By David Gallerano and Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The tragic ending of prisoner Menes, the Hungarian stork unfairly painted as a spy (as well as a duck) by the Egyptian police and clapped into a prison in the Qena governorate.
♦ A self-organized group of armed citizens is battling – with unexpected success – a brutal drug cartel at Michoachan, in central Mexico.
♦ Japanese economist Takatoshi Ito analyses Japan’s fiscal situation and argues Mr. Abe must press ahead with tax increases.
♦ “We Syrians are human beings of this world, and the world must stop the Assad regime from killing us. Now,” writes Syrian activist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, in his plea for a strong intervention that does not just “discipline” the regime.
♦ A profile of Rwandan president Paul Kagame – who “may be the most complicated leader in Africa”Read more

Xi Jinping visiting a coffee farm in Costa Rica (AFP/Getty)

Where the US leads, China follows close behind. Or is that vice versa? The question is especially pertinent in Latin America, where China’s president, Xi Jinping, is midway through a regional tour that culminates in Mexico before he meets Barack Obama in California. What makes Mr Xi’s trip noteworthy is that it follows a similar regional tour by Joe Biden, the US vice-president.

For fans of a multi-polar world, Mr Xi’s trip illustrates how fast the world is changing – and how China is prepared to pay to expand its sphere of influence too: in Trinidad & Tobago, Mr Xi stumped up $3bn in loans. Read more

♦ All change in Europe? French labour market reforms start to bear fruit, with signs of movement in industrial relations and eurozone austerity might be on its way out.
♦ India’s economy grew at the slowest rate in a decadehampered by electricity shortages and poor infrastructure.
♦ Mexico’s highest-grossing film is still filling multiplexes 10 weeks after its release. The NYT looks at whether audiences just want to see rich people humiliated, or whether they are actually looking for a form of middle class catharsis.
♦ Neal Ascherson reports on the state of German politics: “They are pissed off with Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, but reluctant to let go of Mutti’s hand. In short, the public are in one of those sullen, unreasonable moods which make politicians despair.
♦ Ethnic strife in Xinjiang, northeast China, is worsening with the growth of immigrant-dominated settlements – Uighurs are resentful of such powerful entities dominating the region and employing so few of their own ethnic group.
♦ And here’s something to chew on this weekend. When you’re having your morning pastry spare a thought for New Yorkers who have been lining up at 6am, or paying as much as $40, for a delectable new pastry – the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. It seems the bakery has a scaling problem, which is driving cronut-craving customers to the black market. Read more

♦Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, is confronting the country’s culture of casual racism, but the success of her proposed legislation depends on her fellow parliamentarians – some of whom have not been entirely complimentary about her.
♦ China is pushing to water down the World Bank’s Doing Business report, showing its increased assertiveness at international bodies and its willingness to challenge liberal economic prescriptions.
♦ Growth in Indonesia has reached its slowest pace in two years, hit by the slowdown in China and India, but investors are still feeling confident.
♦ David Gardner argues that Israel’s latest attacks on Syria play right into Assad’s hands supporting conspiracy theories about a western-conceived attempt to destroy Syria.
♦ Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, calls for a Marshall plan to help his country recover from decades of poverty, civil war and terrorism.
♦ Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil and Herminio Blanco of Mexico are scrambling to secure last-minute votes in a tight race to become the next head of the troubled World Trade Organisation.
♦ Hollywood film-makers are going to great lengths to satisfy the whims of Chinese censors. However, appearances by Chinese actors in the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 have not been to everyone’s taste – “
One microblogger named Bumblebee Marz compared the new scenes to chicken ribs — a common expression denoting the most tasteless and undesirable cut of meat in Chinese cuisine.
♦ Dexter Filkins looks at the White House debate over Syria. According to Gary Samore, who was President Obama’s chief adviser on weapons of mass destruction until February,
“All the options are horrible”.
♦ Obama’s off-the-cuff remark about large quantities of chemical weapons crossing a “red line” have now put him into a bind, “his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.”
♦ Gabriel Kuris at Foreign Policy looks at how Latvia’s anti-corruption bureau managed to pass through reforms and take down oligarchs. Read more

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Peña Nieto: taking on the old guard (Getty)

Elba Esther Gordillo encapsulates everything that is wrong with the “old Mexico”. The optimistic view of her arrest on Tuesday night, after the 68-year old union leader decamped from a private flight from San Diego, is that it shows what the “new Mexico” might become – a country where nobody is untouchable and the rule of law reigns. The cynical view is that it shows the government of Enrique Peña Nieto pursuing Mexican politics-as-usual: anyone who gets in the president’s way will be metaphorically decapitated and their head stuck on a pike as a warning to others.

Either way, Gordillo, a.k.a. “La Maestra”, is one of the most loathsome figures in Mexican politics. The head of the 1.5m teachers union, the largest in Latin America, has long been a byword for corruption, influence peddling and old-school clientelist politics. Yet although accusations have been brought against her before, no charges have ever been pressed. Now, they have. Read more

Last Sunday morning, “El Niño Verde” – as Jorge Emilio González, a young Mexican senator, is known – was driving down a central thoroughfare in Mexico City in his Mercedes Benz. When the police stopped him for a breathalyzer test, the gallant young rake protested, and gave a false name. But the police insisted, whereupon the bodyguards of the 40-year old senator for the state of Quintana Roo jumped out of their car, and threatened the hapless cops. Normally, this story would be of no transcendence whatsoever – just another run-of-the-mill tale of corruption and the impunity of power. But the local press have leapt on the story with glee – perhaps because it is a telling, and may be even hopeful, vignette of the state of modern Mexico.

