Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Around Concacaf

Gio dos Santos is out for the final two qualifiers, thanks to ligament damage to his ankle suffered in a recent Tottenham contest. Mexico's ticket to the World Cup looks to be almost assured following wins at home against the US and in Costa Rica, with games against the bottom two teams --Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador-- remaining. However, losing the team's most dynamic player over the past three months could make things a bit more precarious. 

In the US, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, and Landon Donavan have all been nominated for the national player of the year. I think you could make a pretty good case for each. Also, the US U-20 team took it to Cameroon 4-1 in the U-20 World Cup. A win against South Korea sends us through to the next round, despite being placed in a very tough group and dropping the first game to Germany. 

Equally Competitive

In the wake of the publication of this year's competitiveness rankings from the World Economic Forum, Leo Zuckermann laments Mexico's tendency to stay put (at number 60 this year, the same as last), while competitor nations like Brazil (ranked 56), India (49), China (29), and Chile (30) make strides. One thing that is holding Mexico back is, not surprisingly, organized crime. Indeed, only four of the 133 nations polled rank below Mexico in the category of the presence of organized crime. So beware of people who say that Calderón's crime policies are good for business in the short term.

The Return of the Flu

The second wave appears to be in full force, with some 4,000 cases in Mexico in the past week, across what seems to be a wider geographic area than before. (Although in all honesty I'm basing that presumption only on the fact that people I know have been infected, which didn't happen the last time.) The response from the government appears to be more measured this time around; school closings are less likely, and stadiums will be filled to half capacity rather than closed altogether.


The PAN's Vital Man

Salvador García argues that the new key man in the PAN is longtime party heavyweight and former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos:
Between Diego and the principal figures that today dominate the PRI --from Carlos Salinas to Manlio Fabio Beltrones, along with Beatriz Paredes and the governors-- there is a level of understanding and historic confidence. The PRI-PAN alliances in Salinas' sexenio, when Diego was chief of the PAN caucus in San Lázaro, remain until now the most lasting and influential pact in national politics, despite their electoral conflicts and cyclical disputes and everything else.

"The only panista that we trust to negotiate with, because he gives his word, is Diego," one of the PRI chiefs who remains in power once said. And that's why that Calderón has had to rely on Fernández de Cevallos and his group, despite the fact that at the beginning of the sexenio, Calderón requested that his advisors avoid any contact with the ex-presidential candidate because he felt that his images took points way from the new government.

With the arrival of Fernando Gómez Mont to the Interior it was clear that that distance between Calderón and Diego had ended. But with the much-questioned arrival of Arturo Chávez Chávez to the PGR there is no doubt that the politician with the beard and the cigar is back and his relevance isn't limited to the cabinet, rather he is the symbol and the point of liaison in the new alliance between the PRI of Salinas and the government.
Fernández de Cevallos' influence also helps explain why the initial burst of senatorial opposition to Chávez Chávez petered out.

The Spoils in the Chamber of Deputies

I really liked this picture. The article it accompanies details the divvying up of committees in the Chamber of Deputies. The final tally pretty closely mirrored the vote totals in the July election: 20 of the 44 committees went to the PRI (including the budget committee), 12 to the PAN (including finance), six to the PRD, three to the Green Party, and one each to the Workers Party (which is actually the foreign relations committee, under the stewardship of Porfirio Muñoz Ledo), Convergencia, and Panal.

Making Life Easier for Prisoners

Convicts in Juárez will now be able to communicate with family members who live elsewhere in Chihuahua through IM programs set up at the state prison. Beyond the novelty, this seems like a good idea (although it also seems like something that could potentially be abused). The inhumane conditions in Mexico's prisons earn press periodically, and they help fuel the increasingly common outbreaks of violence.

Pessimism from Pundits

Alberto Aziz Nassif, from yesterday's column:
Everyday the bad news hits the citizens of this country who are passing through very difficult moments. The expectations have become more pessimistic each day. It becomes difficult to imagine that the immediate future could be a little better.
And César Cansino, from Saturday:
Our country suffers from a very grave economic and insecurity crisis. Nobody doubts that. But still graver, much more shameful, is that we citizens don't have expectations for exiting the crisis nor for neutralizing crime and violence.
The above sentiments are quite common among Mexican analysts, and there is most certainly a current of pessimism running from Cancún to Tijuana, but said sentiments are also rote. It's an easy narrative to jump on for a column, but it's far too simplistic to be accurate. More on this later.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ebrard's Reversal

In recent days, DF mayor Marcelo Ebrard had offered some hints that he would get behind Rafael Acosta taking the delegation post job in Iztapalapa, before changing course ahead of last night's announcement that Acosta would cede the post to Clara Brugada. The reason? Carlos Loret reports that after meeting with Acosta, people close to Marcelo Ebrard concluded (and reported to the mayor) that "he's crazy". Ebrard convinced Acosta to step aside based on the argument that a) no political current supported him; and, somewhat worryingly, b) his safety couldn't be guaranteed.

Update: The Times ran a story on Juanito today. Good for them.

Gaming the System

A Guatemalan man living in Massachusetts for 13 years turned himself in to local police and confessed to fraud and identity theft, all in order to secure a deportation order and avoid paying for a ticket home. The details are a bit sketchy but the man has neither a job nor money saved up and said that he was worried that he wouldn't survive the winter. After reportedly confessing to police, he pled not guilty. The above article doesn't say whether he is in the States legally or not.

I was going to use the above as an illustration of how screwed up the US immigration system is, but this is such a bizarre case that I think extrapolating any broad points from it would be unwise.

Agren on the Family

David Agren has a very readable rundown of the Family's religiosity. It opens:
Busloads of teenagers descend on this sweltering agricultural town 500 kilometres west of Mexico City every few months to participate in self-improvement seminars. The seminars supposedly impart values, build self-esteem and condemn vices such as drug use, according to Father Andres Larios, a Catholic priest working with young people in Apatzingan.

Unbeknownst to the participants, a quasi-religious drug cartel known as La Familia Michoacana promotes the seminars and underwrites the expenses.

Accountability, New Mexico Edition

Evidently auditioning for a Raiders job, the head coach of the University of New Mexico football team punched an assistant in the mouth on September 20th. This provoked the following defense from athletic director Paul Krebs: "This does not shake my faith in his leadership whatsoever".

Which begs the question: what would shake your faith? Swinging at subordinates was enough to get Patton hauled out of the Mediterranean, and he'd just conquered Sicily. The Lobos are 0-4, the same coach has a sexual harassment suit pending against him. Is Krebs waiting for the proverbial dead girl or live boy before he reconsiders?

Juanito Polling

This poll from Excélsior, conducted before last night's news, shows that Clara Brugada enjoys the support of 43 percent of Iztapalapa residents, compared to a mere 18 percent for Rafael Acosta. Another 33 percent don't like either, a number that is surprisingly low. Another 53 percent said that Acosta should honor his promise and step aside so that Brugada could take the post.

World's Worst Teacher (Allegedly)

That would be Beatriz Adriana Gómez, who stands accused of plotting kidnappings in the downtime of her job at a grade school in Nuevo Laredo. She was said to be part of a group of seven that was recently arrested by the army.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Juanito Bails

After a meeting earlier today with Marcelo Ebrard, Rafael Acosta announced that after being sworn in as Iztapalapa delegation chief later this week, he will go on a 59-day hiatus, during which time Clara Brugada will run the show. Presumably, she will continue running said show on day 60, 61, 62, et cetera, as well. Laughably, Acosta said that the reason for his stepping down was his health. I should also point out that, contra my supposition last week, Ebrard actually comes out looking rather statesmanlike. 

History Repeating Itself

Here I compare Medvedev vs. Putin to Cárdenas vs. Elías Calles. 


The latest heavyweight to come out against the president's fiscal package --specifically, the 2 percent consumption tax and the increase in the corporate tax-- is none other than Vicente Fox. Instead, he called for a VAT of 15 percent and a reduction in the corporate tax, which would increase investment and allow for greater funding of anti-poverty programs. 

