids, where do you see yourselves in 20 years, and some say, ‘Carrying an AK-47!’ ” says Mr. García. Locals share videos of killings posted by local gangs. One recent video showed a teen being sliced open and his beating heart taken out.
Javier Morlett is an Acapulco native who knows the city better than anyone. His father was mayor in the 1960s and Mr. Morlett ran both the city’s airport and port at various stages in his career. In 2012, his 21-year-old daughter, who was studying at Mexico’s leading public university in Mexico City, was abducted. After an agonizing two-year search, he found her remains. The crime was never solved.
“I don’t think we can solve this,” he says of the violence. “This place was paradise, but we’ve turned it into an inferno.”
Historically an area where wealthy Americans would have their yachts repaired, Playa Manzanillo has now become known for the bodies that wash up on its shores, victims of Mexico’s drug violence.
Write to David Luhnow at email@example.com
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Airline efforts to corral the menagerie of animals in airplane cabins have fizzled this summer.
Delta, American, United and other carriers tightened requirements on emotional-support animals, trying to curb the dramatic increase in dogs, cats and other creatures flying uncaged with airline passengers. In some cases, 50-pound dogs share space in cramped coach seats with their owners and neighboring passengers.
Delta says it has had six biting incidents in the past 60 days. The airline now carries about 700 emotional-support animals and service dogs on flights each day, up from 450 a day in 2016. The total number of animal incidents on airplanes—from urination to barking to biting—has increased 84% since 2016, says Gil West, Delta’s chief operating officer.
In June, a Delta flight attendant was badly scratched by a pit bull and Delta banned that breed from riding in its cabin. “I think we’ve hit a tipping point,” Mr. West says. “We’re very concerned about the safety of our customers and our crew.”
Last year, the number of pets carried by U.S. airlines (usually for a fee in the cabin or cargo hold) increased 11% to 784,000, according to Airlines for America, the industry’s lobbying organization. The number of service animals increased 24% to 281,000, according to A4A. And the number of emotional-support animals leapt 56% in that one-year period, to 751,000.
In general, service dogs undergo lengthy training to aid an owner with a disability, including sight-limited or physically limited people and people with diagnosed emotional issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional-support animals can be untrained and provide benefit simply from companionship. They aren’t considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Delta and United implemented new rules in March, Alaska in May and American in July. The airlines now require documentation from veterinarians that emotional-support animals are healthy and trained to behave properly in public. Passengers must turn in documents 48 hours before departure. Some airlines require a letter from a mental-health professional certifying the passenger’s need for an ESA or psychiatric service animal.
Airlines say these changes are as far as they can go under current federal rules. And the changes have had minimal effect so far, they say.
United says the number of in-cabin pets it carried dipped in February, compared with the same month in 2017, after the airline announced tighter rules, and was down in March when the requirements went into effect.
But then the volume increased again in April, went higher in May and stayed up all summer at comparable levels to last year. United has seen a 75% increase in onboard incidents in the past year.
“This has gone too far,” spokesman Charles Hobart says. “The March 1 rule changes represent our best approach to insuring onboard safety and reducing fraud under the DOT’s existing rules.”
Delta says numbers have bounced up and down, and it’s too early to tell the full impact, since some changes didn’t kick in until July 10.
In May the Transportation Department asked for public input on possible rule changes. Now the agency says it is reviewing the 4,467 comments it received.
The DOT tried once before to issue new rules, but an advisory board it established couldn’t agree on limits and definitions. It’s possible this effort could run into the Trump administration’s opposition to new regulation. But in this case, airlines are begging for new regulations rather than opposing them.
In a statement, the DOT says it’s not against all new regulation. “There should be no more regulation than necessary, and those regulations should be straightforward, clear and designed to minimize burdens consistent with safety, consumer protection and access to air travel,” a DOT official said.
Airlines are urging the DOT to make guidelines in the Air Carrier Access Act similar to the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ACAA is far broader.
