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Murders in Mexico hit record high as police, government struggle to contain violence

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Mexico sets a new murder record; many Canadians are at risk of sleep apnea, but few know it; 2017 and 2018 were the costliest back-to-back years on record for losses due to natural disasters.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A Mexican soldier stands guard on Nov. 9, 2018, outside a funeral parlor during the wake of Valeria Medel, the daughter of Mexican congresswoman Carmen Medel, who was gunned down at a gym in Ciudad Mendoza in a suspected case of mistaken identity. (Oscar Martinez/Reuters)

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  • Mexico has set a new murder record for the second year in a row.
  • A large number of Canadians are at risk of sleep apnea and the serious health effects that come with it, but surprisingly few are aware of it.
  • An insurance industry report says 2017 and 2018 now stand as the costliest back-to-back years on record for losses due to natural disasters.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Mexico murder

Mexico has set a new murder record for the second year running, with 33,341 homicides in 2018.

The new figures, released by the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection, represent an almost 15 per cent increase from last year's 29,168 murders. The current wave of violence eclipses the previous peak of the country's drug wars in 2011, when 27,213 died.

So far, 2019 isn't shaping up to be any better.

On Sunday, police in Cancun found seven dead bodies in a house in the city's centre — victims, they say, of a dispute between "street-level drug dealers." Last year, the popular vacation destination saw 540 murders, more than double the 227 recorded in 2017.

(The Pacific coast paradise of Acapulco retains the title of murder capital, however, with a homicide rate of 103 killings per 100,000 inhabitants, placing it among the most violent cities in the world.)

Forensic personnel and Mexican soldiers carry the body of a murdered man, who was found in Caletilla Beach, Acapulco, on April 15, 2018. Guerrero, home to popular beach destinations such as Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, is also one of the poorest states in the country and one of the hardest hit by organized crime violence. (Francisco Robles/AFP/Getty Images)

Also on Sunday, police discovered the battered corpse of a missing journalist, Rafael Murua Manriquez, in northwestern Baja state. He is the 122nd reporter slain in the country since 2000.

Last week, police in the border city of Juárez were embroiled in a series of running street battles with La Linea, the local drug cartel, that left eight officers wounded and saw a city bus set alight. So far in January, there have been more than 60 homicides in the municipality, which sits just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

The week before, authorities in Ciudad Miguel Alemán — 1,100 kilometres to the southeast but still along the Texas border — found 20 bodies, most of them burned beyond recognition, after a clash between two rival drug gangs.

Well over 150,000 people have died since the Mexican government declared war on the cartels in 2006. Tens of thousands more have simply disappeared, many abducted and murdered by security forces. But illicit drugs remain a $29 billion US a year business.

An expert in ballistics analyzes shell casings at the Laboratory of Expert Services and Forensic Sciences of the Attorney General of Chihuahua. (Henrika Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)

And now the soaring murder rate is also being driven by another type of crime: fuel thefts.

The illegal tapping of pipelines and refineries has become a $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion US enterprise, with 11,240 breaches discovered in the first nine months of 2018 alone. And with organized gangs recruiting entire neighbourhoods to collect the spoils or block police, violent turf wars have followed.

Newly installed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to power vowing to bring an end to the bloodshed in the country's streets. But over his first six weeks in the job, there has been little indication that he intends to follow a different path than his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto.

The army, which he once promised to return to its barracks, has instead seen its public profile strengthened. The military has been dispatched to protect 58 key fuel installations, and put in charge of building Mexico City's new airport.

Students in Guadalajara hold signs that read 'No more silence!' and 'No more violence!' at an April 26, 2018 demonstration. They were protesting the murder of three film students who have become emblematic of Mexico's missing, after they were abducted by a drug cartel while filming a school project at a family member's house. (Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

And AMLO, as the president is popularly known, seems to be wavering when it comes to his intent to seek a negotiated solution with the cartels.

To the surprise of many, the leftist reformer has been actively trying to keep the military in the fight, creating a new National Guard to battle the cartels after the country's Supreme Court ruled that the army's never-ending deployment in the streets was unconstitutional.

All of which suggests that Mexico's record-setting violence is nowhere near an end.

Are you sleep-deprived?

A large number of Canadians are at risk of sleep apnea and the serious health effects that come with it, but surprisingly few are aware of it, reporter Duncan McCue writes.

Are you having trouble sleeping at night?

You aren't alone. We're a sleep-deprived nation.

Statistics Canada estimates a third of Canadians are getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night.

Some experts say the culprit is too much screen time. Others blame increased work demands and caffeine consumption.

But few realize their daytime doziness may be due to sleep apnea, an obstructive sleep disorder that causes people to stop breathing — as many as several hundred times a night, and for as long as 30 seconds at a time.

Carolyn McCann goes to bed wearing monitoring equipment as part of a sleep test arranged by The National. She wanted to understand why she's so restless through the night. (Diane Grant/CBC)

A 2014 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated 5.4 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with, or are at high risk of experiencing, obstructive sleep apnea.