Fox is also in the news as a PRD senator called for the elimination of the presidential pension that pays Fox, Zedillo, et al roughly $140,000 per year. I believe that the argument for a presidential pension is that it protects the dignity of the office by removing the necessity for ex-presidents to, say, trade on their name in television commercials. Plus, you could argue that it removes the temptation for corruption in office. In the scheme of things, it's not a huge some of cash, but both of these seem like weak arguments to me. The presidential pension wasn't much of a disincentive against corruption for Mexican presidents throughout the 20th century, from Alemán to Salinas. And while we are all thankful that Vicente Fox hasn't appeared in any Corona ads, it's not like that has made him a picture of dignity since he left office. Furthermore, misbehavior while in office does a lot more to cheapen the office than does earning a living afterward

Chabat on the Subway Shooter

Jorge Chabat on the Mexico City subway shooter and what it says about the nation:
"As to the event that transpired with the two deceased people in the metro station, it was because they repressed me from broadcasting the truth." That is the simple explanation of Luis Felipe Hernández Castillo, the man who killed a civilian and a police officer at the Balderas metro stop, once the latter objected to him making paintings on the walls of the station in question.


The worry thing about all this is that the justification of his conduct that the murderer makes reflects a vision of daily life and of politics that is tremendously ingrained among the Mexicans. In fact, it's something that is taught since elementary school: the ends justify the means. That's how violence is exalted as a way to resolve conflicts with the argument that the pursuit of justice legitimizes any instrument. The torture and deaths inflicted on other human beings are the collateral and irrelevant cost before the greatness of the cause: Independence, Revolution, the struggle against tirany. As such, the walls around Congress have in letters of gold the names of people who in this age would be on the lists of the most wanted by the International Court of Justice and of human rights organizations. The reasoning is always the same: they were cruel and murderers because that was the nature of the era and because the enemy was the same. It's the same argument of those who today strike out against the rights of the rest, based on the justice of their cause. It's the argument of those who take over public institutions, kidnap busses, light cars on fire, block avenues, or set bombs: the crimes of the government are greater; the "bombs" of the government, like the fiscal adjustments, are more harmful than the bombs in banks or oil pipelines.

There may be something to the assumption, but I don't think the Balderas murders are the best supporting example, since the shooting provoked such universal horror among Mexicans. For that matter, most of the ends-justify-the-means extremism in Mexico, even that which stops well short of terrorism (i.e. takeovers of public buildings), inspires much disdain for the actors, but there's no question that a significant current of this philosophy infects Mexico's politics.

I'm also not sure that the celebration of deaths for a worthy patriotic purpose (as well as the exaltation of shady "great men") is a particularly Mexican phenomenon. I believe that I learned in high school that there were some 500,000 American deaths in World War II, but the factotum was used to show what an awesome (in both senses of the word) conflict it was, rather than a war that caused half a million separate American tragedies. Likewise for other American conflicts, including the ones far less noble, far sillier than World War II.

Obama in the Americas

Mitofsky's annual poll of heads of state is out, and it places Obama with a starkly middling 52 percent approval rating among citizens of the Western Hemisphere. Felipe Calderón checked in with 62 percent approval. The highest rated leaders were El Salvador's Mauricio Funes (84 percent approval), Brazil's Lula (81 percent), Michelle Bachelet (78 percent), Ricardo Martinelli of Panama (77 percent), and Álvaro Uribe (70 percent).

Calderón's Coattails

As is mentioned quite regularly among Mexican political junkies, Calderón remains quite popular, even though his party tanked over the summer and much of the country remains convinced that Mexico is on its way to being Somalia Redux. To explain that paradox, some people argue that Calderón actually does have coattails, and the PAN would have performed much worse in July had it not been for the president.

Looking to poke a hole in that theory, José Antonio Crespo recently analyzed the PAN's electoral performance in states where Calderón is highly regarded, and determined that even in those areas, the PAN mostly declined from 2006 to 2009. This doesn't entirely negate the coattails-do-exist argument (it remains possible that it would have been worse without Calderón in office), but it certainly does undercut it a bit. One of the places he mentioned was Coahuila, where (in Torreón, at least) I think the lack of presidential coattails comes from the fact that the dissatisfaction with the local PAN is much more profound than the approval of Calderón's performance. In places where the PAN has governed locally in recent years (Guanajuato, Querétaro, Jalisco), I imagine a similar dynamic is at play.

Cleaning Up

In some of his first comments as the new attorney general, Arturo Chávez Chávez talked about the need to continue uncovering corrupt elements in the PGR. If those remarks are an accurate reflection of his priorities, bully for Chávez.


El Universal had a piece yesterday on the growing youth movement among Mexico's criminals. That's something I've been hearing a lot of, both anecdotally and in the media. (A lot of it also owes to this horrible crime, in which a deranged 16-year-old killed a Tabasco politician and his family a few weeks ago.) Usually it's a cause for fear, i.e. what does the future hold if 14-year-olds are willing to rob and rape and kill? I think it also demonstrates that Mexico's criminal ills are much more complex than just the Zetas, Chapo, and La Familia. More so now than five years ago, the insecurity is an organic phenomenon.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Castro's Sister

I'm not sure whether this is an embarrassing lapse of knowledge or a widely unknown nugget, but Fidel Castro has a sister who has been running a drug store in Little Havana for much of the past four and a half decades. Evidently, Juanita has a book coming out about life as a dictator's little sis. 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Torreón Campaign Signage

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the PRI campaign to unseat the PAN from Torreón's mayoralty employs a slogan that pretty well captures the city's spike in violence: Let's Rescue Torreón. As it happens, the PT was thinking along similar lines, though their campaign is much less likely to deliver a victory: Let's Recover Torreón.
And the PAN's slogan? Well, obviously, neither Let's Win Back Torreón nor We Didn't Lose Torreón was going to work, but I think they could have done better than, Ya Rugiste León. Ya rugiste león is a phrase that literally means, "You really roared, lion", but in colloquial use is closer to, "Tell us how you really feel", or something like that. It plays on the last name of the PAN candidate, Chuy de León, which is kind of neat in a middle-school project sort of way, but it inspires no future commitment nor does it have anything whatsoever to do with Torreón's present problems. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Arrests in Juárez

The army arrested five people for their involvement in the recent mass killings of addicts in Juárez. As you can see, apparently the army has taken to dressing their arrestees as sanitation workers.

Disappearing Police

Genaro García Luna suggested yesterday that municipal police departments be merged into a centrally controlled federal body. There's a surface appeal to this idea: local police bodies are cesspools of corruption, while the Federal Police are generally thought to be more honest (though by no means is corruption absent at the federal level). At the same time, local police aren't inherently corrupt; they just have insufficient controls, low salaries, very little esprit de corps, and poor morale. Remove those problems, and police corruption will become less of an issue, regardless of whether the department's political bosses work in city hall or in Mexico City. Conversely, a police merger that fails to address these issues, and neglects to go after the already existing bad apples in a systematic way, risks corrupting the relatively clean Federal Police.

Heavyweight Clash

Anyone who's going to take down Vitali Klitschko is going to have to employ a heavyweight version of Julio César Chávez's style: hit the body a lot (which is more open than his face), and be willing to take two or three punches to land one. I just don't see anyone out there now beating Klitschko from a distance; Klitschko's jab is too good, and he's too adept at leaning back, just out of his foe's range. Cris Arreola, is opponent on Saturday, has a better chance than anyone else I can think of employing that infighting strategy. He'll let his hands go, he'll come forward, and I think he'd risk a knockout rather than be allow himself to be picked apart on his way to a boring UD loss. Then again, there's a reason he's +800 in Vegas. Even if he can take a round or two or even four pressuring Klitschko, what have we seen from Arreola to suggest that he can go twelve rounds against Klitschko? He's never gone more than eight rounds, and rarely goes more than four. And that's against middling competition; what happens when he tires, and he starts getting whacked by one of the most relentless punchers in the sport? Nothing good, in my opinion. Arreola is aggressive enough and a hard enough puncher to warrant hope, but all of the above adds up to a mid-round stoppage.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Arturo Chávez Chávez has been confirmed as the next attorney general of Mexico. Seventy-five senators voted in favor of his confirmation, and 27 against, including the entire 26-person PRD bloc.

