Thursday, July 31, 2008

Democrats and the Rest

Good stuff from Samantha Power about Democrats and the future of American foreign policy in a review of Matthew Yglesias' and Peter Scoblic's new books. 

PAN vs. PRI Proposals

Today, in addition to eating my morning broccoli, I read Macario Schettino's economics blog post from El Universal, and I'm feeling a lot more enlightened for it. He goes over the differences between the PRI and PAN energy reform proposals, which are mostly minor, with two exceptions: the constitution of the advisory council, and the level of involvement of private industry and refineries and pipelines. 

In the first, the PRI plan calls for four additional full-time Pemex citizen advisors, to be selected by the president and ratified by the Senate. (Now, the advisory board of 11 is comprised of five union reps and six government officials.) Calderón wants two of them to be part-time, presumably so that they may be prominent businessmen fulfilling a public service. Schettino criticizes the proposed selection procedure, arguing that it would unnecessarily politicize the process. 

The second difference is that under the PRI plan, private businesses would be able to build refineries and pipelines, but not operate them after their completion. Pemex subsidiaries would take over after construction. Schettino says that in terms of policy (though not politics) this is a flawed idea, because it forces Pemex to absorb all the risk. 


John Dickerson has an interesting piece on Slate about John McCain's convention dilemma: what does he do with President Bush, who is ostensibly the foremost party figure, but one less than 30 percent of Americans support? He sees three choices: invite Bush to come with his family and thus dilute some of the anger directed specifically at W, make him a character witness for McCain, or focus on issues where he and McCain have clashed.

I imagine it will be some combination of the second and the third, but I would make sure it is a positive speech. Bush can still be pretty effective when he is gracious and complimentary; praise of Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony three or four years ago comes to mind (I can't for the life of me remember what the occasion was), as well as his congratulations to Nancy Pelosi in the 2007 State of the Union address both come to mind. As an attack dog, it reminds people of why they don't like him: dishonesty, hardheadedness, buffoonishness, et cetera.


Six people, including two girls of 7 and 8 years old, were found executed in Jalisco on the property of Agricultural Secretary Alberto Cárdenas. Condolences to his family. 

Economic Jitters

The papers here are all leading with inflation stories: it's getting worse, though it's far from catastrophic. Thanks to a declining construction industry and a harsher posture toward illegal immigrants in the US, remittances payments are also down 2 percent, which is the first such drop in a decade. All this, combined with zero or very low growth in the United States, might lead one to worry about Mexico's economy, but it's still projected to grow by 2.75 percent in 2008. That's lower than the regional average and well below its potential, but it does indicate an increased economic durability compared with the volatility of years past. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Don't Go to the Light!

Manuel Espino, whose self-aggrandizing antics I wrote about here, says that he wrote his recent book with no less a goal than to save his party from death. Said party, the National Action Party, presently controls the presidency, and has the largest bloc in both houses of Congress, so yeah, clearly without Espino's literary mouth-to-mouth, the panistas would be shopping for headstones. 

Mexico in the News

The latest American media narrative about Mexico, insofar as one exists, seems to be, Mexico: A Bad Place to Be a Civilian. In addition to the Charles Bowden piece from GQ from three posts ago, check out the Washington Post version here, the Houston Chronicle's here

The Dark Knight, Reviewed Irritatingly

Among the more annoying habits of certain movie reviewers is the insistence on inserting politics into everything, not just movies making a discernible political statement. This has been the case with The Dark Knight, which certainly made a few allusions to post-9/11 America, but was first and foremost a superhero flick. As such, reviews of the blockbuster didn't require more than a mention in passing of the War or Terror, a limit which many reviewers ignored. Some manifestations of this are sillier than others, but I'd like them all to stop it. Please? I watch Batman to forget about W, not be reminded of him. Or I guess I could just stop reading those reviewers. 

This is the observation that reviewers should be making: the fight scenes are weak.

Aziz on Referenda

Alberto Aziz Nassif says the problem with Sunday's referendum wasn't the idea but the execution: ambiguous and misleading questions and a lack of consensus about the consultation doomed it to something between irrelevance and farce. (That's my characterization, not his.) I disagree. Referenda can have a valuable role in democracy, but only on simple questions. That's not a slam of José Sixpack; no one who didn't devote hours upon hours reading up on Mexico's energy reform would be able to make an informed decision. Contrast that with perhaps the most famous referendum ever --Chile's defiant "No" to Augusto Pinochet in 1988-- and you get a good idea of the sort of gut-level questions for which a referendum makes sense. Perhaps the principle should be, if you can summarize the positions and the basic case for pro and con in a 90 seconds or less, than a referendum makes sense. If you can't, it doesn't. 

Vignettes from Bowden!

Charles Bowden, author of easily the best English-language book on drugs I've ever read, returns to Juárez for an article for the present issue of GQ. Juárez has descended into violence in 2008, and Bowden says the culprit is not battles between cartels, but the fighting among small-time drug dealers. There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical. One is that Bowden's article, a gripping series of vignettes, includes little in the way of official comments on his hypothesis, and nothing in the way of statistics. Second, 500 people have been killed in Juárez this year, a huge number for a bunch of street-side slingers. The level of intimidation of the police and politicians, which Bowden covers, also seems impossible without the cartels being intimately involved in the violence. Third, right now the cartels are rather famously undergoing a violent reorganization of alliances and smuggling routes, and the Juárez border crossing is one of the country's most important. It's only logical that this would generate a lot of turmoil. And four, Bowden ignores some stories that would contradict his thesis, such as the Zetas --the most notorious of the cartel gangs-- hanging banners in Juárez inviting soldiers to desert and join up with them.

Despite that, it's a beautifully written, thought-provoking piece. Mexico's homegrown drug use hasn't gotten enough official attention; up until Calderón launched an anti-drug use initiative last year, the response was almost always, "It's an American problem, we're just the trampoline." Drug abuse is on the rise in Mexico, which, even if you are unconvinced by Bowden's article, certainly could fuel a surge of violence like that of the late 1980s and early '90s in the US. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oil Polls

Some fun polls in today's Excelsior break down support for Calderón's energy plan by party and by city, covering Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. In each area, the priístas and panistas were for the reform, and the perredistas against, by roughly equal margins everywhere. People who didn't identify with any party were for the reform in Monterrey (by a margin of 57 to 25), for it in Mexico City (47-45), and against it in Guadalajara (36-55). In none of the cities, the three largest in Mexico, did more people oppose Calderón's reform than favor it. When respondents were asked about the reform's various facets one by one, in not one city did those against any of the six proposed changes outnumber those for it. I hope AMLO had a chance to take a look at all this. 

Peña on Marcelo

Marcelo Ebrard 4
Originally uploaded by lcorolla
Yesterday in Washington, Enrique Peña Nieto took a shot at Marcelo Ebrard for announcing his interest in the presidency to an American TV network a couple of weeks ago. I disagree; a little more candor doesn't hurt, especially among Mexican politicians.

What are all these governors doing in Washington, anyway?

And doesn't Ebrard look a lot like Dwight from The Office (although sadly I can't find a photo that truly captures the resemblance)?

Obama in Mexico

Barack Obama is planning a trip to Mexico, according to El Universal, to take place before the Democratic convention begins on August 26. I believe this would be his first trip to a Latin American country. I'm guessing the public reaction will be notably less enthusiastic than in Europe. 

El Peje Fires a Warning Shot

Andrés Manuel López Obrador warns of national mobilizations if an energy reform allowing the participation of private business is passed. The basis for his position is the consultation Sunday, in which 870,000 capital city residents (out of a Mexico City metro total of some 25 million) charted the nation's future, or AMLO would have us believe. Never mind the number of polls that show a slight majority favoring the specifics of the Calderón reform. 

It'll be interesting to see what happens if PRD legislators take over congress again should the PRI and PAN pass a reform they view unfavorably. The voices calling for their forcible removal will surely be louder this time. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Prez

El Universal provides weekly column space to --among other random figures like actress Edith González, whose writing rarely comes within miles of coherence-- José Sulaimán, president of the World Boxing Council. Sulaimán spent this week's piece tearing apart the idea of an Oscar de la Hoya-Manny Pacquiao bout, on the basis that the size difference would be too much to make the fight legitimate. He goes as far as to call the proposed scrap a "joke" and "an affront not only to the boxers, but to fans of the world of boxing." He also laments "those people who are only interested in money are trying to take over boxing," although he could have been speaking about himself there. 