Some travelers like being able to take their pets with them when flying. Many insist the animals do provide necessary emotional support amid the rigors and stresses of air travel today. Many travelers don’t want their pets to travel as cargo in the belly of planes.
But people who rely on highly trained service animals for daily needs say their service dogs can be provoked by aggressive dogs unfamiliar with airports and airplanes. If a service animal acts out, it may have to be retired. People with animal allergies say flights with multiple pets have grown more common, exposing them to more allergens.
And travelers say they are running into more animal incidents. Rani Khetarpal, a marketing executive from California who has elite status on several airlines, says flight attendants on an American flight she was on July 12 refused to work the trip because of a large pit bull on board. They feared a confrontation with the dog in the aisle.
The captain intervened and convinced the dog owner to switch seats with someone in a window seat, so the flight attendants could work in the aisle without mingling with the dog. The flight departed only slightly late.
“I just think there should be stricter parameters put around it,” Ms. Khetarpal says. “I don’t know what that looks like. There is a need, but people are taking advantage of the ESA policy, and it’s not right.”
When airlines first imposed fees of up to $125 each way on traveling with pets, people started sniffing around for loopholes. Declaring a pet an emotional-support animal evades fees and rules limiting the size of pets allowed on board. Certificates and doctors’ letters that many airlines require are readily available online.
But airlines say fee avoidance is far from the whole story. The number of passengers paying pet fees continues to go up. There’s also a cultural change happening. Pets are family, welcomed at hotels and restaurants. Once air travel with pets became easier, the barn door opened.
J.D. Floyd, a traveler who logs more than 100,000 air miles a year as a financial consultant, has seen countless dogs and one ferret fly as emotional-support animals. They cause fewer problems than rambunctious children, he says. To him, emotional-support animals have just become the latest way to game the system and thumb a nose at harsh airline rules.
Mr. Floyd points to passengers who haul oversize bags to gates and then line up quickly when agents ask for volunteers to check bags, thus avoiding baggage fees.
“It’s not just emotional-support animals when it comes to travel gaming,” he says.
By Scott McCartney
One of the scariest examples of an overheated airliner came in June 2017, when a woman and her beet-red, 4-month-old baby needed ice bags and then an ambulance because of the heat of a flight in Denver. The child revived with treatment.
But flight attendants’ unions assembled dozens of other anecdotes of planes either too hot or too cold for comfort. With those, the group is urging the Transportation Department to begin regulating the temperature aboard airliners. The union’s anecdotes included stories of flight attendants and passengers occasionally passing out or becoming ill aboard hot planes.
“Today there are no standards that exist for aircraft temperatures, for the passengers or the crews that are working those flights,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 workers at 20 airlines, told a news conference Wednesday at Reagan National Airport in Washington. “This is an issue of safety, health and security. If it’s too hot, people can become dizzy, unaware, suffer from heat stroke. If it’s too cold, they can experience cold stress or even hypothermia.”
The department received the petition and is considering it.
The industry group Airlines for America, which represents most of the largest carriers, said regulations are unnecessary because flight attendants work with pilots to adjust each cabin’s temperature on a case-by-case basis with the maintenance teams at each airline.
“The safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is the industry’s No. 1 priority,” said Alison McAfee, a spokeswoman for the airline group. “U.S. airlines work hard to maintain a level of comfort passengers expect on each and every flight, including the temperature of the cabin.”
The only temperature regulation now requires the cabin temperature to be within 5 degrees of the cockpit. But it doesn’t set minimums or maximums.
The department can potentially fine an airline for lengthy tarmac delays of three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. But planes can heat up faster than that. A Federal Aviation Administration advisory recommends letting passengers off planes if there is no ventilation for 30 minutes.
The industry consensus from unions, airlines, manufacturers and airports is that an acceptable temperature aboard a plane is 65 to 75 degrees, and up to 85 degrees if all entertainment units are functioning, according to Nelson. Strategies to keep a plane cool on the ground include closing the window shades and filtering in cooler air from the jetway.
But problems can arise with the auxiliary power units aboard planes on the ground and the ground-based air conditioning that airlines and airports can provide.