Blaming the Gabachos

From Mayor José Reyes Ferriz of Juárez:
He said that [tolerance of celebrity drug use, i.e. Michael Phelps] "sends the message to Americans that the use of drugs in the US is OK, but not the traffic of drugs from Mexico, and that's why the US must adopt coherent policies with a position that deals with a shared problem".

He added that given the above, both nations must have policies that transcend borders, "the present American administration recognizes that this is a mutual problem, and it is confronting it as a bilateral topic, but I don't think that we now have a policy that is coherent with that".
I'm sympathetic to his predicament, given that he is a man whose city has gone to hell (I'd like to write "quite literally" here, but of course that isn't true; however, figuratively, Juárez has gone to hell to a degree much more significant than, say, New York under Ed Koch) and whose life is at no small degree of risk because of American addicts. At the same time, the sentiment is sorely misplaced.

First of all, the statement is premised on the idea that the US is not acting with a firm hand as it is. There are some developed nations whose drug policies are stricter than the US's, but there were, by one count, 60,000-85,000 people behind American bars for marijuana crimes. Famously, the US imposes penalties for crack use that are 100 times harsher than the corresponding penalties for cocaine. The US has never struck me as having a particularly lax drug policy. And, of course, Mexico just decriminalized drug possession (in small amounts), which makes Reyes' comments seem a little bit hypocritical.

In any event, to help Juárez, the US needs to have less addicts and drug users, and of course there's no real proof that, staying consistent to our ideals (i.e., not executing people for smoking pot), a hard line does much to lower drug use. If he's just making a rhetorical argument about the US being hypocritical, well, that's a perfectly reasonable point, but again, locking Michael Phelps in jail isn't going to do much for Juárez.

Rigging the Game When You Shouldn't Need To

Another reason to hate Man U, which are in shorter (though by no means short) supply now that el Señorito is at Real.

Defending Juanito

Marcelo Ebrard has come out in defense of Rafael Acosta's legal right to be seated as the Iztapalapa borough chief. This implies something of a break with AMLO, since Acosta's ambitions constitute a broken promise to AMLO (to step aside for AMLO's preferred candidate) and a thumb in the ex-presidential candidate's eyeball. I've seen no response from AMLO so far. Though the AMLO-Ebrard break has long seemed inevitable, Acosta seems like a sort of odd place to mark his independence, given that regardless of who winds up in the seat, the whole thing is a bit of an embarrassment. Perhaps Ebard chose Acosta to combat the submissive image Ebrard projected before AMLO when the Acosta-Brugada-Oliva episode kicked off in June.

Calderón at the UN

Mexico's president argued for the ratification of an arms traffic treaty in New York today, pointing out that for all the rightful attention to WMD, small arms kill 1,000 people every day.


Alejandro Martí is unconvinced that the man arrested yesterday, Abel Silva, is in fact the leader of the band that kidnapped and murdered his son, as the Federal Police claimed. Given all the claims later proven false over the course of the last fourteen months or so, I can't say I blame him. What a sorry saga.

Bad Idea

This has to be the lamest (and least appealing) promotional hook for a prize fight ever conceived:
Evander Holyfield has no intention of hanging up his gloves. In fact, he'll have a new nickname the next time he climbs into the ring.

The Real Deal is now the Lean Green Fighting Machine.

Refusing to give up on his goal of retiring as heavyweight champion even as he approaches his 47th birthday, Holyfield said he'll travel to South Korea in November for his next bout -- he's not even sure of the opponent -- and bring along a message of preserving the environment.

Boxing, it seems, has another odd partnership.

"I guess I'm lean and green," Holyfield said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I'm pretty much going to do all I can to fight against global warming. I'll see what I can do to help and try to help other people who want to do the same thing."

What the PAN Is Missing

The PAN turned 70 year old at some point in the past couple of weeks, which has occasioned much commentary about the dire straights in which the party finds itself. Leonardo Curzio says it has lost three basic elements (paraphrased):
1) The ability to understand and measure popular concerns.

2) The deeper theoretical or philosophical debate beyond merely winning elections.

3) The grass-roots strength at the local level, and the corresponding focus on building local institution.
The first one is hard to measure accurately, and I haven't been in Mexico long enough to perceive a real change on that score, but it's definitely something you hear a lot, notably from Vicente Fox. The second two definitely ring true; it's easy to go overboard about parties needing ideas (in 2004 the Democrats were consigned to a permanent minority status because of their lack of them, if you remember), but some debate over a party's philosophy is surely a sign of health, and the PAN has virtually none. Nor do the PRI or the PRD engage in much vigorous philosophical debate, for that matter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Big Arrest

The leader of the gang who kidnapped and murdered Fernando Martí has been arrested by Federal Police in the State of Mexico. I feel like I've read that story many times before. Incidentally, I read that the arrestee uses the nickname El DiCaprio.

Itchin' to Move

One out of every three Mexicans would move to the US if they had the means and the opportunity, according to a new Pew survey. There's a lot more in the report, but that's the part getting the most press here.

What's Going On

One of the stories shaking Mexico this week was the random killing of two men on a subway platform by a gun-toting crazy who had been scrawling something on the wall. As many have pointed out, as violent as parts of Mexico are, this kind of thing is very unusual.

I've nothing interesting to add, but these two do.

Free Vaccines

Secretary of Health José Ángel Villalobos says that the 30 million flu vaccines that the government is in the process of acquiring will be distributed exclusively through the public sector, and they will be free. I'm not sure how this compares to other nations' flu preparations, but it's worth remembering that Mexico has in excess of 100 million inhabitants.

Dialing Down Gender Equality

Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled that a 30 percent quota for state and municipal elections is constitutional, despite the 40 percent rule for federal legislative elections. While the decision surely isn't a giant leap for Mexican women, I'm not sure it's a bad thing, either. (Or maybe I'm just inclined to give the Court the benefit of the doubt, given its recent performance.) Thirty percent is a pretty healthy number, and the primary obstacle to an effective quota system lies not in the difference between 30 and 40 percent, but in the political parties' tendency to skip around the quota laws through running women in hopeless races and substituting male alternates for the victorious female candidate after the election. (Hence the inconvenient fact that, candidates aside, the number of female legislators remains well below 30 percent.) At this point, the quotas' efficacy seems more a matter of the political parties' embracing their spirit than anything the Court can do.


César Nava is talking up a PAN-PRD alliance in Oaxaca, where the PRI machine of Ulises Ruiz operates with a ruthless effectiveness comparable to Daley's in Chicago in the 1960s. Who knows what will come of it, but teaming up against the most authoritarian PRI governors (next up: Puebla and Veracruz) is a logical move for both parties. The state level also seems a much more likely place to build a constructive alliance than in the halls of Congress.

Confirmation Imminent

That's what PRI Senator Francisco Labastida is saying about the appointment of Arturo Chávez Chávez as attorney general: he'll be voted on tomorrow.

Plus, the LA Times weighs in with a report of the anger his nomination has sparked.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Popular Panistas

Excélsior's populómetro offered a measure of the popularity of various PAN heavyweights yesterday, concluding (and not for the first time) that Margarita Zavala is the best liked panista. Following Zavala were Senate leader Gustavo Madero, Calderón, Fernando Gómez Mont and Josefina Vázquez Mota. Using Excélsior's combined formula (which weighs personal popularity against fame), Calderón stands at the top of the list, followed by Santiago Creel, Zavala, Vázquez Mota, Gómez Mont, Madero, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano, former interior secretary and new Deputy Francisco Ramírez Acuña, and new PAN chief César Nava.

A couple of quick items: Nava stands ahead of his predecessor Germán Martínez's position in the previous PAN populómetro. That's a greater indication of Martínez's grating style than anything positive that Nava has done, but it's worth noting. Also, Creel's high position is far more indicative of name recognition than popularity; for panistas thinking that his number two spot should make him a presidential favorite, the fact that he ranks ninth in terms of personal popularity should be a giant red flag. I guess Creel would be a reasonable sacrificial lamb in an election whose circumstances won't favor the PAN in 2012, insofar as he is a respected figure that won't single-handedly sink the party. But if the goal is to win, Creel would be a disaster for the PAN.