Strong words. Given that this is the biggest bout you could make in boxing (with the possible exception of Klitschko vs. Klitschko), this is an odd argument to hear from a guy who benefits from boxing being popular. As to the size difference, Oscar is bigger but no insurmountably so. In short, the argument is dubious. Sulaimán must have an ax to grind, but I have no idea what it is. 

And, as long as we're on boxing, belated congratulations to Antonio Margarito for his win on Saturday in one of the most entertaining fights of the year. Hopefully, they'll do it again. 

Mexico's Medical Problem

Ricardo Raphael compares Mexico's drug problem to fighting a metastasized cancer, and says President Calderón's strategy --which he compares to a big knife-- is more apt for attacking a tumor. The metaphor is imperfect, but his basic point is correct. 
In Mexico, there are regions in which the society and the economy have been "narcotized." This doesn't been that they've been overcome by drugs but rather that their daily functioning can't be conceived of without the role that drugs play in the community relationships. 

Those that put in motion Calderón's [anti-drug] operation knew this fact. They well knew that they weren't going after a solitary tumor, but rather against an extended cancerous web well rooted in the social body. 
The thing is, even accepting Raphael's conclusion, I'm not sure that makes Calderón's strategy wrong. Whether the society is indistinguishable from the drug trade or only partially dependent on it, the first step still needs to be weakening the cartels. You can disagree with tactics, but there is no victory that isn't predicated on lower-profile, more defensive trafficking organizations. In any event, there's no Looking for Relative Victories while Losing the War on Drugs for Dummies that Calderón or anyone else can consult, so everybody is traveling without a map. 

More on the Referendum

My opinion on the aforementioned vote and the PRD's tactics in the oil reform debate is here


About 870,000 Mexico City residents turned out to vote in the referendum on oil reform yesterday, far less than the 1.3 million the local government had expected. PRD leaders blamed the shortfall on the federal government inhibiting voters. According to exit polls, 84.7 percent voted "no," though I'm not sure how that breaks down into the two questions. 

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Because Hitler Was Taken

The goalie of Brazil's beach soccer team, following the age-old tradition of the nation's stars adopting a one-word nickname, calls himself Mao. He's quoted here

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Acosta: Referendum Means Little

Guadalupe Acosta touched on another basic problem with tomorrow's energy referendum in an interview yesterday: the provisional PRD leader admitted that it's meaningless. Unlike California, where the people use referenda to make a wide variety of decisions, in Mexico City it's just for show. As Acosta said, it's nothing more than a way of familiarize itself with the opinion of the people.  Since there is no shortage of opinion polling about the subject in Mexico, the consultation --conceived as a way to learn about Mexico's opinion-- is redundant, and totally unnecessary. 

I wonder if Acosta's comments were meant to lower the temper of the post-consultation, post-reform climate. Since it's a virtual certainty that the Mexico City referendum will result in an implicit rejection of Calderón's reform proposal, and since it's a virtual certainty that legislation resembling the Calderón plan will end up passing, it's interesting that Acosta was so clear in rejecting the significance of the referendum. He also spoke positively of a Thursday meeting with PRI President Beatriz Paredes and PAN President Germán Martínez that dealt with the reform. This all makes you think that the PRD, seeing the writing on the wall, is looking for a way to save some face before the inevitable reform. If so, this would be a welcome switch toward pragmatism, although the more extremist reaction within the party will surely differ from Acosta's. 

Chatty Folks

Mexico has 71 million cell phone users, out of a total population of 107 million. When you factor in the fact that roughly 20 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty, and around 45 or 50 million are below the poverty line, that's quite a number. 

Bitchin' about Bureaucracy

In Torreón, when they give you a parking ticket, the traffic cop unscrews your license plate and takes it with him to ensure that you pay the fine. When this happened to me recently, he also took the screws that kept the plate in place. When I went to pay the fine, they handed over my plate minus the screws. The handyman working for 5-peso tips in the parking lot also had no screws. I went back inside the payment office and complained, and they weren't particularly concerned, neither with my specific plight nor the general unfairness of taking the screws from the cars. No matter what line of reasoning I employed, the collective response (which got louder with repetition) was, "We have no screws." I can't legally drive because my license plate is in my glove compartment. And to begin with, I was actually parked correctly. I hate them all. 

Friday, July 25, 2008


Six people were charged in the murder of Édgar Millán, the chief of Mexico's Federal Police. According to investigators, four more high-ranking federal police officers were in the alleged conspirators' crosshairs. 

Nice Win

Two years after a stunning upset of Chelsea, the MLS All-Stars scored a convincing 3-2 victory over West Ham United. MVP Cuauhtémoc Blanco's goal just before the half was a piece of brilliance. 


Spanish King Juan Carlos and Hugo Chávez have made up. After asking Chávez to shut up at the latest Ibero-American Summit, King JC gave the Venezuelan president a t-shirt emblazoned with the famous phrase (Por qué no te callas?!?), and Chávez responded with an invitation to hang out at the beach. Seriously. 

Odd Mix

Leo Zuckermann says Wall-E is a combination of Blade Runner and Cinderella. I'm not sure if that makes me want to see it more or less.

President of the World

Of course he's not, but given that an American politician's rally in Germany was greeted with a gigantic photo on two Mexican newspapers' front pages, you can see why Obama-philes and Obama-phobes alike might wonder. 

Mike vs. Tony

We're one day away from Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito, and the atmosphere in Torreón, Coahuila is electric. Honestly, there's a lot of excitement about the fight here, which is weird because Margarito isn't terribly well known here, and Cotto isn't Mexican. I reiterate my belief that Cotto will find a way to win, but I am nervous about a couple of factors. One, Cotto's chin, which will be tested more than it ever has. Two, Margarito usually overwhelms smaller fighters. Three, almost everybody is picking Cotto, which seems like a bad omen given that the fight is basically a toss-up (regardless of what Vegas says). All of that notwithstanding, Cotto has shown that he can go 12 barn-burning rounds without tiring, he has improved immensely over the last two years, his chin looks better at 147, and he moves far more adroitly in the ring than Margarito. I think he'll throw a lot of different looks at Margarito, frustrating him en route to a competitive but clear decision win. The fight could end up resembling the second Leonard-Duran bout, in that the tougher guy doesn't get hurt so much as thrown completely off of his game by the better athlete. I also think it could look a lot like King Kong's fight with the Tyrannosaurs in King Kong.

Gancho prognostications is 5-3 on the year. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Limits of Hope

Josef Joffe on why European Obama-maniacs' devotion will be less than eternal:
This, of course, is Europe's favorite dream: a post-Bush America cut down to size and chastened, a meeker and more modest America, a more "European" (that is, a more social-democratic) America, which at last casts off some of its nastier capitalist habits. An America that is a lot more like us Europeans who have forgone power politics and sovereignty in favor of communitarian politics and integration.

This is the canvas Europeans have been painting with wildly enthusiastic brush strokes. If Obama wins, the reality will be different. Sure, President Obama would speak more softly than did Mr. Bush in his first term, but he would still be carrying the biggest stick on earth. He will preside over an America that is still No. 1 and not part of a multipolar chorus populated by Russia, China, India, and the E.U.
I read a similar sentiment several months ago from I think Eugenio Anguiano here in Mexico, and the lesson is all the more important in Europe, where the swooning for Barack "Neo" Obama seems much more widespread. The lack of love for America that comes from resentment of the most powerful and a philosophical disconnect with the rest of the world isn't going to be affected by the White House occupant. Anyone living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is committed to maintaining American superiority and a global military presence, which are the root causes of much of Europe's (and Latin America's) frustration with the US. Obama can make that more palatable, but he's not going to change it.

