10 Year Old Bull Fighter Causing Debate in France

August 8, 2008

He’s a tiny torero, a bullfighter with a baby face. But 10-year-old Michelito has become the symbol of a debate much bigger than himself. French anti-bullfighting campaigners say the boy, who came from Mexico to perform, is risking his life in the ring. Local authorities in southern France canceled two demonstrations where he was set to appear. Other performances have gone ahead, with Michelito – who has big brown eyes and a floppy bowl cut – showered with flowers by fans.

It’s all part of a bigger battle: French animal rights groups vs. bullfighting, which is a tradition in southern France as in neighboring Spain, and which has a small but passionate French following.

For Michelito Lagravere, the passion started young, about as soon as he could walk. Born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and a French bullfighting father, he started playing at being a torero – using a dish towel as a cape – when he was just a tot, his father said.

He was 4 years old the first time he faced off against a month-old calf. Now 10, he has fought about 60 animals to the death, his father said. Videos on the Internet show him in the ring with injured, staggering calves – not to mention Michelito being trampled.

“Am I afraid?” asked his father, Michel Lagravere. “I’m afraid like all fathers are afraid for their children. … It’s like all other sports. It’s more dangerous than playing chess, if that’s considered a sport. But I don’t think it’s more dangerous than horseback riding and riding competitions.”

In Mexico, bullfighting is governed by a network of local regulations. According to rules in Mexico City, the age of bulls is established – most have to be between 3 and 6 years old – while there is no mention of age limits for bullfighters. Younger bullfighters tend to face smaller bulls and calves.

The lack of age limits and trend toward younger bullfighters has drawn young aspirants from abroad to Mexico, including one Spanish bullfighter, Jairo Miguel, who was nearly gored to death last year at age 14 when a 910-pound bull rushed him at top speed and punctured his lung.

Michelito’s career apparently caused little stir until he came to southern France this summer to take part in nonprofessional demonstrations by bullfighting schools.

In France, children are not allowed to become professional bullfighters until age 16, said Andre Viard, president of the National Observatory of Bullfighting Cultures.

Beatrice Brethes, who runs a bullfighting school in France where Michelito performed, said Michelito and other children participating in the demonstrations are paired with smaller animals – calves ranging from 9 months old to a year, and weighing no more than 150 pounds.

She said no bulls have been killed in the children’s demonstrations. While there are no French laws that would prevent a child from fighting an animal to the death or from facing off a grown bull, organizers said they would not let that happen.

Claire Starozinski of the Alliance Anticorrida, meanwhile, has filed legal complaints in towns where Michelito was scheduled to perform. She argued that his shows broke French labor code, which bars children under 16 from “jobs that endanger their lives, health or morality.”

“This boy is a professional in his country,” she said. “He killed his first animal at 6. He already has scars … You don’t teach a child to kill at age 6. The role of a parent is to protect their child. These parents are not protecting their child; they are making him take risks.”

Under pressure, the town of Fontvieille canceled Friday’s show out of fear for the boy. Organizers tried to move it to nearby Arles, but local security officials ruled that the arena was not up to standard.

The assistant mayor of Arles who handles bullfighting, Jean-Marie Egidio, said the city was puzzled by that ruling, which was later overturned. Michelito was performing Thursday in Arles, his last show in France before he heads home to Mexico.

As his father says: “I think he has a really great career ahead of him.”

Article by Angela Doland

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Five South Koreans Kidnapped in Mexico For Ransom

July 22, 2008

Five South Koreans, one woman and four men, were kidnapped while driving in Reynosa, a Mexican border city across the border from McAllen, Texas, police and embassy officials said Tuesday, and their captors reportedly are demanding a $30,000 ransom.

According to the South Korean Yonhap news agency, the captors falsely identified themselves as police, a common practice among criminals in Mexico. Mexican officials are investigating but had no leads in the case yet. In a statement made by a South Korean Embassy spokesman, the ransom had not been paid. He added that the kidnapped group had been looking into working in Mexico but did not elaborate. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the five were alive, but Kim said officials were still trying to confirm that. Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnappings for ransom in the world.

Many abductions are never reported to police, in part for fear officials themselves might be involved or that they would bungle a possible rescue.

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Mexican Police Torture Video Causes Uproar

July 2, 2008


Videos showing Leon police practicing torture techniques on a fellow officer and dragging another through vomit at the instruction of a U.S. adviser created an uproar Tuesday in Mexico, which has struggled to eliminate torture in law enforcement.

Two of the videos – broadcast by national television networks and displayed on newspaper Internet sites – showed what Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero described as training for an elite unit that must face “real-life, high-stress situations,” such as kidnapping and torture by organized crime groups.

But many Mexicans saw a sinister side, especially at a moment when police and soldiers across the country are struggling with scandals over alleged abuses.

“They are teaching police … to torture!” read the headline in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.

Human rights investigators in Guanajuato state, where Leon is located, are looking into the tapes, and the National Human Rights Commission also expressed concerned.

“It’s very worrisome that there may be training courses that teach people to torture,” said Raul Plascencia, one of the commission’s top inspectors.

One of the videos, first obtained by the newspaper El Heraldo de Leon, shows police appearing to squirt water up a man’s nose – a technique once notorious among Mexican police. Then they dunk his head in a hole said to be full of excrement and rats. The man gasps for air and moans repeatedly.