Random Thought

Really, not so random, given yesterday's news. the spring flu outbreak, Mexican authorities were generally given credit for keeping Mexicans calm, recognizing the possibility of a pandemic relatively quickly, and keeping the lid on an explosive situation. There was quite a bit of criticism of Mexico's public health institutions, but the relevant leaders performed admirably under very difficult circumstances. This is something of a microcosm of Mexico's government; lots of individual capability (in the best of cases), backed up by sorely lacking institutions. Similarly, Mexico's government can be pretty good at reacting, not as good at pro-acting.

Unlike in the spring, the upcoming outbreak was inevitable, and officials had ample time to prepare for it. It'll be interesting to see how far Mexico has come in the interim to build its public-health institutions and to prepare for contingencies. Will there be enough hospital beds, affordable flu tests, and, of course, vaccines? If the Guatemala-Chiapas border turns into a crucial hotspot, will Mexico be able to shift resources south and coordinate with its southern neighbor? This is a very different test for Mexican leaders than the outbreak in May, but just as important.

Road Blocks

The PRI is showing some opposition to Calderón's plan to do away with the Secretariat of Tourism, making the superficially reasonable point that since tourism is Mexico's third most important source of revenue, there should be some federal coordination. I say "superficially" in the previous sentence because while that has some logic to it, what does a tourism ministry actually have to do? It's not like they need to set standards across an industry, or make sure that Cabo and Cancún are working toward a common goal. The mere sum of the revenue the industry produces isn't a proper indicator of whether it needs a cabinet agency; after all, two of Mexico's most influential companies are the breweries mentioned in the previous posts, but no one thinks that Mexico needs a Secretariat of Beer. I kind of imagine (perhaps wrongly) that most of the Secretariat of Tourism's efforts go toward promotion, but that hardly seems like a necessary use of federal money.


Mexico's powerful breweries are not thrilled about Calderón's proposal to impose a 20 percent on alcohol, and claim that prices for beer will rise by 11 percent next year alone if the president's fiscal plan is passed. Revolution looms.

Monday, September 21, 2009

That Was Quick

Guanajuato's middle-school biology textbook, which started earning some bad national press this weekend for some radically conservative sections (I'd missed this yesterday, but evidently it also refers to virginity as a "treasure"), has now been pulled from the classroom by the state's Secretariat of Public Education (SEP). The SEP issued a statement announcing the move in which it referred to the objectionable sections as the product of an "administrative mistake". 

Label Watch: Cartel Edition

Marc Lacey of the NY Times argues that "cartel" is a bad label for Mexico's drug gangs.

I wasn't the first, but I made the exact same argument a couple of months ago.

The Flu, Part Two

Mexico City's health minister says that the second wave of the swine flu or A-flu has arrived in the capital, with 112 people presently hospitalized with symptoms that resemble those of the flu. In what might be a related piece of news, I saw someone walking through the super market with a surgical mask yesterday, for the first time since the outbreak was at full force last spring.

Failing Felipe

The number of people dissatisfied with Calderón's performance in office leapt from 23.1 percent to 33.6 percent from June to this month, a sharp increase. At the same time, the number of people who said they approved in part or entirely of Calderón's tenure only dropped by 0.1 percent, so the disapproval spike would seem to be more a matter of him alienating those who were previously non-responders. Somewhat oddly, given the talk about the PAN having to appeal more to the young, Calderón is significantly more popular among people 39 and below than those more than 40 years old. Another somewhat incongruent finding: the percentage of people saying Mexico has gotten worse in the past year has dropped from 72.2 percent to 70.8 percent. Likewise, those saying Mexico improved went from 21.4 to 24.4 percent. These aren't sea changes by any means, and a large majority is still pessimistic, but it does seem as though some of the population's gloom is ebbing a bit.

Mexidata Monday

Sylvia Longmire wonders if the recent reports about Mexican drug runners operating on foreign continents are a sign of their strength or weakness. Also, I look at Alan Bersin's recent interview with the The New Republic.

Taxing the Poor

Macario Schettino has a contrarian take on the typical poor Mexicans vs. value-added tax debate:
[T]he most vulnerable Mexicans do not form a part of the most relevant political groups. Of course everyone talks about the poorest, but no one really represents them. There are politicians that claim to do so, but in reality they speak in place of the poor, not in favor of them. The poorest 30 percent of the population would surely approve a value-added tax or 10, 15, or 20 percent, knowing that this would mean an increase in their income by 50 or 100 percent. That has happened with Opportunities, which has changed the lives of millions of Mexicans. Not those who write to newspapers, or talk on the radio and television, or work in the university.
I believe a scenario like this was once mentioned by Noel Maurer in a comment thread at his blog as a relatively simple and viable way to implement a VAT in Mexico without drilling the poor.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scary Stat of the Day

According to the Federal Judicial Council, close to 1,300 hundred people in Mexico have warrants out for their arrest for kidnapping charges, but remain on the loose. 

Mexico's Wingnuts

Guanajuato, the center of the wing of Mexican conservatism that most closely resembles the American far right (at least on social issues), finds itself in a textbook controversy. The middle school biology textbook in use this year blurs out pictures of male and female genitalia and removes their names; refers to masturbation as a "selfish pleasure"; condemns unwanted pregnancies; and refers to life beginning at conception. Questioned about the books, the state's governor said that since the children already see sexuality in fifth grade, there was no need to spend any more time on it. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009


After you spend some time outside of the United States, American sports announcers seem even weirder. To wit: I have the CBS feed of the UT-UF game, and Gary Danielson just responded to an interview with Lane Kiffin with, "Just what the SEC needs: another intense coach!" Conceptually uncreative, horrible delivery, no insight whatsoever, yet Verne Lundquist responded as though Richard Pryor was in the middle of a set. 

Incidentally, Kiffin's game plan was pretty good, the offensive line looks much improved, the running backs have made some plays, and the defense (especially Eric Berry) looks great. Crompton, however, remains the weakest link. Ever. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beyond Mérida

It doesn't seem possible, but the three years of the Mérida Initiative will next year be behind us (aid packages just grow up so quickly!). Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa says that the collaboration will continue after the expiration of Mérida, most likely under another name. It will be interesting to see if the governments react to the criticisms that not enough of Mérida was directed toward fortifying and attacking corruption in Mexico's security agencies.

Forgotten Group

Alexis Okeowo, proprietor of the blog Exodus, has a brief but interesting article at about Mexicans of African descent, a group that receives very little attention here.

The Court on Addicts

Another day, another potentially momentous Supreme Court decision: the Court declared it illegal to treat addicts as criminals, arguing that under the Constitution they must be viewed as suffering from a disease. The article above doesn't go into a great deal of detail about the implications of that decision, but it would seem to go hand in hand with the pledge to increase the use of drug courts and the recent decriminalization of drugs toward a more enlightened view of recreational drug use in Mexico.

Likely to Pass

A trio of independent senators whose opposition would be vital to derailing Arturo Chávez Chávez's nomination as attorney general have announced that they will not stand in his way. The vote is scheduled for early next week, but this would seem to take a lot of the suspense out of the equation.

The stated reason for their acquiescence is that Chávez Chávez deserves the benefit of the doubt. I think it's worth repeating what I said a few days ago about how it's unclear what was his contribution to the flubbed investigations of the Juárez "femicide". If he was merely a cog in the investigative machine, I can see making that argument (though I'm not sure I agree with it). But if Chávez Chávez was a major reason for the investigation's incompetence, then it becomes a lot harder to grant him the benefit of the doubt. So which is it?