New York Times headline on July 31st, 2009: Europeans Express Dismay Over More of the Same

Reds vs. Blues

The war of words has begun, sort of. Sir Alex Ferguson called Chelsea too old to compete for a league title. New Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari neglected to fire back, which is disappointing, but Michael Essien did. 

It's been one hell of a summer on the continent, with more rumors and upset than a homecoming dance. Just between the two teams mentioned above, think of the players who could still move to or from one of them: Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Kaká, Robinho, Lampard, Drogba...quite a list. I can't wait for the opening whistle. 

More Oil Info

Some interesting polling from GEA-ISA: 55 percent of Mexicans want Congress to approve Calderón's energy plan, versus 36 percent who do not. Eighty percent of the nation approves of this Sunday's referendum in Mexico City, although 83 percent of the same group could not tell pollsters when the referendum was to be help. Interestingly, there were wide swings on the involvement of private industry depending on how the question was phrased. Forty-five percent of respondents were in favor of private businesses being owners and operators of "pipelines, installations, and equipment to support oil production," but 58 percent were in favor of allowing "businesses to build and operate refineries," and 52 percent supported allowing Pemex to "carry out contracts with private industry for the exploration and development of hydrocarbons."


PAN leaders are reacting favorably to the PRI energy reform plan presented yesterday, saying that it has the same basic thrust as the Calderón proposal. This would seem to make the passage of legislation imminent, referenda and protests notwithstanding. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More Crime Stats

According to an annual poll of violence in pre-marital relationships (who knew there was such a thing?), 15 percent of Mexican youths have experienced a violent incident in their relationship. 


Via Alejandro Gertz Manero, according to a new study by an institution called ICESI (I'm not familiar with it, but it's sponsored by the federal government and the nation's flagship university, UNAM), 12 million crimes are committed in Mexico each year. In 99 percent of the cases, the culprits are not punished. 

Comments from Slim

Carlos Slim weighed in on the energy reform debate, saying that the participation of private companies in Mexico's energy industry is vital. He also criticized the referendum to be held in Mexico City on Sunday, though he spoke favorably of the Senate debate. 

The Other Side of the Electoral Law

Alberto Aziz Nassif wrote yesterday in favor of the controversial electoral reform. The controversy has split the intelligentsia into two factions: Aziz and those who agree with him argue under the banner of the Mexican Association for the Right to Information, while Zuckermann and 14 like-minded colleagues have attempted to sought amparos (a Mexican legal anomaly that delays the action of another party) to block the law's application.

Zuckermann's argument (which I summarize here) is much more reasonable, mostly because he deals with concrete consequences of the law. Aziz, on the other hand, sticks to the abstract: "the reform tries to recover the debate and remove it from the limited logic of the [television] spot;" it "protects fairness as a fundamental value;" and it "protects elections --relatively-- from the domination of the electronic media market."

That sounds like the argument in a grad school Theory of Media Law course. (Does such a course exist? I don't know.) Aziz is rightly concerned about the domination of the airwave by just two TV networks, but the most direct solution is to end Televisa and TV Azteca's duopoly, rather than to severely limit citizens' rights to comment on elections via the country's most important media.

Obama's Sis

Barack Obama's sister was in Mexico last night for a fundraiser in Mexico City. I got an email invitation, and even considered going, until I realized that the $250 wasn't denominated in pesos. 

PRI: We Got Ideas, Too

The PRI is releasing some of its alternative proposals on oil reform this week, now that the "debate" is over. It makes some modifications to Calderón's plan to sell Pemex bonds to Mexicans, including cutting the duration from 11 years to four. I don't know who is the target market for the bonds, but four years seems way too short. If the idea is to give Mexicans a personal stake in the efficient operation of Pemex (rather than simply to raise funds), 11 years, or even 15 or 20, would make more sense. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spying 2K

I came across an older example of Cisen spying on opposition in politicians in Narcotrafico: El Gran Desafío de Calderón, by Alejandro Gutiérrez. 
In the middle of the electoral process a document about Fox and his team that was presumably completed by Cisen circulated among members of the Mexican intelligence community, which was never discredited. 

Titled VFQ [Vicente Fox Quezada]. Life and Work, the report signals that José Luis Reyes has been linked to the Fox family for 25 years, in Guanajuato he had functioned as the representative of the PGR when Fox was governor. This coincided, the document indicates, with the arrival, during the same period, of the kingpin Juan José Esparragoza to the region.  
For a couple of reasons, this is different from the recent scandal surrounding Cisen spying on opposition politicians. First, the Fox report includes a piece of information that truly could be of importance to Mexico's security. Most of the recent reports covered more less sinister info, like connections between Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Barack Obama. Second, this took place in 2000, while the PRI was still in power. As Abelardo Rodríguez demonstrates en La Urgente Seguridad Democrática, during the 70 years of one-party rule, the intelligence agencies conceived of national security as the security of the ruling regime. One would would hope that Mexico's democratic opening would have brought with it a broadened perspective in the intelligence community, but the most recent Cisen scandal makes you suspect that it hasn't. 

Cubans in Mexico

According to official stats, for every ten Cubans who land in Mexico with arriving in the United States as their eventual objective, only one is stopped. From October 2007 to May 2008, 9,000 Cubans made it all the way to the US. 

Cotto Speaks

Via ESPN, Miguel Cotto on Miguel Cotto: 
"The last two years for me were wonderful, because all the people who write about boxing, they saw another Miguel Cotto, not just the Miguel Cotto who can put pressure on opponents," he said. "A Miguel Cotto who can box and move. When you can do those kind of things, people can tell you you're a complete fighter, and those are the kind of fighters people want to see."
Ladies and gentlemen, Cotto talks about himself in the first, second, and third person, all in one quote! And they say he's not versatile! 

I should also note that Cotto is anything but a self-promotor, and he learned English after he became a boxing star; he's not exactly a Puerto Rican Ali. More on Cotto's bout with Antonio Margarito later. 

Moreno on Salinas

Martín Moreno says that Carlos Salinas is positioning himself to play a big role in the presidential elections in 2012. Too bad for Mexico. 

He also has some thoughts on Salinas' relationship with Ernesto Zedillo:
Ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari has always been characterized by two things: intelligence and grudges.
Moreno then runs down some of the memorable grudges that Salinas has acted upon, ruining careers for slights big and small.
Nevertheless, the man who he abhors the most is named Ernesto Zedillo, his successor in the presidency and the so-called favorite villain guilty of all his evils. On various occasions, including in his recent and invisible book, The Lost Decade, Salinas has tried to blame him for the economic catastrophe in 1994, without any success. He also can't forgive [Zedillo] for the fact that Raul, his brother, was sent to prison. With Zedillo, Salinas simply hasn't been able [to overcome the bitterness]. Zedillo today enjoys public recognition as much in Mexico as he does abroad. Salinas is a politician held in contempt in his country. Paradoxically, Zedillo also destroyed Salinas' career. 

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rodriguez on Barack

Greg Rodriguez says that an Obama presidency would likely spell the end of the civil-rights paradigm that has dominated race relations since, well, the civil rights era. This comparison seems particularly relevant. 
It means that Obama is broader than one demographic category. Something similar happened when the very Irish Al Smith became governor of New York in 1918 and the famously Catholic John F. Kennedy entered the White House in 1960. While never forgetting his ethnic base, Smith broadened his outlook and appeal. JFK did the same with Catholics. Smith became Irish-plus; Kennedy was Catholic and a whole lot more. In their cases, their white ethnic and religious identities melded into the broader category of whiteness, and in some ways, they carried their groups with them into the larger whole.

Colombian to Mexicans: Be Patient

The Colombian ambassador to Mexico has an interesting interview in today's Excelsior, which focuses on Mexico's lack of security and conflict among Latin American nations. Much of the questions have a You-guys-are-swimming-and-we're-sinking-please-help-us sort of tone:
But when are we [Mexicans] going to be able to celebrate triumphs against insecurity like you [Colombians] are doing today?
The important thing is that Mexico is taking a few steps that are fundamental.
The recovery of territory, which was occupied by the criminal, is absolutely indicative that there is the presence of [governmental] authority. 

Ebrard: Me in 2012!