To gather data, unions are distributing 60,000 thermometers during August for flight attendants to report uncomfortable temperatures that will be shared with the department. The unions also have created an app called 2Hot2Cold for passengers to report extreme temperatures, and collected thousands of reports already.
“Extreme cabin temperature while boarding and working on an aircraft inhibit a flight attendant’s No. 1 responsibility: the safety and security of passengers,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents 20,000 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Allegiant Air.
Southwest flight attendants can already report warm cabin temperatures via their iPads, with the date, city, flight number, time of day and locations on the plane that were warmest. The airline’s technical operations team then reviews the information, and possibly checks the plane.
Southwest noted that it serves 99 U.S. destinations with varying climates and temperatures, pilots and flight attendants are authorized to adjust cabin temperature through the auxiliary power unit aboard the plane or air-conditioning units at airports.
The unions’ petition submitted July 2 gathered anonymous reports from crew members that are submitted to NASA and to the unions. Those anonymous reports included:
— In June 2018, a flight attendant reported temperature above 88 degrees in a plane stuck on the ground for more than two hours with the door open: “I felt as though we were all being held hostage.”
— In July 2017, a passenger collapsed in the galley of a hot plane and he was taken away by ambulance. Seven more people sought medical care at the gate.
— In August 2014, a flight attendant on an MD-80-type plane reported “sweating profusely” and passing out in a jump seat because an auxiliary power unit wasn’t working to cool the plane: “I was hot, dizzy, confused and then blacked out.”
— In July 2014, the captain of a CRJ-900 reported the temperature in the cockpit rarely went below 90 degrees during three flights in one day.
— In September 2013, one flight attendant felt ill and another began vomiting because of “very hot” temperatures during three flights in one day.
Greg Regan, secretary-treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department of AFL-CIO, said extreme temperatures can divert flights and force passengers to change planes, which causes flight disruptions to ripple across the country.
“Incidents where an infant is hospitalized or a passenger or a crew member becomes seriously ill should spur government action to ensure that these events never happen again,” Regan said.
Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
I can remember the first time I heard about South Korea’s spy cameras.
Just after arriving in Seoul, I was running to the public loo along the river Han while on a bike ride with a friend.
“Check it doesn’t have a camera in it,” she shouted. I turned around and laughed. But she wasn’t kidding.
Many women have told me that the first thing they do when they go to a public toilet in South Korea is check for any peepholes or cameras. Just in case.
Because the country is in the grip of what’s been described as a spy camera epidemic.
Hidden cameras capture women – and sometimes men – undressing, going to the toilet, or even in changing rooms in clothing stores, gyms and swimming pools. The videos are posted online on pop-up pornography sites.
Activists in Seoul now warn that unless more is done to prevent it, this type of crime is likely to spread to other countries and will prove difficult to stop.
More than 6,000 cases of so-called spy cam porn are reported to the police each year, and 80% of the victims are women.
It’s feared that hundreds more don’t come forward to tell their stories. Some are filmed by men they thought were their friends.
The BBC spoke to one woman we’ve called Kim. She was filmed under the table at a restaurant. He put a small camera up her skirt. She spotted him and grabbed his phone – only to find other footage of her on there, and being discussed by other men.
“When I first saw the chat room, I was so shocked, my mind went blank and I started crying,” Kim said. She went to the police but reporting the incident made her feel even more vulnerable.
“I kept thinking, what would other people think? Will the police officer think that my clothes were too revealing? That I look cheap?
“In the police station, I felt lonely. I felt all the men were looking at me as if I was a piece of meat or a sexual object. I felt frightened.
“I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of being blamed. I was afraid my family, friends and people around me would look at me as these men looked at me.”
The man was never punished.
Not just a Korean problem
South Korea is among the most technologically advanced and digitally connected countries in the world. It leads the world in smart phone ownership – nearly 90% of adults have one and 93% have access to the internet.
But it is these very advances that makes this crime so difficult to detect and the criminals so difficult to catch.