In another video, an unidentified English-speaking trainer has an exhausted agent roll into his own vomit. Other officers then drag him through the mess.

“These are no more than training exercises for certain situations, but I want to stress that we are not showing people how to use these methods,” Tornero said.

He said the English-speaking man was part of a private U.S. security company helping to train the agents, but he refused to give details.

A third video transmitted by the Televisa network showed officers jumping on the ribs of a suspect curled into a fetal position in the bed of a pickup truck. Tornero said that the case, which occurred several months earlier, was under investigation and that the officers involved had disappeared.

Mexican police often find themselves in the midst of brutal battles between drug gangs. Officials say that 450 police, soldiers and prosecutors have lost their lives in the fight against organized crime since December 2006.

At the same time, several recent high-profile scandals over alleged thuggery and ineptness have reignited criticisms of police conduct. In Mexico City last month, 12 people died in a botched police raid on a disco.

The National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse since President Felipe Calderon sent more than 20,000 soldiers across the nation to battle drug gangs.

And $400 million in drug-war aid for Mexico that was just signed into law by President George W. Bush doesn’t require the U.S. to independently verify that the military has cleaned up its fight, as many American lawmakers and Mexican human rights groups had insisted.

The videos may seem shocking, but training police to withstand being captured is not unusual, said Robert McCue, the director of the private, U.S. firm IES Interactive Training, which provides computer-based training systems in Mexico.

“With the attacks on police and security forces in Mexico that have increased due to the drug cartel wars, I’m not surprised to see this specialized kind of training in resisting and surviving captivity and torture,” he said.

Originally found @ AssociatedPress.com

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Another Pregnant Soldier Found Dead In North Carolina

June 25, 2008


Authorities in Fayetteville, North Carolina, are investigating the death of a soldier who was 7 months pregnant: Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, 23, a dental specialist from Cold Springs, Kentucky. She was assigned to the 19th Replacement Company.

Fayetteville police found her body late Saturday morning after responding to a call about a strong odor coming from one of the rooms. The body was sent to the state Medical Examiner’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to determine the cause of death.
Before arriving at Fort Bragg on June 12, she had served five years with the U.S. Army Dental Activity Clinic in Bamberg, Germany, and in Fort Drum, New York.

Touma is the second pregnant servicemember to die in North Carolina in recent months. The remains of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her fetus were found beneath in a fire pit January 11 in Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean’s backyard.

Laurean is suspected of killing Lauterbach on December 14, 2007. Before fleeing to Mexico, he used her ATM card 10 days later. He was taken into custody after he walked up to a roadblock set up by a local anti-kidnapping task force investigating another case in Mexico.

Laurean is currently awaiting extradition to North Carolina.

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Forget Endangered Species, Border Security is the Most Important

June 23, 2008


The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea by environmental groups to curb the Bush administration’s power to waive laws and regulations to speed construction of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has used his Congress-given authority to ignore environmental and other laws and regulations to move forward with hundreds of miles of fencing in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Earlier this year, Chertoff waived more than 30 laws and regulations in an effort to finish building 670 miles of fence along the southwest border. Administration officials have said that invoking the legal waivers, made possible when Congress authorized it in 1996 and 2005 laws, will cut through bureaucratic red tape and sidestep environmental laws that stand in the way of fence construction.

As of June, 13th, 2008, 331 miles of fencing have been constructed in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, but this specific case involved a two-mile section of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Naco, Arizona, which has since been built.

Congressman Thompson who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee 13 other House democrats (including six other committee chairs) filed a brief in support of the environmentalists’ appeal.

Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform when it had the chance in 2007.

Thompson said, “Without a comprehensive plan, this fence is just another quick fix.”

Environmentalists have said the fence puts already endangered species such as two types of wild cats – the ocelot and the jaguarundi – in even more danger. The fence would prevent them from swimming across the Rio Grande to mate.

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20 Million Dollar Border Fence Scrapped

April 23, 2008

The government is scrapping a $20 million prototype of its highly touted “virtual fence” on the Arizona-Mexico border because the system is failing to adequately alert border patrol agents to illegal crossings, officials said.

This 98-foot tower, seen last year in Avirica, Arizona, has radar, sensors and sophisticated cameras.

The move comes just two months after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced his approval of the fence built by The Boeing Co. The fence consists of nine electronic surveillance towers along a 28-mile section of border southwest of Tucson.

Boeing is to replace the so-called Project 28 prototype with a series of towers equipped with communications systems, cameras and radar capability, officials said.

Less than a week after Chertoff accepted Project 28 on February 22, the Government Accountability Office told Congress it “did not fully meet user needs and the project’s design will not be used as the basis for future” developments.

A glaring shortcoming of the project was the time lag between the electronic detection of movement along the border and the transmission of a camera image to agents patrolling the area, the GAO reported.

Although the fence continues to operate, it hasn’t come close to meeting the Border Patrol’s goals, said Kelly Good, deputy director of the Secure Border Initiative program office in Washington.

“Probably not to the level that Border Patrol agents on the ground thought that they were going to get. So it didn’t meet their expectations.”

The rest of the story can be found @ CNN.com

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