Marcelo Ebrard repeats for the second time in as many months his desire to stand for the presidency in 2012, this time in an interview with US-based Univisión. I like the fact that he's not being implausibly coy. Everyone knows he wants it, so why not come out with it? It'll be interesting to see how this piece of news affects the distribution of power in the PRD, as well as Ebrard's relationship with Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Another thing: Ebrard will be the third consecutive properly elected mayor of Mexico City to resign in order to run for president (Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and López Obrador are the others). There have only been three properly elected mayors of Mexico City (it was appointed by the president until 1997). That seems like a bit of an annoyance; Mexico City residents should at least have some hope of seeing the politician they vote into office stay there for the full six years. I don't think any of the three men is to blame, but since the mayoralty of Mexico City is the second most prominent post in the nation, it might make sense to change either the law that requires politicians seeking the presidency to resign from office for the campaign, or the duration of the mayor's term in office, so that it isn't the same as the president's. 

Mirror, Mirror

Obama is too vain, too egotistical, or so says the newest line of attack against him. It may be true, but politically, this isn't going to work. Unless Obama has a public moment of vanity that the voting masses can latch onto (like, it surfaces that he owns 63 vanity mirrors, or the press catches him staring into makeup compact for several minutes), it's simply too abstract. Jumping on one episode, Krauthammer sounds like an angry high school football coach: "What Obama does not seem to understand is that the Brandenburg Gate is something you earn." Maybe it was presumptuous of Obama, but how many people know what Brandenburg Gate is? Two percent of voters? (Also, strictly speaking, is it really something you earn? Who judges it? Is it like a merit badge in Boy Scouts?)

Likewise, Joan Vennochi slams Obama for moving his acceptance speech at the convention to a 75,000-seat stadium, seeing it as a sign of narcissism. Maybe it is (though that seems debatable), but is that the kind of detail that will cause anyone to reject Obama? More likely, those who notice that Obama had some 50,000 more people watching his speech than did McCain will incline toward the Illinois senator. Call it bandwagon politics.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Zepeda

Jorge Zepeda Patterson drills Manuel Espino's new book in today's column: "No one can accuse Espino of being a good writer."

The book, Señal de Alerta, focuses a great deal on the shenanigans of Manlio Fabio Beltrones. Espino implicates Beltrones, perhaps the most powerful opposition politician in Mexico and a likely presidential candidate in 2012, in the protection of Amado Carrillo, the cover-up of the murder of Luis Donaldo Colosio, and the ascension of Ernesto Zedillo (which, unlike the others, was not a crime). Zepeda wonders if Beltrones is some sort of malign species of Forrest Gump, always in the right place at the right time. 

Here's where Mexican politics can be so frustrating. Espino can make these accusations, and, even if they are wildly exaggerated or categorically false, it won't have much of an impact on his political fortunes. At the same time, Beltrones will surely be able to shrug of these attacks as the ramblings of a madman, so the neither man really suffers, and a lot of books get sold. But Beltrones does have a history here. This appeared in 1997 in The New York Times
Officials said this conclusion was based on a wealth of evidence, including ''highly reliable'' informers' reports that the Governor, Manlio Fabio Beltrones Rivera, took part in meetings in which leading traffickers paid high-level politicians who were protecting their operations.
If he runs for president, Beltrones will be able to paint the Times story as part of the same hysterical smear campaign as Espino's book, even though one is credible and one is not. Accusations of corruption, regardless of their veracity, too often have no impact on anyone, so there's no disincentive against accusing an honest man of being a cartel bagman, and there's no disincentive against actually being a cartel bagman. Mexicans don't really know what to believe, there's never a proper accounting of who did what when and with whom, so this vacuum of truthlessness prevails. And Mexicans, understandably, are perpetually disenchanted with their politicians. 

Chait on Klein

Jon Chait has a lengthy and convincingly negative review of Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Every postmortem of Iraq I've read lays the blame for the fiasco squarely on incompetence and ideology, usually in that order. Klein evidently fingers capitalist greed as the culprit, not just for Iraq, but for virtually everything bad that's ever happened. 
What makes Klein's thesis so odd, and so awful, is that in fact there is an unlimited supply of raw material, an abundant basis in reality, for the sorts of arguments that she wants to make. The last two decades certainly have seen the global spread of absolutist free-market ideology. Many of the newest adherents of this creed are dictators who have learned that they can harness the riches of capitalism without permitting the freedoms once thought to flow automatically from it. In the United States, the power of labor unions has withered, and prosperity has increasingly come to be defined as gross domestic product or the rise of the stock market, with the actual living standards of the great mass of the population an afterthought. Corporations, which can relocate nearly anywhere around the world, have used their flexibility as a cudgel against workers, who do not enjoy the privileges of mobility. Domestic policy has aggressively sharpened income inequalities, and corporations have enjoyed unfettered influence to a degree not seen in a hundred years. And the president did start a war without paying the slightest bit of attention to the country that he would be left occupying or how its people would react.

All these things are true. And all these things are enormous outrages and significant problems. It's just that they are not the same outrage or the same problem. And Naomi Klein's relentless lumping together of all her ideological adversaries in the service of a monocausal theory of the world ultimately renders her analysis perfect nonsense.

Kudos from Allison

Graham Allison, who like many sane people was appalled by Bush's foreign policy for several years, has an oped praising the administration's change of tone on Iran, which follows a more accommodating (and more successful) approach to North Korea. It's not enough to erase the Iraq War, and we're only in the opening stages, but the dissolution of both countries' nuclear arsenals could wind up being one of Bush's most important accomplishments (although it'll inevitably be the accomplishment of his successor, too).

Bush has followed a somewhat Reagan-esque foreign policy path, steadily softening from Crazy Hard Line to Much Less Crazy and More Productive. If I were looking for a stupid sports metaphor to explain this (and I am!), I'd say it reminds me of a wild fastballer who scares everyone with 103 mph heaters behind the head, but is totally ineffective because he walks everybody. When he finds his control, the other team is still scared of him, and only then does he actually start punching guys out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The March election for the PRD presidency has been annulled, after four months of arguing. Not exactly a shining moment for the perredistas. On the other hand, the PAN can't seem to shake its own internal gangfights, either. First, there is the ongoing conflict between Santiago Creel and Germán Martínez. And then, a couple of weeks ago, Manuel Espino emerged from his cave to take shots at the president. As Leo Zuckermann pointed out Friday, the only party not presently beset by internal strife is the PRI.


PAN Deputy Pilar Ortega Martínez was caught cheating on a group project at Harvard, copying a proposal for an electric plant from a from an Energy Department plan. Nice work, Pilar!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy

Anne-Marie Slaughter follows up on Eli Lake's piece, and Fred Kaplan compares Obama and McCain's recent foreign policy speeches.

Cox on Craig

Check out this Swampland post from Ana Marie Cox.

Salazar on Mayhem

Ana María Salazar stops short of calling the recent violence in Mexico the beginning of an era of terrorism, but says the connections with Iran are worrying. Salazar also writes that Iranians have come to instruct in camps just south of the US border. While acknowledging concerns about the veracity of the info, she says all of the recent mayhem ties back to a deeper problem: 
The fundamantal problem is that, just as with all the crimes in this country, you can massacre minors, you can use car bombs, ad ou can take hostages, and nothing happens. Why then should we be surprised that terrorists come to Mexico to give classes, as is the case elsewhere in the world. Who's going to stop them?


A number of panistas have proposed to allow reelection of legislators, which is presently outlawed at every level. Non-reelection is a hallowed principle in Mexico (it even makes an appearance in the national anthem), but it's outlived its usefulness. Whereas previously the prohibition helped prevent dictatorships and bring the Mexican Revolution to a definitive end, now it makes governors, deputies, and senators beholden to party leaders for their next job, not to their constituents. 

We Were All Wrong

Salvador García Soto has a column in El Universal detailing the government's push to arrest El Chapo Guzmán as soon as possible: "The government of Calderón knows that this is the moment to try to catch a capo of El Chapo's size." Like many of the successful arrests of big fish, the army, rather than a branch of the federal police, will be in charge. 

