The week at a glance...Americas


Mexico City

Top drug official killed: Many Mexicans suspect foul play in a helicopter crash last week that killed Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora and other top officials. Mora, who had held the office for just over a year, was the public face of the government’s drug war, constantly exhorting Mexicans to stand tough. President Felipe Calderón said investigators believed that the crash that claimed his “dear friend” and “great patriot” was an accident. But others noted that aircraft crashes had also killed a previous interior minister, in 2008, and the top police official, in 2005. Organized-crime analyst Edgardo Buscaglia was among those urging the federal government to open a broad investigation. “Three cabinet secretaries falling from the sky is too much of a challenge to the laws of probability,” he said.

Valencia, Venezuela

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Major leaguer rescued: The dramatic rescue last week of kidnapped Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos has focused attention on Venezuela’s crime epidemic. Ramos, who was back home in Venezuela to play baseball during the off-season, was snatched from his front yard by four armed men and held for two days until Venezuelan commandos who had tracked down the kidnappers burst in and saved him. Official statistics say 1,050 people have been kidnapped for ransom this year, more than 20 times the number in 1999, when President Hugo Chávez took office. Experts believe that number is underestimated by thousands.

Bogotá, Colombia

Legalize it: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is calling for the worldwide legalization of marijuana and possibly cocaine as a way to end the drug war. “A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking,” he said in an interview with the London Observer. “If that means legalizing, and the world thinks that’s the solution, I will welcome it.” He said decades of military and police efforts had failed to stamp out the massively profitable underground drug trade and that drug gangs continue to wreak havoc on Latin American countries.

Rio de Janeiro

Army takes over slums: More than 3,000 police and soldiers rolled into Brazil’s biggest slum in armored personnel carriers this week to wrest control from the drug gang that has run it for decades. The bloodless takeover of the Rocinha favela, which took less than two hours, was the biggest campaign so far in Rio de Janeiro’s efforts to ensure security for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Some 2 million of Rio’s 6 million people live in the city’s hundreds of lawless and violence-ridden slums, which are controlled by rival drug gangs. Most lack running water and adequate sewage and trash removal systems. “We have taken over areas that for 30 or 40 years were in the hands of a parallel power,” said Rio’s security chief, José Mariano Beltrame. “We’re returning dignity and territory to people.”

Santiago, Chile

Priest avoids prison: A Chilean judge dropped sex-abuse charges against Chile’s most famous priest even as she acknowledged his guilt. Judge Jessica González said she could not try the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the parish priest at a prominent Santiago church who stands accused of molesting three teenagers during the 1980s and 1990s, because the five-year statute of limitations had expired. But she stressed that the accusations against him were “truthful and reliable” and described the abuses in an 84-page verdict that detailed how the priest psychologically manipulated young boys who looked up to him. An earlier Vatican inquiry had found Karadima guilty of abusing minors and confined him to a monastery.

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