Park Soo-yeon founded the group Digital Sex Crime Out under the name Ha Yena in 2015 as part of a campaign to bring down one of the most notorious websites, called Soranet.
It had more than a million users and hosted thousands of videos taken and shared without the knowledge or consent of the women featured. Many of the website’s spy cam videos were taken secretly in toilets and store changing rooms, or posted by ex-partners out for revenge.
Some of the women who appeared in the videos took their own lives.
“It is possible to bring down these videos but it is a real problem because it emerges again and again,” says Ms Park.
“Distribution is a big challenge. The host sites put forward a defence saying they did not know these videos were filmed illegally. Really? How can they not know?”
She wants to target the distributors and believes that it needs to be an international effort.
“Digital sex crimes are not just a problem in Korea. There have been cases in Sweden and in the United States. But South Korea is so advanced technologically, with the fastest and most accessible internet in the world.
“That means these online crimes against women have become a big issue here first. It will not be long before this becomes a big problem in other countries. So we need to work together to solve the issue internationally.”
By Laura Bicker
Here’s some scary news that should make your next trip a very uncomfortable one.
Bed bugs were recently found on the business class seats of an Air India flight from Newark Liberty International Airport in the U.S to India.
Reports from Fox5NY joined outraged business class passengers who took to Twitter to express their anger and disgust at the airline. The passengers revealed that their seats were infested with bed bugs, causing them to have “bites all over their body” once they landed.
Whilst some may argue that it’s an isolated case since they’d probably never travel to India, there’s still the concern of how the bed bugs got there in the first place and whether or not they’re in the airport (likely).
Another major question raised is how often these plane seats get cleaned.
@airindiain @sureshpprabhu @narendramodi_in Suresh Prabhuji – just arrived from New York on Air India 144 business class with family . All our seats infested with bed bugs . Sir , have heard of bed bugs on trains but shocked to experience on our maharaja and that too business
And the aftermath…
One passenger even raised a good point after his children were fed to the blood sucking critters.
@airindiain my wife and three kids flex business class AI 144 from Newark to mumbai; now they have bed bug bites all over their body; is this is what we paid $10,000 for???
Kashmira Tonsekar who was a passenger on the flight told The Hindustan Times that they had alerted the crew of the situation who then sprayed a repellant.
“After a while, more bugs started coming out from that and other seats.”
Air India have since come out to address the issue via a statement saying that it is “deeply concerned with a few reports of ‘bugs’ causing inconvenience to its esteemed passengers”.
“The issue has been viewed seriously and every possible step is being taken to closely inspect and further strengthen our system at every level to ensure that such isolated incidents of passenger discomfiture do not affect our consistent performance.”
Does this bode well with your faith in business class? Let us know.
by Mike Huynh
If Shark Week has you wondering whether you should stay out of the water, a shark map from Oceana may be just what you need.
The international ocean conservation and advocacy organization created the new interactive map with animated shark tracks and commercial fishing activity along the East Coast.
Oceana worked with the company Beneath the Waves, the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and others to build the map.
The new map shows the movements of 45 tagged sharks overlaid with commercial fishing activity.
“As people celebrate Shark Week, it’s important to remember that sharks are under threat,” Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, said in a news release.
The shark map (Oceana)
“Using interactive tools like Global Fishing Watch, paired with tagged wildlife data, we can learn more about how commercial fishing impacts these animals. Oceana hopes to expand this initiative by collaborating with other researchers who are interested in sharing their marine wildlife tagging data,” Lowell continued, according to the News & Observer.
Two children were bitten by sharks off Long Island last week: one victim, a 12-year old girl, was in waist-deep water when it happened; the other, a 13-year-old boy, was boogie boarding at the time.
Those shark attacks were the first reported since 1931 in the New York City metropolitan area.
The Oceana map tracks a range of sharks, including blue sharks, tiger sharks and shortfin mako sharks.
“Many species of large sharks remain highly vulnerable throughout our oceans, and the integration provided here highlights the magnitude of threats they face,” project leader Austin Gallagher, chief scientist and CEO of Beneath the Waves, said in the Oceana release.