Yet the majority of them don't know it.

Tonight on The National, you'll meet three Canadians worried about lack of sleep – and find out what happens when we arranged a take-home sleep test for them. It's worth staying up for.

- Duncan McCue

  • WATCH: Duncan McCue's story about sleep apnea tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

And here's Duncan's story about new research into how sleep helps our brains form long-term memories — and may help stave of dementia:

How lack of sleep could be affecting your memory | In-Depth

4 years ago
Duration 11:49
Back in 2005, Canadians averaged about eight hours of sleep a night. By 2013, that dropped to seven. Now about 40 per cent of Canadians are dealing with some kind of sleep disorder. Something about sleep keeps our bodies and minds from falling apart. The lack of it has been linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression. Researchers are now discovering some fascinating things about how important sleep is to the way our brains store memories and learn things.

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Adding up the costs of climate change

The world experienced 42 individual billion-dollar-plus natural disasters in 2018, according to a new insurance industry report.

The annual Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight, released today by global broker Aon Inc., tallies $225 billion US in economic losses due to fires, floods, earthquakes, droughts and storms last year — $215 billion of that directly related to weather events.

While the dollar value of the devastation is down from last year's $450 billion, and below the record $512 billion in losses in 2011, the report notes that 2018 was the third consecutive year that losses surpassed the $200 billion mark, and the 10th time that has happened since 2000.

A man looks at a neighbour's home in Banten, Indonesia, which was destroyed when a fishing boat driven by tsunami waves slammed into it on Dec. 28, 2018. The tsunami was triggered by the eruption of the Anak Krakatau Volcano, killing over 400 people. (Ed Wray/Getty Images)

In addition, 2017 and 2018 now stand as the costliest back-to-back years on record.

The Asia Pacific region was hardest hit, with 17 disasters costing $1-billion-plus, mostly typhoon-related, followed by the United States with 16.

America suffered from wind (Hurricane Michael,) rain (Hurricane Florence,) and fire (California.) The Golden State set a new record for wildfires for the second year in a row, with the Camp blaze alone destroying 18,804 structures, killing 88 people and inflicting $15 billion in losses.

The report estimates that 10,000 people died in natural disasters worldwide last year.

The insurance industry will pay out $90 billion for the 2018 calamities — 64 per cent of that in the United States. That's a reduction from 2017's $147 billion bill, but still the fourth-costliest year on record.

Homes in Mexico Beach, Fla., were heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018. Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm, causing widespread damage and claiming 29 lives. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

All of that destruction and bad weather may be having an effect on public opinion when it comes to climate change.

A new U.S. poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, released this morning, finds that 74 per cent of Americans now say that their thoughts on global warming have been influenced by extreme weather events over the past five years.

Nine per cent of those surveyed still say that climate change isn't happening, while 19 per cent expressed uncertainty.

This stands in contrast to the scientific consensus, with studies showing that at least 97 per cent of active, publishing climate experts agree that the Earth is warming due to human activity.

    A few words on ... 

    Butting heads over civic pride.

    Quote of the moment

    "As we've said in the past, we need to cut the crap. Sugary drinks are the single greatest contributor of sugar in our diets, and Canadians get half of their daily calories from highly processed foods, with kids getting the most."

    - Yves Savoie, CEO of the Heart & Stroke foundation, reacts to the newly unveiled revisions to Canada's Food Guide.

    Servings recommended by Canada's new food guide. (CBC)

    What The National is reading

    • U.S. shutdown, slowing growth in China fuel concerns for global economy (Washington Post)
    • Report reveals secret North Korean missile base (Al Jazeera)
    • Mnangagwa promises investigation of brutal Zimbabwe crackdown (Guardian)
    • DNA debunks Rudolf Hess doppelgänger conspiracy theory (New Scientist)
    • "Dr. Lipjob" nets suspended sentence for illegally injecting botox (CBC)
    • Airline meals being stockpiled as travel industry braces for Brexit chaos (Independent)
    • Calgary police recover stolen cruiser (CBC)
    • Health-conscious hit man convicted by his GPS watch data (Runner's World)

    Today in history

    Jan. 22, 1989: Max Ward sells Wardair

    The RCAF-vet-turned-bush-pilot built his business from a single De Havilland Otter to the country's third-largest airline. But when he was finally allowed to make the jump from charters to regularly scheduled service in 1986, his ambition got the better of him and a billion-dollar order for new jets sank the company deep into the red. Ward ended up selling to Canada's second-biggest carrier, Canadian, and his name disappeared from the planes.

    Bush pilots: Max Ward sells Wardair

    34 years ago
    Duration 4:48
    A profile of Max Ward, who has sold his airline Wardair.

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    Jonathon Gatehouse

    CBC Investigative Journalist

    Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.