Things That Matter

Sex Crime Charges Dropped Against Leader Of Mexico-Based Megachurch In Los Angeles

The leader of the La Luz Del Mundo, a Mexico-based church with branches in the U.S, was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, forcible rape of a minor, and other felonies, prosecutors said Tuesday. Naasón Joaquín García was arrested in California and according to the church group, he is claimed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. García as well as Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca, all of whom are linked with La Luz Del Mundo, allegedly committed 26 felonies in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018. Now, he is about to be released.

Update – April 10, 10:30 a.m. PST: Naasón Joaquín García is being released from prison and charges dropped for the rape and sexual assault of children and women at his church.

A California court cited that García was denied his right to a speedy trial and that he did not waive that right.

“In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the Attorney General has sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court,” Alan Jackson, García’s attorney, said in a statement.

Original Article: La Luz Del Mundo, which means “The Light of the World”, was founded in 1926 by García’s grandfather, Eusebio Joaquín González. The organization has faced controversy in the past and has been subject to criticism for its practices.

Prosecutors say there were four victims, three of whom were children.

According to prosecutors, García and his co-defendants allegedly coerced minors into performing illegal sexual acts. Members would tell them that if they went against any of García’s orders as “the Apostle,” they were defying God as well.

In a 19-page criminal complaint filed to the LA County Superior Court, victims were forced to perform “flirty dances” for García wearing “as little clothing as possible.” The criminal complaint also states that a child and a woman were raped. It notes that Ocampo directed victims to remove all clothing and sexually touch one another while she took pictures to send to García.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said at a press conference. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state. At the California Department of Justice, we will do everything we can to prevent and combat these heinous crimes so that our communities are safe. If you see something, report it and we will vigorously pursue justice.”

A California judge raised García’s bail amount on Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators conducted additional search warrants.

Despite the charges and arrests, the church has denied the claims and say that García remains the spiritual leader of the group.

La Luz Del Mundo, which claims to have 5 million followers in 58 countries, has adamantly denied the charges against García. The church group is standing by the leader and have called the accusations “false”.

“We believe these accusations are defamation and slander of our international director, the apostle of Jesus Christ,” Silem García, a church spokesman, told the AP. “His position as an apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for life, and he continues to lead the church.”

Worshipers and supports gathered to pray at the La Luz del Mundo church in East LA on Wednesday. Many of them were still in shock of the news and believe that Garcia is the target of a “smear campaign.”

“We’re united in prayer,” Jack Freeman, a minister who has been with the church for 27 years, told the LA Times. “An attack like this, which is meant to stumble us or bring us apart, it actually brings us closer together…. We’re not giving up. The church is still going to go forward. We believe this is still the church of the Lord.”

Reaction on social media has been nothing short of angry and shocked at the news of the accusations.

Many on social media couldn’t believe the details of Garcia’s crimes and have pointed to the church for not preventing this. Some have even gone as far as claiming followers of the religious group as “brainwashed.”

“Not to be the one who gets involved in religious matters….. BUT I knew there was something wrong with that “church”. I mean any person could see that…unless of course you were brainwashed by him and his followers.” One user wrote on Twitter.

As more details are revealed in the coming days, prosecutes hope more victims come forward.

“It would be hard to believe that, based on the information that we’re collecting, that it’s only these four individuals,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference, urging any victims to come forward, on Thursday.

Beccera said the investigation began last year when a tip came in through a website seeking victims of clergy sex abuse. He believes there are still more victims out there and is hoping justice is served on their behalf.

“You don’t do that to children, you don’t do that to adults,” Beccera said. “You don’t hide behind some religious veil, no law of California, no law of humankind and certainly no law of God would permit to occur what Naasón Joaquín García is alleged to have committed in this case against young girls and others.”

READ: The Pope Thinks That Mexico’s Struggle With Violence Is Because Of The Devil And La Virgen De Guadalupe

This Is What Mexico Looks Like As It Reopens During A Global Pandemic

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This Is What Mexico Looks Like As It Reopens During A Global Pandemic

Hector Vivas / Getty Images

Step outside into Mexico’s capital (home to more than 20 million people) and you’d be forgiven for not realizing we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic that’s killed more than half a million people.

