Mexico says migrant numbers will fall further, wants no clash with U.S.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s foreign minister said on Thursday he expected the number of U.S.-bound migrants to fall further and that it was in his country’s interest to avoid tensions with Washington on migration in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also said Mexico took a different view from the one expressed on Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted a request by the Trump administration to fully enforce a new rule that would curtail asylum applications by immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This is the ruling by the court, it’s a U.S. issue, and obviously we don’t agree with it, we have a different policy,” Ebrard told a regular news conference.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham and Deepa Babington)

At least 25 killed in ‘horrendous’ arson attack on bar in Mexico

A man is comforted at a crime scene following a deadly attack at a bar by unknown assailants in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Angel Hernandez

By Tamara Corro

COATZACOALCOS, Mexico (Reuters) – At least 25 people were killed in an arson attack by suspected gang members on a bar in the southeastern Mexican port of Coatzacoalcos late on Tuesday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, in a fresh blow to his efforts to curb violence.

Calling the attack “horrendous,” Lopez Obrador told a regular morning news conference on Wednesday that the deaths occurred after the suspected gangsters closed the emergency exits of the bar in Coatzacoalcos and set fire to it.

The attorney general’s office of the state of Veracruz said overnight that eight women and 15 men died in the fire at the “Caballo Blanco” bar, and 13 people who were seriously wounded were hospitalized for treatment.

Lopez Obrador said 25 people had died so far and that initial investigations indicated that some suspects behind the attack had been in custody this year and were later released.

The attack was one of the worst mass killings since the veteran leftist Lopez Obrador took office in December pledging to pacify Mexico by battling corruption and inequality.

So far, however, the number of murders has continued to rise after hitting record levels in 2018.

The deaths follow an attack in April on another bar in Veracruz in the city of Minatitlan that killed 13 people.

While saying he did not want to blame previous governments, Lopez Obrador nevertheless pointed to past policies for laying the groundwork for the crime.

“This is the rotten fruit of the economic policy that was imposed, the policy of pillage,” the president said.

Veracruz state governor Cuitlahuac Garcia suggested in a post on Twitter that the attack was the result of a dispute between gangs.

The Gulf Coast state is a major transit point for drugs making their way north towards the U.S. border and has long been convulsed by violent turf wars between organized crime groups.

Some Mexican media reports said that gunmen had fired shots on the bar before setting it ablaze with Molotov cocktails.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra, Andrew Heavens, Chizu Nomiyama)

On the front lines: Trade war sinks North Dakota soybean farmers

Paul and Vanessa Kummer check the soybeans on their farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

By Karl Plume

COLFAX, North Dakota (Reuters) – North Dakota bet bigger on Chinese soybean demand than any other U.S. state.

The industry here – on the far northwestern edge of the U.S. farm belt, close to Pacific ports – spent millions on grain storage and rail-loading infrastructure while boosting plantings by five-fold in 20 years.

Now, as the world’s top soybean importer shuns the U.S. market for a second growing season, Dakota farmers are reeling from the loss of the customer they spent two decades cultivating.

The state’s experience underscores the uneven impact of the U.S.-China trade war across the United States. Although China’s tariffs target many heartland states that, like North Dakota, supported President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, those further south and east are better able to shift surplus soybeans to other markets such as Mexico and Europe. They also have more processing plants to produce soymeal, along with larger livestock and poultry industries to consume it.

For North Dakota, losing China – the buyer of about 70% of the state’s soybeans – has destroyed a staple source of income. Agriculture is North Dakota’s largest industry, surpassing energy and representing about 25% of its economy.

“North Dakota has probably taken a bigger hit than anybody else from the trade situation with China,” said Jim Sutter, CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

In its second-quarter agricultural credit conditions survey this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said 74% of respondents in North Dakota reported lower net farm income.

China shut the door to all U.S. agricultural purchases on Aug. 5 after Trump intensified the conflict with threats to impose additional tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, some as soon as Sept. 1.

Some farmers were relying on the Trump administration’s $28 billion in farm aid payments to compensate them for trade war losses, only to be disappointed with new payment rates for counties in North Dakota.

The rates are below those for some southern states that rely much less on exports to China. The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined other states had a higher “level of exposure” to tariffs than North Dakota because they also grow other crops, such as cotton and sorghum, that were hit by Chinese tariffs, according to a brief written statement from the USDA in response to questions from Reuters.

With record soy supplies still in storage and another crop to be harvested soon, farmers in the U.S. soybean state with the best access to ports serving China are unable to sell their crops at a profit.