It Depends What You Mean By "Deep"

Emilio Rabasa Gamboa sees a lot of space between Calderón's call for a new approach to policy in Mexico and the budget his team submitted a few days later.
The tone of voice rose and he made a sharp gesture when he affirmed: "The citizens are not satisfied with the political representation and they see an enormous gap between their needs and the actions of the governors, representatives, and politicians". On September 2nd in the National Palace, President Calderón criticized his government, and later labeled as overwhelming the need to: "Pass from the logic of the possible changes, always limited by the actors' political calculus, to the logic of deep changes".

I thought that the editing of those words had been preceded by that phrase that some attribute to Guillermo Prieto and others to Lerdo de Tejada when they said to President Juárez: "Now or never, Mr. President". I naively believed that days after the presentation of ten objectives, there would come the announcement of truly significant transformations measuring up to the size of change foretold in the speech. It was not to be.

Three changes in the cabinet owing more to shame than glory and a financial package whose objective is to balance the finances so as to fill a hole of 374 billion pesos, but not to necessarily grow once more, are so far the "deep changes."


Money May is back, controversial as ever. If you're looking for commentary on Mayweather's place in boxing, Doug Fisher's been on a role lately. I can only add that Mayweather complains that the press treats him differently than Pacquiao and Latin fighters in general, but that's really silly; Pacquiao and the Latin fighters Mayweather is talking about (presumably De la Hoya) don't run around calling themselves the best in history while avoiding the hardest challenges for five years. If Mayweather would just stop making excuses and fight some combination of Mosley, Cotto, Pacquiao, and Paul Williams in his next two or three fights, I, and most everyone else, will stop ragging on Mayweather, even if he loses.

As to his fight with Márquez, I think the Mexican wizard could steal some rounds if Mayweather is rusty. I also think Mayweather is going to fight in a style and at a pace that really favors Márquez. He won't put the pressure on him too much, he'll give Márquez an opportunity to make adjustments (which he does as well as anyone in boxing), and the output should be low enough that a few good power shots every three minutes should be enough to carry the round. At the same time, the rust factor will probably even out, because Márquez is fighting so far north of his ideal weight. Furthermore, everything Márquez does well, Mayweather does equally well, but with more speed and power. Both guys are equally smart boxers, so you have to go with the guy with the ample size and speed advantage, which is Mayweather. I think there will be competitive moments, but Mayweather is going to take a relatively comfortable unanimous decision.

The only wild card could come if Márquez tries to adopt a more aggressive style, a la the traditional Mexico body banger. He's never fought like that before, but if he's come to the same conclusion that I have above, he might figure that imitating José Luis Castillo is the only way to beat Mayweather. I think that would vastly increase the chances of a knockout victory for Mayweather, but getting out-hustled is the only way I can see Mayweather losing.

On the undercard, I'll take Vicente Escobedo over Michael Katsidas and Chris John over Rocky Juarez, both by way of decision.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Corrupt Official Arrested

A former customs big shot who'd served as an attaché in Guadalajara was arrested and accused of working for Mexican drug traffickers, including using government data to assist in an effort to track down (and presumably punish severely) those responsible for a shipment seized by Spain in 2007.

The Making of Marcelo

The presidentialization of Marcelo continues: His poll numbers may be going down (see two posts ago), but his style quotient is going up, up, up. Excélsior today points out that part of his third informe could be devoted to style improvements in the mayor's office: where Ebrard was a goofy, glasses-wearing, professorial mayor three years ago, now he is favoring the slicked-back, frameless look that is positively Riley-esque.

Losing Points

An analyst with Bulltick Capital (great name!) says that insecurity in Mexico costs the nation between two and three points on its annual GDP. I'd be interested to see where that stands in relation to the estimate over the past several years. Whatever the case, it seems to contradict the notion set forth here that Calderón's tough stand on security has helped stimulate a business-friendly climate.


Less Popular

Marcelo Ebrard, about to give his government's third informe, is falling in popularity: 56 percent of respondents to an El Universal poll approved of his performance, down eight points from three months ago. The level of disapproval also ticked up, from 35 to 31 percent. The dissatisfaction among DF residents borders on universal (no pun intended): asked whether Ebrard or Calderón had performed better in office, the figure for both officials declined, while the number responding that neither had done a good job jumped from 19 to 26 percent.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sign of the Times

The race for the mayoralty of Torreón kicked off yesterday. The campaign slogan of the opposition-party candidate offers a pointed illustration of the city's security trajectory over the past several years: "Let's rescue Torreón".

In the Clear, Sort Of

Weeks after Zhenli Ye Gon was exonerated of all charges related to drug trafficking, a judge ordered his frozen assets, which included a Rolls and a Lamborghini, released. Ye Gon does still await extradition to Mexico, however. 

An Encouraging Trend?

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, an indigenous resident of Querétaro, was released after serving three years of a 21-year sentence for kidnapping three AFI agents. The PGR ordered her release due to the existence of "reasonable doubt" about her guilt. This comes a few weeks after the Supreme Court ordered the release of dozens of indigenous Chiapans for their alleged role in a 1997 massacre, which was demonstrated to be nonexistent. In both cases, the fact that people were railroaded into prison on false charges to start off with remains scandalous, but hopefully the practice of owning up to the errors and releasing those punished by them will spread. 

Another Massacre

Ten people were killed and three injured after an armed unit entered a Juárez rehab center yesterday. 

On Chávez Chávez

The opposition to Arturo Chávez Chávez being confirmed as attorney general falls into one of two categories: that based on his long track record as a PAN activist and his relatively light CV; and opposition stemming from his role as Chihuahua attorney general during the investigation into the femicides in Ciudad Juárez.

It seems like Mexico's press could perhaps be doing a better job examining the latter complaint. It's not entirely clear to me what is the source of the anti-Chávez Chávez sentiment. This article, which goes much further than most, says that Chávez Chávez helped to set up a patsy, which could mean a lot of things. It also says:
Both the women’s and men’s murder investigations were characterized by indifference, irregularities, lost files and evidence, threats against victims’ family members, and no credible prosecutions, in spite of credible leads.

In 1998, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued its Recommendation #44/98 that held Chavez and other Chihuahua state officials responsible for bungling the femicide investigations. Later probes by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, the United Nations and others reached similar conclusions.
Again, that's all damaging and infuriating, but it's not clear if Chávez Chávez is being singled out for singular incompetence, or if it's more a matter of being an important part of an incompetent whole. A lot of the principled opposition to Chávez Chávez seems to come from the mere fact that he headed an office that failed to carry out a competent investigation of a horrible series of crimes and bring the culprits to justice. That's an entirely legitimate complaint, and I think it'd be a fair reason for rejecting his confirmation. It would also have the salutary effect of establishing a more exacting precedent for officials who preside over disasters, even if they aren't acting maliciously or aren't directly responsible. At the same time, if Chávez Chávez is merely a symbol for rather than a cause of all that went wrong in the femicide investigations, I think that needs to be weighed against all that went right in Chihuahua during his tenure (i.e. violence in the region decreased from the late 1990s to the early oughts). Whatever the case, it'd be nice if the contours of the debate were a little clearer.



Perhaps John Kerry would have been more successful in 2004 had he not been leading a double life: in the above shot, he is masquerading as boxing ref Vic Drakulich, just after Manny Pacquiao's titanic short left cross dropped David Diaz.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mexico's Newest Bankers

Via Mexico Portal via Bloomberg via Ovaciones, this is a bit worrying:
Mexico’s La Familia drug gang, the dominant cartel in Michoacan state, is offering consumer loans, Ovaciones reported.

The criminal organization makes loans against the total value of any assets from the applicant, the Mexico City-based newspaper reported, citing pamphlets said to be from the cartel and interviews with unidentified people.

Loans from La Familia take less than 72 hours to be issued and the debt carries a lower interest rate than banks would give, Ovaciones reported.

Within a week of receiving a loan from La Familia, customers receive a message saying “Thank you for your trust, now you’re part of La Familia Michoacana,” the newspaper said.

Reaction to Taxes

Not surprisingly, Calderón's proposed tax increases have not been received with flowers and champaign. According to Excélsior's pollster, 81 percent of those polled rejected the 2 percent consumption tax, 87 disapproved of the tax on gas, 80 percent rejected the corporate profit and telecommunications tax, and 72 percent were opposed to the proposed tax on cash deposits. The vice taxes were more popular, however: 82 percent were in favor of taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, while 60 percent expressed support for a tax on lotteries and gambling.