A year and a half ago, Ricardo Ravelo, probably the most prolific journalist on the narco beat, wrote a book called Maldita Herencia in which he referred to El Chapo as the government's preferred kingpin. A lot of people were saying the same at that point. It just goes to show how little anyone knows about the drug wars here, even those who know a lot. 


The PRD is looking for an electoral alliance with PRI in advance of the 2009 mid-term elections. I bet they are. The question is why the PRI, which seems like the party best positioned to take a major leap forward in 2009, would want to go near a group with a brand as toxic as the PRD's. I bet they wouldn't. They'd be better off campaigning with this guy as a mascot. 

Update: I forgot to mention that the alliance is limited to local races rather than a grand national strategy. That makes more sense from the PRI's standpoint, but it still seems like a bad play. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Praising with a Mild Condemnation

Jon Chait on McCain in the White House: 
The Bush presidency is like being married to a sociopath. A McCain presidency would be more like being married to a drug addict--however badly he behaves, he could always sober up.


El Universal sees the recent wave of violence in Sinaloa --which has included car bombs and seemingly unprovoked attacks on innocents-- and revelations about connections between cartels and Middle Eastern groups as a sign that Mexico is heading toward an era of narcoterrorism. I'm not so convinced. Car bombs are not entirely new in Mexico -- there's a good anecdote about a failed car bomb plot from the 1990s in The Cartel, by Jesús Blancornelas. I also think that it's premature to read too much into the training of Mexican hitmen in Iran (unless El Universal knows more than it is reporting).

There are also important differences between Colombia in the 1990s and Mexico today. First, the Colombian jungle is much further removed from any remnant of government control than any comparable area of Mexico. Second, Mexican drug networks are much looser and more independent than the hierarchical Medellín Cartel that Pablo Escobar operated. If the government were at the point of taking down El Chapo Guzmán, he wouldn't be able to turn each one of the cells associated with his network against it the way Escobar could. Instead, many of them would just look for a better deal under the umbrella of other cartels (hence the constantly shifting loyalties among different groups in Mexico). 

In any event, I agree with this point about the response from the government: 
We don't want them to tell us anymore that the situation is like this because the government is winning the war against drug trafficking, nor that it is a reaction to the blows that organized crime has undoubtedly received. 
Even if there's a kernel of truth to that optimistic explanation, there's no way to prove it in the near term, and it just sounds tone deaf.

Drug Sub

A mini-submarine coming from Colombia and presumed to be carrying cocaine into Mexico was stopped about 150 miles off the coast of Oaxaca yesterday.

Diaz Hurt

Best of luck to welterweight Oscar Diaz, who is in critical condition after suffering a subdural hematoma in a fight last night against Delvin Rodriguez.

Calderón's Problems

Here's an article about the challenges facing Felipe Calderón this summer. Interestingly, the author, who is writing from Mexico City, seems to see the problems in the following order of importance: stalled energy reform, an unfavorable economy, and a raging drug war. From a northern viewpoint, I'd say it's the opposite; the mood of people up here hinges most directly on the executions and kidnappings, or absence thereof.

More DEA Implications

According to a classified DEA report, Sinaloa cartel hitmen received weapons training in Iran, and Juárez hitmen learned from the FARC. Assuming the report is true, it doesn't really tell us a whole lot. Unless the DEA is suggesting an operational relationship or some sort of militant indoctrination, I don't think there is a whole lot of difference between them receiving training in Iran rather than Israel. They come back to Mexico to wreak havoc just the same. Just like the report of cartels doing business with Hezbollah in South America, this seems to fit into a blatantly political and misleading pattern of talking up the threat of the Mexican cartels by tying them to other enemies of the United States. The cartels are a national security threat to the United States, not to mention Mexico, but not because they have some very limited links with Middle Eastern groups. 

This also fits with the general pattern in the Bush administration of conflating rather than separating our enemies. It may help for the next round of Mérida Initiative funding (Mexican cartels+Islamic terrorists=more money), but why try to create a connection that doesn't really exist? Why try to join in anti-Americanism two groups that are so separated by philosophy, strategy, and geography? How is that in the nation's interest?

Lots to Criticize

On, Álvaro Vargas Llosa has a thorough takedown of the Hugo Chávez's misiones, his social programs aimed at the poorest Venezuelans. It it covers a lot of the same ground as this forceful essay in Foreign Affairs by Francisco Rodríguez earlier this year. 

If that's not enough Chávez for this Thursday, check out this on-line debate between Andrés Martínez and Angelo Rivero Santos, the deputy chief of mission at the Venezuelan Embassy.

Among the highlights, this from Martínez:
The rush to accept the status quo once Chavez had been temporarily deposed did raise questions about U.S. intentions and fed conspiracy theories about U.S. involvement. So on that point, I agree with you.

Which is good, because your second point is, well, absurd. To say that Venezuela supports the war on terror but opposed the military action against Afghanistan would be like me saying I am leading the charge against lung cancer but smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

Chabat on Spying

Jorge Chabat has an interesting take on the almost-espionage scandal in Mexico:
Many of the methods and customs from the PRI's era persist. The form in which politics is done is the same. The politicians use double speak. They talk to Juan so that Pedro hears. They accuse and counter-accuse with out giving proof. But it doesn't matter. They know their game.

This seems to be what is happening with the "espionage" scandal of Senator Beltrones, which led the Permanent Commission of Congress to request the removal of the Cisen director for having "lost confidence." This also seems to explain the declarations of the director of the agency, Guillermo Valdés, who said that drug money could have infiltrated Congress. Curiously, in neither case is there any proof.
This is a bit like what Jorge Fernández Menéndez was saying last week, and Chabat is surely right. Some degree of this kind of linguistic shadow boxing is probably inevitable in any democracy, but the less of it the better. It's easy to see how Mexicans, hearing about governmental spying and drug money in Congress and having little hope of ever finding out what is really going on, would quickly become cynical. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Manuel Espino: Superhero

Manuel Espino claims credit for stamping out Marta Sahagún's presidential ambitions, which is, truth be told, a bit like a basketball coach claiming credit for not playing Yao at point guard. But Espino won't let the utter impossibility of Sahagún having won knock him from his high horse. No sir!
I stopped Marta Sahagún...

In my desperation, one fine day I got into trouble because I turned myself into the voice of may panistas and millions of Mexicans that were upset because the first lady, in some confused way, was allowing people to think that she would seek to be a candidate for the presidency.

And I, Manuel Espino, stopped her!
Those quotes are not made up, I promise you. Espino went on to congratulate himself for defeating the Joker in The Dark Knight.

A Pair of Questions

The two questions to be asked in the Pemex referendum are set: 
1) Presently, the exploitation, transport, distribution, storage, and refinement are activities performed exclusively by the government. Do you agree or disagree that private businesses should participate?

2) In general, do you agree or disagree with the approval of the initiatives related to the energy reform that are presently being debated in Congress?
Pemex has raised some issues about both. The second question is misleading because the energy debate actually involves several different reforms. If a person, after taking the time to study and weigh the myriad proposals, finds himself in favor of the reform to the fiscal regulations but against the creation of citizen bonds, how does he properly answer question 2?

The first question is even more flawed, because it is based on a lie. Private businesses have worked with Pemex since the nationalization in 1938; in just the past eight years, Pemex had 40,000 different contracts with outside firms. The PRD, whose Mexico City government is behind the referendum, should know this as well as anyone, since Pemex's lucrative contracts with the private business of relatives of Secretary of the Interior Juan Camilo Mouriño is a big bone of contention for them.

Of course, such problems were the inevitable consequence of this silly scheme. The energy debate is too complicated to dumb down to a pair of simple yes-or-no questions. That's why we have representative democracy.

La Doctora Melfi

Excelsior has an article today about drug traffickers in Sinaloa and their shrinks. Evidently, they usually enter into treatment because of drug problems. (A new word, much, much further along the same continuum as irony, needs to be invented to describe the previous sentence.) The psychiatrist interviewed is remarkably candid, given the subject, telling us that big-time traffickers are typically quite intelligent, have problems saying no to people, and are concerned that drug use will affect their business interests. 