As of this week, several Mexican states have entered the initial phase of reopening and Mexicans are taking full advantage of the newly found sense of ‘freedom’ – visiting restaurants, cafés and shops in droves. However, experts warn that Mexico will likely follow the dangerous path of the United States – which opened prematurely and is now having to shut down businesses once again as cases reach record levels.

Here’s an inside look into the daily reality of Chilangos (as residents of Mexico City are called) and what the future holds for the country amid Coronavirus.

Mexico City – along with 17 other states – have entered the first phase of a gradual reopening.

Despite being home to the largest number of active cases across Mexico, the capital joined 17 other states in a phased reopening this week. Mexico City lowered its contagion risk from a level red (the most extreme) to level orange, which permits some businesses to reopen.

However, Mexico City – on the day of the reopening – saw a record 5,432 new cases and 638 confirmed deaths. Mayor Sheinbaum said that the switch to orange was possible because hospital occupancy levels are at 59% and trending downwards. But to many, the government is prioritizing the economy over public safety and health. Several government officials insisted that it was safe to proceed to the reduced warning level but health experts disagreed.

The mayor stressed that if hospital occupancy levels go above 65% again, red light restrictions will be reinstated. She urged residents to continue to take precautions to reduce the risk of infection. People should continue to stay at home as much as possible and the use of face masks in public places remains mandatory.

Along with Mexico City, 17 other states moved into the orange phase of reopening – including tourist hotspots of Jalisco, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan.

The federal government instituted a traffic light system to simplify the risk management of Covid-19

Credit: omgitsjustintime/ Instagram

Shortly after the Coronavirus outbreak began, the federal government instituted a color-coded risk management system to simplify its messaging. With red being the highest risk level and green being the lowest, every state until June 15th was still in the red level.

As of July 1, 18 states are now in the orange level. This means that restaurants, cafés, and shops can begin to reopen with reduced capacity. Hotels and markets will also be allowed to resume service, meaning that tourism will likely begin to pick up again very soon.

President AMLO has been eager to get the economy reopened after it was reported that at least one million formal jobs have been lost and the country’s economy is expected to shrink by 8.8% this year.

On the first day of reopening, shops in Mexico City’s historic center were jammed full of shoppers.

Credit: Raul Hidalgo / Getty Images

The city’s historical center is a hub of economic activity. You can literally find pretty much anything you could ever want in these cobblestones streets. The district is home to more than 27,000 businesses and as of this week they’re now permitted to open once again. And resident wasted no time in hitting the shops.

Long lines formed outside shops with few people wearing masks and most stores not truly enforcing social distancing requirements. Some offered antibacterial gel and took people’s temperatures before allowing them to enter.

Officially, shops and businesses with an odd street number are permitted to open three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, whereas even-numbered shops can open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

In order to prevent crowds from accumulating and promote social distancing, 31 streets were converted into pedestrian-only zones.

Restaurants, cafés, and shopping centers are all open for business – with some protective measurements in place.

Credit: omgitsjustintime/ Instagram

Even before the official change to semáforo naranja, several restaurants and cafés were already offering dine-in service. But now restaurants are officially allowed to operate at limited capacity, while staff are required to wear masks and shields, and restaurants are’s allowed to play music or issue reusable menus.

Street markets, known as tianguis, will also be allowed to restart which will help many of the city’s informal workers. And the following week, department stores and shopping malls will also be allowed to reopen at 30% capacity and with limited hours.

Mexico is hardly finished with the Coronavirus threat – in fact, cases have been reaching record levels.

Credit: Covid.gob.mx

Although not yet at the levels seen in the U.S. or Brazil, Mexico has been struggling with its response to the Coronavirus pandemic. As of July 1, the country has had more than 225,000 confirmed cases and almost 28,000 deaths, with Mexico City being the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak.

And the worst doesn’t appear to be over. In a Covid-19 situation report published Monday, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security noted that Mexico had reported a decreasing daily incidence for three consecutive days.

“However, Mexico does not yet appear to have reached its peak,” the report said. “Based on recent trends, we expect Mexico to report increasing daily incidence over the coming days. Mexico is currently No. 6 globally in terms of daily incidence,” it added.