Rail shippers would normally send more than 90 percent of the North Dakota soybeans they buy to Pacific Northwest export terminals. Now they are trying unsuccessfully to make up the shortfall by hauling corn, wheat and other crops with limited demand. Some are moving soybeans south and east to domestic users, a costlier endeavor that ultimately thins margins for both shippers and farmers.

LOST DEMAND

Soy farmers who planted this spring – when the White House was talking up a nearly finished trade deal with China – watched as those trade talks collapsed in May, sending prices well below their costs of production.

Vanessa Kummer checks the quality of their 2018 soybean crops on the family farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

Vanessa Kummer checks the quality of their 2018 soybean crops on the family farm near Colfax, North Dakota, U.S., August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dan KoeckVanessa Kummer’s farm in Colfax, North Dakota, has yet to sell a single soybean from the fall harvest because of the low prices. Normally, the farm would have forward-sold 50% to 75% of the upcoming harvest.

 

Vanessa Kummer’s farm in Colfax, North Dakota, has yet to sell a single soybean from the fall harvest because of the low prices. Normally, the farm would have forward-sold 50% to 75% of the upcoming harvest

She fears the U.S.-China soy trade is now “permanently damaged” as China shifts its purchases to Brazil, uses less soy in animal feed and consumes less pork as African swine fever kills of millions of the nation’s pigs.

“It will take years to get back to any semblance of what we had over in China,” Kummer said, standing in a sparse field of ankle-high soy plants, where two weeks earlier she hosted a delegation of soy importers from Ecuador and Peru.

Though it is the No. 4 soy state overall, North Dakota is home to two of the top three U.S. soy producing counties in the nation.

Options for North Dakota farmers are limited. U.S. wheat has been losing export market share for years. Demand for specialty crops such as peas and lentils, which grow well in the northern U.S., has been dampened by retaliatory tariffs imposed by India, a major importer of both products.

ROOTS OF DEPENDENCE

North Dakota’s farmers never set out to become so dependent on a single buyer of one crop. But with wheat profits shrinking and Chinese demand for soy growing, soybeans increasingly seemed like the obvious choice.

Companies including Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF expanded rail capacity to open up a West Coast shipping corridor, and Pacific Northwest seaports expanded to handle more exports to China. Seed companies offered North Dakota farmers new varieties that allowed soybeans to thrive in the state’s colder climate and shorter growing season.

A $200 million crop two decades ago blossomed into a $2 billion crop, topping the value of wheat, once North Dakota’s top crop.

The number of high-speed shuttle train loading terminals in North Dakota tripled from about 20 in 2007 to more than 60 currently, according to industry data, with investments totaling at least $800 million.

But one of those facilities, CHS Dakota Plains Ag elevator in Kindred, North Dakota, has gone three or four months without loading a soybean train this year, said Doug Lingen, a grain merchant there. Normally the elevator would load at least one train a month with beans bound for the Pacific Northwest.

LIMPING ALONG

The drop in demand has soybean prices in North Dakota trading at a historic discount to U.S. futures prices, and farmers are putting investments on hold.

Justin Sherlock, who grows corn, soybeans and other crops near Dazey, North Dakota, had been planning to buy a used grain drier this year for around $100,000 to $150,000, passing on a new one that would be at least $350,000.

But an uncertain future has now shelved those plans, even with the latest promise for government aid. According to rates published last month, farmers in Sherlock’s county can apply for aid of $55 per acre, well below the maximum $150 rate offered in 22 counties nationwide.

Sherlock called the latest announcement “disappointing.”

“I’m just going to defer all my investment,” he said, “and try to limp along for a few years.”

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago, additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

Mexico pushes U.S. to designate El Paso shooting an act terrorism

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s government on Wednesday doubled down on its assertion that the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was an act of terrorism against Mexicans and urged the United States to ensure the incident was designated as such.

Speaking after meetings on Tuesday between U.S. and Mexican government officials about the case, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular government news conference that steps needed to be taken to prevent future killings.

“It’s very important to persevere, to specify, clarify and demand that measures are taken so that this is not repeated, and the first measure is to classify it for what it is, an act of terrorism that seeks to take Mexican lives,” Ebrard said.

Twenty-two people lost their lives in the shooting at a Walmart store in the U.S. border city, an event Mexico quickly said it would investigate as a terrorist act.

A four-page statement believed to have been authored by the suspected shooter Patrick Crusius, and posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, called the El Paso attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

And according to an El Paso police affidavit released on Friday, Crusius told police while surrendering that he had been targeting “Mexicans.”

“There will be those who say, ‘No, no, no, this isn’t terrorism, it’s just one person,'” Ebrard said, alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“Well, it needs to be said that the man who carried out this despicable, abominable and appalling act is part of a network, but he also uploaded a manifesto to the network.”