Friedman on the Anti-Americans

I found myself nodding in agreement with Tom Friedman's* column in today's Times.
Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. The U.N. vote on Zimbabwe demonstrates that this is not true for these “popular” countries — called Russia or China or South Africa — that have no problem siding with a man who is pulverizing his own people.

So, yes, we’re not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up.
Insofar as America's poor reputation comes from certain Bush administration policies (Iraq, Abu Ghraib, torture, et cetera), it's a shame, and one that the next president must work to improve. But I don't have a whole lot of patience for people who turn resentment of the United States' global position into the belief that we are no better than a common dictatorship. That's such a stupid sentiment, but one you hear implied a lot. One example: the tagline for the movie The Road to Guantánamo here in Mexico is "The World's Most Inhumane Prison." (I don't think that's the case for the English-language version.) That's simply ridiculous, but no one gets called out on it because it would be defending the indefensible. Another example: not too long ago, I had a conversation with an educated, well traveled man who was arguing that the difference for the rest of the world would have been nil if the Russians had won the Cold War. 

*I think this was Tom Friedman's debut in Gancho. I imagine he's just found out, and he's blushing with pride while waiting for an interview with a 31-year-old Taiwanese billionaire manufacturer of nano-processors. 

Another Media Profile

This time it's Joe Scarborough in New York, joining the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, and Chris Matthews. Were there as many of these in 2004?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking it Worldwide

Two Mexicans were among seven people arrested in Sierra Leone with high powered rifles and more than 600 kilos of cocaine. Sierra Leone, and all of West Africa, is an increasingly important weigh station for drugs on their way to Europe, especially Spain.

Also, Mexidata, via Proceso, has a summary of a new DEA report which details the Mexican cartels' increasing presence in the South American tri-border area, the largely lawless tract of land where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all come together. I can't seem to find the original DEA report, but I am inclined to be skeptical of the report's apparent conclusions about the links between Mexican cartels and terrorist groups like Hezbollah. It's not that I think said links don't exist, it's just that "link" is a pretty vague term. Anything can be a link. I can be "linked" to the traffic cop who pulled me over yesterday, and he may well in some way be "linked" to drug traffickers. But the mere existence of links doesn't mean that the traffic cop is working for the cartels, much less that I am. Likewise, the idea of a meaningful, operational nexus between Mexican cartels and Middle Eastern terrorist groups (i.e., cartels moving terrorists into the United States) seems far-fetched.

And the idea that Mexican cartels are exchanging drugs for weapons with Hezbollah strikes me as not a particularly sinister development. After all, cartels trade in drugs and weapons, as do terrorist groups. The fact that they may do business with each other is worth keeping an eye on, but it's not in and of itself remarkable. It's not a threat multiplier (to use a term that seems like it would be used in Washington, but that I probably just picked up from that Dennis Haysbert show on FX).

Adios Debate

Macario Schettino with farewell shot to the oil reform debate:
The debate that the Senate organized so as to not decide anything in April is about to end. As such, at least three months have been lost. The politically correct will say that it wasn't time lost, because it was important to learn the opinion of the experts and those affected. False. Their opinions we already knew. Those who didn't want a reform still don't want one, and those who did still wait. As far as I can tell, there was no contribution to this process. Nothing was said that wasn't known in April.

In these three months the daily production at Cantarell [Mexico's one mammoth field] has dropped by 200,000 barrels, the gas imports have totaled close to $5 billion, and the total imports of different fuels more than $7 billion. With or without the debate, this would have happened, but we're three months further from resolving the problem. At least three months, because it still remains to be seen if we are capable of deciding. Said another way, we will wait another three months in resolving our problem of lower oil production of crude and higher fuel imports.

That's how the debate cost us $7 billion (lower production, more imported gas), which is some 75 billion pesos. And in return we don't have any new knowledge contributed in the process. And according to declarations, we also don't have any greater sense of political will. We threw away 75 billion pesos. About 700 pesos per Mexican.
It'll be interesting to see the progression of public opinion when the debate formally concludes, but the last I remember seeing, which I think was mid-June in Excelsior, showed that the longer the debate had carried on, the less supportive the public was of oil reform.

Lake on Obama

Eli Lake has an article on the New Republic's website about how he expects Barack Obama to conduct the War on Terror.
Obama will enter office with a set of somewhat inchoate instincts about American power and the importance of outsourcing force. These instincts will mesh with the evolving thinking of his top commanders, who have also begun to realize the limitations of an overstretched army and the value of counter-insurgency. And that brings us back to the situation room on Obama's first day. If he and Petraeus can overcome whatever awkwardness lingers, they will discover a mind meld and an emerging doctrine-- a doctrine that looks a lot more like Ronald Reagan than Jimmy Carter.


Cisen director Guillermo Valdés gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he suggested that some congressmen may be working for drug dealers. Given that Mexico's equivalent of the Justice Department just released a report naming 80 cities whose local governments are controlled by drug traffickers, it's a safe bet that Valdés is right. But if this is some sort of roundabout defense for Cisen's monitoring of congressmen, it falls flat, because it's a month removed from the discovery of the activity. If suspicion about dirty congressman was the reason for the spying, Valdés should have said it from the beginning; now, it sounds more like the excuse du jour. Also, the contract was to keep tabs on legislators' use of a research database; if the goal is to look for dirt, that's not exactly the most direct way to do so. Finally, as Ana María Salazar points out, it's not in good taste to accuse an entire branch of government of corruption in an interview with a foreign newspaper without any proof.

El Peje vs. El Pres

The three months of debate about energy industry are coming to a close, which means the Mexican Congress will soon have the opportunity to pass oil reform. Bad news for el Peje. His latest stalling tactic is to demand a debate with President Calderón. The President, who was an effective debater in the 2006 campaign, will be able to carry out the reform without any such spectacle, and handing López Obrador a soapbox is a really bad idea. Unless Calderón dropped his good sense somewhere in China, there is no way this will happen.

Resistent Marcelo

Alberto Aziz Nassif and Jorge Zepeda Patterson both comment on the exemplary performance of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission in the wake of the New's Divine disaster, contrasting it with the accommodating attitude you see from the National Human Rights Commission. Without the report from Emilio Álvarez Icaza, the affair would have been swept under the rug rather pulled out from it. Hopefully, future ombudsmen, on the national and local level, will take some inspiration from Álvarez Icaza's conduct.

This affair remains a stain on Marcelo Ebrard's record, but after some dallying, I think he handled the aftermath perfectly, in respect to both his political and moral obligations. Politicians often forget that their constituents will forgive a major mistake, as long as they feel like they are getting an honest accounting of the facts, and that the government is committed to exposing the truth. Case in point: 75 percent of respondents in a recent poll (taken just after release of Álvarez Icaza's report, and the subsequent resignations of police chief Joel Ortega and district attorney Rodolfo Félix) said that their opinion of Ebrard either didn't change or improved because of the scandal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fernández Backs Valdés

Jorge Fernández Menéndez wrote a column ridiculing efforts to force Cisen chief Guillermo Valdés to resign. (For background from Gancho, click here, here, here, and here.) He writes:
The complaint from the Permanent Commission of Congress to request the resignation of Guillermo Valdés from Cisen, with the argument that “they’ve lost confidence in him,” is incomprehensible. First, because the job doesn’t depend on the confidence of a group of legislators, and second, and much more important, because they haven’t shown one piece of proof of the reasons that caused the perredistas and priístas to lose confidence in the official.

I don’t know, but it seems the only one who can really know if Valdés does good work or not is his direct boss, President Calderón, but it’s absurd to request the removal of an official arguing that he has “spied” on the legislators, only to later say that in reality the service of a firm was contracted with the idea of constructing a profile of the members of Congress. And worse still when you consider that the problem isn’t that the firm was hired, but rather that it was a relatively newly formed firm. What was the espionage, what was spied, since when can the State not hire a firm to carry out a profile of the legislators?
I plead American on this one; I hear about intelligence agencies spying on opposition politicians, and I think Watergate, and I assume heads will roll. In any event, Fernández’s argument is disingenuous. The profiling itself isn’t what has everyone up in arms; the secrecy is the problem. If it was all about an innocent profile of congressmen, then why all the subterfuge? And why the stonewalling after the fact?