Mexico’s AMLO And Trump Plan To Meet In July And Everyone Wants To Know What They’ll Be Discussing

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Mexico’s AMLO And Trump Plan To Meet In July And Everyone Wants To Know What They’ll Be Discussing

Hector Vivas / Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Trump has a long history of treating Mexico as a political punching bag. He literally launched his campaign for president by demonizing Mexicans. BUt despite this, Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has said the U.S. president has always treated him with respect. After threatening Mexico with tariffs last year, AMLO deployed troops to deter migration by Central Americans across Mexico to the U.S. – in a move many saw as an act of obedience to Trump.

But Trump’s own rhetoric has also changed. During a visit to Arizona last week, he said that it was Mexico who has helped drive down border crossings.

“If you look at so many of the different crimes that come through the border, they’re stopped. We’ve implemented groundbreaking agreements with Mexico,” Trump said during a round table on border security. “I want to thank the President of Mexico. He’s really a great guy. I think he’ll be coming into Washington pretty soon.”

So the two leaders seem to be on good terms. But a meeting with Trump could backfire.

President Trump and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are planning their first personal meeting for July.

In what would be their first head-to-head meeting, Mexican President AMLO and Trump are likely to meet in the beginning half of July, according to officials. It’s a politically risky move for Mexico’s AMLO, who is already being attacked from across the political spectrum for appearing to appease Donald Trump.

AMLO said that in his meeting with Trump he intends to promote their new trade deal (the USMCA), as well as to thank him for sending medical ventilators to Mexico to help with the growing Coronavirus pandemic in the country. The date of the visit though is still not set in stone, since the pair would also want to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – since his country is also a signatory to the trade deal.

“It is very important for us participate in the beginning of this historical agreement, which is very timely because it will help us in the recovery of our economy and the creation of jobs,” Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference.

Mexico’s economy has been battererd by the Coroanvirus and AMLO is betting its recovery is tied to the U.S., since both countries are facing their deepest recessions since the Great Depression.

Many are speculating about the what the meeting could focus on – with there being so many hard pressing issues between the two countries.

Credit: Evan Vucci / Getty Images

AMLO has made it clear that his stated goal of the visit would be to promote the renegotiated trade deal known as the USMCA, formerly NAFTA. However, the Coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the two countries and it’s likely it will be play a major part in discussions as well.

Apart from these two timely topics, both countries are speculating as to what else the two leaders could discuss – especially since Trump has so often spoken poorly of Mexico and issued sweeping demands in the past.

Will the pair discuss immigration, asylum and the border wall?

For AMLO, this would be his first trip out of Mexico since assuming the presidency in 2018.

Credit: Hector Vivas / Getty Images

AMLO assumed the presidency in December 2018, and since then he hasn’t left the country once. He has sent surrogates to attend globally important meetings, including to the U.N. Security Council election and several major economic forums. Instead, AMLO has preferred to stay in Mexico, traveling from state to state promoting his domestic agenda.

Even though AMLO’s critics have encouraged him to take international trips in the interest of Mexico, this is one that most experts agree is a mistake. They’re skeptical that the meeting will be beneficial at all to Mexico.

In a tweet, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhán, called the potential visit “a big blunder and a mistake,” saying that Trump would only use the Mexican president as an electoral prop. He also called such a visit “suicidal for Mexico’s long-term and strategic relationship with the United States.”

Former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told Reuters he thought a visit was “a dumb idea” considering it is an election year in the United States.

Complicating matters, AMLO will fly to the U.S. on commercial flights amid a global pandemic.

Credit: Alfredo Estrella / Getty Images

AMLO is well-known as being frugal. He turned the palatial Los Pinos (the formal home of the Mexican President) into a cultural center and instead lives in his own apartment. He drives his own Volkswagen Jetta. And he always flies commercial, wherever he goes. And, apparently, that’s still the plan for his trip to Washington despite a global health crisis.

“I am going to travel on a commercial aircraft,” López Obrador told reporters during his morning news conference. “There is no direct trip from Mexico City to Washington, but you can make a stop. I will arrive a day before the meeting that we will have.”

And for Trump, the meeting would be high stakes given the concessions his supporters will want from Mexico.

Trump literally launched his presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans. Since then, he’s made several swipes at the country and its people and has pursued inhumane immigration policies that have broken families and likely resulted in the deaths of many. Yet to his supporters, he hasn’t done nearly enough on immigration.

Therefore, it’s widely accepted that Trump will use the meeting as a way to advance his political standing with his core supporters and talk up his ‘achievements’ on border security.