A convoy of cars in which Zacatecas governor Amalia García was riding was attacked yesterday. The governor escaped harm.


Tonight Mexico celebrate's its independence with the grito, along with lots of alcohol. Last year, you may remember, the day was an occasion for sadness, after grenades tossed among the revelers in Morelia killed eight. This year security is tight at the gritos around the country, and, for a variety of possible reasons (economic uncertainty, fear of terrorism), Mexicans are not feeling so festive about the festivities. Indeed, according to a Milenio poll, only 28 percent say that they are in the mood to party.

The same poll includes lots of data about which values Mexicans attribute to themselves, and to the society as a whole. I always take these kinds of polls with a grain of salt, because the questions lend themselves to gross generalizations. Nonetheless, there were some interesting findings: only 12 percent labeled Mexico a nation of savers, and only 22 percent said that Mexicans were by-and-large honorable. At the same time, 92 percent said they personally were honorable. This confirms something I've long noticed here: a few bad apples aside, Mexicans are a trustworthy bunch, in my experience no different from Americans. Yet Mexicans seem much, much less disposed to trusting strangers than do Americans.

The adjectives that Mexicans were most likely to ascribe to their countrymen were affectionate (46 percent), hard-working (49 percent), and predisposed to solidarity (54 percent).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mexicans in Africa

El Universal ran a story today with the ironic title, "'Narcosafari' of Mexican cartels", with the increasing presence of Mexican drug gangs in Africa serving as the subject. This is a topic that has fed news stories in Mexico for many months now, and it's certainly worth paying attention to, given the weak institutions in most West African countries, and Mexican gangs' skill at subverting democratic institutions. It's also noteworthy how Mexican drug influence is proliferating around the world, just as the old model of the hierarchical, all-powerful, pseudo-military cartel is to a certain degree giving way to a constellation of regional gangs (La Familia, Teo García's gang in Tijuana, et cetera) in Mexico. 

I always wonder why the American officials --in this case Michael Braun, the ex-DEA official who supplied much of the material for the article-- persist in promoting possible links between Mexican gangs and Islamic terrorists. Here, the Africa connection is weak; Al Qaeda operates primarily in East Africa, while the countries in which Mexican criminals operate are on the continent's west coast. Furthermore, at a very fundamental level, the interests of the two groups are in direct conflict: Mexican smugglers rely on the persistent appetite for vice in the US;  Al Qaeda abhors such vice, as well as the US's indulgence of it (among other bones), and therefore wants to destroy the nation that makes their would-be Mexican partners wealthy. That's not to say that such a relationship is impossible, but it serves no purpose to make our enemies seem ten feet tall through speculation that hasn't any evidence to support it. 

Cultural Barriers

After musing about some recent examples of official wrongdoing, Jorge Chabat points a finger at the society as a whole:
The problem in question could be defined in one single word: impunity. Nevertheless, that concept simply implies that the state is ineffective in applying the laws but there exists the will in the state and in the society to do so and the truth is that the problem is much more serious. The heart of this whole lamentable situation is that neither the state nor the society cares about the law. The rule of law is simply a concept foreign to our culture.

We could look for the roots of this vision of the world in the conquest of our country on the part of a feudal power. But the truth is that this contempt for the law has been cultivated with much success by Mexicans themselves. During the PRI's reign, disdain for the law was hidden behind noble causes. In that golden era of authoritarianism it was insisted that it a good negotiation was always better than applying the law.

Arrangements on the margins of the law were hailed. You have to negotiate, everyone always said. So elections were negotiated, criminal sentences, and government posts. In the end, the law was a very useful instrument for bothering political enemies --we have to apply the full weight of the law, it was said, as though that were optional-- but a barrier when it came to its own ends. And there exist various generations of Mexicans that grew up beneath this logic and that still behave based on this premise. There are even those who openly argue for negotiating with organized crime with the argument that political system should prevail over the rule of law. The problem is that in a democracy the political system can't exist outside the rule of law. It's that simple.

For decades the country has functioned with the premise that you can violate the rules and nothing ever happens. That's precisely why today everything is happening. That's why Mexico finds itself bankrupt, jobless, without investment, without water, without revenue, without a future. The issue isn't a moral reform of the political class or of Mexicans. It's the rule of law. If Mexicans don't understand that once and for all, the truth is that we can start forgetting about the illusory idea of having a country of our own. We don't deserve it.
That's perhaps a bit harsh, but it's a useful reminder of how long it takes for a culture to evolve. For what it's worth, I don't see Mexico's teenagers as particularly infected by this tolerance of impunity. 

More Opposition

One key element of Calderón's fiscal plan that I didn't mention (and which surprisingly didn't receive a huge amount of attention, Milenio aside) is the 2 percent consumption tax. It has united a variety of different voices in opposition, from the leftist bunch who came out against the plan last week, to the more technocratic analysts at the Tec de Monterrey. (Yes, I recognize that I am drawing something of a false distinction between "leftist" and "technocratic", but you know what I mean.) For both groups, the essence of the objection is the same: it is disproportionately hard on the poor.


Ricardo Raphael wrote at length last week about the PAN and PRI's diverging interests, but it's unlikely that PRIAN will be replaced by PRIRD: Beatriz Paredes and Jesús Ortega met last week, but came away without any concrete agreements.

Opinions on Decriminalization

The NY Times asked a handful of experts for their opinion about Mexico decriminalization, and compiled them here. They range from the insightful to the silly and overwrought (the Drug Free America Foundation woman who "fear[s] for Mexico's future"; there are, of course, lots of reasons to fear for Mexico's future right about now, but, even if you think it is a bad idea, decriminalization shouldn't be ranked above 179 on that list). Collectively, they left me convinced of the unlikelihood of a surge in US drug tourism.

Jorge Castañeda's contribution offers a couple of sharp insights, but this is a problematic passage:
The law actually is part of a campaign to justify President Calderón’s war of choice on drugs by stating that drug consumption in Mexico has increased over the past 10 years. But the government’s own unpublished but leaked National Addiction Survey for 2008 shows that this is not the case. The growth of marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine consumption is flat in all categories (addiction, occasional use, at least once in a lifetime use), and while cocaine addiction, for example, did rise from 300 000 victims in 2002 to 450 000 in 2008 (a 50% increase, or roughly 6% per year), it did so from a tiny baseline, for a tiny percentage (0.4%) of Mexico’s population, a much smaller share than for the US, Western Europe and practically every country in Latin America.
According to what I've read about the survey, he's incorrect; marijuana use increased from 3.6 to 4.4 percent of the population. That's a marginal increase, but it's not flat. Furthermore, the stats for addiction in major cities are reportedly much higher, both for marijuana and harder drugs. And while the "tiny baseline" does indeed make the situation much different in Mexico than in Western Europe or the US, it also means that the growth potential for Mexican drug use is much higher.


Mexico's drought makes it into the NY Times. The bad news in the story is mitigated somewhat by the fact that this is the first Times news story on Mexico since 1979 that didn't include the words "drugs", "violence", or "cartel".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unfortunate Benchmark

Mexico has hit 5,000 drug murders on the year, with the latest thousand coming in the last 41 days. 

Adios Cristian

After last night's loss to Nehomar Cermeño, the Laguna's Cristian Mijares bid farewell to the world of professional boxing. Mijares' choice of ringwalk music last night --I Gotta Feeling, by the Black Eyed Peas-- was quite possibly the least inspiring selection I've ever heard, and presaged a performance that, while respectable, fell far short of Mijares at his best. Mijares was the finest fighter in the recent history of the Laguna and, for the briefest of moments, arguably the best in Mexico. He is also the only championship boxer Gancho has ever interviewed (surely as big a moment for him as it was for us), for this piece. We wish him all the best. 