“What he says is terrible, but it’s not that he’s mad; he is in possession of his faculties,” Ebrard added.

The Mexican government has said it may also request the suspected perpetrator be extradited to Mexico for trial.

The attack caused widespread revulsion in Mexico at a time of persistent diplomatic tensions between Trump administration and the Mexican government over trade and immigration.

Mexico’s government last week pressed the United States to cooperate in helping to identify white supremacists who are a threat to its citizens after the attack.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Richard Chang)

U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal will help stave off U.S. recession: U.S. Chamber CEO

By Andrea Shalal and Jonas Ekblom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Approval and implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement will provide a major boost to the U.S. economy and help stave off a recession, Thomas Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday.

Donohue, whose organization is spearheading a major campaign to win passage of the trade agreement, said moving ahead with the USMCA would also help pave the way for trade agreements with China, the European Union, Japan and other countries.

“It is a major component in keeping us out of a recession,” Donohue told Reuters after a news conference with other trade associations pushing the U.S. Congress to ratify the replacement for the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He said the timing was critical given other drags on the U.S. economy, including troubles at top U.S. exporter Boeing Co, which this week reported its biggest-ever quarterly loss due to the spiraling cost of resolving issues with its 737 MAX.

Boeing has reduced production of the grounded jet and suspended deliveries, but on Wednesday warned it might have to shut production completely if it runs into new hurdles with global regulators.

The single-aisle plane was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

“A reduction in our economic growth and our trade is taking place with the Boeing problem,” Donohue said. “They’ll survive this, they’ll move forward.”

House of Representatives Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats, who control the chamber, for not bringing the USMCA up for a vote before lawmakers leave for their summer recess.

“What will this do? Only make our country stronger, more prosperous, create more jobs, make the debate with China even in a stronger position for America and make the future better than it is today. But they didn’t do anything about it,” McCarthy told reporters at a news conference.

Donohue and other business leaders cited growing bipartisan support for the USMCA and expressed optimism that the House would move to ratify the agreement in September.

Nearly 600 trade and commerce groups sent a letter urging lawmakers to approve the deal as soon as possible.

“If we don’t move positively on Canada and Mexico, it will be very, very difficult for us to muster the goodwill in other places to get agreements with China, with Japan and the EU,” Donohue told a news conference.

Leaders from the United States, Mexico and Canada signed the agreement in November, but it must be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries.

House Democrats have promised to block the deal until their concerns over environmental, labor and pharmaceutical aspects of the agreement are met, but Donohue and others said they were upbeat those issues could be resolved.

White House officials say the agreement would add about half a percentage point of economic growth to the U.S. economy, creating several hundred thousand jobs and sparking up to $100 billion in new investments in the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to meet with Democratic lawmakers about the agreement again this week, with a focus on enforcement issues.

Industry leaders said moving forward would reduce uncertainty and free businesses to make new investments.

“The thing we hear most about the need to move forward with this agreement is the need to provide certainty,” said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.

The group said it would use state fairs and events in local districts in coming weeks to pressure lawmakers to back passage of the deal while campaigning against its opponents.

“We will be activating our grassroots network and targeting key districts,” Donohue said. “You can’t be pro-jobs and anti-USCMA.”

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Murders in Mexico surge to record in first half of 2019

FILE PHOTO: People stand near bullet casings on the ground at a crime scene after a shootout in the municipality of Tuzamapan, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico, May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Murders in Mexico jumped in the first half of the year to the highest on record, according to official data, underscoring the vast challenges President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces in reducing violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

There were 14,603 murders from January to June, versus the 13,985 homicides registered in the first six months of 2018, according to data posted over the weekend on the website of Mexico’s national public security office.

Mexico is on course to surpass the 29,111 murders of last year, an all-time high.

For years Mexico has struggled with violence as consecutive governments battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in the fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

Veteran leftist Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence and said his government was targeting the issue by rooting out corruption and inequality in Mexico.

“Social policies are very important – we agree they’ll have positive effects. But these positive effects will be seen in the long term,” said Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, a civil group that monitors justice and security in Mexico.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for Lopez Obrador’s young administration, which has vowed to try a different approach than that of his predecessor.

His administration last month launched a new militarized National Guard police force tasked with helping to fix the problem.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Additional reporting by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Minor quake shakes Mexico City, latest in week of tremors

People gather outside the buildings after an earthquake was felt in Mexico City, Mexico July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A minor earthquake struck Mexico City on Thursday, the latest in a series of small tremors that have shaken buildings and jangled nerves across the Mexican capital over the past week.