Fernández also weighs in on the document that Manlio Fabio Beltrones revealed last week, which suggested that someone had spied on him:
Manlio Fabio Beltrones is one of the most powerful and experienced politicians in the country, above all in the areas of governance and security. And Manlio knows perfectly well that these “files” are not only absolutely false but also that they circulate, about him and whomever else in the national spotlight, among everyone in the political and journalistic scene. And they’re worthless: in mi files I received, over the years, innumerable “documents” of those characteristics that, simply, can’t be taken seriously. One time I had in my possession a file of myself in which it even described where I lived, with the small detail that the direction given was not mine, I lived far from there, and, obviously, the description wasn’t my house.
That’s interesting, fascinating even, but it’s not common knowledge, so if that’s all there is to it, why haven’t Calderón and the rest been more forthcoming? If we are to believe that this is being blown out of proportion, first we need an honest explanation from the men who are allegedly behind it. Gentlemen?

Nuggets from the War on Drugs

Eight people were killed yesterday in a small town in Sinaloa, including three minors and two 19-year-olds. Four more were injured, two minors among them. The newspaper isn't offering a whole lot of details, other than to say that nothing is known about the aggressors. Following the massacre, the police chief of the town resigned.

Another worrying sign in over the weekend one state over in Chihuahua: Governor José Reyes Baeza has received death threats.

Drug Money

Last week’s Dallas Morning News editorial chastised Congress for authorizing only one year of Mérida Initiative funding.
Buried inside the $162 billion war spending bill recently signed by President Bush was a $465 million counter-narcotics aid package for Mexico and Central America. That's a far cry from the full $1.6 billion that the House and Senate need to approve immediately for the president's Mérida Initiative.

Members of Congress who aren't from border-area districts might need reminding about why this funding is so important. Drug gangs are marauding through Mexican border cities, killing police, kidnapping hundreds of people, shooting up streets and using terror tactics – including beheadings and torture – to instill a sense of fear and submission.
Congress should have gone ahead with all three years of funding, but the editorial assumes that money is the missing link to winning the war on drugs in Mexico, which is incorrect. Weakening the cartels requires, first and foremost, an end to governmental protection of drug traffickers. American money can help, but it’s not going to be the difference-maker. Much more important is the honesty, will, and patience of the Mexican governing class, which doesn't hinge on American aid. I’ll cede the floor here to Mexico’s foremost chronicler of the drug cartels, Jesús Blancornelas, writing in his 2005 book, En Estado de Alerta:
Everyone knows it: kidnapping experts are from Nayarit, and they take refuge in the north. But they collect the ransom in Guadalajara. Hitmen are transported from Sinaloa to Baja California. The same thing happens between Guadalajara and Morelia. El Chapo Guzmán has garrisons in Sinaloa, Tepic, Puebla, and Vercruz. There are kidnappers grabbed in Guerrero. They jump to Oaxaca and Chiapas. They move when they want for one reason: the police protect them.

That’s why confronting delinquency isn’t a question of money…I insist: you combat delinquency with intelligence and loyal men. Not with money.


Last week closed with a couple of interesting stories about Medellín, Colombia, one from the Washington Post and the other from International Crisis Group. Both articles offer a guardedly optimistic picture of a city that has largely overcome its notoriously violent past. The Post story attributes this to export-led growth driving the local economy, and warns that the defeat of the Colombia free trade deal could push the city back toward chaos.

The ICG piece is more circumspect, offering a number of different reasons for the increase in livability (I can’t believe that’s a word), but also noting that in recent years crime has risen. This paragraph stood out:
There is also the problem of drug-trafficking, which continues to haunt Colombia. The kingpin, Escobarian style of centralised distribution may be gone, but cocaine is still flowing on a massive scale through more cellular structures. The enormous resources spent internationally every year on interdiction and crop eradication - including the perennially flawed policy of aerial spraying, which is now failing to stem opium production in Afghanistan, too - have little effect in containing, far less curbing, the problem. Colombia still leads the world in cocaine exports; imports are increasing in Europe and in emerging drug markets like Brazil, Argentina and Chile, while stable over several years in the US. All the huge sums Washington and Europe have made available to Álvaro Uribe, Colombia's president, for use against the drug-money-fuelled Farc and other armed groups have been ineffective in staunching the flow.
That doesn’t read as glowing praise, but as far as I am concerned, it’s a success story. The absence of the “kingpin, Escobarian style of centralized distribution” and the concomitant disappearance of trafficking organizations’ ability to corrupt and threaten the state on a wide scale are about all we can hope for, whether in Colombia, Mexico, or the Bronx.

Scary Polls

We’re a little less than a year from the congressional elections in Mexico, and recent polling shows that the outlook is grim for the PRD, just as Germán Martínez predicted. Via Leo Zuckermann, Consulta Mitofski found that 13 percent of respondents pledged a vote for the PRD, while 25 percent were leaning toward the PAN and 27 toward the PRI. Mitofski divided the country into four regions, and the PRD wasn’t leading in any one of them. The 32 percent who remain undecided offer some consolation for the perredistas, but, needless to say, they have their work cut out for them.

For the PRD, the gallos are coming home to roost. It’s been two years of self-inflicted wounds: refusing to get over the 2006 election, the anarchic (and still inconclusive) elections in March for party leadership, the taking of the congressional building, the continued legislative obstruction, et cetera. What do these guys have to offer besides chaos and confrontation?

Unaccountable Pols

Read about 'em here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Army and the Media

Jorge Luis Sierra has an insightful column about the army's struggles to improve public morale in Juárez, and the ensuing battles with the local media. 
We may now be seeing a governmental strategy to maintain support from public opinion for the operations against drug trafficking. Nevertheless, to conceive of the relationship with the media as a theater of operations in which there only exist allies and enemies represents dangerous ground for everyone.

The Times on Mexico

There's a long profile of Genaro García Luna, Mexico's secretary of public security, in The New York Times Magazine this week. These three paragraphs struck me as extremely relevant:
Later, I asked García Luna if this was an acceptable definition of success in the war on drugs: violence down, the police seemingly in charge, the cartels operating less conspicuously and less violently. He ducked the question but did not dispute the implication. “Given the temptation,” he said, “there are people who are always going to play the game, whether by airplane or helicopter, by land, by sea, because there is a real market. ... There is no product like it in the world.” (When I asked David Johnson, the assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, about the reason for mounting drug violence in Mexico, he said, without prompting, “In significant measure, it grows out of violent people taking advantage of the continuing strong demand in the United States.”) García Luna mentioned Colombia, invoking an analogy that Mexican and U.S. officials generally resist. Colombia has received billions of dollars in U.S. anti-drug aid under Plan Colombia, and violence has fallen significantly in the past several years. “Do you know how much the amount of drugs leaving Colombia has gone down?” García Luna asked me. “Check,” he said with a smile. And indeed, by all evidence, there has been no significant decrease in drug flows out of Colombia or in the availability of cocaine or heroin in the United States — and yet, Colombia is considered a success story.

In a recent interview with a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, Mexico’s attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, acknowledged that the objective “cannot be destroying narcotrafficking or drug-related crime.” “Trying to get rid of consumption and trafficking,” he said, “is impossible.” Jorge Chabat explained to me: “The strategy of the government is to turn the big cartels into lots of small cartels. If you have 50 small cartels instead of four big cartels, first you have less international pressure, and second, you will have violence in the short term, but in the long term you will have much less violence.”

Achieving even that goal means changing the balance between the government and the cartels — and that may be a much bloodier task than García Luna and many Mexicans anticipate. The police have uncovered plots against top law-enforcement officials in Mexico City involving grenades and rocket launchers. The attorney general’s office recently released statistics showing that under Calderón’s government, almost 500 law-enforcement personnel — some of them clean, some of them surely corrupt — have been killed in drug violence. One border police chief even sought asylum in the United States. And in recent polls, Mexicans have expressed growing doubt that the authorities are up to the fight: 56 percent say they believe that the cartels are more powerful than the government, while just 23 percent say they believe the government is more powerful than the cartels. But García Luna and his men contend that they will not back down until the cartels have been broken. As Millán told me in Tamaulipas, “They think we will step back, but on the contrary, we will attack them harder.”