Right on Time

Ken Ellingwood has an amusing rundown of Mexico's conventions on punctuality in the LA Times. This part is familiar for anyone who's spent a few weeks in Mexico City:
Take ahorita, a diminutive of the word for "now." Ahorita can mean "right now." But it's frequently used to mean five minutes from now, 15 minutes from now, half an hour from now -- anything but now now. Al ratito is another diminutive (see how it works?) that means "in a little while," but don't start checking your watch.
This is one way in which the North of Mexico is more like the United States than Latin America. People trickle in late for social commitments, but for professional appointments, time customs aren't quite so flexible. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

Legalizing Pot

Last week, in regard to a interview with border czar Alan Bersin, I wrote, "I'd like to see drug warriors politely asked about the viability of the legalized marijuana every time they grant an interview." It turns out, they did ask him about it, and here's the video. More on this later. 


Ricardo Raphael shoots down AMLO's persistent complaint that a PRI-PAN mafia is running the country, specifically in regard to the Calderón's agenda-setting informe speech:

The presidential proposal launched toward the rest of [Calderón's] interlocutors --in particular toward the priístas-- aimed at reversing the interests responsible for the present state of affairs. He wanted a broad front against those who have kidnapped education, the energy and telecommunications sectors, labor representation, local politics, and also those who have impeded a fiscal reform with a genuine redistributive objective.

The diagnosis [made in the speech] is correct: in the coordinates where all of these interests can be found you can also find a good part of the anchors of conservative Mexican power. A proposal like that placed on the table by the president threatens, therefore, the actors that protect and defend their authoritarian fiefdoms.

Is the PRI willing to negotiate (allied with the executive the special interests), precisely at this moment when the only worry of its leaders is the construction of a path that will eventually lead them back to the presidency of the Republic?

To fight with Elba Esther Gordillo, if by way of Enrique Peña Nieto the woman is coming back to the PRI? Why lose the support of the unions of Pemex and CFE, or the organizations affiliated with the CTM [a powerful labor conglomerate], if in moments still more difficult they knew to maintain their loyalty to the PRI?

Why confront the Coordinating Business Council or the Mexican Council of Businessmen with a just fiscal reform proposal that eventually could scare off their members? What sense does it make to complicate the relationship with Televisa, if the romance with their directors is just getting started? What would be the reason for confronting corruption and irresponsibility of the local authorities, when 17 governors represent the PRI's most reliable electoral bastion?

Objectively, and not for good reasons, a sincere and positive answer from the PRI to the president seems unlikely.

This state of affairs points to a major disincentive for deep, structural telecom, energy, labor, et cetera reform: anyone who is in power (or thinks that they are on their way into power) will want to risk offending the special interests who can make governing (or getting there) much more complicated. That helps explain why such a bold, broad agenda from Calderón had to wait until after the mid-terms, now that the PAN is on its downhill. The logic here isn't absolute (an administration could conflate its interests with a more long-term view of the country's well-being, rather than its party's short-term needs), but under Raphael's explanation, the best we can hope for is piecemeal reform, not one administration determined to weaken the grip of all of the nation's special interest blocs.


The list of significant fights on different cards this weekend is as long as any I ever remember. First, in a pair of fights in which an upset could derail Showtime's historic six-man tourney at 168 pounds, I like Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward to both take care of business via knockout over Gusmyl Perdomo and Shelby Pudwill (what a great name for a tomato can!), respectively. In the rematch of their headbutt-shortened draw in June, I'll take Rodel Mayol in an upset of Iván Calderón. The 34-year-old Calderón has a huge home-field advantage, but I didn't like the way he looked in June: he was hit more than usual in that first bout (and he didn't seem to take the shots all that well), Mayol's style clearly bothered him, and looked like his legs were a bit shaky. On the undercard, I'll take Román Martínez over Vicente Martín Rodríguez. In Nuevo Vallarta, I'll take Fernando Montiel by knockout over Alex Valdez, and I like Donnie Nietes over Manuel Vargas by decision. In Monterrey, I see Cristian Mijares letting his hands go a bit more and breaking the losing streak with a decision victory in a rematch with Nehomar Cermeño.

On to Mexico's Independence Day bouts: in Puebla, I like Edgar Sosa over Omar Soto and Saul Álvarez over Carlos Leonardo Herrera, both by knockout. In Cancún, I think Jorge Arce will win by knockout over Simphiwe Nongqayi, and Humberto Soto will get past Aristides Pérez the same way. Pérez's 16 previous opponents collectively have 13 total wins. How that guy got a title shot is beyond me, but Pérez is going to pay the price for his inexperience.

Gancho is 68-20 on the year.


A group of prominent intellectuals and political figures are objecting to Calderón's economic plan on the grounds that it focuses too much on cutting spending, and not enough on providing aid to the groups hardest hit by the economic downturn. I've not heard a lot of comment like this about the budget, but it definitely seems more fiscally hawkish than what we've seen from other nations. Link

For its part, the Calderón administration insists that fiscal responsibility will not be achieved on the backs of the middle class.

Medical Tourism in Mexico

The New Republic has a short feature on the burgeoning medical tourism industry. It mentions Hospitales Los Ángeles, where I've had the privilege (yes, privilege) to be treated a few times. The experience --a ten-minute wait before seeing a doctor; said doctor, rather than a nurse, being the primary liaison with the patient; consultation, bloodwork, and diagnosis for less than $40-- was so foreign to me, I felt like I'd died and gone to health-care heaven. In fact, I'd merely eaten a bad gordita and contracted typhoid.

The author's conclusion is that the growth of the industry is dependent on Mexico shaking its gangland image. I think she overstates that a bit, probably because her reporting comes from Tijuana and Juárez, and doesn't focus as much on Monterrey, which is both safer and, from what I've read, a more developed hub for medical tourism than the border towns.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

Security-related issues accounted for only one of the ten priorities laid out by Calderón in his informe address; security agencies saw their collective budget cut by $2 billion under the PAN economic program; and Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, a prominent advocate of a frontal attack on organized crime, was removed. Taken together, these three facts suggest a sharp turn in how Calderón's anti-crime policy is presented to the public, and perhaps in how it is executed as well.

This almost certainly means a de-emphasis on combating crime in the promotion of the Calderón administration; social development and anti-poverty may not be the buzzwords for the next three years, but they certainly are for the time being. Less certain is whether the above also means an effort to tamp down some of the more violent areas of the country by reducing the intensity of the government anti-crime operations. Along those lines, it may be noteworthy that Arturo Chávez Chávez, the new AG pick, served in the same position in Chihuahua from 1998 to 2002, a time period that I believe coincided with a drastic lessening of the violence, from the post-Amado Carrillo mayhem to the relative calm that prevailed in the state before the middle of 2008. (Although I hasten to add that the second portion of the preceding is empty speculation. It may well mean nothing of the sort.)

Good Observation

Courtesy of Boz:
As a side note, looking at polling in Brazil and Chile and the results from Mexico's recent legislative election results, one has to wonder if a new trend in Latin American politics is the death of presidential coattails.*
I'm not sure how much of a change this is (after all, Fox's 2003 mid-terms were comparably disastrous), but it certainly is striking.

*I'd thought that broad observations about Latin America's politics were legally required to address the relative strength or weakness of the pink tide, and nothing else; evidently not.

Odd People

I'm not sure what it says about the US and Americans' notion of proper decorum, but I can't imagine another country in the world where heckling during a president's speech is, everyone agrees, simply beyond the pale, but for a wide swatch of the electorate, openly carrying a gun to a presidential appearance is kosher. We are an odd nation.


José Mar Flores, it turns out, has lots of songs available for your viewing pleasure on youtube. He topped all of them with yesterday's declaration to the media after his arrest, in which he said matter-of-factly that there was no bomb, just a can of juice with a blinking light slapped on top.

I always think it's odd how Mexico allows/requires criminals to appear before the cameras shortly after they are arrested. There's a long tradition of this, around the country, at all levels of government, and for all manner of crimes. The only purpose it seems to serve is to make internet stars out of rambling crackpots and bumbling drunks, like Monterrey's Dulce Sarahí, or Torreón's own Qué pasó muchacho man.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


An airplane en route from Cancún to Mexico City was hijacked today, provoking a successful rescue operation by the federal police. Five hijackers (three of them Bolivian) are reportedly in custody. Lots of rumors are swirling as of right now. 