The magnitude 2.2 quake was registered at 1:55 p.m. local time (1855 GMT) in the central neighborhood of Alvaro Obregon, the National Seismological Service (SSN) said in a statement on Twitter.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, according to the city’s civil protection authority.

A report published on Wednesday by the SSN and the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 16 small earthquakes have struck Mexico City’s central Miguel Hidalgo district between July 12-17.

Situated at the intersection of three tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. The capital is seen as particularly vulnerable due to its location on top of an ancient lake bed.

(Reporting by Rebekah F Ward, Editing by G Crosse)

Mexican president vows to bring down violence after ‘El Chapo’ sentencing

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures during a meeting with the Mexican delegation competing at the Pan American Games Lima 2019, in Mexico City, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday he expected violence in Mexico to fall after the U.S. sentencing of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, vowing to create a society less obsessed with making money at any cost.

Guzman will spend the rest of his days behind bars in the United States after a judge sentenced him on Wednesday to life in prison plus 30 years. A jury found him guilty in February after an 11-week trial.

When asked during his regular morning conference whether he expected violence to rise over the coming weeks following the sentencing, Lopez Obrador said: “No, on the contrary. We think that bit by bit the number of criminal incidents will decline.

“We will continue to create a better society, supported by values, that is not based on accumulating material wealth, money or luxury,” Lopez Obrador said.

Earlier in the conference, a member of his government showcased luxury jewelry and watches confiscated from convicted criminals that would be auctioned, with proceeds going to impoverished Mexican villages.

Guzman was extradited to the United States in 2018 following two breakouts from Mexican jails: one purportedly in a laundry cart, the other through a mile-long tunnel.

In an opinion poll conducted by Mexico’s Reforma newspaper, with support from the Washington Post, 52% of people surveyed said Lopez Obrador’s efforts to tackle crime were lacking while 55% said he was failing to bring down violence.

Forbes magazine once listed Guzman as one of the world’s richest men.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico would explore whether there would be legal ways for Mexico to claim Guzman’s assets, adding that Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard would be in charge of the matter.

“These resources, these assets legally belong to Mexico and the matter will be considered on a legal basis,” Lopez Obrador said. “I believe that the United States will agree.”

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Pentagon approves additional 2,100 troops to U.S.-Mexico border

A member of the Texas National Guard watches the Mexico-U.S. border from an outpost along the Rio Grande in Roma, Texas, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Wednesday it had approved a request to send an additional 1,000 Texas National Guard and 1,100 active-duty troops to the border with Mexico, the latest deployment in support of President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration crackdown.

Major Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters that acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer had approved the additional troops on Tuesday night, and they would be assisting with tasks like logistical support and aerial surveillance.

There are currently about 4,500 active duty and National Guard troops on the border with Mexico.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. judge blasts drug lord El Chapo’s ‘overwhelming evil,’ imposes life sentence

FILE PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation in Mexico City, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord who twice escaped maximum-security prisons in that country will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. penitentiary, a federal judge said on Wednesday after accusing him of “overwhelming evil.”

Guzman berated the U.S. justice system, and a former associate described how he had paid a gang $1 million to try to kill her before U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the mandatory sentence of life plus 30 years.

Cogan also ordered Guzman to forfeit $12.6 billion in a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

Guzman, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico’s largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations.

Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.

He has been held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan. Cogan last month rejected his request for more time to exercise on the jail’s roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape.

Guzman, who recently grew a mustache, complained about the terms of his confinement before his sentence was handed down.

“It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day,” said Guzman. He alleged that the jurors on his case allowed media accounts of the trial to influence their thinking – an argument his lawyers have also made.

“Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will not ever be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” he told the court.

Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates of Guzman who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel’s inner workings.

‘EL CHAPO’ ASSOCIATE: ‘I SINNED’

Andrea Velez, a former associate of Guzman, said Guzman had paid the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang $1 million to have her killed, and that she had escaped with the help of U.S. authorities.

“I confess that I sinned, but I paid a high price for my faults,” Velez said of her work with the cartel.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said.

U.S. prosecutors have claimed that Guzman sold more than $12 billion worth of drugs, and Forbes magazine once listed him as among the world’s richest men.

Though other top cartel figures had been extradited to the United States before, Guzman was the first to go to trial rather than pleading guilty.

Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized again in 2014 but pulled off his best-known escape the following year when he disappeared into a ventilated, mile-long (1.6-km) tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison.

He was finally recaptured in January 2016. The Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slipups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life.

Guzman’s lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict. They have already asked Cogan to overturn it, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial, but the judge rejected that request.

Despite Guzman’s downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest U.S. distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)