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Mexico 2013: Explosion at PEMEX Tower-- Terrorism or Accident?

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Message Kenneth Thomas

(Article changed on February 2, 2013 at 12:11)

-- BRIEF --------- 
31 January 2013 
PEMEX Towers, Colony New Anzur, Mexico City

Barely an hour ago I stood at the front gates of Mexican Petroleum (PEMEX)'s grand tower complex. At approximately 4:15, an explosion had ripped through floors, killing at least tens if not hundreds, injuring many more, and trapping many inside collapsed parts of the building.

The reporters of Germany's Der Speigel have long lived under the principle of that publications bold motto "we make the news," and in this topsy-turvy country where nothing is what it seems, especially with an unfree press and a broadcast media duopoly, the news was certainly made up on the street in front of the PEMEX towers tonight.

If the combat helicopters in the air, sudden deployment of troops to the streets of Mexico City, and 1500 hundred or so combat troops that I saw while rushing to the Towers are any indication, then the first reaction of Mexico's Federal Government was, like mine, to assume the worst-- terrorists had found a way around Mexico City's careful security.

But that's not likely the story you'll hear on the news tonight, especially if you listen in English. In addition to my own interviews, I tried to catch many of the reporters on the street today, and find out what they were hearing.

Two different narratives were battling it out tonight-- that "it was just an accident" and that "it was something more."

It's easy to know which is likely to win in the public eye. About seventy percent of Mexicans get their news from the duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca, both of which are essentially state media. To give you some idea of how close in bed the two are, tonight, the reporters evidently shared crews and equipment from Azteca.

The official narrative reported by those guys will be that 14 people died, and about 80 were injured from a gas explosion in the basement. In this narrative, which is still not complete-- Pemex will, conveniently, be conducting the investigation into the incident! -- new details continue to be added, such as the theory that units in the building's air conditioning section overheated and caused the explosion.

The information I and independent reporters on the street could gather from employees exiting the building, as well as emergency responders and others, painted a quite different picture. Both groups suggested that the number of dead was in excess of 80, with many more injured and many still trapped inside the building.

From approx. 6:30pm to 9pm, I counted an ambulance leave front entrance every three minutes or so. I saw at least two other entrances serving ambulances. When rushing to the area from the south at approx. 4:45, I saw at least 20 ambulances rushing in each direction along Insurgentes south of Reforma alone-- suggesting not only numbers, but that emergency services in the area, as well as in the more accessible areas to the north, east and west were overwhelmed, forcing a need for aid from hospitals far away and across the congested city center.

I saw similar numbers will approaching along the Ejercitio Nationale at about 5:30, and by close to 10pm, there were still ambulances racing back and forth along the secondary streets of the Condesa neighborhood, more than a mile and a half to the south.

All of this suggests a much larger incident, at least in terms of numbers. As far as details, I have no more evidence at the moment other than the word from the street, but this a country where facts can be slippery and hard to come by.

It is also a country whose security situation leaves many on edge. The capital city is widely views as a refuge against the violence that has taken over much of Mexico, the social disintegration and chaos of the 25% of the country's territory that its mayors have declared "ungovernable--" and a series of underreported and unreported terrorist bombings over the past decade, including major disruptions of PEMEX's gas facilities.

A gas explosion does not rule out sabotage, but the last thing Mexico's newly crowned President Pena Nieto wants or needs, is to be seen as unable to maintain security in the capitol. A terrorist event would be likely to severely weaken his position and perception of legitimacy.

One thing's for certain-- with the majority of Mexicans getting their perception of events from Televisa and Azteca, and (according to sources within both) reporters severely muzzled, there seems little chance that the possibility of bombing will make it into public discussions among non-elites.

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Kenneth Thomas works as an IT consultant and techologist and lives between Nashville, Ghent, Prague and Mexico City. He speaks German, French, Spanish, some Dutch of the Flemish variety, a smattering of Hebrew and other languages, and when (more...)
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