Update: Evidently, it was a Bolivian leading a group of nine, who carried out the hijacking today (09.09.09) because of a divine revelation. 

Update to the update: It was just one guy: a Bolivian living in Mexico named José Mar Flores. 

Parsing the Budget

Excélsior took a detailed look at the budget plan presented by Carstens yesterday, discovering that it would slice about $2 billion from various security agencies (I'm not sure exactly how Mérida would fit into that, but I guess the hope would be that the aid could partially make for those cut), while economic and social development agencies will see an increase of about $12 billion. Cutting security spending is perhaps a bit worrying, depending on how those cuts are distributed, but I've never thought that Mexico's primary security barrier was a lack of funding.

The extra money for development spending is encouraging, although unfortunately it is accompanied by a $4 billion cut in education. As with security, improving education is not merely (or even primarily) a matter of spending more, but as an indicator of governmental priorities, such a cut is worrying. Education may be an easy place to decrease spending during a budget crisis, but as El Universal pointed out earlier this week, improving Mexico's educational system is a must for Mexico to become a world economic power around the middle of this century. As long as it remains perennially low on Mexican leaders' list of priorities, the "demographic bonus" will be a dud.

Not Happy

El Universal reports that neither PAN nor PRI senators are happy with the nomination of Arturo Chávez Chávez as Mexico's top law-enforcement officer. Notably, Manlio Fabio Beltrones expressed disappointment that Medina Mora was let go, and said that only one of the senators he canvassed had heard of Chávez Chávez. However, Beltrones was also quoted saying that he was open to Chávez being "the jurist everyone was hoping for", which indicates that he will not oppose his confirmation. Officials (though not NGOs) who worked with him in Chihuahua seem to speak highly of him, but we'll see if that's enough to pacify those who take the nomination of an unknown as an insult.

Ricardo Alemán says that not only was the removal of Medina Mora a win for SSP boss Genaro García Luna, but it marks a wholesale recentralization of the PGR away from the attorney general and toward his office, which controls the federal police. In that context, a relative lightweight as attorney general is logical.

Schettino on Calderón's Budget

Writing the day before Calderón announced his economic package for 2010, Macario Schettino had the following to say:
It’s not a matter of reinventing everything or absolutely erasing the past, but we must be clear that what we have done during the last half-century, give or take, cannot be continued. In this period, governments across the world decided to guarantee their citizens certain benefits: education, health, social security, which have implied a very significant increase in expenses. Before, it was enough to collect 12 or 15 percent of the GDP to cover the administrative, defense, and criminal justice expenses that represented the work of government. Later, it became necessary to increase tax collection to levels of 45 to 50 percent to be able to have education for all, health for all, social security for all. In Mexico we liked the idea of giving benefits to everyone, but not the one about collecting taxes, so we never corrected our tax regime, and we continue with extremely low levels, 11 percent of the GDP, but still wanting to spend like Switzerland. We never could do it, but we did spend much more than we had, thanks first to debt and later to oil. That’s what has ended. That’s why it’s not possible to keep doing the same as always. There is no longer enough resources. Less still, as the PRI proposed in its Economic Recovery Law, wants to multiply subsidies and moneys turned over to local government. If there’s not nough for what we’ve always done, there’s much less for novelties.
The basic gist of the column was that Calderón should spend less and collect more in taxes. We'll see what Schettino thinks of the specifics, but it seems like that's what Calderón is calling for: less spending thanks to the disappeared agencies, and new taxes on lotteries, beer, and cigarettes.

The Inevitable Happens

Rafael "Juanito" Acosta says he will not be giving up the chiefdom of Iztapalapa.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Cabinet Changes

This time, it's not disappearing cabinet chiefs, but disappearing agencies: the Secretariats of Tourism, Agrarian Reform, and Public Function are on their way out. Their disappearance, along with four other measures announced by Calderón, will save Mexico almost $15 billion in 2010. More to come...

Zuckermann on the PRI's Economics

Leo Zuckermann has spent the last two days discussing the PRI's economic package, and he has two major observations. The first is that the PRI's faith in the state to intervene and make the economy better is undying:
The project of the principal political force in Mexico is that of the statist left. It is, without a doubt, the terrain best liked by the priístas, as well as all of the groups that benefit from the active intervention of the state in the economy.

Zuckermann supports this conclusion by noting that of 70 proposals, only four encourage a more competitive market (among them an anti-monopoly plan and a proposal to increase competition among banks to loosen credit awards), while proposals for regulation as well as subsidies and protectionism favoring certain industries abound. The big question for the PRI coming out of the election was whether the traditional statist or more market-based PRI was going to dominate the party, and the above certainly makes you think the former group is prevailing. However, market intervention to spur economic recovery following a year of negative 7 or 8 percent growth isn't necessarily indicative of a return to revolution-era economics. I also wonder how much wanting to mark some separation from Calderón following the elections played a role. Whatever the case, I think the struggle for the economic soul of the PRI remains incomplete, but this isn't very encouraging from the standpoint of bipartisan compromises.

Zuckermann's second observation is that the plan would divert a greater share of revenues toward state and local governments:
Note the emphasis on the PRI's spending measures more than on the income of local governments. The PRI, in its project, only mentions that it wants "augment the taxation faculties of the states and cities to increment their income". What does this mean? Until now the local governments have lived in a sort of budget Eden. The collect less than 20 percent of the taxes of the nation without taking into account oil profits, but they spend more than 40 percent of public money including oil profit. They barely collect taxes, but they do spend a lot. And now the PRI wants them to spend more.
He also notes that this will mean more local control over federal programs like Opportunities (which wouldn't be a bad thing if corruption weren't a factor), and that the PRI governors worked so hard to swing their local deputy races in large part to swing a larger share of the governing prerogative toward local government. Going beyond that, given that the PRI's success at the local level is on the whole more of a sure thing than at the presidential level, I'd say that this economic package reflects a long-term strategic interest for the party.

Lobbying Bill

Mexico is the Latin American country has the largest Washington lobbying bill, according to a survey of such expenses from Sunlight Foundation and Propublica. The tab came to $2.7 million last year, with Silvestre Reyes, Ken Salazar, and John Kyl among those legislators being lobbied on behalf of the Mexican government. According to the article linked above, the nation that spent the most was none other than the United Arab Emirates, with more than $10 million, followed by the UK ($6 million), Japan ($4.2 million), and Turkey ($4.1 million).

Mexico in 2050: Old and Rich, or Decrepit and Impoverished

El Universal wonders if the Mexican reality in 2050 will be one of first-world prosperity, as many have predicted:

The decisions must be taken today, because at this point we have the "demographic bonus", which means the ideal conditions of population for the socioeconomic development of the nation, an advantage in opportunity that only opens once in the history of the country and will last until the year 2048, according to the most optimistic projections of the National Population Council.

It is in this period when the whole of people of working age --between 15 and 64 years-- will be able to maintain the group that constitutes the dependent population: children, teenagers, and elderly adults; when this period comes to an end, there will be more of those in need than providers.

There remains little time to beat back the low educational quality and the lack of training for the population of a productive age; the insufficient number of jobs and the labor instability. To turn those who have between 15 and 64 years into consumers of goods and services, into savers and providers for their own retirement, because later there will not be enough young people to maintain the well deserved inactivity of the elderly.

Unfortunately none of what is happening can divert us from the worst fate: a nation both poor and old. Mexicans have complained a lot about not being a member of BRIC, countries considered the next world powers. But we are largely not because we haven't taken advantage of the demographic curve as have Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC).

We are in a countdown. Mexico has three decades to make its GDP grow, at a minimum, by 4 percent annually and give work to the almost one million Mexicans who each year add themselves to the economically active population. There is no space for indecisions.

Next, I'd like to see a little more about what their recommendations are. Hopefully, that'll come after the hubbub over the cabinet changes dies down a bit, and everyone can focus on the upcoming legislative session.