Saturday, July 12, 2008


The second installment of the tournament is a few hours from kickoff. Four Mexican teams, four American teams, a million dollars at stake. 

ESPN's summary of the local squad: 
Santos is best known in American circles for being the home of Mexican international (and U.S.-born) defender Edgar Castillo. But Santos also are the reigning Mexican league champions, having defeated Cruz Azul in May 2007 in a two-legged final by an aggregate score of 3-2. Santos' attack is led by Argentine forward Vicente Vuoso as well as Ecuadorian midfielder Christian Benitez. In goal, Santos have Landon Donovan's "favorite" keeper, Mexican international Oswaldo Sanchez.
A less enthusiastic synopsis would require the use of chemicals. How 'bout a shout out to the Laguna? How 'bout running down some of the nicknames: Toro, Homey, Little Hatchet? Also, Benítez's first name is spelled wrong, and for most of last year he was lining up alongside Vuoso at forward. And why is Santos singular in the first sentence ("Santos is") and plural elsewhere ("Santos have")? That's alright, if Santos can get within shouting distance of the level of fútbol that they maintained last year, the American press will catch up. At least, on everything but the grammar. 

Also, I don't know how I missed this, but Oswaldo Sánchez was arrested in Chicago last month


The newest iPhone is here, but the real story is the mass of disappointed Mexicans who went home empty-handed after waiting in line for hours. OK, that's not much of a story. Pretty picture, though.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mexico's Security

The Washington Post has a story about Mexico's Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking.
Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations. Other aspects are still in formative stages, such as fortifying poorly staffed border checkpoints to stifle the smuggling of arms and money into Mexico from the United States.
The details of the plan were secret until Thursday, though the broad outlines were already visible. I think Calderón's strategy has been sound, but I hope this is more than just a six-year, one-administration plan. To that end, it would be nice to see some bipartisan (or, dare I dream, tripartisan) support for the strategy, some indication that every party is committed to carrying on after Calderón leaves office in 2012. Of course, that assumes that the other parties agree with Calderón's program, but really the only controversial element is the widespread use of the army. Since the strategy is based on reducing the use of the army, there's not much to disagree with.

More Blood in Culiacán

Nine civilians were killed by a group of 30 heavily armed hitmen in a Culiacán garage. The article here presents the victims as having no connection with the drug cartels (though that makes you wonder why the commando unit went there in the first place). Three more police officers were killed giving chase.

The article also memorably quotes a police officer on the scene of the murders:
Where's the attorney general? Where's the governor? They're doing away with us to clean up. It's f--ked up...they're killing us all. They're killing us all," continued the furious state police officer, who maintained a strong grip on his AR-15. "Where are the special units? What is it that they do?," the officer continued questioning in a raised voice.

Inducing Anger

The Mexican cartoon character Memín Pinguín is provoking controversy in the States once again. After a dustup over the release of special Memín stamps in Mexico in 2005, now an African-American group is protesting the sale of Memín books in a Houston Wal-Mart.

The problem is how Memín is drawn, with the exaggerated features one might expect from a 1920s blackface routine. Any American cartoonist would be all but booted out of the industry for drawing something similar.

Mexicans say that Memín has nothing to do with the US's troubled racial past. Memín prevails against others' ignorance, and characters who poke fun of his race are always depicted as stooges. As to his features, well it's a cartoon; facial features are always exaggerated. As Mexicans have pointed out, they never once complained about Speedy Gonzalez, which trades in stereotypes much more directly than does Memín.

It's easy to see both sides of this argument. There is nothing overtly racist about Memín; the character only takes on racist overtones when viewed through America's unique racial prism.I don't think there is any racist intent whatsoever in Memín Pinguín's stories, and anyone would be vexed to hear that a beloved childhood icon was racist. If Mexico wants to make and sell Memín stamps in Mexico, that really shouldn't be any of our business.

But the Houston episode is a bit different. The norms of American politeness deem drawings like those of Memín Pinguín offensive. That may be inexplicable to Mexicans, but it's not for them to tell African Americans what is racially offensive. Anything sold at a Wal-Mart in the United States should probably abide by the local customs.

Sanchez on las FARC

Marcela Sanchez weighs in on Colombia in the aftermath of Operación Jaque:
Now is the time for Colombia and its partner, the U.S., to reconsider the present anti-drug strategy. Continuing to spend millions of dollars in pushing impoverished coca farmers around to no avail seems foolish when the money could be much better spent in further strengthening the state. Promoting rural development, helping relocate the millions of people displaced by decades of violence, and shoring up Colombians' respect for the law are more realistic and worthwhile causes.
Here's one idea: why doesn't Colombia pay its farmers to not plant coca, kind of like we pay American farmers to leave their fields untilled? There's a million different reasons why this won't work (too expensive, the coca will just be planted in Peru and Bolivia, there's something unsavory about bribing people not to break the law), but if we we're going to continue with prohibition, then we need to see more creative suggestions. And as Sanchez says, given the upcoming reorganization in Colombian trafficking owing to a weaker FARC, time's a-wastin'.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I don't know whether this will wind up being good news or disaster for the people of Darfur (I'll wait for Nicholas Kristof for that), but of course I hope it's the former. It certainly feels good to read. For a picture of life in Sudan under Omar Hassan al-Bashir, David Eggars' work is, as far as I know, without peer. 


According to Hendrik Hertzberg, Zev Chafets' profile of Rush Limbaugh in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine "is an object lesson in the temptations and perils of 'access.'”
Readers of the Times are already aware that Limbaugh is a very successful “conservative” radio talker. Many of those readers, no doubt, have listened to snatches of his program on their way across the dial to NPR or music. But very few, it seems safe to surmise, are regular listeners, and even fewer are “dittoheads.” What does Limbaugh actually say on the radio? What are his arguments? Are the facts he uses to support them factual? Does he speak truth to power, or (as Al Franken and Media Matters have exhaustively demonstrated) does he speak untruth on behalf of power?

For a magazine profile writer, there are times when “access” is worth having, maybe even worth trading a little puffery for. If, say, the subject is a reclusive movie actor known to the public only as a succession of characters on the screen, then “access” may be the only way to find out what he or she is “really like.” But no writer needs Rush Limbaugh’s coöperation in order to have access to what’s important and interesting about him. The access is there for the taking, in the form of thousands of hours of broadcast monologues. Some attention to those might have made the Limbaugh profile a little more worthy of the newspaper that published it.
And while you're at it, check out Hertzberg's response to Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri's rejection of the National Popular Vote plan, which enjoyed overwhelming popularity in his state. Hertzberg long ago convinced me of the plan. It's simpler, fairer, just obviously better than the Electoral College. None of the arguments against it (I remember one from George Will, but I can't find it) measure up.

Mexican Labor

Excelsior has run a series of stories this week about dastardly union leaders and potential remedies to outdated labor laws. The articles are all designed to support one of two basic premises: caciques, as the labor leaders who operate like mafia dons are called, are thoroughly harmful, for their unions' members, for the economy, basically for everyone minus themselves; the upcoming labor reform should aim to do away with these caciques.

José Antonio Almazán, the PRD politican heading the Labor Commission in Mexico's lower house, says three basic reforms could do an enormous amount of good: 1) mandate a secret and universal vote for union leadership (today it's by a count of hands in public meetings, which, needless to say, engenders pressure); 2) establish a mandatory method of accounting for the union's funds, which would reduce corruption; 3) eliminate the required recognition from the Secretary of Labor for union leaders.

The first and second are obvious no-brainers. The third is a little more controversial. If he so chooses, the Secretary of Labor can act as a vital check on dirty union leaders. A perfect example was Javier Lozano's decision to withdraw recognition of mining leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. Absent this control from the Secretary of Labor, a fugitive exile holed up in Canada would still be pulling the Mexican miners' strings.

Incidentally, Excelsior also has some polling on Lozano-Gómez episode. Seventy-one percent say that the Secretary Lozano did the right thing, and 62 percent said that any retaliation from the miners would be completely unjustified.