To describe “El Niño Verde” as a politician probably stretches the definition of the word, although politics runs in the family. His grandfather was a senator and one-time presidential candidate. His father then founded Mexico’s “Green Party” – another misnomer, although it does explains González’s nickname, which literally means “the green boy”. In one infamous incident in 2004, González was filmed in conversation with a property developer who wanted his help, for a price, to facilitate planning permission to build a hotel in an ecologically protected area near the tourist resort of Cancun. There are other far more tawdry tales that have since attached to this clearly unpleasant young man. And, each time, he has managed to wriggle free, exercising the impunity that he long enjoyed as a member of an old political clan. Read more

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A lot of north Americans will get high on last night’s vote – not because they are celebrating the re-election of Barack Obama as president, but following the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. In defiance of federal law, they have now become the first US states to legalise the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Although Oregon voters rejected the amendment, it’s a ground-breaking move which will change the tone of the debate on international drugs policy, test the balance of power between US states and the Federal Government, and affect Mexican security.

Medical-use cannabis is already legal in several US states. What makes Amendment 64 significant is that it would remove the prohibition on the commercial production of cannabis. In Colorado, pot can now in theory be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system similar to alcohol sales. Personal possession of up to 28 grams (1 oz) will be legal for anyone at least 21 years old.

To get a bead on what this might mean, this is further than Netherlands has gone. There, contrary to common perception, it is only the retail sale of 5 grams that is legal. Production and wholesale remains illegal, and the law is vigorously enforced. That is why the price of pot in Amsterdam “coffee shops” is “little different than the price in US dispensaries,” as the authors of “Marijuana legalisation: what everyone needs to know”, argue hereRead more

“Who is Henry?” has become something of a political parlour game in Latin America. I’m referring, of course, to Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s putative president-elect, and Henrique Capriles, the challenger in Venezuela’s presidential election in October. Both Henrys are held up as potential reformers. But how true – or more important, how likely – is that really? Both face serious obstacles. Read more

Enrique Peña Nieto

Enrique Peña Nieto on July 2 (Daniel Aguilar/Getty Images)

What will the rest of Latin America make of Enrique Peña Nieto’s election as Mexico’s new president – and, with him, the return to power of the PRI?

Latin America felt like a very different place the last time Mexico held presidential elections in 2006. Back then, commodity prices were soaring and free-spending populist governments (or the “new Latin American left”, as they was sometimes characterised) were sweeping the polls. That is why the near-win in Mexico by leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka Amlo) was so closely watched. It would have made Mexico the crowning piece of a regional jigsaw dominated by populist (to varying degrees) or leftist (depending on how you view them) presidents in Argentina and Brazil, plus the more ideological group of ALBA nations – Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. At the time, such regional attention may also have emboldened Amlo, who went on to protest for three months, during sit-ins in Mexico City’s main thoroughfares and central square, that his victory has been stolen by Felipe Calderón’s centre right PAN.

Today, however, the regional political landscape has shifted. Populist (or leftist) governments are no longer ascendant. Read more

Mexico’s three month presidential campaign ended officially on Wednesday. The vote is on Sunday, with results expected by midnight, local time. JP Rathbone gives us his insights on the possible outcomes.  Read more

We’ll be keeping an eye out for the US Supreme Court decision on Obamacare today, but these are the reads that caught our eye on the world news desk this morning:

Here is what the world desk is reading and chatting about today:

Mexican Federal police arrest men on suspicion of possessing drugs during an anti-narcotics operation in the Tepito district in Mexico City April 11, 2007. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar

Anti-narcotic arrests in Mexico City. Reuters/ Daniel Aguilar

Growing calls from Latin America that it’s time to rethink the “War on Drugs” has lead to a near-intoxicating barrage of documents, books, speeches and studies on the subject. Here’s one of the latest – a US Senate report on “Reducing the US demand for illegal drugs”.

Given that some 50,000 people have died in Mexico over the past six years during that country’s battle against organised crime, and that the US spends some $190bn a year on drug enforcement, health care and addiction costs – equivalent to a quarter of its military budget – this is more than a fanciful “nice-to-have” idea. It is surely a must.

Three findings grabbed my attention. First, illegal drug use continues to rise in the US. At 9 per cent of the population, it is now at its highest rate in a decade. Read more

General Óscar Naranjo is known as the world’s “best policeman”, or at least that is what the Canadian mounties have called Colombia’s top cop. Gen Naranjo, profiled here by the FT, is also looking for a job.

The unassuming Jesuit-schooled 56-year old, who has shaped and led Colombia’s pretty successful two-decade-long fight against organised crime, said last month that he would step down in July as head of Colombia’s 160,000-strong police force. After leading the institution for five years it was time, he said, for somebody else to take charge. Read more

Josefina Vázquez Mota. Photo AP

Women currently govern some 40 per cent of Latin America’s population. If Josefina Vázquez Mota wins Mexico’s presidential elections in July, that figure will rise to 60 per cent. “I will be Mexico’s first presidenta (female president),” Ms Vázquez said this month after she won the primary of the conservative National Action PartyRead more